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Book 6, Chapter 104 - Speculation

 As night fell strange noises overtook the forests. Beyond the treeline were countless, inexplicable critters. A boundary was created by a number of demonhunters to protect the camp.

Fire burned in the center of the camp. Food was cooking in a pot with Natessa, Dumont and the two new arrivals gathered around.

"I was one of the first people sent here. I guess you can call me the world's elder." Dumont was quite proud of the self-given title. "I watched the population grow, and each time it did I knew Cloudhawk was closer to victory. Even so, it's amazing to me that even Masters like you two would be condemned to this prison."

Phoenix especially had mental energies to rival Arcturus. If she lived back during the Great War she probably would have counted among it's ten Legendary Demonhunters.

Cloudhawk couldn't just teleport someone here willy-nilly. It could be resisted, he needed to lock down a target. In other words he had to capture whoever ended up here. Cloudhawk had subdued these two beforehand, which is ten times more difficult than merely defeating them.

Phoenix sniffed in irritation. "Enough nonsense. Tell me everything you know about this world."

"As you discovered, the world is filled with all manner of strange creatures. Not normal, natural creature either. In addition to what we know about the terrain, we have reason to believe that below our feet is what remains of an ancient civilization." Dumont shared his speculations. "More specifically, a base - one where they studied how to create life. All the creatures we've seen come from that base."

"I don't care about any of this. Tell me something useful!"

Dumont cackled at her fervor. "Mistress Phoenix wastes no time! I'll get right to it, then: There are a number of things we found quite surprising since coming here."

As he spoke Dumont motioned with his hand. A group of people carried over a large stone slab. Phoenix and Bruno saw the abstract paintings scrawled on its surface, dimmed after ten thousand years exposed to the elements. Luckily they were still somewhat visible.

"We found this during an excursion into the underground. It's a clue to whatever this world's ancient past. We have no way of knowing who created it, but to our benefit they did not use any written language. They drew pictures.

"What are these pictures?"

"Scenes detailing the destruction of their civilization." Dumont pointed to the first part of the mural. "Once, a long time ago, this world was home to a peaceful and prosperous people. Suddenly there appeared disturbances in space-time. Whole cities were reduced to ruins. Oceans became deserts. Lofty mountains were razed to create vast, empty plains. Forests, burned to nothing..."

Dumont pointed to each picture as he spoke, moving across the slab.

"Here we see a figure in splendid armor descend from the sky. They established a place of safety for survivors. They worship their saviors, and used the powers given to them by these great beings to rebuild their cities.

Phoenix and Bruno shared a glance.

"Familiar, isn't it? We thought so as well." Dumont continued: "The mural is small and incomplete. We can't know the whole story, what exactly happened here. All we know for certain is that mortal populations dwindled until they discovered some truth. Under some leader, their took up arms against their gods."

Wasn't that exactly what Cloudhawk was preparing to do? Could it be that what happened on earth wasn't unique, but just another iteration of something that had happened before? Maybe even countless times?

Dumont went on: "The crux of it all is here - look, there is no doubt the rebels failed. Under the guidance of a powerful god capable of molding space, they attacked their saviors and were defeated. That was when life was exterminated from this place."

Wait a minute! A powerful godly leader that can manipulate space? Doesn't God King have power over time?"

"That is the most unexplained part of this story!" The old man laughed again, causing the wrinkled in his face to deepen.

Bruno scowled. "What's the answer?"

Dumont turned his attention to the middle-aged man. "The murals only provide limited information, but we can make some assumptions. That creature that commanded space used to be ruler of this world. It was worshiped by all. A god. At least, once a god."

Bruno cut in. "So the question is whether this mural depicts the God King or some other unknown member of the higher pantheon."

"There is one more crucial piece of information hidden in the mural. I wonder if you can spot it..."

"No demons. Nowhere in any of the pictures."

"Just so. We can see gods, but nothing that can be called a demon. Now according to what we know the Demon King is able to use the powers of space. Putting this all together, we can come to a conclusion."

"The Demon King used to be a god, and an important one at that."

Both the newcomers were stunned by the revelation. If this was true then the implications were hard to swallow.

"Perhaps the Demon King was once the God King of a former generation. But, for reasons unknown he had some sort of... epiphany. Unwilling to allow the gods to destroy this world, he led his loyalists against the divine. Those gods who joined him were cast out. The first Demons."

"What about the current God King? Where did it come from?"

"Simple. When their original leader left, the gods needed a successor strong enough to rise against him. They learned that the powers of time were greater than those of space. As expected, the new God King of Time defeated the Demon King of Space."

At that level of existence, was it possible to just say something should be and it became so? Phoenix and Bruno were silent with their thoughts. If these assumptions were true...

Then there was only one explanation. Behind the gods and demons was perhaps an even greater, less understood power. Something even more frightening, existing in the shadows and pulling all the strings.

Gods seemed to be constantly seeking out civilization only to eradicate it. What were they hoping to gain?

Phoenix spat into the dirt. "This is nothing but speculation. You obviously have nothing better to do."

"Mistress Phoenix is correct. For the moment, these are guesses. But we believe the answers are right below our feet." Dumont's eyes gleamed with fervor. "Before today we haven't been strong enough to explore very far. But with your help, perhaps we can learn what really happened."

Bruno was quiet for a long time. "Since I'm exiled here and there's no obvious way back, I might as well keep busy."

For the time being, Phoenix was noncommittal.

Meanwhile Natessa had sat by and listened to the whole exchange. Conflict raged within her, seeded by the secrets hidden in this mural. She couldn't help but feel it held the answer to everything. She lifted her head toward the sky where the stars hung in darkness. They were so different here. She couldn't help think of Arcturus.

Had he known about this the whole time? No... he probably knew better than to pursue it, so he stopped.

Natessa didn't know what to think about the father she never had. She couldn't begin to understand how to judge the dead man. Everything he sacrificed his life to maintain still failed...

He lost his life. He was discredited in death. If he'd known this was to be his end, would he have done it anyway? What had he been so afraid of all this time? Meanwhile Cloudhawk's power and potential were beyond all expectations. By now he was probably stronger than the fallen Governor. Arcturus might have been delighted, if he were still alive.

How would it all end? Would humanity be reborn, or would it end up like this place - dead, a dusty memory?

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