The sun rose over Greenland City, as it always did. The city stirred, the same as any morning. Hunters left to track their quarry, vendors hawked their wares, all preparing for another day of struggle in the wastelands.
No one cared that just the night before a deadly struggle embroiled the fort.
Bids for power were a common sight, from small settlements to large outposts. Out here, everything obeyed the rule of steel. The whole wasteland adhered to it, the single truth that existed from the very first day live crawled up from the dirt. It spanned all of time, threading through countless civilizations, and could be summed up in one simple phrase.
Survival of the fittest.
Weak were fodder for the strong, and the strong rules the world. He with the mightiest fist got to call the shots, his word was law.
Once those loyal to Cerberus were purged from the city, the remaining soldiers fell in line behind Cloudhawk. Such was the way of things. They would do as they were told, until someone stronger than Cloudhawk came and they began the process all over again. Loyalty and honor were foreign concepts in the wastelands. One’s only responsibility was to one’s self.
Dong… dong… dong…
A bell rang out across the city. It was a signal to call everyone together.
The city’s denizens stopped what they were doing and headed for the city center. When they arrived, they saw that three leaders had come to replace the old one. Hellflower, standing in the middle, announced that Greenland City had come under new management. There would be new rules everyone was expected to follow.
Cloudhawk never said a word as these rules were conveyed. Autumn merely stood there, looking impatient.
“From now on, our city will be the capital of a new Greenland Nation. We will be doing things very differently, but don’t fret. You should all rejoice at having the opportunity to be citizens in this place. Under our leadership you will no longer have to struggle merely to survive. You won’t need to risk your lives for food and comfort. The wastelands beasts will no longer be a threat.”
Hellflower’s voice rang out over the crowd, but they fell on deaf ears. The attention she got was mostly from her erudite and attractive face, her exaggerated bosom, and pert backside. The men in the crowd whispered about those charms more than any words she spoke.
She spoke for a long time to little effect, until she noticed no reaction and grew impatient. Hellflower could speak for the rest of the day and it would accomplish nothing, better just to show them. So she turned to Autumn and nodded. “Begin.”
Begin? Begin what? Cloudhawk’s expression said he didn’t know the answer either.
“You greedy, self-important woman. What makes you think you have any right to command me?”
“No no no, honorable Shepherd God. It wasn’t an order, it was an invitation.”
Hellflower’s attitude toward the woman – or, rather, God – changed when her temper flared. Autumn shrugged at the poor attempt at flattery, but obliged by producing a small box. She extended her hands and opened it before the curious eyes of the citizens.
Cloudhawk’s vision snapped to it. What powerful resonance! He spied a small green bead resting inside.
Judging by the energy coming from it, this had to be a unique sort of relic. It radiated a gentle yet strong light that conveyed power. The citizens did not have Cloudhawk’s innate ability to feel relics, but they didn’t have to, it was obvious at a glance.
This bead was definitely something special.
It floated up from the box, revealing a more seed-like texture. Thousands of eyes watched, enraptured as it shot into the dirt of the city center.
People shuffled uncomfortably, the earth trembling beneath them.
It felt like a small earthquake, or like the seed struck with the impact of a meteor. The trembling continued, even growing in intensity.
Autumn knelt down and placed her hands upon the dirt. The Shepherd God’s will poured into the earth like a waterfall on a parched river bed. Everyone, Cloudhawk included, was speechless while she acted.
The tremors strengthened.
Shocked and frightened eyes shot skyward as an enormous tree burst up from the ground. Fully formed branches scraped the sky, and in the space of minutes the tree was several hundred meters tall. Leaves sprouted, forming a gorgeous canopy that towered over the city like a shark among minnows.
Dazzling emerald light glowed off the megaflora, shining down on everyone like a gentle waterfall and enveloping the city.
Now Cloudhawk understood. It was an enchantment. Obviously this giant tree was conjured up through Autumn’s power, an act she’d performed once before as the Shepherd God. It was what kept Woodland Vale secret from the rest of the world for so long. Of course, creating an entire domain like that had been very taxing. With her limited power now, she couldn’t produce the same results.
Greenland City’s God Tree was a pale imitation of the one in Woodland Vale, but its essence was the same. The incredible power within it would protect their city.
Even if the tree protected just a tenth of what the Vale’s did, it would still be an incredible thing. Elysians or other prying eyes would see nothing. What’s more, it served the important purpose of shattering wastelander preconceptions.
