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Cloudhawk was a godless heathen from the wastelands, without morality or respect for laws. He lived by his own code - don't kill if you don't have to, and don't take someone else's food. In his eyes he didn't live an evil life, and taking a dagger that was slated for destruction was no big deal. Certainly nothing to feel guilty about.

Not so for Dawn.

She was a bit of a rebel, but regardless she'd grown up under the rigorous demands of religion. Sure she'd bullied people now and again, but never anything that crossed the line into egregious sin. At worst she'd gotten disapproving looks, but because of her family background there was nothing anyone could do.

This was different. This was taboo.

She liked the dagger, that was undeniable, but it was a relic of the ancient past dug up from the ruins. Collecting things like this was expressly forbidden and if word got out it would cause a scandal for their family. For this reason even holding it made her nervous, but once she took a couple swipes she was convinced.

It was the first time something like this was added to her collection. The excitement was delicious.

So she followed Cloudhawk's example, cutting a few coins in half to test it for herself. The more she saw what the dagger could do the happier she became. "This thing definitely isn't a relic, how can I cut metal like it was mud?"

Currency in the elysian lands were called gold, silver and copper. Although they resembled those materials in texture and color, in fact they were made from a special material given to them by the gods. No typical artisan could work with it and the coins were exceptionally resilient. Typical steel weapons - even if honed to a fine edge - couldn't mar the surface.

"Look at the blade." Cloudhawk pointed out the almost imperceptible black line along the edge. "I don't understand it well myself, I've only seen one other like it in the wasteland. The secret is that black line. They say it's only a few atoms thick that vibrate very quickly. When it comes in contact with normal materials it slices right through them, that's how it does it."

With nothing beneath her thin robes the curve of Dawn's breasts could be glimpsed from time to time. She wasn't a particularly voluptuous woman, but she wasn't thin either. Her body was covered in finely toned muscle and though her breasts weren't large, they were well proportioned for her figure.

They were close enough that Dawn could feel the heat from Cloudhawk. They were very different, but she didn't find him detestable much to her curiosity. This young man was a filthy wasteland heathen, just coming near her was reason enough to break several of his bones!

The young guy had a peculiar, innate temperament.

Cloudhawk didn't respect her because of her background, nor did he fear her because of her strength or attitude. It seemed that in Cloudhawk's eyes humans weren't separated by class. It didn't matter if you were a noble denizen of the elysian lands or a scavenger eking out a miserable existence in the wasteland. Underneath all that everyone was the same.

Low birth wasn't something to pity. It was no reason to feel inferior. The assertion made Cloudhawk special.

When she looked at him Dawn saw that he was young, but much more was written on his face. She saw a turbulent past, his wild nature, and loneliness. A lone wolf who crossed many leagues of inhospitable desert.

He was a man with a story.

He didn't look special, not outstanding in any way, or even very handsome. Compared with Frost de Winter he couldn't match either, either in appearance or temperament. But he had delicate good looks, pleasing enough to the eye.

It was about then Cloudhawk noticed Dawn staring at him and returned her gaze. He was a plain sort, in not so many words, but if there was one thing that made the wastelander stand out it was his dark eyes.

"You don't understand much of anything." [1] When their eyes met Dawn suddenly felt nervous, she wasn't used to standing so close to other people. She pushed the dagger into its special sheath and backed off a few steps. "How could the wastelands have such curious things? You're from there, is it fun?"

For a second Cloudhawk didn't know how to respond. He frowned and dropped his eyes a little, looking off into space. He said before giving his answer. "It's not someplace you ever want to visit."


"Too dangerous."

"Doesn't that bitch live fine out there?" Her irritation with him was renewed. "Why can she go and I can't? What does she have that I don't?!"

There was clearly a lot of bad blood between these two women.

Dawn, a woman who grew up in the lap of luxury, a halo over her head and a silver spoon in her mouth, only understood the wasteland based on stories and rumors from other people. She never experienced it for herself, so how could she understand? Selene Cloude had also been cut down several times in their journeys, and even now he couldn't know whether she was alive or dead.

Dawn was older than Selene, but it was clear to everyone she was much more impulsive. This clueless, dangerous, blindly arrogant woman wouldn't last a day in the wastes without her family's help.

"I brought you the dagger you wanted," Cloudhawk said, looking at her. "My debt has been paid."

