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Book 7, Chapter 89 - Near at Hand

 As Eutropius and Norman charged at one another the space between them warped. A pair of hands reached from the ether, catching both weapons. Praelius' two mighty champions were flung away from each other.

"Who are you?!"

A sea of shocked faces stared at the beings that had appeared from nowhere. The stark contrast between Cloudhawk and Selene made for quite the sight.

Cloudhawk was encased in demonic armor that cut a horrific and brutal figure. His face was masked behind a hideous face and the eyes that peered through were an angry pulsing red. He was like a nightmare that crawled out from the darkest parts of the human psyche.

Beside him was a woman clad in resplendent white. Selene's long black hair fell like a waterfall passed her shoulders, caressing the crystalline blade strapped to her back. She was wreathed in holy light and divine temperament, like an angel.

"You're Cloudhawk!"

Norman felt an intensity coming from this creature that he'd never felt before. His power was stifling, so much so that he knew immediately there was no other creature on this planet that could match him. Who else other than the hated Cloudhawk could inspire such awe and fear?

"Indeed." Cloudhawk's voice was hideous, like flesh on gravel. "I am Cloudhawk."

"Die!"

Norman's eyes were wide and bloodshot as, with a thunderous battlecry, he hacked at Cloudhawk with his sword. It spewed a gash of cutting light.

Cloudhawk paid this paltry attempt on his life no mind. He merely extended a finger and caught the attack when it neared. The light dispersed harmlessly. Afterward a surge of energy passed through the gauntlet, belching a ray of pale white energy.

IT enveloped his opponent and within that light, Norman's sword shattered into pieces. A force like being slammed by an airship hit him full force and sent him flying into a nearby wall.

Cloudhawk slowly retracted his hand. His crackling voice returned. "This is a warning. Next time I will show no mercy."

"Devil!"

"Die, you bastard!"

Two demonhunters hurled their insults and attacked. They were Norman's men, respectable members of the League of Demonhunters, and they attacked this threat to their home with all the power of their relics.

To them there was no worse fiend than this heathen. The only reason their realm was in such dire straits was because of him!

Cloudhawk vanished, reappearing a moment later in another spot. No one saw what he did but the two demonhunters crumpled to the ground with their heads caved in. A spray of gore coated the ground.

"All together, attack him!" The remainder of Norman's followers brandished their relics and charged.

Tongues of fire leaped up from each of Cloudhawk's fingers and with a snap they flew off into the air. Like pebbles dropping into a lake, the air rippled as the fires passed through space and reappeared directly in front of each target.

A chorus of horrified, pained screams arose. Green fire enveloped the demonhunters and continued until they were scorched black. Cloudhawk used his spatial abilities to teleport Castigation Fire onto his enemies. There was no way to escape.

Such a terrible scene sapped the others of any desire to fight. Cloudhawk was too strong and his methods too cruel. No ordinary person was his match and the fear that filled them was insurmountable.

Norman rose up on shaky legs. His weapon was destroyed and his body wounded. Seeing his men murdered, he screamed in rage and flew himself forward. In that moment his eyes met Cloudhawk's.

Deep inside, dual embers of crimson fire burned. He could see them smoldering behind the mask. The pressure that entered Norman's mind was hard to describe. It was like two hot knives drilling through his skull. He felt a foreign will force its way into him. All courage shattered and he stood frozen in place, trembling like a babe.

He saw his future. If he moved a muscle he would be destroyed. This power ground his willpower to dust, it was incontestable that he was a mere insect before this man. Norman had believed himself to be fearless, but in the face of this devil he knew what true fear was. Like a statue he was frozen in place.

Cloudhawk could rob a soldier of his valor with a glance. Eutropius and the others could hardly believe what they were witnessing.

He'd used his mental powers to subdue Norman for a reason. Cloudhawk recognized that he was an important figure in this realm, a hero of the so-called resistance. Killing him would make the man a martyr and empower his movement.

Killing him was easy. But it wasn't the right call.

"There are limits to my love, compassion and patience. I am not the monster you want to make me out to be, but I'm no sterling hero either." As he spoke, Cloudhawk's growling voice bore a domineering quality that demanded attention. "Everyone has the power and authority to choose their own destiny. I will not force anyone to follow me. But I will warn those who would remain to cause chaos: I have no qualms doing what I have to do. Whether that means taking one man's life or a million."

His meaning was clear. They didn't have to obey. IF they found somewhere cool to rest their heads, then go! But they couldn't be allowed to get in his way.

