Book 5, Chapter 96 – Lighting the Path

Cloudhawk’s eyes fluttered open and were immediately stabbed by harsh interior light. They gleamed like light bulbs themselves, one dark gold and the other an angry crimson; one holy and dignified, the other sinister and frightening. They gleamed like the power that illuminated them was on the cusp of losing control.

A few moments later the lights dimmed and vanished and his eyes were once more their typical black.

Stirring from his long slumber, Cloudhawk’s head was muddled. However, he soon noticed that he felt physically more comfortable than any other time he could remember. From head to toe, from inside out, his body buzzed with power and vitality.

He looked down at his hands. His fingers were pale as jade and almost seemed to glow. His nails were translucent and gleamed with a healthy luster. Every muscle in his hands an arms were well defined like an alabaster carving. He felt like a beast, full of power waiting to burst free.

What did they do to him? He felt like a new man, a caterpillar transformed into a butterfly.

He clenched his fists, relaxed, then clenched again. A brief movement, but somehow it felt like all the power in his body could be focused in those fists and used to punch right through airships. It appeared he had finally, fully assimilated all of the Demon King’s inheritance.

Wolfblade, Abaddon, the Khan of Evernight and Autumn all stood around him. Cloudhawk didn’t need to ask to know what had happened.

Everything had been a part of Wolfblade’s plan. Judas was no more. He didn’t ask what the Elder demon’s fate was, he already knew. He wasn’t a threat any longer.

Wolfblade looked upon Cloudhawk with what could only be called relief. Like an artist setting his eyes on a masterpiece after the final stroke of his brush, seeing the culmination of all his hard work. Like a parent who sighed with relief when they realized their child had finally grown up. No one knew just how much effort and pain Wolfblade had gone through to see this moment.

“You’ve finally taken the step.”

When Abaddon addressed Cloudhawk he did it with some almost like respect.

Autumn’s cold eyes no longer had the same degree of contempt. Rather there was a deep sense of dread, for from this moment on Cloudhawk wasn’t some insignificant mortal. He was qualified to stand on her level.

The Khan of Evernight remained silence. No one knew what he felt behind that robotic helmet. 

“You have combined the godly blood you were born with to the demonic blood you were given. Two bloodlines integrated into your body with the Trespasser mutation you were given long ago. Though you were born a human, the genetic material gifted to you by higher beings makes you so much more. You have more potential now than any other human, including the likes of Skye Polaris.”

Cloudhawk did not speak.  He just kept looking at his hands.

The first person to recognize that Cloudhawk came from unique stock was Hellflower. During her examinations, after he was infected with Trespasser, she noticed the off mutations. They were actually markers – signs that he was carrying some shadow of a divine lineage.

While Judas was attempting to turn him into a fiend, Trespasser was hard at work in Cloudhawk’s body. The demonic blood injected into him was assimilated with the help of the virus so that two similar yet different bloodlines could combine. Somehow, through the incredible capabilities of Trespasser, Cloudhawk had become the human product of godly and demonic blood. His potential and every other quality went far beyond what anyone could imagine.

It all had fallen perfectly into place. From Cloudhawk’s inherent abilities, to Trespasser, to this final moment. Even Cloudhawk felt somehow complete, like something new that had grown out of nothing, a sculpture that had emerged from the marble. Wolfblade had been the architect of it all. His run-in with Roste and all the experiences that followed were his machinations.

“I’m… much stronger than I was.” Cloudhawk muttered.

“That’s right,” Wolfblade replied. “The former Demon King’s power and wisdom is continued in you. But it is not all of what the Demon King was. It is a fraction, a piece. In time you will become stronger, to finally become the supreme being we of Gehenna have been waiting for.”

A smirk pulled at the corners of Cloudhawk’s lips. It was unclear whether it was self-mockery or a grin directed at Wolfblade. He felt neither joy nor sorrow at this new transformation. Instead there was just… indifference.

Cloudhawk was no longer interested in screaming and railing against this destiny. If this truly was preordained, then let his fate come. Sometimes people had to learn to accept the unavoidable, to embrace what was meant to be.

“More and more of the memories I inherited are awakening. I know a lot more now than I ever have.” Cloudhawk’s eyes fixed on Wolfblade. “Do you prefer to continue being called Wolfblade, or shall we refer to you as Grand Elder Legion?”

