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Chapter 56 - Another Encounter

 Chapter 56 - Another Encounter

Majjhima was looking after a hundred and eighty people, himself included.

Cloudhawk noted the lamps and crates of supplies, and from them deduced that Majjhima had to be using his outside connections to remain stocked. Smart, otherwise they would have starved down here already.

Majjhima and his people were shocked and happy to see Cloudhawk among them once again, however they didn't know how he managed it. How did he find them down here in the darkness? Was there anything he couldn't do?

As he walked over to the crowd his grey cloak fluttered behind him. Dim light played off the contours of his mask, making Cloudhawk look even more mysterious. The bloody sword was still in hand and the memory of what it'd just done made the survivors uncomfortable.

Majjhima had kept in contact with his people above ground and supplies weren't the other things he gathered. He heard all the news; a theft at the commander's compound, fire at the governor's mansion, and Squall's rescue from under everyone's noses. Every action was a challenge to the authority of Skycloud that made his heart race.

And yet it was strange. Cloudhawk accomplished his mission, didn't he? What was he doing down here? After everything he'd done, the fact that he was still breathing should have been enough. How many lives did he think he had?

However ruthless and headstrong some of these men were none of them dared do anything but bow and scrape before Cloudhawk. Their savior paid them no mind. "Where is Squall? I don't see him."

Everyone was quiet.

"It's been one thing after another down here, I don't know where he went. The tunnel system is complicated and intersects with a number of natural caves, if he got lost then I'm afraid..."

Cloudhawk was silent for a few moments. He mulled over the sort of person Squall was, and his ultimate wish of becoming a demonhunter. After seeing the cruelty and hypocrisy of the world it had to have dealt him a serious blow. Was he still the same boy who worshipped Arcturus Cloude?

Now some of Skycloud's most adept warriors were hunting through the tunnels. Would Squall stay safe? There wasn't anything Cloudhawk could do about it now, so Squall's fate had to be left in his own hands. He hoped his friend made it.

"What's your plan? Escape the city?"

"It's a lot more confusing down here than we thought. Even with a map it takes time to figure out where you are. Besides, as serious criminals does it make any difference if we leave the city? There isn't a city throughout the domain that'd take us."

"Then you're thinking..."

"... of staying down here." Majjhima shot Cloudhawk a mischievous smile. "The upper tunnels are being tightly monitored by those who hunt us, but deeper in the system there are caves and tunnels from the old days. We can stay down there for a while, maybe even make a life for ourselves."

There were serious forces down here looking for them, and Cloudhawk figured most of the escapees weren't going to make it. Majjhima's group still had a few dangerous criminals, and that would be a problem for the city. But Cloudhawk didn't care - Skycloud's security wasn't his concern.

Majjhima looked at Cloudhawk with a strange expression and was silent for a long time. Eventually he made a decision. "I'd like to talk with you in private, if you have the time."

The two men stepped away from the others so they could talk alone.

"What is it?"

"I won't lie to you. I'm an agent with the Dark Atom."

Cloudhawk had expected Majjhima to ask for something else, not reveal his allegiance. Everyone in and around Skycloud domain knew about the fiendish organization, but they were more active out in the wastes and borderlands. It was rare for their agents to infiltrate the elysian lands, much less their capital city. There was more to Majjhima than what met the eye.

It was unexpected, but Cloudhawk didn't much care.

He could tell from Majjhima's behavior and mannerisms that he wasn't a typical city dweller, but he was also different from the other criminals. His 'wasteland appreciation club' was bullshit, just a way for him to gather people who might be receptive to his cause. Building a black market network from there was beyond the abilities of a simple criminal.

Majjhima gauged Cloudhawk's reaction. His lack thereof proved that the young man didn't have the same repulsion most Skycloud citizens shared for the insurgency. He felt safe enough to continue.

"I've been living undercover in the city for years and I've managed to build a good foundation. We started from the grassroots and now we have people in the chamber of commerce, some mid-level military personnel as well. Thanks to the jailbreak I'm sure I can recruit several of these outlaws as well."

Cloudhawk gave him a skeptical look. "Why are you telling me this? Aren't you afraid I'll expose you?"

