Dawn and Cloudhawk had a friendship that was forged through hardship. His bond with Hellflower was just as complex.
Both women were important to him. For Dawn, it was obvious; Cloudhawk had absolute trust in her and she was responsible for saving Greenland City from invasion. However, Hellflower was also an integral part of their fledgling territory. Not only was she a brilliant scientist, but she was their link to much needed resources.
Greenland City wouldn’t be where it was now without the Dark Atom and Woodland Vale. If Dawn insisted on fighting with Hellflower, Cloudhawk would find himself uncomfortably caught in the middle.
Dawn was definitely strong enough to grind Hellflower into the dirt, but strength wasn’t everything. When it came to scheming and sinister methods, Hellflower was ten times more capable than the demonhunter.
This was a real problem Cloudhawk had to deal with now, before it got out of hand. Cloudhawk started by bringing Dawn out for a drink after the meeting.
The two absconded to a secluded corner of the fort. Dusk had fallen and most of the city’s denizens had turned in after a long day of work. There were still some people about, though. Merchants and guards with free time, who came to the fort to blow off some steam and look for a good time.
To the eyes of an Elysian, even this place was very backward. Grass and weeds had crept into the urban spaces, and there were all sorts of critters you had to step around even inside the fort. Here, people lived a very primitive lifestyle.
Outside, the God Tree enchantment was nearly complete. A transparent field of energy tumbled from its canopy like a curtain of water, enveloping everything. As the rays of the setting sun filtered through it, the light softened and bathed the city in a pleasant glow.
Some of that light shined on a grave without a marker, nestled near the fort. Two figures sat nearby sharing a drink; one a haughty and beautiful woman, the other a simple and untamed man. A strange and incongruous pair.
Cloudhawk shared the story of the simple, yet complicated woman buried before them.
In some ways Dawn and Artemis were very similar. Like Dawn was an upgraded version of the wasteland woman. Vengeful, loyal, emotional – in these ways they were cut from the same cloth.
Dawn took another swig of wine. This wastelander brew was inferior to Elysian stuff, but it still painted her delicate cheeks with splotches of red. After hearing about Artemis she was quiet for a time. Eventually she used her sleeve to wipe her mouth then spoke. “I’m sorry I caused you trouble. It’s hard to let go of my old temper. That tramp just riles me up.”
Cloudhawk shook his head and looked at the grave.
“Artemis was killed by Abaddon. The demon is indirectly responsible for killing a lot of mercenaries who were my first teachers. By all rights I should hate him, but I choose to bear it.”
“We don’t have a choice. I want to kill Arcturus but we’re still too weak. I can’t just waltz up and put my sword through his heart. I just have to choke it down.”
“Yup, that’s the way it is. I hope you can think of everything that way. There’s a whole lot in this world that might be hard to swallow, but we’ve got to. At least for now.”
“Relax,” she said. “I know where to draw the line. I’m here to help, not to cause trouble.”
Cloudhawk nodded his head appreciatively. If that’s how she felt, then he didn’t have anything to worry about. “Anyway… now that you’ve taken so many people and left Skycloud it doesn’t look like there’s any going back. What’s your future plans look like?”
“Future plans?” She chuckled before giving a frank response. “Nothing! I wasn’t thinking at all when I led these people out of Skycloud.”
Cloudhawk nearly choked on a mouthful of wine.
“What’s the point? You’ll help me figure it out anyway.” Dawn reached out a hand and clapped it on Cloudhawk’s shoulder. “Wherever you go and whatever you do, I’m right there with you. It’s that easy, no reason to wrack my brains over it. Together forever!”
Dawn’s eyes glittered with determination. Cloudhawk couldn’t help but feel a pressure settle on him, born from the trust and affection she felt.
He didn’t have nearly as much confidence in their situation as she had. Cloudhawk didn’t feel like he had any level of control over his future, how could he be responsible for Dawn’s? She was such a sincere person… but be it the sincere Dawn or the guileful Hellflower, whenever he was with either woman Cloudhawk’s thoughts turned toward another white-clad beauty.
He wasn’t going to disappoint someone, no matter what he did.
Beneath Dawn’s carefree exterior was a sensitive heart. She sensed some of Cloudhawk’s apprehensions and spoke up with an indifferent tone. “I understand, you know. A man lives his life for pleasure and peace of mind. Some things don’t need to be so complicated.”
