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Book 4, Chapter 58 - Can't Afford To Lose

 Whether against the Conclave of Judgment, the Dark Atom, or both, Skycloud's expeditionary force was equipped to face the threat.

However, they now found themselves in a complicated and dangerous predicament.

Just as the Elysian forces were closing in on Fallowmoor and engaging with the Conclave, a Dark Atom sneak attack took them by surprise from the rear. While their weapons were a force to reckoned with, they were not as effective against a hoard of mutant birds, especially as they were skittering across the decks and attacking their soldiers.

It was clear something was controlling these creatures. They came at the ships from below or from blind angles their weapons couldn't reach. Nearby ships were prevented from helping, for if they turned their energy pylons on the birds there was a risk they'd strike and damage fellow vessels.

For now, it was every man for himself. Soldiers poured out onto the decks with crossbows at the ready.

Meanwhile, Fallowmoor's counter attack was in full swing. The floating fortresses and wasteland airships fired volleys of missiles and gunfire. Many of the ships would peek out to fire, then hide in the turbulent clouds behind Fallowmoor. Elysian weapons couldn't get them through the floating city.


One of the Elysian ships was rocked by a blast of blue energy from the Dark Atom fleet. It was a deadly and powerful particle cannon, and it shattered the vessels shield in one shot.

Once its protections were down, a salvo of missiles and other hard ordinance came screaming across the battlefield. With the particle beam doing most of the work, nothing stopped the missiles from crashing into the beautiful carved hull of the ship. Several large holes appeared and ruined sections of the hull spun off into the foggy distance.

The Dark Atom's large and ugly vessels were outfitted with very powerful weapons. They continued to punish the expeditionary force from behind. The beautiful Elysian ships were rocked and their masterfully carved hulls cracked from the assault. Once the shields failed, those bloodthirsty animals waiting on the borders raced in to deal with the soldiers.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Elysian soldiers were killed in short order. What had been a formidable battle array was scattered as the forces teetered on the verge of being completely routed. General Skye was furious, unable to believe things could change so dramatically in his enemy's favor.

They needed to respond, change the formation to fight on two fronts. Skye opened his mouth to give the order but was interrupted when a gust of sand swooped in front the surrounding clouds. The sand squeezed tightly together into the form of a fist easily six stories tall. It savagely crashed into the side of his ship.

The sound was nearly deafening.

Cracks appeared in their shield from the impact. What's more, the force of it caused them to list to one side and collide with another vessel in close formation. Its shields were already damaged in the initial strike. As it careened toward the other ship, dozens of figures leapt overboard in a panic.

Suddenly a streak of brilliant sword light split the sky. A beam of light that seemed a thousand meters long carved free a path.

Several dozen of the predatory birds were caught in it and floated away in two pieces. The resplendent beam didn't dim one bit as it cleaved the sandy fist in twain. It all happened so quickly, like a comet streaking across the sky and then it gone. Eventually, a figure gradually emerged from the aftermath.

A middle-aged man, roughly in his forties, with refined countenance. He was Grand Prior of the Templars, Phain Mist! Most likely, the only one in all of Skycloud City who could launch such an attack was him.

Phain remained hovering in the air, sword in hand, and his brows furrowed. Though he'd cut the fist in half, he knew he hadn't struck his real target. Cutting through the fist had felt like running his sword through water, hardly any resistance.

A host of angry screeching birds gathered round. In response, a dozen warriors in golden army burst into action.

One among them was in white, pure as snow and beautiful as the morning sun as she charged to the fore. With two swipes from her sword huge swaths of the birds were cut down.

Phain didn't bother with the animals. His eyes squinted through the darkness as he searched for the real threat. He found it, but then the sand from the giant fist was swirling around him like a tempest. As Phain felt the sand tearing at his skin, he realized the enemy's next offensive had already been prepared.

The sand sucked back together into another fist. Phain was caught in its grip. Five sandy fingers clenched tight around the Grand Prior's body.

