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Book 6, Chapter 80 - Occupation and Distribution

 As twilight faded, the night took hold.

A lean and energetic elderly man patrolled the fortress interior. Judging by his clothes he was no mere grunt, but nor was he from Skycloud. Beside him was a standoffish and austere looking soldier. He, too, was not a local.

The corridors of the focal fortress were packed with soldiers who held their weapons close. They were on alert, holding their breath for an attack they feared was right around the corner. None drew their gaze from the murder holes as the two senior leaders made their way through, instead meticulously examining the area outside for any sign of threat. A heavy silence hung over everything, so complete one could hear a pin drop.

The lean older man was a high-ranking Demonhunter from Dragemere, named Ryker Bolton

Once he served as Dragenmere's master of the Demonhunter Guild. He followed Phoenix through the Boundary Gate to provide support for her mission in Skycloud. Ryker's services were directed to one of these fortresses to ensure their safety. As for the one by his side, the valiant-looking warrior was a colonel from Praelius named Novem Proulx. He had a reputation for being straightforward and temperamental.

Both men were well-respected in the lands they came from.

They'd come to Skycloud with specific orders. Stepping out onto an observation balcony, they looked over the darkened wilderness. Discomfort shone in their eyes, because word was that Skycloud's patron deity had joined the enemy.

A god of such high status, cavorting with dirty heathens! Every Elysian regardless of origin and status could hardly believe what they heard. Anger, bewilderment, shock and suspicion were widespread. It was one of the most incredible scandals of all time during a period where scandals were becoming commonplace.

Only a few days remained before the Boundary Gate would open once again. If Cloudhawk aimed to stop it, he had to act soon.

The Cloud God wielded intense, all-pervading mental power. Cloudhawk's dimensional abilities were bizarre and unpredictable. Defending against the two seemed like a doomed cause and neither Elysian knew how the Avatar planned to do it. Still, with her unflappable calm and the powers of a god they were fairly confident she knew what she was doing.

Novem pulled out a small water skin. "Drink?"

"No," Ryker said with a shake of his head. He turned away from the wilderness and faced his companion. "When the problems here are dealt with what do you plan to do? Will you go back?"

"Of course I'm going back." Novem hadn't expected to be asked this question. After a pause he elaborated. "My family's waiting for me. I was thinking of retiring."

Ryker raised his brows. "Here I am still going at my age and you are planning to retire so young?"

This earned a wry chuckle from the younger man. "Skycloud is among the most prosperous in the six realms. The Cloude and Polaris families used to be the cream of the crop. Now what are they? Far as I can tell, nothing is forever. I've fought enough for one lifetime I think, had plenty die by my hands as well... better to spend the rest of my days looking after my wife and kid."

Ryker was silent for a moment, thinking. Of course Novem would consider stepping back, hadn't Ryker had similar thoughts from time to time? Now there was a rebel god to contend with and that made people question their lot. Question their relationship to the gods.

Chaos in Skycloud. The fall of two great houses. The rise of the wastelands. Cloudhawk. Elysians, wastelanders. Mortals, gods. Gods, demons... how were they all connected?

Ryker thought back across the years of his life, spent in pious service. He'd killed in the name of his faith and the more things he saw, the more doubt crept into his heart. In such chaotic times, could anyone really keep their hands clean? Maybe retiring at one's peak wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

Of course the question was would it be that easy?

Several soldiers approached, patrolmen responsible for this section of the fortress. Ryker and Novem hadn't been here long but all the soldiers knew them already. The men were strong and authoritative, which earned the soldiers' respect.

"Something to report?"

"No, sir!"

Novem waved a hand, dismissing them. "Keep on your guard. Don't get lazy."

All of a sudden the patrol captain blurted out, "Actually sir I do have something to note."

A scowl turned Novem's lips. "What is it?"

The captain stepped forward. "You're dead."

A dark and ominous sense washed over Ryker. The captain looked normal but there was something about his eyes... they were like looking into a pool of cold, stagnant water.


Before he could react the captain produced a black dagger from thin air. With uncharacteristic speed he stabbed it at the colonel. Novem was a grizzled soldier and reacted quickly, but not quick enough to avoid the blow entirely. The foul weapon dug into his body and released a poison that caused him to lose all sensation. Sickly green fire was injected through his veins.


In the time it took Ryker to reach for his companion, Novem's face had already begun to rot. Tongues of flame spouted from his eyes and nostrils. In moments the soldier was reduced to ash and blew away on the wind.

"Wastelanders blasphemers!"

Ryker produced a sword that was a union of ice and fire. He raised it in preparation to strike down the invaders but was set upon by a host of shadows. Dark figures stabbed at him from every direction and in two short seconds he was a pile of ash.

