Book 6, Chapter 21 – Surging Undercurrents

Skycloud, within the Governor’s mansion.

A group of Cloude family members were gathered in discussion. Among them were Frost de Winter and Hammont Seacrest, promising future leaders. Also present were family elders and its more capable members, constituting more than half of the greatest luminaries of Skycloud. 

“The Temple goes too far!”

“Without question Ramiel holds no trust for our lord!”

“Right. Our Governor has spared no effort in service of our city and its people. What has he done to be treated so unfairly?”

Complaints were growing increasingly vocal and agitated. The Temple wasn’t the authority it once had been, especially once the Cloud God locked itself away. Absent that power, the Temple’s prestige and influence had waned considerably over the last two years. It was only Arcturus’ capable leadership that kept Skycloud from descending into chaos!

Now the Temple was pretending to mean something again. Ramiel blocked deploying the full Skycloud army and insisted on sending his own troops to oversee Arcturus’ actions. Is was patently rediculous that the High Priest would presume to supervise the Governor. He had no faith! What’s more the old man was leaving his precious Temple to take part in this campaign himself. It was an act that stood in direct opposition to Temple doctrine.

Arcturus Cloude sat upon the Governor’s chair, eyes narrowed and silently thinking.

Although on the surface he appeared calm, the hard glint in his eyes told another story. His genius mind churned at incredible speed, crafting plans and making adjustments. The truth was there was much these last few days that had slipped from his control.

Like Cloudhawk. Like the Cloud God. Changes were too quick and too many. Perhaps it was time to begin believing destiny. 

Ramiel, that blathering zealot, was clearly losing his mind. Of course there was no way for the senile fool to hide his intentions from Arcturus. If his aim was merely to supervise than a contingent of Templars would be enough. Instead he dispatched his two main powers along with the holy army, which had never been used before on foreign soil. To top it all, he was coming himself unabashedly flaunting his role as High Priest.

His machinations were clear as day. Ramiel aimed to completely destroy the wasteland powers and get rid of Arcturus himself!

The Governor saw Ramiel clearly. He was ambitious and crafty, but too cautious to achieve great things. Except his latest actions were the opposite of this. Thus Arcturus imagined it wasn’t as simple as the Cloud God reawakening. More likely the Cloud God had already stirred, otherwise Ramiel wouldn’t do something so outside of his nature.

If indeed the Cloud God was awake, trouble was brewing. Arcturus had to act first, so as to keep the advantage. Unless he was mistaken, Mount Sumeru still did not know what was going on.

After a few more moments of quiet consideration, Arcturus made a decision. His eyes swept across the group and then with a smile he addressed them. “Save your indignation, friends. Ramiel acts out of caution. With the Temple’s help we will fight like a tiger with wings. Why should we be so offended by the Temple’s supervision if we have nothing to hide?”

Arcturus portrayed a man completely at ease. The others were a little taken aback.

“Alright, let’s waste no more time. Go prepare for what we must do. We leave in three days.”

At his command, the group dispersed. Frost de Winter retired to his room.

These days he acted as the Commander General of the expeditionary force. After two years of training and meditation, his powers had swelled considerably. He was well qualified to serve as the high commander of the army, and indeed was the youngest in Skycloud’s history. Young, talented and exception, Frost was a star in every way. As he continued to rise, the sky was the limit to what he could accomplish.

He was vaguely aware of the turbulence hidden just beneath Skycloud’s surface. He also knew that many fates hinged upon this fight. He sat alone in his room for a long time, wrapped in silence, while his mind raced with scenes of the past. Every moment of practice in the decade he’d spent here he could recall, clear as the day they happened.

Arcturus Cloude was like his lighthouse, a beacon of guidance who gifted to him power and wisdom. Much of what he knew about the world and how its people thought he learned from the Governor. He held the role of both father and teacher.

But he would never forget…

Twenty years ago. All that happened in that small village. The screams of his parents dying were a stain on his heart that he could still hear. Sometimes when he dreamed he still saw the rivers of blood seeping from their bodies.

