Aside from being heavy and tenacious, when the iron net fell over Cloudhawk it was immediately flooded with electricity. If he were a normal wastelander the shock would have either killed or paralyzed him.
It felt like a hundred million ants were slithering through his skin, but Cloudhawk didn’t lose his senses. Luckily the cloak he wore deflected or absorbed most of the electricity. The young man was continuously surprised by the otherworldly relic, which in addition to being a very useful relic was also great for defense.
So who on earth was trying to poison him? Cloudhawk’s mind was racing, several possibilities coming to mind.
Academician Roste was unlikely to make a move against him, and Chimp didn’t have enough time to plan an ambush. The only other people with the means and motive were either Hellflower or Hyena; he had dirt on the former, and he’d stumbled on Hyena’s dark little secret not long ago.
So they were trying to kill him to keep him quiet? Of course the reason wasn’t important right this moment.
His assailants knew what they was doing. The iron net was meant to pin down and incapacitate their prey, breaking down his defenses. Each one of them carried guns as well, though they fired darts instead of bullets. They were a better choice since darts didn’t make much noise, allowing them to kill Cloudhawk without alerting anyone nearby. When the deed was done they could flee and no one would be the wiser. When they found the body, nothing could be traced back to them.
A flood of anger raced through Cloudhawk. He’d faced death many times, even going toe to toe with a demon and coming out alive. Was he going to allow these contemptible shits  to kill him? Fat chance.
Cloudhawk’s eyes became blood red.
A burst of energy his assailants were not prepared for exploded forth.
The iron net could not be broken by hand, but when the spinning edge of the exorcist staff struck it the metal threads were split like a sword through tendrils of hair. A gaping hole was carved open.
Another dart was shot his way and struck his mask. It belched sparks and made him dizzy, but what weapon was capable of shooting through the Bloodsoaked Queen’s relic mask? Impossible! It wasn’t a very powerful relic, but even a point blank shot to the face wasn’t going to break it!
It was the darts from behind that hit their mark. They lodged in his dire bear armor and managed to deal some impact damage, but the upas poison  smeared on it was useless. The two layers of protection saved his life.
While Cloudhawk’s would-be assassins stared in shock he effortlessly rolled out of their trap. In response a dozen or so masked men attacked from all directions. Their ambush had failed so there was no choice but to attack head on. They charged at him, brandishing electrically charged batons.
Cloudhawk didn’t need to experience it himself to know their weapons were dangerous. If it came to a straight up fight things weren’t going to break in his favor.
So what could he do? Run!
As he got back up onto his feet Cloudhawk pulled out his revolver and fired a few shots randomly toward his attackers. It forced them back, giving him enough space to leap into the air. At the top of his jump, the young wastelander vanished into thin air. Now was his chance to flee, while they couldn’t see him.
“Don’t let him escape!”
One of the masked men yelled the order and they pulled out their lethal weaponry. They were already exposed, stealth was now unnecessary in the face of killing their target quickly. Several of them pointed their guns at where Cloudhawk had been and sprayed the area with bullets. Typical wastelander weapons were single-shot, the rarer ones were maybe semi-automatic. These weapons were clearly superior and flooded the alleyway with hot lead.
Cloudhawk desperately flung himself around a bend, allowing his invisibility to fade. He was so scared that he was drenched in sweat. The footsteps were getting closer, so he spun around with hands outstretched. Gritting his teeth Cloudhawk pressed ahead with both arms as though he were trying to shove a thousand-pound boulder.
The air was suddenly choked with sand.
Like a flailing serpent the sand writhed toward his pursuers and swallowed them up. It caused them no harm, but they were made blind by the sandstorm. Cloudhawk turned back and ran from them.
“Where the hell did this sandstorm come from?!”
“Never mind! After him!”
The unsuspected weather only slowed them down a little. They were practiced assassins, obviously, and though Cloudhawk could probably handle two or three of them there were ten on his tail. If they caught up and surrounded him he wouldn’t stand a chance. He had to keep running.
He was unfamiliar with the base’s layout so he bolted down streets at random. It was only a matter of time before he came across a dead end. He stopped in front of a tall wall with his face twisted in panic. The others were close and would be on him any moment, he couldn’t go back the way he’d come.
Had this all been for nothing?
Even before one considered skill Cloudhawk was severely outmatched in regards to equipment. They didn’t even have to get close and they could turn him into a bloody honeycomb with their advanced rifles. They must have known he was caught because Cloudhawk could hear their footsteps slowing. He saw a dozen dark gun barrels pointing his way.
Cloudhawk felt like he was staring death in the face.
Just then a figure agile as a mountain lion leapt from behind them. Hellflower soared through the air with a gun in each hand. They roared as she fired, four or five shots, each one ripping through the skulls of the assassins.
His attackers were taken completely by surprise. Struck dumb with the sudden change in circumstance they spun around to defend themselves. The newcomer tread along the smooth stone of the wall as easily as though she were running along the ground, and her hands moved with the speed of a phantom. Bang, bang, bang, bang! She continued to pull the trigger as fire belched from the end of her guns. The weapons themselves were unique, shooting so fast it was hard to believe, and not a single bullet was wasted. One after the other they drilled deadly holes between the assassins’ eyebrows.
