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Chapter 125 - Elder Intrigue

 "Gods and demons are natural foes. It is only a matter of time before the God King discovers our hideout." Legion's voice had grown cold. "How long before your doom comes knocking?"

It was a forecast that plucked at the deepest fears of the Elders.

"It did not escape the God King's attention that some demons managed to escape and survive. Its powers were more than enough to uncover Gehenna's location and yet I ask you - why do you think you were spared?" Legion's question was met with silence.

"I'll tell you, if you are so unwilling to hazard a guess," Legion said with some disdain. "It is because you sorry dregs aren't a threat to Sumeru. Not worth the God King's attention. After the Great War much of Sumeru's strength had been spent to win their victory. The God King was in no hurry to throw away more souls to hunt down the toothless remnants of a rebellion."

Even humans understood the principle of not pursuing a broken enemy. A thousand years ago demons had been pushed to the brink. If the God King had chased them to Gehenna they would have fought tooth and nail to their demise. Though victory would have been won, it would have come at a great cost.

Now, after a thousand years, the armies of Sumeru had regained their strength. Meanwhile the demons are defeated in morale. They had died already in their hearts. Was not the greatest victory not laying siege to one's foe and defeating them without losing a single soldier? The God King spared Gehenna because the rock these demons hid under was not worth finding.

Why was it so confident in their impotence? Because they had no leader.

Without a Demon King to lead them the rebels were nothing more than grains of sand in a storm. Without Source they could make no technological progress nor create more demons to bolster their numbers. They were condemned to a slow, wasting extinction.

It also served the gods to have a small, shattered portion of their foes remaining. A boogeyman in the shadows with which to frighten their human chattel. From time to time one might sneak through and give demonhunters a chance to pursue their ultimate prey. It inspired them to grow stronger, and to remain loyal.

"At this very moment Sumeru's vanguard attacks earth. The God King knows a successor to his ancient foe has been found. This time it will not stop until nothing is left." With every word Legion's presence swelled, filling the chamber. After a thousand years the stifling presence of the Grand Elder was felt once again. "The question is not whether to fight. There is no choice. The question is whether our people will be erased from the universe."

The Elders all sat with still tongues.

Yes, demons lived forever and in times of peace it was natural to fear death and war. But it was also their long lives that crippled them with fear of the future. For men, the inevitable could be ignored - a problem for later generations. For demons it was an inevitability they would have to face personally.

Time. Long or short, it didn't matter. When a problem emerged it had to be dealt with, for it would reach them eventually. Sumeru's armies were on the warpath. The threat they posed was not some distant possibility but an immediate concern. The clock was ticking.

"The Grand Elder makes a good argument." Haborym was likely the older one of the Ten Seals - besides Legion - support war. "Instead of waiting for our demise we should take the initiative!"

Dumah answered. "What initiative is there against a being that can see all of time?"

Crokel and Korath were silent, however their thoughts were as clear as though they were spoken aloud. This dire situation had them caught between a rock and a hard place.

It was then Cloudhawk decided to step forward. Crimson fires danced in his eyes, especially stark against the pale surface of his mask. They conveyed a terrible pressure, a crushing fear that any living thing would struggle to face. He looked upon the Elders who quickly averted their gaze.

"From the instant I donned this armor; from the moment I was chosen as his successor, I was fated to complete the mission your former King failed. For this mission, I have sacrificed. Here I stand, telling you that I will have no problem sacrificing what stands in my way."

His cutting gaze fixed on the Second and Third Seals. His words were brazen, threatening. Many of the demons present bristled at his disrespect.

A glint of light appeared within Korath's single eye. It spoke of his wish to rise up and shut this human's mouth. It was not hard to imagine their reaction. These were beings who had lived since ancient times. Each was a collection of countless experiences and acquired wisdom.

And Cloudhawk? A mere human. A small thing whose life was over after a few short decades. What rite did he have to stand before them? Simply because he managed to put on some armor? There was no denying that it was a mark of dominance. Cloudhawk wore the mantle of a King and had the key to their realm, but he was human - not one of them.

How could demons debase themselves by submitting to human rule?

But as Korath was about to give voice to his thoughts, he felt a draft of mental energy from the Second Seal urging silence. It was Crokel who stood, and in an unexpected move bowed before Cloudhawk. It's liquid-like body undulated as though seen through a dream.

"Respected successor of our King, your arrival is sudden as is the news you bear. We demons have spent the last thousand years adapting to a new life. Asking us to discard what we have built over this time is not as easy as levying a demand."

Cloudhawk focused all of his attention upon the Elder of the Second Seal. "I came for the obedience and loyalty that I am owed - not excuses."

"This..." There was a flicker of something behind the demon's red eyes, as though it were quickly calculating. "Please, honored inheritor. Gives the Elders and our council some time. We will spread the information among our people and come to a decision quickly."

Cloudhawk narrowed his eyes. "You better."

"Haborym, Dumah. Why don't you show our Tower to the King's successor, see to whatever he needs."

The two Elders complied. Cloudhawk cast a glance to Legion, who assured him it was fine. So without any further conversation Cloudhawk left with his companions and the two Seals.

"Elders, we-" The remaining forty or so members of the councils wanted to know what their leaders were thinking.

Crokel cut them off with an even voice. "Leave us, all of you. Spread this information to the others, neglect no one."

Without answers, the Elder demons left to do as they were told.

Korath linked directly to Crokel's mind. "Do you really intend to respect this human's claims, Crokel? Do you really seek a war?"

"Of course not. Merely a delaying tactic while we concoct a plan for dealing with them. We determine our course of action, then make our move," the Second Elder responded.

Surprise was felt through their connection. "Against the human and his allies? He might be human, but he wears the armor. Haborym is strong and yet was beaten. This successor also has Legion's protection, I fear-"

Determination and cold resolve filled Korath's mind as Crokel cut him off. "I observed the fight between Haborym and the successor. The human's spatial powers are in no way inferior to our lost King. The Elder of the Fifth Seal was doomed to lose. However, the human's mental prowess is not much greater than our colleagues. This means..."

"... that he is no match for us." Korath finished the thought. "But it is not the human I fear. Legion cannot be trusted, and his ways are inscrutable."

"Hngh hngh... during his peak neither one of us was a match for the Grand Elder. However, he has weakened considerably since his defeat on earth. Over the past thousand years his influence among our people has dissipated. We should take this opportunity to rid ourselves of his meddling. All the more reason for us to act now."

Korath was hesitant. He harbored great fear of the Grand Elder.

"Do not waver. Have you forgotten our plight? Even if the successor is stronger than our lost King, they would place a sovereign over our heads toward no good end. Would you submit to the will of a human?"

"Very well. What is our plan?"

"Leave the successor to me. Legion is your target."

Their conversation was a psychic one, an exchange that was quick and quiet. No one was privy to their dark conspiracies.

For a thousand years the Elders of the Second and Third Seal have ruled over Gehenna. They were its rulers and no one would wrest control from them. But they did not wish to risk a direct confrontation with the Demon King. Best to keep their intentions in the shadows, until the perfect moment.

Humans, demons, any other intelligent species... desire and intrigue came hand in hand. When desire was impeded, the darkest impulses of treachery emerged.