“The Avatar is stronger than ever before. The God King’s will is eating away at her spirit. There isn’t anything left of her. If you destroy the Eyes of Time it will destroy the foundation of her mental power. She’ll lose more than just her sight.”
The Khan had weakened. His words were delivered painstakingly, like every syllable drained him.
Selene’s will had been usurped and bound to the God King’s. Destroying his hold on her would probably leave only an empty husk. Selene would live on as an invalid, suffering through days of darkness, depression and shame.
The Khan knew what it was like. He’d lived that hell. It was a terrible existence, a fate worse than death. Better to set her free. Over the last few years Selene had struggled. Forcing her to live on after all of this was the cruelest form of punishment.
“You have no right to say that!” Anger flooded Cloudhawk’s mind and the Khan’s words made him see red. But he held it beneath the surface, like a volcano. His response was firm. “You did know Selene, six years ago. But the Selene I know is the strongest person I’ve ever met. She never backed down from pain or hardship. She never ran away from what was difficult. She met everything head on, a warrior in every way!”
Janus and the Khan pulled back and listened. They looked at Cloudhawk in silence, grappling with the same thought. Had they both given up faith, while he still held so tightly to it?
When he spoke again, his voice powerful and resolute, it was as though he’d read their minds. “I believe in her more than I believe in myself!”
There is where it had lead. No one expected it. Who would have thought the relic Selene was given would bear a portion of the God King’s will? Who would have believed it would turn her into this? And the transformation had been incredible. It spoke volumes to the God King’s power that even a fraction had turned Selene into the nightmare she was in this moment.
But even though every second she became more difficult to overcome, Cloudhawk still persisted in trying to save her. Everything she’d done was unintentional. The will of the God King, forcing her hand. The root of their problems came from the meddling of Sumeru. Without it there was no problem they couldn’t overcome. There were two things Cloudhawk learned from years of scrambling from place to place. Running never solved anything . Nothing was impossible.
Cloudhawk held tight to Ruin and prepared to strike.
Selene’s silvery eyes saw what was to come and to answer it, several dozen nearby Seraphs were swallowed into balls of light. They burned as though set aflame, melting into flows of power that wrapped around Selene. A pearlescent aura hugged her to form an unyielding defense.
It was first struck by a bolt of lightning. Like a water pistol shooting a gemstone, all the energy was cast aside. Not a scratch was made.
Cloudhawk teleported around her and stabbed again. The impact spread out, cracking the center of the dais and causing fissures to spread across it. Everyone was forced to squint and look away from the blinding flare that ensued. But the shell did not break!
How could be get through? Cloudhawk scowled as he groped for an answer.
He guessed that her shield was using the powers of the Temple, concentrating the energy field that surrounded it. Breaking through quickly, even with his level of strength, would be difficult. As he puzzled it out Selene was raising her weapon for a counterattack.
A peel of thunder sounded as glaring lightning and brilliant crystal met. The chamber filled with motes of light, cast off from the impact.
In the instant before the blinding light Cloudhawk had seen Selene’s face. The heartless indifference in her eyes was like nothing he’d ever seen. But there in the deepest parts of her gaze he thought he saw a struggle. He had to believe Selene was still in there!
Cloudhawk held Ruin with both hands and hacked it toward her.
Selene was submerged in the flood of lightning. It forced her back, leaving a trench in the dais twenty meters long. An instant later Cloudhawk appeared overhead and thrust Ruin at her shield, only to be deflected once more.
It was no use. Her protections were too strong. Direct attacks weren’t going to break through.
The two traded many fierce exchanges. Several times Cloudhawk landed what would have otherwise been devastating blows, but accomplished nothing. Selene had dealt no damage to him, but it was becoming clear that the wasteland’s leader was running out of momentum.
He’d fought his way into Skycloud, defeated Praelius’ Commander-General, bested Stormford’s Spatial Master, and cut down a thousand soldiers in between. There were limits to what a single person could do. He could not be expected to fight at his peak at all times.
For Selene it was different. She had the power of the Temple at her beck and call, in addition to her Holy Vestments. Then there were the Eyes of Time, making sure every act was correct and efficient. She would not be quickly running out of steam.
Soon Cloudhawk would begin to decline. He would be forced onto the defensive. Janus and the Khan watched their exchange and realized that giving aid would be difficult. Cloudhawk’s power was too great and his attacks too fast. With the blessing of the Temple’s power, Selene’s defenses were too strong giving her a chance to counter.
Just then, an intense wave of mental energy filled the space. Selene stopped dead in her tracks as though locked in a trance.
This was it. Cloudhawk launched into a flurry of attacks, delivering ten in a handful of seconds.
Cracks began to appear along the shell of energy. However, this didn’t last long. Even such a devastating onslaught wasn’t enough to collapse her will, so the fractures quickly sealed closed.
A new figure appeared above the dais: Beautiful, perfect and dignified. The Cloud God had arrived! It was he who released the mental attack.
But the god underestimated Selene. He could not keep her wholly locked in the world of illusions.
“The mighty Cloud God’s attacks aren’t as strong as I thought they might be.” Her cutting appraisal was followed by four quick swipes at Cloudhawk. At the same time she used her mental powers to whisper into the Cloud God’s mind. “You walk the path of a betrayer. Cavorting with these lesser lifeforms. Do you wish to know your future? Better you end your own life before you find out.”
