tgc 93

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  1. Glawyn stopped dead in her tracks as though caught in a dream. She recognized the one controlling sand as a terrible and powerful demon. The one in the dark armor, she realized now, was the Khan of Evernight.
  3. But their leader… Cloudhawk? How could it be him?
  5. She’d met him first in Redleaf, where he’d given her the impression of a ragged and eccentric outsider. But the one standing before her now bearing the same name was completely different. Fear and anger welled up inside of her when she remembered that it was she who brought him and the Khan into the city.
  7. These two men caused earthquakes with a stomp of their feet, and they had used her. It was humiliating to discover that she’d been so blind. She was so upset she could hardly breathe.
  9. “Whoever you are, you are all invaders! You will all die!”
  11. Forrest was ready to continue the charge, but before the words left his lips Cloudhawk strode forward. With this action was born several dozen serpents of fire. Each one was tens of meters long and spun around the group at high speeds. The sickly green flames were unmistakable, the terrible and legendary Castigation Fire. Cloudhawk’s power had surpassed the Crimson One and his manipulation of the flames was far greater.
  13. Once again the citizens of Imperia stared in shock. Such overwhelming power summoned from nowhere! He seemed as strong as their late Silverwing Monarch, if not stronger.
  15. Cloudhawk’s eyes swept over the crowd. “The one who previous pulled Nox’s string – Judas – has been dispatched at my hand. The creature you worshiped as the Silverwing Monarch was a tool under the control of a monster. A puppet, that has been eliminated.”
  17. “Nonsense!”
  19. Incredulous shouts answered him from the citizens. Cloudhawk knew his words fell on deaf ears, but he had long ago learned not to care what others thought.
  21. He continued. “The Highblodo you adored and aspired to no longer exist. The creature which controlled your king controlled them just the same. They were nothing more than corpses without a mind of their own. False angels that acted under one despicable will. Your loved ones were gone the instant they became the Monarch’s marionettes.”
  23. As Cloudhawk said this he released a storm of mental energy. From within the Temple there emerged several figures – twenty or so men and woman with spotless white wings. They descended from on high before the masses, much to their shock and alarm. These were the Highbloods they had hoped to see, who had hidden in the temple since the Silverwing Monarch’s disappearance. They hovered before the army now with stiff expressions and glazed eyes, as though they were made of wood.
  25. The Silverwing Monarch had controlled these puppets through psychic power. The conduit to allow this was the fragment of Nessus writhing within them.
  27. These fragment tentacles acted like independent creatures. They subsisted on the host and took root in their brain, manipulating its nervous system to their own ends. Cloudhawk, by imitating Nessus’ psychic signature, was able to resonate with these tentacles and thus take control of the Highblood.
  29. However he could only control their bodies. He was unable to reach into them deep enough to have them speak. But this display was enough to prove his point about their king.
  31. Cloudhawk’s voice remained calm and dispassionate. “A city cannot persist without a leader. I intend to present you with a new administrator – or rather, the return of an old one. The true mistress of this kingdom. It was she who a thousand years ago established your realm. She is the only one who can return it to its former glory.”
  33. Autumn watched in silence. When Cloudhawk finished his introduction she turned away and walked into the Temple.
  35. In the space of just a few moments the damage to the Temple was reversed. The fallen boundary protecting them sparked back to life. Those sectors of the city damaged during this war were renewed with astonishing speed.
  37. Cloudhawk watched the shock spreading across the faces of Imperia’s citizens. He did not expect these people to just accept that Autumn was their leader, but he had no doubt that the Shepherd God was the true master of this place. IT was her duty to take the reigns.
  39. The Shepherd God’s powers were not limited to the city. Upon returning to the Temple, her powers extended to every corner of the realm. The Silver Kingdom once again became Meadow, a realm of warmth and beauty blessed with eternal Spring. With such bounty, what would the opinion of their new leader be? Imperia had lost a king, but regained a god!
  41. And all of it was under Cloudhawk’s command.
  43. Previous Chapter
  44. Chapter 98: The Polar Conflict
  46. Six months had passed since the terrible battle at Sanctuary.
  48. Since that time, calm had returned to Skycloud. Master Arcturus Cloude wielded his political and military dominance well, and came upon no resistance as he managed the realm. Through a plan of strategic isolation, Skycluod consolidated its powers and closed itself off from the world. It was touted as a way to prolong peace and usher the realm into a period of self-cultivation.
