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Book 6, Chapter 41 - Skycloud's Big Three

 Arcturus Cloude, Governor of Skycloud and master of the Elysian realm, was dead. His demise marked the end of the great war for the wastes.

The question was whether Skycloud would need to shift to defense before the situation stabilized. Clearly the biggest winner was the Green Alliance. Aside from defeating their most terrible enemy, they had also conquered half of the Conclave. Dozens of Northern settlements, cities and gangs fell to ruin. Cloudhawk had succeeded in conquering all the of the wastelands.

Results of this war would have far-reaching effects on the future of the world. Skycloud, and all the known and unknown parts of the waste, were now under Cloudhawk's sphere of influence. Never in its thousand year history had Skycloud encountered such a man.

He wasn't just a wasteland ruler anymore. He was its master. A true and worthy king. From this day forward all wastelanders would worship his name, and all Elysians would fear it.

Skycloud's expeditionary force clearly fared the worst during the war. During the fierce conflict nearly all of its troops and ships were destroyed. Casualties were higher than ninety percent. Those that survived were captured and were being held in dank, unforgiving dungeons.

The prisons were crowded, with two or three captives per square meter. They huddled in groups of disheveled hopelessness, a sorry sight to see. They didn't even look like Elysians anymore.

Hammont Seacrest sat in one corner, hair unkempt and eyes blank. His splendid Elysian armor was cracked, revealing a patchwork of bandages beneath that protected his wounds. They did little to stem the trickling blood that seeped from them. He was badly injured but didn't register the pain. Swallowed up by the darkness of hopelessness, it was the only thing he could feel.

From a village bumpkin to a commander of the expeditionary force... Hammont had managed to climb quite a ways in a handful of short years. He could remember when he was a small, insignificant man. Before he became a military leader.

His amazing rate of growth was an inspiration to many. However this defeat subverted not only his identity, but his values and world view. He no longer knew what was right, or what was wrong. He didn't know what he should or shouldn't do. Hammont's faith was lost, along with his sense of purpose and direction.

When Arcturus was alive Hammont didn't need to ask any of these questions. Follow the Governor, that was his compass. Arcturus Cloude was a much more brilliant man than he, so whatever road he chose was the proper one.

The one lantern in a vast, all-consuming darkness.

Now all there was on the horizon was confusion and panic. It was like being surrounded in eternal shadow, wrapped in fog. The feeling was more cutting than the very real danger that faced them. Every time he closed his eyes he saw tens of thousands of his compatriots turning to ash and smoke...

Clunk! The lock to the cell door was undone. Several hundred Elysian soldiers raised their heads as a high-ranking Skycloud official and the mutant Coal walked inside.

The officer wore a silver mask and looked around with cold, unfeeling eyes. They were full of disdain and disregard, as though he were looking at a nest of rats. "You can all come out."

"Brontes!"

In Hammont's dead heart sparked a flame of anger. He leaped at Brontes, wrapped his hands around the man's throat and squeezed. The sound of bones popping was audible.

'Brontes' did not react so much as blink. He stared at the man before him like he was a child throwing a tantrum.

The flesh beneath Hammont's fingers turned slick and slippery like the skin of a fish. It separated, slipping through the gaps between his fingers as the skin rearranged itself. What must have been thousands of tentacles slithered free and wrapped around Hammont's own neck, lifting his hefty frame off the ground without effort.

Brontes disappeared. In his place was a creature in blood red robes.

"You can come for me any time you wish to seek revenge. So long as you think you're strong enough to kill me." He glared at Hammont, enunciating every syllable. "I. Am. Carnage. King of the wastelands. Remember my name."

Coal was standing behind the shapeshifter. He recognized the fat man, one of the soldiers who had attacked him and his people back on the Blisterpeaks. He bore no hate toward the Elysian and had no intention of seeking revenge. It was only partially because he was commanded to, but also because living was a special sort of torture for this Elysian.

Carnage flung Hammont aside like a piece of refuse. Coal, meanwhile, set about opening the other prison cells. The two mutants arrived alone, then left without a word.

The soldiers didn't rush after the mutants to try and kill them. After the battle their morale was shredded, All they wanted was to go home to their families. Many of them were committed to never again lifting a weapon.

"Commander!"

"Are you alright?"

"Quick, let's get out of here!"

A number of Elysians scooped Hammont back onto his feet then rushed toward the exit.

When they got outside several damaged Skycloud warships hovered just overhead. Gangplanks were extended, ready to accept them. In addition there were several familiar figures, led by the Temple Apostle Selene Cloude. She was clad in her brilliant white vestments with her glittering crystal sword on her back. Oracle Aquaria, in fresh robes, stood to one side while Grand Prior Phain stood at the other. His face was so badly scarred he was almost unrecognizable.

