Cloudhawk’s eyes shot open. His breath loud in his ears his vision darted around, finding himself trussed up like a lab specimen and submerged in an unknown liquid. His mouth was covered with a breathing apparatus and a host of tubes had been inserted into his body. He was locked inside a life-support capsule.
The uncomfortable realization immediately brought his mind back to years before, when he was in the clutches of the mad scientist Roste.
Where am I? How did I get here?
Cloudhawk groped about like a drowning man, but eventually got his hand on the lever and shoved the hatch open.
He clambered out without a stitch on him. Vision, hearing and the sensation of touch returned after what felt like an eternity. He hadn’t fully recovered yet from his physical ailed, either. When he looked down he looked at his body in horror, for his skin was dried and cracked like tree bark. He looked like a walking corpse.
He tried to move around a little and felt… obstructed. When someone thought of moving there arm there wasn’t supposed to be much of a delay between the thought an action. But for him, he discovered that it took a huge amount of effort to make his muscles respond. There was a disconnect between his mind and body making it far more difficult to control. He felt like an old, rusted robot could fall apart at any moment.
“What happened? What’s going on? How did I get here?”
Cloudhawk was having trouble remembering, he couldn’t recall what had happened. He teetered along the floor like a toddler just learning to walk and eventually had to grab a table to stop himself from falling. He swiped his arm across the table top in frustration, causing the bottles and equipment on top of it to fall to the ground and shattered.
A sound captured his attention from behind. Mechanical, indifferent. “You’re alive. That’s enough for now.”
He looked over his shoulder to see the black figure. The armor he wore was dark as pitch from head to toe, with his face obscured by a breathing helmet. Over it all was a heavy black cloak. Cloudhawk recognized him. “You… Khan of Evernight.”
The digital red eyes set in the mask seemed to gleam. Once again the impassive mechanical voice arose. “If you can remember me it means you’ve retained some of your memories. That’s certainly a silver lining.”
“How did I end up here?”
“Two months ago you were seriously injured when the wasteland army attacked Sanctuary, an Elysian fortress. You were near death, so we saved you and brought you here. Nox.”
Nox? Attack on Sanctuary? Wait! Two months? He’d been in a coma for two whole months?!
Memories came back like an avalanche, but in fractured pieces. Horrible scenes of chaos and destruction ripped through his mind and gave him a splitting headache.
The first thing he thought about was Greenland. “Why am I in Nox? No, I need to go back. The others are waiting for me.”
“Go back? Do you think you can just leave?” It was hard to gauge the Khan’s intentions through his voice. “There is no way you can teleport out of here in your current condition. Besides that, you are an infamous figure both in Skycloud and the wastelands. The moment you show your face, you will attract trouble. If news that you survived and returned to Greenland got back to Skycloud, they would surely sent their forces to your home and wipe it out.”
Cloudhawk paused. He remembered all he’d done in Skycloud, and what he was accused of doing. To Elysians he was public enemy number one.
“Put on your clothes,” the Khan ordered. “Since you’re here, it’s time you met the city’s true leader. Show him appreciation and respect, repay his kindness. If he hadn’t had grabbed you, you’d be dead.”
Cloudhawk put on his clothes and followed the strange figure.
They stepped out into an enormous cavern, magnificent to behold. Nox City was built on the endless expanse of black ruins that stretched off into the darkness.
“This is Nox, the City of Evernight. A thousand years ago it was the scene of one of the Great War’s most important battles.”
Cloudhawk clicked his tongue. “Gods and demons fought here?”
“Correct. The Demon King and his godly counterpart fought here, their powers of space and time clashing where we stand. Armies of gods and demons fought to the end and their conflict twisted reality in this place forever. It created this cold, dead world. Lucky for us, the ruins of this place were rife with enough materials for us to build anew and train our Black Knights.”
This place was much too far from Skycloud for the Elysians to hold sway. The Great War was vast and complicated, so Skycloud probably had never thought to come looking out here, thinking it no different from any other ruin.
That wasn’t strange at all. In the years they’d spent building up this place they never left its borders. No hints were put out that Nox was a real place.
Cloudhawk was led across a long halway suspended in air, toward a dark fortress. When they arrived in the palace he saw there waiting for them a man. No, not a man – the elder demon, Judas. He didn’t look to be in good shape. There was a nasty wound in his chest that went all the way through to his back. It was the wound Arcturus had left him with two months ago in the battle.
That was a long time for an injury to go unhealed, for a demon. His ilk had a thousand times the restorative capabilities of a human. On the other hand, a wound like this would take a thousand times longer to heal up properly.
Arcturus Cloude had given him a brutal memento, one even the demon elder couldn’t shrug off. He would find it hard to make trouble in the near future.
