The nearby battlefield left over from the Great War was like a giant refrigerator. Its biting cold effecting the climate far toward the horizon. A swath of the Silver Kingdom was blanketed in a terrible blizzard.
The choking cold brought with it a blanket of snow. It blinded the air, and screeching winds deafened the ears. So intense were the gusts that the travel animals were almost blown over. Daggers of ice scraped against the travelers’ faces, making it difficult to breathe.
Clang! Clang! The sounds of the sleighs clattering could barely be heard above the roaring winds. A crew of about a hundred people trudged through the storm at a snail’s pace.
At the head of the pack was the man who recently came to lead Redleaf City, Cloudhawk. He’d earned the right to pay tribute to the king after winning the Council, and was making his way to Imperia with papers signed by the capitol’s emissary. Once everything was in order he’d set off immediately with his entourage and the items he planned to provide as tribute. He fixed his eyes ahead and pressed through the grueling climate toward his goal.
This blizzard was no danger. Even injured, his physicality was practically superhuman. If this weather couldn’t stop the tenacious people of this realm, it wasn’t going to have any effect on someone like Cloudhawk. All it managed to do was slow his team down.
It’d been five days since they left Redleaf. Silver Kingdom wasn’t very large, so by all rights they should have been close to their destination by now. However the blizzard would not let up and it was impossible to know precisely how far away they really were. A fact that caused no end of frustration.
“The Shepherd God decided to establish her realm in a place like this?” Cloudhawk grumbled his frustrations toward the Khan of Evernight, who walked by his side. The storm was loud so it was hard to hear anyone that wasn’t standing right beside you.
“The foundations for the six Elysian lands were selected when the gods first came. Perhaps their problems did not come immediately. It is more likely war came to this realm’s borders only after it’d had some time to grow. By this time the Shepherd God’s lands had expanded. It is probably why anything exists here at all after their patron’s betrayal.”
Even though the Shepherd God’s Elysian realm had fallen, and even though it was blanketed in snow and ice, it was still a paradise compared to other places. Its population couldn’t compare to a more established realm like Skycloud, but it still numbered in the millions. That being the case, why was it still not under the auspices of some other god or demon? Maybe the twisted demons of the wastes could be ignored, but these folk remained uncorrupted. Wasn’t that what gods and demons purported to seek to save?
“We’ve almost at the king’s city.” Cloudhawk went on. “It’s important you don’t hide anything from me. I need to know where the Demon King’s blood crystal is, and whether this king is some sort of god or demon himself. What kind of power am I about to face?”
It was a fact that continuously rankled Cloudhawk, that none of the information was clear or readily available. No matter how strong Cloudhawk was he didn’t know the best way to use that power.
“They keep the blood crystal in the capitol’s Temple.” The Khan spoke in that same digitized, monotonous tone. “As for the king, we do not have much information. He calls himself the Silverwing Monarch. We suspect him to be human.”
Nothing helpful had been revealed in that sentence. Human? What a joke! The stories he’d heard suggested otherwise. He supposedly had been alive for over a thousand years, likely a survivor of the Great War. It didn’t matter how strong a human was, even someone like Arcturus Cloude couldn’t stave off death for that long. A thousand-year-old human seemed ridiculous.
There were also discrepancies in high-ranked demonhunters. Ravenous Tiger, Augustus Cloude, and Gabriel were all upper-tier demonhunters. But then there was Selene, Dawn, Frost, and Adder as well. Their ‘rank’ was the same, but the gulf of power was immense.
Above veteran demonhunters were Master Demonhunters, of which the last generation in Skycloud had seen only three. Sterling and Baldur Cloude weren’t necessarily strong than Janus Umbra, or Ramiel Caelestis. ‘Master Demonhunter’ was an honorary title, marking them as hunters who had triumphed over demons at least once.
As for the Legendary Demonhunters he’d heard about? That was more than just a label. As far as Cloudhawk knew there had only ever been ten Legendary Demonhunters, all appearing within a hundred years of the Great War.
Each and every one of them was a champion among Master Demonhunters. Not only were they the peak of what demonhunters could achieve, they’d also accomplished amazing feats in their lifetimes. According to ancient records, the first ancestor of the Cloude family was one such Legendary Demonhunter. His exploits helped create Skycloud and its incredible capitol.
