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Book 6, Chapter 74 - Carrot and Stick

 The Cloud God was so badly battered that he'd lost consciousness. Thankfully, however, the body of godly creatures were resilient. He was in no danger of dying. After a short time of rest the god awakened.

What was this place? It was... similar to the world he knew, but there were subtle differences. He felt discrepancies in gravity and strange particles in the air. This was not earth. Mustering his mental powers, he sent out a wave to learn what he could. It spread far and wide, covering an area tens of kilometers in diameter in an instant.

Stone. Flat lands. Endless desert. A single, large settlement.

His reconnaissance revealed that this settlement was not just large, but growing. It was awash in the din of construction and already housed several tens of thousands of people. A strange forest of mushroom trees surrounded it, providing the camp with food, water and electricity. Factories belched smoke into the air, the machines inside rumbling busily.

This was the Green Alliance's manufacturing base, by the looks of it. The eboncrys weapons they used were produced here. It was also a major migrant base where over thirty-thousand people lived. Cloudhawk had established a backup location for his people, where they could stage attacks or fall back if needed.

The wasteland leader couldn't predict what the future would hold. After all, his aims were lofty and fraught with danger. He was building a new destiny for his people. But to get there he had to pass through a dark valley, so he had to try his best while also planning for the worst outcome.

The Cloud God noted the two figures nearby. Cloudhawk and Wolfblade.

Cloudhawk stood with his hands crossed before his chest, peering out across the horizon from a cliff a thousand meters high. The broken world stretched out toward the horizon. "This world was destroyed by the gods. A long, long time ago there were Elysian realms here, governed by the divine. Now it's nothing but dust and ruin. Do you remember anything about this place?

The Cloud God began to grasp his situation. Cloudhawk and Wolfblade had saved his life and brought him here. It wasn't very long ago that Cloudhawk and the Cloud God had come to blows.

"The oldest divine memories have no recollection of this place."

A thousand years was the limit to godly memories. This dead world saw its destruction ten thousand years ago at least. Cloudhawk's world suffered its cataclysm a millennia ago, which saw the destruction of the planet and most civilization. Anything that might have survived in this world had long since perished.

It was strange, though. This place was clearly obliterated by the gods. Did they not share all memories? Even if the Cloud God did not personally know the answer, could he not extract it from the psychic matrix he shared with the other gods?

That would mean none of the gods knew what happened to this place. But... why? Could it be some sort of power erased it from collective memory? Or perhaps the gods of today were not the same gods that once rules this place?

"Why are gods cultivating human followers?"

This question had burned in the back of Cloudhawk's mind for a long time. Gods and humans were fundamentally dissimilar species. Technologically and socially, what they called 'gods' were thousands of years ahead of humanity. In almost every discernible way, humans were a lower life form when compared to the immortal divine. So that being the case, why did the gods go through such trouble to obliterate planets? Why leave their Supremes behind to lord over small pockets of inferior beings?

What where they trying to gain?

The Cloud God's eyes flashed as he searched his memories. "When my consciousness arose, I knew only to follow the directives of my King. I have never known nor thought to ask the reasons why."

"You were never curious? You never questioned what you and the gods were striving toward?" This time it was Wolfblade asking the question. "In many ways you gods are like machines. Machines know their purpose, not the reason. Their existence is merely to serve."

The demon's words weren't entirely accurate. Gods were not entirely absent their own thoughts, nor were they wholly emotionless. Rather these innate aspects of their personality had been greatly blunted. To unknowing creatures like humans, the gods appeared to want for nothing. To feel nothing. Strange that these beings - so full of wisdom and power - never knew why they did anything.

"Gods submit themselves to the will of the God King. Their sole responsibility is to obey. Such is what it means to be a god," Wolfblade accused. "This so-called advanced life form touts the same social structure as the basest insects. Any one of them can live forever. They wield world-changing power. Their intellect far outstrips that of humans and yet... it's all sealed from them. They are robbed of individual thought."

