The power Cloudhawk displayed was less than a tenth of what he could do. Still it was greater than an average veteran demonhunter. Together with the family connections it was what had brought him to this point. Idonea was markedly weaker, but her talent was unique. She had also earned the right to join the inner circle as Cloudhawk’s partner.
Her heart was still filled with questions. How strong was Lance? How deep did his mysteries go? He’d popped out of obscurity just a few days ago and already he was tearing down the Mighty Ten’s leader. Judging by that display, he was a fair bit stronger than Apollo, which would make him the strongest member of Stormford’s young generation.
So if he was that strong, why keep it quiet all these years? None of Fulmulta’s upper crust were aware of Lance before he arrived. Even after great effort, all that Idonea had dug up was a story about a lazy noble dunce.
Cloudhawk figured Idonea was suspicious by now, but he didn’t care. “Don’t look at me like that,” he said flippantly, “otherwise I might think you’re in to me. I’m pretty awesome and full of surprises, so I understand.”
“You shameless womanizer!” Something was still bugging her. “But you are full of secrets. What else are you hiding? How strong are you, really?”
“It’s not very polite to invade someone’s privacy.”
“We’re married, idiot. Yet I still don’t know anything about you.”
Cloudhawk looked around conspiratorially before then leaned close. “I think I can probably take on their Master Demonhunters.”
Idonea barely bit back on her anger. She desperately wanted to break his pretty-boy face in and show this stuck-up prick what for. But she just ground her teeth in frustration.
“The structure in front of us is our temporary lodgings,” Mercury explained as he lead them down the hall. His face was dark with frustration. In their brief exchange he was forced to recognize this villain’s power. No wonder his cousin got trounced. “Stay here. Don’t go wandering.”
“Why isn’t the camp closer to the Temple?”
“Who told you it would be? The Temple is for the Supremes and their Seraphs. Only a very few hand-picked by the gods themselves are allowed to get close. So let that be a warning – if you get too close to the Temple they’re going to treat you like an intruder.”
Cloudhawk had assumed being part of the Inner Circle would get him access to the Temple. He wouldn’t have bothered to try and join otherwise. He looked out at the enormous black mass hanging in space nearby. This might not be the Temple, but he was sure he was getting closer.
Only, that curtain of black was hiding it from him. Even with only one eye Cloudhawk’s vision was keener than x-rays. Typical darkness didn’t conceal things, so there was some other force at play to keep him from looking in.
“I feel like my relic is useless.” Idonea had felt off since they got here. She realized after a moment that she could no longer hear the familiar resonance of her necklace. Cloudhawk had guessed this might be the case before they arrived. As they’d moved through the inner tunnels he’d noted small orbs of light on stone stands. They were arranged at set intervals and taking a closer look, he saw them gently bounce and rotate like they were suspended by magnets.
Each one contained a strange, invisible power. With every rotation that power was cast out through the area in waves. It was strong enough to cause subtle distortions in space. Needless to say, it was a mysterious technology provided by the gods. It didn’t even need a demonhunter to operate.
They weren’t the only strange contraptions he’d noted, either. As they walked he also saw odd pylons with unfamiliar functions. Elsewhere there were hovering discs whose purpose he couldn’t guess at.
Mercury continued to explain. “Our armies are well defended to prevent any spying. Spatial relics are useless here, blocked by power pylons. These light beacons reveal anything trying to remain hidden.
The hovering balls of light where all over the place. Cloudhawk couldn’t rely on his unique gifts so long as he was in their zone. The disturbance was so great all he could manage was simple phasing and short-range teleportation.
In other words, he suddenly found himself heavily handicapped.
His target had to be hidden somewhere on the other side of that black curtain. One thing was certain, the closer he got the more defenses he’d encounter. Between him and the four Supremes were traps and protections he’d never seen before.
Here he was, but Cloudhawk didn’t feel much closer to his goal.
Idonea pointed out an odd, disc-shaped building further into the camp. “What’s that?”
“Actually, I don’t know,” Mercury replied. He’d only been here a few days so there was still much he hadn’t learned. “I heard it was some sort of divine weapon. The Supremes had it erected specifically to fight Skycloud.”
More strange godly technology. As Cloudhawk looked it up and down he was filled with a sense of disquiet.
“Alright, up ahead is the Guardian’s Palace. That’s where we’re all stationed.” Mercury was growing impatient. He wanted to get this over with then leave these two to their business.
The Guardian Palace was the proper name of the inner circle camp. This whole area was a new addition, recently built by Seraphs.
“As of today the Palace has eight Master Demonhunters, and six others without the title but the equivalent strength.”
