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Book 6, Chapter 76 - Tip of the Iceberg

 Cloudhawk began to explore this vast, labyrinthine space. The weird and incomprehensible are was like a series of boxes all glued together.

According to Wolfblade, the distribution of these pockets was built in accordance with a profound, underlying theory. They had a specific arrangement, but like a rubik's cube it had to be put together in a particular way.

Wolfblade explained. "This subspace is divided into thousands of these blocks. If you travel through them improperly you'll be stuck. Some of the blocks are unstable and whatever tries to pass through is summarily destroyed."

"So what you're saying is, this is a deathtrap."

"This universe was meticulously constructed by the Demon King. His plan was to trap the God King here, but unfortunately our enemy's power was beyond our comprehension. Thus, the Demon King failed."

Wolfblade did not go into any further detail, but Cloudhawk could guess a fair amount.

This complex universe was not natural. It was painstakingly designed and constructed by the Demon King as a terrible trap for his arch-nemesis. Unfortunately they did not succeed in springing the trap. Or, perhaps the trap itself had failed. It was possible even a place as insidious as this was useless in the face of the mighty God King.

When Cloudhawk's predecessor fell, he left behind this vestige of the attempt. Since then Wolfblade had used it as a secret hideaway. Cloudhawk was the very first human to ever step inside.

He moved through eight of the squares one after the other. The environment began to shift, and where before the cubes were all exactly alike suddenly he saw himself in something like an ancient archive.

Dozens of bookshelves stretched out before him.

It was not a staggering collection by any means, but the shelves all housed special memory discs which contained a huge amount of information. What from the outside seemed like a humble assortment was in fact a plethora of knowledge.

"Much of this is the collected knowledge of humanity, preserved from before the fall. It includes pre-historic records as well as information on civilization and science - even accounts of their first meeting with gods and demons. This is a priceless trove of knowledge and I have gone through every inch of it. If you wish to see it for yourselves, feel free to take them with you."

Wolfblade seemed indifferent, but Cloudhawk's heart was thunderous in his chest. He'd seen them all? How many years had it taken him? The depth of the demon's knowledge was certainly far superior to the likes of Hellflower and he had no interest in the information contained herein. After all, he was a demon elder - the science of humans was inferior to what his race had produced.

By the time human civilization was destroyed, its science had reached a bottleneck. They couldn't even escape their own solar system. Even without the catastrophes that followed, humanity was destined to be a stunted civilization sequestered to a distant corner of the cosmos.

Wolfblade continued. Together, they passed through another segment.

Next they appeared in a large laboratory. Clearly it had been abandoned for a long time, however diagrams on the wall caught Cloudhawk's attention. They were anatomical maps, detailing the bodies of gods and demons.

Right away he was shocked to learn that the hideous or beautiful outward appearance of these beings was just their armor! It acted like an exoskeleton, protecting the being within. Clearly they held very high importance for these creatures.

Below that, on an anatomical level, there were some differences between gods and demons but they were largely the same. Furthermore they looked a lot like humans.

All around where shelves laden with jars and bottles. Many contained preserved organic material. Could they be from the bodies of these mysterious beings? Had Wolfblade used this place to dissect members of these species?!

Cloudhawk wasn't given an opportunity to ask. Wolfblade was already on to the next area. Ten more segments passed around them before they made their next stop. Cloudhawk was taken aback by the strange place they found themselves in.

No, strange did not begin to describe it.

All around where at least hundreds of giant crystals. Each one was as large as a tree, jutted straight up, and the majority were completely transparent. For reasons unknown, some were split down the middle whereas others were stranger still. Inside were human bodies, men and women, all in different stages of development.

In a few were even some gods and demons!

The bodies all seemed frozen in these crystal columns. In the center of the forest, standing roughly five meters tall, was a cross-shaped stone box. When Cloudhawk approached he immediately felt the hum of superstring power.

It was a feeling he'd never experienced before. Whatever this box was, its power was nothing like the relics he'd encountered from gods or demons. It was distinct on a fundamental level, making it all the more mysterious.

"You brought me all the way here to look at this box?"

Cloudhawk could tell right away that there was something special about this place, but he still wasn't sure of Wolfblade's intentions. After all, it was just a box. What could it represent? How was this supposed to explain the secret behind gods and demons?

"This is no mere box. We paid a terrible price to obtain it." The grim look on Wolfblade's face said he had no intention of explaining what that price was. "Because it looks like a sarcophagus, that is what the Demon King and I christened it - The Sarcophagus of Rebirth."

