From the top of the Tower of Babel, one could see every corner of the Gehennan continent. Expansive, majestic, the sky was like an ocean of flowing energy. Where those flows met, eddies formed and the light they released illuminated the land.
Cloudhawk stood at the summit of the tower, looking out over the landscape.
He’d arrived at Gehenna. He had taken hold of his title as Demon King – the road he had always been fated to travel. After discovering the rich, multi-racial civilization that was built here and seeing the sprawling mountains, he felt a sense of calm.
Still waters ran deep, however. A calm heart hid turbulent currents below.
Dawn’s face kept appearing before him like a spirit that wouldn’t let him rest. After losing his closest friend Cloudhawk didn’t cry. He didn’t curse or scream. There was no hysterical promise of vengeance.
He was just calm. There was no evidence of emotion at all on his features. He had the detached bearing of a ruthless King, Elements of this reminded him of years ago, when he had to bury Artemis with his own hands. He was a very different man these days, but the experience was the same.
Almost thirty years old, but he felt much older. Ten years had passed since everything started.
In less than a decade the world had changed completely. People always changed, but Cloudhawk felt like he was no longer even human.
Legion, Belial, and Abaddon stood a short distance behind their King. No one said anything, silence hung thick in the air and no one dared disturb the stillness.
Haborym and a few other elders were also present. The Fifth Seal knew nothing of Cloudhawk, but there was something about his image, peering off into the distance, that struck him. Their new King did not seem to talk much, but there was a power in silence. Over time this power grew until it was time to act, and the whole universe changed.
Haborym understood why Legion had chosen this one. The potential was obvious. Striking. Perhaps he really could lead their species to a resurgence.
“I need Gehenna’s strength, but I know there is a group of the Elders who will not obey me.” After ten minutes of silence Cloudhawk finally spoke. “Legion, as Grand Elder you should know the best step forward.”
“Do not worry, my King. I will handle it.”
“Go,” he replied.
With a small bow Legion fell back to Haborym’s side. The Grand Elder did not look at him, but the Fifth Seal could feel Legion’s mental energies wash over him. He felt a shiver run along his spine. The Elder of the First Seal might have lost much of his power over the years, but Haborym still found it hard to resist Legion’s terrible presence.
“Elder Haborym. What is your choice?” It was the voice of the Demon King that invaded his mind.
Haborym went to one knee and placed his halberd upon the ground. In a voice full of respect, he replied. “The former King saved my life. My closest friend died at the hands of the gods. Whatever the other Elders decide, so long as my King fights the gods I will fight by his side.”
Cloudhawk nodded. “Then I need you to assemble the demonic forces immediately.”
His command caused Haborym to pause. Calling the army was no small matter and required an order from the elder council. This had been the way of things for a thousand years. But there was no interest in war from the other Seals, they would not agree to such a request.
“Your subordinate obeys.”
Haborym wanted to object, but his instinct told him it was not the time to refuse. He gathered Dumah and the other demons, leaving Cloudhawk alone.
Once out of earshot, Dumah finally spoke up. “Haborym, are you insane? This is a betrayal of the Second and Third Seal. He just arrived in Gehenna, there is no reason to think the demons will follow him.”
Haborym spared a glance for the Ninth Seal. “I understand our leaders better than you do.”
“And yet you still pledge yourself to the human?”
“If the Second and Third Seals do not recognize the new king, then they won’t let him establish a foothold in the tower. They will act soon, and when they do we will see what our next step is.”
“What if they fail? Or accept the new King?”
“Then we must pledge fealty. It would be our only choice.”
Dumah understood the mind of his superior. Haborym was going to stall, remaining neutral in this struggle between the new King and the other elders. Wait until the dust settled and adapt to the aftermath, that was how they kept their heads above water.
Haborym, Dumah and the others went on with their business.
Back in his chamber, Cloudhawk was alone with Legion and Belial. He spoke softly. “Let’s take a look around the tower.”
Belial was uncertain. He sensed a disquiet in Babel. The demons were unruly, and although Cloudhawk appeared here in the armor of the King he would find it was not so easy to make them obey.
Cloudhawk and Legion knew this, of course, but they were outsiders. A foreign force would fall before entrenched troops. On the one hand there were no loyal followers here to lean upon. On the other, Legion’s prestige had vanished after a millennia in shadow. Could he be counted on to outwit the cunning Elders?
But his concerns notwithstanding, Belial chose to remain silent. He knew the Cloudhawk standing before him now was not the same one he met in Byzantium. He was a true Demon King now. Better to hold back then say everything that was on his mind.
Cloudhawk and the two demons began their trek through the Tower of Babel. The King wanted to see how his subjects had been living for the last thousand years.
The tower’s interior was huge. Not only demons lived inside, but also many of the other species found throughout the city. They acted as servants and attendants for the Venerated. But though their purpose here was servile, anyone welcomed into the tower was a champion among their own people.
Each level of the Tower of Babel differed. Every floor was its own city. Here demons were rulers, the keepers of order, but they were few in number. Most of the work to keep life going was performed by the lesser races.
For instance, he saw another group of those quantum beings gathering something that looked like legumes. They put them into a counter that mashed them, then put the paste in another receptacle. After a few moments what they retrieved from the apparatus looked more like meat than beans.
Cloudhawk was inspired by the process. Belial, too, was drawn in by what he saw and approached the creatures. “How are those beans becoming meat? What container is this? Let me see!”
One of the quantum beings answered. “Honored Venerated, we are not a psionic race. We cannot use relics with mental energy as you can. We do this through our abundant atomic capabilities.”
The universe was home to many species. Not all of them were awakened in the same way humans were. Mankind was a model race in this way, and as such were bred by the gods to possess this power. What Cloudhawk’s people called mental power, the rest of the universe called psionic energy. This energy was able to directly alter reality, even create things out of nothing. Its nature and principles could not be explained in any scientific way.
“We, the people of Vulpecula, do not possess psionic ability. However, by our nature we can become more directly involved in atomic construction of physical matter. We can break things apart into their basic parts and reconstitute them as we please. In this way we produce whatever materials might be required.”
Like anything, the legumes were a specific atomic formula that made them what they were. Taking that formula apart, they could recombine it into the formula for meat. Through the ability of these beings anything could be something else. Garbage – even feces – could be changed into food that was indistinguishable from something gathered in the traditional way.
These beings – these Vulpites – did not eat food. But they could create, which they then sold to carbon-based lifeforms for the materials they needed to survive. Symbiotic relationships like this were common in Gehenna.
Each race and society had different needs. But they learned from one another, and together build a thriving city that worked for everyone. The potential of this unified land, if given the right opportunities, was astounding.
While Cloudhawk was strolling through Babel, the Second and Third Seals had already put their plan into action.
In order to protect themselves and their plans, the Elders did not share their intentions with the council. Only a handful of their closest confidants were made aware. That was enough, after all Legion was the greatest threat and he was far weaker than before. As for the new King, they knew his powers came from his predecessor.
The Second and Third Seals were among the first to pledge themselves to the former King. They understood his abilities more than most. The Second Seal was confident he knew how to deal with Cloudhawk and his powers.
Once they heard that the human and Legion had separated, the Elders determined it was time to act. Korath set out with six of his most elite compatriots, locking onto Legion’s location with the power of his singular eye.
“I have found the Grand Elder. Now’s the time. Follow the plan.”
1. Vulpecula is the name of a constellation, within which is a planet that Hubble has determined is a deep blue. These aliens call their planet ‘Blue Magic Star’. Apparently this planet has a atmosphere of glass that rains sideways at 5,400 mph. Sounds like magic to me.