Prologue: The Immortal Artisan
The cataclysm of a thousand years ago had turned mountain ranges into vast plains. It turned the seas into endless deserts. Earth’s environment was irreparably changed.
In one part of the southern hemisphere, mountains snaked around each other in irregular patterns. It was one of the most complex topographical areas of the world following the planet’s destruction. Here, the climate was uncharacteristically mild. Among the deep gullies, clouds had gathered that rumbled with thunder reverberating off the mountain sides. This constant cacophony earned it a name – the Growling Range.
Over twenty five million people called the Range home. They lived in the Elysian realm of Stormford, established a thousand years ago by the gods. It was not the most powerful of the five Elysian realms, but it was the most peaceful. By comparison, Skycloud had been established in the plains where the Great War had been waged. It had the largest distribution of relics, but was also where wastelanders skittered among the ruins like cockroaches.
Stormford was established as a refuge after the war. Survivors gathered here to rebuild. The stories claimed that before the war, these mountains and plateaus were at the bottom of a great sea. For this reason there was no trace of the ancient society that once called earth home. Sprawling mountains and labyrinthine ravines helped the realm remain hidden. Generations of isolation have produced a population of humble and straightforward folk.
Byzantium was the second largest city in Stormford.  It was separated from the realm’s capital – Fulmulta  – by five kilometers or so. On paper that didn’t seem like much, but the difficult terrain meant airships were the only viable transportation.
Byzantium was a typical mountain town. Its structures were built into the range with the highest point eight or nine hundred meters above the ground. From the peak one could look down all across the city, and likewise from the mountain’s foot one could look up and see it all spread skyward. Buildings were tightly packed and interspersed with cable cars moving back and forth. The city felt busy and well off.
On the other side of the mountain it was built into, there was a great lake. Mountain ravines created sparkling lakes full of crisp, clear water. Fishing vessels floated on the surface, their passengers casting nets.
Most of Stormford’s cities were like this one, built into the surrounding mountains or utilizing complex cave systems. Some even had vast underground sections delving deep into the Range.
Byzantium had one such area, which was used as a vast marketplace.
It was a suitable location. Much of the exchanges were less than legal, such as purchase of drugs, relics or other banned materials. One corner of this gray market was occupied by a very humble shop that took pains not to catch the eye. Yet despite this the clientele wandering in and out were certainly people of means. Not merchants or powerful political sorts, but demonhunters. All of it was shrouded in an air of mystery.
A man who went by the name Master Black owned the establishment. He was an obscure figure, well known for being able to repair even badly damaged relics. Word was he could even reforge relics that were broken into fragments. Ruined items that even the Temple could do nothing with might find new life from his hands. His unique skill-set enticed all manner of interesting people to his shop.
With abilities like his Master Black would be a famous man in Fulmuta. In all likelihood he would quickly garner the Temple’s attention and hired to work there. But the artisan preferred to keep a low profile. For decades he worked in his little shop in the corner of Byzantium’s market and kept to himself. The strange master was a mystery to all who knew him.
Master Black sat in the furthest part of his shop, fiddling with a handful of scraps. He stared with fixed attention on the items, as though in all the world these fragments were the only thing in the world that interested him. He was an ordinary looking man, thin and little unkempt.
The bell above the door chimed. An unexpected patron entered. The elderly artisan didn’t even lift his head and continued to pour over the fragments. “Sorry, I’m not serving people without an appointment,” he muttered over his shoulder. “If you’re here for business you need to schedule a time.”
“There are always exceptions.” The visitor spoke in reserved tones. His voice put him somewhere in early adulthood. “I heard Master Black was interested in rare relics. I thought you like to look at my sword.”
He pulled the sword in question from a sheath, revealing its long black make.
A cold gin touched Master Black’s lips. Another young fool too big for his britches. After so many years in the business, how many deadly relics had the master accumulated? He peeked at the corner of his eye toward the man, a dismissive glance, but then his face stiffened.
It was nothing about the look of the blade that grabbed him. The weapon was nothing but ordinary, at first glance. Rather, it was what he felt – a power unlike anything he’d experienced before. He might live to be thousands of years old and never see another like it. Such a marvelous artifact couldn’t have just appeared out of thin air.
“Who are you!” All at once Master Black fixed his full attention on the stranger. He peered at him with narrowed eyes.
He was wrapped in simple black clothing. Lowering his hood revealed a mop of black hair, and an unblemished face that almost appeared to be the work of a master carver. The only oddity – besides his perfection – were his eyes. One was dark black, and the other a foggy silver.
Cloudhawk greeted the artisan with a smile. “Surprising that the greatest artisan of the demons not only survived the Great War but has lived in total obscurity among the humans. It must have been irritating to have to change your identity so often over the years.”
“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t play stupid. Legion has already told me who you are, Elder Belial .”
Once again the demon’s face blanched. This human knew Legion? He wasn’t a servant of the gods, which helped him breathe a little easier, but he was speaking far too loud! What if someone outside heard? What was this fool thinking!
“Relax, no one outside can hear us.” Cloudhawk stepped forward until he was standing before the artisan. Compared to the old man, who was about a hundred and sixty centimeters tall, Cloudhawk was an imposing figure. “Allow me to introduce myself. Cloudhawk, from Skycloud. I am your King.”
There was no question, Belia’s cover was blown. More than likely it was that old bastard Legion who tipped him off. So with no further reason to keep up the act a sinister smile curled his lips. “Demon King? You – a human?”
To illustrate Cloudahwk extended his hand. The cube held within was released with a flick of his wrist and small boxes were diffused all through the area. With a thought, cloudhawk could transfer the entire store and everything in it into another dimension.
“This is… a subspace cube!”
Uncertainty colored Belial’s face. He knew how hard it was to get one’s hands on something like this, much less call on its powers. This young human had a rare talent and power that surpassed any mortal creature.
“Very well, but I don’t care who chooses to call themselves King. All I want to know is why you’re here.”
“I have something to do, and to do it I need your help.”
The subspace collapsed back into Cloudhawk’s palm. The cube disappeared into his sleeve.
He’d come here at Wolfblade’s direction to find the legendary demon artisan. Belial and Legion were demons of a different sort. Unlike their kin, war and killing didn’t entice them. They preferred the more simple pleasures of a quiet life.
But much to Belial’s misfortune, he didn’t have a choice but to help this human.
1. The name of the city in ‘Purple Lightning City’, and it’s caused me a hell of a headache. Byzantium is a shade of purple and, obviously, the name of an ancient empire. It was the closest feasible thing I could think of, but unfortunately has no relation to lightning. Trying to find something that’s not too esoteric but also not too wordy that sounds good and involves BOTH purple and lightning has proven to be very difficult. I’m open to suggestions.
2. Slightly less difficult, but still time consuming. ‘City of Ten Thousand Lightning Bolts’ is the Chinese name. I went with a combination of ‘fulmen’ and ‘multus’ - lightning and a lot, respectively.
Welcome to the new order.