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Book 6, Chapter 10 – The Past and the Future

 Moonlight penetrates the shimmering boundary, and sprinkles its silver light over Greenland.

In the middle of an otherwise still training field a young woman trains, drenched in sweat. Over and over again she practices swinging her exorcist rod, full of speed and power. Each strike whistles through the air and expels gusts of wind.

A dozen practice dummies lay in pieces around her. Her current target was riddled with holes and on its last legs.

She moved as fluid as a fish through water. Sweat caused her clothing to stick to her and dripped from her hair, clumps of it clinging to her face. Yet still she pressed on with a fervent light in her eyes. Driven.

Azura was only barely ten years old and already she was surprisingly strong. She was capable of besting some of the best of the Talons already on her own!

Headmistress Claudia said that if she kept up this pace, in two years even she might have a hard time beating the girl. Her rate of growth was nothing short of spectacular. It'd earned her a nickname: Greenland's Star.

Azura was the most talented child in the whole territory. She was tough, tenacious and smart. From her tiny body poured a tremendous amount of physical and mental strength. Hers was truly a mighty spirit. She was the future of Greenland, a representation of the bright future they could expect.

But Azura wasn't satisfied. She wasn't good enough yet. She wasn't anywhere near strong enough.

She continued to practice with her exorcist rod until a deep weariness swept over her. Pain and weakness crept through every inch of her, so intense she nearly fainted. But her will refused to compromise, so she grit her teeth and focused until the feeling subsided. She grunted, and was fine.

She struck out with her rod once again.

She felt as though by forcing back the discomfort she'd accessed a deeper power within herself. It was released with her strike as a torrent of wind. The practice dummy in front of her was ripped to pieces.

She stood there panting heavily. Today she'd had a breakthrough. It was a good feeling, to overcome one's limitations. These challenges helped her on her path of accomplishment, but it still wasn't enough - not even close. If she was going to be like her master then she had a lot more work to do.

Cloudhawk was no typical person, of course. His history, talent, encounters... hell, nothing in his life could ever be emulated. Reaching up to where he was seemed impossible. But Azura was not the sort to give up when something seemed hard. Her young spirit and immature thoughts were firm and confident.

Nothing in this world was impossible. No matter how small the person or how humble the soul, so long as one did their best they could command incredible power!

"Hey, Blue!"

"We thought you might be here."

"Why are you still training? You need rest."

Azura stopped and turned to the group of children walking across the training field. They were her classmates in the demonhunter academy.

Even at a young age Azura had a leader's personality and charm. Not only was she talented, but also reliable and mature. She was well liked by everyone she knew. When they approached she stopped flailing around and slipped the rod back into her waistband.

"What are you doing here? Come to train?"

"Forget it, sister. We aren't interested in getting beat up."

"Leader Cloudhawk brought a lot of good stuff for the Institute. We're all going to take a look, come with us!"

What? Master had come back? Azura said nothing else and went with them to see what was going on.

She was one of several thousand Institute students who heard the news. They all gathered in the empty central ground.

All the children here came to learn different disciplines. In the future they would be the leaders, using this knowledge to propel humanity further along. Without a doubt, they were all the hope for the wasteland's future. Gatherings of the whole student body like this were rare, so it was to be something important.

"Leader Cloudhawk!"

"It's the leader of the Green Alliance!"

Cloudhawk, Headmistress Claudia and several instructors appeared before the students.

When he revealed himself there was a chorus of excited calls. The eyes of the students were bright with admiration and fanaticism. Cloudhawk was more than a man to them, he was a living legend. He was a god of the wastelands!

Without Cloudhawk there would be no Greenland. There would be no Green Alliance. Without Cloudhawk, these children didn't know where they would be or even if they would still be alive. Without their great leader, the wastelands would still be a place of darkness.

Cloudhawk was bringing the light of rebirth to this barren place. He was Greenland's greatest protector and an icon to every member of the young generation. Wastelanders were tough, brutal, violent and sometimes cruel, but everyone without exception recognized Cloudhawk's superiority.

He greeted them. The students all fell silent.

"For a thousand years the wastelands have been a place of chaos. As we've fought to survive through the darkness we have lost ourselves. We were forced to throw aside something very important." Cloudhawk looked out over the expectant faces. "But not everything is lost forever. Most of us want to know where we came from, our long-lost culture. These are important, for if you know your past you won't get lost on your path to the future."

"You all are lucky. You can all stop searching."

"From today, Greenland Institute is opening a new class fully available to anyone who is interested. It will teach you about our history. You will come to understand the world we live in. This class will prove that humans weren't meant to be humble insects crawling through the dirt forever. Once our culture was flourishing and glorious. It's important for us to always carry this pride, no matter where we go."

