Several days had passed since the big conflict.
Hellflower appeared in Roste's laboratory - though now, of course, they were called Hellflower's laboratory.
She was clad in short leather shorts and a jacket that clung tight to her figure and put her curves on full display, especially the proud swell of her chest. A gunslinger's belt was slung around her waist where her tailor-made guns and several lines of bullets were housed. It was perched on the pert apex of her long, shapely legs. Over it all was a snow-white lab coat that combined her wild wastelander appearance with that of a studious erudite. On her, the dual natures did not conflict.
After many setbacks, she ultimately succeeded. Roste's secrets were within her grasp.
Hellflower had begun wandering the wastelands when she was a teenager. Throughout her travels she had visited more than ten Seeker crews, sometimes staying only a few months, the longest for a few years. Her goal was always to learn everything she could.
Her time in Blackwater Base was the longest and also the most dangerous. She'd almost lost her life, but the risks were worth it. She'd gained more here than she ever expected, it would take years of meditating on the knowledge to truly understand it all.
"Exalted leader." A scientist respectfully intruded. "Cloudhawk's blood sample has been collected."
She lifted her head from the piles of data before her. Cloudhawk was a very interesting young man to her, not only because he'd saved her on several occasions but more because there was a lot about him that piqued her interest.
Lately he'd seen a great deal of trouble. He claimed to have been bitten by Roste as the old man lost his mind which infected him with something. However, none of their checks or scans revealed the presence of any toxins. Moreover there were no symptoms in days, but to be on the safe side she'd had some of his blood drawn to see if they could find anything.
She stretched out her long, delicate fingers and took the vial of blood from her assistant. She moved as though to do something, but paused. Something flashed behind her beautiful eyes. "How is his recovery coming along? Has there been anything noteworthy?"
The scientist found it difficult to stare at his leader's bright eyes directly. He was jealous of that vulgar boy and the care he got from this beautiful woman. He truthfully reported what he knew. "None of his injuries were serious, they're mostly healed by now. He certainly eats and drinks a lot, only… he's always asking to leave."
"Asking to leave? Why?!"
"I'm uncertain. He's become more irritable lately as though his displeased with this place. He is preparing his things now in preparation to go."
The revelation clearly bothered her. What was going through this kid's brain? The whole base belonged to her now, and Cloudhawk was one of her most cherished people. As long as she was here what could he be lacking? She simply couldn't understand, were the elysian lands really so appealing?
No matter what, Cloudhawk couldn't leave.
Hellflower needed his help to translate the Roste's notes and he still had more to learn about elysian language and culture. That should be enough to pacify his wanderlust, at least for a while. They'll take it a day at a time.
In the end she hoped he might choose to remain here and help her. He was young but full of potential, and the only person in the wasteland she could rely on. She would be much more at ease if he stayed.
When she thought about it Hellflower remembered that she was already past thirty. In all those years no one had made her feel comfortable. She'd only known Cloudhawk for a short time, though, so where did this assuredness come from?
"Exalted leader, someone is asking to see you."
"Who is it?" She was busy analyzing Cloudhawk's blood sample and didn't look up, everything else had been put to the side. Her first inclination was to dismiss whoever it was.
"Someone from outside, a stranger. He's very tall… much taller than a normal man. Maybe a representative from the sweepers." The guard could tell from her body language that Hellflower was uninterested. He bowed and said, "If your Excellency is busy, I can tell them you aren't interested in visitors right now."
"Wait a moment!" Hellflower stopped what she was doing, shut her eyes and thought for a moment. "Let them in."
Several minutes later…
The sounds of heavy and determined footsteps came from the hallway. Each step was like a battering ram, every thud rattling deep into the depths of her heart. The sound made her body shake ever so slightly and the air grew oppressively heavy.
She could feel the pressure no her chest and she thought she could smell the scent of carnage in the air. Even before she could see his likeness, Hellflower knew this man was more powerful than anything she'd encountered before.
The visitor entered, revealing his strange physique. His whole body was wrapped up tight as though hiding some unpresentable reality beneath. From beneath the shadows of his cowl were a pair of blood red eyes that glowed like embers. They pierced her like bloody daggers.
Hellflower felt as though the tip of an ice-cold blade was running along her spine, and her hand went instinctively to the handle of her gun. However she quickly caught herself and forced her hand to relax. Drawing her weapon or leaving it holstered, the end result would be the same. Making a show would only reveal her fear to this stranger. It was better to remain calm and collected. She turned to address her subordinates. "Leave us, and do not let anyone in without my explicit instruction."
Her guards left the room. She and the mysterious stranger were the only ones remaining.
"How did you get here?" She stared at the man in front of her. "The word is you're dead. What's the meaning of this? I've told you I will no longer work for you!"
"Heheheh…" The slithering laughter was uncomfortable on the ears, like the croaking of a frog. He removed his hood to reveal his face, or rather something like a mask where his face should be. His head was covered in white hair, and he stared at her with burning red orbs that served as eyes. "You killed Roste? Such a pity."
