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Chapter 30 - Dreamland

 In the instant Cloudhawk passed through the mirror, he felt like he was in a sort of trance.

It was because as he moved into the vast, empty space time appeared to seize. Like a high-grade camera, capturing a bullet the instant it left the chamber. At the same time a force tried to invade his consciousness, a powerful will that tried to wrap him up in illusion. It was strong - so strong it felt overpowering. There was only one being in Sumeru with this kind of power.

Had the God King been ready for them?

Cloudhawk scowled but did not find it strange. The God King was able to peer thousands of years across time, it would be foolish to expect they could slip into his territory unnoticed. A confrontation between the Demon King and his arch rival was inevitable.

So as Cloudhawk moved into the portal he clashed with the will of the God King. Not only did this almighty being know the Demon King and his armies had arrived, it was able to pinpoint Cloudhawk specifically.

God King. Demon King. Sumeru. Gehenna. Perhaps this was best.

If the God King focused on Cloudhawk, perhaps it would give the rest of his forces some breathing room. They could focus on attacking Sumeru while he dealt with its dictator. After all, even if their foe had a premonition of their arrival, it could not call back all the forces it had sent to Earth.

Channels into the home of the gods were limited, thanks to its presence outside of their own universe. It wasn't even part of a common reality. No ordinary means of travel would succeed. Hundreds of millions of years could pass, but it was only Cloudhawk who was able to open the door. If it was so hard to reach, then, why bother with powerful defenses?

In addition, ninety percent of Sumeru's might was spread across the stars, maintaining order in other soul farms. Those forces typically garrisoned in Sumeru were dispatched to earth to suppress Cloudhawk's rebellion. Earth's destruction and the final end to Gehenna had enticed them from their fortress. Capturing Cloudhawk and delivering him to the God King was their mission.

As such Sumeru was largely empty. Now it faced ten thousand demons and a million mortal soldiers. For all the strength of the gods, this was a force they were ill prepared to face.

Cloudhawk surveyed the situation. Here, time and space had stopped. He was locked in motionless static. This was a place outside the ordinary rules of the universe, somewhere between real and illusion.

"You've come..."

A voice intruded his mind. It was calm, almost welcoming.

"Yes I have. What are you waiting for? Show yourself!"

No threat was present in the will as it pushed into Cloudhawk's mind, so he lowered his defenses and let it in. An instant later he was transported from the chaos of this negative space into a gently glowing light. After a moment it receded, revealing a wide highway flanked by rows of high rise buildings.

Cloudhawk was seated in a cafe. Clean, pleasing to look upon. Warm afternoon sun filtered through the pane glass and glinted off cars as they shuttled back and forth down the street. Crowds of people in flowing clothes went about their business beneath an exquisite blue sky and pleasant climate. At equal distances down the lane, billboards rose with ancient text scrawled across their surfaces.

It reminded him of New Earth City, nestled inside Ark Base. However, this place almost seemed more real and definitely larger. At least the sky overhead was real, not like the holographic representation in Ark Base.

Cloudhawk looked down to find that his armor was gone. The mask that covered his face no longer existed. His gray-flecked hair was black again, and in fact he seemed no different than any of the other people milling around the city. Just an ordinary guy. Nothing special.

Across from him sat a man. It was hard to determine his age but there was a deep wisdom in his eyes, the kind one earned only after countless years. They bore a calm and indifference, an understanding of the fickle flows of time.

"This was earth, over a thousand years ago. If it hadn't been destroyed this would have been your life. Just what you've always been looking for. Stop this. Give up your war and you can stay here. A hundred years. A thousand. Forever, until you grow tired of life."

A pretty waitress walked over as their conversation lulled. She set down a cup of freshly brewed coffee.

When Cloudhawk looked up into the face of the waitress he was struck dumb. It was Selene. From the look in her eyes to the way she held herself, she was exactly the same.

The man across from him had to be the God King.

Cloudhawk and his nemesis were psychically linked. He could sense the being's thoughts and feelings. He wasn't lying. He could do exactly what he claimed, and not just for Cloudhawk. Everyone Cloudhawk cared for - living and dead - could appear here with him. They could live here together, forever.

"You're trying to trap me in a dream."

"Dream? What is a dream? What is reality? How do you humans define the difference?" This man, the incarnate manifestation of the God King, went on. "As far as I can tell, if you think it's real then it is. The core of who you are is your spirit, trapped in the crude and fleshy prison you call your brain. Nerves and skin muscle and bone are a vehicle through which your brain interacts with the world around you. All electrical interpretations. The real you has never interacted directly with reality."

Cloudhawk looked at the steaming cup. The coffee's rousing scent filled his nostrils. Sunlight through the window warmed his skin. He heard the notes of a piano being played somewhere nearby. He heard the indistinct conversation of others in the cafe, going about their lives. The young couple at the table beside him were exchanging sweet pleasantries.

It all felt real. Stable, consistent. How was it any different from ordinary life? When an illusion was seamless, how was it any different from reality?

"time is a fantasy. So is space. Thoughts and feelings are no more existential. The whole universe and everything in it is a dream. What you call reality is like this place - a delusion so convincing you can't find any flaws. We can make a new world for you without boundaries, made to the specifications of that perfect place you've always sought." The God King's voice was soothing and fatherly. "Everything you've always wanted is at your fingertips, is that not so?"

Was this supposed to be their final talk before the fight?

"If the illusion is so beautiful and perfect, why haven't you built it already?" Cloudhawk looked around, sneering in contempt. "Did you honestly think this would convince me?"

"There is no such thing as eternity. Eventually, there will come a day when the spark of consciousness grows cold and dies. My people are losing the ability to dream and keep that spark burning." The God King's eyes were fixed on Cloudhawk. "You can restore this power to us."

Just then, everything froze. Time ceased. Space began to fluctuate. Suddenly it was like someone had torn a tapestry off the wall; the picture was taken away and the black void returned.