  50. Thanks to Skycloud’s rich resources and infrastructure, the considerable damage of previous years was all but reversed in twelve months.
  52. Arcturus Cloude often mulled over the future and its complexities. He enacted an ambitious plan that not only vastly increased the size of Skycloud’s forces, but also gathered the mightiest representatives from every organization throughout the land.
  54. It was an unprecedented shake-up, with Arcturus at the helm. The military industry churned, stronger every day during this iron period of resurgence.
  56. In the wastelands, things were decidedly less peaceful. Not long after the battle for Sanctuary, Natessa tried to unify the wasteland in a concerted effort against the southern wilds. Since the beginning of hostilities, she’d sent more than two dozen war parties of different sizes into that unknown place.
  58. As Greenland’s Governor, Dawn Polaris stood firm against the aggressive posture of the Conclave of Judgment. She leveraged the stories of what happened as Sanctuary to raise Greenland’s profile and created the Southern Confederation. This period of wasteland strife between the southern wilds and the northern barrens was given a name: The Polar Conflict!
  60. It had been half a year since the beginning of this war. Although the end had not yet arrived, the outcome was clear.
  62. The conclave of Judgment was powerful, and Natessa was a skilled leader. Confederate surrender or defeat was only a matter of time, all that remained was the shrinking territory of Greenland itself. It seemed inevitable that the day approached when the Conclave of Judgment would rule the entirety of the wastes.
  64. Dawn, Sandspire.
  66. Sand rasped as it was blown through the half-buried ruins.
  68. Bad news had been constant. The city’s environment had grown dismal and defeated. Those cities under Greenland’s protection had nearly all fallen. Recent reports claimed that the Conclave of Judgment would next set its sights on Sandspire. Their city was closest to Greenland, if the Conclave occupied it they would have their enemy encircled. At that point, their confederacy was doomed.
  70. More than ten thousand Confederate troops were stationed in the city. They were the last, token resistance of their alliance. It was lead by a group of fierce and grotesque mutant warriors.
  72. Each one was different, but they all used the same weaponry. Crude copies of weapons from the Elysian lands, exorcist rods. These were the Goshawks.
  74. The hero Cloudhawk was their founder. He had once led them as the vanguard at the battle for Sanctuary.
  76. Every wastelander cherished the memory of that great day. It was the battle that turned Cloudhawk into a legend and Greenland into a mecca for those who sought glory. And yet such a pity, for that same battle saw the fall of this man who contributed so much to the south.
  78. The Confederacy’s mightiest fighters were arrayed at the front of the battle lines. Elite men and women from Greenland and the Dark Atom. Yet even among these entrancing folk one beautiful figure stood out.
  80. She was tall, with long shapely legs and platinum blonde hair. Her curves were wrapped in wastelander leathers that did nothing to hide her perfect body. Her hands were wrapped around the hilt of a large sword and her eyes were shut. She was waiting for something.
  82. Everyone looked at her with eyes of fanaticism and worship. She was their greatest warrior, a former noble of Skycloud whose family had at one time been a nightmare for people like them. Today she was one of them, a wastelander, leading them to glory.
  84. She was Dawn Polaris. A powerful woman, a beautiful woman, strong as iron.
  86. When Greenland lost its founder, Dawn rose up to take the reigns. She continued Cloudhawk’s legacy by working to develop the city he loved even further. Were it not for the Conclave’s hostilities, thanks to Cloudhawk’s reputation Greenland would have become a true jewel of the wastelands.
  88. When the Conclave started making moves, it was Dawn who established the Southern Confederation. For half a year she led them at the fore, fighting from the front lines heedless of her own safety. Baptized by war, she had grown stronger and wiser. She was, unequivocally, their leader.
  90. “They’re here!”
  92. Dawn slowly opened her eyes. Gone was the pride and frivolousness of years ago. Rather they bore the look of someone who had weathered life’s tribulations and learned from them. She was as bold and stable as the weapon she wielded, like an angel borne from this blasted earth.
