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Book 6, Chapter 105 - Schoolmates

 It was the sixth day after the battle for Skycloud City. So far no attack on the realm seemed imminent, the four gods and their armies were biding their time. At least for the time being, the realm was safe.

They began the process of rebuilding.

The city's central Temple was gone. As the heart of the city - indeed of the whole realm - its absence was clearly felt. Their unifying symbol and the center of their whole world was now absent.

An important part of Elysian life was that everything they used, from airships to cooking stoves, never ran out of energy. Citizens lived and died with these blessings, believing them to be miracles from the gods. But in fact, they were not miracles at all.

The gods as humans knew them had mastered a form of energy transfer. Put simply, energy was generated in the Temple and then diffused throughout the rest of the realm. The various tools used throughout Skycloud had receivers that picked up this energy and used it to function. Like a radio picking up radio signals.

It was the basis for Skycloud's prosperity. Convenient, available and pollution-free. Such things were beyond the capabilities of humans to replicate, so it was no wonder that people saw them as miracles.

After relying for so long on this gifted energy, it's absence was keenly felt. With the Temple gone, the heart of their realm and the lifeblood it provided was cut off. Without it, the unprepared people of Skycloud faced disaster. Everything shut down overnight. Life as they knew it changed forever.

With no way to solve this issue evident, they turned to the only other alternative. Substitution.

Elysian lanterns stopped working so wasteland lanterns were brought in. Rugged wasteland transport vessels replaced grounded Elysian airships. Luckily for Skycloud, its large population also meant it had significant resource surpluses to draw on.

Under the Cloud God's direction, hidden caches were opened to meet their needs. Within were three hundred thousand tons of eboncrys crystals - certainly no small amount. Eboncrys was the cleanest and most efficient source of energy currently known. The Green Alliance relied on production from Woodland Vale to power its cities. Without the Shepherd God's hidden forest the Green Alliance wouldn't have been able to meet its own requirements. None of these wars would have happened and the eboncrys weapons they developed would never have come to be.

At its current production rate, Woodland Vale would produce three hundred thousand tons of eboncrys in about twelve years. The hidden stores provided a treasure trove of power to use in this emergency. In addition, the warehouses also contained various relics and enough food to keep the city running for a time.

Cloudhawk teleported to the city to see how it had fared since the battle. What he saw was a city utterly transformed.

Airships transferred here from the Green Alliance shuttled back and forth over Skycloud like industrious bees. They took surplus materials from Skycloud and delivered to other parts of the realm were goods were sparse.

Cloudhawk watched a scene unfold that he never would have dreamed was possible. Wastelanders, walking through Skycloud's streets. They piloted mighty humanoid robots to help clear away the rubble. Scientists studiously researched Elysian crops that were known for ripening quickly. A few years ago this would have been unthinkable.

The Cloud God ordered his people to put conflicts aside and accept the wastelanders. For the shared hope of survival, they had to beat swords into ploughshares. The deepest blood feuds had to be forgiven if they were to make it as a species.

On an individual level this was difficult to accept. However, with time, society would grow passed these differences. Even the most rancorous hatred would ease because humanity would forget. When this generation passed and the next came to power, wastelanders and Elysians would come closer together. Unification would proceed. Maybe the distinction between wastelander and Elysian would no longer be necessary.

Cloudhawk looked forward to that day, but it wasn't going to happen unless they stopped the army of the gods.

A large funeral was being held in the center of Skycloud City. Hundreds of funeral pyres had been erected, laden with remains of the fallen. Soldiers who had sacrificed their lives in the fighting. General Hammont Seacrest was among them.

"Light it!"

Final rites were given. Soldier flung their torches onto piles of tinder.

Pyres immediately began to burn and light sprang up throughout the city like hundreds of sconces all lit at once. Black smoke curled into the sky forming transient patterns. It was a solemn scene, and onlookers watched in reverent silence.

Among the observers was a young woman, pretty. In her arms was a child that couldn't have been more than three years old. She watched the fires burn with a look of pain. At least these brave heroes had remains to tend to. No such honors would be given to the father of her child.

Something tickles the back of the woman's mind and she turned. A dark figure stood behind her, wrapped in dark clothing. A plain looking sword was strapped to his back and his face was hidden behind a mask. The fire light played off the eyes, though, and she could see a silver glint in one of them.

The woman's eyes went wide. "It's... you!"

"Yeah. It's been a long time Veronika."

His voice was made deep and hoarse as it was filtered through the mask.

Veronika Leclair. The training they shared in Hell's Valley felt like a lifetime ago. Cloudhawk had also liked the gentle girl and she had respected her squad leader. They hadn't had any contact since those difficult days, years ago.

Incredible what time and fate could conspire to achieve. Veronika lost her grandfather at the battle for Sanctuary, causing the rapid decline of her family. Now her husband, Blaze, was among the dead. She had become a young widow and while Cloudhawk was not directly responsible for all her misfortunes, he was involved in all of it.

