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Chapter 22 - Coordinates

 Cloudhawk had never been to Mount Sumeru. No one had ever described the place to him, either. But the second he stepped foot in the place, his intuition told him this was what he was looking for. He could feel all the minds of the gods gathering here, like a hub. Only Sumeru would feel like this.

He considered his current form. Little more than a thought, really; a piece of data inscribed on the cosmos. He was a strange thing, and this building was a strange place. In the center of it was an undulating mass of spatial pockets.

These pockets were areas of space-time, condensed to form areas of self-contained reality. Surrounding these pockets was a chaotic and illogical expanse filled with wild energies. Cloudhawk's consciousness hovered on the border until he pressed forward, slipping through a sort of film. Suddenly he was inside one of the pockets, wearing the body of a god.

"I'm finally here."

Cloudhawk could hardly believe it. He was here, Sumeru.

Mount Sumeru was very different from the world he was accustomed to. It wasn't a half-complete subspace dimension like Gehenna. It was smaller by comparison, but Sumeru was as whole as a true reality.

As he moved forward Cloudhawk could sense the will of the cosmos. He looked around and billions of stars hovered in the dark void beyond. The universe he knew was nothing more than one of these pockets - a vesicle containing a vast amount of matter and energy. These smaller capsules were subspace dimensions of the highest order.

Most pocket dimensions were not built on sound natural laws. This made them impossible to enter and develop. Others were like Gehenna, with inherent flaws on the microscopic level but otherwise stable enough to support life for a long period.

Mount Sumeru was unique. It was more like a spaceship, slipping through the void. It affixed itself to the membrane of the universe, existing both inside and out. Both were independent, existing as parallel dimensions rather than one inside the other. Cloudhawk thought that Sumeru must not be natural, but created by something. Whatever species could create a place like this, though, had to be unimaginably evolved.

What kind of civilization was this? They had the ability to traverse the multiverse - not just one star system to another, but whole universes. And the gods? Were they just toy soldiers left behind?

Arcturus Cloude had probably figured it out. Legion, too. Beyond the gods was an even greater power. But what sort of creatures were they? What form did they take? Surely it was beyond mortal comprehension.

Now wasn't the time to get mired in a philosophical swamp. Cloudhawk was determined to tear Sumeru down. Maybe that would be the spark, tearing down a pantheon. Acquiring the power of Sumeru for themselves was how they could stand firm as masters of their own universe. Without it, relying only on the alliance of devils and humans, they were a small boat that would capsize in rough waters.

Once accustomed to this new state, Cloudhawk began to explore the pocket. Far in the distance was a faint connection that tugged at him, something recognizable. That was where the southern wilds were.

After a certain threshold, distance failed to mean anything anymore. A place like Sumeru was so phenomenally far that no ship could ever reach it. But if Cloudhawk could feel coordinates and know the dimension, he could connect two locations across space.

He focused his mind and his will formed into a small gemstone.

This gem was Cloudhawk's will, given form as a minor phase stone. It was a marker through which he could record a position, across space and dimensions. With this information a portal could be opened at will. His own key to Sumeru.

The true Phase Stone was on Cloudhawk's person, now a part of him since joining with the Demon King's Cuirass. Like an external organ it pulsed against his chest, conveying its power.

Back in the southern wastes...

Belil and Autumn watched Cloudhawk as he sat in quiet repose. The stone set in the center of his chest had begun to flicker. Lines emerged, visible with the naked eye. They were rapidly scrolling lines of data.

"He's recording Sumeru's location?" Belial's expression revealed his shock. "He can do that? But how? It doesn't make any sense!"

Belial never had high hopes for Cloudhawk's rash operation. Never did he imagine Cloudhawk would find Sumeru's location in this bizarre excursion. And to record it all! Was he serious about invading Sumeru? Perhaps the whispers were true - maybe the Demon King really was insane.

Autumn's face was drawn and pale. She was teetering on the edge of exhaustion. She could feel that Cloudhawk had moved somewhere else too far to fathom. If Cloudhawk didn't maintain a constant connection to his body then there was the risk of him remaining as a spirit forever. He would never find his way back home.

But through the crushing pressure, Autumn smiled when she saw the Phase Stone spark to life. Yes his plan sounded insane, but Cloudhawk had the power to make the impossible a reality. He was special, no other living thing was like him.

The Phase Stone darkened once the information transfer was complete.

Cloudhawk's mission was a success, but he wasn't in a hurry to leave just yet. Rare was the chance to enter Sumeru, He had no way to bring back any souvenirs but he could at least take a look around. If he was familiar with the layout it would help during their attack.

Sumeru existed here as a bubble universe, sub-divided into space-time vesicles. Every sector had enormous island-like structures floating inside and all were connected by a series of tunnels. At first glance it looked like molecules in an atom writ large.

The islands were all blanketed in buildings, mostly rows of neatly-organized towers. In the center vesicles, which was the largest, a single enormous spire rose up like a finger of light. This one seemed like the heart of the entire array. An engine? Some kind of signal device?

Whatever it was, Cloudhawk was certain the moment he saw it. That was the heart of Sumeru.