Skycloud was blanketed in darkness. The fog of war and shadows from the airships overhead blocked much of the light. However the streets all lit up as soldiers pointed their weapons toward the enemy and fired.
Even the old, the weak, women, and children had been conscripted. They were responsible for bringing supplies across the battlefield. Despite the bustle of the city, a grim melancholy hung over everything.
Everyone knew Skycloud was their final stand. If their city fell or was captured, no one remained to stand against Cloudhawk’s domination. The devil and his wastelander savages would destroy their glorious home. But what if they succeeded? What if they beat back the enemy? Things were getting worse by the day. Who knew how long they would last even without an outside threat.
The deep, thunderous boom sounded from the distance. Suddenly a faint light emerged, piercing through the clouds. Like thunder tearing across the desert, its force caused the city’s buildings to tremble. Like a stampede of a million horses.
Senses were limited, so the people of Skycloud could not see where this terrible light had come from or where it was going. All they knew was the searing beam of energy that threatened to swallow everything up.
It was coming! Finally coming! This grand city which had existed for a thousand years would be baptized in fire.
The dark threat of death hung heavy, stealing their breath. People shook in fear. Lovers held one another in desperate, forlorn embraces while others threw themselves to the floor in prayer. The huddling masses filled the streets with a palpable terror.
It was like a natural disaster. Like a nightmare. Although they knew what was to come, all were powerless to stop it.
A small girl couldn’t stop herself from wailing, tears streaming down her face. “Ahh! Nana! I’m scared! I’m scared!”
Her grandmother was an old, stooped woman who was barely holding it together. She didn’t know how to comfort the girl except to hold her tight and fight her own tears. “Don’t cry, sweetie. Don’t cry. Soon… soon you’ll be with your parents.”
It wasn’t long ago that the little one, Nancy, had a happy family. 
Her father had been a highly skilled martial artist, a colonel of the Elysian army. Nancy had looked up to him as an idol – the heart of her pride and the rock she leaned upon. She always held her head high when talking about him with her friends. But Nancy’s father was unlucky enough to serve in the Defense Corps, the one that was annihilated three years ago. His body didn’t even come home for a proper burial.
That’s how she lost her father.
Two years after that, her mother fell ill and died. The only family Nancy had left was her aging grandmother. The lively young girl grew timid, introverted and cowardly. Everything frightened her. She constantly was afraid of fighting and death even though it seemed so far away.
“What’s the meaning of all this ruckus?!” An officer shouted angrily at the child and elderly woman. “Your wailing is bad for morale, don’t you know that! Shut that girl’s mouth or I’ll do it for you.”
The old woman begged for mercy. Nancy cried even louder. Those nearby who witnessed the scene bit back their own fear as tears welled up in their eyes. When did their home turn into… this?
The officer had lost all patience. If this runt’s crying continued it would start to effect his soldiers. He raised his hand to silence the girl when suddenly he felt himself being lifted up from behind. A heavy blow from a gauntleted fist followed, striking him in the face so hard he felt several teeth shatter.
He rolled head over heels for several meters, but was agile enough to catch his footing. His right hand immediately went for his weapon. Blood trickling from his lips, he shouted toward his assailant. “Who in the name of the gods dares strike an off-”
He trailed off as he looked at the ground standing before him. Nearly every one sported officer’s garb, with badges higher than his own. Leading them was a stocky man dressed in the tell-tale armor of a General with a matching sword at his waist. The lesser officer quickly swallowed the rest of his sentence, along with a few fragments of teeth.
The one who’d raised his fist against him wore a demonhunter’s cloak. Tall and strong, with a shock of red hair, his chiseled face was grim.
“M-master Blaze! General Hammont, sir!”
Hammont stared at the man like he was some sort of mongrel. “Did I see you raise your hand against a child?”
“Sir, I’m just following orders. I didn’t realize I was doing anything wrong!” The officer’s face turned red with shame and fear. “You know our circumstances, sir. We have to make sure the soldiers stay confident. Otherwise how can we resist our enemies?”
Blaze answered. “Elysian soldiers are here to protect the people of the realm. Instead here you are, hiding behind them. Have you thrown away all self-respect? What sort of soldier are you?”
The officer opened his mouth to protect, but shut his mouth and hung his head in shame.
The General spoke up again. “Nevermind. Blaze, he’s only doing what he was forced to do. We can’t waste time here, we don’t have much of it.”
As he spoke, Hammont approached the terrified little girl. He glanced at the grandmother and for a moment thought of his own mother. The pang in his heart felt fresh as the day he learned of her death.
He said nothing as he fished a candy from his pocket and handed it to the child.
She was taken aback by the sudden offering. She looked at the candy, then up to the bearded man holding it out to her. Her tears trickled to a stop and sparkled in an endearing way.
“Hey little one, don’t be scared. So long as we’re around we’ll keep you safe.” Hammont raised his hand and a couple of his men gathered round. “Blaze, men, bring this woman and her granddaughter to the tunnels beneath the city.”
“General Hammont, how… the Commander-General has ordered all able bodies to fight!” Trepidation arose in the junior officer’s heart, a genuine fear of the Commander-General. “You are also a soldier, you should know that soldiers must follow all orders from their superiors. If we pick and choose what directives to follow, what then?”
Hammont fixed him with a stare. “You’re right, I’m a soldier. And I know exactly what I’m supposed to do. But we aren’t just soldiers, are we? We’re also men.”
The soldier fell silent for a moment. Then, spitting a mouthful of blood, he snapped to solute. “What can this officer do for his general?”
Hammont answered. “You must do everything in your power to protect the people of this city.”
“Yes sir!” The officer nodded with resolve, without hesitation.
Blaze led a group of troops from Hammont and the main unit. The General drew his eyes to the sky, ablaze with light. They bore a grim, solemn light.
Hammont was here serving as one of the front line commanders, responsible for the ground troops. He didn’t lead the main battle force but his was still an important job. However, despite his burdens Hammont did not feel nervous or afraid. There was only a deep calm, like watching a storm from within a lighthouse.
In the back of his mind he recalled a gray-robed figure. He’d been a brief influence on his life, but a major one.
He was under no illusions as to what he was doing. Life and liberty was put aside in the face of what Hammont was resolved to pursue. In these tumultuous times he was a nobody, but some of the greatest events in history were driven by little actions. Tens of thousands of nobodies like him could make a difference. Together they could defy fate.
It was something he was willing to bet his life on.
Hammont and Blaze were in agreement. The general would bring his closest supporters and capture the soldiers’ attention while Blaze and a small squad sabotaged the protective enchantments. They would make a path for the Green Alliance to cut through. They would work to get this over with as quickly as possible. It didn’t matter who called themselves master of Skycloud.
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