Blood Oath

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The Bronze Cognition

Nuve is sitting alone at the bar of the inn, trying to wrap his head around the fight he just had with Seamus. With Arma Venture forcing him to believe they are not enemies, everything he figured out about Row has been suppressed. He does not even remember that she is a bloodsucker. “Another round?” the innkeeper asks while hovering a bottle of mead over his empty tanker.

“No, I'm done.” Nuve turns the mug upside-down. He has only just turned sixteen and has not been old enough to drink for very long. He is not used to it at all.

“So… I can't help but notice that my two special guests are still here.” The innkeeper points at the ceiling. Presumably Seamus’s and Row’s room is directly above them.

“And?” Nuve stares at him blankly.

“Well… I just thought… weren’t you going to handle them for us?” The innkeeper stares at him in confusion.

“Why would I do that?” Nuve is unable to recall anything due to Arma Venture’s control.

“Never mind then.” The innkeeper raises his hands innocently. He can tell that something has happened and he has no intention of sticking his nose in any deeper. “It’s a good thing I sent a summons to Wan though, isn’t it?” he laughs while rubbing his nose proudly.

“You what?” Nuve leaps to his feet, letting his stool fall backwards.

“Yeah, I didn’t just send for a ghoul hunter. No, no, I sent for the real deal. A letter should have arrived at the Dust Pail Pub just about the same time you got yours.”

“But, but, but,” Nuve sputters at him stupidly. Arma Venture is blocking his memory but he is almost positive Wan will not be able to answer the summons.

“He should be arriving any second now.” The innkeeper peeks out his front window to check the street. “Ah, speak of the devil.” He pulls the curtain aside to reveal a tall and slender figure tethering his horse to the post outside the inn. “Welcome, my lord.” He bows to the man as he enters.

“Evening,” the man responds in a deep authoritative voice. “Is this the village of Quess?”

“It sure is.” The innkeeper pulls out a new stool for him to sit. “You must be the demigod Wan; it’s a pleasure to meet you.” He tries to shake the man’s hand.

“He’s not,” Nuve whispers.

“No, I'm afraid not.” The man shakes his head solemnly. “I am known as Husk, the Bronze Cognition.”

“Where is Wan?” Nuve interrupts him.

“I don’t know,” he admits. “We the nine have had no contact with him in over five years. He has failed to answer any summons and has not made contact with any of us. All five of his most trusted vassals have disappeared as well. We fear the worst.”

“I see.” Nuve stares down at his feet.

“Regardless, it’s been a while.” Husk slaps him on the back. “What have you been up to, boy?”

“I have a name, you know,” Nuve grumbles.

“I know, I know. It’s, umm… what was it again?” Husk averts his eyes in thought.

“It’s Nuve,” the hunter loses his patience. “We met in Palinthia almost five years ago.”

“Yeah, but you were only a boy,” Husk defends himself. “I honestly thought you’d have become a vassal of another demigod by now, kid.”

“I tried,” Nuve sighs. “I really did.”

“I can see that.” Husk frowns at his metal arm. “I'm really sorry.”

“I don’t need your pity,” Nuve grumbles. “I need answers; where’s Wan.”

“Like I said, he’s been quiet for far too long. I’ve been keeping an eye on this area in his stead. For that matter, I noticed an unusual amount of ghouls in the forest when I arrived. They seem to be planning something. Are you sure this town is safe?”

“No, no it’s not,” the innkeeper interrupts them. “We’ve been attacked by spirits and bloodsuckers and ghouls night after night. It’s horrible. You need to help us, Mr. Husk, I beg of you.”

“If you can afford the protection fee, then I'm all yours.” Husk grins at him kindly. He is a tall man with a slender yet not scrawny frame. His beard is short and dark as is his hair and his skin is rough and pink. He looks like a weathered soldier of sorts.

“We don’t need you,” Nuve mutters while flipping his tanker over again.

“What was that?” Husk cups his ear.

“I’ve got it handled. I don’t need your help,” Nuve answers.

“Either way, I think I'll stick around for the night, just in case.” Husk pats his shoulder condescendingly. He does not seem to trust Nuve in the slightest.

“Do as you like.” Nuve stands to leave the bar, spinning around on his heels and stomping up the stairs to his room.

