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 A melancholy he could not restrain flooded Hyena as he witnessed the wolf matriarch die saving him. The anger and pain that arose came from deep within his soul.

Roste stumbled back onto his feet with some effort, reeling from the acidic fog. His head and most of his chest was a rotted mess and his eyes had melted leaving him blind.

With bloodshot eyes filled with rage Hyena charged again. Roste could not see but his hearing was fine, so when he heard the shapeshifter coming he swung wildly with his weapon. Meanwhile Hyena had lost his mind to fury and his only interest was in tearing this man limb from limb. He didn't even attempt to dodge.

In this crucial moment Hellflower lifted her rifle and fired. The bullet caught Roste in the shoulder and stopped his swinging.

Hyena struck him first with his right leg. The kick brought Roste up into the air and smashed him against the nearby corridor wall, then quickly followed by a flurry of blows to his head. Each blow had enough force behind it to collapse a normal man's chest, Roste was like a punching back that threatened to burst at the seams. Bones all over his body were broken and even the iron wall he was up against was dented.

These injuries were enough to kill a man ten times over!

"You foolish thing."

Roste still refused to die. The sound that came from his crushed vocal chords hardly sounded human. The Academician grabbed Hyena's right hand mid punch and squeezed. Amidst the sickening cracks and pops his former experiment released a shrill wail. His hand was destroyed but he still had his left, and the keen claws jutting from it were thrust into Roste's left thorax. They slipped through the bubbling flesh and into the freak's heart.

Roste did not react except to plant a kick in Hyena's chest. Their ally was hurled several dozen feet away before he hit the ground. He struggled to rise but ultimately couldn't.

Aimed for another shot Hellflower pulled the trigger, but blanched when she discovered she had no bullets left. She threw it aside and reached for her last weapon.

Roste was already locked on her position. He heaved the sword toward her, its keen edge whistling as it split the air. Cloudhawk was close enough this time to awaken the power of his relic and block Roste's onslaught.

The two weapons met once again, and this time both broke from the impact. Roste's cane sword snapped right in the middle and ceased its high-frequency effects. The top half snapped backward and flipped just past Roste's eyes.

Hellflower had her gun draw and ready.

Roste jumped up and caught the spinning half of his broken sword with a kick that sent it racing toward Cloudhawk. It passed him by and shot into Hellflower's stomach as she prepared to fire. The jagged, bloodstained metal tore right through her then became lodged in the wall behind where it quivered. She slumped on her metal peg as a pool of blood quickly grew around her.

The flesh of Roste's face was halfway healed but it somehow only made him look more terrible. He reached out and grabbed Cloudhawk by the throat, lifting him off the ground. "I trust you now understand what's good for you."

Cloudhawk felt like a helpless little bird. No matter how hard he struggled he could not break free. The jagged claws that Roste's fingernails had become dug into the flesh of his neck. He was suffocating, the pressure had cut off all air to his brain.

He needed only squeeze the slightest bit and Cloudhawk's neck would snap.

Hyena lay in a heap, too wounded to stand, while Hellflower was pinned to the wall. None of the mutated animals could do anything to harm Roste. After all of this horror and carnage would it be the Academician who won in the end?

No! It wasn't over!

Cloudhawk took advantage of this rare chance, so close to their enemy, to do something no one expected. He wrapped his hand around a syringe he'd kept hidden, lifted it high, then jabbed it into Academician Roste's neck. The flesh of his neck was still recovering and so couldn't harden against the needle. It slipped right in and Cloudhawk squeezed the plunger with his thumb, forcing whatever liquid was inside into Roste's body.

"What did you do!" Roste plucked the syringe from his neck. He was blind and could not smell, but he feared what Cloudhawk had done. He knew, he just couldn't believe it. "What have you done!"

"Your body is powerful, Master Academician. I can't do anything about that…" Cloudhawk's neck was red around Roste's tightening fingers, but he grinned nonetheless. "I was just curious how you would react to a dose of your own brainwashing drugs."

"The brainwashing… ? No… no, no, no!"

Blood leaked from the corners of Hellflower's mouth. She had given up hope when this sudden reversal of fortunes revealed itself. The brainwashing drugs! The same ones Chimp had planned to use on her.

The adaptability of Roste's body protected him from her bullet, how could such a flimsy needle pierce his skin? It was timing, for Cloudhawk knew that while Roste's mangled flesh was recovering he was vulnerable. Vulnerable enough for a tiny needle.

Roste screamed, so loud and so ferocious it threatened to deafen them. He spun around and burst through the crowds of animals, fleeing the containment area with Cloudhawk held half-dead in his grip. 

The Academician hurried to his own labs where he frantically began rummaging through his things. Several medicines were quickly imbibed or injected but nothing would help. Roste had invented the serum, he knew better than anyone that his fate was sealed.

Its actions were quick. In a few minutes the damage to his brain and synapses would be wide-spread and irreversible.

After all of his painstaking work Roste could take a bullet to the brain and survive. But there was nothing even his perfect body could do against the permanent damage from his medicines. He could already sense his focus waning. It was becoming harder to think, like he was being dragged into a dark hole.

It was too late!

