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Book 5, Chapter 52 - The War Begins

 Fifteen minutes prior.

Atop Sanctuary's highest point, Dawn's execution was underway.

Clouds overhead began to shift and twirl, capturing everyone's attention. Expressions darkened as it dawned upon the Elysians that a sinister power was gathering.

Light warped and clouds churned, creating a bizarre and disturbing spectacle. Those on Sanctuary's highest point felt it even more profoundly. This wasn't merely a disturbance in the atmosphere. Some unholy power was warping the fabric of reality.


Selene, Phain, Frost, Dawn and all the rest snapped to the present. There was only one they knew who had the power to manipulate space to this degree, and that was Cloudhawk.

Arcturus and a number of other powerful demonhunters were seated in the square to witness Dawn's execution. They looked up at the spiderweb of power snaking through the sky. As Arcturus peered at the scene, wrinkled deepened at the corners of his eyes.

This... was not what he expected. Such an immense display of power. How?

Arcturus was not sure what method Cloudhawk had used, but the expression of power he witnessed far outstripped even his two younger brothers. Cloudhawk had managed to bolster himself beyond Sterling and Baldur - two Master Demonhunters.

But Cloudhawk couldn't really be that strong. Arcturus knew the damage he'd caused with Ruin. It was impressive that Cloudhawk could launch an attack at all! Six months was simply too short a time for him to improve so dramatically.

Conflict showed in Selene's face as she stared up into the sky. She'd prepared herself for this moment, but a sense of sadness still persisted.

He'd told her he would be back. Now here he was. But no one would have anticipated this was how he'd make his entrance. The moment he chose to lift his hand against Skycloud, there was no going back. From this moment forward, even if he struck down Arcturus, Cloudhawk would never be welcome in the Elysian lands again. Once war broke out, his hands would become stained with the blood of its citizens.

In the past, his troubles arose from misunderstanding, or foul deeds he was wrapped up in unwittingly. This was different. This time, he was initiating the attack and threatening the lives of Elysian soldiers. For the first time, he stood squarely against Skycloud's interests. Selene wasn't sure how she should react.

Both Frost and Phain stared with open incredulity. The others gaped in astonishment.

There were stories of a time when Arcturus Cloude had summoned three thousand bolts of electricity on his enemies. As the story went, that single attack obliterated half a wasteland city. Such a thing was, to them, the apex of human accomplishment - the peak of what mortal man could achieve. Even those legendary demonhunters of old couldn't hold a candle to their Governor.

So what was this? Was it really possible a barbarian from the wastes could achieve such power? The power required to affect such a large swath of space had to be enormous beyond measure.

"Be careful. The shields!" Hammont cried out to the others. "Falling rocks!"

After the fissure ripped the sky asunder, tumbling rocks of various sizes emerged. They came roaring forth and smashed into Sanctuary's defenses with deafening noise. The shields flickered bowed but recovered quickly. The rebound force flung the rocks away.

But that was just the beginning.

Shocked eyes rose again to the black hole where more of the rocks were coming - thousands of them. A shower of boulders cascaded unto Sanctuary and the surrounding plains. The world around them was awash in the explosive sounds of impact.

The din never eased. It sounded like the end of the world.

Such a scene was impossible for anyone but a Master Demonhunter. Were it not for the city's defenses... the garrisoned forces shuddered to think what these building-sized rocks would do to the stronghold.

What sort of demonhunter could command this level of power?

Hammont and others were just beginning to suspect their shields would hold, when an even more nightmarish scenario presented itself. What had first seemed a massive assault turned out to merely be the warm-up.

The bombardment of tumbling stones eased, but only to allow a truly gargantuan shadow to swallow Sanctuary in darkness.

A meteor the size of a small city loomed above them.

From a thousand meters overhead, the meteor bore an ominous sort of beauty, almost like an island in the sky. It was huge. As the Elysians watched, the island only grew in size, becoming less an island and more a mountain range.

They couldn't dodge, couldn't flee. Nothing could stop it. The impact was as inevitable as it was immeasurable.

Countless tons of unfeeling steel smashed into Elysian ships, reducing them to splinters. When it ultimately struck Sanctuary's southern side, the shock wave of its impact blasted out. It created a storm of destructive force, followed by an earthquake which shook the earth a hundred kilometers away.

Sanctuary's defenses were strong, but what could withstand an attack like that?

The shields reacted like a balloon, yielding inward from the force to its absolute limit. Then it broke. The meteor burst through and smashed into the stronghold.

No one who witnessed it and lived would ever forget the scene.

Of South Haven's eleven levels, eight were demolished on the spot. Those that remained stood with various degrees of damage. Soldiers watched in abject terror as they were assaulted, with no way to fight back.

It was like something out of a nightmare!