“What’s wrong with him?” the innkeeper asks while crossing his arms in annoyance.

“His father was turned into a ghoul when he was ten,” Husk answers calmly, startling the innkeeper.

“I didn’t realize…”

“He didn’t see him again for a whole year while he survived in the woods,” Husk continues. “When he returned to Palinthia, he attacked and killed the boy’s mother. Wan and I killed the creature right in front of him.”

“Wow.” The innkeeper’s eyes are wide with awe. “That’s not something any child should ever have to see.”

“No it’s not,” Husk agrees. “He’s strong though. Rather than being upset, he channeled his sadness into resolve. He began to train with the intention of becoming a vassal of Wan one day.”

“Wan? Why not you?” the innkeeper suggests.

“Because I wouldn’t have him,” Husk sighs. “It’s nothing personal. I don’t have any vassals anymore.”

“Why not?” The innkeeper is completely absorbed in his story.

“They kept dying and leaving me behind,” Husk admits. A look of guilt spreads across the innkeeper’s face. “I work better alone,” Husk assures him. “I don’t need unreliable people getting in my way.” He is obviously masking his regret with harsh words.

The innkeeper does not say anything though. He has already done enough harm by drudging up these memories of Husk’s. “Have whatever you want, on the house,” he offers.

“Thank you.” Husk manages another kind smile.

“No!” Seamus shouts when he finally wakes up. He is sweating profusely and his eyes are glowing silver. He is once again back in his room at the inn and it is nighttime.

He tries to sit up but the weight of someone lying on top of him makes it impossible. It is too dark to see who it is, though. He moves his hand to the back of their head, which is resting just below his chin. From her long soft hair he can assume it is Row. He traces his fingers along her face until he touches her fangs. They are wet with blood. She must have been feeding on him; unless she was actually transferring energy back to him.

“Hey,” she mutters groggily, exposing her white fangs in the dim light from the streetlamps outside. “What are you screaming about?” she asks while blinking at him.

“Con, Con and Nolst… Dalgo, Coltstus and Bask,” he begins sputters random names.

“Wait, what are you saying? Who are those?” Row is unable to keep track.

“Wan’s vassals,” Seamus whispers.

“Really? He had that many?” Row is impressed. “Where are they now? Do you think they will be coming after us?” Seamus shakes his head slowly. Row can see from his expression that he is upset. “What’s wrong?”

“They’re dead,” he answers. “They’re all dead; every last one of them. After killing Wan, that bloodsucker led them all to their death in the forest. He killed them all one by one.” Seamus is trembling as the memories flash through his mind.

“Oh no.” Row touches his cheek. “I'm sorry. It must be a horrible thing to have to remember.”

“They’re not my memories,” he tries to put up a strong front. “I never met any of them.”

“It’s still sad.” Row stares at him solemnly. “For what it’s worth, I really am sorry.” Her hand his still pressed against his cheek. Seamus stares back with a look of admiration in his eyes.

“What are you doing?” she is slightly confused.

“I never realized how magnificent you can actually be,” he answers vaguely while running his hand along her cheek until he touches one of her protruding fangs again.

“Are you feeling alright?” She touches the back of her hand to his forehead to check his temperature.

“I'm grand, thanks to you.” He beams at her proudly. Row is more than surprised by his new attitude. Before he would have demanded to know what she was doing and then stared at her like she were a demon. In his mind bloodsuckers and demons might actually be one and the same.

The sound of distant yelling and screaming eventually draws both of their attention to the window. Past the curtain they can see hordes of ghouls filling the streets, devouring livestock and killing anyone caught outdoors. The town is practically on fire with flames rising up from the rooftops of several houses. It seems to be the only thing able to drive the dark creatures back.

“I'm guessing they were waiting in the forest,” Seamus surmises.

“Should we try to slip away again?” Row suggests.

“That’s my girl.” Seamus pats her head as she crawls off of him and out the window onto the slanted roof. “We won't make it far on foot,” he warns her.

“We still have our carriage.” She snaps her fingers.

“And no animal to pull it,” he reminds her.

“There must be at least one loose horse down there.” Row shields her eyes from the cinders of the flames to look.

“Not on this side of town,” Seamus informs her. “The ghouls are eating everything in sight.”

“I'm guessing we’re next,” Row gulps nervously.

