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Book 6, Chapter 45 - The Blackflag Covenan

 Gods had a lifespan so long it might as well be infinite. Time meant little to them. They were a distant species that did not interfere much in human life, so beings like the Cloud God spent much of their time isolated and in slumber.

It was master of Skycloud, but the most important thing about the god's presence and function was its role as a bridge between mankind and Mount Sumeru.

Were some dire threat befall Skycloud, the Cloud God would relay this information to its brethren. Furthermore, the Cloud God received relics and other treasures from its home to disseminate among the humans. Besides this, the gods were mysterious and inscrutable. Since they rarely became involved in the day to day of human activity, they were seen as more symbolic than anything.

Yet this was changing, for this perfect being had left its roost and now floated above the blasted wasteland far from home. Elysians and wastelanders alike were granted a close-up view of the enigmatic god, and were grappling with the shock of it.

Cloudhawk had dealt with gods before, though as a result of being used. Due to that experience, he had learned how vast and frightening the power of these creatures was. But the Cloudhawk of today was not the same young man. Even against a god, he was not incapable of defending himself.

In many ways, the Cloud God was the most weighted variable during these uncertain times.

Although its appearance among the citizens was almost nonexistent, their patron god still held influence no less formidable than the late Arcturus. Recent events had sapped the realm of vitality, but it was by no means at risk of collapse. If the Cloud God chose to push for a second Elysian-Wasteland war, the cost for both sides would be mutually destructive.

Perhaps it would be best to kill it now!

The Cloud God remained suspected in midair, the harsh light of the wasteland sun playing against its perfect figure. It was a creature filled with beauty and power, encased in crystalline armor. No part of it was open to the air so it hugged the deity, as tight and responsive as a second skin.

The Cloud God never moved, never unleashed its power. Even still the vast mental energies it possessed were easily felt by all. Countless mental links connected it to everyone nearby.

They came from a relic, the 'Soul-Link'. Cloudhawk remembered it from the records of the Great War. He recognized the invisible threads from half-remembered data read long ago. Soul-Link didn't sound too impressive, but in fact it was a rare weapon that was famously dangerous. It was almost entirely untraceable and couldn't be defended against by ordinary means.

Not only did this relic give the Cloud God a direct channel for mental attacks, it also allowed it to take direct control of a victim's will! If it chose to attack in this instant, most of the people gathered would fall in an instant without any means of protecting themselves. Once such an attack were launched it would be impossible to avoid.

At the same time, the Cloud God was assessing Cloudhawk. This defiler was the Demon King's successor? Even the God King could not have predicted its rival's heir would be such a short-lived creature. Perhaps that was the point. Human lives were a flash in the plan, too short to garner the God King's notice.

Yet how naive the Demon King must have been. How could such a lowly, base creature hope to rise up against the perfect Gods? Human technology had been lost to the ages, what tools were left to them with which to fight?

While the godly species was few in number, even their weakest would be likened to a Master Demonhunter in the world of man. Human technology, fighting capability and evolution were all inferior, no matter how you cut it. Even with support from the detestable Gehenna, nothing these ants did could shake Mount Sumeru.

They were like infants trying to arm-wrestle a giant. Their efforts were futile, hopeless. What possessed the Demon King to select a human as its successor?

Cloudhawk and the Cloud God stood in silence, watching one another. Neither moved or made violent overtures. Without the Mask of a Thousand Faces, Cloudhawk was not adequately defended against the deity. He was uncertain of the god's motives, for up to now all it had done was regard Cloudhawk as though he were a curious animal. He felt the waves of mental energy passing through him, but nothing hostile.

The air of anxiety between Elysians and wastelanders continued to grow. They knew that if a battle where to break out, it would be a terrible one.

"Why must we fight?" In the silent stalemate it was Wolfblade's voice that broke the stillness. He stepped out from among the Green Alliance entourage, addressing the Cloud God with an amicable smile. "Cloud God, I pray you are well."

The god's attention was drawn to the exceedingly common-looking human. The stagnant well that was godly emotion suddenly surged with activity!

Every living creature had a mental signature unique to it. One's exterior could change, but they could not hide the way their mind worked. In an instant, the Cloud God recognized the consciousness beneath the frail human form. The powerful, ancient spirit housed within. It was Legion, Demon Elder of the Second Seal!

It was a mighty creature of its race, second only to the Demon King in influence and power.

Countless times during the Great War, Legion slipped through godly encirclement. Without a doubt it was a cunning and dominant foe. More than a few formidable gods met their end at Legion's hand. Even the Cloud God itself was once defeated by the Elder.

At last, the god spoke. "You have become weak."

"I've undergone a number of physical changes these last decades. As these identities fade, so too does my power."

