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Book 6, Chapter 17 – Deterrence

 Blisterpeak Mountains, the dead zone.

This area was baked by high temperatures and caked in volcanic ash that had lain undisturbed for years. Not a single blade of grass could survive in this hellish landscape. In fact the only living things were those few beasts and mutants who had mutated to tolerate the extreme heat.

Beneath the dead expanse was a city, buried underground.

In times past it had been the seat of an organization Skycloud saw as its main adversary, the Dark Atom. It was one of the wastelands best kept secrets for over a century until recently being thrust upon the world stage. Since then, Nucleus had experienced tragedy after tragedy.

First it suffered a number of raids from Skycloud. Afterwards, at Wolfblade's direction, soldiers from Nucleus were dispatched to help Woodland Vale and the Greenland. Now the one legendary city was occupied by Conclavian forces. The Dark Atom had succumbed to Natessa and her armies.

Twenty to thirty thousand troops were stationed in Nucleus now. In the skies above a hundred Conclave warships kept watch with advanced weapons trained on entrances. Dozens of scouting parties picked over the mountains, in outposts scattered throughout the territory. The Blisterpeak Mountains were fully under their command.

At the main army compound near the city, two Conclave soldiers with breathing masks were watching the horizon. The skinny one turned to his burly counterpart and muttered through the mask, "I heard we lost two top council members in the southern wilds. Veterans of a thousand battles, and they fall to the Green Alliance. That one Cloudhawk who gave Skycloud so much trouble is back as well. If you ask me, it doesn't look like we're in a great position here."

The large one snorted derisively. "Cloudhawk? He's nothing but a big name, no one in the Northern Barrens pays any attention to that shit. Breaking Sanctuary's defenses? A few years ago Adder blew up Skycloud's precious wall, he was a Northerner. If he hadn't opened the way Cloudhawk would have never even gotten to Sanctuary."

"You've got a point."

"And for all of Dark Atom's power and reputation, we took it down in six months. Killing those idiots was like slaughtering chickens, and those Seeker women are now our playthings."

The thinner man remembered the bloody, carnal delights of the day they took Nucleus and grinned. His large companion continued.

"However strong Cloudhawk is in the eyes of southerners, he's a sack of shit up here. News is that the council is also recruiting a bunch of heavy hitters from Skycloud. Scores of strong demonhunters are fleeing the Elysian realm and joining us. Let those fuckers from the Green Alliance come, we'll make sure they never go home."

"Yeah, no doubt! They'll die out here! All those legends are bullshit! Who the fuck believes a story where some guy destroys a city all by himself?" The skinny man seemed satisfied with his logical deduction. "By the way, I heard that pretty one from Skycloud - Dawn - went south to join Cloudhawk. Lucky assholes. I wonder how many of those wastelanders she's fucked by now."

"Heh, wait 'til we take the south. All their pretty women will be ours, maybe you'll have a go at her yourself. Ah, almost forget about that Hellflower as well. They call her the prettiest flower in the wastelands. I always wanted to give her a spin."

The two men continued to share obscene hopes and chuckle darkly among one another. There was no trepidation or worry. They didn't think it possible anyone would be foolish enough to attack them here.

The Conclave took Nucleus to lure Cloudhawk and his armies out of their comfort zone. If the Green Alliance tried to cross over to the north, they would probably be attacked on the way. After getting beat up all the way here, would hope did they have to win? If the ambushes didn't dampen their taste for a fight, being swamped from all sides when they got here sure would. Stupid idea, to come running out here to take a useless city.

Green Alliance's equipment and manpower were far inferior to the Conclave. They were also under close watch from Skycloud. Any way you cut it, those southerners weren't going to stop the Conclave from taking over everything.

The two men were bickering over who whether Dawn or Hellflower would be the better lay when suddenly the skinny one saw something out of the corner of his eye. Whatever he saw caused him to freeze in place. His burly compatriot shoved him. "Hey, what is it?"

The skinny one extended a finger, and his friend followed it into the distance. When he saw it, the big man's eyes went wide.

Ash hung in the air and it shimmered with heat, but even so the two men could see the black silhouette standing on the distant mountain top. They were too far away to make out any detail, but it was certain this one was looking over Conclave territory.

Whoever they were, they didn't come from the Conclave.

