Blood Oath

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Working Girl

Nuve yawns and stretches as he waits outside the large red building at the edge of the market. He has already rung the bell by the curtained entrance twice and he is sure the occupants know he is outside. Finally a middle aged woman in a fancy robe, long enough to trail on the ground behind her, emerges from behind the curtain. “Good day, milady.” Nuve greets her with an exaggerated bow.

She stares at him with a perplexed look on her face while wrinkling her nose in distaste. Her graying black hair is done up in a large bun with two long ivory sticks poking out with beads dangling from the end of each. The wrinkles on her face have been masked well with makeup, making her look much younger than she actually is. “Did you want something, sir?” she asks as politely as possible.

“I am in the right place, aren’t I?” Nuve tries to peek past her under the curtain.

“This is a gentlemen’s call house,” the woman informs him. “I am Madame Evera. What is it that you want?”

“Isn't it obvious? I’d like to buy some time with one of your lovely young ladies,” Nuve spouts honestly.

“Surely you must be joking,” she scoffs.

“No.” He shakes his head. “I’ve been traveling for more than a day and fighting even before that. I need to relax a little. Bring me a girl good with her hands. I need a massage.”

“I shall do no such thing.” Madame Evera looks appalled. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”

“Past luncheon I’d bet.” He glances up at clock tower visible from the market.

“The early hours are reserved for men of high lineage and political affiliation,” she informs him. “You’ll have to come back when we are open to the public.”

“I have money.” Nuve holds up a small pouch jingling with coins. He received it as payment from the people of Quess for scaring off the ghouls on the first night they attacked.

“That’s hardly the issue,” Madame Evera argues. “I can't have you snooping about and violating the privacy of our esteemed clients. We exercise great discretion here.”

“Oh sure, sure.” Nuve nods enthusiastically. “I understand completely. I promise not to bother any of the other customers.”

“You don’t understand at all,” she groans.

“Madame, what is going on?” a young woman emerges from behind the curtain. She is wearing a similar robe with less fancy tassels. “Who is he?”

“No one, dear. Go back inside.” Evera tries to shoo her away.

“Hold on, is he missing an arm?” The woman reaches for Nuve’s stump.

“So what if I am?” He backs away defensively.

“Ah, I hadn’t even noticed.” Evera’s eyes widen with interest.

“The poor thing; I bet he can't get a woman to look at him twice without paying her,” the woman continues her thoughtless chatter.

Nuve glares at her angrily before opening his mouth to argue. “I'll have you know I…”

Just then another woman pushes her way through the curtain. “Cira, where’d you go?” she whines to her peer.

“Look at this man, Elise. He’s missing a limb,” Cira is having too much fun laughing at Nuve.

“Quiet now, that’s not polite.”

“I'm terribly sorry about her.” Madame Evera shoos Cira back into the brothel. “Is there anything I can do for you, sir?”

“You can let me buy a massage from one of your girls,” Nuve grumbles.

“Um, of course,” she finally gives in. “Cira and Elise are free right now, aren’t you girls?”

“Ew, I don’t want to do it,” Cira whines. “Make Elise do it?”

“What makes you think I want to?” Elise spits back. “Oh, sorry.” She winces when she realizes Nuve heard her.

“If it’s aright with you, I’d rather someone else.” Nuve is struggling to keep calm.

“What about Minto,” Cira suggests. “She is never busy.”

“She pretty much just lazes about all day,” Elise agrees with her friend. “Honestly she’s more trouble than she’s worth.”

“Now you two shut it,” Evera snaps at them. “I won't have you badmouthing my niece. It’s not her fault she’s an invalid.”

“Is she now?” Nuve’s interest is piqued. “Is she missing an arm or a leg?” he almost sounds hopeful.

“Nothing so dramatic, sir.” Evera waves her hand as if to push the thought from his head. “You’ll see what I mean when you meet her… that is, if you want her,” she adds after a moment. It is too late for Nuve to change his mind now; he is already far too curious. “Right this way.” Madame Evera leads him past the curtain.

What awaits him is a long maze like hall with many more curtains covering the doors to other rooms, probably filled with other customers. The only light is what shines in from several high windows. It creates a mysterious atmosphere with shimmering dust visible in the air. “I like this place,” Nuve mutters as he is led to a room at the very back.

“Of course you do, dear,” Evera coos softly as she struts away. “Everyone loves Madame Evera’s call house. That’s why they always come back.”

Nuve takes a seat on an especially soft chair, covered with cloth. Once again the room is only lit by the sun shining in through high windows. It almost feels like a prison cell with a much cozier appearance. “Excuse me,” the shrill voice of an unrefined young woman disturbs Nuve from his thoughts. “I'm coming in now.”

