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Book 7, Chapter 35 - Connections to Gods and Demons

 Cloudhawk led Dawn to an octagonal building where their targets were hiding. They were understandably shocked to see him, at first thinking it was some new monster.

"Clodhawk? It's you!"

When they saw who it was, the prisoners stared with strange expressions.

He smirked back at them. "Hey there Dumont. Here you are. Tough man to find."

There were nine people holed up in total. One of them was Dumont Cenhelm, captured and sent here by Cloudhawk like all the others.

In days passed he was an instructor for Hell's Valley with Eckard Skinner and Natessa Windham. Instructor Skinner was no more, but Natessa had been sequestered here along with him. She was nowhere to be seen now, however. Neither were the two Masters.

Dumont looked his former student over. There was no sign of animosity in his stare. "Ah, this young troublemaker. It's been quite a while indeed. This here must be your girlfriend, young Miss Dawn Polaris, yes? Wearing my armor, no less. It makes you look quite fetching, young lady!"

Indeed the armor she wore used to belong to this old wretch. She never had a good sense of the man, but when he called her Cloudhawk's girlfriend she found herself warming up to him a bit.

Of course that was lip service, a way to ingratiate himself.

"You sure can talk can't you, old man. Don't think I won't cut your ass down right here!" Dawn stomped up to him, her enormous armor clanging noisily like a walking fortress. "Now what the hell are you all up to down here? Spill it, and maybe I'll go easy on you. Resist and you'll learn the meaning of pain!"

Dawn glared at the others then looked around at their surroundings. It was a large area, maybe two hundred square meters, with all kinds of slates piled up. Some were murals or other remnants and all looked like they'd been moved here. By the look of them, they didn't seem to have come from this city.

"Dawn, don't be rude." Cloudhawk didn't pay the group any mind. He asked a simple question. "Where are Phoenix and Bruno? And why isn't Natessa with you?"

A handful of the people here were members of the Cloude family. They, unlike Dumont, surely had a bone to pick with him. However as they moved in they were stopped by the old instructor. It was a laughable thought that this handful was strong enough to threaten Cloudhawk. He could slap their heads right off their shoulders.

"The two Masters led the rest of the party deeper underground to see what they could find. I don't know what they might have run into." Dumont was honest and forthcoming. "Now that I think about it, they've been gone for several days. We haven't heard a thing since they left. I imagine if there's anyone with the skills and strength to bring them back it's you, Cloudhawk."

He scowled. "A deeper level, huh?"

"Heh, did you bring us here so we would explore these areas?"

Cloudhawk's scowl deepened. That had never been his intention.

"Well judging by that look on your face, it seems you had no idea all of this was here. This whole city is just the beginning. It wasn't built all that long ago, in the grand scheme of things. We've been exploring the underground city for a month or so already. Besides the strange beasts everywhere, this is a perfect home."

"How is it perfect?"

"The buildings are all in excellent condition. We don't need to worry about water and food can all be grown on the overworld. We also discovered from these murals that the underworld city has some connection to gods and demons."

Anything connected to gods and demons was certain to be more complicated than it looked.

Cloudhawk pressed him further. "What have you discovered?"

"Everything here is what we've found so far." Dumont indicated the tablets and murals. "These appear to show the origins of the divine. It is possible that the original denizens of this place left them behind to help outsiders understand the truth."

Cloudhawk took a closer look at the artifacts. Because they were incomplete their message was ambiguous. It was hard to piece together any revelation without a few key pieces.

"Where's the entrance to the deeper levels?"

Dumont and the others exchanged looks. In the end, the old man elected to lead Cloudhawk there. Together they crept toward an underground volcano whose caldera served as the entrance to the deeper parts of the ruins.

As they neared the volcano, Cloudhawk noted several semi-petrified trees. It had to have taken tens of thousands of years for them to get to this point. But what were they doing here underground?

Dumont explained. "We suspect that all of this used to be the surface ten thousand years ago. Around the volcano's edge we've found many petrified plants. Old, and origins of their creation are quite striking..."

Dawn interjected. "So the land collapsed? Is that how this underground world was created?"

"No, madam. I don't believe so. Rather, I believe someone created a new surface to conceal the original. The result is this city of perpetual darkness you see around you."

"How is that possible?" Dawn hardly believed what he was saying. Who had that sort of power?

Dumont claimed that someone built a whole new outer layer all across the planet like a new coat. Hundreds of meters below, the original crust was hidden. It was a task unfathomably more difficult than creating an Elysian land.

Cloudhawk was silent, thoughtful. His senses told him this was very possible. The great forests overhead were energy collectors. Tools for collection, detection and concealment. Whatever civilization chose to conceal themselves this way was clever.

They had covered the whole planet in this false shell. Key areas were carpeted in false vegetation that gave vast underground cities needed energy. At the same time they served to keep any trace well hidden. If a powerful foe from outside the planet came they would be fooled by this disguise. They might think this world was a wild, uninhabited place, home to unintelligent beasts. With nothing worth their attention, they would move on.

No doubt creating this masterpiece - this massive defensive structure - proved that some important secret was buried here. It was one of the planets he was able to shift to naturally, like the spore planet and Stoney Fields. Because he hadn't taken the time to explore this place more closely, he never discovered what the former Demon King thought was so important here that he would leave a marker. What was it he wanted Cloudhawk to see?

"Are you sure you can get down there from here?"

Cloudhawk and Dawn stood on the lip of the caldera. It had long since grown dormant and no light or heat emerged. A cold, dark maw greeted them with no bottom.

Dumont had no reason to lie to him, or the means to do it.

With a wave of his hand Cloudhawk left a teleportation marker. If they encountered trouble he could bring them right back out. With that, the darkness of the caldera swallowed them up.

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