Book 4, Chapter 10 - The Battle For Woodland Vale Begins

Eckard felt the two streaks of incredible power come his way, neither of which he could deflect and survive. There were scant few in the Elysian lands with that sort of power, and fewer still in the wastelands. 

Damnit! They’ve got me pinned.

The way they came at him sealed off any retreat. He had to face these encroaching blasts of power even though they were too much for him – especially without a weapon to defend himself.

The first thing Natessa did was to engage her Windwalker boots and rise into the air. Her whip crackled with stunning energy, and from it was hurled a tempest. The beating winds ripped stony spikes from the ground and flung them back toward their unseen attackers. When it struck the wave of cold energy, the stalagmites froze into icy daggers before shattering in midair.

Natessa’s hurricane and the blast of cold met in the middle of the canyon. They warred against one another for a time, equally fierce.

Amidst the countless shards of rock and ice a brilliant light gleamed. It was a silver spear of unsurpassed beauty that felt fast in the tempestuous air without effort. Power coalesced around it, like a bolt of blue lightning aimed at Natessa.

Her face darkened, and Natessa’s black hair rose of its own accord. Teal light shimmered in her eyes as – light as a feather – she danced through the air and wielded her whip. With a flick of her wrist a tornado was born, and roared toward the glimmering spear.

Crrrack-crack crack! Though composed of pure energy, the whip froze in its path through the air. With every inch the spear advanced, the whip cracked apart. Eventually it failed entirely and the spear streaked right for the center of her forehead.

Eckard appeared in the air, leaping end over end to kick the spear off track. By then the spear’s energy was mostly spent, so the scarred instructor had no problem kicking it back toward its owner. A man, resplendent in snow-white armor, snatched the weapon easily.

In the middle of this exchange, a holy light had descended from above. Its radiance flooded the canyon like the arrival of a divine being, coming to lay waste to evil.

Dumont condensed his mental energy into his arms, preparing to block the radiant strike. All of the stone around him was shattered as the power swept by. Dumont himself was knocked backward, flung to the ground. Rivulets of blood began to appear from the places where the Dawnbreaker armor joined. His chest and arms sporting scorched marks where a sword had impacted.

Such terrifying power! It’d even overpowered Dawnbreaker’s defenses!

A figure bathed in white appeared in Dumont’s hazy vision, like a vision of some immortal beauty. 

Two warriors in white. One male, one female. Both were indescribable in looks and talent, but gave completely different impressions. The man’s sharp features and starry eyes were like a glorious mountain top – dignified and cold. His companion was an unparalleled beauty, otherworldly, untouchably sacrosanct.

Frozen Dirge… that was the weapon carried by Frost de Winter, chosen disciple of Arcturus Cloude. It was no surprise that he would be a challenge. The woman, bearing a blade of radiant holy energy, was also unmistakable. No other woman had her gravity of presence, and even though she had been missing for five years it was impossible not to know Selene Cloude immediately.

Selene Cloude, Frost de Winter, Dawn Polaris, and Atlas Umbra. The most brilliant stars of Skycloud’s next generation. How where they all here?

The sound of conflict couldn’t be hidden, so the other combatants stopped to see what had caused it. Wyrmsole on one end, and Squall on the other; neither expected what they saw.

Outmanned and outmaneuvered, Natessa called for a retreat into the ravine. She explained herself to Wyrmsole. “Skycloud’s forces are too powerful. Hell’s Army can’t stop them.”

The red priest scowled at their rapidly deteriorating position. His battle against the Highwaymen had been bad enough, but now they were in danger of being overrun.

Across the field, Ravenous Tiger was speaking with Squall. “Skycloud has sent a lot of big names.”

Three-Eyed Spider had no dealings or knowledge of these Elysians, but he could tell they were strong. Now that Skycloud knew the location of Woodland Vale, they would surely send the bulk of their power to claim it. There was no question this new threat was a dire one. “The Elysians are our shared enemy. We should convince the Conclave to help us fight them!”

Squall idly chewed on a stalk of grass between his lips. His left fist clenched as the tattoos writ on his skin glimmered. He stared in silence, thinking, staring at Wyrmsole from across the battlefield. Eventually he answered. “We’re here, we can’t leave without staking our claim to Woodland Vale. We play it by ear.”

Cloudhawk and Atlas dashed away until they were a couple thousand meters away from the heart of the fighting. Once they were behind the front lines Cloudhawk saw that a whole contingent of Elysian soldiers were pouring into the canyon. Many of them were marked by the insignia of the Talons of God. A small, timid voice called out to him. “Teacher!”

“Hey little one, what are you doing here? It’s dangerous!”

Azura shook her tiny head. “Big sister Claudia and big brother Rio are protecting me.”

Rio approached and snapped to attention. “We’re sorry for the tardy arrival, sir. I will submit to whatever punishments you deem fitting.”

Claudia watched him with conflicting emotion in her gaze. The novice demonhunters of her squad looked at him with a sort of reverence. Although he had a foul name back home, he was obviously among the most talented people they had seen.

“You aren’t late, right on time in fact. Nice work.”