  94. People changed. Dawn had changed. She’d grown into a woman very different from the one who left Skycloud.
  96. The sound of rumbling engines met their ears as a dark line appeared on the horizon. The Conclave’s formidable armada approached. It numbered over a thousand flying machines and airships and nearly choked out the sky.
  98. Natessa had not been content with merely controlling northern forces. She had been steadily absorbing southern powers to bolster her army so that now they numbered nearly a million strong. Virtually all of the south had come under her iron fist and all that remained was this small holdout. Dawn’s last gasp. Today, Natessa would make sure her breathing ceased entirely.
  100. The wastelands would at last be unified!
  102. But unification meant destruction. Today was likely the final hours of the Southern Confederation. Dawn knew she could not win against a force of this size, but she would die trying.
  104. The Conclave of Judgment was controlled behind the scenes by Arcturus Cloude. His support sped up the group’s development and indeed many high-powered fighters had appeared among their ranks. Almost certainly these warriors were dispatched specifically by Arcturus to bolster the Conclave’s ranks. Each time a new batch of deadly soldiers it appeared it made Natessa’s forces that much harder to repel.
  106. “This will be a bit of a hassle,” the old drunk muttered at Dawn’s shoulder. He watched the dark line approach. “They get bigger by the day while our numbers shrink. It looks like they’re bringing ten times what we’ve got. It doesn’t look good.”
  108. “No more running, Sandspire is our last line of defense. If we fail here we’ll be left to cower in Greenland and wait for destruction.” ‘Hassle’ was definitely an understatement, and Dawn knew it. Yet as those dark shapes in the distance continued to swell, so did her resolve. A hard, fervent light gleamed in her eyes. “Arcturus Cloude has Skycloud in the palm of his hand. Now he wants the wasteland. Whatever his aim is, we won’t make it easy for him.”
  110. The drunk could only sigh. “The power disparity is too great.”
  112. Dawn turned her eyes back to her own troops, shuffling behind her. “I will hold this line! We have to hold out until Cloudhawk returns!”
  114. The drunk was even more disparaged when he heard her words. Cloudhawk. Would he ever be coming back? It’d been six months since he fell at the battle for Sanctuary. After so long there seemed little chance he was still alive.
  116. Dawn addressed her troops. “Are you afraid?!”
  118. Her army answered in one booming voice. “Never afraid!”
  120. She nodded in satisfaction. “We are warriors of Greenland! We will never yield! Hold your weapons high and fight with me, to the end!”
  122. Clinging to this city was foolish. This wasn’t a fortress, it was a half-buried ruin in the middle of a desert. The city itself was surrounded by a sprawling expanse of ancient remains, however, and Dawn spread out at strategic areas throughout the ruins. It made it impossible for the Conclave to pinpoint the location of their main force. If they complicated the engagement enough it would give them an advantage. If they made themselves a smaller and more diffuse target, then the Conclave’s greater firepower wouldn’t give them an edge.
  124. A few moments later the Conclave’s armada was close enough to begin firing. They were five kilometers away from the walls of the city. To the soldiers below that dark line erupted into a wave of light and fire.
  126. Followed by the deafening sound of rolling thunder.
  128. Hundreds of missiles and burning shells came rocketing toward Sandspire.
  130. They slammed into the walls, blowing it apart in several places. Structures closest to the defenses collapsed from the aftershocks. If Dawn had garrisoned her army in the city, half of her troops would have been obliterated in the opening salvo.
  132. But in reality, Sandspire was not all but empty. Its destruction was an accepted and acceptable result. Southern Confederation soldiers watched the destruction from their guerrilla positions among the ruins.
  134. Their weapons were no match for Conclave equipment. However, as an ancient industrial complex Sandspire had a hefty cache of munitions they could rely on. With the addition of Dark Atom artillery, they were well stocked with missiles, bullets and bombs.
  136. “Counter!”
  138. The Conclave’s armada had crept into range. Dawn stood out in the opening, a signal flag raised high to signal her orders.
  140. Cells hidden throughout the ruins leaped into action. Cannons were positioned and mortars were adjusted. A dark and bloody battle was about to begin, one that was sure to ravage the air and land. What would remain when the dust settled?
