Lucian – his hair and clothes white as snow; his features kind and fatherly – was a picturesque representation of a holy man. He adhered to a strict code of conduct, made it a part of his character. Even the most critical detractors could find nary a flaw in the man.
High Priests were the closest humans could be to a god. They were selected by the Temple to be Sumeru’s representatives on earth. Their loyalty was unshakable.
However, Lucian was human and humans had mortal hearts. Like anyone else he harbored desires and courted curiosities.
He’d held the position of High Priest for over fifty years because of his loyalty. He, more than any other, had been able to peer into the mysterious world of the gods and yet knew only what existed on the surface. In fact there were similarities between Lucian and the late governor Arcturus. Both men knew explicitly how strong the gods were. However, where they different was that Lucian knew how important the gods were to men.
He would put it this way:
Humans were like isolated livestock. Only through the aid of the gods could they survive and prosper.
Once Skycloud was a magnificent land of affluence and well-being… until its patron turned its back upon Mount Sumeru. The horrors it faced today were because of this failing. The damage this had caused would persist for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. Whether this Elysian land would even survive was in doubt.
Why did they struggle so? What was wrong with being part of a herd? Lucian knew that the gods had some hidden reason for cultivating human civilization. But he also knew that humans and gods – these vastly different entities, separate on the most fundamental levels – could live together because of this. A lion and a tiger could not live together. A tiger could not peacefully walk among sheep. But a tiger would tread among the ants and all would live in harmony.
So different were these lives that they did not battle for resources. Humans did not fight off dogs for their bones. The mighty lion did not compete with rabbits for tufts of grass. Mankind required clean drinking water, delicious food and comfort. What was treasures in their eyes were nothing to the gods – insignificant things that could be granted with a wave of the hand.
Lucian ultimately did not know what it was the gods wanted. Men kept dogs for their loyalty, sheep for their wool and cows for their milk. Gods had to help humans survive for some purpose, he just didn’t know what that could be. It had merely been this way for the last thousand years.
Yet in the end it was simple: With the gods came Elysian lands. With Elysian lands came life and comfort. The foul curse that had fallen upon Skycloud could not be allowed to happen to his home. Rising up against the gods was as futile as it was self-destructive.
In an arm wrestling match between them, the divine’s pinky finger would rip a man’s whole arm off. It was an apt analogy, for if war broke out between their people, what good would come of it? Whatever Cloudhawk’s aims, whether forcing the helpless to join him or inciting rebellion, his flashy banners and fiery words only stole from people their right to live in peace.
Did ordinary people really need to know the truth of the world? Did they really need absolute freedom? Was their pride so sacred?
For ninety-nine percent of humanity, their desires were simple; a comfortable life, a warm bed, a spiritual home, and an era of peace. There was no reason to shatter these beautiful lives. Cloudhawk was treating millions, perhaps a billion souls as gambling chips in a losing game.
Lucian was an unflinching advocate for godly rule. He would never waver in his support of Mount Sumeru! Cloudhawk was evil incarnate. There was nothing venerable about the bloody path he had chosen. Best to cull the cancer before it spread!
The High Priest once against raised his staff. It was a very ordinary looking item, and was in fact but for the gem set upon the top. It was about the size of a fist, and contained a curious vortex of light. It had a name – the Sage Crystal.
The Sage Crystal was an extremely precious relic. Its powers were inconceivable to most, manifesting primarily in the transformation of energy and matter. Solid objects could be reduced to its inherent energy; energy could be formed into corporeal substances. So it was that when the Cloud God attacked with psychic force, Lucian had captured and frozen it to use against its creator. The explosion that had occurred was that solidified energy once more transforming into its original state.
Lucian shouted the order. His men assailed the god with spear, bolt and arrow.
To be on the receiving end would be terrifying for any mortal creature, but to the Cloud God it was of no concern. None of their trifling efforts could pierce his mental barrier. Even if a few could, they would cause him no harm.
But that was merely his assumption, and it was misguided!
Lucian’s Sage Crystal shone brilliantly as he held the staff aloft. Its radiance shone upon the projectiles as they made their journey, imbuing them with luminescence. What had been a paltry attack of matter was now empowered by energy. Spears and arrows dissolved into destructive rays that strengthened the attack by several orders of magnitude.
Under the terrible barrage, most of the corridor was completely destroyed, like a fist smashing a mirror.
