Book 5, Chapter 10 - Lacking

That day Cloudhawk disseminated a new order amongst the people. 

The God Tree was forbidden for anyone to approach. From that day forward, no one was permitted near it lest they wish to earn the Shepherd God’s ire. One couldn’t even imagine how they would lose their lives if they ignored the rule – the Shepherd God had such little regard for mortal life, the grim possibilities were hard to imagine.

While being flung from the God Tree was uncomfortable, Cloudhawk’s trip wasn’t without gain. Autumn’s beleaguered soul, trapped in her own body, weighed on his mind. He’d discovered that in sharing the same body, Autumn had also gained access to the former god’s memories.

Something she saw in them had frightened her.

This was perhaps not altogether surprising. The Shepherd God, Wolfblade, Arcturus… these sorts of people were always hiding dark secrets better left uncovered. But whatever it was she saw was too much for Autumn to ignore, and scared her deeply.

He would have to be even more vigilant around Wolfblade. He wasn’t sure if Hellflower was hiding something as well.

He always knew she was a hungry and ambitious woman, so he was on guard every time she was around. It was part of the reason why there was always a distance between them, even though they’d gone through a lot together. Still, Cloudhawk would be sorely disappointed if he learned Hellflower was using some secrets to manipulate him.

His musings were interrupted when Roc came to deliver a report.

Roc was one of General Skye’s most trusted men, and a treasure of the Polaris family. He’d performed his duties with the Talons – as Warden and as liaison – with skill and wisdom. Cloudhawk liked him a lot and had taken to relying on his council.

For nearly all of the Elysians exiled from their home, the transition from noble Skycloud citizen to reprobate of the wastes was a difficult one. Nobility and faith were all they’d ever known. Guilt for their sinful choices would haunt them, and even despite their anger over the death of their patriarch old habits would die hard.

Not Roc. He took to his new identity quickly. It was one of the reasons he’d done so well as Warden of the Talons. He saw those soldiers as his responsibility – both their actions and morale. That saved Cloudhawk a lot of energy. It was only natural, then, that he should be elevated to the post of chief assistant to the domain’s new Governor.

He’d wanted to speak with Roc anyway, so when the man he approached he wasted no time. “What’s the situation with the city?”

It was exactly for this reason Roc had come to see him. “The young lady and I have done as you asked and have allocated our citizens toward three main projects; education, military, and infrastructure.”

Cloudhawk nodded. “And?”

Roc gave his report. “Our new Institute has been established and proceeds without issue. We are sorely lacking in supplies – including lacking even a building to teach out of – but they have a temporary camp to serve their purposes. Altogether, there are one thousand, one hundred, and sixty-three children enrolled in training. Among them, eight hundred ninety-two are suitable for martial training; two hundred twenty-eight are smart enough to undergo scientific study; forty-three show potential as demonhunters.”

Wastelanders grew up quick. Cloudhawk figured they’d have a solid group of scientists and martial artists in a few years at most.

Roc continued. “As for our military, we began by reviewing the four thousand or so troops Cerberus had put together. In the end we eliminated over a thousand who didn’t pass muster or had unsavory habits. We bolstered that number with two thousand warriors selected from the eight thousand left after the failed invasion. At present, we have five thousand soldiers being trained by Rio and the Talons. They show promise. I suspect it won’t be more than half a year before they’re ready to see action.”

In both Skycloud and the wastes, bodies to carry weapons were important. But Cloudhawk wasn’t out for world domination, so this starting force was enough for now. He just needed to make sure they were as disciplined as Elysian soldiers.

These five thousand soldiers were carefully selected. They couldn’t suffer the weak, the obstinate, or the cruel. While this group paled in comparison to Elysian warriors or Hell’s Army veterans, they also shouldn’t be underestimated – especially after receiving formal training from the Talons.

The Talons of God were known in Skycloud for having a very effective training regimen. Compared to the more shadowy organizations like the Council of Shadows or Hell’s Army who engaged in wet-work and assassinations, the Talons were proper soldiers. Their place was on a battlefield, not creeping through the dark of night.

Cloudhawk was lucky enough to have some of Skycloud’s most elite soldiers on his side. The best course of action was to use them to train others. 

Roc had been put in charge of supervising their fledgling military. Rio was delegated the job of training their soldiers. Cloudhawk knew that he didn’t have to worry about his men, whether it was about their discipline or their capabilities.

The last part of their overarching plan was infrastructure.

“We’ve organized the remaining prisoners of war into work groups. Gabriel is in charge of planning the projects and Miss Dawn is overseeing construction. Also, we’ve had the factories recruit a large number of workers. All told the thousands of prisoners we have are enough to fill our labor needs.”

Gabby, Dawn… they were the sort who weren’t used to working hard, but they were working like dogs now.

