It was incredible that this young man, with his ragged clothing and strange mask, was one of the renowned demonhunters!
When it was clear Cloudhawk had powers the guards were not cowed. In fact they dropped into combat posture, ready to fight.
“Bastard! Release our captain!”
“We are devoted soldiers of the gods! You’re a demonhunter, you have no reason to attack us!”
This was the quality of the holy territories’ warriors. In their eyes, faith and obligation were of the highest moral status. They weren’t going to grovel simply because Cloudhawk showed his teeth, even if it was a mistake that would cost them their lives. Everything came down to their responsibility.
Cloudhawk’s willpower was not strong and he could not summon the power of the Gospel of Sand for long. The sandy arm holding up the fat captain crumbled away to dust and he hit the ground gasping. Cloudhawk didn’t wait for the captain to regain his voice. He fished the token from his clothes and held it high for everyone to see.
“A token of the high order!”
Everyone’s countenance changed, the captain among them.
“I am on a secret mission. Do you realize that my identity has been compromised because of your stupidity?!” Cloudhawk’s loud call was full of pretention and harsh rebuke. His mask made his voice sound all the more terrifying. “Can you afford to take responsibility for ruining the assignment?!”
The fat man’s face went white as a sheet. He fell to his knees, as did the others who did not realize the severity of their offense.
They were just average soldiers, and though they’d seen demonhunters they’d never really interacted with one. Now the one before them bore the token of their most elite and they were responsible for revealing his status to everyone – putting a mission in danger. One might imagine how terrible the realization was for them.
“Your humble servant is at fault! The sin is mine!” The fat man’s moon-like face was dripping with sweat. He even went so far as to throw himself to the ground in a submissive bow. “Your servant is blind, a senseless mistake! I humbly beg for mercy!”
The others, seeing their captain acknowledge the mistake, had to follow suit. They, too, bowed and scraped pathetically.
Cloudhawk pointed at the girl beside him. “She is an important part of this task. You have frightened her, a fact that may have caused irreparable damage to my mission. Apologize and we’ll consider the matter settled.”
The fat captain and his people looked at one another in uncertainty. Both in bearing and appearance it was clear this girl was no elysian. Asking them to apologize to a denizen of the borderlands, perhaps even from the wastelands, was that not going too far?
Cloudhawk was clearly displeased he had to speak further. “What’s wrong? You seem reluctant? Should I apologize to her instead?”
“N-no sir, we wouldn’t dare trouble you!” Under threat of retaliation from this frail young man, the guard captain turned to Asha and bowed respectfully. “I’m very sorry, I hope you can forgive me.”
The ten or so other soldiers followed his lead, kneeling or bowing before her. “Please forgive us!”
Witnessing these mighty soldiers kneeling before her, bowing and begging for absolution, Asha could no longer hold her tears back. She knew it was Cloudhawk’s doing, to help ease the pain and fear inside her.
Old Thistle and the others were absolutely stunned at Cloudhawk’s actions. The old man didn’t know what Asha’s relationship with the young demonhunter was, that he would actually humiliate Skycloud soldiers for her.
What a badass! Squall looked at Cloudhawk in adoration. We’ve been together for two days and I would never have guessed he had this side to him! I’m glad he’s a friend of mine!
Cloudhawk decided to quit while he was ahead. He didn’t want to push these men further than he already had. After all, he’d come to learn how much pride these elysians had. If he brought them any lower their ego might make them too angry to control.
“Very well, then the matter ends here. I won’t hold it against you. Rise.”
The captain and his men rose from the ground as though relieved of a heavy burden. Suddenly the pudgy man’s attitude was completely different, and due to the embarrassment of the situation he vigorously shook Cloudhawk’s hand. “If you need any help, noble sir, your humble servant will do whatever is required!”
“For now we need nothing. Get out of the way.”
“But sir –“
With a bitter expression the captain lifted his hand. The other guards parted to let the caravan through.
Cloudhawk led the Bloomnettle Company and Asha past a hundred pairs of eyes and into the Sandbar, swaggering through the gate like he owned the place.
Old Thistle had gone from anxious, to surprised, to excited. His merchant caravan was only average in reputation here in the borderlands, but now, with a high ranking demonhunter leading them into town, their name would be on everyone’s lips. Bandits and their competition wouldn’t dare mess with them now!
No one understood why Cloudhawk had done what he did, but it was nonetheless to the benefit of the caravan.
Could Old Thistle be displeased with a situation like this? He could stride through the Sandbar with his head held high!
Squall trotted over to Asha and Cloudhawk. He started with a few comforting words for Asha then spoke to his new best friend. “Man, that was something else. You were an absolute badass! No one’s ever dared stand up to Skycloud soldiers before, much less make them apologize. You’re my idol. I’d be proud if I could be half as awesome as you in the future.”
“This is nothing.” Cloudhawk slowly shook his head. “Where are we headed?”
Squall reassured him. “Don’t worry, Old Thistle’s gonna bring you to meet a strange character. One of the most capable people in the settlement. If he agrees to look after Asha, no one in the Sandbar would ever even think of messing with her!”
Squall really was an easy-going sort that didn’t take things seriously, but Cloudhawk could tell he’d taken a liking to Asha. He believed the guy’s assurances.
