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Book 6, Chapter 16 – Decisions

 As Selene's body slept, her mind waded through dreams. They took her back to the time when she was sixteen years old.

She was looking at a childish, brave, angry figure standing alone in the wilderness. Destiny had brought them together in Blackflag Outpost. The scene shifted to the night of the Sweeper raid. Just like then, here she lay asleep while Cloudhawk tended to her.

She desperately hoped that everything since then had been a dream. She hoped that when she opened her eyes, before her would be the stubborn and lankly wasteland boy she remembered stretching his dirty hands toward her chest.

There were so, so many regrets... In her mind she had come up with ways to avoid many of them, if she had the chance to go back. But dreams were just dreams. Eventually you had to wake and face reality, that was when the dream died.

"You're awake!"

Cloudhawk was standing over her when Selene opened her eyes. Her sight was blurry and her mind was in place in-between place between sleep and wakefulness. As she looked up at him it was like two figures interposed. Was he the young boy from Blackflag or the powerful wasteland ruler?

"Where are we?"

"A small village in the south-west of Skycloud called Flying Fish Village."

Selene slowly pushed herself up into a sitting position. She felt weak, drained, but otherwise able to move around. The last thing she remembered was lashing out at Arcturus with that incredible power. Cloudhawk must have succeeded in teleporting them to safety.

He cleared his throat and spoke with a tone of uncertainty. "I looked you over for injuries. Your body is supernaturally resilient. It's amazing that you could wake up so soon after suffering Arcturus' attack. The strength you used against him two nights ago was a lot... I had no idea you had such power in you!"

"That power isn't mine."

Cloudhawk paused. He had figured after felling it that night, but still was at a loss. If it wasn't her power, then whose was it? Far from weak, Cloudhawk's first concern was whether it was a blessing or a curse for her.

If there was one thing Cloudhawk had learned in life, it was that there were no free meals. The inheritance he'd been given from the Demon King was a wondrous gift, but it also meant carrying on a legacy. No matter how hard he'd tried to escape it, there was no running away. Was it the same for her? Gifts form heaven could be life-changing when descending from on high, but they could also crush their victims.

"Well, anyway you've been hurt. For your health and safety we need to get you back to the Temple," Cloudhawk said. "I'll protect you 'til then."

"Are you in such a hurry to get rid of me?" Selene's frail appearance melted away as her temper flared and she fixed him with a stern stare. She was only like this when Cloudhawk was around. "Are you so eager to go back to your little sweetheart?"

What? Where the hell did this come from? Since when did he have a 'sweetheart'? Sure, Skye Polaris had tried to get him to marry his grand-daughter, and Dawn never tried to hide her feelings, but there was nothing going on.

Selene saw the resentment on Cloudhawk's face and smiled disarmingly. She took a fistful of his clothes in her pale hand and tugged. "It was so hard for you to come and visit, can't you stay with me for just one more day? Just one day."

Skycloud's frigid ice queen looked at him with warm, pleading eyes. The tone in her voice was like a little girl longing for her favorite doll. Irresistible. Cloudhawk didn't know why she was suddenly so gentle. He figured anyone who knew or even heard of Selene would die of shock if they saw her like this.

"Don't worry." Selene knew when they parted ways, being together like this again would be difficult. She didn't want to let this treasured moment slip away. "When I used that power it allowed me to glimpse into the future. For the next two days we will be safe."

Glimpsed the future? What sort of power was this? Cloudhawk was stunned - a person capable of seeing the future would be unstoppable!

"It's not as amazing as you think. The future can take many paths and every time a seer peers upon them, the possibilities change a little bit. I can only see a few points on any given line."

Selene didn't want to waste time on the subject and Cloudhawk didn't bother pressing for details. Everyone had their secrets. Selene's request to have him stay was a simple one, so how could Cloudhawk refuse? He agreed to remain with her for one more day. Together they would forget their titles, burdens and responsibilities. They would forget everything and just live life together, never bringing up the dark reality looking on the horizon.

They spent their time like normal folk; talking, watching the sunrise, walking the town, and enjoying one another's company.

Such days were boringly common in normal life, for normal people. To them it was precious beyond measure. It was a stolen moment where they could put down their fears and forget. For a time Selene was comfortable and soft. Cloudhawk felt some empty part of himself fill up. Maybe this was the peace Cloudhawk had been searching for all his life.

Near dusk, Cloudhawk went to the market and picked out two fish and a bottle of berry wine. He cooked up the fish for himself and Selene. After sampling a piece she nodded in gratification.

"Actually, you're not a bad chef."

"Yeah?" Seeing her satisfied filled Cloudhawk with pride. "Well maybe I should take up cooking, what do you think?"

The Acolyte's tough exterior broke as she laughed openly. "I think I'd be your first customer."

Cloudhawk raised his glass. "Then it's a deal."

"It's a deal." She touched her glass to hiss.

They drained their glasses and watched the sun set over distant mountains. Sadly this day, like any other day, had to come to an end. Time would not reverse its hands for anyone, so the sky grew dark. Quiet settled over the room.

