The sun had just peaked over the horizon. Cloudhawk and Dawn were in the mess hall, having breakfast.
She kept watching him with conflicted eyes as he ate. In life she’d learned that the worst pain and the deepest hopelessness came from separation. First her grandfather, then her family, her honor, and finally… Cloudhawk. Dawn had learned that storms could emerge at any point, even when life seemed peaceful. Man’s fate was as uncertain as the weather. So long as one was with the people they cared about, each second was a blessing. One had to fight to make these seconds last.
Besides that, there was nothing else Dawn cared for. The world was too complicated, so she would keep her life simple.
“You’ve changed a lot,” she said to him.
He quipped back. “More heroic, right?”
She wasn’t amused. Anxiety painted her face. He’d grown so much in such a short time and now there were these dark and powerful allies at his side. He reappeared at the helm of Nox and Meadow. Could he really keep that all under control?
The bigger the bowl, the bigger one’s appetite had to be. These outsiders might well be loyal to Cloudhawk now, but they were after something. People were always after something. What road would they choose in the end, when it mattered?
“I’m just not resisting fate anymore. It makes no sense to fight off my identity as the Demon King’s successor.” Cloudhawk looked out the nearby window. Under the rising sun, Greenland was beginning to stir. “But I am a human at heart. If I have to do something big like bring the demons back to glory, then I will also use that power for the benefit of the wastelands. I crawled out of these ruins, maybe it’s time to finally step up and really make a difference.”
Dawn looked at him with eyes soft as water. Cloudhawk was and had always been a lonely wasteland wanderer. Peace and safety were foreign to him. That’s why he was always searching. Sometimes that meant turning against old allies, for he never held fast to one course of action or creed.
Now, after everything he’d experienced, Cloudhawk had begun to discover himself. He had to restore order! Restore the wastelands! After all, it was the wastes that was the source of so much turmoil. Maybe it was time someone finally did something about it.
Cloudhawk was so much stronger now, but that didn’t mean the obstacles he faced were any less daunting. He had no strategy for taking on Arcturus, much less the whole of Skycloud. Only so long as the two men existed there would be conflict. Like fire and water, light and darkness, they were fated to try and destroy one another. Rather than stand by and wait for Arcturus’ machinations to bear fruit, it was better to take action.
Greenland wasn’t the Dark Atom. They didn’t concern themselves with paltry acts of terrorism. Nor was it the Conclave, forging ahead even in the face of unquestionable failure.
Greenland wasn’t Nox, once led by a demon. Cloudhawk was stronger than Judas and the Crimson One had been. Like the Crimson One said, he was but a forebearer who sacrificed himself to open the road ahead. Though he could do nothing to shake Skycloud’s foundations, in founding the Sanctum of Judgment he ensured war would come to determine the wasteland’s future.
Now a more perfect leader arose to take up the torch.
Maybe it was just like Adder said before he died. Cloudhawk’s personality, talent and disposition was a product of the times. He was born for this period in history – a mighty bird that was destined to take to the clouds. It was never his lot in life to wander from one patch of dirt to another.
So accurate, the predictions of father and son.
Then there was Judas, who waited for hundreds of years for an opportunity. That opportunity manifested when the Cloud God was forced into slumber. Judas then planned his attack, but failed when he underestimated Skycloud’s might. Despite amassing an army and dropping a mountain, the wastelander’s couldn’t even overcome a single fortress.
They’d lost. Many died. From the remains of the Conclave of Judgment and Judas’ forces, new wasteland powers had emerged. Greenland represented the south, while the Conclave had taken control of the north.
Cloudhawk looked over a report of the information Barb had managed to glean from Eckhard. “We extracted some partial memories from their commander. According to this, after the Crimson One’s death a Trial Council was formed to lead the Conclave. It’s been a year since this shakeup and the Conclave has ballooned to incredible proportions.”
The Conclave had expanded tremendously ever since its inception. More recently, dozens of groups had been sent out into the furthest reaches of the north to incorporate these groups into the Conclave. Six months ago those sorties turned their sights south.
Natessa’s men moved with incredible speed. Where did all their resources come from? Wastelander armies were little more than barely organized rabble most of the time. How did this Conclave become so effective and efficient?
