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Book 5, Chapter 5 - Strategy

 The three invading wasteland forces had totaled near ten thousand fighters. They'd traveled double speed to get to Greenland's gates, with the hopes of winning spoils before much resistance could be mustered. Instead, they suffered a crushing defeat.

Dawn Polaris had brought nearly eight hundred Elysian fighters with her. A small number by comparison, but it was important to recognize their quality.

The drunk, Dawn, Gabriel, and Roc were already formidable. Then you had Claudia, Barb, and Rio - martial artists and demonhunters of significant skill. After that were the grunts, each of whom were Elysian trained and equipped, hand-picked from the Polaris family's forces. Any one of them was equal to ten normal soldiers, making a force of eight hundred equivalent to eight thousand. Against an unorganized wasteland force with brittle morale, they were a nightmare.

These southerners had never seen a demonhunter's powers. Terrangelica spat javelins of rock at them, and it was like the very earth fought for her. Boulders tumbled like rain. How were wastelanders supposed to fight against that? Then there was the old drunk, who could sweep away an entire squad by merely lifting his hand. It was like a fierce tiger pouncing on a mouse.

"Everyone, kneel."

Rio had brought two hundred Talons of God with him. Weapons bared, they surrounded the prisoners and forced them to their knees. Their weapons and armor were removed and thrown into a pile.

Eight thousand gruff men put their hands on their heads and knelt in the dirt. The area outside of Greenland City's walls was densely packed with anxious faces, waiting to see what their fate entailed. All sorts constituted this force; wasteland settlers both big and small, towering mutants, and everything in between. For those coming from the Elysian lands where homogeneity was the norm, it was a strange seen to behold.

A total of over a hundred vehicles and six hundred trained beasts were also captured. In addition there were two thousand or more guns and huge piles of other equipment. Surprisingly, there were also a handful of small airships. All told the weapons and equipment of a small army now belonged to Greenland City.

"Cloudhawk, what happened to you?" Dawn hardly recognized him beneath the bandages. She reached out to touch his face. "Why do they have you wrapped up like this? IS this what they wear in the wastelands?"

He was forced, though reluctantly, to explain his story once again.

"Well, the fact that you're still breathing after Arcturus drew Ruin is a miracle in itself!" She smiled delightedly as she spoke. She didn't care about the scars. "You were never all that handsome," she teased, "but I see even a ruined face hasn't stopped you... who is she?"

Dawn dragged her gaze over to Hellflower and the two locked eyes. Cloudhawk felt his skin crawl from the intensity.

"I'm called Hellflower, I'm sure you've heard of me. Cloudhawk and I have been friends for many years." Her face bore a calm, friendly smile and she even extended her hand to shake. "A woman as beautiful and talented as you is rare to see. You must be the great Dawn Polaris I've heard so much about."

Dawn did not take the offered hand. She just gave Cloudhawk a pointed stare. This bastard had been spending his time with this Dark Atom slut all this time?

Hellflower retracted her hand, not appearing the list bit awkward. "We appreciate the help, you've all come from so far. Come in, rest and we'll have a meal put out for you."

"Don't treat us like guests." Dawn regarded her again with a disparaging glance. "We've come looking for Cloudhawk. If this is where he lives now, then this is where we stay. In fact, you aren't needed here anymore. It might be better for you to go back where you've come from, rather than being an eyesore here."

Hellflower's presence and function in Greenland City was indispensable. Cloudhawk was quick to get between them and try to soothe Dawn's bubbling anger. After all, the force she brought was also important so he had to find a way to get them all to work together.

Obviously the relationship between these two women was going to make things very difficult.

Dawn's arrival was enough of a shock. Cloudhawk was even more surprised to see who else she'd brought with her. He thought, for example, that the old drunk was still recovering in Woodland Vale. As far as he could tell the old man looked like he was in fine shape. It turned out he stumbled into Dawn while she was looking for Cloudhawk and led her here.

Autumn, and the old drunk... Greenland City now had two incredible defenders. It didn't seem they had anything to worry about from now on.

Gabriel's was a face Cloudhawk hadn't seen for a long time, and he was here now as well. There was also Polaris family representatives like Roc and Rio who were fine men to have on his side. Claudia was also here, a woman Cloudhawk had shared a lot of back and forth with. What were they all doing as part of this motley crew?

The twists and turns that made up this long story were all shared. In short, after Arcturus' attempts to hide the truth from the masses things had become both tense and complicated. The Governor's ultimate aims were still a mystery, but it was obvious he was still annexing power. His puppet army in the Northern Barrens was still expanding and there was no longer any competition to speak of to keep him in check. Still he wasted no effort in making himself stronger, and no one knew why.

The Polaris family was no longer part of Skycloud's political structure. With nowhere to go, Dawn took her family's best and set out.

