All troubles in the world came from within. Helplessness came from the sense that you didn’t get what you wanted, blooming from the root of endless avarice. When you have nothing, you want something. When you have something, you want more. It was the source of progress and the source of pain.
Who could live all their days in contentment, in the natural way? Life and desire were one and the same. If one were to wholly put aside their desires, what was left to live for?
Dawn listened as Cloudhawk waxed philosophical, but he silently asked himself if he could really live such a free and easy life as he wanted. Humans needed ties, because true freedom meant absolute loneliness.
Dawn sat with her back against the wall. Both she and Cloudhawk were in the exact same position, though the wall between them hid each other from view. She imagined that she could feel Cloudhawk’s heat through the stone, sense the rush of his blood. It calmed her angry heart.
“Tell me about the kind of person you used to be.”
“What’s there to say about a wasteland scav?”
“You aren’t a typical wastelander.”
“You’re not wrong. I was always a little strange, even when I was young. Other scavs thought there was something wrong with me. I thought the same.”
“I was born in the ruins. Ever since I can remember I’ve had this dream where I could fly over the ruins and into different worlds. I always had this desire in me to know what was out in the world beyond.”
Dawn paused for a moment. “But the wastelands are endless.”
“How was I supposed to know that? I always thought that out there somewhere was some place safe and quiet, without death. Some place with fertile land, clothes to keep me warm and food to fill my belly. I would live there, spending my days quiet and content until I died.” A smile touched the corner of his lips. “Everyone thought I was crazy. There was only one person who would listen.”
“Just an old wastelander. He told me that he’d never stepped foot out of the ruins, so all his hopes to see the world would fall on my shoulders.”
Cloudhawk stopped for a moment. His expression was sad.
“When I was small those ruins were my whole world. I had no concept of how large the wastelands were, but I always fantasized about it.”
“The old man died and I grew older. Later, I was lured to a place called Blackflag Outpost, where I met three wastelanders who left a deep impression on me. One was a pudgy man, cunning and clever. Another was a crazy drunk fighter. The last was a mystery in a lot of ways. Looking back on them now, they weren’t all that special, but at the time they were superhuman. Blackflag Outpost was a tiny place, but it expanded my horizons so much. I dreamed to see more places like that, and to be as strong as those three men. I couldn’t wait for those dreams to come true.”
“Selene was the first time I saw the powers of a demonhunter. It was incredible. She told me about the Elysian lands, and I realized that was the heaven I’d been striving for. A place where I could stop floating from place to place and settle down.”
As he continued his voice grew softer.
“I learned the reality of things when I got here. It’s nothing like my dreams. When you’re small, the real world is a tiny place, but the world in your dreams is huge. When you get older, that real world seems so massive when the world of your dreams gets so small. Funny, isn’t it?”
For the first time Dawn heard Cloudhawk give voice to how he thought. It was the deepest parts of his heart, and she closed her eyes to picture the scene.
A frail, emaciated teenager appeared behind her eyelids, clawing his way out of the ruins. He set out on his own, on a long difficult journey. He faced countless hardships, and though he was covered in grime from his low birth and hard life, his eyes were bright. At last, he arrived at the place of his dreams – Skycloud.
But then, who’d have thought? Skycloud wasn’t the end of the wastelands. It was just an extension of it.
Cloudhawk had experienced many ups and downs since he set off on his quest. He saw the ugliness inside of many. The weak teenager from years ago had grown, and now he had status and ability. But was that what he really wanted?
Dawn muttered from across the wall. “Put out your hand.”
Cloudhawk did as he was instructed, pressing his palm against the wall. Dawn did the same.
“I know you’ll succeed. If Skycloud isn’t what you’re looking for, then just keep going until you find it. Even if you have to build it with your own hands.” Her voice was uncharacteristically gentle. “I believe in you. Even if no one else does, I’ll always stand by your side, until the final moment.”
Cloudhawk smiled. “You remind me of an old friend I met in Greenland Outpost who told me something similar. It’s been so long, I wonder how things are going...”
Both of them lapsed into silence.
Dawn no longer kicked up a ruckus or threatened to kill Arcturus. It didn’t serve her at all to make that intent known. Running her mouth didn’t solve the problem, it only made things worse.
Cloudhawk continued to work with the phase stone. Days passed, and his Castigation fire dissolved what used to be a rock the size of a marble into one only a little larger than a fingernail.
The vision of green fire dancing on a black sea returned.
He watched the boiling waters, on the cusp of vanishing.
Eventually the sea was all steam, and the vast inheritance from the Demon King that was sealed in the stone had been transferred into himself. He opened his eyes, opened his hand, and the stone was gone.
