A city was slowly taking shape in low earth orbit. Cloudhawk could see it through his mental connection with the Cloud God.
Through it he was able to know the situation in this floating city. It remained between eighty thousand and one hundred thousand meters above the ground. Two divisions of airships hovered around the structure. Its doors were open, and the vast spaces within were enough to accommodate tens of thousands of troops. But why gather their armies up in the sky? For strategic reasons, of course.
The Temple could adjust its low earth orbit as needed. Like a military spy satellite, it was easy to dispatch troops and scouts from its location. A bird’s eye view afforded it far-reaching sight of enemy movements and positions. If a gap was discovered, they would see it and could act with haste. It would take less than an hour to scramble forces and execute an attack.
It was impossible to defend against! The stark reminder stole Cloudhawk’s breath. A single mistake could allow the enemy to breach and destroy them.
In addition the Temple was always on the move, constantly adjusting its orbit. It periodically crossed over other Elysian domains to gather resources, ultimately creating a floating realm. At present the Supremes had their armada shuttling goods from the various realms up to their fortress. Even Seraphs from their respective domains were present in the Temple.
Seraphs were present in all Elysian capitols. They were puppets, limited in fighting capability but excellent builders. They worked tirelessly, building and repairing with incredible efficiency.
Seraphs from all four realms had been gathered and worked day and night. Additions had appeared on two sides of the Temple – a rudimentary docking port for their armadas. With more space for ships they could increase their forces while deterring attacks from the ground.
In higher orbits there were appearing various towers. They served many purposes; attack, defense, energy, and so forth. Springing up like bamboo shoots, they showed how quickly these war-time projects were proceeding. It was a formidable defense against any future Green Alliance aggression.
“Well, fuck,” Cloudhawk muttered, allowing the connection to drop. “All four realms are gathering right over our heads as we speak and there’s nothing we can do about it. We don’t have enough ships in the wastes or Skycloud to deal with this, not that they’re in good enough shape for the task anyway. If something doesn’t change we’ll be stuck in a passive situation, getting beat on with no way to fight back.”
The Green Alliance was in a period of post-war reconstruction. Meanwhile the Supreme’s Sky Fortress was gathering strength. Taking the long view it seemed the Alliance would be too weak and ill-equipped to launch an attack. Instead the gods held all the cards. From up there, they could launch brutal attacks whenever they pleased. It was definitely an effective way to castrate the Alliance. Unless he did something they might not even survive long enough for Sumeru’s armies to clean up the dregs.
The one silver lining was that he had the Cloud God on his side. So long as the deity was here to help, he had a great channel into the enemy’s actions.
“Is there anything else you’ve learned? Like troop movements or garrisoned forces?” It was useful information. If he knew the sort of numbers they were looking at, Cloudhawk could organize a strike force and teleport them behind enemy lines. A few well-planned acts of sabotage might buy them some time.
The Cloud God gave a simple response: “No.”
“All you gods share a common memory, right? Shouldn’t you know that?”
Burning eyes were fixed on the human. “And if the Supremes do not know this information?”
That took the wind out of his sails. It made sense, if the Supremes didn’t know how many soldiers they had and where they were stationed then the Cloud God wouldn’t either. It wasn’t like they could arrange everything on their own, and wouldn’t even if they could. They knew that the betrayer god could see into their memories. It was the smart thing, then, to delegate sensitive matters to others.
An effective way to keep things secret, to be sure. Besides, the divine matrix wasn’t as straightforward as Cloudhawk assumed. The Cloud God explained:
“Protection mechanisms exist within the matrix. Every day I find it more difficult to extract information. In particular, matters of military or specific areas.”
Weren’t the gods supposed to be a race all about openness? Didn’t this go against what their race stood for? But these protections the Cloud God mentioned weren’t from any god in particular. They were built into the matrix itself, specifically as a defense against betrayers like himself.
Gods came into being with two psychic ‘cords’ as part of their being. They linked the gods to the divine matrix; one to upload thought and memory, and the other to download information. In circumstances such as what happened to the Cloud God and the Shepherd God, they could sever one while keeping the other. That was how the Cloud God knew what Sumeru was up to. Because he was not complying with the God King’s orders, it became clear he had turned against his kind.
Disloyalty was a rare thing among gods because of their social structure, but nothing was impossible. The Cloud and Shepherd Gods were proof enough that it could happen. As a result, the divine matrix evolved a set of countermeasures.
One could think of the matrix as a kind of operating system, managing huge amounts of data. Aberrations like the Cloud God were a virus, so cleansing mechanisms were implemented to deal with them.
“That’s too abstract.” Cloudhawk wasn’t a god. He couldn’t grasp the complexity of the system the Cloud God described.
