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Book 4, Chapter 48 - The No-Good, Foul, Unreasonable Polaris Ploy

 Cloudhawk had become a near-legendary figure. The notoriety wasn't because of his strength, not entirely. Even before his exploits with the expeditionary force he was a familiar name in Skycloud.

Of course, it wasn't necessarily a respected name.

Cloudhawk was scorned by the whole city as the culprit behind one of the worst tragedies in the realm's history. Thousands of people died as a result. Passions ran high in the aftermath, and the crowds bayed for blood. Cloudhawk was condemned to be burned at the stake - until Adder destroyed Skycloud's border wall. As the world they knew changed and calamity piled upon calamity, the climate changed. In a strange way, Adder's timing had saved Cloudhawk's life.

Today, even small children knew to curse the name of this maligned demonhunter, for not only had he killed so many good and innocent people, he'd gotten away with it! He'd been given a high position among the armed forces. However, nowadays the name Cloudhawk was mired in even more controversy. It was spoken with a mix of praise and revulsion.

Cloudhawk walked into the General's war room. In the center sat Skye Polaris, flanked by two high level military officers. The room was crowded with ten others, from officers to demonhunters, all men of rank and title.

Several were familiar faces. Dawn greeted him with a furtive wink as he entered, and Roc offered a genial smile while cradling his severed wrist. Also in attendance was the powerful and mysterious Mr. Ink.

The group they'd seen out in the wastes was just the army's vanguard. General Sky was discussing dispatching the second wing of the army when he arrived.

As such Cloudhawk's arrival was well times. When General Skye saw him waltz through the door his gruff face broke into a grin of pride. He'd supported this kid when no one else would because he knew Cloudhawk was destined for great things. But no one expected this.

Before the General could open his mouth, Dawn swept in front of the Warden with a tell-tale sour expression. She shouted at him accusingly. "The nerve of you just walking in here! Do you have a reason for not returning the moment your mission was completed? Instead you go traipsing through the wasteland for days without coming in for a debrief. Is this the level of respect you have for the expeditionary force? Do you have so little regard for me and the General? What's your excuse!"

Before the eyes of a dozen officers Dawn planted herself between him and the General, one hand on her waist and the other poking him ruthlessly in the forehead. She was yelling so wildly that spittle was splashing on his face. This wasn't a superior chastising a subordinate, this was a jealous girlfriend laying into her unwitting partner.

"That's not fair, of course I respect you." Cloudhawk sheepishly wiped the spit from the side of his nose. "I was badly wounded in the fight with Adder so I hid someplace for a while to recover. I've only just gotten well enough to come back, so I returned as soon as I could."

Dawn's face changed from angry to concerned in a split second. "What? Injured? Where? It is serious? Let me see!"

Cough-cough! Skye interrupted her deluge of inappropriate questions by clearing his throat. Once he had her attention he fixed his granddaughter with a warning stare. "Cloudhawk did well, a great victory for Skycloud's army. I will make sure he is fairly rewarded for his efforts. However, you were only recently elevated to the rank of Warden and any further promotion is impossible. So name your heart's desire, and this old veteran will do whatever is in his power to see it happen!"

The promises of the army's commander-in-chief carried tremendous weight.

But Cloudhawk didn't have anything he wanted. In fact he could only think of one thing. "My relic was broken in the fight with Adder. I was hoping I might find someone to fix it."

He'd had his invisibility cloak for four years, it was like an old friend. A strange set of circumstances had him absorb the powers of Quiet Carnage, but sadly not the cloak. Until he found another way to take in a relic's powers then he relied on the tools themselves.

Skye stared at him. "That's at?"

Cloudhawk smirked. "I deeply appreciate the General's generosity, but I'm a simple man and I have everything I need. I can't think of anything to ask. Maybe I could save the offer for later, when I might need it?"

"Cultivating favors then, is that it? We'll do this then!" Skye leaned toward Roc and shared a few quiet words with them, then turned his attention back to Cloudhawk. "Since you're a demonhunter, I can offer you a relic."

