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Book 7, Chapter 4 - Fulmulta

 On the third day...

Cloudhawk watched from the airship's cabin as the capital of Stormford pulled into view.

"Belial was pretty spot on."

Cloudhawk had spent two days in Byzantium before a way to the capital presented itself. That was too short for even Lance's own flesh and blood to notice any difference. As for his sudden surge in ability? The Young Master's family was surprised, certainly, but it didn't rise to the level of suspicion.

So far as they were concerned, the lazy wastrel was finally showing some mettle!

Lance wasn't born lesser than any other man. On the contrary, his potential was clear. But he squandered those talents by spending his days in decadent malaise, halting his progress. Now at last he appeared to be rising to his potential, a fact which pleased Byzantium's Governor greatly.

Cloudhawk sat cross-legged on the small cot, watching the sprawling mountains and snaking valleys roll along below. He sighed at the sight and had to admit that it was only with Wolfblade's help that he was able to find Stormford. Without the demon, it would have taken months of searching.

Who else, Elysian or otherwise, would know anything about this dangerous and complicated land? How would any outsider know that among the criss-crossing ranges was hidden an Elysian realm with tens of thousands of residents?

The world was so big. There were so many places he had yet to see. Every corner was flush with its own history, people and culture. Stormford, too, was sure to have countless stories of its own.

At one time Cloudhawk had wanted to be a wanderer, searching for an elusive paradise. That dream died a little while after he left Hell's Valley. Since then he'd wanted to uncover the curiosities of the world because he had the ability to.

There was a saying: To live was to experience wanderlust. The body and soul were always in search of a new path to trod.

Alas, it was an itch he could not yet scratch. Maybe one day when he was finished with it all. Maybe then he could take some time to explore.

Be it this world or any of the others he'd encountered, Cloudhawk wanted to learn everything. The universe was vast, and out among the stars the greatest warrior and the humblest beast were all the same. To the world any single person didn't matter, but the individual could know the world. Maybe if he went off to uncover these secrets he wouldn't feel so... empty.

The mountains and valleys became less dramatic. A deep basin was revealed in the heart of the mountain range and nestled therein, a grand majestic city. Docks were arranged at different locations and airships were constantly coming and going. For a moment Cloudhawk felt like he'd been transported years into the past, on the day he flew into Skycloud city. He remembered how incredible it had all been, how the city seemed to be alive and vibrant. He remembered it like it was yesterday, but the knowledge of everything that followed afterward made it a bitter memory.

He wouldn't let it happen again. No chaos this time. He didn't want to keep bringing turmoil to places where peace reigned. No more innocent blood on his hands. Conflict meant bloodshed and that was a tragedy for everyone - the people and Cloudhawk alike.

Whether the future was bright or not, it didn't matter to those who died before it was realized. The victims of change would know only darkness for eternity. It was the pain of resetting a break, but also confirmed the existence of heroism. Of course the heroes of some were the devils to others, for when a hero raised his sword it could mean tragedy to the common folk. That was the theory, anyway.

There were a lot of wastelanders who called Cloudhawk a hero, but to him the title was not a lofty one. If he could pass the mantle on to someone else he would be ecstatic. Who in their right mind would want to be king of the wastelands? To lord over a sprawling, embattled alliance? What sane man wanted to be a hero?

Unfortunately there was no one but Cloudhawk to carry this burden. He was the only one who could. For all of the people around him and all the people he cared for, he had to shoulder this responsibility. It was what he had to do as a man.

"Young Master, we've arrived. We will spend the night at a hotel nearby and send someone to the Governor's mansion to announce our arrival. I suspect tomorrow someone will come to invite us."

Byzantium's Governor had sent a retinue of over a hundred people. No less than twenty of them were persona bodyguards and servants. The rest were responsible for transporting betrothal gifts. Although Byzantium's Governor couldn't visit the capital himself, he made up for it with the impressive treasures sent along with his son. These many heirlooms were intended to ingratiate their family and the groom to the capital's leader. If they achieved that aim then it was well worth the expense.

It was very evident that their son and this wedding was of great concern.

After disembarking, Cloudhawk settled at a hotel near the dock. Fulmulta, like Skycloud city, was the heart of its respective realm. However, that was where the similarities ended.

It wasn't unexpected. Even if they started from the same foundation, there were thousands of kilometers of distance between the two cultures. At the very least their customs and habits were different.