The Cloud God and Cloudhawk looked at it closely. Obviously an item so dearly held by Wolfblade and the Demon King was no mere container.

"The Sarcophagus of Rebirth has a simple function. The user finds a host with a similar mental frequency, and the sarcophagus transposes one's will and memory into the new body."

"You mean..."

"Yes, the many forms I've taken over the years have been because of this tool. Wolfblade, Mantis, that old man... all vessels of mine. The Shepherd God also used the sarcophagus to extract her mind from her divine body, only the body she'd chosen did not accept the process. That is why two minds coexist."

Cloudhawk was floored. This was how Legion was able to appear in different forms! What was a perfect life? Certainly not the creation of a perfect body. A higher form of existence was the ability to move among bodies and species at will. That was true immortality!

What this meant for the Cloud God was that he had a choice. If he had no other resource he could shed his godly form, take on a new body and be truly free. It might be exactly what he was looking for.

When he decided to turn his back on his species, Mount Sumeru could track him by the signature of his original body. If he wanted to evade them he would need to follow the example of the Shepherd God and leave his body behind.

Wolfblade's voice hung among the strange crystals. "There are many vessels here. The chances are good that at least one suits you. Do you wish to find a new body?"

They could feel the Cloud God's mental energies swirl around him. He was silent for a time, until at last a decision was reached.

He could not abandon his identity as a god. At least not yet. Once the process was complete his powers would be greatly diminished and there was so much still to do. He couldn't afford to give up his power yet.

That was one puzzle solved, but there were still many riddles remaining. Was this Sarcophagus of Rebirth connected somehow to gods and demons, in a manner more than just a tool of transference? Was its use widespread?

Wolfblade went on. "Legend has it that before a god dies, their will can be extracted and preserved within the matrix and then downloaded, as it were, into a new form. In this way they are given new life. The effective immortality of the gods relies on this simple looking box."

"It is not hard to see that the gods do not procreate, not in the typical sense. As such their population remains static. But that being the case, where did their perfect bodies come from? Where did the gods originate?"

It was a very curious question. There was a god here among them, but he did not have the answer. The seal that locked away their memories was a sturdy one, keeping the truth hidden.

Wolfblade continued feeding them revelations. "Gods are immortal, all-powerful and reside in perfect bodies. They have superior intellect, but also perfect loyalty and complete obedience to the collective will. Putting it all together, what does it make you think of?"

"Soldiers!" Cloudhawk blurted out. "Perfect soldiers."

Gods were the perfect species. Common knowledge revealed no connection to soldiers, but hearing Wolfblade explain it in such a way Cloudhawk couldn't help be see the similarities. Everything he pointed out was characteristic of a soldier - of a super soldier!

Wolfblade let the thought hang in the air between them.

"As we walked through my laboratory you must have seen the diagrams. I have performed autopsies on many gods, and have discovered that there are many similarities between them and humans. Thus we have reason to believe that it is not just gods and demons that are connection - but humans as well. Why else would our species be here?"

So the Elysians realms were... farms? Their aim was to grow bodies?

But that didn't make sense. Cloudhawk's planet wasn't the only place gods had appeared. Why had they destroyed other worlds? The native people of those worlds had been completely wiped out, and even the gods from that period were gone. What about demons, where had they come from? What really happened on this world!

The relationship between their species was anything but simple. But they still hadn't gotten down to the root of it.

"To get to the root of it all, there is only one method," Wolfblade said.

A dangerous thrum of mental energy vibrated from the Cloud God. "The God King!"

Yes, the God King!

It lay at the heart of the godly matrix, above everything. It wielded unfathomable power and wielded complete control of its species. The God King was the only one of its species capable of thinking independently, act without limitations, and lead with total knowledge. It was the consciousness behind everything, the one that established all the rules, the bringer of the Great War.

The God King had to know!

"This is all I can reveal to you. The rest you must discover on your own." Once more Wolfblade was concealing something, but he was unwilling to give them anymore. "You have come all this way and it would be a shame to leave empty-handed. This was the world created by the Demon King. So you, as his predecessor, should take it with you."

What? Take a universe? How was he supposed to do that?

1. Remember that the first time we met Legion as Mantis, he was performing autopsies on bodies and was teaching Cloudhawk to help him. That's one hell of a callback. You may also recall when he and Hellflower found the severed god-arm in the fallen Temple on spore planet.

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