“Form up! Let’s go, ranks!”
Scores of soldiers in green cloaks were arranging themselves on a field. The insignias on their armor marked them as Awakened, the wasteland’s answer to demonhunters. Born and bred in the wastes, they were as talented as any Elysian. The oldest among them were sixteen or seventeen, while the youngest were around ten years old.
Most were mutants of varying degrees and had trained at the academy for at least a year. They knew how to employ their mental power, even if they were still only novices.
A young woman with short swords strapped to her back and an exorcist bow in her hands led the group. She was their leader, as well as lieutenant commander of the Goshawks.
“Boss Azura, are we going to the front lines?” A large, lumpy looking youth called out to her. His weapon was a particularly large mace. “Is this what we’ve been training for? We’ll beat the shit out of anyone who threatens Leader Cloudhawk or our Alliance!”
“That’s right!” Another boy, built like a rhino despite being only eleven or twelve, called out as well. “We’ll beat the shit out of ‘em!”
“Beat the shit out of ‘em!” The other children picked up the rallying cry. They hardly knew their asses from a hole in the ground but were convinced their foes would fall before them. IT didn’t matter that gods neither drank nor ate, but they would beat the shit out of them regardless!
“Pigblossom, Ironspike, stop your bullshit.” Azura coughed a little. “Leader Cloudhawk has prepared something for us. That’s why we’re here.”
With that Azura waved her hand. A group of soldiers stepped forward and began to pass out pendants. Each one was affixed with a crystal the size of a small egg.
“This is Source, specially prepared to make what they call a psionic pendent. They will strengthen our mental powers,” Azura explained. “They aren’t relics, but they’ll make us fight harder – especially if we’re near the psionic tower. These pendants work together with the tower, increasing their resonance to pump up our attacks to several times their normal strength.”
Everyone looked thrilled with their new gift. Belial had come up with the idea and built them in the subspace cube. While they looked simple enough, they were invaluable. Just another way Source had proven to be a priceless treasure for their alliance. With the help of these pendants the rookies would hit as hard as an average demonhunter! IF they fought near the psionic tower, they would give a veteran demonhunter a run for their money.
“Green Alliance forever! Long live the Alliance!” Pigblossom and Ironspike cheered and once again their classmates took up the call.
IN their eyes the gods were nothing to fear. With heroes like Cloudhawk leading them it didn’t matter how many enemies they faced. They were just thrilled to fight by his side.
Pigblossom couldn’t contain his excitement. “When are we heading to the front?”
His companions looked at Azura with expectant eyes. They were now outfitted for war, and after so much training in the academy they were thirsty to do their part. None of them had seen actual combat yet.
But their commanding officer shook her head. “I was just told to gather you up and pass these out. I don’t have any other orders.”
As the crowd of young warriors looked at one another in disappointment, they heard the loud stamping of feet. Thousands of soldiers came marching by with eboncrys weapons in hand. They were clad in the specialized green armor of their station with badges that revealed who they were. The latest batch of Hellflower’s genetically modified soldiers. Every one of them was a killing machine.
Gabriel, Barb and Claudia stepped out from the crowd.
“We’ve been given evacuation orders. All students are to fall back to the Emerald Star while the gods are focused here.”
“What? The Emerald Star?”
“We’re not going anywhere! We want to fight!”
A sea of obstinate faces answered the news. Other soldiers got to stay and they were at least as strong. Why did they have to evacuate?
“Headmaster, I want to stay.”
“We can fight!”
“Yeah, we’ve been waiting for a chance to prove ourselves!”
If they were ordinary children, or those focused on science and technology, then evacuation would have been welcome. But why were they being forced to go? They had trained for this!
Claudia was moved and pleased by their determination. These were the fruit of the wastelands, born into a cruel and unforgiving world. To survive you needed an iron-clad survival instinct. Who would want to put themselves in harm’s way?