“I have a good feeling we’re going to be fine.” Seamus smirks at her as his eyes flicker bright yellow. Row watches as he quickly takes control of one of the ghouls down below, a large boar at least twice its proper size. In fact, it is almost as big as a horse. It is obvious what Seamus plans to do with the creature.

Row follows him down to the ground and helps him tether the beast to the front of their carriage. The rest of the ghouls seem reluctant to approach. Something about the large boar has them convinced Row and Seamus are not their enemies. Seamus helps Row into the back of the carriage before leaping up onto the front bench and cracking the reins. The vehicle lurches forward awkwardly as the overweight creature struggles to pull it.

The sight of the carriage moving draws the attention of several other ghouls. They remain passive but they still follow them as they inch along the street toward the edge of the town. “We’re never going to get away like this,” Row whines. “They’ll follow us all the way to Glass Gate.”

“And the city’s sentries will put them down when we get there,” Seamus responds confidently. “We just have to hope that they will not attack us as long as we have control of one of their own.”

“But how long can you keep control of it?” Row argues. “You’re already dead tired from fighting with Nuve.”

“Where is the little nuisance anyway?” Seamus asks while glancing around. He is trying to change the subject before Row can suggest giving him more of her energy. It has been quite some time since she has fed and replenishing him has only made it worse.

“Maybe he’s over there.” Row points to a different part of the village where they can see the light of fire reflecting against the night sky even brighter than elsewhere. It makes sense to both of them that he would be where the fire is most prominent. “Should we go and check on him?” Row asks with a worried expression.

“It’s not our responsibility,” Seamus argues. “Besides, I'm pretty sure he can take care of himself.”

“We should at least check on him,” Row urges. Seamus tilts his head in confusion as he realizes that Row is genuinely concerned for this ghoul hunter she only just met. She barely shows such human emotions and he can't help but want to indulge her when she does.

It is not likely but perhaps he can educate her on human behavior. It would not stop humans from wanting to destroy bloodsuckers in general but it would at least help put Seamus’s mind at ease. He would have the peace of knowing he is not helping a deadly creature but a kind and compassionate one. “Alright,” he finally agrees. “I make no promises of helping him though.” Row nods quickly while betraying a small expression of joy.

Seamus cracks his reins again, urging the giant boar to pull them forward. On the other side of the wall of buildings that blocks the far side of town from direct view, they enter upon a wreckage of burning houses and shops. In the dead center of it all they can see a lone human surrounded by dozens upon dozens of ghouls.

Nuve is checking on his supply of arrows while the creatures keep their distance. From the look on his face he does not have enough of them left to hold the ghouls off if they choose to charge. Instead, he folds his crossbow down and flips out his wide blade, preparing to fight hand to hand if necessary. “What should we do?” Row gasps as the ghouls begin to close in on him. They can tell his threatening presence has lessoned.

“We do nothing.” Seamus tugs on his reins, steering the boar away from the scene in front of them.

“But he’s going to die.” Tears are filling the corners of Row’s eyes.

“And we’ll die too if we do anything,” Seamus warns her. “It’s better him than us. We have to go.” Row tries not to look disappointed in him as she nods. Deep down she knows he is right.

Just as the boar is about to start pulling their cart in the opposite direction, a thundering thumping sound startles both Row and Seamus. They spin around to see that a large crater has former a few feet away from Nuve. A good sixth of the surrounding ghouls have been crushed by whatever created the massive dent in the ground.

“Arma Sorn,” Row and Seamus whisper at the same time. Just beyond the ring of ghouls surrounding Nuve is a figure clad in brown leather armor with metal shoulder caps and gauntlets.

“Is that…?” Seamus points at the man with a dumbfounded expression.

“I don’t know who that is.” Row shakes her head. “Fifty years ago a visiting lord told my mother that the demigod Salazar had perished. She never learned who inherited the Bronze Cognition or Arma Sorn.”

“I guess we know now,” Seamus gulps nervously. “I think it would be a good idea to leave.” Row nods in agreement. Before he can crack his reins again, the boar starts to squeal in fear as a gigantic metal ball lands directly beside the previous crater, creating one exactly like it, with an equal number of ghoul bodies crushed underneath it.

“Alright, that’s enough, Husk!” Nuve shouts at the brown figure. “You almost hit me with that thing.”

