Cloudhawk drew back his bow and fired at the stone wall. The fissure that housed the bomb cracked and opened further, sending large stones cascading down into the cavern below. The strange object hidden inside began to tumble out as well.
Whatever terrible weapons the ancient civilizations created, Cloudhawk wasn’t familiar with them. He didn’t know if this really was what he was after, but after hearing Majjhima’s reaction he was convinced. So without hesitation he leaped up, straight as an arrow, and caught the bomb before it hit the ground.
It was armed, ready to blow at any moment. The Dark Atom’s scientists had spent years of sweat, blood and tears striving over this thing. The display that was rapidly counting down was its detonator.
It was activated, and the instant that timer reached zero a thousand years of Elysian history would be consumed in atomic fire. Unimaginable destruction would consume the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
Cloudhawk never set out to save the world. He was not the hero type. But was it right to indiscriminately eradicate so many people?
How many young people were just trying to make a living up there? How many children, and elderly? Where they just supposed to be sacrificed on the altar of someone else’s ambition? No! Cloudhawk paid no attention to the problems he was inviting on himself by saving this city, he just knew it was wrong. He couldn’t just stand by and let it happen!
Of course, it wasn’t like he had an experience in handling atomic fucking weapons. The only thing he could think of was to use the phase stone and throw this thing into that strange airless space. It didn’t matter how destructive the thing was all the way out there.
Majjhima’s eyes were so wide the skin around them threatened to split. A cruel and determined fire burned inside him.
How could a man suffer to live? How much could he stand in one lifetime? He’d trained with the Dark Atom since he was a young man, eventually being selected from among hundreds of others to be sent here. It cost him a lot to be the one they chose.
Now, at the dusk of his life and looking back at all that transpired, he sadly realized that he had nothing. No family, no friends, no lover, no children. No achievements. Decades of his life spent in darkness and loneliness had left with nothing but a gnawing void in his belly.
He’d often thought about his death, whether anyone would feel sorry when he was gone. Would anyone cherish his memory? Would anyone even remember his name?
Even the smallest life was entitled to leave its mark, however insignificant. He deserved to have his voice be heard!
His final wish was to do something with his death.
It didn’t matter how his actions would influence the future, just so long as he left his mark. To prove that he once lived! He had finally found a light in his long and lonely existence, and he wasn’t going to let it go out no matter what others thought. A once in a lifetime opportunity. A chance to prove he was worth something, even if the methods were extreme.
Once the Dark Atom ceased communication with their cell in Skycloud, the sense of abandonment broke Majjhima. He had never been afraid to sacrifice himself, only that his sacrifice would be worth nothing.
Until he met that man, during the purge.
“The Dark Atom doesn’t want you. But I can use you.”
That was the day Majjhima turned his underground resistance into a monster breeding ground. He never learned who that person was, where they came from, or why they wanted to grow their creatures here. But there was no doubt about it, whatever power he spoke for was more entrenched in Skycloud than the Dark Atom ever was. They wielded more power than those rebels could dream of.
At the time, the visitor presented him with an item. “If one day this place should fall,” he said, “use this at the end. The torment you will suffer will be unthinkable. All the flames of hell wouldn’t add up to a tenth of its cruelty. But it will bestow upon you great power – and when you die, you will release what remains of your outrage.”
This was that time, when he let his outrage free.
Majjhima opened his tattered robes to reveal the withered body underneath. Intricate lines were tattooed on his paper-thin flesh. They covered his whole body and quivered visibly from some internal power.
The fiends locked in combat stopped suddenly. Whether those that still lived or the corpses of the ones that had fallen, clouds of black mist seeped from them all and gathered toward Majjhima. The ominous smoke drew together in a cloud over the top of his head.
Cloudhawk had managed to snatch the bomb from the rocky debris that fell like rain, but before he could enact his plan his eyes were drawn to Majjhima. What was this old man doing?
Dawn, Atlas and the others were frozen, unsure of what to do. The enemies they had been bitterly striving against stopped all of a sudden. It was more accurate to say they seemed to completely bleed out, drained entirely of all their energy.
Majjhima clutched a translucent, crystalline-like object in his hand. It excited and attracted the black mist, gathering it all into itself like a vacuum. The crystal bead changed from translucent to pitch black as all the mist was consumed. Now it was a small speck of black, the sort of black that threatened to swallow anything that drew too close.
“No one can stop this. No one!”
Majjhima pushed the bead into his mouth and swallowed.
