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Book 5, Chapter 48 - Preparations Made

 Cloudhawk never thought he would be a leader, much less any sort of hero.

In the eyes of Greenland's citizens, however, he was both. To the students of Greenland Institute he was the avatar of the wastelands, rising in defiance against their oppressors.

Inwardly, conflict broiled in his heart. Most of the people gathered here today, Cloudhawk was familiar with. If he had to categorize them, he would classify then into three groups:

The first category consisted of those with whom his relationship had ups and downs. The Wendigo King, Vulture, Coal and so forth. He might have been friendly with them in the past, but their paths had since diverged.

The second category was less complicated in that he just didn't like them. Abaddon was the worst culprit. Cloudhawk's feud with him ran deep. After all, it was here in this very city a few years before that the demon had murdered one of his closest friends. Nor would he ever forget the death cry of Slyfox, captain of the Tartarus Mercenaries. Despite the passage of years, Cloudhawk's hatred hadn't eased one bit, but he never acted on it. Just like with Arcturus, while his desire to cut the demon down was strong, it wasn't strong enough to overcome their discrepancy in power.

Third were those he shared an unclear relationship with, like Wolfblade. Since the man had revealed his identity, Cloudhawk wasn't sure what to think about him. Although he'd never acted out of malice toward Cloudhawk, Wolfblade was instrumental in manipulating Cloudhawk down a road he had no interest in taking.

Long story short, Cloudhawk was still the same hot-heated kid he used to be. He wasn't going to take the initiative and join with Wolfblade and Abaddon if he could help it. However, here he was today, about to embark on a most distasteful partnership. Maybe that was a testament to how he'd grown, in understanding the truth of the old adage that the enemy of my enemy was my friend. There was no such thing as an eternal foe in this world. Under the right circumstances, even an arch-nemesis could become an ally.

Wolfblade's smile was mysterious and unsettling. "I was told about the situation. Dawn is an unfortunate casualty, and ultimately her capture doesn't matter. This was bound to happen, whether the Elysians took her or not. Only, it means we are now short a strong arm."

"I'm sure you knew something like this would happen the moment you suggest I come here. You've been using me from the start, I just don't know to what end. What the hell are you after?" Cloudhawk fixed Wolfblade with his gaze - cold, but not angry. "Even now, you won't share it."

Wolfblade answered calmly. "I lost what I wanted a long time ago, so it isn't important. What is important is if you have made up your mind about what you want to do."

"If I didn't, I wouldn't have called you!" He changed the subject. "What do we know about what's happening in Skycloud. What's our plan of action?"

"According to our most recent intelligence, Skycloud's expeditionary force is gathering in a fortress at the realm's southern border. Forces from all over the realm are being dispatched to that location, so they are likely to choose this fort to make their stand. This means they are in control of the battlefield."

"What?" Cloudhawk was confused by their decision. "They want us to bring the fight to their own doorstep? Isn't that asking for trouble?"

Wolfblade unfurled a map. He indicated the fortress with his finger. Cloudhawk leaned over and spied the stronghold's name: South Haven.

Cloudhawk's pupils contracted. Part of his training in Hell's Valley involved learning about Skycloud's different bastions. South Haven was considered the southern gate into the Elysian realm. If they could break through there, was little left defensively Skycloud could do to protect from southern invaders.

Its importance to Skycloud was obvious. Of course, that also meant its defenses were a far sight more formidable than that of an average city.

"South Haven isn't as unshakable as Skycloud City, but it isn't an easy target either. It was cleverly selected - if they'd chosen the capitol instead, we probably would've stayed our hands. We aren't strong enough to fight past South Haven and then on to Skycloud, but bypassing it means that we would have left an enemy at our backs."

Cloudhawk nodded. He agreed with Wolfblade. If Skycloud decided to go through with Dawn's execution in the capitol, Cloudhawk would be forced to find a way to slip in and try to save her with a small crew. This was not the decisive battle Arcturus was going for.

Instead, their choice appeared to be most suitable. By staging it at South Haven, Arcturus would have lured the wasteland powers into enemy territory, but not so deep as to turn them off from the idea completely. Lure, surround, destroy.

To make it work they needed the right bait. If the bait was too big the fish couldn't swallow it, no matter how enticing. Too small and you might not catch the fish's interest. This bait... this bait was just right. If the wastelanders could take this fortress... the implications would be incredible.

Most importantly, this was bound to be a war against the bulk of Skycloud's military strength. There was as much potential for them to annihilate the wasteland's armies as there was for Skycloud's to be wiped out. An obvious but masterful scheme.

The Khan offered his insight in that robotic, emotionless voice. "Skycloud will throw a lot of its power at this fight. Arcturus himself might appear to ensure it goes his way. It may be our one chance to cut off the head of the snake. Once Arcturus is gone, even if we lose this battle we will have won the war."

Everyone was stunned by the suggestion. No one else would dare suggest killing the Master Demonhunter as a primary objective.

In addition to his phenomenal power, it was a rare for Arcturus to ever leave Skycloud. This situation was obviously different. Considering how high the stakes were, they could expect Arcturus to make a personal appearance. The Khan was right, it was probably their one chance.

That being said, Arcturus absolutely was not an easy man to kill. Cloudhawk would love to sweep all his grudges away in one strike, but that was unlikely to happen. He knew what Arcturus was capable of, he'd seen it first-hand. He was not the sort you took head on.

"Let's cut the shit." Cloudhawk rose to his feet and looked over the group. "Time to get to the heart of the matter. Tell me how many people you can offer. How much are you willing to put on the line in this fight?"

Cloudhawk got straight to the point. He didn't expect some resounding success from this battle, all he cared about was bringing Dawn home.

He didn't have enough people to do that, not alone. All he had at his disposal were the Talons. Best he could do was serve as the tip of the spear. The bulk of their forces would have to come from the Dark Atom and Nox.

Eventually, they came to an accord. The Dark Atom would contribute a thousand soldiers under Coal's command. The Khan offered the Wendigo King and a thousand of his wargs. In addition, Wolfblade would offer what reinforcements he could and the Khan would lend Cloudhawk a hundred Black Knights. Altogether, it added up to a massive increase of strength for Greenland.

In return, Cloudhawk had to do what he could to crack open Skycloud's defenses.

Though they acknowledged their support was limited, Cloudhawk figured it would be enough. After all, his goal was different from theirs. He didn't care about winning, only Dawn.

"Someone's here to see you!" Hellflower made the announcement. "Representatives from the Goshawks."

That was strange... what did they want now? They weren't ready for a mission like this.

Although the Goshawks were Greenland's most elite, there hadn't been enough time to get them ready. Throwing them in the middle of a fight like this would obliterate his special forces. Still, Cloudhawk agreed to speak with their chosen representatives.

"Governor. We request permission to join the fight!" A group of officers from the force strode into the room, Rhino among them. He had no qualms speaking his mind when face to face with his leader. "We want to show those Elysians what wastelanders are made of!"

The request took Cloudhawk by surprise. "This is a dangerous fight. Have you thought this through?"

Morale among the Goshawks was soaring. "If the Talons are being sent, why not the Goshawks? We can't sit here like turtles with our heads in their shells. This fight concerns every last wastelander. Someone has to show these Skycloud bastards that we wastelanders aren't cowards!"

Cloudhawk could tell their fervor was genuine. They really wanted to do their part. He was short lieutenants to command the new troops anyway. If they were so eager to fight, who was he to turn them down? So be it. It was all prepared. This was going to be one hell of a fight. Might as well make it even bigger.

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