“I saved your life,” he reacts pompously.

“I didn’t need your help,” Nuve is less than grateful.

“Come on, move, move.” Seamus cracks his reins but the boar is too terrified. The yellow in his eyes has faded as well, weakening his control over the beast. Reluctantly Seamus does the only thing he can. He stabs the ghoul through the top of its skull with his sword before it can regain control of itself, effectively stranding the carriage once again. Row looks both appalled and terrified but she does not complain. She knows he had no other choice.

“Why are you even here?” Nuve’s voice echoes loudly through the burning town as he interrogates Husk.

“I told you before, remember?” Husk holds up a letter much like the one Nuve showed Seamus that morning.

“That doesn't belong to you,” Nuve growls at him.

“Someone has to pick up the slack in this area.” Husk slaps his chest to show off his supposed strength. “Wan left quite a vacuum of power between the demigods and ghouls when he vanished. I really wonder what happened to him.”

“I think I know.” Nuve glances across the burning landscape, past the two craters, directly at Row and Seamus in their stranded carriage.

“Who are they?” Husk shades his eyes from the light of the fire as he tries to see what Nuve sees. Seamus can’t help but return his stare. He is overly curious about who this mysterious figure is.

“I don’t really know,” Nuve finally responds to Husk’s question. “They were staying at the inn with me last night.”

“Come on, you’ll have to do a better job of lying than that,” Husk is not satisfied.

“Honestly, the only thing I can be sure of is that they are not our enemies,” Nuve assures him.

“You what?” Husk’s brow twists in confusion.

“They are not our enemies,” Nuve repeats.

“How do you know that?” Husk demands.

“I'm not sure; I just kinda… know,” he answers vaguely after a long pause.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were under the curse of Arma Venture,” Husk laughs at him while flicking his wrist at the giant metal ball sitting in the second crater. Seamus and Row watch in awe as it rises into the air while shrinking down to the size of a fist. They can now see that it is actually attached to the end of a chain mace held by Husk. Somehow it grew enormously in size in order to crush the ghouls attacking Nuve.

Once again Seamus looks to Row for answers. “Is that…?”

“Arma Sorn,” she does not even wait for him to ask. “That is the legendary weapon which can grow as large as a building at will.”

“So this is most definitely Salazar’s replacement?” Seamus confirms.

“If he’s not a bloodsucker in disguise like the last one,” she tries to react in a joking manner.

“You there, who are you?” Husk leaps onto the back of his horse and starts to gallop down into one of the craters his weapon has just forged.

“Come on, it’s time to go.” Seamus lifts Row down out of the carriage by the waist.

“I'm talking to you, stranger,” Husk shouts while knocking several ghouls out of his path with his mace, which remains small for now. “My name is Husk. I am one of the nine remaining demigods. Well… I'm almost sure there are only eight left actually. Do you know anything about the disappearance of Wan?”

“Why are you asking me?” Seamus tries to play innocent. “I am but a weary traveler caught in this ghoul uprising. I am merely trying to escape this doomed village before…”

“Yeah, you sure look like a weak peasant.” Husk’s eyes are drawn to the sword on his back.

“Oh this?” Seamus chuckles nervously. “A memento of a former friend.”

“Is that your carriage?” Husk motions down at the dead boar still tethered to the vehicle.

“Well…” Seamus does not know if he should answer.

“Is there something you need from us?” Row chimes in. Seamus is acting far too suspicious.

“You need not be afraid,” Husk assures them while bringing the ball of his mace down on the head of another ghoul, splitting its skull open. “I will save your town.”

“Like I said, this is not our town,” Seamus tries to argue.

“I know, I know. You said you were travelers. I just…” Husk’s voice trails off has his eyes flare for a moment. Though they are brown like a normal person’s they still manage to glow eerily.

“Husk?” Nuve appears behind him. “Husk, what’s wrong?”

“You two know each other?” Seamus glares at Nuve.

“Our paths have crossed from time to time.” He nods before returning his attention to the distraught demigod. “What’s wrong, Husk? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“My chest hurts,” Husk groans while placing a gloved hand over the left part of his ribcage. “What did you do?” he growls at Seamus.

“Me?” Seamus is genuinely surprised.

“I told you, they are not our enemies,” Nuve continues defending the pair he only met properly that morning.

