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Chapter 117 - The Meaning of Sacrifice

 The Chaos Beast's fall and eruption was a gradual process.

First came the collapse. Its hulking body started to implode and when it couldn't get any smaller, it started to swell. Like a balloon leaking air, eruptions of energy from within were flung out in random directions. It was a chain reaction, an explosion that was increasing in slow motion.

Selene hit the ground. Blood poured from her right eye, but even though it threatened her life she wanted to use its power again to stop the explosion. Yet for all her desire, she couldn't. The monster was too far away, and the energy it contained too great.

All she could do was look up at the armageddon forming overhead. Nothing in her power could stop it. Nothing humanity possessed could stop it. She was helpless.

Belial's voice shouted through the noise. "Help me to the control tower!"

Oddball, after fighting off the Supreme, heard Belial's call. It was as intelligent as an average person and so responded, flying by and grabbing him by the shoulders. Bird and demon dashed toward the mountain's control tower.

But fast as Oddball was, it couldn't outrun the explosion.

The ever-expanding corona of energy grew at staggering speeds and burned like a supernova. Even Selene felt her unbreakable resolve begin to crack. Was this it? Was she going to watch this explosion destroy everything they'd worked for?

The troops in the air nearer to the explosion felt the same fear, only far more intensely. The troops had been dispatched here by Dawn in a moment of crisis. Thanks to their sacrifices the birth of Chaos had been delayed. But so what? The explosion that threatened to swallow them up would ravage everything within hundreds of kilometers.

It contained as much power as ten of the nukes Adder used to destroy Skycloud's wall. No living thing would survive its fire. There was no escape. The death of Chaos would lead to a chain reaction that would obliterate the Source mountain and everything nearby.

Southern Capital might survive the initial blast, but without Source their defenses would fail. The gods would crush the city and its people when they arrived. They wouldn't even need to step food on earth's soil. From the safety of their ships high in space they could rain destruction on the humans with the push of a button. A few volleys was all it would take.

Myriad were the tools of the gods. Last Judgment and the chaos beast were a few of a hundred methods gods could use to eliminate the lowly human race. They were like a modern mechanized army pit against primitives. It didn't matter how fierce and united the cavemen were, in the end their fate was destruction.

The ever expanding orb of energy was dense enough to have its own gravity. Anything within its scope was dragged inexorably toward a furious center. Airships that were too slow in escaping were caught and devoured. The turbulent flows of energy obliterated everything it touched, and the fires burned away anything that remained.

Still it grew. At any moment it could grow unstable and release all of that pent-up energy all at once. A fiery end was inevitable.

Dawn, Janus, Phain and their group faced the slowly approaching wall of fire. Their faces were ashen with fear. Anything they thought to do seemed futile in the face of this power.

"We've lost." Phain said with a sigh.

Lost. In the end it was just as the gods said. Everything had just been a futile effort.

Everyone knew this could happen. The gap between humans and their masters was too wide. What they didn't imagine was that they would be so thoroughly subjugated in a matter of days. It was almost pathetic.

"I will not give up!"

Dawn flung herself forward, separating from the group. Everyone watched her go in shock and alarm, but didn't try to stop her. What was the point? They were all dead anyway.

Dawn faced the storm of energy with her jaw set. She would not run! Activating her gravitational powers, and with the power of her Dawnbreaker armor, she flung herself toward the heavens like a comet.

Even up to the last instant, even though she could do nothing, Dawn refused to give in. She would not accept that this would be her end, that Cloudhawk would lose!

Her mind filled with the faces of the Polaris family soldiers who'd died for her. She clung to the fury and promise she made to her grandfather, that she would avenge his murder. Dawn had told Cloudhawk that she would follow him to the end. The end had not come yet.

I have to stop. I have to stop it! Everything else went quiet. This was the only thought in her head, echoed over and over. Her one mission to accomplish.

So like a butterfly with its wings on fire, Dawn hurled herself into the raging storm. With both hands on her sword she aimed it at the core of the explosion. All of her will and anger and pride was focused on the weapon and soon shards of crystal began to thicken around it.

That was her plan, to freeze this mass of terrible energy. But was she strong enough to succeed? It would be impossible even for Cloudhawk!

Dawn didn't spend any time considering odds, she never did. In the end she always believed that it wasn't just the result that was important. You did what you had to do, that was important. If it meant climbing a mountain of swords or crossing a sea of fire, she did it without hesitation, she did what she felt she had to.