Gods were not unlike ants. They lived, fought and made determinations on their own. However they could never extricate themselves from the will of the collective. Each ant had a responsibility to protect the colony, to serve their queen. The God King was the leader of their colony and as such commanded the unerring loyalty of every god.

"Right now, while our friend the Cloud God wishes to know the truth behind gods and demons, it is not his primary aim. He wants to free himself from the seal that binds his thoughts." Wolfblade regarded the once-mighty ruler of Skycloud. "You are now a pariah from the colony. A traitor. Or perhaps it would be better to call you a kind of tumor. Do you truly believe they would ever accept back into their presence?"

Anger welled up inside the god. It was Wolfblade's fault that he had fallen from grace!

Wolfblade could feel the aggression wafting off his divine counterpart. Unbothered, he continued. "But say you had the choice. Say you could be accepted once more, would you want to? Would you choose to have your individuality stolen, your thoughts suppressed? To be kept ignorant of your purpose, like a cog in a machine churning away with no concept of your worth?"

The demon's words caused the Cloud God to lapse into quiet thought. If he had the choice...

"You are intelligent enough to know that there is no choice," Wolfblade assured. "Oh, and allow me to remind you that the Avatar knows how to find you. Thanks to my quiet suggestions, of course. If she'd found you once she can find you again and again until the threat has been eliminated. Is that how you want to perish? Without knowing the truth?"

No wonder Selene had managed to track him down. It had all been part of Wolfblade's machinations.

Cloudhawk did not know how Wolfblade had pinpointed the Cloud God's whereabouts, but he couldn't say he was surprised. The demon had also known Selene would become the Avatar and that the Cloud God would be useful to them. More than likely, the cunning monster had arranged some means of tracking the god, knowing this day would come.

The Cloud God struggled with Wolfblade's naked threat. This hateful demon Elder dared to intimidate a god?!

Without waiting for the god's incredulous reaction, Wolfblade added, "Don't you want to live - to really live? Don't you want to uncover all the secrets that have been hidden from you? How I can move from body to body at will? Have you thought about ridding yourself of that shell and being born anew, like the Shepherd God?"

The Cloud God was not alone in his surprise. Cloudhawk, too, was taken aback by Wolfblade's questions. After all, he'd also wanted to know how the demon has managed to trail him across his life with different faces.

As a demon Elder how was he able to steal bodies? Cloudhawk had never heard of a power like that. Likewise, the Shepherd God had slumbered for a thousand years before forcing her consciousness onto Autumn's body.

How had they done it?

If you wanted to conquer someone, first you had to know what they feared and what they wanted. To ingratiate yourself to someone, you had to guide them toward what they wanted. To use someone, you had to play on their fear and desperation.

Wolfblade saw that he would not win cooperation from the Cloud God. He had known long before Cloudhawk that the Cloud God was the tool they needed to fight Selene. Preparations were long in the making, waiting for the Cloud God's plight, so that when the time came all the pieces would come together exactly as he willed them to.

Yet while Wolfblade already knew the outcome, to the Cloud God it was an almost impossible decision. He'd been grappling with the question for months yet still he hesitated.

Despite the slew of questions he still harbored the desperate hope that one day he'd be accepted back into divine society. But after speaking with the Shepherd God and uncovering bits of the truth for himself, the Cloud God knew that hope was foolish. Once the seal was removed and his thoughts were his own, the Cloud God was no different from the demons he loathed.

There was... no going back.

A few seconds stretched on in silence as thoughts raced through the god's head. Ultimately, he came to a conclusion. "I will help you. But I must know the whole truth."

Cloudhawk's eyes slipped toward Wolfblade. The demon nodded. "Then you shall."

"Wait!" Cloudhawk broke into their exchange. "What is this truth you're always talking about?"

Wolfblade's response was calm. "If you wish to uncover these secrets then we must first make a journey. Awaiting you there are many interesting discoveries."

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