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The Polaris family's young mistress burst through the door without so much as a knock. Her long eye-catching legs brought her inside wearing nothing but a loose-fitting night robe with nothing beneath. Her platinum hair was still wet as it hung loose around her shoulder. She stood imperiously over him like she was nailed to the ground.

Cloudhawk was still a young man but not without experience, so his feelings toward women weren't as vague as they used to be. This was especially true after what he'd seen moments ago while she was bathing. With Dawn standing like this in front of him now, Cloudhawk couldn't help his heart from beating faster.

Her eyes immediately darted toward his hands, where he hadn't had time to hide the little bird away. She was pleasantly surprised. "I saw that bird first, give it here!"

"I raised it! I'm not about to just give it away."

Dawn's eyebrows slowly lifted. Was she just supposed to believe him? She didn't see his name written on it anywhere!

Cloudhawk answered her with a sad and bitter expression. "Anyway it's hurt. What kind of asshole would do that?"

Dawn froze. She had thrown that pit rather hard.

The little bird curled up in Cloudhawk's palm and didn't move, like it was on death's door. Its pitiful appearance made her frown in concern. She'd never seen a bird like this before so she'd gotten excited, she didn't mean to kill it.

Cloudhawk was well aware the sort of bully this she-devil Dawn was. Here in the elysian lands the truly religious were gentle and forgiving. But the militaristic Polaris family was violent by nature, Dawn especially. She was rich both in ability and background, which resulted in her pushing others around because there were no consequences. This was especially true for Cloudhawk, a low-class wastelander.

This kind of person was dealt with through force. Nothing good would come from that.

However, Cloudhawk was willing to protect his new companion from her, no matter what. He understood its powers already and knew they would make a great team. Being able to scout through the bird's eyes would keep him out of all kinds of danger.

"It looks like it's been seriously hurt. What happened? This is an adorable little thing. Who would be so heartless?" Suddenly she was all full of tenderness and concern as she reached out. "Let me see."

Cloudhawk pulled away and fixed her with a suspicious look. "You really don't know who hurt it?"

"You don't think it was me, do you? Where's your proof?!" She was a bold one - a supposed believer in the gods and one of the sanctuary's holy warriors, but capable of lying to his face without batting an eye. "I love small animals, how could I hurt one? Look at it, the poor thing is in terrible shape. You should give him to me and stop wasting time."

Cloudhawk was stunned at how full of shit an elysian could be. She was probably planning to stuff the bird and keep it as a trophy when it died.

Dawn's compulsion for hoarding was well known throughout the city. Weapons, armor, jewels, plants, animals - so long as it was novel or expensive she wanted it for her collection. The addiction had earned her a number of enemies, too, since she wasn't above robbing the object of her desire. Taken together with her domineering nature it was no wonder she wasn't very popular.


"What did you say?" Dawn's face slowly coiled together in fury. Her lust for the bird had already gripped her, she was determined to take it from him. "It's just a bird. Don't forget that you owe me. Either you pay me with it or I kick your ass 'till our score is settled, every day until you leave for Hell Valley!"

It was a harsh threat.

A bag of jewels was a drop in the bucket to Dawn and her family, but she was incensed and would not go easy on him. The peculiar, cuddly little bird had caught her fancy. Trading it to forgive his debt seemed like a kindness to her.

When he refused her Dawn's first instinct was to raise her fist in a blatant show of force. "You better think about the consequences!"

Fucking hell, this woman is impossible!

Of course Cloudhawk wasn't without fault. He'd stolen from them, after all. Skye Polaris wanted him to pay back the affront with his life, his daughter wanted a bird.

Cloudhawk knew she was not a patient woman. If he kept it up she was just going to take the bird from him. He certainly wasn't going to be able to fight her off, and besides this was her home. All she had to do was raise her voice and he would be minced meat. What could he do?

"It doesn't matter what you say," Cloudhawk replied matter-of-factly, "I can't give the bird to you."

Dawn was not known for her patience and this conversation had already gone on too long. She was warring with her temper, both hands clenched into fists, and the threat of her brutality was almost palpable in the air. "You don't think I can take it from you? You sure look highly on yourself!"

Cloudhawk saw her getting ready to lunge at him but he didn't want to suffer. He tried to persuade her. "I can pay you back in another way. For example, I can help you get that dagger you want."

She slowly let her hammer-like fists fall to her sides. Anger was replaced with curiosity. "How did you know about the dagger?"

"That's not important. What's important is that I can get it, and I can bring it to you." He wasn't afraid of her, no matter how fierce. He spoke to her without deference or irritation. "I can't fight you off and you could beat me to a pulp, but you'll never force me to do something I don't want to do. I'm a wastelander, you know that. I've lived through all sorts of shit."

What he was really saying was that he didn't fear a beating. You could ruin my body, but you're never gonna break my will.

Dawn wavered, for in that moment she saw the quality of this young man. He was an average fighter maybe, but one hell of a thief. A thief that could break into the general's mansion and set fire to the governor's compound. Outside of the Sanctuary, there was no place in Skycloud that could keep him out.

