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Book 7, Chapter 96 - The First Skirmish

 Refugees numbered in the hundreds, the few who were lucky enough to escape from Skycloud before the catastrophe.

But luck had its limits.

They had managed to flee the city but not the realm. Five of the invading gods spied the refugees and were dispatched to eliminate them.

Five divine soldiers. What did that mean? Three Master Demonhunters would struggle against such odds.

The power of a Master Demonhunter was what the lowest ranks of the gods could summon. Killing a few hundred refugees was as easy as crushing ants. Even if some of the humans were more capable than an average citizen, it meant nothing in the face of their foes.

Before long, the five spear-bearing gods cut off the human escapees. Panic set in and the humans scattered, screaming in fear.

But before the gods could end their lives a streak of light descended from the sky. It split the air and invoked a web of crackling lightning. This sudden, intense protective screen forced the gods back. They brandished their spears defensively, temporary foiled by the attack. But it was short lived, for an instant later all five lashed out with their weapons and the barrier was torn apart.

Although they could not see their attacker, they sensed his strength. This obviously powerful character was closing in from their flank. Somehow he was hiding his presence and quickly approached without being noticed to launch another surprise attack.

But the gods were quick to react. Their spears opened like umbrellas and they gathered together in wordless cooperation. Their defenses formed a complete barrier, sturdy enough that the unseen attacker could not punch through.

Quick answer. Cloudhawk had struck from between dimensions, only to discover with great shock that he couldn't break through their shield. These were the weakest soldiers from Mount Sumeru, but they fought as a cohesive unit - as good as humanity's most grizzled veterans.

They released a pulse of mental energy, enough to distract Cloudhawk and shake him from his phase state. He was flung twenty meters away. Several of the gods readied their weapons and attacked the instant Cloudhawk showed himself.

They were simple-looking attacks, but they contained staggering power. Compressed into a small area, they were capable of punching holes in the sides of spaceships. Imagine what they could do to a human body.

A pale white light sprang up around Cloudhawk. When the two powers collided, both dispersed. He rose unscathed to prove that these attempts would not be enough to lay him low. Hardly more than a gust of wind. He stood there staring back at his enemies with a challenging posture.

"Cloudhawk!"

"It's Cloudhawk!"

"These pretender gods have attacked the city and killed everyone!"

The escapees looked at him in desperation, tears running down their dirty faces. They were both elated and indignant; happy to live, but those who did not evacuate when Cloudhawk asked were all faithful to the gods.

But what these creatures did to their followers... it was hard to fathom. Without batting an eye they razed their city to the ground.

Skycloud was the capital city of an Elysian realm! At least a million people were living - had lived there. From the elderly to the youngest babe, they had all been wiped out. No compassion, no forgiveness, just callous murder.

Was this how the gods treated their subjects? At last these stubborn Elysians understood the truth; that the gods didn't care about them at all.

Cloudhawk conveyed a single thought to all the refugees:

"Run!"

"Thank you!"

"If we survive we will join your alliance!"

"Quick! We have to get out of here!"

They scrambled to their feet and raced off toward the realm's border, pulling each other along. They all knew how strong Cloudhawk was. IF there was anyone who could protect them from these terrible creatures, it was this man. He was the only one who would dare.

The five gods rose into the air, formed up and ready to fight. They abandoned their pursuit of the humans. All their focus was fixed on Cloudhawk, who they knew was a human of tremendous power. Centuries of combat experience had honed their senses.

Even the five of them together couldn't overwhelm this man. He had to be the worm that poisoned this planet. The one called Cloudhawk.

His ferocious black armor was covered in a film of white power. From behind the grotesque mask was a piercing gaze. In his right hand he held a sword wrapped in lightning, which an instant later flung a blast of intense power their way.

"Get the fuck off my planet!"

Once again the gods opened their spears, but this time the human's attack was too strong. It broke past the barrier with a sound like shattered glass and then an explosion. The gods couldn't hide.

Countless bolts of electricity slithered through the cracks, like a host of bloodthirsty snakes. All together the gods were flung backward fifty meters. Each one was peppered with burn marks and smoke curled off their perfect bodies. Craters dotted the landscape, giving credence to the power of this attack.

This time Cloudhawk hadn't held back. He wanted to see what these assholes could handle.

The gods would not be so easily defeated, of course. With his full strength Cloudhawk had only managed to inflict minor wounds. Afterward the light of their armor had dimmed, but the gods were still able to keep fighting.

He scowled. Even the weakest gods wore impressive armor. Divine armor like that was clearly the standard among their race. Not only did they possess unique powers, but also protected them from harsh environments like outer space. Such defenses were as good in war as they were against environmental threats.

Cloudhawk's last attack was strong enough to split mountains. He could cleave a fortress apart or an asteroid ten kilometers across. But it still wasn't enough to cut through these gods' defenses.

No wonder this race had dominated their galaxy.

The 'voice' of one invaded his mind. "Ignorant human. You wear its armor, but wield not its power. How can you be so foolish as to imagine you are a threat to us? Much less to our King?"

Now he understood. This wasn't just an opening attack. The Abyssal God was doing this to test Cloudhawk's strength. Now they knew he didn't wield the Demon King's power. If he did even their strongest would know fear.

He had shown his hand in attacking these grunts. Through this display and what the Abyssal God sensed in the Divine Matrix, it knew that this human was nothing to worry over. It was the gods whose power was terrible to behold. Even these ordinary soldiers were not be to discounted. Cloudhawk knew nothing of the Abyssal God, so he chose to remain cautious.

"Ah! Save me! Help!"

"No! NO!"

Cries arose from the flees refugees. Space rippled as Cloudhawk used his spatial powers to extend his view. For many kilometers in all directions he could sense what was happening. What he saw was a forest of blackened figures, locked in their final moments. The refugees had not escaped after all.

A horrific plume of black smoke slithered among the statues. All around divine soldiers were closing in, spear at the ready.

"Petulant mortal. You were rash to appear here. Now you will not escape." One of the gods continued to mock him. "Humans, such irrational chattel."

In no time at all, thirty to forty gods had arrived. Cloudhawk was surrounded. Three in particular were wrapped in an intense aura of power. They had to be the Supremes. Against even one Cloudhawk could not afford to be cocky. Against three his chance of survival was low.

"Target has been located," one of them said. "Identity confirmed. Executing the God King's command - apprehend and return to Sumeru."

The orders were shared among the gods, Cloudhawk could not hear it. However, through his powers he was able to see across a vast distance. Oddball was also nearby and between the two of them Cloudhawk knew the cadre he faced.

No doubt about it. He was in trouble... but not without options.

Agents from Greenland were ready, Cloudhawk only needed to give the order. Teleporting them here they could engage and - with any luck - destroy these gods. Doing so would give them a little breathing room. More importantly, they would win the first real skirmish in this war. The blow to humanity's morale when the Elysian realms were attacked could be reversed. Confidence would be restored.

Deep within the hearts of man, they still feared their inadequacy in the face of the gods. They needed a victory to prove otherwise.

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