Cloudhawk had caught up with the two armies.
While the Green Alliance didn’t have the same breadth of forces as Skycloud or the Conclave, it was unmatched in its ability to gather information. The south had spy units in the form of intelligent animals which on the outside looked like any other innocuous critter. But they were intelligent enough to understand and relay whatever important tidbits of news they came across.
In all a very flexible asset that was able to get most anywhere.
After these wargs spread out through the wastes they created a priceless spy network. They came in innumerable shapes at sizes; from rats and spiders to giant birds of prey. Once they were out in the wilds there was no telling a warg from any other native creature. Concealing one’s movements was impossible.
When Cloudhawk heard that the Conclave was moving against Skycloud’s army, he knew it was Arcturus enacting his coup. His aim certainly wasn’t to weaken his two factions against one another, but to castrate the Temple. In other words, Selene was in grave danger.
However fast and complete his information, Cloudhawk knew that it’d been in transit a long time before reaching him. His armies could be twice as agile as they were and still not have enough time to make a difference, so he had to come alone. By the time he arrived it was as he feared, Selene and her allies were backed into a flaming corner. If he’d been even half a moment later she would be gone.
Arcturus did not appear in the least surprised at Cloudhawk’s appearance. The young wastelander was frighteningly powerful now and it was not shocking for him to appear anywhere he pleased.
What did strike Arcturus as odd was Selene’s presence. Odds were slim she could escape the trap he’d laid for her. Clearly her powers were more complicated than he gave them credit for.
He had to give her credit; Selene had ambition, confidence and tenacity. With time there was a good chance she could match him in strength. But Arcturus did not have the time or inclination to allow that. She was trouble. As the future became increasingly uncertain he didn’t want the efforts he’d made in the name of humanity to fall apart because of her meddling.
Selene Cloude had to die. The Temple had to be overthrown. The Green Alliance had to be destroyed, and if Cloudhawk would not submit then he too would be eliminated.
No more time was wasted on words. Arcturus stretched out his hands and a raging storm of lightning emerged. They spread over the area like a crackling net, locking everyone inside. Much like a foul version of the Shepherd God’s enchantments, they were locked away from the world outside.
At the same time tendrils of electricity whipped at Arcturus’ foes.
In response, an orb of green flame expanded from Cloudhawk like an enormous balloon. Selene and the others were safe inside from the rain of lightning. The opposing powers met violently at their border, but Arcturus’ lightning only fizzled out and sparked in frustration, never piercing the bubble.
“If you were stronger than me it would’ve been I who fled the last time we met.”
A cold light flashed through the Governor’s eyes. Ruin became a writhing snake of electricity in his grip and as she thrust it forward the sword’s power stretched for a thousand meters. It carved through Cloudhawk’s shell of Castigation Fire without effort. Inside, Cloudhawk raised his left arm and summoned the reflective light.
When Ruin struck the shield a storm of sparks and explosions followed. It fractured from one enormous lightning serpent to countless smaller arcs. Those smaller offshoots did not bother with Cloudhawk or his shield, instead whipping around him. Their aim was to blast apart the others.
By the time Cloudhawk recognized it, he was too late to react. The errant bolts moved with an agility and intelligence of their own.
Each one was far stronger than their humble appearance belied. When they got close to their target the bolts split apart to even smaller tendrils and fell over the victim like a waterfall. Janus, sensing the danger, summoned a mirror image and placed it in front of Selene protectively. It saved her from the brunt of the assault. Phain, unfortunately, was not as lucky. Arcturus’ lightning enveloped him and in an instant all his skin was burned black like an overcooked pig.
Anger flared within Cloudhawk. The Master Demonhunter was only more contemptible each time he saw him!
“I may not have the ability to capture you alone, but with your friends here holding you down will you still run like last time?”
Blinding electric light accumulated in the Governor’s palm. The power of it roiled like the heart of a star, radiating an intense blue and white light.
