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Book 7, Chapter 88 - Final Withdrawal

 Boom! Boom! Boom!

Several explosions shuddered through the area, one after the other.

A portion of a small mountain collapsed, sending debris scattering across the ground. A sleek black figure leaped from the maligned terrain onto another, repeating the process. As the mountains cracked beneath his feet, the figure paused and stood tall.

He was stark against the clear blue sky. Sunlight washed across the world like a lake of fire, but the black figure defied its glare. A frigid aura hung over it, a shawl of dark majesty, and the shattered armor was interspersed with veins of red creeping out from the center. The figure was a vision of fragmented terror.

Cloudhawk's features were hidden behind the Mask of a Thousand Faces, adding to the effect.

After donning the armor Cloudhawk could tear down mountains with his fists. Even without mental energy and relics he could tear airships apart with his monstrous strength alone. Although the armor did not give Cloudhawk the mental abilities of his predecessor, it had greatly strengthened his body. He had more precision and control of the mental energy he already possessed. These things increased his battle capabilities.

"Go on, take a swipe."

Cloudhawk called out to empty air. His voice sounded like the rasping sands of the desert as it passed through his mask, tyrannical and frightening. As if on command, a slash of dazzling light came screaming toward him.

The sword of light came tearing upward from the foot of the mountain, leaving a dazzling streak in its wake. Where it passed the stone was cleanly split, carving a path with Cloudhawk at its terminus.

What an attack!

Cloudhawk didn't try to dodge. Instead he raised his arms, putting his hands between him and the sword. When it struck it was like a flood of power, sending Cloudhawk careening off the mountain peak.

Then the sword vanished. A figure in white came lightly to rest upon the ground.

Selene was surprised at Cloudhawk's gall. He deflected her attack without any defenses, and succeeded. Shoulder the blow had caused him no harm. His natural defenses had to be incredible.

Cloudhawk looked himself over. A few small cracks peppered his hands, but they were healing quickly. The Demon King's phase stone was focusing his mental energies toward recovery of the armor. It was clearly the key component of the Cuirass. Unless the stone was destroyed the armor could continuously reforge itself.

Selene looked him over. "If you never master the armor, will you stay this way forever?"

"That's... hard to say." Cloudhawk was feeling a little helpless. He'd tried to remove the armor using several methods, but none had succeeded. It had grown into him, and who had ever seen a man with an armor skin? He was like a different species.

He didn't want to deal with this problem right now. "How goes the evacuation of the Vale's residents?"

"There aren't many of them. Woodland Vale and the surrounding areas should be evacuated in a day or two." Selene then added, "but things aren't going so smoothly in other areas."

Cloudhawk's plans were clear, with only two explicit instructions; evacuate non-combatants, and gather their forces. Whoever couldn't fight was sent to Emerald Star to escape the fighting and establish a distant human settlement. Meanwhile warriors from all over the planet, Elysian and wasteland alike, would be brought together to fight for the future of this world.

Easier said than done, of course.

First, the number of people he needed to move was astronomical. Earlier iterations of the plan called for only a small number, but after acquiring Source he had a way to scale their operations up. A small seed planted on a distant planet became a full-scale exodus.

Evacuating people was a vital part of the war against the gods.

Cloudhawk knew that overcoming his enemies wasn't going to be a quick or easy process. It was going to be a struggle that involved strategic abandonment of most centers of humanity. Soldiers would fight harder if they knew their families were somewhere the gods couldn't reach. Beyond that, an established base away from danger could offer a lot of support to the front lines.

The grim fact was that if humanity was preserved elsewhere, fresh bodies could be provided as the need arose.

Part of Cloudhawk projects after taking over the wastes was establishing central cities. Just as the Southern Capital was the heart of the southern wastes, Woodland Vale served as the North's heart. After taking the Demon King's Cuirass, Cloudhawk opened a portal to Emerald Star so that the Vale's people could flee. With them he sent the Shepherd God. So far everything seemed to be going smoothly.

There was never anything to worry about when it came to Woodland Vale. Cloudhawk had been in control of this place for a fair length of time and outsiders were few. The Shepherd God's support and their simple lives made things easier.

The more troubling areas were the Elysian lands. Each one had much larger populations and not everyone supported Cloudhawk's efforts. That made evacuating them harder and there were roadblocks cropping up in every one of them.

"Let's go." With a thought spatial energy radiating from Cloudhawk, enveloping both him and Selene. Both figures vanished.

