A precious gem was sold, exchanged for a clinking pouch of a few hundred gold coins. The sound they made was elating.
The Polaris family was among the top five most influential households in Skycloud Domain, yet compared to their peers they were poor. In addition to Dawn’s spendthrift nature, it was the first time she’d ever had access to so much money.
“Maybe we’ve gone a little too far these last couple of days.” Cloudhawk tried to drop the hint, seeing that the young templar had become giddy from their success. “Enough is enough, if we keep this up there’s gonna be trouble.”
“Bullshit!” She snorted at him. “You think I need your warnings? Don’t forget your place!”
She fished out some of the coins after her harsh response and shoved them into Cloudhawk’s hand. When she saw the surprised look on her face she added imperiously, “So long as you keep loyal to your master, you will be generously rewarded. This is for bird food.”
Yet Cloudhawk scowled. Who would want you as a master, he thought bitterly. However he bit his lip once he considered how much taking care of Oddball was going to cost.
Dawn’s brows began to rise. “Is there a problem?”
Cloudhawk looked down at the coins. It was better than nothing, and gold coins had prime purchasing power in the city. He only had a vague understanding of how money worked but he remembered what happened to Barb in the Sandbar. Five silver coins earned her one drink. He also knew one trip for the Bloomnettle Company earned them forty or fifty silvers.
One gold coin would buy him fifty glasses of booze, and would have saved Old Thistle the danger of two trips.
There were enough coins in his hands to set a common man up with enough food and drink for the rest of their life. And it was only a tenth of what Dawn pocketed!
No wonder she was so thrilled. Even born into a powerful family this was a princely sum. He saw it in her eyes, Cloudhawk had become Dawn’s cash cow. Still he had to admire her on some level, boldly walking around with ill-gotten riches in her pocket. Once again his vision of the elysians was turned upside down. If she’d been born in the wastelands she would have done very well for herself.
No wonder Dawn and Selene were at odds, too. Selene was firm in her religious zealotry, aloof, and cold of temperament. She absolutely would have despised stealing like this, even if it meant starving to death. Yet Dawn walked around unburdened. To her the ones they were stealing from were the uber-rich. The losses meant nothing to them but loomed large in her eyes. She was basically robbing the rich to pay the poor.
Cloudhawk put the coins away. “So what’s the plan?”
“With all the money you’ve saved shouldn’t it be obvious?” She rolled her eyes. “Buy your generous and beautiful hostess a drink.”
Cloudhawk had spent enough time with Dawn to know she didn’t give a shit about anyone but herself. She didn’t even know the meaning of the word respect, especially in the words she chose. Cloudhawk was a stranger in a strange land and she supposedly considered herself hostess. Still she hadn’t said anything nasty, it was just the way she was.
“I’ll bring you somewhere nice!”
Dawn hailed the family carriage and they left for a secluded sector of the city.
They came to a street lined with colonnades, each one a thousand meters tall and lined into the distance. The road was wide enough that four or five carriages could pass through side by side. The edges were lined with finely decorated shops, yet strangely there weren’t many people.
A sign hung on the entablature, clear as day – Home of the Demonhunters.
This stretch of street was designed for members of the order specifically, and they were the only ones allowed in. That meant ninety percent of the city’s inhabitants were forbidden.
No one gave Cloudhawk any trouble since he was there with Dawn. She explained their surroundings as they walked further in. “This area belongs to the Order of Demonhunters. It’s where most of them live, eat, drink, and play. There are stores where they can purchase supplies, buy relics, and so on. Everything a demonhunter could want is here. It’s also where they come to sell off anything they picked up on a mission. All sorts of things are thrown together, but if you’re lucky you might come across a treasure or two.”
It wasn’t the first time Cloudhawk had heard about the demonhunter order.
It was the largest collection of demonhunters in the elysian lands, apparently. It was a semi-official collective with a loose organizational structure. Barb was a member. The majority were common demonhunters like her, along with a few of nobler standing who preferred their freedom. Accept a few missions from the order, collect the commission, and avoid any administrative constraints.
Dawn’s purpose in coming here was obvious – spend! There was no better place for a demonhunter to get rid of the coin burning holes in their pocket.
An equipment shop came into view, complete with a smoldering forge that gave it a rough-and-tumble atmosphere. The walls were lined with triangular steel weapons instantly recognized as exorcist staffs. Their size and make were not completely consistent and they could be bought or custom-made to fit a specific need.
Exorcist staffs ranged from one or two gold to a dozen or so. Higher cost meant better quality. Besides staffs the store also had demonhunter armor, combat boots, and so forth. Cloudhawk saw how impressive this stuff was while out in the wastelands. Demonhunter leather was lightweight and thin so that it didn’t get in the way of fighting, but also firm. Typical guns couldn’t penetrate it. Like the staffs there were also a wide range of prices – basically, you got what you paid for.
The sprawling market had more stores than he could count.
One of them was in the shape of an oversized treehouse and it served as a pharmacy. It had all sorts of precious and expensive medicines on offer, some which aided in healing and others that improved combat prowess.
