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Chapter 95 - Traversing the Wilds

 Chapter 95 - Traversing the Wilds

Cloudhawk slowly practiced the postures taught to him by the Bloodsoaked Queen in Greenland Fort's training room. He was now able to reach the fifteenth stance of this exercise used to condition a demonhunter's body - an improvement over his performance prior to his injuries. It showed that Cloudhawk was getting stronger. The better he got the slower and more purposeful the stances became, taking several hours for only three repetitions.

He was absolutely exhausted by the end. He stopped, covered in sweat and breathing heavily.

Seven days had passed since the battle with the demon and his wounds were no longer a concern. In fact there was hardly any indication he'd been wounded at all. The time for him to leave Greenland Outpost and leave for the elysian lands was near.

The young wastelander hefted a metal bound yellow tome in his hands. He looked at the cover whereupon the scene of a vast desert seemed to undulate beneath his gaze.

The demon's relic; the Gospel of Sand.

The Bloodsoaked Queen had given him this relic as a trophy to symbolize his victory over a demon. With it, and the identifying token given to him by the Queen, he would be granted passage through the territory of Skycloud and favor from her family. At the very least he would be accepted into the elysian lands, and maybe even given the honor of becoming a demonhunter. Then at last he could leave the wastelands behind.

Only Cloudhawk didn't see the Gospel of Sand as a mere trophy!

If this was one of the demon's greatest relics it must mean a fair amount of his power came from it. To Cloudhawk it meant the thing had to be very useful.

The restrictions and classifications demonhunters put on relics meant nothing to him. He could use whatever relic he wished, from the Queen's holy cross of light to the invisibility cloak and the exorcist staff. The book he held in his hands should be no different.

Ripples of power wafted from the book as it resonated with his psychic energy. A faint and inexplicable power suddenly permeated the air.

Cloudhawk was still weak and using the Gospel of Sand was a difficult task. However he persisted, and eventually the tome began to respond. It started to shake - so imperceptibly that no human sense or scientific method could detect it, but with such resonance that it reacted to the fundamental threads that constituted matter.

It was too difficult! It felt like it weighed a thousand pounds!

Dripping with sweat Cloudhawk fought on, pouring ever more psychic energy into the effort until at last the Gospel awoke. The frequency of those threads changed, thrummed in a different pattern, and thus matter began to change. At last the Gospel of Sand revealed its power.

A gust of wind rustled through the training room. Fine granules of dust danced in the breeze.

Eventually sand covered most of the spacious training room like a self-contained sandstorm, dancing in time with Cloudhawk's will. However his stamina was quickly drained and the weightlessness was stripped from the room. The dust and grit fell back to earth to cover the training hall's floor with a thin film of sand.

Is this how the demon controlled the sandstorms? Cloudhawk could barely summon a breeze!

The demon's storms had swallowed up the outpost while Cloudhawk's hardly filled a room. Still, it answered his question; the book was definitely useful. Only, he was still too weak to call its full potential.

Cloudhawk suspected that if he managed to become as strong as the demon he could also summon a titan of sand. He'd be able to defend himself capably against anyone, probably even a whole army!

It certainly earned its reputation as a famed relic! It was one hell of a tool!

Cloudhawk was putting the book away when the sound of footsteps caught his attention. He looked up to find the Bloodsoaked Queen in the doorway. Her wounds were not entirely healed but she no longer needed the cane to help her walk. She still looked weak and haggard, but had already recovered a third of her fighting ability. She could go one on one with anyone in the outpost in a fair fight and win.

When she saw the sand-covered floor and the book in Cloudhawk's hands, she gaze at him in surprise. "You used the Gospel of Sand?"

"Isn't the answer kind of obvious?"

She found it hard to believe. "The Gospel of Sand is very powerful, but also a very unique type of relic. There are only a very few people with the ability to use it, and if you did it means you have a special talent. How is it you seem to have so many gifts?"

Cloudhawk was largely ignorant of the science and history of relics. He knew nothing about special talents or whether he had any, to him every relic he encountered was the same. He hadn't thought they came in classes or categories.

"Well anyway you showed up right on time," Cloudhawk said as he made his way over to her. "I was just gonna go find you to say goodbye. It's time for me to leave the outpost."

"So soon?" She was actually pleased that he was heading out. The more anxious he was to go the more it showed how eager he was to reach the elysian lands.

