Fallowmoor was a hive of activity. The Conclave’s attack on Skycloud’s forces had failed to produce results and they’d lost many in the attempt. Since returning to base they had yet to fully recover.
News had come to them that with no other recourse, the Green Alliance had sent its forces to Fallowmoor seeking a final confrontation. Were they planning to catch the conclave off guard while recovering from their skirmish with the Elysians?
That is what most assumed. On the surface, it was the southerners taking advantage of a fine opportunity. However, the council’s leader, Natessa, saw things differently.
Others were in the dark, but Cloudhawk surely knew the Conclave’s attack had been to aid Arcturus. Now that the Governor’s biggest obstacle had been removed, there was no further need for Skycloud and the Conclave to put on airs. Both would turn their attention on the Green Alliance.
With what forces they could muster, the Green Alliance had little hope of taking Fallowmoor. It would be a conflict that would last days. This gave Arcturus more than enough time to lead a contingent of the expeditionary force against the Alliance’s rear. Without Woodland Vale’s protections, Cloudhawk and his forces were exposed.
Cloudhawk was neither stupid nor reckless. He would take this risk for one reason alone.
He was aiming to bolster his forces before Arcturus could rally Skycloud’s whole army. Cloudhawk intended to throw everything he could into this conflict, for even if the chances were slim they would do anything to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Natessa would not allow Cloudhawk to succeed. From the beginning she had always trusted in her Governor, believing his ways to be right. There was nothing behind this faith but duty. Her mission was to execute any orders Arcturus passed to her, regardless of who she turned her sword against. Anything that got in her way would be eliminated. It was her purpose.
“Call an emergency meeting of the council.”
“They have been alerted, ma’am.”
Natessa led five members of the Conclave Assembly into the meeting chamber. These five were Natessa’s closest allies, mighty compatriots that had come from Skycloud. Under the guise of treason they joined the Conclave to bolster her influence, promoted by Natessa until they had a seat on the council.
Each of them was just as capable in a fight as the Giant of Hell’s Valley herself. One among them was even an elder of the Cloude family.
This was how Arcturus supported Natessa’s leadership without making it appear deliberate. However, it also led to a marked division within the Conclave. The Assembly was split into members from Skycloud and members from the wastelands.
Natessa spoke as representative for the Skycloud demonhunters who had supposedly turned their back on their home. Naga had been chosen as voice of the wastelanders. The Elysians were more powerful, but the wastelanders had deeper roots. Until recently they had cooperated well, but recent events had seen strife begin to emerge.
The largest conflict had been born from the recent failure to take the southern wilds.
Several months ago their plans to usurp control of the south were foiled with Cloudhawk’s return. The Conclave had suffered horribly as a result, even losing two of their highest commanders. Displeased with the results, the council’s wasteland members voiced their concern. The two commanders that had been taken were critical members – Eckhard Cutter and Dumont Cenhelm respectively. Now the roles they played were vacant. Natessa's clout also diminished without their support.
Wasteland leader had also suffered the losses of Toad and Canker, thus maintaining balance among the two parties. As such Natessa kept her grip on control and continued to serve as leader of the conclave’s forces.
Natessa entered the chamber and took her seat. Five minutes later, the five delegates of the wastelands entered.
Leading them was an elder-looking woman who walked with the help of a long cane. Her body, small and stooped, was wrapped in folds of a purple robe. She was none other than one of the North’s lauded Kings, Naga – a powerful mutant and brilliant scientist.
Once the members of the Assembly had gathered, Natessa addressed them. “Latest reports state that the Green Alliance is headed our way. It appears they are coming with hostile intent. I propose we prepare and deploy our defenses immediately. Gather all mobile fortresses around Fallowmoor and equip them for battle. We will meet the enemy with the full might of our armies.”
Naga broke in, her voice a hoarse shout that hissed through the chamber. “I do not agree with this plan.”
Natessa’s eyes flashed. “What don’t you agree with?”
Though age forced her voice to quaver, there was iron in Naga’s response. “We have our conflicts with the Alliance, but more irrevocable is our disagreement with Skycloud. The Conclave is not a group of outcasts from the Elysian realm, but wasteland revolutionaries! We must forever remember that Skycloud will not turn a blind eye on us.”
“We didn’t accomplish anything in our attack against their army but we are seen as sinners. Skycloud is our primary enemy!”
“Right now the expeditionary force is our biggest threat. We should be thinking of ways to open dialogue with the Green Alliance and join forces against the Elysians!”
