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Book 5, Chapter 105 – Beasts of Steel and Circuits

 Five thousand pioneers in the spore world. Another two thousand settled on the stony plain.

Ten days since opening the portal, the first batch was nearly ready to depart.

Both groups were different, including the specialists assigned to them. They were selected in accordance with the environment they were going to. Since Spore Planet had been explored before, Greenland's people knew what to expect more or less. Of the five thousand sent, half were soldiers and scientists, while the other half were normal citizens. Their goal was to establish a settlement and learn more about the world. Hopefully they could discover new and different species of mushrooms to be used. Once adequate resources were collected, they were to be prepared for shipment back to Greenland.

Of the two thousand dispatched to the badlands of the stony plains, most were scientists from either Sandspire, Dark Atom or Nox. Erecting and managing an eboncrys weapon factory was their aim, with the hope of eventually expanding. The others who went with them were among the best soldiers Cloudhawk could spare. The Wendigo King hand-picked five hundred of his fiercest to be their protectors. Nucleus promised two hundred mutant natives of the Blisterpeaks . Greenland sent a contingent of Talons and Nox sent some of its Black Knights.

As far as anyone knew Spore Planet was relatively safe. So long as they stayed away from the ruins they didn't have to worry about being attacks by spirits, and they knew what the more dangerous mushroom trees looked like. Because they were familiar with the terrain it was a suitable place for Greenland's first pioneers. In the future, once an infrastructure was build up, they could send much larger numbers of people through.

Where Stony Plains was different from Spore World was in how little of it was known. No one knew what to expect or what they might run in to. Until more information was available, it was best to play it safe.

The fourth world had more resources than the other three put together, but it was a complex and dangerous environment to navigate. Cloudhawk wouldn't be comfortable sending many people through until more was known.

So that is where things stood. The first layer Cloudhawk could access was the devastated remains of a dead world with no discernible worth. The second was rich with plants and other resources, and was safe enough for settlers. The third world was blasted and intimidating, but there were no obvious threats as of yet. From what they could tell there was a lot of technological treasures to be found and soon their precious factories would call it home. Last was the fourth world, a mysterious jungle filled with wild creatures. It was obviously full of resources to exploit, but for now it was best to scout it out and learn more before sending anyone to stay long term.

Cloudhawk's current focus was to work on developing those second and third worlds. Spirit beads were beginning to run in short supply, so the gate they powered couldn't handle huge groups coming and going. These first groups had to be limited.

But they were the foot in the door, so to speak. The first important step. Once these groups were settled a second, and then a third would follow.

Hellflower knew Cloudhawk's powers were numerous, but far and away the most valuable was his ability to shift dimensions. Every world was filled with treasures waiting to be discovered. Each one had staggering potential, waiting to be tapped. Preparations were being made in case the worst occurred, but since they were already in the process they might as well set up supply lines while they were at it. The power and resources Cloudhawk wielded would continue to grow so that he could overcome his increasingly powerful enemies.

The Wendigo King gathered five hundred of his strongest men. By the time he arrived there was already a sizeable group waiting by the God Tree. Coal showed up a short time later with warriors from his tribe and a group of genetically modified soldiers. He was met with the Wendigo King's searching gaze. "You are also going to the other world?"

Coal and the Wendigo King came from completely different worlds. Once known as Hyena, the humanoid beast was a creation of the southern wilds. Coal, on the other hand, hailed from the northern Blisterpeaks, a mutant forged from a harsh environment. Although the two might have emerged from vastly different backgrounds, the battle for Sanctuary had brought them together. Since that time they'd often fought side by side against the Conclave and had grown closer.

Coal nodded. "My people come from a very difficult homeland. Things are bad, many have gone to Nucleus for shelter. Too many. So I brought my people to Greenland. When I heard they were sending people to settle a new world we agreed to help."

The Wendigo King frowned. "Isn't Greenland a good place? Why are you so eager to go to a strange, unknown place?"

Members of the volcano tribes were strong but mild of temperament. They were allowed to live within the city limits. The Wendigo King's people, however, were savage and often unruly, so limitations were put on how many could remain among the citizens. Nothing was stopping Coal from waiting until the worlds were better established before going with his people. There was a much higher potential for danger if he went with the first groups.

Coal responded. "Greenland needs strong, bold soldiers. That's why we're going."

His answer wasn't what the Wendigo King expected. "That's it?"

Coal nodded. "Cloudhawk is a friend to my people. We answer our friends' calls."

There was a note of scorn in the Wendigo King's smirk. "Friends are made in times of peace. Have you ever heard of a sheep befriending a wolf? Cloudhawk is stronger than you can even imagine. I suggest you stay as far away from him as you can, otherwise he'll drag you down into this awful war with him. You and your handful of tribesmen won't survive."

