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Chapter 20 - Mirror of the Divine Realm

 Cloudhawk picked through the rest of the Demon King's cache.

His predecessor's legacy was abundant. Bringing them to the city, repairing them and feeding them Source, he could use them along with the Sumeran equipment left on the moon. The sheer destructive capabilities of these arms would make anyone shudder.

Word came from Elder of the Tenth Seal, Belial. All preparations had been made. Hearing this Cloudhawk left the task of preparing Gehenna's forces to Korath and left for Emerald Star. He left Azura there with a batch of relics he had no use for and instructed her to pass them out among her people.

With that, he made his way to Southern Capital.

Belial and the Shepherd God were waiting. In accordance with Cloudhawk's instructions, the two had concocted a way to enter the Divine Matrix. They were ready to infiltrate the gods and find Sumeru's location.

Easy enough to say. It was the doing that got complicated.

The pieces of the puzzle were numerous; Cloudhawk, the Shepherd God, a few captured gods and Belial's inventions. In principle, with the artisan's equipment Cloudhawk could connect to the Divine Matrix through their prisoners. Once a way in was discovered, the Shepherd God's mental power would upload his consciousness and give him access.

Put simply, Cloudhawk was an engineered virus, poised to infect the gods' system.

It wasn't the first or even second time he'd made the trip, only he'd just scratched the surface of the Matrix previously. Cloudhawk was much stronger this time, and with the help of the Shepherd God and Belial he could delve further than before.

Time to give it a shot.

In a bleak and typical wasteland valley, a cadre of demonic soldiers were stationed. In the lowest part of the valley was a basin wherein several psionic towers had been arrayed. In the center of them all was an enclosed cell, like a bird cage. Eighty percent of the cage was built from pure Source, mostly the bars. Within every translucent pillar was the body of a god.

Each of these gods had been badly wounded and captured alive during the recent fighting. Belial had dutifully performed 'minor surgery' on each of them so that they were in permanent comas. Their minds were still intact, but they couldn't communicate with the rest of their species.

If Cloudhawk wanted to enter the Divine Matrix, he had to do it by connecting through these soldiers. It was just the same as trying to upload data into a machine. A channel was required to facilitate the transfer, be it wired or wireless.

Formerly the Cloud God set all of that up. Their godly ally hadn't severed his connection to the Matrix, making him the perfect conduit for easy infiltration. The situation was different now. The Shepherd God couldn't connect directly to the Matrix, so they instead would build a bridge with the minds of their captive gods.

The ins and outs of it were complicated, but it did not capture Cloudhawk's interest. All he needed to know was if he could find what he was after.

"I must warn you, your Majesty. Entering the Divine Matrix this way has never been attempted. Up to this point, everything has been theoretical." Belial was explicit in his cautions. "Even if your Majesty successfully infiltrates the Matrix, many dangers remain."

"Now is not the time for pointless chatter." Time was precious, they couldn't afford to waste even a single minute.

So Belial quit his warnings. The Demon King had made up his mind, there was no changing it.

Cloudhawk and the Shepherd God entered the cage. They sat cross-legged in the middle, facing each other. Belial fiddled with the equipment outside and as he engaged the equipment, the psionic towers all flared to life. Flows of light and energy pervaded the cage and the Source pillars began to spin.

A beam of light shot up from the cage. A massive column pierced the sky and out into the darkness of space.

Cloudhawk took a deep breath, adjusted his position a little and then nodded to the Shepherd God. "Begin. Send me through."

"Be cautious." The Shepherd God placed her hand upon Cloudhawk's head. In the instant contact was made he felt like he was flung from his body.

His will and spirit disconnected from his physical form. All at once he felt liberated from material fetters, entirely detached and part of the spiritual world. He could still feel his body, even changes in the environment around him, only his mind was free to travel. Sensations were different in this state.

Eyes were the organ through which he ordinarily viewed the world, but he had no eyes anymore. Before he was able to measure distances and understand his physical location, but now distance didn't seem to mean anything. How could it, when in spiritual reality space was something else entirely?

He felt like his consciousness could reach out to every corner of the universe!

Since will and thought were unbound by constraints, the gods could still communicate even across vast distances. There were hundreds of thousands of lightyears between members of the species, but they were all connected through their Divine Matrix.

Cloudhawk shed his physical self and became a free-floating spirit. Things which his ordinary senses couldn't pick up were clear to him now. Emotions, for instance.

Emotions were abstract things. Cloudhawk could feel how emotions influenced the world around them, each with its own sort of 'color.' He felt Selene busily organizing her forces; Hellflower doggedly researching new equipment; Bruno, Gorman, Phoenix and all the other soldiers... he felt them all.

The universe of pure mental energy was a shadow of the physical world. They existed side by side, inexorably connected. But there was much that was indescribable about this place, for it defied explanation. Ordinary logic did not apply, and yet for all this strangeness there was a definite order. Cloudhawk was a piece of this intangible world now. No physical processes could locate him or pin him down. In essence, his mind was no longer a part of the physical world at all.

"The connection is complete. Opening a channel." The Shepherd God's solemn voice echoed all around.

Cloudhawk felt an impossibly large, magnificent world of brilliance open up before him. It existed in his mind as a vast city floating alone in a spiritual universe. It was full of unimaginable mental energy. This was the Divine Matrix

A powerful gravity-like force dragged him forward. For a brief instant everything sped by as he passed through this mental wormhole. Then the 'light' returned and he found himself among the towering structures he remembered.

Cloudhawk shook himself from his shock at the strangeness of it all. Time to get to work.

'Reality' as he was accustomed to it reasserted itself here. There were again the concepts of space and time, structures like buildings and various landscapes. A world of unprecedented scale - yet comfortably familiar - was revealed to him.

What's this? Cloudhawk discovered that he was clad in divine armor. Likely a disguise as part of his connection through the soldiers, designed to make him blend in. He stood peering out over the most magnificent city he'd ever seen.

While he interacted with the world in a customarily physical fashion, much of it defied logic. It was a content formed by loosely connected floating islands, hovering in a starless universe. There was no sun or moon, but every corner of the city was bathed in light. This sourceless illumination ensured no shadows existed.

Cloudhawk made his way down the ever-winding streets. Other gods came and went, making their way with unnatural stiff movements like robots. Emotionless, with mechanical efficiency, each movement was precise and calculated. Although it was bustling with scores of gods, their robotic mannerisms made everything feel empty and a little absurd.

What was all this activity?

Cloudhawk regarded the floating islands nearby. It felt like a dream, though he knew there was some complex system of mapping that was used. The Divine Matrix was as illusory as it was real. Both existing and not. Permanent and temporary. All the figures that he brushed shoulders with were the minds of gods - a world composed of mental projections.

It was all a dream built by Cloudhawk's consciousness, but a shared dream where each part had a real-world source. Everything was illogical as a dream might be, but the information and interactive components were as real as anything.

One could say it was like a mirror world of the divine realm.