The Cloud God’s mental barriers shattered. Beams of light pierced him through. In an unthinkable turn of events these insignificant humans had damaged him! Lucian, from across the field, stared at the barely wounded being with an incredulous expression.
Was this the power of a Supreme? Their bodies were practically impervious!
Of course Lucian knew a single barrage would not be enough. They would be exposed to the fallen god’s wrath as they prepared for their next move. He ordered demonhunter elite to the front to form a defense. They were Highmorn heroes he had brought with him for this mission. One was equipped to deal with mental attacks and summoned a wall of force to protect them.
The Cloud God had already noted this strategy. His mighty abilities could peer into the hearts of all humankind, so to take the advantage in striking first he released tentacles of psychic force. They pierced the form of this human before he was prepared and ripped away his mind.
Lucian’s soldier crumpled to the ground. Not a single wound was visible, yet in a matter of seconds he had been slain outright.
As for Lucian’s intractable power? To the god this was no such threat. His precious crystal could only transform what energy could be felt. If the power did not exist on the same plane – or could not be captured – then the Sage Crystal’s power held no sway.
Lucian was preparing to call for a second volley, but the Cloud God was already prepared. A burst of mental power detonated through the corridor. The same illusion emerged in everyone’s mind; countless tentacles reaching form a nightmarish void, each one pregnant with a paralytic force.
Faster than they could react, the tentacles wrapped them up in a suffocating grip then dragged them into a universe of utter darkness.
After a moment the beleaguered humans came to their senses. Horrified, they found themselves bound to crosses by unbreakable chains. The more they struggled, the tighter their bindings became.
It was different for everyone. Weaker illusory chains were wrapped up in several layers. For stronger ones, they manifested as a few well-placed links that were altogether unyielding. The strength of the illusion was determined by the spirit of the one they bound.
Lucian, on the other hand, was unbound. His mental abilities were too strong for such base illusions to hold him fast. Yet the High Priest did not rejoice. In this strange place he could not give play all of his abilities. It was this fact he fretted over as the Cloud God reappeared before him.
The human struck the earth with his staff. The ground fractured. Stones rose. His Sage’s Crystal flared and transformed the chunks of rock into spheres of energy. They were cast at the Cloud God and found purchase! Boom! The god was blasted to pieces and disappeared.
Bushy white brows furrowed. Lucian knew the god would not be that easy to defeat. In this place of illusion matter did not exist. This was a contest of psychic power, not easy to overcome. Two seconds after the Cloud God was ‘destroyed’, any mark of his presence was gone. The ground beneath Lucian was restored.
Here nothing was real. If Lucian hoped to defeat the Cloud God in this mental battlefield, he would need to summon more power than its master. Such a feat was not within his capabilities, so failure was inevitable.
Once again the god revealed himself. His perfect form split into two, then four.
Two of the images drew swords of light from thin air. They attacked. The first was warded off by Lucian’s staff, but the second managed to drive his sword into the High Priest’s body. Lucian was cleaved at the waist.
Pain wracked him, tore through his brain in excruciating intensity. And then it was gone. He was standing in the same spot as before.
“Illusions… all illusions!”
None of this was happening. None of it was real! The battle he was engaged in only took place in his mind.
However, in this place Lucian’s powers were a far cry from the Cloud God’s. How could he hope to win? Wait… there was a chance! If his will was firm enough to punch through then it was possible. Maintaining a mental field of this scope took energy. If he could force the god to expend more than he could manage, there was hope for escape.
Keep going! Don’t let your will collapse! You can’t allow your spirit to crumble! So long as his mind prevailed it didn’t matter how often he died in this hell!
Lucian was wise, and his determinations correct. Sadly he was at war with a Supreme. The Cloud God’s vast mental powers could hold this illusion for a very long time. What of the human? How many times could Lucian die before his sanity slipped? For an ordinary man dying once or twice was all it took. Those of more tenacious will made it to four or five. What would Lucian achieve? A hundred? Two hundred? Give hundred?
At final tally, Lucial Ambrose had died three thousand six hundred times. For what felt like an eternity, the Cloud God found myriad ways to cut Lucian down. Several times the High Priest managed to fight back, but invariably failed. This went on thousands of times until, at last, Lucian Ambrose could resist no longer.
The mental war came to an end.
Back in the real world Lucian lay sprawled out in the middle of the corridor, his face a twisted mask of pain. His heart had given out.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
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