“A thousand years ago as the former Demon King lay dying, he entrusted me with finding a suitable successor. For a millennia I have wandered under many different guises, searching every corner of the globe. Then I found you. What I am now is not the Legion of old. I am a guide, who was given a mission he intends to complete.” Wolfblade met Cloudhawk’s gaze with calm and dignity. “Most of my task is complete, but your mission is only beginning. Let’s stick to Wolfblade.”

Cloudhawk nodded. “What should I do next?”

Wolfblade smiled. “You are King. You are our leader. No one would dare presume to tell you what to, you have the power to do whatever you please. And we four are your mighty lieutenants.”

Wolfblade, Shepherd God, Abaddon, and the Khan of Evernight. Then there was the old drunk of Grenland, Nox, the Dark Atom, Woodland Vale, Greenland itself… indeed, Cloudhawk now commanded an army of incredible and talented people. This included being responsible for millions of lives. A truly vast measure of power.

A thousand years.

The wastelands had been absent a leader like this for a thousand years. The Crimson One’s predictions seemed to have come true but the wastes had produced an even stronger, more perfect leader who had finally ripened. Perhaps in the very near future, true revolution would come to the world.

Cloudhawk looked around at the others. “What is the state of Meadow?”

Wolfblade answered. “Things are not going well. They have lost their Silverwing Monarch. The kingdom is on the verge of collapse.”

Cloudhawk rubbed his chin in consideration for a time. “You mean to tell me that you all will listen to my orders from now on?”

Wolfblade answered without hesitation. “The King’s orders come before all else.”

“Good. The Silver Kingdom is home to millions. It would be unforgivable if a realm of that scale fell to ruin.” Cloudhawk turned his attention toward Autumn. “I suggest the Shepherd God return ot her flock. Regain control, rebuild. The Silver Kingdom can be saved.”

Wolfblade nodded. “That is the best way. Meadow has fallen and is no match for the likes of Skycloud. But it is a realm of millions with many talented Chosen. It is a formidable power. If we take it under our governance it is sure to pay us back in spades.”

“Prepare. We leave in an hour.”

Cloudhawk rose from his bed having given the order, and left the room.

Now that the likes of Wolfblade have come together under his banner, Cloudhawk could sit comfortably in the leader’s chair. From the moment he established Greenland, Cloudhawk was a wasteland chieftain. He had already embarked on this road, so it might as well be allowed to expand. With so many powerful cards in his hand, what would there be to fear when he finally came into conflict with Skycloud?

“Cloudhawk!”

The shout came from behind. He turned his head and saw the green-clad figure standing in the hall. Concern marked her young features.

Cloudhawk looked her over. “You… Autumn?”

“I have reached a sort of agreement with the Shepherd God. She will let me take control from time to time.”

Autumn slowly made her way toward Cloudhawk and the two continued to walk shoulder to shoulder. They walked up to a glass window and looked out into the vast and dim splendor of the City of Eternal Night. He realized suddenly that this place, which had been painstakingly built over generations, was now the seat of his power.

Anxiety was still evident on Autumn’s frail features. “Cloudhawk, do you really plan to walk this road they laid out for you?”

Cloudhawk looked at the reflection of himself in the glass and muttered. “What is there to avoid? Look at me now, greater than I would have ever dreamed.”

Autumn looked at him, standing by her side. He was taller, handsome, strong, powerful. Seemingly perfect, yet almost completely different from the man she’d met in Sandbar Station years ago. “If I could turn back time I would go back. Back to the Sandbar, when I met you for the first time in your shop.”

His lips curled at the memory. “So that I could continue to cook up ways to steal eboncrys from you.”

Autumn smiled as well. It was bitter and sad. “You were a rascal then. But following you on our adventures to recover the flute were the best times of my life.”

“It serves nothing to always think on the past. The experiences I’ve had and the rest I was forced to take have made things very clear.” Cloudhawk’s dark eyes shuffled northward. “The road ahead is long, I need to be ready. I tried avoiding it and all I did was run headlong into my destiny. No point in avoiding it any further.”

Autumn fell silent. Her memories and those of the Shepherd God had melded together now. She knew better than anyone how dark and cruel the road Cloudhawk had chosen would turn out to be.

She raised her head and looked once more upon this perfect specimen of a man. Although his road was dark and shrouded in mist, she would do everything in her power to be a light. She didn’t know how long she would be able to walk with him, but she wished with all her heart that Cloudhawk would conquer the shadows that were closing in to devour him.

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