Cloudhawk stooped and picked up the dull pieces of crystal from the dirt.
Azura stood by his side with a belly full of questions, but did not give voice to any of them.
These people and their relationship was too complicated for her young mind to comprehend. Cloudhawk and Adder obvious respected one another, so why did they have to fight? Cloudhawk obviously cared a lot for Luciasha, so why did they treat each other like strangers?
She’d experienced so much on her journey, so much of which she didn’t understand. So many vivid figures who were strong and brave and persistent and remarkable… but so much of them was a mystery. Azura could only commit them to memory, and let the years to come give her the answers.
Her gaze was on Cloudhawk, who she knew was struggling with what happened. Adder’s words had struck something in her teacher, as did Asha leaving without saying a thing.
Still, he managed to squeeze out a gentle smile her way. “What are you thinking about, you little punk.”
“How can you still smile?”
“You think I should cry?”
Azura thought for a moment. “I guess smiling is better.”
“All that from Adder was just wishful thinking.” Cloudhawk ruffled the little girl’s dirty hair. “I’m not the sort of person to go too crazy like that. It’s a pity, though. He had the potential to shine much brighter.”
“What are we going to do now?” Azura asked.
Cloudhawk put the ghost mask over his grinning face. When he answered his voice was coarse and guttural. “Keep up!”
Revenant led Luciasha and the remainder of Adder’s men northward for several days. Strangely, every time they were running out of water they discovered that someone had left canteens by the side of the road full of clean, fresh water.
Whenever they came upon a group of monsters, they would discover them slaughtered before anyone had to draw a weapon. Even a fool could recognize that they were being watched over on their path.
But who? It didn’t take much to guess.
Several times Revenant wanted to seek him out, but she didn’t have the skills to do so. She also tried quickening their movements to leave him behind but never could manage. Every time she lifted her head she saw a tiny yellow speck flitting overhead.
After a while she came to accept it.
What was Cloudhawk doing? Was this his way of trying to ease his guilt? Was he secretly making the way easier for Asha? It didn’t matter, she wasn’t strong enough to face Cloudhawk face to face anyway. After all, Adder had died at his hand.
Let him follow, then. She was curious how long he’d stick around.
Luciasha also knew, for their trek would not have been this easy without the help of someone strong like Cloudhawk. She didn’t know how to process all that had happened.
Did she hate Cloudhawk? She did, and she didn’t. Luciasha didn’t have an answer.
What right did she have to hate him? Cloudhawk had saved her from a brutal death in the wastes. Without him her body would be rotting in the burnt remains of Lighthouse Point with Coppertooth and all the others.
But it was also true that two of the most important people she knew in life were dead because of Cloudhawk. She remembered Coppertooth hanging from the lighthouse. She didn’t even know where Adder’s body was.
Coppertooth’s death was indirect, though. Perhaps Cloudhawk wasn’t to blame. But Adder? He’d been such a good man, with great dreams!
After three years Luciasha had come to feel deeply for the bar owner, her foster father. He’d treated her like his own daughter. She still couldn’t accept he was gone forever, and that the one who killed him was the man she saw as a brother.
They passed another group of mutant corpses. A dozen or so, one at least ten meters long.
Against monsters like this they’d have lost a few of their crew, even fleeing. Even Cloudhawk likely had to struggle to clear it from their path.
The vast, empty wasteland stretched out around them in all directions. Nothing, no trace.
Where was he? Was he hiding in some dark corner, watching her now? Was he hurt? Luciasha couldn’t help the tears from gathering at the corner of her eyes. Why was he being so stupid! How long was he going to keep this up?
They came upon an oasis just as the final rays of sunlight were fading on the horizon.
It was no more than a couple hundred meters from one end to the other, and in the center was a crescent shaped spring. A few fruit trees cropped up sporadically by its banks, and they discovered that someone had already built a roughshod fence around the place. It was small, and out of the way, but this small settlement still had all the fixings.
There were a couple hundred people living around the oasis, and although remote they still had a small inn for the occasional visitor. The shabby lodgings had a brazier in the center next to which sat a lame and tumor-laden proprietor. He heard them approach, and lifted his head to greet them with a glint in his eye.
He was pleased to find that the two women were free of tumors or other scars of the wasteland. Their skin was soft and white, their bodies toned. A rare sight indeed!
Revenant scowled. There was a flash of cold light, and a dagger appeared buried an inch in the wood of the counter.
The innkeep felt a tremble run through his body. He hadn’t realized she was a fighter, so he gave her an apologetic look before shouting angrily over his shoulder. “Shitheel, get your ass out here! We have visitors!”
The one called Shitheel came when summoned. He didn’t look at all like his name implied.
His whole body was covered in dark red tattoos, and his hair was a crop of stiff red spikes. He had a tough face and was blind in one eye, and the second he walked over the place filled with his presence.
However, his temperament was completely out of sorts with his appearance.
He was timid, almost cowardly, like a mouse surrounded by hungry cats. He looked around in a perpetual state of fear and even his knees shook.
Luciasha frowned at Revenant. “Those look like Highwaymen tattoos. Is he one of them?”
Revenant shook her head to reveal she didn’t know.
They were definitely the Highwaymen’s style, but he didn’t have the temperament of a thug. The Highwaymen were Squall’s men at arms! It didn’t matter, he was a wretch and below Revenant’s notice.
