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Book 6, Chapter 38 - Betrayal

 Chapter 38: Betrayal

Fallowmoor. Chaos. Ruin.

Outside it was besieged by Skycloud's expeditionary force. Within, a war raged between wastelanders and Elysian invaders. The magnificent city that had been hovering over the wastes for hundreds of years felt no different in this moment than the inhospitable ranges of the Blisterpeak mountains. Whoever won this war, Fallowmoor would be left a ravaged battlefield.

Taron brandished the Arbiter's Staff and brought it crashing down on Abaddon. The spray of gore he was expecting never appeared. Instead, the demon dissolved into a cloud of sand that surrounded nearby demonhunters. As though suddenly assailed by a million bloodthirsty insects, the Elysians were flayed until there was nothing left but bone.

Once the Caliph of the Sands transformed he was immune to many attacks. The deathly cloud moved through Skycloud's forces until it was assailed by bolts of electricity. They lashed and bit at the cloud like a thousand angry vipers.

A crackling explosion shook the field! Sparks filled the sand cloud.

It reacted with like air caught in a whirlwind of fire, like insects confronted with boiling water. The motes of sand immediately retracted back into the form of Abaddon. Tendrils of black smoke rose off its body.

Arcturus fended off the demon while using Ruin to knock away Wolfblade's Blade of Oblivion. As the two legendary weapons collided, Ruin visibly dimmed. However, Wolfblade was clearly inferior in strength and could not break passed the Master Demonhunter's guard.

It was Cloudhawk's turn to act. He chopped Ardent Wrath at his foe. With a grunt Arcturus staggered backward.

From the flank Dawn summoned the power of Terrangelica to fire spikes of earth at the Governor and those around him. Several were immediately impaled and the others could not retreat passed the wall of jagged stone. With lightning speed, Cloudhawk followed up with a second and then a third assault.

Huff! Arcturus reeled backward with a cloud of bloody droplets in his wake.

Elysian faces watched with trepidation. The strongest among them, Taron, tried to intervene. Pouring his power into the Arbiter's Staff he repelled Cloudhawk's advance. The Oracle's foreboding grew. Master Arcturus was in dire straights and not getting any better. Meanwhile the wastelanders had elite fighters as numerous as the stars. He felt keenly the danger they were in.

Arcturus had already sacrificed so much and suffered greatly. He could not fight any longer.

Taron was an ardent believer of the Governor. He felt in the deepest parts of his heart that Arcturus was correct, and the actions of this foolish barbarians were self-destructive. Were it not for the Governor's efforts over the last many years, Skycloud would be at the cusp of ruin.

"Defensive posture!"

Taron called for their offensive to become a stand. Indeed the Elysians did not have as many elite fighters as the wastelanders, but he was certain their total strength was superior. What's more, outside the Elysian armada had thoroughly suppressed Cloudhawk's troops. So long as they held the blockade, Skycloud's invasion force would remain firm.

Yet even as the thought entered the Oracle's mind everyone stopped. A blinding light was birthed outside.

For an instant it burned even more brilliant than the sun. The light shone through cracks in Fallowmoor's protective shell and shone upon the battlefield in stark shafts of white with such intensity many were blinded.

As everyone was struggling to find out what was going on, an immeasurable power washed over the city. It felt like they were caught in an ocean, torrential waves buffeting their home one after the other. The floating city listed to one side as debris from the shell fell onto the soldiers.

The city was beginning to look like a wooden house peppered with machine gun fire. As for those inside? They ran amok, frightened insects caught in a glass jar. Artificial gravity had started to fail, causing everyone to rise into the air.

"What in the gods' names happened?!"

Taron couldn't imagine would sort of power could have set off an explosion like that. He stared at the scores of soldiers clawing at everything around them to try and stay anchored. Fear took hold.

"Destroyed! Everything is destroyed!"

"The fleet is no more!"

The expeditionary force had been destroyed? Such staggering news came out of nowhere! What manner of weapon could obliterate a whole armada this way?!

Arcturus' face was growing paler by the second. When he heard the news he knew right away what had happened. Only a nuclear weapon was capable of such destruction.

When the Conclave took over Nucleus they also gained access to the Dark Atom's warheads. How could someone as cunning as Wolfblade let such horrifying weapons fall into enemy hands and do nothing? All of this had to have been Wolfblade's doing. He used the Conclave to unwittingly activated the nuclear bomb for his own purposes.

It had all played into his hands.

No wastelander could have gotten into the heart of the armada. They had to have had help from the inside. It was the only way to smuggle the warhead into Elysian back lines where it would do the most damage. Surely the brazen act had also claimed many wastelander lives, but what did that matter if it meant the utter defeat of Skycloud's forces?

