Skycloud, within a small park.
“You wicked devil!”
“Today you will be cut down by my sword!”
A group of children were playing heroes and villains. One of them, face covered with a frightening ghost mask, was playing the antagonist. He was committing all manner of imaginary crimes, ferocious and terrible deeds attributed to Cloudhawk – public enemy number one. The other children flailed their wooden swords at him, playing the role of various heroes and demonhunters.
“Spare me! Spare me!”
The unfortunate child playing the part of Cloudhawk was surrounded and battered about by their weapons. In an effort to get free he took off, only to smack into someone crossing the road. The little boy bounced against a nearby wall and then tumbled to the ground, his ghost mask scattering across the stone.
“Tubby! You ok?”
The children dropped their swords came running, but stopped dead in their tracks.
With wide eyes they looked up at the figure their friend had run into. He was a young man in a dark cloak, tall and strong. The face that peered at them from beneath the cowl was mature and handsome, with wind-tousled black hair and shining dark eyes.
He leaned down and helped the young boy to his feet. He then picked up the mask and handed it back with a gentle question. “Are you alright?”
Even at their young age the children could tell this was no ordinary man. The child took his mask and quickly apologized to the stranger. “I’m sorry mister, I didn’t mean to.”
“It’s alright.” The enigmatic man smiled amicably. “Are you lot playing heroes and villains?”
Several of the boys nodded their heads. “We’re fighting the monster of the wastelands, Cloudhawk!”
There was some surprise in the black-haired man’s reaction. “You’re trying to kill Cloudhawk?”
“Of course!” One of them, an older boy, puffed out his chest indignantly. “That devil Cloudhawk deserves to die! He killed the Commander General, Archbishop Zoren, tried to destroy Skycloud and killed tens of thousands of loyal soldiers at Sanctuary. He could die a hundred times and his sins could never be forgiven! He could never wash al the blood off his hands even if they used all the holy water in the realm!”
“My second uncle died fighting Cloudhawk!”
“When we grow up, we’ll hunt him down and kill him. We’ll get revenge for everyone he’s hurt!”
The stranger looked down at the clamorous children without any hint of emotion. “You might not get the chance. Cloudhawk could die in a few days at the hands of Master Arcturus.”
The boys all nodded. “Yeah, maybe. Master Arcturus won’t let that evil man live for long!”
A clever child piped up. “But when Cloudhawk dies, another evil person will show up. We can’t rest!”
“One Cloudhawk is enough for this world. I hope there will never be a second.” The young man patted the pudgy bow’s face. “Cloudhawk’s a scary guy, if you want to beat him you all have to train hard. Go on, head home.”
With a flurry of polite goodbyes the bows took their tubby friend and left. The fatty felt especially friendly toward the stranger. He was warm and somehow familiar. But no one asked his name or who he was.
He turned around to ask but was surprised to discover that the stranger was nowhere to be seen. Had he been a demonhunter? The pudgy boy thought about it for a moment and decided that had to be the case. Only a demonhunter was so different, noble, and mysterious.
Cloudhawk returned to Skycloud city. It was not a difficult feat to accomplish, this time. These days, anywhere Cloudhawk wanted to go was open to him. With his current strength and master of spatial power, there were only a scant few who could stand in his way.
The city inspired complicated feelings in him. At one time it was paradise, then it’d become a life-changing turning point. What if he could go back six years? What if he could be that kid once again, stepping off the boat with Bloomnettle Company, but this time knowing everything that was to come? What would that kid do? He’d come here searching for peace and quiet, but instead it sent him down a path of twists and turns that only lead to more strife. In reality young Cloudhawk would probably not hesitate a moment to enter the city, even knowing what would come. He’d been a stubborn boy who banged his head against a wall until either his head cracked or the wall gave way.
He’d changed a lot mentally in the last few years. When he first met the Bloodsoaked Queen, his head had been filled with rose-tinted fantasies of the divine realm. Even after seeing the cruelty of Elysians to wastelanders, he still bore hope and longing.
Cloudhawk never achieved the dream he was after. In the end his hopes were dashed and he was left out in a storm. Lost, he drifted aimlessly.
That was when he met another figure who again changed his life. After meeting Skye Polaris, for the first time Cloudhawk began to think about what the purpose of his life was. He decided to take charge of how his life changed, and to do something with it. But this rock in the tide was washed away when he was murdered. Cloudhawk was remanded to the Temple, labeled a blasphemer, and from that moment on there was no place for him here.
If Cloudhawk hadn’t escaped, the Polaris family wouldn’t have defected to the wastelands. The battle for Sanctuary never would have occurred, the Green Alliance would never be. Everything the world was embroiled in would have been different, or never would have occurred at all.