Now, Cloudhawk didn’t need to rely on a tool to phase or teleport. The Demon King’s phase stone was now a part of him, and its powers were his own. Whatever the situation and wherever he was, no one would be able to rob Cloudhawk of that.
The same was true for all the power that had been in the stone. However, the nature of it was still different from that of its new host, and as such he could not assimilate everything the Demon King had left behind. Even so, he still felt improved and empowered by the experience.
He’d been locked up here for days on flimsy accusations, but Cloudhawk had appreciated the quiet. He made use of the time to absorb the phase stone’s power into himself. Not only was he stronger now, he also gained an incredible, intrinsic power.
He didn’t know how much longer this would go on, so Cloudhawk refined his other relics.
Next came his Silver Serpents, gifted to him by the Polaris family. He carefully attempted to fuse their power with himself. Having spent days here learning how to wield Castigation Fire, the attempt succeeded without issue.
The deadly green fires dissolved metal like a potent acid. The silvery weapons melted away little by little. Its inner power was extracted and fused with Cloudhawk’s body, until there was nothing left.
That easy? Cloudhawk tested it by waving a hand. A streak of silver light followed, which carved a groove in the stone wall.
It came from inside of him, nearly as sharp as the weapons themselves had been. He’d managed to absorb the power of the Silver Serpents and join it with his own body so that it could no longer be taken from him or destroyed.
Cloudhawk was eager to keep going. He wanted to continue until all his relics became a part of himself, but was foiled when he tried it on his invisibility cloak. He got the faint sense that his body was somehow saturated. He didn’t know why, but it was clear that – at least for now – he couldn’t continue.
Was there a limit to the number of relics he could absorb?
Cloudhawk didn’t want to continue until he was sure. If he pushed it, he could lose a useful relic for good. That would sting, to put it lightly. So he sat around while the trials continued, kept in the dark about what was happening in the outside world.
One day, someone came to pay him a visit.
Cloudhawk wasn’t familiar with the person, but he’d seen them a few times. They wore a light blue cloak that wrapped up their entire body. No one could see their build or features – or even their gender. All Cloudhawk could determine was that he or she was strong. Real strong.
The current top leader of the Temple was High Priest Ramiel Caelestis. He had a few close attendants he relied on, such as Grand Prior Phain and Apostle Selene. But besides them, there were two who were always seen by his side during the hearings.
One of them always wore a pale blue cloak and carried a tome of divine law in their hands. This was one of two Oracles, bearer of the Skycloud Doctrine which represented righteous justice. The tome was an illustrious, epic-level relic of the Temple from the time of Skycloud’s creation.
But what was the bearer doing here? Cloudhawk looked at them with curiosity.
“How long are you and Phain going to keep this up?” Dawn looked at the figure with a strange stare. “Can’t you just let us out of here?”
A calm, almost ethereal voice wafted out from the hood. “If we didn’t keep you in here how would you have calmed down? If we let you free and you try to cut down the Governor again, no one will be able to help you.”
As they spoke, the Oracle slowly removed the hood. A flood of shimmering white-blonde hair tumbled forth.
The bearer of the Skycloud Doctrine was a beautiful, elegant woman who looked near to forty. Much to Cloudhawk’s shock, she looked remarkably similar to Dawn. It was the color of her hair and eyes that gave it away. At a glance it was obvious the two were related.
“You’ve never cared whether I lived or died!” Dawn answered the woman with a derisive hmph. “I’ve practically forgotten you’re my mother!”
Mother? Was one of the Temple’s mysterious Oracles Dawn Polaris’ mother?
Cloudhawk gaped openly at the revelation. Dawn’s background was unique, Cloudhawk had heard that a long time ago. He’d also heard from her that her mother played an important role in the temple. But an Oracle? Her influence in the organization was even with a Grand Prior.
While the clergy’s physical powers were typically seen as inferior, their respect and influence were higher. Even Phain would likely obey were this Oracle give an order. Yet she seemed so cold, and aloof. Skye Polaris was dead, her daughter had tried to kill the Governor, and yet none of that registered on her beautiful face. She hadn’t even shown herself until now.
“I am an Oracle. I cannot meddle in these affairs. But since Skye has given him the sword...” Her eyes turned to Cloudhawk, and Ardent Wrath which was sheathed at his hip. “… then I will help where I can.”
“How?” Dawn replied curtly.
Things were complicated with Cloudhawk and Dawn, to put it mildly. Even the High Priest couldn’t solve their problems.
“There is only one way to clear Cloudhawk’s name.” The Oracle spoke slowly, deliberately. “We must use the Skycloud Doctrine, and the Arbiter’s Staff to summon the Cloud God. Let the patron of our realm pass judgment.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
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