Cloudhawk was naturally referring to the Caliph of the Sands. When he fought the demon, before the end he was barely able to make a dent in that monster’s skin. The demon had even been able to catch bullets out of midair.
Roste was strong, but he was at most comparable to the Bloodsoaked Queen. His body was changeable but at best he was like a combination of the demon’s fallen lieutenants. Compared to the demon? He was nothing.
“What did you say?!”
Veins bulged out against his pale blue flesh. This body was his pride, his masterpiece, the tool he’d spent his life cultivating to perfection. Cloudhawk’s scorn was an affront he couldn’t tolerate.
The wound to his chest healed quickly. After a few moments only the slightest mark remained.
Hellflower was preparing to take another shot when Roste once more began to change. His body shifted from burly and muscled to slithery and streamline, built for explosive speed and power. When he moved toward them again he was wholly one third faster than he was before.
Cloudhawk swung his staff to try and dissuade the Academician, but missed and swung through a vague afterimage. With realization spreading across his face Cloudhawk was too late in turning and felt a fierce blow to the back of his neck. Everything began to spin and he hit the ground with a dull thud.
Hellflower’s finger was on the trigger when Roste’s particle sword sheered it in two. Quick as a flash he swung again and the weapon master’s hands were severed above the wrist. Before she could even feel the pain Roste shoved his masterwork blade into her body.
Struggling to get back up, Cloudhawk turned his head in time to see Hellflower collapse in a pool of blood and lose consciousness. With his work done the Academician snatched up his cane once again as his body shrunk. Little by little he withered until the five foot bag of bones he recognized returned. He put back on his glasses and the strange finger-bone necklace.
“Take them away!”
Another blow. Cloudhawk’s world went dark.
Two mutant body guards lifted him up and they left the secret chamber.
Roste was exhausted, drenched in sweat. For all the power inside him it seemed his old body could hardly bear the strain. As his boney fingers played over his necklace, the light in his eyes hardened. “I will succeed. I must. All that remains is the power of the demonhunters and then I will be the most perfect specimen in all the world!”
Roste pulled his cane out of the ground and led what remained of his transformed bodyguards away from the slaughter. Almost as an afterthought he ordered someone to come and clean up the mess of blood and bone left in his wake.
When Cloudhawk came to he found himself laying in a lab, hands and feet bound to a table. A strap kept his neck fixed so he could barely turn his head. His cloak, mask, staff, the gospel of sands, and even his bear armor was gone.
Things were very, very bad. They’d captured him alive.
He lay flat on the operating table in only thin clothing. When he got his bearings he began to hear whispering all around. People were coming and going, a fact that was making him both anxious and angry. He began to struggle.
“Give him another dose of tranquilizers!”
“No need.” This was a curt and familiar voice. Chimp walked within Cloudhawk’s line of sight and looked coldly down at him. “We must gauge his reaction as we administer the serum. Keep him awake.”
The gathered scientists nodded.
Cloudhawk had the distinct sensation that he was a sheep in a slaughterhouse. “What are you gonna do? Let me go!”
Chimp’s laughter was mocking and sinister. “We wanted to keep you in the dark. We’d have less to worry about and it would have saved you some suffering. Things being what they are now, however, we have no other choice.”
One of his assistants arrived carrying a flask full of strange green liquid. Something that looked like red plant matter floated within it.
“This is an herb from the elysian lands, Antirrhinum ignis. It is phenomenally expensive so none of us are able to enjoy its particular functions. I hope you appreciate it.”
Struggle as he might Cloudhawk couldn’t fight them. The scientists forced his mouth open and shoved a tube down his throat into his stomach. The strange concoction was poured in.
What awful way of taking medicine was this? It was like gulping down a powerful acid!
Immediately Cloudhawk felt as though every organ in his body was on fire. The burning quickly spread until he could feel every blood vessel searing, every muscle ache. He couldn’t bite back his agonizing screams.
“You bastard! You better kill me or I’m gonna fuckin’ tear you apart!”
“Tsk tsk. You still have the energy to threaten me?” The lab director went on in enigmatic tones. “You shouldn’t waste it struggling pointlessly, you can’t escape. You know, this medicine is a precious component, smuggled out of the elysian lands at great expense. It will greatly improve your physique. No typical wastelander would ever be able to enjoy its benefits.”
If Cloudhawk’s eyes could spit fire this wretched pervert would be burnt to ash. If he’d known this was his fate he would have killed Chimp when he had the chance!
