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Book 5, Chapter 49 - Southern Sanctuary


South Haven, also called the Southern Sanctuary.

It was the key most stronghold of Skycloud's southern lands, situated in the center of its vast plains. Flat land extended hundreds of kilometers in every direction with hardly any ripple. This fortress erected at its heart rose like a glimmering mountain.

Sanctuary's construction was unique. The stronghold itself was massive in scale with eleven sections from periphery to core. Its outer walls were short but each successive barrier grew higher and the spaces in between were as expansive as small towns. Passed the eleventh wall was the fortress center, and the stronghold's highest point. Within was an expansive square capable of holding over ten thousand people.

Thus, the fortress was essentially a series of rings arranged from low to high. From a distance it looked like a layered pyramid, stately and firm.

It also was protected by powerful enchantments. When they were engaged a huge, tenacious shield encased everything.

No opportunity existed for a sneak attack, and its defenses were secondary only to Skycloud's capitol. What enemies existed that could overcome such indomitable power? The glorious Sanctuary was a fortress erected during the time of the great war. More than twenty thousand soldiers were stationed behind its walls along with a fleet of airships, all responsible for the defense of Skycloud's southern region.

It was impossible for such an installation to be easily overcome.

Repairs were underway to reconstruct Skycloud's great wall, but while it was in the process the Elysian lands were not left defenseless. On one border was the expeditionary force, while to the south they were protected by the Sanctuary. Those forces together would make even the mightiest foes think twice before attempting to push into Skycloud. As present the expeditionary force had come to garrison Sanctuary and both the stronghold's standard troops and Skycloud's army had joined forces. What resulted was a spectacularly large array of fighters.

Alone they were formidable. Behind Sanctuary's walls and enchantments they were even more insurmountable.

Explosive news had spread through the realm. The young mistress of the Polaris family, the traitor Dawn, would be burned alive within Sanctuary in three days' time. It sent a collective shiver through Skycloud's citizens.

It was not but six months ago that the Polaris family was one of Skycloud's most powerful and respected families. It was the only family with the qualifications to count itself among the likes of the Cloudes. Less than a year after the War God's demise, however, his brood had suffered an unprecedented decline. Now, they weren't even considered a second-tier family.

What's more, their most noble and cherished mistress was soon to be executed for the crime of treason. Her fate was sealed the moment she was cast as a traitor to her people. It was unthinkable that a family of a hundred years of dominance could be laid low in a single generation.

War was coming to Sanctuary, that much was known. It was not a trick or some underhanded plot. Skycloud held all the cards.

The wastelanders knew they were walking into the enemy's hands, and Skycloud knew the barbarians would try and break passed their defenses. Indeed it was a clever decision to set the stage of their conflict in Sanctuary, but also there were obvious shortcomings. Wastelanders were like starving animals. Opening their doors to these monsters was like letting the wolves into the hen house. Every town, village and hamlet prepared for the worst.

From Skycloud City in the center, to key installations in every direction, they all gathered their soldiers and bolstered their defenses in case the wastelanders merely pretended to protect the south so that they could assault somewhere different.

Hammont Seacrest stood at Sanctuary's highest point. From here he could see far out in every direction. Right now all he saw was a verdant expanse stretching to the horizon. He had the image in his mind that Sanctuary was like a legendary beast laying contentedly upon a blanket of green paradise.

He looked down at the successively larger rings spreading out below. He saw soldiers crawling along every building and down every street.

The troops had wasted no time in arranging their weapons and war machines for the coming battle. Towers had been erected both for offense and defense. Sanctuary was wholly prepared to face a threat anywhere it might appear. All of the many defensive towers constructed along Sanctuary's eleven walls were manned and armed to the teeth. Every angle was defended and supported by nearby troops.

A defense like this was stronger than any warship. The wastelanders were dreaming if they thought they could punch through this array of towers.

Hammont lifted his eyes and looked to either side at the hundred or more airships. They hovered in the air nearby in smart formation. They were awaiting orders, ready to act at a moment's notice. Sanctuary was wrapped up in it, so that an attack from any side would receive air support.

If the enemy broke passed the front lines they would be faced with the enchantments. If they got passed the enchantments they had wall upon wall to contend with. Win? Only in their most fanciful dreams! Even if they did, fighting through all those defenses was just their ticket to enter the real charnel house.

The Cloude family had galvanized a large portion of their men for the battle. Nearly two thousand demonhunters were deployed to the fortress, headed by Master Arcturus Cloude himself. They joined forces with the garrisoned troops and the expeditionary force.

Elite fighters as plentiful as the clouds. Crack soldiers as countless as raindrops.