To most others the crushing force would have reduced them to paste, but as they tightened first one, then two, then three, four, five, ten - countless streaks of sword light flashed from the center of its palm. As the angry streaks blasted from their origin the sandy fist was once again carved to pieces.

Phain reemerged with his sword held high. He was chased down by a dark blue blade without a handle.

The Grand Prior brought his sword before his chest and held it tight with both hands. The enemy blade struck, and in the instant of their collision he felt a power like no other wrack his body. Even with Phain's strength it took him time to recover.

What an incredible weapon! The sword seemed to contain infinite destructive capability!

Phain's own sword was made specifically for him by the Temple. While it wasn't a relic, its craftsmanship was unparalleled. Even a monster like Skye Polaris would find him a difficult foe with this weapon in hand. However, one blow from this strange blue sword had caused cracks to appear on its surface.

Another fist was birthed from that damn sand. Phain was too busy wrestling with the blue sword to deal with.

Skye saw the trouble the Grand Prior was in. With angry eyes and a drawn face he launched from the deck of his ship once again, streaking through the darkness like a bolt of white lightning. He kicked off one of the birds, causing it to explode into bloody chunks, then met the sandy fist with a punch of his own.

Compared to average men Skye was nearly a giant. However, he was an ant when faced with the fist of sand. It didn't matter, for when Skye landed his punch the fist was blasted apart once again.

He then turned around, reeled back and delivered another thrust. This time a burst of colorful energy swept through the eighty year old man's body and out through his fist. It struck the blue hiltless sword, and sent it spinning into the distance. He'd managed to deflect the terrible relic with his bare hands.

Neither Phain nor Skye said a word, but shared a glance. Each intrinsically knew what was needed, and so their work was divided. Phain raised his sword and chased after the sword. Skye sought the origin of the sandy fists.

Phain found the swords master riding on the back of an enormous bird. Without waiting for his foe to recover, he sent a streak of cutting sword energy toward his mount to cut it from under him.

He struck with incredible speed! So fast that few of even Skycloud's best could protect themselves from it! Clearly, Phain's title as Skycloud's greatest swordsman was not given in vain!

At the same time Skye had reached the source of the sand. Torrents of it were slithering through the air to form a sandy figure several meters tall. He would not give it a chance to fuse completely. He opened with a screaming punch!

A hole was blasted through the sand creature's chest, and a dark figure was ejected from the other side. The old veteran gave chase without hesitation, following up with a strike that sent his enemy sailing through the darkness for a hundred meters.

The strike would have turned a rhinoceros to putty. Metal would be melted to slag from the friction alone.

But the enemy Skye faced now was no rhinoceros. The body of his foe was stronger than any metal known to the world of man. Abaddon was a demon, a powerful one. One of the most powerful demons on the face of the planet.

Demons were born with bodies of supernatural tenacity, strong enough to compare to the body Skye needed a lifetime to cultivate. The two creatures were evenly matched in that regard, so it would require tremendous destructive power just to wound him - and many wounds before Abaddon felt the effects.

"I figured it was you!" Skye fixed the demon with a cold stare. "All these years you've been playing your games, slinking around the outskirts of Skycloud. Now here you are, standing before me. Are you so bold to think no one from the holy lands can defeat you?"

"Hehehe, I am surprised that one such as you would recognize me." Abaddon stared at Skye with a twisted smile. "I am nothing in the world of demons. For the mighty General Skye to know my name... it's an honor."

The demons words may have sounded like a compliment. In fact, they were anything but. Skye Polaris was likely one of the strongest humans in history. If Abaddon were so insignificant to his people, what did that mean for Skye? The disparity between their race and lifespan was vast.

The weakest runt of a camel litter was bigger than a horse. Even the world's biggest ant was insignificant to a dragon.

Elsewhere, Wolfblade and Phain had begun their fight.

