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Book 6, Chapter 42 - The New Alliance

 In the central square of Greenland, victory celebrations were being held.

Despite the grand victory they'd just won the city was absent what revelry one might expect. Cloudhawk and other leaders unveiled a large stone monument to commemorate the moment.

Solemn reverence took hold. It was an obelisk fifty meters tall, covered with names. This was the cost for their triumph in the Northern Barrens. Eighty thousand mighty warriors left to war, but only half returned.

The fallen were all represented. Those with names had them etched into the stones. Those without were remembered by the unit they served. Grief and admiration shown through the eyes of Greenland's citizens as they gazed upon the memorial.

It was a shame that these heroes would not see the city they died for rise to prosperity. They would never know what their sacrifices wrought. Yet the living felt envy. Out in the wastes a single dead man meant nothing - so many bleached bones on the side of the road no one paid any mind to. These names, though, would forever be immortalized.

What did the wastelands lack most of all? Food? Water? Safety? No - as a people forgotten, what the wastelanders lacked was a sense of worth and purpose. When Cloudhawk's sun rose on the horizon he brought light into their lives. He gave them an identity. Those who gave their lives for freedom would be looked up to by future generations forever.

At the very top of the memorial was etched a name that stood alone: The Old Drunk, Lieutenant Governor.

The vagrant had a name but Cloudhawk chose not to use it. He knew little about Vulkan the War Saint, but as far as he was concerned the drunk he knew was a much greater man. He was never forced to join the fight but chose to, up to the very final moment of his life.

"Salute!" The gathered crowds thumped their right fists against their chests in tribute. It was a salute they'd all learned from Greenland Institute.

The wasteland center for learning had grown tremendously. It offered all manner of subjects for study and every day more subdivisions and specialties were added. Without question it would continue to serve as the most important institution for harnessing wastelander potential. To underline the point a group stepped forward, a collection of people trained in a field all but vanished from this part of the world - musicians!

They carried an array of instruments; flutes, guitars, and things never seen in the old world. There were fifty musicians in total, ranging from ages ten to forty. Greenland Institute had given them the opportunity to pursue their passion.

Dawn addressed the people. "Representing Greenland Institute, these performers will celebrate the fallen and commemorate our great accomplishment."

The festivities were simple for there was much still to do, but to the savage folk of the wastes who had never encountered theater it was a breathtaking spectacle. Indeed how could there be civilization without art?

Things had changed, were changing. The wastes hadn't seen such unity in over a thousand years. The Green Alliance was now responsible for a hundred million souls from north to south. What once was a scattered network of cities and settlements were slowly being connected by complex trade routes. They shared food, resources and science to bring everyone up together.

The edible fungus that had been the cornerstone of Greenland's progress was shipped out to other places where sustenance was scarce. When Adder destroyed Skycloud's Great Wall, he forced the realm to release its stranglehold on energy. It seeped out to the rest of the area, causing it to change. Barren soil became more fertile and supported the already tenacious fungi.

Greenland's efforts in developing sewage treatment and water purification equipment were also shared, solving much of the basic health problems of the wastes. With water and food less of a concern, wasteland populations could stabilize and civilization had a solid foundation.

Everything was getting better. Society and order was returning to a desolate land! In celebration of this a crescendo of music - triumphant horns, soaring flutes, and majestic strings - washed over the crowd.

Simple but powerful. Deep and far-reaching. Vast and profound. The music was majestic but at the same time sorrowful like soaring freely through a rainstorm - like a boundless, beautiful desert. The notes told a story of hope found in the depths of despair that resonated with every wastelander who listened. It was titled Sands of the Wasteland, a perfect choice for the occasion.

So ended the brief commemoration.

No one was under any illusion that their work was done. Their victory was hard won, but it only presented them with a chance - perhaps their last chance. It was rare and thus cherished by all. Every citizen hoped that the alliance would hold strong.

When Cloudhawk returned to the fort, Hellflower was waiting for him fresh from a recent trip to the Ark Base. She looked relieved. "I was worried you wouldn't come back."

Cloudhawk scowled. "Could we maybe entertain nicer thoughts in the future?"

"Oh I've got plenty!" Hellflower answered with a coquettish smile. "I've outfitted our labs with equipment from New Earth. With all we've learned Greenland will grow in every possible area, from reproduction to healthcare, military to general quality of life!"

Hellflower wasn't one for embellishment. If she was so confident it meant there was a good chance the future would turn out just like she said.

Ark Base was where New Earth was located, and the magnificent city was the last bastion of the ancient race of humans that once called Earth their home. Unfortunately a great deal of valuable knowledge had been lost when they evacuated, however even what remained benefited from a thousand years of development. Their discoveries were far more abundant than what existed in the wastes.

As far as Hellflower could tell, New Earth's biggest concern was the toxic environment outside its walls. Due to how difficult it was to collect resources, the rate of technological development had stagnated.

In contrast, the wastelands were limited by an overemphasis on practicality. An iconic characteristic of their vehicles and weapons was simplicity. Most everything that was built was done with short-term utility in mind. Few had Hellflower's penchant for taking the long view, which would allow them to put effort into a project with few or no short-term benefits.

Optical computing, for instance.

Wasteland airships were all powered by primitive computers with limited operating systems. They were engaged manually, which meant an increased risk of malfunction. Meanwhile weapons were dumb and simplistic, but what resource did engineers have?

If the wastelands could employ optical computers which were ten thousand times more useful, as well as intelligent weapons systems, it would remove the limitations of human capability. Weapons would be dynamic, powerful and reliable.

And optical computing was only one gift they'd acquired. Hellflower had been busily gathering all sorts of precious knowledge. She'd learned as much as she could about how the mechanical beasts were constructed, as well as the process for building prehistoric weapons!

In short the adage was true; knowledge was power. What the Ark revealed would make their armies stronger and their society better.

Cloudhawk was mulling over how best to employ these advantages when Wolfblade barged in with shocking news. Intelligence from Skycloud revealed that Selene had successfully taken the reigns of power in Skycloud. She sat uncontested in the Governor's mansion.

She had finally achieved her goal. What was she thinking? What was she feeling? Cloudhawk knew how ambitious she was.

But that part wasn't surprising. Selene was brilliant and had the support of the Temple, the Court of Shadows and Skycloud's noble families. She was the natural choice for the position. Rather what surprised Cloudhawk most was news that the realm's patron deity had appeared in front of everyone!

"There is no doubt, it was the Cloud God." Wolfblade had said that Arcturus' strength was comparable to a Supreme. Now a true member of this godly order had revealed itself. It was difficult to know what would happen next. As more and more problems were piled on Cloudhawk's plate, he now had to consider how to deal with Skycloud.

There was no doubt; the wastelands were not enough. If Cloudhawk really wanted to change the fate of his people, he had to go through Skycloud.

Elysians had a tremendous surplus of wealth and resources. If he could get his hands on even a portion of it and give it to the wastes, it would go a long way. Secondly Cloudhawk had to prepare for the stronger enemy waiting on the horizon. Victory was only possible if he could get the Elysians to work with him.

If Selene really was accepted as their leader then diplomacy was an option. With her help, maybe they could grope around for a path to peace. But the awakening and appearance of the Cloud God was a bad omen.

Wolfblade offered Cloudhawk a solemn reminder. "You don't have much time to make your choice. We are not just facing Mount Sumeru, but the Elysian lands as well."

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