Book 6, Chapter 32 – Zero Hour

As the expeditionary force drew near, the wastelands two alliances stopped their infighting. Neither the Green Alliance nor the Conclave had a taste for destroying one another, rather they hoped to annex the other and consolidate power. By contrast, the Elysians were here to destroy them all. Or so it seemed on the surface, for Elysians and wastelanders mixed like oil and water.

The former struggle was one of status. The other was one of survival.

Cloudhawk had emerged as a man worthy of the title ruler of the wastes. As such he was a natural choice to lead the Conclave’s forces. Those positions vacated by officers of Hell’s Army were replaced with Green Alliance personnel, bolstering the defenses in order to fend off the encroaching threat.

Under normal circumstances the Conclave could have made a fine stand. However, the current plight was one that proved too much for them alone. Only by maximizing their strength through cooperation could the Green Alliance and the Conclave face Skycloud’s army.

 

***

 

Rhino made sure he had a spot on the front lines. He was a fighter from Greenland, one of the first to join the Goshawks, and had witnessed the horror of Sanctuary first hand.

He demanded to be first in line to defend the wastelands. 

Sandspire had been his origin, and for most of his life the mutant knew nothing besides the vast ruins surrounding the city. It was luck and determination that lifted him out of his ignorance. That was when he met Cloudhawk, entered Greenland and became a Goshawk. At last he’d found a reason to fight, a purpose.

Cloudhawk was a name destined to ring out across the wastes for generations.

He was a torch in the chaos, leading the way. Though no one knew where he was taking them, Cloudhawk emerged as a beacon of hope. His presence lifted up countless men and women from darkness and despair.

Rhino had a young son. Right now he was training with the others back at Greenland Institute. The fact that he was somewhere safe, learning to better himself, was proof of just how much Cloudhawk had changed things already. Cloudhawk took this savage man who knew nothing and showed him the grand history they’d all come from.

Why were so many willing to fight and die for Greenland’s leader? None could be sure that Cloudhawk would succeed, but he was giving them a chance. 

Alarms began to blare, snapping Rhino from his reverie. He was standing on one of the floating fortresses nearest to Fallowmoor, and from this vantage point he could see six other fortresses moving into position. Scores of airships and troop carriers shuttled between them.

In the distance a sea of twinkling lights approached, like candles in the dark.

Those were the light of Elysian shields. Their armada was much larger than it had been the first time they tried to take the city. A far greater threat, especially since it was Arcturus Cloude himself who led the charge this time.

“The enemy approaches!”

“Elysians on the line! Prepare for battle!”

Rhino tightened his grip on the crude wasteland exorcist rod in his hand. The ships all around spun and churned into position as officers shouted commands, like a host of angry locusts. Once a defensive line was formed their hulls opened, revealing missiles at the ready.

Attack!”

Just as the expeditionary force came within range, wastelander salvos released their payloads.

Suddenly the air was filled with sparks and fire; a deadly firework display, like stars falling from the sky, as magnificent as it was frightening. In response the Elysians fired back. Beams of light from Gods Spear warships were cast into the wastelanders’ ranks.

Many of the missiles were destroyed en route by the curtain of light. Those that made it through exploded against milky-white shields which rippled like water. A shot from one of the Gods Spear warships obliterated a Conclave vessel.

As the fight broke out it looked from the outset like the wasteland’s crude weapons couldn’t overcome Elysian defenses. At least for the moment they posed no threat, the expeditionary force merely needed to keep up the pressure. Half of the wasteland ships would be destroyed before they even got close enough to deploy soldiers.

After years of armed conflict, both sides had refined their tactics. Once Arcturus took command, he outfitted the experienced soldiers with improved gear as well. They were a much different fighting force than when Skye was their leader.

The Elysian armada boasted twenty Gods Spear ships, more than enough to execute a devastating long-range barrage. Their Aegis ships were also plentiful enough to wholly cover the front lines from harm. Wastelander missiles continued to come, but blasted impotently against the shields and caused no damage.

Boom! 

One of the beams of light struck the top part of the fortress. It felt like the entire structure was rolling underfoot as boulders toppled upon the soldiers below. Rhino barely manage to escape being crushed, but found himself rising weightless into the air. As gravity turned upside down he caught himself by stabbing his exorcist rod into the ground as an anchor.

“Bastards! Wastelanders aren’t willing to be kicked around. Let’s give them something to be scared of! Deploy the eboncrys weapons!”

