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Book 6, Chapter 99 - An Arduous Pligh

 Phoenix Ignis slowly opened her eyes. She looked around and found herself in a prison, unable to move. Glancing down she saw that her body was wrapped up in chains. These were especially crafted to lock up demonhunters and kept her from using her powers.

Phoenix had the mental energies of a legendary demonhunter, however. These trifling chains couldn't hold her. It was the sword lodged in her chest, continuously releasing it's frigid power, that suppressed any attempts she made to call on her strength.

"Bastard! You and your dirty fucking tricks. Afraid of a fair fight?!"

The hot-tempered woman had never been bested like this in all her life. She'd lost to a man younger and weaker than her. How could she accept it? How could she not be furious? She raged against her bindings to no avail.

"I wouldn't waste the energy, Mistress Phoenix. We aren't going anywhere."

She stopped struggling long enough to turn toward the voice. It came from behind her, familiar. She didn't need to see who it was to know her cell mate.

"Argyris. They even caught you, huh."

The silver-haired man of middle years was locked up nearby. He was in the same predicament as Phoenix, dripping with chains. His answer was a lengthy sigh. "I wasn't good enough, what can I say."

In his battle against Cloudhawk, carelessness had been his downfall. That's how he'd gotten caught in Cloudhawk's pocket dimension, where the Riftshard dagger was useless. The subspace domain was only a few hundred meters in area, how was he supposed to beat Cloudhawk in such a cramped space? There was no suspense around whether he would end up captured.

Both prisoners found it strange. Why had they been spared? Why not just kill them and be done with it?

Their thoughts were interrupted when the jail doors opened. A young man entered, and when Phoenix saw him she immediately started to grind her teeth. "Hmph, it's you - little rat. Let me go if you've got the balls, let's see who wins round two!"

Frost's tepid response followed. "You lost. You have no right to be so loud."

This, of course, only made her more furious. "Who the fuck are you calling a loser?! Let me out! I'll tear your pansy ass to pieces with a tenth of my strength!"

Frost reached out and grabbed the hilt of his sword. With a swift tug, he pulled Rimeshard free. He gave orders to the others with him while returning the blade to its sheath. "Bring them. Have her put on some clothes."

The two were taken from their cell and brought before Cloudhawk. Phoenix opened her mouth to begin a string of curses the instant she saw him, but the words died in her throat. She saw the dull, silver eye and it filled her with disquiet.

That wasn't a normal eye. It was the same as the Avatar's. Did that mean she'd been defeated? If he now had the Eye of Time, could he also use its power? If that was indeed the case, he would be practically unstoppable!

"Cloudhawk, I know why you spared us. You can put it out of mind right now." Bruno was well aware what sort of position the wastelander was in. He needed strong allies, the stronger the better. It was the only way he could fight the gods. "I cannot join you. I never will."

Phoenix displayed a similarly iron stance. "Just go on and kill me! Stop wasting my time!"

Cloudhawk did indeed hope to persuade these two to surrender. They were pretty strong and if they agreed to join the Green Alliance it would be to their benefit. However, it didn't look like he was going to make much headway.

The stronger someone was, the more stubborn they became. Right now every minute was precious, so he didn't have the time to waste trying to sway them. "I guess that's what has to happen, then."

Phoenix and Bruno resigned themselves to their fate. For his part, Bruno simply could not fight for the Green Alliance. He had friends and loved ones in Stormford. Phoenix, on the other hand, couldn't submit because her personality wouldn't allow her to. If it was between death and surrender, the choice was easy. She wasn't about to let herself be used by Cloudhawk.

Cloudhawk stepped forward and released his dimensional powers. They spread out to surround the two prisoners and then they vanished.

Frost watched it all happen. "Did you eliminate them?"

Cloudhawk shook his head. "Not exactly. I just sent them to an alien prison. It doesn't matter how strong they are, there's no way they'll make it back here. I'll let them stew out there for a little while."

Enemies those they were, Bruno and Phoenix were human beings. Cloudhawk had plenty of blood on his hands but he tried to avoid murder as much as possible. Given a choice, he preferred internment. Bruno and Phoenix were threats, but maybe sometime in the future they could be useful. So rather than end teir lives, he chose to send them to the fourth dimension accessed by the phase stone - the one where he kept all his prisoners.

Natessa Windham was also there, someplace.

Once someone was conveyed to the prison planet, there was no coming back of their own accord. Even Bruno, with similar spatial powers, couldn't slip through dimensions like Cloudhawk could. He had neither the phase stone to help him or the power to do it on his own.

