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Book 7, Chapter 87 - The Armor

 Cloudhawk left two copies back in the Southern Capital to look after things. As for the original? He was off to Woodland Vale. Beneath its God Tree, in an area forbidden for others to enter, lay the Demon King's Cuirass. It was time for another try.

While he wasn't confident in his chances, Cloudhawk was eager for progress. Even if he failed another attempt was necessary. He knew that the Cuirass would be an important part of the coming war and he couldn't afford to have it fall into divine hands.

Standing before the altar, Cloudhawk placed his hands beside the crystal-encased armor. Right away he felt the power within him resonating with the relic. If he could only put it on, then the latent power of the Demon King would fill him completely. He would finally complete his inheritance.

What did that mean? He would finally be able to unleash the power of Gehenna, which had lain dormant for over a thousand years.

"You are refused!"

Once again the bitter declaration was forced into Cloudhawk's mind.

"Come on! The gods are beating down our door. Work with me here!" Cloudhawk was losing his temper. "Where am I not good enough? Tell me something! How am I supposed to change what I don't know? ... wait, something's happening."

Cloudhawk pleaded with the armor. Although he knew there was some measure of will, there was no ability for it to think for itself much less understand Cloudhawk's plight. It was like trying to argue with a stone.

So what could he do?

He didn't have the time to figure out what the armor was looking for. He had a broken civilization to rebuild and an army of gods on the way. Every second counted.

Fine! Simple methods are the best anyway. I'm not worthy? Well fuck you, I think I am. Cloudhawk was not afraid to force things when necessary. The armor wouldn't capitulate? Maybe it would after he smacked it around a little!

He reached out and grasped the crystal. Immediately he was filled with a jarring current of electricity. Before it would have been strong enough to blast him off his feet, but Cloudhawk had become much stronger. Like a thug forcing himself on a frail woman, resistance would hardly stop him.

Cracks began to appear. Muscles in Cloudhawk's arms bulged and the ground cracked beneath his feet. Dirt was kicked up as a shock-wave blast through the mausoleum. All at once the crystal housing shattered, but as the armor was freed Cloudhawk witnessed something he did not expect. While it appeared to be in perfect condition locked inside the crystal, once released the armor crumbled into a dozen pieces.

The Cuirass was... broken?

That fact wasn't so surprising. The defensive relic had once been worn by the defeated Demon King. It would have been more strange for his armor to be unscathed after his death. After looking them over, Cloudhawk could see that the pieces still had some use.

Pieces of the armor scattered through the chamber. "Don't try to escape! Get back here!" Cloudhawk yelled as he groped for them. His dimensional powers held them fast and then, with incredible force, gradually dragged them back to his feet.

It was a mighty struggle. But although the cuirass was a mythical relic, It was in the end just a broken tool. The armor was nothing without a master to wield it. Certainly no match for Cloudhawk. Through sheer force of will he formed the pieces around his body.

"Now or never." He said through gritted teeth.

Cloudhawk needed this armor. He needed the authority it represented. Paying no mind to the consequences he took a deep breath, and as he exhaled he released a flood of Castigation Fire. It spread all across him, burning his clothes away.

The pieces of the Demon King's Cuirass affixed themselves to his body.

He felt in that instant like there were thousands of spikes digging into his flesh. Unspeakable agony poured through him like he'd been immersed in a sea of lightning. Veins burst, muscles spasmed.

But even in the face of this torture Cloudhawk would not yield. He raised his arms again and clenched his hands into fists. The fragments covered him from head to toe, like he was a shattered statue on the verge of falling to pieces.

The pain continued to grow. Every nerve was on fire. The Demon King's Cuirass was rejecting his body and the agony was nearly more than he could bear. If constant pain of this magnitude was the cost of donning the armor, Cloudhawk would not be able to do it.

But the gods were coming. This was just a piece of fucking armor and it was getting the better of him!

Just as he was about to succumb to defeat, a change began. Set within the breastplate was a cavity, and from that hole a light emerged. It coalesced into a stone with crimson veins running through it.

