• Chapter One


    The bar’s atmosphere was warm and dark, with only the occasional slurred voices of the men talking as they drank their beer for noise. The wood walls were sun bleached, and the massive bodies of the men were perspiring, creating a putrid stench of sweat and unseemliness. The bar was filled to the brim, all manner of people often entered here just to get some relief from the unyielding desert sun.

    Arata observed the scene from her place behind the counter. Some of the men she recognized as people of the village, others she labeled as wanderers, hunters, or thieves. She kept a watchful eye on the later, for they were the ones most likely to stiff you. The bar was unusually quiet for this time of day. It was near sundown and soon the intense heat would make way for extreme coldness. This was usually the time that idol chatter started to perk up and movement would become doable.

    Arata sighed and took out a rag from under the shelf. She entered the heated mass of people and weaved her way through until she was at the group of vacated tables. She tossed the crumbs to the floor and stacked the plates in one hand while her other washed. She turned to head back to the bar counter when something wet touched her right foot. Looking down she met the lulling and drooped eyes of Mr. Hingers old hound dog. The animal seemed to brighten at her notice of him, his tail thumped heavily on the floor. Arata smiled and kneeled down to scratch the dogs head.

    “I’ll bring you a nice stake, O.k boy?” she whispered. The dog drooled in approval.

    “Hey girly! Nice look’en thighs you got there!” called out one of the man, his outburst followed by wails and whistles of approval.

    Arata straitened immediately and cast a chiding look to all the men “Ok Ok, thank you for the complement.” she teased before rolling her eyes and heading back to the safety of the counter. She had worked at this bar ever since she was a little girl, and in her experience she had found out two things. One, drunk men will make comments like that to just about anyone they think is semi-attractive. And Two, always try to defuse a situation with humor before resorting to violence.

    “Hey girly! Come on over here and I’ll give you another complement.” yelled the same voice

    Arata spun around on her foot and raised a brow at the audience “Sorry, I don’t like small complements.”, and as the men’s roar of laughter filled the room she took shelter in the kitchen. She dumped the dishes into the wash bin and grabbed the scrubber, her hands working to get the caked on food off the wood bowels.

    “That was a nice burn.” came the amused voice of Ren, the bars cleaning boy. He was kneeled over a bucket of potatoes and peeling, his hands were red and worn. He was about Arata’s age, with an unruly mop of black hair that completely covered his eyes and ears.

    “You think so? I just made it up.”

    Ren laughed “You know, I believe the reason why this bar always seems to have customers is for that very reason.”

    “What reason? You can’t possibly tell me those old farts actually like me cutting them down. Hell sometimes they take major offense to it and try to ruff me up after dark.”

    “No. I mean, the fact that you’re a girl in a skimpy outfit does have some sway, but I was more focusing on the fact of because you make the men laugh. Everyone enjoys a good laugh.”

    Arata rolled her eyes “I guess, now stop peeling those potatoes and go out to the counter. I’ve manned it all morning and soon it’ll be nightfall. I wanna get a few hours sleep before I come back down to help you with the real drinking crowd.”

    Ren nodded as he rose to dry his hands “Alright. I’ll wake you up when it gets to be a bit much.”

    Arata smiled at him “Thanks.”

    A short while later Arata hummed as she unbuttoned her blouse top and untied her skirt. She looked at herself momentarily in the mirror, she could kind of see why Ren said this outfit was skimp. The blouse was white and in some places was slightly see-through so you could glimpse her camisole, and the skirt barely came midway to her knee. She grimaced, she could only imagine what she looked like when she bent down to pet Mr. Hingers hound. At that thought she groaned and smacked herself upside the head, the dog! She had promised to get him a stake. Putting back on her clothes she traveled back down the squeaking stairs and headed to the ice closet. She unlatched the door and opened, fumes of raw meat and cold wafted passed her. She cringed and looked passed the hanging carcasses of lizards and cow to the small strips of muscle laying on the six by six square feet of ice. Grabbing one long strip she left and entered the bar once more.

    The men seemed quieter now, and Arata could see Ren behind the counter nodding and filling pitchers of beer before putting them on a tray. She looked around the room, scanning for the dog. Upon finding him she smiled and weaseled her way over. She held the strip high, the dog whined adorably.

    “Oh come now girl, he’s an old man. You can’t expect him to jump for it.” the man next to the dog, Mr. Hingers, laughed.

    Arata laughed as well, lowering the meat to the hounds hungry mouth. She petted his head as he ate noisily and turned to Mr. Hingers. “Sorry, I just love to tease him is all.”

    Mr. Hingers nodded, but then his face took on a suspicious look. He lowered his head so he was a few inches away from Arata before murmuring “Miss Arata, that man there yonder. Who is he?”

