Cloudhawk, the drunk, and Dawn. The three of them sat by a riverbank in Woodland Vale leisurely fishing for dinner.
Vibrant green trees rose all around them on a carpet of grass. Butterflies and insects frolicked among the foliage and the brook gurgled soothingly as a backdrop. All around was the sensation of life going about its business. The drunk flicked his wrist with a casual movement and the silver fishing line jumped from the water. On the other end was a beautiful, fat black fish. In practiced motions he unhooked it and tossed his catch into a nearby bucket.
Proud of his accomplishment, the drunk took a celebratory swig from his jug. His words dripped with self-satisfaction. “Well it looks like I’ve got myself a rather tasty dinner to look forward to!”
Dawn sniffed. “One lousy fish, so what. You’re slipping, old man!”
“Hey, say what you will but this ‘lousy fish’ is enough to fill my belly. And a happy stomach is better than any honor, dignity or power, am I right? Spend the afternoon fishing, pass the time, and end the day with a nice stew...” The old drunk’s eyes glittered at the prospect of the meal that was waiting for him. “Now that’s what I call the good life. After my many decades that’s the most important thing I’ve learned.”
Cloudhawk shook his head and couldn’t help but interject. “Well your old bones aren’t long for this world. Maybe I should just release you from service and you can spend your twilight years on this riverbank. You won’t need to bother with all this nonsense.”
The old drunk rolled his eyes. “Bullshit, I’m as strong as an ox. I may not like all this fighting and killing but with the younger folk working so hard, the older generation needs to pull its weight.”
“Well you’ll get your wish,” Cloudhawk replied. “This time Arcturus will be out there. This battle will decide a lot of things.”
It was a fact the drunk was keenly aware of. “Heh, I don’t plan to miss the final act of this drama.”
Cloudhawk left it at that.
Vulkan had lost interest in fighting a long time ago. He really didn’t care much about Arcturus anymore, either. To him, this battle didn’t have the same deep implications as the others, so why did he bother? Cloudhawk figured it was because of the drunk’s relationship to the rest of them. He’d met Cloudhawk, Dawn, Selene and the others after he’d hit rock bottom. The relationship they had was erected on that base foundation he’d rebuilt his life on. He wasn’t going to let them march to the front lines alone. The luckiest thing to happen to a man is to feel needed. Sometimes difficulties and misfortune were part of the equation.
Cloudhawk shared largely the same philosophy, with minor differences. He’d accepted his fate. Besides that vague beautiful dream that occupied the back of his mind, he did what he did out of a sense of kinship and because he was needed. Dawn needed him. Greenland needed him. The Green Alliance’s one hundred thousand soldiers needed him. The wastelands and this whole generation needed him.
Cloudhawk couldn’t keep running. He would find his place in the world, not resign himself to constantly being flung around on the tides of fate. Protecting the people and things he cared about, achieving his dreams… to do that he needed to win this war, so there wasn’t an ounce of regret in fighting it.
Cloudhawk yanked back on his fishing rod, revealing a fish dangling from his hook. Dawn whistled appreciatively. “Hey, nice catch! Well done, Cloudhawk.”
Again the old man rolled his eyes. Women were inscrutable creatures. Despite this, the old drunk was fond of Dawn for no other reason than she was real. No hiding her feelings, just living exactly the way she wanted. In that way she had both him and Cloudhawk beat.
Who knew where she was going to end up. But the longer she stuck around people like him and Cloudhawk, the more Vulkan worried. Her feelings for Cloudhawk kept her close, like a moth to a flame. He hoped for her sake Cloudhawk would one day make things clear.
The three pulled their lines out of the water and returned to town, ready to begin cooking. Unfortunately, before they could sit down to their meal a series of sour reports were delivered.
The first was that the Conclave had gathered as many Seekers as they could find. Most likely it was to work on restoring those nuclear weapons they’d taken from Nucleus. Such a weapon was frighteningly dangerous. If they fixed it, the blast from one would be strong enough to crack open Woodland Vale’s defenses.
What this meant for the Green Alliance was that they couldn’t afford to stay holed up here. The longer they waited, the more likely danger would be delivered to their doorstep. Taking Fallowmoor before the bombs were restored had to be a priority.
The second piece of news was that Skycloud’s forces had left the Elysian realm. Thousands of their best soldiers were marching with Arcturus and the High Priest to lead them. Word was they were already in the wastes and could launch an attack on Woodland Vale at any time.