  142. Conclavian ships continued their barrage and Confederate installations released their payloads. In an instant, the intensity of the battle skyrocketed. Natessa’s forces were fierce, but its concerted efforts were ineffective against a force so spread out. She watched as her airships began to drop from the sky.
  144. Be it equipment or numbers, the Conclave of Judgment had a clear advantage. Yet the Confederacy was reasonably defended in their twisted metal enclaves. The northern army’s superior guns meant nothing if they had nothing to hit. They meant even less once the ships were shot down.
  146. But the Southern Confederation was not without casualties. Swaths of their numbers were buried alive when missiles struck nearby ruins. One explosion nearby almost took out Dawn’s position. She scrambled up from the wreckage, covered in dust without missing a step. She cried out over the cacophony of war, sword held high. “Keep up the attack!”
  148. Sandspire’s convoluted environment was peppered with small defense garrisons, each a few hundred strong. The ruins were all a hive of activity as soldiers fought for their lives. Soldiers fired wildly into the enemy armada with shoulder-mounted rocket launchers and more dangerous ordnance. They were fully mobilized for guerrilla warfare, hoping that this tactic could stop the Conclave’s advance.
  150. But there was a limit to what they could accomplish. The Conclave had the high ground. Lumbering ships punished the surrounding area with carpet bombing.
  152. Natessa saw that their attacks were cumbersome and their enemy was fast and agile. She passed on her next order, authorization for a particular weapon – one they’d prepared specifically for this circumstance.
  154. A cloud of unobtrusive spheres were belched from the airships. When they detonated, they carpeted the landscape with a low-hanging cloud of toxic green mist.
  156. Biological weapons, bombs of potent poisonous gas. They were prepared to fight an enemy position that was hard to hit with conventional weapons. Those who breathed in the foul smoke died almost immediately.
  158. Most terrible of all, this mist would seep through all the crevices of these ruins for the next ten days. There was no escape.
  160. As the Conclave repositioned to coat the entirety of the battlefield with their poison, another force appeared in the distance. Without any warning or hesitation, it began to fire on the dark armada.
  162. Dawn and her soldiers stared at the skies in shock. “These are Noxian forces! Has Cloudhawk returned?”
  164. Previous Chapter
  165. In the midst of their biological attack on Sandspire, the Conclave of Judgment came under attack from a surprise force, sent by Nox. A shadow of missiles plowed into the Conclave armada, blasting several ships out of the air.
  167. Suddenly the commander of the armada found himself in a hard spot. He began shouting orders to mount a counter-offensive and reorganize the ships. The cumbersome vessels were turning to face this new threat, when an even more unexpected circumstance arose.
  169. The sky overhead split apart, and from the dark recesses of a portal there emerged a shower of meteors. They pelted the Conclave’s ships with a seemingly unending supply, all of various sizes.
  171. The small ones were the size of a small house. The larger ones could almost be classified as small mountains. Tumbling from the heavens, they struck the enemy airships with unimaginable force. Conclave shields were useless and in the blink of an eye twenty vessels were obliterated. Another hundred suffered various degrees of damage. The whole formation was cast into disarray.
  173. Nox’s ships stopped their assault in lieu of a direct charge. Their huge, black vessels steamed at the enemy at full speed.
  175. The Conclave’s warriors were numerous, but unrefined. Most came from wasteland settlements or smaller cities. Aside from the Dark Atom, there weren’t many organizations in the northern barrens with respectable manufacturing or science. As a result, Conclavian ships were a mix of good and bad.
  177. Noxian vessels were different. Hundreds of years of development and progress was not for nothing. Nox’s technological superiority surpassed any other group, including Dark Atom.
  179. The City of Evernight’s forces had suffered terribly during the battle for Sanctuary, so the ships they could spare for this campaign were relatively few. However, compared to the patchwork monstrosities used by the Conclave, Noxian weapons and ships were vastly superior.
  181. The Conclave armada was brutally pummeled!
  183. When the two armies met above Sandspire, the air became a churning tempest of fire and metal. Ships could not fire at will without significant risk to their own forces. Once within range, Nox dispatched thousands of soldiers in boarding parties, which included their most capable warriors and cadres of Black Knights. They followed Abaddon and the Khan of Evernight into battle, and where they went destruction followed.
