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Chapter 12 - After the Battle

 "About Dawn..."

In the rush and chaos of the vanguard's assault, there has been no time to process everything that happened. Now, at last, they had some space to breathe, and to mourn. Selene's thoughts went to her fallen comrade.

Cloudhawk had known Dawn for a long time. Her death cut him deeply and Selene feared what it would do to him. She was already seeing changes. He'd been forced to make a terrible choice...

Cloudhawk cut her off. "It's already done. I don't need comfort, I'm not that frail. No time to be vulnerable. You don't need to worry, I'm fine."

He was right. There was no turning back, even just to remember what was. A leader can't show weakness, a King especially.

Heavy was the head that wore the crown. Lonely was the man upon the throne. But Cloudhawk would not complain, he had no right to. All the grief and pain and responsibility was his to bear in silence. He would turn it all into motivation.

"You're standing here with me but you feel so far away. I'm not used to being with the Demon King." Selene sighed. Reaching out with her pale hand she brushed her fingers against the cold mask. "Can you take this thing off?"

The Mask of a Thousand Faces. Selene remembered when she used to wear it. That was when they used to call her the Bloodsoaked Queen. Cloudhawk wore it now and they called him King. King of the wastes. King of the demons.

He hesitated to remove it. The mask fit perfectly with the Demon King's Cuirass, like a helm to a suit of armor. After a moment it began to ripple like water and flowed away, revealing Cloudhawk's features.

The frightening black armor stayed on, giving Cloudhawk a towering and imperious appearance. His black hair was now flecked with white. Fine wrinkles could be seen at the corner of his eyes, where a few days ago his features had been perfectly chiseled.

Gone was the vibrant, youthful glint in his eyes. A deep and penetrating gaze had taken its place. Ten years had turned him into another person.

"There, that's better. More what I'm used to. Remember to take that thing off from time to time, get some fresh air." She smiled sweetly and gave him a gentle kiss. "No matter what happens I will always be right beside you. Whether you're the Demon King or whatever other title, I'm here. In my eyes you'll always be the same Cloudhawk."

Cloudhawk regarded Selene, felt the warmth and comfort of her presence. Within his eyes was conflict as he gently took her hand. "I need you. You keep me grounded, keep me human."

Selene pressed herself against his chest, transforming from a paragon of power into an affectionate woman like any other. The two stood upon Greenland's fort, watching the sun rise in the east. As light bathed the city it revealed an orderly society, safe. The war and death hadn't touched this place yet.

The first order of business was to count their losses and gather the spoils of war.

Compared to the rampage of the chaos beast, the vanguard's damages were meager. The Abyssal God's invasion ended with few casualties. It was because the marshal did not consider the possibility of Cloudhawk bringing the power of Gehenna to bear. Demonic assistance had not factored into its calculations. Greenland's situation would be very different otherwise.

Between Cloudhawk and his troops it was still likely the gods would be stopped, but the death toll would have been far greater. Half of Greenland's troops or more would have lost their lives. A massacre of that scale would be impossible to recover from in a short time, increasing the likelihood of humanity being wiped out entirely.

The Abyssal God and his forces were stopped because of Cloudhawk's timely intervention, supported by the demons of Gehenna. The result was human victory in the first real battle between man and god.

Even the mighty Marshal had fallen.

Sumeru's first assault had failed. Perhaps it didn't mean much to the gods, but to humanity and to Greenland it was everything. An inspiring victory that bolstered their morale and filled their coffers with spoils.

Bodies of fallen gods were treasures. From them they could extract resources for medicines, bolster constitution and empower mental ability. Every dead god made humans stronger. Furthermore, the equipment left behind was also precious. From armor to weapons, everything could be used to strengthen their rebellion.

Cloudhawk first ordered the bodies of the gods gathered and their powers transferred. Five hundred bodies were piled on the altar of transference, their powers conveyed to their murderers before their spirits could escape. This time, Cloudhawk also partook in the ritual.

As the surge of spiritual energy came rushing in Cloudhawk could feel the vestiges of the god's will. An ordinary person would succumb to even this fragment of the creature, but Cloudhawk was King. Without danger, but not without effort, he suppressed the dead god's resolve and took its power for himself.

He felt his abilities grow, but there was a bottleneck. No single body could support endless absorption of this power. It would take time to completely assimilate this new strength. Meanwhile, a hundred of Greenland's best Awakened were also bequeathed a god's power. They were immediately lifted to the equivalent of a Master Demonhunter. The strongest among them rose to the level of a Supreme.

Sumeru's invasion did not wipe out humanity. Instead it gave them the resources to become stronger. In fact, Cloudhawk found it a little odd. Almost like it was all on purpose. A part of some plan...

It didn't matter. Now wasn't the time to worry over conspiracy theories.

"We managed to get quite the haul from those gods!" Hellflower approached, full of excitement. She had probably gained the most from this fight, with more mental power now than ever before. "Hundreds of well-preserved relics, even more than Skycloud had in its best times. This is going to lift humanity to the next level."

Cloudhawk had begun to steadily free himself from the bonds of relics. They weren't going to win if they relied on the technology of their enemy. Defeating the gods meant breaking free of their dependence. However, that didn't mean relics were worthless. Cloudhawk could research them to learn new abilities.

"Leave them here with me for now," Cloudhawk ordered. He would go over them and see what he could learn, then pass them out as needed. "time to initiate the second phase of the evacuation plan."

Both Hellflower and Selene paused. "We just won. Why are we retreating?"

"Our victory is temporary. The next time the gods appear, they'll be far stronger. Now that the demons have joined us there are no need for conventional troops. Better to have them maintain order on Emerald Star."

On average, one divine soldier was equal to a thousand ordinary fighters. So a thousand of them meant a million humans. Two thousand? Three thousand? Ten thousand divine soldiers? Humanity simply didn't have the numbers to face this threat.

So traditional armies didn't mean much in this war. Ordinary weapons and armor didn't make a difference. Might as well evacuate them to somewhere safe where they would be more useful and keep the best fighters here. This tactic was more flexible and considerate of human life. They wouldn't have to worry about casualties as much of another chaos beast was sent their way, for instance.

"In addition to the remaining citizens and soldiers, we should move the Source as well."

At present, Source ran everything. Greenland's boundary was so strong because Source made it so. However, they didn't need a mountain of it to sustain two shields.

But beyond just a precious font of energy, Source was also what demons used to make more demons. Greenland would keep only as much as it needed to continue the fight. The rest would be moved somewhere safe for other uses.

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