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Book 4, Chapter 55 - The Northern Settlemen

 A blue sky stretched out for thousands of kilometers. The setting sun was an angry orb on the horizon, setting the undersides of the clouds afire. Desolate mountains slunk across the world like earth-bound dragons, craggy peaks like broken swords jutting toward the heavens. As the sun's dying glow was reflected by the unwitting clouds, one could get lost in the majestic and almost picturesque tract of desert that stretched into the distance.

Evening light painted the mountain rock red like blood, and their peaks speared the clouds as they wound through the region. Between them were chasms carved deep into the earth, where the faint light of lava rivers radiated an angry red. Their angry pulsing heat was like someone had cut open the very arteries of the earth.

The vast wastelands North of Skycloud were an expansive area whose terrain was complicated to traverse. It was filled with the unknown, and since ancient times it was considered a dangerous land meant to be avoided. It was even given its own name - the Northern Barrens.

What sort of tenacious mutants and wastelanders lived in this inhospitable mountain range? For all its might and miracles, even Skycloud didn't know. Not even the power of the gods gave them wisdom when it came to this evil place.

This beautiful and harrowing sight was highlighted by the pious sounds of chanting. Beautiful airships wafted among the clouds, masterfully crafted machines that sparkled in the dying light of the sun. Their magnificent jade-stone hulls gleamed in sharp contrast to the harsh surroundings below.

General Skye stood upon the deck of the Elysian flagship, staring out across the horizon.

Their current expedition had persisted for nearly two weeks. In that time they'd had four encounters with the enemy, resulting in four victories. But the job was not done, and they could not stop until it was. They would not rest until their foes were scattered, so they pressed on into the Northern Barrens.

Skye knew the Crimson One was luring them deeper into his territory, but he was still determined to fight. And not just fight - fight at all costs. Two words were his guiding mantra - fast, and fierce.

The General came from the school of indomitable bravery. He knew a battle like this would be a quagmire, and the longer they were caught in it the more costly it would become. It didn't matter. They would shatter the bridges and sink the boats, anything for ultimate victory. If they played it safe then this war would dragon, and the Elysian people would suffer for it.

Although the General's personality informed his tactics, Skye didn't reach his position by being a bloodthirsty fool. He knew well that merely throwing yourself wholly at an enemy wasn't always the way to win victory.

Since departing on this campaign they'd won four battles. Long days and thousands of kilometers were behind them.

The might of the expeditionary force was without question. After four successive victories morale was high, even condescending. Elysian soldiers were eager to crush the Conclave of Judgment, to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies in the wasteland.

In a contest of arms, morale is paramount. With it, victory could be earned before the first blow was struck. It sowed fear in the hearts of one's enemy. Already the momentum of Skyloud's forces had dealt a major blow to the Conclave.

The Crimson One's plan in luring the expeditionary force to the Northern Barrens, was to contain the larger army and steal its advantage by virtue of the difficult terrain. He had not anticipated that General Skye would take such a dogged approach. Because the Elysian general had charged ahead, the Crimson One had not had the needed time to lay his ambush before the expeditionary force was in range.

IT seemed inevitable that in less than two weeks, the wasteland alliance would be no more. Or at least, so General Skye was convinced.

His half-lidded eyes gazed across the barrens toward the setting sun. Darkness was falling quickly. He couldn't see the ships in the distance clearly, for at this distance they only appeared a faint points of light slowly wafting through the air.

It would be the last great fight of his life.

No matter how mighty his name rang in the halls of power, no matter how great his former accolades and singular ability, even this proud lion of a man must bow his proud head before the march of time. He wasn't bothere,d though. It was a fine period to the story of his service. Then when it was over, he could spend his final days teaching the next generation to follow in his footsteps.

"General!" Roc hurried to his side. "The representatives of the Governor and High Priest."

Skye turned his head and was greeted with two shimmering white figures entering the bridge. He had to acknowledge the majestic sight these two conveyed.

Frost de Winter reminded everyone of a young Arcturus Cloude. He wasn't the strongest of the new generation of leaders, but he by far the most dedicated to his cause. Selene Cloude, who had entered with him, was named Apostle of the Temple and bore the inheritance of her illustrious father. She held a position of tremendous respect, bore astonishing power, and was destined for a future just as bright as Arcturus' chosen.

Skye felt strange when he looked at them, but it was a strange sensation he could recognize. It was like staring at the peak of a glacier rising from the ocean. He couldn't tell what lay beneath the surface, though what emerged was spectacular to behold.

A contingent of perhaps a dozen of the Cloude family's best demonhunters were arrayed behind Frost. Selene's entourage was equally pretentious, sporting a squad of Templars along with their Grand Prior himself. He stood like a sentinel just to her side, hand on his sword. The display was a poignant display of how important Selene was in the eyes of the High Priest.

Skye looked them over for a moment before speaking. "Icalled you both here to tell you the wasteland alliance's lair has been discovered. We have a high degree of confidence they are located in a place called Fallowmoor."

What an interesting name for a settlement. No one present had heard of it before.

Frost's brows furrowed. "What's so unique about this place?"

