Cloudhawk was furious with himself. Why was his stupid mouth getting him in so much trouble?
It was too late. His identity was blown, no time for regrets.
Cloudhawk did not immediately confirm nor deny the bar owner’s accusation. Instead he fixed Adder with a composed stare. Rather, more accurately he looked at the ring on the man’s finger. “That’s a relic, yes? How interesting that a demonhunter would be out here pretending to be a simple barkeep, with a personal treasure trove no less. If you aren’t careful the news might get out, there could be trouble. Or maybe I’m wrong, maybe you aren’t a demonhunter. In that case I wonder how the Skycloud soldiers would react to the news that someone outside of the order was hoarding relics. I’m guessing not well.”
Adder narrowed his eyes. They glinted with a murderous light.
All of a sudden Cloudhawk felt a gripping cold overcome him. It started at his legs, then his waist, his arms, all the way up to his throat. Like a poison was working its way through his blood stream. But it wasn’t, it was an illusion born from Adder’s savage glare.
What a terrifying sensation!
Cloudhawk had never experienced such intense pressure before, it made every hair on his body stand on end. He was frozen in place, he couldn’t move even if Adder lunged at him. Cloudhawk didn’t even approach the level of power this strange man had.
Adder couldn’t read the man before him. He wasn’t a weakling, for most people cowered the moment his eyes fixed on them. He was a wastelander, but was also able to use relics. A wastelander, but in possession of a demonhunter token. Strange to say the least.
Interesting. Very interesting.
“I mean to say that identity isn’t important.” Cloudhawk was having trouble controlling his voice. In a rare moment of fragility his voice quavered, however his mask concealed both the look on his face and the fear in his voice. Thankfully it made him inscrutable and hid Cloudhawk’s true discomfort. “Now out with it, what do you want from me?”
“Smart man. I like clever lads like you, keeps me from having to make a mess.” Adder opened a box nestled in the corner of his vault and lifted a stack portrait from within. “It’s simple. There are a few rebels hiding out here in the Sandbar. They have a secret stronghold where they’re plotting to steal sensitive information from Skycloud City. Your job is to find a way to flush them out.”
“This is something you could bring to demonhunters or even soldiers. Why ask me?”
“Because they have something I want.”
“And that is?”
Adder was suddenly reluctant to say too much. “A map that has no use to you, so stop asking questions. I don’t want to reveal myself so I can’t do this personally, so do this for me and I’ll take that young woman under my protection. She’ll work here as a barmaid and so long as I’m alive no one will dare bother her.”
Cloudhawk leafed through the portraits.
The first was an old man with a goatee. The second was a one-armed swordsman with a large black sword on his back. The third was a hideous mass of muscle with guns at his side.
Cloudhawk could tell by their equipment and the way they looked that these men weren’t push-overs. He was expected to deal with them on his own, which sounded more like a suicide mission. Adder hadn’t actually mistaken him for a high-level demonhunter, had he?”
“The old man is coming to my bar tonight to meet someone. He’ll have the information I want. Follow the target to their hideout and make your move, but do it quick and proper. I don’t want any suspicion coming my way.”
“I’ll need help.”
“I told you, I can’t reveal myself. I can’t take the risk of sending any of my people either. But there is one person I can recommend.”
Cloudhawk wasn’t sure why Adder was so careful to keep to the shadows. He ran a watertight and meticulous operation, though. Just one person? No way that was enough! Cloudhawk was much weaker than Adder must have been expecting, he couldn’t take on eight people on his own! 
“Alright.” He thought about it for a moment then nodded his head. More talk wasn’t going to convince Adder to help him with more people. “I’ll get what you’re after. You better keep your word.”
“I’ve never gone back on a deal.” Adder absent-mindedly fiddled with the green bone ring on his finger.
Old Thistle waited for them out in the common room of the bar, brows knit tight. He rolled the beaded bracelet through his fingers faster and faster. He had no idea what Adder wanted from the noble demonhunter but he wasn’t going to offend either of them by involving himself. If either one took a disliking to the other, he wasn’t sure what he would do.
Asha was also struggling against her anxiety. She was afraid the bar keep would demand something outrageous. If he did she didn’t want to stay here.
“Don’t worry, brother Cloudhawk is no ordinary man.” Squall arrogantly flipped the small ponytail dangling from his head. He spoke to Asha with an air of assurance. “He’s an exalted demonhunter, after all, and he holds a token. Nothing’s going to happen.”
Just as he spoke the words, Adder and Cloudhawk returned.
Old Thistle stopped fidgeting with the bracelet as the young demonhunter approached. Though vague, he gave enough of a description that Old Thistle understood. Rebels, even if it hadn’t fallen in their lap it was something for a demonhunter to handle. It didn’t seem like an unreasonable request.
Cloudhawk quickly left Adder’s bar to begin his preparations.
Sandbar Outpost’s narrow streets were cramped with stalls and shoppers. Many were travelers who moved through the streets like an artery, with merchants on the sides hawking cheap wares of dubious origin. People were coming and going in a tight press of humanity, trying their luck and looking for good deals.
A young woman, maybe eighteen or nineteen, was pushing through the crowd. She had shoulder-length, chestnut-colored hair and a lithe and graceful body. Her skin was white, her features unexceptional, and tight leather outlined the swells and dips that made up her figure. Covetous eyes followed the swing of her hips as she walked by.
She’d walked to and fro a couple times already, unperturbed by the hungry eyes that followed her.
