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Book 4, Chapter 41 - Skycloud's War-God

 He was a towering man, with a head of silvery hair like a lion's mane. In times of peace he was as indomitable as a mountain. In times of war he was a beast that could not be chained.

"Skye Polaris!" Wyrmsole's eyes went wide. "Retreat!"

Every Skycloud denizen, past and present, knew the great General.

He was one of the three illustrious leaders of the Elysian lands: Grand General Skye Polaris, High Priest Ramiel Caelestis, and Governor Arcturus Cloude. The first was Skycloud's principal military mind. The second was its spiritual core. The last was their executive leader and a political genius.

These three were giants among men. Where they tread the earth trembled. Their names shook the pillars of civilization.

Arcturus Cloude was not one for traipsing through the wastes. He was, after all, Governor of Skycloud and the head of government. So he remained within the confines of the Elysian lands to ensure the realm operated as it should. Especially in these trying times, he wouldn't dare abandon his people.

Ramiel, as High Priest, was the spiritual center of the Elysian lands. His place was in the Temple, and rarely did he step foot outside. In those rare circumstances where the Temple's influence needed to be felt he dispatched their holy warriors in his stead. It was unlikely Ramiel would ever be forced to step out into the wastes.

Skye Polaris was another matter.

He was the sword of Skycloud, commander-in-chief of its armies. It was also widely known that he was the realm's greatest warrior. Since the Polaris family had to clear successor it fell to him to lead their Elysian might out against their foes, whether to maintain the prestige of his failing house or other practical reasons.

When Cloudhawk first learned of Woodland Vale's location, his first order of business was to dispatch Roc with the news. It was a backup plan in case their gambit here failed. However, since General Skye was elsewhere it was Selene and the others who were sent in his stead.

Meanwhile, however, he had been racing here as fast as he could. Now he arrived at the critical moment, when his presence was needed most. And thanks the gods, for if he hadn't shown up when he did the young and talented bearer's of Skycloud's future surely would have perished.

"Grandfather!" Dawn had already been heavily wounded by Autumn's assault. "Just in time, cut down this bitch!"

Skye observed the scene with smoldering fury. Too far! These fiends had even injured his granddaughter!

The rage that broiled inside him was like a hurricane, making him see red. He felt it stirring inside him like a dragon, like a mad beast that caught the scent of blood. In the blink of an eye he was up in the air. Every muscle went taut, and as the power seeped from his cells his skin turned a deep amber hue. He ignored Wyrmsole and his ilk as they scrambled for safety, throwing the whole of his might against Autumn and her crystal dragon like a spear of light.

Skye Polaris was not a demonhunter. He bore no relics to empower his attacks. The changes his body underwent were a result of training and evolution, and every cell in him was like an energy reactor. When accessed, it was like a hundred million tiny fusion explosions at once, racing across his body in a chain reaction of explosive release. His swollen form and ruddy skin was a reaction to this process.

Skye Polaris' body had far surpassed the likes of an ordinary human. He had ascended to something greater.

His attack was nothing fancy. The grizzled warrior arced through the air with his fist raised. The air around it warped and changed from the pressure, leaving behind a streak of effervescent energy. Everything gathered at that singular point, a focus of power so intense that it birthed a shock wave. Particles in the air caught fire from the friction as he descended toward his victim.

One of the Polaris family's most supreme martial attacks - Meteor Fist!

Skycloud boasted two peak-level martial warriors. The first was the Skycloud War Saint known as Vulkan. The other was Skye himself, praised as the Skycloud War-God. Both men had achieved perfection of their physical form far beyond the limitations of what humans could achieve. Yet when it came to pure physical strength, none could match Skye Polaris.

The War Saint, as he was known, was a nigh-peerless warrior. In addition to superhuman martial capabilities he was also possessed of mental energy to rival a high-grade demonhunter.

Skye Polaris had none of this. He didn't know the mysterious martial styles of the Templars. He'd never trained his mind in the use of relics or divine artifacts.

For all his life Skye Polaris had trained in pursuit of pure speed, pure power, and an invincible physique. His body was tempered inside out, every cell and muscle fiber, to the point that the rules of nature hardly applied when he summoned his full strength. He had developed the potential of the human force to unprecedented levels - that was his training style.

Autumn had been grumbling that the humans were no match for her, and pined for a true challenger. It seemed she got her wish.

She adopted a dignified expression, lit by the fires of the encroaching fist. Her flute darted to her lips and again the sky was split with a hundred streaks of light. They weaved and darted together like a net to try and deflect the punch. The opposing forces met in midair.

Their collision birthed a roaring firestorm over the canopy.

Onlookers below winced against the light and heat. Trees near their confrontation were felled by the buffeting winds.

Autumn felt a hitherto unmatched power rush through her. Beneath her feet the crystal dragon whined as together they were blasted dozens of meters through the air. Cracks appeared upon the divine beast's gem-like scales.

Skye Polaris stood unmoved and unscathed. However, all of his accumulated power had been spent and he could not follow up with a second attack. Dozens of Autumn's attacks had struck, with the power to fell mountains. Against the War-God, however, they didn't even leave a scratch.

