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Book 5, Chapter 100 – Hidden Dangers

 Greenland's laboratories were rife with scientists. At this moment they all looked like they'd seen a ghost.

This was because they had no way to understand what was standing before their eyes. Cloudhawk was lying on a diagnostic table while Hellflower hovered around him with various contraptions. They were constantly giving out readings about Cloudhawk's physical state.

"Your body doesn't make any sense." Hellflower adjusted her goggles. "In my recent research, however, I've discovered a very interesting phenomenon."

Cloudhawk put on his clothes. "What's that?"

She replied. "Divine and demonic genetic material is blank, for lack of a better phrase. In other words they don't have a means of reproduction - there is no genetic material to pass on. It is also likely the reason they live for so long, since there is no genetic degradation. I still have no idea how they manage to maintain their species if they don't reproduce, however I have learned that from the moment they come into being their body is almost like armor. And armor, of course, does not procreate."

Cloudhawk was surprised to discover that Hellflower's research had progressed so far.

"Gods and demons have incredibly durable bodies. More than bodies, they are rather like suits of armor these creatures are born into. Just like armor there can be weaker suits and stronger ones. That's how we encounter different orders among these extraplanar creatures. Because these characteristics are determined at birth it is all but impossible for gods or demons to transcend their strata, regardless of potential and strength."

"What does this have to do with me?" Cloudhawk asked.

"Your body has become much like theirs. Your cells are powerful energy reactors and from what I can deduce, you aren't nearly at your limit. Most significantly, you still have a human form. That is to say, genetics. You can pass on your genes and reproduce the same as anyone else. Your children would of course be practically superhuman." Hellflower moved in closer to him. "In other words, you are the gateway to a new and improved human race."

"We should produce offspring. For science, of course," Hellflower teased. "I couldn't turn down being part of such an important contribution to our species."

Cloudhawk didn't even engage her on the offer. He hardly had time enough for himself, much less children.

"So you're saying there's nothing wrong with my body anymore?"

This man had really had no interest in the spice of life! Hellflower couldn't pretend she wasn't disappointed. There had to be some way to beguile him... Not that she cared about him specifically, but his genetic material was an absolute treasure. She offered herself not for personal benefit, but for the whole of humanity!

"You're as strong as a sand wyrm. If I had to guess, you'll be kicking around three or four times longer than any of us. Do you remember how strong Skye Polaris was, even at eighty? The same will be true for you." Hellflower led Cloudhawk into another lab. "Come, let me show you something new I've been working on!"

Inside were at least a hundred soldiers undergoing tests. They were the perennial focus of Hellflower's research, genetically modified troops. However, this batch was completely different from what Cloudhawk remembered. He felt the unique aura from them immediately. Unless he was mistaken, they felt like demonhunters.

"You remember the arm we took from the other world? With that godly limb and the appropriate materials, I was able to isolate something we could use to improve our soldiers. It works something like seraphs or fiends. I processed the material I gathered and implanted into the DNA of our soldiers. They can now run faster, jump higher, and in all other ways are much improved."

Hellflower hadn't changed in the least. The only thing on her mind was research and the pursuit of knowledge. Cloudhawk's first thought was how much had to be sacrificed for this research.

"My new generation of soldiers are physically quite stable." Her excitement was evident. "They will become the bedrock of your power and will be integral in your attempts to conquer against Skycloud."

"I never said anything about conquering Skycloud."

"Hmph, you never had to. If that is not your intention then why align yourself with Abaddon and the Khan of Evernight? With the power they offer, you have an army that can threaten Skycloud. I refuse to believe you haven't entertained the thought."

She was right. Cloudhawk was holding a number of powerful cards. Abaddon, the Khan of Evernight, the Shepherd God, the old drunk, and Wolfblade... There were more as well; the Wendigo King and his race, the Polaris family, Gabriel, Coal, the Black Knights, Imperia's Chosen, the Dark Atom's genetically modified soldiers. Beyond that he now commanded a total of over eight million people with science, equipment and supplies in spades to back them up.

The existence of the Crimson One and Judas was not all bad. While both the Conclave of Judgment and Nox failed to defeat Skycloud, they did manage to weaken it. They laid the foundation for the real battle to follow.

