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Cloudhawk felt slightly uncomfortable. But he was a wastelander, since when did they care about this sort of thing?

He was hardly a moral model, and this was just in order to do his physical. What was there to squirm about? Without saying anything else, he removed his last remaining scrap of clothing.

Hellflower didn't begin right away. She took a few moments to look over Cloudhawk's naked body, a teasing light in her eyes as they hovered over his crotch. "Well, you're… manlier than I expected."

"That's enough, Hellflower. I'm getting irritated!" He didn't mind the lack of privacy, but her gaze was stripping him of his dignity! "Hurry up, for fuck's sake."

"Alright, alright, what's your hurry? We're just getting started!"

Hellflower's hands were like works of art. Although she wielded guns with the skill of a master, they were not calloused or rough. Her touch was as gentle as water, to the point where Cloudhawk had to wonder if she bathed her hands in some medicinal fluid to keep them so soft. Hands like hers just weren't found in the wastelands.

Her soft, cold hands rested on his face. They stood close, almost touching, and he could smell the scent wafting from her. The heat of Hellflower's body caused Cloudhawk's pulse to race.

"Heart rate has increased by thirty-two percent." Her hands gently ran through Cloudhawk's hair, across his face, down his neck. Her touch explored every inch, even the curve of his ears. Her voice was both casual and impish. "You're nervous."

To Cloudhawk it felt like there was a fire in his chest. It was a sensation he found difficult to control, but he grit his teeth to fight through it. "Hey, what kind of physical is this? I feel like you're screwin' with me!"

Hellflower masterfully combined coquetry with dignity. Outwardly she teased him with a seductive air, but her actions were diligent and earnest, her words serious. "There are very few in the wastelands more capable in control metabilities than I am. With a touch I can determine material by texture and the state of internal structures. I can feel your muscles, blood, organs, even bone through your skin. If there are any abnormalities or mutated growths, my hands will find them."

So that's how it was. Cloudhawk had almost forgotten that she was an expert marksman and a rare wasteland weapons master. It didn't matter how precise or complicated the tool, after only a few moments in her hands she knew how to wield it intrinsically. It was that ability that made her such a force to be reckoned with.

"Hmph, you hardly seem willing. I've never given anyone else this sort of treatment, you know!"

Her grumpy and flirtatious mannerisms made his bones turn to jelly. Goosebumps sprang up along his flesh. Hellflower was a complicated, inscrutable woman, who knew what she actually felt in her heart?

She was both thorough and careful in her inspection, her fingers tracing every inch of him from his head to his chest to his back. Eventually her gentle touch reached his groin, to which Cloudhawk replied with a voice a little too loud. "No reason to check there, I'm sure there aren't any problems!"

But she paid him no mind and stretched out her hand.

Her agile fingers explored in such a way that Cloudhawk couldn't restrain a physiological response. Hellflower's brows danced flirtatiously as, whether purposefully or simply to be mischievous, her touch lingered for a full two minutes. 

Her next question was offered almost absently. "You've never been with a woman?"

The question took Cloudhawk off guard and he wasn't sure how to answer. However, Hellflower knew simply by looking at his reaction. He really was a pure young man.

The wastelander wasn't strong, but nor was he weak. In any normal outpost Cloudhawk would be considered one of their elite fighters. In these times when women were weak and vulnerable they often attached themselves to strong men for protection, yet Cloudhawk was unsullied. It was a little difficult for her to believe.

Her curiosity was clear in her voice as she continued to question him. "You aren't one of those fools who's saving themselves for someone, are you?"

"Stuff it, how about you pay attention to what you're doing?"

In the fifteen years prior to recent events Cloudhawk's life had been a series of painful struggles - simultaneously tedious and uninteresting. As a scavenger picking through the ruins his only goal day in and day out had been to find enough food to eat. He hadn't had the time or opportunity to think about the opposite sex, so an appetite for women just wasn't part of his life. In fact, he hardly thought about it at all.

That was until recently. After several months with the Bloodsoaked Queen, faced with her beauty every day, the hazy idea of attraction played in the back of his mind. However the concept of 'attraction' and 'romantic love' were foreign. As for the sort Hellflower was talking about, they were even rarer than a creature like Roste.

More and more Hellflower found the young man fascinating.

Eventually her examination was completed, much to Cloudhawk's relief.

After a moment of quiet thought Hellflower gave her determination. "There are no traces of mutation that I was able to feel. All of your internal structures, vessels, and bones were all normal. However… the toughness and activity of your surface muscles are several times stronger than average. It's also too pretty for what one would expect from a wastelander."

"Chimp had me in one of those tanks with the medicine for several hours. Could that be what's caused the change?"

