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Book 6, Chapter 11 – Deploying Forces

 The Green Alliance made preparations to deploy eighty thousand troops spread between eight hundred airships.

In terms of the size of its army, the Green Alliance held no advantage. Equipment and artillery were also lacking. However, Cloudhawk's warriors were more refined and better trained. Among these troops was not only Greenland's own crack divisions, but also equipment from Nox constituting the latest generation of wasteland tools of war. Without question, the Green Alliance's army was the most excellent in the southern wilds.

Within Greenland Fort's war room, several high-ranking members of the Alliance were studying the best ways to confront the enemy. Cloudhawk was staring at a huge map of the wastelands. "With Nox's support and equipment, our army is no less deadly than Skycloud's expeditionary force. However, after Sanctuary Nox's own forces are still recovering. The size of our forces is inferior, not only to the Conclave but even just to Skycloud city's standing army."

Dawn, Wolfblade and the drunk were all in attendance. They listened respectfully and did not interrupt.

"Clearly the conclave's attack on Nucleus was intended to draw us into their territory. Draw a snake from its hole and then cut off the head." Cloudhawk took a stick and drew a line across the map. "If we send everything we have against the Conclave, Skycloud will certainly take the opportunity to attack the Green Alliance while we're away. If we sent eighty thousand as we're discussing, the conclave is sure to ambush them en route, with some of Skycloud's elite hidden among them. Chances are our elite will be annihilated before ever getting their foot in the door. The Green Alliance will have lost the bulk of its fighting force."

Cloudhawk had thought about this problem thoroughly. The Conclave's attack on Nucleus could not be ignored by the Green Alliance, but it was the opening move in a crafty scheme their enemy had carefully concocted.

The Conclave's ultimate target was the Green Alliance. They wanted to break this deadlock as quickly as possible. Attacking Nucleus was the best and most direct method to get the Green Alliance to act.

Nucleus was also a part of the Green Alliance. If they did nothing and let the city fall into enemy hands, other cities would fear for their safety. What would stop the Conclave from taking the rest of the Green Alliance's territory piecemeal? But, what if they took the bait? That would be the most costly, for indeed the Conclave would not be satisfied with anything less than the Green Alliance's absolute destruction.

If they sent a strong enough force to contend with their enemies, they left their nest empty and exposed. The Conclave wouldn't even have to attack at that point and leave it to Arcturus, who would lead Skycloud's expeditionary force across the south uncontested. While the Conclave led the Green Alliance's army across the Northern Barrens by the nose, Arcturus would take their homes from the south and leave them pinned on both sides. Cloudhawk's forces would be left with enemies on two fronts and no home to go back to.

At the same time the Conclave could use the strategy of siege and support. Having taken over Nucleus they could reinforce the defensible position and use it to their advantage against its former owners. Meanwhile Skycloud's forces would harass them en route, laying ambushes that would hamstring the Green Alliance before they even got to their destination. With most or all of Cloudhawk's forces tied up, his enemy's plans to take the south could resume and their dream of unification under Arcturus realized.

To fight or not to fight... no matter what route they chose, the end result for their Alliance was a sour one.

Cloudhawk went on. "This fight is very different from the last one. They're luring us into enemy territory where the Conclave can use its superior numbers, cities and Skycloud's help to give them significant advantages. Enough to mobilize a deadly resistance at a moment's notice. Once we're trapped in the Northern Barrens, the situation would be very bad."

"If we fight, we're screwed. If we don't, same deal. What are we supposed to choose?"

Dawn felt that after only a few months since its establishment, the Green Alliance wasn't wholly settled yet. There were a number of cities and settlements that were still holding out against joining. Some that had joined were still not entirely convinced it was in their best interest. A war against the Conclave, which had had two years to gain solid footing, did not bode well for their fledgling Alliance.

Besides that, this fight was in the Northern Barrens - Conclave territory. Home turf advantage was difficult to overcome. Then there was Arcturus waiting in the wings. The fight hadn't even started and things were already looking bad for the Green Alliance. Any way you cut it, victory looked like a distant hope. Their young group only had one chance at survival so they couldn't afford to lose.

Wolfblade lent his voice to the conversation. "Don't fret, things aren't hopeless. Our options are limited, but remember that our enemy is not a monolithic whole. At least in Skycloud. Arcturus has considerable forces at work against him."

"You're right," Cloudhawk said with a nod. "Arcturus is hiding the truth from his people, but there are deeply ingrained feelings of fear and distrust among Elysians and wastelanders. Arcturus can't openly send his army in support of the Northern Barrens, because such brazen support would shatter the image he's trying to cultivate. If he sends his armies north he can't formally join with the Conclave. If we're clever, we can use that disconnect to our advantage."

Dawn was an Elysian, born to a military family. She was well aware of the truth in Cloudhawk's words. Arcturus might have control of the armed forces, but making those proud soldiers fight shoulder to shoulder with wastelanders was too much to ask. If he dispatched them to intercept the Green Alliance, they would be doing it alone.