"I have to be frank, Frost - you surprised me. Beating Phoenix was pretty incredible. It seems I underestimated you."

Frost didn't answer. Cloudhawk's praise didn't mean anything to him.

"There's plenty of bad blood between us. I know you don't like me, and truthfully I don't like you either. But whatever the case, now that you've chosen to fight I hope we can put some of that behind us. We're all in the same bucket and if it turns over, we're all getting smashed. Things don't look great."

"How serious is it?"

"Actually when the Boundary Portal failed the first time, the four Supremes gave up on the idea of teleporting in and sent their armies the traditional way. A couple days ago they arrived at the Temple, as you saw. Those were all troops from the other four Elysian lands."

"Why didn't the Cloud God know of this beforehand?"

"That's why they're smart. IF the gods had been involved directly then it would have been shared by the godly connection. The Cloud God would have learned of their intentions. I'm sure what happened was that the gods gave their orders and then slumbered, like the Cloud God did. When a god hibernates that way they cut themselves off from the others."

That's how the Cloud God had been kept in the dark. When the Avatar opened the Boundary Portal it brought over Phoenix and the others, but was too unstable for anything else. Skycloud's energy field was unreliable. Seeing this, the four gods ordered their troops to assemble and set off for Skycloud by ship.

Of course once the order was given, the gods couldn't take any risks. Suspecting that the Cloud God had turned against his race, they realized information shared among the gods would be given to the enemy. If their plans were exposed, their forces would be at risk of an Alliance ambush. To counteract this, the four Supremes chose to sleep after giving their orders.

So their advance troops were sent toward the Temple. By the time they arrived, the Avatar had opened the Boundary Portal for a second time, opening a path for the Supremes. At that very moment they awakened and stepped through, arriving at Skycloud's Temple the same time as their armies. Unfortunately it was also subject to Cloudhawk's attack, which destroyed the portal once again.

It didn't matter. What came was enough. Four Supremes and their armies was a truly frightening group of adversaries.

Cloudhawk went on. "According to the most recent news from the Cloud God, the four Supremes are stationed at the flying Temple. They plan to make into a space fortress to attack us from."

"Now that the four gods are here, why don't they just attack right away?"

One Supreme alone was incredibly strong. Even Cloudhawk couldn't beat them confidently. Four had come all at the same time and with their best soldiers as backup. Razing the already pummeled Skycloud seemed like easy pickings.

"Because they're nervous. They know who I am, and they know I've got Legion on my side," Cloudhawk said. "The Demon King's successor and an elder who fought with the original. Demons, betrayer gods and more... we're not a crew that can be dismissed outright. When we beat Selene and defeated her lieutenants, we struck a real blow at the strength of the other Elysian lands. They'll be cautious from now on. Not so overconfident. That'll make them more dangerous."

Thinking it over, that seemed right. Skycloud was in shambled but it was now part of the Green Alliance. Their combined strength was nothing to spit at. While the gods and their forces were strong, they did not have home turf advantage. They didn't even have somewhere to dock their ships. Those vessels needed energy to keep flying and without a supply depot they would run out of energy quick.

The Avatar had been desperate to get the Temple up into space. Her main reason for doing so was to make an outpost the four Supremes could attack from. A tactically superior high ground.

All told, the four gods were not prepared. Under these conditions an attack would be foolish. If their ships fell, Cloudhawk would come right back to the Temple and try to destroy it. That would make things troublesome.

They did not have confidence in their ability to destroy Skycloud in one fell swoop. At any rate, the realm had deteriorated to a point of near collapse. Better to let it crumble under its own weight. So they chose to wait, and prepare for a more advantageous circumstance.

"Then we have the armies coming from Mount Sumeru."

The four Supremes were a problem, but Cloudhawk was making plans. The original six were here as keepers of the earth, and those high-stationed gods themselves were only a small representation of the power of Sumeru. Perhaps other worlds had gods like them, and Sumeru's true strength was with their armies headed toward earth.

There was too great a divide between the civilizations of man and god. The gap was even larger between their armies.

'Weak' was not a reality among gods and demons. Even the lowest caste of these creatures were very strong and couldn't be overestimated. In addition, no one even knew how many gods there were. What was certain was that unless they got all the demons to join the fight, there was no hope.

Cloudhawk couldn't even conquer Skycloud. The four Supremes were deadly enemies lurking just over the horizon. Gehenna was still dormant and there was no indication of when they would act. Now they'd garnered the attention of Mount Sumeru. And it'd reacted quickly!

Dispatching armies like that... the gods were taking no chances. He didn't even know when they'd arrive. As far as Cloudhawk was concerned, things were looking very bad indeed.

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