Roc disappeared from the room and returned a few minutes later.

He stepped back into the room with a grave expression, cradling in his arms a broken sword. The blade was thick and solid, about the width of a palm, but extended barely half a meter.

"This blade is called Ardent Wrath. It is a relic that has been used by the greatest warriors of the Polaris family."Skye's face almost seemed to twitch when he looked upon it. "Now I give it to you. Give it a try."

Cloudhawk took it from Roc with no show of awe or regard. He reached out with his will, resonating with the blade, and brought it to life. The broken weapon was immediately wrapped in blazing fire from end to end. Like molten rock, the fires coalesced around where the blade had been broken to once more make it complete.

The leaping fires turned it into a greatsword, easily the height of a man.

He could feel the energy seeping off of it, so vigorous Cloudhawk knew he could carve through iron with little effort. It was so hot steel would melt, maybe even evaporate.

It was the sword of weapon made for furiously hacking down one's enemies in direct combat.

Dawn's eyes went wide. She didn't understand, why would her grandfather give Cloudhawk this relic? Outsiders didn't know the significance, but Dawn knew better than anyone.

The last person to use Ardent Wrath was her father.

He'd been dead for more than ten years...

Skye Polaris carried this weapon with him for years, everywhere he went. He couldn't use relics himself, but he kept it like a treasured heirloom, a memento. After all, it once belonged to his only son.

Cloudhawk was well pleased with the gift.

Roc's Silver Serpents were fine relics, but used differently. They were more for nimble, dexterous strikes and weren't suitable for well guarded enemies. What Cloudhawk lacked was a weapon to serve him when all other trickery failed. With Ardent Wrath that deficiency was corrected, and it made him far more dangerous.

He offered a heartfelt thanks and sheathed the blade before asking his next question. "I'd like to know what happened to Drake and his command? Why haven't they returned?"

"They left to pursue the rebel warships. At present they are deep in the Northern Barrens, and at last report had encountered some sort of trouble. I've already ordered Colonel Clifton and the Talons to give them support. Don't trouble yourself over it." Something occurred to the old man then. "I don't want to running about for the time being, you're undoubtedly a high value target. That's to be expected after killing Adder. To many in the wastelands he was a hero, so that makes you a villain."

Cloudhawk scowled. He had to agree.

After delivering his orders, General Skye dismissed the war court. He was preparing his next move, but before leaving bade Dawn to remain behind for a moment so they could speak. "Do you know why I gave him Ardent Wrath?"

"You're thinking of making him your successor aren't you, you rotten old coot."

"A broken clock is right twice a day," he muttered. He made no secret of his intentions. "You know there aren't many in our family that bring us prestige, not anymore. There's great potential in that boy, and with the right grooming maybe one day he can sit where I'm sitting."

Dawn was stunned. The old fart has actually admitted it!

Her surprise was clear on her face. "But he's an outsider, and was born to a low caste. Our family is a thousand years old. Giving our family's future to an outsider - a wastelander - aren't you afraid the other elders will refuse him? And if they aren't willing to accept him, then you can be sure Skycloud wont!"

"Do you think there's anyone who would deny me when I want something? Anyway, an outsider can easily become a member of the family!" Skye shouted over her, running his fingers through his long white beard. "Do you think being my granddaughter's husband is enough to keep everyone's mouth shut?"

"FUCK THAT!" Dawn's eyes were so wide they threatened to roll right out of her head. She stomped forward like she wanted to rip her grandfather's beard out by the fistful. "If you can't keep this nonsense out of your hairy mouth then don't blame me if I forget respect for my elders! You think this is something you can just play with?"

"Who says I'm playing?" Skye Polaris looked at his cherished granddaughter. The War-Gods eyes were full of caring and kindness. No one understood the girl better than he did, and that included what she held in her heart. "Stop your bullshit and tell the truth. Do you like him, or don't you?"

If looks could kill Dawn would have succeeded where Autumn had failed. After a second, however, she dropped her head and muttered something unintelligible. The truth of how she felt was too difficult for her to say.

