Skycloud domain, upon a lofty cliff.
As dawn breaks the long night comes to an end. A figure rests upon the peak, still as stone but for the white robes that rustle in the breeze. Slowly opening her eyes, she watches as the winds carry leaves and petal across her vision. All around her clouds hang low and the rush of a nearby waterfall tumbling into a pond gives voice to nature.
Suddenly the figure rises. With a single leap she soars hundreds of meters aloft.
Bearing a sword which gleams with brilliant light a stream of power erupts. It spreads across the sky like the Milky Way, into the waterfall and painting it a stunning gold before causing it to completely evaporate.
The white figure floated serenely down to the ground until her toes gently kissed the ground. She stood upon a rock, lonely and regal like a fairy born into the mortal realm. The light of her sword gradually subsided and, once dim, it was returned to a scabbard at her hip.
“You’ve made great progress.”
There was a sound nearby that caught her ear. A second figure was revealed in the background.
The living shadow, wrapped in black, appeared from nowhere. Janus Umbra, Skycloud’s foremost assassin.
At present Selene Cloude was receiving guidance from two exceptional teachers. The first was the Temple’s High Priest, Ramiel Caelestis. The second was this mysterious leader of the Court of Shadows. As a result, her abilities had improved tremendously over a very short period of time.
“What news do you have?”
“A new power rises in the wastelands. Wolfblade, Abaddon, the Khan of Evernight, the former War Saint, the savant Hellflower, the traitor Dawn Polaris, Woodland Vale’s leader Autumn Draper and others… it is the mightiest alliance in the history of the wastes.”
Selene’s face was expressionless. Until Janus continued.
“All of those notable figures are underlings to the one in charge. They all bow the knee to Cloudhawk – he who overcame Sanctuary’s defenses with a single blow.”
Her stoic face suddenly revealed surprise and that unyielding presence faltered, just for a moment. “He… he’s alive?”
“So it would seem. And not just alive, but far stronger than he was!” Even as Janus was set to explain Selene was already turning away. She was ready to leave immediately, to seek him out. Selene was convinced that Cloudhawk had died that day in Sanctuary. But Janus' words held her fast. “Do you really know where you stand if you go to meet him?”
The words caused her to tremble.
“Cloudhawk is now a leader among wastelanders, their greatest. He is also Skycloud’s most reviled enemy.”
Selene was caught between the person she cared for the most and the realm she zealously wished to protect. How was she supposed to choose between them?
She frowned. “I do not believe that Cloudhawk would push for war.”
Janus’ cold voice slithered from behind her. “Do you really think so?”
The Green Alliance was established and growing. It had attracted an army of mighty supporters. Such an organization could not coexist with Skycloud, they were simply too different in ideology. In establishing this alliance and taking the helm, Cloudhawk had made peace with the reality that he would wage war on the Elysians.
Selene couldn’t fool herself, nor could she ward off the feelings of confusion and uncertainty.
“High Priest Ramiel wishes to speak with you.”
Selene tried to expel her disquiet with a sigh. Her eyes turned toward the southern horizon for a time while she pondered on what the future would bring. How was she to face Cloudhawk? She worried about what changes may have come over him, but greater than her worry was joy that he still lived. Her heart was in chaos, she would need time to think it all over.
It’d been close to two years since any major conflict. Skycloud was mostly back to how it had been.
Children had reappeared on the streets to play, mindless of the dangers that no longer seemed on the horizon. Ignorance was the font of their naivete, the root of their purity, and that purity made them beautiful. All around citizens were making their way to churches, doves fluttered through the air, and it all seemed so harmonious.
“Big sister, are you a demonhunter?”
A small girl with big, dark eyes stood on the side of the road and watched Selene pass.
Selene was taken aback that the young child would be so brave as to talk to her. After all, she was no normal woman. Just her presence was often enough to cause others’ breath to catch in their throat. She answered with a nod of her head.
The girl’s eyes lit up. “So you are going to protect us? My mommy says that the wastelands are full of bad people who are always thinking of ways to break into Skycloud and hurt us!”
