Autumn sat with her legs crossed in the hollow of her tree. The beautiful young woman’s face was pale, her bearing weak. The efforts of the last few days had been a lot for her to bear on such frail mortal shoulders. She had yet to fully recover from the exertion.
Suddenly her still, statuesque form began to change. Her lashes fluttered and her eyelids rose, revealing a baleful glare. Radiating haughty superiority, the animosity in her eyes was ice cold rather than savagely hot. Space warbled before her and two figures appeared from the ether.
“Sorry to bother you,” Cloudhawk said by means of greeting. The episode of being flung from Autumn’s home only a few days ago seemed to have been put out of his mind. “We’ve got a lot this time, several relics – maybe even one you can use. Want to take a look?”
The Shepherd’s god affect was tepid and expressionless. She hardly thought Cloudhawk would bring back anything powerful enough to pique her interest. Unless he’d unearthed something like her flute, then it didn’t matter to her what trinkets he brought. Yet as she was preparing to turn her back on the pair something did catch her eye.
It was one of the spirits Hellflower had managed to capture.
The scientist explained. “This is some strange creature we found while exploring.”
“This is a phantasm, a creature formed by condensing godly spirit and mental power,” Autumn corrected. “They live only under very specific circumstances. You humans cannot unlock the mysteries of these phantasms, only the gods can analyze their nature.”
Autumn’s words only made Hellflower more eager. “Could we impose on her Majesty the Shepherd Goddess to help us?”
She did not refuse, but her response was a dismissive sniff. Cloudhawk cast Hellflower a knowing look.
“Majesty, please forgive any offense. We found something very unexpected during the excursion and I was hoping you may be able to help us identify it.” Hellflower produced something wrapped tightly in cloth. When she removed the layers the arm they’d found was revealed. The armor and gauntlet had been removed revealing flesh much like that of a human’s. However it was entirely hairless, without any blemish, like it was carved from marble. Hellflower presented it to Autumn with both arms outstretched like an official in feudal times presenting tribute. “Please see for yourself.”
The former god expressed satisfaction with Hellflower’s obsequious manner. Whether or not she really believed it, she was at least showing the Shepherd God the proper respect.
When she looked at the limb her brows furrowed. “This is a god’s arm.”
It was as they’d guessed.
“We found this along with a bunch of relics. This proves that whatever world that was had some connection to ours. Gods were there once, what was its history?” Cloudhawk wanted to know the answer, and Autumn was the only one who could give it to him. She was, after all, once a god. “Have you been to this world? Do you know who this arm belongs to?”
Autumn looked at Cloudhawk as though he were an idiot. “Please spare me your simple-minded mortal ideas. With your ant-like intelligence, do you think you can comprehend anything of godly history?”
Cloudhawk’s curiosity endured. “So did I guess wrong? If the gods never went to that world, why did we find a Temple, these relics, and an arm?”
“You found various godly relics. I ask you, did you find any trace of demonic presence?”
“I… not yet.”
“Not yet, not ever.”
“Why would be able to find godly relics but not demonic ones? Can you just speak clearly?”
Autumn stood up and left, spitting a frigid response over her shoulder. “That’s all I’ll say. Figure out the rest yourself!”
Cloudhawk hated when people talked in riddles, and especially when they only gave him part of the information. If she wouldn’t tell him, it wasn’t like he could put a knife to her throat and force her to speak. He wasn’t so bold.
Hellflower was happy enough with their revelations, though. The genetic material she found in this limb would do wonders for her research. Autumn also seemed perhaps open to the idea of helping her discover more about these phantasms. She was eager to begin.
Despite not getting all the answers he wanted, Cloudhawk had indeed made out like a bandit as well. Over the next several days he spent his time going over the relics they found. In the end he’d managed to fix some of them. Cloudhawk was happy to find that with more experience gathering relics was getting easier. Soon he would have what they needed to outfit a contingent of demonhunters.
Now all they needed was for Claudia to train some up. From now on, the title was ‘demonhunter’ wasn’t exclusive to the Elysian lands.
To Skycloud, Cloudhawk’s actions were more terrible than if he’d just outright destroyed the city, and more effective than if he’d killed their strongest warriors. He was proving to everyone that wastelanders could do anything the gods could. Their precious gods were not the absolute authority they pretended to be.
A few days later.
The old drunk returned to Greenland City after seven days on his mission. He had secretly eliminated the more troublesome factions in the four cities and helped establish leaders who were sympathetic to Greenland’s cause. The four cities, at least ostensibly, were under their control now.
Cloudhawk was happy to hear it. He immediately summoned the core of his fledgling kingdom; Dawn, Gabriel, the drunk, Barb, and Claudia.