“You fool; you damned fool!” Husk spits. “I can feel Lodar’s presence. Wan is here too, only fainter. I can sense them from you!” He points at Seamus accusingly.

“Now that you mention it, I noticed something when we fought this morning,” Nuve starts to recall some of what Arma Venture suppressed in him.

“I don’t know who you are or how you did it but they’re dead.” Husk’s eyes narrow in anger. “You killed Lodar and Wan.”

“Stop!” Row pulls Seamus backwards by the arm, increasing the distance between him and the unstable demigod. “Just leave us alone,” she whispers. “We don’t want anymore trouble. Just please let us go in peace.”

“You’re a bloodsucker.” Husk’s eyes flare again as his demigod instincts kick in. “I should have known.”

“I, I knew that,” Nuve is still muttering to himself. His mind is still slightly unclear.

“Oh, get a grip on yourself, you useless sod!” Husk is losing patience with him. “Get after them.”

“Me?” Nuve is taken aback. “Why don’t you do it?”

“And you call yourself a ghoul hunter,” Husk scoffs. “I can't focus right now. Something’s wrong with my body. It’s like my connection to Lodar and Wan is physically hurting me. I can feel how they died.”

“And you’re sure he killed them?” Nuve is still skeptical.

“Just do as I say!” Husk screams at him. Nuve leaps towards Seamus without another complaint.

“Don’t move!” Seamus’s eyes flare yellow as he takes control of Nuve again. What remains of Arma Venture starts to poke out from his forehead again, giving him the appearance of two small horns. Obediently, Nuve stops in his tracks. Seamus’s head hurts too much for him to seize the opportunity to run though. “Row, you go on ahead; I'll be right behind you,” he urges his charge to escape on her own.

“Wait, Husk seems weak. Maybe Nuve can beat him,” she makes a suggestion.

“Nuve?” Seamus is unable to concentrate on her meaning.

“Tell Nuve to attack Husk,” she shouts.

“You, ghoul hunter, fight the demigod,” Seamus groans while grabbing his head in pain.

“Yes, master,” Nuve mumbles as his wide blade swings out of his arm.

“What are you doing, you imbecile?” Husk wheezes angrily.

“I must obey my master,” Nuve is completely entranced.

“Don’t you dare.” Husk blocks the blade with a swing of his mace, putting Nuve off balance. He manages to stumble backwards before Nuve can come after him again. Row takes the chance to try helping Seamus escape. “Nuve, I swear if you don’t stop this nonsense right now…” Husk’s threat is cut short by an arrow hitting him straight in the chest. It is unable to penetrate his armor but it is enough to make Husk angry though.

Without warning, the demigod twirls his mace above his head before bringing it down toward the young ghoul hunter. As his weapon grows in size a different transformation takes place on Husk’s body. His own height increases by several inches as does the length of his hair and beard. Suddenly rather than a young strong man, and old frail figure is standing before Nuve. Seamus’s jaw drops in complete bewilderment at the sight before him.

Nuve manages to block the mace with his arm but it is too large. As he struggles to keep it from crushing him his arm starts to bend. Eventually the metal twists too far and the entire appendage shatters, sending shards of metal flying in all directions.

“You thought it was wise to fight a full fledge wizard?” the old man bellows angrily with his flickering brown eyes.

“What is he?” Seamus looks to Row for answers.

“That’s Salazar,” Row is equally terrified.

“This is what I would look like if I had lived all of Salazar’s years,” Husk corrects her. “This is the power of the Bronze Cognition. I hold the knowledge of a two century old wizard.”

“That’s not possible.” Row shakes her head. “Demigods don’t have the ability to use magic. Their aura is simply too strong. Any spell they try to cast would call on mana already being used to maintain their youth and power. It’s impossible.”

“That’s why I'm rapidly aging,” Husk admits. “I let my aura fall for a moment and now I can cast magic like a real wizard. For example…” He snaps his fingers. At that moment a barrage of electricity strikes the ground around him, falling from the clouds like lightning.

“I don’t believe it. You can't maintain that form. You’ll die,” she warns him.

“That's where this wondrous spell comes in handy.” Husk snaps his fingers again. Immediately he begins to shrink. His height falls until he is no taller than Row. His aging face has also receded, giving him the appearance of a child. “It’s not perfect, but I'll return to normal shortly,” Husk explains.

