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Book 7, Chapter 55 - The Elder Encounter

 Belial possessed over one thousand four hundred years of memories and countless experiences. Never had he felt so ill at ease. He was running out of time, the base he'd striven so long to build would be his tomb unless he escaped immediately.

Another war? Those fools in Gehenna! What makes you think you can defy destiny? You are all too stupid to recognize you're just an aberrant offshoot. Mistakes! Your paltry numbers mean nothing against the gods.

Belial hissed the caustic thoughts to himself, but moreover he felt that there was an even darker threat behind the gods. They were doomed, all of their sacrifices were in vain. Failure and destruction were their only future.

Winning free-will had been so difficult. Why throw it away? Belial's life was potentially limitless and he had the skills to build almost anything. All the more reason to cherish his life. He would not follow some self-styled king like a moth to the flame. But nor could he fight back. And so before the looming shadow of dominance was cast over him, he had to run. Go far away where they would never find him.

Out among the stars. The endless, black ocean that was the universe. To some corner even the gods would never look, where the shadows didn't reach. That would be his haven, but he knew the gods were close. His time was short.

Belial was still wrapped in his human skin, that of an old man. Though decrepit in appearance it hid the demon's true strength. Floating in the air a dark power enveloped him, spreading out across the space and swallowing it up, as though the Elder was the center of his own universe.

An orb of infinite mass hung before him like a ball of fire, rotating on an axis. This was a relic of Belial's construction whose purpose was to gather up the spirits in nearby crystals. These unfortunate souls were dragged into the orb as though by cables, and though they tried desperately to escape they struggled for nothing.

The wailing souls thrashed in a storm of energy, swallowed up as fuel for the dark flames. The orb continued to swell and grow hotter, but not a physical heat. It came from intense, condensed mental energy.

Flows of psychic power reached from the fires to surround Belial. The Elder transformed it into his own power, empowering his own substantial abilities ten times over. Even more frightening, the boost seemed permanent.

In front of Belial, several artifacts were frantically chipping through the crystals at five or six meters a second. Typically he would not be so brazen, for the God King would know if one tried to drill into a Source core. Supremes on the planet would be made away, and would come to stop it.

Strong though Belial was, he was not strong enough to face five Supremes.

But things were different now. He knew the Demon King's successor had defeated four of them, and the two gods that remained were in Cloudhawk's service. None were left to stop him. Belial was, however, keenly aware that the Demon King's successor would not just leave him be. He was left with no choice but to abandon caution and flee with as much haste as possible.

Ten Eternal flanked him as a contingent of guardians. These were true puppets, different from the others above ground. Each one had been carefully selected and strengthened by Belial, and their wills entirely subjugated. What remained were powerful, utterly loyal guardians.

The Elder looked at a small cage held by one of the Eternal. Within, a small golden bird fluttered and pecked, struggling for freedom. Light had begun to gather on its feathers.

He's here.

This little bird had been dispatched to spy on him by the Demon King's successor. When Belial spotted it, he laid a trap and captured the creature. But instead of destroying it he kept the thing in a cage of his own making. Cloudhawk would be unable to sense his divine beast, but the bird could sense its master. Through their link, Belial was able to know when Cloudhawk drew near.

But he did not think the bastard would come so quickly!

It didn't matter. Everything was prepared.

The Soul Furnace he created continued to devour the spirits nearby, further bolstering his strength. Even if his foe was the Demon King's successor, Belial now had the power to fight back.

As though on cue, the air warped nearby and four figures emerged. They stood a few dozen meters away, encased in a strange power that segmented reality into blocks. It filled the space with waves of potent spatial energy.

"Elder Belial. We meet again."

"I see you fail to keep your promises, despite being successor to the Demon King."

"Do you think you can escape the gods using their own ship? That sort of plan hardly seems possible." Cloudhawk was not shamed or angered by the demon's accusation. Instead he made his pleas. "Anyway, what made you think the new Demon King would be honest and upstanding? You'll find that sometimes I'm not so trustworthy."

"You..." The demon's human mask darkened into a scowl. There was no talking Cloudhawk down. All he could do was use his men to seal off the area and fight. He was confident this whelp couldn't defeat him in his own territory.

Cloudhawk felt his surging power and warned the others. "He's going to fight. Be careful."

He wasn't stupid enough to underestimate a demon Elder.

Belial was part of the highest echelons of his race. Others might have had more combat ability, but that just highlighted his other skills. No ordinary man or demon was his equal. To look down on the artisan meant death.

He remembered the fight between Judas and Arcturus, where the lesser Elder forced Arcturus into a corner. But a thousand years ago, he would not dare to stand tall in the presence of Belial or Legion.

Right after Cloudhawk's warning, Belial made his move.

His potent mental energies were released to take control of the Eternal. Their already empowered bodies grew stronger still as they launched toward Cloudhawk with surprising strength.

Abaddon reacted this time, flinging the Gospel of Sands out into the air. It burst apart and formed a barrier of sand. It was no ordinary wall, of course. Ten direct missile blasts wouldn't be enough to break it down. However it was as fragile as paper in the face of Belial's puppets.

This took the lesser demon by surprise. "So strong?"

By the time the thought was formed one of the puppets was before him. Its right arm reformed into a sword, but Abaddon used a blade of sand to deflect it. A second Eternal closed in to attack half a step behind. This one came slicing toward his head.

It struck!

Suddenly Abaddon's form exploded into a barrage of yellow arrows. The two Eternal were peppered by them, leaving gaping wounds. In the instant before being hit, Abaddon had replaced himself with a sandy copy so he could retreat. Once struck, it exploded like a grenade.

But although an ordinary living thing would be slain outright, it did nothing to the Eternal. Those pieces of them that were shot through recovered in a matter of seconds. They just continued their assault.

Frost moved in between to intercept, but even at his current strength he could only handle two or three at a time and only for a little while. The power of these things seemed endless, but Frost could tire. Undying, untiring, eventually they would overcome the decidedly mortal Frost.

Belial, meanwhile, did not engage. He manipulated his puppets to keep Cloudhawk and the others busy. Empowered by his strength, they were more than enough to keep his foes locked down.

Indeed the Demon King's successor was not weak, but he was not strong enough. Not even a tenth of his predecessor.

This being in the case, here within Belial's stronghold, how could he gain the upper hand? Were it not for his fear of Legion, the Elder would have slain Cloudhawk at the first opportunity.

Do what you like and I will handle my own business! Why drag me under the waves you make? I will suffer your meddling no longer!

So be it. Despite his fear of Legion and desire to avoid irritating the Elder, it was time to take more drastic measures.

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