Eight Masters and six more just as strong. There was also the four Supremes leading them. Further down the tiers were others like Mercury and Apollo. Despite their abilities, here they were barely qualified to serve.
It was one hell of a group. In only a month they’d gathered the strongest humans on the planet.
With every word Cloudhawk felt his heart grow heavier. His enemies had already mustered a terrifying force. If they attacked Skycloud today he gave them an eighty percent chance of victory.
Luckily for him, the Supremes were still playing it safe. They waited, and waited – gods were known for their infinite patience. It was a quality you earned when you’d lived for centuries. To them, the least precious resource was time.
Sky Fortress was still in the process of siphoning all the strongest people of the Elysian lands. Seraphs worked day and night to build those strange god weapons. The gulf between Skycloud and this holy coalition continued to grow. He was wrong, they had a ninety percent chance. Once they were sure they’d win, the Supremes would act. Such blasphemy would never be allowed to happen again, so they bid their time and strengthened their forces.
But this was exactly the right place for Cloudhawk to be. If he was careful, he could learn all sorts of things that could turn the tide. Maybe he could build some inroads with the members to take advantage of later.
Cloudhawk was convinced that to fight Sumeru, he needed to capture the Elysian lands not destroy them. For a thousand years they’d been stable, accumulating development. All around him were the pinnacle of human achievement. With luck, one day they would stand with him against their captors.
“New blood comin’!”
“Oh, young ones. Dropping the average age.”
As they walked through they were greeted by other members of the Palace. They were welcoming for even though these two looked young, they had earned the right to be here. A bright future was in store and who knew where it would lead them.
“Hello you two, my name is Icarus Swallow from Praelius.”
A gentle-looking man with fair complexion introduced himself. He was also one of the younger members of the inner circle. Cloudhawk and Idonea greeted him politely.
“I have a pretty good idea of how things run here. If there’s something you’d like to know, feel free to ask.”
Definitely a welcoming guy! Cloudhawk was going to take him up on the offer when suddenly he heard shouting.
“No…! It can’t be true, my sister can’t be dead! No one is strong enough to do it!” The voice was filled with anger and despair. A stubbled, handsome man in his thirties was shouting at the top of his lungs. “You idiots didn’t search carefully enough! How could you even let this happen – don’t you give a shit?!”
Those within earshot gave one another nervous glances. Idonea, brows knit close, whispered a question. “What’s going on?”
This man was acting like he’d lost his mind. Not just anyone could get here. Only those the gods considered the most outstanding were allowed in. Despite that the stranger was howling at them like they were a bunch of grunts. Like a kitten yowling at a mastiff.
“That’s Kirin Igna, from Dragenmere. He’s a lot stronger than he looks. One of the first to be accepted into the Palace. His sister, Phoenix, disappeared a few months back in Skycloud...”
His story gripped Idonea’s heart like a vice. It sounded exactly like what happened to her father. “Why is he so upset?”
“The gods have been working on constructing a superweapon. You probably saw it when you were brought inside – that buildings that looks like a floating disc. Word is it’ll be done in a few days.” Icarus was keeping his voice low. “They call it the ‘Sword of Sumeru.’ It absorbs energy from the Temple to attack from all the way up here. One shot can travel a thousand of kilometers and still have enough power to destroy a city.
For a second Cloudhawk wasn’t sure he heard correctly. “What? You said a thousand kilometers?”
“Yup, and one shot will erase a whole city. With these weapons the rebel realm won’t last more than a couple volleys.” Icarus looked back toward Kirin. “As for him, his sister vanished and he refuses to believe she might be dead. That’s why he’s acting that way.”
He didn’t see how pale Idonea’s face had gotten. This weapon was a horrifying thing, capable of firing from above the atmosphere. If it destroyed whole cities that meant it didn’t care about all the normal folk living there. They planned to see it all go up in flames.
What if her father wasn’t dead. Maybe he was locked up in some prison. Won’t their superweapon destroy him, too?
Cloudhawk didn’t look much better. While he always knew his foe would be strong, this went far beyond his darkest expectations.
“Enough!” A bearded man with his hair all white stomped into view. Whispers of ‘Master Anan’  followed him. This was one of the Master Demonhunters garrisoned in the Palace and one of the leaders. “This order comes straight from the Supremes. The gods are telling you they’re dead so let it go. If you keep it up you’ll face court martial!”
1. 燕羽, ‘Swallow Feather’. Swallow works fine as a surname and Icarus was the dip that plastered feathers to himself and flew too close to the sun. Will the story repeat itself? Cloudhawk has an unhealthy habit of getting the people around him killed.