Bruno led a group back to his home of Fulmulta. He walked back toward its Temple with Dawn Polaris and Stormford’s High Priest Gorman Vargas.
Dawn and Selene were the same in these cases. While their position in the Green Alliance was not as high as Wolfblade’s, they were Cloudhawk’s most trusted advisers. He could give them these important tasks and trust them to make the right choices.
Stormford and Dragenmere were very important places to Cloudhawk. With them under his control he would have three of the five Elysian lands preparing for war. The Green Alliance would have at least passable footing to start.
Dawn’s attention wandered between Bruno and Gorman. She didn’t have to worry about the Master Demonhunter since his daughter was being kept in Skycloud. The father wouldn’t do anything rash. Gorman was another matter. After all, he was the religious leader of the realm. Any High Priest had to go through a rigorous selection process to ensure capitulation. Convincing him to turn his back on the focus of his faith would be difficult, and a fundamental shift in the realm could cost him his influence.
Gorman Vargas was a hale and hearty man. Graceful and elegant in his old age. Feeling Dawn’s malicious gaze upon him, he maintained a practiced calm. He was as unflappable as a wise man, who knew the whipping winds of the moment could not uproot the ancient tree.
“So vigilant and distrusting even of a man as old as I, Lady Dawn?”
“You undersell yourself, grandpa. You’re no ordinary geezer. I want you to make sure that if there are any mishaps the people of Stormford don’t lose their cool.”
Gorman’s bushy eyebrows furrowed. “Stormford is already in chaos. The office of High Priest has lost all meaning. This dying old man wants to see where these troubling times lead us.”
Dawn didn’t argue, he was right.
The group made their way back to the Temple where they were met by a pair of Oracles and other Temple leaders.
“High Priest Gorman, you’re back with Master Bruno? And this young woman...” One of the Oracles looked pointedly at Dawn. In her towering army, bearing her mighty sword, she was an intimidating sight. The juxtaposition of her pretty face revealed behind the helmet was a jarring contrast.
One thing was certain, she wasn’t from Stormford.
Dawn introduced herself. “Listen close, I am one of Lord Cloudhawk’s chief aids and his closest confidante. He is Master of the Southern Wastes, and now he’s come to take this Temple.”
“What absolute nonsense!”
The Temple faithful looked at her with disdain and incredulity. What was Master Bruno and the High Priest thinking, openly bringing this heretic here? It made no sense! Did the High Priest care nothing for his post?
“High Priest, what is the meaning of this?”
Dawn looked at Gorman with her hand on the pommel of Terrangelica. It all hinged on him now. They were on his turf, and with a word he could turn the realm against her. She hoped he wouldn’t be so stupid as to made such a suicidal mistake.
“The Lightning God is dead. Stormford is no more.” Gorman’s voice was somber. “As of today, the Temple has chosen to join the Green Alliance. Master Bruno?”
Bruno answered by producing a crystal ball. There was a flash as its light spread through the area.
Pictures flooded the minds of those present. A few minutes later, after they vanished, they were still standing dumbfounded. Everyone was trying to grasp what they’d seen. Here were the most pious members of Stormford’s citizenry, who believed in the perfection of their gods. According to them, all the good in life was gifted to them by these beings.
“Brutal is this naked truth.” Gorman shook his head. “Those who wish to stay may do so. Those who decide to leave will not be stopped. The decision is yours to make.”
Under the High Priest’s expectant gaze there was silence and hesitation. In the end, one of the Oracles chose to leave. Several dozen of the Temple’s clerics went with them. They could not accept what they’d seen and left in the hopes it was some sort of test.
Dawn watched them leave. Gorman did as well, calm and unreadable, but he turned his eyes to Bruno. The Master Demonhunter nodded knowingly. These poor souls could not be allowed to live. The decision was made to join Cloudhawk’s war and they couldn’t afford opposition.
The Temple was Gorman’s territory. So long as he remained steadfast, then the religious institutions would fall in line. Many would remain faithful to the gods, but Gorman was confident he could get them to toe the line.
At last Dawn began to relax. “How do you plan to deal with the realm’s major families?”
Every Ekysian land had families going back generations. They represented the aristocracy, the backbone of this old society. By far they would be the hardest class to convince.
“It is beyond me,” Gorman replied. “I will need the help of a professional.”
This piqued Dawn’s curiosity. “A professional?”
“Hm hm hm… Skycloud isn’t the only place with talented citizens.” Gorman took on a profound air. “Everything will be resolved at the Temple meeting tonight. Then you can go back to your Lord and let him know your mission is accomplished.”
It was autumn, but the air was still stuffy in Fulmulta. A light breeze tinged with heat lightly brushed the city streets. Old trees laden with yellow leaves swayed with the winds.
The capital’s grandest buildings weren’t its government centers or entertainment houses, but the Temple cathedral. It was a portrayal of all the realm’s beauty and architectural accomplishment. It had a high white steeple that gave praise to the sky. Within were hundreds of holy images, gods who looked down upon the world with majestic detachment. The main structure was covered in gold and shone with righteous nobility.
At the highest point of the cathedral was the prayer chamber. It was said this was the best place to hear the voice of the gods, besides the Temple itself. The sun had crept back to bed across the western horizon and now the sky was painted rouge. It cast its light upon a frail figure, kneeling upon a scarlet carpet.
Fulmulta’s Governor  was a man in his sixties. It was widely known that he was the most devout of believers. No matter how busy matters of state became, he always took time to pray and meditate. He hadn’t missed a day in decades.
The doors were open and wind breathed through a pair of floor to ceiling casement windows. An errant leaf blew in, painted in the hues of autumn. Landing nearby upon the red carpet, the city’s Governor regarded it in contemplative silence.
“This wind...” he sighed.
As he muttered to himself the Governor stretched out his thin hand and took up the leaf. It crumbled to dust in his hand.
“Governor Audra, the High Priest has announced a meeting this evening.”
A Temple cleric delivered the news. Since his return to Fulmulta, High Priest Vargas had made no appearances and delivered no missives. He went straight back to the Temple, only to now announce this meeting without pretense.
In the cleric’s hands was a crystal ball. “The High Priest invites Governor Audra to look at this. There is important information contained inside. You can activate it with your power. His majesty has also asked for you to summon representatives from the other families to attend.”
With his message and the crystal delivered, the cleric left Pelagius Audra to his prayers.
Through his own intelligence sources, the Governor had learned of Sky Fortress’ destruction and the defeat of the four Supremes. So far this news had not spread to the public. Evidently the return of Bruno and Gorman portended more than what it seemed.
Pelagius Audra looked over the crystal ball in his hands. It was an odd thing, both like a relic and not. When he reached into it with his mind the crystal reacted. Light consumed him and over the next few minutes Pelagius witnessed images from long ago. They ceased, and he was left alone in the prayer room once again.
“So, that is the truth.” He was quiet for a long time before heaving a deep, tired sigh. “And they come to kill again.”
So much for the peace of Stormford.
2. ‘Dark Clouds, Saint of the Sea’ is the literal translation of his name. Pelagius is taken from Greek meaning the sea and was the name of two popes, lending to his faithful description. Audra is Lithuanian for storm.