Hellflower fired off another volley. Her first-class gunplay was unequaled in the wastelands, and few could evade her attacks.
As such Raven didn’t even try. The first shot struck him in the chest where the guardian had him, forcing the assassin back several steps. The next one caught him right between the eyes and flung his head backwards at an impossible angle.
A series of cracks and pops followed.
Raven’s heads was forced up, popping his mangled spine back into place. There was an obvious indentation in his forehead where the bullet struck, but the shot did not otherwise seem to have an effect. His hideous face twisted into a cold sneer.
His right hand rose.
The only way to describe what happened was to say his wrist disassembled. Raven’s hand folded backward against his forearm to allow a barrel to extend from the cavity beneath. Immediately following the gun sparked to life and fired a salvo a bullets at Hellflower’s position.
His arm was actually a heavy machine gun, fed by a bandolier Raven had slung over his torso beneath the cloak. The ferocious salvo was more intense than most and struck hard enough to shred most metal cover.
His right hand folded back next, exposing an igniter.
A stream of fire five meters long belched forth and covered half the room. It was hot enough to melt alloy in ten seconds, and was wide enough to cut off any escape.
It was too much! He was a monster, completely inhuman! A feat of scientific horror. 
Every inch of his two and a half meter frame was built for destruction, a weapon with independent thought. Hellflower had spent decades combing through ancient ruins, and never had she seen anything like this.
Three-Eyed Spider was deserving of his reputation as a master scientist. Hellflower had underestimated his abilities.
Raven’s tech force were comprised of only the most exceptional warriors. They were outfitted with priceless gear, including high-frequency particle blades of their own. It was an array of exceptionally dangerous enemies that Cloudhawk had to face alone, and he was very nearly overwhelmed. He could hardly protect himself, much less try to protect Hellflower from the assassin.
Both of them were a hair’s breadth from destruction!
Raven was stepping closer to where Hellflower hid. Each step was preceded by flames and gunfire, keeping her pinned down. There was no way out. She had nowhere to go.
Damnit! Fuck this!
Cloudhawk summoned the power of the phase stone just in time to avoid several particle blades. They passed harmlessly through him without leaving a mark. He slipped away from the tech soldiers and threw himself at Raven.
Fire sprayed from his right arm like a deluge. Gunfire erupted from his left arm like a hurricane!
Cloudhawk rushed through it, feeling the lethal pressure bear down on him but somehow making it through. He reached out and grabbed Hellflower, cutting his link with the stone and blocking her from Raven’s onslaught. Intense pain wracked his body as fire and bullets struck his back. A normal man would have been instantly blown apart.
No one could survive an attack like this. No one could save a soul marked for death by Raven.
The assassin watched this strange outsider put himself between Hellflower and her doom, expressionless. Foolish! Suicidal!
But Cloudhawk was anything but suicidal. His gambit had a real chance of getting him killed, but it wasn’t certain. Somehow he wasn’t dead from the spray of bullets, and in this critical moment he didn’t do what Raven expected. Cloudhawk didn’t run for the exit, or look for cover. With Hellflower wrapped in his arms he ran straight for the back wall.
Both of them slipped right through. Raven’s fire burned the wall black and the gunfire punch a hundred holes into it, yet his targets vanished.
His eyes flashed and flickered, engaging technology to peer through the wall. He picked up their silhouettes in the hall on the other side. That was… unexpected. But the target was still alive, his mission wasn’t finished. He gave chase, dropping his head and charging full speed at the wall they passed through.
The resulting impact shook the whole floor.
The partition of concrete and plaster was blasted apart like it was made of paper. Yet when he raised his head, the hall was empty. Flickering lights danced in his eyes as they searched, but no sign of the two could be found.
Cloudhawk didn’t pause for breath after phasing through the wall. He continued to race through any barriers in his way until both he and Hellflower were outside of Raven’s scope. The assassin was unprepared. A demonhunter’s abilities defied logic and could not be planned for. They were abilities he had never had to contend against before and thus could not account for Cloudhawk’s intervention.
His tech soldiers quickly followed through the new opening he’d created. Never once did the cold, stoic expression leave Raven’s face. “Let’s go.”
Eventually Cloudhawk slowed, then stopped, and with a gasping breath fell to the ground.
Hellflower picked him up and found he was slick with blood. Raven’s machine gun fire was too much, too intense. Just one bullet would have blown a fist-sized bullet through her frail body.
Cloudhawk had used his own body as a meat shield, putting himself between her and a whole storm of bullets.
It’d been only a second or two, but in that brief moment he was struck at least fourteen times. The assassin’s precision was clear, for most of those were in critical places like his back, thigh and the back of his head. Luckily his body’s evolved status turned what would have otherwise been lethal blows into grievous wounds.
Hellflower scowled. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?!”
Cloudhawk wiped some of the blood from his face and managed a wry smirk. “Well, if you died I was a goner anyway!”
She couldn’t understand what was wrong with this idiot’s head that made him act so recklessly. It wasn’t certain he’d die if Raven got her. Trespasser would continue to mutate his body, true, and it might even affect his thinking, but Cloudhawk would still be Cloudhawk. A monster maybe, but not dead.
“Look, now’s not a good time to think it over.” Cloudhawk shut his eyes for a moment and make sure Oddball was alright. It was, and his small friend confirmed that Raven wasn’t right on their heels. Cloudhawk sighed in relief. “That asshole’s retreated. What do we do now?”
