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Book 7, Chapter 44 - Collective Exchange

 Cloudhawk didn't know Belial's exact location. That didn't mean he was out of luck, however. By sending Oddball to follow the Elder he at least had a general idea. With a little patience, the artisan would be found.

What troubled him more was that he'd recently lost contact with his feathered friend. It was a rare disconnect that made Cloudhawk uncomfortable.

Oddball was a special kind of relic. Within a certain range it was able to connect with and share Cloudhawk's consciousness. But even outside of this area, Cloudhawk could always sense where his companion was. For Oddball to vanish completely, there were three possible explanations.

First. Oddball had traveled very far, possibly far enough that their connection was too weak.

Second. Oddball had found itself in a place where spatial disruption was increased. Interference like that might block Cloudhawk's ability to sense where his friend had gone.

The third and final scenario was the least likely. Oddball was strong and agile enough that threats to its life were minimal. Anyway, Cloudhawk would have felt something was off if Oddball got itself into trouble. It wouldn't have just vanished.

He had to be patient and search. There was no hurry.

What Cloudhawk really had to focus on was finding the base left behind by the Supremes. He also had to bring the four remaining Elysian lands around to his camp. To that end, he brought Idonea and Lance with him to Stormford.

Bruno was already performing his task and with good results. At the very least he'd made his position clear, so Cloudhawk had no more need to hold his daughter hostage. As for Lance, it was time to send him home.

When the party arrived in the capital, Idonea made an observation. "Why does everything feel so... solemn?"

Indeed something felt off in the city. While it wasn't the same bustling metropolis Skycloud had been in its prime, it still earned its title as the jewel of Stormford. Today the streets were almost empty. A stuffy cloud hung over everything.

Cloudhawk detected the faint smell of blood in the air.

With gallantry in his voice, Lance turned to Idonea. "I'm sure a lot has changed since Master Bruno and High Priest Gorman returned. Nothing to be worried about."

"No sign of violence," Cloudhawk muttered. "Let's find Dawn and find out what's going on."

"Absolutely! Now that our great King has gone, no one in Stormford would dare offer a challenge." Lance was quick to suck up to the powerful man. He then returned his attention to the girl by his side. "Miss Idonea. Please allow me to escort you home."

She regarded this Young Master, who for the last few days had taken pains to be noble and gentlemanly. Her lips curled into a scowl, indicative of how she felt about him. A talentless hack - that's what she thought. That was to be expected when compared to the Lance she knew before. She had to have been blind to be so easily deceived...

Lance was embarrassed when she ignored him, but he was not angry.

A few minutes later Dawn learned that they were in town and met with them.

"Cloudhawk! Here we are." She walked up to him, but froze in her tracks. Right away Cloudhawk felt the terrible, murderous aura wafting from her.

Frost was hidden beneath a heavy cloak, but she saw right through it.

"You."

Dawn's grip tightened on Terrangelica, her eyes fixed on the man who killed her grandfather. Now he was Wolfblade's lackie, the Elder's lap dog. Until today Cloudhawk had done what he could to stop the two from meeting, but this dark reunion was bound to happen one day. They'd passed each other by before, but it was the first time in a long while that they confronted one another face to face.

Some things were destined. Dawn had to deal with this on her own. Cloudhawk couldn't help her in her quest for vengeance, but he wasn't going to stop her either.

Frost maintained his constant, irritating calm. "You want revenge for your grandfather."

Dawn's explosive temperament was clear on her face. She was struggling with something. Countless times she'd imagined herself shoving Terrangelica into this bastard's pretty face. Him and Inkspecter both! It was the only respite she got from her hatred.

And yet, after a few seconds, her grip loosened.

"Only your blood will wash away the humiliation of my family." The words were cruel, but she did not speak them in anger. The chill in her eyes, however, was fathomless. "Listen well. I will kill you. But not today."

Lance and Idonea watched the scene unfold, puzzled. It didn't look like everything was rainbows and sunshine in Cloudhawk's camp.

Dawn did not strike, but that didn't mean her thirst for vengeance was gone. Her desire to see justice done would never abate, only grow with time.

