When Cloudhawk came back he was laden with several thick tomes.
Each one looked very old, bound in black leather and engraved with gold filigree. Exquisite and fine, they were absolutely high-value items.
"Oh, back already?!"
Dawn exclaimed when she saw him staggering toward her. It wasn't long ago that she sneered down her nose at him, but now she had a deep respect for his abilities. You couldn't throw a rock in the holy city without striking three fighters, but master thieves were few and far between.
These books had been housed in the library of the Church of Everbright, under the watchful eye of a lauded bishop. Dawn had always wanted to look through them but was never given the chance since the bishop's influence was greater than hers. The Church of Everbright was a mighty organization that even the commander couldn't manipulate. She'd been denied every request to look through these volumes, but now they were hers.
It was nearly dawn.
"This time from a church's collection." This was his second trip in one night, using his phasing stone to slip away with stolen goods. Each time it was draining, he felt exhausted. "What did you need these for?"
"This fine lady is helping you learn about your bird! Come with me!"
The two sat together and began to peruse the books.
Cloudhawk flipped one open and found that it was an illustrated record of relics. There had to be three hundred or more detailed pictures of relics and a description of what they did. There had to be a couple thousand between all these tomes combined. Every notable item throughout Skycloud Domain was recorded here, even a few demon relics.
Cloudhawk's exhaustion melted away. Suddenly he understood just how valuable these were.
If he could learn what all these relics did, where they were, and who held them he would be an absolute nightmare for the city's demonhunters.
He finally figured out what Dawn was thinking, too. If Oddball was a relic there had to be some record of it somewhere in these books.
They sat side by side and started leafing through pages. Dawn had ordered Cloudhawk to steal these books so they could learn about the bird, yes, but also because she wanted to see all of these entries herself. Her greedy nature was on full display.
One thousand two hundred relics were recorded here. Eight or nine hundred of them were held by known persons while the three or so others were still lost. Some of those were gone because they'd been misplaced, but others were in the care of secret guardians that weren't even written in the books.
"Skycloud Domain has this many relics? It's… quite eye-opening!"
Dawn pored over the contents, even coming across the entry for Terrangelica. However, she came to the end of the first book without any more information about the little bird.
Cloudhawk came across an interesting article in his tome.
The Gospel of the Sands, it read.
A relic from the war between gods and demons a thousand years ago. This demonic tool is possessed of great and mysterious power and is oft in the hands of demonic elders and high-stationed commanders. It was once used to summon a sandstorm a thousand li in diameter that swallowed an entire army. It has also been said to have summoned more than a hundred sand beasts. At its most potent the relic can summon a sand mirror image of the bearer.
Below was more specific information about the gospel. For instance its last known location, the dates it was witnessed, who had it, what battles it was used in and so on. For Cloudhawk it was almost surreal. He knew it was pretty good the times he'd used it, but from what he was reading here the Gospel of the Sands was pretty incredible.
The relic's strength was beyond his imagination.
What especially caught his notice was the bit about a sand avatar that possessed some of the power of the person… Cloudhawk couldn't fight back the creeping terror that welled up inside him. What if the demon he fought wasn't actually the demon? What if the Caliph of the Sands wasn't really dead?
Cloudhawk quickly turned the pages. Near the end of the book was a section on legendary relics.
Relics were divided into categories, weak and strong. There were simple relics, high-grade relics, epic relics, and the most powerful called legendary relics. Simple relics were weaker, like Moonspirit's tracker torque or Traceless Shadow's arrow. Epic relics were powerful tools that only high ranking demonhunters could command. Examples were Selene's Crossblade of Light, Frost de Winter's Frozen Dirge and Dawn's Terrangelica.
Legendary relics were something else entirely and the prerequisites to use them were even more daunting. They were far more powerful than even their epic counterparts, while also being more complex and involved. Each one had a rich backstory and were almost exclusively in the hands of master demonhunters.
Legendary relics were so strong that usually it required more than one person to activate them. They were analogues to the incredible power of gods and demons. From ancient times to this day there were only very few of them, and even fewer that were recorded here. Like a flash fire they raged during the great war, then vanished just as quickly from the world of man.
What was written here were some of the greatest secrets ever written!
Dawn's attention was drawn to his book as well, and as though of one mind they looked in shock through the pages.
'Mace of Belial.' A legendary demon relic witnessed at the outset of the War. Bearer, unknown. Appearance, unknown. Whereabouts, unknown. Reputed to be capable of opening a portal to Hell, resurrect the dead as mindless servants, and command them as an undead army.
'Blade of Oblivion.' A legendary demon relic that appeared during the middle period of the War. Said to be the weapon of the demons' commander. Pointing it at the sky made the heavens fall, piercing the ground caused the earth to collapse. Gods and demons alike could not stand against its power. It was destroyed in battle by the king of the gods, and what remains of it has been lost.