This would be a battle on which they staked the very dignity of their realm.

Hammont could not conceive of a way that the vastly inferior wastelanders could win the day. Just as he was thinking, this a spotless white airships descended overhead.

"The Temple's men!" Hammont hurried to greet them. He'd been waiting for their arrival for some time.

The first to disembark was an elegant, handsome man of middle years. He was wrapped in the robes of Templar leadership. It was a symbol of the formal acknowledgment Phain Mist had received, marking him as Grand Prior. He now held the post of the Templar's foremost military commander.

He had brought with him over one hundred Templars to aid in the battle. It was an expression of force the Templar had not shown in countless years. By his side was a beautiful woman dressed in resplendent white armor.

Everything seemed to hold still for a moment in her presence. When she appeared, it stole the breath from all who looked upon her for her beauty hardly seemed real. Despite that, not a trace of unwholesome intent lived in any heart. She was the Apostle, the highest and most holy representative of the Temple, Selene Cloude.

She was flanked by twenty or thirty attendants dressed in clerical garb. If the Templars were the Temple's mightiest warriors, then the Clerics were the Temple's ultimate demonhunters.

Circumstances as they were, Oracle Azura was not dispatched to lead the Temple Clerics. Dawn was her daughter, after all. So while Phain Mist commanded the Templars, Selene Cloude was given command of the Clerics. The two of them together were here to represent the might and wisdom of High Priest Ramiel Caelestis and lend their strength to the defense of the realm.

Hammont greeted them with the utmost respect. "Grand Prior Mist, Apostle Cloude. The Governor has been waiting for you for some time."

Neither Temple officer showed any expression on their face. Whether as individuals or representatives of the Temple, they were not going to subject themselves to the whims of Arcturus Cloude. However, his machinations in the city were far-reaching and powerful. The High Priest was beneath the Governor's notice and their patron deity was asleep with no indication of waking.

They followed Hammont to a spacious audience chamber. Arcturus was finishing up a discussion with another group.

Selene scanned the crowd. There were about twenty people present, all of them notable members of Skycloud. She spied the patriarch of the Umbra family and leader of the Court of Shadow, Janus Umbra. He was the sort of man who could go toe to toe against the Crimson One. Atlas, his son, was also there as the sterling representative of the family's future. Also in attendance was Cosmo Thane; deputy leader of the League of Demonhunters Blaze Pyrrus; Oren Cloude; Frost de Winter; Zoren Leclaire, archbishop of the Church of Brilliance, and others.

Every single person in this room was the sort whose footsteps shook the ground in Skycloud.

When Arcturus saw the two enter he offered a faint smile. "With the Temple's aid our victory is all but assured. Now that you've arrived we can settle on individual duties." Arcturus proceeded to delegate responsibilities.

Meanwhile Selene couldn't stop her hands from clenching into fists. She couldn't see how Cloudhawk would get himself out of this trap they were laying for him. These clever strategies, overwhelming forces... it seemed impossible for him to even break through their front line, much less save Dawn from execution.

If Cloudhawk didn't come at all, it would be better. If he did, there would be no escape; they were in the process of meticulously planning his death.

She understood Cloudhawk's thinking, though, and knew he would come no matter what. When they met on the field, what then...?

"Three days. That's when we hold the execution. It's all settled."

Arcturus had planned it all to the smallest detail. When he was finished, no one had a thought or suggestion to add. The whole fort was bursting with confidence. From the outset they looked down on wastelanders like feral dogs. How dare they have the audacity to attack this fortress? 'Suicidal' was the only word they could use to describe this foolishness.

Three days passed quickly. When the day came, it was overcast and blustery. A rare sort of weather for Skycloud.

A solemn, deadly atmosphere hung over everything. Could it be that the mood of these humans could influence the heavens? Every soldier in Sanctuary was in position and stared into the distance with hard, expectant eyes. They were spaced out along every meter of the stronghold's eleven walls.

The center of the fortress was also its highest point. Here Arcturus and his most elite commanders stood sat in vigil.

Phain and Selene each stood on opposite sides of the square. Between them were all the Templars and Clerics, in a calm but ready state. All eyes turned toward the figure slowly being brought forth.

Dawn did not struggle. Frost de Winter guided her to the stake and tied her to it. Never did the stoic expression leave her face. Her eyes remained fixed on the distance.

It was time. Yet, where were the wastelanders? Neither hide nor hair of the enemy could be seen. Frost gave a questioning glance to the Governor. Arcturus simply nodded.

With no more hesitation, Frost gave the order. "Begin the execution."

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