Dawn strode into the room with a scowl. Her pretty eyes looked ready to spout fire. Seeing her in one of her moods, Cloudhawk felt the sudden urge to just turn the other way. He felt the premonition immediately. What had pissed off their noble miss this time? It took only a moment for him to hazard a guess; for the last several days, he’d been spending his time with Hellflower. Often, no one would see him for a long time.
Dawn Polaris considered herself a noble among nobles. Yet since coming to Greenland City she felt more like a coolie. Every day was spent in the dirt, helping to build up this piece of shit town. Not once had Cloudhawk come to look in on her. How could she not be furious?
That wasn’t all. After his expedition with Hellflower, Cloudhawk had locked himself away in the fort for several days and had been completely absent from public view. About the only person in the gods-forsaken town she could connect with was nowhere to be seen. She couldn’t even go share a drink and blow off steam.
It was like he didn’t care about her at all!
Dawn was not the sort of person who hid how she was feeling. Nor was she the sort willing to put up with things she found to be unfair. This meeting was her opportunity to confront Cloudhawk with his sins. He had to admit he was afraid, so he cut her off before she could explode. "Dawn, you’ve come just in time. The last few days I’ve been working on these gifts. I haven’t even slept. Come take a look!”
Gifts? What gifts?
Dawn fixed him with suspicious eyes as Cloudhawk produced one item after another. Swords, bows, spears – all items of solid quality he’s brought back for them to use. More importantly he’d already fixed them all.
Dawn looked at the pile, shocked. “How did you bring back so many? Did you raid a Skycloud demonhunter family or something?”
“Look at this one!” Cloudhawk held up a yellow pearl with flecks of white inside. “This is called a marshpearl, and it can create an area of swamp to attack your foes. Good for strong an intractable targets. This silver armor here is also more than it seems. It’s got sturdy defenses, and paired with your aegis mirror you’ll be practically invincible!”
“Woah, these look like high-grade relics!” Barb marveled over the collection. “Sir, you’re being unfair! All this for her, just because she’s pretty. Gabriel, don’t you think so?”
Gabriel rubbed his nose and looked covetously at Cloudhawk’s haul. The exchange told Cloudhawk that Barb and Gabriel had gotten closer. A lot of chemistry… there was probably something going on there.
“Hmph, so what if he’s playing favorites?” Dawn’s irritation had vanished. She snatched up her two relics and jumped with excitement, even kissing Cloudhawk before cackling with glee. “Hehehe! Come and get ‘em if you want ‘em!”
Cloudhawk wiped the saliva from his mouth with a bandaged hand awkwardly and coughed. “Everyone’s got something.”
“I’ve got two psychic-type relics. One is a bracelet to help with hypnosis and the other is a mirror that attacks a victim’s mind. Claudia’s already got the Seeker’s Torque, but since you aren’t on the front lines much you can take the bracelet. It will help relieve mental fatigue and aid in teaching. Barb, you can have the mirror.”
Cloudhawk then picked up a blood-colored dagger.
“This one’s called Soulbite. Fits you I think, Gabby.”
Gabriel’s darker personality, Naberius, fancied himself a sculptor. With a tool like this, he’d be even more of a nightmare.
Last was the drunk. His relic was destroyed in the fight against Arcturus so he’d been running around without a weapon now for a little while. Cloudhawk presented him with a relic called Morning Twilight.
It was a sword whose pretty name didn’t do it justice. This one was easily among the strongest relics Cloudhawk had brought back with them. It wasn’t much inferior to Dawnbreaker, if at all.
“It still isn’t fair! We all get one but Dawn gets two!”
Barb made a show of pouting but she was happy with her gift. Although she’d been focusing on martial arts, her mental powers had also improved quite a lot. She’d never had a proper combat relic before besides low-level stuff like exorcist bows. With her new toy she’d fight fierce as a tiger!
She was all the more convinced it was a wise choice to follow Cloudhawk.
“What are you doing, giving all of these away?” Dawn thought of Cloudhawk, but only after safely putting her own relics away. “How about yourself? I know you can use any relic you find, so if you kept these for yourself wouldn’t you be undefeatable?”
“Well look here, you do think about me.”
Cloudhawk lifted his cloak, revealing to the others a gauntlet encasing his left hand. It covered almost his entire arm, like some sort of robotically enhanced limb.
Cloudhawk had plenty of relics, and there were limits to how many a person could use. When it came to relics, more didn’t necessarily mean better. More important was finding one suitable for your needs. To him, the gauntlet was more valuable to him than all the other relics he’d given away put together.
In one trip he’d increased the power of his whole crew by leaps and bounds!