Cloudhawk plunged down the tall cliff, certain that he was going to die. There was no grasping at straws, no praying for some strange miracle. His body was completely relaxed, and his mind was completely free and at ease. He truly was like a hawk who was about to die, but was going to enjoy one final dive before doing so.
This was a feeling of freedom, a moment in which his soul was completely empty and at peace.
However… just as Cloudhawk was at peace, the stone in front of his chest suddenly began to activate, releasing incredible amounts of heat and a large amount of invisible yet powerful energy which swept across the area, causing space to twist and distort as though it was water that was being brought to a boil.
It was happening! It was happening again! Cloudhawk seemed to have suddenly understood something, and he began to flail about madly like a drowning man who didn’t know how to swim. The space around him began to completely twist into a whirlpool that looked much like the vortex which would form if someone stirred a pool of water.
A heartbeat later… the entire world seemed to split apart.
Cloudhawk suddenly felt as though he was seeing straight through to the very essence of all things. There was no light, no darkness, no matter, no energy. There were only those countless vibrating strings. Some were straight while others were looped, but all of them were vibrating and oscillating like the strings of a guitar, producing a strange melody as they did so.
These things were the underpinnings of the very essence of all things. These countless vibrating strings came together to form matter. All types of matter were, on a fundamental level, the same. The only difference was the rate at which they vibrated, which caused them to manifest in different ways and which eventually produced the many different types of matter which made up this multi-varied world.
It all happened so incredibly quickly. Space rippled around Cloudhawk, and he then disappeared while falling from midair. By the time the world reassembled itself, Cloudhawk had come crashing down into a pile of rubble.
The fall wasn’t a light one, nor was it too heavy. All that could be said was that at least he didn’t splatter apart upon contact with the ground. There was no way he had just fallen a few hundred meters. Still, Cloudhawk felt woozy and weak, almost as though his body was about to fall apart. He had to summon all of the remaining energy in his body just to crawl to his feet.
Where was he?
The skies were dark and gloomy, filled with rolling dark clouds. When the sunlight shone down through them it painted a scene of dreary and desolate beauty. The light looked like dark yellow dragons roving through the skies. The air in this place was filled with quite a bit of dust, giving it a dreamlike quality.
Where was the cliff? There was no cliff!
It wasn’t just the skies which were as dark as dusk. The world for a thousand kilometers around him consisted of nothing more than strewn boulders and rolling plains. There were no hills to speak of, much less cliffs. However, an ancient yet beautiful ruins was standing there silently within the empty lands.
These ruins appeared to be far more ancient than any of the wastelands ruins which Cloudhawk had seen in the past, and it was completely stylistically different from those ruins as well. The vast majority of the buildings looked like erect stone pillars, while the others looked like perfectly formed geometrical shapes. There were pyramids, there were cubes, there were spheres, there were octahedrons, and more. Although they had been baptized by wind and dust for countless years, the vast majority of them continued to stand tall.
Every single building was covered with decorative script that linked together in complex, abstruse diagrams that seemed to follow a certain cadence or rhythm. These things definitely didn’t come from any age or era on Earth. The area around them was littered with many bones from gigantic monsters, and judging from the size of the bones these behemoths had to have been at least a hundred meters long.
Cloudhawk found all of this incredibly hard to believe. There was no way this was the world he lived in! Although he had no clue what was going on, it seemed likely that in the moment when his life hung in the balance, he had managed to somehow accidentally activate that strange stone. He had awakened it, causing it to release its energies and teleport Cloudhawk to this place.
Something like this had already happened once. Cloudhawk had experienced something similar a year or so ago, when he had been forced into those tunnels. He still clearly remembered how he had been teleported to a place which had two suns… but the strange thing was, this time he had been sent to a completely different place. Were the locations the stone sent him to chosen at random? Then where was he now?
Cloudhawk felt joy at having survived in the face of certain death, but he was also filled with confusion and fear of the unknown. What if he was the only person in this entire world? Would he be trapped here forever? What was he to do?
