Space warped and a group of humans was deposited in Southern Capital.
In the moment before they teleported Cloudhawk saw someone take the hit meant for him. Escape had only been possible because of them. If it’d failed the consequences would have been fatal.
But who? Names raced through his mind.
Selene? Dawn? Maybe Legion?
But when Cloudhawk saw the truth it stunned him. His was the last face he expected.
The Cloud God slumped to the ground with a cavity in his back. Its edges burned with crackling energy. Fissures were spreading through the armor. Like a clay pot he was breaking apart, in a slow but inevitable process of collapse.
In the last few seconds Legion barely fended off a Supreme and Dawn was badly injured. Selene protected her while the others were entangled with soldiers. The only one there with the power to protect Cloudhawk was the betrayer god.
He was the only one of this earth’s Supremes to bend to Legion’s coercion. Forced to join their ranks. Never had he bowed to Cloudhawk’s whims because he saw himself as superior.
So why, at that crucial moment, did this god use his own body to shield him? Why sacrifice himself?
Cloudhawk didn’t understand. No one did.
But there was no time to wonder. The Cloud God was a priceless link to the minds of the gods. He was the only one who could track Sumeru’s movements. He was their intelligence. If they lost him the Alliance would be deaf and blind, easy prey.
The Cloud God was steadily edging toward death. His injuries were too great to save this body. There was only one course.
“Legion, get ready.”
Cloudhawk’s mind fixated on the knowledge he knew Legion had, the ability to reincarnate. If they could save his consciousness before the body failed, maybe he would survive.
“It’s too late.” Legion was powerless here. Yes, he had the power of reincarnation. But it wasn’t like surgery, and even surgery needed preparation. The Cloud God would be gone in minutes. There was no time to find a suitable body and complete the process.
He was beyond saving.
The Cloud God knew it. His will was growing hazy. Scattered. To gods there was nothing to fear from death, it was a cycle like countless others. Their species was indifferent to individuality. Yet the Cloud God felt fear. He shouldn’t be, but he was.
He wasn’t repulsed by the feeling. On the contrary, it was a gift to feel. Wasn’t that the sign of really living? Only recently could the Cloud God say he was living. Now he was going to lose it. He mourned for what he would be leaving behind.
Why did he use his body to protect Cloudhawk? Truth was the Cloud God felt driven to do it, as if by instinct. An instinct to protect even the smallest mote of light in a dark and vast universe. Cloudhawk was that light. He was hope. Any hope, no matter how small or insignificant, had meaning just with its existence.
The Cloud God spoke through their minds. “Please help sever my connection to Sumeru, once and for all. I want my spirit to return to the universe, not to the gods.”
“Is there really no chance?” Nobody wanted to lose the one true god on their side.
“None.” There was nothing Legion could do, and Belial was even less equipped.
The gods had deployed their Last Judgment. They equipped their gods with weapons that worked without resonance…
The Cloud God’s injuries went deeper than the body. Fragments of his spirit were splintering along with his form. Not even the greatest artisan of the gods had a way to stop the process.
From nearby, the Shepherd God extended a finger. From it shot a beam of light which struck the Cloud God’s forehead. He quaked and spasmed and the light in his eyes dimmed. His life force was fleeing, but there was a sudden sense of comfort. She’d helped him disconnect from Sumeru. From this second forward he was entirely free. They would never get him back.
Cloudhawk approached him. “Any final requests?”
“Final requests? Burden the living with the wishes of the dead?” He seemed to have trouble understanding the concept. “The past is irrelevant. In this conflict we are compatriots. We owe our lives to see our goal through.”
Compatriots? For a brief instant the Cloud God’s eyes flared brightly again. “Two wishes. First: I wish more of my people are freed. They are not gods, they are slaves. Every sentient creature deserves freedom. Second: As I am doomed to die, It is time to choose a successor...”
He was weakening by the moment. His voice came in intermittent bursts through the humans’ minds until it fell silent. But Cloudhawk understood. He drew his eyes toward Legion and nodded.
“Then we begin the ceremony,” Legion ordered.
It was a brief period of enlightenment, but the Cloud God had long enough to ponder the meaning of life. What was life? A profound and serious concept to explore. In the end the Cloud God could not come up with an answer. Perhaps there wasn’t one.
What he did know was that the greatest thing about life wasn’t that it existed but that it continued. From the smallest, microscopic amoeba to a creature like Cloudhawk. All through that process there were tribulations, hopes, successes. Life was passed down, and each time it grew better.
The Cloud God knew he would not survive, but as a powerful Supreme he could grant the resistance his abilities. Autumn, a god like him, was who he decided to empower. In this way he would continue into the future.
Perhaps the loss of his little spark meant nothing to Sumeru. But the Cloudhawk now believed that even the smallest light – no matter how frail – had the power to light up the darkness.
They brought him to the altar as his mind was slowly slipping away. All sensations of the outside world had ceased. He would soon pass. Shortly after, in the instant before his death, he felt his mind leaving his body. It rose up, passed the planets and beyond the solar system to the universe beyond.
He thought it felt it. Some greater consciousness out there in the cosmos. It transcended matter, thought, will, space, time… It was greater than the universe, beyond any words to explain. Neither existing or non-existent but greater than both. And all of this struggle on a microscopic planet were merely illusions of life and death.
The Cloud God thought that if there were ever any real gods, this was one.
He was gone, having died without even a proper name. For gods names were unimportant. They were, after all, just extensions of Sumeru’s will. At best, a cog in the machine. The Cloud God was just a title the people of Skycloud chose.
The Green Alliance had lost its one godly ally. It was the painful consequence of a humiliating defeat. They killed some soldiers and captured a Supreme, but what did that matter to the God King?
Cloudhawk had lost two Elysian masters and his only way to know what the gods were doing. Mankind’s war for survival had just begun, but it started with a wrenching blow. Maybe it was true. The gods were too great for a bunch of smart monkeys to get the better of them. Under Last Judgment there wasn’t even a way to fight back.
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