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Book 5, Chapter 70 - The Silver Kingdom

 Cloudhawk's plight can only be described as getting kicked while he was down.

He'd fought and defeated Adder, Frost, even the likes of Oren Cloude. He'd even managed to hold his own against the Crimson One and Arcturus. Throughout his life there'd been a steady progression of powerful people trying to kill him, and though it wasn't the first time Cloudhawk had lost, it was the first time he'd lost in such a humiliating fashion. By some fucking leathery bird that came out of nowhere.

How humiliating!

He felt a cold wind against his ear, enough to wake him up. When he opened his eyes, Cloudhawk found himself perched on the back of a creature that was somewhere between a horse and a rhinoceros. Thankfully it was a sturdy thing with a wide back he could comfortably lay on.

Oddball immediately began chirping when it noticed he was awake.

Cloudhawk sat up, an act which elicited excruciating pain. He then looked around and was surprised by what he saw. It was a sort of place he'd never seen before, a world of white. Desolate. Lonely. Cold. It was a tundra.

There was enough light for him to get a good look at his surroundings. It was obviously not the battlefield he'd been flying over. However, probably because it was close to those blasted lands the temperature here was frigid. Instead of a sandy wasteland there was nothing but sheets of ice as far as he could see. They were far enough away, though, that a harsh light shown upon them from overhead and reflected off the ice in a way that dazzled the eye.

Absolutely dead. There was a single living thing for miles that he could see, except for them.

It was unlike anything he'd ever seen.

Surrounding him was a small herd of pack animals, huge things that were laden down with sacks. They carefully picked their way across the ice. There were also people wrapped in several layers of heavy clothing. Their hats, coats and even beards were coated with ice crystals. Their leader was a skinny geezer who was looking right at him.

"You're awake."

The geezer had striking blue eyes and well-kept hair the color of snow. He was draped in a cloak of alternating red and blue. There was something unique about the way he held himself, in fact a lot of the way he moved and spoke reminded Cloudhawk of Skycloud. Luckily he understood.

It was a small group. One old man, a young girl, and a handful of others with simple weapons.

This wasn't his first rodeo. Cloudhawk didn't get any sense of danger from this crew right now, but that didn't mean they weren't a threat. He kept his guard up.

"Don't misunderstand, we don't mean you any harm." The geezer was kindly and somewhat deferential. "We found you in the forbidden area, you were unconscious. We are merchants from Redleaf."

"Redleaf?" Cloudhawl asked. "What sort of place is that?"

The geezer found his question strange. "You've never heard of Redleaf City?"

Redleaf wasn't a large city, but it was well known within the kingdom. How could he not have heard of it? The old man looked at Cloudhawk with a glimmer of doubt in his eyes.

They were interrupted when a young boy of fifteen or sixteen excitedly inserted himself between them. "You probably ran into a dracobat if you were traveling through the forbidden area. They're some of the most dangerous creatures out there. It's amazing you harmed it and survived! Are you a Beastmaster? Is this little bird your divine beast?"

Redleaf... Beastmaster? These were things he'd never heard before. It was obvious this place was far from where he'd grown up. The atmosphere, environment, culture and livelihoods were all so different from what he was used to. Unless he was mistaken, this icy expanse was the fallen land of the Shepherd God.

The boy pressed him for answers. "I'm Summer. Where do you come from? What's your name? Why don't you speak?"

He had the impression now wasn't the appropriate time to share the truth, so he rubbed his head and acted confused. "I'm sorry, it's... strange. I just remember my name is Cloudhawk."

Amnesia? The blow to his head must have rattled his memory - it's happened before. Grandfather and grandson exchanged a look.

In a flash of inspiration Summer took the initiative. "Well, since you can't remember where you're from you should come with us to Redleaf. You're a beastmaster, so the city will definitely welcome you."

Cloudhawk was again reminded that he knew nothing about this new world he found himself in. He had to find a way to blend in, so he accepted their offer.

He soon learned his hunch was correct. These folks were from the fallen Elysian land that they called the Silver Kingdom of Meadow. It was roughly equal in scale to Skycloud, although it was clear the establishment of this realm had been halted. Where Skycloud's populace numbered in the tens of millions, that was reduced to the low millions here. A small kingdom.

That was roughly the population of Skycloud City. However, though few in number they were strong.

