Belial’s mood could be no lower.
He bowed under the weight of his yolk. There was no escape, for if he tried neither god nor demon would show him mercy. Gloomy though the outlook was, if he stayed there was at least the chance to fight.
Belial could not for the life of him understand why the Elder of the Second Seal would bow to a lowly human. Whatever the reason, he had no choice but to kowtow to Cloudhawk. They had a larger enemy on the battlements, that had to be his focus.
When he returned to his oasis in the Cursed Desert, Cloudhawk was busy with some project or other. He was not surprised when Belial presented himself and pledged his service.
“Now that you’ve realized the virtues of resistance, I hope you understand that I can’t tolerate desertion.” Cloudhawk graciously accepted this new subordinate from Wolfblade. He didn’t need to ask anything, he knew the demon had a thousand years of experience in crafting relics. That was all he needed to know.
But there was something that occurred to him. “Ah, by the way. I need to see something – the Black Heart.”
Cloudhawk had experienced the power of Belial’s indentured servants. It went without saying that Belial himself was a coward, but his oasis was packed with over a thousand Eternal. Many of them were demonhunters Belial had ripped from the Elysian lands over a thousand years.
A fair number were accomplished men and women who were deluded into pursuing immortality by Belial’s poison words. Others were pilfered from prisons by the demon’s network of helpers. The result was an army of powerful – if nihilistic – soldiers. With the advantage of their undying bodies they made for quite a formidable force.
They were the most powerful tool in the Elder’s arsenal, and the one he’d spend the bulk of his efforts to create.
How was Belial able to control this army? Through the Black Heart. It was a relic that bound the Eternal to whoever held it. Whoever bore the Heart stood at the fore of an immortal host.
Wolfblade commanded the ever-reaching Hand of Gehenna, so had no interest in Belial’s Black Heart. However, such an army couldn’t be left under the artisan’s control. His loyalty was too much in question to allow him such a tool.
Full of reluctance, Belial obeyed. What he presented was not a beating heart but rather a staff. It was around two meters long and affixed to its three-pronged crown was a black jewel. Crimson lines wormed their way through the fist-sized stone.
“The Black Heart controls the Eternal,” Belial explained. “Whether in action or will, the staff can empower or inhibit their powers. The Black Heart gives you powerful allies.”
Belial’s greatest regret was that he had been unable to exercise his full strength. If he’d had the chance to face Cloudhawk and his allies while commanding an army of undying, the situation would have turned out very differently. He doubted they would have even been able to enter his stronghold.
Unfortunately, Cloudhawk had arrived as Belial was trying to force his way through the Source. It was too narrow a space for his army to be of any use. The loathsome human had robbed him of any advantage.
Anyway, it was too late for regrets.
Cloudhawk took the Heart and looked it over. He could feel the power in it. How would he choose to use it? By handing the relic directly to the leader of the Eternal, Husk. “As promised, the Black Heart belongs to you. From now on the Eternal answer to no one.”
Belial could not believe what he was seeing. Was he insane? He was willing to just give away the Black Heart? Did he not realize he needed all the help he could get? Instead he cast aside countless years of Belial’s hard work.
Husk took the relic. The face behind his mask was expressionless, but the red eyes flickered. He then took a knee before the human with the staff in his right hand and his left pressed against his chest. It was an old tradition of the Elysian realms. One that meant loyalty.
It was as Cloudhawk predicted. When everyone suffered, the individual could not be preserved – the Eternal had their freedom but nowhere to go. Once the gods arrived there was no escape. The entire planet was at risk.
Cloudhawk was the only person who could lead them to safety. He was also the only person so far who could rally the Elysian lands against their former masters. The Eternal would bend the knee to him, and him alone.
This irritated Belial to no end. Cloudhawk’s actions spit on his hard work. Belial had created this army! How many years had it taken? How much blood and sweat had it demanded? And all this for what! They had their freedom, but they still couldn’t go or stay as they wished.
Belial spoke up. “With the Eternal under your control you could have wielded them like an extension of your own arm. But giving up power, you introduce the chaos of self-determination.”
“Elder Belial, your desire for control is too strong. It’s no good, for you or for anyone. A single person cannot accomplish great things.” Cloudhawk instructed his new subordinate. “With the Heart of Darkness the Eternal can be compelled to fight for you, but give them the right to choose for themselves and they will do everything in their power. An army of individuals, wielding focus and dignity, can produce miracles.”
Belial wanted to refute this, but Cloudhawk cut him off.
“Remember, Elder, what we need are miracles. I’m not going to pass up any opportunity to see them happen. Do you understand?”
There was no question that right now, the resistance had no hope against an army of gods. As such Cloudhawk was making his plans for a grand exodus. If humans were in a hopeless situation, what else was there but to wish for a miracle? It sounded… pitiful.
Was this why Cloudhawk gave Wolfblade so much free reign?
Belial had heard a portion of Cloudhawk’s conversation with the God King. He knew there was a delicate relationship between Legion and the new Demon King. Yet, Cloudhawk didn’t seem to care if the Elder was a threat. He even gave Wolfblade control over his entire Alliance and all its forces!
Cloudhawk did not seem to fear being a figurehead. In fact he didn’t seem to be at all interested in power. All he cared about was the final result. He just wanted to protect his people. He needed to think about how to utilize the strengths of his team to greatest effect.
He understood that his strategic ability was far inferior to Wolfblade. As such, it made sense to leave the matters of state to the Elder demon. So long as he stayed in line, Cloudhawk didn’t care about his other nonsense.
This young human. So foolish!
Cloudhawk led Belial into the base beneath the oasis. There, the artisan introduced his relic manufacturing facilities. Assembly lines were whirring away. He had used materials pilfered from the Elysian lands and Source energy to put it all together.
It was designed to be mobile as needed. Such a manufacturing base had huge strategic value.
Cloudhawk’s biggest headache now was the enormous Source Crystal right beneath their feet. It was a resource one thousand years in the making, as precious to them as it was to the gods. Now that he knew about it, Cloudhawk wasn’t about to let it fall into enemy hands.
It contained highly condensed mental energy. Properly used, it would be a great asset in defending against the divine army. If they survived, perhaps it could even be used to bring their planet back to life. The problem was how to get it all out of the ground ten thousand meters below their feet?Previous Chapter Next Chapter