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Chapter 7 - Noble Madam

 Autumn Draper left, as calm as though she was leaving the local farmer's market.

She was a young girl of seventeen. By the looks of her, Autumn had yet to even begin really experiencing life. But what normal person would walk around with a bundle of eboncrys to go shopping? That would be conspicuous in Skycloud city, to say nothing of the lawless and unstable borderlands.

There were only two sorts of people who were so brazen. The first had something cracked in their brain, and those folks deserved whatever came to them. The second were strong enough to fear nothing, like prowling lions who did not fear the prey.

Was Autumn the latter? No!

From the moment she walked in to the instant she left, Cloudhawk hadn't sensed the vibration of relics around her. A demonhunter without relics was like a tiger without claws, and was more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else. It was hard to say whether she was a demonhunter or not, but if she was a demonhunter without relics she wasn't a threat.

What if her innate capabilities lay in her physical strength? She could be like Instructor Cutter from Hell's Valley, relying on pure force and physical ability. That didn't seem likely, either. On the one hand, she was too young to have any credible training. On the other, skills like that were honed only from living in extreme harsh conditions.

Based on her posture, rate of breathing, and attitude, she was maybe only slightly more capable than an average citizen. Definitely nothing special. He didn't sense any danger from her or any threatening aura. Based on what he saw, Autumn was as deadly as a cage-raised canary. An over-inflated porcelain doll.

But that just made him even more suspicious. She had no coin, but the parcel of stones she readily showed them was staggeringly valuable. Where did she get it? It seemed Autumn Draper was a name he would have to study.

Between the wastelands and the Skycloud domain, names were markedly different.

Most wastelanders didn't have a family name. Hell, many didn't have families. They got by with nicknames or designations. Common names were things like Boulder, Grit, or Cloud. Or animal names like Lupus, Tigra or Leopard. Things you saw often in the wastes. Cloudhawk, Mantis, and Wolfblade were textbook examples. Next down the list were ancient names picked out of antiquity, like Roste. Pathfinders spent their days combing through old ruins and excavating the past, so they picked names that brought them closer to that long-dead culture.

Now the elysians, they were a people divided into families and clans. Whether from noble stock or common lineage, everyone had a family history. Given names were chosen by how flowery and dignified they sounded; Selene and Arcturus Cloude, Frost de Winter, Raithe Umbra, Claudia Lunae and so forth.

Autumn Draper was definitely not a wastelander name, but it didn't seem very elysian either. Wandering around with the equivalent of ten thousand gold coins in a little sack... back in Skycloud, you would have to have come from a family everyone knew. Before coming back to the borderlands, Cloudhawk had gathered as much intelligence as he could about who the big players were. There was definitely no family that would fit the way Autumn was acting.

But the most confusing thing of all? What did she need with five hundred sets of weapons and armor? Was she actually looking to outfit a small army?

A few of the patrons had watched the whole exchange, and the look in their eyes were less than wholesome. While she and the others were distracted, they slipped out and followed her. Gabriel noticed this. "It seems your girl has garnered some attention. Do you want to do something about it?"

But Cloudhawk shook his head. "It's fine."

He was always a curious sort, so it was uncharacteristic for Cloudhawk not to be interested in the result. Since his boss seemed uninterested, Gabriel made no further motions to get involved.


The Sandbar was head and shoulders above the condition of most other wasteland outposts. However, it was still a rough and foul place for someone like Autumn, who was used to living in the lap of luxury. After wandering for some time she chanced upon a hotel that seemed passable. It happened to be the nicest lodgings in the Sandbar, run by a middle-aged man of some affluence. He was known for his friendliness and hospitality.

"Hello miss, are you looking for a place to stay? We offer three packages. The cheapest is fifty copper a night, then eighty, and finally two silver. Which would you like?"

Autumn plucked the smallest cube of eboncrys from its sack and placed it on the counter between them. It was worth ten gold, easy. "Is this sufficient?"

"This... this is eboncrys?" The friendly smile he wore like a mask froze and he snatched it up. He fumbled with a pair of dirty glasses and slipped them on so he could take a closer look. In truth, he'd never seen this treasure, but he knew of it. Elysian coin and other trade goods often passed through the borderlands. "Very pure," he said excitedly. "Such high purity."

Autumn pressed him. "I'd like a room, please."

"Yes, yes. Of course!" The hotel owner clutched tight to the tiny cube, worth enough to rent out half his establishment. His customary smile returned wider than ever, eyes bright. "Stay as long as you'd like!"

He brought her to the innermost room on the third floor. It was forty or fifty square meters in size and had its own showers. It was the best of the lot, and clean at least. Autumn looked over the lodgings with a nod of satisfaction, then closed and locked the door. Once alone, she removed her veil and revealed a beautiful face.

If there was one word to describe her, it was 'ethereal.'

She was flawless. There wasn't a single blemish on her. Autumn allowed her hair to tumble free down her shoulders, which revealed a pair of pale white ears that were unique from others. They were longer, perhaps some sort of mutation, but they did not detract in the least from her enchanting looks. If anything, the peculiarity made her even more attractive.

