Chapter 57: The Metallic Divine Tree
After teleporting Belial away from his allies, Cloudhawk looked around at their new surroundings. A shocking scene presented itself.
It was very different from the jungle planet’s divine factory. It was likely that the Demon King had adjusted it somehow for his own purposes after it had been abandoned. This place, however, was still true to its original construction.
If he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, Cloudhawk would hardly believe it was real. Non-standard buildings composed of odd geometry hung suspended in air. There were no underground volcanoes or harsh environments, in fact it was calm and safe.
A strange and beautiful building was in the center. Unlike the other minimalist structures, this one looked like a tree. Its surface was composed of a metallic substance that flowed like water. Its exterior was like colored glaze, but it had the mass and sheen of metal. Its roots burrowed deep into the ground and its branches spread upward to encompass half the space.
Whatever this tree was, it was in operation. Six huge rings surrounded it spinning quickly. They seemed to be drawing energy from the surrounding space before disseminating it through the tree itself.
This whole space was created by the tree.
Beneath the jungle planet Cloudhawk hadn’t seen anything this beautiful or complete. He could tell by the energy it released that the tree was central to everything. Perhaps, he thought, the six rings surrounding it represented the six Elysian realms.
Indeed, he saw differences. One ring was inert, another slow and dim. The four remaining spun easily and burned with light. If he had to guess, the stopped ring probably represented the Shepherd God’s long-fallen realm. Meadow’s enchantments had failed and its population was in decline. Faith was no longer widespread. As such, no more souls were provided and the ring went quiet.
As for the dimmer ring? That one had to belong to Skycloud. After years of turmoil and tragedy, the faith of Skycloud’s citizens had been shaken. It did not provide the same energy it once did, but there were still many who believed in the gods. For now at least, it provided some energy to the tree.
The remaining four rings glowed brightly. Dragenmere, Praelius, Stormford, Highmorn. The four Elysian realms continued to provide energy for the tree and all the Source around it. This array ceaselessly gathered the souls of mental energy of fallen Elysians, resulting in the massive crystal all around them.
A billion people could live for a century off the Source that had formed by now. Food, energy, anything they needed could be provided by this strange power. IF the gods were to arrive today they would already have a huge surplus in relation to what they left behind.
But, there was no ship! Cloudhawk found it strange, where did that droplet-shaped vessel go after it crashed to earth? Could it have transformed itself into the tree?
No ship, but when Cloudhawk looked closer he did see something else. Among the liquid boughs of the tree he could see small things darting around. They were like tadpoles, racing through the structure to a central point.
Cloudhawk looked at the Elder. “Belial, your expectations have failed you. No ships, no portals. No way for you to escape.”
Belial’s face was as dark as ocean waters. According to the information he’d gathered, there had to be a way to escape this planet here. He still had faith, escape was near he only needed to uncover it. But first, this troublesome human had to be dealt with. Without a word, the Elder pushed up his sleeves and prepared to fight.
“Hey now, cool it. There’s no use fighting me.”
The time for bullshit was done. In the demon’s right hand, a ball of black fire sprang to life. In his right he summoned a burning sword of onyx. Thrusting it forward, fires as choking as a waterfall belched forth and enveloped Cloudhawk.
Belial was not a typical foe. Even under typical circumstances, Cloudhawk did not have a major advantage. Worse still, the demon had found a way to enhance his abilities, strengthening every attack considerably.
But if he couldn’t block it directly, what was stopping Cloudhawk from dodging?
The Demon King’s successor was not some foolish upstart, young and inexperienced. He didn’t know much about Belial’s powers, but he did know his talent. As an artisan, the Elder would have all manner of relics and the benefits they provided. Until he knew more, he had to be careful.
Their arena was a unique one. The crystallized mental power that surrounded them worked like spirit beads, but for the important distinction that Source was not pure. It was a mixture of psychic energy and human souls. Mankind had no way to tap into it.
Belial, on the other hand, had created a special relic furnace. The furnace swallowed surrounding energies and converted it into usable energy. Source was refined into accessible mental power for the demon to use.
In other words, Belial’s power was limitless. He could fight until Cloudhawk was drained.
Belial held the trump card and Cloudhawk wasn’t stupid enough to fight a war of attrition. He used his pure spatial powers to avoid the attacks because it was all he could do. If he couldn’t beat his enemy with brute force, perhaps he could win through agility.
One blast of fire after another seared through the chamber, but none found purchase. The Elder paused, but only enough to gather his strength. The fires did not disperse, but instead gathered into platforms like hellish lotus flowers.
Cloudhawk watched the strange scene as Belial used them to race across the chamber. As he renewed his assault, the flowers shot forth like fiery pythons. They wrapped around Belial protectively, capable of attacking whatever came near.
Cloudhawk wasn’t sure how to answer the new threat.
Meanwhile Belial activated several more relics. Huge dark wings emerged from his back that increased his speed a dozen fold. Ignoring Cloudhawk frozen in defensive position, he raced directly for the heart of the seed.
Cloudhawk thought to try and stop him but held back. He couldn’t stand in the demon’s way regardless, not in his state. But it didn’t matter.
The gods’ ship wasn’t here. Belial’s wishful thinking was doomed from the start. Instead of chasing him down, better to let the Elder discover the truth for himself and let those hopes die.
Beneath the demon’s feet danced a dozen gouts of flame. A pair of enormous wings beat furiously, driving him forward. In his left hand the dark furnace continued to spat power, while he wildly brandished his sword of flames in his right.
Like an avatar of destruction he rose to the canopy of the divine tree. The power that poured off of him was stifling, unimaginable. This was the power of a demon Elder – true and terrible strength. No one Cloudhawk had met so far – Not Arcturus, or Judas, or even Legion – could match Belial.
He knew it had to do with the artisan’s methods. Cloudhawk didn’t now know what strength Legion had possessed in his heyday, nor did he know the full extent of his own legendary predecessor, the Demon King.
Belial was at a loss. He was the greatest builder of his people, so he had a keen eye. This had to be the tool gods used to escape the planet, but he saw no indication this was true. How could that be? Was his intelligence so wrong?
He glared at the flowing metal structure. It was huge, there had to be some secret within. The gods left this behind and sometime afterward it took the shape of this tree. The liquid metal was its shell, strong and protective, but not impermeable to the demon Elder.
Several metal discs appeared and descended upon the enchantment. They clung to the tree’s surface like a plaster. Belial activated his relic to make them fuse together and pull, forcing a gap in the tree’s defenses.
Only just then, the earth shook ferociously as though wracked by an earthquake.
The entire chamber rattled as the tree recognized a threat. An imperial and domineering will invaded the minds of Belial and Cloudhawk.
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