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Book 6, Chapter 67 - Full Strength to Bear

 The Southern Capitol was now a bustling metropolis. New City was complete, it population soaring to over two million.

Bigger than any wasteland city to have ever come before, it was already displaying incredible signs of vitality. It was spurred by the people themselves, who leaned on their own wisdom and ability to make their home better.

They lived their lives, blissfully ignorant of the changes occurring in Skycloud.

When Cloudhawk returned to the fort in the center of Greenland he immediately felt a suffocating ambiance hang over him. Walking through the halls, he spied a room with doctors coming in and out. Inside was Hellflower, writing something in a notebook.

"How is the High Priest?"

"The prognosis is not a positive one. The weapon was poisoned with something we've had trouble identifying. It causes severe and irreversible degradation to internal structures." Hellflower shook her head. "Thankfully I was able to use your blood to make a Trespasser antidote. Without it she'd already be dead."

"So is she out of danger?"

"For the time being it doesn't look like she'll die, but it doesn't seem we'll wake her from this coma either." Hellflower closed her notebook. "You should prepare yourselves. The chance of recovery is very small, barring some miracle."

"Clear the area," Cloudhawk said waving her away. "Tell everyone to leave the room."

Hellflower could see he was upset by the look on his face. It was inevitable. She knew what was happening in Skycloud as well. Even the most stoic man would be crushed by what he had to shoulder. She made as though to speak but stopped herself. Wordless, she and the other doctors left him with Aquaria.

Cloudhawk looked over to the High Priest, laying still in her bed. She'd already lost the ability to breathe on her own so Hellflower had her hooked up to a respirator. She was hardly more than a ghost.

A quiet figure hovered by the bed. Her long golden hair was uncombed, and she looked thinner than usual. These recent years had been cruel to her...

Cloudhawk wasn't sure how to approach Dawn. He felt like he owed her more than he could repay. If only he'd been more decisive and killed Selene before the Avatar took her, the Boundary Portal would never have opened. This terrible act would never have occurred. Instead he'd hesitated. He couldn't bring himself to do it.

If he was a little more ruthless he could have brought her back the heads of Frost and Inkspecter. That would have at least brought Dawn a little peace. But he couldn't do that, either.

Dawn sensed a familiar presence. She turned around and looked at him with puffy, red eyes. When she saw who it was she smiled. "Hey. Why the long face? You look like your mother died..."

Cloudhawk opened his mouth but was silenced when she raised her hand.

"Forget it." She dropped her head and looked down at Aquaria. Her face was calm. "You helped get her out of there. I'm grateful for that."

Cloudhawk walked over to her side.

"Ever since I was little we spent very little time together. We never spent more than a few hours alone. Now I'm here all day and night, talking... I trust fate. There's a reason for everything and I'm certain everything will work out as it should."

"Don't worry, whatever happens I'll be by your side. We'll face it all together." He took her hand and stood in front of her. "There has to be a way to wake her up. I promise I'll find it."

Dawn didn't say anything. She trusted Cloudhawk, she always had. He made a promise, so he would make it happen.

"It's fine, I'm not that weak. I'm just a little tired."

She leaned against him, ear to his chest. She could hear Cloudhawk's heart beating. It was strong, but she thought she could hear the exhaustion and powerless in its rhythm as well.

"How is Selene?"

"Not good, and it looks like it's only going to get worse."

"That's alright." Dawn raised her head and looked at him. "We'll save her together."

Save Selene... She'd turned the tables and was comforting him now.

Cloudhawk thought about Selene and the danger she was in. He had to admit that he was helpless. He didn't know what would happen. If he had to face her again it would be a grueling test. After all she could see through his every move. If he couldn't strike her down then he was no threat. But could he really do it if he had to?

An even more intense war loomed on the horizon for Skycloud and the wastes. One that involved five Elysian domains. Cloudhawk felt the responsibility of what was to come heavier than ever before.

The development of the southern wastes - especially its armies - had to be ramped up. Wastelanders were practically all fighters, but unless they got stronger they'd be nothing more than cannon fodder. They needed a real fighting force, one with at least two hundred thousand capable soldiers.

Cloudhawk left to seek out Janus and Phain.

When he found Janus she was back to her normal, inexplicable self. But knowing what he knew, Cloudhawk figured there was no one more anxious about these events than her.

"How are things in Skycloud?"

"Since the Boundary Portal opened, everything has changed. Water supplies have begun to dry up everywhere, from the biggest cities to the smallest villages. Places along the borders have started to feel the hot wasteland climate. There's the occasional dust storm. Unless I'm wrong, Skycloud's internal energy field is failing."

With her explanation Cloudhawk was beginning to understand what was going on. After the Avatar opened the Boundary Portal, it drew too heavily on the energy field. Spatial powers like that weren't something you could do at such a scale just as you pleased. Now millions of Skycloud citizens were being affected and it had begun to undermine their faith.

There was even word that some army units were refusing to obey orders form Skycloud. For wastelanders, this presented a very good opportunity. As their relationship with Skycloud waned - and as the domain's control deteriorated - more Elysians would flee into the wastes. With the completion of the Southern Capitol it would be even more of a draw.

Cloudhawk's plan was simple.

Two steps. First, Phain would represent all the Elysians who had defected. He and others like him had a powerful voice back home. If they made those voices heard and easy to find, more would surely answer their call. This would serve to weaken Skycloud and undermine their remaining defenders.

Second, Cloudhawk was resolved to make his way back into the city and try to discover anything about what the pantheon was planning. The wasteland had to know how many they were up against, how strong they were and what they were going to do. As the old saying went; if you know the enemy and know yourself, you needn't fear the result of a hundred battles.

When it came to infiltration, Greenland had two top agents. The first was leader of the Court of Shadows. Second was a supermutant shapeshifter. Once they snuck in, none of Skycloud's commanders would be the wiser.

Cloudhawk had learned of what to expect from Wolfblade. This group that had managed to traverse the Boundary Gate was small, but he couldn't delay. They could not allow the portal to open again. If they did, all was lost.

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