Selene recognized how much Cloudhawk was changing. His powers grew deeper and more enigmatic by the day. She remembered the days when Cloudhawk had to struggle to activate his powers and how unstable it used to be. Now he wielded the former Demon King's powers with finesse. No stops or procedures, just a thought. It was so natural she felt jealous.

In a very short time the two arrived in the capital city of Praelius. They arrived to find it in chaos.

After assimilating the realm's leaders, the thousands of soldiers left behind were forcing the people to pack up their goods and leave the city. The streets were jam packed and the skies were choked with airships. Soldiers shuffled back and forth, carting resources to the vessels for transport to the Southern Capital.

"Everyone, please maintain order! Do not interfere with the soldiers' work! I am Eutropius Griev, steward of this realm and I am telling you we must all evacuate within three days!"

"I promise your safety. You will all be brought somewhere new where you will not be affected by the war. There will be no poverty or hunger. A new life awaits, trust in what the Governor has told you..."

The reassurances came from a public announcement system set up throughout the city. IT was being played in a loop. Cloudhawk had met Eutropius for several times, a young and capable soldier who had been tapped to lead this realm during transition. He was a talented man, however the task before him was a daunting one.

"Eutropius! I thought of you as a brother, but then you go and perform this treachery?! Do you think you're worthy of your teacher? Aren't you ashamed to let down Orchid and all of the realm's people?"

The city's steward was in the midst of deploying soldiers to maintain order when the booming voice cut through the air. A group of several hundred angry men flooded the area, preceding a middle-aged gentleman with a face full of indignant rage. He was followed by a group of several dozen demonhunters.

"Norman Seabrook"

Eutropius was in his thirties and already famed as a demonhunter and warrior among his peers. The man challenging him was at one point a fellow apprentice under the same Master Demonhunter. Until recently, they had enjoyed a lifelong friendship.

Orchis, who Norman had referred to, was another younger discipline and their master's beloved daughter. She later became Eutropius' wife.

"Hold!" The soldiers were all poised to attack. Eutropius had his hand raised. "Stay your weapons!"

Norman led the League of Demonhunters here in Praelius and was one of the realm's mightiest fighters. He championed the city's resistance to Cloudhawk's rule. His reasons were simple - the Master he loved so dearly died at this monster's hand.

After the Elysian defeat at Sky Fortress, there were many who would rather die than succumb to the demon's reign. Legion had them put to death. One of them was this Master Demonhunter, a respected member of the realm. This action cleaved a rift between these two men, who were like brothers.

One decided to back Cloudhawk and become his dog. The other raised the flag of opposition and resolved to fight.

Eutropius stared at his former companion with red eyes. One hand was wrapped around the pommel of his sword, still sheathed at his waist. In a loud voice he called back. "Don't force me, Norman. Everyone has to go."

"Have you no shame, Eutropius," Norman screamed back. "You betray Sumeru, betray our teacher! You force people from their homes! Don't you fear the curses people lay upon you? I am shocked and saddened at how far you've fallen."

Eutropius was shaking. It was no secret to him that, in the hearts of many Elysians, he was a foul turncoat. They called him human trash, who turned his back on his people and his teacher. The man who used to be as close as a brother hated him. His own wife would not forgive him.

"It's not at all what you say. Think! You know me, do I fear death?" Eutropius shouted the challenge in anger. "I would be easier to die but I can't. My conscience told me that there is a mission I must accomplish. A burden I must shoulder. Otherwise-"

"What conscience can you pretend to have? Shut your lying mouth!" Norman ripped his sword from its sheath. "Today, either you die, or I die!"

"It does not have to be this way!" But Eutropius sighed and drew his own sword. There was no talking his brother down.

Norman was just as despondent. He never imagined his fellow apprentice would do these things he'd done. In his heart it was clear that, with the army under Eutropius' control, he had no chance of winning. But he still had to try.

Eutropius didn't want to kill his lifelong friend. He would give up his own life for Norman's if the need arose. But there was no choice, no time for hesitation. Any uncertainty could mean thousands of dead Elysians.

He didn't care about his own life, but he had a mission that he had to see through. In times like this someone had to rise to the occasion.

1. His name means 'compass', but interestingly the character for his last name is both a surname and part of the character meaning 'to attend to or manage', which is precisely his title. Eutropius is Greek meaning 'good direction' while Griev is a middle-english sort of title for 'steward'.

1. 'Deep blue sea of the north.' Norman means 'north man' and seabrook is obvious

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