    Arata blinked and looked around “You’re going to have to be more specific Mr. Hingers, you just indicated every man in the pub.”

    “That one, at the counter in the black cloak. I got a bad feeling when he came in. He looks like one of them demons.”

    Arata flinched at the word ‘demon’, but looked to where he was pointing. Indeed there was a man at the counter, cloaked in black and keeping his face hidden. The only things not hidden where his brown boots and gloved hands. Arata did not know very much about demons, except one thing. “Did you get a look at his eyes?” she asked. From what she had always heard about town, demons had either red or black eyes, as apposed to the brown eyes everyone in the town possessed.

    “No, don’t believe he even raised his sulking head. Some of the men are a little suspicious, go take care of it will you.”

    Arata nodded. She stood and headed for the counter, if the customers where in a quandary then she would solve it. Though hardly anything non-human ever came into the bar, aside from the lizard merchants.
    Arata always found it strange that the people of this little desert town would call anything non-human a demon, but the lizards would always be welcomed with open arms. Arata slid behind the counter and grinned “Hello again gentlemen, can I get you anything?”.

    The men returned her smile and burped their reply “Noth, were gods.” , the alcohol slurring their words.

    Arata then turned to the cloaked figure “Can I get you anything sir?”

    “Don’t bother Arata, I’ve already tried talking with him. He says he doesn’t want any alcohol, leave him.” Ren yelled across the room.

    Arata’s brows furrowed and she turned back to the man. “Are you sure you don’t want anything to drink? If you don’t want alcohol I could probably get you something else? Or perhaps your hungry? I make a mean apple pie, I think I still have a few slices in the back.”

    The figures bowed head turned slightly in her direction at the mention of the pie.

    “Would you like the pie? Wait here, I’ll go get you some and a glass of warm milk to boot.” as she walked away, Arata got the strange sensation of acting like a mother to a sulking two year old. Either way, at least she had gotten a reaction from the mysterious man.

    When Arata reentered the bar she placed the plate and the glass in front of the man. “Sorry the milks not warm, I couldn’t really find a way to heat it. All our pots are dirty you see.” Arata tried to explain.

    The figure didn’t seem to hear her because he just lifted up the fork and took a bite of the pie. Arata found herself holding her breath as she waited for the guys reaction. He chewed for a long while before swallowing and tilting his head in her direction again.

    “Is it alright?” Arata asked, palpitating

    The man was silent for a moment before an almost inaudible whisper spoke “Yes, thank you.”

    Arata grinned happily and turned to leave, colliding with Ren as the man held a huge tray of beers. The alcohol clattered to the floor and splashed everywhere, glass shattered, and both Arata and Ren found themselves sprawled on the floor. Arata groaned, leaning upwards as she clutched her head.

    “What the hell Ren!” she scolded

    “Sorry, I didn’t see you-…um Arata.”

    Arata opened her eyes and looked down at herself. The front of her shirt was smeared in beer, making it completely see-through to her undergarment, and at the same time making the fabric cling to her breasts. Also Ren loomed over here, between her parted legs and her upturned skirt. Arata’s cheeks flamed in embarrassment as she pushed Ren off of her, covered her chest, and smoothed her skirt. The booming laughter of the men roared again and Arata tuned out the lewd comments being said. She glared at the ground, if it had been anyone other then Ren she would of pummeled them immediately. The clanking sound of a glass on wood brought her out of her thought and made her look up. She was now at the perfect angle to see into the mystery mans hood. The darkness didn’t enable her to see much however. She could just make out the fine curve of a chin and the outlines of what she could only assume was a rather young face. The glass of milk was gone and just as he was about to eat the last piece of pie, their eyes locked. Arata started in fascination, crystal eyes the color of sapphires and as deep as ocean pools stared back at her in shocked surprise. He immediately dropped his fork and was out of his seat and rushing out the door. The action was completed so swiftly that Arata barely had time to rush to her feet and look over the bar, only to see the tips of his wind blown cloak as he exited the bar.

    “Blazes, what does that boy have nipping at the tips of his heals!” came one mans cry

    “I’ve never seen a man take of with such fright before.” came another

    The bar was then filled with the talk of the new topic, questions were uttered and speculative answers were given. Yet as the men conversed Arata could only stare at the entrance to the bar.

    ‘Those eyes..’ she thought ‘I’ve never seen eyes as blue as his before.’

    “Arata, you might want to go change. And forget about helping me, think of it as my apology for…um…what happened.” Ren said as he laid a hand on her shoulder to wake her from her minds thoughts.

    Arata nodded and began walking back towards the stairs, yet every once in a while she looked back behind herself to the door.