If one had a chance at wealth, health and happiness, who would pass that up? But that wasn’t the case. All that was lost could not be retrieved. One could not turn back the hands of time.
Cloudhawk walked by the Polaris family’s estate. It was deserted now, its doors shut tight. The members of house Polaris had all left Skycloud. Their prestige, represented by this manor, was a thing of the past. Two blocks down the street was another empty estate that had once belonged to the richest merchant family in Skycloud. The Lunae family was also no more, and its holdings had all been purchased by another rich merchant.
The atmosphere around Skycloud had changed quite a lot. Its citizens had once been stalwart in faith and believed their city was the center of the earth. Before the wall fell, they were certain the evils of the outside world could never touch them. Adder irrevocably changed that when he detonated the nuclear bomb. In that moment Skycloud was opened to all the foul things it’d managed to ignore for generations. For the first time, its citizens realized how precarious their peace had been.
They probably didn’t even realize it was all just the beginning of the turmoil.
Cloudhawk pondered over the best way to reach out to the Temple. As he did, a carriage borne by snow-white griffins clattered down the lane. Seated within were two familiar figures. One was a pretty woman cradling a two year old child. Beside her was a man in his thirties with fiery red hair. He looked to be her husband, and judging by their mode of travel they were both important people in the city.
“Isn’t that Madam Veronika and Blaze?” . Luckily Lady Veronika married Blaze Pyrrus of the League of Demonhunters. The union of the Leclair family and the League have made them both stronger.”
Cloudhawk listened to the passersby as they gossiped. So it was those two? Veronika came from an offshoot part of the Leclair family, but was a remarkable member nonetheless. As a graduate of Hell’s Valley she once fought shoulder to shoulder with Cloudhawk. Blaze, the man at her side, he’d also encountered on several occasions. He was the second in command of the League of Demonhunters and one of the bright stars of his generation. Only, he worked hard to keep a low profile and was only slightly more recognized than Atlas Umbra.
Both of them had an ax to grind with Cloudhawk. The Leclair line’s patriarch had been Archbishop Zoren, who was slain by Cloudhawk at the battle for Sanctuary. Blaze’s younger sister, Belinda, had died following Cloudhawk on a mission to Woodland Vale. Both Veronika and Blaze now hated Cloudhawk to various degrees. He hadn’t expected to simply run into them like this.
Things in Skycloud all looked the same, but the people had all changed in some way or another. It made Cloudhawk nervous, for there were many in the city who would recognize him.
He’d changed a lot, both in presence and appearance, but there was no guarantee he wouldn’t be recognized. Things would turn very bad very quick if he was discovered. He’d wanted to wander the city a little and remember old times, but there was no one he could trust out here. Perhaps it would be better to make his way directly to the Temple and do what he’d come here to do.
As he made his decision Cloudhawk felt an electric shock run through his body. It was his danger sense. It felt like being stared down by a poisonous viper. When he turned around he saw a figure standing there, who’d managed to approach unnoticed. He was an average looking man, at least from the little he could see. Half the figure’s face was hidden behind a black mask. Wrapped in black from head to toe he was like a living shadow. On the surface there was little to be concerned of, but the aura he exuded was one of lethal danger.
Janus Umbra, the Titan of Many Faces.
Cloudhawk felt his heart skip a beat. What was he doing here? A haunting, evil lingering force – how did he even know Cloudhawk was in the city?! He’d been careful and was confident he could be just as sneaky as this assassin. He hadn’t interacted with anyone since coming back, so unless Janus had some way to know the future there was no reasonable explanation for him being here.
Janus stared at Cloudhawk with cold, dead eyes. “Your mask once belonged to me.”
Cloudhawk absently touched the Mask of a Thousand Faces, tucked away in his clothes. It used to belong to Janus? Had he been able to track down Cloudhawk by its resonance? But the mask had been given to him by Selene, so what was his connection to it? Did he have some connection to Selene?
Cloudhawk narrowed his eyes, and in their depths burned crimson fire. “Are you here to try and stop me?”
Janus’ posture remains calm, he never reached for a weapon. He replied with apathetic tones. “If I wanted to make my move, I wouldn’t have let you see me. I am no match for you in a direct fight.”
The man knew his limitations.
Cloudhawk took a brief moment to glance around, looking for signs of an ambush. Janus was unlikely to try and fight him alone. “What do you want?”
“Come with me.”
The assassin turned around and started walking away. Cloudhawk thought for just a moment, but fell in behind Skycloud’s legendary killer.
“Ever since Archbishop Zoren died, the Leclair family has lost a lot of clout [ref] Veronika was originally Veronika Bright. I didn’t make the connection that they were from the same family until – well, until just this second, actually. So retcon!