Several wastelander representatives spoke up at once. Natessa listened quietly, but her brows knit close. Something wasn’t right.
“The expeditionary force will not attack Fallowmoor, this I can assure you.”
“Wait a moment!” Naga’s harsh voice shouted over the din. “Information provided to me reveals that their Temple’s High Priest was slain during our attack. None of our forces did this but the blame will surely fall on us. Elysians are gathering, spitting blood as the affront. Soon their number will be five – ten times they are now and will be unleashed on the wastelands! You are saying you can somehow promise they won’t come for us? I ask you, how are you so sure?”
Natessa paused to consider the scene and her opposition’s intentions. While disagreements did arise from time to time, it was rare they were so combative. Their posture today was uncustomary, strange. Somewhere a problem had crept in without her noticing.
She eventually replied. “I have eyes and ears in Skycloud. I am certain we are safe.”
“Hmph, I think your so-called insider is Arcturus Cloude himself! You are nothing but the Governor’s puppet!” Naga was no longer aiming to be political. “I began to be suspicious a year ago. How is it that so many Elysians defected only after you took control, while Skycloud does nothing? It can only make sense when you realize that none of us are leading this Conclave. We are dancing on Arcturus’s strings!”
Natessa’s face darkened. Was this to break into open conflict? She figured this day would come eventually, simply because the rifts among Elysians and wastelanders ran deep. Elysians saw wastelanders as dirty, barbaric sinners while wastelanders rankled at Elysian superiority. What gave them the right to live in excess while wastelanders starved?
When Adder destroyed Skycloud’s barrier wall, the energies contained began to seep out through the wastes. Once the dam burst vitality began to return to the barren lands they called home. Soon they would be able to till the land for food, lead beasts to pasture. But word was that Skycloud had begun to rebuild their damned wall. They were trying to rob wastelanders of their brighter future!
Wastelanders rebelled because they had to, for the right to live! Why did Elysians need such abundance? Why were they so unwilling to share?
Natessa began to furtively gather her strength. The demonhunters with her also prepared for conflict. They all knew this would happen eventually, only they had not expected this day so soon.
The original plan had been for Natessa to consolidate her leadership the moment the southern wilds were conquered. However, their failure in the south meant she could not eliminate her opposition here in the council. Now it appeared they’d discovered something so her plan had to move forward.
Naga felt the murderous intention rise in Natessa. “One accusation and you’re prepared to kill? It’s clear you’ve been preparing to get rid of us for some time! Were it not for Carnage coming to tell us the truth, we all would have died without ever knowing the danger we were in. The wastelands wasn’t free, just infested by lackeys like you lot!”
“Agents from Hell’s Army have infiltrated all levels of the Conclave’s forces. I am the one in command of this alliance, not you. But now is not the time to turn on one another. Fight to destroy the Green Alliance and you will be allowed to leave with your lives.” Natessa no longer needed to hide her intentions. “As for the Conclave? Better to be under someone else’s control than ground to dust! You should be relieved that you have the backing of Skycloud, rather than facing imminent destruction.”
“A shame. In that case we must abandon this alliance, let it fall apart and return to our own organizations.”
“It seems as though there is nothing left to discuss.”
Both sides brandished their weapons. The unease in Natessa’s heart grew by the moment. This was a crucial moment, chaos could ruin everything! She was resolved to silence this insurrection when suddenly she felt a gust of wind from behind.
“Instructor Natessa. It’s been a while.”
Natessa’s pupils constricted to tiny black points. They were in the heart of Fallowmoor, with scouts in constant shift throughout the area. If he appeared anywhere she would have known about it in an instant. For him to appear here so suddenly and unannounced could only mean one thing.
The wastelanders had found him and brought him here!
Cloudhawk and the likes of Naga would not have come to such an alliance on their own. All of this rested on Carnage’s shoulders.
Since taking over the Conclave, Natessa had never met the fourth King of the Wastelands. She’d made several attempts to find him, but none succeeded. The Red Robe was such a mystery no one knew what he was capable of. But with no way of knowing and her efforts bearing no fruit, Natessa put him out of mind.
Her oversight, she was surprised to discover, was what led to this foul circumstance.
Fires burned in the depths of Cloudhawk’s eyes. Natessa didn’t have a chance to released her power before she felt a torrent of psychic energy assail her. Those burning eyes were the last thing she saw when darkness fell.
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