Obviously, considering what the family had produced since that time, the Cloudes inherited their ancestor’s superior genes. Over the generations the Cloude family had an impressive number of Master Demonhunters in their ranks.
Of them, Arcturus Cloude’s power was likely to match or exceed his forebearers, perhaps even the founder of his lineage. Yet even so he was called Master and not Legendary, because power was only one facet. It was not the only measure considered when that title was levied.
Could it be that this ‘king’ was a Legendary Demonhunter?! No… even that didn’t seem likely. Too many uncertainties, too many unknowns.
A human’s power typically came from training and development. Though weak at the outset, persistent cultivation could temper them to superhuman levels. Even the stupidest person with a thousand years of training could become one of the strongest things in the world.
It had to be especially true for Legendary Demonhunters. A thousand years would make them unthinkably strong! Was this why Judas was so reticent to attack the Silver Kingdom?
There were many doubts with regards to the Khan’s words. For the time being, it was impossible to know the truth.
“Sir! We’ve arrived. The door is ahead!” Surprised shouts reached his ears.
Cloudhawk narrowed his eyes and peered through the swirling snow. A dark outline was revealed that could have been large enough to be a mountain. It stretched at least five hundred meters tall – a natural, daunting barrier.
The group clustered around its base. The only other thing before them was a snow-clad ladder.
Cloudhawk craned his neck and saw halfway up the sheer cliff was a neatly-carved entrance a couple hundred meters tall and about a meter wide. Like a door.
A shaft of light shone out from it. It caught the ice in the air and caused a rainbow of color to hang overhead. This was called the Heavenly Gate, and it was breathtaking.
They felt like insects before this massive edifice.
It was the entrance to Imperia, one of four such passages to where the king rules. They were the only way in and out. No amount of force was going to make another portal. The enchantments that protected Imperia were powerful and immense, protecting it from air, ground and even below.
Even these passes were not easily foiled. The enchantments sheltered them as well, and they were protected by small forts.
Immediately upon reaching the Heavenly Gate, Cloudhawk and his people were stopped by guards and checked. Their paperwork was checked, for anyone wishing to enter Imperia had to have the right approvals.
Once the paperwork was complete, each person entering the city had to be checked individually. The soldiers were checking for contraband or other illegal items.
It took quite a while for all the formalities to cease, but eventually the guards were satisfied. When the passage was opened Cloudhawk could finally begin to relax.
But was that it? Not in the least! From the initial check to fully entering Imperia were at least three different checkpoints. They had only just passed the first. Yet, strangely, the moment they moved inside the climate changed dramatically. The roaring winds and biting cold dispersed like someone had flipped a switch to bring on summer. Those enchantments which protected the city also gifted it a moist and comfortable atmosphere.
After coming out on the other side Cloudhawk could see nothing but mist stretching off into the horizon. Stranger than its massive scale, however, were the inexplicable shadows he saw within. Sometimes he saw things like mountains, other times there were buildings. They were always changing position, making it impossible to tell where he was going.
“This is Fog Ridge. It’s another potent defense for the city, wherein illusions constantly reach out from the fog to confuse attackers. If one isn’t careful they could get lost and never emerge. Even if a force could fight its way through the Heavenly Gate, there remains the real possibility that they get lost forever here.”
Quite the trick. It didn’t matter how strong your army was if they never found the battlefield.
So formidable were Imperia’s defenses it seemed impossible any large force could break in. Armies were useless in this fog. Cloudhawk figured he likely wasn’t the first infiltrator to find his way inside, but there wasn’t much a single person could do.
Fog Ridge had only one route, traveling it successfully required a guide. Cloudhawk’s group stuck close together as they picked their way through the mist.
Eventually their path was cut short by a forest. As they neared the entourage was frightened to discover that the trees seemed to have a life of their own. They could even move. Obviously it was another guard against intruders. Any who came in unannounced would be torn apart by the foliage.
It was Imperia’s third line of defense, called the Carnivorous Forest. As the name implied the trees ate flesh and drank blood. Trying to pass through without a guide was an invitation for the forest to attack.
But they made it through unscathed. At last, emerging on the other side, Cloudhawk and his entourage laid eyes on Imperia, land of the Silverwing Monarch.
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