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Book 7, Chapter 18 - Sudden Conflic

 I underestimated the gods again. Cloudhawk mulled over the situation, seated on the steps of the palace. From here he could see down toward the planet below as it slowly rotated.

An orb of largely browns and grays, floating in a vast darkness. It filled his field of view. All the mountain ranges, deserts and even the scars of an ancient war were visible.

Ninety percent of the planet was a dead brown hue. Its scalding environment spared only a few pockets of color. Cloudhawk was reminded of an image he saw on Ark Base, of a world wrapped in emerald and sapphire.

On a universal scale, one thousand and some years was the blink of an eye. But for the natives who called this world home, it had been a cataclysm that ushered in a terrible era.

Cloudhawk lifted his head. Above was a sprawling vista of stars. That twinkling carpet was just what his eyes could see. And here he was, on a space station suspended in between. All around vessels shuttled back and forth carrying men and materials. Hundreds of Seraphs toiled endlessly.

The divine superweapon was long and flat. Smooth at first glance, at closer inspection the discs were a series of rings. Each one of them spun at different frequencies, some clockwise, others counterclockwise. Even unfinished it was a striking thing.

How had the old civilization perished? No natural disaster, Cloudhawk was sure of that. These weapons were the culprit. Between it and the combined might of the four Elysian realms, they had the power to permanently alter the landscape.

The Sword of Sumeru were nearly complete. When it was, Skycloud had no hope of surviving.

Sky Fortress had a reach of a thousand kilometers. He figured the Green Alliance couldn't even reach a hundred. Recently Sky Fortress had begun to ascend again, from about a hundred kilometers to several hundred. Out of reach of the Green Alliance. The massive armada and powerful troops weren't even necessary. They could eradicate every living thing in Skycloud with this superweapon alone.

One shot. Enough to level a city. Last time he heard of that kind of power they were talking about nuclear weapons. Sky Fortress could cruise by overhead, delivering destruction to the southern wastes with as much care as sprinkling rose petals. Meanwhile all the people he was meant to protect - Selene, Dawn, Wolfblade - would all be consumed in the fires.

How could they protect themselves? Humans had no way to fight back against weapons like these. All they could do was watch their extinction come, burning city after city until nothing was left but scorched earth and bodies.

Fight back? The earlier the better, as far as the 'rebels' were concerned. But the Green Alliance only had a handful of ships that flew high altitudes. Sky Fortress was wreathed in ships and had the strongest people on earth guarding it. On the face of it, Skycloud seemed doomed. Cloudhawk was their only hope.

The inner circle was put up near the Sword structure, so if he acted from here there was more than a good chance he could put them out of commission. But what did it matter if he did? They'd just rebuild it.

Cloudhawk still didn't know the details of how the Temple was able to move. What he had learned was that they were powered at least in part by radiation from space. It was probably gathered then converted into usable energy the Temple used to move and power its protections. It was a conduit that provided power to all godly technology within range.

Without the Temple, there would be no Sky Fortress. He had to bring it down.

He didn't take any rash actions and tried to keep a low profile over the next several days. He knew he had to think carefully. Four gods were in the Temple, surrounded by traps and protections. Cloudhawk couldn't see past the black shell to get more information. That didn't stop the intense sense of danger he felt coming from it. He had the sick sensation that once he went in there was a chance he'd never come out.

He couldn't be sure they were waiting there for him, like luring a fly into a web.

A shadow passed over him as Idonea sat by his side. She followed his eyes out toward the planet, spinning quietly. This really was the best place to watch the world go by. But the view did nothing for her downcast expression. "Do you think using those weapons is the right call?"

"You're worried about your dad?"

"Not just him. I heard there are two million people living in Skycloud. They can't all be blasphemers. There have to be righteous people out there, fighters who stand up for the gods. Believers, who persist against darkness... I'm starting to think the gods don't care about ordinary human lives."

"Aren't you afraid someone will hear you say that? You could be punished."

"Are you going to tell on me?"

"What do you think?"

Idonea wasn't sure whether it was real or not, but she was starting to feel that the man by her side was reliable. Whatever troubles came his way he faced them confidently.

"We're too young to make any sort of difference." She frowned. "I can't even use my relic. I feel disabled!"

Cloudhawk turned his head to look at her. There was something endearing in what he saw. "Can you lend me your necklace for a little while?"

His request puzzled her. "What are you going to do with it?"

"I think it's interesting," he said, throwing out an excuse. "I've never seen anything like it so I wanted to see what I can learn."

"My father went through a lot to get this for me... alright." Idonea didn't see any reason not to trust him. "I can't use it out here anyway so you can hold onto it for a few days."

With that she unclasped it and dropped it into Cloudhawk's hand. He let it roll around in his palm, causing starlight to twinkle off its facets. It wasn't clear what it was made out of - something like silver but also crystal. The surface had a strange metallic sheen but was still translucent. Inside, faint twinkling made it look as though it held fragments of the universe.

It was beautiful. Watching it catch the light, both shared the same thought. As they leaned in closer to see their hands inadvertently touched.

When she discovered it, Idonea's face flushed. She sat up straight. "Pretty, right? But sadly not very strong. It's only good for defense."

"That's not true. If you ask me, spatial power can overcome any aggressive force." With the necklace in hand, Cloudhawk's eyes flashed for an instant toward the Sword of Sumeru. "Thank you for lending it to me."

Idonea looked at Cloudhawk's profile against the glittering backdrop of space. There was something indecipherable behind his eyes.

There was a reason he asked for her necklace, of course. Disruption from those beacons made using any high-grade relic unstable. Low-grade relics, on the other hand, he might be able to manage. Idonea's necklace was just the thing.

In reality, a relic's 'class' was only relevant when comparing. High-class relics were more complex and innately powerful. Low-class weapons were simple and weak. It was sort of like the difference between a rocket launcher and a bow and arrow. But in the hands of one with real power, even a rock could cause as much damage as a missile.

Confidence wasn't something Cloudhawk could say he had, but he did have a plan. A dangerous plan, but it raised his chances of success.

Over the last few days no one had seen Kirin Ignus. Cloudhawk spent his time exploring the Temple and meeting people, but so far no clear opportunity had presented itself.

Today he was with a group of other Palace members, shooting the breeze. He hadn't been here long but Cloudhawk had made a couple friends. Suddenly Master Anan emerged from the Palace, flanked by others with the title 'Master.' At their command all the inner circle was called together.

There was a motley crew of people, dressed differently and equipped as they came. However, the lack of a uniform did not detract from how intimidating this group was. Where they walked they would leave nothing but ash in their wake.

"What are they saying?"

"I heard a rumor that the rebel realm had somehow learned our plan. They're sending a strike force to try and take out the Sword of Sumeru." Icarus from Praelius answered him. "But don't worry, they won't succeed. Our defenses won't break and even if they do, we're here to defend them."

Cloudhawk's brows furrowed tight. A sneak attack? It was suicide! Even knowing how deadly those weapons were, this sort of bloody operation wasn't the way to deal with it. They were doomed!

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