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Book 3, Chapter 64 - The Drunkard's Sad Pas

 Templars were guardians of the Temple. Through a strict selection process they gathered only the strongest fighters. Ten templars could wipe out a cell of heathens on their own. Fifteen were like their own army. A hundred were said to be capable of razing entire cities. Templars were only under the command of the Temple and no other, the strongest fighting force in Skycloud.

That being the case, it was easy to imagine the respect and ability of a man who once lead their order. Even the governor had to show some deference.

It was too much for Cloudhawk to believe that this withered, crippled, smelly old pervert was this 'Warrior Saint.' But he had to admit the sharp contrast between the man and the title made him curious. What had happened to the old drunk to knock him off his golden pedestal, if he really was Vulkan. He was washed out, gutter trash.

Cloudhawk had to admit he wanted to hear the story. But curiosity killed the cat - or so they said. Just as deadly to people, too.

He tried to avoid things like this. Whatever truths or secrets were behind the curtain were more than he cared to know. You had to be crazy to want to. Only, under Selene and Autumn's hateful stares he was forced to do the stupid thing.

Whatever. It's a story, I'll just make sure to wipe it from my memory later. If they wanna dig themselves into a hole they can't crawl out of, it isn't any of my business.

Vulkan went on to tell the story of the events from years ago. He and Baldur were lifelong friends, pulling each other from death's jaws more than once. The old man knew him well, and recognized that he was a unique soul. He didn't have the same overwhelming abilities of his brother, but in terms of talent they were equally blessed.

As a member of the Cloude family and a master demonhunter, he had the right to demand any top-level post he desired. Only, Baldur was a special sort of man. He appreciated freedom and never liked the yolk of command. His strong personality and explorer's spirit were unsuited for military life. So instead he became the leader of the people's demonhunter guild, the Inquisitor-General of the League of Demonhunters. For years he wandered, following a strong sense of justice and a drive to help those in need. In his days he was known as the savior in white, who would came to wash away wrongdoings. The people called him Skycloud's greatest Paladin, a term of admiration and respect. His easy and approachable persona earned him adulation wherever he traveled.

Everything that happened after was because of who he was.

Baldur was a man of firm conviction - a true warrior of god. He spend years traversing Skycloud and roaming the wastelands. Everything he did was in pursuit of righteousness and defense of the weak. Hunting demons was his attempt to strike evil at its root and erase it from the world for good. It was his way to fight for a real and lasting peace for his people.

As a master demonhunter, his abilities were second only to Arcturus Cloude. Before long news of his actions in the wastelands spread, stories sung far and wide. His brilliance knew no bounds. With Arcturus guiding the people from within, and Baldur defending the people from beyond, the elysians were assured centuries of peace!

However, Baldur was often gone on these missions. In his travels he uncovered many historical monuments and ancient sights. He cavorted with countless heretics, and was faced with things no ordinary elysian was forced to face. Perhaps it was inevitable that he would become lost.

Through his one man war against the demons Baldur learned that the beasts were not merely the hideous creatures they seemed to be on their surface. Much of what he learned about them was eerily similar to the legends of his own gods. The more he learned, the deeper these parallels ran.

How could gods and demons share so many likenesses? How had the world become such a broken and strife-filled place?

Baldur sought knowledge through ancient tomes and remains of the old world. He learned about an old and mysterious civilization that once ruled the land, in a world much different from the one they inhabited today. They were not separated into wastelands and domains, as now, and the human population was a great and burgeoning presence. All of this changed when a cataclysm ushered in an age of chaos. The gods and demons arrived after.

What was the relationship between these two races? What caused the apocalypse that burned that great civilization, and the whole earth with it? And the gods and demons? What were their motives? Why did demons seek to eradicate humanity, and why did the gods endeavor to help them?

Merely asking these questions was tantamount to treason for an elysian. Even if these thoughts occurred, they would never dare give voice to them. To seek answers was unthinkable. But Baldur was a man of adventure with a thirst for knowledge, and he resolved to learn the truth of it all.

"This was where the tragedy of Baldur's life begins." The old man opened another bottle and took a drink. "I remember that day. Baldur came back looking for me, still dusty from the road. He claimed to have proof of something incredible, so incredible it would change the whole world if people knew."

Selene couldn't keep herself quiet. "What was it?"

"That gods and demons were one and the same. Two identical seeds from the same fruit. Only, when the seeds sprout they become two completely different plants. Yet while they might look different on the outside, their essence is indistinguishable. There is no difference at all between them."

The old man's claim took their breath away, even Cloudhawk. He'd never met a god, but he had seen a demon with his own eyes. How could they be the same?

Of course, what was stunning to Cloudhawk was an earth-shattering accusation for the others! Were they to believe that the demons - who were responsible for so much agony and tragedy in human existence - and the gods who protected and provided for them, were the same? How could they accept such blasphemy?

Had Master Baldur really said such unthinkable sacrilege? The suggestion was more sinful than the actions of any heathen!

Gods and demons were as incompatible as fire and water, it was an age-old truth. Stating otherwise seemed wholly ludicrous.