The Caliph of the Sands! The apex power of the wastelands!
He belonged to the world's most mysterious race, those who were blamed for the destruction and turmoil that tore society apart. He was a demon.
After the war with the gods there were few of his kind left in the world. Those that remained hid on distant islands or in the depths below mountains. Those who forsook hermitage and chose to live in the wastelands or near the elysian lands were particularly scarce. The Caliph of the Sands was one of the more famous.
Terror hung over demons like a fog and infected any human that came close. It was the sort of terror sheep had when the wolf crept into their midst, or the worm when the shadow of a bird passed overhead. Without reason or embellishment that fear seeped into the core of one's soul.
It was said that the fall of civilization was directly connected to demons. Their arrival brought the slaughter of billions and caused mankind's collapse. Those places destroyed by demons became the wastelands, a barren hellscape where hardly anything grew.
If not for the arrival of the gods, demons would have conquered the whole world.
The flood of trepidation Hellflower felt upon facing the demon almost paralyzed her. Sweat had begun to collect on her brow. She did not know why this danger had visited upon her now.
Were there really those so stupid to believe Cloudhawk could defeat the likes of the Caliph? Hellflower hadn't believed it from the first moment she heard the news. She was intimately familiar with the Caliph's terrible power, as well as his cunning and acumen. He was older than anyone knew, and for a young demonhunter and her pet to kill him… it was absolutely laughable.
The Caliph's strange and sinister voice slithered through the room. "If I wanted to kill you, you would already be dead. Do not fear. I am here so that we might work together."
Hellflower was no typical wastelander. She clenched her fists and responded coldly. "What makes you think I'll cooperate with you?"
"Because you have no choice." His illusory voice sounded like it came out of a nightmare. It was both infinitely far and right in front of her. "First I will offer a warning: the self-destruct sequence Roste arranged for when establishing this place has begun. The destruction of Blackwater Base is inevitable, and if you choose to remain here you choose to die."
Hellflower did not believe him. "I've never heard of anything like that. Your alarmist nonsense will not persuade me."
"You shouldn't underestimate Roste. His methods of ensuring Blackwater's destruction were numerous, and the most guaranteed is assured with the help of outside forces."
"Outside forces... you must mean the elysians!"
"Your powers of comprehension continue to impress." The praise was odd coming from his rasping voice. "Unless I misjudged, the elysians have likely already heard the news. To them, the Seekers are mortal enemies, a bleak sin to be wiped out. This is especially true given the shocking experiments performed here, wouldn't you say? This army of elysians is sure to contain a number of demonhunters, so do not presume this place can survive. Blackwater Base's fate is sealed."
Hellflower felt her heart sink into her stomach.
Roste… ah, Roste! Again I underestimated you, you shrewd fox!
In all the wasteland, Seekers were the most intolerable to the people of the elysian lands. This was clear in their doctrines, wherein none of their citizens were permitted to use vehicles, guns or any of the artifacts of the past. In the eyes of the faithful these tools invited the destruction of man and had become synonymous with filth.
In contrast, Seekers craved the secrets of the past and explored the ruins for their treasures. That made every Seeker a blasphemer.
The war between elysians and Seekers had gone on for years with the denizens of the holy lands destroying much of the Seekers' influence. Each time they rooted out any and all traces of their organization and eradicated them with extreme prejudice. Especially the abominations created here, in Blackwater Base. Their creation was the result of demonic technology and if they were burned a hundred times they would never be cleansed.
What came of the elysians' rage was frightening to behold. When it was time for cleaning they dispatched more than just elite warriors. When someone truly needed to die they sent their season demonhunters, warriors whose primary occupation was to destroy the root of human suffering.
How strong were demonhunters? A handful of them were as formidable as an army! If a contingent of them were dispatched no power in the wasteland could withstand their ire.
A cold sweat broke out all over Hellflower's body. If not for the Caliph's warning she would have never known they were coming. If they arrived at the marsh before she could leave it wouldn't matter if she were a once-in-generation master, there would be no escape.
"You called me a traitor. Why are you telling me this?"
"Mistakes might be forgiven for those with talent. Besides, there's something I need you to do for me. Not just now, but in the future as well."
Hellflower didn't even need to think about it. "You're talking about Cloudhawk."
It was not hard to guess. Cloudhawk possessed the Gospel of the Sands, one of the Caliph's most treasured relics. There were only two possibilities in which he could have come across it; either he'd really killed the Caliph, or the demon had given it to him. Evidently it was the latter.
She knowingly went on. "He's important to you, otherwise why go through all the effort."
"He's an investment." A glimmer of mirth twinkled in the beast's hellish eyes.
Hellflower was an interesting human, one of the reasons why he was loathe to kill her. In addition she was in a position to help. She could not remain here and needed a way to escape with the data, find somewhere safe to uncover its secrets, all while avoiding a gruesome death at the hands of the elysians. The Caliph was the only one who could make it happen.