Dawn’s earth powers and Terrangelica were surprisingly effective for work in a quarry. She threw up the rock and their prisoners carved it as needed. Since Gabriel was about the only one among them with artistic talent he made for the best choice as urban development planner. As a weaver he had an eye for lines, so street design was second nature to him. His shadethread relic also helped in stone carving. The two of them working together promised to quickly revamp their wasteland home.

Their jobs might have seemed menial on the surface, but really they were incredibly important to the city. Through their efforts, Greenland was becoming a castle whereas the rest of the wasteland was peppered with shacks. With proper structure, they could avoid the dirt and disease that plagued other settlements.

Cloudhawk was pleased with all he was hearing.

“That’s good, right?” Something in Roc’s face undermined his confidence. “Everything is going according to plan?”

“I’m afraid that’s not entirely true. We have several problems we’ll need to address.”

“What problems?”

“The first one is food. Before we came, the citizens of Greenland lived mostly by gathering what they could and giving a cut to the leader. The leader would then use that food to sustain his forces. Between the school and those in military service, we now have a lot of mouths that are taking but are exempt from producing. We are going through a staggering amount of food right now, and although this oasis is rife with potential our food stores will only hold for another half a month. That’s our most optimistic estimate.”

“Then there’s the issue of resources and equipment. We’ll need a lot of resources in the training of our students and military. In particular, material for medicines to make them strong. It’ll be hard to satisfy the needs of this city, especially when the surrounding area is as barren as it is. Our current condition is unsustainable.”

“We have plenty of water and food production for now. What we don’t have is a way to produce ore. We have no iron, saltpeter, or fuel. Without any of that we can’t create more weapons or armor or provide energy for other services. So even with a school we won’t have decent soldiers, and even with elite trainers our army can’t protect us without gear. We can cover this place in buildings but they’ll be in the dark without energy.”

Roc was forthright with the problems he’d encountered. In short, they needed food, resources and equipment.

Since it was the first time Cloudhawk had ever been in charge of settlement, these were not problems he’d foreseen. He needed guidance: “Call the old drunk in here.”

A short time later the former War Saint was led through the fort and into Cloudhawk’s room.

“Hey there, old man. Let me just put it out there that I saved your life, but I didn’t call you here to call that favor in. Rather, I’ll start by saying pretty soon we’re going to run out of alcohol. Sooner or later you’ll drink us dry.” Cloudhawk didn’t beat around the bush. “So look, right now we’ve got all hands on deck. Barb’s at the Institute helping train kids, Claudia’s bringing up demonhunters, even Gabby and Dawn are helping make this place livable. Don’t you feel a bit ashamed, loafing around all day getting sloshed?”

“Cut the shit,” the old man said in irritation. “You got something to say, say it.”

Cough. “We’re just starting out and there are a lot of problems to solve. Far as I know, there were five wasteland settlements nearby and we wrecked their leadership, so that’s five places with plenty of resources thrown into chaos. I want you to take two people with you and go clean up that mess in our favor.”

From what Cloudhawk had learned, the four cities had names; Crudeoil, Caliber, the Pit, and Sandspire. Each one was named after what it specialized in.

Crudeoil was sitting on a rich oil field, enough to provide fuel for the whole area. Without it half the cars in the southern wastelands would be abandoned with empty tanks. Caliber had plenty of materials and factories for ammunition. The Pit was built over an ore mine, and Sandspire was nestled in pre-historic ruins rife with old tech. 

Each one had enticing things to offer over Greenland City. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have existed so long and had such high populations.

Now their leaders were here in chains, and at least half their defenders gone. It was the time for them to make their move. The old drunk’s mission was clear: Go to each city, pick an obedient figurehead, and plant them for Greenland City’s benefit. 

“Greenland’s alcohol is shit anyway. I’ll go see if these places have anything better.”

“Who will you take with you?”

“No need!”

The drunk already had his back turned on Cloudhawk, waving goodbye.

Cloudhawk wasn’t worried about the old man’s safety. He’d seen him land a blow on Arcturus – barely, but still. While it would be foolish to say there was no one in the wastelands who could cause him trouble, there couldn’t be more than a handful. Whether he decided to bring someone with him or not didn’t really matter.

Now that the drunk was on board, what did Cloudhawk have to worry about the job getting done? But worry he did. Even with these cities, and even if a dozen smaller settlements like Blackflag pledged allegiance, Greenland City wasn’t looking at direct and immediately improvement. Those four cities had enough to support themselves, sure, but how much could he expect them to give up to Greenland?

Especially food…

The wasteland’s population had always been restricted because of the scarcity of food. Cloudhawk could think of only one person who might have an answer. Hellflower was full of all sorts of tricks. Maybe she had an idea.

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