"Fallowmoor is one of the largest cities in the Northern Barrens." Skye went on to give some more general information about it. "It is very famous, but also mysterious. Few have ever laid eyes on the place."

That took them by surprise. If the city was so famous, how could so few people have seen it?

Skye explained. "Ten years ago I tried to gather as much information I could about Fallowmoor, but every scouting party I sent went missing. No one from any of those missions survived. Unless I'm mistaken, Fallowmoor is a place like Woodland Vale, in that it is a sealed location nearly impossible to break into."

"What are you saying, General?"

"I don't know what sort of dangers we'll encounter when we get there. Since you aren't part of the expeditionary forces, I am giving you the option to remain outside of Fallowmoor while we make our assault."

Skye's invitation to the two young folk turned out to be a disclaimer.

Frost's answer was immediate and without question. "I am here under orders to destroy any traitors to Skycloud. With a decisive battle on the horizon, how can you expect me to stand aside? The mere suggestion is a display of contempt, General."

Selene glanced at Frost, noting his incredulous bearing. She didn't say anything. The fervent light of anticipation in her eyes was enough to show that she had no intention following his suggestion. She had to be a part of this fight.

It was Phain who spoke in her stead. "Our duty lies is cutting down blasphemers and traitors!"

Skye was not perturbed by their zeal. "Very well. That being the case, prepare yourselves. My orders are being disseminated at once. Our target is in our grasp, tomorrow we end this." The battle was about to begin! Everyone felt the excitement rising.

Lumbering ships hovered across the rolling mountain ranges. The next day, they arrived at the staging area.

Below them was a blasted landscape that looked as though it had been ravaged by a shower of meteors. The mountains here were shattered and enormous craters could be seen peppering the ground. Ancient ruins decayed at the lips of these craters and the fallen sides of the mountain ranges. The building foundations were in triangular, square and round shapes - all manner of ancient styles.

Among the strange architecture were also piles of scientific detritus, left over from ancient times. They were watched over by crumbling statues and other art installations. Obviously it was home to a huge number of wastelanders. From their elevated vantage, they could even see scraggly orchards and farmsteads. An array of colorful flags sprouted from every corner of the settlement.

That was when a deafening blast reached them. Denizens of this settlement looked up in fear as the thunderous sound rolled across their city.

A sea of airships swept into view. When in the life of a wastelander could they witness such a thing? Luckily for them, Skye did not have the interest or time to wipe their home from existence. The Elysian warships continued forward.

Everything about this place - from the mountains to the fields to the valleys - all of it was strange. Ancient towers jutted from the barren mountain sides, or perhaps they were the remains of ancient ships that had crashed into the ranges. Whatever the case, they didn't look like anyone was living there, rather that they had existed for a very long time. They were all connected together at various levels with something, giving it a very messy and haphazard appearance.

Clearly, many wastelands groups had made this their home. The first impression it gave to these visiting Elysians was disorder. As they flew further across the city, a black line appeared in the distance.

It looked like a collection of ominous storm clouds, and from time to time a flash of lightning peaked through. At first glance it looked like they would be fighting in a downpour.

But, there were never any storms like that in the wastelands! Anomalies like this often came with trouble, so the soldiers of the expeditionary force were immediately on alert.

As they took a closer look, the scale and thickness of that black cloud was extraordinary. No, it wasn't a cloud - it was an absolutely enormous sandstorm.

Incredible volumes of sand and dust had been kicked into the air, and was heading their way as a roaring gust. It easily covered several kilometers and rose at least a thousand meters high. The cresting winds were not merely carrying sand, either. Massive boulders and bits of debris from the surrounding ruins could be seen whipping in sand-choked eddies. Stones and concrete that weighed several tons wafted in the hurricane-force winds as though they were light as a feather.

What a horrifying sight. No normal store was capable of this! From what they felt on approach, dangerous winds like this were rare in this part of the Barrens.

Were on capable of seeing its whole scale from above, they would be astonished by how much the sandstorm covered. The whole thing spun around an eye like an enormous vortex. While it didn't move, it also wasn't weakening. On the contrary, the longer they watched the more it appeared to be picking up speed.

Elysians, for all the miracles they'd seen, had never witnessed anything like this.

But Selene Cloude had traversed the wastelands for five years, and had learned more in that time than most demonhunters ever did. When her cold eyes caught sight of what lay before them, she knew what they were looking at.

It was a dimensional fold.

Dimensional folds were areas where two places existed in the same physical space simultaneously. Some sort of interference force combined two worlds and created incredible scenes like this one. One of the ways she could tell was the huge amount and massive size of the debris in the cloud. Dimensional folds created a field of near weightlessness around them.

Something like this may very well have been the cataclysm that destroyed the human race thousands of years ago. The cataclysm changed the world and the lives of all who lived in it. Although over the years most of these anomalies had faded, there were still pockets of them out in the wastes, marks where dimensions collided.

As one could imagine, areas like this were phenominally dangerous. No one could know what awaited them once they crossed the barrier. Could it be the city they sought was inside that cloud of dust? What a terrifying and astonishing thing to contemplate!

They were just getting their head around the spectacular scene, when a host of hulking black figures began to emerge from the sandstorm. Ships, a whole fleet of them, one after the other.


"Enemies approaching!"

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