No one was the wiser.

These men and all they held was picked up by the winds and brought out into the darkness. Nothing was left, like they'd never existed at all. Staring at the spot where the targets had been, the patrol captain's form began to shift. Janus Umbra's strange, unsettling form was revealed. No wonder two powerful men had been taken care of so easily.

The rest of the unit were her - shadows of the assassin. Once the two victims were dealt with, Janus walked into the fortress.

Inside a beautiful creature hung in midair. Around him were other frightening and notable figures; the Khan of Evernight, Carnage, Phain and so forth. They were the vanguard, sent to capture the fortress and were standing quickly within.

Janus regarded them quietly. "Handled."

Phain glowered at her. "Cloudhawk said to capture who we could. We can't just go around murdering everyone in our way."

Janus' face never deviated from its cool detachment. "Those two were strong. Loyal to the Avatar. If they escaped or got word out it would cause us a great deal of trouble."

It took very little time for the invaders to garner attention. Suddenly the fortress was a hive of activity as garrisoned troops scrambled to respond. But once they saw the being hovering in the air, they were frozen solid.

What... what was this?!

The Cloud God released a torrent of mental energy that drilled into the minds of the soldiers.

"I am the Cloud God, protector of this realm. Put down your weapons and stop your hostilities at once!"

Aghast, the soldiers stood there not knowing how to react. Their god had appeared right here, in front of them! It was entirely outside the realm of possibility that they should fight his will. Thus dominated, the Cloud God compelled them to throw their weapons aside and prostrate before him.

The Khan of Evernight walked through the soldiers to the heart of the fortress. No further resistance was forthcoming, either from soldiers or the Avatar. He also discovered that the focus once kept here was nowhere to be found.

"What's this about?"

The members of the Green Alliance invasion force were at a loss. The Khan carefully stepped through the room where the focus had been kept. He noticed a circular indentation in the ground surrounded by a number of daggers. "It would appear they used spatial power to move the focus."

Moved it? Yes, that made sense...

The Avatar was no fool. She was fully aware she'd been caught in Wolfblade's trap after attacking the Cloud God. She'd played into his hands, forcing the Cloud God to join with the Green Alliance. Because of her folly the wastelanders now had the upper hand.

With the Eyes of Time Selene could tell when and where Cloudhawk's forces would strike, but repelling them was another story. Under these circumstances, the wise decision would be to consolidate what you needed to defend.

Skycloud's focal points were four unique devices. They were intended to be placed at the four borders of the realm and link Skycloud's ley lines through the great border wall. The placement and combination spread their enchantments large enough to protect the whole realm. The power they contained was also strong enough to mediate Skycloud's temperature, environment and provide limitless energy.

But since these were simply devices, they could be moved!

Once they were repaired by Seraphs, Selene relied on the power of the spatial master Bruno to move them. This whole time Cloudhawk's forces had been conspiring to capture an empty fortress.

"When the foci are removed the enchantment they maintained is destroyed. This means Skycloud will never return to its original state." The Cloud God's thoughts were projected into the minds of all. "The Temple is occupied by a foreign force bent on the realm's destruction. As its protector I cannot sit idly by. As your god, I command all of you to take back up your weapons and fight for your home."

The facts were right before their eyes. The Elysian soldiers had no choice but to believe their divine protector. They thought about their families and loved ones back home. They thought about the beautiful, abundant land they grew up in. With the Cloud God personally beseeching their aid, how could they refuse?

The first rose with head bowed. "I will fight for the Cloud God!"

He was followed by more as one after the other soldiers rose to their feet. "We will fight for the Cloud God!"

It was a heartening scene for the members of the Green Alliance. They did not manage to accomplish their mission here, but at least they saw that the Cloud God could be a rallying point. Where he appeared, Elysians would surely come to his side.

After all, Mount Sumeru was a remote and elusive power. The Cloud God was real and asking for them help in protecting their homes!

Troubling accusations meant the soldiers didn't know where the Cloud God stood any longer among its own people. The dealings of Sumeru and its struggles were far above their heads. What they did know was that recent events had seen Skycloud slip further into decay. If it continued, their beloved realm would be no more. Only one choice existed, so they took up arms.

Now they fought for themselves. For their homes. For their families. They understood that survival was the most fundamental human pursuit.

1. His Chinese name is Yu Fu - directly translated as 'rich universe' and 'plentiful house'. Ryker is German for rich, and Bolton means house.

2. 'Hero Nine'. I chose Novem as it's Latin for nine and he comes from Praelius - Latin for Warrior. Proulx is French for valiant and has the same Latin-based flair.

3. Hoist it up the flagpole, friends!

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