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Book 5, Chapter 97 – Taking Imperia

 Three months after the Silverwing Monarch's death, much had changed in the kingdom's capitol. The enchantments that kept out the frigid surrounding environment had fallen. Cold crept in. What had been a city of eternal spring was now buried in deadly frost. Its flowers and forests were robbed of heat and died.

Chaos the likes of which Imperia had never known now reigned.

Nox's forces, dispatched by Judas to Imperia, managed to maintain their grip on power. However, with time that tentative grasp loosened. Living conditions for the city's denizens worsened by the week. The growing risk of famine spurned their anger and resentment.

No one wanted to merely sit back and await death by exposure or starvation. Forrest Blackwood, leader of the Enforcers, rose up. He organized a resistance with the intention of taking back Imperia for its citizens!

Forrest had a lauded reputation in Imperia. When he sent out the call for all Enforcers and high-ranking citizens of the city to rise up, it was answered. Before long he'd managed to cobble together a formidable force to counter Noxian rule. Immediately the two opposed groups came into conflict as the situation in Imperia deteriorated.

Imperia. A city with a long and storied history, beautiful and ethereal, was now aflame. Black smoke mingled with snow over an environment turned foul from fear, hatred and violence.

Glawyn, of course, had joined the resistance even though she had no idea how this had all come about. All she knew was that her beloved city had entered a period of unprecedented strife. Dark forces from the city of perpetual night were trying to strangle the life from Imperia. The enchantments that protected them for a millennia had fallen and would not return. They were teetering on the precipice of destruction.

What no one could fathom was why Judas had not shown himself in the several months since sacking the city. Nox's garrison here was a token force only, how could they be expected to hold off a well-organized resistance force? The battle raged back and forth for over a month. Both sides suffered heavy losses. However the resistance had the benefit of home turf and knew their city far better than the Noxians. Forces from the City of Eternal Night were eventually pushed all the way back to the Temple.

"Imperia cannot fall into enemy hands!"

"We will protect our capitol to the death!"

"Bastards! Leave our home!"

Today the air bore a piercing chill and snow swirled in the air.

Forrest was at the head of a group of ninety or more capable Enforcers, in addition to eight hundred ordinary Chosen and thirty thousand Imperian militia soldiers. The latter were a spontaneous, grass-roots group that had sprung up and joined the Enforcers, enraged by the state of their home.

This would be the final battle to determine the state of Imperia! If they could recapture the Temple they could finally expel these fiends from their city.

The people were angry and confused. Glawyn was as well. What would the future of Imperia be like? Had their Silverwing Monarch really fallen? Had that monstrous thing that appeared above the city months ago really their king?

Where were the mighty Highblood? How had Nox's forces so easily invaded, uncontested by their winged protectors? Had they all been destroyed? That seemed impossible, the Highblood were Imperia's mightiest defenders. How could they be so easily bested?

Most important in the minds of the resistance, though, was the declining state of their home. They would not stand for it! Doubts and fears overflowed in the hearts of the people.

But even if they were successful, even if they managed to drive out these invaders, Imperia would never return to the way it was before.

Truth and reality were often cruel. What would happen once the Temple was opened and its secrets revealed? Would the citizens - once so devout in their service to the king - continue to delude themselves and worship a false ideal?

Forrest Blackwood hadn't considered it. As the city's most loyal guardian he only needed to remember a little of the life they used to live. No matter what happened, Imperia belonged to its people. He would not give it up to outsiders from Nox.

"Begin the attack!"

Forrest raised his sword. Members of the resistance lined up behind him howled their war cries, giving voice to all their anger and misgivings. It was time to take back their home!

The crowds clenched their weapons, ready to throw themselves into combat with the Black Knights occupying the Temple.

But as they prepared to move in there was a crash overhead. A shadow swept by as there appeared several large warships, looming above their city. When Forrest and the others saw the ferocious appearance of the airships their hearts sank, for they had to have come from Nox. Enemy reinforcements, and by the look of it the Lord of Nox himself had joined the fray.

Forrest shouted over the din. "Don't be afraid! We fight to the death!"

There was no turning back for any of them, nor would Imperia and Nox ever learn to live in peace. Now that the situation had come to this there was no other choice but to fight to the end. Either they take back the city with their blood and their lives, or they failed and were no more. As proud citizens of this city and its fallen king, they would never submit to Noxian rule!

Forrest called the charge! Yet as they rushed forward the air before the resistance forces began to shimmer. Five individuals appeared where moments before there had been no one.