"It appears we have lost." Arcturus was out of breath and stood on shaky feet, panting heavily. "Escape. Do not worry about me and spread out into the wastes. Otherwise you will perish here."

"Master Cloude I am forever by your side! Fleeing is not an option!" Taron rejected the order. "The realm still has troops, we can muster our forces and cover our retreat!"

Arcturus' life was a beacon, more brilliant and important than any other. Once his light was snuffed out it would leave his people in darkness - Taron included.

Arcturus shook his head. They couldn't escape, nor did he want to. Now that the writing was on the wall Arcturus did not feel anger or regret, but relief.

"I did not use to believe in miracles, but I do now. I cannot change anything, I have done all that I can and feel no sorrow. Those who survive are our hope and our future. Do not throw that away to die by my side."

As Arcturus spoke in that sagely intonation, lightning cast his face in stark shadow. It deepened the wrinkles, highlighting the sense of loss and other complex emotions writ therein.

"Go, now!"

With that said the Governor released all the power left within him in one breath. Hundreds of lightning bolts burst out and covered the sky. Cloudhawk and Wolfblade both watched as, like a spent star, Arcturus ejected his life force out into the world around him. "Watch out!"

Cloudhawk gathered those near him and brandished his gauntlet for protection. The bolts of lightning struck the pale white shield and split, creating a net of interlaced electric tendrils. For the moment they could not advance.

Arcturus collapsed.

Taron and the others would not leave their precious leader behind. They gathered him up and began to fall back. Others could die, the whole Elysian fleet could be destroyed, only the Governor was important. If he fell, then Skycloud was finished!

Cloudhawk saw them and moved to give chase. He didn't care who fled, so long as Arcturus' corpse remained behind. As long as the Governor breathed this terrible war would be repeated again and again. The wastelands could not stomach another conflict like this.

"Do not pursue a broken enemy!" Wolfblade moved in front of Cloudhawk, blocking him. "Do not worry, I have everything prepared."

Twenty Elysian invaders remained, including Taron and Frost. In the face of their terrible defeat they searched for a way to escape the city. But what they found was a black dagger whispering through the shadows.

It struck one of the Cloude family elders square in the chest. He died without uttering a sound. In a horrific display his corpse withered away before their eyes.

Taron hissed. "Death and Decay!"

It was that foul relic, tool of the assassin Inkspecter!

"I used this same weapon to end the life of Skye Polaris outside the walls of this city." The voice that called to them was sinister and full of dark promises. Inkspecter, Squall, Ravenous Tiger and the others emerged from the shadows. With a wave of his hand Death and Decay returned to Inkspecter's grip. "I will now use it to slay Arcturus. Poetic, don't you think? The way retribution comes for us all."

Mad anger manifested as a smirk on Taron's face. He gripped the Arbiter's Staff tight and stepped forward, leaving the others to watch over the Governor. "You think your group of worms can stop us?"

A strange grin spread across Inkspecter's face. It filled Taron with a sickening sense of unease, for behind that smirk was confidence in victory. It was the sort of smile one hand when the mosquito was in their sights. A swing of the arm and the pest was eliminated.

Only, why was he so confident? In terms of sheer strength Taron could handle half his crew, even injured. He could not imagine what made Inkspecter think he could defeat the all-conquering Arbiter's Staff!

Taron's confusion was short-lived. The answer came when he felt the frigid bite enter his body. A silvery blade burst from his chest following by a bone-deep cold. The Oracle could feel his blood freezing in his veins. His rattling breath turned to steam.

"F-frost... you... "

It was unthinkable. Never in his wildest dreams... He was the most brilliant rising star of the Elysian realms. Arcturus' very own disciple, Frost de Winter, was turning on his master? Why would he choose betrayal, and now of all times!

The others also could not believe what they were seeing. Traitors were everywhere and could be anyone - anyone but Frost! Yet this unimaginable event was unfolding right before them.

Frost's heroic features were twisted and angry. He wrenched Frozen Dirge from the Oracle's body then hacked it lengthwise. Taron was cleaved at the waist, and his frozen body shattered like glass at it hit the ground.

Mercilessly, the spear struck again. Before anyone reacted Frost drove his weapon through another man's chest. The second murder finally stirred them from their stupor. Frost, a traitor! A third survivor was slain, and by now the Hand of Gehenna was joining the fray. With only twenty or so left how were the Elysians to defend themselves?

Only one remained calm. Arcturus watched as though he knew this would occur. What was destined to come would come, so he met it gladly.

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