“So basically, by letting himself age like that, he can use magic like a sorcerer,” Seamus confirms.

“Yes, but he’ll die if he stays that way for long,” Row informs him. “He needs to cast a youth spell almost immediately after anything as powerful as the lighting we just saw.”

“But he’s a child.” Seamus’s brow twists in confusion.

“Maybe he can't control it.” Row shrugs. “Either way, this is your chance. You can't fight a wizard as powerful as him and you can't fight Arma Sorn; this child form is our only opportunity to kill him.”

“Nuve, now!” Seamus directs his mindless puppet to attack the defenseless twelve year old. Obediently he grabs a shard of his shattered arm and drives it toward the boy’s face.

“How dare you?” Husk spits at him.

“What?” Nuve’s arm stops.

“What happened?” Row tugs on Seamus’s sleeve. “Make him do it.”

“I'm trying,” Seamus assures her. Again Nuve attempts to stab the young boy in front of him.

“This is your god!” Husk bellows while backing away from the sharp shard of metal. “You will cease your attack, is that clear?”

“My god?” Nuve repeats slowly.

“Exactly. I hereby invoke my right as one of the nine. You are now a vassal in my service, young Nuve. Recognize me as your only master. You have a higher calling now.”

“Yes, milord.” Nuve shakes his head violently while blinking repeatedly. It takes him only a moment to overcome the control of Arma Venture. The same way Seamus and Champaign were immune to its effect back in Bos Stad because of their loyalty to Row, he is now under Husk’s similar protection. Instead, he now turns his shard of metal against Seamus.

“No way,” he is too surprised to react. Row is forced to pull him to the ground to keep him from being stabbed in the face by the shard of metal. She then tries to knock the weapon out of Nuve’s hand, only to have it scrape her arm in the process. “Stay back.” Seamus pushes her toward the other side of town. “You’re still weak. I'll fight them myself this time.”

“Can you really fight a demigod and a ghoul hunter?” Husk asks as he grows into his normal form again. Seamus has no time to respond as the metal ball from Husk’s mace is immediately upon him. It expands rapidly as it flies at his face. He ducks behind the carriage but it does him no good. The entire vehicle practically explodes as the metal ball smashes it to pieces. Several large splinters actually pierce Seamus’s flesh.

“Wow, that looks painful.” Nuve winces as the ball shrinks again, leaving Seamus lying face down in another crater. “I bet his bones are pulp.”

“That won't stop him,” Husk warns him.

“You’re kidding, right?” Nuve doesn’t believe him. Slowly Seamus’s body starts to move. Nuve can practically hear his bones shifting and realigning as he uses Wan’s power to heal himself. “He’s more of a monster than you.” Nuve shakes his head in disbelief.

Seamus’s eyes are practically glowing white when he finally rises to his feet. Blood is dripping down his face and torso. He looks angry enough to tear Husk limb from limb given the chance. “We’re not done yet,” Husk’s voice and attitude changes again as he rapidly starts to age. Once again a man of over two hundred stands before Seamus, pointing his mace at the sky and laughing.

“You’re mad,” Seamus whispers as lighting courses through the sky again. It strikes him straight in the forehead. He eyes roll back as his body starts to vibrate. Row has managed to make it a good distance away but she finally looks back when she hears the sizzling of electricity. What she sees horrifies her. Seamus’s skin is turning red and black as he is boiled alive.

“Try surviving that!” the old man wheezes before suddenly shrinking down into a boy again.

Row is trembling too much to move. Even if she did return to Seamus’s side she would be of no help. She can only hope that he remains conscious enough to shift his form again and heal himself. It is not a matter of energy; she gave him more than enough of her own strength while he was sleeping at the inn.

“Mother of god,” Nuve whispers as Seamus falls to his knees. His eyeballs have melted out of their sockets, leaving him to stare blankly at the hunter without actually seeing him. He is still breathing though. “What is he?” Nuve asks Husk.

“This is why it’s so difficult to kill a demigod,” Husk explains. “They are all but invincible.” Nuve stares transfixed as the redness of Seamus’s skin starts to fade. The blackened spots flake off while his eyes reform in their sockets.

“Wan was amazing, wasn’t he,” Nuve is utterly impressed.

