Skye Polaris had taken Roc and several of their best soldiers to hunt down Abaddon and Autumn. They’d been successful in beating the two mighty beings back, but they couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t return and attack the expeditionary force during its retreat.
Both had the capabilities to destroy an entire ship on their own. If they were allowed to attack as they pleased, they would use whittle away at Skye’s forces when no one was paying attention. They were also sure to gather more enemies to help them, so it was imperative they were dealt with now before they became too much of a threat.
Yet for the time being, the war was over.
They’d lost hundreds, perhaps a thousand warships in the assault. Fallowmoor still stood. Skye’s eyes were a mess of conflicting emotion, as the War-God’s typical rage was being undermined by exhaustion and confusion.
He felt himself succumbing to age, growing weaker. In his prime he could hold the front lines for three days and three nights without the need for rest. Today their battle hadn’t lasted three hours and he could feel the effects of fatigue creeping in. With the addition of old wounds that would flare up from time to time, it was a bitter lesson that he needed to accept. He was old.
Men weren’t Gods. They withered, grew old, and died. It was their fate.
Both sides had suffered from this violent exchange, and neither could walk away saying they were the victor. The wasteland forces might have lost more ships and soldiers, but to Skye not winning was the same as losing.
It would be one or two months before the expedition force was back in fighting shape.
The expeditionary force’s failure would soon make its way back to Skycloud. Painful consequences will befall the Polaris family. Skye knew this, so the pressure to do something about it was growing heavier. He was patriarch of their family, after all, and the responsibility to guide them to back to prosperity fell on his shoulders!
Skycloud’s eighty year old Commander in Chief sighed defeatedly. I’m not enough… but perhaps that’s alright.
Dawn and her appointed fiancé, Cloudhawk had tremendous potential. With time and appropriate cultivation they could be great leaders for the family. Through the, the Polaris legacy will reach into the future.
As for Skye himself? Once this war with the wastelands was over he would find a suitable time to retire.
“Commander!” Roc hurried toward his to deliver a report. “A scout ship ahead has made a distress call. They found a wounded man on the route, and by his description it sounds like Mr. Ink.”
Did that mean Dawn and the others had returned?
They were still within the swirling, unnatural dust storm that surrounded Fallowmoor. They had to be wary of an ambush. What if this was just a ruse to lure Skye into a trap? He wasn’t going to wildly charge forward without knowing more.
Skye delivered his orders. “Continue the search. I’ll go and see for myself.”
Roc nodded. “As you say.”
Skye dashed off quickly toward the indicated location. He arrived quickly without encountering anyone.
When he got there he spotted the dark figure, enveloped in black clothing. His face was covered in a mask, revealing only his inscrutable eyes. His clothing was torn in places and was wet with blood. It looked as though he’d taken a serious beating.
Mr. Ink sighed when he saw his master.
“Didn’t I tell you to protect Dawn and Cloudhawk?” Skye said in lieu of greeting. “What are you doing here by yourself?!”
After twenty years the relationship between Mr. Ink and Skye was less master and subordinate, and more like that of friends. Skye knew what sort of power Mr. Ink was capable of, and if he were so badly wounded it didn’t portend well for Cloudhawk and his granddaughter.
“Don’t worry, General, I wasn’t wounded in Fallowmoor. I stumbled into some combat after fleeing and was injured. I got separated from Cloudhawk and Mistress Dawn in the city, but I’m sure they’re fine.”
Mr. Ink stopped and doubled over in a coughing fit. Copious amounts of blood leaked from his mouth.
Skye hurried to his side. “Tell me what happened in Fallowmoor.”
“The Crimson One and Wyrmsole are slain. Fallowmoor is in chaos.”
Was this true? Then they’ve succeeded!
Skye felt his heavy heart suddenly freed from burden.
Now that this rabble had lost their leader, he could expect them to turn on one another. Cloudhawk and Dawn had done an incredible thing, single-handedly ripping victory from the jaws of defeat!
The Crimson One and Wyrmsole had been the two heads of the snake, the core of their Conclave of Judgment. With them gone, the expeditionary force’s actions here in the Northern Barrens were justified. At least it wasn’t a total loss.
“We also learned very important information.”
“We suspect Hell’s Army is operating under orders from Arcturus Cloude.”
“What did you say?” Skye’s eyes went wide as saucers. “Do you have any proof?”
An accusation like this was no trivial thing. Skycloud has already labeled Hell’s Army as a rebel terrorist organization. If it were discovered that they were following orders from the Governor’s mansion, then Arcturus would be implicated in all of the terrible things they’d committed since defecting to the wastelands.
Like everything that had happened on the Blisterpeaks…
“Arcturus was using the Crimson One. After Sterling spent years cultivating friendships and building the Wasteland Alliance, Arcturus ordered Hell’s Army to infiltrate the organization. Now that the Crimson One is dead, command of their forces fall to the Giants. Arcturus’ goal is to take control of the wastelands through this proxy.”
Mr. Ink’s injuries appeared severe, and he was in obvious pain. He rested for about a minute before continuing.
