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Book 6, Chapter 63 - Punitive Visi

 Citizens of Woodland Vale were using hooks and sickles to harvest eboncrys fruit dangling from branches overhead. One by one the heavy fruit were gathered and hefted into baskets, then lowered to the ground by a series of pulleys. Once safely aground they were put on the backs of large pack animals and sent off to processing warehouses.

Woodland Vale had come to mean a great deal to the Green Alliance. It was the group's energy creation and processing center.

Once the Green Alliance had begun production of the latest weapons, their eboncrys demands had gone up at least two-fold and was increasing every day. As their efficiency improved this new fuel source would eventually come to replace older, outdated ones.

A gentle breeze rustled the leaves and dappled sunlight kissed the ground below. Wolfblade sat cross-legged in the boughs of one tree which had been arranged into a sort of hanging garden. Ladybugs and butterflies shuffled among the plants and flowers in picturesque fashion.

On the small table before Wolfblade was a freshly brewed cup of hot tea. In his hands was an old tome with ancient earth script crawling across its surface. Its contents had to do with old philosophical questions.

Humans were a contradiction, he mused. That's what made them such good thinkers. Wolfblade loved to reflect on their existential ponderings. It helped him understand humans a little better.

A gust of wind brought yellow sand up into the small treetop abode. The disparate grains collected to form Abaddon, his dark and hulking figure in sharp contrast to the vibrant surroundings. At two and a half meters tall he loomed over Wolfblade's human form. "Our King has made a surprise visit to Woodland Vale. He has asked to see the Elder - he seems angry. Should you make yourself scarce?"

Wolfblade calmly shut his book, took up his tea cup and partook of its soothing contents. When the tea was gone he finally replied. "Why hide? I couldn't even if I wanted to."

No sooner had he shared the thought than ripples appeared in the air before them. A figure emerged.

Cloudhawk regarded the demons with a frigid expression. Wordlessly he picked up Wolfblade and flung him forward with bone-breaking force.

The Elder's frail human body tore through the air like a broken kite, smashing through a wall of the treehouse. He struck the much sturdier trunk, which then exploded into splinters as though hit by a missile.

Cloudhawk's form shimmered and he vanished from within the tree house, only to reappear before the hole Wolfblade had involuntarily created in the tree itself. Reaching in, he plucked the Elder demon forth. Wolfblade's ashen face was covered in blood, and more leaked from his nose and ears. Clearly the human form could not handle Cloudhawk's ire and his internal injuries were considerable.

Every inch the Demon King, Cloudhawk lifted his fist in preparation for another blow. This one would be final.

Abaddon rushed forward to stop him. "If you kill the Elder who else will help you against the God King?"

Cloudhawk's expression was cold as death. The depths of his anger was evidenced by the complete lack of expression. His face was as dead as the mask he often wore.

"You knew Selene would become the Avatar."

Wolfblade weakly coughed his answer. "Yes."

"You knew the Temple could connect to the other Elysian lands."

Once more the demon nodded. "I did."

Knuckles cracked as Cloudhawk tightened his fist. "You knew this would happen and deliberately kept it from me?"

With no way to obfuscate, Wolfblade answered honestly. "You could say so, yes."

You could say so... Cloudhawk had to fight the urge to punch him into paste.

"Have you given any thought to the number of people who've died to win peace between Skycloud and the wastelands? Finally Selene is in control of Skycloud. Finally the wastelands are coming back to life. Now it's all about to be destroyed. Because of you."

Wolfblade did not seem fazed by Cloudhawk's anger. "My King, you are mistaken. There was never peace between Skycloud and the wastes. It is merely your wishful thinking deceiving you. Did you honestly believe what you've done here, in harmony with Selene, would give rise to some utopia?"

The Southern Capitol was complete! The southern wilds now had plenty of water and fertile soil! There was no more need for the two sides to fight. Cloudhawk's goal was to build a new society, one that wasn't reliant on spilling blood.

When Selene took over Skycloud, she did it with the aim of giving her people a life of dignity. She wanted to see a realm erected on a foundation of self-confidence, popular rule and equality.

Although they came from different worlds and stood on different sides, both Cloudhawk and Selene strived to bring their visions to life. Through mutual trust and understanding, peace between their two lands really was possible. Though contradictions remained on the surface there was a real shot at avoiding more war. Perhaps, with time, they could even recombine as a united people.

But then the Boundary Portal opened.

Now all hope was lost.

His face calm as a forest pool, Wolfblade kept his eyes fixed on Cloudhawk. "What you were striving toward was nothing more than a temporary ceasefire. Like a beautiful dream, no matter how lovely one day the cruel reality of awakening would steal it away. You would watch as it all came tumbling around you."

Cloudhawk's temper flared again. "Why keep me in the dark?!"

Wolfblade made no effort to acknowledge his actions as a mistake. All he'd done he saw as common sense.

"If I had told you, you would have done everything in your power to stop Selene's transformation. Perhaps a tentative peace between Skycloud and the wastelands would continue for a year or two, but have you looked beyond that? After all those sacrifices you've mentioned, do you want it all to come to naught for such a small period of respite?"

"Once those comfortable years were spent it was more than likely all of Mount Sumeru's pantheon and the four great realms would come together in force. Can you say with confidence that Skycloud and the wastelands are strong enough to stand against the combined might of the gods? Because of the defects in her realm's energy field, Selene cannot open the Boundary Portal large enough for all their armies to pass through. On the surface you may see this as a tragedy, but it saves us a great deal of suffering. Now we can face our enemies individually instead of together."

"But all that being said, none of it was the primary reason. More than anything I kept this information to myself, for you."

Cloudhawk's face was dark. He knew what the demon was getting at. Wolfblade continued to stare unflinchingly at Cloudhawk and, although still at his mercy, swelled a little with growing confidence.

"Everything you've done up to this point is nothing more than childish dreams writ large! Your person, your thinking remains that of a human. You still lack the awareness of a demon - and so even though on the surface you may seem stronger, inside you remain vulnerable."

"What does the life of one woman mean? You must come to understand your destiny. When you understand the responsibility on your shoulders and can sacrifice everything to see it through, that is when you will be at your strongest. When you become what you are meant to be, then you will be our King. Our true King!"

"Enough, I'm tired of your shit. If I can't even protect a woman important to me than what the fuck good is being King of anything!" Cloudhawk's patience had reached its limit. "All I want to hear out of your fucking mouth is if there's some way to fix her."

"You wish to save her? It is both difficult, and it is not." Wolfblade shrugged and went on. He had nothing to hide. "The Avatar's eyes are her power. Pluck out her eyes and her ability to read time is gone. So long as she possesses sight even one such as you cannot sneak up on her. Now that the Boundary Portal has activated, she has others by her side - the very strongest those other Elysian realms could provide."

What? Take her eyes? Cloudhawk paused in thought. Doing something like that to Selene would be more than difficult. What's more, just as Wolfblade said she possessed great personal strength and the ability to see the future. Cloudhawk could not get close enough to take her eyes even if he could muster the will to.

What's more, strangers from far-away lands had come to her defense. Together they were probably no less formidable than Skycloud's lineup had been a decade ago. Even with Cloudhawk's power being what it was, he had to be wary.

Fraught with indecision, eventually Cloudhawk released the demon Elder. His form shimmered, and vanished.

"Elder, your methods haven't won you any points with our King."

"He's young. Impulsive. Arranging new opponents to keep him focused will help him to grow. The humans call this the Catfish Effect." Wolfblade regarded the space Cloudhawk had disappeared from for a moment. "Now Selene has become our most arduous foe. What choices will our King make, I wonder?"

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