“Which is why I shall avenge him,” Husk shouts as he grows into a young man again. The ball of his mace is already soaring down toward Seamus with tremendous speed. Though he is not completely healed yet, he still manages to raise one of his arms defensively. A silver strand of wire shoots up from his hand at the ball. It starts to coil around it rapidly as soon as it touches it.

Husk’s jaw drops in shock when he realizes that the end of his mace is no longer falling. It has been suspended in the air by Arma Scov. He tugs on the chain as hard as he can but it will not return to him. Finally he flicks his wrist, instructing it to shrink again, allowing it to slither out of the binding wire.

Seamus is already prepared for what happens next. Just as Husk grows into an old man again, Arma Scov latches onto the mace. A towering spire of wire rises into the sky, touching the lightning Husk is about to call down. The electricity courses through the silver thread until it reaches Arma Sorn and then it travels down into Husk’s body. The old man vibrates the same way Seamus did. He starts to foam at the mouth as his teeth chatter and the part of his hands touching the handle of the mace start to burn.

Nuve backs away from the violently shaking man as he falls to his knees. Unlike Seamus though, his eyes are still intact. “You’ll pay for that!” He spits a mouth full of blood at Seamus as he shrinks down into the form of a boy again. Seamus’s eyes are cold and grey as he directs the silver wire to slither its way around Husk’s throat. “Do it,” Husk growls at him.

“I don’t like killing demigods,” Seamus responds calmly. “You are supposed to be the heroes of this world. You are the chosen nine. You hold the power to protect people. Swear to me that you will never raise your weapon to me again.”

“Has no one explained this to you, boy?” Husk manages to smile while tugging at the wire, cutting his fingers in the process. “You’re on the wrong side. You don’t get to act normal. You show weakness like this and you die.” Suddenly Husk rises to his feet, growing into a man again. The wire cuts into his throat deeply but he does not care. He raises Arma Sorn into the air once more, casting a massive shadow over himself.

Seamus does not wait for him to attack though. He tugs on Arma Scov, digging into Husk’s neck and causing him to lose control of the mace. The giant ball plummets back down on top of it owner, crushing him in yet another enormous crater. Nuve is barely able to tumble out of the way in time. “You, you, you killed him.” His eyes are wide as he stares at Seamus in shock.

“I had no choice,” he responds calmly. “Now, what will you do?”

“I can't let you go.” Nuve shakes his head slowly. “I have to kill you.”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” Seamus sighs. Nuve takes a stance but it is pointless. Arma Scov slithers up his leg and drags him away from the crater just as Arma Sorn shrinks again. Suddenly a pillar of muddy light shoots down from the sky above, enveloping Seamus and Husk entirely.

“No, no, no, please don’t,” Row begs.

“He’s not going to stop.” Seamus directs her attention to Nuve as he rolls over on the ground before scampering back to his feet. It is a pitiful sight to see a boy flopping around with only one arm.

“You’ve lost,” Row shouts at him. “Just give it up.”

“He made me a vassal!” Nuve shouts back. “I have to keep fighting, no matter what. I have to obey the Bronze Cognition.”

“I am the Bronze Cognition!” Seamus bellows as the pillar of light fades back into the sky.

“No.” Nuve shakes his head. “I can't accept you.”

“Are you my vassal?” Seamus glares at him sternly. Again Nuve shakes his head. “Will you follow me?” Seamus raises his voice.

“N-n-no,” Nuve struggles to refuse.

“You are mine to command!” Seamus does not take no for an answer. “You will obey me!”

“Y-yes,” Nuve finally breaks down, practically sobbing as he collapses on the ground in utter defeat. Instinctively his left hand travels to the stump of his right arm, which is hurting worse than ever before. Seamus looks like his knees are about to buckle as well. He can't help but smile proudly at himself. He is not happy about having to kill Husk but at least he managed to avoid ending Nuve as well.

Just as he is about to let himself fall unconscious again though, screaming from Row catches his attention. “Behind you.” She points at a mass of ghouls collecting at the edge of the first crater. They had been waiting patiently during the skirmish but now it seems they are prepared to renew their attack.

Instinctively Seamus grabs the nearest weapon with the intention of fighting, which just so happens to be Arma Sorn. As soon as he clenches his fist though, his body starts to shift form without warning. His head is spinning too much for him to seize control of Wan’s power though. Before he can stop it he has taken the appearance of a young boy, just like Husk. He looks just like he did when he first met Row.