Sensing Cloudhawk’s confusion, the god gave it a moment’s thought before going on.
“There may be a way for you to slip through the lock and access the matrix yourself. But it will come at a cost. And it will be perilous.”
“What?” Cloudhawk swear he heard wrong, but he knew that wasn’t the case. The Cloud God hadn’t stuttered – obviously, since he didn’t really ‘talk.’ He communed directly with someone’s consciousness so there was no misunderstanding. “Enter the matrix? Is that really possible?”
He had to admit, it was a tempting thought. The gods were a powerful and mysterious race, always an enigma. If there was a way to give Cloudhawk a glimpse into their world, it would be a huge benefit.
To prepare for this, Cloudhawk brought the Cloud God back to Greenland. More specific, to Wolfblade. There he discovered that it had been Wolfblade’s intention to guide him through this process at some point.
“My plan was to try this at a later time. However, it appears we must move the timetable up.” Wolfblade brought his two visitors to a scryspire amplifier. He turned to Cloudhawk and explained. “Under normal circumstances, it is impossible for an outsider to invade the divine matrix. However, there are always exceptions. You and the Cloud God are special cases – and the two of you together could work wonders.”
“What do you mean?”
“You have a tenacious mind, capable of passing through the channel. Anyone else would not survive, no matter how strong their psyche.” Wolfblade knew everything there was to know about Cloudhawk. After all, it was not incorrect to say that the man was a product of Wolfblade’s hard work. “In addition, the Cloud God’s talents lay in mental power – one of the best of his species. He has enough strength to disguise your mental signature and, essentially, upload you into the matrix.”
“Too complicated and not worth the time. Can we just get it started?”
Wolfblade had prepared two scryspires. Cloudhawk and the Cloud God took positions on either one. As they did, Wolfblade offered warnings. “You must be careful. Once you enter the matrix, there are many dangers. This is our first attempt, so do not be hasty. If anything feels wrong, return immediately.”
For Wolfblade to underline the dangers it meant this really was a risk. But Cloudhawk was not dissuaded. War with the gods was inevitable and he had to know his enemy. What other method was more effective? Whatever the dangers, it didn’t matter. He had to try.
He was ready.
Wolfblade nodded to the Cloud God.
Extending his hands, the god’s body began to glow. Lights flickered behind his eyes like a brewing storm. A vast flood of mental energy filled the space like a burst dam.
Cloudhawk shut his eyes, pushed his senses aside, opened his mind. And waited.
It didn’t take long for him to feel it, a sickening sinking sensation like he was being drawn into some imaginary place. He opened his eyes but there was nothing to see. Darkness, everywhere. Everywhere except for one single point of light far in the distance that led into the unknown.
Was that the way into the divine matrix…?
Cloudhawk followed the unspoken directions of the Cloud God and moved toward the light. Slowly he floated forward from the eternal darkness, drifting toward the channel.
Upon drawing near he was swept up in a storm of energy. It wrapped him up from all directions, pulling him toward the light. It was the Cloud God, helping him along. It felt like time was warping.
The closer he got to the channel the more its power suffocated him. Exhaustion came in waves, even dimming the Cloud God’s considerable power. But Cloudhawk knew he couldn’t stop. The only way was forward or he would be lost forever.
Struggle. For what felt like ages he fought against the fatigue before coming upon a gate.
It had to be more than thirty meters high, tall and imposing. Beautifully carved statues, too many to count, stood vigil around it. Something inside Cloudhawk told him that he was looking at a projection of his own psyche. The psychic world and the physical world were exactly opposed. The physical universe was about conservation and stability. The psychic world was unsteady and changeable.
Nothing existence in the normal sense. Symbolic expressions, that was all.
Cloudhawk put his arms against the gate and pushed. A hundred thousand beams of light were cast out in reaction to his touch, so bright he couldn’t look directly at it. It took him a moment to adjust, and when he did an entirely new reality unfolded before him… white-capped mountains, grand palaces, impossibly tall towers. The breathtakingly beautiful sight stretched out before him at a scale he could not fathom – enough buildings to fill ten Skyclouds.
He didn’t doubt that this place wasn’t real. This magnificent place was the divine matrix, where all the minds of the gods converged. Perhaps it was fair to say that this was the real Mount Sumeru.
Everywhere Cloudhawk looked he saw vast castles and lofty mountains… but not exactly. Just as the images became concrete they would change, shifting to something else in the blink of an eye. It was all just a fluid representation.
Am I in the realm of the gods? But why don’t I see any?
Entering this strange place, Cloudhawk discovered that he did indeed appear to be alone. Not a single other living thing was visible, a fact he found puzzling. Shouldn’t it be that all the gods – no matter their station – were all connected to this place?