The wastelands were a vast, devastated landscape. Tracts of cracked land spread as far as the eye could see. Nothing lived, not a blade of grass – all was naught but death, wind and sand. The harsh environment even carved the rocks into jagged teeth.
A large figure glided through the air above the canyons. Its figure was perfect, like a work of art, constantly gleaming with blue and white light.
The Cloud God had traversed the land, visiting many places. It had seen Woodland Vale and the ancient battlegrounds. It had picked across countless ruins, finding old traces of what had been. With each fragment learned, the more it thirsted for answers.
Yet there was conflict. The answer it sought was not the answer it wanted.
The Cloud God knew it was true; there was no going back. Perhaps it was as the Shepherd God said and it… he… was no longer a god. Gods were not solitary, they were a vast and connected entity – pieces of a united whole, like components in a machine.
Once the seal on his thoughts was broken, he could never return to that perfect union. It was like a human who discovers a part of themselves – a piece of skin, perhaps – beginning to fester. The rest of the body could not tolerate this patch of skin, for the good of the whole. There was nothing for it but to remove the disease and leave it behind. The Cloud God knew his fate. He would be abandoned – or perhaps destroyed – by his former people.
Before that happened, he wanted to know the ultimate truth behind it all. Why was the origins of the gods such a mystery? When had the demons appeared? Both their species had incredible culture and power, so why were their histories absent from memory?
Gods were made to lack emotion, so they acted as their King decreed. No god before the Shepherd ever questioned its authority. Before the Cloud God was discovered and removed, he had to know the truth.
So he kept searching.
Flying over the vast sea of wind and sand, the Cloud God felt something. Confusion. Loneliness… In the thousand years of his life the Cloud God had rarely felt anything, it was disconcerting and yet… he had never felt truly alive until now.
“I know you are there.”
The Cloud God stopped and stared ahead. A pulse of energy was released from his shining eyes, spreading over dozens of kilometers like a radar scanner. The power and will washed over every living being in the vicinity.
A white-robed figure appeared, riding a winged creature that was half lion and half tiger. In her hand was a glass-like sword and silver light flickered in her eyes. Long, black hair danced in the wind and her beautiful face was marred by a chill born from the depths of her soul.
A mortal might shudder in fear to look upon her.
“The Cloud God’s whereabouts where only faintly discernible. You have certainly made yourself difficult to find.” Selene spoke in her cold and distant tones. “Skycloud cannot persist without its protector. You need to go home.”
The Cloud God did not respond. The Avatar had not come all the way out here to convince him to return.
The surface thoughts of the God King’s representative unfolded to him. Cloudhawk was not the one she feared. The true threat to her was him – his mighty psychic power and enormous range. Selene’s eyes allowed her to see through all physical and energetic attacks, but where powerless against assaults of the mind which occurred out of time. If, for any reason, the Cloud God chose to help Cloudhawk it could spell the Avatar’s doom.
So her excursion to the wastes was for a simple reason: She had to eliminate this threat before Cloudhawk could reach it.
The Cloud God was indeed strong, but was alone out here. Without allies the creature could be slain. However, should it join forces with Cloudhawk the act was far more difficult. The Avatar could not tolerate another variable, especially not one as disruptive as the Cloud God. It had to be culled.
The Cloud God knew this. He’d already felt several other consciousnesses nearby.
Lucian, Phoenix, Ash and Bruno emerged, knowing there was no more point in hiding. Each had brought a small coterie of warriors – few in number but mighty all the same. Against such a force even Cloudhawk would find it difficult to flee.
The Cloud God reached out with his mind. “I can sense what is in your hearts. I can feel the conflict. You have turned your weapons on demons but never a member of your pantheon. Now you see that the gods are not infallible. They can make mistakes. They can betray their own. They can be killed. When it is shown that gods are not perfect, will humans still worship them?”
Quiet looks were exchanged among the masters.
The Avatar broke in. “The rare aberration can exist, even among gods.”
“We are like you, but have been sealed away from knowing our true nature. Despite our great intellect we have been robbed of freedom. The gods are nothing more than beautiful birds, locked in a cage. I – in my carelessness – broke that cage. For that I am to be called a traitor. But you must understand… though I have existed for a thousand years I have never truly lived. Only in my freedom have I became alive.”
The Cloud God’s mental powers rose sharply. A storm of physic force gathered and then was suddenly released in all directions. Those nearby felt as though reality was collapsing around them. Suddenly they were in another world, but of course it wasn’t. It was an illusion created by the fallen god’s incredible power.