Coal was annoyed with the warning and wanted to respond, but he couldn't think of what to say. He was never skilled at arguing and he had to admit the Wendigo King had a point.

Cloudhawk was getting stronger all the time. Now even Wolfblade was his subordinate along with Abaddon, the Shepherd God, the Khan of Evernight, the old drunk and others. Any one of those could wield power out here in the wastes in their own right. The stronger Cloudhawk got, the stronger would be the enemies who stood in his way. Even though Coal wanted to help his friend, were he and his tribe enough to make a difference?

It didn't seem like it. They would need to get stronger first!

He was still wrestling with the thought when the gateway opened. The shimmering portal grabbed everyone's attention. As Coal and the Wendigo King gazed upon it their faces turned to surprise. Although they knew Cloudhawk was using the altar to augment his powers, a portal of this still had to use an unfathomable amount of energy and power to create.

A Master Demonhunter, proficient in dimensional power. Cloudhawk had arisen as an indestructible force!

Stepping through the portal, the Wendigo King and Coal found themselves standing amid a vast blasted landscape. Every week they opened the portal once so that more people and supplies could be delivered. Now that they were here, the first order of business was to settle in.

Stony Plains was desolate and barren. It was nothing but dark red stone and dirt for as far as the eye could see. The air was hot and dry, and gravity was harsher than on the world they'd come from. But the atmosphere was suitable and there was enough oxygen. In fact Hellflower had carefully gone over the data collected about this place prior to sending pioneers out and had come to a conclusion.

Whether it was Spore World, Stony Plains of the jungle planet, most anywhere Cloudhawk could phase to had many things in common. Atmosphere, the size of its parent star, intensity of sunlight, temperature... there were slight differences but overall they were perfectly suitable for habitation. It certainly wasn't a coincidence. What she didn't know was why.

Out in the infinitely vast cosmos, finding just two habitable planets was one chance in a million. How could it be that time and again Cloudhawk was plucking worlds amenable to life like it was no effort at all? Hellflower had no way to explain it, just like she had no way to explain their destruction.

It didn't matter, there were more pressing questions to be answered. If people could survive here, that was enough for now.

Coal commanded his tribesmen to begin laying out the foundation. The Wendigo King selected a number of intelligent birds and had them scout the area.

The resources and equipment selected for this group of two thousand was plentiful. They would have a functioning, if temporary, base of operations in less than ten days.

While it was being erected, wargs spread out and learned what they could about the surroundings. During the process they gathered the scant flora they found as well as unfamiliar minerals. Several dozen unique ruins and crashed aircraft were mapped out for later exploration. Beyond this, there was nothing else of note about where they were settling.

That was, until the Wendigo King received an explosive scouting report.

One of his wargs spotted a mechanical creature running at high speeds across the wastes. Its neck alone was three meters long like some sort of giraffe from the ancient world.

This didn't make any sense to the Wendigo King. How were there robots in this place? As far as anyone knew this place had been destroyed ten thousand years ago. Whatever civilization had existed had long since perished. He might have believed it somewhat if the warg had told him it was a proper giraffe, but a mechanical one? That didn't seem possible.

He was still mulling it over when Coal came running up to him. "Something strange has appeared near our base. It looked like a bird, but it was not. You should see for yourself."

Indeed, overhead there was circling a creature that looked to have been modeled after some monstrous misconception of an eagle. It had two heads and one tail. Its two pairs of eyes were dark red and shined with electric light. Every inch of its body was made of metal and countless years exposed to the environment had caused parts of it to rust. Something had damaged its chest, revealing circuits and wires which sputtered with sparks. Long story short, it was a mechanical bird!

The reports were right! Operational machines! The creature circling above them was a highly complex system of circuits still functional after all this time!

It circled the base a few times until breaking into a steep dive. A small rocket emerged from its back and spat fire, increasing its speed by four or five times. They watched it tear passed the base, uninterested in them, and instead snatching up something from the ruins nearby.

The pioneers all watched, transfixed. The bird rose again with a strip of something in its talons, something that looked like a snake.

Of course that was just how it looked. The snake was made of the same material as the bird which had captured it. Another complicated machine. It wriggled against the nail-like talons and tried to belch fire at the bird but to no avail. The bird ignored its desperate attempts and carried off its prize. It paid the outsiders no mind.

What the fuck?

The same thought hung in everyone's mind as they watched the scene unfold. Sandspire's scientists were especially stunned by what they'd witnessed.

Two machines living and acting as fluid as real creatures. This sort of technology was centuries ahead of anything Sandspire could produce! It was incredible that they should act out roles of hunter and prey, for what need did machines have to hunt? Robots were not real living things! Yet another inexplicable mystery in this strange world that left the newcomers baffled.

1. They were supposed to have been obliterated. I guess they reproduce fast.

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