Nothing about her marked her as a merchant. Her clothes were simple and she carried no visible weapons. In her hands were dried rations which she looked at with gloomy countenance. What was she doing, pacing back and forth all by herself? The people who saw her could only guess.
At last someone couldn’t hold back their curiosity. A man slunk over toward her, surrounded by a cloud of sour stink. The repugnant man grinned her way. “What’s a pretty girl like you doing here all on your lonesome, eh? You look like you could use some company.”
She wasn’t upset. On the contrary, she lit up with excitement. “You want to fuck me?”
Her response took the man by surprise. He stared at her, speechless.
She pressed him encouragingly, “If you want to fuck me you need to be more forward. You need more courage in order to make your approach work, otherwise you might as well just chop your dick off. You know what I’m saying?”
“I… are you serious?”
It was evident this was not the reaction he was expecting. Looking at the eagerness in her eyes he couldn’t help but suspect that somehow the way of the world had changed and he somehow hadn’t noticed. All of a sudden even someone like him was attractive to the opposite sex.
“You up for it or not?” She was getting impatient. “Don’t waste my time!”
It was all the incentive he needed, and with a nasty grin the man reached out to grab her ass. But just as he was about to make contact with her pert backside he distinctly saw a harsh glint in the woman’s eyes.
Her leg shot out and struck him in the chest like a bolt of lightning.
He was not a weakling but still couldn’t escape her blow. With a wailing cry he was knocked backward and hit the ground nearby with bone-crunching force.
What just happened?
Struggling to raise his head the man looked at the promiscuous woman. She was looking back with a mischievous grin and it was then he knew things weren’t going to go his way. The kick had proved she was more than he could handle.
Explaining himself didn’t even cross his mind. The man tried to scramble to his feet and escape.
“So you disrespect me like that and just expect to run away?”
The woman soared into the air like she weighed nothing at all. Her legs, like a pair of scissors, clamped around the man’s neck and twisted. Before he could even scream the man was flung to the ground followed by a flurry of punches and kicks.
“Disrespecting a demonhunter is a capital crime. But you didn’t do any harm and I’m a kind person, so I’m willing to show you mercy. Now give me your money!” She gave the smelly man a cursory search and found a limpid coin purse. She fished a dozen or so copper coins from within and scowled. “This is all you got and you expect to pick up a woman? Fuck off you broke-ass bitch.”
She gave him another vicious stomp for good measure. The unlucky man fell unconscious with spittle dripping from the corner of his mouth.
The demonhunter threw the coins into her own coin purse and immediately her worried expression returned. At this rate how was she ever going to get five silver coins?
Five silver was a pittance to a demonhunter, they made more than that on even the most basic missions. But for a civilian, or someone who’d only just earned their title like Barb , it was no small amount. Plus without her exorcist staff, which was stolen by that weird barkeep, she couldn’t do any missions to buy it back!
It was a dilemma. Five silver pieces was a considerable sum.
She was strong enough that she could steal or borrow five silver, but her pride as a demonhunter prevented it. Losing her exorcist staff was no glorious circumstance she wanted to advertise, so she decided to earn her money in a righteous and perfectly justifiable way.
Onlookers pointed at her and whispered among themselves. She was running a sting operation, so far today she’d caught three scumbags and made them pay for their crude requests.
Barb didn’t care, her actions were appropriate! If these perverts weren’t screwed in the head they wouldn’t be propositioning her!
But making money this way was slow going. Most of the day was gone and she’d only managed to get about half of what she needed, she didn’t know if she’d be able to get her weapon back by tonight. The reality troubled her.
Then she heard footsteps approaching from behind her. Were all men simply beasts who could only think with one head at a time?
Barb was overjoyed, was the pervert back for another go? She pretended as though she didn’t hear him getting closer. Then he reached out…
“Deviant! The nerve!”
Without even turning to look she whipped around with a vicious roundhouse kick. But her long legs hit nothing. When she spun around she saw nothing but empty space.
That wasn’t right. She was sure she heard footsteps.
Then in an inexplicable scene a figure appeared out of nowhere, gradually appearing before her eyes from the ether. Before she could react a familiar three-edged staff was held before her.
“Try not to lose your staff anymore.”
Barb noticed that the exorcist staff pointed at her was none other than her own. She fought through her surprise to quickly snatch it back. But she was confused, hadn’t it been in the bar? How was this masked stranger able to take it from the mysterious owner? “What’s your name?” The masked man flashed a demonhunter token in front of her. “I have a mission I need your help with. Do you have the time?”
“A token of the high order!” In her surprise Barb stumbled backward. “Please give me your instruction, senior! I’ve only been a demonhunter for a month, but I’ll do anything in my power to assist you!”
Cloudhawk paused. A greenhorn. But even a novice demonhunter was still a demonhunter. Adder’s recommendation was a good one.
2. In Chinese her name is ‘purple water caltrop’ – and that fits her personality very well. A water caltrop – or devil nut – is pretty inhospitable looking. As thorny as her personality. The inside is edible, a seed that is pretty popular. I wonder if the alludes to our new demonhunter having a more appealing and agreeable personality under her uninviting shell. Keeping in line with our goal to make these names ‘real’, we’ve gone with ‘Barb’, an abbreviation of the real name ‘Barbara’ but also a reference to a spike/thorn.
Rather unorthodox for a demonhunter... I like her already. Goes to show that they aren't all as cold and calm as the Bloodstained Queen or the others.