It was hard for him to show himself before her, but Cloudhawk felt a duty to do so. Frost had told him about Blaze's final words, he felt responsible for delivering the news himself. How would she react? What would Cloudhawk's former classmate do when confronted with her grandfather's killer, the one who's war claimed her husband? Would she refuse to speak or yell and scream?

Either would be expected. Cloudhawk would resign himself to it. But instead after a few moments, Veronika surprised him. "Would you like to go for a cup of tea?"

For a moment he had no words. But when the shock passed he nodded. "Alright."

Skycloud's commercial industry was in tatters, but there were still places to go get a drink. They went to a teahouse that had be reopened after the war and took a seat. As they did Cloudhawk glanced at the three year old boy napping against Veronika's shoulder. He'd inherited his father's fiery red hair. He was cute. Luckily the boy was too young to know what was going on all around him.

Cloudhawk and Veronika sat across from one another with steaming cups between. The atmosphere was awkward. Over the last several years they'd been living in completely different worlds. What could they say to bridge a gap so large?

"Where's Gabriel?"

"Gabby? He's alright. He's found a partner and is concentrating on his art." It wasn't a secret that Barb and Gabriel were together. Since Vulkan's death Cloudhawk hadn't wanted to put his sole disciple, Barb, in any sort of danger. With her mind-reading abilities she was more useful on the back line running logistics. She and Gabby weren't famous in the Alliance, but they were comfortable and safe.

"Is Governor Selene alright? Miss Dawn?"

"Selene is back to her old self and Dawn is doing great. They've grown a lot." Cloudhawk paused, grappling with something. He wasn't sure why she was asking about them. "What are you going to do?"

"I don't know, beyond raising my son. At least I get to watch him grow." Veronika dropped her gaze and was silent for a moment. "But things have been bad here. Living is hard. My strength is average at best and I'm scared I won't be able to protect him."

Cloudhawk knew what she was worried about.

"Blaze's son, what's his name?"

"Skye Pyrrus."

"Good name, I'm sure he'll grow up to be someone great. You can bring him and your family to Greenland if you like. I could take him under my wing as a disciple."

Perhaps it was hearing his name, but Skye stirred as Cloudhawk made the offer. His red eyes, bright and curious, lolled open. He didn't cry or fuss, contentedly resting in his mother's arms.

Veronika was not the ordinary woman she appeared to be. She was from a great family, but one that had supported Arcturus. The world was changing and the Leclair name made her a target. Skycloud wasn't safe. Even so she didn't fear for herself, but for her son.

It would be a lie to say that Veronika held no animosity toward Cloudhawk. But she knew that the man across from her - this ordinary-looking man not even thirty years old - was the strongest human living. A big name, slinking through the city in hiding. Skye would surely stand out if he trained under such a man.

"I...." she nodded her head after some hesitation. "I would appreciate that."

Cloudhawk heard the words, and it was like a load was lifted. "Can I hold him?"

She smiled. "Sure. You are his teacher, and under your guidance I'm sure he'll be even more successful than his father."

Cloudhawk gingerly took up the boy. Skye looked up at this unfamiliar person but did not struggle. His bright eyes sparkled as he flashed Cloudhawk a smile.

Another disciple. Without a doubt, both Blue and Skye would be great leaders in the future. He was biased, of course, since they were his students. But Cloudhawk's hunches were often right.

He'd seen something in Blue right away. That simple looking little girl had incredible potential and he was convinced that she would play a crucial role in the world of the future. Maybe she would take over when Cloudhawk stepped down.

Something told him little Skye Pyrrus was not just another little boy, either. It was a tickle in the back of his mind, similar to how he felt about Blue. He would grow up to be an important man one day. Cloudhawk had learned to trust these feelings, so he was convinced the boy was something special.

After sharing tea Cloudhawk left Veronika to prepare. He went to seek out the Cloud God for information about what the gods were up to.

The Cloud God's special situation made him an excellent intelligence asset. He was still connected to the godly matrix and could feed him all sorts of news about the Supremes.

"The supremes have been cautious," he told Cloudhawk. "There is no evidence of an impending attack, but when they are ready they will strike with extreme prejudice."

Caution was smart after the Avatar's defeat. If the Supremes attacked Skycloud today they had maybe a fifty percent chance of victory. But as far as they were concerned, there was no need to gamble. If they won they couldn't just leave, not until Cloudhawk was dealt with. If they lost, then the Demon King's successor would surely take the chance to bring vengeance on the other four Elysian lands.

Better to wait. In time their victory was assured, so why take the risk and rush things?

The Cloud God had forsaken his people and acted in collusion with the wastelanders. It wasn't as though the situation could get any worse. Being the first to strike carried no benefit. They would wait and purify the whole area when circumstances were right.

"I want to see what's going on over there. Do you have a way to show me?"


The Cloud God reached out and linked his consciousness to Cloudhawk's. A flood of visions rushed through his mind.

1. Veronika was back in Hell's Valley. .

2. .

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