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Book 5, Chapter 57 - Settling Old Scores

 Cloudhawk's vanguard was too small to be considered the main force.

His Goshawks fought fiercely, but though they caught the demonhunters off guard at the beginning the Elysians quickly rallied. As their numbers grew and their shock of the relic-wielding wastelanders was shaken off the Elysians began to regain ground.

The Goshawk fighting style was straightforward. They were brutal and overwhelming, but lacked tactical cooperation. Until their training was complete, they were less an army and more a mob. Little by little, the advantage they came in with began to wane.

Cloudhawk's vanguard was now clearly separated into three groups.

First was Cloudhawk himself and the men he commanded, including the Goshawks and Talons from Greenland. Among them were the drunk, Gabriel, and Roc who served as lieutenants. They were in a frenzied battle with Oren and his Demonhunter Corps.

Second were the wargs and wendigo as led by Wendigo King. They held the flanks against a constant and concerted push from Elysian forces. They fought off what they could while avoiding the most dangerous of Skycloud's demonhunters.

Finally there was Coal and his genetically modified warriors of the Dark Atom. Coal himself didn't have any innate leadership talent and had pushed too far into the enemy forces. His rear forces were being torn apart by Elysian soldiers.

The Wendigo King ripped through a charging demonhunter with his scarlet claws. It was his sixth kill since the battle began at the cost of nine injuries. A full third of his forces were already dead and ten of the Khan's personal Black Knights had fallen.

He was not pleased with how the battle was turning. Wendigo were a sparse population as it was and he couldn't understand the logic in putting them in a position where many would die. The Wendigo King wasn't like the other fighters here - he might have thrown in his lot with Nox, but his foremost concern was always his people.

Wargs and Wendigo were born of the dusty wasteland. They were uniquely suited to it while the humans struggled to survive. The humans were here fighting for resources and status, and if that was the case then why were his people dying for their benefit? For this reason the Wendigo King insisted on commanding his own force. Under his direction, they could avoid the most lethal enemies, preserving as many lives as possible.

Elsewhere, a towering mountain of a figure acted in the complete opposite of the Wendigo King. Coal pierced into the enemy with no regard to safety or survival. His zeal caused his men to quickly be surrounded, alone against a crowd of elite Elysian warriors and a handful of demonhunters.

At the moment he was defending himself against several relic-wielding demonhunters who were trying to blow him apart. They'd succeeded in causing some small injuries but that was all. Coal roared at them in defiance and ended the lives of whatever came within arm's reach.

He was no typical mutant. Coal was born sturdy, a gifted warrior. At his young age he was already a threat to veteran demonhunters. With time there was no question he could rise to the ranks of a wasteland king.

The Wendigo King vowed to remember this exceptional mutant. Next he turned his attention to the old drunk.

Once Cloudhawk left to save Dawn he had risen to replace him as the most dangerous warrior on their side. Alone he was able to keep Oren locked down together with seven demonhunters. It helped remove a lot of the pressure from the rest of the vanguard vanguard.

Oren Cloude was no match for the former War Saint. Today the mighty Knight-Commander had suffered a string of humiliating defeats; first at the hands of a transformed Cloudhawk and hnw by this disheveled old lush. It was foolish to consider the commander weak, but even so his attacks could not break the drunk's unassailable defenses.

Meanwhile the drunk danced among his foes like it was a game. More than once there was an opening he could exploit to end the Knight-Commander's life, but he let each one pass by.

It was a confusing realization. Cloudhawk was a monster, surely, but each one of his allies was stranger than the last. Why didn't this old man just kill him and be done with it? Without their commander the Demonhunter Corps would be much easier to break. What's more the drunk could turn his attention to other foes. He could handily tie up another ten veteran demonhunters all on his own and prevent further casualties on his side.

The Wendigo King wasn't alone in his confusion. Oren himself wasn't sure what to make of the situation and the shame was driving him into a fury. The drunk was toying with him!

He tried to hold back his indignation and yelled at his foe. "Are you having fun leaping around like a monkey?! Fight like a man!"

The drunk responded to the outburst with his typical flippant grin, flashing yellow teeth. "Don't worry about it. I was dragged into this fight, nothing more. The fewer I kill the better - the only life I want is the Governor's."

What? Kill Arcturus?! This dirty beggar has the gall to speak such blasphemy! Oren's fragile temperament cracked even further.

By now the wasteland's main force had closed the distance. Cloudhawk's meteor had carved an opening in Sanctuary's defenses, allowing them to slip in. Carrier vehicles and mutant beasts poured in by the hundreds. There were too many wastelanders too eager to die. They spread like ants through any available space while among them ancient weapons blasted toward the defenders.

Finally the Wendigo King and Coal saw the pressure ease off their forces.

The Wendigo King sighed in relief. To avoid any further loss of life he ordered his men back. "Stop the advance! We will take up the rear, make sure the main force isn't surrounded and keep the door open for the rest."

Coal saw it as an opportunity to cause more mayhem. "Kill them! Cut in deeper! We have to help Cloudhawk!"

Before the whole of the main force had arrived Coal was already pushing in deeper. He released his own special ability and there among the wave of Elysians he erupted into a column of flame. Like a molten giant he crashed through Sanctuary's defensive line, leading his wild warriors closer toward the heart of the stronghold, like it was the only way to ease the guilt in his heart.

However as they closed in on Sanctuary's central area Coal was cut off by Hammont and his forces. When the Drake Corps' commander recognized the mutant his stoic face darkened like a thunderhead.

"You!"

***

The wastelanders and their brazen beasts were too numerous. Cloudhawk's meteor had obliterated all the attack and defense towers in that area, allowing them to pour in.