The ghouls see no reason to show him mercy though. They leap over the crater at him with claws out and mouths open. He strikes the closest one with the ball of the mace while having Arma Scov form a crisscrossed grid to block the rest of them. The razor wire slices through their dark flesh, drawing thick blood from its wounds. “What is this?” Seamus stares at his boyish hands.

“You’re young again,” Row’s voice reflects more interest than anything else.

“Yeah, but why? I can't shift back either.” He grunts as his eyes flicker silver for a moment. They quickly return to Husk’s bronze brown though.

“Remember what I said about a demigod’s aura? As long as you are using magic like this, you can't use your powers. The only reason you’re not a shriveled old man is because the youth spell activated on its own.”

“What do I do then?” Seamus gasps. “I can't fight like this. I won't be able to repair myself.”

“You, defend us,” Row orders Nuve.

“What?” He lifts his face from the ground, blinking at her stupidly. Seamus grabs his sword from the ground where it fell when he was struck by lighting. Its scabbard has burned away and the blade is scorched but it is otherwise unharmed. He places it in Nuve’s left hand before moving to cower behind him. “I'm not your knight, little boy,” Nuve growls at him.

“You’re the closest we have to one and you will fight for me, won't you?” Seamus tries to sound authoritative even though his voice is that of a child.

“Yes, master,” Nuve grumbles while taking a stance between him and the ghouls. Arma Scov is still keeping them at bay for the moment though. “You know, we’re never going to survive this,” he changes his tone after a moment.

“You’re a hunter, aren’t you?” Seamus stares up at him like some sort of hero.

“I'm just one man and I only have one arm.” Nuve wriggles his stump. “This town is done for. Our only option is to flee.” Seamus glances at Nuve’s and Husk’s horses, both of which are simply standing at the edge of the nearest crater. Neither one is even the slightest bit scared. They must face danger like this with their masters quite often.

Row can see what Seamus is thinking. She glances around for another carriage. The only one she can finds is slightly larger than their destroyed one. It is already starting to burn along with the rest of the city though. She quickly grabs a blanket from their own destroyed cart and starts to bat back the flames. Seamus joins in and together they are able to douse the fire.

Nuve has already retrieved both horses and begun to tether them to the front of their new vehicle. Row retrieves a large trunk from the broken carriage which she tosses up into the back of the new one while Nuve stands guard.

The ghouls are still cutting themselves on Arma Scov as they struggle to push through. Seamus is unable to lift Row into the carriage like he normally does, forcing Nuve to do it instead. He doesn’t seem to mind though as he actually smiles. Seamus is a different story though. He almost drops him as he lifts him up onto the bench before climbing up after.

Arma Scov finally disperses as Seamus cracks the reins. It slithers up the side of the carriage and wraps itself neatly around its owners arm, almost like a living snake. Nuve waves the sword at the first line of ghouls to swarm when they realize the barrier has been removed. He does not make contact with any of them but quite a few are scared enough to slow down, falling behind the pace of the carriage which is much faster than the one horse carriage.

“My god,” Row whispers as she stares back at the burning town after they cross into the forest. There are several more ghouls hiding in the trees, glaring at them with glowing yellow eyes but they are going too fast to catch. Instead they simply growl as their would-be prey slips past.

“How long do you suppose this is going to last?” Seamus asks while staring at his boyish hands.

“I don’t know,” Row admits. “For now we’ll have to rely on Nuve to act as an adult for us.”

“I'm not your dad,” Nuve spits angrily.

“For now, you could pass for a father,” Seamus tries not to laugh.

“Mark my words, usurper, I shall escape from this servitude one day,” Nuve spouts while snatching the reins from him so he can steer the carriage himself. Row and Seamus share a concerned glance as he climbs into the back with her.

The young bloodsucker can not hide her excitement for long though. She had not realized how much she longed to see Seamus as a child again until this moment. She had hated the fact that he had grown up while she remained trapped in her small body. She is not planning to let this opportunity pass her by. With no memories of how mean he used to be to her and a much more open opinion of bloodsuckers now, Row is positive she will enjoy her childhood with Seamus much better this time, if the situation persists long enough that is.
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