He was at his limit. Cloudhawk wouldn't tolerate any more interference in his plans, any troublemakers would be handled with extreme prejudice. One man, a hundred men, ten thousand men... it didn't matter. He would not balk at a massacre if it was necessary.

Gritting his teeth, Norman fixed his eyes on Eutropius. "Where is Orchid."

Eutropius sheathed his weapon. "I've already sent her somewhere safe."

"She'll never forgive you."

"I have to do this."

"Fine... fine!" Norman spat the words, gathered his remaining men and left. He knew that fighting Cloudhawk was a lost cause. Better, instead, to rally the opposition. When the gods came they would not exterminate those who were truly pious. It was Cloudhawk and his treasonous snakes that would suffer at the hands of the divine.

Cloudhawk watched him go. The opposition forces in these realms were more troublesome than he thought. There would always be those in the world too stubborn to see reason.

"Some still refuse to believe us." Selene looked out over the crowd. "Why is change so hard for them? Why is faith in the gods so important?"

"We can't wake up people who refuse to see the truth, much less the dead. No plan Is perfect." Cloudhawk was trying desperately to pull his species back from the brink of extinction. But if people wanted to link wrists and throw themselves off that cliff he couldn't stop them. He was no saint, he could only do his best. "Let's go."

Selene turned her head to regard Eutropius. "You are doing well."

His deep voice answered. "I have no choice."

"Your people will understand one day. History will remember."

"Perhaps..." A bitter, helpless grin spread across Eutropius' face. The words were hollow. He looked at Cloudhawk standing before him, felt the thick air of oppression that wafted off the man. He fought passed the fear. "Leader Cloudhawk, our population is too large. One evacuation point is not enough, we need more portals if we're to get everyone to safety."

At his current level of strength - and especially with Source - opening several portals was not an issue for Cloudhawk. The steward was right that each portal would speed the process up exponentially.

"There is also a group that refuses to leave. I want to ensure their safety."

Cloudhawk revealed the true purpose of the Elysian lands in order to unify their governments. That didn't stop bullheaded zealots like Norman from fighting back. If the respected members of Elysian society didn't fall in line, how could he expect ordinary people to?

Conspiracy theories were a common thing. Cloudhawk was often depicted as an agent of Gehenna, here to spread false evidence. All of it was a ploy to help demons take over the earth. Faithful were determined to remain behind for the righteous gods to return and deliver them from sin.

And then there were some who understood the truth but still chose to follow Sumeru.

Sure, the gods might be raising them for energy. But the lives they led as cattle were better than wastelanders. They were livestock, but knowing that didn't change anything. It didn't matter what happened when they died, so long as they enjoyed a comfortable life. Rising up against one's master was just a quicker path to slaughter!

Cloudhawk agreed with Eutropius' request. The realm was rich, and although leaving meant taking many resources with them, they could comfortably leave much behind so that those who wished to remain wouldn't starve.

The troubles in Praelius had been handled. Cloudhawk brought Selene to the other Elysian lands to see what could be done. One after the other, issues were handled before they were allowed to effect the exodus.

At the same time, the Southern Capital was undergoing significant changes. Its defenses were greatly strengthened but the city had exploded to four or five times its size in only a few days. Citizens and soldiers from all over the world were either preparing for war or for evacuation.

Docks were packed with airships and all around the surrounding ruins outposts were being established. From the outside it might have looked chaotic, but the truth was everything had been well organized. A staggering array of Elysian and wasteland equipment had been brought to bear for what was to come.

All details big and small were being handled by Legion.

Cloudhawk was, after all, too young to manage such delicate things. The intricacies of human interaction were beyond him, much less an overarching strategy for war with the gods. He was smart enough to realize, however, that this mobilization on an unprecedented scale was running rather smoothly.

The threat of death was a great way to galvanize potential.

Cloudhawk estimated that if he had half a month they could fully rally humanity's forces and evacuate all non-combatants. But did he have that long?

It was late in the afternoon two days later when he was summoned by Legion and the Cloud God. He teleported to the meeting room to be filled in on the situation.

"The gods have arrived."

"Our advanced detection equipment in the Elysian lands have picked up traces. Gravitational fluctuations near the moon tell us that Sumeru's forces are close. We must prepare for an immediate invasion."

The gods weren't coming to them immediately. It seemed they would first set up a forward base on the moon in order to prepare out of Cloudhawk's reach. No equipment in humanity's arsenal could reach such a distance.

The divine invasion was near at hand.

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