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Book 7, Chapter 14 Sky Fortress

 The moon was hidden behind a thick layer of clouds. Creeping through the faint mist, an airship silently traversed the land. It moved along at a slow pace like through the darkness, faintly reflecting light like a distant star.

Only after the ship had taken off and was flying for a time did Cloudhawk let himself relax. From now on everything that he did would be top secret and no word would get back to Stormford. Even if he acted completely out of character no one would look at him twice. Lance's family would be none the wiser.

Cloudhawk fiddled with a pair of Temple permits. These slips gave him and Idonea the right to apply for positions with the crusades. With the help of two major families, and the companionship of a Master Demonhunter's daughter, he didn't think there would be any trouble.

All that was left was to sneak into the fortress and blow it up from the inside!

When the priest took one step the devil took ten. No matter how water-tight they thought their forces were, there was always a chance the enemy could slip through. Cloudhawk pondered what was to come as he put his chip on his arms and leaned against the cabin table. His eyes slid over to Idonea.

She was seated by the porthole, shafts of errant moonlight playing off her features. She stared in quiet contemplation.

Idonea decided to join the army in a spur-of-the-moment decision. The girl had no idea what was really going on. How could she? What would her reaction be if she learned his true identity? Cloudhawk noted that she was a few years younger that Asha. He felt no pride in deceiving the young girl.

As his mind wandered Idonea felt the eyes on her. She turned her head. "What are you staring at?"

His face was an emotionless mask, calm as ever. "You remind me of someone, that's all. When she was about your age she also left on a journey to find her father."

She raised her eyebrows. "She lost her father, too?"

"Well, how do I put it..." Cloudhawk thought for a moment. "I guess you could say so."

"Did she find him?"

"Many years later. But when she did he died before they could really reconnect."

"How did he die?"

"She killed him."

That was not the answer she was expecting. "How could that be? You're telling tales."

"Heh, when you grow up you'll realize that sometimes life is not so different from a tall tale."

"Hmph, listen to you acting like some wise old man. You aren't much older than me!"

Selene had been around her age when she set off on her own into the wastelands. But besides the fact that both their fathers were Master Demonhunters, there weren't many similarities between these women.

"Well, don't pay much mind to the story. You'll find your dad."

Idonea was quiet for a moment, then responded. "Thank you."

She just wanted some comfort. But what could he do? Tell her that he'd dumped her father on another world?

He was a rare sort of man, with amazing talent and a rare gift that he did not want to use in Cloudhawk's service. It was a tricky problem. If Cloudhawk let him and Phoenix go, it would only be a matter of time before they caused more problems. Leaving them stranded on another planet was essentially a death sentence, just one that took a long time. He wasn't sure how to solve this issue yet. He hoped with time he would.

Silence took the cabin once again. Neither knew what to talk about.

By the time dawn peaked over the horizon they felt the ship tremble. It meant the ship had docked. They'd arrived.

The eastern sky was gradually brightening. Their voyage had lasted about five hours. A straight shot at the speed of an average ship would have taken them out of the realm, but Cloudhawk looked around and saw that they were still in Stormford. They must have taken a circuitous route.

"Let's go."

As man and wife and having applied to the army together, they expected to be placed in the same unit. Even the holy army wouldn't separate them.

A military base was revealed when they stepped onto the deck of the ship. Idonea had never heard of this place, which was no surprise. It was secluded from the more populated parts of the realm and was a closely guarded secret. Most of the buildings were bunkers or extended underground so its surface footprint was kept unobtrusive. Inside, though, it was like a huge maze.

The docks were crowded with airships coming from all different directions. Scores of soldiers were pouring in to join thousands of their comrades already stationed here. They were all preparing to join the holy army and leave for Sky Fortress.

"Demonhunters! Please come this way with your identification ready!"

Cloudhawk brought Idonea down a long hallway. They were subjected to several checks until at last they reached an empty space. Joining them were scores of others, all dressed as demonhunters. Many were in their middle years but there were a few fresh-faced youths. Cloudhawk and his young wife stood out among the crowd. He didn't have a lot of time to look around before an Elysian officer stood before the group and made his voice heard.

"Transport ships are on their way. Get ready to depart."

Over the next hour several more demonhunters arrived. Each of them were precious resources for the realm. Generally a good demonhunter was equivalent to a thousand soldiers. Gathered around them now were several hundred. It was an impressive lineup, and all this in just one transport.

All eyes rose skyward as a thunderous roar broke. A shining airship descended from the clouds and over the base. It had to be at least four times larger than a typical battleship with six visible pylons pouring energy. "You've got fifteen minutes to get on this ship!"

When the ship got low enough it opened several doors and people started to file inside. In short order the many soldiers were safely aboard. The doors shut and it lifted off. It took less than an hour for the ship to appear, take on its passengers and leave again.

Obvious to all was the layer of energy that hung over the battleship. As it continued to rise at a surprising pace, no one felt any discomfort. In a short while until they broke above the clouds and moonlight flooded the decks. Its silvery blue glow painted the roiling clouds an ethereal hue.

It felt like they were on a vast, undulating sea. Still they rose. What little bits of the earth they could see beneath the clouds shrank away. The vessel's arc carried it along until the sun appeared in the distance. Far behind them the mountain peaks of Stormford were disappearing. Below was an endless expanse of wasteland.

It was an entirely new scene for everyone aboard. Everyone except Cloudhawk.

Idonea watched it all with eyes wide as saucers. She'd thought Stormford stretched across the whole world. Now all of a sudden she realized how small her home was and how much there was out beyond the mountains!

They flew on. Six energy pylons hummed as it propelled the ship through the air.

As gravity gradually lost its hold the air grew thin. People walked around feeling strangely light as they reached a hundred kilometers over ground. Blue sky gave way to black space and looking out at the horizon, once could see the curve of the planet.

The journey lasted most of a day.

At last there appeared a speck of light in the darkness. It expanded until everyone could clearly see the magnificent fleet of the holy army. Thousands of ships were encompassed in a bubble of light, like fish caught in a net. They hung in place or shuttled back and forth in lazy patterns.

The docks were stuffed with vessels.

Over a hundred Seraphs were employed to build a sprawling spaceport out of nothing. Bridges of sterling white joined it all together in a staggering and impressive web. It was even more incredible when one realized it had all been done in the space of a month.

In short, although the fortress was still under construction it was already a sprawling citadel. A sprawling armada was gathered, ready to launch when Skycloud rolled by below. The combined power gathered here was enough to wipe any target off the face of the planet.

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