The one-eyed brute fearfully looked at them and stammered. “P-please s-...s-sit.”
They obliged, arranging themselves around a shoddy table. A plate of roasted lizard was provided for them to supp on.
“Wait!” Revenant took up a piece of meat and sniffed at it. Once she was sure it was safe, she nodded to the others. “Tuck in.”
After walking all day everyone was famished. They immediately began stuffing their mouths.
Luciasha raised her head long enough to realize that the innkeeper had disappeared. The one he called Shitheel was hiding behind a nearby column. He recoiled when she saw him, but his one good eye was wide and pleading. “Leave… go!” He whispered.
Luciasha immediately turned to Revenant. “Something isn’t right.”
The second she said it, it felt like the world started spinning. A second later she was unconscious.
Revenant’s face darkened to a thunderhead. She’d checked the food, there wasn’t any poison in it. Besides they were a careful group, and there was always going to be someone who doesn’t eat right away to make sure everything was fine. But even the ones who hadn’t eaten yet were beginning to slip into unconsciousness.
It wasn’t the food! Then what?
It took her a second before she realized – the brazier!
There were pieces of coal smoldering in the fire. They must have added something, some sort of drug that had no color or smell. By the time they realized something was amiss it was too late.
All of a sudden the door burst open and a dozen burly men entered bearing weapons. Lascivious grins were plastered on their twisted faces. The one-eyed man who’d tried to warn them cowered in a corner, but that didn’t stop several of the men from pelting him with punches and kicks. They cursed at him and spit while doing so.
Eventually they grew tired of their abuse, and dark eyes turned on the two women. No effort was made to hide the dark promise in their toothy smirks.
Revenant stood up and went to draw her weapon, but found she couldn’t keep her feet under her. She nearly stumbled into one of their attackers, who knocked her to the ground with a vicious backhand.
“I get this one first.”
“Fuck, have you ever seen women like this?”
“Better back the fuck up or I’ll cut that little worm you call a dick right off!”
Darkness came over Revenant, slowly closing in around the edges of her vision. The last thing she felt was someone turn her over and paw at her body like a pack of hungry wolves.
An indeterminate amount of time passed. Revenant awakened to a splitting headache, but hurriedly snatched up her dagger which was still lying nearby. Her eyes darted around, discovering that the room was empty. In fact it was perfectly clean. Her clothes were still on and no other signs were visible that she’d been violated.
“D-don’t kill m-me! Don’t k-kill m-me!”
Shitheel was still huddled in a corner. She ignored him for the moment and went to check on the rest of her crew. When they were awake she sent several men outside to get a grip on the situation.
Luciasha shook her head to dispel the effect of the drug. Strange, she remembered Shitheel trying to warn her before she passed out. She walked over him to try and figure out what happened.
“D-dead. All dead! A g-g-ghost, k-killed them all!”
Shitheels words were practically incoherent between his sobs and stutters. His face was a frozen mask of fear and his crotch was wet.
“Don’t be afraid!” Luciasha knelt down and tried to calm him. “Hey, what’s your name?”
“No you aren’t, what’s your real name?”
“S-shitheel. I’m a u-useless sh-sh-shitheel!”
“You must have a name, think. Can you tell me?”
Shitheel ‘s face went blank as he thought for a long time. He struggled, his face twisting and wincing until he managed to fight out a word. “S-sprout.”
The other members of their small crew returned and made their report. Every man in the settlement was dead, their corpses flung outside the makeshift fencing like garbage. All that remained were a handful of women and children who had been captured by this band of brigands.
Before whatever tragedy befell them, this place was home to a small band of thugs. A cunning group, and even the likes of Revenant nearly succumbed to their tricks.
She went out to check herself and discovered that they were now safe. Since there appeared to be no further threat in their vicinity, she decided they would remain here for a time.
Luciasha decided that she would take responsibility for the inn now that it was in need of a proprietor. She took to calling their settlement ‘Crescent Moon,’ named for the small body of water at its heart.
The young children came under her care. Finally she had come to possess the life of her dreams, protecting those in need. It was the best she could hope for. Luciasha also knew it only happened with Cloudhawk’s help. Without him she would have died any number of times.
On this particular day she sat outside, watching the rays of the morning sun dapple the peaks and valleys. She was struck by a powerful intuition that told her that Cloudhawk was nearby. All she had to do was call and Cloudhawk would be at her side. Maybe they could mend their relationship and have things be like it was before. But… but maybe it was like trying to mend a broken mirror.
She didn’t call to him. Instead she held the memories close to her heart, and let time encase them like amber to be held inside for all eternity. They belonged to different worlds. All she could do was forever treasure those memories in the depths of her heart.
As day broke and she looked out over the expanse, she saw a faint silhouette moving toward the horizon. The familiar, thin frame looked so lonely, caught on that thin line between heaven and earth.
Lucaisha knew it was the last time she would ever see him. Cloudhawk would never return to Crescent Moon. Their shared story had come to an end. In a way it was plain, their relationship simple. It was a story that didn’t finish neatly, on a complete sentence. All that was taken was not necessarily kept, and that which was discarded not wholly forgotten.
In the years to come, these feelings would fade. It would become difficult to determine what was true and what was not. Theirs was a tale of two in a sea of millions. Small threads in a vast, complicated tapestry that were wound together for a while and then separated again, stretching off into the distant reaches of time.