It can change bodies? The thought wormed its way through the god's consciousness.

Wolfblade guessed what was going through its mind. "The difference between so-called higher life forms and their lower cousins are merely a difference in form, is that not so? I have proven by actions that biological bodies can be exchanged. I can do this as an Elder of my race. You, as a Supreme, can as well."

Was this some demonic technology, or a method only Legion had discovered? If the Elder had mastered the means of moving from one body to another, did it not mean the creature had entirely shed the shackles of life and death?

"I know what you have come here for. I have a secret, one that concerns the origins of gods and demons. I suspect you are very curious to learn what I know."

The Cloud God did not speak. Rather it galvanized the power of Soul-Link and spread its mental energies into Wolfblade. Yet after drilling into the creature's mind the Cloud God saw nothing but a limitless void. Darkness, stillness, silence. Like a universe absent of stars. Could it be even the Cloud God could not extract this monster's memories?

"If you are indeed so curious I would be happy to share this information. I can help you discover what you wish to learn. In exchange, you must agree not to meddle in our affairs."

"A negotiation? Between gods and demons?"

"The moment your connection with the others was closed, you became a pariah among the gods. Do you feel you have any other choice?"

Gods were a collective society. To sever oneself from that was an extraordinary act. The being had isolated itself from the others because of the contagion it was given. The truth had to be uncovered as quickly as possible.

He was proposing an accord between Skycloud and the wastes? To the Cloud God it was the equivalent of two children fighting.

Sooner or later Sumeru would discover something was wrong in Skycloud. It was the God King's way to cleanse the area and all contaminated gods. Time was running out for everyone, Elysian and wastelander alike.

Finally, the Cloud God agreed to this compromise.

Each side might have its own agenda. Given the right time and circumstance the Cloud God would not hesitate to eliminate Cloudhawk or Wolfblade. For now, however, it would appear they were castaways stranded on the same island. The god had to admit, the draw to learn of its species' origins was a thirst that would not be quenched.

**

Blackflag Outpost had been entirely razed by war. Most of it was buried beneath the sand. The stone building once called home by the Bloodsoaked Queen, and the courtyard around which the Tartarus Mercenaries had gathered... only faint remnants remained, peeking from the yellow grit.

It would have surprised many to learn that a young demonhunter, seeking vengeance for her father, once stalked these ruins in disguise. Equally shocking would be the realization that among a small mercenary company, a man who would become king of the wastelands had lived here as a young boy, full of dreams to see the larger world.

All the stories, all the characters, everything - destroyed by the passage of time. Forgotten by the living, swallowed by the earth. Rise and fall, birth and death... from the largest empire to the smallest settlement, all were slaves to this natural order.

The discussion between Wolfblade and the Cloud God was on a psychic level. The others were not privy to their exchange. What was clear was that the god and demon had come to a tentative understanding. The Cloud God would not meddle in the wastes, as it seemed there was something more important for it to attend to. Taking this opportunity, Cloudhawk and Selene met in formal capacity as leaders of their respective sides.

"Congratulations on becoming Governor. You've achieved your goal. What are you planning to do next?"

"I plan to try." Selene's hair, loose and flowing down her back, rustled in the wind. She looked out over the familiar ruins. Years ago her immature face had done the same, but that child was long gone and a beautiful woman was in her place. "I wish to create a truly free, happy and democratic Skycloud."

It was an ambitious dream.

Although they did not agree with Arcturus, none could deny that his first twenty five years of governance had lead Skycloud through a historic period of peace. Shady though his methods were, perhaps it was like the instructors at Hell's Valley said; some darkness was necessary. That was how peace was maintained.

The utopia ancient philosophers dreamed of did not exist.

Cloudhawk knew it was naive, but after spending so long with Selene he knew it wasn't just some platitude she spat. When she said something, that was exactly what she intended to do.

"Let's try together."

What happened here would have a deep and lasting impact on the years to come. Skycloud and the Green Alliance signed and ratified the accord. From this moment forward the borderlands would be officially considered a buffer between Skycloud and the wastes. Wastelanders could live and seek prosperity there and Elysians had the right to travel as they pleased. Neither side would impart restrictions on the borderlands, be they commercial or societal.

It was titled the Blackflag Covenant.

On the surface it looked like nothing more than cessation of the war, and a formal establishment of the borderlands as a buffer between the two parties. In reality, it was a revolutionary first step toward peace between two ancient foes.

From now on, Elysian merchants could do business in the wastes. Wastelanders could grow rich and respected in the borderlands. For the first time they could be recognized as people of worth! For these reasons what on its face was a simple agreement had implications far more valuable than the sum of its words.

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