Book 4, Chapter 74 - Arcturus' Game

Cloudhawk was running. Several spirals of cutting wind whistled toward his back.

“Natessa, you psychotic bitch!” Cloudhawk yelled over his shoulder at her as he fled. “Kicking a man while he’s down? That’s hardly fair!”

It didn’t matter how he insulted her, Natessa’s assault remained deadly and methodical.

What sort of woman was the Giant of Hell’s Valley? Certainly not the sort who would be distracted by shit-talking.

Her gutting gusts of wind drew closer and launched attacks from every side.

Using his keen senses Cloudhawk was able to avoid most of them, and when an opening revealed itself he responded with a counter attack. Flashes of silver extended from his sleeves, just in time to deflect another blow.

Boom!

The spiral blade of wind shattered with a shuddering blast! Shards of cutting wind were flung every which way.

He was blown back from the explosion with several dozen small gashes peppering his body. After nearly dying he found it hard enough to keep his feet under him. A shadow flashed across his vision too fast to distinguish as Natessa descended from above. Her whip tore the air, headed right for him.

Son of a bitch!

Cloudhawk’s face fell.

Suddenly the ground below him cracked and chunks of rock were flung into the air. Rather, not so much flung as gravity seemed to be reversed. The rocks floated up before Cloudhawk and gathered into a patchwork wall, protecting him from Natessa’s lash.

Natessa scowled in irritation. “Who!”

“I see you dared to hurt one of my people. You must be tired of living.” A lithe figure dashed into view. Her body moved with explosive speed, causing a head of golden hair to trail behind her in the wind. Terrangelica was hacked toward Natessa like an avalanche. “Die!”

Terrangelica’s might washed over Natessa. She glanced behind Dawn to see several figures in hot pursuit. Selene, the drunk, and Barb quickly closed the distance.

She knew there was no way she’d kill Cloudhawk now. With the help of her Windstep boots she blasted herself out of Terrangelica’s reach, and escaped.

Dawn watched her go. She turned back to Cloudhawk and returned her sword the sheath on her back before helping him keep steady. Concern was written on her pretty face. “Are you alright? I heard you were injured, are you able to push through it?”

When Selene saw Dawn’s careful consideration for Cloudhawk her thin brows inched higher up her forehead. For a reason she was having trouble describing, the scene made her uncomfortable.

These two women were as opposite as night and day. Dawn was direct and likely didn’t even know how to conceal her emotions. Love as you want, hate what you wish, take what you want, cut down what you loathe. She only beat around the bush when she was trying to kill what was hiding in it.

In contrast Selene was as haughty as a queen. A she matured greater weight had been lain on her shoulders. Although she knew she liked Cloudhawk, she couldn’t show it in the way Dawn did.

After all, she didn’t even know what her own future entailed.

“I’m fine, not dead yet. Where is Wyrmsole?” There was too much to worry about to bother with his own injuries. “We need to find him!”

“What do you want with that idiot?” Dawn gave him a strange look. “Not that it matters, you won’t see him again in this life. Frost killed him.”

Of course. Once Frost killed Wyrmsole the rest of them were able to break away and come to Cloudhawk’s aid. Worried for her future husband, Dawn had urged Barb to come with her in search of Cloudhawk. Once Frost had killed Wyrmsole, Mr. Ink covered their retreat with a dense fog. 

Dawn had stumbled on Selene and the drunk as she was searching for Cloudhawk. After catching their breath, neither were seriously injured, so all together they continued the search. Ultimately it was Natessa and the sound of her attacks that led them here.

Was it really too late? Upset, Cloudhawk let his eyes slide shut. Who could stop Arcturus’ plan, now?

He’d hoped to flee and tell the whole wasteland of Natessa’s treachery. The Crimson One was dead by her hands, under order of the Elyian Governor. He was the power behind Hell’s Army, and now Hell’s Army rules the wasteland alliance. His plan was clear – to use them to take the wastelands for himself.

But who would believe him?

Cloudhawk was an Elysian commander, a leader of the Elysian expeditionary force. How was he supposed to explain what he was saying to his own men, much less wastelanders. There was nowhere safe for him if he did that.

What’s more, there was no question that Natessa will immediately spread her own version of the Crimson One’s death. The ‘great triumph’ of Cloudhawk and his team would ingratiate them to Skycloud and vilify them to wastelanders. His name was already cursed, and after this wastelanders would as soon kill him as look at him. No one would suffer a word he said.

The hatred that would sweep through the wastes would swallow all reason. Fallowmoor would be thrust into chaos and everyone would be clamoring for blood. 

Surely there were still huge groups looking for them, and waiting outside was a battlefield where wastelanders and Elysians were locked in a deadly battle.

The expeditionary force. They were in danger!

Cloudhawk remembered the second warning Sterling had told him.

It was too late to help Wyrmsole, but perhaps they could still save the expeditionary force.

The small crew was aghast when Cloudhawk explained the situation to them.

“I suspect Frost and Clay came here with a different goal in mind. My guess is they’re already gone, probably back with the soldiers to try and lure them into the trap. We need to get back right now.”

“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” Dawn’s anger was boiling out of control. Obviously, Cloudhawk’s cruder nature and vocabulary was rubbing off on her. “Whatever, they won’t succeed. The expeditionary force isn’t a bunch of flower pickers.”

“We can’t waste any time,” Selene interjected. “Let’s get out of here.”

Cloudhawk was in agreement, he just hope they could catch up in time.

But Dawn was right, General Skye and his people weren’t fragile by any means. Although Skye was advanced in years, at full strength he was among the top three strongest people in Skycloud. Frost and Clay weren’t enough of a threat to spell his downfall.

