Above the governor's mansion.
Four gryphons appeared.
The back half of their bodies were like lions, covered in golden-brown fur. The front half was like an eagle, bristling with golden feathers. Its two massive wings were a silvery white, the same color as the center of the creature's chest. Dangling below were four powerful limbs. Sharp eyes were capable of spotting the smallest target from ten thousand meters away. They had the frightening strength of apex predators.
Standing atop the beasts' broad shoulders were towering men covered from head to toe in full plate armor. In their left hands they held the gryphons' reins, and in their right were spears stretching two meters high.
These majestic gryphon knights were but drivers. Aside from the men the gryphons also hauled a gem-encrusted carriage carved from jade. It looked like it weighed a ton, and yet the carriage floated through the air effortlessly. The beasts and their chariot descended to the governor's mansion.
A welcoming contingent of ten soldiers fell respectfully to one knee as the chariot made landfall.
A middle-aged man in his forties stepped into view. Although he was getting on in years his skin was still fair, every movement was heavy with noble bearing and authority. It was none other than the man who had failed so spectacularly in the wastelands, Augustus Cloude. He'd been badly injured, and was returned here to the holy sanctuary where he was given treatment. By now he had almost entirely recovered but for the dark light in his eyes. The stain of his failure was one he would never be rid of.
Once Augustus stepped out of the carriage, he then moved respectfully to one side.
After him another man then exited. He was in his late fifties and the raven black hair he'd had in his youth now had sprinkles of grey, especially his temples where streaks of white appeared like the first frost of winter. His age had begun to show on his head but the man's face was as young as someone half his age. The occasional line wrinkled at the edge of his eyes, badges of time gone by.
This was a man who'd lived through a turbulent past, whose life could be called legend. His many deeds could be compiled into volumes, grand tales that were oft shared by the denizens of Skycloud.
Every soul within this divine territory knew him: He was the greatest demonhunter throughout all of Skycloud Domain, and the city's governor - Master Arcturus Cloude!
Frost de Winter had washed repeatedly, desperate to the get the foul residue of the wastelander off his body. Now he stood waiting patiently in the gardens, white armor gleaming and silver voulge at hand - gallant as ever. He had all the qualities of a stellar disciple; loyalty, youth, courage, vigor, ambition, and talent. He had an unparalleled drive and whatever he put himself to, Lord Arcturus was satisfied. He was more than a disciple, he was the governor's right-hand man.
But of course, he was not perfect. If Frost de Winter had one failing, it was that he was young.
Lord Arcturus was still in his prime. There was time enough still to make Frost de Winter better.
The young demonhunter always unconsciously restrained his natural arrogance when he stood before the governor. Like a peacock who flaunted before all the average birds, he dared not reveal his pride before a phoenix. Or like how the presence of the moon dimmed the brilliance of the stars but could not compare to the mighty sun. Arcturus Cloude was an example no demonhunter could hope to reach - a mountain no man could conquer.
In fact, it was chance that brought Frost de Winter before Lord Arcturus.
Ten years prior, on a wintery night, an extremely talented waif captured Lord Arcturus's notice. The childless man was moved by what he saw, and after testing the child took him under his wing. The lucky child was named after the night he was discovered - Frost de Winter.
The orphan adored his master. To him, Lord Arcturus was invincible.
Be it his manner, work, cultivation or ambition, all of it affected Frost de Winter deeply. Lord Arcturus wasn't just looked up to, he was the wisest, strongest and most clever man of his generation - innately superior to all, who stood with all the majesty and commanding presence of a mountain before Frost de Winter. What he felt was adoration.
As a result, Frost de Winter was extremely diligent in all his duties, almost to a fault. He wasn't just in search of power, he wanted to be everything that his teacher was - not to surpass him, but to perhaps come close to his glory.
"Master, allow me to explain what happened."
The governor, clad in his plain robes, listened patiently as his disciple shared the tale. He looked at him with eyes that were not too large, filled with a vast and erudite depth. The lines that gathered at the corners of his eyes were signs of his long years of service. He held himself with the quiet confidence of a learned man. Anyone who did not know him might mistake the governor for a kindly old teacher, for he hardly looked like one might expect the great demonhunter and governor to appear.
"This is certainly unexpected." Frost de Winter could not read his teacher's opinion on his inscrutable face, and could not help but inject his own. "I figured she might be able to escape that creature's clutches, but it seems they actually managed to kill him. Now it's hard to determine how deep they've gotten. Things could have taken a turn for the worse for us."
But the governor remained calm. "Tell me your thought process."
"Selene hasn't come back yet. If she really has learned the truth, it's going to shake Skycloud to its core." Frost de Winter heaved a sigh, taking a moment to settle his thoughts. "This matter is very serious. I underestimated Selene. All of this is due to my lapse in judgment, it is my fault."
"You are at fault, but not in the way you think. No one can know everything. Even the sages make mistakes from time to time. So long as you subject your ideas to careful scrutiny and rational consideration, there is no need to regret your errors."
The governor spoke softly, as gently as a schoolteacher educating a perplexed student. Frost de Winter, faced with this man's wise and noble character, felt like a humble devotee kneeling before his god.
"You must remember, do not believe for a moment that you can control everything. There will always be things that you cannot predict, like luck. No one is omniscient or omnipotent. The sages are called wise men, not because they planned for every conceivable eventuality, but because they make the most reasonable and appropriate decisions for the time. The most correct decision for the time, and the most suitable response when that time has passed. All that remains must be left up to fate - we can only do what is within our power to achieve. Failures should not become regrets, we should accept them calmly."
"Yes, Master." The young student carefully absorbed his teacher's every word. "So where have I made my mistake?"
"How much do you think Selene knows?"
"This is your weakness. You are too arrogant. It is reflected in the way you deal with problems, always making yourself the center. This is a bad habit, so you must learn to change your point of view. Otherwise, you will fall to confusion. You fear Selene has learned everything, but is that really the case? If she had, she would not have sent her friend here, to his death. Nor would she have sent this news." He gave Frost de Winter a reproachful look, then sighed. "Also, how have you chosen to deal with Selene's friend?"
"I have him subdued and locked in prison."
"Why did you choose to do this?"
"So that he would not reveal what we want to keep secret. I went no further because I did not want to presume. I waited for you to come back in order to deal with the matter."
The governor sighed once again. "And how did you anticipate I would deal with this when I came back?"
"This young man might know something he shouldn't. The longer he lives the more likely he'll let it slip. The best way to make sure he keeps silent… is to kill him!"
"That's correct." The governor continued to deftly instruct his young apprentice. "Since you understand that every moment he lives makes things more dangerous for us, you clearly have grasped the hidden danger he poses. You also know what I will do, so… why have you not done it yourself? Why wait for me to return? The world changes every moment in incremental ways."
"Well, after all, this - "
"Frost de Winter, you adhere too rigidly to formalities. The rules help us to deal with matters, but if they one day stand in your way you must have the courage and resolve to break them. If you cannot cultivate this boldness in yourself, you will never become a man of valor." The wizened warrior's penetrating gaze fixed Frost de Winter as he spoke every syllable. "No matter what the situation, you must learn to assess the matter at hand adequately. Reason and judgment are not predicated on rules!"
Frost de Winter hung his head. "I understand. I will go deal with him now."
Governor Arcturus gave him a warm smile and nodded his head. His was an intelligent young disciple, he was just too young. But it didn't matter. Sooner or later, unpolished jade became priceless in the hands of a master jeweler.