Dawn. No clouds blemished the sky for a thousand kilometers.
The night before Skycloud’s forces had come right up to Greenland’s border, but it did not come to blows. Instead Arcturus appeared alone and spoke with their leader, Cloudhawk. The content of that discussion was a mystery, all the people knew was that Skycloud’s armada turned and left when the talk was done. It was so unthinkable, yet that was the truth. It raised Cloudhawk’s prestige among the people of the Green Alliance and was a display of his power. He had the power and qualifications to stand up to Arcturus Cloude!
Yet while his people were assured, Cloudhawk knew in his heart that really standing up to the Governor of Skycloud was no easy feat.
Arcturus didn’t attack because of anything Cloudhawk did. The Master Demonhunter had come to give him something to think about. It was a chance to change course before Skycloud and the Green Alliance became mired in an unnecessary war.
The Green Alliance, now fully established, included Meadow, Greenland and Nox – places that were well defended and difficult to take. Skycloud couldn’t simply run over them and be done with it. If they weren’t careful, the Elysians could find themselves in a never-ending conflict they couldn’t escape from.
If it came to all-out war it would likely drag on for years. Although Skycloud’s odds of victory were larger, it would come at a terrible cost. Arcturus had also intimated that it would be a shame to lose the progress the wastelands had made.
Skycloud’s Governor wasn’t sure when, if ever, Cloudhawk would come around. This uncertainty tied his hands for there was still so much to do before the inevitable life and death contest they would find themselves in. Until then and to avoid that eventuality, he would try every non-lethal method he could muster.
For example, he could work diplomatic channels to try and sow discord among the Green Alliance’s members, entice some away. Or he could lure the Alliance’s main force away from their strongholds and decimate them to break their morale. With his influence, power and intelligence there was no question that he could concoct any number of methods to get what he wanted.
Their talk had collapsed practically the moment it started… for all Arcturus’ cunning it seemed war was still inevitable. Cloudhawk had to be ready.
He walked out of the fort in the center of Greenland and strolled through the city’s gardens. They were a new addition, added after the reconstruction. Central among the lanes and flowers was a small and unassuming tombstone. ‘Artemis’ had been carved on its surface.
As Cloudhawk stood over the grave he produced two bottles of alcohol. He opened one and placed it on the ground. The other he kept for himself and took several generous sips. After a few moments he sat down next to the tombstone. He liked to spend time here and go over his plans. The wasteland’s horizon stretched out ahead of him and above clouds had begun to creep across the blue sky like fish scales. It was a peaceful and attractive scene.
“I bet you would never have dreamt the Greenland we fought for would one day change the face of the wastelands. Maybe even change the world.” Cloudhawk spoke as though addressing an old friend. “I envy you, you know. You lived like you wanted, did as you pleased and died on your own terms.”
After so many years he was finding it hard to remember what Artemis looked like…
He really was jealous of Artemis and the sort of person she’d been. She lived her own life till the moment she died. Not like Cloudhawk or the people around him. They were all like lumps of clay for fate’s hands to mold, wood for destiny’s knife to carve and they felt every cut. Maybe in the end they would turn out beautiful and sophisticated, but what was certain was they would lose themselves.
If Cloudhawk had the same temperament from years ago he would use the power he obtained to make Abaddon pay for killing his friend. Cloudhawk loved the idea of doing what he liked and ignoring what he didn’t, how could he permit a criminal like the Caliph to keep breathing? But the truth was he’d changed. He couldn’t do what he wanted.
Instead of killing the demon, Abaddon had become an important part of his plans. As the years had changed him Cloudhawk’s ways of thinking had changed as well. He’d learned subtlety and an eye for the bigger picture. He now knew the value of patience and sacrifice. In the end perhaps Cloudhawk and Arcturus weren’t very different, Cloudhawk just wasn’t on the Master’s level.
Thud, thud, thud! The sound of heavy armored feet caught his attention.
“I knew you’d be hiding here.” Dawn opened the face of her Dawnbreaker Armor and gave him a smile. “The Alliance continues to grow. Most cities are under our control but there are still a number of outposts and camps who’ve yet to join. Now isn’t the time to sit around.”
“Wolfblade and the Caliph can handle small things like that.”
The Green Alliance consisted of four main provinces and each one was guided by an overseer. Abaddon, the Khan, Autumn and Dawn all looked over portions of it.
Abaddon was overseer of Sandbar Station and the area around it. It was the largest province, comprising maybe eighty percent of the southern wilds. Since the Caliph already had a reputation throughout the area he was the best choice to elevate to overseer.
