Two Oracles held sway in the temple:
First, Aquaria – Oracle of Order.
Second, Thora – Oracle of Justice.
It was obvious that the relationship between Oracle Aquaria and her daughter was strained. Although Dawn and Skye often fought, there was still obvious affection between them. The only sense Cloudhawk got when these two women faced one another was that of estrangement.
Of course, he didn’t give a shit. Lifestyles of the aristocracy weren’t in his wheelhouse, but it sounded like she had a plan for the situation they were in.
One of the Temple’s most important functions was to serve as a link between man and the gods. However, no one knew how they did it.
In submitting Cloudhawk to divine judgment, they needed to call forth a god to this earthy plane. They would rely on the wisdom and power of their patron god to levy a ruling on the young man and determine whether he was just in action. If indeed he colluded with the enemy, then the power of the gods would bring this to light. No human could hide secrets before their almighty benefactors.
The Cloud God was also the supreme authority over their realm. It seemed to be the only way to clear Cloudhawk’s name.
But was Cloudhawk confident in submitting himself to judgment? He wasn’t so sure!
For starters, he was not one of the faithful. Skycloud was a place that ran on religious conviction, of which Cloudhawk had none. Anyone who didn’t believe was branded a sinner. And then there was the very big fucking caveat that he was the bearer of the Demon King’s inheritance.
That wasn’t a tiny secret. If the Demon King returned… the news would shake the entire world. It could start another Great War. A storm like that, not Cloudhawk could avoid getting swept up in. From the standpoint of anyone in Skycloud and all of the gods, Cloudhawk was the personification of evil. The gods would act, descending on him like armageddon. There would be no escape.
He didn’t have a choice, though. Refusing to submit to judgment was tantamount to admitting guilt.
There wasn’t much in the way of precedent when it came to wastelanders in Skycloud. Its highest leaders didn’t trust him, so it seemed that the only way to overcome their prejudice was to call on help from the gods themselves.
Dawn had utter faith in Cloudhawk, but she also knew he was not a normal man who kept many secrets. When Auquaria made the suggestion, Dawn was skeptical. “Would that help his case? You know as well as I do that he’s from the wastelands. How can the Cloud God accept an outsider, an unbeliever? You’re sentencing him to death!”
“Skycloud has its rules, and the Temple has its own. If he does not pass muster in the eyes of the Cloud God, then he has only himself to blame.”
As Oracle of the Temple, Aquaria was strictly bound to its precepts. She could not act on the affects of family as normal people would. But in the end, she was still a mother. She had no desire to see the Polaris family doomed to decay, or for her daughter to be implicated in the death of her grandfather.
As for Cloudhawk? If Skye gave him Ardent Wrath, it was because the boy was important.
The last time he’d gotten into trouble, Dawn hadn’t hesitated to swear her life on his innocence. That was clear proof the girl had great affection for the low-born outsider. She was in dire trouble now, but was not without redemption. They still had time to recognize and avoid further trouble, if they acted now.
And then there was the truth that if everyone was guilty, then no one was.
When Dawn swore her honor in Cloudhawk’s defense, she wasn’t alone. There were many who stood by his side, included several from the Umbra family. If Cloudhawk were to be found guilty, severe punishments would have to be levied against his friends, but there was too much power and influence behind them for executions to be carried out.
After all, those who stood by Cloudhawk were the talented future of Skycloud.
Aquaria had to know the truth about Cloudhawk, both as a representative of the Temple, and as Dawn’s mother. If he died from divine retribution, Dawn might hate her, but at least she’d have done her duty to keep her daughter safe.
Ultimately, Cloudhawk’s fate meant nothing to Aquaria. In fact his presence in Dawn’s life was an unneeded risk, as far she was concerned.
Grand Prior Phain led Cloudhawk through the Temple toward a chamber they hadn’t been to before. He stepped in and announced their presence. “Honorable High Priest, I have brought the accused.”
The chamber housed twenty four statues arrayed in a circle. The imposing figures glowed with their own milky light, and as they looked upon the chamber’s occupants in stoic silence their beauty could be appreciated. Each one was a work of art, masterfully crafted and without gaudy or unnecessary decoration. In the middle of them all stood High Priest Ramiel Caelestis and Apostle Selene Cloude.
Behind them was a crystal doorway flanked by a pair of alters. The Temple’s Oracles stood beside them bearing Skycloud’s Doctrine and the Arbiter’s Staff.
From a distance, the rest of Skycloud’s elite watched with baited breath. Everyone was eager to see what judgment would be passed down from the mouth of a god.
For someone as insignificant as Cloudhawk to warrant disturbing a god’s slumber was remarkable to them. It was like using a broadsword to behead a chicken. However, many were interested to learn of Cloudhawk’s secrets.
In just a few short years, this enigmatic young man had captured everyone’s curiosity. How had a wastelander learned to employ mental powers? How had an outsider grown so strong, so quickly?
The rate at which Cloudhawk cultivated his skills outstripped every other talent of his generation. If the gods smiled upon him, then Cloudhawk would have no trouble finding a new powerful benefactor to support him.
