Book 4, Chapter 95 - Contaminant

It was not the first time the Temple initiated divine judgment on an accused.

No secret could be kept from the vast consciousness that was the Cloud God. Life or death – the verdict was direct and immediate. Many have been subjected to divine judgment, but never had there been a situation like this. The mighty deity’s decision on Cloudhawk remained uncertain.

The entire Temple quaked while Cloudhawk vanished into the crystal door.

Cracks spread quicker through the crystal effigies surrounding the chamber. Each seemed to contain a tempest, and as the power within threatened to explode forth the onlookers began to worry for the Temple itself.

After stepping through the portal, Cloudhawk felt like he’d entered into a world that was half real and half created of mental power. The rules that governed this place were distinct from the world he knew. A thick fog pervaded the air that warped everything he saw. Sometimes it was so dense he could see nothing, and sometimes it was almost thin enough to peer through.

He found that he was hovering in midair. It wasn’t really floating, nor did he have any sense of gravity. His sense of hearing, smell and touch had all vanished. He was nothing but a disembodied consciousness existing in this strange plane.

Some god’s massive will and creative power must have built this place. Everything around him, stretching out in all directions, was the domain of this divine being. No creature was a threat here.

Cloudhawk moved through the half-real, half-psychic environment. Now that he was within the creation of a god, everything he did and thought was connected to the entity. If the god wanted Cloudhawk dead, he need only give it a passing thought and it would be so.

Here he was, immersed in the mental forces of a god. Cloudhawk never thought he would have such an… intimate encounter.

The god’s consciousness was like an orb, and it was not alone. Cloudhawk could sense that somewhere unknown there were more orbs like this. But they were out… there, somewhere. The sense was like trying to peer at distant stars in the night sky.

There was more than one god. Yet, what defined the gods was a linked consciousness, a network of connected minds.

A god’s life and form were unique in that they were not individual. Each one was connected to the other. From the moment they are brought into existence they join a vast interlocking system. When tapped in, they could feel and know what each other were experiencing even a thousand kilometers away – even whole worlds apart.

And that connection could never be severed.

It was part of them. This societal structure permitted no lies, no deceptions, no betrayal. Every thought and experience was shared and gathered together, and in return they could accomplish anything.

It was what made them perfect, and powerful.

Silvana was, of course, an exception. She managed to sever her connection to this collective and betrayed them by declaring her individuality. The cost was access to their collective power, thus greatly reducing what she was capable of.

The Shepherd Goddess split from the others, leaving her former compatriots no way to link with her and communicate. They could no longer sense her, or know her whereabouts. When the Shepherd Goddess severed her connection and became Autumn, it could be said she was no longer a god at all.

Cloudhawk learned this as he wafted through the vast consciousness of the Cloud God. He also learned that the leader of this species was called the God King. Beneath him, were six known as the Supremes. Autumn had been one of them, once, as was this divine creature at the heart of the Temple.

Shepherd once held sway over the forces of the forest and vitality. The Cloud God’s domain lay in unparalleled psychic power.

It was capable of reading a mortal’s thoughts with impunity, as easily as flipping through a tome. Its overwhelming mental acuity was vastly greater than any human, and as such could reach into their minds and extract any information it chose. No secret was safe. Cloudhawk was the only mortal in all its many years of existence who could resist its gaze.

Somehow, Cloudhawk’s mind and memories were protected from it.

The measures that shielded Cloudhawk activated once the Cloud God tried to read his thoughts. The result was the strange circumstance it had just experienced. However, now Cloudhawk was immersed in the Cloud God’s own consciousness. He was a part of the divine being.

Here, nothing was kept secret.

Cloudhawk watched as a figured emerged from the fog in front of him, though he had no eyes.

It was enormous, and adorned with the most beautiful armor Cloudhawk had ever seen. Although he couldn’t make at any features, the eyes could barely be discerned. Light shone from within that the mists could not diminish. Like a pair of piercing lances, they bored into Cloudhawk and make him tremble.

Cloudhawk was dumbfounded. “You’re a god?”

“You minuscule creatures cannot conceal your secrets from the gods.”

Before Cloudhawk could react he felt a palm press against him. It filled him with the strange and unsettling illusion that his mind was cracking open. Pieces of it floated away from him and out into the mists.

It wasn’t flesh, or blood or bone. This place Cloudhawk existed in wasn’t fully real, and neither was he. So the fragments of himself that were spat out weren’t physical. Rather they were thousands upon thousands of his memories, shards of his life that dotted the landscape like stars. Each one glittered with strange light.

Immediately upon separating from him, Cloudhawk’s memories started to shift. They fluttered all around like a cloud of butterflies.

The Cloud God’s voice reverberated through the entirety of this reality. “Defenses like this are beyond the ken of mere mortals. Yet it matters not – nothing can be kept secret from me in my domain. Show me what you have been hiding.”

The fluttering memories danced like they were connected by a threat. Each one of the multitude of fragments gathered together.

Surprise trilled through Cloudhawk. Whether it was the book from before or these dancing fragments, these were his innermost secrets. There was nothing he could do to protect them from the will of this being. Resistance was futile.