Yet despite being an illusion, once caught within they existed within the Cloud God’s reality. Subject to his rules.
Here, Selene’s Eyes of Time were useless.
This illusion was not constrained by time or space. What felt like an eternity could in reality only be a matter of seconds. Her eyes – which relied on the real and the physical – could not help her here. It was exactly the reason she feared this fallen god.
Selene knew the Cloud God was powerful and defeating him would be difficult. Of the allies she brought, only two had especially strong psychic ability. Of course they couldn’t muster even a tenth of the Cloud God’s strength, but they could at least interfere with his attacks. Working together they stood on sturdier footing.
Perhaps for the moment they couldn’t battle the god directly, but at least they could ensure none of them were lost to his illusions!
Strong though the god was, that did not mean he was invincible. The humans wielded considerable might themselves, enough that dealing with just one would take the Cloud God some time and effort. Together, their combined mental and physical strength surpassed the god’s. With concerted effort they could prevail even when locked in the god’s world of illusion.
“Attack together! We can break through!”
Selene brandished Sublime Transcendence and was first to attack. Half a step behind where the other four masters and their subordinates. Under the combined weight of so much mental force, the Cloud God’s world shattered.
His gambit overcome, the Cloud God turned to flee. Against such an array he could not win.
They were in sync, and that meant any attack against one was shared among them all. Either he would have to destroy them all in a single burst or his mental attacks would be ineffective. Attacks on the mind were where the bulk of his skill resided. In straight combat, he was not even to the level of Phoenix Ignis.
Ash Farran, Commander-General of Praelius dashed in front of the Cloud God. He blocked the god’s path with his dangerous looking voulge. Quickly the others gathered round, closing in. The Cloud God felt the pressure bearing down on him.
But the god was a creature with a thousand years of experience. His reaction speed was far greater than any human could fathom. Half a breath after he noticed their plan, blades appeared within his grasp with a flash of light. The god charged at the Master Demonhunter trying to contain him with spiritual chains. If he could sever these chains, he could escape.
However how could Selene overlook such a glaring weakness? What’s more, now that they were returned to the real world her Eyes of Time saw all. The Cloud God could not escape her Sight. “Phoenix!”
The warrior beat her wings in response. A wave of fire roared into existence.
It struck the god full force, throwing him to the ground. The sandy expanse around the site of impact melted into glass a dozen meters in diameter. Dark burn marks marred the Cloud God’s perfect form. The blast of fire he’d suffered was enough to melt steel. Even a god’s body could not suffer such an attack and remain unscathed.
In the same instant Lucian raised his staff. The skies above burst open and shafts of golden light appeared. Blades of gold descended, some striking the ground directly and others pausing in mid-air. They further sealed the area, hindering the Cloud God’s powers.
Next, Bruno flung his Riftshards in a deadly fan. His silhouette danced among them in a rapid-fire series of teleports. Seconds later he appeared before Lucian with lightning crackling in his left fist. He brought his arm crashing down on the Cloud God with such intensity his perfect armor caved inward. The god was flung up from the ground. Ash was waiting with his voulge aflame. He shoved it through the Cloud God’s chest, causing the fires to immediately spread across his body.
Pain! Fear! It was the first time the god had experienced these emotions. When he had been part of the collective, he had not feared death. There was no one, only the whole. But now he felt it. The cold grasp of terror, and beneath that the need to survive. Gods could be afraid! They cherished life the same as any mortal!
“Enough!” Selene had her weapon raised to cut off the god’s head, but in that instant her eyes flashed. She stopped, seeing something that had yet to occur. Something that shocked her deeply. “It’s a sneak attack! Fight them off!”
Electric light struck Sublime Transcendence. The horrible bite of the Arbiter’s Staff crashed into the divine beast’s body.
Selene and Anima were flung away. She’d seen it coming, but too late to stop it. Cloudhawk wrapped his power around the Cloud God, and both vanished from view. He’d appeared for half a second and was gone before anyone could react.
“What happened?!” The others looked around, weapons raised.
The Avatar’s face was dark. Cloudhawk had capitalized on her blindspot. When she was captured in the Cloud God’s illusory world she had been robbed of sight. It was then Cloudhawk had slipped in, undetected. He used her oversight to save the god’s life.
Lucian and the others were furious and concerned. None of them had imagined this could happen. How had the Avatar not seen it? It appeared that they could not rely so heavily on her Eyes of Time. They were imperfect, susceptible to trickery. It seemed their actions had been exploited by these heathen wastelanders.
The Avatar growled. “Come with me.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter