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Book 3, Chapter 63 - The Old Man's Identity

 Cloudhawk found it difficult to completely relax, fearing that Squall would be hot on his heels. With no strength left to fight back, he and the others traveled as fast as they could with not a moment of rest and eventually reached Sandbar Station.

It was home turf for Cloudhawk, more or less. Hammont was an ally and commanded five hundred elysian soldiers who would protect them. Skycloud's borders were close so they didn't need to be afraid of Highwaymen influence, or that of other wasteland organizations.

"I thought it would just be another mission. Ends up we almost got killed. We're only still breathing because we got lucky." Cloudhawk's face was heavy with regret. "If I knew what was coming I never would have agreed. It's time for that girl to settle accounts and get out of my life!"

Cloudhawk griped about his sour fate the whole way back.

This spineless child was absolutely shameful. No one, the drunk included, paid his whining any mind. Cloudhawk fell quiet when no one engaged. But whatever the case, Autumn's name had become synonymous with trouble. He had to keep her out of sight, otherwise she'd just bring more problems down on their heads!

The first order of business when they returned to the Sandbar was to buy Autumn a mask.

In passing Cloudhawk grabbed a soldier on patrol and instructed him to fetch the magistrate. He demanded that Hammont take several hundred soldiers and locked down the surrounding wilds for everyone's safety.

However powerful their wastelander foes, Cloudhawk was confident he could manage so long as they were back at the Sandbar. The reaction he was concerned about now would from Skycloud. If the elysians came for Autumn, they'd be in real trouble.

Skycloud was a breeding ground for capable fighters, not to mention their legendary older generation. Of people his age, there were enough to cause him concern. Cloudhawk wasn't the least bit interested in tussling with them. He didn't have any reward from Autumn either, so simply sending her away wasn't an option. It was almost certain she'd renege on their agreement the moment she got back to her people. What would he do then? Best course was to clamp down on the spread of the news, and keep their heads low here in the station.

A lithe, short-haired women was standing outside of his shop. She practically yelped in excitement when she saw Cloudhawk and the others draw near and trotted over to him. "Excellent! You're back safe. I've been worried."

Cloudhawk motioned for her to tone it down. Sending Oddball on a brief circuit to make sure they weren't being follows, he lead everyone into the store. It was nearing dusk and patrons had all gone home for the day, leaving Gabriel alone. He sat in his chair lazily knitting while the shop assistants busied themselves with tidying things.

I'm out here getting my ass kicked and this guy's living large, Cloudhawk griped inwardly.

Gabriel sensed someone entered, and knew from the sound of the footfalls that one was Cloudhawk. But they sounded heavier, like he was hurt. Judging by the gait of the others, two were dangerous fighters. He slowly raised his eyes, drawing them over the old cripple and the beautiful stranger. Gabriel looked back down to his knitting.

"Back, eh? Find what you were looking for?"

Hammont and Barb helped Cloudhawk to his favorite sitting chair. He fell into it with a sigh and a series of popping joints, feeling like he might fall apart. The Warden sank into his chair like a puddle of mud and couldn't move a muscle.

I'm done. Finished. Could I be paralyzed? He honestly couldn't lift a finger.

Two days after the big fight he wasn't hurting anymore, but Cloudhawk knew trespasser was still changing him from the inside. It had reached the point where things really needed to be addressed, so even though he was completely exhausted Cloudhawk couldn't delay. He responded to Gabriel in a weak voice.

"Yeah, we got the info. Turns out the Crimson One is that old fuck Sterling Cloude. No wonder he can found a church and fill with demonhunters. Back in Skycloud he was Knight-Commander of the entire damn Order of Demonhunters. So what do you think? I'm awesome, making it back in one piece and all. If it was you, they'd be carrying you home in a little baggy."

Sterling Cloude! Both Gabriel and Barb were floored by the revelation. Even the wildest imaginations wouldn't have connected the Crimson One with one of Skycloud's mightiest demonhunters. Sterling wasn't as famous as his brother, but he was still one of the greatest warriors of their time.

He was one of the top ten most incredible demonhunters in all of elysian history, and regarded as a living legend. Why run away to the wastelands? Why found a church, burn people alive, and contend against his own people? But it was the truth, whether they believed it or not. Reality couldn't be changed. But the mission Skye Polaris tasked Cloudhawk with was to uncover everything, so his task wasn't finished yet.

"This is big news. When word gets out its hard to guess how Skycloud will react." Cloudhawk gently rubbed his temples. He thought about what was back in the elysian lands waiting for him. The mission wasgiven by Skye, but he was damn sure Arcturus was keeping an eye on what they found out. How closely he was paying attention was the question. "We gotta keep this under wraps, for safety. Fatty."

Hammont jolted to attention, his fat quivering. "Your faithful servant is here. What is your command?"

Cloudhawk fished out his demonhunter token and threw it toward him. "You need to get to the border and find their deputy commander, Drake Thane. Tell him what I told you, and make sure he goes directly to Skye Polaris with the information."

Magistrate Seacrest's face immediately flushed bright red and beads of sweat popped out of his fat head. He almost ran to obey. Giving him a mission this important was certainly reward for his service. Deputy commander of the border forces was a station far outside of Hammont's purview, and the news he was trusted with was going to even more important ears after that. What an unprecedented gift!

"Yes, of course! Right away! Your humble servant will let nothing stop him in completing this important task!"

Afraid that Cloudhawk would rescind the honor, Hammont bowed and scraped, making lofty promises before throwing on his helmet and veritably running out of the store. He was off to prepare his departure.

Barb then spoke to Cloudhawk, a note of skepticism in her voice. "Are you sure this fatty in reliable enough for a mission this important?"

"The meatball might look dimwitted, but the rolls don't match the filling. He's a smart one." Cloudhawk shook his head. "Since he's no one important he won't attract notice. His unit here is under the border guard's command as well, so no one will think twice if he heads over there to give a status report. As long as we're not sure how Skycloud will react, he's the best choice for the job. If he disappears all of a sudden, then we know to get the hell out of dodge."

No one knew what to say. This guy was heartless.

When it came to Sterling, it was best to make doubly sure their asses were covered. He was a great man in the eyes of elysians, and though he might have defected to the wastelands he sure as shit had people in Skycloud to do his bidding. Dealing with their small group wouldn't be hard if they got the drop of them.

Selene stood by, face expressionless. From the moment they entered the safety of the shop her eyes had been glued to the old man. She abruptly changed the topic of conversation. "How long are you going to play dumb, Lord Vulkan?"

The old man had just opened a bottle of wine and was inhaling its intoxicating aroma when Selene's words made him jerk. He tried to play it off by taking a swig from the bottle like he wasn't involved.

As he came to think about Cloudhawk wondered why this old man had been so mysterious this whole time. Did he also have something to hide?

The demonhunter looked about at the confused expressions surrounding her. She raised her hand, letting the tattered sleeve of her cloak fall back. Power from her burning angels caused the shop's interior to grow noticeably warmer. "Vulkan was once the highest officer of the Temple's templars. Bearer of the Dawnguard, commander of hundreds of holy warriors. His respect was shown by the title they gave him: The Warrior Saint of Skycloud."

'Skycloud Warrior Saint'? Fuuuuuck! What a kick-ass nickname! Cloudhawk was blindsided. What an appropriate title for this cranky lame old ball sack!

Gabriel was also stunned. Although he and the others had learned a great deal about important figures while studying in Hell's Valley, their knowledge was restricted mostly to city officials and powerful families.

The Temple was always an enigma. It was taboo to go poking around for information. Although it didn't have any obvious power, everything it did influenced the lives of all elysians. The Temple was a direct route of communication to the gods they held dear, but that also meant they were aloof and mysterious. Even Hell's Valley, for all their supposed independence, didn't dare throw their weight around when the Temple was involved.

Cloudhawk's mind turned to Dawn Polaris. She was a templar, wasn't she?

That terror of a woman was trouble enough, so what was this rotten old coot capable of as their former leader? He used to be the sort who'd footsteps would rattle the whole domain, so what happened to turn him into... this?

"The Warrior Saint of Skycloud? Heh... hehehahaha!" The old drunk smoothed the spindly white hairs that remained sprouting from his dirty scalp. He had a look of indifference, like they were talking about another life. "I'm just a cripple. Another abandoned soul out in the wastes. You flatter me, Lady Cloude."

He was careful to keep his words respectful.

Selene kept her eyes fixed upon him. "What happened all those years ago? What turned you into a drunk, sad old man!"

Everyone's attention was on him. He sighed. The guise was done.

The old man tipped the bottle back and loudly finished off its contents before answering. "This is a serious matter, not as straightforward as Baldur's death. Are you sure you want to know? Heed me, children - don't blame me for what you hear. Sometimes it's better to live in ignorance. There are some things that you cannot escape, once you become involved."

"That big a deal? Fuck it, then!" Cloudhawk warred against his body to flop out of his chair. "I got shit to do. I'm out."

Selene glared at him. Autumn's stare was keen as daggers.

Under their deadly looks Cloudhawk obediently collapsed back into his seat. Inwardly his heart was full of resentment. Why is trouble always following me around? A former Warrior Saint turning into a character like this is not going to be a happy story. Why is living a lazy and comfortable life so fucking hard!

1. Whew. Ok. The old man's name is . The first challenge is deriving the name's proper meaning. The first character - kun - is used to denote a feminine aspect to something. Li, the second character, means to leave or diverge. Neither of those made sense for the character, so after more digging it is discovered that both kun and li are characters for two of the eight in taoist practice. They are ascribed to earth and fire respectively. Because of his mystical and martial nature this made more sense, and his personality fits the elements of earth (tough, defensive) and fire (forceful, destructive). However, the challenge becomes finding a western-themed name to go with this very eastern philosophy. We went with Vulkan, to evoke the image of a volcano, the fusion of earth and fire. It is also the Roman iteration of the Greek god Hephaestus who was born with a crippled limb.

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