"I won't bore you with talk. How about you see for yourselves?"

Cloudhawk held out a small, spider-shaped robot.

The machine skittered from Cloudhawk's grip and out into the field. Its back opened and its eight legs dug into the ground for stabilization. Then, a complex projection device popped up from inside its carapace. It sparked to life and images began appearing in the air. They were scenes of the old world, the same ones Cloudhawk had witnessed, copied from New Earth's databases.

It revealed a beautiful blue world, brilliant against an expansive dark universe.

Cloudhawk watched the awe bloom on the faces of the children and it filled him with satisfaction. Ninety-nine percent of wastelanders didn't even know what the world they lived in was called, that it was round, or what it might have looked like long ago. Now it was time they knew.

This was the mother that birthed humans and their once-great civilization - Earth!

This precious video data was given to him by New Earth. It detailed the history of their world from prehistoric times, introducing the idea of evolution. The information he brought them would change the way wastelanders viewed their world and help them understand their place in it. Once they knew where they'd come from, everyone would understand where it was they were trying to go.

Azura's big eyes were fixed on the rotating blue orb. She listened as everything was explained. Her heart filled with a sense of... longing.

Yes, that was the world. That was the image she'd seen so often in her dreams. She felt like a lost little boat the finally caught a glimpse of a lighthouse. Genuine desire welled up inside her. If they called Cloudhawk a revolutionary, then Azura wanted to be a reformer.

Azura wanted to be the one to carry on her Master's legacy. She wanted to see their world one day be the same sea-soaked blue marble it used to be. She wanted to see it covered in forests and rivers and flowers on every continent. Azura's dream was a child's dream - impractical and naive. But something about it called to the depths of her spirit.

The display captured the imaginations of not just the students. Talon soldiers and even Headmistress Claudia stared in open amazement. They could not fathom where Cloudhawk could have found this information.

If this were all true the implications of this data were incredible. Cloudhawk was promising to shine a light on humanity's lost history. Indeed he was the man to drive away the darkness, clear away the mist and help the wastelanders find the truth about themselves.

Who would be so foolish to say history wasn't important? It was an intangible power, but a power stronger than any physical thing Cloudhawk could give them. He watched the pictures with them for a long time. No one wanted to look away, staring with confused and conflicted expressions.

But the world beneath their feet had a long and storied history, one that wouldn't be understood in one night. Nor would they have the opportunity, for Dawn rushed to find Cloudhawk and delivered some news. "You need to come, quickly. Something's happened."

Cloudhawk followed her to Greenland's central fort. There he found Wolfblade and the drunk already waiting.

"What's going on?"

It was Wolfblade who answered. "It appears the Conclave of Judgment and Skycloud are making overtures."

Cloudhawk frowned. "This quick? How?"

"Last night we received an urgent message from the Dark Atom. They were being attacks by internal and external forces. Judging by the urgency of the report, it seems the Dark Atom may be no more. Nucleus has powerful defenses, but no sufficient leadership. Especially if part of the threat came from the inside."

"How bad are the losses?" Cloudhawk asked.

Again, Wolfblade answered. "The casualties and loss of the city aren't important. What worries me most are the several nuclear bombs hidden in the base. They are all likely too damaged to be repaired, but can still pose a threat in enemy hands."

The Dark Atom bore the name because while digging through the volcanic remnants in the Blisterpeaks, they'd uncovered a number of nuclear silos left behind from the ancient civilization. Within them were several unfired ballistic warheads. They were among the most powerful weapons ever created, the apex of destruction from ancient times. Adder had used one to obliterate Skycloud's protective wall, and that stark display proved how devastating they were.

Dawn growled in anger. "So if they are a threat with these bombs, why aren't we reacting?"

Helplessly, Wolfblade addressed her. "The bombs aren't easy to dismantle. They've been protected with self-destruction mechanisms. They are also all damaged - Adder had retrieved the only one we'd managed to repair."

"Whatever the situation, if Nucleus has been attacked we can't just sit here." Cloudhawk said.

Dawn looked at him. "So what's your plan?"

Cloudhawk looked up at the tranquil skies. "Tranquil times can't last forever. Whatever is meant to come will come. We prepare for war with the Conclave of Judgment. It's time for the wasteland to rise form the ashes."

Conflict between the Green Alliance and the Conclave was inevitable. Only this time, it would happen on the Conclave's turf, so they would have no advantage. The most dangerous fact, however, was that Skycloud would not be idle. The resistance against unifying the wastelands under the Green Alliance would be strong.

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