In the center of the chamber was a strange tree. Its roots dug deep, displacing the ground around it. Its branches rose and joined with the ceiling. Cloudhawk got the sense that it was the heart of this place. Deep red light shone from the center of its hollow trunk which sent waves of energy up into its branches and down through its roots.
This was the center of the Temple. In the center of that tree was the item Cloudhawk had come to collect. He had not expected it to be what powered the heart of this labyrinth. If he took it, catastrophic effects would occur to the surrounding area. He also did not anticipate that the Silverwing Monarch would know him right away.
This labyrinth’s construction was no coincidence.
Cloudhawk felt the presence of the blood crystal and it led him down the proper path. He was able to hear relics, and so passed the various tests with ease. If Cloudhawk was not the one who’d infiltrated the Temple several days ago, then who else could it be?
Cloudhawk felt his nerves begin to fray. He was played! The king knew he would come and there was no getting away now. He was faced with the man he’d heard so much about, yet had not met. The king’s most striking features were his giant silver wings.
In Imperia, bearing wings was a symbol of prestige and respect. Highblood had wings of pure white. Only the king had wings of silver.
On the outside the Silverwing Monarch looked human. He was not overly handsome, but had a regal demeanor that was solemn and dignified. His features told of a man in his forties with flecks of white in his hair. Different and unsettling was the third eyed set in between his eyebrows and his mysterious presence.
Cloudhawk felt pressure closing in on him, making it hard to breathe. It was the most suffocating sense he’d ever felt, more so than Judas or even Arcturus.
A vastly more powerful and superior intellect settled on Cloudhawk. He understood in an instant that he was no match for the king. Although at his best Cloudhawk could wield the might of a Master Demonhunter, he still wasn’t strong enough to match this creature.
A crack appeared in the flesh between the Silverwing Monarch’s brows, and his third eye opened. Its pupil was a crimson red surrounded by pitch black as deep as an abyss. The expression in it was different from the others as well, like… like it had a mind of its own.
When it fixed on Cloudhawk he felt a powerful mental energy wash through him.
He was immediately reminded of his experience with the Cloud God, back in Skycloud’s Temple. He knew that being had been rich in psychic mastery to the point where Cloudhawk felt as insignificant as an ant. He was hopeless to resist, so much that even his memories unfolded before the Silverwing Monarch for him to flip through like a book.
Did this Silverwing Monarch… have the same breadth of power as a god? Was this city the realm of a legendary demon hunter? If it were true he’d lived for a thousand years it wouldn’t matter how strong he was. He’d have had the time to cultivate enough resources and experience to be a master of the world!
For a time the king and Cloudhawk just stared at one another. There was a wordless sort of understanding between them, like the calm before a storm. It filled the heart with disquiet.
“I sense a familiar power. You must be the one chosen by Legion. Only, why Legion would select a mortal to take up the Demon King’s mantle… he, too, appears to have lost his mind.” There was a pause, then the king continued. “I see the terrible injuries you suffer. Not much life remains. You have come to take the blood crystal.”
Cloudhawk’s face screwed into a frown. “So what?”
“Such a pity. The blood crystal is my most prized object. Any who seek it for their own must die. Including you.” The Silverwing Monarch floated into the air. His rich and stifling aura flooded the chamber. “Show me how much of the Demon King’s power you can wield!”
Things were not going well! Cloudhawk felt the danger making his heart race.
Just as the Monarch’s words faded from the air he thrust his wings forward. A hundred streaks of white light were shot forth as thick as rain. Every one of these gleaming lances of energy contained incredible power.
Cloudhawk quickly retrieved his gauntlet and slipped it onto his arm. Right away the area was surrounded in a translucent field of force.
The instant each beam struck the field they split apart and shot off at odd directions. Cloudhawk was already drenched in sweat for his attacker’s power was already almost more than he could bear. After all, the king had summoned over a hundred deadly attacks in the blink of an eye. All the ground around Cloudhawk was ruined from the assault.
The king floated in midair with his arms folded before his chest. He stopped the assault. The ground which had been devastated under his attack quickly regrew. He fixed Cloudhawk with a cold grin. “You are more tenacious than I gave you credit for. But how long do you expect to survive, with such insignificant power?”
His wings beat and once again a rain of power came crashing down. This time hundreds of spiked stones, blades of air and a cascade of fire assailed him.
Yet for all the fire and fury it was clear the king was holding back. Cloudhawk was able to maintain his defenses but was given no opportunity to strike back.
The assault continued. Wind, fire, water, earth, light, dark, thunder!
