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Chapter 105 - The Mission

 Chapter 105 - The Mission

The three giants of Hell's Valley and ten or so officers were waiting in the command center. Hell's Valley outpost had been repaired following the attack by the Dark Atom, but their shame was not so easily erased. Underneath it all, the shock of their devastation still simmered. It'd been so sudden and unexpected.

The Dark Atom was an insidious and prudent organization.

Before this attack there was no precedent for a Dark Atom assault. Previous terrorist acts never put them in direct combat with elysian soldiers. They were carefully planned efforts of disruption, designed to inflate their presence or show off their capabilities.

This last effort was different.

Hell's Army was a shadow operation run by the elysians. A shadow organization was synonymous with secret, and that fit this place just fine. Ninety-nine percent of elysians didn't even know they existed.

So for optics, there was no benefit for Dark Atom to take a bite out of Hell's Army. Still they brought out their big guns, even their mysterious leader Wolfblade. It seemed completely counter to the terrorist organization's typical methods.

The Dark Atom was organized in what was described as kite-shaped. Leadership was the center of the kite, where its cells were the corners. Leaderships and the various divisions worked independently, and only worked in concert for bigger missions. Communication happened through envoys sent by leadership to the different cells. In this way, even if an entire division was wiped out, the elysian only snipped one corner of the kite. He only way to destroy an organization like this was to cut the string.

The Dark Atom was built around a single point, meaning leadership was very important - the one with all the secrets especially. He couldn't accept even the slightest risk. Communiques from leadership were protected by a confidential system that had yet to be cracked. Because of this, despite every effort by the elysians, the organization's leadership had never been revealed. Their talent for security was nothing short of genius, which has ensured they continued to this day.

Wolfblade and other core members of the organization practically never got involved directly with operations. It ensured that whatever the result of those operations, the Dark Atom would continue. Why, then, would Wolfblade take such a risk this time? All for some treasure they didn't even know how to use? The artifact had been ruled out as a relic. But even if it was a legendary prize, it couldn't have been worth the risk.

Was it an open declaration of war? Where did such confidence come from!

The Dark Atom was like a centipede, or a scorpion. Skycloud domain was a giant. The scorpion could easily hide in dark places, striking at the giant from time to time with its tail. However, if this scorpion should ever crawl out into the light of day, it would learn how inferior it was to the giant. All the elysians needed was a target, and their massive foot would crush it into paste.

The question had become a big headache for Natessa, Eckard and Dumont.

"We have a confidential communication from Skycloud domain!"

A man dressed all in black walked into the command center. The message he bore most likely had to do with the Dark Atom and their recent attack. Natessa motioned him forward, and the man in black presented her with a rolled up parchment.

"Two matters." Natessa unfurled the scroll and looked over its contents. Her brows slowly rose as she described what she saw. "The first states that Skycloud's retaliatory efforts on the Dark Atom have already seen results. Master Arcturus has taken control of the matter personally, and dispatched his disciple Frost de Winter to investigate. In a single stroke ten Dark Atom strongholds were obliterated, while seven cells were eradicated. Over two hundred terrorists lost their lives, accounting for nearly half the Dark Atom's total forces. After returning from the wastelands he was appointed Major General of the Knights of Splendor. He was been given full authority to hunt down what remains of the Dark Atom, and can act without oversight from Skycloud leadership, reporting directly to Governor Arcturus."

The envy among those in the command center was almost palpable. What made Master Arcturus think so highly of that twenty-something disciple of his?

What other excuse could there be except that the governor was grooming him as his successor? He was already a high ranking demonhunter, bearing the title of general. Now he'd stepped in to take command of the Knights of Splendor, a core segment of Skycloud City's strength. Without a doubt, Frost was the most powerful man of his generation.

No one could deny Frost's abilities. After all, his teacher was the illustrious Arcturus Cloude. A man like him would not bother to accept one without talent as his disciple. Frost also cultivated a sterling reputation, everyone knew of his strict self-control. He was poised to become the backbone of Skycloud's dominance in the future.

Frost's talents were clear from the contents of the message. In a handful of words the report described a success over the Dark Atom greater than any they'd seen in years. The terrorist organization's leadership still remained at large, but a grievous blow was delivered to their forces. For the time being, the Dark Atom would be too crippled to cause any more problems.

"Well, at least it's done. A shame I couldn't get revenge with my own hands." Eckard wore his regret on his sleeves. While the soldiers in Hell's Valley didn't seem much affected by what had happened, the truth was their pride had been sorely injured. Now there was nowhere for them to vent their anger. "The second bit?"

"In his briefing once Frost returned to Skycloud, he mentioned finding a clue while eradicating Dark Atom forces. He claims that through a decade of painstaking effort, the Dark Atom has infiltrated one of the cities along the domain's border. They are a dangerous cancer in our home, he says, and has asked for permission to root them out." Natessa put the scroll aside and looked toward the others. "Frost de Winter has been dispatched to the area, and has asked for Tartarus Squad by name to join him there."

