The earth was like quicksand, the sky like a painting. The world he knew lacked something all of a sudden, all color drained. All the life he knew had burst in an instant, like a soap bubble.
That kind old man he buried in the rubble, who taught him to read…
The quiet assassin in Blackflag Outpost who saved his live on several occasions…
Wolfblade. One man playing several roles.
He’d often wondered why life seemed to throw so many strange and inexplicable circumstances his way. It’d always felt like some unseen hand was pushing him along. Now it seemed he was right all along. Only, the bastard responsible for all of it had hidden himself so well, Cloudhawk never saw it until now.
“Knowing what I do of your temper, I figured if you hadn’t cut someone down with your sword by now you’d at least have stormed out. I’m surprise to find I was wrong. This silence is… incongruous.”
Cloudhawk was tired of being dominated by others. He couldn’t stand being manipulated. However if there is anything he’d learned over the last few years, it was that flying into a rage was rarely the right course of action. He wasn’t an idiot, here in this wheelchair how could he do anything to Wolfblade, flanked by a god and a demon?
“I was amazed by it when you came to Blackwater Base. How could you have mastered an ancient language on your own?” Hellflower turned her eyes to Wolfblade. “It was you who taught him. And that explains everything. That was why he was in Blackwater Base to begin with, and how he was infected with Trespasser. All designed by you...”
Abaddon’s raspy laughter interjected. “It was at the behest of this ancient one that I ordered Cloudhawk to be hunted through the wastelands.”
“Are you getting it?” Hellflower gently patted Cloudhawk’s shoulder. “You’ve been following a preset track from the very beginning. Your personality, development, even your morals were all likely shaped to his purpose. Knowing that, do you still have to adhere to these principles – that probably weren’t even yours to begin with?”
It was a cruel and deliberate blow on Cloudhawk’s psyche, one that had the potential to be wickedly effective. What better way to break the stubborn rock that to strike at its weakest point? Once everything Cloudhawk believed to be true was shown to be a lie, he could be given a new reality to cling to.
Cloudhawk shook his head. He couldn’t… wouldn’t accept it.
He knew what he wanted, and what he was doing. He believed the innate core of who he was to be unshakable. No matter what he learned, who he was inside would not change.
Wolfblade met Cloudhawk’s firm gaze and nodded. The young scavenger had indeed grown. “In a way, I am like a theater director, and you are my most talented actor. All I wanted was to bring that potential to the surface, and let you loose on the stage. My wish is to bill you as this age’s protagonist, with the tools to determine your own story.”
“I don’t want to be anyone’s protagonist. I don’t want any part of your fucking play.”
Cloudhawk couldn’t stomach it. In playing this role he’d become hunted by everyone, and the one who manipulated him all this time was not Arcturus but Wolfblade – or whatever the fuck Wolfblade was. What sort of protagonist was universally despised and controlled? What the hell made Wolfblade think he wanted any of this? As always, all he ever wanted was to curl up in some quiet corner and live his life without being bothered. What the hell did it serve him to be some great and influential man?
Cloudhawk turned up his nose at such a sweeping, epic story.
Skye’s heroic tale ended with him blown to pieces in the wastelands. Who would remember him in a few decades? And for what? He never lived a day in his life for himself, it was always under the crushing burden of other people’s expectations. That wasn’t any sort of life to speak of.
“What you are facing is an inheritance that has waited for you for a thousand years.” Wolfblade was careful not to say anything that could be construed as trying to force him. “If you choose to accept your birthright, then you will rise to conquer the world. Or, you can continue as you are – drifting from place to place in search of peace of mind, until you die. The choice – as it has always been – is yours.”
Any more talk was useless. It was time for Cloudhawk to make his choice, here before the final piece of the Demon King’s legacy.
Abaddon and Autumn stared at the young man. This decision was an interesting one to them. Depending on which path he set out on, he could be an instrument of global change. Whether they came to witness the outcome they desires or not, they were here to observe an important moment in history.
The Demon King’s legacy. Power beyond imagining, right within his reach.
Cloudhawk was in a sorry state, disabled and badly wounded by Arcturus’ terrible power. Before this tragedy befell him he was confident that in another five or ten years he could have stood against the Governor. Now, with his body like this, that was put into question. The promise of immediate power was an alluring one.
The ancient and mysterious armor seemed as though it had a life of its own. He could hear it calling to him.
It was still encased in crystal, with naught but a dim outline to mark its presence. However its presence filled him with a warmth he’d never known. Deep within Cloudhawk knew that this armor was a piece of him, a fragment of his soul that could not be shed. Reaching out and taking it for himself was not only justified, but proper.
