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Book 5, Chapter 62 - Mysteries

 Judas was the master and founder of Nox. He was the representative of those demons who rebelled against the status quo. A demon general, an elder of his race!

The Annals of the Great War made mention of his name. Humanity's unfortunate experience with demons had taught them some of the strange race's social structure.

Demons had long, perhaps infinite lifespans. However, as powerful as they were there appeared to be powerful inhibitions to their procreation. As such their numbers were always small and after the Great War their numbers shrank even farther. Their defeat was an unmitigated disaster for the race as a whole.

The supreme leader of that species was known as the Demon King. Below him was what was known as the Council of Elders, dozens of them occupying positions they called Seals. They, in turn, were responsible for the demonic organization beneath them. It was a classic pyramid-structure of power.

The Demon King was the most powerful and respected of them all. The elders, of course, were also important members of the species. There was a direct correlation to strength, ability, and elder status.

Judas' ranking among the elders wasn't the highest. However, the likes of Abaddon - a much younger demon - wouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath . Two hundred years ago Judas made his exodus from Gehenna and brought his followers with him. Only a few chose to remain when he established the city.

Abaddon was the first to swear allegiance to Nox.

Judas was loathe to spend an eternity languishing in the darkness. Demons were creatures of incredible power! Why should they suffer the indignation of hiding under rocks and in shadows? With such strength why should they hide? Why not use what they had to gather more resources and enjoy their existence?

The Demon King was dead. Their grand elder was missing. Demons by their nature were a fractured people and the wait seemed endless. How much longer were they expected to do nothing?

Judas decided to establish his own power. Little by little, step by step he would tear the gods from the pedestals. Starting with Skycloud.

He recognized the potential of humans. With enough of their species under his command he could create a powerful army.

In this elder demon's eyes, Skycloud was an ideal place to erect his own realm. In a land of millions he could cultivate powerful warriors to do his bidding. Then, with the fallen Skycloud as the root, his power would extend to take all of the wastelands and Elysian lands beyond. In time he would become master of a far-reaching power to make the gods tremble.

Was this not far superior to lurking in pits and caverns?

However, Skycloud had a thousand years of development at its back. Each generation had a crowd of mighty representatives and scores of demonhunters as defenders. This was in addition to the god who looked over his creation from the Temple in its center. Overcoming such odds was too much, even for an Elder.

Judas remembered when he tried. He was ambushed by Master Demonhunters of the age and they forced him to retreat far to the south. There he established Nox and slowly set about building his power. Once again he was forced into hiding, but in time he would emerge and take Skycloud for himself.

Much of his time was spent searching for agents to represent his city. He chose those who thought were the best to build Nox's foundation.

The life span of a demon was endless - a hundred years, a thousand years, they all passed just the same. To Judas it was just a matter of time. Accumulate power. Wait for the right moment. This appeared to be that moment, a once-in-a-millennia chance. For reasons unknown, Skycloud's patron god had fallen into a deep slumber and had no means of waking.

Judas sensed this, and stirred. Then he began to plan. But quickly he came upon a problem, the biggest impediment to his goals. Arcturus Cloude.

In the thousand years since the Great War there had been remarkably few creatures like Arcturus to emerge. Fewer than one every hundred years even came close. Indeed humans were a race of massive potential. Luckily, they lived short lives, otherwise in a couple thousand years they might multiply and rise to threaten the demons themselves.

Arcturus. Arcturus had to die.

He was the only living thing that could threaten Judas.

Upon awakening there was much to pique the Elder's interest. This rare opportunity to take Skycloud was not the largest, nor was the realization that Gehenna had finally begun to stir. No - what struck him most was that the Demon King's successor had been chosen. A human. A frail, inferior thing that would live a couple hundred years at the very most.

Inconceivable!

How could such a creature rise to fill the role of the Demon King? Judas would not submit to bowing before the whims of a human!

***

The war for Sanctuary raged like a firestorm!

Then, suddenly... stillness.

All trembled as the elder demon made his presence known.

Only Wolfblade remained unimpressed. He rubbed his chin with a strange glint in his eye. The sort of look that came upon a man when everything fell into place as expected. He made no secret of his contemptuous sneer toward Judas.

Wolfblade looked upon the mighty elder demon as though he were absurd.

Meanwhile Abaddon, the Khan of Evernight and all the rest of Nox's forces fell back behind their sovereign.

Abaddon and the Khan could be counted as Judas' lieutenants. Abaddon, like Judas, came to the human world from Gehenna. The Khan of Evernight, on the other hand, was recruited by Judas upon awakening several years ago. He was elected to represent Nox among the humans and serve as the city's Governor.

Autumn watched a short distance away. She peered upon the elder demon with brows furrowed. Judas' presence came as a shock to her as much as any other. For Judas' part, however, he did not seem to recognize Autumn's true identity as Silvana. If he had, it was unlikely the demon would suffer the fallen god, given their history during the Great War.

Her eyes flashed momentarily toward Wolfblade. Something in her was convinced the elder's presence had something to do with that sinister creature. What was strange, she thought, was that Abaddon knew of Wolfblade's true identity. His master Judas, however, did not.

Skycloud's many elite and generals disengaged from their fights. Everything was silent as the balance of their confrontation shifted.

Judas did not come to trade words. He raised a hand toward the sky and from it belched a column of light. Above the heads of all who witnessed with eyes wide, the sky became a backdrop for a series of images. It appeared to tell a very old story.

