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Book 6, Chapter 87 - The Nobody

 Skycloud's enchantments had been destroyed from the inside, exposing the city to attack. Commander-General Ash Farran was dead at Cloudhawk's hands. These changes were sudden and the defenders didn't have time to mount a reaction. For the Green Alliance, it was the perfect opportunity.

Green-cloaked soldiers hefted their weapons, screamed their war cries and charged into the city. The first assault had involved maybe a tenth of their total forces, but once the enchantment fell that number increased to sixty percent.

Thousands of wasteland airships steamed ahead, closing in from every direction. Supporting them were tens of thousands of mounted flying units - soldiers sitting aside various mutant birds. Quick and agile, they darted among the crossfire and toward the front lines without fear of death.

The Cloud God, the Khan of Evernight, Janus, Frost and others... the Green Alliance's mightiest closed in on all sides.

Cloudhawk had teleported alone into the center of the city, which put him in the greatest danger. Chances were high he would be surrounded. Scores of demonhunters poured toward him, enough to threaten even his tenacious life.

The Khan of Evernight appeared, riding a shadowy bird captured from the ancient Great War battlefield. It was so fast that ordinary people had trouble following as it advanced. That's why it was called the shadow bird - the creature was so fast the beams of light fired at it never got close. Explosions sounded, but their fires never fell upon the Khan or his mount.

This was their one chance to save Selene. If they failed, she would be lost to the God King forever.

Years ago the man had resolved to cut himself off from every aspect of his former life. Everything he'd once known was gone, as far as he was concerned - the rest of his days he would spend as half-man, half-machine. But Selene was here. So close, and in danger. The Khan couldn't maintain his apathy, for even a steel heart beat for family.

As a father, Baldur had failed miserably.

He couldn't appear before Selene as the monster he'd become. The man she'd known as her father died ten years ago. The Khan of Evernight was nothing but a stranger.

"Stop him!"

Over a hundred gryphon riders spread out to try and block his path. It didn't stop the shadow bird from ramming into the blockade at full tilt. Its dark feathers drank in the flames of explosions as they raged all around.

With neither reigns nor harness, the Khan still stood on the beast as though nailed upon it. However fast it went, whatever roll or turn, his feet never moved. Yet the riders he faced where not without skill. Among the best remaining to the Temple, they reacted quickly to the shadow bird's movements. They moved and spread like a living net, swinging around to try and encircle the Khan.

Nox's Governor stared at them with his electronic red eyes. But as the aggressive charge closed in his flickering vision was not fixed on the present, but twenty years in the past.

"Dad, they've named me top of my class at the demonhunter academy! I even broke Zephyr's record!"

A small sprite of a girl breezed through the room, carefree as a butterfly. Her face was full of pride as she looked up toward her father for encouragement. Baldur wrapped her in a joyful embrace. "Did you want to be first in your class?"

"Of course." She rubbed her button nose. "What I want is to be the best and the strongest. That's the way of the Cloude family!"

"It's hard being first. A lot of people will look up to you, some will hate you. There will be expectations."

"Well I have you, dad. And Zephyr, and uncle Sterling and uncle Arcturus. I've got lots of help, I'm not scared!"

"Ah, child... one day you'll understand that we won't always be by your side." Baldur looked down at his talented daughter with a conflicted look in his eyes. "Eventually you'll learn that life is lonely. What you need to do is be true to yourself."

The demonhunter riders had engaged their relics and were launching their attacks. Others used crossbows to fire a hail of bolts at the Khan. His mind was still caught in that old memory - like a scene from another life.

Yet as the foes reached him there was a spark of light, and a purple blade appeared in the Khan's hands. With a screech the beast beneath his feet went into a spin as he engaged. Streaks of purple twisted through the air like a drill head, punching a hole through the blockade.

Dozens of men and their riders tumbled behind him. The rest were struck dumb by his display of strength and ability.

The Khan's swords never stopped and anything in his way was carved to pieces. Even an Elysian warship got too close. It pitched to one side and fell toward the ground with dozens of deep cuts through its hull.