Lumbering airships pulled to the fore, hauling broadside to unveil their artillery. The eboncrys cannons aboard were the fruits of scientific achievement from Greenland, a deadly gift from Hellflower and her team. Because of their complexity only a few cannons and missiles were available. Rare and precious though they were, this was exactly the moment they were meant to be used.

A volley of unimpressive projectiles was vomited into the sky. 

Having experienced wastelander assaults, the Elysians paid them no mind. However, when the missiles struck their shields the unthinkable bloomed before them. A concussive blast ten times stronger than any artillery before rocked the fleet.

A thunderous explosion tore across the field. As the smoke cleared, a gaping hole in the expeditionary force’s defenses was laid bare!

That was just the beginning. More of these empowered missiles came hurdling at the Elysians. Even the mighty Aegis ships were defenseless against them.

One missile slipped passed the line, crashing into the midst of the armada. Three vessels were utterly destroyed in one blast.

Suddenly Skycloud’s officers realized that with weapons like that, they couldn’t keep the wastelanders at a distance for long. They had to push forward as quickly as possible and use their superior soldiers to cut down the barbarians.

All at once the intensity of the battle reached a fever pitch! Both sides unleashed their cavalry and advanced the line. 

Elysian air units were griffin riders, deadly demonhunters atop equally dangerous mounts. They were the tip of the spear and faced death unflinchingly. Their wasteland counterparts were airmen piloting all manner of smaller planes. They were equipped with an assortment of missiles and rocket launchers. Some were suicide bombers, driving a payload of eboncrys ordnance right into the enemy forces.

The battlefield raged for ten thousand meters in every direction. Soon it shifted back toward Fallowmoor.

The wasteland had three lines of defense. The first was composed of warships and air units. Second were the six floating fortresses. Finally was Fallowmoor itself.

In a testament to Skycloud’s might, it took only a few rounds of attacks to tear a hole in the wastelander front lines. Demonhunters, Templars, Empyrean soldiers and other elites comprised their vanguard which poured into the fortresses. 

Rhino watched as hundreds of griffin riders closed in on his bastion. Like an ominous rain, powerful Elysian soldiers descended upon them. A fierce battle erupted against them the forces Cloudhawk had deployed to defend these fortresses.

One Templar carved a path through several soldiers. He charged right for Rhino, sword raised. The Goshawk fighter engaged his Mornshield ring to deflect the opening attack. Half a breath later he called on the power of the Mornarrow ring, firing a bolt of energy at his foe. The Templar was caught off guard, not expecting a mutant to wield a demonhunter’s power. He quickly pulled his sword back to protect himself.

There was a crash and the Templar was knocked backward. Taking advantage of the break in his guard, Rhino surged forward. With his rod raised and spinning with power, he smashed it against the Templar’s temple. Steel and bone crunched. Blood splattered across the ground in a grizzly rain.

One down! Rhino released a triumphant roar.

He wasn’t foolish enough to think he’d be able to tangle one-on-one with a Templar and win, not unless he had the advantage of a chaotic battlefield. As proof his victory was short lived, for a blazing hot orb of fire came searing at his back moments later. 

His green cloak was set alight. Soon the fires had covered his entire body.

Rhino’s alliance armor began to melt against his skin. Smoke rose off his smoldering flesh. He spun around, glaring through the pain to find his assailant, a Temple cleric. Fire danced in his hands as he prepared a second attack.

Die!

The mutant threw himself at the Elysian just as the cleric released another fireball. It blasted against Rhino’s chest but he came barreling through. His whole body ablaze, organs bubbling inside, he smashed the cleric to pieces with his weapon.

Hahaha! Another one!”

By now his eyes were destroyed. The last image he saw before darkness closed in was ash filling the sky. He thought they looked like gray butterflies. It was his cloak burning away. His pride. Would Rhino fade away into the wind like that ash, like his roars?

He thought about his child, studying back home. His sacrifice was worth it.

History wouldn’t remember him, but he felt that his life had meant something. It wasn’t wasted in ignorance futility. He did good – for himself, for life. There were no regrets.

Lifting his weapon toward the sky his cracked windpipes bellowed a final call. “Greenland forever! Greenland forever! Greenland forever!”

A silvery figure dashed in front of the mutant, thrusting a spear into his chest faster than the eye could follow. The flames consuming Rhino were doused as he turned to ash, then crumbled to pieces.

Another Green Alliance soldier, silenced. One of countless others, breathing their last as the seconds ticked by. Elysians, wastelanders… the battle raged on as death came to reap its harvest.

 

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