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Chapter 14 - The Larger Pantheon

 After the meeting Cloudhawk teleported directly to the God tree.

Autumn lived in its boughs. Several years had passed since she got wrapped up in this conflict, but her outward appearance hadn't changed at all. She was still the fresh-faced seventeen year old that wandered into Sandbar Outpost.

When Cloudhawk met her for the first time he saw she was unique. Autumn wasn't vivacious like Dawn, aloof like Selene or alluring like Hellflower. The feeling she left people with was chaste. Pure, like an unblemished sheet of paper.

No matter how much had changed in the world outside, in her heart Autumn had remained the same. But that said, when Cloudhawk saw her there was something different in her presence. Her mental strength and talent had grown.

"The spirit of the Shepherd God is with you." He determined that had to be reason for the change.

Autumn had become the unwitting vessel for the Shepherd God's reincarnation. In shedding the fetters of Sumeru, severing one's link was not enough. The Shepherd God would forever be an apostate to her race, hunted mercilessly.

So she made a pact with the Demon King. In exchange for a new body, the Shepherd God would look over his cuirass. Only there emerged a problem - Autumn's will was not erased when the god took her form. Instead, now her body was the vessel for two perfectly combined souls.

Such was a rare phenomenon, causing no small amount of irritation.

For instance, sometimes the two wills battles for control over their shared body. The Shepherd God was clearly dominant at first, but since then Autumn had been allowed to take the reigns from time to time.

Things were changing even more lately. Autumn and the Shepherd God had forged a sort of cooperation. She wasn't suppressed all the time like she used to be and she had come to accept the divine intruder. With every battle and conflict, both spirits learned to work in tandem.

What a curious circumstance. By all rights a single body should only have a single will. When the Shepherd God was in control, it would make sense that Autumn was 'asleep', and the reverse when Autumn emerged. However, although Autumn was clearly in control right now Cloudhawk could still sense the god's presence.

Two wills, working together.

Sort of a master-slave relationship, or main and auxiliary. They could even use their individual mental abilities to access two relics at once. Two separate spirits sharing a body without drawbacks was amazing. Neither Legion nor Belial could explain it.

Autumn was sitting calmly upon one of the many thick branches. When Cloudhawk appeared she greeted him with a smile and combed her hair behind her ear. "The Shepherd God and I have worked to embrace our situation. So far it's worked well."


"Yes. A god's power, a human's talent. They compliment each other."

Gods were immortal and born with incredible power, but their rate of growth was slow. Humans, in contrast, lived brief lives by comparison and were weaker. But they were malleable, especially people like Autumn who have huge stores of potential to tap in to.

Since the Shepherd God and Autumn were able to live in harmony, Autumn's naturally limited lifespan should increase significantly. Who knew how long she would live now.

"You came to talk to me about Mount Sumeru."

"That's right."

"Have a cup of tea with me."

Autumn led Cloudhawk into the trunk of the God Tree. It was a spartan living space, but not without personal touches. Since coming to the Southern Wastes, this was where Autumn had spent most of her time. She heated up a pot of water and delivered a steaming cup to Cloudhawk.

He didn't drink it right away. "What does the Shepherd God think of our strategy to attack Sumeru? Does she think we can do it?"

"Attacking Sumeru will be very difficult, especially since we know so little about the God King. Outsmarting a creature that can peer into the future seems impossible. We shouldn't call it a surprise attack. More like preparing the best way to weather a storm."

"So it sounds like you support the idea."

"What would be the difference if I didn't? Any way you look at it there's risk, and I don't like risk." Autumn sighed. "If we don't put an end to this then the war will continue until we're all dead. Emerald Star, Ark Base, Gehenna... it's only a matter of time before the gods find and destroy all of them."

Cloudhawk was quiet for a moment as he thought. "Based on what I know about the gods, there are probably more of them than we thought. There might even be more than one Sumeru."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm talking about several Mount Sumerus. Different places with different pantheons. All together they form a vast network that spans the whole universe, all working with single-minded purpose. I have to assume there may even be more than one God King."

The implication made Autumn tremble. One God King was the stuff of nightmares. Cloudhawk was proposing there were more.

It was a grim theory. Beyond shocking, the idea threatened to snuff out what little hope for survival they clung to. If the Sumeru they fought was only one of many, then how strong were the gods really?

"What makes you think that?"