"The Demon King's Cuirass.' Its true name is unknown. Specific powers, unknown. Appearance, unknown. Only the ruler of the demon horde may wear it. It is said to be capable of destroying space and time. It was destroyed during the War through the combined effort of the gods, and thus defeated the Demon King.
The relics listed here were fabulous and terrible. All of them were the tools of the demons, and that made sense for they were incredible items that commanded world-rending power. The gods were mysterious and did not want to reveal their secret powers, so they were not gathered here.
Dawn was more and more stunned from one relic to the next.
Only Cloudhawk's gospel was recorded here, an epic-level relic. His invisibility cloak and the phasing stone were nowhere to be found.
Perhaps that would be expected. The cloak had come from a strange and alien place, and the stone was the key to other dimensions.
If those two relics didn't appear here it meant they weren't of this world. So where did they come from?
Dawn recognized this as well. She knew Cloudhawk had two distinct abilities; the first was disappearing like a ghost, and the second was being able to pass through almost any barrier. That's how he was able to be a thief no demonhunter could rival.
How odd that those relics wouldn't be here.
They'd gone through the books once already and there were all sorts of relics with all sorts of spectacular powers. One of them could be embedded in the body, and another that could fuse to it. Strange and incredible things.
"I found it!"
In fact there were two that seemed to fit.
One referenced the city's seraphs, who served as protectors and maintainers. All they did was work tirelessly. They were different from Oddball in that they didn't have free will or felt emotion. They also didn't need to eat. They didn't seem to be what they were looking for.
The second were mythical protectors of the Sanctuary: the Manticor.
Dawn had seen a guardian once. She thought it was just another sort of animal that grew and reproduced normally. However here it showed that these creatures were anything but normal. They were created, artificially made servants - relics that they called divine beasts.
"Here it says divine beasts can be thought of as growing relics. They develop through all the stages, from infancy to adulthood and as they grow older they become more intelligent. Look here, they need energy but far more than normal food can offer. You should remember that you can't let the bird go hungry otherwise the consequences could be serious. It could degrade."
"Anything with a lot of energy would work?"
"Special-made Temple beast feed is best. It'd help it grow quicker."
She continued to squint at the paper. These creatures and relics were remarkably similar, only some special process gave divine beasts a simulacrum of life. The one who hatched them became master, and only they were able to command them and their abilities. No one else would get a reaction.
Ugh! How unfortunate!
Dawn had to ultimately give up her covetous thoughts. "Why couldn't I have been so lucky? It looks like the bird belongs to you through the will of the gods. A heavenly gift, make sure you treat it well."
She then gathered up the books and put them away in her library.
Cloudhawk gaped at her. "Now that we found what we wanted why are you keeping the books?"
"Hmph, now that they're here they belong to me!" She spoke like she had all the right in the world to demand them. "I worked so hard to find the answer for you. I deserve something for my trouble."
All of this hadn't been a guise, had it? A ploy just to have him fetch something else she lusted after? Perhaps. After all they didn't learn much and now the books were safely tucked away with her other toys.
Dawn patted his shoulder and smirked. "Oh, stop it with the ugly faces. You know what these books are worth. How could we just give them back? Relax, I get our relationship. From now on you get me what I want, and I do the rest. Split the take thirty-seventy, what do you say? I need money to buy new relics and you need cash to feed your pet. You can't just let it eat anything, and feed is expensive. In fact I'm the only person who can help you get it. I'm the only person who'll help you!"
Over the last few days Cloudhawk had built up an image of elysians in his mind - obstinate, inflexible, and righteous. This woman proved him wrong.
The next day.
News of a theft at the Church of Everbright began to spread. The bishop even ordered a special task force to sift through every corner of the building, re-cataloguing every book, but to no avail. The circumstances of their disappearance was too bizarre, for there was no sign of forced entry or any indications of foul play.
And so word of a mysterious thief began to spread throughout the city.
Cloudhawk and Dawn began their sordid partnership. He stole the goods and she got rid of them. In just a matter of days the city was busy with a slew of unsolvable thievery cases. For instance, an army general's precious sword up and vanished like it grew legs. A few legendary gemstones from a local merchant princess were suddenly gone. Special mystical ointments and medicines had disappeared from family vaults.
The crimes were numerous but spread out, and the victims were different every time. Cloudhawk made things more confusing by planting false evidence and misleading clues to keep investigators off the scent.
Cloudhawk went out every night and brought his ill-gotten goods back to Dawn. She then concocted different ways to fence them, and in the process they both made a pretty penny.
(Xiao Lai is now on twitter and instagram! Follow him @xiaolaiwxw for insights into translating and Chinese medicine theory.)