Shocked stares gaped at them as the onlookers struggled to comprehend what they were witnessing. Squall's face was particularly sour. "The old freak is incredible."

Wyrmsole and his people were still fleeing for hitheirs lives, and he didn't even dare look back. He was trailed by Natessa and the other Giants of Hell's Valley, whose faces were deathly pale at the prospect of facing Skye Polaris. Their infractions were the worst, for they had turned their back on Skycloud and were known as the most egregious of traitors. What's more, they were responsible for the death of his brother. If they were caught, their deaths were assured.

Further into the forest...

Vulkan, Gabriel, Barb, Claudia and her squad were just clambering out of the Godtree. Their eyes turned skyward just in time to see the dramatic exchange between Skye and Autumn.

The old drunk's eyes narrowed. "Old my ass. That bastard hasn't weakened an ounce from his heyday."

Barb was nearly struck dumb. "Is that General Polaris, the War-God? How could someone like him ever grow old? He's hardly human!"

The drunk didn't respond. Of course people got old. It was the inevitable curse of humanity that they should wither. Where there was growth there was also decay, where there were peaks there were also valleys. Strong as he was, Skye Polaris wasn't above the rules. He couldn't stand upon his peak forever. There was no question he would live a hundred years longer than his peers, however. The old man was just too stubborn to accept growing feeble.

He was steadfast in maintaining his peak form, halting the inevitable decline. Impressive though it was, it demanded much from him, and would eventually rob him of years of his life.

The old drunk was in awe of the old general.

Skycloud's strongest were almost exclusively demonhunters, Vulkan among them. Where Vulkan differed was a focus on physical prowess, with mental energy as support. The combination of the two was what allowed him to perform near-mythical feats. But in the thousand-year history of their realm there had been no one like Skye Polaris. Never had there been a human with the gall to spit in the face of convention and eke out every ounce of potential from their mortal form.

Skye Polaris was a living legend!

He was a paragon for all the many warriors without mental or spiritual gifts. What he accomplished was more impactful than the mystical feats of even the greatest demonhunters! The War-God's presence meant that the path of the martial warrior was not a doomed, lonely one. He was their pillar, their guiding light, who gave inspiration to the struggles of the ordinary and the diligent.

Without a War-God, how would there be such a thing as a War Saint?

It was true that Skye Polaris was nearing his eightieth year. The old drunk himself was almost sixty, so even he respectfully addressed the General as a senior and elder. Back when Vulkan was just beginning his journey as a martial artist, Skye's name was already ringing through the Elysian lands.

It was, in fact, an encounter with Skye Polaris years ago that convinced Vulkan to give up his mental pursuits and focus more on his martial abilities. So in a very real sense, the War-God created the War Saint.

In Skycloud, the gods held an unrivaled position of respect and authority. Nothing, no matter how grand, could be compared to a god. But that unspoken rule was flouted when it came to Skye Polaris. Martial warriors and soldiers alike extolled the abilities of this old man, the greatest among them. Their War-God. Ringing as the title of War Saint was, it could not compare with a god.

"What a shame," the old man muttered to himself. "What a damn shame?"

Barb glanced at him. "What's that, Excellency?"

He tightened his grip on his cane and for a moment seemed almost frail. He shook his head with a sigh, and the others continued to look at him with confusion.

The fallout from Skye and Autumn's first clash lasted for a full half minute.

Skye Polaris stared at her with the fixed gaze of a raging bull. "So something exists in the wastelands which is capable of surviving my punch!"

Autumn's face was as inscrutable as a lake surface. Yet in her heart there were ripples of surprise. A thousand years. So this is what humans have achieved! This male's body is more divine than mortal! Is he honestly human, or a monster?

Trepidation was felt on both sides.

Skye knew what sort of power his punch had delivered. In Skycloud, he could count the number of men who would survive a single blow on one hand, much less the fiends of the wastes. This child, who looked younger than his own granddaughter, hadn't just taken the punch - she wasn't even injured. He knew of no other living creature that could accomplish this.

When did the wastelands produce a freak like this?

But he wasn't alone in his distress. Autumn felt it, too.

Though she didn't let it show on her face, Skye's punch had wounded her. Its concussive wave caused internal injuries, but her divine power had quickly healed them before it was evident to others. At last she remembered that she was now the young leader of Woodland Vale, not the mighty Supreme she had been. Most of Shepherd's mental prowess had been retained, but she no longer had a god's physical form.

Was she really so weak, now? Fragile as a bird's egg. Her opponent was a beast in human form. In close combat she wouldn't last three rounds before he pummeled her to death.

Suddenly, Autumn found herself in a difficult position.

Her mental abilities were more than sufficient to battle this man, but her physical body was not. If she was felled here because of this old man, than all of the effort to preserve herself for a thousand years - and all that time locked in that prison - would have been for naught.

Shepherd would not tolerate another defeat. Nor could she expect a more suitable body than Autumn's to present itself any time soon.

This mighty, prideful god discovered that she was not as invincible as she'd imagined. A thousand years of captivity escaped, only to encounter this super human freak. Fate had conspired against her, it seemed.

1. Ok, let's just stop here and appreciate that an eighty year old guy put the fear of god in a freakin god.

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