She'd long suspected that Cloudhawk had a talent that surpassed even her own. If he could make it to Skycloud and undergo training from her family the title of youngest demonhunter would surely pass to him. Her home would grow stronger and thus would be better able to fight back any attempts by the hellspawn to invade.

A fervent light clearly danced in Cloudhawk's eyes. "I wanna to see if the elysian lands and Skycloud are as nice as you say."

She answered without hesitation and filled with certainty. "The wastelands and the realm blessed by the light are like two different worlds. I know you'll love it there."

Cloudhawk certainly hoped so. And speaking of hope he grew curious. "The demon's dead, are you still sticking around?"

"A year ago I went against the wishes of my family and violated the laws of the demonhunters to come here in secret. If I go back it'll be a while before I can leave again." Her expression grew stern as she dropped her eyes. "I learned something new about my father's death. I need to try and learn more so I may stay for a while longer."

Her quest still wasn't finished?

Curiosity continued to dig at him. "Do you need help?"

She politely turned down his offer. "No, I can handle it."

The Queen didn't want to drag Cloudhawk into any more danger than she already had. Besides his abilities were unstable, and only manifested themselves in extreme circumstances. It was a dangerous gamble to rely on. Without his sudden bursts of power he was more of a liability, so it was a wiser choice to get him to the elysian lands as fast as possible.

She fixed him with a serious look. "I hope when next we meet in the elysian lands you've become a strong and honorable demonhunter!"

Demonhunter? Pfft!

Cloudhawk inwardly rolled his eyes. Were demonhunters honorable? Not that he's seen. Anyway he didn't have any beef with demons until the Queen came around, why would he want to go traipsing around looking for trouble?

He saw what a demon could do and as far as he was concerned that was about all he was interested in learning. Although demons certainly gave him a rotten impression so long as they didn't screw with him, he wasn't going to screw with them. And if they did he'd get as far away as possible. The only way he'd want to tangle with something so dangerous ever again was if he had no other choice.

"No matter where we turn up in the future," Cloudhawk said, looking back at her, "we're always going to be friends. Right?"

A faint smile suddenly spread across the Queen's pallid face, filling it with a poignant yet stunning beauty. They each had their own road to walk, and neither of them could stop until they reached the end. They were the same that way. As for what was to come, who could say what the future held?

Mantis had prepared a care package for Cloudhawk. With him he carried: a map of the wastelands, a custom 13mm sniper rifle [1], a nine millimeter handgun, around twenty throwing daggers, a knife from the elysian lands, two canteens, and another set of leather boots, gloves and a vest all made from dire bear skin that would be difficult for a bullet to pierce.

Then of course there was the exorcist staff, the Gospel of Sand, the invisibility cloak, and the demon mask - Cloudhawk's collection of relics.

As for tools? The outpost didn't have any vehicles to speak of since it was surrounded by forests and ruins, they didn't make much sense. However the Queen hand-picked a wasteland lizard he could use as a mount, and fitted it with travel bags containing water, field rations, medicine and other supplies.

Ten experienced and reliable elite soldiers were selected to travel with him, to help him avoid the dangers that surrounded the outpost for a few hundred miles. Beyond that the outpost maps were ambiguous and of little help. From there on he was on his own.

Everything was in order.

As Cloudhawk climbed atop his mount and set off for the wastes he never once looked back. He resolutely headed out from the comfort zone he'd built and into the unknown.

Mantis stood atop one of the ruins and watched the young man disappear into the horizon. There was a fierce gust of wind and suddenly another figure appeared by his side - a ferocious and familiar figure.

"It seems you were right." The Caliph's voice was a rasping echo through the desolate ruins. His red eyes were fixed on the shrinking black dot that was Cloudhawk. "He certainly is an interesting kid."

"We can't let the path he's chosen be too easy," Mantis replied emotionlessly.

The Caliph of the Sands answered with a deep, haggard laugh. "I've been ready. But if he can't prevail and should meet with misfortune, ancient one, then your plans..."

"He won't die that easily." Mantis quietly turned away. "It's time to prepare the next step."

The Caliph watched the human walked away, staring at him with a strange expression in his burning red eyes. Had the man finally decided to join his cause? Their goals were different - even opposed - but it appeared the beginning of their journey followed the same road. So why not cooperate?

1. I'm the opposite of a gun guy, but I think that's a .50 caliber rifle, so huge.