  185. Too strong! Nox’s army was far too strong!
  187. The armada’s leaders mulled over their options. Battle groups began making overtures of retreat, having no appetite for further conflict.
  189. Members of the Southern Confederation watched from below, shocked and confused. Suddenly the mighty Conclave had its haunches raised and was shuffling back when just a moment ago it had seemed indomitable.
  191. The guerrillas avoided toxic clouds while watching the skies. But their eyes snapped down when suddenly A heroic figure appeared before them. Once in full view of the soldiers his features were revealed; dark eyes, raven black hair, a handsome face. He looked young but at the same time carried himself with an enduring dignity and mysteriousness that made judging his true age impossible.
  193. This was how Cloudhawk revealed himself to his hundreds of beleaguered followers. His eyes scanned the crowds until they alighted upon familiar figures: Gabriel, Barb, the old drunk. Dawn.
  195. They, likewise, looked up and saw him. Disbelief was clear in their wide eyes.
  197. A small, heartfelt smirk touched the ends of Cloudhawk’s lips. He called out to them through the smile. “I return.”
  199. Those words were like the final drop that bursts a dam, for tears began to stream down her face. She had vowed to never shed another tear, but when she saw this man appeared before them she couldn’t hold back. She had a thousand things to say, a thousand ideas to share, but they all came together to one simple sentence.
  201. “Welcome home.”
  203. Yes. Welcome home. Home at last! Cloudhawk was elated to hear the words.
  205. Barb was shaken from her surprise and nearly leaped in front of him. With eyes wide as saucers she looked him up and down. She even stretched out her hand to give him a tentative slap, just to make sure he was real. Satisfied it wasn’t some illusion, she sputtered, “Excellency Cloudhawk? Is it really you? You look so different!”
  207. The old drunk was secretly just as stunned. A man of his caliber had keen senses, allowing him to feel the strength of those around him. His well-developed sixth sense told him Cloudhawk was more than just different, he was practically a new man. No – not a man. A monster. Every cell in his body operated like a nuclear reactor, constantly generating energy. The old drunk couldn’t understand how he’d changed so dramatically in only six months…
  209. Cloudhawk had always been strong, but his greatest abilities had always been in mental power. Now, however, his physical capabilities were equal or better than the drunk’s own. In the future he seemed more than likely to meet or surpass Skye Polaris’ martial abilities. In the future he would be like a human nuclear weapon.
  211. What’s more, was Cloudhawk’s ascension merely physical? The old drunk didn’t think so!
  213. It seemed obvious by the rain of meteors he’d summoned over the enemy troops. His mental abilities were far more powerful than they had been at Sanctuary. While the dramatic appearance of it was on a smaller scale, he was doing it without help from a focus or augmentation item.
  215. Whatever happened to him after that battle, Cloudhawk’s mental powers now rivaled a Master Demonhunter. In fact, he was probably more powerful mentally than the Crimson One had been. More than twice as strong as before his disappearance! Less than a year and he might as well have been an entirely different person. How was this possible? What incredible thing happened to him?
  217. But the wonders did not abate.
  219. Abaddon and the Khan of Evernight made their way back to Cloudhawk with several prisoners in tow.
  221. The Caliph of the Sands, whose ferocity and nightmarish power once thundered across the wastes, was dragging a scarred human in his wake. He delivered him respectfully to Cloudhawk and then addressed him as a superior. “My King, I’ve captured their military commander.”
  223. Abaddon, Caliph of the Sands, called Cloudhawk his… King?
  225. Cloudhawk wasn’t surprised by the moniker, either. He cast a sideways glance at the man laying in the dirt. There was a cold flash in their depths. “Ah, an old acquaintance. I hope you’re well, Instructor Cutter.”
  227. The Conclave’s commander of military forces was none other than Eckhard Cutter, one of a few instructors who trained Cloudhawk years ago in Hell’s Valley.
  229. Eckhard didn’t seem to recognize the man before him. He was a capable fighter but the sense he got from this man made his skin crawl. He felt like a rabbit under a lion’s paw.
