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Book 8, Chapter 32 - The King That Was

 Was this another illusion created by the God King?

As Cloudhawk stared at the being he was genuinely confused. There were too many things that didn't make sense. He knew that everything he'd seen so far defied ordinary logic. They were too wonderful, too strange. It was an illusion, but as real as anything he'd ever felt. For the Demon King to appear like this, here, it had to mean something.

"Are we finally here?" The former Demon King hovered in the ether. His tremendous mind puzzled over something, the doubt he sensed in Cloudhawk's heart. "You are the creature we have chosen?"

"You're the Demon King? Or the God King? Or neither."

"I am and I am not. Gods and demons are beings of the same root, a fact you surely know by now. The human concept of gods and demons, kings and servants. An absurd paradox."

The former King's words were lost on Cloudhawk. So much about this was strange and suspicious. He'd encountered the Demon King before in his mind. Their exchanges had been brief, but notable. He remembered the presence he felt. Every creature had a unique mental signature, one that could not be copied or replicated. In all the universe, one's particular mental fingerprint was never repeated. It was the most perfect form of identification.

So he was familiar with the former Demon King. His knowledge of the God King was also much deeper than it was before. Here in this illusory place he was connected to the leader of the gods and could feel him clearly.

The will of the God King had subsided in this place, not as intense as it was before. It seemed that he had summoned the memory of the Demon King from his own mind. This is why it was strange. The former Demon King was as strong as the God King recalled, but his presence felt more akin to the leader of Sumeru.

What was the connection between these two?

Standing here now the Demon King wore the visage of a god, as he must have appeared before his fall from grace. There was a relationship between him and the God King, like brothers from the same brood. After all, space and time were inexorably linked, two sides of the same coin. It was impossible that the two should be entirely separate.

He couldn't explain it. Cloudhawk realized he knew too little, the answer eluded him. What he did know was that this creature before him was special. It was as though the Demon King and God King had been cut apart and cobbled together. They existed together in one entity.

"Allow me to determine how strong you've grown."

Cloudhawk had no time to ponder further. The image of his predecessor melted away and, instead of simply moving through space, almost appeared to join with it. His form vanished but Cloudhawk could still feel him here.

Here he comes! Cloudhawk could feel the attack coming.

Concealed in the space between space, a sword of light came streaking toward him. Ordinarily this insidious attack would be impossible to avoid, but like a large fish beneath the water Cloudhawk could sense the ripples even though there was no sound.

The sword broke back through the veil and lashed out at Cloudhawk. Reality tore like a piece of cheap cloth. As space before him crumbled away he saw displaced images in the void, visible between dense cracks.

Cloudhawk instinctively teleported backward to avoid the strike. However the Demon King seemed to know what his successor would do. In the same instant the first strike reached out, a second struck from a completely different angle and location.

The two swords were thousands of meters apart but struck with coordinated precision. At first glance they were two separate bursts, as if two currents of space collided and left a storm of energy behind. An attack like these, breaching two locations is space, was dangerous and powerful.

Caught between these attacks, almost anything would be annihilated by the sheer force. As they ripped into Cloudhawk's body they tore him apart into plumes of fire. These motes of light slipped from the collapsing space to reform Cloudhawk's body out of harm's way.

The Demon King's attacks did not cease, so neither did Cloudhawk. Everywhere he turned space ripped open and blazing swords reached forth. They weren't attacking him, however, but reality itself. Thousands of gaping wounds in the fabric of space were everywhere. Storms of spatial energy raged as they were formed like angry dragons, buffeting Cloudhawk in the process.

Was this the way the former Demon King fought?

Cloudhawk noted that his foe didn't use any specific class of energy. He used all of his strength to hack at space, and it was the tears left behind that threatened his target. It was a tactic Cloudhawk knew well, one of the strongest in his arsenal.

All matter and energy in the universe were built on the foundation of space. Tear apart the space everything was built on and everything comes crashing down. The former Demon King's onslaught was doing irreparable damage to the flows of space - it was the reason why a huge swath of the southern wilds was wrapped in eternal darkness.

After the Great War, the Demon King's ire had left space in that area ravaged beyond repair like a fruit ravaged by pests. No external matter or energy could come in from the outside, not even light. In the wake of that catastrophe, reality would continue to collapse into nothing, until the death of the universe.

As Cloudhawk dodged the assault on reality, he also fought back.

His predecessor was hiding in a parallel dimension, moving through it in a way that prevented Cloudhawk from following his actions. The Demon King used his immense power to punch through the veil between these dimensions and disturb the weave. To the average person, this sort of offensive was impossible to contend with.

Because the two sides weren't even in the same reality! One could detonate ten thousand nuclear bombs - a star could go supernova - and it wouldn't create more than a ripple in the fabric of space. The Demon King's immense power over these flows did what an exploding star could not.

These attacks on space disregarded distance. The Demon King's reach did not extend across the whole universe, but at least as far as the solar system. No matter where Cloudhawk turned he could not escape. The power of his predecessor was brutal and ruthless.

Whatever the creature - from a demon Elder to the great Sumeran marshal - could not survive in the face of such an assault. Soon thousands of kilometers in every direction were devoured by a storm of spatial disruption. Fractures and fissures were everywhere, creating zones anathema to all life.

These broken fragments of reality were like being thrown into a meat grinder, forever until the end of time.

Cloudhawk narrowed his eyes and surveyed the environment. His left eye blanched and turned white. An intense power burst forth, which with staggering force caused the storm of energy to slow to a crawl. It expanded at a snail's pace.

In this moment of respite, Cloudhawk pinpointed his foe's location.

He slipped through the veil into the dimension beneath his own, entering into the same space as the Demon King. With his target acquired, he launched at him with Godslayer, which caused cracks and warps through the area where it passed.

Where Cloudhawk's attacks differed from his progenitor was that his spatial powers were weaved together with the power of time. When the former King tried to slip away through dimensions, he discovered that time around him was stopped.

He was frozen in time!

Cloudhawk's power over space was equal to his foe's, but in his journey he had also acquired dominion over time. Their conflict went beyond the scope of mortal understanding. It was a battle on the scale of the Great War.

Even now Cloudhawk still didn't know what was going on. He wasn't sure where he was or who he was facing. But that didn't matter. Clarity wasn't important. He would tear down everything in his path until the truth was revealed.