She didn't know what would happen. Whatever her end would be, she would go down fighting.

As she roared a challenge to the explosion, Dawn released several times her ordinary level of power. The undulating surface of the orb began to stiffen. Crystals formed along the corona and suddenly the rapid expansion of it slowed.

But it wasn't enough.

Dawn was swallowed up by it, surrounded by furious flows of energy. Every second took all of her strength to keep from being blown apart. Yet even using all her potential and pouring everything she had into the effort, it was only slowing the inevitable.

A short distance away, the air trembled. Cloudhawk appeared, having raced to the Source mountain after defeating the chaos beast's physical form. But he was in bad shape, encased in shattered armor and leaking blood from several wounds. When he appeared all he saw was devastation.

The situation was too far gone.

"Dawn!" Cloudhawk saw her glimmering form get swallowed up by the corona. With notes of fear in his eyes he teleported as close as he dared. "We can't stop it! Come back!"

Dawn felt him arrive. It didn't matter, there was no going back now. She had slowed the spread, but now she was the plug. If she let up all the energy would be released. It would swallow everything; the army, their barrier, Selene, and most importantly Cloudhawk.

So she could not let up.

"Cloudhawk, I can't hold it for long!" She cried out as loud as she could. "Teleport me and this fucking thing out of here!"

He was frozen. He knew what she was asking. She had managed to delay the explosion but no one could stop it. Cloudhawk could put his own life on the line and it wouldn't make a difference. The second Dawn faltered everything for kilometers around them would be destroyed. They couldn't run from it.

So there was only one option. With his powers Cloudhawk could move the explosion and Dawn from this dimension into another. It was the only way to save everyone.

"I know it's hard, but you have to do it. You have to."

"I can't!" He screamed. It was the first time since becoming the leader of the wastes that his emotions got the better of him. Never mind how impotent he felt against this power, how was he supposed to accept sacrificing his best friend?

Dawn had reached her limit. Blood was leaking from her eyes, ears and nose - from the corner of her mouth and from every pore. The muscles of her body had begun to atrophy as every ounce of her was being drained. Her hair turned from brilliant gold to withered and gray. Her life was being stolen from her and every second was agony.

She felt the most intense pain of her life, but she knew the pain Cloudhawk felt had to be worse.

"Cloudhawk, it hurts. Let me end it."

He could see her consciousness beginning to slip and there was nothing he could do. He felt overwhelmed with anger and frustration.

Dawn's body was failing. Her voice barely a whisper, she croaked, "quickly... quickly..."

Cloudhawk's scream was like a mad beast. With both hands raised he released his power, but not in the trained and controlled way that was typical. It poured out of him like his scream, raw and pure. Unprecedented power enveloped the area.

Not enough! The power of the explosion was too great!

"You can do it," Dawn said in a hoarse sigh. "You can do it..."

Her words were like a knife in his heart. He had to push through. His own hair turned from pitch black to platinum white as his will, soul and body were given over to the power. In the midst of the physical and emotional pain, something wondrous took over.

The stone in the center of the Demon King's Cuirass flared to life.

His armor, which had been a loose collection of fragments, suddenly fused together. The armor's silent will awakened once again, but rather than deny Cloudhawk it fused seamlessly with his own mind. A faint shadow appeared in the corner of Cloudhawk's vision.

"Hope, courage, power, perseverance, responsibility... and most importantly, sacrifice." The low, stately voice boomed in his mind. "The road to great things is paved with hardships. Remember the power of grief. From this instant forward, you are the Demon King."

Sacrifice! Was that what he was missing all this time?

Legion saw powerful spatial fluctuations from afar begin to warp the ball of energy. A massive tear appeared in reality between heaven and earth, swallowing the orb like a hungry maw. At the same time, in another empty cosmos, a roaring explosion appeared from nowhere.

Dawn released her final breath, a sigh of relief. Her withered lips pulled back in a smile.

Cloudhawk, it looks like I can't be with you after all. Grandpa - I'm sorry I couldn't avenge you.

The darkness of space blazed with the light of a supernova. Total silence. A small wave in an endless black sea.

Dawn's sacrifice had saved countless lives. Her life gave rise to a king.

Cloudhawk had joined with his armor at last. Finally, he had inherited all that his predecessor had to give and it had made him greater. Only, he felt entirely empty. He felt like everything that he was had disappeared.

With his own hands, he'd sent Dawn to her death. He would never remove this armor because there was no Cloudhawk anymore. He died with her. There was only the Demon King now.