Did the Green Alliance really have no hope? So far, that was how it appeared. Even if Selene, Aquaria and Phain switched sides it was a drop in the bucket against Skycloud’s vast army.
It would take six months at least for all of Skycloud’s forces to gather. Cloudhawk had only that time to do something. However, Arcturus’ presence among them severely limited what he could do. He had one chance, and if he failed all would be lost.
It wasn’t just the Green Alliance at stake, but the lives of all its citizens and children like Azura. Selene, Dawn, the drunk and his other friends would be cut down. But as the crushing idea that he had no way out started to close in, Cloudhawk thought of one person. Perhaps they would know what to do. He was like Arcturus, and the best way to know a viper was to ask another viper.
Due to the top-secret nature of the information, even Green Alliance military personnel were unaware of what was waiting outside the Vale’s borders. They went about their duties, unconcerned, while Cloudhawk searched for his objective.
Wolfblade was in the barracks, waiting for him with two cups of tea steaming and ready. “I figured my King would visit soon.”
“Then you already know what happened yesterday.”
“Arcturus killed High Priest Ramiel Caelestis. Skycloud’s armies are gathering for an unprecedented campaign against the wastelands. Soon they will sweep through the lands and soak its sands with blood.” He spoke as though none of this directly threatened him. “What does it matter? To ruin a man you must first drive him mad. What is done is done.”
“Aren’t you at all concerned? Whether or not Arcturus will win the Game in the end is uncertain, but it seems like he won’t have any problem clearing us off the board!” Cloudhawk knew what Wolfblade was capable of – how cunning he was. Surely the fox had some plan to deal with their situation. “You have something up your sleeve?”
“What is born from the wastes will end in the wastes. The breaking point is near at hand.” The enigmatic man took a sip of his tea before proceeding. “The Conclave of Judgment is the key. If we broke it apart and tried to assimilate it, Arcturus would be forced to fight tooth and nail in its defense. This would undermine Skycloud’s army before they had an opportunity to finish preparing for their assault.”
Wolfblade made a good point. The wastelands as a whole were Arcturus’ aim. He wanted control of all of it for he believed it was the only way to win stability both for the wastelands and Skycloud. Over the centuries it was clear turmoil had arisen in Skycloud, but its roots were spread all throughout the wastelands. If they wanted peace in the Elysian lands, then its enemies had to be brought to heel.
It was the crux of Arcturus’ strategy. Such was the reason he turned a blind eye – even actively supported Sterling’s actions in the wastes. He allowed his brother to don the mantle of the Crimson One and toil for years against the realm. Once his efforts bore fruit in the form of the Conclave, Arcturus poisoned it with his own agents and reaped the benefits.
Today, the Conclave of Judgment was a sprawling, powerful wasteland organization. Were it not for Cloudhawk’s timely intervention, the southern wilds would have fallen under its control.
The odds were stacked against the Green Alliance. Arcturus was too clever and prudent to carelessly risk his advantage, so he would wait until he was at full strength so that victory was certain. It seemed Cloudhawk could do nothing but wait for death – unless he could force Arcturus to act before he was ready.
How to force his hand? Break the Conclave! If his proxy army was threatened Arcturus would have to come to its aid.
“That makes sense, but with our forces capturing Fallowmoor is a remote possibility at best.” Cloudhawk, upon reflection, was surprised at Wolfblade’s suggestion for it seemed foolish. “Let’s say we do attack, then we’ll have to fend off both Fallowmoor and Arcturus. Two powerful foes. It sounds like suicide.”
A grin crept into Wolfblade’s face. “What if we convinced the Conclave to join our side?”
Cloudhawk opened his mouth to respond but couldn’t find the words. It sounded patently ridiculous. What made him think they could win the Conclave over to the Green Alliance when his people were on the verge of destruction? It only seemed possible if all the leaders of the Conclave collectively lost their minds. Still, Cloudhawk had to consider the idea if it was coming from Wolfblade.
“Of the Conclave’s three highest leaders, you’ve captured two. Natessa’s clout on their council has diminished greatly. Today, seventy or eighty percent of the Conclave’s leadership are wastelanders, or were once loyal to the Crimson One. There are deep-seated differences between them and Arcturus, with Natessa as his representative.”
“In a brief period of chaos the Crimson One, Wyrmsole and Adder were able to build an army. They did so under the banner of wasteland liberation. It was this message that inspired so many cities and organizations to answer their call. However, since coming under Arcturus’ control the Conclave’s goals have fundamentally changed.”
Arcturus may have been a traitor to the gods, but his actions on the surface were pious. He couldn’t allow the boundaries of Skycloud and the wastes to be blurred. Divisions had to be maintained. Wastelanders would remain locked in their blasted expanse while Elysians lived in plenty. To that end, it was inevitable that the great border would one day be restored and separation between peoples reestablished.