It was absolute perfection, to the millimeter. Her gunplay was more than skillful, it was an art form.
She languidly returned the guns to holsters on her waist while landing on the ground. From her appearance, to running along the wall and landing in front of him, the whole process had taken seconds. Her targets were dead before she reached the ground – a hurricane that even Cloudhawk couldn’t follow.
If you’d have asked Cloudhawk, Hellflower was the last person he expected to save him. He’d always known she was a dangerous woman but not this way. In the end Hellflower revealed herself to be a peerless wasteland gunslinger.
Until now the best shooter Cloudhawk had seen was Slyfox, but compared to what he just witnessed the mercenary wasn’t even in her class. Hellflower’s gun control and aim were bordering on flawless.
What Cloudhawk didn’t know was that Hellflower was a famed weapons master.
It didn’t matter what gun or tool she wielded, Hellflower could learn it almost immediately. She was a warrior no less lethal than Hyena, though the beast could easily tear her apart in close range. So long as she kept her distance, though, Hellflower could kill ten Hyenas before they got close.
Cloudhawk felt like his heart was going to burst out his chest. Suddenly he was very thankful he hadn’t mistreated the scientist in any way. If he had Cloudhawk was sure he would have very quickly ended up with a few dozen bullets in his brain.
Hellflower didn’t even pay the host of corpses any mind. Swaggering over toward Cloudhawk she addressed him in even tones. “Did you do what you were supposed to?”
Cloudhawk quickly nodded his head. “Yeah no worries. The papers and keys are back where they’re supposed to be.”
Hellflower sighed in relief. At last she turned her head around and looked over the bodies, puzzled as she muttered at him. “Where did these men come from? Why did they want to kill you?”
Academician Roste didn’t have any reason to want him dead. Chimp didn’t have the time or opportunity. Hellflower just took herself off the suspect list, leaving only…
“Hyena!” Cloudhawk blurted out. “I learned his secret!”
Before Hellflower could open her mouth to learn more the streets were cast into a noisy din. Ten or so base security guards came rushing their way. When they came upon the scene they were shocked and confused for these sorts of violent encounters were rare, especially when they resulted in so many bodies.
The crowd parted, and a thin figure hobbled toward them with the help of a cane, flanked by two lizard mutants. Academician Roste surveyed the crime scene, then spared a glance for Cloudhawk and Hellflower. His wise and peaceful face was replaced with an iron hard and dangerous look. Though the scholar was hardly more than skin and bones, the authoritative air he let off made it difficult to look him in the eye. It was an air cultivated from years of practiced command.
“Who is responsible for this!?”
Hellflower approached some of the bodies and looked them over, eventually straightening up and answering her superior. “These are all strangers. The only people with the ability to hire this many assassins are you, Chimp, myself… and one other.”
Academician Roste’s voice became cold as ice. “Get some men and bring Hyena to me!”
Hellflower bowed slightly at the waist. “Yes, sir!”
Several dozen crack soldiers equipped with high-tech guns left with her to arrest Hyena. Roste hobbled over to Cloudhawk and looked him over with concern written on his face. “My young friend, my subordinates are sorely lacking in discipline. What is going on?”
Cloudhawk was preparing to share his experience in the laboratories when suddenly he thought better of it. He was so close to sharing everything that he broke out in a cold sweat.
He’d almost done a very foolish thing! If he told him what he saw he’d be confessing to breaking into the labs! How would he explain how he got there? Eventually he would implicate Hellflower.
The Academician’s sharp eyes seemed to catch his hesitation. “What is it you aren’t telling me?”
“I don’t know!” Cloudhawk shook his head. “I was going out to stretch my legs when they attacked me for no reason. I haven’t given Hyena any reason to seek revenge, I have no idea why he wants me dead!”
Cloudhawk was nervous. Things were bad, for once Hyena was brought here the Academician would ask what this was all about. The story was bound to get out.
“Is that so…” Roste knew that Cloudhawk was hiding something, the young man was not a skilled enough liar to deceive him. However, he didn’t press for any more answers. Instead he slowly turned around and spoke to the bodyguards following him. “The two of you go help Hellflower fetch Hyena. I’ll handle this matter myself.”
The lizard men, merely intensely mutated creatures, could not speak but were nonetheless as intelligent as young teenagers. They had no trouble understanding the order and executing it.
In a blink they were gone.
Academician Roste turned back to Cloudhawk. “Come with me.”
Cloudhawk watched as the old man hobbled down the street with the aid of his staff. The young man’s fingers itched, fighting the urge to pull out his gun. The scholar’s talents lay in his intellect. He was capable of building an army of beasts loyal to his every whim. But his body was weak, and he was alone. Cloudhawk could kill him right now if he wanted.
But, for reasons he didn’t understand, each time he thought about drawing his gun a voice in his head held him back. Something was telling him it was a stupid and fatal plan.
2. According to Wikipedia it was used commonly for poison darts. It’s a type of mulberry, and is used very often in Chinese medicine for a variety of uses, depending on what part of the tree you’re using. I don’t think it’s the same species of mulberry, though.