Natessa didn’t know how long she was asleep for. When she awakened, her head was heavy but no damage remained from the psychic assault.
She looked around, finding herself in an unfamiliar room. The fresh, clean air was unlike anything she knew from the wastes, though. It left her with the vague feeling that she was a child again.
Natessa was raised by her mother in a small Skycloud village. Her home was surrounded by mountains. It was quiet, simple and safe. Crisp, clean mountain air was a staple of those early days.
She was just another typical child among a slew of others, no different from any of her playmates. Her days were spent climbing trees to pick fruit or wading in rivers to catch fish. She remembered being happy.
Then everything changed. As was tradition in Skycloud, when children became ten they were tested for mental aptitude. It was discovered that Natessa had a one in ten thousand talent. She remembered the old demonhunter saying he’d never seen someone with so much potential.
He believed strongly that with formal training, Natessa would one day be a famed demonhunter. Perhaps even a Master! The village she came from only produced a few demonhunters a year and rarer still demonhunter of high quality, so one could imagine the fuss this news made!
Natessa was immediately sent off to begin her training at the Demonhunter Academy. As news spread wealthy merchants from nearby cities came with gifts, seeking to sponsor young Natessa’s studies.
The sudden appearance of an unexpected genius surprised everyone. However, one person stood as an obstacle on her path to fame. None other than her own mother.
Everyone thought she was crazy. Why would a mother stand in the way of her own daughter’s success?
Natessa had never met her father. Her impression of her mother was that she was a woman of frail health, but pretty and caring. Only the caring mother she knew changed drastically when her talents were uncovered. She even harmed herself to try and manipulate Natessa into abandoning her studies.
It worked. She gave up her spot in the academy and returned home. However she never understood why her mother was so adamant against her becoming a demonhunter. Obviously her mother had a story she wasn’t sharing. There had to be a reason for her actions.
The episode spurred a contradiction in young Natessa’s heart. On the one hand she would have been happy to live by her mother’s side, happy as a normal woman in this small town. On the other, a contentious voice in her head told her she shouldn’t be content with an ordinary life. They came from different roots. That little voice telling her to remain in the village was her mother's. That meant the other one had to belong to her father.
Her life changed dramatically. She became quiet, withdrawn and depressed. Even though she had agreed to give up her training, Natessa continued to study the arts of demonhunting under her mother’s nose.
Who in the world knew their children better than a parent? Natessa’s change in mood was quickly noted by her mother. But after three years her weak body once again fell ill, a sickness so dire that even the local healers were left helpless.
She wasn’t afraid to die. On the contrary she was filled with calm, almost expectant. Before she died she called Natessa to her bedside.
To this day Natessa remembered that night from twenty years ago. It was storming, and her mother seemed to sink into her bed like a husk. But even weak as she was there was an intensity in her eyes.
“Please don’t blame me for stopping you.”
“I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but you are different from the other children. I wanted to tell you, but you were too young to understand. I had hoped to wait until you grew older, so you could make your own choices. But now there is no time. There are two paths before you, and you can only pick one.”
“The first path is to remain here. Live a normal life, abandoning any chance of power. But at least you can live a happy life. One doesn’t have to be wise or strong or rich to be happy. Normal folk don’t understand this, and once you figure it out it’s too late to go back.”
“The second path is to become a demonhunter, as you want to. If you decide to take this path then go to Skycloud. There is someone there waiting for you. Your father...”
And with that, she died. At thirteen years old Natessa had to bury her mother. When it was over she dried her eyes, packed her things and left for Skycloud.
She finally met her father. Growing up she’d had countless dreams, imagining who he was and what he looked like. None of them prepared her for the shock she felt when she learned the truth. Her father was a man whose voice reverberated like thunder among the people, who all people of the realm looked up to.
He was Arcturus Cloude.
No one knew that Arcturus had fathered an illegitimate daughter. If they did it would have been an even greater shock when he installed her in Hell’s Valley as its youngest instructor. Today, the reason Natessa followed the Governor’s directions without consideration of right and wrong was for no other reason than blood. Natessa Windham was, in truth, Natessa Cloude.
When her mind cleared Natessa looked around, finding herself surrounded by a towering forest. Amidst the dappled sunlight an encampment had been constructed. She saw several hundred people busy with various duties from cooking meals to building structures. Obviously it was a settlement still in its early stages.
“Hey, you’re up.”
“Dumont? What are you doing here?” Natessa recognized the wizened old man.
“After we were taken prisoner by Cloudhawk he left us here.” When he saw that Natessa was already looking around for an escape route he shook his head. “Don’t waste your energy. There’s no leaving this place.”
All around them was a dense jungle with all sorts of animals darting among the underbrush. Flora or fauna, none of them were anything she recognized. Cloudhawk had apparently used his teleportation powers to deposit them on another world.
Without teleportation powers of her own, how could they leave this prison?
Dumont sat down across from her. “We’ve done everything we can. The rest is no longer up to us. Settle in, make a life here. At least it’s clean.”
Natessa’s face grew stern, angry and uncertain. What would become of the Conclave now that she wasn’t running it? If she were gone, who could shoulder the responsibilities she’d left behind?
Natessa didn’t know who would emerge victorious eventually, Arcturus or Cloudhawk. She didn’t know what the fate of that world was or where those two men would lead it.
Whatever the case, there was nothing she could do to change it anymore.
With the help of the Conclave’s Assembly, Cloudhawk had been able to easily get close to Natessa. She was of course no threat to him any longer. Once she was out of the picture he used the wastelander leaders to seize power over the Conclave. The remaining members of the Elysian delegation were dealt with. In a testament to her leadership Natessa already had the Conclave’s systems so organized that they could operate even without her leadership.
Most of the Conclave’s forces were under command from Hell’s Army soldiers. These were men and women who would only listen to Natessa’s orders and would act accordingly in her absence. Their mission was to resist the Green Alliance and there was no changing that. With their authority and position, there was no avoiding conflict.
Be that as it may, Naga and the others weren’t without recourse. Even though they could not exert control over the army, it was powerless to do anything against the Alliance without central command. The floating fortresses were shifted out of position in secret so that nothing stood between the Green Alliance and the Conclave’s rebel forces.
All that remained was to see if what was left of Natessa’s forces could stand against the Green Alliance.
Cloudhawk coordinated with Naga and the others. Soon a plan was hatched.
The next day at noon, the Green Alliance launched a surprise attack on Conclavian forces. The battle lasted for an hour and with defenders hobbled by internal strife, they could not stop the Green Alliance from capturing Fallowmoor.
Once Arcturus received the news he knew he could no longer wait for the remainder of his armies to arrive. The expeditionary force was sent forth to apply pressure to his foes.
Cloudhawk had successfully managed to avoid a war on two fronts and even managed to assimilate a portion of the Conclave’s army. However, the real war was only just beginning.
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