Cloudhawk thought back to the mercenaries and the miserable deaths they had died. They had all died for him! Now that the man in black had killed the mercenaries, his next target would definitely be the Bloodsoaked Queen.
Cloudhawk had to take revenge for Tartarus! He had to go back and warn the Queen! And he had to kill that detestable ‘demon’!
Cloudhawk clenched the stone around his neck and shouted, “Send me back! You hear me? Send me back now!”
The stone had once more fallen silent. No matter how Cloudhawk shook it, it didn’t react at all. Cloudhawk had no choice but to put it aside for now. At least he had managed to survive; so long as he was alive, he’d find a way to get back. He forced himself to calm down, then began to search within the ruins.
The ruins were enormous in size and scale; just the ordinary stone pillars were over a hundred meters tall. Cloudhawk was like an ant in comparison, slowly winding his way through the strewn stones. Far off in the distance, there was an incredibly vast rectangular stone stele that had a statue on each side. The statues weren’t of humans; they were of some sort of strange creature which he had never seen before.
Cloudhawk wasn’t interested in statues, nor was he interested in the buildings. He was, however, intrigued when he discovered an opening within the rectangular stone stele. He was wind-beaten and completely parched; he couldn’t just keep on wasting his remaining energy just running around randomly. He decided to first go inside the building and rest for a time.
The passageway into the building was extremely large, and its walls were lined with clear, intricate paintings. Although Cloudhawk didn’t recognize the strange script, he could more or less understand that the images were depicting the people of this world undergoing some sort of religious ritual. Cloudhawk was in no mood to examine things more closely, however, because he discovered to his amazement that the insides of the building were lit.
The light seemed to come from the walls, the pillars, the ceiling, and even the floor itself. The strange material which this building was made of seemed to have absorbed light from the outside world and then released it from the inside. So long as there was light outside, the insides of the building would never fall dark. Cloudhawk didn’t understand by what principles this worked, nor did he care to.
Suddenly, Cloudhawk froze. He could vaguely sense a strange ripple in the air, a ripple which he was extremely familiar with. It had to be a divine relic generating this ripple.
Cloudhawk nervously called out, “Who’s there!” But the only response was his voice echoing within the empty building.
Cloudhawk pulled out his exorcist staff, slowly and casually advancing towards the source of the ripples. After moving past multiple pillars, he finally found the source. It was actually a man dressed in voluminous robes who was kneeling on the ground, his back facing Cloudhawk. There was no way to see his face from behind, but Cloudhawk could tell that an extremely thick layer of dust was covering this man’s body, so thick that it seemed as though the man had become part of the building itself.
Cloudhawk slowly turned his gaze higher. The black-robed man was facing what looked like an absolutely enormous idol. Due to the overall dimness of the lighting, Cloudhawk wasn’t able to tell what the idol looked like exactly. Cloudhawk walked over, using his tri-bladed exorcist staff to poke the kneeling man.
As soon as Cloudhawk did this, the robes completely fell collapsed in an explosion of dust, revealing corroded bones underneath. Cloudhawk couldn’t help but start to cough. Ah, shit. It was someone who had died so long ago that even most of his bones had disintegrated.
Cloudhawk picked up the black robes and gave them a good shake, causing a large amount of bone dust to come flying out from it. Apparently, this was actually some sort of hooded cloak.
“Wait, this is a relic!” The hooded cloak had endured the passage of a thousand winters without being destroyed. Cloudhawk had no idea what the thing was made out of, but it felt completely weightless in his hands. Although it looked rather grimy and ugly, it felt extremely glossy and sleek to the touch. However, what truly intrigued Cloudhawk was the fact that it was emanating the ripples of a divine relic.
Cloudhawk revealed a look of excitement. He then turned, reaching out and flipping through the shards of bone on the ground. He had spent over a year studying dissection and anatomy alongside Mantis, and so he was very familiar with the human skeletal structure. Clearly, these bones did not belong to humans. However, that didn’t really matter; what mattered was the fact that Cloudhawk found yet another object amongst the bones which emanated relic ripples.