Chimp checked the time. Cloudhawk had suffered for hours now and he still wasn’t exhausted. This strange brew simultaneously increased his strength but cut off stamina. For Cloudhawk this was a painful combination that extended his torment considerably.
When they felt he’d absorbed enough of the concoction the doctors produced a series of syringes. Sharp jabs to his veins and their contents were pushed inside. The young wastelander didn’t know what they were giving him now but before long he felt muddled and dizzy. His whole body was weak.
Two transformed soldiers walked in and removed his constraints.
Cloudhawk regained freedom of motion but could do nothing with it. He felt like his bones had been pulled out, or like he was trying to swim through mud. His captors dropped him in a prison, locked behind iron bars.
Scientists came in and out with bottles of colorful liquid they hung from the walls. Their contents were dripped through a series of transfusion tubes that joined into a single one inserted in Cloudhawk’s neck. Every ounce of this hateful serum that entered his veins felt like fire raging throughout his body.
“That’s enough for today. We’ll pick it up again tomorrow.”
They closed the door and shut him in behind three sturdy locks.
Cloudhawk lay in his cell, unable to summon an ounce of strength. He tried just to lift his hands but they wouldn’t obey his will. He didn’t know what that bastard Chimp had given him, but not only did it burn like a motherfucker, it also felt like thousands of ants gnawing his bones and crawling under his skin.
He could feel that somehow this process was strengthening his bones, though the pain was more than a normal man could stand. Cloudhawk managed to drag himself to the door of his cage and peered out where four guards stood as silent sentries. They were still as statues and stared at everything with a stoic indifference.
They didn’t take a chance with him, even behind thick iron bars. Were these damn guards really necessary?
They’d taken all of his equip, but even if they’d left it with him he couldn’t bust out of this prison much less escape from his four steely-eyed guards.
Furious, he screamed in vain several times, raging at his helplessness. He didn’t even have the strength to bash his head against the wall and try to kill himself.
The second day.
Scientists brought him back into the labs where he was pumped full of all manner of drugs. One such substance was something they called elysian balm. Wherever they smeared it his body drank it up, followed by the agonizing sensation of his pores being torn open. He passed out when he began sweating blood.
Before he lost consciousness Chimp explained that this famed medicine came from the cities of the elysians. They called it transfusion balm.
It was said transfusion balm was part of the foundational training of a demonhunter. Although the process ruptured countless capillaries and caused serious hemorrhage, it also cleared out any toxins or impurities from within the body. The recipient’s bones and muscles were highly strengthened by it.
They put him in a pool filled with a frigid, milky white substance. The moment it touched him it froze, and within the space of a few minutes Cloudhawk was sealed in a block of pale white ice with only his face open to the air.
That cold that seeped down to the depths of his body was another special kind of torture.
Day four… day five… day six… every day the evil scientists employed some new hell to torment Cloudhawk with. They were the most painful and frightening days of his whole life. A living nightmare.
At the end of the sixth day he was thrown back in his cage. He was left in the dark, where it was moist and silent. Four guards had since become eight and now they kept him shackled hand and foot.
He sat up and took stock of everything. Over the last few days he could have sworn he’d grown a few niches at least. He ran his hand over his abdomen and the muscles felt firm and well defined. No longer the waif he was before, his clothes seemed several sizes too small all of a sudden.
The benefits of these medicines were evident.
The Academician didn’t officially begin the power transfusion right way. When Cloudhawk arrived he was too weak. He was Roste’s most important subject and so he had to be strengthened before the real process could begin. That was the focus of this week of torture.
More than his physical abilities Cloudhawk’s sense of sight and smell had also improved in addition to strength and constitution. Under any other circumstances he would be thrilled, but as it was he felt more like they were fattening a pig for slaughter.
Was that evil old fuck going to have his way? Damnit!
He strained against his shackles, making them creak. Bulging muscles caused his clothes to burst a few seams. They’d taken everything from him, everything except the stone that hung around his neck. His captors were a cruel lot, they hadn’t even given him a change of clothes throughout the week so the rock didn’t even catch their eye.
Cloudhawk slipped the rock over his head and held it in his hand.
He was out of options, his only hope was this unreliable stone.
Transport me out of here! I beg you, get me out of this place!
Since he found the stone it had only awakened twice, and then only passively as a reaction to circumstance. Cloudhawk knew that Roste was cunning and cautious, and would leave him no chance to get free. He was nothing more than a lab rat caught in the madman’s clutches with no recourse but to face his suffering day in and day out.
If he hoped to survive it would be through this unassuming stone clutched tightly in his hand. If he could learn to use its power of teleportation he could escape from this fucking place!