“Hmph. You’re such a disgrace to the family name.” Dawn stood with a hand lazily resting on the pommel of Terrangelica, striking a casual pose. Her pretty face was marred by a vicious smirk. “Our Warden, captured on his first day on the job. That’s a new record.”

Cloudhawk raised his hands in a gesture of helpless despair. “Let’s table the whole scolding me bit. I assume Oddball led the others, but how about you explain how the rest of you got here?”

It wasn’t very shocking to find Rio here with the Talons. Natessa was cunning, but Cloudhawk had his own tricks. He couldn’t blame them, it was easy to miss the pudgy little yellow bird that had gone missing when he was captured.

When they’d thrown their shackles on him, it severed Cloudhawk connection with Oddball. However, everyone had a tendency to underestimate the goofy little thing. While maybe not as intelligent as a full grown adult, Oddball was as clever as your average ten year old. He didn’t need to give it instructions most of the time. Oddball was more than able to make good decisions based on what it saw.

The bird had hatched in part thanks to Cloudhawk’s mental energies, so there was always a connection between them. Even if their mental union was severed, the bird still innately knew where its master was. 

When Oddball discovered that they were being led in the wrong direction, it pestered Rio until he figured it out. The Talon’s Colonel didn’t pay the bird much mind at first, so it was actually Drake and Claudia who were more sensitive to its cries. They’d spent three years with Cloudhawk and knew there was more to Oddball than met the eye. With their suggestion, Rio broke off pursuit of the decoys and headed for Woodland Valley.

Rio explained to his Warden. “We were following the remaining wastelands warships, but it came to our attention that they were deliberately trying to lead us away. So we split into two forces, with Drake continuing to follow the ships while the Talons followed your little bird here. From there, Lady Claudia used her tracker senses to pinpoint this canyon and your location.”

Alright, but what about Dawn and the others? How did they get here?

That was thanks to Roc’s speedy delivery of the information Cloudhawk was given. General Skye had been in the field commanding his troops when it arrived, and couldn’t come himself. Luckily these four were already on various missions in the wastelands so they were ordered to come in his stead.

They happened to all arrive at roughly the same time. Lady luck had smiled on Cloudhawk.

It was almost fate. Even though Rio could track him to a relatively accurate location, it wasn’t like Condor could fly into the canyon. Down in the dark here it was also unlikely the Talons would be able to successfully attack Hell’s Army, meaning it was very likely he would have been killed as a hostage. It was the circumstance he feared was most likely. 

But much to his surprise, Atlas was the one who’d come to the rescue. That bastard was just as sneaky as he was! Hell’s Army had their own tracker-focused demonhunters, but it was almost impossible to catch an assassin like Atlas if you weren’t on the lookout for him specifically.

Selene and Frost had by now retreated from the front and joined them. Everyone regrouped in their corner of the canyon.

There was an uncomfortable, almost awkward sense that hung over the party. It was a strange set of circumstances that brought them all here, and even in his wildest dreams he hadn’t thought they’d be together like this. After all, saying that their relationships were complicated was putting it lightly.

Cloudhawk killed Atlas’ little brother, so there was no love lost there. He’d tried to get revenge a number of times on Cloudhawk to no avail, but in the end stood up for him in the Temple after having been saved from Majhima. Whether or not he might try to kill Cloudhawk again in the future, it was hard to say.

Things were even murkier between Cloudhawk and Frost de Winter. It seemed their shared destiny was to despise one another. From the day they met, both men had rubbed each other the wrong way, and more than one Frost had made Cloudhawk’s life miserable. If Cloudhawk was honest with himself, he had to admit that he’d embarrassed the guy pretty severely as well, so they were far from friendly.

Dawn and Selene seemed like female versions of Cloudhawk and Frost, with all the same animosity. They were the most beautiful and outstanding women of their generation. Dawn was born with a wide array of outstanding talent and a noble bearing, while Selene was the pride and joy of Skycloud. As the saying goes, a single mountain wasn’t big enough for two tigers.

Frost’s greatest personality flaw was his arrogance. He looked down on all of these people. To him Atlas’ skillset was too narrow, while Dawn was insane and had reached the peak of her abilities. As for Selene, she had the skill but no accomplishments to back them up. What’s more, because of his relationship with Arcturus, he saw Selene almost as an enemy. Frost, in short, did not play well with others.

Selene, for her part, was too aloof. Besides Cloudhawk, who she considered a friend, she hardly paid any mind to the rest of them. Now her stauts was even loftier after being named Apostle of the Temple.

How was this team supposed to function? Who was supposed to lead them?

Cloudhawk broke out in a cold sweat just thinking about the responsibility. He was about to say something when he felt a murderous look level at him. He turned his head to see.

Because the call to arms had been quick, Frost hadn’t had time to call on the likes of Augustus Cloude, but he had brought several of his elite demonhunters. Among them was a ugly man with a hammer attached to a chain.

The Butcher? The hatred he felt for Cloudhawk resonated through his past lives!

The battle in the canyon gradually cooled, and stopped. Wyrmsole and his counterpart Squall had analyzed the situation and a brief negotiation ensued – a forced consensus. Neither pretended that the other was an ally, and that the chances were good they’d get a dagger in the back. But the Elysians were an enemy to all of the wastelands people, and the enemy of my enemy was my friend – at least for a little while.

 

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