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Book 5, Chapter 56 - There You Are

 From the outset of conflict to now, only half an hour had passed.

In that time the wasteland vanguard had produced incredible results. Not only had they accomplished what they'd set out to do, their attack had also punched a hole in Sanctuary's formidable defenses. What's more, with just a small crew Cloudhawk had cut his way to the heart of the fortress, a fact which has served to greatly demoralize the enemy.

They'd already surpassed all expectations.

The area Hammont was responsible for defending was blessedly distant from where Cloudhawk had appeared. He'd dodged the proverbial bullet. In fact, his soldiers had yet to even encounter the enemy. Up to now they'd only watched first-hand as Cloudhawk summoned a meteor from some devil plane to devastate their stronghold.

Wastelanders of truly impressive capabilities used the meteor as their point of ingress. Indifferent to the threat of death, they launched a fierce attack on Skycloud's elite, including a whole Corps of demonhunters. Instead of being crushed beneath the heels of these noble warriors, the wastelanders actually managed to occupy the high ground.

Archbishop Zoren Leclair was slain in the process. Knight-Commander Oren Cloude was steadily losing ground.

Countless twisted freaks rampaged across the battlefield, under command from a demonic madman. They ripped through Elysian defenders for freedom, for survival, in defiance. What sort of battle was this? In the thousand years since the Great War, the Elysians had never been faced with such a threat.

Before the fight, Elysians came expecting to participate as a joke. Wastelanders didn't have the power to threaten their realm, it was laughable to think they did. From manpower to equipment, from elite soldiers to training, the wastelanders were simply no comparison. Skycloud was and would always be superior.

How was it that powers in the Northern Barrens got so strong? Frankly it was only because of Elysian traitors who taught them to be strong. One of the illustrious Master Demonhunter, Sterling Cloude - abandoned his people and became the Crimson One. When he defected he brought with him a hundred demonhunters. It took years of toil to build his legacy from the darkness. In the end the wasteland alliance was the fruit of that labor. However, if this so-called wasteland alliance had no Elysians backing it would be nothing at all. It would be nothing but an obnoxious afterthought, if there were naught but the piddling wasteland leaders to command them.

What was happening now, though, was different. This was a living nightmare. These men and women - who had grown up in a peaceful utopia - were just now witnessing the horrors of war first hand.

"Who the hell is that demon?!"

"How do monsters like this even exist!"

"Gods above! These fiends deserve to burn for eternity in hell!"

New recruits trembled in their boots. All they could do was curse and spit to try and expel the fear from their hearts.

Cloudhawk was a recognizable name in Skycloud, though few knew the precise events of six years ago. He was now once again at the forefront of their lives, seemingly from nowhere and looking entirely different. Ninety-nine percent of the soldiers had no idea who he was. The incredible display of power added an extra layer of mystery to him as well.

If someone were to call Cloudhawk a demon, not a soul would refute it. The only thing they had trouble believing was the scope of his strength. It was nothing short of astounding.

In fact, astounding was just the beginning. To most it was downright horrifying, or worse. To them it seemed he could crush Skycloud with a flick of his wrist, if he so pleased. After all, they'd watched a mountain get dropped on their fortress from a couple thousand meters overhead.

What if he'd chosen to drop it from ten thousand meters? The destruction he'd have brought would be ten times worse! It was common knowledge that the greater the height, the harder the fall.

If he reached great enough heights, he could probably summon whole planets to rain down on them. Hundreds of thousands would die... this was not the sort of power an ordinary person could begin to comprehend. Why wouldn't they be scared?

Whispers of fear and uncertainty rippled through the new recruits.

Meanwhile Hammont watched it all in silence. With his right hand he had his sheathed sword caught in a white-knuckle grip. He darted his eyes one way and then another in open disbelief. How did it come to this?

This was the same Cloudhawk that had saved the lives of thousands of soldiers in the Blisterpeaks. The man who had risked life and limb to battle Majhima and save the innocents of Skylcloud from destruction. They sent him to the Northern Barrens, where he successfully foiled the dark plots of the wasteland alliance. How had the kind but oft misunderstood Cloudhawk turned into this man?

More and more, Hammont Seacret realized he understood so little of the world and its people.

From the perspective of an Elysian, Cloudhawk's sins were heinous and unforgivable. He was a demon whose foul deeds undermined the holy and just world they'd built. However, to wastelanders he was the only man in their sordid history capable of leading them to victory over the zealous Elyaians. A hero who rose against the tyranny of Skycloud and had the power to change their fate.

What one was right? What one was wrong? Were was the border between righteousness and evil? Who defined the standard? Who ultimately determined the code?

Hammont had spent these last months at the beck and call of his Governor. In that time his station had risen steadily. He'd widened his knowledge and deepened his wisdom. Yet far from being enlightened, the more he learned the more puzzled Hammont became. Perhaps there was no such thing as universal justice in this world of theirs. It was a construct built by humans which they used to deceive themselves and others. A tool for constraint and collectivism.

As he wrestled with these truths dark clouds roiled in from above.

From the time they appeared on the horizon they roiled like a slow-moving tide, and yet arrived very quickly. Darkness hung over the stronghold as though caught within a tempest that threatened the whole Elysian land. As the light fled, Skycloud's warriors looked upon the scene with solemn stoicism.

Without question, this marked the arrival of the wasteland's main force.

The first to arrive were clouds of bloodthirsty mutant beasts numbering in the tens of thousands. At such a scope it was more than just a wave of monsters, but a flood. They appeared from many angles; burrowing up from the ground, tearing across the plains, diving from the air. Hundreds of varieties, representing most of the wasteland's wild inhabitants.