The Grand Prior opened with a forward thrust. Wolfblade's relic swept by at the last moment to counter with a dozen rapid blows.

He didn't stop the Templar leader flat out, but one of the blows did manage to knock Phain's weapon away. Wolfblade's aim was to shatter his weapon with the power of his superior relic, but to his surprise the Temple-made sword remained intact. After several exchanges Phain's weapon was only chipped, and bore a few cracks. It would take a while to break through it if Wolfblade chose to persist.

This new foe was even stronger than the last man who threatened him, Aegir Polaris.

A particularly sturdy blow caused Wolfblade's relic to be flung aside. He was drained.

Free from opposition Phain lifted the sword. Holy runes etched upon its surface glowed with righteous promise, and he released its power as a blast of energy. He brought it crashing down on the scholarly man barring his path with the full intention of cleaving him in two.


As it descended a flute went sailing across its path. It spun across his vision, and Phain's eyes went wide with surprise as the golden light of his sword changed direction. It struck the flute instead, causing the instrument to be knocked away and delaing no further damage. A young pretty woman snatched the flute from the air.

Autumn sat sidesaddle on a crystalline dragon nearby. This child, not even twenty years old, had managed to single-handedly deflect his attack.

The demon Abaddon was difficult enough to contend with.

The Caliph of the Sands had been active in the wastelands for many years. This would be impossible if he relied on cunning alone. Back in the day when Sterling Cloude first became a Master Demonhunter, he tracked the beast across the wastes and eventually they came to blows. Abaddon emerged victorious, proving that the demon was not as weak as he liked others to believe.

Yet Skye Polaris could manage to keep the demon busy on his own. However, if they added the young leader of Woodland Vale into this equation, the situation quickly became unmanageable.

Autumn, Wolfblade and the others of the Dark Atom commanded strength far superior to a veteran demonhunter. Skye and Phain were simply not enough to stem such a terrible tide. What's more, if Skye was busy protecting his soldiers from this threat, he had no means to command them in their war against the enemy.

They could not afford to lose coherent command, not in this key time.

Phain had not anticipated encountering an enemy this dangerous. After the girl had deflected his attack with nothing more than a flute, the Grand Prior knew he was no match for whatever she was. He was Grand Prior by default, and could not fill the shoes of the War Saint who once held the title. It would be some time still before he could rise to such heights.

If Autumn were to come at him with all her strength, he anticipated it would be over in thirty moves or less.

"Sir, we're here to help!"

Several of his Templars floated up to meet them. Representatives of the Cloude family would not be upstaged either, so Frost and the demonhunters he'd brought with him took the field as well. Just when they were needed.

Still, the circumstances were dire. All of the strongest fighters from the expeditionary force had been called to combat. Meanwhile, the Dark Atom warships were still closing in. The Crimson One and his lieutenants were yet to be seen.

They were cornered, pinched between the Dark Atom and the Conclave of Judgment. Before the sneak attack took them by surprise, there was easily a ninety percent chance the expeditionary force would emerge victorious. Now the odds were fifty percent at best. Even if this war ended in an Elysian victory, the cost would be horrific to consider.

More ships were destroyed as the Dark Atom warships and their advanced weaponry drew within firing range. Airships and fortresses in front of Fallowmoor neutralized much of the Elysian's foreward firing power. Skye and Abaddon continued their contest of arms. If it kept up, disaster was the only feasible outcome.

Gods damnit! We can't lose here!

In truth Skycloud's army was vast enough that they could suffer several defeats before crumbling. If Skye fell there still remained Arcturus, Ramiel and other hidden powerhouses ready to rise to the call.

But Skye could not afford to lose. The pride of his family and the hope for its future rested on this battle. If he failed here, he risked the destruction of his family line.

As energy raced through him the old War God's beard and hair stood on end. His eyes were wide and bloodshot. Even if it meant the end of his life, he had to win this fight!

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