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Book 4, Chapter 111 - Returning to the Southern Wilds

 It was a significant - if brief - trip. For the first time, Cloudhawk was in control the entire time. There were notable differences from the instances before where he was flung into different dimensions, and at last he was turning this ability into a skill he could manage at will.

Countless dimensions, concealing countless treasures... From now on he could mine for them as he pleased.

There were still dangers of course. Cloudhawk had no way of knowing if civilization had been destroyed on every world he visited. If they were, then why? He had so many questions about how all of this was connected to his own reality.

How was the phase stone able to link them all together? Why did everywhere he visited seem to bear the scars of the Great War? Would his own dimension end up like all those others?

His mind was full of questions, but they ran through and passed quickly without answers. Big problems like the inevitable destruction of the world were too big for him to worry about. His only interest was in the treasures left behind. Whether the discarded relics or crumbling ruins, these new dimensions were rife with valuable remains.

Cloudhawk hoped he had enough time to thoroughly explore them. Without a doubt these places held the secret to making himself stronger.

Hellflower had also earned a bountiful harvest. It didn't take her long to grow a few samples from the spore planet. According to her, while Cloudhawk didn't care so much about her efforts she was convinced they had incalculable value.

Her only regret was failing to capture one of those spirit monsters. Their world had nothing of the sort. Who was to know if they didn't hold some secret to the mysteries of mental energy? At any rate, this was just the beginning - there would be many more opportunities.


Late night...

Cloudhawk was sitting alone in his room. Eleven relics were arrayed before him.

They were covered in dirt and many were rusty, but what did he expect from them after they had been forgotten for thousands of years? Most were ruined, probably during the process of whatever war killed their owners and being left out in the open. None were complete enough for him to use directly.

He reached out and picked up a bracelet which hummed with a weak and broken frequency. It was obviously badly damaged, but not completely ruined. The anima within it could still be used; otherwise Cloudhawk wouldn't have been able to sense it.

The relic itself wasn't important. What he needed - and what made a relic useful - was the mysterious energy at its heart. Since this relic wasn't completely destroyed, did it mean there was a possibility some part of it could be salvaged?

Cloudhawk didn't know what the repair process in Skycloud's Temple entailed, but what was clear was that eboncrys was an indispensable part of it. Something about the energy of eboncrys allowed it to mend a relic and its anima.

Why not give it a try? It wasn't like the Vale lacked eboncrys, and Cloudhawk had a number of relics to practice with. It would be an incredible success if he could figure out how to fix relics.

After making up his mind, Cloudhawk held the bracelet in one hand and a chunk of eboncrys in the other. His palms oozed with miserable green flame which began to melt away at both and combine them together. However just as the process was beginning he heart a series of ominous cracks.

The bracelet shattered into a handful of pieces. He looked down to see its anima seep from the fragments as motes of light and vanish.

Why did he fail? Cloudhawk frowned as he hurriedly collected the shards. They were valuable pieces of his efforts to make new relics, so he wasn't willing to easily part with them.

His knowledge of relics was very limited, so it was no surprise that his methods were flawed. When summing up his efforts, he judged himself to be too impatient. Perhaps it was foolish to think he could simply combine eboncrys and a broken relic directly. He would have to disassemble the process and take it slowly, step by step.

He tried again two more times, adjusting his approach with each failed attempt. The relics were too damaged, broken beyond repair.

Stubbornness was an integral part of Cloudhawk's character, so failing in this way was intolerable. After identifying the relics one by one, he picked up a dagger which appeared to have the least damage. If he couldn't fix this one, Cloudhawk doubted he had the skill necessary to fix anything at all.

It no longer had a handle or handguard. However the edge was still sharp and gleamed with a chilling light. The air around it was cooler by a few degrees and the blade itself was crystalline in appearance, like an ice sculpture.

A delicate and impressive weapon, when it had been whole.

He saw cracks and chips in it now that marred its beauty, like a piece of glass that'd been struck by a hammer. While not beyond all hope, it was in bad shape.

He took a moment to collect his thoughts, then took up a handful of eboncrys and began the smelting process. Castigation Fire danced over the black crystals, melting them down in an even distribution. He then guided the eboncrys-laden fires over the dagger's surface.

Castigation Fire rose off the dagger like ghostly tendrils. It slowly seeped into the cracks.

All the while Cloudhawk held back his power, employing it by painstaking degrees to ensure it wouldn't destroy the relic. He could sense that the smelted eboncrys was releasing its energy into the blade, and the relic was slowly absorbing it in turn. Finally, a result he was pleased with emerged.