It'd been a long time since Cloudhawk had seen the phase stone, so long it was almost unfamiliar. It was... it was the stone he'd taken from the sweepers so many years ago. It was one of the first things he'd absorbed with the power of Castigation Fire. So how was it appearing now?

With the stone's appearance, the restless fragments of armor began to calm. Ominous red light pulsed within as though it were a beating heart. Scarlet light like rivulets of blood spread across the cuirass.

He could feel it. When he first took hold of it, the armor was enormous - too large for him. But now it was shrinking. Little by little it was forming to his body. With every passing second the pain eased as his body acclimated to the relic. It stopped fighting him.

He felt... strange. It defied description, like his body was growing an extra muscle layer or a second skin. The armor fused perfectly with his form, so completely that his nerves even ran through it. He felt every inch, even the slightest breeze, as though he wore nothing at all.

In fact he felt as though his sense of the outside world was even keener than his own skin. He could distinguish the slightest changes around him. With his feet planted on the ground it was like he was part of the earth.

And then there was the power! It filled every part of him. Cloudhawk felt like he could punch a mountain into rubble. Reflexes, constitution, speed - every aspect of him soared to new heights.

Had he succeeded? It seemed too easy! Forcing the armor to accept him was an act of desperation, he hadn't expected it to actually work.

He produced a mirror to see the result. The image that looked back at him was a creature encased in fierce black armor. The only piece of him that was exposed was his face. But... it didn't have the commanding look that a Demon King's armor should have!

It was dark and savage, yes, but it still looked like a hodgepodge of broken pieces. Each jagged crack was filled with a blood-like fluid, as though someone had tried to glue together a shattered mural. By the look of it, the armor would collapse at the first blow.

He was sure that the armor was different now, changed since it was worn by the previous King. After dwelling on it for a moment he discovered that his strength had not increased as he'd originally thought. The armor felt... inert. Like any normal piece of equipment.

He understood. Cloudhawk succeeded in wearing the armor by mistake. It was fused to him, but was still a broken thing. It did not submit to him and so would not convey its power. Only its physical aspects were given. The true essence of it was still locked away.

Naturally, he could not call on Gehenna while the armor still refused him. But at least there were some gains. He wore the armor now and could protect it from being stolen or destroyed.

Cloudhawk ran his hands over his body. Although the armor was shattered it still covered him completely, all but his face. All that was missing was... a mask. He thought for a moment then produced the Mask of a Thousand Faces, an old relic from long ago, and slipped it on.

Once again, things began to change. Somehow the mask, helmet and neck plates all fused together perfectly. He found it strange. Was the mask a part of this armor? An odd possibility, but one he didn't pay much mind to right now. It worked, that was enough.

He felt like a different person. He jumped backward experimentally and rocketed a hundred meters through the cavern, slamming into a wall. It all tumbled around him, but he felt nothing.

Hell yeah! Cloudhawk figured his physical attributes were now two or three times better than they had been. Not bad... not bad at all. For the time being it was an adequate improvement. If he had to compare it to something, he felt like he had the qualities of a Marshall. Who knew what levels he would reach once the armor was repaired.

Well, first he would have to take it off. He put his hands to his chest... but how was he supposed to remove it? The armor looked shattered but it was totally fused to his body.

This sort of armament was totally different from the sort humans used. It was one whole piece from head to toe. There were no hinges, plates or straps. From the moment he put it on, the Demon King's Cuirass had become a part of him. Like another organ. Teleporting wasn't going to free him from it, either.

Well... shit. Was he just supposed to sleep in it?

He fused with it for a little while, but the only thing Cloudhawk could remove was the mask. Nothing else would give. So he used his Spare in the Southern Capital to tell Legion what happened.

The Elder demon was surprised to learn he'd put it on. "I am shocked to hear the armor could be forced to comply. You are wearing it, but it seems as though it still has not been activated. You won't be able to activate and release it until it has awakened."

So if Cloudhawk wanted to escape this thing he had to conquer it completely. In other words this was his body, at least for the foreseeable future. It was his new skin, and he couldn't just slip out of his own skin.

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