The old man's face darkened. "I was a templar. I pledged my life and loyalty to the Temple and all it stood for. How could I question the gods? I can see in your faces that you feel the same way I did when he told me. So I refused to help Baldur, and advised him to stop his foolish search immediately, as a friend. But I knew even then he'd strewn too far from the path. His doom was certain."

Barb was sweating, her heart pounding in her chest. "What did he say?"

"He said that if we didn't know the truth about the beings we worships, we would never understand their nature of motives. What would our faith be then?" The old man shook his head and gave a bitter laugh. "Heh... but if he listened to my suggestion, he wouldn't be Baldur."

Cloudhawk was the next to interrupt. "What a stubborn idiot. Like father, like daughter..." He hardly got the words out before a fierce and violent gaze immediately made him shut his mouth. Selene's face was as inscrutable as ever, but her fists were clenched so tight Cloudhawk was afraid she'd break her own fingers. She looked back at the drunk, who continued.

"Baldur left disappointed, but I knew he wouldn't give up his quest. Sure enough word came to us that a demon had appeared in the wastelands. Baldur, evoking his title as demonhunter, left to face the beast. Later people would use his disappearance to spread rumors that he defected and joined the demons."

The demon had to be none other than the Caliph of the Sands.

"It wasn't long after he left that I was approached by one of his people, a general of the League who said Baldur had been ambushed and was on the verge of death. While I didn't approve of Baldur's actions we had been friends all our lives. I couldn't stand by while he was in danger. So I struck out from the Temple without orders and took a company of templars to save him."

Here, the old man's face grew hard and bitter.

"We followed the demonhunter to a place out in the wastelands, but we never found Baldur. We were ambushed. I was gravely wounded and all my men were slain. I was forced to use a technique that consumed the better part of my life force, but managed to escape. I later came to learn that the demonhunter who brought us to the ambush escaped to Fishmonger's Borough and took the name Ravenous Tiger."

"Well no wonder you wanted to kill that piece of shit." Cloudhawk blurted out. "But if you were so mighty who could hurt you so badly?"

The old man answered with a wry smirk. "What elysian do you think would have such ability?"

"You don't mean Arcturus..." Cloudhawk replied.

The old man said nothing.

"Fuuuuck! Are you for real?!"

Cloudhawk scowled. That asshole again. After meeting him Cloudhawk had to fear and admire the old fox's shrewd nature. But Cloudhawk, thankfully, had never faced the extend of the great demonhunter's power. All he knew was that he was always called the greatest demonhunter who ever lived, but what did that mean? He knew at least the scholarly governor was not a weak man.

Only after facing the Crimson One did Cloudhawk even start to understand what men of their level were capable of. If Sterling was already so strong, what sort of power did Arcturus wield?

It was a striking thought. Far from coming to his brother's aid, Arcturus stopped the templars who went to save him. Vulkan was almost killed on the spot to silence any loose ends and avoid suspicion. But what did all of this have to do with the governor? Why get involved, to the point where he didn't even care if his own younger brother lived or died!

Cloudhawk's head was spinning.

By now the old man's eyes were hazy and swimming from the drink. "The more you try to hide things, the more guilty you are. That's what I think. More I ponder on it, the less it seems those lofty gods up there have pure motives. And the demons don't seem as evil as we always said they were. Whatever the truth, it's too late now. Baldur's dead, and I'm a cripple. Another abandoned soul out here in the wastes."

Selene's burning angels creaked as she clenched her fists. "Don't you want revenge?"

"Revenge? Aside from the Temple and the guy who's been gone for years, who in Skycloud stand against Arcturus Cloude? You know, once I calmed down and though about it, I'm not sure Iwould have done any different if Iwas in the governor's position."

The others exchanged silent glances.

"Arcturus is master of the domain - not just because he is strong and wise, but because he does what others won't, or can't. He is willing to shoulder responsibilities that would crush anyone else. Whatever truth Baldur found would have caused chaos in our domain. Think about it, what would you have done in Arcturus' shoes? It still isn't clear how Baldur died, but if you are honest with yourself you can see he brought it on his own head. He was too obsessed, saw things too simple. It was clear he was beyond redemption, walking down a road that led into darkness!"

"And me? I was a victim who learned more than he should of by accident, and I almost died because of it. I hate Arcturus for killing my disciple and crippling me, but I can see why he felt he had to. I can't seek revenge, nor would I. Skycloud can lose any citizen, except for its governor."

"I hate Baldur, too. What's so wrong about living in ignorance? Is the truth so important?! But damned if I don't admire him! He was unstoppable when he had a goal, even if he knew it would kill him. He followed through. If I live a thousand years, I could never be a man like him."

"So do you understand now? There are some things that really aren't worth knowing. Ignorance is bliss."

That was how a glorious warrior became a crippled vagrant. Faithless, honorless, powerless. This old man with nothing left of what he used to be tottered back onto his feet and hobbled on his ruined leg toward the door. The others watched him go, hunched as though the weight of the world hung around his neck.

Cloudhawk watched him go, speechless. In his heart was just one thought. Damn... incredible. For all my shit luck it pales compared to what happened to that old fool!

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