To them it was a miracle, entirely outside the realm of possibility. The wide-eyed looks on their faces revealed that the tree had had its intended effect. Greenland’s citizens were ready to prostrate themselves before it in worship.
Even though Greenland’s boundaries were minuscule compared to where she came from, this enchantment was still very taxing for Autumn. It would require at least ten days of constant upkeep to make it permanent, giving her little opportunity for rest. If she was interrupted then the enchantment would fail, and all her effort wasted.
“We’ll leave this to our illustrious Shepherd God,” Hellflower said to Cloudhawk. “Let’s tour our new city, shall we?”
“Is she going to be ok, left like this?”
“Are you underestimating the Shepherd God?” She asked with a smirk. “After all this you still lack faith, eh? Look at her pet and her protectors. What wastelander do you think can get within fifty meters?”
Autumn’s crystal dragon settled by its master side. Smoldering green eyes warily scanned the area, constantly vigilant. Anything that got close without Autumn’s permission would be instantly devoured.
Besides the divine beast she also had her twisted Dryad, obediently waiting on the opposite side. It’s trunk-like legs were rooted into the ground, which allowed the creature to sense any changes in the nearby environment.
It didn’t look like there was anything to worry about here.
Cloudhawk was acutely aware of how strong Autumn’s divine beast and undying protector were. If someone could fight passed those two, Cloudhawk wasn’t going to stop them. Anyway, he was silly to think any wastelander in these parts would even get close. Even Skycloud had only a handful that could threaten the Shepherd God.
For years Greenland City’s infrastructure had been remotely bolstered by the Dark Atom. Still, it was a simple place. For instance, a hydroelectric generator drew power from the small rivers that ran through the city. While it was enough to power the manufacturing buildings, it didn’t provide enough electricity for the whole city.
Warehouses were filled with a large number of eboncrys, prepared long before Cloudhawk arrived. Back in the Vale Hellflower had learned how to construct the focal tower they’d used to traverse dimensions. While it was unlike any earth technology she knew, its basic principles weren’t difficult to ascertain. She was confident that with Autumn’s help they could reproduce one here for their purposes.
“From now on, this will be our home.” Her voice took on a teasing and provocative tone. “You’re the boss now, and how to choose to run this place is up to you. Everyone here, myself included, is bound to your whim. I am required – eager – to do anything you ask of me.”
Cloudhawk ignored her overtly suggestive comments. “How many children live here?”
She gave him a curious look. “Already thinking of raising a crew?”
“It’s always been my intention. I don’t think wastelanders are inherently any weaker than Elysians.” Cloudhawk looked out over the city. “I believe there are a lot of wastelanders with real psychic talent. Since I can now repair and even create relics, there’s nothing stopping me from building an army of wasteland demonhunters and martial artists.”
This was his territory now. It was time to start cultivating a group of people he could trust.
True to her word, Hellflower followed his command. She released a decree that every child between the ages of five to fourteen was to gather at the fort.
After the display in the center of town, the city’s people already revered their new leaders. Not many chose to ignore the summons. Before long Greenland Fort was a mess of shuffling children waiting to see why they were called here.
Wastelanders had an unfortunate tendency to die young – especially children – so there weren’t many within the age bracket Cloudhawk required. Another problem he faced was the reality that Cloudhawk wasn’t a typical demonhunter. He knew exactly nothing about how to determine or awaken potential talent. Even if he had a good group of students, he didn’t know what to do with them.
He felt stranded, and that was when Hellflower came quickly to his side with a bit of news. “We’ve got trouble. Three other nearby settlements have heard that there’s been a power play in Greenland City. Word is they’ve banded together to try and take us while we’re still getting our footing.”
He scowled at the unhappy report. “When will they be here?”
“Not more than three days,” she replied.
That was a problem. Of the three of them, the one with the power to obliterate an army was Autumn. She was busy building Greenland’s defense, though. Not only was she preoccupied, but they had to make sure she was protected. Cloudhawk and Hellflower couldn’t fight off potentially thousands of soldiers by themselves.
Their enemies had chosen a good time to strike. They’d only just taken control of the city and weren’t wholly in control yet. Greenland had soldiers, but Cloudhawk didn’t know anything about them and vice versa. Command would be shoddy at best.
Whatever his troubles they had to overcome them. Very soon they were going to have a hungry army knocking at their gates. He wasn’t about to sit around and wait for them to come.
Cloudhawk gave his order. “Gather everyone.”