Interspersed among them were beastriders. It was common to see wastelanders travel astride creatures of the earth and sky. Their semi-feral mounts were also equipped with armors and weapons, and moved with the same agility and ferocity of the monsters around them.

The wasteland's humanoid army came aboard a hundred airships of various sizes. Each one was unique from another, bristling with weapons that were sometimes haphazardly affixed to their surface. They bore machine guns, missiles and other standard ordinance. However more high-tech weapons were also visible, such as lasers and energy weapons.

At the rear of the fleet were three hulking mother ships, leaders of the air and land battle groups. Each one was a highly sophisticated vehicle which drew heavily on the secrets of a bygone age. The incredible destructive power they wielded made the battle groups more than formidable. The darkness that descended on Sanctuary was a threat to this shining, holy jewel.

At last, the enemy was revealed.

The thousand warships deployed to the fortress arranged themselves to meet the attack. As they swung into formation the glittering light of their energy towers shone through the shadow. Before the front lines of beasts and beastriders could reach the stronghold gates, they came under fire.

The sky came alive with the angry flash of energy weapons, like dazzling and deadly fireworks. The marked the true beginning of this war.

A once gloomy sky roiled from the glare and the world descended into chaos. The sun's light had been swallowed up making the warriors feel like they'd been swallowed into a sinister purgatory. All at once, reality became nothing but blood and the threat of death.

"Aahhh!"

A soldier screamed as he was dragged off his feet by a two-headed hawk-like beast. The rider on its back fired his machine gun wildly into the soldier's body. Even sturdy Elysian gear couldn't completely stop bullets point blank, so the unfortunate solder was left in a mangled and unmoving heap.

Another beastrider dropped a cluster of grenades form above. Fire and shrapnel erupted among the Elysians.

A rider clinging to the back of a wolf charged through the ruined portion of Sanctuary's wall wielding an electric saw. He brought the spinning teeth of the saw down on the nearest soldier which produced an ear-piercing scream of metal on metal and the sparks to match. Rhino's laden with rocket launchers charged in behind and release rocket-propelled grenades into the clusters of troops.

But the Elysians were not green recruits. Hundreds of bolts from rapid-fire crossbows answered the creatures charging through the breach. Meanwhile streaks of energy were cast down unto the enemy from the walls. When the streaks of electricity found a target they exploded in a mess of blood and bone.

"Kill them all!"

"Make these Elysian swine see what wastelander strength is!"

The barbarian hordes were unflinching in the face of death, like a pack of rabid beasts. In the face of this hysterical charge the Elysians bore down, more determined than ever. They weren't fighting for survival or resisting some tyranny. They fought for an ideal greater than themselves, honor for their realm - something they were just as willing to give their lives for.

Hammont drew his sword when he saw the battle had joined. Now wasn't the time for high-brow worries over justice and evil. There was only one thing in his mind at the moment, and it was the words Governor Arcturus had told him:

"Remember. Everything we do, we do for the millions of Elysian citizens."

"Brothers! These despicable brutes are here to sully the brilliant light that is Skycloud! Show them our strength and pride! To the front! Press the attack!"

Hammont's soldiers yelled in response. Their blood boiled in their veins fro they were soldiers! Battle was their life! Their enemies were fierce but Elysians were not cowards!

"Chaaaarge!"

Hammont led his troops from the front. With a flash of his sword he cut the head from a giant wolf that had gotten too close. Next he killed its rider who tried to slip in an attack. His Corps of a thousand strong cut their way into the heart of the conflict.

As the war spread to the walls of Sanctuary, the battle in the sky was reaching a fever pitch.

An oval-shaped flying ship dashed through the battlefield with surprising grace and speed. What powered its attacks were unclear, but searing lasers shot out from every inch of it and wreaked havoc on the enemy.

Those lasers carved through armor like it was hardly there. The sturdiest composite alloy peeled back like the skin of a fruit. The Elysians had no means of protecting themselves.

Elysian demonhunters attempted to answer with cones of flame, blades of wind and spikes of rock. Energy towers measured their attacks to deliver a persistent onslaught. However the unidentified flying weapon either dodged the threats, or its shields rendered them harmless. It continued to press through the enemy lines toward the heart of the fortress.

Its primary target was the cluster of leaders hiding there.

Woosh-woosh-woosh!

Three angry red beams of light shot forth!

An elder by Arcturus' side shot to his feet. He was a man of station, headmaster of Skycloud's demonhunter university. Although past his prime, the headmaster was counted among the strongest.

He raised his hands and from them was summoned a half-shell of protective energy. The lasers swept across the shield's surface leaving angry welts in their wake.

Arcturus narrowed his eyes. His body suddenly exploded in electric light. All of that energy rose into the sky and condensed into an enormous blade of thunder!

It roared through the air with a chorus of thunder, cutting the flying saucer in half as easily as though it were a duck egg. There was no resistance at all to Arcturus' strength.

The frightening wasteland machine ended its reign of terror with an explosive display.

A handful of figures could be seen darting from the wreckage. The first among them was covered in sleek, black armor and a mask that completely covered his face. His eyes flashed red, and in each hand was a blade composed of purple light.

The violent explosion seemed to have no effect on him. He raced across the sky, legs pumping against invisible terrain as he charged at the heart of Sanctuary.

Arcturus Cloude's eyes were fixed on the masked face. Somehow it was as though he could pierce the mask to see beneath, and peer into the man's soul.

"There you are."

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