Cloudhawk asked Dawn about the state of Stormford. According to her everything had been moving along smoothly since their arrival. However, there were still forces working in secret against them. He asked for details and she obliged.

"Of Stormford's bigwigs, we can count on Bruno. High Priest Gorman seems cooperative on the outside but he's hiding something. There's something not right. Besides him there's one other person we should be guarded against, and that's Fulmulta's Governor Pelagius Audra."

"Governor Pelagius. I've heard the name." Cloudhawk's time in Stormford was short, but how could he not have heard of their Governor?

Pretending as though Frost no longer existed, Dawn went on to explain that the Governor was the backbone of the city's family structure. He had more clout in this realm than anyone else.

"He's famous for his faith. In public he is soft spoken, courteous and restrained - a role model to the people. But three days ago he made a declaration. High-ranking members of the churches, including five bishops and over eighty clerics, were arrested. Over a hundred important city figures were put to death and thirteen hundred citizens have been killed."

This took Cloudhawk by surprise. Pelagius' reputation hid his crueler nature. When it rained it poured in Fulmulta - even if it rained blood. More likely, the Governor's carefully cultivated persona was fake. A fatherly facade. He acted in whatever his interest was, even if it meant betraying the gods he purported to serve. The softness of the surface hid a hard and brutal reality.

Cloudhawk didn't read too much into it. "It looks like your growth hasn't been restricted to fighting."

"No shit. This lady is as beautiful as she is smart." Dawn didn't waste the chance to boast.

She brought the newly arrived crew to the Temple to meet with Bruno, Gorman and Pelagius. Several other important people from the city were also in attendance. Others who they figured would cause trouble had all been dealt with. Everyone left was behind joining Cloudhawk's Alliance.

He looked them over. Most chose to cooperate in order to stop the flames of war from consuming their home. Few if any were actually brave enough to stand against the gods nor even remain loyal to Cloudhawk when his back was turned. Even now he could see the scorn in distrust in a number of faces.

Cloudhawk's name rang like thunder back in Skycloud. They knew all the stories - how he nearly destroyed a fortress single-handedly, how he beat Arcturus Cloude, and how he bested the God King's Avatar. While there was still a lot of controversy surrounding him, no one denied his power or authority.

But news wasn't shared among Elysian lands. Nobody here knew of Cloudhawk's exploits. What little they heard they didn't believe. How could they? Cloudhawk - alone - was supposed to have destroyed Sky Fortress, killed their god and captured three other Supremes.

This was him? This ordinary-looking youth? Putting aside their moral and cultural conflicts, were they supposed to just start following this unimpressive foreigner?

High Priest Gorman stepped forward. "Greetings to the Lord of the Wastes, conqueror of Skycloud, founder of the Green Alliance, successor to the Demon King, and slayer of gods... Greetings, Master Cloudhawk."

It was quite the stream of titles. Any one of them was improbably magnificent. Those gathered found it all a little ostentatious.

"I've heard there is no one on this earth that compares to Master Cloudhawk." One man thick as a bear raised his voice. "I am Commander-General of Stormford's forces, Charon Barak. All my life I aim to challenge myself. Perhaps the great conqueror could help."

Dawn scowled. Was this asshole issuing a challenge out in the open?

Cloudhawk smirked. He was new here and figured someone would test the boundaries. He wasn't afraid to show them where they were. In fact he was counting on it, otherwise how would they recognize him? Cloudhawk appreciated the burly bear-like man. He thought his gall was adorable.

"One person isn't much fun. Three matches would be better, don't you think?"

Charon's intention had just been to feel out this stranger. He didn't think he'd up the ante.

High Priest Gorman interjected. "How should this contest proceed, Master Cloudhawk?"

"Elysian lands are always separated into religious, military and political powers. They represent the power of a realm, so why not choose the best of each to test their mettle?"

Gorman and Pelagius exchanged a glance before the Governor replied. "It would be my honor to spar with a man of such strength."

1. His name can be interpreted as 'Lightning of Great Fierceness'. Charon and Barak are both of Greek origin, with the first having a possible meaning of 'fierce brightness' and Barak meaning lightning.

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