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Chapter 21 - Mount Sumeru

 A dream. Real, and at the same time not.

This time his experience in the Divine Matrix was very different. It was all an illusion, with no fixed form and adjusted by the activity of the mind. The dreamer influenced the dream, and other dreamers.

It was probably because he was entering the Matrix in a different way than before. The Cloud God was his vessel before, but this time Cloudhawk uploaded his own consciousness. With the extensive changes to his own state, it stood to reason that how he perceived this place would also change.

"This city is a projection, like a hologram. All the gods you see are real. Their physical selves exist somewhere out in the universe."

"So what the hell am I?"

Cloudhawk could clearly feel that every silhouette represented a real god's will. If damage was done to their consciousness here, what would happen to their bodies?

The thought flashed through his mind, but he took no action. He was an invasive consciousness, this world belonged to the gods. According to his understanding the open appearance of this place was deceptive. There were several protective measures and defense systems that would activate if he was discovered. Without waiting for orders, these anti-infiltration measures would activate and cause him no end of troubles.

What's more, there were thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of minds here. He was vastly outnumbered, and one misstep could turn all of them against him. His mental strength could be twice what it was and still not be enough to defeat them all. He couldn't face the entire godly race by himself. Anyway, there was no telling how long his trip would last. He had to get to business.

His mission was to find Sumeru's physical coordinates. His consciousness had been successfully transited into the Divine Matrix, now how was he supposed to find what he was after? As he pondered the issue he stepped in front of one of the passing godly consciousnesses.

When their two spectral bodies collided, Cloudhawk was flooded with a strange sensation. It wasn't a physical connection so much as two magnets snapping together. Forced together by the strong attraction, their two minds combined.

BANG!

Cloudhawk felt himself catapulted through space. Environments flashes by like he was soaring through tunnel after tunnel. Thoughts, images and information rushed through his mind at light speed. When at last he opened his eyes he found himself in a dark crystalline chamber.

"What happened? Where am I?

Cloudhawk reached out and shoved the crystal door, pushing it open. Several cloaked figures with tough, rock-like skin were waiting outside. When they saw Cloudhawk emerge they all exclaimed and prostrated themselves before him.

He was beginning to understand. It seemed as though he had temporarily taken control of a god's body. That's how he appeared in this unfamiliar place. When he realized what was happening, Cloudhawk rose up out of the Temple to look upon the world beyond.

Three suns burned overhead, all at a great distance. Their light was dim, making the world appear locked in perpetual dusk. Scores of strange and alien structures peppered the landscape, with rock-like beings shuffling back and forth between them.

Building cities. Erecting Temples. Worshiping the gods.

It was a remarkable and outlandish experience. First uploading his consciousness into the Divine Matrix, then taking over the physical body of a god. He could, in theory, visit anywhere in the universe this way and look upon other captive civilizations.

This place was obviously far from Cloudhawk's own planet, a hundred thousand light years or more. Clearly this unidentified species was suffering the same as humanity.

Cloudhawk's theories were further informed by what he saw.

It was an incredible discovery that he could take over a god's body. While the gods could communicate over infinite distances, that didn't necessarily mean they could share control of a physical form. If that were the case, the God King could take over any god in the network and that didn't seem to be possible.

Cloudhawk wasn't sure how he was able to do it.

Maybe it had something to do with how he entered the Divine Matrix this time? Or maybe it was something special about Cloudhawk himself that he gained after fully joining with the former Demon King?

Either way, now wasn't the time to get into it. Temporarily taking control of a god didn't help with the task at hand. Searching its memory, no information about Sumeru was forthcoming.

Most ordinary gods probably didn't know where Sumeru was. Since they all communicated psychically, the location wasn't important. If Cloudhawk wanted to find the place, he had to first find a god that lived there.

Cloudhawk piloted his borrowed body back into the crystal chamber and relinquished control. He appeared again within the dreamworld Matrix, surrounded by a crowd of oblivious gods. Their mechanical, aimless back and forth was uninterrupted.

He looked over the massive city and spied a tower in the center whose top disappeared into the heavens. If he had to guess, that was the local projection of Sumeru. Cloudhawk floated toward it.

However, as he drew near an ominous sense washed over him. Space tore open and from the fissure emerged a chain-link web of light that barred his progress.

Some sort of automatic security system? Cloudhawk paid them no mind. He knew that at his current strength these boundaries couldn't keep him out. So he pushed past the lock and into the tower. Only once he was inside, his consciousness received another shock.

Again he was careening through space. When his senses returned he was somewhere else. It was impossible to tell whether it was day or night, whether he was in the air or under water. There wasn't even ground or sky with which to orient himself. The surrounding environment no longer had a fixed shape and physics appeared to hold no sway.

This wasn't like any planet he'd ever seen. It was a chaotic void. Cloudhawk had the distinct sense that this was Mount Sumeru.