After arranging for the caravan’s carts, Old Thistle led Asha, Cloudhawk and Squall into Sandbar Outpost’s largest drinking establishment. Although it was still early the tavern already had a fair number of patrons, most of them transients resting before they went on their way. When they saw Cloudhawk enter they started muttering among themselves. Presumably a few had witnessed his display outside.
The furniture was all steel plating and riveted metal, thick and unyielding. Space-wise the bar was large, with two floors that included a boxing ring and gambling tables. People of all sorts occupied seats both in the common room and private chambers.
“Adder. It’s been a long time.”
Old Thistle called out to a large, burly man clad in a black leather trench coat. His skin was dark like coal and a three-pronged scar traced an angry line down his left eye. He was average looking, but something about him really left an impression.
“Well, well. If it isn’t Old Thistle. Judging from that shit-eating grin on your face, I’m guessing you had a good haul?”
Adder lifted his head to acknowledge his friend, but his eyes quickly fell upon Cloudhawk.
When those eyes fixed on him, Cloudhawk’s easy gait froze. Adder’s gaze felt as deadly as his namesake, and it tickled at his highly-tuned danger-sense. Ever since crossing into the borderlands there were no more than three people he’d met who made him feel this way.
This man was extremely dangerous! Who was he? Certainly no simple bar owner.
Adder withdraw his gaze. Inwardly he praised the young man’s keen perception. He couldn’t read him, either.
Old Thistle, meanwhile, didn’t catch these small details. The wrinkles spreading across his face drew together as he frowned dramatically. “What? No, nothing like the success you enjoy, Boss Adder! I manage to make ends meet, that’s all. But I won’t keep you in suspense, the reason I’ve come by is to ask for your help.”
Adder casually returned to cleaning glasses with a dingy towel. “Out with it then.”
Squall took the initiative, bringing Asha closer.
Old Thistle pointed toward her. “I was hoping you could look after this girl, help set her up here in the Sandbar. At least help make sure she doesn’t get bothered by the locals. I figured for someone like you it wouldn’t require much more effort than lifting a finger.”
As he spoke the old man placed a bag of coins on the bar top. The heavy sound of coins clinking together left no question as to its contents. “I know the rules of business, I was hoping Boss Adder could show this humble old man some face and help out.”
“I like money, but I don’t need any.” Adder reached out his calloused hand and pushed the bag back toward Old Thistle. “The bar needs a server, the job’s hers if she wants it. This is a trifling favor, I don’t think it’s necessary to charge you anything for it. But there is something you might be able to help me with.”
On the surface, Adder was just your typical bar owner. However, in truth he was a man of great influence. Give him enough money and there was little he couldn’t accomplish.
He wasn’t lying when he said he had a fondness for money, and was not one for letting a good deal pass him by. What did he want now?
Old Thistle cautiously ventured to ask. “What do you want me to do?”
“Not you.” Adder placed the dried beer glass back on the shelf. When he looked back his eyes once again fixed on Cloudhawk. “This young fellow over here.”
Old Thistle couldn’t promise anything. He looked searching toward the young demonhunter.
Cloudhawk replied, “Old Thistle, can this man be trusted?”
“Adder is very well respected in the Sandbar. He always keeps his promises-”
He cut the old man off. “Alright, go on then. What do you want me to do?”
Adder looked pleased with his decision. “We shouldn’t speak here. Come with me.”
Cloudhawk followed him into his office.
Adder’s personal room was large and filled with dazzling treasures. From magnificent works of Skycloud craftsmanship like blades and armor, to restricted contraband like machine guns. There must have been hundreds of pieces to his collection.
Was this guy a hoarder? Almost every item in here was a priceless treasure.
More importantly he kept it all here, brazen as that was, without fear that someone will steal them. It gave Cloudhawk some idea of his abilities if he was this confident!
Adder lifted his hand and snapped his fingers. It was his only visible motion, and yet a delicate golden kettle in the middle of the room responded. A fine sand-like substance poured from the spout. It was extreme agile, flowing around like gravity didn’t apply. Fine powder floated through the air in all directions until it hung across the ceiling like golden clouds. Whatever it was shone with a gentle yet bright light that immediately lit up Adder’s vault.
The strangest part was that the light hung over everything like a fog until it seemed to be coming from everywhere at once.
Cloudhawk stared in awe at the luminescent clouds. “This is…”
“… a typical magic lamp. The most common means of light in the elysian lands. Much more useful than the electric lights of the wasteland.” Adder’s deep eyes glinted with a mischievous light. He looked at Cloudhawk and chuckled. “I was right. You are no elysian, and your demonhunter guise is a lie. As for that token you hold, you didn’t get that through any legitimate means.”
Cloudhawk felt like he was suddenly drenched with ice water. A bone-deep chill hung over his whole body.
Cloudhawk knew that he’d been caught, consequences would be serious. His relics and the token he held were priceless and this Adder guy had a thirst for trinkets. Things had suddenly gotten very dangerous.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Jig's up already! What do you guys think, will Adder be friend or foe... or neither? This novel has no lack for intelligent characters, especially compared to an inexperienced teenager like Cloudhawk, something I appreciate immensely.
Two more chapters coming out tomorrow, at which point we'll be opening up advance chapters for VIP's to sponsor!