Cloudhawk looked down at his bandages hands. For the first time he was seriously considering it.
If what Hellflower told him about his recovery was true, he couldn’t afford to stay here for years. Wasting even six months was too much, he felt. Evil winds were blowing in Skycloud, and no one knew what terrible things would soon follow.
What would he do if Selene or Dawn were in danger? What if someone needed his help?
Cloudhawk’s eyes rose to the Demon King’s Cuirass. He didn’t see how this was different from the phase stone. It was just another relic – albeit one of legendary power. What about a relic would make him the next Demon King?
An idea stirred in his turbulent mind.
Cloudhawk stepped away from the chair and toward where the armor lay. As he approached the dim contours became clear. He saw its patterns and lines, and with each step the draw on his soul grew stronger. The urge to take it and put it on was almost more than he could bear.
Once he put it on, all of the Demon King’s former power would be his.
He would have the power to defeat Arcturus. It also meant he would be forced to walk a path of blood and ruin.
He reached out with a shaking hand. Yet, when his fingertips touched the seal surrounding the amror he was struck with an intense repulsive force. Cloudhawk was shoved away from the altar.
“Eh? What is this? He has been rejected!”
Cloudhawk was similarly shocked. The armor was calling to him, so why would the seal force him away?
Wolfblade shook his head. “You aren’t yet ready. You will not be able to don this armor until you’ve come to wholly understand and accept your destiny. You must be prepared for a rebirth as the new Demon King, not merely wear it in pursuit of power.”
Cloudhawk was not disappointed. In fact, he was relieved. Wolfblade was right, of course. He didn’t want the inheritance for all it meant.
Cloudhawk didn’t think he had the power to unify an entire race of demons, much less lead them in a war against the gods. If gods and demons were really so similar in strength then they wouldn’t have lost so badly a thousand years ago. He didn’t know how much the demons had recovered to this day, but even humans had a way to fight back against them.
How many of those monsters have died at the hands of demonhunters over the years? He’d never heard of any gods being killed.
There was some disappointment in Wolfblade that Cloudhawk did not immediately accept his birthright. However, his aims today were met. Cloudhawk had begun to seriously think about it and its implications. He no longer looked at it as a burden.
“Hellflower, Cloudhawk looks like he needs rest.”
Cloudhawk helped him back to his chair, and the two left. Only three remained near the altar.
Abaddon spoke first. “We can’t place all our hopes on this child. All of our preparations have paid off, and we can attack at our leisure. Now that Skycloud has lost its connection to the gods, we can take the Elysian realm in one fell swoop.”
Wolfblade shook his head. “You see the problem too linearly, and our enemies are far more complex than you imagine. Be patient.”
“I care nothing for your schemes. You made me a promise, one I insist we settle now.” Her words were sharp from dissatisfaction. “How can I rid myself of this rebellious consciousness?”
“Special methods require special equipment. Given our current circumstance, I can only offer general advice for the time being.” Wolfblade turned toward Autumn, meeting her impertinent glower with a kindly smile. “There are two challenges you need to overcome.”
Autumn frowned. “What are these methods?”
“The first is communication. You must sufficiently connect with the human consciousness, and try to persuade her to willingly accept destruction.”
Autumn found this to be highly unlikely. This human girl clung tightly to the last vestiges of her existence. It was how she still remained locked in this body in the first place.
“The second is assimilation. You can do what she feels she has left undone, or allow her to emerge from time to time to release her pent up frustrations. As her needs and attachments wane, you will find it easier to control her for longer. Over time her influence and desires will weaken. Over time she will lose her emotional bonds will see no further need to resist you. Of course, I cannot allow you to kill Cloudhawk, nor will it eliminate her connection to the extent you believe. On the contrary, you will merely incite her anger, giving her more power with which to resist you.”
A scowl of displeasure darkened Autumn’s face. Would she be forced to suffer the disgrace of capitulating with a mere mortal’s desires?
Wolfblade went on. “You may not need to destroy her outright. Humans have their own unique capabilities, after all. Who knows what results would come from a human and godly soul combining into one?”
Autumn was, of course, vehemently opposed to the concept.
How could such lowly creatures be allowed to taint the immortal soul of a god? She pondered Wolfblade’s suggestions, and mulled over the best way to rid herself of this irritating headache.
1. Fuck, that’s brutal. She just casually says ‘you and everything you stand for is a lie.’
2. Cloudhawk looks pointedly at the camera.