“Besides Greenland and Sandspire, everything else in the south is now controlled by the Conclave.” Cloudhawk looked back toward Dawn with a grave expression. “In other words, the Conclave of Judgment has all but conquered the wastelands in six months. Between the north and south they control millions upon millions of lives. Their army trains and forms quickly. One hundred and fifty to two hundred thousand conventional soldiers, more than six thousand warships...”
There were five tiers of aerial vehicles in service to the Council: spy ships, expedition ships, battleships, carriers, and destroyers. They were given designations based on their function. Spy ships were manned by one or a handful of people, small and easily concealed. They had little to no direct combat benefit and were solely used for reconnaissance. Expedition ships were slightly improved scout ships with some combat preparedness. Battleships were standard combat warships and comprised much of the enemy’s armada.
Carrier classes were rarer. Most were enormous, ancient ships which had been restored to working order. They were often outfitted with incredibly powerful weapons and shields and were capable of housing a huge number of smaller vehicles and units. One alone could probably dominate most battles.
As for destroyers, those were largely theoretical. Cloudhawk had never seen one. Word was that destroyer ships could obliterate whole cities solo and were even able to escape the planet’s atmosphere to attack from space. No one could be certain if such terrible weapons of war still existed, and if they were their restoration would be extremely difficult.
“The Conclave has grown too strong, too fast!” Dawn was convinced. “Without Arcturus’ support this would be impossible.”
She was right. If this trend continued sweep across the wasteland in no time, crushing everything in its way.
The more they conquered, the more wastelanders they could draw from for their armies and reserves. Millions were under the Conclave’s command now, giving them a near limitless supply of bodies to swell their forces. A million soldiers was not out of the question. If they were allowed to continue this unmitigated expansion then it would mean outright destruction to anyone who opposed them.
Amazing, and frightening. The wastelands and Skycloud were in an unprecedented state of unity. Only, no one knew what Arcturus aimed to do with all this power.
“The Conclave is strong, but we are not to be overlooked.” Cloudhawk looked over the data. “With Greenland at the helm your Southern Confederation has around ten thousand troops. That includes the Talons and the Goshawks. With the Dark Atom now in tow, add twenty thousand more to that in addition to their genetically modified soldiers and advanced weaponry. Then we come to Nox, about forty thousand strong. That includes the wargs and their king, as well as the Khan’s Black Knights.”
The report didn’t mention Imperia and its Chosen. Meadow’s population totaled over three million – more than the Dark Atom, Nox and Greenland combined. A bigger population meant more resources and more soldiers. Those soldiers, in turn, could be trained to become real warriors.
“We may be in the Conclave’s shadow and don’t have their numbers or unification, but what we do have is of excellent quality. We’ve got many of the most capable fighters the wastelands can provide, and an army of researchers and engineers constantly at work.” Dawn slammed the table with her fist. “What do we have to be afraid of?! I am confident I can take the southern wilds myself!”
Cloudhawk was surprised with her confidence. He was more surprised at her zeal. He gave her a careful look. “You want to lead the armies yourself?”
Her nod was quick and resolute. “Your goals are my goals. Your cause is my cause. Abaddon, the Khan, Wolfblade – they can’t be trusted. I may not be as strong as they are, but I was born to a military family. I may not have spent a lot of time learning strategy, but Polaris blood pumps in my veins. I am surrounded by ten capable Polaris tacticians and officers with decades of collective experience. I am your best choice.”
Dawn was rife with fighting spirit even though this was a bigger responsibility than she’d ever carried before. The Dawn from years ago, traipsing about Skycloud, would never have said these words.
Cloudhawk fixed this beautiful, maturing woman with an unwavering gaze. “I trust you.”
She made good points. The others couldn’t be trusted, hers were the only hands he could rely on to guide their forces.
Of all the forces now under his command, the one best suited for a leadership role was the Polaris family. Dawn was their representative. Therefore, Cloudhawk wasted no time appointing her as Commander General. She would continue to do what she started with the Southern Confederation.
But he also considered Dawn’s personal safety. To that end, he assigned the old drunk as her bodyguard. He used to be a man of great honor, and still wielded considerable strength.
Dawn took their soldiers and set off to stand against the Conclave. Once again the hearts and souls of Greenland’s people were afire. They had suffered under the threat of destruction from the conclave for so long. It was now time to make them pay for it!
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