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Chapter 16 - Resistance

 "You'll probably die."

"Heh. You underestimate me, Cloudhawk."

Cloudhawk said nothing more. He wouldn't refuse Squall's request. He left following their warning, only to run into Azura on his way out.

"Teacher? What are you doing here!" She rushed excitedly over to him.

News of Cloudhawk's victory over Sumeru's vanguard had reached Emerald Star. Everyone knew about his great acts and they catapulted him to even higher levels of adoration.

Cloudhawk looked her over. Suddenly he was reminded of something very important. He wasn't sure he would come back from his trip to Sumeru. And not just him but Selene and all the others. If they all perished who would lead what remained of the Green Alliance?

"I need to go to Gehenna for some business. You want to tag along?"

On a whim he decided to bring Blue along for the ride. She was stunned that her enigmatic teacher would suddenly extend the invitation but jumped at the chance. So side by side, they stepped through a portal into the pocket dimension of Gehenna.

Gehenna's single city was as busy as ever.

The first thing Azura noticed was a massive statue several hundreds of meters tall. It was a collaborative effort of Babel's denizens, chiseled into Cloudhawk's likeness. The armor and mask were the same and his hands rested on the pommel of a sword. Its eyes peered into the distance, fixed and domineering.

It'd been a short time since the Demon King's return, but it had totally upended Gehenna. It was not that hard to convince the city's people to follow Cloudhawk, easier than expected in fact. They all came from grand civilizations but most were not immortal. Generations had passed since their race's golden age.

These remnants didn't remember the tyranny of the gods. Instead they spent the last centuries in reverence of the demons who took them in. Following Crokel's failed coup and Cloudhawk's domination of the Tower, the people's estimation of their new King only increased.

Since then the Tower of Babel had promoted their new King nonstop. The constant propaganda was designed to make the people worship him and foster belief in his mission to win back their homelands. Infected by this fervent energy Gehenna had mobilized with impressive speed.

Elder of the Third Seal Korath greeted his King respectfully when he reached the tower. It was no secret why Cloudhak had come. All of Gehenna's forces were to be mobilized for the eventual invasion of Sumeru.

"Majesty. We have acted to follow your orders as quickly as possible, but it will take some time for your renown to reach every ear. As for the armies... Gehenna hasn't known conflict for more than a thousand years. Some conflict has emerged among the different nationalities here, but they will remain obedient with the Tower's representatives keeping the peace. They will not impact the war effort."

Korath was bewildered by Cloudhawk's orders, to be honest. It seemed that everyone outside of Gehenna assumed it was a place mired in evil, darkness and savagery. All the words tragedies of the world were said to come from this land of demons.

The reality was quite the opposite. There wasn't anything like the chaos everyone thought existed. In fact conflicts were rare, as such they didn't have a standing army. Now, all of a sudden the new King has asked them to build an invasion force. Such a task was not easy in a short time.

"Has it been difficult?" Cloudhawk asked.

"The Towers influence and authority make it easier. Although there may be hidden dangers," Korath explained. "Majesty, you should know that although the races are eager to return home not all are eager to fight. A secret anti-war coalition is being mustered. Zarayzi, Tylons, Protans, Vulpites, even a small number of demons are known to participate."

Zarayzi, Tylons, Protans and Vulpites were the four races living in Gehenna. Protans were a psychically evolved race. Unlike humans, who's mental abilities were scattered at best, Protan capabilities had matured. They were born with innate mental power, and as such were one of the few races not elevated by Sumeru's intervention. They had built their own advanced, psychic civilization before the gods came.

You could call them demigods, in a way. Protans lived long lives, were few in number and formidable powers of the mind. They could even built their own relics. Among the other races in Gehenna, the Protans were most highly regarded.

Below them in influence were the Vulpites. Theirs was also a rare species of quantum beings capable of altering reality on a sub-atomic level. With enough quantum material they could turn one thing seamlessly into another. Leaves, roots, even garbage could become food on a whim.

Among the Vulpites were a small number of psychically evolved. They were able to fight using their minds, in addition to the advantages of their physical forms. After all, it was hard resist an attack on the quantum level.

Tylons were unique.

The former Demon King collected races that displayed great potential, or those who were psychically evolved and peaceful. As silicon-based lifeforms Tylons had no mental abilities at all, but they were evolved in other ways. Their efficiency in storing and analyzing information was unmatched by any other race.

Tylons lived very long lives. While their mental abilities were minimal at best, they never stopped physically improving. As a result they were constantly improving - and frighteningly effective - war machines.

Lastly were the Zarayzi, who were very different from the other three. Sometimes disparagingly called Psibugs, their mental abilities were a step below Protons. Theirs was a special sort of life form which, from the moment of their birth, were constantly mutating. Each Zarayzi was different from every other. Even offspring of the same brood could look dramatically different. Evolution and mutation were ubiquitous features of their species.

Azura was seeing it all for the first time. She was fascinated by the other races.

The four races were influential in Gehenna. If Cloudhawk wanted to invade Sumeru he wasn't going to succeed with humans alone. Nor was there enough power just in the Tower of Babel. What he had to do was galvanize every citizen of Gehenna and convince them to join his cause. It was the only way they stood a chance.

"So you're saying that some from the different races and even a few demons are plotting against me." When Cloudhawk spoke it felt like the temperature instantly plummeted.

Korath felt the displeasure pouring off his King and it made him nervous. He quickly added. "A few demons might oppose the war but their loyalty to the King is without question. It's just that we have lived quietly for a thousand years-"

"Then we break them! If Gehenna doesn't act now we will all be destroyed." There was a time for peace and nonviolence, but this wasn't it. Holding back was akin to suicide.

Korath carefully reengaged. "How does my King plan to deal with them?"

"I plan to make them an example." Cloudhawk's dark promise was absent any emotion. "You have one day to build my army. Round up all who refuse and tell me."

The Third Seal felt Cloudhawk's murderous intent, keen as a sword's edge. His King was not bluffing. While everyone else was marching in lock-step these insurrectionists were preaching peace. They were undermining morale! It couldn't be tolerated, not now. Cloudhawk needed an army and no one would be allowed to stand in his way.

Korath dare not disobey Cloudhawk's will. He unleashed a thousand demons throughout Gehenna, sending them district to district and summoning everyone to fight. All were warned that refusal was not an option. Anti-war protesters were explicitly told to put aside their complaints and join the effort, or face the Demon King's wrath.

A day after the announcement Cloudhawk shared his plan to attack Sumeru. His proclamation was met with surprise, but also eagerness.

Korath delivered his report. "We discovered where the anti-war protesters have been gathering."

"Understood." Cloudhawk then turned his eyes to Azura. "I'm about to teach you something very important. Something every leader has to learn."