As he held it there, Arcturus addressed Cloudhawk. “Since ancient times, all great accomplishments require sacrifice. A small offering to empower the whole. Such is the natural reality, a fundamental truth of life. Why do you all resist what is inevitable?”
Arcturus was so devoted to his mission that he had already sacrificed everything he could. He’d abandoned any hope for love, any sense of familial affection. All the things normal men desired, he threw away to make space for what was necessary. This exalted, respected life he led was a front for the darkness he had sworn to bear. Nothing he did was for himself, but in a desperate struggle to win a lost war. To save the future of his species.
He knew in his heart he’d done nothing wrong. Why were so many intent on getting in his way?
The power coalescing in his hand was frightful. No living creature would survive a direct confrontation.
“You refuse to accept the truth, that the situation is already out of your control. Even you can’t manipulate the world to do your bidding. How long are we supposed to wait? Fifty years? A hundred? How many more Baldurs and Sterlings do you think will come and go in that time? Life is more than just survival and propagation. Even if we fail in the end, at least we die in our terms!”
Cloudhawk continued to feed the orb of Castigation Fire. In his right hand an orb of it was gathering.
No matter the Governor’s arguments he would not accept his methods. Perhaps there was even a sort of logic in his thinking, but his actions were unforgivable. He pursued it at the expense of his brothers, of innocent people, of basic human dignity. Cloudhawk could not accept these sacrifices.
His own hands were covered in blood, but he had always revered life. No existence was worthless. No life was too small to be sacrificed.
Scavs digging for scraps in wasteland ruins deserved to live, just as much as the most noble Skycloud lord. Skycloud’s citizens and all the millions of wastelanders ‘cleansed’ by the Elysians were just as valuable. The Crimson One, Adder, Baldur – every one of them deserved to live their lives.
What gave him the right to trade wastelander pain for Elysian dignity? Who was he to decide what innocents died and for whose safety? Why should anyone or anything be sacrificed because Arcturus thought it was best?
To achieve his ends, Arcturus did not hesitate to slay siblings, friends or allies. Cloudhawk couldn’t fathom giving up Dawn, or Selene, or the Drunk, or any of them no matter what was at stake. All because to him, some things were even more important than life.
There was another key reason he fought, and that was that he did not accept Arcturus’ defeatism. The Governor believed that if humanity rose against the gods it would mean inevitable destruction. For at least a hundred years there was no hope for success, and to imagine otherwise was foolish. All the suffering and injustice had to continue, because he believed it wasn’t yet time.
But was that true? Cloudhawk didn’t think so, he decided to fight. Humanity’s rebellion would begin in the wastelands!
“You are too young to understand!”
Arcturus released the orb of lightning. Cloudhawk flung the orb of fire.
The two spheres of power met, birthing a cataclysmic storm. Deafening was the sound of their collision, while sparks and flame warred in a nightmarish display. Instantly it spread thousands of meters, consigning nearby ships to ruin.
Cloudhawk felt the power rip through the area, raining upon him in a deadly tempest. He poured his strength into the deflection shield in the hopes it would save them from this mountain-shattering deluge.
In the end it was proven, Arcturus was still stronger! His dominant strength was further buttressed by Cloudhawk’s need to defend the others. What’s more, he was public enemy number one in Skycloud. Any Elysian who came close would immediately set upon him. If he lingered too long he wouldn’t be able to escape.
“You can’t beat him like this.” Selene could see Cloudhawk was in over his head. “Not now, but you are the only one who can stand against him. Don’t sacrifice yourself for nothing. Run!”
A lightning storm brewed around them, gaining strength. Arcturus was preparing another attack. In the light of green fire and electricity, Cloudhawk’s face grew solemn. But as the Governor prepared to release his onslaught, suddenly a blinding light appeared beside him. It condensed into a sword of pure light and drilled into the Master Demonhunter’s back. Arcturus screamed as the weapon gravely wounded him.
What was that?! What happened!
Cloudhawk stared, mouth agape. Behind Arcturus was a figure radiating light as brilliant as the sun.