The cracks slowly began to vanish. Before his eyes, the dagger was slowly repairing itself.

This continued for a handful of seconds. When it was done, the dagger looked good as new. He gave it a gentle toss toward a nearby wall, which sent the blade out like a frigid streak. It buried itself about an inch in, and ice crystals crackled as they stretched out from the point of impact.

Cloudhawk was elated. He did it!

He'd successfully repaired an ancient relic, and that meant more would surely follow. Now that he could recover these treasures from other realms, bring them home, and return them to working order, he was invaluable to anyone. Not only were the relics he fixed useful to himself, but the ones he didn't want could be smuggled into Skycloud and sold, or provided for wastelander demonhunters. However you cut it, he was a breathing gold mine.

Once he mastered this skill, he would be in huge demand!

His eyes then returned to the other relics. They were all too far gone to be fixed, so their worth lay in taking them apart. He could use any worthwhile material, and reverse-engineering them might teach him something.

Cloudhawk didn't want to just be a relic handyman, after all.

The creation of relics was - until now - solely the purview of gods and demons. That meant it was a process rife with divine and unholy secrets. By disassembling these relics there was much he could learn, and he was convinced eventually he would know enough to be successful.

Then he would be an Artisan, worthy of the name. What use would humanity have for gods and demons then?

Cloudhawk wanted to prove that humans could surpass those all-powerful creatures. He would do things that gods and demons could only dream of.

Wolfblade was of course kept abreast of everything that was going on. He approached Cloudhawk one day for conversation. "I hear you've found something you like. Have you given any further thought to your future?"

"Thought? Well, once I figure out this relic thing I thought I'd establish my own crew. Then when the time is right, we'll go back to Skycloud and kill that fucker Arcturus."

He saw no reason to hide his intentions. It was no secret his greatest foe was Skycloud's Governor - only, this foe was much too strong for him to deal with alone.

"A fine goal." Wolfblade's lips curled into a smile. "You've finally realized that it is useless to try and stand alone in this world. You need friends, no matter when and no matter where. People to rely on. I know a place you might be interested in."

"Oh? What sort of place?"

Cloudhawk was still displeased with his forced house arrest here in the Vale. He would take any opportunity to get out, only without help from Wolfblade and the others he couldn't continue to gather relics from other dimensions.

"Do you remember Greenland Outpost?" The smile on his face spread wider. "Abaddon and I have been active in the Northern Barrens lately, but we've also pooled our resources in the south. Of course, things are complicated here now. With both the Wastelands Alliance and Skycloud out for blood, we haven't had the mental energy required to see after our other holdings."

Wolfblade paused for a moment.

"It is distant, safe, and has a fine foundation to run your business. I believe it's time you went back to your roots, and started building a power of your own."

And Wolfblade would let Cloudhawk go, just like that? With Autumn and Hellflower?

Hellflower, he could somewhat believe. In her heart she was a Seeker, so she was always interested in exploring new places and uncovering more secrets. Besides Greenland Outpost - where the Dark Atom had been operating for years in secret - had all the equipment she needed.

What's more, she could serve as a coordinator with the Vale, and ensure that ample eboncrys was provided for their experiments.

Autumn, on the other hand? That was a strange prospect. Would she really tolerate leaving the Vale for Greenland Outpost?

"Greenland Outpost has rich soil for growth. I am confident you will help it see its full potential. Turn it into a true wasteland power, and yourself into a mighty Wasteland King."

Wolfblade's words were always hard to read. It was impossible to tell whether he was telling the truth or not. But Cloudhawk was tired of staying here, so he agreed to leave for the Outpost he ran from years ago, without hesitation.

Just him, Hellflower and Autumn.

The old drunk would remain in the Vale and continue his recovery. Wolfblade said it would be another couple of days before he was well enough to see anyone, so Cloudhawk didn't bother to wait. He left with the two beautiful women, away from the Vale on the back of the great crystal dragon.

Not long after departing, they passed over a mass of ruins below. Wasteland sands had claimed most of it.

He saw a half-ruined lighthouse jutting up at an angle. Even from high overhead he could see the sun-bleached skeleton hanging from it, picked clean by wild animals.

He remembered this place. Years ago it had a name. Lighthouse Pointe.

His mind went to a beautiful, kind, and simple soul he used to know.

As far as he knew, she was still in Crescent Moon. He liked to imagine she adopted a large number of homeless wastelander children, Revenant by her side as a protector. Squall probably blew through from time to time, secretly keeping watch. Life was treating her well at last. At least, he hoped.

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