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Chapter 107: Chaos

 A streak of light flashed through the sky. A yellow bird, fast as lightning, approached and alighted on its master's hand. The little round body, pudgy head and beady eyes made for an adorable and innocuous little thing.

Cloudhawk scratched Oddball's head with a finger. "Help me take a look around outside."

With that his mental energies bloomed and connected with the bird. They were potent enough to easily maintain a connection and Oddball's own powers were considerable these days. The combination was formidable. With a shrill cry Oddball dashed off toward the horizon.

His plan was originally to go out and take a look himself, but it occurred to him that the gods probably expected that. There were no guarantees that his enemies wouldn't know the instant he left and acted accordingly. Better to have Oddball act as his eyes and ears.

Many gods and humans were capable of high speeds. Several could reach ten times the speed of sound. However, these were achieved in short bursts. Anything longer than a few seconds could only be achieved with relics.

Oddball's speed was constant. So long as it kept its energy up, the bird could move at ten, even twenty times the speed of sound for long periods. It could circumvent the globe in two hours. [1] Empowered by Cloudhawk's mental energy, Oddball could make the trip five times easily.

Furthermore Oddball's vision was extremely sharp. Even at such high speeds it could pick out the tiniest movement through withered blades of grass. Without question, Oddball was Greenland's best scout.

Visions of a rapidly passing landscape filled Cloudhawk's mind as Oddball left Southern Capital, bound for Skycloud. As it reached the skies above the Elysian land, it was treated to a strange and unsettling scene. Plumes of ominous black smoke hung over every city.

They were collections of small particles, clinging tightly together. They slowly spun in place, creating vortices over the fallen settlements. From below a constant stream of glowing objects rose. They were swallowed into the whirlpools, causing the cloud to visibly expand. Threads of light wormed through the darkness and could be faintly viewed from above.

Oddball came in for a closer look.

Scores of black statues lined the dead city. Humans with their faces locked in terrified screams. One by one they broke apart, releasing the victims' spirits. Once released, they were inexorably drawn into the storm clouds above and became part of them.

"This is the Chaos Beast?"

Cloudhawk thought back to what Legion had told him. It was a collection of microscopic creatures created by the gods. Because it had the ability to atomize whatever it touched, the smoke creature could travel through space unimpeded. It was a natural characteristic of this nightmarish thing.

The collection of particles could also be separated. Although each piece of it was weaker when disconnected from the whole, that didn't mean they were frail. Plumes like dragon's breath were released and poured over whole cities. Citizens were killed instantly and their spirits used to feed the whole.

The Chaos Beast was a monster made from the spirits of its victims. When their physical bodies failed, they became sustenance.

Oddball flew a circle around the entire realm. Similar views met it with every city, town and village it passed. The Chaos Beast had been separated into hundreds of pieces, and that was just in Skycloud. The scene was likely repeated throughout the other five realms. With every life taken the monster continued to grow.

Were the clouds some sort of nest?

Cloudhawk suspected that the transformation was some sort of fundamental refinement of a creature's biological and spiritual essence. The forced creation of quantum energy. Each fragment possessed tremendous energy and could be used as a furnace to keep the creature going.

By their nature these motes of energy were unstable and couldn't be outside of containment for long, otherwise they would dissipate. The Chaos Beast's functioned to collect and stabilize this power.

Oddball flew on. Its journey took it over several Elysian lands and as expected the situation was the same. Dark clouds hung over every city, drinking in souls. The process was moving along with frightening speed.

Cloudhawk noted that several of the bulging clouds had shafts of light bursting from within. They were swollen like sponges full of water. These clouds had stopped spinning and were slowly gathering toward a central point.

He couldn't just stand by. An emergency meeting was called

"It's just like Legion suspected. The gods will be using this monster for the next stage in their invasion. Southern Capital is the Chaos Beast's ultimate target."

Within the safety of the subspace cube Cloudhawk relayed everything he'd learned as well as Legion's analysis. "The creature we're calling Chaos has already devoured hundreds of thousands, if not millions of souls. It's capable of slipping through space, making it an imminent threat to our home."

High Priest Gorman scowled. "Might I ask, how powerful are these spiritual explosions?"

