Cloudhawk felt himself being turned away. The armor indeed had a will of its own, and it did not accept him.
Refused. But why? Had he not voluntarily accepted his role as leader of the resistance against the gods? His potential, strength and status had all raised since the last time he’d tried. So why didn’t the armor accept him? Where was he still lacking?
“You are just resigned, not accepting of your fate. You do not understand the weight of the responsibility you have come to tolerate. You are a fine leader of the wastelands, but not a leader of demons. Until then you cannot be their King.”
Dawn turned toward the origin of the voice. Wolfblade was striding into the chamber with his hands clasped behind his back, the picture of a leisurely scholar.
Cloudhawk pulled his hand from the crystal. If the Demon King’s Cuirass would not accept him, he would not force it. Anyway, while fighting Arcturus would still be a struggle at his current level of power, he was still capable. It was true that the greater one’s power, the more responsibility they shouldered. When he commanded the demons of Gehenna, that would be when Mount Sumeru stirred.
“What do you need?”
“I have new information. Skycloud’s armies will soon be deployed.”
This was not good news. Both Cloudhawk and Dawn scowled at the implication. The Temple had been successful is holding off Skycloud long enough for them to take root in Woodland Vale, but the final battle for the wastelands still loomed.
How had Arcturus shed the Temple’s interference so quickly? It must have been that the resistance they mounted wasn’t strong enough.
Once the Governor’s expeditionary army sweeps across the wastes everything would be more complicated. Neither the Conclave nor the Green Alliance was strong enough to stand against Skycloud.
One primary reason why the Green Alliance was still going was because of its impenetrable home base. Attacking Cloudhawk’s forces when they holed up in Greenland was like trying to strike a tortoise through its shell. If they tried to force they way through, Cloudhawk would use his considerable strength to punish them for the attempt. Likewise, Skycloud establishing itself in the wastelands, exposed, would also be foolish. Thus Arcturus had taken a more passive approach, instead hoping to annihilate the Green Alliance’s forces when they left for battle.
Now here they were.
If Arcturus unleashed the full might of Skycloud, the Alliance would soon find itself surrounded in hostile territory. Cloudhawk would be hard pressed to defend himself and his people, much less unify the wastelands.
Wolfblade explained. “We are not in the foulest waters yet. My reports claim that only the expeditionary force and the Demonhunter Corps have been dispatched. The Temple will personally lead a contingent of oracles and Templars. Arcturus will be joining this expedition himself, but there will be formidable constraints on his authority he cannot overcome.”
It looked like both Arcturus and the Temple were making their move.
The expeditionary force and the Demonhunter Corps. The Cloude family was in personal command of the Corps. Meanwhile, Arcturus was commander-in-chief of the expeditionary force, with Frost de Winter and Hammont Seacrest as his seconds. Since the battle for Sanctuary, several more regimens had been added and the force had swelled.
Together the two corps constituted about thirty percent of Skycloud’s military power – far from full strength. The most dangerous situation appeared to have been afforded thanks to Ramiel’s efforts, so perhaps things weren’t as dire as they first seemed.
Arcturus had been posturing all this time to use the Conclave in this war and eliminate the Alliance. The Temple, meanwhile, wished to see the wasteland powers obliterate one another without spending Elysian lives. Skycloud would reap the benefits without any of the cost, wiping out the enemy remnants and bringing peace to the wastelands.
Two parties were in disagreement, and in contradiction came conflict. More variables made the landscape even more complicated.
The reality was still that out here, the Green Alliance was weakest of the vying groups. On the one hand their numbers were limited and on the other they were in enemy territory. There were many hurdles on the path to victory.
“We only have one chance,” Wolfblade offered. “End our foes in a single, crushing strike. If we do not, it will be difficult if not impossible to escape with our lives.”
Ramiel, Arcturus, the Temple, the Demonhunter Corps…
What Ramiel added to the equation with his Templars and oracles could not be discounted. Beset by many dangers, the Green Alliance would need to find its way through the cracks. It was easy to say ‘defeat your enemies in one fell swoop,’ but would manufacturing that chance be so easy?
Most likely the battle to come would devolve into mayhem between three armies. Who had the last laugh would be determined not just by strength, but by luck.
Wolfblade turned his attention toward Dawn’s hostile stare. “The channel from which I got this information is unique. For several reasons I cannot afford to reveal my source. When the time is right I will tell all, but know I am entirely loyal to my King.”