What’s more, Skye had no love for the Cloude family. He would certainly take anything those two said with a grain of salt. Hell, those two couldn’t even scratch the General, much less kill him. Trying something would be tantamount to suicide! Then there was also Mr. Ink to consider, who fled with them.

Mr. Ink was Skye’s most trusted man, who had been standing by his side for more than twenty years. He would certainly dissuade the two Cloude family representatives from any trickery. For Cloudhawk and his crew, their primary goal now had to be leaving Fallowmoor, and getting back to share the news with Skye as soon as possible.

Mr. Ink’s fog still covered a vast swathe of the city. It made it much easier for them invaders to escape without issue.

Dawn led her injured comrades out of the city. When they were back in the strange dimensional tear Fallowmoor floated in, they saw that the wasteland army was gathering to deploy. The group snuck aboard one of the airships then commandeered it to take them to the expeditionary force as fast as it would go.

Skycloud’s army had withdrawn some time ago. It would take roughly half a day to reach them.

The Elysian forces were in dire straits. Soon Fallowmoor’s ships would strike from the rear, and before long the Northern Barren reinforcements would also join the fight. Once the expeditionary force was surrounded, the chances of escape grew slimmer. Even if they managed, the Elysian forces would be decimated.

No good would come of it if Arcturus’ plans came to fruition.

***

Mr. Ink had followed Frost and Clay as they escaped the city. Before them stretched the Elysian fleet. They would be arriving soon.

Mr. Ink breathed a sigh. They’d made it. But just as he was preparing to leave the others and return to Skye, Frost stopped in his tracks. There was a flash of silver as Frozen Dirge was thrust toward Mr. Ink.

W-what?What is the meaning of this!

He stumbled to a stop, knocking the cold spear off track with his bare hands. Frost stood before him now, blocking a path forward. Mr. Ink tried to shuffle backward, but Clay was there to make sure he didn’t get far.

Mr. Ink tried to get a handle on this sudden change.

Seeing his confusion, Clay smirked. “We just want to chat.”

“About?” The wary Polaris family steward responded.

“The Governor knows who you really are.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“There’s no point in playing dumb now.” Clay knew he held all the cards. Went on in calm, even tones. “We know you were Majjhima’s contact, and that you were involved in the dark soldiers he was growing beneath the city. Your… style... was written all over them. You’re a godslayer, trained by demons, and you’ve been lurking in the city for decades. You’ve been using the General’s hospitality to hide all this time. Am I correct?”

Mr. Ink’s hands, hidden bneath his long sleeves, clenched tight.

Clay wasn’t worried the cornered man would lash out. He kept talking in that same easy cadence. “I also have reason to suspect that Squall’s Highwaymen are dancing to your strings. You are the demons’ man in the heart of Skycloud. Majjhima and Squall were your little projects.”

Mr. Ink offered no excuses or refusals. They had done their homework, nothing he said would convince them otherwise.

Mr. Ink responded tepidly. “So Arcturus has ordered you to kill me.”

“Oh, no no no.” A small smile spread across Clay’s face. “The Governor has known your little secret for a long time. He’s had a thousand opportunities to kill you over the years. But he hasn’t… and that should tell you what his interests are.”

“I’ll get right to it.” Clay’s face remained friendly, but his eyes were affixed on Mr. Ink with a dark intensity. “The Governor is very interested in you. Or, more precisely, the demonic organization that sent you. We would like to invite you to be a liaison of sorts.”

“And if I refuse?” Mr. Ink probed.

“You don’t have a choice. Master Arcturus knows all about your years of spying, and your efforts in the wastelands. Culling the weeds, as it were, would be tremendously easy for him. All of the work you’ve put in these last few years must have been painstaking work, it would be such a shame for it all to go to waste. Wouldn’t it be better if some form of it lived on? It’s something to think about. I would advise you not to refuse Master Arcturus’ generosity.”

Clay’s eyes never left his target as he continued. “It would behoove you to remember that it is Master Arcturus Cloude you stand against. You live because you lets you live. The instant he wants you dead, it will happen.”

“Surely there’s a reason you waited until now to tell me all of this.”

“Of course. We need your help completing the important mission I was sent here for.”

“What mission is that?”

Mr. Ink could already guess what that mission was.

Clay answered. “To kill Skye Polaris.”

Even in the enlightenment afforded to him in death, the Crimson One could not see through Arcturus’ schemes. He had assumed the Governor would employ the wasteland alliance to destroy the expeditionary force and get that much closer to absolute supremacy back home.

But he’d been wrong. Whoever led it, the expeditionary force was an important part of Skycloud’s might. If they could simply have it change hands, why trouble with destroying soldiers who still had a use?

If Arcturus wanted to eradicate the Polaris family, he only need cut off its head. Skye would be enough!

Although he’d known Mr. Ink was a demonic plant, Arcturus never tipped his hand. The Polaris family steward was a pawn, to be used for best effect when the time was right – and that meant now, when Skye Polaris was marked for death.

Master Arcturus’ grand chess strategy was revealed.

From the Blisterpeaks to Fallowmoor, the expeditionary forces to the wasteland alliance, from killing the Crimson One to assassinating Skye Polaris. All of them were pieces on a board wholly under Arcturus’ control, with no way to escape.

Frost was once again confronted with the expertise of his master’s schemes. Skycloud’s greatest demonhunter wielded power beyond reckoning, but he defeated his enemies with cunning and wisdom.

Could someone like him ever be defeated?

 

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