If Cloudhawk wanted to really rise, Skycloud was a mountain he could not go around. Arcturus Cloude was the peak he had to conquer. If he couldn't take control of the worlds of man then how was he supposed to threaten the heavens?

It had never been Cloudhawk's intention to start a major war, but once some wheels started rolling there was no stopping them.

Cloudhawk's next stop was the dungeons, where several people were interrogating Eckhard Cutter. The one leading the questioning was Eckhard's former student, Gabriel - or rather, more specifically Naberius. The pieces of carefully peeled skin laid out on the table told Cloudhawk they'd been at it for a little while already.

Naberius was an expert at suffering. But Eckhard was a hard man, and so far the cruel torture hardly caused him to sweat. A cold sneer was plastered on his bloody face. "You used to be my student, and this was the best you learned from Hell's Valley? Go on, hurt me if you think you can!"

A chilling laugh from Naberius was his answer. "I have many methods. We have time, don't rush."

Barb was not pleased with where this was headed. "Tell us what you know. You have a relationship with Excellency Cloudhawk, if you're forthcoming I'm sure he'll be fair. He'll at least spare you life."

"If I were some coward who was afraid of death, I wouldn't be here today." Eckhard chortled scornfully at their efforts. "I should have carved you lot to pieces back in Hell's Valley instead of letting you sorry sacks of shit live to today."

Barb was getting irritated. "You think we don't have ways to pray open your mouth? Keep talking and I will try my hand. You'll be getting for Naberius!"

Cloudhawk chose this moment to interrupt. "That's enough."

Naberius scowled, upset to have his work interrupted. Another project left half-finished. But under Cloudhawk's withering gaze he dare not disobey.

"Instructor Cutter, I am only interested in the Concalve's military state. If you won't give it willingly, we'll have to resort to other methods. If we have even the slightest mutual appreciation left, please don't waste your time or energy fighting." Cloudhawk was earnest in his pleas. "It's best for everyone."

Was this really one of his former students? Eckhard glared at Cloudhawk in disappointment. "What are you even doing?"

Cloudhawk's face remained calm. "Only what I need to do."

The instructor struggled against his bonds. "Don't think I don't know. You want to get rid of Arcturus Cloude. But you don't realize how dangerous what you're doing is. What he guards is far more than you can bear. To kill Arcturus is to open up the floodgates, and you all will pay for it!"

Arcturus was always a mystery. There was far more to him than any one person knew. He did not necessarily desire power, wealth or influence. A lot of what he did seemed inexplicable and contradictory. On the one hand he struggled to crush the wastelands and on the other supported a powerful wasteland organization. He praised the gods through one side of his mouth and gave blasphemous orders through the other. It had to be clear to Arcturus that Cloudhawk would be a great threat, yet more than once the Governor had spared his life.

Be that as it may, it wasn't what was important. Cloudhawk and Arcturus were like ice and charcoal - they were never going to mix.

Cloudhawk's gaze was fixed on the bloody commander. "Why are you protecting him?"

Eckhard growled his answer. "The first day you entered the Valley, I told you that some evils were necessary in this world. Arcturus does some things people don't get, but if he didn't hold things together then the world would would be in flames."

Cloudhawk pressed him harder. "Why is Arcturus trying to unify the wastelands?"

"So he can save it!" That familiar, derogatory grin split his ugly face, like a trapped beast that saw it's freedom. "Alright, don't waste your time. You aren't getting anything else outta me."

The sound of chains breaking was followed an instant later by Eckhard slamming his own fist into his skull.

Cloudhawk was quick to stop him, but not quick enough. Eckhard struck himself hard enough to cause his skull to cave in. His brain tissue was destroyed. They hadn't been prepared for the Hell's Valley instructor to take his own life.

They should have. Soldiers of Hell's Army were not afraid of death. The Three Giants in particular had an iron sense of duty. Freedom wasn't what drove them, but a higher ideal.

Cloudhawk looked toward Barb. "Try to read his memories immediately. Get as much information as possible."

The wastelands could not be allowed to fall into another's hands. If it did, hidden dangers would spread all through it. To take it back they had to wrench it from the grip of the Conclave, an organization led from the shadows by Arcturus Cloude. Fighting them was an indirect challenge to the Governor himself. It was time to throw down the gauntlet.

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