There were outposts all over the place, it shouldn't have been possible for someone to slip through and get so close. Yet there they were, standing at the top of the mountain with their black cloak flapping in the hot volcanic winds like some sort of specter. For half a minute or so the figure just stood there. Then, they slowly raised their hands as though holding something up.

Weird... they had to be from an invading force! The scouts prepared to sound the alarm. However, a few moments later they stopped when the deafening sound of something like breaking glass was heard overhead. Then came the roaring sound. Slowly the two men raised their eyes skyward, peering through the smoke and ash toward the source.

Plummeting toward them were dozens of meteors, none smaller than a hundred meters across! Without rhyme or reason, they'd just appeared a thousand meters above them. Gravity was pulling them toward the ground so fast flames were belching off the sides.


"Run for your life!"

But it was too late to run. Troops all throughout the area blanched as the meteors closed in. As they made landfall, aside from the immediate impact force, a set of chain reactions followed. Earthquakes, landslides, and fissures appeared all around. Even a number of volcanoes threw up their innards in violent eruptions. The meteors kept coming in a truly apocalyptic display.

No human in history could stand alone against an army or a city. Even a man as legendary and frightening as Arcturus Cloude would run out of energy eventually. Against an army of eighty or a hundred thousand - or against a fortified citadel or city - the Master Demonhunter would run out of steam half way and be left helpless.

But there was one exception. All he needed was the will to do so, and any city or army would be laid to waste before him. Cloudhawk's destructive capabilities were beyond anything seen before. He merely had to summon the meteors forth and let gravity do the rest of the work. By the time they made landfall, their speed and weight annihilated anything nearby. Now, without the aid of mental amplification techniques, he could bring down entire mountain ranges upon his enemies!

If he were to use today the sort of amplification altar he'd used at Sanctuary, he would not limited to meteors a hundred meters across. He could probably bring forth small planets! Theoretically Cloudhawk merely needed a stone at high enough altitude to completely pulverize Skycloud city. Of course this was in theory only, for the higher the altitude the more difficult it was to hit accurately.

Cloudhawk's meteor swarm was aimed by guesswork and feeling. As such there was a wide margin of deviation. To be more accurate and summon meteors at higher altitudes he would need to take into account wind speed, resistance, even the earth's rotation.

Reduced accuracy was only one part of it. Even if he did flatten a city with one meteor it would erase all life - soldiers, citizens, complicit and innocent. They would all die in the aftermath, that wasn't Cloudhawk's aim. Here, however, things were different. He knew that no one remained in the city except Conclave soldiers and dangerous nuclear bombs.

Under these circumstances Cloudhawk didn't need to hold back. He was here to erase the Conclave's forces entirely, destroy as much of Nucleus as possible, and strike the fear of devils into the hearts of his enemies.

They will know the Green Alliance is not to be trifled with. They will realize Cloudhawk is even more terrible than the stories say. Ruin would remain as a testament to those who fought the Green Alliance!

After the destruction, Cloudhawk teleported to the valleys below. His dark figure appeared from the devastation among the survivors.

Those devastated, ash-covered remnants still had fight in them. When Cloudhawk appeared they brandished their weapons and tried to shoot him down. However the bullets, rockets and flaming arrows passed harmlessly through the enemy commander without displacing a single hair.

Like a spirit of doom, Cloudhawk hovered over them. With a lazy wave of his hand green fires spread forth like a tidal wave. A hundred meters were suddenly drowned in it. Anything living was devoured, their remains indistinguishable from the volcanic ash in the air.

"Demon! He's a gods-damned demon!"

What remained of the Conclave's forces finally broke and scattered, running for their lives. The power at Cloudhawk's commands were impossible for mere humans to contend with.

Cloudhawk watched them drop their weapons and flee. "Go, tell them that it is time for the Conclave of Judgment to be judged. I will lay waste to every city, every outpost, and every village who stands on their side. If you wish to escape death by fiery boulders from the sky then abandon the Conclave. Otherwise, your time will come."

Upon delivering his final, menacing threat Cloudhawk vanished. Fear lay in the wake of his warning. Would he really destroy everything the Conclave had touched? He was crazy!

Word of Cloudhawk's devastating performance in the Blisterpeaks quickly spread across the Northern Barrens. No one knew if they would turn out to be the madman's next target. Everyone - from city Governors to everyday citizens - lived in constant fear.

It was exactly what Cloudhawk wanted to see.

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