It wasn’t hard for Cloudhawk to guess what was happening. That item had stolen the power from the protofiends, and now all of it was forced into Majjhima’s body.
“Careful!” Dawn shouted.
Waves of palpable energy surged from the old man, rising off of him like black fire. His screams were deafening, and his presence alone cracked the cavern walls. In a fraction of a second, Majjhima appeared in front of Cloudhawk.
Shit! His face blanched.
He wanted to activate the face stone and get the bomb away. Out there it couldn’t hurt anyone. But it was a process that took a little time, time which he no longer had. Majjhima materialized ten meters away like a demon rising from the depths of hell, and launched a punch toward Cloudhawk with the force to shatter mountains.
Cloudhawk had poured over this moment in his brain a dozen times. He wondered if Adder would be lurking in the dark underbelly of Skycloud, waiting for his time to strike. He considered the possibility of the Crimson One appearing at the most inopportune moment. But he never guessed this wrinkled old man would be the threat he needed to prepare for.
Cloudhawk abandoned his efforts to planar shift and instead used the energy to teleport. He vanished the instant before Majjhima’s attack arrived, conveying him and the weapon to a safer distance.
Ten shadow warriors closed in and surrounded the old man. They hacked at him with their swords without hesitation.
No use. It was like his whole body was made of tungsten steel. His was protected by the huge amount of energy he’d consumed, more effective than any armor. The swords were broken on his wrinkled flesh.
All at once the ten warriors where torn asunder. Majjhima, surrounded by that terrible energy, was lifted off the ground and into the air. There he hovered like a nightmare given flesh, a horror that made all onlookers tremble.
How could this old man contain all of that energy inside himself?
No one knew how the protofiends were made, but they knew that Majjhima was no demonhunter. Even if he was strong in his younger days, he was an old and withered man now. Forcibly injecting a failing body with so much energy was a death sentence, no doubt, but that did not concern Majjhima at all.
Cloudhawk scowled at the increasing threat. There was less than a minute left!
Majjhima’s body began to change. Black mist poured out of every orifice, every pore, though still hugging tight to his body. He was only partially visible through the haze. Occasionally glimpses of his white hair were caught, standing straight up, or his eyes which now were consumed with pure unadulterated fury.
“You are all going to die.”
Majjhima charged at the rock giant. It was given no time to react, and in a blink Dawn’s golem sentinel exploded into gravel.
A wave of dark energy pulsed from the attack that swallowed half the cavern, like water from a burst dam. Everything in its path was obliterated, from the stone columns to the rocky ground. Those demonhunters not quick enough to dodge were swept away. Whatever protective relics they were relying on instantly shattered under the pressure.
Cloudhawk’s voice rang over the blast. “Felina!”
His cries were answered by a glint of steel as a cutlass pierced the mist. It struck the ground a few meters outside of the black torrent. A second later Felina’s doll face appeared beside it. She clutched a compatriot in each hand. One was missing half his body, and her own armor had been badly mangled. She stumbled for a moment then fell to the ground.
Atlas hurried to her aid, dragging Felina and the soldiers she saved to safety.
Majjhima had lost his mind. He was a beast of pure rage, stampeding through the cavern and smashing everything in his path. Great fissures were appearing in the walls, the ceiling, and the ground as he punched through the stone columns. Boulders large enough to crush a whole squad fell from overhead.
He was bringing the whole place down on top of them!
Cloudhawk, Dawn, and Atlas all stared in shocked horror. By the time they gathered their wits, it was too late. With its supports destroyed, the cavern suffered a catastrophic collapse.
In the midst of a quiet day, the townspeople gasped as a thunderous noise arose. It came from underground and continued for several long moments. Confused and alarmed, they looked around for the source.
In the West of the city, a commercial street was suddenly thrown into chaos as the streets broke apart without warning. It was followed by a deafening bang.
All at once the whole block collapsed. Dozens of shops, homes and business tumbled into an impossibly deep abyss. Fissures continued to slither from the edges like angry centipedes, opened up beneath the feet of doomed citizens who had no idea what was happening. Their screams rang out as they were swallowed by the darkness. Others wailed and ran for their lives.
People cried and ran in fear. Was this an earthquake?
In fact most Elysians couldn’t even grasp the idea of an earthquake. Floods, drought, tornadoes, earthquakes – these sorts of natural disasters were unheard of in the lands of the gods. It was the first time in the thousand-year history of Skycloud that a disaster like this had ever occurred.
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