Finally, the ruckus was over. But the results of that contest was sure to cause excitement throughout the city.
Jupiter Merlo – one of the Mighty Ten – lost to a nameless outsider. Not only did it send a shock through the younger generation, it drew a lot of attention from many of the city’s forces.
Most pleasantly surprised by the outcome was Noah Argyris. The hope had been merely to solidify a union. All Lance had to do was not cause too much trouble. What he never imagined was that this young man was so strong. With the right training he could grow to be a pillar of their great family.
Cloudhawk’s actions had all been calculated. He didn’t care about the kid, nor was he out to humiliate him so badly for so reason. What he wanted was to be part of this ‘Mighty Ten.’ He figured it would help his mission if he were.
Noah and the other family leaders were getting on in years. It would be their priority to train Lance, cultivating him for eventual leadership. What Cloudhawk lacked was an in with the military. He needed a way to convince them to send him to Sky Fortress.
The Argyris family was one of the biggest in Stormford. They had people in all levels of the army. With a word they would get him in. He wouldn’t even need to fight – just kick around for a little while to raise his profile.
Another mark on his record, another step closer to Sky Fortress.
Idonea’s curiosity got the better of her. “You don’t seem all that strong. How were you able to beat Jupiter?”
“Which do you think is stronger, a wolf or a cow? Strength isn’t the only ingredient for victory. The only way it is, is if you are greatly superior in strength. Otherwise you could always change the outcome with skill.”
She was absorbed in thought. Throughout her training, Idonea had focused on increasing her mental power. Seeing how Cloudhawk had defeated Jupiter was inspiring and had her questioning her tactics. Mental strength alone wasn’t enough. She also had to improve her skills and experience.
The Crusade was the perfect chance. She could search for her father while making herself a better warrior. It was obvious to her that if she wanted to protect herself from being pushed around, she had to be strong enough to stand up to people.
“You sure are an interesting one.” She looked him over. “You’re not a weakling and definitely have what it takes to amount to something. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem you’ve done yourself any favors in the public eye.”
It was nonsense of course. The real Lance probably would have cowered behind Idonea today if he were here. But Cloudhawk didn’t need to overly inflate himself. So he replied dismissively. “Our life belongs to us – you can only live for yourself. What does it matter what other people think? We draw breath for only a handful of years. After a few centuries we’re nothing but a speck of light, a mote of dust. Might as well enjoy it while it lasts, right?”
“I don’t agree with that at all!” Idonea’s face grew solemn and she spoke with earnest. “Our lives are our own, but we have family and loved ones to think about. There are plenty of people who rely on us. Even dust has worth. We can’t just cast aside all of that responsibility and live only for ourselves. Without them to live it with us, what’s the point?”
Cloudhawk was mostly spouting bullshit. However, it seemed it’d struck a chord with this sixteen year old girl. Obviously there was more going on in her head than he had thought.
In the end there was no right answer. At the end of the day everyone made their own choices about how to live their lives. Spurning the losers and praising the idealists didn’t mean anything. Pursuing one’s goals unerringly was difficult, nor was it easy to completely free oneself from enticing pleasures. No more worth was given to one or the other – they were just differing attitudes.
… but what bullshit, really. If Cloudhawk had a choice he sure as shit wouldn’t be here. He was strong enough to go wherever and do whatever he wanted. If he could really make that choice, no one would ever find him.
“Let’s drop it.” Cloudhawk wasn’t in the mood to discuss philosophical issues with this kid. “The wedding is in two days. What do you plan to do with your final hours as a single woman?”
Her eyes widened. “Our wedding is fake, remember! The whole thing will be forgotten once I find my father.”
“I know, I know. You don’t need to remind me every five minutes. Honestly I have no interest in you that way.”
“You’re such a bastard! I’ll kick your ass!”
She grabbed the closest thing within reach – something hanging on the nearby wall – and flung it at him. Cloudhawk lazily knocked it away. It was a flute, one of many used the Stormford’s arts culture and so not valuable. It was a delicate instrument. Cloudhawk took a minute to look it over, admiring its construction.
“What are you doing?” Idonea glared at him. “You aren’t going to tell me you can play that thing.”
“I learned a little to help me impress the ladies.”
“You really are a pig.”
Cloudhawk walked over to the window, put the flute to his lips and gave a gentle blow. A couple inelegant tones were released.
This boastful fool, Idonea thought to herself. He thinks he can just pick it up and impress her? He’s just a playboy, what culture does he really know? But much to her surprise, after a few clumsy tries the music took on a pleasing flow.
A slow rhythm gradually formed. It was at once lonesome and vigorous, calling to mind a vast and empty landscape. Sad, solemn and stirring. Idonea listened in silence, looking at him with new eyes. A strange feeling came over her, one she couldn’t quite express. There was a lot more to this man than the stories told, but he still just looked like any other soft noble.
Cloudhawk finished the piece and glanced her way. “What do you think?”
“What was the name of that piece?” She asked. “I haven’t heard it before.”
His response was quiet, thoughtful. “Sands of the Wasteland. I’d be surprised if you had heard it.”
What Elysian would know or understand the culture of the wastes? Of course it wouldn’t be popular. Even if it somehow made its way all the way out here, the style and feel didn’t meld with theirs. How could Idonea know this song came from a distant no man’s land and the ruined godly realm at its border?
Cloudhawk looked out across the city, draped in moonlight. It’d already been several days since he left. He wondered how his friends were doing…
Idonea was right, in a way. There were limits in life. Cloudhawk had the power for freedom but companions to look after. With them came responsibilities that he couldn’t ignore.
The eagle was earthbound.
Two days later, Lance Nilam from Byzantium and Idonea Argyris from Fulmulta were married in the capital’s Temple. It was all rushed through for fear that the bride and groom might change their mind. The ceremony was efficient. Luckily for everyone involved, there was no trouble. Neither Lance nor Idonea caused a fuss. Before long it had come to the final reception.
Within the Temple’s beautiful and intricate halls were two people dressed in wedding garb. Several hundred guests hovered around them. A Master of Ceremonies called out over the festive din. “Let us all welcome the honorable Oracle to bless the new couple!”
Everyone rose and fell quiet. The Oracle was among the Temple’s highest authority, second only to the High Priest. Even the city’s Governor and Commander-General had to pay them respect. It was an honor, and a show of deep respect, for the Oracle to personally bless this union.
An elderly man in silvery-white robes like folds of moonlight stepped forward.
“All praise to the gods. I am greatly heartened to see this pair of talented young people coming together in holy matrimony. Their capabilities and potential bode well for the future of our home. However, what really brings me joy is the decision they have made.”
The Oracle paused for effect before continuing.
“The city’s newest bride and groom have chosen to pledge themselves to our Holy Crusade. When this ceremony has ended they will report for duty and take their places on the front lines, fighting for the glory of Mount Sumeru. Without question, their noble and glorious acts are a shining example for all. May it guide more young people to take up arms against the evils of the world.”
“May the realm grow in peace and prosperity!” The Oracle raised his arms. “May the gods bless this beautiful couple!”
Cheers answered. Idonea looked out at the sea of smiling faces and then at the many by her side. It was difficult to read what was in her eyes.
Cloudhawk, meanwhile, was getting tired. While his progress had been smooth it had not been progressing to his liking. The flames of war were growing and it felt like he was like trying to smother it in paper. What’s more, he wasn’t sure how long he could keep up this charade. The mission had to be completed as quickly as possible and by any means necessary. Skycloud’s days were numbered.Previous Chapter Next Chapter