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Book 6, Chapter 18 – The Power of the Demon King’s Cuirass

 Cloudhawk had single-handed destroyed the Conclave's presence in the Blisterpeak Mountains.

In this one, indescribable act the Northern Barrens lost tens of thousands of soldiers. The rest were scattered to the winds, abandoning their posts. Through them Cloudhawk's horrific deed and his threat to deliver ruin upon all the towns of the North quickly spread. It was clear to all that if you stood against the Green Alliance, your life was forfeit.

News spread like the plague. Cloudhawk's inhuman power was whispered in frightened tones through every corner of the North. With every telling the scenario became even more nightmarish. After ten days the fires of trepidation were at full pitch. In the hearts of all, Cloudhawk was a demonic harbinger of doom. Dozens of cities had fallen, millions of people were dead!

Stories described him as a beast with three heads and nine arms. He could eat ten full grown people and not even leave a sliver of bone. His single act of terror was so effective that a number of Northern cities declared neutrality in the hopes of escaping Cloudhawk's wrath.

The Conclave of Judgment was quick to try and put a lid on it. Deserters were slaughtered in grizzly fashion as examples to the others. So it was that a dangerous undercurrent was sweeping through the Northern Barrens, making the situation complicated and precarious.

Some cities, caught between the Conclave's retribution and fears of the Green Alliance, abandoned their cities entirely and became nomads. A few left the Northern Barrens altogether, and a small subset took up residence at Fallowmoor. It was the safest place left to them.

Fallowmoor existed in a special environment between dimensions. Most of the space around it was free from gravity's restrictions and Fallowmoor itself floated freely. Cloudhawk's meteor swarm would be useless against it, at least in theory. Meteors couldn't do any damage without gravity pulling them down. Secondly, Cloudhawk's favored attack was most useful against stationary targets. Things like armies could just get out of the way.

Cloudhawk didn't expect rumors alone to bring the North to its knees, but it would at least cause a little chaos. With the Conclave on shaky footing, Wolfblade and Dawn could lead the Alliance's forces passed the blockade and claim a foothold in the north.

Woodland Vale was a perfect strategic asset. A godly domain that was as impregnable as a fortress!

It was located to the north-west of Skycloud and one could cross over to the southern wilds from its southern border. In other words it was located right in the middle of a crucial thoroughfare for all three armies. To the Green Alliance it was an invaluable tactical position. From there they could dispatch soldiers directly into the Elysian lands, send armies to the north and receive reinforcements from the south.

Cloudhawk's actions in Skycloud had been effective as well. As his forces moved north they were only interrupted by token resistance from the Conclave. No sneak attacks were forthcoming from Skycloud, which proved that the Temple had been effective in curtailing Arcturus' power. Of course everyone knew that this was temporary at best. The Temple held an important position, but it could not hold out for long against the Governor. It was only a matter of time before Arcturus shed Ramiel's fetters, so no one was under any illusion that things were looking good for the Green Alliance. They couldn't afford to let this war drag on, it had to be finished as soon as possible.

**

Woodland Vale. Immense forests stretched as far as the eye could see. Hundreds of kiilometers of clear blue sky hung over the green paradise.

It'd been a very long time since Cloudhawk last set foot in this place. A lot had changed. The realm's simple, self-sufficient people were not in the midst of an industrial revolution. Out in the forests there had risen a manufacturing zone where scores of goods were being produced.

Natives still lived in the giant God Tree but found their lives utterly changed. Suddenly there was an abundance of wealth for them to access, drastically improving the standard level of comfort. As more outsiders came to occupy their home, Vale natives found their thinking and philosophies changing with time. Different factions dealt with this differently.

One group left the Vale entirely, out to seek adventure in the world that had been kept from them. Some quit their forest home for Greenland, eager to be part of its Alliance. Others joined the army to fight for their home and freedom.

It seemed like overnight these simple people were inundated with the morals, conflicts, choices and technology of the outside world. Lives of tepid peace were suddenly a lot more colorful. In some ways life improved as technologies introduced form outsiders made things more convenient. On the other hand, life also became more complicated. Everything was a mess of uncertainty and confusion.

"Cloudhawk! You sure do love the limelight, huh." Dawn clang clang clanged up to him in her fortress-like Dawnbreaker Armor. She dropped a heavy gauntleted hand on his shoulder. "People are saying just the worst things about the Green Alliance. Conclave soldiers are pissing themselves about now."

Dawn was as carefree as ever. Cloudhawk felt the need to shy away. After all, he'd taken his relationship with Selene to the next level and though he had nothing to apologize for, he felt somehow guilty.

He covered it up by looking out over the soldiers, immersed in the process of erecting a barracks. "You all got here without incident?"