In addition to them were a number of assassins from the Umbra family.

Hadn't they all been named traitors to the realm?

"Everyone aboard. You're headed back to Skycloud."

The expeditionary force set off with great vigor. They would be returning ravaged, with a tenth of their number surviving. The most prosperous Elysian family, the Cloudes, saw their greatest cut down on foreign soil. After a thousand years of superiority they were brought low.

Three days after their return the city leaders opened an official inquiry into the acts of their former Governor. Survivors of the Temple appeared to testify, as well as members of all the great houses. Dusty tomes filled with notes were extracted from the Governor's mansion and revealed to everyone.

The books were a detailed account of Arcturus' thirty years as Governor. Laid bare before all were the actions he'd done in secret, his unforgivable sins. From the murder of Skye Polaris to the plot against Ramiel Caelestis. From his collusion with wastelanders to the slaughter of the Defenses forces. All of it.

Each revelation fell upon the citizens of the realm like a nuclear blast. Skycloud, already on the brink of chaos, devolved into an uproar. It was an even more shocking discovery than when they heard the expeditionary force had been wiped out. The investigation lasted three full days. All the darkest parts of the realm's history over the last thirty years was dredged up. All of the darkness and blood, the cruelty and scheming, was brought to light.

While numbers were unclear, word was that no fewer than three hundred people fainted during the parade of atrocities. A slew of suicides numbering over five thousand rocked the city over the course of the hearings, from the highest officials to the lowest commoners.

It was unthinkable to all that below the surface of their glorious and pious existence was such a dark face. Worse, it was their lauded Governor who so unscrupulously committed these deeds in the name of the realm.

Of course, despite the mountain of evidence there were many who remained skeptical. Arcturus' influence over the city over the last three decades was far reaching. It was highly suspicious that these dealings would come to light only once the Governor had perished and was unable to defend himself.

How could the countless devotees, citizens, and demonhunters accept such poisonous tales about the man they adored? As such dozens of spontaneous demonstrations sprang up during the proceedings. Groups shouted at the top of their lungs, claiming that Selene and her traitorous brood were conspiring to steal the Governor's seat.

Protests continued all throughout the hearings, reaching a fever pitch when the accusations reached their darkest point. As Skycloud became embroiled in the eye of this storm, there came an announcement that caught everyone by surprise: Oracle Aquaria would be elevated to the post of High Priest. Grand Prior Phain would take command of all the realm's armed forces. Former Apostle Selene Cloude would take the post of the city's Governor.

The news threw the realm into turmoil.

Most of the citizens still supported Arcturus and these three had been openly labeled as defectors. Upon returning to the realm, they wasted no time smearing the former Governor's name while doing nothing to clear their own. Now they took the reigns vacated by Arcturus, Ramiel and Skye?

Those three positions were the crux of Skycloud's leadership. How could such a hasty decision be reached?

In very little time Skycloud's central square was choked with people. Demonhunters, soldiers and citizens all carried banners and shouted slogans, decrying the decision and demanding it be overturned.

Selene was surprised at how vociferously the people fought back, however the city could not continue without a Governor. Chaos had already taken root, she had to stabilize the situation as quickly as possible. To do this, there was no recourse but to appear before the crowds. Even with the support of the city's elite, she still would find it difficult to convince the common folk.

"Selene, resign!"

"Run the traitor from our city!"

"Only Master Arcturus deserves to be our Governor!"

The city's central square was designed to accommodate twenty thousand at a time. Right now, almost one hundred thousand people were trying to shout over one another. Their voices rushed over Selene like waves. Anyone would be shaken by the scene. With a crowd of this size, if they got violent the damage would be incalculable.

Selene looked over the sea of angry faces, brows furrowed. She had to think of something...

What followed was something unexpected by both sides. Winds picked up through the city, stirring the clouds above. An intense and pervasive mental energy hung over everyone. As faces turned toward the heavens their expressions froze in shock. There in the skies hung a figure.

"It's the Cloud God!"

"The Cloud God appears!"

Indeed the figure that was revealed above the city was none other than their patron, the Cloud God. Even they who spent much of their time in the Temple - Selene, Aquaria and Phain - were astonished by what they were witnessing.

When had the god awakened? And the Cloud God had... actually left the Temple!

As the deity appeared before the crowds, its vast mental energies invaded their minds. A voice, full of power and majesty, reverberated through every fiber of their being.

"Her appointment is valid! Let it proceed!"

The Cloud God appeared personally to confirm their positions. Selene and the others now held the reigns of power in Skycloud.

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