The memories were captured by the god. Everything that Cloudhawk was, in its grasp.

Here it came. Once this creature knew what Cloudhawk was, so would all the other many twinkling consciousnesses he felt. Gods in distant places and other worlds would know the truth, once the Cloud God siphoned it from his mind. He couldn’t stop it.

All the many butterflies swarmed together. They alighted on the shimmering body of the Cloud God.

Half a second later they burst into pieces, dissolving into tiny black threads like strands of silken hair. These threads wormed their way into the god’s body, and it was then the figure began to jerk and twitch violently. Something was wrong. It knew it but recognized the danger too late. It started to mount a defense.

Countless more butterflies swarmed around the god.

As they touched its body they unraveled and pierced its shining form. Tendrils of black writhed all over it, from every inch, trying to fight their way inside. In an instant the awesome figure of the Cloud God became a monstrous apparition of reaching black filaments. The memories, like parasites, dug in deeper.

When the Cloud God was wholly covered, the threads started to intertwine. The shining white light that had radiated from the being was now a sanguine red.

Anger. Pain. They pervaded every inch of this place. Fighting through it all was a singular thought. “Contamination!”

Rage! Unparalleled rage! The anger of a god exploded all around Cloudhawk like a volcano! The spectators waiting in the Temple could feel it as well. The twenty-four crystal effigies cracked apart and tumbled among the distraught onlookers.

Blood poured from the mouths of the two Oracles. “What is happening?!”

From the moment Cloudhawk stepped through the doorway, to the outpouring of this fury, no more than ten seconds had passed.

High Priest Ramiel watched in horror as the liquid portal solidified once more into its inert crystal state, as solid and listless as a block of ice. Whatever occurred within had long been lost to cloudy confusion, and now cracks could be seen.

The Oracles cried in forlorn voices. “The Cloud God no longer speaks with us!” No longer speaks… did that mean judgment iss over?

“Where’s Cloudhawk?”

Everyone looked around, surprised to discover that Cloudhawk had not returned. What happened beyond the door, when Cloudhawk and their god interacted?

What had caused their patron such anger? Why had it all ended so abruptly? He never even delivered his verdict. All of this went against everything they knew.

“I sense the vestiges of spatial energy here,” Thora said. “Cloudhawk has escaped.”

Chaos ensued.

Selene watched it all with wide, unbelieving eyes. If Cloudhawk was really guilty, the Cloud God would have given him no chance to fight back. There was simply too wide a gulf between man and god. Besides, in the domain of such a being Cloudhawk was powerless. Even with his teleportation abilities, the Cloud God could end Cloudhawk a hundred times without lifting a finger.

What had happened? What had Cloudhawk done?

“High Priest, this is not the time to concern ourselves with the how.” Arcturus Cloude displayed no hint of panic. “Instead of speculation, we must send out a party to find where Cloudhawk has gone. We must also reestablish communication with our illustrious patron and discover what has happened.”

Ramiel had risen from the rank of Oracle and wear the mantle of the High Priest, and he’d held the post for thirty years. Never in all those years had he seen something this strange and incredible.

Through his time in the Temple, Ramiel had discovered that gods did not have the richness of emotions mortals were burdened with. Most of the time those mighty beings were indifferent, free from desires, and few were the things that brought them joy or anger.

What about the Cloud God’s encounter with Cloudhawk had caused such a reaction? How had the young man inspired such fury from a god?

He found Arcturus to be right. They had to reach through the door again and ask their god for clarity. But no matter how he tried Ramiel was met only with silence. After a time he accepted that they could not learn more from the Cloud God.

Their patron was asleep, locked in a deep slumber. 

Sleep was a strange thing for gods, different than it was for mortals.

A god’s life essence was eternal. To them, a hundred years passed the same as a thousand. Time held no meaning, so all of history since the Great War had been spent in slumber. After Skycloud was built, the link to the Cloud God was enshrined within the temple, and since that time the god had never left.

Before when Ramiel called for the aid of their patron, he would awaken and answer. However, this time there was nothing.

It filled him with a sense of unease. The Temple’s connection to all the gods was only possible through the Cloud God’s link with Sumeru. If their master was asleep and would not answer his calls, it meant Skycloud had no way to communicate with the gods.

That meant that if something should happen to Skycloud, the gods would not know of it either. They could offer no aid. Something was wrong. Some sort of dark plan was at work.

“It must be Cloudhawk’s doing. Under my authority as Governor, I am ordering that he be arrested on sight. Dispatch the Court of Shadows, the Templars, the League of Demonhunters – everyone. He must be captured and returned no matter the cost. If he will not submit to being brought back alive, then he will be slain.”

Selene watched it all happen around her but could understand none of it.

On the surface it looked like Cloudhawk had somehow harmed the patron of their realm, then fled during the chaos. She thought back, remembering the faint thought that had whispered through her mind. A cry from the Cloud God.

Contamination!

What did that mean? Was Cloudhawk the contamination? She’d never heard anything like it…

For Skycloud to lose connection with its patron god was more calamitous than when the great wall fell. Whether or not Cloudhawk played a role in it, he was involved. He was bound to suffer for it.

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