"You can't. I already know you aren't a real demonhunter. You're just like us." Majjhima's voice dropped even lower and he stepped close. "We're gathering all our resources. We've built enough to make a real underground power here!"

In the eyes of the elysians, the Dark Atom was a terrorist organization.

They'd already managed more than a few attacks throughout the domain that have led to many deaths. As expected the more damage done, the more the people came to hate the Dark Atom.

Cloudhawk looked over at the others milling around out of earshot. "These people aren't idealists, and they aren't weaklings either. Are you sure you can control them?"

"Heh, down here there isn't any food or water - no supplies to keep them alive whatsoever. Without me how else are they gonna get what they need? So long as all the resources come through me I don't have to worry about keeping them in line. Over time they'll assimilate and become part of the organization." The old snake surely looked to have everything under control. "But if we really want to make a difference we need a leader with the right qualifications, to make the right calls."

Cloudhawk guessed where this was going.

Majjhima didn't keep him in suspense. "I was hoping you'd stay down here with us to lead our group. No one doubts your skills. I've got a few hundred people topside, and with the ones we got down here we'll be almost a thousand strong. That'd make you leader of the biggest insurgency group in the city and it'll only get bigger."

This guy wanted Cloudhawk to be the ringleader of their little circus!

It was a solid plan. Majjhima didn't know how strong Cloudhawk really was, but he sure wasn't weak. More important was that he was the one responsible for saving all of them from life in prison, then right afterwards spitting in the governor's face. It was that kind of drive and courage they needed. Relying on him was the right call.

Leader of a thousand tunnel-dwelling terrorists...

If you'd have asked Cloudhawk if one day he'd have the opportunity he would have laughed.

However, he had no interest or experience in leading anyone, much less a faction dedicated to the destruction of Skycloud. He didn't have to think much before giving his answer. "I'm not the right fit. You need to find someone else."

Majjhima wasn't going to give up that easily. "Think on it."

But there wasn't much to consider. Cloudhawk didn't have a stake in the war between the Dark Atom and Skycloud, and he still had Skye Polaris' poison to worry about, even though Trespasser had probably constrained it. Both personally and practically Cloudhawk couldn't do what Majjhima was asking.

He didn't want constraints. A thousand people sounded like power, but it was really the loss of freedom.

"Here's a keepsake from the Atom." Majjhima was disappointed but he didn't keep pushing. He pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to Cloudhawk. "You might not be interested for now, but I'm confident there's nothing more suitable for you. If you change your mind or run into someone else from the group, show them this and they'll help."

Cloudhawk had lost his rose-tinted view of the city, but it was still where he hoped to live a comfortable life. He wasn't interested in getting embroiled in whatever spat existed between the elysians and the Seekers.

But he took the token. Maybe it would come in handy one day.

"Lily, gather everyone up. We've got to move."

Cloudhawk could only be responsible for the members of Bloomnettle company. Majjhima and the others were considered enemies of the people and if they were caught everyone would be killed. The only thing left he could do for them was point out where Dawn Polaris wasn't going to be. Majjhima waiting until their resources were packed up, told Cloudhawk they would meet again some da, then lead his people deeper into the tunnels.

"Let's go!"

Cloudhawk was playing with the token when suddenly he stopped, frozen like he was struck by a bolt of lightning.

Lily looked his way. "What is it?"

He didn't answer, instead closing his eyes and reaching out with his psychic energy. It linked with Oddball who was some distance away, and through their resonance Cloudhawk could see through the bird's eyes. Its vision was so acute that even in pitch darkness he could see clearly. But Cloudhawk didn't have time to appreciate it, because what he saw spelled trouble. Real big trouble.

A large group was coming their way.

It wasn't Dawn, either. The one who led them was a handsome man in snow-white armor and a silver spear in his hand. He was surrounded in an ice-cold, gallant air that was hard to forget.

Frost de Winter! This asshole again!

Cloudhawk's eyes popped open. "Pick up the pace, we have to go as fast as we can!"

Lily didn't know what was happening, but she could tell from his face that it wasn't good. They were a group of largely women and children, even if they ran as fast as they could how could they escape Frost de Winter's elite soldiers?