Book 6, Chapter 37 - The Hand That Acts

Chapter 37: The Hand Acts

Arcturus had paid a heavy price for taking Vulkan’s life. His left arm and shoulder had been cleaved off – a wound that would have slain a normal man.

Arcturus was by no means an ordinary man, but he was already in bad shape from previous injuries and the flood of power from the Seraphs. Losing an arm was piling one disaster on top of another. 

Before he could recover Cloudhawk appeared. Out of thin air he summoned a massive sword in his right hand, hacking it toward his foe. Arcturus sensed that Cloudhawk’s emotions were drawing on a well of deeper potential, making his attack even more forceful.

He wrapped his one good wing around himself to act as a shield. Moments later he felt the crushing pressure of energy slamming into him. Part of his wing was blasted apart, scattering into the air as bolts of electricity. 

One blow wasn’t the end. Arcturus reeled under a second, then a third.

Cloudhawk was already fast, but with his teleportation skills the attacks came almost on top of one another from several angles. The blitz surrounded Arcturus, pummeling him with a ferocious and unforgiving onslaught. In mere seconds the Governor was buried under thirty attacks.

At last his defenses crumbled. Arcturus had only his sword to fend off Cloudhawk’s rage and as the next blow connected, he was thrown to the ground with explosive force.

Cloudhawk readjusted his grip on his weapon so that it was pointed straight down. Then, as he descended toward Arcturus, the fractured portion of Ardent Wrath spouted fire. A column of flame tens of meters long was belched forth. It struck the earth so hard it spawned earthquakes. It melted rock and created a pool of lava where it impacted.

“Governor!”

Taron dashed forward to try and save him. Frost, face dark, also hurried to the scene. All the many elite fighters broke away from their conflicts and made for their leader. Likewise Wolfblade, Abaddon, Aquaria, Phain and Janus along with their troops fell back to Cloudhawk. It appeared the first round of this conflict was over.

Wastelanders had lost their supreme martial artist, Vulkan. For this, Arcturus was badly wounded by the drunk and Cloudhawk.

Both in the war outside and the invasion of the city, Skycloud’s forces had held the upper hand. Now, however, the tides were shifting. But the battle was not over and a victor had yet to be decided.

A squad of healers rushed over and began to work on Arcturus. “Governor your body can’t handle anymore,” one of the Temple clerics said. “You have to retreat from the field or I fear the worst.”

Arcturus was indifferent to the danger. Today either he would win absolute victory or suffer complete defeat. There was no in between, for a half-victory was good for no one.

Aquaria’s voice rose over the sounds of combat. “You have all been deceived by Arcturus! He was the one who murdered the High Priest! He is the real traitor! Temple faithful, stay your hands!”

Phain joined his voice to hers. “The Governor’s ambition is to confuse and misconstrue! I, your Grand Prior, have served the Temple loyally for years. Never have I committed any sin against the High Priest or our order. Did Arcturus’ accusations cause no suspicion? Templars, put down your swords!”

Clerics and Templars paused, glancing at one another in uncertainty. Taron shouted through their doubt. “Utter nonsense! Merely an attempt to undermine your morale! Do not let them shake your faith, kill the heathens in the name of the High Priest!”

“Arcturus is quickly losing strength.” Wolfblade brandished Oblivion, waving it toward a group of Elysian soldiers. A bubble of power surrounded them and suddenly the unfortunate souls vanished from existence. The demon Elder’s voice cried out to his fellows. “Our victory is at hand!”

Aquaria was left with no choice. She lifted the Skycloud Doctrine high. The motion spawned a tempest above her head, alive with hundreds of fireballs, ice spikes and blades of wind. When she released it the deadly hurricane washed over her former compatriots, delivering unmitigated destruction.

Elsewhere Janus was splitting into countless shadows. Dozens, hundreds of illusory assassins vanished among the chaos of the battlefield. Atlas also slipped into darkness and prepared to act.

Taron recognized how precarious the situation had become. Phain and Aquaria were held in high regard within the Temple, and though their words were not enough to dissuade the Temple acolytes, it did shake their faith.

Arcturus was too injured to continue such a high-stakes fight. With each passing moment his strength slipped away. The weaker he became the worse it was for Skycloud, so the proper action would be to retreat. Even half an hour of concerted healing could halt the Governor’s decline.

But Arcturus had no intention of falling back. As he rose back onto his feet the Seraphs overhead stiffened and crumbled to dust like clay statues. More and more of the psychic power that innervated them flowed into the Master Demonhunter. His electric wings returned, and his power surged back to its peak.

His soldiers looked on with alarm. Was their Governor preparing to perish along with his realm?