  231. “Shall I kill him?” Abaddon asked.
  233. Cloudhawk refused with a shake of his head. “He can still be useful. Take him away.”
  235. The others remained confused. Why was the demon treating him with such deference? Dawn felt it was strange that suddenly Cloudhawk and Abaddon had such a close relationship. After all, Abaddon murdered all of Cloudhawk’s old friends. Why was he tolerating the demon’s presence?
  237. The battle was done. Cloudhawk and the forces of Greenland returned home. When Cloudhawk stepped back into his city, his still heart stirred. He had built this place, he and his friends. It’d been almost a year since he last saw it.
  239. Though war raged outside for half a year, it didn’t appear to have affected Greenland directly. Its central God Tree still maintained the enchantments protecting the city, so that it was the only refuge left in the south. The population had surged since Cloudhawk’s disappearance to twice what it used to be.
  241. There were now ten agricultural homesteads around the city. They produced enough food to sustain the population and then some. And that wasn’t all, the city itself had seen tremendous changes. Several railways surrounded the city now and into its interior, where trains continuously transported goods. They rattled through the city like veins pumping life blood through a body. Dozens of cable cars trundled by and overhead the sky was pocked with small ships. All in all Greenland was a busy, lively hub of activity.
  243. Neighborhoods and districts were arranged in neat plots, just as he left them. The residences he’d begun to erect were now all complete.
  245. Greenland Institute wasn’t some makeshift camp anymore. After six months it had become nearly its own city. Thousands of students studied and lived in its campus, truly one of a kind throughout all the wastes.
  247. The city itself had burgeoned to several times its original size. There were over a thousand researchers alone now, included well-trained Dark Atom scientists and Sandspire engineers. Furthermore, scientifically minded people displaced from elsewhere had also gathered in the city, among them some of the wasteland’s most renowned.
  249. Manufacturing plants and industry were also all over the city. The goods made on site were abundant and varied. There were weapons, food, even robotics plants. Interspersed were labs for biological experiments. Altogether it amounted to a tidal wave of change in a short period of time.
  251. Cloudhawk was back!
  253. Cloudhawk was back!
  255. The news spread like wildfire. The city was abuzz with excitement.
  257. After what happened at Sanctuary, Cloudhawk and his exploits had become legend. He was a hero to everyone, especially Institute students. Much to everyone’s delight, the legend had survived and walked among them again.
  259. “Teacher!”
  261. Azura pushed her way through the crowds, threw herself into Cloudhawk’s arms and cried. Her hot tears seeped into his armor.
  263. Cloudhawk held to her and felt the guilt well up inside of him. He told the girl he would teach her, but until now he’d hardly taught her anything. What more irresponsible instructor existed beyond him? He lifted her up with one arm and together, under the adoring gaze of the city’s citizens, they walked into the central fortress.
  265. This was a day that would be forever remembered in Greenland. Cries of celebration rang through the streets. On the roof of the fortress, above this festive atmosphere, two figures watched the revelry. One was a shabby-looking old man, and the other clad head to toe in dark armor.
  267. The drunk uncorked a bottle of wine and offered it to his companion. “Drink?”
  269. The Khan of Evernight responded in that flat, robotic tone. “I don’t drink.”
  271. With a shrug the drunk took a few swigs for himself while looking out over the crowds. He shook his head with a grim chuckle. “Fate really likes to screw with people.”
  273. True. Here stood an erstwhile martial artist of unsurpassed skill. The other was in bygone days a cherished Master Demonhunter.
  275. Of course that didn’t amount to anything. They both served a humble scavenger boy who had risen to become a king.
  277. “Baldur, you really aren’t going to tell them?”
  279. “Baldur Cloude is dead.” The Khan of Evernight’s digitized affect hummed a response. “It’s best for everyone.”
  281. “What about Selene? You know that your choices have completely changed her life. Even today she plots your revenge. Are you really willing to stay silent and watch her change?”
  283. The Khan of Evernight did not answer.
  285. The drunk didn’t press him.
  287. This pair of old friends simply stood in silence and watched the world pass by. In their hearts each was struggling with something, for sometimes there was no right or wrong answer. Some things were impossible to explain. Only time would tell.
  289. Previous Chapter
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