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Chapter 122 - The Venerated

 "Venerated?"

An eight-legged creature encased in a beetle-like carapace descended from a silken thread thick as a vine. It regarded the newcomers with four surprised eyes.

"Two are. Two are not."

Another soft-bodied citizen of Gehenna responded. This one was unique, roughly palm-sized and shaped like an octopus, but its 'body' looked like the folds of a brain. It rode around in a cyborg meat suit. The body it controlled was human in appearance, only without a head or neck. Perched on the shoulders was an apparatus filled with fluid wherein the octopus creature resided.

It saw Cloudhawk and Abaddon in their demonic armor and assumed they were 'the Venerated', as they were called here. Legion had taken the War God's form for his own and Belial wore the skin of an old man. This body was familiar to him, the one he'd worn for over a thousand years. Only in periods of extreme duress did his real form peek through.

"This presence is unfamiliar."

This time it was a quantum creature, which surprised Cloudhawk. He didn't think beings in the quantum realm had the same sort of intelligence that others did. It had a humanoid shape, but its 'body' was a loose collection of blue lights. The strange glow radiating from it made the large being even more intimidating.

As Cloudhawk and the others moved through the city they observed the many denizens. If he had to guess, the population of these different creatures likely started small and increased over centuries. Now the city was quite crowded.

But there were so many. You'd think that so many different races would create a mess of a settlement. But Gehenna was a multi-species home, a microcosm of the universe. In this legendary city there were representatives of countless civilizations, yet their technology was not wholly unfamiliar or fantastical.

Gehenna was an enormous pocket dimension. The laws of nature were different and that came with both advantages and drawbacks. The city had existed here for potentially tens of thousands of years, but hasn't progressed very far. Indeed all civilizations eventually reached a bottleneck.

"Please, stop!"

A mechanical voice reached them. Two electric blue figures descended from overhead to bar Cloudhawk's path. They were made of some sort of alloy and bouts of flame gushed from their feet to keep them afloat. Robots by the look of them, and quite complex.

Cloudhawk peered at them, using his spatial sense to probe their bodies.

Not robots, but living things. Only there was not an ounce of flesh or blood in them. If Hellflower were here she'd be fascinated. This was a completely different type of life form.

There were many differences between silicon- and carbon-based life forms. Silicon-based creatures had higher storage and information-processing capacity. They could perform millions of calculations in the space of an instant. However, with bodies of stone or metal their evolutionary potential was far more limited than squishier humans.

Silicon-based life changed very little over time. Stability was a staple of their construction. Carbon-based life reproduced and evolved tens of times - hundreds of times faster, but when silicon-based creatures evolve to the point of society their technology is far more advanced.

In fact, most silicon-based life was born from carbon-based societies. It would be fair to call carbon-based life an incubator for silicon-based beings. Back in the heydey of human civilization there were highly intelligent robots everywhere. They were capable of independent thought and replication - and at that point, what made them separate from any other living thing?

Another example was Father, back on Ark Base. It wasn't merely an advanced artificial intelligence. With control over the human habitat and all of its functions, it was hard to differentiate it from a god.

Cloudhawk paid the two guards no mind for the moment. He stretched out his senses even further in all directions. Every corner was revealed, and if he hadn't seen it with his own 'eyes' Cloudhawk would have trouble believing any of it was real.

The two metallic figures shared a brief exchange before extending their hands toward Cloudhawk and his companions. Ominous light shone in their palms. "You may be Venerated, but if you do not verify your identities we cannot allow you further into the city."

Cloudhawk brought his attention back to the robots. His eyes glimmered through his mask, and when he spoke it made his voice harsh. "And if I must enter?"

There was no reaction to his unsaid threat. "In accordance with directives from our Venerated Elders, we are authorized to stop anyone who does not present identification. We would be forced to act."

"Try it," Cloudhawk countered, his voice challenging.

The light from their palms grew and shot out. While not weak, they were no threat to Cloudhawk. He stood without moving a muscle, for their attempts wouldn't even displace a hair.

A pale white light flickered in the air. The blasts of energy disappeared when they got close without even leaving a ripple. At that moment the guards realized they did not have the strength to stop this Venerated and called their companions. In no time more of them flooded into the area.

"You can't stop me." Cloudhawk's words were full of confidence and menace.

The other denizens of Gehenna watched with some apprehension. They knew how powerful the Venerated were. Although there were only four of them, it would be foolish to underestimate the damage they could cause. But there was supposed to be an accord, an agreement for cohabitation even the Venerated couldn't violate.

Abaddon cut in. "You fools, do you not recognize your King? Even the Elders prostrate before him, but you will stand in his way?"

The guardians didn't fully understand, but after scanning Abaddon's face they located his information in their records. Abaddon was a Venerated who went missing several hundred years ago. It was unexpected that he should suddenly resurface here.

"Quickly now, tell the Venerated that we have arrived."

They obliged. These beings were capable of sharing information in much the same way as gods, though not across tens of thousands of light years as they could. At least across the breadth of this city they could quickly relay information, and it was through this neural network that they reported Cloudhawk's arrival.

A few minutes later the demons stirred.

Several powerful essences sprang up to Cloudhawk's senses in a specific pocket of the city. They all started approaching their location. He looked toward their source.

With the support of his spatial power, Cloudhawk's field of view was ubiquitous. Solid objects did not impede his vision. Thus he extended his sight to the heart of the city, where a large tower lay. Hundreds of dark figures were pouring from it.

They all wore the familiar, frightening armor of demons. Powerful, oppressive auras hung over them. It was the first time Cloudhawk had seen so many of these beings together.

Clearly, the tower they left from was the headquarters of the city's 'Venerated.'

Some sort of agreement existed between the demons and the citizens of this metropolis. They called the demons 'Venerated' and showed utmost respect, putting them at the height of authority. In other words, if one took control of the demons they would have dominion over every living thing in this dimension.

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