Now that the Polaris family had been beaten, with their remnants licking their wounds back in their hometown, they could no longer stand against the Cloudes. The Temple - though influential in the city - was still silent and wary of Arcturus' machinations.

Dawn shared the details of her grandfather's death with those loyal to her family. Those who followed her out into the wastes were the ones who believed Skye's death was orchestrated by Arcturus.

"Sir!" Rio approached and faced Cloudhawk. "What do you want to do with them?"

Dawn looked toward the prisoners and scowled. "Why would we let these filthy heathens keep breathing? Kill them and find somewhere to dump the bodies."

She made no effort to control her volume. The wastelanders began to tremble at her brutal suggestion.

"Leave them. There's still a lot to do in the city, and we need laborers. They're all young and strong and it would be a waste to kill such a resources that was marched to our front door." Cloudhawk gestured to Rio. "Bring them inside, find somewhere for them to stay. But make sure they're watched and don't give them any opportunity to make trouble."

"Yes, sir!"

Rio quickly set about arranging his prisoners into two lines. They snaked into Greenland City in an orderly fashion. Meanwhile Cloudhawk gathered up all the rest and looked them over. His eyes eventually came to Claudia and Azura.

"How did you two end up here?"

Azura piped up excitedly. "Because I wanted to be with my teacher!"

Claudia remained silent. Though she couldn't pinpoint when it happened, she'd grown bored of the false glory Skycloud prided itself on. While the wastelands were a dirty and savage place, it still seemed like a reasonable place to live.

Everyone retired to the safety of the city. Cloudhawk showed the newcomers around.

Greenland City was a treasure in the southern wilds. You could scour the wastelands and never find another place like it. By now Autumn was roughly halfway through finishing the enchantment that protected its borders, and once she was finished the city would be all but impregnable. It would take the full Skycloud army to break through.

"From now on, you will call this place home. It doesn't have the comforts of Skycloud, but you'll be safe and free."

Rio busied himself by having the prisoners construct a temporary camp for them to live in.

Dawn was intrigued by this place. She knew Cloudhawk had been here before, years ago. It was also stunning to find a place like this in an otherwise barren landscape. It was sloppy and filled with mutated creatures, but there were green plants and clean water.

Cloudhawk explained his plan to everyone.

"Now that you're all here, we have the strength to make ourselves one of the wasteland's strongest groups. But, there are still huge swaths of the wastes we know nothing about. There's no one to know what to expect out there. Meanwhile we, have to keep in mind that Skycloud could hound us at any point. Where we're at now, if the Skycloud army finds us there's no way we'll withstand a full bombardment."

The old drunk cut in. "So what's the plan?"

"First, we built this place up. Make it home."

"Second, we need to learn more about what's out there. While we do we can build up our forces by recruiting people we find."

"Third, I plan to train up a group of wasteland demonhunters. They won't be needed any time soon, but when they're fully trained and equipped it'll be a hell of a force - whether against the wastelands or Skycloud."

The first two were fine. It was Cloudhawk's third idea that earned disapproval.

"You think demonhunters grow on trees? Just pluck them up from the ground?" Claudia was indignant at the suggestion. "Forget that demonhunters need years of training, even if we could get a group together what power do you have to equip them?"

Cloudhawk smirked at her. "What makes you think I don't have the power?"

"What a joke. Can you make relics out of thin air?"

Cloudhawk produced the exorcist rod he had created at her feet. "So far I can make these. Pretty soon I'll be able to make more unique relics."

His words had a visible effect on the crowd. Even the drunk stared at him with open shock.

Dawn scooped up the crude relic and gave it closer inspection. Each moment that passed her expression changed, from doubt, to confusion, and eventually surprise. She looked at the imitation exorcist rod in disbelief. This was supposed to be Elysian exclusive!

Was it true? Could Cloudhawk make relics? Claudia was so stunned she couldn't even speak.

"Finally, as secretary-general here I'd like to add a few points on top of what our fine leader has already expressed." Halfway through the discussion a sultry voice intruded. Hellflower stepped forward. "We must also work to expand our controlled territory and take over as much of the nearby settlements as we can. That will get us the population and resources we need to continue our studies. Greenland City will continue to improve so long as we pour effort into its agriculture, manufacturing and science."

Dawn slapped her hand against the table and shot to her feet. "No one asked for your opinion, so shut the hell up!"

The room was immediately filled with hostility as the two women faced off.

Dawn's distrust of Dark Atom bordered on hatred. If not for the fact Dark Atom forces had held the expeditionary force at bay, General Skye's killers wouldn't have had an opportunity to attack him. They were partially responsible for her grandfather's death!

Cloudhawk looked between them, uncomfortably aware of the trouble this would cause.

There was a mountain of work to be done, but the most troublesome appeared to be keeping Greenland City's members on the same side.

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