Even the fate of Sanctuary's highest levels was unclear. Cloudhawk himself didn't know what was happening beneath that cloud of dust and rubble. But it was clear that the meteor had done more than breach their defenses. It was a stunning punch to the face of every Elysian.

That spectacular shield. Hundreds of energy towers in support. Short of another nuclear weapon, it was unthinkable that wastelanders could get through. Even if they could, it would only be after they paid the cruelest of prices in wastelander lives. Yet, this assumption was proven false. Their mightiest defenses were overcome without a drop of barbarian blood spilled.

The meteor smashed a large portion of the fortress into the ground like a mountain had been abruptly dropped onto it. When the dust settled it almost looked like it'd always been there. The ground for fifty kilometers in every direction had been kicked up and churned by the impact.

An attack like this had never been seen before in all of Skycloud's history. No one - not Arcturus, nor any demonhunter known to the Elysian lands - had ever launched an attack like this. This far outstripped anything a mortal man could accomplish.

Eventually, the dust dispersed. Elysians had been flung every which way and had yet to regain their feet. Before they could, there was a shimmer upon the surface of the vast meteor and a handful of silhouettes appeared upon it. It was none other than Cloudhawk and his crew. He stood arrogantly over the chaotic expanse of Sanctuary, with its many soldiers staring back in alarm. When he spoke he did so without malice, only cold certainty.

"Let. Her. Go."

His words were not loud but bore a thunderous sort of power. They reverberated through the hearts of every soldier with bone-deep malice.

They'd just watched him summon a meteor to flatten a portion of their stronghold. Then, without effort, he appeared past their defenses with a dozen others. Facing thousands of hardened men and powerful demonhunters, he greeted them with one simple command.

Seeing this, Dawn couldn't keep the tears from rolling down her cheeks. The pain, sadness and despair she felt for her failures gave way to appreciation and relief. Here was a man who was willing to face ten thousand enemies to save her. He brazenly wielded unfathomable power in her defense and brought champions to fight through terrible odds.

In that instant, felt like nothing else mattered. She could die in that moment and have no regrets, for she had experienced the most romantic thing a woman could hope to witness.

Cloudhakw stood over the routed soldiers, gray cloak flapping in the wind. Fresh blood leaked from his bandages in a constant drip that dyed all his clothes crimson. It was obvious the toll that phenomenal display had taken.

It was a display that would leave an eternal mark on the history of demonhunters. Cloudhawk had achieved something at a level never before imagined.

In fact, it hadn't been that complicated. Simply put, it was the reverse of his dimensional travel. He had summoned these rocks from another plane.

It was a concept he'd been kicking around in his mind for some time. He figured that if he could move through space and bring others with him, why not have it work in reverse? What was stopping him from dragging something here from someplace else?

Like... a whole fucking mountain.

He'd opened the portal and enveloped a mountain he knew existed in that strange planet he'd visited before. Using the principles of dimensional travel, he brought the topographical feature into their world. Something that large tumbling from the sky would have a lethal force of unimaginable magnitude. Until today, it was a trick that had remained part of Cloudhawk's imagination. To save Dawn, he made it a reality.

Through the combination of his improved powers and augmentation from the altar, he ripped a mountain from the other planet and forced it here. The result was an extraordinary display and a totally demoralizing attack.

When it was done, Sanctuary's defenses were all-but obliterated. The damage could've been even greater, perhaps absolute, if he had dropped it from higher up, but he feared that Dawn might perish as well.

Cloudhawk had just teleported himself and a dozen of his strongest directly into the stronghold - into the heart of its mighty army. It was as striking a display as could be presented, and it left a remarkable impression on Skycloud's soldiers.

Clearly, he didn't see them as any sort of threat! In the distance, those wasteland warships continued to advance.

All this, and it was just the beginning of their conflict.

All the while, Arcturus had remained seated upon the highest point of Sanctuary. The fantastic and unprecedented display appeared to have little effect on him. However, those nearby could sense the terrible power welling up inside the Governor. Even for a man as strong and unfathomable as Arcturus, the attack had been deeply upsetting.

"Kill them." His frigid order hung in the air like a snake's whisper.

Hundreds of demonhunters and Elysian soldiers charged at the meteor.

Their aim was to encircle these brazen men and cut off their escape. While the men Cloudhawk had brought with him were strong, they were hugely outnumbered. And indeed the Skycloud fighters were not easy to defeat.

Oren Cloude, Knight-Commander of the Demonhunter Corps, was the first to appear before Cloudhawk. "I thought you might have learned your lesson when you ran away the last time, tail between your legs. Instead here you are, looking to die."

He groped a hand toward Cloudhawk mid sentence. A crushing gravitation force came down upon the invaders.

All at once, Cloudhawk felt a hundred times heavier. Even lifting a finger became a herculean task. Yet he was unconcerned. He fixed Oren with a cold glare and growled, "You think you can stand in my way?"

Last time they met Oren had the upper hand. But Cloudhawk had changed.

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