"What do you think?" Dawn shrugged. "That crafty bastard Wolfblade still has a few tricks up his sleeve, that's for sure. Guess that happens when you live for hundreds of years. If you ask me, he's a better tactician than that woman leading the Conclave. We lost less than ten percent of our forces getting here. You can bet the Conclave paid a much higher price."

Cloudhawk nodded. "Good work."

Her tone suddenly dropping, Dawn changed the subject. "I've noticed, though, that Wolfblade has been training his own unit."

This took Cloudhawk by surprise. "Without telling anyone?"

She nodded. "The drunk pointed it out. He said Wolfblade and the Khan of Evernight have been meeting in secret. Word is they've been receiving intelligence on enemy forces from this unit, including word from inside Skycloud. Wolfblade has an in somewhere feeding him information from the Elysian lands that he's keeping from you. Could be nothing, but big or small this guy should be watched."

Cloudhawk found it strange. As far as he could tell there was no reason why Wolfblade would hide information from him.

Dawn offered her own thoughts. "Leave this matter to me. I'll help you sort it all out."

Cloudhawk shook his head in refusal. "Don't worry about it. Let him do his thing, Wolfblade is not a guy you want to be messing with."

"Hmph, you look down on me!" She gave him a hard glare. "If I leave him to his business what happens if it comes back to bite you? Nobody knows what his aim is, anyway. He could be up to something terrible."

Cloudhawk shook his head with a bitter smirk. She was incorrigible. He turned away toward God Tree and began to walk off.

"Hey, where are you going?" Dawn called after him.

He didn't turn around. "Just off to check on something!"

Dawn trundled after him and the two made their way to the mausoleum beneath the God Tree. They wound their way through the roots until they came to a larger chamber. It was here that Cloudhawk did battle with Adder and narrowly survived.

When he thought of Adder, Cloudhawk sighed. In the end everything he'd said had come to pass. Cloudhawk had risen to become a leader of the wastes, just as he predicted. And invariably, every time he thought of Adder he also remembered another figure. A young woman as innocent as she was beautiful.

Asha...

He wondered how her life was. Maybe she heard about his exploits in passing from people, and he wondered what she'd think about it. Perhaps she still hated him for killing Adder, or did she maybe feel sorry that she would never see him again? He wouldn't know, he couldn't go see her. He'd made a promise never to be involved in her life ever again.

Cloudhawk was a bad omen, wherever he went. Asha wasn't strong enough to protect herself. If he got too close all he would do is ruin everything. His hope for her was to live a quiet life of safety into ripe old age. It was his deepest wish as her brother.

Dawn saw that Cloudhawk was lost in thought and gave him a little shove. "Hey, what are you thinking about?"

Coming back to the present Cloudhawk shook his head and smiled. "Just old faces. Nothing important."

When this was said he strode forward to a bier in the center of the chamber.

Dawn watched him approach the ferocious black armor locked in crystal and hovering above it. It wasn't so much a piece of armor as it was a disembodied organ. It had some kind of life of its own, she could feel it. The sensation made her uncomfortable.

"What is this?"

"The Demon King's Cuirass."

"What does it do?"

"It was the Demon King's most powerful relic and contains a portion of his power. When I am able to put it on, I'll have all of the former Demon King's abilities. I will officially be the new Demon King - leader of Gehenna and all its demons."

Surprise spread over Dawn's face.

Cloudhawk had already assimilated a portion of the last Demon King's inheritance and memories, but it wasn't nearly enough. If the phase stone represented power, and the skull represented knowledge, then the armor represented the title itself.

Once Cloudhawk was worthy of the armor he would unlock more of the Demon King's strength, left behind for him to employ. But that was only part of it. More importantly it would mark him as the true successor, the new Demon King. It would grant him the right to unleash the demons of Gehenna on his enemies. When he put on that armor he donned authority, which the other demons could not deny.

Yes, it was the most important facet of the Demon King's inheritance.

Dawn looked at him wide eyed. "You mean to tell me you're..."

Cloudhawk disappeared before she could finish her thought then reappeared above the altar. He reached out a hand toward the cuirass, pressing his palm to the crystal. He could feel the intention of the armor through its casing.

It possessed a very old, very powerful will of its own. This relic, locked away for a thousand years, was not merely an inert piece of equipment. It could think.

Butterflies fluttered in Dawn's stomach. She was nervous, even frightened. What would happen when Cloudhawk did it? If he really put that armor on, would he really become the leader of a horde of demons? If he did, he would definitely earn the title of Demon King.

What about Skycloud? Arcturus? The Temple? Before the entirety of the demon species, they were nothing. But she had to wonder if this was good for Cloudhawk, the man?

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