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Book 6, Chapter 68 - Invasion

 After the upheaval in Skycloud, Elysian citizens began to leave.

Everyone was beginning to feel that the omnipresent divine energy that held up their domain was fading.

Magic lanterns that once lit the streets were dark. The bustling city was still as every aspect of it was built upon that invisible, inexhaustible energy field. All their lives the citizens had flourished with the help of this power - ever by their side, intangible but supporting everything they did.

Lanterns, kitchen appliances, airships... all of it had stopped working. For some parts of the realm there was no trace of the field remaining. The harsh sunlight was cast unfiltered upon the land, withering the plants and drying the soil. If people spent too much time outside they would suffer terrible burns.

Devastating sandstorms had swept through a number of settlements big and small. They had yet to recover. Elysians had been reliant on godly technology for so long that once it disappeared they did not know how to live.

Selene was forced to urgently adopt three emergency measures:

One, increase propaganda. She directed the newly-appointed High Priest Lucian to begin a campaign placing the blame for all their ills at the feet of Cloudhawk. All sorts of evidence was concocted to prove their story and paint their situation as a direct result of Cloudhawk's actions.

Two, organize their forces. Commander-General Ash was ordered to restructure their armies. Soldiers were more pliable than citizens when it came to following orders. Paired with a strong sense of community and identity, they were relatively easy to keep under control.

Third, increase governmental pressure. Leaning on her role as Governor, Selene ordered that during this time of conflict no Elysian citizen was to leave the domain. They couldn't even leave their cities without express permission. Violators faced immediate execution.

Skycloud had fallen upon some of its darkest days since its founding. Martial law was imposed on all cities and villages. Austerity measures cut off some areas from food and water entirely. Because of a lack of supplies these settlements quickly came into crisis.

When had these citizens ever experienced famine? In this land of plenty, how were they prepared to go hungry?

Southaven was an important city in the southern part of Skycloud domain. It was among the ten most sprawling settlements and though not as affluent as those in the center of the realm, it boasted a long and storied past. Many of the families now rooted in Skyclout City called Southaven their ancestral home.

Today, even this city of two million was in danger from the troubles that gripped the land.

Its many water sources had dried up all at once. Crops had all withered and died. Skyports only recently repaired had entirely collapsed. Airships - both civilian and military - lay in pieces.

Citizens had lost all food, water and light. There was no power to boil what little water they could muster. After a week of constant sandstorms blowing in from the wastes, Southaven was hardly recognizable.

Page Sudworth was a citizen of this beleaguered city. His family were rich merchants once, and though his sort were not highly regarded among Elysians at least his days had been comfortable. Recently that had all changed.

An influx of troops had poured into the city after a week of devastation. They immediately imposed martial law and took control of all goods with the aim of distributing them equally among the populace.

Page's family had made their riches in food production. They were forced to watch helplessly as crass soldiers raided their warehouses and took everything. His father had dared to quarrel with them, and was arrested for his impudence. Soon after they hanged him for apostasy. Page's mother had grown ill, heartbroken and burdened by these tragedies. She did not seem long for this world.

He and his mother were driven from their family home. Now they had nothing but each other and were living in squalor, in a military-run shanty district. A merchant prince, now forced to pick through garbage. Page spent his days wandering the rubbish-choked streets, fighting off other starving Elysians for scraps.

It was striking to see emaciated people, digging through garbage draped in fine silks. Those comforts meant nothing anymore. Sunken, despondent eyes peered from dirty faces. The dregs of a fallen society. No more energy, no more water, and dwindling food supplies. They wondered how long it would be before death claimed them. Would their suffering ever end?

Elysians lacked any concept of suffering. For a thousand years they had enjoyed endless resources. As a result most settlements had no food reserves at all - why would they? With famine gripping a realm of several million, shortages had reached catastrophic levels. Soldiers had started going hungry and it was estimated that more than ten thousand citizens had already starved to death.

Had the gods abandoned their faithful? The question burned in the hearts of these men and women, who for their entire lives had sung the praises of those divine beings.

Page turned a corner and spied an Evangelist from Skycloud city down the street, standing on a makeshift dais. He was making an impassioned attack against the wastelander Cloudhawk. It was because of that fiend that these tragedies had befallen Skycloud, the priest claimed. He was urging people to keep faith. It would all be over in a few days.

But was all that true? Page's lips curled up in a bitter grin. Over the last several years Skycloud had seen a number of setbacks. General Skye, High Priest Ramiel and Governor Arcturus had all been slain.

When the new Governor took power she made it a point of exposing everything Arcturus had done. The revelations were enough to have everyone question what they knew of the world. The Commander-General and High Priest who took power with Selene were branded traitors in only three months. Big problems and small issues came one after the other, on top of conflict with the wastelands.

The longer the fight continued, the fewer Elysians there were. Wastelanders only seemed to grow.

Doubts about the state of the realm had begun to fester, no one could tell when it had started. Skepticism about the information they were given was rife. Especially with things as bad as they were, who would listen to this priest's rambling and take heart?

All Page could think about was his mother. Soon she would be beyond help. He needed to find food and medicine or... by his best guess, she only had a few days left. But the city was a mess. Where could he go to find the things he needed?

Helplessness washed over him, but a nearby explosion wrenched him from his thoughts.

Page's head whipped around and he stared down the street in alarm. He thought he heard the sounds of fighting. What was going on? Suddenly a shadow engulfed the area. Raising his head, Page saw five or six oval-shaped objects hovering in the air.

Each one was about five hundred meters long and covered in steel. They bristled with ferocious weapons that belched fire and filled the air with thunderous blasts. From behind six engines roared, propelling the airships forward with white-blue fire.

A deafening voice sounded from above.

"Mount Sumeru has abandoned Skycloud. Your realm has come under the hand of a tyrant. If you want to live, flee this doomed place. The wastelands have all the food and water you need for free. Stay here and you will pay in blood!"

A tyrant? Citizens who had stopped in the streets to stare all blanched. They remembered the terrible things Arcturus had done. Was this their fault for supporting him? Had they really been forsaken by the gods? Soldiers were rushing the streets to maintain order.

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