"Demons are a big part of the evidence." Cloudhawk's voice was low as he explained his hypothesis. "The former Demon King was a Sumeran leader who rebelled for some reason. He led a group of gods away from the collective and that's when they were labeled demons. I believe that the present God King took over from the Demon King when he left."

"So the Demon King used to be the God King?"

"Yes! It's in my memories. Emerald Star, Stony Plains, it's all proof. Everything points to it, the Demon King used to command all the gods in our galaxy."

Autumn's bearing changed when he shared his thoughts. The Shepherd God, no longer able to keep silent, took over from her human counterpart in order to communicate directly.

If the Demon King used to lead the gods, then why did he betray them? Only when she thought about it, she realized the betrayal wasn't important.

When the God King left with so many gods, leaving the gods leaderless, it should have made their entire society collapse. However, instead a new being quickly took over. Sumeru recovered, which suggests they received support from elsewhere.

The Demon King's rebellion was a thousand years ago, more or less. Most gods, the Shepherd God included, had no memories prior to that. Perhaps it was because whatever happened was too dangerous to remember and it was sealed away. Likewise the memories were removed from the demons to stop them from rejecting their new identities.

The result was fascinating. Gods remembered nothing prior to the Great War and demons knew nothing of where they came from. It was what turned gods and demons into two separate civilizations even though they came from the same root.

Behind Sumeru there had to be an even greater power!

The God King they knew was probably just an administrator. Divine soldiers and lieutenants were merely mass-produced soldiers. If that was true then low-level managers could be swapped without issue. More soldiers could be manufactured as needed.

"If that's true it... would be something."

The God King mustn't be all that special if it was chosen as a replacement for the Demon King so quickly. Who knew how many 'God Kings' there were lurking in the shadows, governing the gods?

So the universe very well could be rife with gods, belonging to any number of pantheons. Each one ruled over a galaxy, connected through their Divine Matrix and lorded over by the one they called their 'King'. A single Mount Sumeru could have tens of thousands of gods, but the universe could have millions - hundreds of millions even!

The more the Shepherd God considered it, the darker her face became. How strong were the gods really? What about the ones who pulled their strings? Just thinking about it made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end.

"Demon King, God King - they're the same. But they're different from other gods and demons. I'm willing to bet they're even a different species." Cloudhawk shared his ideas further.

How was the Demon King even able to break away from the gods? Cloudhawk felt he had the answer: Because the Demon King wasn't like them. He had his own will and identity.

The first time he expected this might be the case was when he encountered the God King. His impression of Sumeru's leader was completely different from the other gods he'd met. It was intelligent, willful, emotional. All the other gods were hardly better than machines. The God King was their operator, with his own personality.

That was how the Demon King was able to break away.

The Shepherd God's face was dark and crestfallen. "If it's as you say then the gods may be hundreds of times more powerful than we thought. There doesn't seem to be any way out."

"No, there's a chance. Have you forgotten how the demons came to be in the first place?"

The Shepherd God was not stupid. She understood his point immediately. "They were gods, enticed away from the collective by the Demon King."

That fact was indisputable. Through whatever means the former Demon King broke the gods' seal and allowed them to embrace their individuality. The Shepherd God herself was the best evidence of this, as well as the perished Cloud God. Both were changed by the power of the Demon King.

"After fusing with his armor, I have access to all the memories of my predecessor. What binds the gods is a lock with no seams. The only way to release it is with a special pass code. I know how to do it, but the code is in the hands of the gods."

"So your plan is to defeat the God King and free the gods with that code?"

That was exactly what he was planning. The God King had the key and their divine matrix was housed on Mount Sumeru. IF Cloudhawk could get that code, he could enter the divine matrix and upload it to every single god.

Gods were spread out across countless galaxies and untold civilizations. Perhaps, once they were freed, these gods and the civilizations they controlled would rise up against their masters. Maybe once they all became demons there would be a way out.

The power and influence of the gods was massive. Behind them was an unfathomable hand pulling their strings. Humans and demons alone just weren't enough.

"So why have you come to me?" The Shepherd God asked.

"You have inherited the Cloud God's powers - the one god we knew best of all. I need your help in finding Mount Sumeru."

It seemed obvious that Cloudhawk's decision was a suicide mission. But if they could make this first, impossible step a reality, then the rest of their journey would be far easier.