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Book 8, Chapter 39 - Final Evolution

 To control time, Cloudhawk had to understand time.

What sort of creature could control time more perfectly than a Quintessence? The God King was a spirit that existed beyond the multiverse. An avatar of time, one with it!

Cloudhawk didn't have the luxury to learn these mysteries at his own pace. His only path forward was a desperate risk, to face the strongest dangers that time possessed in order to grasp all that it meant. He had to trust in himself, that he would not be so easily struck down by his enemy.

A dozen temporal blades bite into the young Demon King's body.

In that moment Cloudhawk felt the God King's essence dissipate. His domain vanished. The demons, Sumeru... everything was swallowed up by a perfect nothingness.

A host of semi-translucent blades jutted from him, glowing with power. Their power hung over him in an egg-shaped shell. Inside was a realm of only time. Here there was no matter or space, no light or temperature. Nothing, except time. Cloudhawk could only float inside and let the flows pass through him.

An hour.

A day.

A month.

Here he remained, sealed, but conscious of every passing second.

There was no hunger or thirst to worry over, not that it would be possible to get any in this place without matter. A mortal thing would die quickly in this stasis, but Cloudhawk was supported by the Demon King's Cuirass. It would not let him die.

He was lucid, but it was the only part of him that functioned. His body would not move, his powers were meaningless. All he could do was be here and feel every moment and time stretched on without end.

Was this how the God King's 'temporal sword' worked? He'd watched a number of demon Elders turn to dust when struck. But while it seemed like just an instant to him, the truth was far more cruel. Victims were flung into a cage of time just like the sort he was in now. Time stretched... and stretched... and stretched until the body completely broke down.

To the world outside it all happened in the blink of an eye, but to the target it was a tortuous eternity. Millions, even billions of years. Even the most tenacious being eventually succumbs to the passage of time. The youngest and most brilliant stars lose their spark at some point.

No possibility existed to escape from this ruthless damnation.

As the God King's blade's struck their power was unleashed. Unless an even greater power was used to reverse this temporal prison, the victim was condemned to suffering every second of their long decline.

Were any other creature in Cloudhawk's place they would not retain their power of thought once locked in the shell. Their bodies and souls would erode over time and disappear. Thanks to Cloudhawk's evolved constitution and his talent for spatial power, he was able to keep his wits.

But this was not necessarily a good thing.

If he failed to free himself he would be forced to experience himself slowly wither and decay. An unimaginable loneliness, an emptiness he could never escape. An eternity of static solitude without anyone or anything to interact with. It was like digging one's brain out and throwing it alive into the vast nothingness of space. No consciousness could suffer such torment.

Cloudhawk continued to feel the flows of time. Over a month passed like this, by then he was growing tired.

Two months passed, second by agonizing second.

Three months. Four months. Five....

A year. Two years. Three years...

His resolve began to crumble. To be stuck for so long...

Time marched on, stable and unending. The minutes continued to add up without fail until it all blended together until there was only numbness. At some point he realized he had lost the ability to measure how many years had passed. About as long as he'd been alive, or so he figured.

He'd experienced so much in his thirty years. Even counting the crawling time within his sub-space cube, Cloudhawk wasn't more than thirty years old before his fight with the God King. That seemed right, that twenty or thirty years had passed since then.

He couldn't speak in this prison. Couldn't move. Not a single finger. To even twitch a muscle seemed like an impossible dream. All this time the temporal swords continued to emit their power.

Cloudhawk remained aware through it all. He knew these last thirty years were a drop in the bucket for all the rest of eternity he would spend in this cage. A man of weaker will would have gone insane long ago.

But he didn't give up. From the very beginning he focused on learning the mysteries of time.

Isolation gave him all the time he needed to study its secrets. He knew now the nature of its flow. Once he began to understand, microscopic fractures began to appear in a handful of the temporal blades holding him here.

These infinitesimally small cracks gave him hope.

He could do it. He could beat this curse.

So he continued to pay attention to the time as it ticked by, it's energies and laws, and as time built upon time he came to understand it better. The cracks in the swords spread, deepened. In a few years he felt he finally had what he needed.

Time to go.

It started with his hands. Ever so slightly his fingers started to twitch. At an agonizingly slow pace he raised his left hand and pale white spatial energy was released. From his right hand, the silvery power of time emerged. These were the elements; his left had commanded space, his right hand time, and his body was matter.

Without any material reference the flow of time was meaningless.

Without matter as a scaffold space was nothing.

All three aspects of the universe were interdependent. Introducing them back into this solitary extreme, Cloudhawk could break the shackles of time holding him. If he could harness the most basic laws of reality then reality could never harm him!

He was ready.

Cloudhawk brought his hands together.

In that instant a shock wave of fundamental essence was released from his body. The blades buried within him shattered and his prison collapsed. Cloudhawk was deposited back into the heart of Sumeru with his allies.

In his mind it was a trial that had lasted decades. A grueling marathon test of will. Yet to the demon Elders it appeared the God King's temporal blades had shattered upon impacting with their leader.

How? Such terrible power, ignored! Was their leader immune to the attacks of their foe?

The God King attacked again, yet the blades of time dissolved in his grasp before they could form. The Quintessence and Legion both recognized the change in Cloudhawk. His aura was different, like he was floating somewhere just outside of the universe and yet still a part of it.

Cloudhawk had lost an eye, but he saw more now than ever before. He saw everything in its most basic elements.

Reality was a weave of strings, humming at different frequencies. They intertwined to create existence. Cloudhawk's interventions were no longer constrained to dancing across the surface of these threads, rather he was like a man rewriting the code of the universe. Any outcome he desired was realized with a thought.

Reality was just a computer program.

It was made up of cells or units; space, time, matter, souls, psyche, life - lines of code which he could erase or amend on a whim. He was in control of the root, not a master of it but able to change it as he pleased. If he wished, he could change the underlying laws of this universe. In theory there was nothing he wasn't capable of.

"At last... the new Quintessence arises."

The God King and Legion knew what this moment meant. Cloudhawk's evolution was complete. He had emerged as a primordial spirit of creation. A true god in its infancy, but a god nonetheless.

What he had become, no other creature of 'god' could assume. No matter how strong the being or advanced their technology, or however potent their energies, in the eyes of a true god they were insignificant. In the eyes of a true god they were motes of code easily tampered with. He was unequivocally omnipotent and all powerful.

The God King and the Grand Elder were conflicted. They had both waited for this moment for a long time. This was the fruit of their efforts.

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