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Book 6, Chapter 84 - Commander-General Ash Farran

 The scale of this conflict was unprecedented. Even the likes of titans like Cloudhawk and the Cloud God were limited in how much they could affect. Victory or defeat would not rest upon the might of a single person, or even a handful.

Both sides were wary. Anxiously they held their breath.

Wolfblade's forces tentatively lashed out at his command. Two hundred airships and several thousand mounted troops met the Elysians in the center of no-man's land. Their clash occurred ten thousand meters from the borders of the city, forcing the Elysian front line to bow. But Wolfblade was cautious, he didn't want to break through into the city and find himself surrounded.

The Elysian commander also practiced restraint. He was undeterred by the wasteland's show of force and deftly commanded his troops and airships. He refined his orders on the spot, based on the Green Alliance's modest opening gambit.

Both leaders displayed an adroit talent for strategy. It wasn't so much a battle for them as a game of chess.

In the flagship of Skycloud's armada, hovering over the center of the city, a middle-aged man stood in silence. His long dark hair danced with the breeze. He stood nailed to the bridge like an iron tower, both hands wrapped around a dark spear. A fan of swords were strapped to his back like the tail of a peacock. Around him were officers relaying orders and managing communications. This was the heart of the city's defense.

Ash Farran was the greatest warrior in all of Praelius. His bearing was no less imposing than the late Skye Polaris. The Avatar had named him Commander-General of the realm's ships and armies.

Ash's story was widely known back where he came from. He was a legend among legends, a reputation earned through origin and exploits. He was born to an aristocratic family of mediocre rank but was not afforded the benefits of his station - for he was an illegitimate child.

From a young age he lived among the common people, never granted the privileges of his birth. Not even a modest living allowance. When he was six years old he passed the entrance exam to join Praelius' premiere warrior's academy. The average student completed the program in fifteen years and required another three to pass the graduation exam.

Ash left the school as a full-fledged warrior at the age of seventeen. He had earned a name for himself by then, but refused when his family called for his service. He also turned down positions with the army and other noble houses. Instead, he set off on his own into the wastelands with nothing but his sword. Five years later he returned, strong enough to be counted among the realm's best. Finally he accepted an offer from Praelius' military and quickly rose through the ranks.

By the age of twenty five he was the realm's youngest ever General. At thirty-two, he broke the record again by being named Commander-General.

He was now fifty years old and for all that time had remained the pinnacle of human achievement. From humble beginnings utilizing only his talent and will, Ash had risen to become a near mythical figure among his people.

With a story like that it was obvious Ash was no ordinary foe. His willpower and judgment were beyond reproach, a heart as tough as tungsten steel. Decades of military service had forged him into a paragon of command. He was in his element, the array Cloudhawk was faced with were all of his design.

Ten thousand airships. A million soldiers. Countless conscripted militia. Such a staggering display of force would not be easily thwarted!

Ash was the sort of commander who needed to be in the fray. His goal here was not to defeat the enemy, or even protect the city. His mission was to bide time. The Avatar had taken her other lieutenants with her into the Temple as protectors. A battle of this scale was more than her Eyes of Time could pierce. What's more, the Cloud God was now on the side of the enemy. Best she did not involve herself directly.

In the air above, enormous meteors began to appear. Some were as large as small cities and the air screamed in protest as they barreled toward Skycloud. Without a doubt this was the terrible power of Cloudhawk at play, deadly and frightening to behold.

But Ash had been prepared. Cloudhawk had to summon his meteors at least ten thousand meters in the air. To achieve maximum damage potential, several tens of thousands of meters was better.

That meant there was time from the moment they were summoned to the instant they struck. Three minutes, more or less. Two minutes was enough to organize a response from Elysian forces. Ash had positioned several God's Spear and Aegis ships for just such an eventuality, and they reacted as soon as the attack was revealed.

Elysian warships pitched to the side to avoid the falling rocks. In a single dazzling display, six God's Spear ships released their payload. The meteors, composed of mostly rock, were relatively fragile. A shot from God's Spear was capable of evaporating metal.

Cloudhawk's meteor's were violently reduced to pieces. Support ships began to fire on the debris to break them down even further. In a matter of seconds the meteors were blown into hundreds of small shards that rained down harmlessly among the armada, incapable of even piercing their shields.

"Those tricks are useless."

After bringing the focal devices to the city, it greatly strengthened its defensive enchantments. They'd sacrificed protection of the whole realm in order to restore a small fraction of the energy field quicker. Skycloud, as the heart of the realm, was unparalleled in its defense. The energy field was strongest here, even stronger than it had been at Sanctuary.

Against such tenacious opposition, breaking through looked arduous to say the least.

Ash looked out at the milling enemy forces with confidence. Conscription the city's citizens into the militia was shameless, he knew, but it was the Avatar's command. Ash could only do as he was told. And that was to do whatever was necessary to ensure victory.

In reality, when one reached the status and strength that Ash had achieved, their adoration of the gods waned. As far as the Commander-General was aware, many of the gods were not necessarily his betters. However, he still doggedly stood by their side because his species as a whole couldn't manage one tenth of what the gods could produce. Attaching oneself to strength was instinct, for the individual as well as for the species.

Over the last thousand years this had not proven to be in error. The gods had provided a good life for their followers. As for this place, lead to ruin by the betrayer Cloud God? Its destiny was to be erased from existence.

They made their bed, now that had to lie in it. Instead of having Praelius soldiers give their lives, let the doomed people of Skycloud do it themselves.

Seeing that the city's defenses would not fold, Green Alliance forces broke off the engagement. Both sides fell back warily. Clearly the wastelanders had been waiting for the defenses to falter, but they never did. Ash seemed to hold all the cards.

"Commander-General, report! General Hammont Seacrest is redeploying militia on the field of his own accord!"

Ash's face darkened at the news. What was this fat fool doing? Was he violating orders deliberately? He turned his eyes back toward the city and sure enough, militia forces were being recalled from the front lines. They were being funneled into underground passages to hide beneath the city. Ash was furious.

The militia was not strong, but that wasn't the point. He was able to control his soldiers because their families were also involved in the fighting. It made them fight harder and never question orders. Now this idiot was taking that motivation away, ripping the rug from under Ash's feet.

The Commander-General transferred command to one of his trusted officers. Hefting his spear, he jumped from the ship and raced toward the fleeing militia.

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