"Relax, it won't have any adverse effects. You'll find that having thicker skin won't be a detriment." [1]

"Somehow the way you explain it doesn't make me feel better…"

"Don't overthink it, I didn't mean anything other than what I said. We only have a couple days left, anyway." Her eyes lingered over him for a few moments before she went on. "I have one more thing to teach you, something that you'll find very helpful in the future."

Hellflower was a mysterious woman, but she was precise with her words and mature in bearing. Whatever she had to teach him indeed had to be important.

"Alright!" Cloudhawk didn't even question what she meant before agreeing.

When night fell Hellflower found him, bringing with her several bottles of liquor. She said they were vintage bottles, treasures of the base that he couldn't find anywhere else.

"You should be congratulated, there aren't many wastelanders lucky enough to leave this place." She lifted one of the bottles and clinked it against the one held by Cloudhawk. "But you need to mentally prepare yourself."

 Cloudhawk thought the liquor was sweet and pleasing. Hellflower wasn't exaggerating, this had to be a rare and special brew. "I can tell there's more to what you're saying. Just come out with it, there's no point being secretive."

Hellflower watched him drink but did not sip from her own bottle. "The people of Abrha, all of the elysian lands in fact, look down on wastelanders. They'll treat you with prejudice and discrimination. Leaving the wastelands is one thing, but escaping the wastelands is something else entirely. Have you thought about that?"

"It won't be a problem," Cloudhawk answered her with confidence. "I've met a demonhunter, part of the upper class of Skycloud. The Governor is her family, so with her recommendation there won't be any issues."

"Oh? I hope that's true!"

"But there's nothing to talk about. What did you want to teach me? Why don't we just get started-"

Cloudhawk hadn't even finished his sentence when suddenly his vision doubled and his mind grew hazy. The alcohol couldn't be that strong, he thought, not enough for him to get so drunk so quickly. As he struggled to understand, his body heat soared and his panting breaths were like breathing fire.

"You still don't understand?" Hellflower draped her arms around him. She pressed her hot lips first against the flesh of his neck, then against his mouth as she hugged tightly to him. "We've already started!"

Cloudhawk's mind was a flurry of confusion, like he'd suddenly lost the ability to think straight. Reason had collapsed in the face of instinct, he reacted to what his body wanted.

A pair of guards who happened to be walking by heard the creaking of the metal bed inside the room and the moans of a woman. They made their rounds, but when they returned on their second patrol the sounds were still there.

The second day.

Last night was like a dream. The details were fuzzy and hard to remember. Cloudhawk could remember a warm and tender body, pale white flesh…

Groggily he awoke to find himself in Hellflower's bedroom, more specifically in her bed. His first instinct was to spring out but then she noticed the woman beside him, her silver hair disheveled and enticing. She was half-covered by the sheet like a perfect image from an ancient painting.

She had been fast asleep, but upon feeling Cloudhawk stir her eyes fluttered open. She languidly pushed herself up and yawned, then put her lithe figure on display as she stretched.

"Awake?" Her long legs swung over the bed and she stood. She grabbed some clothing and haphazardly flung it over herself. When she turned back and saw Cloudhawk's slack-jawed expression a sweet smile spread across her face. "Don't think too much about it. You're cute and you needed it, so it happened. Consider it payback for saving me."

"You put something in the liquor?" Finally he understood. "Why? You didn't even ask me!"

"Heh, someone as thick as you is going to have a hard time making it in this world." She chuckled. "This was a lesson to teach you that our bodies and emotions are both a weakness and a weapon. The more importance you attach to it the more it chains you. It'll be used against you, stop you from growing up.  On the other hand if you learn to use it, they will become your tools. It's an important lesson for your maturity, and you need the practice. Please keep this in mind in your future life."

"You forced yourself on me!"

"Don't take it so hard, kid. Your future is going to be a tough one. I just wanted to leave you with a nice memory. When you think about it, in the most profound way, I wanted to be part of your coming-of-age." She walked over to him and placed a gentle kiss on Cloudhawk's forehead. "You were much more tender than I expected. I enjoyed myself last night."

To Hellflower, last night was little more than a pleasant distraction. But to Cloudhawk it was an unforgettable experience.

Cloudhawk didn't understand why Hellflower did what she did, but last night opened a door. What they did would have a deep influence on him. If her intention was to educate him or leave an impression, she certainly succeeded.

For the next two days the two of them spent most of their time together. The beautiful and mature woman was an ideal partner, one who filled Cloudhawk with many conflicting emotions. At first their relationship was just about mutual benefit. There was no emotion there, and even 'friendship' wasn't right. It would never have occurred to him that their relationship would end this way, that they would be connected so physically.

"I have a feeling we'll meet again." She waved at him, clearly reluctant for them to part. "When we do I hope to meet a stronger and more grown man!"

1. This may be in reference to the phrase 脸皮厚, 'thick face skin', which means being shameless or having an over-inflated ego.

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