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Chapter 17 - Unbridled Power

 Beneath Gehenna flows a network of molten rivers. Among them, hidden from prying eyes above, there gathered a group of several hundred from many different races. These were the people fighting against open war with the gods.

Zarayzi, Vulpites, Tyrons and Protans were all visible. Many were big names among their people. Even some hulking demonic figures were in attendance. Gehenna was not as united as it seemed.

"The others have all gone crazy."

"They think they can fight the gods!"

"So many years of peace and safety have caused them to forget."

"We have to stop this farce or we're all doomed. We stand to lose everything!"

The new King's arrival had been sudden, as was his takeover of the Tower. There was no question that Gehenna was squarely under his thumb. Here an opposition had gathered, but they were hardly more than a loose connection of naysayers and were yet to forge any sort of organization.

"What should we do?" The question was posed by one of the Zarayzi. "I heard that Venerated Crokel was killed for disobeying the King. Our new leader is strong. We don't have the strength to oppose him."

Silence answered. How strong was the new Demon King? He already inherited all the powers of the previous King, and dominated the Tower of Babel in no time. Grand Elder Legion and the Third Seal had all bent the knee. The Zarayzi was right, against power like that there wasn't much they could do.

A demon's low, growling voice intruded. "The King has a stranglehold on Gehenna, there is no way to confront him directly. But we can prevent the creation of his army. You all command respect among your people. IF we work together, spread the right message, we can help the people rise up."

"That's right!" Another demon raised their voice in support. "Gehenna's power comes from its people, they aren't sacrifices to some ambitious king! We must fight for ourselves!"

"That's not enough." The cold and dispassionate voice of a Protan rejoined. "We should assassinate the new Demon King."

"Assassinate the king? IS it even possible?" The Vulpite leader was incredulous. "He is too strong. How do we even pin him down long enough to strike? His spatial powers are unmatched."

"So we mix some of our people in with his. It doesn't matter how strong he is. We wait for the King to separate himself and then strike! They may pay the ultimate price, but their sacrifice will bring down the reign of a tyrant!"

Earnest mutterings were shared among the self-righteous pacifists as they planned the liberation of Gehenna. They weren't an ambitious sort, and it was exactly because of this that they didn't want any threat to befall their home. Sacrificing themselves for the greater good was an honest endeavor.

As they strategized ways to undermine the army and assassinate the king, a cold voice invaded their minds. "No one can stop Gehenna's rise, or the war that's coming."

Fear sprang up among the crowd. Even the dullest Tylon was shocked into a combat stance.

Two figures slowly emerged from the hot smoke and steam. The first cut a ferocious figure in his dark armor and frightening mask. In his eyes danced angry flames that were visible through the fog, like a nightmare crawling from their own nightmares.

"D-Demon King!"

In a shock no one expected, the object of their dark plans appeared before them. The Demon King appeared in their midst, a young woman by his side. Short hair framed a pretty face and a pair of striking blue eyes. Her hands were poised by the hilt of her sword as she nervously watched the others. She knew everyone here was more dangerous than she was.

The Demon King pushed among them. With every step the gathered rebels felt a growing pressure. They quickly discovered that the King had come alone besides the girl. We was no cause for concern, but still no one dared raise a hand. Cloudhawk was responsible for killing the Second Seal!

Reality was ripped open, and from the fissure Cloudhawk retrieved his weapon. Threads of purple lightning danced across it's pitch-black surface in an ominous display. Tongues of flame danced around it, casting the Demon King's mask in stark shadows as he regarded the gathering. At last his cold voice came again. "I am here to give you one final chance. You will obey, or you will die."

The rebels shifted nervously, sharing quiet looks. Hesitation was clear in their eyes.

Fear seemed a silly reaction. He was here alone among almost a hundred deadly foes, with no support from the Tower to back him up. And yet fear was exactly what stayed their hands. He was their King! The right and true ruler of Gehenna.

A low psychic hum was released by one of the Tylons. "If Gehenna loses this war then everything will be destroyed. Our people, our history, our culture - who will remain to pass it on?"

Its concerns were echoed by a Protan. "We can feel that even you are not certain about this war's outcome. A king should not drag his loyal servants into an impossible war. You are a tyrant! A mad king!"

Tyrant? Mad King?

"Very well. It seems you have all made up your minds."

Suddenly the climate changed. The iron taste of death hung in the air. Vulpites and Protans attacked first, believing the Demon King was too bold in coming alone. He was strong, without a doubt, but he was still one man. He couldn't possibly stop them all.

The Tower of Babel bowed before their king out of fear. If this dictator was removed, they were certain the demons would return to the old ways. Without a leader all the other races would give up these foolish calls for war.

But how long could they hide in Gehenna with their heads buried in the sand? It wasn't a question they bothered to consider. All they were focused on was continuing as before, for as long as possible. They were desperate not to disappear from the universe.

Cloudhawk responded to their attack with a deft flick of his wrist. No one could see Godslayer as it moved, but they could feel its deadly power. It immediately enveloped a group of nearby rebels.

BOOM!

Scarlet flames erupted across their bodies. They were not physical and so were unaffected by natural defenses. The fires penetrated into their minds and set it ablaze.

A chorus of mental anguish reverberated through the chamber. All of Cloudhawk's attackers fell to their knees in agony.

Several of the demons, seeing this, changed in demeanor. Terror filled their eyes. "Hellpyre! It's Hellpyre!"

They were right, this was the power of the fallen Fourth Seal and recently liberated from Crokel. It belonged to Cloudhawk now, after he defeated the Elder. These fires were impossible to extinguish, cursing its victims with eternal torment.

"For Gehenna!"

A group of burning Zarayzi fought passed the pain and attacked Cloudhawk. Theirs was a tenacious race, full of potential. Unfortunately even the mightiest were easily felled by Hellpyre. Already their attacks were weak and ineffectual.

A plume of green fire belched from Godslayer as he dragged it before him. Castigation Fire flooded the area, swallowing up scores of renegades. Their death was quick and soon the air was choked with the ashes of the fallen.

"Kill the human!"

Several of the demons steeled themselves and attacked their King. But they were afraid of injury, so instead of going for the man directly they went for the young one who came with him. If the Demon King brought her along it was because she was important to him. Together they could overwhelm her, the Demon King would be forced into a defensive posture and they would be able to probe for a weakness.

But as they launched into the attacks they fell upon a shield of pale white surrounding her. Far from causing harm, their blows were deflected back at them or flung away. It was protections from Cloudhawk that saved her. Nothing they did could fight through it.

"How many powers does he have?!"

The renegades were confronted with just how versatile Cloudhawk could be, much to their dismay. He hadn't used his spatial powers at all so far and still they were unable to land a blow.

All the while the Demon King was silent. His form flickered and suddenly there were two of him. Another flash and now there were four, then eight, then sixteen! In the blink of an eye the chamber was filled with dozens of 'Demon Kings'.

Godslayer burned menacingly in the hands of all of them. Lethal flashes of black, purple, red and green danced across the steel. It was the shadow power of his Mask of a Thousand Faces, the Lightning God's doppelgänger powers, or a combination of the two.

Was there any limit to what Cloudhawk could do?

It was a silly concept, as far as Cloudhawk was concerned. His power grew with each passing day, as did his deep understanding of relics. For most relics he came in contact with, he quickly learned how to imitate their abilities without the object itself.

In other words, there was no limit. Cloudhawk was perhaps the only creature in the universe with this power.