Arcturus stood there with one arm, but it did not detract from his majestic bearing. With his hair flowing in the wind he extended his good arm, pointing Ruin at the enemy. “Soldiers of Skycloud! Cut down our foes!”

“Wastelanders! To the death!” Cloudhawk’s eyes were pools of fire. His soldiers roared in response. 

The two sides charged at one another, with Cloudhawk and Arcturus at the fore. From outside one could see the consequence of their clash. Fallowmoor shook, its protective shell cracked. The storm of energy inside was visible from kilometers away.

**

Meanwhile, in the secret laboratory within Fallowmoor.

Naga felt the city tremble unceasingly beneath her feet. Lines of worry grew ever deeper on her face, mingling with desperate madness. She knew that never in a hundred or even a thousand years could she and the northerners stand against Cloudhawk or Arcturus. This nuclear explosion was her only hope.

“Boss Naga, activation is complete!”

“Excellent, excellent!” She beamed, overjoyed. “Prepare for detonation!”

Dozens of scientists fiddled with equipment as quickly as they dared. The detonator they’d made specifically for this weapon sparkled to life. Fifteen minutes. When the countdown reached zero this ancient weapon would release its incredible power throughout the city. Fallowmoor and everything within it would be atomized!

Everyone looked relieved. The scientists began preparing to go.

Naga heaved a sigh. “It’s done. At last, finally over.”

A voice called out to her. “You are absolutely right. Your mission is over.”

Naga and her scientists immediately broke out in a cold sweat. The door separating their lab from the door hissed as it opened. Shock came over the King of the Purple Robe when she saw the group that filed in.

Inkspecter, Squall, Ravenous Tiger, Three-Eyed Spider, Raven, and Blackfiend walked into the room one by one. With them were a dozen black-clad warriors. The secretive Hand of Gehenna.

“So naive, you young thing.” Inkspecter chuckled derisively. “Did you think your piddling schemes would fool Elder Legion?”

“I was Dark Atom’s chief scientist,” Three-Eyed Spider croaked. “That warhead you pilfered was once  my responsibility. Do you think I wouldn’t have put a tracker in it? Foolish to think you could keep it hidden.”

Squall began to unwrap the bandages around his left arm. “What’s the point in wasting time with this granny? Time is short. Beat her to pieces and be done with it.”

“Bastards!” Naga hissed at them and lashed out.

Raven reacted quickly. From his palm extended a pulse cannon which released a concussive blast into Naga’s chest. Squall and Blackfiend dashed forward, coming at her from either side. The three simultaneous attacks tore the mutant to pieces. Naga had thought she could stop Cloudhawk and Arcturus from figuring things out, but never had she imagined that she had been part of someone else’s calculations all along.

Expressionless, Inkspecter passed on his next order. “Kill them all. Leave no survivors.”

Ravenous Tiger hefted his ax and gave it a mighty heave. A handful of scientists collapsed, spraying blood from severed necks. Although the Hand of Gehenna had been absent from the scene for a long time, it did not mean they hadn’t been gaining in strength. It took only thirty seconds to eliminate all the scientists.

Raven walked over to the activated warhead. He wrapped his arms around it and picked it up. Squall, coated in blood, approached Inkspecter. “What are we going to do with it?”

“Don’t fret,” their leader assured them. “There is always a plan.”

The small group made their way to a predetermined location, where waiting for them was a small Elysian vessel. Aboard were several dozen Skycloud soldiers staring blankly at the chaos. They did not react when Inkspecter revealed himself.

An officer separated from the others, none other than Brontes – Carnage, the King of Crimson Robes. The bomb was delivered onto the ship with seven minutes left before detonation.

Inkspecter addressed Carnage with a dark grin. “This is a little present Legion has prepared for the expeditionary force. Make sure it finds its way to the heart of their armada. Then it will all be over.”

Carnage said nothing. The ship lifted off to perform its mission.

All the soldiers aboard the ship were parts of the King himself. In other words, the former crew were all already dead. The Elysian vessel slipped away from Fallowmoor and through the Skycloud armada without suspicion. It rushed into the heard of the enemy ranks.

Inkspecter turned away, apparently not intending to watch the fireworks. “Let us return to Legion and the Demon King.”

By the time the Hand of Gehenna reached the center of Fallowmoor, the battlefield was the site of a catastrophe. A heavy toll in lives had been exacted on both sides. 

Cloudhawk and Arcturus were field commanders of their respective sides, as well as in direct conflict with each other. Both men were covered in wounds and fought with animalistic desperation.

“It seems this fight has been decided.”

Inkspecter looked out at the scene. Judging by his muttered words, he determined the war was already done.

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