Skycloud’s army was strong – too strong for the Green Alliance to contend with alone. With the expeditionary force on the way, the Green Alliance couldn’t leave. If they did, they ran the risk of being smashed apart by Arcturus.
Any way you cut it, things were not looking good.
“Well I did not see this coming.” Dawn rubbed her chin. Suddenly a thought came to her. “What if we stole one of the bombs for ourselves and used it against the expeditionary force?”
Cloudhawk nodded thoughtfully. “Steal a nuke? That’s certainly one way to make a statement, we can give it a shot. I’m not sure we have enough time, though. The Conclave is very familiar with what we’re capable of and they’ve certainly gone to great lengths to protect something so important. Finding where they’ve squirreled it away won’t be easy. Likely impossible in a short period of time.”
Dawn’s eyebrows knit tight as she considered it. “I can’t think of a better plan.”
“Let’s not rush,” Cloudhawk said. “It took the Dark Atom years just to restore one of the primeval weapons. I don’t think it’ll be as easy as snapping their fingers. Anyway, we haven’t ruled out the possibility that this is a rumor designed to draw us out. But even if it is, and even with a huge amount of people and resources, it’ll take them time.”
“What’s your plan?”
“Wait! Be patient. We’ve got one chance at this, so we can’t jump the gun.”
Cloudhawk and Dawn then left for the barracks area.
Using the spirit orb altars, Cloudhawk had created a portal to Greenland. Through it the two cities could share resources and facilitate troop movements. It was the safest way, for how could you be attacked if you never step outside your own territory?
Of course even Cloudhawk had his limits. The portal he created was not huge and transporting too much at one time threatened to destabilize it. Larger pieces of equipment were difficult to transport from the south to the north and demanded a lot of energy. With the situation they found themselves in, such a heavy cost was too much to bear.
Cloudhawk looked over the soldiers. “Where are we with preparations?”
Roc of the Polaris family had joined them, and delivered the report. “Most soldiers are now equipped with the eboncrys weapons we’ve produced. They’ve proven to be five to ten times stronger than traditional weapons and even against demonhunters they can do lethal damage. Defensively our elite troops are being fitted with the latest armor technology, which has proven to be very effective against standard Elysian arms.”
Green Alliance troops were improving every day. Unfortunately, there was never enough time and not everyone could be upgraded. If they could outfit all their forces with these new tools then they could handily steamroll the Conclave.
Roc went on. “Most of our warships now have eboncrys missiles, with destructive power comparable to Elysian pylons. The ships are also more maneuverable and in general engines are much more efficient. We may be short in numbers, but we have a huge advantage over the Northerners in fighting power.”
By his estimation, Cloudhawk figured his army was strong enough to blast through Fallowmoor’s defenses. That didn’t mean it was going to be easy. When Skye Polaris brought the expeditionary force out there they couldn’t succeed. He figured his forces now were about as strong as the expeditionary force had been back then.
It would be hard, but not impossible. The biggest hurdle was Skycloud.
Cloudhawk’s biggest worry was being set upon by Arcturus the moment they left Woodland Vale. Until they had a better handle on the situation, he had to hold back. Rash decisions could mean death.
Every the next few days Cloudhawk continued to receive reports. They were all about the doings of the Conclave and expeditionary force, especially concerning the nuclear weapons. He still didn’t know whether the information was real or intentionally leaked to goad Cloudhawk into action. Time and again news of progress reached his ears, which he figured were meant to make the Green Alliance nervous.
He paid it no mind. Things were complicated on all sides and he had to keep a level head. The Conclave was making bombs; the Green Alliance was locked in Woodland Vale and preparing to attack Fallowmoor; Skycloud’s expeditionary force stalked the wastelands in parts unknown. He heard that Arcturus and his forces never stopped or set up a base, probably for fear that Cloudhawk would summon his meteors to wipe them out. All the while, internal strife continued to plague the Elysians.
It was a situation were a million things could go wrong, and the slightest change could upset the delicate balance. Cloudhawk was waiting to see where the variables would turn.
It was a gamble, and none were gambling more than him. Finally after ten days of tense waiting Cloudhawk received a special missive. The report claimed that the Conclave had dispatched a huge number of troops in the direction of the expeditionary force.
What was going on? Was the Conclave and Arcturus posturing for a fight?
When the two armies met they would inevitably exchange fire, but that didn’t make any sense. Why would Arcturus seek to undermine his own forces? Cloudhawk was very interested in this strange and unexpected turn of events. The change that tipped the balance seemed to be on its way.
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