Of the five Elysian lands, only Skycloud was nestled against the ruins of the ancient civilization. The Dark Atom and other nefarious groups were a constant threat, so the people were bred to be tough. They were more aggressive and less forgiving; soldiers were well trained and nationalistic. However cultural development in other areas was relatively weak.

This was not so for Stormford.

Such a peaceful, enlightened atmosphere had produced a renaissance of human culture. Music, theater, art and other sorts of performances were easy to come across. What's more, the various gods presented their realms with varying heritage. There were differences in the tools they used - for instance, there was a collection of crystal boards in the lobby wall Cloudhawk had never seen before.

These smooth, translucent items were like living pictures. Touching one instigated a reaction, calling up text and images. Cloudhawk fiddled with one until a menu flickered into being. Prominently displayed was an option for 'Realm Announcements,' 'Realm News' and more. He pressed one at random and a deluge of information scrolled across the screen.

"Young Master, this is a Notice Board. You'll only find them in Stormford and they conveniently provide the citizens with all the information they need."

They were like ancient touch screens from the bygone civilization, but not exactly. After all the technology of the gods was completely different from what man had achieved. There weren't any ruins nearby for them to excavate ancient touch screens, anyway, and old tech was forbidden in every Elysian domain.

Cloudhawk's curiosity was piqued. "Why are they only in Stormford? Can't we buy a few and bring them back to Byzantium?"

His coterie was caught off guard by the question. One of the stewards shook his head and replied, "They only work in a very small scope. If we were to take it out of the capital they'd be no different than a pane of glass."

Why was that? Cloudhawk looked over the screen as a nonstop flood of information rolled by. It was a very useful item, especially since atmospheric distortion made long-distance communication impossible. Somehow these screens didn't seem to be affected.

It didn't appear to use any sort of energy, either. What he did sense was a very faint hum...

Cloudhawk shut his eyes and focused on the resonance. Following the sound, he discovered that the information they provided was all being sent from one location. This had to be some kind of unfamiliar yet powerful artifact, one that was able to deliver information across the air. Wireless transmissions were sent to these crystal sheets and rendered for people to see.

Cloudhawk had no way to guess what this relic was or how it worked. One thing he knew, though, was that it was both powerful and precious. At the very least it was unmatched in the ability to quickly disseminate information among the public. If he could find a way to steal away the technology it would be a great benefit to his Alliance. He could build a wide-reaching public information network whose advantages were unimaginable.

**

Night fell.

Cloudhawk was back in his hotel room. He'd just returned from wandering the city, a journey which revealed a myriad of interesting things. For one, the city was not wanting for capable citizens. He didn't need to fight them to know that some people were surprisingly strong. A handful at least even posed a slight threat to him.

That didn't come as much of a surprise. A realm with a thousand years of stable history was sure to produce some gems. Of course, just how strong these people were or what powers they possessed was a complete mystery to him.

For the time being, the Supremes were playing by the rules of extreme caution. Every step was judged and measured for fear their plans would fall through.

Cloudhawk was preparing to lay down when a sound caught his ear. It was the hum of relics. He'd heard them before when wandering the streets, as though he were being watched. Now he heard several closing in on the hotel. Demonhunters, closing in.

Obviously they were here for him - but why?

He wracked his mind. The city's public security was capable and its citizens were well-behaved. This seemed out of character. Who were they? He didn't remember offending anyone.

Cloudhawk lay on his bed eyes closed, pretending to sleep. But even as his one sense was closed off he reached out with another.

Layer upon layer of spatial energy spread through the room. His vision was no longer constrained to his eyes, rather rippling outward three hundred and sixty degrees. It passed through floors and walls, revealing everything to him.

This was vision based on dimensional presence. So long as it existed on this plane, even the tiniest insect in the smallest crack was clear to him. Even items inside of other living things were not hidden. He saw it all as his power reached through the all-pervasive domain of space.

Figures in black masks. Demonhunters, closing in on his room. A number had already drawn their exorcist bows. Their deadly intention was clear - murder, not dialogue.

"Interesting."

Cloudhawk focused on their leader. Judging by her figure she was an attractive woman, and as his powers slipped passed the mask concealing her face he saw her features clearly. A woman in her twenties, pretty, with skin the color of snow. She was alluringly delicate in appearance and had rare silvery hair. But her beauty was robbed by the ferocious look on her face as she peered into Cloudhawk's room.

(Post Script from Tipsy: The last two chapters have been lackluster, not like the others. Lately I've had time but have been suffering from writer's block. Don't worry, the wanderer will soon be back to normal.)

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