Skycloud made sure that news of Dawn’s execution in Sanctuary had spread far and wide. Without question, all wasteland forces would have been paying close attention. Everyone – wastelanders and Elysians alike – knew the implications of what would happen here today.
This so-called public execution was actually a public declaration of war. An open slap in the face designed to draw in an eliminate the wastelanders.
In the wastelands, the nervous buzz was nearly palpable. Even the most brutish of them knew how inferior they were in the face of Elysian might. Their chances of defeating Skycloud were slim to none, and if the collective might of the southern wastes broke against their fortress, no one would remain to stand up to them.
Within Greenland City.
The Wendigo King had arrived with his wargs and the Khan’s Black Knights. Though he did not give voice to it, he was displeased with his leader’s decision. Ordering the King and his people to the front lines was a dangerous mission. It wasn’t that he was adverse to the risk, more that the Khan was apparently taking orders from Cloudhawk of all people. If this young, untested leader commanded them poorly, they would all face destruction.
Coal arrived at roughly the same time with elite soldiers from the Dark Atom and a fleet of war vehicles. Over the last six months Coal’s status within the Dark Atom had continued to rise, in part thanks to the speed at which he grew in strength. No one in that organization – with the exception of Wolfblade and Abaddon – could go blow for blow against him. He had become the Dark Atom’s penultimate warrior, a status he earned through merit.
Coal commanded a contingent of genetically modified warriors who were roughly comparable in number to the Wendigo King’s wargs. However, there was a considerable difference in the quality of these troops.
Dark Atom’s genetic soldiers were the result of Hellflower’s research and scientific efforts. Her methods were based off the work of her predecessor, Academician Roste. By combining human DNA with samples from rotwolves, panthers, bulls and so forth she conveyed their strengths into a human body while maintaining critical thought. However, they could not wholly transform into the creatures that empowered them. They were not entirely the same as the wendigos – each had its advantages and disadvantages.
Some measure of guilt remained in Coal’s heart when it came to Cloudhawk. He acknowledged that Cloudhawk’s current situation was in part due to his actions.
After Cloudhawk saved his life, Coal reneged on the promise he’d made. He wasn’t here because Wolfblade ordered him to, or to represent the Dark Atom. Coal had come to atone for how he mistreated a friend.
Aside from the reinforcements from Nox and the Dark Atom, Greenland’s own warriors were out in full force. Goshawks and Talons constituted their main strength. All three armies combined to form the vanguard. Cloudhawk assumed personal command with the help of the drunk, Gabriel, and several of the best fighters from the Polaris family.
In theory, it was a powerful combination of forces. But was it enough to take Sanctuary? Was all of this just a race toward their own demise?
Cloudhawk didn’t have a choice. This was something he had to do, even though he knew it might end in death.
At present Cloudhawk was lying in Hellflower’s laboratory. He was undergoing his final health check before heading out to war.
No one was under any illusions that this fight would be easy. The fight would be hard, and Cloudhawk was still recovering from his first run-in with Arcturus. He was afraid it would greatly affect his ability to fight, which had been the source of no end of trouble lately.
Hellflower and her team of doctors took their tests and checked the results several times.
Mirage eventually approached to give Cloudhawk his final suggestions. “You have a strange innate regenerative ability, and the Trespasser virus from Roste works to your benefit. As a result, you have a frankly superhuman ability to adapt and recover. If you weren’t about to go to war against Arcturus, I would say there is a fair chance you could make a full recovery on your own. However your attack on the expeditionary force was dangerous and left you weak. Now you are going to South Haven…. I can’t guarantee you will get through it without permanent residual injury.”
“Will it kill me?”
“Heh, I guess it’ll save them the trouble. We’ll deal with it as it comes.” Cloudhawk’s tone was flippant and carefree, like he was discussing someone else. “Alright, no more wasting time. All I want to know is if we have a way to keep me stable during the fight. I can’t afford to run out of steam in the middle of this. That would be pretty embarrassing.”
Mirage was bewildered by Cloudhawk’s dismissive stance toward his own health. Hellflower could only nod in agreement.
Mirage made his way to a drawer and slowly pulled it open. From within he fetched a box, put in the lock code, and retrieved a syringe filled with a pale red fluid.
“What’s that?” Cloudhawk asked curiously.
“This is a powerful stimulant,” Hellflower soberly explained while adjusting her goggled. “For a short duration, it will give you a considerable burst of vitality. This will mask the damage your body has taken, but the after-effects will be anything but pleasant.”
They’ve have this the whole time? Why didn’t they take it out earlier? Cloudhawk wasn’t in the habit of giving a shit about consequences.
What he didn’t know was that Hellflower had produced this drug an even longer time ago than he had imagined. She’d never given it to Cloudhawk because she knew he would use it and do something stupid. This stimulant was exceptionally potent, to the point where an average person couldn’t handle its effects.
Circumstances being what they were, Cloudhawk didn’t give a shit. He put the syringe in his pocket, and suddenly his tone was grave. “Time to go. I don’t know if I’ll be coming back, but if I don’t Greenland is in your hands. Every inch of this place was built with our blood, sweat and tears. I need to know you’ll do right by it.”
Hellflower’s eyes flickered in the buzzing fluorescent light. A rare expression of worry and sadness flit across her face.
Without a response Cloudhawk turned and left, showing no hesitation. He was leaving with nearly all of Grenland’s top brass. Hellflower was the only one left behind.