She took another gulp from her bottle. “When grandfather died, I realized that fortune is fickle. Our destinies are out of our control. I don’t think about the future anymore, I just live in the moment and follow my heart because I could be dead the next minute. So long as I leave with no regrets, then that’s enough.”
Dead any minute… live with no regrets. It was a forthright theory. Cloudhawk still felt the same heroic spirit coming from Skycloud’s devil-woman, but he could tell she was lost.
In the last few years everything – actions, people, fate – all affected one another. Nothing ever remained constant. Enemies were now friends, old allies became foes. Hate grew from love and mutual dislike could be washed away with time.
Yeah... guess that is life.
Cloudhawk leaned back and shut his eyes. He felt like everything was connected, tied together in a huge net with no edges. Like a million rivers rushing together toward the sea, whatever their twists and turns they always wound up together.
“We’re all just dust underneath the same starry sky. All we can do is try our best. The only thing we can control is ourselves.” Cloudhawk opened his eyes to see Dawn’s smiling face. “Four years ago I had a very similar conversation with the woman in that grave. I didn’t get it then, but I think I’m starting to now.”
“Hey, what’s all this nonsense? We’re not sentimental twats. That guy’s gone now, and from now on we fight together!”
Dawn polished off the rest of her drink and chucked it aside. She rose, patting the dirt off her rear, full of spirit and vigor. Cloudhawk looked up at her with a knowing smile creeping into his face.
The greatest fortune of his life was meeting people like this. Why was he always looking outside for some paradise? It was in his heart, with people like her.
The next morning, Claudia was brought to an unused space within the city. She was transfixed by the sight.
A thousand children stood in orderly rows, practicing drills taught by Talon soldiers. The sounds of their shouting rang through the city as they trained. At the front of the group was Azura, and though she was small she was working as hard as any of them. Her tiny face was screwed tight in focus, her punches and kicks delivered with intention.
Claudia looked out over the kids who were training the best they could. They were clumsy and unsure, but tried earnestly.
“Hey! What do you think, not bad eh?” She was shaken from her surprise by a voice from behind her. She turned her head to see Cloudhawk’s mummy-like form sauntering her way.
A scowl was her response. “What wicked plan are you scheming?”
“It’s been years since you and I have had any problems. Will you cut it out with the constant suspicion? Anyhow, in the state I’m in you could beat my ass if I said something you don’t like. Am I right or am I right?”
Claudia, her face dark, turned to walk away.
“See? Still pissy. I was gonna ask you to consider being Greenland Institute’s headmaster – pick out the talented children to be demonhunters – and you turn your back. Fine, if you think it’s below you, I’ll just ask Gabby to do it.”
She stopped in her tracks. “What? Greenland Institute?”
“That’s right, Greenland Institute. I want to build a place where students can learn all sorts of things; from science, to martial arts, to mental cultivation and everything in between. It would be an incredible undertaking, and a milestone for the wastelands.”
Cloudhawk sounded inspired. A school? In the wastelands? Making demonhunters out of these heathens? It sounded crazy, but that was exactly what Cloudhawk was planning. Did he realize the difficulty of what he was asking? Had he given it any thought at all?
“I remember you said you wanted to be an instructor. I figure it’d be hard for you to find a job in Skycloud now, but if you still want to pursue that goal you can do it here. It isn’t as nice as the Elysian lands, but you’ll have children you can mold.”
“We’ve got practically no resources, but you still want to build a school?”
“Starting from zero is tough, but I think with enough effort we can get it done. Whatever you need, I’ll find a way to get. All I need from you is a commitment to give it a try.”
Claudia looked over the ragtag group of malnourished children in silence. These were the spawn of those she used to despise, who she saw as less than human. She didn’t see things like that anymore. Instead she found them almost… friendly.
“Fine.” She made up her mind to stay.
Cloudhawk nodded in satisfaction. Claudia was a proper demonhunter, born and raised as a noble member of Skycloud’s elite. She’d undergone all of the proper training from Skycloud and knew all sorts of things Cloudhawk would never understand. No one was a better choice to start developing their demonhunters.
He made it official and announced the news to all the students. When Azura heard that Claudia would be staying she was overjoyed. The other children took the news rather calmly. They didn’t really know what this meant for them.
Cloudhawk followed up by appointing a handful of the Talon officers as instructors. In general, wastelanders were made of tougher stuff than Elysians. If they submitted themselves to rigorous training, they would grow to be very capable warriors.