Book 5, Chapter 110 - Curtain Call

Cloudhawk spent many years of his life being pushed around. The fights he’d picked in his early life – like Adder and the Crimson One – all had the power to rip him apart. Even back in Skycloud when he faced Frost, Atlas and others he was always the little fish.

Things have changed since then.

Cloudhawk had grown quickly and commanded power that the common man could hardly fathom.

Oren now realized that failing to kill Cloudhawk when they first met was a dire mistake.

The Cloudhawk of today was stronger than some Master Demonhunters – even some demons! He had risen to the strength of an Elder demon in the blink of an eye. While he might not yet be strong enough to defeat Arcturus, he was at least strong enough to be a threat.

His journey started when he was only fifteen. Now he was twenty-something. Less than ten years of strengthening and this was the result. With just a little more time there seemed to be no question he would equal Arcturus, maybe even surpass him. When Oren or any of the demonhunters consider this they felt their hair stand on end.

He was a monster. He was a herald of destruction!

Cloudhawk was likely the strongest enemy Skycloud had ever experienced, in its thousand years of history. Judas, the Crimson One or any who came before, add them together and they still did not compare to the chaos Cloudhawk promised.

A monster like him couldn’t be allowed to exist. He would ruin the master’s plans, maybe even destroy Skycloud. He would ruin everything.

Oren’s hands curled into fists. Lost? Not yet!

One on one he wasn’t foolish enough to think he stood a chance, but he wasn’t alone. There were twenty other demonhunters with him and a dozen other wasteland warriors. Thirty against one man – even if he was as strong as an Elder demon – they still stood a chance. They had to. This fight wasn’t about personal glory or pride. It wasn’t just about Arcturus or the future of Skycloud. It was about it all!

“Skycloud’s soldiers never surrender!”

Oren’s words were thick with determination. It steeled the morale of those with him and their faces turned solemn. Cloudhawk couldn’t help but scowl at the foolishness, for it seemed he’d be forced to see this fight through to its conclusion.

Of course he suspected as much. Words would never convince a man like Oren to lay down his arms.

Whether their commander of any of the rest of these soldiers, they got to where they were through unyielding faith and resolve. If there was one thing Cloudhawk learned during his time in Skycloud it was that everyone – from the most noble demonhunter to the lowliest soldier – all were driven by a core of faith and honor. Real soldiers gave an oath to die in service to their cause. To them life was not the most precious thing, it was not above honor or dignity. Especially in the face of a wasteland growing strong and free, they were willing to die.

What was there to fear in falling now? This was what they were meant for!

“For Skycloud, for the realm, for the Governor! Kill the heathen!

Dawn had once been their countryman, she received the same instruction in honor and duty that they did and understood them. They would inevitably throw their lives away, even in a suicidal attempt. Cloudhawk might be much stronger now, but he faced a host of fearless and mighty enemies. Defeating them would not be simple.

Best would be to retreat and regroup! A tiger was not afraid of a single wolf, but a pack of them was dangerous.

There was no avoiding this confrontation, however. The two sides were too different. All she could do was stand shoulder to shoulder with Cloudhawk and fight. 

As they once more came upon the verge of combat Cloudhawk’s calm voice arose. “Do you really think you have enough men?”

What? He was provoking them!

Cloudhawk did not move but the power within him stirred. The air rippled like water as he slowly addressed Oren. “If that’s how you feel, then you have made a fatal error. Before trying to press an unfair advantage, you should ask my bodyguards if they agree.”

Reality was pulled apart around him and a number of figures appeared one after the other. They were a strange lot, with dull and dead expressions. But while they did not appear to have a mind of their own, they nonetheless were filled with overwhelming power. Their expansive wings of pure white caught the demonhunters by surprise, for they were witnessing angels appear from another realm.

Five. Ten. Twenty! Thirty!

Before the Silverwing Monarch converted them, the Highblood were among Imperia’s strongest Chosen. While being transformed may have stripped them of their mind, it did nothing to decrease their strength. On the contrary, their mental abilities were stronger than ever. Under Cloudhawk’s commands they were formidable war marionettes.

Never would the Silverwing Monarch has believed that the fruits of his efforts would come to benefit his killer.

Thirty magnificent warriors hovered around Cloudhawk, held aloft on beating wings. Each was surrounded in a nimbus of light as though bearers of holy righteousness.

But Cloudhawk’s eyes burned red and sinister. The same crimson flames appeared in the eyes of his bodyguards, a reflection of Cloudhawk’s control.

A dark grin spread across his face. “See? I have more people on my side.”

Cloudhawk had summoned thirty allies from the ether! Each one was equal to or better than a veteran demonhunter!

What a terrifying display. With his dimensional abilities Cloudhawk could summon a coterie of formidable bodyguards at any moment, gifting his attackers a grim surprise.

This was not good! They were no match for him, Cloudhawk was too strong! He was practically invincible and now that Oren lost the numbers advantage, how did he think he was any sort of threat?

The shock wore off when they heart Cloudhawk’s brief command. “Attack.”

A few minutes later the command ship exploded from the inside out. The fight was over, punctuated by the explosion of other command vessels a few more following. A mighty armada two thousand ships strong had lost its nerve center and descended into chaos.

Toad and Canker gave up on the spot. As members of the Council’s inner circle they were placed in custody and held under close watch at Cloudhawk’s order. They were the precursor for what would be the Conclave armada’s unconditional surrender. In half a day what had been a hulking behemoth of war was no longer a threat.

The Southern Confederation not only managed to hold on to its territory, now it had a fleet of ships to turn against its foes and thousands of troops to man them.

 ***

The setting sun cast upon the land a bloody red glow.

Sandbar Station was littered with the remains of the battle. It was a relatively short conflict, but the damage it had caused was extensive. Crowds were busy cleaning up the battlefield while Cloudhawk stood upon a dune, peering toward the northern horizon.

Dawn approached him from behind. “We’ve captured thirty thousand prisoners after this battle. Among them are Oren, Dumont and several other notable fighters. They’re all badly injured and shouldn’t be a threat any time soon. How do you plan to deal with them?”

Cloudhawk pondered the question for a moment. “Try to recruit ordinary prisoners and wastelanders right away. As for Elysians and demonhunters? Don’t put them to death just yet. I’ll set something up off world, a place where they can be contained. That way they won’t cause us any troubles, and since they are strong warriors there may come a time when we’ll find them useful.”

Dawn nodded. It was clever to make the most of these demonhunters and diffuse their threat by locking them in some other dimension. 

Nothing more menaced the southern wilds. For a time the Conclave would be too weak to muster any threat. All the cities south of Skycloud were now loyal to Greenland with Cloudhawk as their uncontested leader.

But that wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough. It was only a prelude.

Cloudhawk had come this far and he had no intention of stopping now. He probably couldn’t, even if he wanted to.

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