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Book 3, Chapter 74 - Three-Eyed Spider

 When Cloudhawk awakened, he found himself laying on something like an operating table. The surrounding lights were so intense he found it hard to open his eyes. The nervous squeak of Oddball caught his attention, though. He was nearby in a cage that was made from some unknown material, too strong for the bird to break free from.

The room was filled with men in spotless white coats, as well as a couple familiar faces. Vulture and Greenscale, along with a handful of other soldiers were just beyond the periphery of the lights. They must be here to stop him if he tried to escape, Cloudhawk thought.

He never thought he'd get caught.

All of his things were gone, even the unassuming stone he kept around his neck. The phase stone was the single most precious thing Cloudhawk owned, and for the first time ever it wasn't in his grasp. That fact alone made him intensely uncomfortable.

But the pulse. He still felt the pulse. The stone was nearby.

When his vision adjusted to the light Cloudhawk turned his head toward the stone's resonance. He spotted one of the scientists, probably the highest ranked in the room, standing over a pile of items. He was an interesting man, truly hideous in appearance, and most notably a closed eye in the center of his eyebrows. The scraggly gray hair on his head jutted out in all directions like a withered forest. His gnarled hands were pouring over Cloudhawk's things - more specifically, the phase stone.

Cloudhawk called out in irritation. "What are you doing?"

"This man has killed important members of our group!" Vulture was surprised to find Cloudhawk awake already. He was speaking to the three-eyed scientist. "We should just slit his throat and be done with him!"

The older man waggled his hand dismissively. Seeing no way to manipulate the rock in his hand he flung it into an iron box and forgot about it. It was then the third eye on his forehead peaked open, and focused its vibrant gaze on Cloudhawk.

Suddenly the Warden knew how he'd been caught. The old man's eye was special, he felt it. Cloudhawk had never seen someone with a mutation like this, able to see through things like his invisibility cloak.

Of course the Dark Atom would have hidden masters. This three-eyed scientist wasn't at the attack on Hell's Valley so he remained a mystery. He'd obviously been working with the terrorist organization for years, but nothing Cloudhawk recalled pointed to him. He was nameless. In contrast, Skycloud had a fair bit of information about Wolfblade, but not this scientist. If he was just some researcher that would be one thing, but it was obvious he was someone of importance.

Vulture was a respected, high-ranked member of the Dark Atom and even he was deferring to the scientist. The old man had to be as important to the cause as Wolfblade, or close to it.

Cloudhawk struggled against his bindings for a moment in vain. When he settled down he tried to speak again. "Who are you?"

The three-eyed scientist was calm and offered his response in a no-nonsense manner. "I am the Dark Atom's lead scientist, Three-Eyed Spider."

As a Seeker organization, scientists were respected members of the Dark Atom. This Three-Eyed Spider guy claimed to be a lead scientist, meaning it was likely even Wolfblade had to treat him with respect.

The Dark Atom was an outfit several times bigger and stronger than Blackwater was. It was safe to assume this old guy was just as capable as the Academician had been - maybe more. He always remembered something Hellflower had told him once, that if there was anyone in the wastelands who could help him figure out the truth about Trespasser, they would be with the Dark Atom.

It was exactly the reason why Cloudhawk came all the way out here.

"Look, this whole thing is a mistake."

"A mistake? Oh yes, indeed." The old man's ugly face twisted into a snarl. His voice was strange, almost sing-songy, like a bad opera singer. "You destroyed my single most important test subject. That specimen was a thousand years old. Do you know how much time and effort was spent on it?! You definitely made a mistake."

Thousand-year old specimen...? Magmesa!

So the Dark Atom used some sort of equipment or technique to make that giant thing guard their back door, eh? That damn thing was easily capable of ripping a veteran demonhunter apart, so Cloudhawk believed him when the old man said it represented a lot of effort.

Magmesa's destruction was certainly a major loss for the Dark Atom, but it was especially insulting to the three-eyed scientist. A mistake? It was personal!