Cloudhawk didn't like it. The stillness reminded him of the stillness of death. Like the vast, empty wastelands. Their eyes met. Cloudhawk remembered in the moment before darkness took him, when Judas took him from Sanctuary, that he saw this angelic figure in his mind's eye.

He'd made a lot of mistakes. There was so much to regret. He couldn't keep denying what he wanted.

Cloudhawk pulled Selene into his arms and placed his lips to hers. Crystalline tears gathered at the corner of her eyes. She clutched him back, afraid to let him go for fear he'd go forever. They embraced this way for a time, venting at last the complex emotions of the last few years.

No hesitation, no second guessing. Effortless.

These two distinct souls from two different worlds became one, inseparable.

The next morning Selene awake wrapped in a warm embrace. It was the most comfortable she'd ever felt. For the first time she felt what it was like to lean against someone's shoulder. She raised her head and looked at Cloudhawk. "The Temple agents will be here soon."

He knew that. He knew it meant she had to go.

**

It was ten minutes later when Cloudhawk felt the powerful resonance coming their way. Two men in distinct Templar gear approached the village.

Cloudhawk knew he had to keep himself a secret from the Temple, yet still he stepped out to meet them when he saw who these agents were. While Cloudhawk walked over to them Selene put back on her stern, guarded face. Everything that had happened yesterday already felt like a dream. Like it never happened.

The Temple's representatives were not in the least mere soldiers. One was the Oracle of Order, Aquaria. The other was Grand Prior Phain Mist. When he saw Cloudhawk appear his hand immediately went to his sword. "You dare appear here!"

"Hold!" Aquaria put her hand on Phain's, holding it fast. It was clear to her that the Grand Prior was no threat to Cloudhawk now. She hesitated for a moment before acknowledging him. "Dawn. Is she alright?"

"No matter how complex the situation, Dawn has a talent for making it all simple."

"Does she... talk about me?"

Cloudhawk thought for a moment and decided to honor Dawn's request. He pulled her necklace from a pocket and tossed it to Aquaria. "She doesn't say it, but she knows you're the only thing left that's family. You know, to tell the truth, people like us only have ourselves to blame no matter the circumstances. Not her, though. She's a victim of this fight between Skycloud and the wilderness."

Aquaria stared speechlessly at the necklace. Phain, too, said nothing. The sword gripping the hilt of his sword loosened a little.

"The Temple has begun an investigation into the Governor's support of the Conclave of Judgment," Aquaria said. "It's no secret. The High Priest also finds Arcturus' actions highly suspect. However, we do not have any direct proof with which to accuse him - not enough to undermine his enormous support. As for this war with the wastelands, there are two different voices in the Temple."

She didn't need to elaborate, Cloudhawk could guess. The first camp was advocating a passive stance. Let Arcturus rout the Green Alliance and finally unify the wastelands. Others wanted to impose restrictions on Arcturus' power. They would stop any unification of the wastelands and simply allow the Green Alliance and the Conclave of Judgment to beat each other to death.

There were fair points and criticisms enough for both stances. For the moment they were at a stalemate. Making up laws and rules was just a stalling tactic, though. Once Arcturus was done with the wastelands and turned his attention to the Temple, how would they fight back?

But maybe not. Sometimes you picked the lesser of two evils because it's the best one. Even if Cloudhawk managed to unite the wastelands, they only needed to hold out long enough for the Cloud God to reawaken.

But there was a major flaw in that plan, and that was Cloudhawk. After his bloody display at Sanctuary this struggle would be inscribes on the hearts of Elysians forever. Were they really willing to let him grow stronger and commit even more ghastly sins?

On the other hand, Cloudhawk's power was staggering. Dismissing him as inferior to Arcturus or Skycloud was a mistake and they might never have a better chance to crush the Green Alliance.

Cloudhawk cut to the point. "What's your decision?"

"My daughter has a stubborn nature. In her life she'd only ever asked of me two things. The first was to step in on your behalf during your trial." The Oracle sighed. "If I had simple helped you escape, perhaps the tragedy at Sanctuary never would have happened. Maybe the Green Alliance would never exist and Dawn... would have chosen differently."

So, she would help him. Aquaria didn't want to let Dawn down again. The dark reputation Cloudhawk earned in Skycloud was all because he was trying to save her daughter. She owed him, so standing against Arcturus was her way of repaying that debt.

Honestly Cloudhawk was surprised it appeared to be going so smoothly. Aquaria was, after all, one of the chief Oracles of the Temple. But the position of the gods was not so high in people's hearts as they used to be. Perhaps people were making more decisions for themselves.

Whatever the case, Aquaria added serious weight to the equation. In addition to Selene's support, it was likely the Temple would elect to try and get in Arcturus' way. All that was left is to see how much Ramiel could muck up the Governor's plans. That was the best Cloudhawk could do, now he had to focus on defeating the Conclave of Judgment. Wastelanders had to be united, it was the only way to bring peace.

Phain watched as Cloudhawk's figure blinked out of existence. "Oracle, Are you certain? This could be a grave mistake."

Aquaria's shoulders heaved with a soft sigh. She didn't answer. What was right? What was wrong? In everyone's heart there was a ruler, and who could say which one was accurate?

These were times destined for turbulence and chaos. Let the future decide who was right and who was wrong.

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