This object looked like a gourd. It was palm-sized and fiery-red, but covered in dark golden runes. Judging from the strength of the ripples, this was probably a relic of quite some power. It was at least on par with the sacred crossblade of light which the Bloodsoaked Queen used, and it was possibly even stronger.
“So this is a demonhunter’s skeleton?” Cloudhawk stared at the bones littering the ground, puzzled. This place clearly was not any part of the world which Cloudhawk came from. Why, then, did it also have demonhunters? And the corpse had been kneeling towards this idol. Were these the so-called ‘gods’?
Cloudhawk wiped the two divine relics clean, then gave them a close look. He discovered to his great surprise that the hooded cloak and the gourd both had a strange insignia on them. He pulled out his relic to compare them to the one on his exorcist staff, only to discover that the insignias were virtually identical?
But before he had a chance to thoroughly think through the implications of this, a deep hiss could be heard coming from outside the hall.
Cloudhawk’s entire body tensed up as a sense of tremendous danger filled his mind. By the time Cloudhawk turned to look towards the direction from which the sound came, an enormous shadow could be seen slowly crawling forward past the stone columns.
What the hell is this?! A giant snake? But this is huge!
The creature’s torso alone was four or five times thicker than Cloudhawk, and its body was indescribably long. It coiled its body around one of the stone columns, its ashen-white scales glittering with cold, metallic light.
Hisses could be heard from the other direction as well. Cloudhawk discovered, to his horror, that there wasn’t just one of these creatures inside. Every single pillar had these creatures slowly coiling their way downwards. Each creature was indescribably vast, and Cloudhawk had been completely surrounded.
One of the giant, ashen-white creatures descended to the ground from the pillar closest to Cloudhawk. It slowly extended its head, and when Cloudhawk was able to see it clearly he felt his scalp go numb. It had the body of a giant serpent, but the head was that of a lion’s and its eyes glowed with cold green light.
Suddenly, the beast charged straights towards Cloudhawk, moving as fast as a streak of lightning.
Cloudhawk had never seen a terrifying monster like this before. Most likely, even if the entire Tartarus company came back to life, the only result would be them being wiped out a second time… and there were dozens of the things!
But just as the monster opened its great maw and bit down, the strange stone around Cloudhawk’s neck suddenly woke up once more, releasing a stream of light that caused him to disappear just as the jaws closed around him.
Cloudhawk was back in the wastelands once more.
What was going on, exactly!? Cloudhawk stared in silent shock as the strange stone slowly dimmed once more. This time, it seemed to have fallen into an even deeper state of slumber.
The hooded cloak and small gourd in Cloudhawk’s hands was proof that it hadn’t all been just a dream. He really had visited an unimaginably strange world, then returned with divine relics that did not belong to the wastelands. Cloudhawk was vaguely beginning to understand the nature of the abilities of this strange stone.
Why did it have this sort of abilities? How were all of these worlds connected? These were mysteries for Cloudhawk to work through later. Right now, the most pressing thing at hand was for him to immediately return to Blackflag Outpost. It was possible that the battle had already begun and that the Bloodsoaked Queen was in grave danger!
Cloudhawk scanned the area around him. He was lucky enough to recognize it as a place they had crossed earlier, and he was able to find the vehicles which the Tartarus mercenaries had parked out in the wastelands. He pulled out a canteen of water, gulping it down and enjoying the sensation of its cool moisture flooding his body.
Cloudhawk then clambered onto the ‘iron lizard’, then revved up the engine. He had done plenty of maintenance work on the vehicles during the past few weeks. Although he hadn’t actually driven them, he knew how they worked. As for the actual driving? He’d learn it on the go.
The ‘iron lizard’ slowly began to work its way across the wastelands, accelerating to greater and greater speeds. This was his first time driving, and Cloudhawk was every bit as crazy a driver as the mercenaries had been.
Right now, Cloudhawk had only one thing in his mind… he was going to get back as soon as he could, then run some of those bastards over!