Book 2, Prologue - The Borderlands

Year 1016 of the Epoch of the Gods, E.G. The dry seasons of summer. Nightfall.

The expanse of desert wasn’t entirely desolate. Withered, yellowed brush sprouted from the arid soil, sparse in some places and thick in others. Dead patches were interspersed here and there, like scabs or bald spots. By their very existence the shrubs proved their tenacity while simultaneously underlining the desolate landscape.

When the wind blew it rustled the plants like waves, stretching for hundreds of miles. Chirps and cries of unseen beasts were carried over by the breeze. Out in the distance the light from a fire flickered like a solitary candle in the fading light. It came from the relic of what must have been an ancient sports stadium whose one half sprouted from the side of a mountain. It had since been converted into a settlement.

The settlement relied on the brazier and its fire for illumination. From time to time people would walk down the roads with pumpkin-like fruit that radiated light. Half-collapsed buildings lined the walk with finer ones cropping up every once in a while. Engraved signs hung overhead marking them as the church, the market and so on.

Pedestrians jostled for space, each one focused on wherever they were going. There were beggars in tattered rags, wild men covered in tattoos from head to toe, scowling criminals, and merchants in tawdry outfits all together without conflict. A common sight here.

The interior of the local bar stank with the smell of booze and perspiration. Unsavory fellows shouted boisterously and drank too much while compulsive gamblers bet away their livelihoods. Travelers occupied some of the tables, keeping a low key while they drank.

A woman entered. She had bronze hair and warm brown eyes. A voluptuous chest and full bottom delineated her curvaceous figure, further outlined by tight-fitting leather garments. Covering it all was a simple traveler’s cloak. Even strides brought her directly to the bar where she sat and rapped her knuckles on the nicked length of wood. She called out in a loud voice. “A glass of your most expensive liquor. Best you got, and strong!”

A few wolf whistles answered her from several of the more salacious bar patrons. The eye of every man were on her, following the lines of her attractive frame.

Her looks and temperament were certainly a cut above average, rarely seen in a place like this. She was all on her own, which invariably planted less than wholesome thoughts in the minds of a few spectators.

A man with a face full of knife scars sauntered over to her. He pulled a bag from his waist which clinked with the tell-tale sound of cash. “How much for a good time, beautiful?”

“Oh I don’t want your money!” The mysterious woman pulled out a black staff and placed it on the bar with a crisp bang. “You just need to have the balls to follow me home.”

The man’s face froze when he saw the simple weapon. One end of it was sharpened into a tri-edged point.

An Exorcist rod. She was a demonhunter!

Scarface backed off, gentle as a kitten. The rest of the bar went silent.

The dim light had hidden it before, but now the patrons could see the markings on her clothes, designs of the order – a wandering demonhunter.

Most demonhunters came from a civilian background without impressive family lineage. They rarely held military or sectarian office outside of their holy duties. As such they were only loosely regulated, following only the general code of the order and holy city. Typically they had the freedom to go where they pleased, protecting the peace, dealing with unsavory types or eliminating monsters. Sometimes they were called Monster Hunters.

But a demonhunter was a demonhunter, by any name. No one here was stupid enough to piss the woman off.

A glass of fine liquor was pushed in front of her. The short-haired beauty lifted it to her nose and sniffed, then without so much as a look she threw her head back and drank it all down. The comfortable burn worked its way down her throat and into the pit of her stomach, then spread all through her body. A tinge of red immediately stained her tan cheeks.

“Good stuff, very nice! More than I expected from a shithole like this.” Her boisterous voice called out again. “Another!”

“I’m sorry, you’ll have to pay first.”

A man’s deep voice delivered the ruling. The woman lifted her eyes to see a stalwart gentleman with dark and oily skin, like he was cast from dark copper. He sported a meticulous buzz cut, and three long scars traced lines long-ways over his left eye that made him look all the more masculine. A heavy leather cloak hung off his shoulder and the pommel of a bejeweled sword glinted from his waist. Sunken eyes were cold and challenging.

He was an average-looking fellow, but something about his certainly left an impression.

His interruption displeased the woman. “Are you insinuating I won’t pay my debts?”

The bar owner answered with a small smile. “Five Skycloud silvers. Thank you.”

She stared at him, mouth agape. Five silvers was blackmail – he was blackmailing a demonhunter! She wouldn’t stand for this lawlessness. Angry, she slapped the polished bar top. “Five silvers? Why don’t you just rob me?! I don’t have that kind of money, just my exorcist rod. You can try to take it from me, if you got the stones.”

“This establishment doesn’t work on credit.” The owner dropped his eyes toward her staff. “I’ll take the relic as collateral.”

When she saw him reach out to take it the woman’s face changed. Did this backwoods dipshit not understand who she was? He clearly didn’t value his life if he was going to try and take her weapon!

Despite her shock she reached out fast as lightning, ready to knock his hand away.

However, in a move no one expected, the owner turned his hand over and flicked at hers with a single finger.

The woman cried out in alarm as she was knocked several paces back. Her right hand had completely lost all feeling like she’d been hit with a jolt of electricity. She watched helplessly as the man in black leather took her staff and threw it unceremoniously behind the bar. He turned around to shoot her a glance. “I’ll keep this safe until you have the money to buy it back.”

The woman’s face was both gloomy and uncertain. No more than three people in the bar saw their whole exchange, it was so quick. It hadn’t been a real fight, but their brief clash proved definitively that she was no match for him.

He was just a hillbilly bar owner. How could he be so unfathomably strong?

“Five silver coins, that’s all? I’ll bring them tomorrow, then!”

A demonhunter welching on her debt and losing her exorcist rod. It certainly wasn’t good for one’s reputation. Yet all she could do was grit her teeth. She wasn’t going to stay here, so crestfallen she exited the bar.

Hahahaha!”

“Didja see that? Shit she’s probably been a demonhunter no more’n a few hours!”

“And she couldn’t even pay five silver. Poor as dirt, too!”

A newly arrived patron eyed the boss curiously and couldn’t help but ask a question: “Big brother, what’s this bar owner’s background? I’ve never seen a demonhunter outplayed!”

“I only know he goes by Adder. He came about six months ago.” The one who answered was a drunk patron who looked around with hazy eyes and belched between sentences. “And background? Who knows! There’re all kinds of badasses hidden in the Sandbar. People like him showin’ up ain’t rare. Now stop askin’ stupid questions and drink.”

The bar returned to its boisterous default filled with cheers, drinking games and lively gambling. The night continued like nothing had happened.

Because it was nothing special. This wasn’t the wasteland, nor was it the holy city. It was between the two, the borderlands.

The Sandbar was the only settlement between these two opposing worlds. Powerful travelers from both surreptitiously passed through or made their homes here. It was too close to the elysian lands for wasteland powers to try and take power, and since it didn’t really belong to the holy city they didn’t actively manage it. Over time it had become a den of snakes… like Adder.

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