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Book 5, Chapter 44 - Bai

 Cloudhawk neither accepted nor denied the Khan's offer. Likewise, the Khan did not press for an answer. In truth, Cloudhawk didn't have much of a choice - just like the first time they'd met. He might have been able to avoid the rough seas when there was just one storm, but as two threatened to collide there were no more safe ports for him to just wait it out in.

Either he rode the waves of the storm, or he got swept away by it. Often in one's life, decisions would be forced. Sometimes you could escape, but not always.

Members of the Polaris family were already sick with worry for Dawn and desperate to act. The moment she was handed to the expeditionary force her situation became deadly. Yet, could they really align themselves with this sinister figure? He was the leader of a group whose goal was to obliterate their former home! The moment they stood with him, they became sworn enemies of Skycloud.

The Polaris family had been protectors of the realm for hundreds of years. Their beloved patriarch had been its penultimate defender, and had even died in Skycloud's service.

Now they were faced with a bitter circumstance: To save Dawn, were they willing to throw away hundreds of years of honor and doom their future generations to be marked as traitors? When they left Skycloud, it wasn't because they were casting off Skycloud. They'd left in protest against Arcturus' power grab. They'd left with Dawn to gather strength and win vengeance for General Skye.

Never was it their intention to bring harm to Skycloud or its people. Those many citizens were completely innocent. Each person knew that if the General were alive today he would balk at the mere suggestion, yet none could stomach the idea of abandoning Dawn to die.

Confusion, apprehension and indecision took over the crowd. Lost, they could only turn their eyes to Greenland's leader to make the decision for them.

Cloudhawk's expression was hidden beneath his bandages, but they could feel the tempest raging underneath those bindings. After a few moments of silence, he made his decision. "Not yet. It's been only half a day since Dawn was captured. Even if she has been delivered to the expeditionary force, they haven't had time to deliver her to their headquarters. Everyone, come with me. We're setting off."

Hellflower was taken aback by the decision. They were going to save her? Right now? Greenland wasn't strong enough to do this on their own. Their new realm was only just stabilizing.

Aside from a handful Cloudhawk had brought with him, most of Greenland was administered by members of the Polaris family. The Goshawks were strong but still fresh and untested. They weren't prepared for a full-on battle with the Elysians.

Right now, they weren't any more of a threat to Skycloud than the Dark Atom. How were they supposed to take on the entire Elysian army?

Yet seeing things from Cloudhawk's perspective, it wasn't difficult to see why he made this choice. If they decided to join with the Khan of Evernight - to side with this mysterious southern power - Greenland would lose its purity. The peace and safety he wanted so much would be forever out of their reach.

The dangers were great and forever mounting, but Cloudhawk had to at least try. Try to free Dawn with whatever power he could muster instead of selling the soul of his young nation.

Gathering a few of his core members, Cloudhawk set off immediately. Greenland's fittest went with him, with only Hellflower and the Shepherd God left behind. Their stop was Howling Outpost, where Dawn was captured. Once there, Cloudhawk had his scouts begin tracking.

They traveled through the night nonstop, covering hundreds of kilometers. As the sun was rising over the horizon they arrived at the borders of an Elysian camp.

From the outside there didn't appear to be anything special about this outpost. It was a converted wasteland city where perhaps a few thousand troops had been stationed. No further trace of Dawn was found elsewhere, so she had to be somewhere in the base.

Cloudhawk shut his eyes and reached out with his mind. It was confirmed when he heard the familiar resonance coming from the center of the outpost. "I hear Terrangelica," he announced.

Roc was eager to act. "Let's cut our way through!"

"It's not so simple," Cloudhawk responded with a sigh. His expression was grave. "Terrangelica isn't the only relic here, not by a long shot. They have a company of demonhunters stationed here, too."

The effect of this realization was reflected on their faces. Everyone knew how strong demonhunters were individually, and that strength was enhanced when they worked as a unit.

"How many," the drunk asked.

Cloudhawk thought for a moment. "A couple hundred."

Their faces darkened further. Even the drunk was surprised. "Skycloud has two major demonhunter organizations; Baldur's League of Demonhunters and Sterling's Demonhunter Corps. The League is a loosely affiliated organization, unlikely to have so many members gathered together. That means we're facing the Corps."

Up to now Cloudhawk was mostly unfamiliar with the Demonhunter Corps. He knew that the Crimson One and Wyrmsole had once been its highest officers.

If the Corps was here, it could only mean that the Cloude family was extending its reach into the south. And not only that, they were sending in the big guns.