Cloudhawk was stunned to discover that he was different from every other demonhunter he’d encountered. Like himself, he was not restricted to using one or two sorts of relics. His talents covered all manner of energy, and what’s more his mental powers were practically infinite. This nearly overwhelming display was a fraction of what he was capable of and Cloudhawk could barely hold on.
He couldn’t allow himself to be beaten like this!
Cloudhawk burst into action, teleporting out of the endless barrage. Appearing behind the king he reached into the aether and pulled free Ardent Wrath. Heaving the weapon at the monarch it burst into flames!
The ear-piercing sound of metal grinding on metal filled the air. Cloudhawk stared in wonder.
The Silverwing Monarch remained standing place, arms crossed before him, still. However his silvery wings swept by, knocking Ardent Wrath away. As Cloudhawk’s sword racked across the feathers he noted with trepidation that not even a scratch was left behind. The king turned around, encapsulated by his wings. Those three eyes were fixed on Cloudhawk with a look of scorn.
He thrust out his hand and pointed to the ground.
While Cloudhawk struggled with the Monarch a streak of gold dashed off to the side. Oddball tried to claim the demon blood while the king was destruction. But before he could there was a beam of light that punched right through the bird’s sturdy body. A pained screech echoes off the walls and Oddball collapsed in a corner. Cloudhawk didn’t know if his companion was alive or dead.
Rage welled up inside of him. Red light burned in the depths of his eyes and his mind was flooded with a surge of energy. The flames of his sword blossomed to ten, even twenty times the strength. The silvery feathers of the Monarch’s wings turned red-hot.
“Can you not see? I am perfect, immortal.” That disparaging smile still played on his lips. “What makes you believe you are any match for me? What right do you have to claim the mantle of the Demon King? You were the best that fool Legion could groom? Hmph, you have come just in time to give unto me the gift you never deserved. I am only one worthy to receive the Demon King’s inheritance!”
What? He wanted to be the next Demon King? Who the hell was this guy?! Whatever Silverwing Monarch is, his appearance is just a suit.
Whatever soul dwelled in that form wasn’t the Legendary Demonhunter it used to be. Some vastly wiser, more powerful and ambitious thing controlled it now. It was using the Monarch’s body as a vessel to evolve and improve to near perfection.
Now he wanted the power Cloudhawk carried. He wanted to be the successor. He wanted to make himself into the new Demon King!
As the king continued to speak his third eye gradually opened wider. An intense psychic force poured from the demonic organ like a drill.
“First I will obliterate your memories!”
Silverwing Monarch’s mental strength was released in a torrent. It bore into Cloudhawk’s mind and went to war. To Cloudhawk it was exactly the same as when he felt the Cloud God invade his thoughts. He felt the power reaching into the depths of his being, attempting to scour him down to the root.
Yet as the Silverwing Monarch prepared to reduce Cloudhawk to nothing, his mind reached into a boundless void. Therein was an outline, floating in darkness. There, in Cloudhawk’s mind was a silhouette that glared down upon the Silverwing Monarch with eyes of scarlet that glowed with a dangerous power.
He froze. “King… my King!”
“Nessus, I know you see all.” The dark figure was not an independent intelligence. Rather it was like a memory, triggered by some foreseen circumstance. “You do not have the talent of a leader. You will not rise to become Demon King!”
The Monarch roared in anger as waves of mental energy poured forth. Cloudhawk felt this dark palace of his memory begin to fracture. If this assault continued his mind would be broken, he dared not imagine the consequences. But the Silverwing Monarch’s mental powers were too overwhelming. How was he supposed to defend himself from such power?
In this moment something swam up to Cloudhawk through his memory. He reached for the mask with his mind!
The Khan had told him that the mask of a thousand faces was a defensive relic. It was designed to repel all psychic attacks so long as its bearer was strong enough. Although Cloudhawk was far inferior to the might of this creature, defense required far less energy than attack.
The repulsive force physically threw the Silverwing Monarch backward.
This mortal had cast him out of his mind? How?! It was the Monarch’s strongest method of assault!
Cloudhawk glared at the monster before him. He didn’t know what it was, nor did he know this Nessus the Demon King’s memory spoke of, but this piece of shit had tried to steal his power. That wasn’t something Cloudhawk was prepared to forgive.
“You insignificant worm!”
The Silverwing Monarch shot into the sky with a roar. Doors opened up in the walls all around and from them charged in a cadre of white figures. The king’s Highblood flooded the chamber.
This is really not good!
Cloudhawk was no match for the king. With so many Highblood on his side, that just made his situation all the more hopeless.Previous Chapter Next Chapter