A minute before chaos.
The elysian warships had reached their destination and the soldiers all gathered at the staging area. The Blisterpeak mountains stretched in all directions; a barren, rolling expanse inhospitable to life. If not for their guide, no one would know that the Dark Atom city was just below.
Hammont wiped the sweat collecting on his fat face. It all still felt like a dream.
Back in the Sandbar, catching one or two Dark Atom terrorists was a rare and lauded accomplishment. How many times had he imagined a day like this? Charging into the heart of the rebels with his countrymen, wiping them from the face of the earth. He looked at the faces of fellow soldiers all around him, nervously gripping their weapons, silently waiting for their moment. The intensity of the atmosphere was almost overwhelming.
One soldier thrust a long metal rod into the ground. From its apex a light pierced high toward the clouds.
The ominous haze did not dim the elysian signal, a call to war. A few minutes later the magnificent ships of the Skycloud army descended through the clouds. They were as terrifying as they were beautiful.
Each one was a work of art, like a thousand skilled craftsmen had turned a jade mountain into a masterpiece. As they slowly lowered toward the ground their construction was more easily discerned. An array of spires adorned each one. They were the core of elysian technology, and each had a different function.
Two of them were source towers. They provided the ships with an unending supply of power. Another was the defensive tower that maintained its protective shields.
Another was the attack tower. Even now as the ship sank toward them, this pylon was aglow with energy. Halos of energy pulsed from the base of the tower and rose to its apex, where it gathered at a singular point. From there it blasted outward in an effusion of pure force.
It was a blast mighty enough to split mountains and cleave the earth. Enough to level an entire city!
Many of the ships fired simultaneously. A rain of glimmering spears of light descended. Boom! Explosions rang out, the earth shook! Fissures appeared in the sides of the volcanic mountains.
Below the ground, Nucleus shook from a blow more ferocious than any it had experienced before.
The entire mountain surface was blown to pieces. Smoke rose toward the heavens in a plume, while chunks of rock the size of warships were blown across the range. Day turned to night as the sun was blotted out. Coal’s eyes were wide as he witnessed this apocalyptic scene. He couldn’t believe what he was watching, he’d been sure the city under the mountain had some way to defend itself against these devils. But the power they commanded was otherworldly. Coal’s hopes were shattered, just like the mountain.
While the pylons obliterated their target, more soldiers dropped from the ships to join those already on the ground. This was a war against their most hated foe, so Skycloud wasn’t satisfied with sending just a few thousand soldiers. A full third of the border forces had been mobilized, their best men, enough to overwhelm the Dark Atom through sheer manpower alone. With the addition of their elysian armor and weaponry, they were an invading army capable of incredible destruction.
“The mutants are useless now. Kill them.”
Brontes’ cold voice was heard through the thunderous blasts of the pylons, cold as ice.
Despair knotted Coal’s stomach. He was responsible for bringing these evil outsiders here. The abyss that faced his people was one of his making. The glint of a thousand sword glittered all around as soldiers drew their weapons, preparing to attack.
“No!” Coal screamed. A dozen swords came raining down upon him. These were strong men, the elite. The mutant’s rocky body was scarred by their vicious blows, but they also cut away much of the wire that bound him. Coal roared and struggled, calling on an inner strength he didn’t know he had. His arms burst through the bowstrings tying him down and immediately the swords that assailed him were shattered or cast away.
He landed a punch on the chest of one of the soldiers closest to him.
Sturdy metal cracked like porcelain. The force was like an explosion ripping through the interior and bits of blood and flesh oozed from the gaps. Whatever human was inside had been smashed like a ripe tomato.
Coal raced toward the members of his tribe being slaughtered. He ran through and over the soldiers in his path, a runaway meat grinder.
He punched through the forest of swords, smashing apart anything that tried to stop him. His attacks weren’t showy, and in fact were almost clumsy, but had a force born from pure rage. Riding the fury and putting faith in his impenetrable body, he charged ahead.
Drake balked at the scene. “He’s gone mad again!”
He moved in to intercept the mutant himself. The two clashed several times in the space of a few seconds. Drake managed to leave Coal with a few wounds, and Coal had knocked him back more than once. The elysian lieutenant was amazed at how a mere barbarian could grow so strong. The beast could stand still and men would tire themselves to death trying to hack through his skin.
Brontes’ chilly voice called out more commands. “Everyone, attack! Overpower him!”
If ten wasn’t enough, then they would bring a hundred. If a hundred couldn’t stop the mutant than two hundred would come! It didn’t matter how strong it was, no beast could take on the entire elysian army. It would tire eventually, it was only a matter of how many would die with it.
A white-haired man plunged from overhead with a golden sword held high. He heaved his broadsword with both hands, causing the air to whistle in protest as it swept toward his foe.
But that was an illusion.
The old man wasn’t swinging the sword, the sword was dragging the man along with it. What was a dead weapon otherwise became a living thing in this veteran’s grasp. Like a metal dragon with its teeth bared, the sword lashed at its target while its bearer clung tight to maintain control.
An attack like this with a weapon that seemed to have a mind of its own… it was definitely a master-level martial ability.
Coal’s headlong charge came to an abrupt end. Coal didn’t know much of the world, but he was no fool. He knew what sort of attack was a threat. He knew what he could handle, what he could deflect, and what he had to avoid. He stopped out of an almost instinctive reaction.
In the instant he stopped, the old warrior responded.
He missed with the edge but spun it around and slammed the flat body of his sword against Coal’s chest. Outwardly it seemed like a little slap, but the power in it knocked the giant to the ground and sent him tearing backward. A trench was left in his wake.
