Southern wilds. The front lines.
After the failure of the divine attack, sections of the southern wilds looked like a storm had passed through. Craters marred the landscape and thin wisps reached for the heavens. Pieces of the Source crystal mountain were scattered all over, slowly being gathered by laborers from the city.
All manner of vessels shuttled back and forth across the battlefield, cleaning up what they could. People scrambled from their decks to repair equipment and installations. It was a race against time, everything had to be fixed before the gods returned. Less than ten days had passed since their last assault and no one knew when the next would come, or what to expect when it did.
Greenland had managed to repel Chaos, but it had been a costly battle. The monster left a great deal of death and destruction in its wake. Half of Greenland's defensive layers had been breached. But the damage wasn't just physical, either. Morale sank like a stone after the illusion of preparation was shattered.
Ordinary soldiers were nothing more than cannon fodder.
For the several days that Cloudhawk was gone, Selene was desperately trying to reorganize and placate the troops. She had to rely on all her skills to maintain order within the city. Meanwhile she was restructuring formations, moving soldiers to different sectors of the realm to make their defenses more flexible. At the same time she bolstered their guard and strengthened the troops in any way she could think of.
If there was any silver lining in their last battle, it was that a hundred divine soldiers had been captured. Siphoning their mental powers greatly empowered some of Greenland's elite.
These days Selene wielded power equivalent to the late Arcturus - the strength of a Supreme. After receiving the remnants of the Cloud God and several soldiers, the Shepherd God was even stronger than she was in her prime.
Others - like Janus, Phain, and other Elysians - had also seen extraordinary growth. Even Hellflower, who had no psychic talent to speak of, was now more capable than a veteran demonhunter. Besides them, the major players of the realm such as Frost now all had power close to that of a Supreme god. Gains plateaued after that, with lieutenants and elite soldiers also seeing some progress.
"Master Selene, they're back."
A griffin rider glided toward her through the smoke-filled skies. He hurriedly made his report.
A light flashed through her eyes. "Cloudhawk?"
"No, not Leader Cloudhawk. It's Hellflower."
She remembered that Hellflower had left yesterday to open discussions with Ark Base. Her quick return came as a surprise. Selene decided to meet with her face to face and learn what happened.
In the center of Greenland, a portal roiled steadily upon a trapezoidal altar. Hundreds of Green Alliance soldiers exited in a steady stream, carrying boxes full of equipment. A couple small transport vehicles also made an appearance. Everything was piled together near the portal, creating small hills that were growing by the moment.
"Ah, Master Selene. Just in time. Come look at this." Hellflower waved her over. "This is the first cache of goods we've received from Ark Base. A few days too late, unfortunately. If we'd been prepared with this equipment, the gods wouldn't have penetrated the shields so easily."
Selene frowned. "I don't understand high-tech equipment. The wasteland has plenty, only their capabilities are limited. Is this stuff from Ark Base really going to perform any better?"
"Completely different. Come, I'll show you."
Hellflower approached a large container. She first scanned her DNA into a small panel, then spoke a code word for voice identification. Within were several silver robots in sleep mode. They were all equipped with high-energy laser weapons that could instantly melt steel beams. Particle shields also came standard to protect them from damage.
Most importantly, each one was capable of flight while in the atmosphere. They were powered by hydrogen-nuclear batteries that turned the robot into a bomb if it was too damaged to fight. Hundreds of these things together made for a frightening fighting unit.
The battle-bots came in no less than five flavors; as large as city defense droids, to as small as a bee. The tiny ones worked as a unit with millions of others to create a surveillance network - or attack in a swarm. A collective detonation of these things would easily eliminate a squad of divine soldiers. All told they had enough robots to form an army.
"Aside from weapons, Ark Base will give us their most advanced optical-pulse radar. It's unaffected by environmental interference and can cover half the solar system. Furthermore, Father has sent three robots with its own hyper-intelligent AI installed. They work twenty-four hours a day collecting information, processing data and maintaining oversight. At least ten times more efficient than humans."
Hellflower explained it all, item by item. Combat droids, defensive equipment, weapons… countless auxiliary and supportive devices. A fully equipped Greenland soldier had the stopping power of a demon hunter.
Perhaps the equipment wasn't a great threat to the gods, but it did serve to bolster humanity's defensive line. They now had an early warning system and logistical support from a super-intelligent AI. Selene was impressed and surprised by the breadth of what Ark Base had squirreled away.
Not that it was strange. Ark Base was the last bastion of an ancient civilization, guided by a machine that could teach itself and grow. Even if ancient humans had spent the last thousand years eating, breeding and doing nothing, their Father was ever at work. A millennia was long enough for it to master the technologies of the old world.
In some respects, you could say Father was like a god. Over so many centuries it had guided humans to many surprising advances. Even Cloudhawk didn't know how vast the reach and intelligence of this machine was. Father had populated Stony Plains with an army of small robots and established any number of factories. Anything Father wanted built could be produced in a very short time.
In forging an alliance with Ark Base, the Green Alliance's equipment needs were assured. Ark Base wasn't going to get involved in their fight directly, but they did pledge to provide everything they could to Alliance soldiers.
Hellflower was still explaining. "Right now Ark Base is researching engines that can take us out into space. If I know Father, it shouldn't be long before we have a serviceable spacecraft. With enough vessels like that we can bring the fight right to the gods."
In the thousand years of its history, Ark Base never created a way to escape the atmosphere. Not because they were incapable, but because Father didn't want humans exploring the stars. Although the cosmos seemed vast and empty, they couldn't risk appearing on the gods' radar. If any hint was given that ancient humans still lived, it put them all in danger. Alone, Ark Base was no match for the gods.
Selene nodded. "If Ark Base is willing to help us with their excellent production infrastructure, then we'll make the best use of it. We don't have much in the way of resources, except for Source."
Father's agreement to work with Green Alliance was built on the draw of Source. So enticing was the idea that Father provided almost anything the Alliance asked for. Other goods, such as useless divine corpses and broken relics, were also provided to Ark Base as trade.
Why not work together for mutual benefit?
Hellflower asked her compatriot. "Cloudhawk isn't back yet? That nest of devils is not a pleasant place, I'm sure. Do you think he'll manage on his own?"
"I'm not worried. Legion went with him, and that demon always has a plan."
Legion had conspired to see this result for a thousand years. Seeing Cloudhawk ascend the throne was the culmination of all his efforts.
What selene worried about was Cloudhawk himself. He'd changed a lot, growing stronger while the road ahead grew narrower. He never let the effect of Dawn's death show on his face, but that didn't mean it wasn't poisoning him from the inside.
She didn't know how long this war was going to last. When… if it did, would Cloudhawk ever go back to the way he was before?