It was an unnecessary pledge. Cloudhawk knew Wolfblade would not lie to him about this.
Dawn, however, was not as easily convinced. A difficult person by nature, she was still set on getting to the bottom of his secrecy. She drew Terrangelica and pointed it at Wolfblade. “Hmph, who can say whether the information you’re feeding us is true or not? How do we know important facts haven’t been altered, or if the entire thing is a lie? If you think I’m that easy to fool then you’re not half as smart as you think you are. You’re going to explain yourself right now!”
“Dawn, now is not the time for infighting.” Cloudhawk stepped forward and cut her off. “Wolfblade is the Governor of this Alliance, there are bound to be secrets.”
Bitter and displeased, her eyes were pinned on the demon elder. Still, if there was one person she listened to it was Cloudhawk. She stood down.
“Alright, if that’s what Cloudhawk wants then so be it.” Dawn swung her sword once in frustration and spat a final thought. “How the hell did we allow him to lead this Alliance, anyway.”
It was hardly said in a whisper. Thankfully Wolfblade was not quick to anger. He watched her with the same immovable smile on his face like it was all some grand play.
“Lady Dawn voices doubt in my capabilities. We can put those to rest right now. If you best me, I will happily relinquish my post as Governor. Do you accept?”
“A fight? So be it! I’m not afraid to take you on!”
It was too far along for Cloudhawk to intervene. Dawn leaped into action before he could get a word in.
Terrangelica flashes in the air and gravity increased sharply. Its track was set to cleave Wolfblade in two.
Cloudhawk knew that Wolfblade did not possess his full power, so he wasn’t the strongest he could be in a fight. At best, he was comparable to a crack veteran demonhunter. In the last few years Dawn had improved a lot, and with the augmented Terrangelica in hand she was a force to be reckoned with.
If he divided the Green Alliance into three echelons…
He himself was at the peak. Below Cloudhawk was Autumn, Abaddon, and the Khan of Evernight. Third came Dawn, Wolfblade, Coal and others. Dawn far outstripped the others, so in theory she was more than a match for Wolfblade.
But that was in doubt once he draw his serene blue sword.
Cloudhawk didn’t even see him move, but all of a sudden the crushing gravitational field dissipated. With an almost dismissive motion he waved his sword toward Dawn, who felt suddenly an intense premonition. The space around her was enveloped in an unknown energy and everything started to evaporate like water under high heat. Solids skipped the liquid phase and immediately wafted away as steam.
No.. not steam! Steam meant evaporation, changing from one state to another. The ground and air that vanished did so completely, wholly erased from reality like they never existed.
“Alright, that’s enough!”
Cloudhawk shouted over their contest. He strode forward and looked at the relic Wolfblade wielded. “The Blade of Oblivion is one hell of a sword!”
Wolfblade unhurriedly returned it to its sheath. “A relic of the same grade as the phase stone.”
Cloudhawk pressed him further. “Your power has returned?”
To this, the Alliance’s Governor nodded. “Only a small portion.”
Wolfblade was in truth Legion, demon Elder of the Second Seal. His legendary weapon had been broken in that final battle so many years ago, when the Demon King fell. Somehow its hilt came to be in Judas’ possession while Legion kept the steel. Now the Blade of Oblivion was made whole, ten times more powerful than in pieces.
But more importantly, Wolfblade has begun to regain some of his lost strength!
To what extent, Cloudhawk did not know. But even if he’d only regained a small fraction it was a frightening thought. For indeed, one the Second Seal had fought shoulder to shoulder with the Demon King of old as his right-hand. In comparison, Judas had been an Elder of the lowest rank.
“If there is nothing else, I will return to my duties.”
Wolfblade excused himself politely. Dawn watched him go, feeling a sick sensation in the pit of her stomach. It’d all been a show, he’d played her like a fiddle.
“Don’t let it bother you and forget about Wolfblade’s true identity. He is definitely not someone to tangle with, though, and in this situation it’s better to use him than make him an enemy.”
Despite Cloudhawk’s attempts Dawn was still upset. She did not like any aspect of that creature! She’d always felt like he was hiding something. Little by little he was leading Cloudhawk down a dark path.
“Fuck it, I’m going for a drink.”
She decided to put the matter aside for now, but she wasn’t going to let her guard down. On the contrary, that whole demonstration only made her more suspicious. She had to be vigilant in case he came up with some scheme Cloudhawk wasn’t prepared for.
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