Dawn wasn't stupid. When she realized the opportunity she connected the dots. "I got it! So we use those contradictions to pin down Skycloud's forces, break through the Conclave, then establish ourselves in Woodland Vale. From there we have a solid harbor in the Northern Barrens."

She was just right. But what about these contradictions? Primarily that meant Arcturus Cloude and Ramiel Caelestis!

It was clear that Arcturus had grown in strength and prominence in the last two years. Yet, with the Cloud God slumbering it would make sense to imagine Ramiel as the highest authority of the Temple and Skycloud's religious institutions. Never before had the High Priest been so elevated. Surely he could find some way to wrest back power.

That was their chance! Ramiel represented the Temple, a force that had always been independent of Skycloud's politics and military. It didn't matter how strong Arcturus was, he could never directly compel the Temple to act. In this way, Ramiel's position was even higher than the Governor's.

Of course, the Temple's forces couldn't compare with the entirely of Skycloud's army. That being said, it was still a force to be reckoned with. Ramiel had the authority to command all the major churches of the realm as well, thus wielding substantial influence. Even if Arcturus was fearful of the Temple and its position, on the surface at least he had to remain respectful. He couldn't act rashly.

Cloudhawk needed a way to reach the Temple.

By using the conflicts in Skycloud, perhaps he could pin down or eliminate the immediate threat of Skycloud intervention. Thus protected from ambush, the Green Alliance could postpone saving Nucleus and instead make for Woodland Vale. From there, using the realm's formidable defenses, they would be in a much better position to fight the Conclave of Judgment.

"So what's the plan?" Dawn asked.

"You three gather the army and make for the north. Find a way to break through the siege, and ignore any overtures from Skycloud. The rest, leave to me." Inwardly Cloudhawk struggled with what he had to do. His identity and responsibilities would cause some... discomfort, but it had to be done. "I'll find a way to tie Arcturus hands and stop him from meddling."

Dawn wished to speak, but on consideration held her words. She wasn't pleased with the idea. She knew at this juncture there was only one person Cloudhawk could reach out to for help. That was Selene Cloude, the Temple's Apostle.

She was Ramiel's right hand, a woman he hoped to turn into a weapon against Arcturus. Since she was looking for ways to make Arcturus pay for his crimes, she would perhaps be open to the opportunities Cloudhawk presented.

Dawn approached Cloudhawk and, removing a necklace, handed it to him.

"What this?" He asked.

"I can't force that woman to do anything, but I do still have connections with the Temple. Take this necklace and show it to the oracle Aquaria. Tell her I'm at risk of dying to Arcturus and his rebel siege. See if that inspires her to do something for a change."

Cloudhawk had forgotten that Dawn used to be closely connected to the Temple. At one time she was their darling, in the process of being groomed to lead their Templars. Her mother, Aquaria, was one of two prime Oracles - the Oracle of Order, second only to the High Priest and higher in influence than Grand Prior Phain. However, the oracles only acted for the good of the Temple. Even something this threatening to the Polaris family wouldn't necessarily compel Aquaria to intervene.

That was the source of Dawn's grudge against her mother. But this was a different time and circumstance, otherwise how could someone with Dawn's stubborn nature ask for her help?

If the Temple wished to claw back some of its autonomy and strength from Arcturus, there would surely come a period of strife - both open and in secret. As the saying went, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. If Cloudhawk could make clever use of this relationship, perhaps they could change the situation to their benefit.

Some things man had to take into his own hands! His deeds could mean all the difference.

Cloudhawk closed his fist around the necklace and looked Dawn in the eyes. "I leave the army in your hands."

"You be careful." Dawn looked back at him, her eyes clear and radiant.

The meeting was concluded and everyone left to make preparations. For this excursion to the north, they would need to leave themselves some wriggle room. In order to ensure Skycloud didn't steal territory out from under them, Cloudhawk had to leave behind a large enough contingent of soldiers to maintain the border. He pondered for a long time before coming to a decision. Autumn!

After the last several months, Autumn had managed to reestablish peace and stability in her own realm of Meadow. Meadow was too far away to be threatened by Arcturus, especially since to get there one had to pass through the dangerous and unknown ancient battlefield.

Arcturus couldn't feasibly attack Meadow, and besides the godly realm was protected by powerful enchantments. It was also adjacent to Nox, which had formidable power to bear if needed. At the very least, the Khan of Evernight could effectively defend the Alliance's rear.

Even if Skycloud spread itself thin and attacked two fronts at once, they could not easily slip across the Green Alliance's borders. So leaving Autumn back in Meadow didn't make much sense. However Greenland, as the heart of the Alliance, needed a powerful defender. She was more than capable enough for the post.

The other option was Abaddon, however he felt he could place more trust in the Shepherd God.

As for the army being led into the north, under the guidance of the Green Alliance Governor Wolfblade, there was also the drunk, Abaddon and Dawn to command the forces. Now that everything was arranged, the soldiers would ship out in three days.

Cloudhawk left Greenland on his own, with his eyes fixed on the distance horizon toward Skycloud.

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