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Book 6, Chapter 27 – Slim Chance

 Selene was resting in Woodland Vale. Marks from last night's battle left her ashen and frail. Her pretty face was drawn and her normally brilliant eyes were dim, unfocused. She gazed straight ahead, not looking at anything. Lost.

While a storm raged outside, Woodland Vale was calm and peaceful.

Denizens were busy picking eboncrys fruit or tending fields. None of these people, who had lived this idyllic life for centuries, knew or cared about the chaos roiling outside of their paradise. They were unaware of how that all was about to change.

The world was changing.

Selene stirred when she heard the sound of footsteps approaching. Cloudhawk approached and stopped by her side.

"In my experience, Arcturus either does nothing or acts when his enemies have no room to maneuver. That was how Skye died. Ramiel suffered the same fate. It was no accident. Think about it and you'll see it was the perfect opportunity for Arcturus."

It was unimaginable that Arcturus would brazenly plot the assassination of Skycloud's most respected priest, in the middle of thousands of troops. It was precisely because it was so unthinkable that no one was prepared for it. That was how he succeeded.

"The High Priest spent all his time locked up in the Temple with no political or military experience. He had no idea how outmatched he was by the Governor." Cloudhawk sighed. "If Ramiel had stayed back Arcturus would have continued to play his game, but he couldn't have overcome the Temple like he just did. Leaving on this expedition was playing into the Governor's hands."

Selene had to agree. Ramiel's decision had been hasty and led to his doom.

There was no need for Ramiel to rush Arcturus' ouster. He could have just sent Grand Prior Phain and watch from afar. It didn't matter how prestigious Arcturus was, if he tried to attack Phain and Selene he would have to answer to the Temple. If Ramiel had remained behind, he could have acted as a counterweight, at least for a while.

What did it matter if he was a figurehead? By virtue of his station and respect with the people, he was a thorn in the Governor's side. Ramiel's choices were too radical. He was not wrong to want Arcturus removed, only too hasty. All he achieved was to place himself in inevitable opposition with a superior man, and with nowhere to maneuver the end result was death.

Did he expect Arcturus to just sit back and wait for his plans to fall apart? Ramiel didn't even have the full backing of the Temple. By whatever means, Arcturus had planted his own agents among the faithful, as high as right beside the High Priest himself. Perfectly placed to take advantage of an opportunity just like this.

Selene would have perished as well, if not for Cloudhawk's intervention. He'd managed to foil Arcturus' plans.

However, in the end it didn't much work against the Master Demonhunter. All the blame for Ramiel's murder was placed squarely on the shoulders of her and her 'co-conspirators.' Now Selene, Phain and Janus joined Cloudhawk as blood-drenched heretics.

It was a persuasive story. Selene and Cloudhawk had always had a relationship, this much was widely known among Skycloud's elite. Aquaria was Dawn's daughter, and she had been fighting for Cloudhawk for over a year now. Phain, too, was connected to Dawn as her one-time instructor and fellow Templar. Janus had countless ties to Selene. But most telling of all was that Cloudhawk himself arrived just in time to save their lives.

Soldiers of the fleet arrived on the scene, finding the ruin left behind. Such destruction could only be accomplished by that devil, Cloudhawk. Him and his traitorous friends then escaped after their assassination attempt on Arcturus.

The Governor's grievous injuries were especially striking to many. So few living things were strong enough to harm their legendary leader. In their minds the only way he could be defeated was by some underhanded trickery. He had survived where Ramiel died solely due to his superior strength.

Perhaps there were doubts. Maybe some harbored suspicions and questioned the Governor's account... but who would speak up? No one had enough prestige to challenge Arcturus Cloude.

He was the undisputed authoritarian leader of Skycloud. Years as leader of their government won him the love of the people. Military power was firmly in his grasp. And now, a puppet occupied the role of High Priest, ready to bow to his whim. Unfettered, when this war ceased he would be stronger than ever.

"Boss, we have new information. Arcturus has mobilized the entire Skycloud army." A messenger frantically relayed the news. Selene was stricken by the dire tidings. They were talking about two million standing troops, warships numbering in the tens of thousands. No wasteland force was strong enough to stand in opposition.

Because of their different styles and posts, not all divisions were slated to participate in this fight directly or even quit their posts. Even with the absolute right to command the armies, he was bound by logistics. Forcing an operation would only result in chaos.