In response the Cloud God lashed out with another series of mental raids. But to his bewilderment, little was accomplished. It was then he discovered that he was in a trap. His fight with Lucian must have been a deliberate decision by the Avatar.
In order to quickly defeat the Master Demonhunter, he’d been forced to utilize several powerful attacks in a row. Each one was draining, but ‘killing’ the man thousands of times in his world of illusions was especially strenuous. Now his mental capacity was less than half, and the impact of his attacks were reduced. With these restrictions, he couldn’t hold the Avatar down.
The former god was forced to increase the intensity of his attacks as much as possible. In addition, he drew his sword of light and joined the melee.
With Cloudhawk and the Cloud God joining forces, Selene finally began to lose ground. Janus and the Khan finally saw their chance, and together the four launched into a brutal tandem offensive. The cracks in her defenses reappeared and multiplied. Although the Cloud God was nearing exhaustion, his attacks were visibly effective.
If they could keep this up the Avatar would be overcome!
“You think you can win? No, you’ve already lost – you lost before we even started!” The light of her left eye intensified, ten times greater than the right. Her opponents could feel the surge of power running through her, empowering her abilities by orders of magnitude!
What was going on? No one understood what was happening.
Cloudhawk sensed that the eye was changing. It was causing damage for the purpose of empowering itself. The light faded, her pupil dilated and the eye became cloudy. Blood trickled from her canthus. The eye itself was physically useless.
“I will show you the true power of Time.” In the space of a blink, Selene’s powers had skyrocketed. Her voice thundered through the chamber, delivering her divine command. “Time, reverse!”
Selene sacrificed her left eye for greater power. From her right eye a mysterious and indomitable energy was released. It quickly spread throughout the area and everyone within it.
All present – Cloudhawk and the Cloud God included – felt the irresistible pull of this influence. Try as they might they couldn’t get close to Selene. With shock and alarm they watched the ruined hall begin to reconstruct itself.
No.. not reconstruct. Reverse! Time was going backwards! Everything in the area was wound back to before the fight.
Cloudhawk watched in disbelief. He knew Selene’s powers could predict the future and that was enough to make her a deadly foe. But it was beyond his imagination that her power extended to manipulating the flow of time! She was undoing everything they’d done, all the energy they’d used!
It was horrifying! And if the Avatar could do this, what was the God King himself capable of?
Cloudhawk felt the flows of energy. They were more intense around the Avatar and then spread out in all directions. He didn’t want to think what the consequences would be if they were caught in them, so he called out to the others. “Fall back!”
The Cloud God engaged his psychic powers to attack Selene in an attempt to stop her. But with her abilities enhanced, and with the Cloud God unable to launch his strongest attacks, he was powerless to stop her. Even the god had to retreat or risked being captured in the turbulent streams of time.
When the Avatar turned her head toward them, blood was coursing from both eyes. One pupil was clouded and dull, the other was so bright it was hard to look at. The focus of her gaze was none other than Cloudhawk.
There was no dodging! The Avatar had him in her sights. An endless storm of time surged toward him.
It came like a giant bubble, surrounding him on all sides. He felt frozen in place with no access to any of his relics and no way to use his powers. He tried to teleport with no success, for as he gathered his mental energies they just reversed and dissipated.
Everything about him was stuck out of time. In other words he could still think for the time being, but his body was locked in a moment. Caught in the flows of time, anything he did was negated. He was like a fish caught in frozen water.
This… was the real power of the God King? Cloudhawk could see how even the mighty Demon King could be bested!
He also knew that if he followed the same path, even if he was accepted as the Demon King by all, he would end up the same way. In the end it would all turn out the same, another win for the God King.
But he didn’t spend much time ruminating on his fate. He had to face the danger of this moment.
“It is not important whether the Boundary Portal opens or not. The Demon King’s successor… must be eliminated.”
Selene made her move. Holding Cloudhawk fast with her powers, she stabbed at him with Sublime Transcendence. He could only watch while the cutting light closed in. There was no way to protect himself.
Nearby the Cloud God and his companions tried to help, but Selene was wrapped in flows of time. They surged and ebbed like a tide and everything that came near was sent back in time to where they started. No tactic they employed could pierce her protective bubble.
It was in this crucial moment that someone jumped in front of Cloudhawk. The piercing light of Selene’s sword tore through the body. Janus, her eyes wide, shouted when she saw it.
Cloudhawk stared, dumbfounded. Selene was dazed. Baldur took the strike. He sacrificed himself!
The Avatar’s soulless features broke into a twisted look of despair. Perhaps because she lost an eye, the hold of the God King had weakened. His seal on Selene’s personality faltered for just an instant, enough to let her slip through.
“Dad!” She looked down at her hand. “W-what have I done?!”
“These last few years I’ve been living a shadow of a life. All so I could keep searching… Sumeru may… not be our final enemy… but I’m afraid now I… won’t be able to find the answer.” Selene’s blow had cut him clean in half. He fought for the words to speak to his daughter. With the last of the breath in his lungs he whispered, “Selene, don’t feel bad. This… is for the best.”
Selene’s scream rang off the chamber walls. The power around her collapsed and she fell from the air.
Those constraints that held Cloudhawk fell away. Instinctually he teleported to Selene and grabbed her before she hit the ground. None of this was what he’d planned. But at least for now, it seemed she’d broken the God King’s hold.
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