Aegir Polaris, commander of the border forces! Coal had never come across such a fearsome warrior. That brief contact had left the mutant with the worst internal injuries he’d ever experienced.
Coal couldn’t help but feel lost and astonished. No creature – not even Magmesa – had caused him as much pain as this human. He was almost child-like compared to Coal, his white hair a sign of advanced years, yet he handily knocked Coal down.
He was filled with a terrible sense of danger. This white-haired foreigner was a far more terrible enemy than Magmesa.
They hadn’t even really exchanged blows, but Coal already knew he was outmatched. Death was the only outcome of trying to fight him! He was the strongest living thing Coal had ever met!
Aegir said nothing. He raised his sword high and the inscription etched into it began to glow.
His weapon wasn’t a relic. Relics were the tool of demonhunters, and Aegir did not have their powers. He was just a metahuman with highly evolved speed and strength, a superhuman body he empowered through martial technique.
Although his weapon was no relic, it was a sword specially crafted by the Temple and imbued with holy energy. It was tailor made for him and infused with tremendous potency that wildly increased its killing ability. There were no more than fifty weapons of this caliber in all of Skycloud. It was not a relic, but it was close.
Aegir swung his arms again. A blast of power was cast out from where the sword passed, tearing through the ground toward Coal.
It was a physical phenomenon, a rare long-ranged attack from a non-demonhunter. While only effective within ten meters, there were only a handful of people in all the elysian lands with the skill needed to pull it off.
And it was mighty enough to split Coal in half. Fear urged his body to scramble out of the way.
But Aegir’s incredible feat was just a ploy. Coal managed to evade, but immediately an even more dire sensation washed over him. The white-haired foreigner came charging at him, encased in fiery light. A normal human couldn’t spout fire from his pores, of course. This fire was a reaction from his speed. He raced at Coal so fast that friction was causing the air around him to ignite. He was easily going twice the speed of sound and he came at the mutant with the momentum of a whole army.
Spearhead, one of the most basic moves in the martial arsenal. Only, when used by a master like the general it was vastly more dangerous.
Coal was struck full-on and flung into the air. An arc of blood spat from his mouth marks his trajectory.
But the old man wasn’t done.
Aegir leaped into the air. Light played off his broadsword, leaving a trail like a heavenly dragon! As he rose up toward Coal’s falling body the sword split from one into two, from two into four. By the time they intersected there were eight blazing swords in the sky, borne by eight copies of the general.
A fervent light gleamed in Drake’s eyes as he watched from below. “The Polaris family’s Manifold Strike!”
Manifold Strike wasn’t really cloning. The technique was done so quickly that to the observer several copies appeared all at once. It was one of the greatest skills of the Polaris family. The only other person aside from Aegir capable of performing it was General Skye himself.
Eight golden swords closed in on Coal, and all at once eight golden swords pierced his body.
Cracks appeared all over him
The swords struck from eight different directions. It was impossible to tell which came first, but the streaks of golden light obviously passed all the way through Coal.
The earth shook as Coal fell back to the ground.
His body was a mess of gaping wounds. Coal try to claw his way back up twice but couldn’t manage. He looked toward his people as bitter tears rolled down his rock-like face. He held out a hand, reaching toward them. The hand fell into the dirt.
Aegir Polaris nimbly landed back on his feet, having hardly broken a sweat. He hit the ground so hard the stone beneath him buckled and left a crater. Harsh winds from the volcanoes picked up the edges of his cloak, causing it to flap as he heaved his broadsword high.
Their commander was a force from heaven! The soldiers cheered at his heroic display!
Aegir looked over his men with a gaze of iron. He slowly pointed his blessed weapon forward. “Advance! We will not return home until the vile city has been razed to the ground!”
Skycloud’s forces had assembled and were ready for the final assault on the Dark Atom headquarters. They were arrayed in battle formation, each battalion protected by a shield of radiant light. They marched forward like a colony of ants, surrounding the entrance to Nucleus. Meanwhile the warships overhead continued their bombardment. The elysian army began its glorious assault.
If the Dark Atom continued to remain silent, it would be doomed.
Then, from the surrounding volcanic vents rose rugged wasteland airships, one after the other.
There were more than expected, dozens of them, but that should not have been a surprise for a group like the Dark Atom. All the power at their disposal was here, and engaged for this epic conflict. The outcome of this war would determine whether the rebel organization continued into tomorrow. Now was not the time to hold anything back. Wasteland airships emerged from the surroundings to encircle the elysian forces.
A Dark Atom officer shouted his command. “Attack!”
A swarm of ballistae fired on the Skycloud warships.
Normally the elysians would have nothing to fear from crude weapons like this, but these bolts were different. They were made entirely from high-grade alloy, and in lieu of traditional sharpened tips they were fitted with a cylindrical payload covered in an intricate net of sparking wires.
The arrows fired from these ballistae were tipped with high-explosive ordinance and chemical weapons!
When the three-meter long projectiles struck the elysian shields they detonated with incredible force, releasing huge amounts of black smoke in the process. Skycloud’s air support was blinded from the haze. Heavy machine gun fire and cannons roared from the Dark Atom ships as they pulled broadside in an unending assault on the invaders.
Aegir looked up at the scene with severe countenance, but there was no fear or uncertainty. “Onward!”
Loud hymns of praise for their gods rang off the mountain peaks as the soldiers marched on. Advancing through clouds of toxic smoke and a hail of bullets, they would not be dissuaded from their righteous mission to eliminate the Dark Atom once and for all.
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