Cloudhawk hurriedly tried to explain. "It was just a monster, right? I'll find a way to make it up. I'll pay you back."

The old man's face continued to darken, yet a sinister smile still painted his face. "Do you have any idea how valuable that creature was? It was immortal - a beast that could live forever, just like the gods. Its nervous system was a special combination of annular and dendritic - absolutely singular and irreplaceable! [1] In its body was the secret to ever-lasting life - a secret you obliterated! Its value was incalculable!"

Most all creatures in the world had a dendritic nervous system, where its nerve cells spread out like branches and communicated through dendrites to the nerves around it. It all relied on a central point. For example, the brain. If that central point was destroyed then creature died. Magmesa was unique because its nervous system was iterative. Its ring-like nervous structure was designed in such a way that it had no central point. If the primary structure was damaged then another took its place, making the monster effectively immortal. As new cells continuously replaced the old, a creature like Magmesa never really grew old, and in theory could live forever.

It had no gender distinction, either. Beasts like this were often limited in offspring it could produce, but in theory it could live forever while continuing to grow strong.

By chucking it in the lava, Cloudhawk completely destroyed every trace of its nervous system and made sure it wouldn't come back. Magmesa and everything it promised was dead.

The smaller insects it released would influence these mountains for generations to come, but none of them were as valuable as a science subject as their mother. It wasn't like researchers could wait a thousand years for them to mature.

Cloudhawk didn't know any of this, of course. But it was pretty clear killing Magmesa fucked up his chances to get on these scientists' good side.

Vulture and the others watched from nearby with murderous grins on their faces.

Three-Eyed Spider, in his pursuit of immortality, had spent more than twenty years researching Magmesa. Cloudhawk single-handedly destroyed his hopes. How could he forgive this bastard? Cloudhawk didn't know the scientist's breadth of technique, but he was going to learn the hard way. Before long the boy would be begging to die.

Cloudhawk lay upon the table, stunned at the situation he found himself in. He came all the way to these fucking mountains to ask for their help. Instead, he ended up being roped in to killing a thousand year old bug and pissing off the one old man who could help him with his problem.

"Hey hey hey. Wait a minute. It's not like the thing had your name on its forehead. How was I supposed to know anything? Isaid I will find a way to make it up to you, but killing me isn't going to get you anything." Cloudhawk groped for anything to win him favor. "I-I've got eboncrys! I can get you all the eboncrys you want."

"What am I supposed to do with that? Nucleus has the eternal energy provided by these volcanoes to keep it going, do you think it needs those piddling rocks?" The scientist's unsettling third eye continued to size Cloudhawk up. A sinister laugh rose from his wrinkled throat. "Besides, I've already found a way for you to pay me back. The trespasser virus in your body is the same that Roste was working on all his life. Your own body will be a replacement for the one you destroyed."

Cloudhawk paled. "What are you going to do?"

A fervent gleam blazed behind Three-Eyed Spider's eyes. "Roste, that old madman, was a rare talent. When it came to biological manipulation I could never even come close. He succeeded in his great hope, to create the perfect body that would withstand any threat. Fire, water, electricity, illness - the virus within you renders almost any dangers moot. I am confident that the secrets of his discoveries are locked in your blood, along with the secrets to living forever. Death is the greatest scourge of humanity. Once I uncover the means of freeing us for the curse of a truncated lifespan, we will finally take our place as masters of the planet!"

The old bastard was going to turn Cloudhawk into a guinea pig? He was crazy! Obsessed with living forever, just like the Academician.

Three-Eyed Spider seemed to have grown tired of discussion. He motioned to the assistants on either side of the table, who went to a cabinet and returned with syringes. Seeing them coming, Cloudhawk blanched. He didn't know what they were planning, but whatever it was certainly couldn't be good so he didn't bother to ask.

But the scientist told him anyway.

