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Book 7, Chapter 48 - Whereabouts

 Cloudhawk's dominance over Governor Pelagius was absolute.

No fancy tricks, no mighty displays. Those who watched didn't even see how he'd managed it. No wonder this foreign leader was able to defeat four gods.

"Governor Pelagius let me win."

The older man regarded Cloudhawk with a strange expression on his face, but said nothing. Unlike the others he had felt the might of his opponent. He wasn't merely beaten by Cloudhawk, the two weren't even on the same level.

He'd done it without relics. Or, more precisely, he was the relic. With nothing but his mind he was able to manipulate flows of energy for attack and defense. This fact was terrifying to him, even more frightening than the scope of his power alone.

Never before this moment had the Governor seen someone use these sorts of attack without a relic. Wasn't it true even the gods needed those tools? He understood now how he was chosen as the Demon King's successor. He saw how this man had the courage to stand against the gods.

Relics were technology gifted from the gods. Was it not a laughable concept that humans should try to use those tools against the ones who built them? Trying to raze Mount Sumeru with the dregs of its own technology was an impossible feat.

That was what made Cloudhawk so different. If there was any human with a shred of hope for overcoming the gods, it was this man.

"Does anyone else want to try their luck?"

No one spoke up. As Cloudhawk looked over the crowd their shuffled their feet and averted their eyes. They weren't stupid. It wasn't that they feared defeat. There was a difference between defeat and abuse.

"This is all you got and you thought you could conquer Skycloud?" Dawn couldn't hold her tongue any longer. "Let me tell you, where I'm from we have more powerful warriors than you can count. What you see here is only a fraction!"

Bruno frowned. He could attest to her claim. The Avatar wasn't here, nor the Cloud God, or Wolfblade or any of the others. For all its pomp and sophistication Stormford's armies were feeble.

Cloudhawk's reason for this display was to make everyone understand this. He wanted them to recognize Skycloud's strength. It was an effective means of establishing control, while also probing how strong Stormford was.

The realm's very best were represented by Governor Pelagius, High Priest Gorman, Commander-General Charon and Master Demonhunter Bruno. Each were skilled and capable in their own way, and properly utilized they would be of great help in the coming war.

"If no one else is interested then I think we're done here." Cloudhawk stopped Dawn from any more cheerleading. "I came to Stormford for a specific reason."

At last, to the heart of the matter.

"May we ask what that reason is?" Gorman asked.

"Belial - Demon Elder of the Tenth Seal - has been living among you for at least a century. He's gone into hiding, I don't know where. We've come here to find him."

Astonishment was his answer. What? A demon elder, living among them for over a hundred years? Not even the realm's leaders had been aware.

Legends claimed that there were a hundred demon Elders, the strongest of their race. Any demon was a powerful creature, but Elders were a cut above. Especially those within the top Ten Seals. They were the heart of their people, even mightier than Supremes. Where they walked the earth trembled.

Such a monster lurked among them? No wonder Cloudhawk had come personally. No ordinary human would be able to face this danger. After all, the demon Elder was likely more of a threat than the gods Cloudhawk had already faced.

He explained the situation to his new allies. "Belial concealed himself as a human and has been hiding in your cities. I have reason to believe he was here for a reason. Something in or around Stormford caught his attention, so this is the place to begin our search."

Cloudhawk didn't share everything he knew. Belial had scoured the realm for centuries potentially. Why? Because he was searching for the seed. The artisan chose to settle here during his search, switching identities every few decades but never leaving. The only explanation for why he would stay for so long was that the object of his search was close.

"After hundreds of years it would be foolish to think Belial didn't muster up some support here. We can assume there are some people in power throughout the realm that were put there by the demon." Cloudhawk paused again to look over the crowd. "Probably even here."

Governor Pelagius seized on his point. "Not to worry. Now that we are aware, there is a way to smoke them out. Give me two days and I will find Belial's henchmen. The Elder cannot hide for long."

Cloudhawk was confident in the Governor's abilities to do as he claimed. Pelagius turned to an aid and issued several commands, too low for anyone to hear. Intelligence agents were dispatched and given free reign to learn all they could about the demon and his supporters. However cunning Belial was, he could not have lived in Stormford for so long without leaving some trace. Whatever eyes and ears he left behind would be sussed out and pressed for information.

Cloudhawk, meanwhile, made his own arrangements.

The next day he and Dawn attended a reception banquet at the city's capitol. Fulmulta's rebellious elements had been purged by Gorman and Charon, so Cloudhawk did not fear an uprising from those around him. Die-hard supporters of the gods were now smoldering skeletons, among the ashes of the coals that claimed their lives.

Change was irreversible. It was not known whether Cloudhawk would be able to actually defeat Sumeru, but one thing was certain: When the war came, without allies this city that had known a thousand years of peace would be ground to dust. Their only hope was to take refuge with the wastelanders.

During the festivities, Cloudhawk took the chance to meet with other important members of the realm. He determined who would be reliable or useful, and those that could be trained. Indeed, the people who came to these sorts of events were rarely ordinary folk.

For instance, in attendance were the Mighty Ten, as well as military leaders.

Cloudhawk didn't trust Gorman or Pelagius, at least not completely. He didn't even fully trust Bruno. If he cultivated good relationships with others, he could train them to take the reigns of power and consolidate his control.

Once the grand banquet was over, Dawn and Cloudhawk left to wander some of the streets. Night had fallen and the sky was a carpet of twinkling stars. It was the kind of quiet that made one forget the chaos of the times.

"You might have it hard in the days to come." Cloudhawk walked by Dawn's side with his hands clasped behind his back. "You are my spokeswoman. You have to be responsible for solidifying our relationship with Stormford and the other realms. The gods are coming soon, I can feel it. If we're still scattered like sand when they arrive then we're all dead."

Dawn never refused a post from Cloudhawk. She had readily agreed to join him on this journey, but she had to ask a question. "Hey Cloudhawk. How long do you think this fight will last?"

Have glanced her way. "What? Are we losing faith?"

"I don't know." She looked up at the stars overhead. "Maybe just a little tired. Where'd we get such shit luck, huh? If we'd been born fifty years ago none of this would have been our problem."

Cloudhawk followed her gaze up toward the twinkling expanse. He didn't know how to answer her. No one had an answer for fate.

Dawn sighed. "When all the fighting's done we should find somewhere quiet. Spend our days in peace, you me and Selene."

That certainly took him by surprise.

Cloudhawk had recognized that there had been a shift in things between Dawn and Selene. Before, when the two ladies met it was a good day if they didn't come to blows. Had they come to some kind of accord? He wasn't sure whether he should be happy or terrified.

A voice interrupted them from down the street. "Our agents found something."

One surprise followed another. Had they uncovered the demon's spies so quickly?

Governor Pelagius and found Cloudhawk to deliver the news personally. "Belial has lived in our realm for a long time. We found traces of his presence in many cities, where he smuggled a number of weapons and relics. Many important families and local officials have been implicated. They were well hidden, but Belial's sudden disappearance made them easier to uncover."

"Were you able to find out anything about where he is or what he's doing?"

"According to our sources, Belial frequented the Cursed Desert to the west," Pelagius replied. "He often traveled with a group. As for his current location, or more about this group, that's where our intelligence is lacking. Shall I send men to find out?"

Cloudhawk shook his head. "That won't be necessary. You've learned enough."

Sending anyone but Cloudhawk to hunt the demon down was a death sentence. He would deal with this himself.

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