Numbness crept through him. With great gulping breaths he slumped to the ground in the middle of his laboratory. Roste stared at Cloudhawk with newly regenerated eyes as he struggled to crawl away. Never… never in a hundred thousand years did he imagine this boy would get the better of him.

His body continued to heal, even as his mind was being destroyed.

The Academician knew his time was short and in his final moments a calm overtook him. With a soft and gentle voice he called out to Cloudhawk. "Do not struggle. If I wanted to kill you, you'd have been dead long ago."

At the close of this conflict Cloudhawk felt a broad sorrow. There was no anger or animosity within Roste, as though a sudden epiphany had drained all resistance from him. He stared at Cloudhawk with serene green eyes.

Roste was not a capriciously cruel man. Although his hands were coated in the blood of countless victims, there was a reason, a motive behind everything. Would killing Cloudhawk reverse his fate? Such was life!

Cloudhawk gasped for breath and replied in hoarse tones. "You brought this on yourself!"

"Maybe." Roste managed a self-deprecating expression. "You know… when I first saw you, you reminded me of myself at your age. We're a lot alike, you and I."

"Oh fuck off! I'm nothing like you!"

"You haven't reached my age yet, it's too early to say what you'll become." He punctuated the thought with a bitter laugh. He was quickly losing control of his body, he already couldn't move his legs. "I've nearly reached my end, an old man in his final moments. I'd like to entrust a few important things to you."

It was almost laughable. Cloudhawk thought the old man really had lost his mind. Cloudhawk had been very anxious to tear the old man into pieces, helping him didn't seem likely.

"First, after I am dead please destroy all of my notes. You must not let these materials fall into Hellflower's hands. You don't understand… Hellflower, she… she is even more dangerous than I! Her hunger for knowledge and her ambition is ten times greater than mine ever was."

"Second, all of the intelligent animals we keep here must be destroyed, by whatever means necessary. Letting them go is opening a Pandora's box of tragedy. In a thousand years, history will look upon us as sinners and monsters. Do you understand?"

Cloudhawk replied with a contemptuous snort. Even in his final moments this old man was a dramatic blowhard.

"Finally, though I have reached my end the cause I fought for shall continue. I don't want it to end this way, I must ask you -"

Cloudhawk sensed something funny. "What the hell are you on about?"

Suddenly Roste's neck stretched to horrific proportions. Like a viper he whipped his head toward Cloudhawk and bit him in the throat. The young man yelped and scrambled back, feeling like he'd been bitten by a poisonous snake. As Roste's neck retracted back to normal Cloudhawk thrashed and screamed in pain upon the ground.

The bite had infected him with something, some sort of toxin that ran throughout his body. Whatever this freak had done to him, it couldn't have been good.

With his final treachery complete Roste's body shriveled up. His long years came creeping back and he was once more the withered old man Cloudhawk had first met. Only, not entirely. His skin remained that strange blue hue, and his eyes blackish-green. The twisted man slumped, appearing to have aged two hundred years.

The rattling sound from his throat was haggard and uncomfortable to listen to. "Here is some… advice. When I… am dead… Leave. The quicker… the better!"

It was done. A new beginning was on the horizon. Such was the world, an endless cycle, a spark passed on.

Trembling hands pulled the finger bone necklace from his pocket, and Roste held it tenderly. Fingers like dead branches stroked each one as his memories brought him back. He thought about his old teacher, and regretted never taking a student of his own. In all the vast wasteland he had never found anyone worthy of inheriting his knowledge.

Ten minutes later.

Hellflower came stumbling by with a hand pressed against the wound in her abdomen.

Cloudhawk twitched and jerked in pain upon the ground. Broken flasks and caustic potions were flung all around. Roste sat placidly on the floor with his necklace in his hands, but all focus had left his eyes and he sat muttering nonsense to himself. He'd lost his mind.

Hellflower stood in the doorway, looking at Cloudhawk as he thrashed and Roste as he muttered incoherently.

Brainwashing wasn't accomplished in a single dose of the medicine, the shot Roste had been given was just the first step. There were several more processes required, and considering the particular abilities of Roste's body the medicine affected him differently than others. It was not surprising it had driven him crazy.

"How are you doing?"

"Motherfucker! He bit me! I think I'm poisoned!"

Hellflower paused and looked around. With all the drugs strewn around it was likely at least some were biotoxins. It would make sense for him to punish Cloudhawk in his final moments. However, it didn't look like Cloudhawk was in danger of dying.

Roste remained kneeling on the ground fondling his finger bone necklace. He continued to mutter to himself, words no one but he could understand.

Hellflower didn't even want to bother with him. She pressed the muzzle of her gun against the back of the old man's head.


Roste's head exploded, spilling brain matter all over the ground as his eighty-year-old body collapsed. As his necklace hit the ground the cord broke and sent bleached bone scattering in every direction, stained by the blood of the Academician.

Cloudhawk gaped at her. "You killed him, just like that?"

"Roste lived his life walking down the wrong path. If we want to save humanity, his way is not the right one." Hellflower unceremoniously threw her gun aside. "He was obsessed his whole life, this was a liberation."

Cloudhawk fell silent. The world had one less madman in it. One less monster. One less genius.

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