It was a tactical decision. For one, Hellflower held high status here in the city. For another, her greatest talents weren’t in combat. She would not play a decisive role in the fight to come.
Of course, most importantly of all, Cloudhawk wanted to make sure Greenland lived on if he died. It was the wasteland’s greatest chance at changing for the better.
Hellflower escorted Cloudhawk to the airship. There she stood among countless Greenland citizens who watched as their Governor left the safety of the city. Her heart was full of conflict.
She envied Dawn. She’d lived a simple, pure and uncomplicated life until now. Cloudhawk’s desperate rush to save her was the height of stupidity.
If he let her die, they would lose the support of the Polaris family, but Greenland’s system of order was already well established. Even if every member of the family left, it wouldn’t affect Greenland too terribly. He could decide to stay here in the safety of the city and live out his days. He could wait, get stronger. Why did he have to be so inflexible?
Cloudhawk was willing to give us his dream – his life – for a small chance at saving some girl’s life.
But of course, Cloudhawk wasn’t stupid. He knew the chances of saving Dawn were slim. Was Dawn really worth him throwing away his life? Hellflower could see that Cloudhawk looked at Dawn like a sister. Why would he do so much for a mere friend?
As the airship left Greenland toward its destination, Cloudhawk was possessed by a deep calm.
It was true. There was a small chance and a small chance only that they would save Dawn and escape. Most likely, they were all racing off to die. But Cloudhawk knew that if he let Dawn burn at the stake, it would mark his soul like a curse. He would be stained by it for all the rest of his days. Life was trying enough. He couldn’t stomach another weight on his shoulders.
And besides… I may surprise them yet, if my little trick works the way I think it will.
Greenland disappeared behind them. He thought about the months that had crept by and all the work they’d done. It’d been difficult, but enriching.
Whether or not he made it back, Cloudhawk sincerely wished Greenland would continue long into the future. After all, it was a shining jewel in his otherwise mostly unhappy life.
The wasteland’s pioneer army forged ahead. They passed above the outposts and settlements on the way without stopping. Their trajectory hardly changed at all, aimed straight at the site of Dawn’s execution.
They arrived. When they did the onlookers, were surprised at the scale and majesty of the stronghold, despite being prepared for the sight. Layer upon layer of defensible walls stood between them and their objective. It was as impregnable as an iron curtain.
The first thing they saw was a hundred Elysian warships lined up to meet them. They were in a formation that would allow them to retreat and bombard from a defensive position, or advance and press the attack. That alone seemed enough to annihilate the wastelander vanguard.
Behind them, countless battle towers glittered with ominous power. It was a threatening display. Sanctuary was well named, for it was as inviolable as the moniker implied. It rose from the plains like a loyal gatekeeper, as Skycloud’s shield against foreign evil.
Everyone stood upon the deck, surveying the scene with dour expressions.
The old drunk rolled his eyes theatrically. “Frankly, with the ships we brought and the soldiers we have, we won’t even get near Sanctuary’s walls before they shoot us down. You commanded the expeditionary force. you know what Godspear can do. We’ve got no hope.”
He wasn’t wrong. Whether force or equipment, Skycloud had them beat. They could sweep like wildfire through the wastelands, much less Cloudhawk’s relatively paltry crew. Rushing in now would be like driving full speed into a brick wall.
“Tell the other ships to hold their position.” Cloudhawk closed his eyes and thought for a moment. “We’ll go on ahead.”
The drunk gave him a shocked look. “What are you planning?”
“You’ll see,” came Cloudhawk’s mysterious reply.
The other ships of the vanguard stopped as commanded. One ship moved forward alone.
As everyone watched Cloudhawk walked across the ship’s deck to the altar they had set up there. He stood atop the stump-like structure, his cloak fluttering in the wind, hair and bandages rustling. Once he stood steady on the altar, its roots reached up to twist around his legs. That was how it connected to his mental powers.
Cloudhawk had used this altar to open the dimensional portal in Greenland. His aim now was not so different. It was a plan that should, in theory, fill him with a huge injection of strength!
He fished around in a pocket and produced Hellflower’s syringe. Without even glancing at it he jabbed the needle into his neck and pushed down on the plunger. He felt the fluid being pumped into him.
In the next moment, it felt like fire was rushing through his veins. It spread through him to the tips of his limbs and deep down into his bones, a hundred thousand ants chewing through him. A normal man would quickly pass out from the agony, but not Cloudhawk. On the contrary, his mind sharpened. After a moment it felt like he was back to his old self. But it was a condition that would last a couple hours, at best.
That should be enough time, he thought, but he wasn’t strong enough. Not nearly strong enough! He needed more power, and fast. And so he shut his eyes and submerged himself into the sea of psychic energy locked within.
He muttered to himself: “Demon King… I need your power. Give it to me. Give all of it to me.”
The quiet sea reacted to Cloudhawk’s demand. It felt his strength of will and fighting determination. A moment later the black surface boiled tempestuously as what remained of the Demon King’s mental powers began to transform – this time, more than ever.
A little over half had remained. Before long it had all become steam.
Cloudhawk could feel it surging through him, filling him with power. His mind swelled with a volatile sensation, like it could explode at any moment. He had spent half a year in silence, but now it was finally time to cry out. Cloudhawk broke through the barrier to new heights and laid claim to the remaining half of the Demon King’s inheritance.
It took only an instant before Cloudhawk reached unprecedented levels of strength. He felt it and knew that at this instant, he was now stronger than at any time before.Previous Chapter Next Chapter