Did she even need to ask? Her worries were exactly what Selene lived to allay. She was Selene Cloude, one of the realm’s greatest warriors, full of faith and devout responsibility.
Yet she hesitated. Bending down she gently stroked the girl’s hair and spoke in a warm tone. “Protecting the good people of Skycloud is every demonhunter’s duty.”
The little one bounced happily. “I want to be a demonhunter too, so I can protect my mommy!”
Recent years had seen a change to Selene’s personality. She was no longer the Bloodsoaked Queen, deeply in awe of the gods. She had come to understand that there was nothing that was wholly white, or anything wholly black – all shades of gray. Good and evil were often merely a matter of values and opinion.
Selene no longer believed the gods to be perfect, selfless deities. She had also come to question whether demons were the abject manifestation of evil she had always been taught.
But however her inner monologue had changed, Selene was still the same woman who held duty above all else. She loved the city and the realm that raised her. Although darkness and sin still existed in this place, most people were innocent. Pure of spirit.
She would protect this place. Arcturus would be removed and she would replace him as Governor so that the realm could be guided back to the paradise it was always meant to be. Skycloud was always supposed to be a land of forgiveness and if they had simply embraced Cloudhawk from the beginning, none of this would have happened…
In the end Cloudhawk’s story was revealed to be a tragedy. Selene didn’t want to see the story repeated. There were not many happy places remaining on this world, so she had to protect hers.
Selene made her way back to the Temple where the High Priest was waiting. Time had not been kind to the Temple in this past year. While Arcturus maintained lip service to the gods and their house here in the city, suspicious continued to mount on the Governor’s shoulders. He often bypassed the Temple entirely when making decisions these days.
Ramiel’s eyes slid toward Selene as she entered. “You grow quickly. You may be the only person in Skycloud with the potential to best Arcturus. But quick as your progress has been, it is not fast enough. Every day the Governor hoards more power. I sense the coming catastrophe, lurking just beneath our fair city’s calm exterior. It is a threat to the survival of the gods themselves.”
“High Priest, you mean to say...”
Ramiel sighed. “We cannot know how much longer the Cloud God will slumber. Chaos embroils the wastelands. Our peace in this holy realm hangs by a thread and millions of faithful live their lives unaware of the looming danger. We cannot just sit idly by. We must take action.”
His words were true, but that being said the Temple was still in a weak position. All it boasted was the Templars and a single regiment of soldiers. While it was true that these troops were respected and powerful, they were few. They could not hope to overcome Skycloud’s collected military strength.
Ramiel had a plan for how to deal with Arcturus, however with the Temple in its current state how were they to enact it? The secrets surrounding Arcturus were too dark and too many. The man himself was far too powerful. The might he’d displayed against the demon Elder Judas went beyond anyone’s wildest dreams!
Selene’s voice was grave. “Arcturus is too strong and a master tactician. Our opportunities are limited.”
“That is why I have called you here,” Ramiel said carefully. “Have you heard of the Pool of Divine Power?”
Legends told of a mysterious pool somewhere in the Temple. Daily rituals were performed by the pool’s edge and have been for generations of High Priests and oracles. It was said to be a receptacle of godly power. When mortal danger loomed the High Priest elected one devout follower and conveyed upon them the power of the pool. If the supplicant passed the trial of the gods, they emerged as Savior and wielded the might of those great beings.
Ramiel’s eyes were fixed on Selene as he spoke. “Do you know why I asked you to pledge yourself to the Temple? It is because you had the strength, the talent and the fortitude to be our chosen. We need a saint to rise up and deliver us from ruin. I believe you are that person.”
Selene looked at the High Priest searchingly. “You want me to accept this inheritance?”
“That is correct. Without this power you cannot overcome Arcturus, but if you can succeed in these trials then you will stand a chance.” He peered deeply into her eyes. “But to bear this power you must pay the price. The sacrifice will be worth it, for it will be nothing in comparison to what you will save!”
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