"What are gods? What are demons? The distinction is unimportant, for they are but names." Judas' voice thundered across the plains. "Humans! Have you given no thought to where your divine benefactors hail from?"

The origins of these mighty creatures had indeed always been a mystery. Cloudhawk knew more than most, and even understood only very little.

Legends claimed that gods and demons appeared among humanity thousands of years ago. They oversaw the destruction of that ancient civilization. However, what relationship they had to the cataclysm that destroyed this world - this cataclysm itself - was a story lost to time.

In truth neither wastelanders nor Elysians cared much about those bygone days. Only a handful cared enough to unearth its secrets, people like Hellflower. The Elysians had their own explanation for what brought about the cataclysm.

What caused it? To them it was unquestioningly the hubris of ancient humans. An excess of green and the unending lust for power. When their appetite grew out of control they lost their grip on the power they'd accumulated. This set in motion the destruction that brought their species to the brink of extinction.

Manking were the builders of their magnificent civilization, and the architects of its destruction. Such was the original sin stained upon each mortal soul.

This was why the gods forbade those humans who came after from studying the old ways. Forsaking the sciences was the only way to make sure its terrible mistakes were not repeated.

Judas casually waved his hand. The scenes writ upon the clouds showed images of the world after the cataclysm. Many long years had passed since the world was nearly obliterated. Those who survived only did so by huddling among the ruins of their fallen ancestors. They ate what beasts they could catch and drank of their blood for sustenance. Humans lived like beasts and no trace of their dignified history remained.

It was then that powerful and frightening figures appeared. Demons.

"Bear witness. It was not the gods you blindly worship who came to save your species. Those of who you call demons were the first to come and take up your burdens!"

"A thousand years ago the demons came upon this ruined place. Nothing remained of human civilization. It was demons who guided humanity from the wreckage of its past failures. We wanted to restore your race to its bygone glory. Revitalize the culture and civilization it had lost. The barren prison you live in today would not be, were it not for the arrival of your gods."

Shock and disbelief rippled through the crowd.

What was this evil creature saying?! Lies, they had to be. According to the histories of the Elysian lands it was true that demons arrived first. However they came to kill, not to save. That was why they were called demons! When the gods came, they came as saviors. Through their power the demons were beaten back and the human species was preserved.

"We could have saved this planet, but our hope were foiled by the ones who style as gods. Their power and civilization was greater than ours. They attacked us with frightening weapons. And not just us - but the human who we had come to assist. Those unfortunate souls were twisted by godly power and became the first you would come to call mutants."

Once again the pictures shifted to reveal a new scene. It revealed beautiful and enormous ships in a different part of the world. These ships cast rays of light down upon huge swaths of land.

"Do you still not see? It was the gods who despoiled your beautiful home. It was their power that reduced most of your planet to lifeless wasteland. Their terrible deeds were then lain upon the shoulders of my people. Small portions were spared and turned into their Elysian lands, where they gathered the ignorant and the gullible to do their bidding. Gods manipulated your ancestors into war with my kin. By exploiting the dangers of survival and the horrors of war, they won your adulation."

As he recounted the tale the images followed, revealing this lost history.

He claimed the mutants prowling the wastes were victims of the gods' weapons, which twisted their genetic material. This unforgiving wasteland that choked the world was a curse set upon them at the hands of gods. Skycloud's millions of citizens were chattel, bred for some nefarious purpose by their falsely benevolent masters.

Hammont stared at the pictures and listened to the claims with an expression of patent disbelief. No... it couldn't be true. No matter what this fiend claimed he would not believe such falsehoods.

The gods in their infinite strength and wisdom... why would they attack the demons for no reason? Why try to exterminate a species that was weak and on the cusp of its own destruction? It made no sense!

Cloudhawk also found Judas' tale to be dubious. He made a lot of claims, but the very central bit of evidence was lacking: Motive!

Demons came first? Why? What drew them to a ruined planet? Where did they come from? Why choose this world? Both gods and demons were obviously creatures of a higher order than humanity. Their past, their future... a mystery. What could have possible brought them here to wage a terrible war, using lowly humans as their proxies?

Cloudhawk had some experience with Abaddon. He could tell that even being a demon, there was much the Caliph did not know about his own race.

Even if what Judas said was the truth, humans would not have accepted being chained by demons.

Arcturus narrowed his eyes and shook his head. "This is what you claim? This story you've woven, with so many flaws... you think it is enough to turn Skycloud's pious from their faith?"

A merciless light gleamed in the elder's eyes.

"No. I merely present the truth. Believe, or don't - it is not important. I believe that the day will soon come when all shall be revealed. Understanding shall bloom. Today I seek to accomplish two very important things. First, is to send your soul to Sumeru. You have served well as their lackey."

"I have defeated several demons in my time," Arcturus promised. He revealed no fear. "But I have yet to test myself against an elder."

Shadowy ripples began to seep out into the world around Judas. The power within him was more than space could accommodate. He said nothing more - today, Arcturus Cloude had to die.

Fresh and prepared, even Judas was not sure he could cut down the mighty human. However, the fight against his lieutenants had cost Arcturus much. Now was the right time to end this man's life.

On one side of dais stood humanity's strongest champion. On the other, an elder of the demon race.

All the rest who stared watched with baited breath. The fight to come would surely be beyond what mortal minds could imagine.

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