One was savage and terrible; one was beautiful and majestic; one was hidden beneath black armor and a dark helmet; one was a one-eyed scholar. Yet although each was unique, the one who drew the most attention was their leader.

The man was as pure as jade, handsome and dignified. He had skin that made women jealous and a physique any man would envy. Straight black hair hung around his alluring features and the crowds were stopped dead by his staggering black eyes that glimmered like stars. His age was a mystery, but what was immediately clear was that this man was anything but ordinary.

Abaddon waved his hand and the book he carried became a wall of sand. The slings and arrows cast their way from the crowd were foiled. In the next breath that wall became a torrent of sand that swept away the force's vanguard. With a halfhearted wave of his hand the demon struck fear into this expansive army. Without question any one of these five individuals could obliterate them.

"I am the leader of Nox, Cloudhawk!"

Glawyn stopped dead in her tracks as though caught in a dream. She recognized the one controlling sand as a terrible and powerful demon. The one in the dark armor, she realized now, was the Khan of Evernight.

But their leader... Cloudhawk? How could it be him?

She'd met him first in Redleaf, where he'd given her the impression of a ragged and eccentric outsider. But the one standing before her now bearing the same name was completely different. Fear and anger welled up inside of her when she remembered that it was she who brought him and the Khan into the city.

These two men caused earthquakes with a stomp of their feet, and they had used her. It was humiliating to discover that she'd been so blind. She was so upset she could hardly breathe.

"Whoever you are, you are all invaders! You will all die!"

Forrest was ready to continue the charge, but before the words left his lips Cloudhawk strode forward. With this action was born several dozen serpents of fire. Each one was tens of meters long and spun around the group at high speeds. The sickly green flames were unmistakable, the terrible and legendary Castigation Fire. Cloudhawk's power had surpassed the Crimson One and his manipulation of the flames was far greater.

Once again the citizens of Imperia stared in shock. Such overwhelming power summoned from nowhere! He seemed as strong as their late Silverwing Monarch, if not stronger.

Cloudhawk's eyes swept over the crowd. "The one who previous pulled Nox's string - Judas - has been dispatched at my hand. The creature you worshiped as the Silverwing Monarch was a tool under the control of a monster. A puppet, that has been eliminated."

"Nonsense!"

Incredulous shouts answered him from the citizens. Cloudhawk knew his words fell on deaf ears, but he had long ago learned not to care what others thought.

He continued. "The Highblodo you adored and aspired to no longer exist. The creature which controlled your king controlled them just the same. They were nothing more than corpses without a mind of their own. False angels that acted under one despicable will. Your loved ones were gone the instant they became the Monarch's marionettes."

As Cloudhawk said this he released a storm of mental energy. From within the Temple there emerged several figures - twenty or so men and woman with spotless white wings. They descended from on high before the masses, much to their shock and alarm. These were the Highbloods they had hoped to see, who had hidden in the temple since the Silverwing Monarch's disappearance. They hovered before the army now with stiff expressions and glazed eyes, as though they were made of wood.

The Silverwing Monarch had controlled these puppets through psychic power. The conduit to allow this was the fragment of Nessus writhing within them.

These fragment tentacles acted like independent creatures. They subsisted on the host and took root in their brain, manipulating its nervous system to their own ends. Cloudhawk, by imitating Nessus' psychic signature, was able to resonate with these tentacles and thus take control of the Highblood.

However he could only control their bodies. He was unable to reach into them deep enough to have them speak. But this display was enough to prove his point about their king.

Cloudhawk's voice remained calm and dispassionate. "A city cannot persist without a leader. I intend to present you with a new administrator - or rather, the return of an old one. The true mistress of this kingdom. It was she who a thousand years ago established your realm. She is the only one who can return it to its former glory."

Autumn watched in silence. When Cloudhawk finished his introduction she turned away and walked into the Temple.

In the space of just a few moments the damage to the Temple was reversed. The fallen boundary protecting them sparked back to life. Those sectors of the city damaged during this war were renewed with astonishing speed.

Cloudhawk watched the shock spreading across the faces of Imperia's citizens. He did not expect these people to just accept that Autumn was their leader, but he had no doubt that the Shepherd God was the true master of this place. IT was her duty to take the reigns.

The Shepherd God's powers were not limited to the city. Upon returning to the Temple, her powers extended to every corner of the realm. The Silver Kingdom once again became Meadow, a realm of warmth and beauty blessed with eternal Spring. With such bounty, what would the opinion of their new leader be? Imperia had lost a king, but regained a god!

And all of it was under Cloudhawk's command.

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