Cloudhawk took a closer look as they neared. The elder demon was surrounding by a field of power, with tendrils of purplish-black energy swirling around him. Something about them appeared to ease the more detrimental consequences of Judas’ injuries.
He was likely far weaker now than he was typically. It was pretty clear that his attack on Sanctuary did not have the intended outcome. He went for wool and came home shorn.
Judas watched Cloudhawk approach. “Does the mortal know why he was saved?”
Cloudhawk frowned. What sort of question was this? It wasn’t because of his looks, that was for damn sure. There was only one reason he’d have been snatched up. “Because I’ve inherited the Demon King’s power.”
“Hngh hngh hngh hngh. Indeed, you are the Demon King’s successor. I once fought side by side with him, so I know his power when I see it. You possess it – you are meant to be the next Demon King.” Judas spoke in a low, weak growl. “As you witnessed, I appeared in person and was defeated by Arcturus Cloude. It is obvious then, that if there is one creature in this world capable of defeating that man – besides the old fools of Gehenna and the gods high up on their mountain – it is you.”
“So what, you saved me so I can kill Arcturus?”
It wasn’t that Cloudhawk didn’t want to kill that asshole. He simply couldn’t. Of course it was also possible Judas had some other plans. His race was crafty and sinister. Cloudhawk had to be on guard.
“Kill Arcturus? No! If that comes to pass then it comes later. I want you to live. I want you to join fully with the Demon King’s power.” Judas explained. “But in your present state, even with all the methods known to Nox, it will take us years.”
Cloudhawk knew the demon wasn’t exaggerating. His body had been on the verge of collapse back in Greenland, then he went to war. He’d fully expected to die out there on campaign, so he knew whatever state he was in, it was bad.
Cloudhawk didn’t trust or believe anything demon’s said, but he knew Judas wasn’t lying to him this time. But what would these nect couple years be to him? How was he supposed to face it? Was he supposed to spend his life wandering the earth or desperately seeking revenge on Arcturus?
“We have two methods to help you recover. The first is quick. The second requires effort.”
Cloudhawk’s eyes glimmered. “What’s the first?”
Before Judas could answer, the Khan of Evernight stepped forward. He opened his armor to revealed what lay beneath.
Everything about him had been… changed. Most of his body had been replaced with mechanical equipment. Even his organs were strange, churning things. The Khan of Evernight was, in essence, the same sort of creature as Three-Eyed Spider’s Raven – a cyborg.
“Years ago the Khan came to me much as you are now; at his last gasp, hardly alive. Through this method he has lived to this day. But for all you gain, there is a cost. To become like him, you will give up much of what makes you human.”
That sort of life – not a man, not a beast, not a machine – Cloudhawk would never accept. “The second option?”
At the question Judas lumbered forward, away from the swirling mists that surrounded him. The elder demon spoke with slow, deliberate words. “You must fully join with the Demon King’s power.”
Cloudhawk was silent. Join with the Demon King’s power?
“You must surely feel that you have already half-fused with this inheritance. The reason you cannot go any further is because of your mortal body’s limitations. You need something more – the blood of the Demon King himself, spilled as he was cut down. His blood will dramatically improve your physical body, only then can you fully command his power.”
“The Demon King’s blood? Where the hell am I supposed to find that?”
“It is not difficult, actually. We have built this city on the sight of an ancient battlefield where the Demon King waged war. In fact, it is where the Demon King of that age fell. As you might expect, the blood of such a powerful being was taken by opposing forces. We suspect it to be in an ancient Temple, on the south-western corner of this old battlefield. There you must seek.”
So he had a target. That made things much easier. Of course Cloudhawk wasn’t about to believe Judas outright. “Why are you helping me?”
Judas answered with that unsettling rasping laugh unique to his race, like a frog caught in a box. “You are the Demon King’s successor, the future leader of my people. As a demon it is to be expected that I should aid he who would be king. You have absorbed his phase stone, so there is no going back. No need to be wary of me. If we demons wish to rise once again we can only do it with the guidance of a powerful King. I will not be responsible for the eternal defeat of my race.”
Cloudhawk hesitated, as though considering this matter.
“Where it not for my wounds I could retrieve the blood for you. Unfortunately, my encounter with Arcturus has left me weakened to but a third of my strength. Nox has been defeated and cannot suffer more direct confrontation. The task of retrieving the blood falls to you. You must take the long view.”
Cloudhawk was convinced there was a lot more to this elder demon, but what choice did he have? With a goal in mind, Cloudhawk turned and left.
Judas watched him go with a smoldering malevolence in his eyes. “Arcturus… just you wait.”
Previous Chapter Next Chapter