On the ground nearby, Janus was tearing across the ground with a dozen copies of herself. She looked up at the Khan and the two met eyes. They raced toward the center of Skycloud.

Not long after they arrived a terrible wave of mental energy filled the area. It was cold and domineering, so vicious that dozens of nearby demonhunters hit the ground. They convulsed as blood poured from their every orifice. It was quickly followed by a wave of cold that froze them all solid.

The Cloud God, the Khan, Janus and Frost had arrived. They stood around Cloudhawk and assessed the situation. Wolfblade, Abaddon and Autumn where nowhere to be seen but that didn't matter. The ones gathered here would be enough to confront the Temple.

Once they overcame its defenders, this war would end.

As they arrived Cloudhawk was leaning over an Elysian general among the ruins. Hammont's sturdy officer's armor was in pieces and a nasty-looking wound was leaking blood. The fallen Praelius warrior had been frighteningly strong. Ash's spear hadn't used any special power but pure force, but that was enough to shred Hammont's critical organs.

Without a word, Cloudhawk placed his hands on the injury. A warm, healing energy seeped through the mangled skin.

But the damage was more extensive than he thought. Hammont's body had begun to go into failure. It would take ten minutes to stitch back his organs, but the general would be dead in less than a minute.

"Don't bother." Hammont wrapped his fingers around Cloudhawk's wrist. With eyes wide, he rasped, "Tell me... what's the meaning of it? Life?"

Cloudhawk looked down at the man. He knew he was going to die. Hammont was grasping at the final moments, desperate for an answer. But Cloudhawk didn't know what to say.

"Everyone is different. You already have the answer. Everything you've done proves it, so why don't you tell me?"

"Maybe... maybe. All my life I've been trying to be somebody. Cl...claw my way up, ride the wa...wave of the times. But now I... I'm glad I'm nobody. It won't m-matter when I'm gone. At least a... a nobody can d-die without... guilt..."

Coughs stole the rest of Hammont's voice. Blood trickled from the corners of his mouth.

"Master Cloudhawk, we're different. You can't give up. Can't g-go back. Please ta... take care of my people. Drake's Corps. It has... has to continue."

He let the words hang in the air, staring pleadingly at Cloudhawk. A few moments later as calm took him, the light faded from his eyes. They slipped shut forever.

The two men were not close, but a sorrow filled Cloudhawk as he watched this simple man pass. Hammont Seacrest had been a model for his people. His sad end was not just personal, but a loss for the whole realm.


Nearby officers cried out, eyes moist as they watched their leader breathe his last.

The meloncholy stillness was shattered as suddenly the Temple overhead began to stir. It rose as though trying to escape the city, propelled by some unseen power.

The Cloud God's voice intruded on Cloudhawk's thoughts. "They are attempting to flee. We must go now, or it is too late."

Now? There were only five of them, it would be suicide...

Cloudhawk knew the Avatar was inside, waiting for him. It was clearly an ambush, but there was only one chance. He shouldn't have been so reckless. He should have waited for everyone to arrive.

"Master Cloudhawk, we will fight with you!"

An Elysian officer stepped forward and made his pledge. Cloudhawk watched, stunned, as others followed.

"We will all fight with you!"

The surprise was clear on his face. Cloudhawk was well aware of his foul reputation among Elysians. But despite that, these soldiers were willing to follow him into battle. The enemies waiting for them in the Temple were not ordinary foes. If they went with him it would almost certainly mean their death.

"Please, let us fight with you!"

"Let us help stop the war."

The officers gathered around him with resolve burning in their faces.

"Count us in." This time it was none other than Blaze, who at one point had tried to kill Cloudhawk while he fled from Skycloud. Around him were more demonhunters and elite soldiers. They were the ones responsible for destroying the enchantment. "Not for you. To protect our home."

Cloudhawk felt their determination. Every man knew if they went, they would die. But some things had to be done, even if it meant giving up one's life. Sacrifice was one of the most complex parts of the human spirit.

Cloudhawk nodded. "Together then."

1. Note for the future editor; I confirmed, earlier he did say they were strong enough to confront the tower. I guess he had a change of heart. A rare inconsistency from Tipsy.

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