Frankly, Cloudhawk could hardly beat a fart in a straight fight. He'd only managed to deal with a few novice demonhunters. Anyone from the Order worth their salt would be able to put him down easily, she figured. But he was the best damn sneak in town, and even a high-class demonhunter wouldn't be able to pick him out.

Dawn suddenly knew how Cloudhawk could be useful. Damn, she'd almost lost sight of what made this guy special!

But wouldn't she be losing face by letting him have his way? The likes of Frost de Winter, Selene, even most senior Skycloud officials hardly caught her eye. There were even fewer who could get the better of her. Was this wastelander actually one of them?

Her face was uncertain for a time and then eventually her fists relaxed. She rearranged her clothes, then when she spoke again it was a deathly seriousness. "Fine. You're such a weakling that whooping you won't give me any sense of accomplishment. It's just a bird, it isn't worth anything."

She said it as rude as she could manage, but Cloudhawk didn't care.

Dawn hesitated for a moment then asked, "Could you really help me get that dagger?"

The corners of his lips curled into a grin. Strength didn't mean shit; the slightest benefit and she was ready to bargain. "All you need to do is tell me where it is. I'll go tonight and have it in your hands before morning."

His confidence thrilled her, but still she hesitated. "Even just possessing contraband is asking for trouble. Stealing one…"

Cloudhawk shrugged. "If you don't say anything then I won't. Who'll know where it went besides you and me?"

"This… let me think."

Truth be told she was thrilled. She knew Cloudhawk's worth, with a master thief like him by her side she could have anything she wanted. There were countless things scattered throughout the city she was desperate to get her hands on, and he was the key to satisfying that lust.

The problem was that all this was illegal.

For her this was treason. After all she was an elysian, a high-grade demonhunter and a warrior of the Sanctuary. With so much on her shoulders this was a serious decision for her to make.

Cloudhawk was quietly scheming as well.

Dawn was a respected and influential person in Skycloud. She wasn't the strongest, but at least she was among the strongest fighters in the city. More than that she came from a background tightly involved in the military. If he could make her think he was a help and kept her close, Cloudhawk was sure he could use their relationship to his advantage.

Really though he was just tired of her shit. If he wanted to gain the upper hand and get her to shut her goddamn mouth, the best way to do it was to keep her distracted.

"What, you don't have the guts?"

She saw the taunting light in this wasteland bastard's eyes and it made her furious. Dawn had never been one to follow the rules, only she couldn't do this otherwise she would have already done it herself. If this guy was so eager to help then let him try, she thought.

"Alright, bring back the dagger and consider your debt paid."

"It's a deal."

Dawn told him where the dagger was being kept, then after gathering his things Cloudhawk went after it. Contraband was kept in a place they called the vault. Items were gathered up there until it reached capacity then the contents were destroyed. Aside from being heavily guarded and fortified, the only people who got into the vault came bearing signed documents from either the governor or the Sanctuary.

Dawn wasn't sure Cloudhawk was actually capable of pulling this off. 

He was back in thirty minutes.


He threw a simple silver dagger at her feet.

She stared at it with eyes so wide they threatened to roll out of her head. She snatched it up as though it were a precious treasure, and there was even a rosy hue that sprang up on her snow-white cheeks. It wasn't clear whether it was because she was nervous or excited. "This is the ancient relic they dug up? Why does it look so simple?"

"Give it here."

He grabbed it out of her hands while fishing a few coins out of his pocket. He chucked the three coins into the air and whipped the dagger around. Six distinct clinks hit the ground - all three coins had been sheered clean in half.

Dawn stared in disbelief. "Is it really that sharp?"

"I've seen a relic like this once before. I think it's called a high-frequency particle blade. It's a rare and ancient weapon." He handed it back to her. "You're lucky."

She was beaming with pleasure. "This is quite the treasure!"

As she fawned over it Cloudhawk felt relief.

Dawn looked about nineteen, a few years older than him, but she was nowhere near as mature. She was obstinate and unruly - in short, a child.

What was complicated about dealing with a girl whose life was so easy? She was simple to deal with; give her a toy and she's happy.

Cloudhawk was pleased with his handling of Dawn. If he'd tried this on the pious and stubborn Selene, or someone arrogant and self-centered like Frost de Winter, it wouldn't have worked. He probably wouldn't have found a way to keep them happy.

He saw this as the beginning.

Man's desire had no limits; no one was satisfied with one, or two, or even three. Once Dawn saw what Cloudhawk was capable of, and knew that she could request his skills at any time, she would be less likely to insult and abuse him.

She had tasted the sweetness of Cloudhawk's sins, but what she didn't realize was she'd just bought into his ploy. The more illicit goods she yearned for the deeper in she would be until there was no way out. 

(Xiao Lai is now on twitter and instagram! Follow him @xiaolaiwxw for insights into translating and Chinese medicine theory.)

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