If that were the case, why were the wastelanders fighting? Didn’t that mean the Crimson One’s original goals had been thrown aside?
Compare the Conclave of today to the Green Alliance, an organization committed to revolution and change. It was truer to the original Crimson Church. But the question remained how Cloudhawk was supposed to sow division. Arcturus might have been directing the Conclave form behind the scenes, but they had no solid evidence. In other words, they still believed the Conclave still fought for its initial values.
“I want you to bring me to meet someone.”
“The expeditionary force.”
It was a strange request, but Cloudhawk did not refuse. The two began to teleport through the wastes, stepping from one portal to another until they were at the border of Skycloud’s army encampment. It was as close as they could get, for any nearer and their demonhunters would be able to sense them. So the two waited in a nearby cave.
Wolfblade produced a small device, which looked like some sort of transmitter.
Two hours passed in silence before a figure appeared at the mouth of the cave. Cloudhawk’s eyes fell upon the man in his splendid Elysian armor and saw that he had to be a man of some rank within the army. Somehow Wolfblade had installed a spy among their ranks. He knew from experience Elysians kept strict watch over their personnel, so how had this man managed to slip out?
Was that… Brontes?! Cloudhawk recognized this man! He was an officer of Drake’s Legion!
Cloudhawk had had a major influence on Brontes’ life. Years ago he had been dispatched with Claudia to kill him in the wastelands and together with his fellow soldiers had massacred the people of Lighthouse Pointe where Asha had once lived. He was responsible for killing the one she’d once seen as her father, Coppertooth. After the convoluted events that followed for a time they fought side by side, until he was badly wounded while fighting at the Blisterpeaks.
What was he doing here?
Wolfblade greeted him with a smile. “Carnage, my old friend. It’s been a long time.”
As the false Brontes stepped further to the cave his body began to shift. His hair and skin, his armor, even his sword all became strangely malleable. Eventually they were revealed to be thousands of scarlet tentacles, like a hideous mass of snakes, all writhing in unsettling fashion.
The tentacles continued to shift, reconstituting a form of flesh and clothing. The bald man who stood before them now had his eyes fixed on Wolfblade and returned his greeting in a hoarse voice. “We aren’t that close.”
Wolfblade paid no mind to the bald man’s combative answer. He turned to Cloudhawk. “The Elysian commander died long ago. Carnage consumed his genetic makeup and so can take on his form. He is an absolute copy – the world’s most perfect supermutant!”
“But I cannot copy something stronger than I am,” Carnage offered, turning his gaze to Cloudhawk. “Like you.”
Before war came to the wastelands, the Northern Barrens was home to four Kings. These super mutants were designated Red, Purple, Black and Green for the color of the robes they wore. Strongest and most mysteriously among them was Red Robe, a creature whose power was unknown to all. When the Barrens came under the Conalve’s control, three of its kings joined their council. One remained unaccounted for – as it turns out, this was because he’d infiltrated Skycloud’s army.
With that same smile plastered on his face, Wolfblade went on. “After years in Skycloud you’ve surely accumulated a wealth of genetic information.”
Carnage gave a tepid response. “IS that what you called me here to discuss?”
“Still lacking in conversational skills, I see,” Wolfblade quipped. He waved a hand to his companion. “You know this one clearly. The leader of the Green Alliance, Cloudhawk. You know the situation, now you should know what to do about it.”
Carnage nodded. “I will pass the information to Naga, but she is not strong enough to take over the council alone.”
“Passing the information is enough,” Wolfblade assured. “Leave the rest to me.”
They spoke for a short time more and once everything was agreed upon, Carnage then stiffened and turned to stone. The petrified body cracked apart and scattered across the ground.
Cloudhawk frowned at the scene. “That wasn’t him?”
“It was and it wasn’t. Carnage can shift into others and make copies of himself. He would not see them as copies, however. Any one of them can and is the original. So long as one fragment of him remains, Carnage’s will goes on.” Wolfblade looked down at the mess of petrified fragments. “In order to remain undiscovered he destroyed this part of himself. His cell can become inorganic material, which is now he had the appearance of armor and weapons.”
The world’s most powerful supermutant indeed! Nightmarish didn’t even begin to describe what he could do. More than unkillable, he could continue to take in genetic material from his victims to make himself stronger. His cells could change into anything, infinitely variable, and what’s more he could split apart. There was no practical way to eliminate the creature.
Wolfblade appeared to have known Carnage for some time. Perhaps Carnage had infiltrated Skycloud under the demon’s command.
For a long time, the Elder had been holding onto this gambit to wrest control of the Conclave. Perhaps he was waiting for Arcturus to kill the High Priest before choosing to use it. Once again Cloudhawk was reminded of how extensive Wolfblade’s bag of tricks seemed to be. There was always something else he had planned, some other secret buried deep beneath. No wonder Dawn didn’t trust him.
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