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Book 8, Chapter 33 - The Spirit of the Universe

 The battle between Cloudhawk and his precursor was beyond the understanding of ordinary folk. Both wielded power over the fabric of reality, which they used to strike at their opponent.

But Cloudhawk had an advantage. His spatial powers were equal to his predecessor, but he had more potential than the man who once held the title of Demon King. Cloudhawk's talents allowed him to use the Eye of Time, thus wielding the power of the God King. Combined with the flows of space they made his basic abilities far more potent. Even a creature as evolved as the Demon King was hard-pressed to avoid Cloudhawk's attacks and was forced to shoulder the blow.

Two intense powers met in a violent display.

The dimension they warred within began to crack even further. Anything forced to bear the weight of their conflict shattered, becoming discordant pieces floating in pandemonium. It was like watching a diamond explode under pressure.

Similar to the ancient battlefield in the southern wastes, these broken pieces were hostile to any sort of energy. Even light ceased, birthing gashes of infinite darkness. Such was the consequence of a single encounter.

The power of Cloudhawk and the former Demon King was on full display. In all the universe there were few who could wield such fantastic strength - either man could single-handedly end an entire civilization. In the eyes of ordinary creatures these two were no different from true gods or demons.

Cloudhawk and the Demon King separated, staring at each other between the fragments.

Enormous shards of reality hovered in an endless void. In the wake of their conflict, this dimension and likely hundreds of others had been smashed to pieces. Cloudhawk inhabited one fragment, the Demon King another. Two islands surrounded by a vast emptiness.

With nothing but chaos and emptiness between them the most advanced equipment could not detect position, much less the naked eye. However, Cloudhawk and his opponent knew precisely where the other one was.

A deep, insidious laughter rasped from the Demon King's throat. His will traversed the madness to deliver his thoughts directly into Cloudhawk's mind. "You have not disappointed me. Destiny has chosen you to be the new spirit of the universe."

Spirit of the universe? Cloudhawk had no idea what the fuck he was rambling about, but he wasn't about to waste time discussing it. The one he was after wasn't this creature. It was the one responsible for this whole illusion, the architect of all their suffering - the God King. Cloudhawk couldn't waste time or energy here, he would need it later.

So with both hands wrapped around the hilt of Godslayer, Cloudhawk gave it a mighty heave toward the Demon King. Crack! Space split like broken glass as the space his foe occupied was suddenly pierced by a sword. His fragment split in two like a knife through an apple. But the Demon King managed to split out of the way and launch a counter offensive.

Cloudhawk's dimensional shard was assailed on all sides, like chisels on a glass bead. From top to bottom, from inside out, cracks began to form everywhere. Slowly but surely they spread until they filled the space. It seemed Cloudhawk's tiny reality could collapse at any moment.

He paid it no mind. Cloudhawk continued to swing his sword, striking out across space at the Demon King. With every swipe he cleaved away another section of his foe's shrinking island. The great demon dodged while lashing out with his own attacks, but quickly discovered he was having no effect on Cloudhawk.

Cracks continued to appear around his human successor, but as new ones formed old ones fused back together. Though under terrible assault, it somehow remained intact. Meanwhile the Demon King's territory was steadily shrinking.

Was it the power of time again?

The King knew how Cloudhawk was doing it. The Eye of Time was creating a field of flux that could reverse time in a limited capacity. Cloudhawk's stolen powers were repairing all the damage the Demon King managed to inflict.

It was the end! Cloudhawk made his final strike.

Godslayer pierced through space. Its power ran through what remained of the Demon King's shard, no bigger than a small house. It ran through the Demon King himself.

So little was left of the fragment and the assault was too fast, it couldn't sustain itself. The whole thing collapsed, casting the Demon King into nothingness. He reappeared in the reality they started it, only to dissolve into meaningless cosmic code.

His final thought rang in Cloudhawk's brain:

"You are the chosen one! The chosen one! Chosen one! You have to fulfill your purpose! You must sustain the spirit of the universe!"

With that, the Demon King perished. Cloudhawk had won.

He stood there, triumphant and domineering. During the fight he had recognized details that had eluded him before. He'd learned. Now as the Demon King's will vanished, the God King's returned.

"If there is any creature in this universe that can stand against us, it is you. If there is any being that can replace us - it is you."

Cloudhawk sensed a difference in his enemy. He couldn't quite describe it, if anything the being had become... purer. Yes, after defeating the illusory Demon King it seemed to have erased it from the spirit of the God King.

"I understand. I... finally understand." Cloudhawk was quiet for a long time. Eventually he found his words again. "The God King is the Demon King. The Demon King is the God King. You are the Demon King and the Demon King is you. You created Gehenna, created demons, instigated a war. All of it was your doing."

"Now you see? Yes, Just as gods and demons come from the same root, so do their 'Kings.'"

As the voice answered, a light bloomed in the darkness. It gathered into a shape, the image of a god. He looked precisely like the Demon King, but instead of pure white his body was silver.

No trace of spatial ability was sensed. Only an unfathomable dominion over time.

At last the God King appeared before Cloudhawk in his true form. He appeared calm, but through their psychic connection it was obvious this being was suppressing his emotions.

"My people aren't of this universe. We are born and exist differently from your kind, a consciousness born from chaos. We have no form, no physical body, and thus are not bound by the laws of the cosmos. We exist outside of them. Endowed with the powers of time and space, we roam the multiverse."

"You created the gods and demons in my universe?"

"We did. All gods and demons are our creations. Our... observers. They exist in every reality."

So much was contained in these simple words. Cloudhawk's guesses and assumptions and hypotheses were all correct. All the information he received through his link with the God King... it was nothing short of extraordinary.

The gods were nothing more than puppets. It wasn't a shock to learn, for he knew it already. In essence, there was no difference between them and the robots created by ancient humans. Cloudhawk also suspected there was an even stronger power pulling their strings.

This super-species existed beyond mortal comprehension, beyond reckoning. They didn't even exist within the same universe, so one could not use this reality to understand them. If forced to describe them in terms humans could grasp, then these were cosmic spirits - born from the chaos between reality with the power to bend space and time.

To them the concept of space and time meant very little. A reality wholly unlike this one was just the same to them. Naturally peaceful and highly intelligent, they were responsible for seeding life across the multiverse. To the few creatures that discovered them, they were revered as gods. Gods were created to act as observers and stewards in their stead.

That was what they were. Due to some unknowable catastrophe, some terrible relationship, they lost their hold on peace and began to attack their own creations. The puppets they built to guide, nor became soldiers of destruction.

Every Sumeru in every universe had a spirit like this. A spirit of the universe that commanded the gods.

Spirits like this had no real form, but they could attach themselves to a form. This form became the one they called God King. The leader of Sumeru.

The Demon King wasn't a rebel. He didn't turn against the gods, or even Sumeru. He was half of the spirit's mind, a fragment of the creature. But this fragment was tainted somehow. Torn from the great spirit, it took on a new form and became what was known as the Demon King.

Every spirit of the universe had the power of space and time. This one, for some reason, split. This was why the Demon King had the power of space, and the God King the power of time. What Cloudhawk just destroyed was the rebellious fragment of the spirit, and in doing so returned the being to its perfect origins.