Wolfblade was given general oversight of the Green Alliance as a whole and coordinated efforts among the four provinces. As for its armies, Cloudhawk had installed the drunk who he trusted greatly to act as Commander General and act as a counterbalance to Wolfblade’s interests. That way if the demon Elder started playing games, Cloudhawk wouldn’t be left in the dark.
Their scientists and engineers all came under the auspices of Hellflower. Greenland Institute, the Goshawks and the Regulars – these important factions and mid-level groups were managed by others so that Cloudhawk could maintain a hands-off approach. It was all set up so that the Green Alliance could run smoothly, at least for a little while.
Cloudhawk himself was their highest leader. He was responsible for the overall plan and managing their goals. Thinking on the people he’d leaned on to help run things, he was confident things would only improve.
“What’s our next step?” Dawn asked.
“First we need to annex the Northern Barrens. After that we set our sights on Skycloud.” That was Cloudhawk’s basic plan. At the heart of it, his goals weren’t much different from Arcturus’. “The wastelands and Skycloud cannot exist independently. The two have to unify.”
The Green Alliance was not in a dominant position yet. Meeting toughness with toughness was not going to go their way.
Arcturus was scheming every moment of every day. There was no question he’d consider every strategy before making a move. From without he would surround them and add pressure, and from within he would find ways to undermine their unity. The longer this went on the more problems would arise. He couldn’t afford to underestimate Arcturus and his methods, so he would have to try and head them off by taking the Northern Barrens quickly.
Cloudhawk had to unite the wastelands and use its forces to surround Skycloud. That would give them the means to break through the realm’s defenses and ultimately gain the upper hand. Arcturus didn’t have much time, but neither did Cloudhawk. Both men understood very well that this had to be resolved before the Cloud God reawakened. The second Mount Sumeru learned what was happening the situation was going to get a lot more difficult.
Both parties knew that the real enemy wasn’t one another. The real enemy was the gods themselves!
Dawn had figured that was the strategy. “If we take action against the North I’m pretty sure Arcturus won’t just sit around and let it happen. Eventually we’re going to have to fight him. Do you know what you’re going to do?”
Cloudhawk did not have an answer for the Master Demonhunter.
The Green Alliance was in a strong position of defense, but on offense was relatively feeble. The North’s troops and equipment still far outstripped the South’s. Once his troops left their home turf things would get very dangerous. The road was long and the enemy far away. In the event of an accident or sneak attack they wouldn’t be able to beat a quick retreat and no backup would be there to save them.
That gave the Conclave of Judgment a huge defensive advantage and Dawn was right, Skycloud wouldn’t just sit on their hands. Taking the fight to them was going to make things a lot more complicated and more than likely it was a chance Arcturus was waiting on. If they weren’t careful their troops to be annihilated in one fell swoop. Hell, plans could have already been laid. But even knowing it was a trap, Cloudhawk would have to make the move eventually.
Where not Cloudhawk and Arcturus the bane of one another? If Cloudhawk couldn’t overcome the Master Demonhunter, how could he hope to challenge the gods?
“We still have a chance. The Green Alliance’s strength continues to grow and we still haven’t reached our full potential.” Cloudhawk stood and walked over toward Dawn. “Come with me, let’s see how things are going in Stony Plains.”
Stony Plains was a world slowly being transformed by Cloudhawk. It’d been two months since the first group of pioneers had been sent. Since then things seemed to have been going very well.
A second, larger group had recently been dispatched. A base had been built capable of housing over ten thousand settlers, the equivalent of a mid-sized wasteland outpost. Most importantly, Stony Plains was where the Green Alliance did all its manufacturing. Factories were being built one after the other. The next step was to begin sending over eboncrys and start producing Hellflower’s cannons.
Black Mirror weapons were the Green Alliance’s trump card. Skycloud hadn’t experienced what they were capable of yet.
Cloudhawk was ready to begin delivering the raw materials to Stony Plains. According to Hellflower it would take two years to create the weapons from start to finish. It didn’t sound like very long, but that was all for only one of one type of weapon.
At the same time Hellflower was testing eboncrys handguns, eboncrys rifles, eboncrys grenades and eboncrys rockets among others. That was before they even started talking about the eboncrys hybrid engines. All of these inventions had already undergone preliminary design stages and when they were finally ready it would improve the might of their army tremendously.
“Boss Cloudhawk, we have a situation. The robotic beasts have started to turn on our settlement!”
That took Cloudhawk by surprise. Hellflower’s determination was that the robots kept to themselves and had no reason to be interested in their settlers. Why had that suddenly changed?Previous Chapter Next Chapter