“Raven is Three-Eyed Spider’s man. If he came to kill me it was at that old lunatic’s command.” Hellflower’s face darkened. “Three-Eyed Spider’s real target has to be Wolfblade.”
“Yes. He’s in danger, we have to hurry!”
Cloudhawk tried to stand but slowly sunk back down to the floor. His legs were torn up, and he only managed to get them away from Raven by force of will. Without a word, Hellflower picked up onto her shoulders then headed off toward Wolfblade’s quarters.
Nucleus was in chaos. News of Three-Eyed Spider’s coup had spread. Everyone knew an inevitable war between the scientist and Wolfblade was about to happen.
By the time Hellflower reached the library Wolfblade often frequented, there were hundreds of soldiers already there. Vulture and other leaders were present as well.
When Vulture saw Hellflower approach with the wounded Cloudhawk on her back, his naturally malicious features twisted even further. “You’re… what happened?”
“Three-Eyed Spider has started a revolt!” She paid him little attention. “Where’s Wolfblade?”
They pushed through the study doors, and there was Wolfblade. He stood there looking at the two of them in surprise, wearing only his robes and with a book of poetry in his hands.
Cloudhawk bit back a flurry of abusive words. Fuck! The shit has hit the fan and here he is with a goddamn book, like he doesn’t know anything was wrong!
Hellflower was also confounded by his lack of reaction. “Three-Eyed Spider is coming to kill you.”
Wolfblade stood there with his face half covered in bandages and a book in his hand, nonplussed. He looked at her and Cloudhawk with his one good eye, then smiled. “Don’t fret, relax. Everything is under control. He isn’t going anywhere – he’s already here.”
A large group arrived before the study. Crack soldiers, lead by Three-Eyed Spider.
After a few seconds of desperate searching Cloudhawk could not see Raven. He figured it would only be a few more minutes before the assassin arrived, however. When the old scientist saw Hellflower and Cloudhawk his face was a mixture of surprise and anger. It was almost inconceivable that his cyborg killer would have failed in his mission.
“Three-Eyed Spider, my good sir. I long suspected it would come to this, though perhaps not this quickly.” Wolfblade greeted his betrayer with an inappropriate smile. “It makes little sense for you to be in such a rush. You’re old, one foot in the grave already. I don’t understand why you’d be so eager to leap in with the other one.”
Three-Eyed Spider answered with a derisive chuckle. “I’m not sure whether you’re really Wolfblade, but I’m sure I’m more than a match for you. Do you have the courage to test yourself against an old man?”
Was this scientist really challenging the terrorist leader to a duel?
Cloudhawk reached out to Oddball, and through his pet saw that Raven was rushing toward them as fast as he could. He immediately grasped the old man’s plan and tried to warn Wolfblade. “Ignore him, he’s just trying to buy time until Raven gets here!”
“Just as well, just as well. A gentlemen is abiding, yes? We shouldn’t take advantage of our guest’s precarious position, we’ll wait until the entire party has arrived.” Keeping to his incongruous stance, Wolfblade handed the book of poetry to Vulture, who stood nearby. He walked forward, smiling the while. “A spider hiding in the shadow for all these years… What sort of talents have you been hiding? I am a man who respects his elders, and since you’ve decided you can do a better job I would be remis to deny your attempt. Come, let me see what sort of power you really possess.”
“As you wish!”
The scientist’s third eye popped open.
Suddenly, Three-Eyed Spider’s hunched form began to swell as his lean frame was replaced with bulging muscle. Loose clothing became taut, threatening to burst the seams at any moment. His withered hair regained its youthful vigor, becoming golden blonde. All of this in mere seconds.
Where once had stood a shrunken elder there was now a young and muscular man.
Surprise filled Hellflower’s face. “Rejuvenation?”
Three-Eyed Spider’s voice dropped the old man’s quaver and was once again full of youthful vitality. “A temporary condition achieved with the aid of pharmaceuticals, but for a while I have been restored to the prime of my life. Wolfblade, child, before you were born there were none within the Dark Atom who were my equal. Are you arrogant enough to believe you are?”
There was a common misconception around the wastelands that the Seekers were a bunch of smart but feeble researchers. They may have all sorts of knowledge, but take away their fancy gadgets and any half-wit bandit clan could wipe them out.
But ideas like this were phenomenally wrong. Roste proved this, as did Three-Eyed Spider. The highest echelons of the Seekers weren’t just smart, they had long ago learned to turn knowledge into power. Only a fool failed to understand that in the wastelands, a man without power was merely a victim.
In his youth, Three-Eyed Spider had employed a cocktail of drugs to strengthen his body. At that time he was already one of the Dark Atom’s most esteemed fighters. But as he got older, he no longer had a place out in the field. As the younger generation came to replace the old, they mistakenly assumed the old scientist was just useful locked away in his lab.
Little did they know that Three-Eyed Spider was among the top five most lethal fighters in the organization, if it came to it.
“Time to die!”
Three-Eyed Spider took the initiative. He ran forward, his steps heavy enough to shake the ground. His fighting style was simple and direct, a fist with strength to rival a cannon ball. Wolfblade, looking scholarly and exposed, stood right in his path.
“Boss, be careful!”
Wolfblade’s men stared, dumbstruck. Who could imagine that the old scientist was really this strong? Only Vulture and a handful of other men reacted differently. They were pulling out their weapons, preparing to act.
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Yet another mad scientist who has absolutely mad powers. These guys... maybe I should be nicer to my PHD in Chemistry parents. Wonder if they'll one day hulk out if I piss them off too much...