Chapter 108 - Examinations

Hyena often had dreams. This time he was in a dark forest, surrounded by fog and ruined buildings coated in damp moss. The trees were twisted and ferocious, like terrifying demons that groped at him from the darkness. The sky was vast and felt heavy as an iron curtain, settled over the stretching nightmarish landscape.

He was lost.

The darkness was stirring, and an unsettling rustle came from the trees. Something was coming.

Hyena was wracked by an unexplainable fear that made him shiver, like he knew something terrifying was about to happen. Just as he was preparing to flee the mists parted, and an ethereal grey figure crept into view. It was a wolf.

This was no ordinary creature of the forest. Its shoulders were wider than its hips and the muscles of its upper body were vastly stronger than its lower half. He could tell the beast could both walk on all fours and also upright like a man. As he looked the wolf fixed him with glowing green eyes that were replete with some dark magic. They were calling him closer.

“Have you already forgotten who you are?”

As the creature spoke in human words Hyena’s hair stood on end. His panic was interspersed with an inexplicable wrath and with a roar he flung himself at the beast, ready to tear it apart with his bare hands. Only, when he reached the wolf it vanished.

A lake of limpid water appeared next, without any ripple or wave, clear as a mirror. Slowly he approached the shore, and when he saw his reflection in the waters his pupils shrunk to black dots. A green eyed wolf was staring back at him.

“No!”

Hyena snapped out of the nightmare with half his body drenched in sweat. Dark hairs had begun to slither from his pores, but vanished once he was awake. With heart pounding he pushed himself out of bed and approached a mirror. When his familiar ugly face greeted him his ragged breathing slowly calmed.

Bang!

Hyena put his fist through the mirror, sending blood-smeared glass scattering every which way. Each one reflected a part of his twisted features. With pained expression he dropped to the ground with his head in his hands, pressing in on his scalp with all his might. A bestial growl issued from his throat.


**


It was breakfast time.

Hyena sat in a rather luxurious dining room. He was the greatest warrior the Seekers had, so he was treated with amenities a normal wastelander couldn’t imagine even in their wildest dreams. There was bread, milk, fruit – things a typical person wouldn’t dare imagine.

Several attractive servants addressed him respectfully. “Please help yourself sir.”

With a scowl on his twisted face Hyena sniffed the air. He plucked up a piece of bread, took a small bite, then quickly spat it back out. Enraged he flipped the table over, sending the delectable meal rolling across the floor. “This bullshit is fit for people to eat?!”

Rivulets of fresh goat’s milk were marking a trail along the ground. This treasured luxury of the wasteland was cast away like garbage and the stink of raw meat hung in the air. Several of the maids hurried to clean up the mess. They were at a loss, over the last half year their master’s temperament had become more and more strange.

Before he had been vigorous and lively. Every night he would take three women to bed. Now, though, he barely touched any of them. Where before he could eat as much as four or five men, now he barely picked at anything they brought him.

The problem wasn’t with his appetite. When he stared at them now there was a hunger in his eyes, but not a hunger for pleasure. It was a hunger for their flesh!

Hyena stomped from his residence and, snatching up two large chunks of raw meat, made his way toward the Academician’s sample collection room. There were many subjects gathered for Roste’s experiments, from giant rats to lizards and even wolves.

His intention was to do what he always did in the past and feed the beasts to keep them strong. Instead, he found himself in front of the wolf’s cage staring at the mutated creatures.

The wolves kept here were the offspring of experiment subjects. Their original stock were normal wasteland wolves, but the Academician’s medicines had increased their mutation rate. Each evolution was faster and more dramatic than the last. Now they were stronger, smarter, and more cunning.

Every one of them had undergone incredible strengthening. Even the weakest of them would be a wolf pack alpha if released back into the world. A handful of them were even displaying signs of higher intelligence.

Academician Roste was a genius – but he was also a madman.

The wolves had gathered round, jostling for position to grab the fresh meat. The largest one, by contrast, was seated calmly nearby. Her fur was a silvery white, majestic and awe-inspiring. Without any anger or feral madness she calmly watched the man standing outside of the cage. She and Hyena stared at each other for a long time. It sent a shiver up Hyena’s spine.

They called this mother wolf Subject Zero. She was their most successful trial yet, coming from a strong and stable pedigree. As such Roste didn’t experiment on her and instead used her for breeding. Her offspring had the same doughty breeding, thus giving the Academician no shortage of good experimental material.

The truth was that Hyena wasn’t entirely human. The strongest of this majestic creature’s offspring, their blood and essence flowed through his veins.

The old matriarch caught his familiar scent. Her sharp, calm eyes settled on him. A steady gaze that filled him with dread.

He felt like he was losing his sense of identity.

Hyena had lost all interest in women, the same with breads and fruit and alcohol. He felt more of a kinship with these beasts now, like a connection that grew out of his very bones.

He dropped his head and stared at the bloody slabs of meat in his hands. The stench of it filled his nose and made his mouth water. He fought the desire to lick it, to just taste the fresh blood and uncooked meat. 

He gulped down a mouthful of spit.

In the end his human will won over and he managed to fight down the call of the beast within. 

Moments later a researcher stepped into the room. “Hyena, sir. The Academician has called for you.”

Hyena cast a final look toward the mother wolf, then threw the meat into the wolf cage.

