The world was divided up into two parts, completely different from one another.
The first, the elysian lands.
The other, the wastelands.
The wastelands were a cruel place, barren and blood soaked, where the denizens used whatever tools they could scavenge from the old world to survive. The ancient and modern lived side by side without order, without law, and without civilization.
In contrast the elysian lands were refined and beautiful. Fertile tracts spread far and wide, replete with flora and fauna. Their tools and weapons were filled with magic that technology could not explain, and humans lived in peace and harmony.
They were almost like the two halves had come from entirely different realities.
Everything that lived in the wastelands was twisted by thousands of years within the harsh environment. People desperately sought to realize their potential, molding themselves in order to become stronger. The elysians, bathed in divine favor, had faith that they never would need to worry about staying clothed and fed. Under the guidance of their gods and with the artifacts provided to them, they each were possessed of superhuman abilities.
No one from the elysian lands could explain where their powers were derived from. They were considered miracles, inexplicable but for the glory of the gods.
Blackwater Base’s Academician Roste was perhaps the first great talent of the wastelands. He was able to uncover some of life’s mysteries. With the use of medicines and outside catalysts he could create something new from the old, galvanize mutations, and even fuse two different living things together. He was even able to combine beast and man so that the soldier kept the intellect of humanity and the strength of an animal.
In the eyes of the ordinary man, it was like a miracle. He was performing the impossible.
However Cloudhawk could not understand or accept giving up himself in the pursuit of power. If he was no longer himself, it didn’t matter how mighty he became… he had to get free of this place!
Cloudhawk sneaked a peak into Hellflower’s study. Since coming back she’d spent all her time pouring over the data she’d pilfered.
If he was going to get free he couldn’t do it himself. The only way it was going to work was if he could convince Hellflower to help him. The problem was, why should she?
Could he threaten her? If word got out that she stole from the Academician it could land her in serious trouble. He’d been giving the idea serious thought yesterday, but after seeing what she was capable of he was having second thoughts. If he rushed to action he would be the one in trouble, or even dead.
A young man knocked on the open door. He was clad in long robes with his face hidden beneath a deep cowl that concealed his features. Very mysterious.
Cloudhawk was in a sour mood and had no patience. “You’re in the wrong place!”
“Is this not Lady Hellflower’s home?” The young man presented Cloudhawk with a typed letter. “She requested a report on the most recent findings of our research. Please be sure to give this to her.”
Cloudhawk took the paper with some interest. He looked it over front and back and saw that it was covered in complicated data – intelligence about the base and the most recent information gleaned from subject dissections. There were also some strange mechanical schematics.
Things like this were very rare in the wastelands, but relatively mundane in Blackwater Base. They had wasteland scientists, ancient research technology, experimental biological material and state of the art research equipment. What was a typed sheet of paper compared to all of that?
Cloudhawk pushed open the door to Hellflower’s room.
She was leaning over her desk, absorbed in the scores of paper spread out before her. Mountains of reference material were scattered around her feet. His arrival didn’t even register with her as she peered through threads of silver hair, fully engrossed in whatever she was scribbling. From time to time her brows would knit in contemplation and then relax as an answer came to her. Every expression was intense and appealing.
Of all the women Cloudhawk had met, the Bloodsoaked Queen was undoubtedly the most beautiful. However, she didn’t have the mature carriage of Hellflower. The Queen was too young, too naïve. She didn’t have the unconscious grace of the older woman, while Hellflower was also absent the underlying scorn that always played in the Bloodsoaked Queen’s eyes.
“Hey, someone brought you something. Do you wanna see it?”
“I’m busy, please don’t bother me!” To Hellflower being interrupted in her research was like being bothered in the throes of passion. She lifted her head to glare at him, but upon seeing what was in his hands her expression softened. She muttered, “He’s in such a rush… wait. Come here.”
Hellflower looked it over then used her pen to circle something on the report. It was a time and place – it looked like a general store. She thought careful for a moment as though she was measuring something.
Sudden Cloudhawk came to understand. He thought this was a report, but it was actually a secret message! This woman was shady as hell, all full of secrets!
Hellflower rolled the paper up then set it on fire. As the flames lit her face she spoke to Cloudhawk. “Come with me. I’m taking you to meet someone.”
Her cryptic actions were making him nervous. “Who?”