Frost sighed. He made his way to a birdcage and, standing before the small creature inside, muttered a few words to himself. He then opened the cage door and let the bird out.

This was no ordinary fowl. Rather, it was an intelligent divine beast. Frost told the creature all he learned and let it flit away, to deliver this news to a handler out in the wastes. It was how the Green Alliance learned of what was happening in Skycloud. It gave them a chance to prepare.

It was a safe, almost unassailable method of communication. Even if the crow were intercepted, for all intents and purposes it was merely another bird. 

When this was finished, Frost went back to his typical bearing. He put on his relic armor, strapped Rimeshard to his waist and hefted Frozen Dirge. Thus outfitted, he made his way outside to the army barracks to oversee preparations for the expeditionary force. In all he had one hundred thousand soldiers under his command and an armada of three-thousand five hundred ships.

Hammont approached him and snapped a salute. “Our troops will be ready by evening.”

“Await the Commander-General’s order to move out.”

“Yes, sir!”

When he thought about the looming conflict, Hammont prayed deep in his heart that it would be the last. Over the last few years Skycloud and the wastes had played their violent game, and although all conflicts had ended with the Elysian realm victorious, somehow wastelanders only got stronger. If this kept up, there was no telling how much blood would ultimately be spilled.

Hammont understood at least some of Arcturus’ plan. Pacify the wilds by conquering and united it. If the truth of his methods came to light it would ruin him! However, Hammont was fully confident of the Governor’s wisdom and ability. Past conflicts had shown that trying to sweep through the wastes and take it by naked force was pointless. Even if they did, who could know when that foul land would produce a second or third Cloudhawk? No, uniting and assimilating the wastelands was the only way to ensure peace continued into the future.

When Hammont returned to his men of the Drake Company he was greeted by a familiar face. A smile on his face, overjoyed to see a friend during these trying times. “Commander Brontes!”

The silver-masked officer strode his way. “If it isn’t the lieutenant general, what are your orders?”

Brontes had once been Commander Drake’s lieutenant. During the great war for Fallowmoor, Brontes and Drake were beset by the supermutant, Coal. Commander Drake was slain, and while Brontes appeared to fall as well he somehow miraculously recovered.

After his resurrection, Brontes was discharged from service with superiors claiming he was too crippled to contribute. But much to their chagrin he healed up to near perfect condition – even stronger than before! As such, Brontes was returned to active service as an officer of Drake Company. He would be going with them on their mission to the wastelands.

Ever since he came back to life, Hammont struggled with the nagging feeling that there was something unfamiliar with Brontes. Like he had become someone else. He didn’t know why he felt this way, perhaps that’s just what happens when someone experiences such a world-shaking event. After all, he died! Or maybe there was another reason, but for whatever reason it created a distance between them.

“This coming battle is critically important. Drake Company must and will regain its honor.”

“We will fight our best, to the last man!”

Hammont sighed. He shared a few more words then left to survey the rest of the troops. 

By nightfall, once the army was prepared and assembled, another group appeared on the border of the city. It was a group of formidable size, all of whom were dressed in clerical garb. Among them were powerful Templars and the rarely dispatched Empyrean Guard. In addition were roughly ten thousand soldiers from different churches.

Ramiel Caelestis led them personally. His Apostle, Selene Cloud, followed a step behind. 

It was a group of relatively fewer numbers, but their accumulated strength was not to be discounted.

The High Priest, clad in immaculate white robes, strode forward. He was flanked on either side by the two Oracles. When he approached Arcturus the two shared pleasantries and on the surface they ere both respectful and friendly. The reality was anything but.

However, those soldiers who saw their leaders in such a harmonious fashion felt their morale soar. Skycloud’s ultimate demonhunter, Arcturus Cloude, and its High Priest were chief among a whole host of powerful men and women fighting by their side. Never before had such an incredible lineup of heroes been assembled. It seemed unthinkable that wastelanders had a prayer when this was what they faced.

A dispute which would determine the fate of millions was about to begin.

 

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