When he arrived at the laboratory there were three people already waiting. One was the shapely and attractive Hellflower. Another was the unassuming, balding old Academician who feebly held himself up with a walking staff. 

The final person was a lascivious man, thin as a rail. At a glance one could tell he was a vulgar man, he couldn’t keep his eyes off the swell of Hellflower’s chest and the curve of her backside. He was director of the laboratory, both a Seeker and a scientist. Although he certainly had a name taken from the older days, most of the Seekers preferred to call him by his nickname; Chimp.

At one time Hyena had drooled over Hellflower himself. He had to fight the urge to tear his pants off and mount her like a beast, ravaging that peach-shaped tail for his pleasure. Now, though, his tastes had changed. It didn’t matter how attractive a woman was, he was no longer excited by the view. To him they might as well be beautiful monkeys. He simply wasn’t interested.

Academician Roste coughed feebly before peeling open his dim eyes and fixing them on Hyena. “You seem a little off today. What’s the matter?”

“Thank you for your concern, Academician.” His feelings toward the old scholar were complicated. On the one hand he’d brought Hyena back from the brink of death, yet on the other his current troubles were a result of the Academician’s work. Whatever the case he held the man in highest esteem, he barely dared to look him in the eye. Hyena addressed the old scientist with the utmost respect. “I’m fine.”

Academician Roste stared at Hyena for a moment, his turbid eyes seemingly able to pierce all the world’s obfuscations. He spoke again through a series of coughs. “You are my greatest work, and the only one whose memory I did not erase with pharmaceuticals. If there are any problems we can solve them together. I am your creator, but more than that I am like your father.”

“Hyena, I really do envy you!” The expression on Director Chimp’s face matched his words. “You were a first-class soldier once, and thanks to the Academician’s efforts you have been turned into one of the greatest warriors of the wastelands. Even Greenland Outpost’s leader, Hydra, has nothing on you. If only I had the kind of power you possess.”

Hellflower answered with a pretty laugh. “At best, the process only offers a fifty percent chance of success. Without the appropriate willpower or constitution, do you think you’d survive?”

Her biting words angered Chimp, and though it was just banter he couldn’t endure her disdain. His response was deliberately ambiguous and thick with contempt. “My constitution? Find us a bed and you can see for yourself, you’ll learn what a real man is!”

“Stop wasting time.” Roste’s words quavered soft as gossamer. He really did seem like he would keel over at any moment. “Bring the young man in. We must begin the examination.”

The young man entered shortly after, clad in his cloak and his features hidden behind a white mask.

Cloudhawk wasn’t entirely sure what situation he found himself in. He looked around at his surroundings in confusion, while his right hand never left that shaft of his exorcist staff. He let off the air of one who was on edge, vigilant for any danger. When he saw the Academician, Hellflower and the others he approached without hesitation. “Why did you call me here?”

“Don’t be nervous, my young friend.” The Academician greeted him with an amicable smile. “We’ve asked you here because we’re interested in testing your unique abilities. Please relax, you’re in no danger.”

Cloudhawk glanced at Hellflower, then walked into the test chamber.

Several Seekers got the tests underway.

The first in the series of examinations was designed to analyze his skills as a demonhunter. By asking him to awaken his relics they tested his abilities and used the data to extrapolate his strength. They determined that his psychic energies surpassed those of a typical novice, yet was still slightly inferior to a full-fledged demonhunter.

Weaker than they expected!

Even master demonhunters were of little concern for the Caliph of the Sands. By comparison Cloudhawk was hardly worthy as cannon fodder before the demon. However, his skills as a demonhunter were worth noting. Anyway where else were they going to find a proper demonhunter out here?

Next they tested his physical abilities.

Wastelanders didn’t possess the holy inheritance of the gods, nor the elysians’ methods of cultivation. Typical denizens of the wastes were forced to awaken their potential through hardships, facing death in order to make themselves stronger. There were gene activating medicines but they were few and far between out here. Mutagens also varied by effect depending on the individual, and like panacea they drew on the latent potential of the subject to overdraft what their bodies were capable of. Using them to improve one’s physical characteristics wasn’t always a wise decision.

No such substances were detected during Cloudhawk’s physical test.

Everyone’s constitution was different, and as such so was their developmental process. Some people were strong enough to easily lift a thousand pounds; some were so agile they had supernatural reaction times and movement speed; still others could recover from injuries faster than normal; some were abnormally intelligent. No two persons were alike.

However Cloudhawk was especially unique. They discovered that his mutations were not particularly rapid, but they were systemic. He was stronger, faster, and smarter than any normal person, in addition to increased regenerative capabilities. Whether it was his muscle or neural connections, he was better than average across the board!

Unbelievable! It was hard to accept! It was only more astonishing after he answered a series of questions about his personal history.

His increased capabilities had only manifested in the last three months. At this rate of speed his improvement would be spectacular in a decade or two!

Academician Roste was so excited his veiny hands were clenched into fists. This boy wasn’t strong now, but his potential was incredible!

The elderly scientist spoke softly with Chimp. “Go make the preparations. Use Subject Zero.”

Chimp’s expression betrayed his surprise. Subject Zero? Hyena reacted as well, the knuckles of his scarred hands whitening as he curled them into fists.

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RWX's Thoughts

Things are taking a turn for the strange, aren't they...