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Chapter 121 - Gehenna

 As Cloudhawk stepped into the fissure he felt himself being pulled into another dimension. Up, down, left, right... every direction was painted with swirls of light and energy. He could see the flows of space as they warped around him.

This place was dangerous. There were no roads, no points of reference, no map. He was floating in space with infinity on all sides. Which direction was the right one? If he got lost, would he ever get out?

But as he looked closer, Cloudhawk saw hidden among the flows a pathway into the distance. He floated toward it with his demon companions in tow. Their progress appeared slow without anything for reference, but in fact they were moving quite fast. Nimbly avoiding the gusts of energy, they emerged from the world of color to appear before an enormous whirlpool.

It was a strange phenomenon. All of its tremendous energy was pushed out to the edges while the center was perfectly still. Looking at it was like peering on a permanent background fixture, independent of the chaos of the area.

This was it.

Cloudhawk paused briefly, then flung himself into the center of the vortex. Once again he felt the undeniable tug of spatial energy drawing him in. His body dissolved into billions of atoms and catapulted across the cosmos, ultimately recombining somewhere new.

When all his senses returned, the first thing he felt was intense heat. Looking around Cloudhawk saw a lake of molten stone undulating in all directions. Were he an ordinary human, suddenly being deposited in a lake of lava would have killed him immediately.

Despite the extreme temperatures, however, Cloudhawk was unharmed. He didn't even need to activate his defenses, his evolved physique and the armor kept him safe. Even immersed in flowing stone, not a hair was harmed.

The same was true for Legion, Belial and Abaddon. Gods and demons enjoyed sturdier bodies and their specially-made armor would not be foiled by a little bit of heat. So without issue they swam to the lake's edge and pulled themselves free. There, they discovered that this was the lip of a caldera. The whirlpool had deposited them in the middle of an active volcano, where Gehenna's entrance was hidden. No wonder, then, that the path out of this realm was hidden from the demons who lived here.

Looking out over the vista they were greeted by a surprising scene. It was a broken and chaotic realm where the laws of physics were only occasionally applied.

A landmass too large to measure hovered in darkness. All around it was a ring of volcanoes, and beyond that a storm of energy that stretched into eternity. From their vantage they could see the rolling lands of the landmass, where alien plants of purple and red grew.

Vines were most common. They were everywhere and came in an assortment of odd colors. Like dragons they wound all across the landscape, forming massive jungles. The thickest were ten meters in diameter. Mostly translucent, one could clearly see a reddish-purple fluid pumping through each one. It reminded Cloudhawk of blood moving through arteries. From the surface of them branches extended which were laden with fruit and leaves of different colors.

Reaching out with his spatial awareness Cloudhawk surveyed the realm. He quickly discovered that the floating continent was much larger than he originally thought. It was about one tenth the surface of his own planet. Nestled in the very center was a prosperous city.

Every building was pillar-shaped.

Countless vines gathered there, intertwining and reaching thousands of meters into the sky. Structures were built into their surfaces. At first glance there appeared to be no rhyme or reason to their design, as though they were cancerous growths springing up naturally from the foliage. However, at closer inspection it was obvious that there was a grand pattern at play.

What was this city? Why was it here? As far as he knew there weren't enough demons to populate a place this large.

Adabbon noted Cloudhawk's confusion and explained. "The previous King, in his wisdom, moved many species to this plane. Demons may be few, but the population of Gehenna is no less than your earth."

So that was the answer. Once again memories floated up to the fore of Cloudhawk's mind.

After assimilating the armor and accepting his role as the new Demon King, the memories of his predecessor were coming more frequently. They flashed into being with surprising clarity, revealing secrets of spatial power along with a few specific experiences the former King lived through.

Just as Cloudhawk had speculated, the Demon King had once been a god, one of their leaders in fact. He served as commander of Sumeru's forces, destroying countless civilizations at the whim of another.

But he was an aberration. Rather than eradicate these beings, he always saved a portion of them. Just as he did with ancient humans and Ark Base. Many he secretly spirited away to this dimension, where after many thousands of years a new civilization grew. Gehenna.

Why did he do it?

From his memories Cloudhawk learned that he had been committed to another, but his actions were in defiance of this will as well as his own duties. But what confused him even more was the compassion he showed. The Demon King was a warrior of Sumeru, from a race that valued loyalty and obedience, not feelings.

Cloudhaw thought about his own encounter with the God King. It had been a short exchange, but it was long enough for Cloudhawk to know that it was different from the others. The God King was enormously powerful, wise, and independent. It could feel, even intensely. Such emotion was not typical for the gods.

But maybe divine society wasn't exactly how Cloudhawk thought. Maybe the God King and Demon King were more similar than they appeared.

He didn't dwell on it for too long. Gathering his powers, Cloudhawk teleported himself and his companions across the vast jungle and into the central plains of Gehenna. From here they got a good view of the stretching world of vines and towers before them.

Over a hundred different species called this place home.

Coming closer Cloudhawk saw intelligent arthropod-like creatures, things that looked like dinosaurs, and tree people covered in branches and leaves. That wasn't all; there were silicon-based creatures that looked like they were made out of stone or metal. Some had no bodies at all and were loose connections of buzzing energy.

All intelligent, all different, all using various items suitable for their way of life. It appeared that every race retained some part of the ancient civilizations they hailed from. Yet, for all their discrepancies, life here seemed very harmonious.

Cloudhawk hadn't even entered yet, but already could tell this was an inclusive place. It reminded him of the ancient story he once read about Noah and his boat. This was the same, only spread across the stars.