Book 7, Chapter 79 - Crescent Moon

An endless blue sky. Vast, yellow sand. Nothing seemed to exist between.

The wind kicked up plumes of grit, forming into dervishes that danced along the dunes. For a moment sky and sand were joined as the swirling winds meandered toward the northern horizon. Out there was a ribbon of green that could be easily overlooked or dismissed as a mirage. A secluded oasis in the shape of a crescent moon hugged a small lake that reflected the azure heavens above.

It was a small respite from the desert, with a population of only several hundred. Most were pregnant women and children. A rare sight in today’s broken world.

It was certainly a target. There were those who sought to plunder the oasis from its wealth and women. However, in an almost mythical fashion, anyone with wicked intentions – from the lowliest bandit to the mightiest sweeper clan – was annihilated before they could act. No survivors remained, only the memory of their cruel fate.

Over time people came to know that this otherwise ordinary encampment was protected by a mysterious power. It was unbreakable, unassailable. 

Sprout rose with the dawn. He fetched some water, cleaned, cooked and fed the animals. Once all his chores were done, he then sat by the camp’s entrance and stared out into the wastes.

He was a large and hideous man, but although he looked intimidating he was actually quite timid. People ordered him around all day and he never complained. Instead, with an amicable smile, he merely did as he was told.

Sprout’s past was a mystery to him these days, but that didn’t trouble him. He didn’t want to know what had happened to him before. Something was wrong with his head, but he thought maybe that was a good thing. All misfortune and unhappiness came from the past. What people regretted and what they missed. Sometimes it also came from fear of the future. Sprout focused on the present, where he was happy. There was no need to dwell on the past. There was no reason to fixate on tomorrow.

He was happy now.

What made him the happiest was sitting in front of the oasis and protecting it. He stared at the sand dunes, rolling across the horizon like frozen waves. Overhead the solid blue sky stretched on forever, as empty as his head. It was glorious. Just a blissful emptiness, with nothing to think on and nothing to fuss over.

Clink, clink!

The jangling sound of a makeshift wind-chime rose with the breeze. Sprout’s eyes caught a group of small dots on a distant ridge. He turned back and shouted over his shoulder. “The Master’s back! Master’s back!”

His words surprised the oasis denizens. Sixty or seventy percent of the people here were women or children and from among them came a pretty – if rather thin – lady. Her hair was tied back with a kerchief and she was wrapped in simple animal leathers. Among the folds was a small infant.

She was Luciasha, the leader of their home.

It was strange that in this brutal world, where the strong often subdued the weak, a woman with no powers to speak of served as their leader. This was even more surprising when one learned that the camp actually had many capable fighters who all bowed to her.

Beside Luciasha stood a woman dressed all in black. She held a sheathed long sword in one hand. Serious in speech and manner, with her face covered in a dark veil, she was an intimidating figure that could cut down a contingent of Skycloud warriors without issue.

Revenant’s eyes were fixed on the horizon. “He’s back.”

Luciasha’s lips curled into a faint smile. “Yes. And he’s brought others with him this time.” 

It was clear from the people’s reaction that this visitor was not an enemy.

Among the encroaching group was a group of camels and other beasts of burden, laden with supplies. Cheers erupted among the denizens as the resources were delivered and they rushed over to greet the arrivals.

A young man dropped from the back of one of the beasts and addressed the people with a wide smile. “Don’t worry, there’s enough for everyone. Sprout, let’s get this stuff passed out.”

Sprout happily obliged. Luciasha then came over and looked the young man over.

“Squall, I’m surprised you have the time to visit!”

The young member of the Hand of Gehenna was around twenty five now and had the bearing of a mature traveler. He’d changed a lot from his days with Bloomnettle Company, but even after all this time he was still a part of Luciasha’s life. Although they were apart much longer than they were together, both knew it was only for a little while.

But… she couldn’t help thinking of someone else whenever they met.

It always made her sad. Even in this secluded place sometimes news passed through. She heard tales of the things he did. Crescent Moon’s safety was due in part to Squall’s protection, but she knew he was watching out for them from his far-away capital, sending people to keep their little patch of desert secure.

The rift in their relationship had never healed…

Squall responded in a gentle voice. “I came to see the little one. How is he?”

Luciasha held a small boy against her chest, no more than two years old. He was sleeping soundly. Even in this inhospitable desert the boy looked healthy and adorable. Obviously the product of tender love and care.

“Who’s this?” Her eyes turned to a tall man by Squall’s side. He wore drab gray clothing and had many weapons strapped to his back. The stranger was slightly older than them.

“Ah, I almost forgot. This is my brother, Frost de Winter.”

This was Frost? She was surprised to finally meet him. Luciasha first heard the name five years ago Sandbar Outpost. He was praised as a great demonhunter and talented military commander. It was later that she learned from Squall about their shared blood.

Frost dropped his hood, revealing a bearded and handsome face. He was in his thirties, but the burdened look in his eyes made him look much older. The dashing air he once bore was gone, but it was replaced with a grim sort of resolve.

“Can I see him?”

“Of course, you’re his uncle.”

Luciasha carefully handed him over, and Frost’s calloused hand took the child from her. His dour features broke ever so slightly and there was the faintest hint of warmth as he stroked the boy’s cherubic cheeks.

“Does he have a name?”

“Everyone here has taken to calling him Wolf Cub. A pack of wild wolves was roaming near the camp the night he was born,” Luciasha said with a gentle laugh. “He doesn’t have a proper name. We wastelanders don’t care much about that.”

Frost nodded. He looked down at the pure little life and stared in silence for a little while. Soon a terrible war would come and many would die. In all likelihood most of humanity wouldn’t survive. One day it would fall to Wolf Cub, little Skye [1] and Cloudhawk’s disciple Azura to fill their shoes. Architects of a new era.

Frost and people like him… all there was left for them to do was leave these young people with the best chances possible. 

Squall broke in. “We need everyone to pack up and come with us right away.”

Luciasha was surprised by this news. She didn’t like the idea. “We’re fine here. Why should we leave?”

“The final fight is coming. Nowhere on this planet will be safe. We need to bring you somewhere else, where the war won’t touch you.” A coquettish smile touched Squall’s lips. “Cloudhawk’s opened a portal to another world. It’s got a huge city. Safe. There’s hot water, bread, comfortable lodging… you all will live there.”

Cloudhawk…

It felt like it’d been an eternity since she heard that name. A long time ago – in another life – they were like brother and sister. After Adder all of that changed. She bore him no ill-will anymore. Actually, she felt guilty for what happened. These days he was a god-like figure, standing at the front of humanity’s rebel army. She was just a little mouse hiding in the sand dunes.

Squall continued. “Come on. You have to leave, for me and for our son.”

She nodded. “Alright.”

Crescent Moon was abandoned. As they left, Sprout stopped every few steps to look back with a downcast expression. This had been home. No one bullied him. He was happy. Now it was all going to change.


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Xiao Lai's Thoughts

Man, never thought we'd see her again...