The drunk shook his head. "I can't take on two hundred demonhunters."

Even someone with Vulkan's strength was outmatched. All it would take was for them to be surrounded and bombarded on all sides by relics. Dead in seconds, that was the only outcome. After all, enough ants can kill an elephant, and demonhunters sure as shit weren't ants. More like a pack of lions.

Two hundred demonhunters was just the icing on the bitter cake, too. There were also several thousand Elysian troops to consider.

With this sort of opposition in their way, Cloudhawk and his crew were looking at a suicide mission. Dawn was also at their mercy, so acting recklessly could get her killed. No, strong-arming this matter wasn't the way to go. Cloudhawk waved his hand, indicating everyone to fall back and hold their positions.

"We can't rush this. Let me sneak in and take a look around."

Best case scenario was to get in, grab Dawn, and get out without having to start a fight. If he was lucky, maybe he could get her out before anyone realized something was wrong. They could hide in an alternate reality until the danger passed. That way, they wouldn't have to risk lives and walk away victorious.

Cloudhawk stole into the base. The resonance led him toward a relatively well maintained stone building.

Fifty or so soldiers were on constant patrol around its perimeter. That was proof enough that whatever they were keeping in there was important. Sure enough the closer he got, the clearer Terrangelica's resonance became. Gathering his will, Cloudhawk turned himself incorporeal and slipped through the outer wall. He continued to press deeper until a few moments later he was in the center of the building.

Here it is... Cloudhawk saw Terrangelica piled on top of a bunch of other things. From the layout Cloudhawk figured this was being used as a prison. The room he was in now was where they put the things confiscated from inmates. He plucked the weapon from the pile and deposited it into his dimensional vault.

No reason to stick around here anymore. He looked around until eventually he found a figure locked away in the deepest recesses of the jail. Familiar chains held them fast, the sort of chains used to imprison demonhunters. Pretty, with long platinum blonde hair and familiar features - he'd found Dawn.

Several demonhunters were stationed around her cell.

Cloudhawk looked closer. Everything was right, from the outside that was Dawn right down to her petulent expression. But despite that, alarm bells were ringing in his brain. For four years he'd been close friends with Dawn, so he knew her as well as anyone. Deep down, Cloudhawk knew the girl he was looking at was not Dawn. It was some sort of illusion. A good one, sure, but not good enough to mask the hum of the peculiar relic they used to perform the trick.

It was a trap. A demonhunter had taken on Dawn's likeness.

Cloudhawk realized quickly that this was bait, intended to make anyone sneaking around tip their hand. He was getting ready to back away when suddenly 'Dawn' raised her head and looked toward his direction with a cold glare. "You only just got here. Leaving so soon? Stay awhile and share a cup of tea!"

The surrounding demonhunters suddenly burst into motion as though given a command.

Fuck! They caught me!

Flashes of silver appeared in Cloudhawk's hands. They lashed out like glimmering serpents toward the closest demonhunter. Luckily for his foes, they had a defensive relic that protected them, but even still hCloudhawk's Silver Serpent left a large gash in the shield. This group of demonhunters were formidable, he could tell that much.

'Dawn's' body shimmered for a moment and became translucent, like rippling water. A few moments later the platinum hair turned jet black, she grew taller, and those pleasant features he knew so well changed entirely. A concealing fog hung around this figure, just thick enough to conceal any revealing details. What had been Dawn a moment ago was now a living fog.

As he thought. A demonhunter. But not your ordinary demonhunter - one much stronger than your average veteran. Some sort of water-type relic must be what she was using to change her shape.

Dawn wasn't here. She wasn't in this cell, this prison, probably not even in this base. It was likely constructed quickly for the sole purpose of drawing him in. And since these were some of Skycloud's elite, they had definitely studied up on Cloudhawk's abilities. They were ready.

He sensed countless relics begin to hum all at once. It was like a discordant orchestra coming from all directions at once. The ocean of sounds disrupted not only his stealth capabilities, but his teleportation as well.

"Cloudhawk! Let's see you try to escape today!"

A very old figure approached from behind. The moment he appeared Cloudhawk could sense the strength pouring off of him. He knew in an instant that even at peak strength, he was not this man's equal. Wounded, and with no way to run, he was in dire straits.

Two hundred demonhunters. Thousands of troops. All put together for an elaborate trap. Even Arcturus would have a hard time escaping from a quandary like this. There was only so much a single person could accomplish. Once their energy was spent, it was not difficult to surround and kill them.

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