High Priest Ramiel, despite his white hair and advanced years, was still hale and hearty. He nodded sagely as they entered the chamber. “Cloudhawk, after several days of hearings and reviewing all the evidence, we have not found sufficient cause to determine your guilt. However, too many questions remain to assert your innocence. We must thus rely on the infinite wisdom of our realm’s patron, the Cloud God, to determine how we shall proceed. Do you submit yourself to the omniscient gaze of the gods for judgment?”
Well fuck, do I have a choice? Inwardly Cloudhawk cursed his situation, but he knew there was no getting out of it.
Selene watched with a faint note of concern in her face. She didn’t think Cloudhawk had done anything wrong, but he was a non-believer. Would the gods tolerate someone who openly defied their supremacy?
Hearing no objection, High Priest Ramiel slowly raised his hand. “Open the Divine Door!”
Several dozen priests and clerics began to chant. The two Oracles reacted to the High Priest’s orders.
The first bore Skycloud’s Doctrine, a tome that represented order, peace, the rule of divine law, and tradition. The other was the Arbiter’s Staff, which represented judgment, discipline, punishment and authority.
Both epic-level relics started to react to the chanting. Their intrinsic powers awakened, and each rose from the altars they’d been placed upon. Floating of their own accord they gently entered the Divine Door. Moments after they vanished, everyone could feel it as an old and powerful will awakened. The majestic aura that followed was more crushing than a mountain.
The crystal doorway started to undulate as though it were instead made of liquid. From within, there emerged a humanoid figure, tall and glowing with radiant light. Its presence was like a sun’s rays after a terrible storm. And although the light was intense, it did not hurt the eyes.
An aura of absolute divinity filled the chamber.
All but the High Priest immediately fell to their knees. Here among them appeared a god worshiped by millions, a great and true being of divinity. It was the righteous guardian of their realm – the Cloud God!
Who was the true master of the Temple? The common folk thought it was the High Priest, but there was another who slumbered in secret, far separated from the mundane lives of man. The Cloud God was the being which ruled over the Temple in its entirety.
Arcturus Cloude watched the figure emerge from the crystal doorway from a distance. Wrinkles deepened around the corner of his eyes, but otherwise the Governor displayed no emotion. And then a deluge of divine spiritual energy flooded the chamber, exploding through the minds of all who were present.
“My faithful, why have you called for me?”
Everyone could feel the breadth of this power as it filled them. Even a man like Phain pressed himself closer to the ground under the weight of this celestial will. Of all presence, the only person who could remain steadfast against the weight of this creature’s presence was Governor Arcturus.
Was this the will of the Cloud God? Selene couldn’t bring herself to look directly at the doorway.
Ramiel lifted his head and began to speak with their patron god, though none could hear the exchange. They did not speak in words, but rather mind to mind.
Cloudhawk felt the immensity of this creature’s presence right away. Another surge of energy was released from the door like a column of divine might descending from heaven. It pierced into Cloudhawk’s mind.
Such a potent and indomitable will was unlike anything Cloudhawk had experienced before.
All at once every memory and experience in his life started to bubble up to the surface unbidden, even many he’d forgotten. Behind his eyes strange symbols were extracted, coalescing into something like a book that could be leafed through.
Was this great being able to read him, like a book?
This realization both shocked and frightened Cloudhawk. If it was able to look right into his mind, then no man could hide their secrets from the eyes of a god. It was like Barb’s Heart-scry Thorn, only a hundred times more potent!
Nothing he had experienced – no thought or desire – was hidden. No power he possessed – not even the inheritance from the Demon King – could obfuscate his heart.
Cloudhawk tried to rise, but found himself to be powerless. His tiny presence was like a dinghy in the vast, rough sea that was the Cloud God’s mind. The book of his memories was complete, and danced from page to page with incredible speed.
The Cloud God would require only a passing moment to know and understand all of what Cloudhawk was.
Yet when the god reached out to gather the knowledge, a scene that Cloudhawk did not expect was revealed. Suddenly, violently, several pages from the book were ripped from its binding and scattered all over like discarded leaves.
A hint of confusion infected the Cloud God’s mentality. In all its many years, and for all its incredible power, the Cloud God had never experienced something like this before.
The god reacted with even more power, and Cloudhawk felt it crash into him like a tidal wave. Blood started to trickle from his nose. All of his broken memories froze, and the mind of the Cloud God began to shuffle among them.
The pages that were Cloudhawk’s memories were in disarray, all mismatched scenes of chaos. Inconsistencies were rampant, and some even took place in entirely different ages.
The furthest memories reached back to the time of the Great War. The most recent were being written in this very moment. This made the Cloud God even more curious. How could a mortal’s memories be so vast? A being of such limited lifespan, and especially one who was so young, could not possess the memories from several lifetimes ago.
Yet these memories were his. Where did they come from?
The mighty being paused, until an overpowering thought boomed through Cloudhawk’s mind. “Approach, mortal!”
Cloudhawk’s disjointed memories were like a jigsaw puzzle, but started to reorganize themselves into something more coherent. The god was attempted to piece them together into something more complete. Meanwhile, Cloudhawk’s body was no longer under his control. He took several stumbling steps toward the crystal door.
It rippled in front of him like a reflective pool. He vanished within.
A shock ripped through the temple. Shocked eyes stared in horror as the twenty four statues towering above them cracked, as though two violently powerful wills were locked in contention.