Ever since she was small Dawn was a hell child, people fled from her in the street. Even the people who followed her around feared her so she'd never had any real friends. Cloudhawk was about the only person she'd been able to tolerate. All her years Dawn was always different, and prided herself in bucking traditional norms. She'd never really given serious thought to relationships.

But she did know, back in the Temple when they sentenced him to death...

Dawn had felt like the words gnawed a hole in her heart. The girl who feared nothing in all of heaven and earth felt a terrible dread when they passed down that sentence that still shook her to the bone.

"Ach, forget it. This sort of thing you can't force anyway." Skye was no fool, he knew what his daughter was thinking. But he made a show of it, sighing heavily and shaking his head. "I'll call Roc and have him take the sword back. We'll pretend like none of this ever happened."

Dawn was no ordinary girl, and her grandfather knew just what to say to strike a chord. Her head shot up, her eyes shining, and in a loud voice she declared: "I like him!"

Skye leaned back, brows raised. "Is that a problem?"

"But that doesn't mean he likes me!" Dawn hung her head and shrunk into her shoulders like all the confidence drained out of her. Women were sensitive when it came to these sorts of things, and Dawn felt that Cloudhawk treated her more like a sister. Their relationship lacked that special spark.

Skye looked down at her down his nose with all the authority and majesty of an alpha lion. His anger swelled, seethed and boiled over as he slammed a fist onto the table before them. "Is my excellent granddaughter not good enough for that scoundrel?! If he dares turn his nose up at you I'll rip off his testicles with my own hands! He'd have no use for them anyway! Who the hell is better than my granddaughter?!"

A deep blush painted Dawn's cheeks, making her look like a small embarrassed child. Her voice was timid, unsure. "Hmph. Other women can't even hold a candle. Except... well, Selene Cloude has grown rather close with him. I..."

A loud snort and a dismissive wave of Skye's hand cut her off. "Don't you worry, it isn't worth discussing further. Feelings change, grow. Besides, he doesn't hate you right? It will all be taken care of. Your grandfather's lived eighty years and weathered all sorts of storms. Never a difficult character I haven't bent to my will. Nonsense to think this will be the first problem I can't solve!"

"You really think it isn't a problem?" Dawn was off balance by the rapid shifts in emotion. "You know how stubborn that asshole is. I'm afraid-"

"Enough. When this war is over and those despicable rats have been eliminated, I'll make sure that boy isn't going anyway. I'll see the two of you married even if I have to tie him up and break his limbs myself!"

The old man's brutal methods would have been unpalatable to normal folk. Dawn, however, was grinning like an idiot. She was practically giddy when she replied. "Alright, thanks grandpa!"

"Oh, so I'm grandpa now? All day I've been 'old fart' this and 'has been' that. If I didn't know any better I'd say you were just waiting for me to die!" Skye grumbled and rolled his eyes. "If I live to see you marry someone you like then I can die happy."

"Rubbish. You're old but strong, you'll at least live to see a hundred!"

Dawn's attitude toward her grandpa had much such a quick one-eighty it was a wonder it didn't give her whiplash. All of a sudden she was the sickeningly sweet, so much that Skye could only shake his head. Incredible the sorts of things love could do this crazy child.

In reality, however, Dawn was still wracked with worry. The word 'wife' was never one she thought would apply to her.

But she knew it was the only way to make sure Cloudhawk would be with her forever. He was definitely going to be stronger than her one day, and if he became part of the family it would solve the problem of Skye having no successor. Dawn would also be happy. So that was it - it was settled.

What Cloudhawk thought didn't matter.

Grandfather and granddaughter would persist to unreasonable lengths. Like weasels, once they had their jaws clamped around something they weren't letting go. Just let that blockhead try and resist!

1. These lines always made me laugh. So did they just stand there and stare awkwardly at each other for whole minutes waiting for this guy to come back? Did they just shrug and start milling around? Was there, like, an epic staring contest?

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