The beastmasters Summer spoke about were a unique profession here. Cloudhawk wasn't familiar with the idea, but after a few roundabout questions he learned were demonhunters who had divine beasts as pets.

Cloudhawk had learned the secret of divine beasts a long time ago. They were, in actuality, special kinds of relics that joined with the consciousness of their masters. That gave them more autonomy and use in a fight. Back in Skycloud they were few and far between, with the most noted being the Temple Guardian. Creatures like that were difficult to come across.

Things were different here. Perhaps because of its proximity to the ancient battlefield.

During the Great War, the masters of these divine and unholy beasts fell, leaving their pets behind. Some of them had the ability to reproduce and as such the forbidden area became riddled with their offspring. It was a resource for the people of Meadow to exploit, so that even though they had no god to lead and empower them, the people could still father these beasts and relic for themselves.

Those with the talent to command divine beasts were given the title of beastmaster. Others that used different relics to empower their fighting ability were called Chosen.

Beastmasters, Chosen, Nox's Black Knights, the wastelands Godslayers... all were what he first came to know as Skycloud's demonhunters. The only difference was location.

The group he'd fallen in with were merchant collectors. Their job was to wander through what they called the forbidden area - the outskirts of the Great War battlefield - and gather up what they could. Hauls included fragments of old relics, energy crystals, and divine beast eggs. Such things were high-value items to these folk. If they were lucky a single trip could set them up for half their lives.

But as one might expect, it was dangerous work. The forbidden area was given the ominous name because it was deadly and much about it remained unknown.

The dracobat that took down Cloudhawk was a divine beast without a master. Most likely it had been left here, left to wander since the time of the Great War.

It was far from the only one as well. They were strong, feral things. Were it not for Cloudhawk's unfortunate run in with the thing, there was a fair possibility the dracobat would have found the collectors instead. Had that happened it would have ended in tragedy.

Cloudhawk once again looked over the bundles strapped onto the mounts. "All of this is what you pulled out of the forbidden area?"

Summer nodded. "Yup! We got a real good haul this time. If we sell it all we might qualify to start trading in the capitol. Then we won't have to scramble around outside all day."

Cloudhawk sized up the pair. He felt... strange. This reminded him of years ago when he was trying to make his way into Skycloud for the first time. He didn't know shit back then, about anything. He'd been brought through the borderlands by the Bloomnettle Company, Old Thistle.

And Squall.

They were both so young back then. Neither of them could have imagined that a few years later their worlds would be rocked.

Summer's full name was Summer Vista. His grandfather's name was Craig Vista. Hearing his grandson's hopes, he shook his head. "I know it's your dream to go to the capitol, child, but it's not so easy. Ability isn't enough, you need influence and power. We have none of this."

Summer scowled in dissatisfaction. "I'll get stronger eventually."

"Well, you sure can flap your lips," Craig said with a shake of his head. He looked up at the sky. "The climate will change in a couple days. Unless you want to freeze to death or get burned to a crisp, we need to pick up the pace."

Meadow's tundras were a strange place. In some parts - the part closer to the battlefield - it was cold all year round and blanketed in ice. In other areas the blazing sun was likely to blind you. Especially in this snow-blanketed place the reflection of the sunlight was greatly intensified. The strength of the sun's radiation burned skin, and could even cause mutations.

It was dangerous because victims never felt hot, but they were cooking nonetheless.

Cloudhawk continued to speak and act cautiously as they continued the trek. He was eager to learn as much as he could without seeming like a total outsider. Between what the Khan of Evernight told him and what he could learn from Summer, he was starting to get a grasp on things.

He wouldn't have believed a place like this existed out here, until he saw it for himself. For the next couple days he traveled with the merchants until they reached their destination.

He stoop at the edge of a cliff, his eyes drawn into the distance. Here the tundra stopped abruptly and gave way to a frozen steppe. The horizon was broken up by a forest peaking up from creeping snow banks.

A land blanketed in white, glowing silver from the sun. Trees with powdered caps and distant mountains scraping the clouds - all enveloped in snow. From the barren world suddenly appeared this beautiful landscape whose ice refracted the light in rainbow patterns in a way that made it all look surreal.

He'd arrived.

This was the forgotten realm, the Shepherd God's fallen domain... of course, few if anyone knew what happened a thousand years ago. These days the natives had a different name for it.

The Silver Kingdom.

1. Read as: pokemon trainer

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