But things were different now. Using news of Ramiel's death and in the name of seeking vengeance, he called and the army responded. They would be released upon the wastelands all at once, and once assembled would constituted the full might of Skylcoud. With such a vast force under his command, Arcturus could divide it up as he pleased to attack and surround the Green Alliance's different assets.

Woodland Vale would be destroyed. Greenland would be destroyed. Their entire alliance would be razed to the ground. All the things Cloudhawk had bled and sweat for would be torn asunder. This little kingdom they worked so hard to build, gone.

Arcturus was poised to accomplish his aim of unifying the wastes and eliminating all seeds of opposition.

Selene knew the pressure Cloudhawk had to be feeling. He faced the single most crucial challenge in the fate of their species and she could do nothing!

"Don't worry. Things may not look good, but I'm sure we'll come up with something."

He wasn't about to give up. He couldn't afford to, because he didn't just represent himself. He stood up for everyone - all the soldiers and citizens of the Green Alliance depended on him. IF he threw down this mantle then the last line of defense against Arcturus' tyranny could crumble.

Yesterday's conflict was fierce, but Selene managed to escape largely unscathed. Others survived with various degrees of damage, worse being Aquaria and Phain. Aquaria had been caught off guard by the betrayal of her fellow Oracle and nearly destroyed by the Arbiter Staff. Phain bore the uncomfortable and deadly consequences of Arcturus' attack.

Dawn and the drunk were looking after them both. Cloudhawk and Selene joined them. "How are they doing?"

Dawn met Selene's question with a hostile stare before looking back at her wounded mother. "Badly hurt, but for the moment not in danger of dying. But it doesn't look like they'll be fighting anymore. Great job, you all. Failed to help and instead made things worse."

Dawn shot a provocative glare at Selene.

She didn't have any interest in fighting. "Oracle Aquaria and Grand Prior Phain are strong. Now is the time to recruit them. If we can help them recover before the big fight, they would be great assets on the battlefield.

She wasn't wrong. A silver lining to Arcturus' foul deeds.

Aquaria and Phain were loyal to all that was holy and had many who respected them in the Temple. People weren't blind, they could see for themselves what was happening. The time may come when they would be forced to make a decision, and if these two could be coaxed to their side the many friends they'd cultivated over the years would be a great boon.

"Alright, out of the way."

Cloudhawk extended his hand, a mirror in his grip. A gentle light was exuded from it and fell over the two fallen Elysians. Right away their more obvious wounds began to heal. The relic he employed was the storied Rekindling Lens, whose incredible healing abilities were legendary throughout Skycloud. The physical wounds they'd suffered could be erased through its power.

After a time, Aquaria and Phain awakened. Both were weak, Phain especially. Having taken the brunt of Arcturus' attack, his condition was especially bad.

The Grand Prior's eyes fluttered open. When he saw Cloudhawk and Vulkan standing over him, he knew where he was. He tried to rise, but the drunk gently held him down. "You're badly hurt. Lay still, you all got a terrible beating. Even the old priest was killed."

Phain and Aquaria knew the old drunk's true identity, the War Saint Vulkan. As members of the Temple they had connections that went years back.

"Vulkan? Dawn?"

She was surprised at the two familiar faces. Under Arcturus' assault she had been sure she would die, but instead she had been blessed with seeing her daughter again. Her vision slid passed them to the man who stood a few meters away. Cloudhawk.

"What happened? The High Priest, he..."

"He was killed by Arcturus. If Cloudhawk hadn't arrived when he did, we would all have died with him."

The information struck Aquaria like a meteor.

Cloudhawk stepped forward and addressed the Temple faithful. "I know there are some misgivings and misinformation between us, but we've all walked down a path there's no going back from. Arcturus now controls every major power in Skycloud. We don't have much time. If you want to stop him then you have to fight with me. You have no other choice."

Cloudhawk was a devil to the people of Skycloud, a heinous sinner! But that being the case, in all the world he seemed to be the only one capable of fighting back against the Governor.

Only he had any real chance. But Skycloud was on the move, bringing to bear everything it could in an overwhelming display. For all his strength, Cloudhawk had nothing but a slim chance at victory.

No choice but cooperation. He was right.

Dawn spoke up after him. "You all have been branded traitors to Skycloud. There's no place to go back to. Join us, or go home and be burned at the stake."

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