"Your body has up to this point limited the efficacy of the virus. But no matter, I will galvanize trespasser so that within no more than half a day the mutation will be complete. Very soon you will finish your transformation, becoming the most perfect biological entity in the world! Even those rock-heads outside will pale in comparison to what your body could withstand! Are you excited?!"

Cloudhawk chose the sensible response. "I'm excited to fuck your mother you goddamn psychopath!"

He came here to stop trespasser and here this asshole was trying to make it worse! The scientists leaned over him, bringing the syringed toward his skin when suddenly an enchanting voice called from the doorway. "Stop where you are."

Three-Eyed Spider didn't even turn around though his face instantly stiffened. He waved at the others to continue. "Pay her no mind! Comply!"

Bang-bang! The sound of two gunshots blasted through the room!

In such a tight space the sound was deafening, louder than any gun Cloudhawk knew. What the hell sort of weapon was that? The bullets struck with more force than a cannon and the upper bodies of Three-Eyed Spider's assistants erupted in a shower of blood and gore. Their remains painted the walls.

Three-Eyed Spider practically leapt out of his skin. "Y-you madwoman! What do you think you're doing?!"

A tall, curvaceous figure strode into the room. Her legs were long and shapely, culminating in a pert backside. Her hair was a rarely seen silvery-gray that hung to the small of her back. A mature and erudite charm made her attractive features even more alluring. On top of her head was perched a pair of safety goggles.

Behind her stood a man draped in a black cloak. The light crept in just enough play off his metallic body.

Hellflower pursed her plump lips and blew the smoke away from the barrel of her guns. She replaced them to the holsters at her waist with practiced grace. Paying no mind to Cloudhawk's dumbfounded expression, she looked at the chief scientist and came right to the point. "I'm taking him."

The old man's head looked like it might explode. "That is absolutely, unequivocally out of the question!"

Hellflower answered with a throaty chuckle. "It isn't up to you. He is a stranger who found his way into Nucleus. For the safety of our organization we need to question him and find out what he knows. This is a direct order from Wolfblade."

"Wolfblade! Wolfblade!" The old man quivered like a volcano set to erupt. He tripped over his words, babbling indignantly before he managed to string a few together. "Sooner or later Nucleus will meet its end at your inept hands! Do you hear me?! Your ignorance will be our doom!"

"When the nest falls all the eggs go with it. If Nucleus dies, don't think you'll rise the better for it. Now cut the shit and hand the man over."

Hellflower stood with her hands resting loosely on the handles of her guns. The enormous metal man behind her lumbered forward, and the men in his way instinctively scrambled out of his way. Not long ago the golem was Wolfblade's personal attendant, but lately he'd come to serve this crazy bitch. She was deadly enough on her own, and now that she spoke with the gravity of Wolfblade's command, who would dare try to stop her?

Cloudhawk's restrains were undone.

"My bird. And my things."

"Relax, no one wants your garbage."

Cloudhawk made sure to put on a show of replacing his cloak, slipping the phase stone back around his neck and taking Oddball from the cage. He practically strut out of the room in Hellflower's wake.

"Son of a bitch! Bastard!"

The old man's temper finally boiled over and he flung his arms across a nearby table, scattering its contents. That woman completely emasculated him, in front of his own staff!

Vulture and Greenscale stood by and gave each other a silent look and sighed. Eventually Vulture approached. "Never mind. All in all -"

"Never mind?! That's what you have to say to me?! Are you blind or just ignorant?" Three-Eyed Spider spun around to face them. "Wolfblade has not been himself."

When he said it the others all shared quiet glances. Vulture's expression was especially dark.

He had once been one of Wolfblade's favorites, and knew his leader well. It was true, he'd changed. Wolfblade was like a different man.

Three-Eyed Spider continued his rant. "Ever since that madwoman arrived, nothing has gone right!"

1. This is admittedly nonsense on my part. The raws talk about 'ring nervous structure' and 'tree nervous structure'. I chose phrases that made it sound more sciency, but the truth is I have no idea what the author means by 'ring nervous structure.'