Another place looked like it’d been carved out of moonstone. The lamps inside filled the area around it with fantastical glowing images. It was a bar.
The most eye-catching was the main building which was a miniature white castle. Travel-weary demonhunters came and went with regularity. This was the ‘Home of the Demonhunters,’ headquarters of the order and the heart of the eponymous street.
Cloudhawk had never seen so many demonhunters in one place. Each one of them seethed with ability. He figured everyone here had to be people of significant talent, and what’s more they all seemed to be avoiding the woman he was with. When they recognized Dawn they either went out of their way to give her room or simply turned around. Not a single one was in a hurry to come and talk. It wasn’t hard to guess how popular she was around these parts.
“Is that the young mistress of the Polaris household?”
They’d almost reached the end of the street before someone was brave enough to approach them.
He was a young man of obvious talent. If Frost de Winter was described as cold then this guy was lava. If Frost was a glacier, then he was the sun. They were completely opposite.
The guy was a mass of muscle, chiseled and all hard angles, big but not heavy. He had a head of red hair and a face that couldn’t be described as handsome, certainly in contrast to Frost de Winter’s gallant look. However, from head to toe, from the inside out, he was bursting with masculine charm. Intense, but not overbearing. He had a pleasant aura that made you feel safe, so he probably wasn’t far behind Frost de Winter in competing for girls’ hearts.
Dawn saw him coming and twisted her pretty mouth into a smirk. Her eyes narrowed. “Blaze!” 
Cloudhawk had never heard of this guy Blaze before. However he could tell just by Dawn’s reaction that he was strong and came from a respected background.
“You’re probably still not convinced I’m better after the last time I spanked you, huh?” As she spoke she tapped the hilt of the sword she held against the ground. “Wanna go another round?”
She said it loud enough that it caught a few ears. Demonhunters started to gather round. It was also good for some drama when a pair of big names met here.
This she-devil put the fear of the gods into everyone when they saw her. It didn’t matter how pretty she was, she didn’t have any fans. Blaze was the opposite, and despite being young was also one of the order’s vice-commanders. He spent a lot of his time managing things here, so he had a good reputation and close contacts.
If these two were going to spar then the onlookers were certainly hoping Blaze would teach Dawn a lesson.
Blaze answered with a bitter grin. “Mistress Dawn hasn’t changed one bit. Unfortunately, today isn’t a good day for a rematch.”
She sniffed. “If you’re scared, just say so. There’s no shame in losing to me! Everyone knows the order’s gone downhill without Master Baldur’s leadership. Not one of you is worth your salt!”
Her crass words angered the demonhunters who’d stopped to watch. Cloudhawk stood to one side and could only manage a wry smirk. 
Dawn definitely had a barbed tongue. She seemed only too anxious to piss off everyone she came across. Blaze’s amicable face wrinkled into a scowl when she said it, but to Cloudhawk’s surprise he didn’t take the bait.
“Don’t you get bored with fighting all the time? Today is the order’s treasure drawing. I wanted to make sure the Polaris family’s representative didn’t miss it.”
“Oh yeah? Well that’s a happy coincidence, I guess I can cut you some slack.”
She always had to get in a slap to the face. Her dismissive answer was insulting and thick with contempt, but Blaze didn’t seem bothered. His gregarious personality didn’t match his fiery appearance.
“I don’t think I’ve see your friend before,” he said, looking Cloudhawk over. “He new?”
Cloudhawk had slipped his mask on when they left the commander’s mansion so Blaze couldn’t see his face. He could see the bird on his shoulder, though, and gave it a curious stare.
He got a good feeling from this guy, but as he was about to introduce himself Dawn cut in. “Take a good look, this is my loyal manservant. If any of you dare bother him I won’t stop punching until you’re looking for your teeth!”
“Is that so.” Blaze did as she asked and peered closer at Cloudhawk. “Well, if you’re with Miss Polaris then you’re welcome to join the festivities.”
Dawn shot Cloudhawk a sideways glance as if to say, “What about that? Big sis can take care of you, eh? No one will bother you so long as they know you belong to me!”
Cloudhawk felt a dozen pairs of angry eyes settle on him, and suddenly he was very happy he’d chosen to wear his mask. If he hadn’t, the next time he went out he’d probably wind up dead.
1. His name is ‘Burning Yang’ – yang is a complicated character, the same one used in ‘yin-yang.’ It’s a very on-the-nose choice for this guy because it’s indicative of everything the writer just described him as; masculine, positive, forward in personality, powerful, bright, fiery. Alternatively yin is feminine, weak, dark, low, slow, introspective. Be careful not to conflate them with good and bad, though, because that is not how they’re defined. Instead they’re meant as reflections of one another, two sides of a coin irrespective of moral assumptions. Anyway, rant over.
2. I see this a lot. Typically if you see the term ‘wry smirk’ it evokes a sense of dry or mocking humor, maybe even self-effacing. Here, though, it seems clearly meant to display annoyance for her actions from Cloudhawk.
(Xiao Lai is now on twitter and instagram! Follow him @xiaolaiwxw for insights into translating and Chinese medicine theory.)
With friends like these...