“Sending Clay Cloude here to help the front lines is a lie. His true goal is to murder the expedition’s General – to kill you. The wastelands are in his grasp, and if he can eliminate your check on his power then even the High Priest wouldn’t be able to stand in his way.”
Mr. Ink looked down at his grave injuries.
“As for evidence… I am the evidence. On the way back to your side I was attacked by the two Cloudes. First they tried to blackmail me into helping them kill you. No more proof is needed to know their foul aims for the expeditionary forces.”
“The impertinence!” Skye’s anger flared. “Arcturus will explain himself before the Temple, or I will personally break every bone in his body and tear down his mansion with my own hands!”
It was then two dark figures emerged from the dust.
“Who goes there!” Skye hollered.
Although the grim environment hid them from view, Skye knew from their potent auras who these shadows were. Frost and Clay. Had they been there the whole time?
Mr. Ink stumbled to Skye’s side and dropped into a combat pose. “They’ve followed me here!”
“I will deal with them.”
Skye stepped in front of Mr. Ink.
But before he could say a word, he felt a searing pain in his abdomen.
It was the sort of pain he hadn’t felt in a long, long time.
It was the pain of a weapon tearing through his skin and into his body. After so many years spent training, Skye’s body was a fortress. Few weapons could pierce his iron-like flesh.
Mr. Ink had fetched a dark blade from his sleeve, glowing with the power of a relic. The dagger was similar to Atlas’ Deathstalker, only perhaps more deadly. Not only had it pierced Skye’s belly, but once buried in his guts it released its dark power.
The unassuming weapon was like a gateway. Once it was in Skye’s body it became to gush with a foul sludge. Whatever filth this was quickly spread through the General’s body.
Skye looked down as his ruddy, bronzed skin turned dusky in hue. His eyes were wide, and disbelief was thick in his voice. “You… you… “
“I’m sorry. They convinced me to do it, but I didn’t want to. I’ve been your man for twenty years, and I still care for the Polaris family.” The melancholy in Mr. Ink’s eyes did not look feigned, but it was quickly replaced with a dark brutality. “Unfortunately, I am a demonic agent, and I still have work to do.”
Disappointment, pain, heart-break, anger – despair. It all jumbled in Skye’s mind as he realized the betrayal. His stately and dignified expression twisted.
Skye Polaris had dedicated his life to the protection of Skycloud. He thought he was its righteous guardian. Yet all this time a demon spy was in his shadow. For twenty years. He never knew. Hell, he treated the man like family.
How much important information had he stolen for his dark masters? How many plots and schemes had been enacted right under Skye’s nose?
Raging fury welled up inside him, causing his whole body to blaze with a white-gold light. Shining like a pillar of holy fire, even the air around him warped. He opened his mouth, but instead of a scream an orb of pure white burst out around him. Mr. Ink was flung hundreds of meters away like a leaf on an autumn breeze.
His tattered clothing became hardly more than rags. His mask disintegrated. What was revealed was the thin frame of a man in his fifties. When Mr. Ink finally came to a stop, he looked toward his former master as the light gradually faded from around him. Skye polaris stumbled like a drunk man trying to keep his footing.
“It’s a relic given to me by the demons, ‘Death and Decay.’ It was crafted with the will of those fiends, specifically to be used against powerful men like you. You’ve cultivated a physique that has surpassed the realm of man and is almost god-like, but already the power of Death and Decay is coursing through you. It’s spreading through your entire body. It won’t be long before you rot from the inside and die.”
It didn’t matter how strong he was. Skye Polaris was only human! How could a human resist demonic corrosion?
A figure streaked down toward them from above. The light of a silver spear struck the old man’s cranium, summoning a shower of sparks.
Frost’s attack was deflected. To him it didn’t feel like striking a body at all, rather like cutting through a steel wall. Wasn’t Skye’s body supposed to be weakened by the power of Death and Decay? Why hadn’t his killing blow ended the old soldier?
Skye swung around with a quick counterattack! Frost was forced to back away.
The grizzled old man was gasping for breath. He couldn’t follow up on the attack. The wound to his stomach was neither long nor deep, logically it was hardly a scratch to him. His rate of recovery was only superhuman, or should have been.
IN his younger years Skye had once had his arm cut clean off. He dealt with it by picking up the severed limb and pressing it back into place. It healed on its own. His regenerative abilities were unquestionable, and he’d only gotten stronger since. This, in addition to his formidable physical defenses, were part of what made him so powerful.
And yet this small wound, a few centimeters long, would not heal!
The stench that came from it was nauseating. Gouts of black blood seeped from it, sick and viscous like mud from a bog.
“The old man should come to accept his death. You cling to something that doesn’t belong to you, that is what has brought you here.” Clay stood before Skye, delivering his sermon. “The time of your demise has come.”
He made no effort to conceal the contempt in his gaze. A boor like this, who was strong but lacked strategy, what qualifications did he have to lead Skycloud in any capacity? A fool with nothing but big muscles should have quit long ago!
Master Arcturus was a true and great genius, and the only person with the right to lead. It was his destiny to unite the wastelands and Skycloud. He was not some war hawk, he had true vision, and the strength to change the world for the better!
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