"I experienced the explosion from one spirit a couple days ago. Closest I could gather, it was similar to a 300 kilo explosive from a wasteland airship."

"Three hundred kilogram explosive?"

Everyone exchanged looks. One blast like that wasn't much of a danger to this group - most in attendance could dodge it easily, or their defenses would protect them. But they were all still flesh and blood. Caught unawares they would die like anyone else.

One or two? No problem. Ten or twenty wasn't even enough to threaten these masters. But two hundred, that was frightening.

As far as they could tell right now Chaos had millions of souls ready to blow. The equivalent of several hundred nuclear bombs. No one - not even Cloudhawk - could withstand power like that.

"If Chaos manages to get in and detonate Southern Capital would be erased," Phoenix declared. "I suggest we intercept it outside the borders."

"How are we supposed to do that?" Frost countered in a tepid voice. "Everything outside of this city is suppressed by Last Judgment. Trying to defend ourselves beyond Southern Capital's borders is suicide."

Abaddon shared his thoughts. "Hngh, do not forget that in its quantum state Chaos can traverse space. Southern Capital is too large for us to watch every corner."

Everyone was silent. These fucking gods... their methods were brutal and effective. First Last Judgment, then Chaos. The war had hardly begun and humanity already felt backed into a corner.

Belial's growling voice drew everyone's attention. "I must remind everyone that once Chaos enters the realm, it will be more powerful than we anticipate. Perhaps ten times stronger than our estimations."

Ten times stronger? Even Cloudhawk felt the sting of this dark prognosis. He was talking about an explosion hundreds of times stronger than a primordial weapon. Stronger than anything ancient man used at the height of their glory. Stronger than the one that blew apart Skycloud's wall.

If just one blow apart the wall and disintegrated Skycloud's boundary, what sort of Armageddon would come from something several orders of magnitude more terrible? The aftermath would permanently scar the planet.

Now Belial claimed Chaos could deal ten times more destruction than they thought. Wouldn't that be enough to destroy the world?

"I am not exaggerating." Belial paused, allowing his words to sink in. "You mustn't forget that the mountain of Source at our border is made from souls. If Chaos is allowed to get close it could siphon power from Source the same way we do. Even if it doesn't absorb it fully, a nearby explosion could cause a chain reaction that causes the mountain to detonate. Something of that magnitude would break this planet apart."

"Fuck, how are we supposed to deal with this?" It was too much for the more excitable members of the council. They began to shout and argue.

Cloudhawk's forehead was knit tight in worried thought. It sounded like a calamity they had no way of stopping. Quantum creatures could jump across short distances in space, which meant none of their defenses mattered. It really did seem like they were powerless.

"Chaos is extremely dangerous once it absorbs that much power. However, you can take solace in one thing. It won't explode."

The voice was uncharacteristically assuring. "If the gods' aim was to destroy this planet they have any number of methods to see it done. There would be no need for this complicated, multi-step plan of theirs. They make all this effort because there is something on this planet they need."

The first thought that entered everyone's minds was the Source mountain. If there was anything on this dead world they might find valuable, it was the condensed spirits of humanity. It took them over a thousand years to gather this energy. Cloudhawk knew how precious it was to them - but what the gods really wanted was him.

He didn't know why they were so interested in him, but so long as they believed they could catch him alive the planet was safe. Humanity had a chance.

"Belial, you are responsible for making sure spatial energy around the Source mountain remains sealed. Legion, Frost, Phoenix, and Abaddon, hold the front lines. When Chaos appears you need to do everything in your power to keep it from the city and the mountain." Cloudhawk began to give his orders. "Chaos can teleport, but only short distances. It can't just appear in the heart of Southern Capital. We have to keep it locked down outside our borders, then deal with it as quickly as possible."

It was the only plan they could hold onto for the moment. Southern Capital was too big to isolate completely. Instead they would focus their efforts on protecting the mountain so that Chaos couldn't easily draw near. Keeping the beast outside for as long as possible minimized risk, at least as much as possible.

1. Fun math. The earth is 40,075 kilometers around. The speed of sound is 343 m/s. Times twenty that's 6,860 m/2. In a minute, that's 411.6 kilometers. In an hour, 24,696 - so in two hours you could indeed go across the whole world. Tipsy did his math.