"Never good news. We're only called when shit like this starts to roll downhill. Fuckin' infuriating." Eckard was visibly fuming. "If it were us then so be it, but Tartarus Squad? They're still green. Everyone needs time to adjust, and they haven't even started mission training yet. Dispatching them for something like this is asking for trouble!"

"Complaining isn't going to solve anything, isn't this why Hell's Valley is here?" Natessa put the scroll away, keeping her face stoic. A thought suddenly crossed her mind. "Call Tartarus Squad's captain, have him come here. This will be their first mission."

Eckard continued to grumble his misgivings, but this letter wasn't a request, it was an order. They had no option but to comply.

A few minutes later, Cloudhawk strode into the command center. The other squad leaders had already left, leaving him alone with the three instructors.

Once they explained the situation to him, Cloudhawk's face sunk into a dissatisfied glower.

Alright, whatever, Frost wanted help from Hell's Valley. But calling for his squad specifically... he didn't need to guess what that meant. Did Frost already know what had happened here? If that was the case, both he and Gabriel were in danger.

Shit. This evil motherfucker just won't go away.

Cloudhawk couldn't understand why Frost insisted on continuing to give him a hard time. That asshole's temper was irreconcilable. Gabriel was looking down the barrel, too, for failing his assassination mission. Frost was now more powerful than ever before, even the instructors had to bow to his whim. Finding a way to get rid of a couple trainees wasn't going to be difficult for him in his position.

Things were not looking good, but he couldn't just sit back and do nothing.

Natessa delivered the orders. "Specific details as to how you will accomplish your mission will be delivered once you reach your target. Your main job is to make sure your squad stays safe. Remember, as a soldier your highest duty is to follow orders. Now head back to your squad and get them ready to depart."

Cloudhawk could feel a headache start gathering at his temples.

Could he stay? Right now it seemed like the instructors didn't even have the authority to deny Frost's orders, much less Cloudhawk. Could he go? If he accepted the mission it was like sticking his head in the lion's mouth. He refused to do something so stupid.

Cloudhawk didn't hurry back to leave. He knew he had to do something, and quick. His mind churned over it until an idea shook loose - he lifted his head and looked at the powerful woman who was their instructor. She didn't look young, but her skin was good and her figure well maintained. It made it hard to tell exactly how old she was. Her temperament was also unique, like a cool breeze, quiet and elegant.

"Is there something else?"

He was just standing there, staring at her. She was clearly displeased. Whatever the situation she was his commanding officer. The young man was being disrespectful.

Eckard slammed the table in front of him with a fist. "What the fuck are you still standing there like a goddamn moron for? Are you deaf? How about I get your dumb ass moving with half a dozen lashes? Do what you're fuckin' told!"

Cloudhawk made up his mind. He asked them straight. "It's been a little while since the three of you have gotten stronger, right?"

"The fuck are you on about?" Eckard didn't follow the guy's line of questioning. "Everyone plateaus at some point, and when you get to our level advancing is especially difficult. The hell does it matter if we haven't developed in a while?"

"Do you want to?"

All three instructors paused, confused.

"I don't mean to offend," Cloudhawk said. "Actually I've been watching you carefully, and I think all three of you could be stronger than you are now. I know there's this mission, but if you give me some time I think I can offer you some pointers. I think they could really help in this fight."

"You half-wit piece of shit!" Eckard exploded in fury. "Do you even hear the words coming out of your damn mouth?!"

Cloudhawk paid him no mind. His eyes stayed fixed to the woman in the middle.

Natessa looked back with discomfort. In their theory classes she'd tried to switch up Cloudhawk's test several times, making it completely different from the others. She'd included a number of questions about wind-based relics and psychic training, too. Even if Cloudhawk were an idiot, and he wasn't, it would still be easy for him to see what was going on. If Natessa wasn't the one doing this on purpose, then who would be? Cloudhawk obviously understood things Natessa did not, but she didn't dare lose face by asking him directly. The test paper was her way around it. They both knew the truth of it.

But, why would Cloudhawk suddenly offer to teach them?

The instructors were just what their name implied - instructors. No one in the history of this training facility had ever presumed to teach them anything. He didn't even make an effort to hide it, direct and shameless.

"I won't lie to you, Frost and I are not on good terms. Calling for Tartarus Squad is definitely a way for him to get at me." Cloudhawk watched Natessa frown. He tried to be as blunt as possible. "You know what Frost is and what he can do. I'm no match for him. Besides, he has the backing of the governor. I know this conflict will cost you, so I'm willing to prove that I'm worth the trouble."

So this was the truth of it. Eckard was clearly not convinced, was this his offer of trade?

"Let him try." Natessa rose to her feet. She took a glance at the time, then back at him. "You have an hour."

Cloudhawk's face lit up. "That's enough."