Oren's Demonhunter Corps and the several thousand Elysian soldiers weren't enough to stem the tide. These despicable barbarians seemed endless. Kill one and three took his place. Skycloud's forces were being pushed back by sheer number disadvantage alone.

The battle grew ever more ferocious. The situation was one of utter chaos.

Oren was locked down by the drunk and the situation in the area was nothing short of hell.

"Of the three legendary men of the Cloude family, all that remains in Arcturus. Have you thought at all about the consequences if he died? Don't you see how prosperous and powerful Skycloud has become? The wastelanders can't be allowed to destroy that!"

The drunk responded while easily deflecting the Knight-Commander's attacks. "Ever since that day half a dozen years ago, there hasn't been true peace in Skycloud. The Elysians lands today are nothing compared to what you were ten years ago. Aren't you at all curious what happened behind the scenes? Don't you ever question what Arcturus' ultimate goal is?"

A ten-meter long bird of prey swept by. Upon its wide shoulders were twenty to thirty wastelanders, several bearing rocket launchers. They were screaming and firing recklessly into the crowds of demonhunters below. The other fired poison bolts at whatever target they could find.

I'll kill these rotten fiends myself!

Oren lifted his right hand and summoned a gravitational field. A moment later the space around the enormous bird began to warp. All of a sudden an irresistible force came crashing down, like a fly swatter on a fly. The bird was smashed against the meteor so hard it left a crater in its metallic surface. That sturdy monster was reduced to paste, its liquid remains indistinguishable from the bloody chunks that had been its riders.

Oren turned back to the drunk and launched five consecutive attacks. Each one carved trenches three meters deep and a dozen meters long around him.

The meteor Cloudhawk had summoned was at least fifty percent metal. It was supremely sturdy and the strongest warriors could hack at it with an ax and succeed only barely shaving off chips. These attacks from Oren were achieving much more than that with the help of a thousand times the force of gravity behind them.

"You think you have what it takes to kill Master Arcturus?" Oren turned up his nose at the drunk's declaration. "His wisdom, strategy and ambition run as deep as the oceans. He is the most incredible human to have lived in the last millennia. A man like you can never understand his decisions, only misconstrue his acts. But we have faith that everything he does, he does in service of humanity!"

The drunk narrowed his eyes. "What Arcturus has done in these past years violates every tenet of basic human morality and conscience. If you knew the full extent of his crimes, are you saying you would still die for him?"

"Whether offensive or defensive, this conflict was bound to get bloody. Good and evil are ever at odds. If no one stands against the darkness, how can you sow light around the world? You have shown that you don't understand this basic truth."

Oren's face was set; intractable, resolute and emotional. "I don't need to know why Master Arcturus kills someone. I need to know only one thing, and that's when Arcturus chooses to take a life it's to save millions of others. Perhaps in your eyes he is a man who won his position through foul means, but I promise that none of you understand the true man that is our Governor! He has sacrificed more than anyone can imagine!"

The drunk scowled. He was stunned at how fervently Arcturus was defended by these fanatics.

Oren continued. "You are beasts that are ruled by emotion. Only Arcturus has the wisdom to rise above! Who knows better than anyone what needs to be accomplished and how. That is the Arcturus I know!"

"So be it. I don't have any grand ideals and I don't know what righteous mission Arcturus claims to be on. All I know is that sooner or later it'll all come out in the wash. Arcturus' games have caused this mess and form, and from where I stand it only looks like it's going to get worse. Now is the time he will need to settle accounts."

The old drunk raised his head when he heard the flying saucer scream by overhead. That was the Khan's personal vehicle.

Alone, the drunk was certainly no match for Arcturus. The same was probably true for the Khan of Evernight. But the combined might of Nox and Nucleus had a chance, slim as it was.

Vengeance hadn't been on the drunk's mind before today. On the one hand he knew he couldn't accomplish it. On the other, he didn't think it mattered. But ever since Arcturus orchestrated the murder of Skye Polaris, and ever since the old drunk had recovered his health, his thinking had changed. He didn't care about this war. It didn't matter who ultimately won or lost. He had one goal, and one goal only - Arcturus.

"Don't even dream of it. Die!" With a mask of fury on his face Oren flung out his hand toward the War Saint. A crushing field of increased gravity slammed down on the drunk.

"I don't have any more time to play with you. We'll stop it here!" There was a glimmer in the drunk's eye and suddenly he vanished like a ghost. He reappeared directly in front of Oren with Daybreak following in a beautiful arc.

Oren held his staff with both hands and held it aloft, instinctively manipulating gravity around him to his benefit. Empowered with the terrible energy of his glove relic the staff screamed through the air toward the drunk's temple. Strong as the lush was, a direct blow from the staff would break his skull into pieces, no question.

But the drunk was agile. The flash of his sword swerved around the staff, its deadly gleam climbing up the weapon but never touching it. It was an incredible display, one only the War Saint could manage.

"Agghh!"

Oren screamed as his right arm was completely severed.

"I'm leaving you your life. But your relic belongs to me now."

The drunk took the glove off Oren's hand. Without sparing a second glance he shot toward the center of the fortress like an arrow. He arrived just as Arcturus released his blast of electric power and destroyed the Khan's ship.

As the Khan shot from the wreckage he and the drunk locked eyes. Wordlessly, they came to an accord. Their shared malice settled unto Arcturus.

"Both of you have arrived, hm?" Arcturus greeted them with a sigh. It was unclear what he felt in that moment, but in the next he was flooded with immense electrical power. A terrifying accumulation of force hung around him like a bomb ready to detonate. "What comes will come. Sometimes it is unavoidable."

There was nothing else said. There was nothing more to say. The Khan of Evernight and Vulkan the War Saint launched into their joint attack. Three epic warriors of the last generation met in midair, marking the beginning of a legendary confrontation.

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