Water spat from the shower head, and she washed off the dust that had accumulated from the last few trying days.

Moments after putting her clothes back on, a knock came from the door. The voice of the hotel owner called to her. "Noble madam, I've taken the liberty of preparing our finest supper for you."

Autumn pulled the door open without a second thought. On the other side was the owner, standing behind a simple serving trolley. She offered a gentle thanks and pulled the cart inside. Mutant animal meat, primarily. This wasn't her home town, so she couldn't have expected much in the way of wild fruits or vegetables.

"Please enjoy."

He bowed and scraped, never allowing his smile to falter as the owner took his leave.

Autumn preferred vegetarian meals. Although the hotel proprietor had prepared the meat with expert care, she only took a few bites before setting it aside. She spent dinner sipping at a tepid beverage and brooding.

So far things had been going smoothly. She'd only just gotten to the settlement and already found the equipment she needed.

Perhaps the high-quality goods would give them a chance. A solution to her people's troubles. But perhaps not. Five hundred sets of armor and weapons did not seem near enough to deal with that monster.

Autumn was clear on the purpose of her expedition. The equipment she purchased was important, but her main aim was to return with the ancient treasure of her people, gone for so many years. The best means would be to recruit people who could help her. The people she'd brought to assist her had been scattered through the wasteland from beast attacks and sandstorms, leaving her alone as she reached the Sandbar. Could she complete her mission with no one to rely on but herself?

She wasn't given much time to reflect. An intense dizziness came over her.

Her vision doubled, everything started to swirl and warp. Before she even knew what was happening she hit the ground with a thud. The food trolley was tipped and sent its contents tumbling across the floor.

"Noble madam? Do you need some help?"

The hotel owner called out but there was no answer. The door's lock slowly began to turn.

He poked his head on with that honest smile spread across his face. However, clutched in the hand behind his back was a gleaming knife. Autumn lay prone on the ground, unmoving after ingesting the drug. There was a note of surprise on the owner's face. He was surprised it'd been so easy.

He placed the knife down and found the satchel of eboncrys. He lifted it up with a grunt. It was heavy. He pulled it open and his eyes shimmered lustfully as the contents were revealed. Scores of them. He couldn't believe it.


He could reach in and pull one out at random and it would be worth man than his whole hotel. He wouldn't need to run this shithouse anymore. With this bag he could just run away and live out the rest of his days in enjoyment.

The owner selected one from the bag and raised it to his eyes. However, he'd only just begun to appreciate the beauty of his ill-gotten goods when a pair of blades punched through his back and jutted out from his chest. The steel was a glossy dark green, obviously tempered in poison.

The hotel owner immediately went rigid, eyes wide as saucers. The only thing that moved was his mouth, which opened and closed grotesquely like a fish out of water. Finally, the world went black.

"Go to hell." A lean and rugged-looking man violently pulled his daggers out of the corpse and returned them to their sheaths. He shoved the body to one side with a grunt and waved over his shoulder. "All set!"

A sinister looking man walked in, followed by another with a repulsively scarred face. The three men had trailed Autumn here from the emporium. Without even a glance spared for the slain hotel owner, the dangerous-looking one picked up the eboncrys cube that had been dropped. It felt moist and warm in the palm of his hand. It was soaked with the dead man's blood and stained the thief's fingers red.

"Rich! We're fuckin' rich!"

The thin, monkey-like one who killed the owner dropped his eyes to the prone woman. A dark and obscene light glimmered in his beady gaze. "That's one tasty lookin' bitch there. I haven't tried one like her yet, but I'm about to correct that."

He reached out his hand and pulled. Autumn's clothing was ripped half off.

Her long, pale legs were revealed to their lusty eyes. The desire to pull her legs apart and explore what lay between raged inside them. The skinny one was almost mad with excitement and started to fumble with his pants.

The ugly one barked at him. "Hey, Gibbon! Are you fuckin' stupid? A bunch of people saw her today, they'll be lookin' to score too. I know your little worm works quick, but every second we stick around is trouble. We aren't gonna risk it because you wanna get your dick wet."

The one called Gibbon flushed red. "Fuck your mother! You've got the fuckin' worm. You work quick!"

"With all this money you think you can't get women?" The ugly one pulled out a knife. "Stop wasting time and kill her!"

The malicious one who'd so far been silent stopped him. "If she was walking around with so much money, she's gotta have access to more. Keep her alive, and when we get to a safe place we can question her. There might be more to gain if she stays breathing."

"Good point. He's right!" A grin stretched across Gibbon's face. "The three of us can take her together. I'll show you the real meaning of 'wasteland manhood'!"

The scarred one didn't waste anymore time with nonsense. He pulled a sheet off the bed and wrapped Autumn up. Their leader took the sack of eboncrys, then put his foot through a window. "Hotel workers will be here soon. We've gotta go."