It was held aloft by two blazing wings, matching the pure white of the light that encapsulated its entire form. It was like a living, holy fire that struck awe into the survivors.
Blinding though the light was, the figure within could vaguely be made out. The figure of Ramiel Caelestis! But it was impossible, they’d watched him die!
Arcturus wrapped a hand around the blazing sword, stopping it from digging further into him. With the other he dug into his pocket for the ring he’d taken from the body, only to find it missing. It was then he understood. “S-so… that was it.”
The High Priest was one of Skycloud’s most illustrious figures. Of course he would have an ace up his sleeve.
The Saint’s Band was a relic unlike any other. Aside from its considerable power, it also possessed a unique characteristic. When the High Priest was slain, his power and will were conveyed into the ring. Through the relic’s legendary power, the bearer could be reborn for a short time. As such the Saint’s Band went by a second name – the Ring of Resurrection!
The secret power of the ring had lain dormant, unused since ancient times. As a result even Arcturus did not know its capabilities, only that it was a powerful keepsake of the High Priest. This oversight proved critical, for when he least expected it Ramiel returned from the afterlife so exact vengeance in this holy form.
As an accumulation of holy power, Ramiel had lost much of his intellect, but the knowledge of what he must do remained. Arcturus was the traitor who killed him. The Governor was his first target. He pulled his sword free and reared back for a second blow.
“I killed you once.” Wings of lightning burst from Arcturus’ back, followed by a surge of mental energy. “I will kill you again!”
The two winged figures engaged in battle. Ruin and the blade of holy light collided and stopped, locked in a test of strength. But Ruin snapped the blade of light and, with a vicious heave from Arcturus, carved right through the High Priest’s form!
The Governor staggered backward after defeating Ramiel’s ghost, blood pouring from his mouth and nose. He spun around to look for Cloudhawk but found him – and the others – vanished.
With no one to unleash his rage upon, Arcturus’ storm of lightning slowly subsided. The Conclave’s sneak attack was over.
Soldiers came rushing into the center of the conflict and there found Arcturus. His terrible wounds were met with shock and disbelief, for any other man would have died from such injuries. Arcturus, of course, was no ordinary man. The damage had already slowly begun to heal.
Still, even for a man like Arcturus it was major damage! How did this happen?
Arcturus saw his men rush forth and loudly declared over the din. “Selene Cloude, Oracle Aquaria, Grand Prior Phain and Janus Umbra conspired with Cloudhawk to destroy the Temple’s leadership. They attacked myself and killed High Priest Ramiel.”
Fury descended upon the men when they heard this. They looked around at the carnage and destruction. Only Cloudhawk was capable of something like this. His power was no secret in Skycloud. The devastation was proof that he’d been here. The mysterious disappearance of Selene and the others could only mean they’d escaped with him.
Even Arcturus stood here, badly wounded from the fray.
“Selene, Aquaria, Phain and Janus are traitors. The situation in the wastelands is far more dangerous than we expected!” Arcturus was weak from loss of blood, but he fought through the dizziness. “I propose elevating Oracle Thora to lead the Temple as the new High Priest. She will be given temporary command of the Empyrean Guard and the Templars. Send word to Skycloud immediately to dispatch all but the forces necessary for national defense!”
Was High Priest Ramiel really dead? Shock and horror descended on everyone. It was a terrible tragedy, sudden and unthinkable! In recent years Skycloud’s highest levels had been shaken. Of the three major authorities two were now dead and one was badly injured.
Arcturus’ story was confusing and strange, but the surviving Temple members confirmed it. The expeditionary force was populated with the Governor’s cronies, anyway. The rest of the Temple forces were so shaken by the news of this betrayal that they did not question it further.
It didn’t matter though, even if they wished to. Skye Polaris and Ramiel Caelestis, the only men who could temper Arcturus’ ambitions, were dead. Arcturus Cloude had emerged as the realm’s sole ruler. And his first order? Send the realm’s full might to bear against the evil wastelanders.Previous Chapter Next Chapter