These kids did. After years of guiding them Claudia had seen the change. They weren’t lone wolves fiercely fighting for themselves anymore. She’d instilled in them discipline and camaraderie. The harsh instinct to look after oneself first was gone from these children.
It was hard to believe they were wastelanders at all. People who were supposed to be selfish and faithless were now begging to fight for their people. Ever since Greenland was established its people had felt a sense of belonging. This was their home, a place that needed to be protected.
Humans were an emotional species, after all. Some things were worth defending, even if it meant their lives.
Such a transformation was hard-won but important. It was a conviction that transformed them from wild animals to real people. If they were allowed to mature, the future would be a better place.
That’s why they were too important to lose.
“Listen up. This order comes direct from Cloudhawk himself, I couldn’t disobey even if I wanted to. You aren’t being kept from the fight for no reason, you have an even more important mission.” Claudia’s instructional bearing caught everyone’s attention. “Emerald Star will be home to tens of thousands of women, children and elderly. We have to make sure they’re protected. It’s a mission no less important that fighting the gods, and no less dangerous.”
Bullshit! Greenland soldiers should be on the front lines! Pigblossom, Ironspike and the others cast defiant glances at their leader.
Azura’s face revealed nothing. She stepped forward. “We follow orders!”
For a few short seconds glances were exchanged among her young troops. Their backs straightened, their faces set into grim looks, and they called back. “Yes, commander!”
Gabriel smirked at the scene. “She means a lot to this crew. It shows.”
“Blue’s no ordinary girl. She’s stronger than you and barely a teenager. That’s after only a few years of training.” Barb stood by his side and poked fun at her partner. “Be thankful Cloudhawk didn’t call you to the front. Probably fall back whimpering after the first volley.”
Gabriel shrugged. He knew Blue had much more potential than he did, but there was no envy. With more power came more responsibility – and more loneliness. Gabriel had no interest in more power. He preferred the title of artist over soldier.
Claudia led the group to the portal and through to Emerald Star beyond.
What was called Emerald Star was of course the jungle planet Cloudhawk had visited many times before. The outer shell of vibrant green gave it the new name.
Cloudhawk had begun preparations for the exodus after he’d found the city underground. With Source he was able to open a stable portal, so the time had come. Over the last several days a steady flow of emigrants flowed through at all hours. A hundred thousand or more had already passed the boundary.
A hundred thousand… it sounded like a big number, but it was just the beginning! Cloudhawk planned to open more portals to speed the process. Noncombatants had to leave as quickly as possible. To delay would put lives at risk, and force the defenders to fight with one hand behind their backs.
As Claudia moved through the portal she was struck by the scene on the other side. A rolling sea of people, steadily moving forward. Mostly women and children, some scientists, workers, doctors and so forth.
“You’re here.” A thin old man greeted them. Gabriel and Claudia were especially surprised to see him.
Gabriel looked him over. “Instructor Dumont? You’re alive.”
“Don’t sound so disappointed,” Dumont replied in irritation. “We have no intention to fight Cloudhawk for the time being. Don’t be so guarded.”
“Is that so?”
“I’m old and after years in Hell’s Valley I know how to distinguish good from bad. Personal grudges don’t help anyone, especially when our species is at risk. We’ve put Eckard’s death behind us.”
“It’s not like you can fight against Cloudhawk anyway,” Claudia quipped. She wasn’t going to mince her words with this old fool. “Alright, let’s not waste time. Tell us what the situation is here.”
“Troublesome. The city is still being cleaned up and we haven’t got anywhere to put the asylum seekers. We’ll have to wait on the surface base for now.”
“Emerald Star isn’t a secure environment. There are large and dangerous creatures underground that have had the run of the place for thousands of years. Some are quite frightening, too tough for us to kill. But with the reinforcements Cloudhawk has sent we can give it a shot.”
Indeed the monsters that called the underground home were many. They were the biggest obstacle to making the city habitable again. With all the activity above ground it was certain that the creatures would be agitated, too. Clearing out the city was top priority.
This was why Cloudhawk had sent the troops here.
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