“Nervous? Don’t imagine I don’t know exactly what’s going through your mind. If you want to get out of here, come with me. Otherwise you can figure it out on your own.”
As she spoke Hellflower slipped her belt and holsters onto her waist then left. Cloudhawk was not one to be timid so he followed, and anyway if she’d wanted him dead she could do it whenever she wanted.
The two of them took a long circuit around the base before eventually arriving at a general store. It was a somewhat inhospitable looking place. Hellflower rapped on the door in a specific rhythmic pattern and a few seconds later someone opened the door a crack. An affable looking man saw who it was and opened the door the rest of the way. He greeted them with a smile. “Ah! Lady Hellflower! Are you here to pick up some research materials? Please come in, come in!”
She answered with a small smile and a nod of her end. They followed him into the shop.
The interior looked like any other store. There were guns and other weapon components, a hodge-podge of machinery, all haphazardly scattered around. Besides the boss there were also his assistants. The friendly old caretaker led them toward the back where an inconspicuous rack of odds and ends occupied the wall. He gave the shelves a good shove which forced it and the wall back a few inches. Another push and it revealed a hidden door.
It had its own hidden sanctuary!
Cloudhawk followed Hellflower into a large room with no lights but well-lit with candles. A dozen or so chairs were scattered around, each one occupied by an elder. And each of them were accompanied by a small entourage of well-armed fighters.
On the highest set chair was a particularly ancient man flanked on either side by two very large warriors. One was covered in thick armor and a shield, and the other bore a pair of iron war hammers. Cloudhawk could tell at a glance that those two were the strongest of all the warriors here – not to the same level as Hyena, but certainly first-rate wastelanders.
Cloudhawk inadvertently rested his hand on the shaft of his exorcist staff and scanned his surroundings out of habit. The secret room had three exits that spread out in three different directions. The area felt safe from prying eyes. As they made their way in the handful of old men sounded as though they were squabbling about something, but when they saw Cloudhawk and Hellflower come in they closed their mouths and stood respectfully.
Hellflower addressed them as she approached. “With things up in the air it’s dangerous for all of you to gather. It’s unnecessarily risky. If the Academician were to find out the losses would be tremendous.”
“We’ve taken every precaution. How could he find out?” One of the white-haired gentlemen rose to his feet. “Has Lady Hellflower forgotten her promise? It was with our assistance that you were installed in such a high position within Blackwater Base. Now that you are in the Academician’s inner circle have you gone back on your word?”
She replied with a dismissive laugh. “How could I renege on my promises?”
“Very good then. Iron Bear, Black Jackal, set a place of honor for Lady Hellflower.”
The armored one called Iron Bear and the other called Black Jackal went to fetch a chair which they set beside the eldest gentleman. Although Hellflower was less than pleased she did not let it show. As natural and graceful as ever she took her seat, folded her legs daintily, then went on. “Speak quickly, tell me what you’re in such a hurry to say. This gathering is too dangerous and I advise you all to be careful.”
The oldest man drew his eyes over Cloudhawk with his ghost mask and tattered cloak who was yet to say a word. Cautiously he inquired, “Who is this?”
“Don’t worry, he’s one of mine.”
He furrowed his bushy white brows but said nothing. He knew that Hellflower was a smart and cautious woman. He stood before the others and went on with their business. “I suspect everyone’s already heard the news. A lot happened yesterday. First, we can confirm that the Academician has shut Hyena away. At least for the time being he will not cause us any problems. We have Lady Hellflower to thank for this!”
Cheers of praise spread through the gathering.
As the old man went on his voice grew more excited. “What’s more, Hyena has lost his title as leader of Blackwater Base’s troops. That responsibility has now been passed to our honored Hellflower! This means that she can deploy whoever she pleases to guard the laboratories.”
“Excellent!” Another of the elder men couldn’t help but jump to his feet in excitement. “The Academician has lost his bodyguards and his strongest soldier. Now that Lady Hellflower can dismiss the guards at will we should use this chance to finally overthrow that old dictator!”
Cloudhawk looked on, speechless.
“What are you so surprised about?” Hellflower said to him. “Did you think Blackwater Base was united? There’s no denying that we’ve grown fat under the Academician’s leadership, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’d a dangerous lunatic – an absolute tyrant. All of the base’s riches have been funneled into his research, starving all the rest of the scientists. He’s made quite a few enemies because of this.”