"I keep my promises, no one has ever said otherwise. However…" She lifted the sheathed dagger and, with a harsh light in her eyes, drew it illustratively across her throat. "You and I are the only people who know about what happened today. If a third hears about it, you can bet I'll…"

Threats like these didn't frighten Cloudhawk, so he didn't give it much thought. He'd got what he wanted, to keep his strange little pet safe. And his collusion with Dawn had been established.

That was important. Cloudhawk knew that out here no man could stand alone.

Commander Polaris saved Cloudhawk just so he could use him, and there wasn't anywhere else Cloudhawk could go. That narrow-minded shitkicker Frost de Winter had a hard-on for making his life hell, and Cloudhawk had no other friends in the city. Dawn was the only one he could turn to.

She still hadn't left his room, in fact she still stood there with her eyes fixed on the tiny bird in his hands. A strange expression crossed her face. "Eh? It's better already?"

Indeed the tiny bird's recovery was impressive. It'd been only a little while but it was back to normal already.

It gave its wings a tentative flap then flitted up onto Cloudhawk's shoulder. With its fuzzy little head it nuzzled his neck, which only served to fuel Dawn's jealousy. Such a smart little thing, she thought. What a pity…

Cloudhawk kept his eyes on her warily. "Why are you still here?"

"I go where I want and leave when I feel like it. What's it to you? Don't forget your place, I'm the master of this house and you're a servant who depends on me for a living." Her brows shot up as she made it clear in no uncertain terms what their respective roles were. She punctuated this by walking closer to the bird and looking it over. "Strange, it seems sort of listless."

Cloudhawk also noticed that something didn't seem right. In confirmation a single sensation was shared through their link: Hungry.

Cloudhawk frowned at it. "You hungry?"

Dawn, unable to keep her mouth shut for any period of time, replied. "Well if it's hungry then feed it."

"I don't know what it eats," he said with some exasperation.

She looked at him like he was an idiot. "You're a terrible owner, you don't even know how to feed your pet. This is cruelty, you know that?"

The thing had only just been born!

Cloudhawk had never had to look after an animal before, how was he supposed to know what to feed it? Mammals drank milk from their mothers, but birds like this probably ate worms or insects or something.

Dawn saw his confusion and flicked her wrist at him. "Come with me!"

She led him to the mansion's food storage, wherein were stored all sorts of fruits, vegetables, meats and more. There was enough here to feed a thousand people. Crystal-like pillars were interspersed around the room that pumped it full of frigid air. This had to be some sort of cooling equipment they used to keep food fresh.

Like an inexhaustible ball of steam one of the magic lamps illuminated the room. The refrigeration equipment was also constant and so long as it was here in the elysian lands it had plenty of energy to work. Just another perk of this place.

"We have everything here. Seafood, poultry, meat, vegetables, fruit… take a look."

Cloudhawk put the small bird in front of a pile of food, but nothing caught its attention. This took him by surprise and caused some embarrassment. Did it not eat normal food? He stood looking at it, puzzled, when suddenly through their connection he felt the little animal perk up.

It flew over to one of the nearby crystal pillars and proceeded to peck at it with its beak.

"What's it trying to do?"

"I don't know!"

Rattle, rattle.

The energy crystal cracked and a small portion fell off. The bird flew down to where it landed and gobbled it up. Cloudhawk felt its satisfaction. Both he and Dawn stood to the side with surprised expressions as the bird ate another six or seven pieces until its little belly protruded. 

How weird that this is what it would eat!

Oddball, he thought. That seems like a fitting name. [2]

Dawn pointed at it. "What kind of freak are you raising here?"

Cloudhawk had to wonder what sort of thing this bird was too. A little hesitant, he still shared how the bird was hatched with Dawn. When she heard her face drew together in a frown as though she were thinking deeply, but she'd never heard of anything like this.

Lost in thought she didn't notice that her robe had come a little loose. Cloudhawk's gaze just happened to wander and catch a good eyeful of what was beneath.

It was cold in here, didn't she feel it? 

Suddenly she slapped her forehead. "I need you to steal something else."

1.  Parallels?

2. In the interest of full disclosure the writer doesn't give the bird a name and this sentence is entirely mine. In fact there are several characters who are never given proper names, or even nicknames. For instance the demon's lieutenants were called 'the freak in black' (Stranger Black), 'big guy with horns' (Longhorn), and 'young man with wings' (Vulture). They follow the pithy naming conventions in Chinese of three syllables, but that doesn't work in English. It's the same for the bird, which the writer calls 'little strange bird,' but I have chosen to call Oddball because it's weird and round.

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

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