“Ah, you must be Minto.” Nuve stands up to bow as the curtain flutters aside, revealing a round face powdered with more makeup than anyone should ever wear. Again she is clad in a long robe that trails at her feet. Her hair is thick and black like her aunt’s must have been once. Like Madame Evera she has two sticks poking through a knot on the back of her head. They are made of dark wood though, not ivory.

“Yes, I am Minto,” she responds to his greeting while setting a tray down on a small table near the entrance. “May I ask you name as well?”

“Um, Nuve,” he gulps nervously. “I'm sorry if I'm not your normal type of customer.”

“I don’t have a normal type,” she informs him. “I pretty much just handle the slobs and sods the other girls don’t want.”

“That’s kind of mean of them, isn’t it?” Nuve feels both guilty and annoyed that he has been lumped into the same group as the undesirables.

“It can't be helped.” She shrugs. “I can't handle very many clients. It stands to reason I don’t get to pick the ones I want; not that I’d know the first thing about how to pick men.”

“Um, should you be telling me all this?” Nuve raises an eyebrow. “Aren't you supposed to put on an air of submissiveness for your customer?”

“Is that what you’re into? I suppose I could give that a try. What would you ask of me, master?” she asks in a cold and stiff voice.

“I can see what you mean about not getting many customers,” Nuve mutters. “Alright then, let’s start with a massage. I see you brought plenty of oils.” He turns his attention toward the tray she set down a moment ago.

“If you would remove your shirt and lie on the mat in front of you, I shall begin.” Minto pours one of the cups of oil from the tray onto her hands and prepares to rub it into Nuve’s back. Despite expecting the worst, Nuve is pleasantly surprised to learn that this young woman is not horrible at giving massages. “Wow, you have so many knots in your muscles,” she mutters as she rubs the oil into his skin.

“I’ve had a rough couple of days,” he admits. “Say, you’re pretty good at this.”

“Should I not be?” she seems offended.

“Being the niece of the owner, I thought you might…”

“Might be a snobbish elitist who refuses to earn her keep?” Minto cuts him off.

“That wasn’t exactly what I meant,” he mumbles guiltily.

“My mother died when I was young. I was given two choices; live on the street or come and work for my aunt.”

“I'm not sure you made the right choice,” Nuve sighs.

“Trust me, I made the only choice,” her voice is deliberate. She is obviously remembering something he doesn’t know.

“I'm sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you,” Nuve tries to back track.

“It’s fine. It’s not like you could know anything about me.” Her cold response bothers him greatly. For some reason he doesn’t like the fact that she is unhappy. If she were a simple girl who enjoyed her work like Cira seemed to be then he could leave it alone. “Oh god, what is that?” she suddenly screams as her hand passes over the stump where his arm should be.

“Oh, I thought you noticed already,” Nuve apologizes quickly.

“You, you, you don’t got no arm,” she stutters. Her pretentious elite accent and lady like tone also disappear as she reveals her true voice.

“You sound like you grew up on the streets,” Nuve stifles a laugh.

“Got a problem with that?” she spouts angrily. “Why? Why don’t you have two arms? What happened to you?”

“It’s a long story I’d rather not get into right now,” he refuses to answer her.

“Now I know why they gave you to me; those pathetic wenches,” she continues to grumble.

“Is it really that bad?” Nuve is starting to take offense.

“Oh no, it don’t bother me none,” her accent has remained unrefined since her original outburst. “It’s not like I can even see it.”

“Huh?” Nuve rolls over onto his back. Minto’s hands slide over onto his stomach as she refrains from moving them. Staring up into her powdered face he can see the clouded pupils of her eyes. “You’re blind,” he whispers.

“You finally realized.” She manages to smile at him.

“That’s why you didn’t have a choice.” Nuve’s mind is once again swimming with guilt. What kind of person forces a blind woman to work in a brothel? Everything Cira and Elise said seems so much more cruel now. “I, I'm sorry,” he tries to apologize.

“I don’t want your pity,” she scoffs.

“I'll be leaving now.” He stands up, nearly knocking her over in the process.

“Wait, what about my pay,” she reminds him.

“Oh.” He quickly pulls his coin purse out again. “How much is a massage anyway?”

The jingling of coins draws Minto’s attention. “Wow, that sounds like a lot of money. What do you do for a living, mister?”

“I'm a ghoul hunter,” he answers honestly.

“That must pay handsomely.” She is licking her lips now.

“It has its good days.” Nuve’s eyes narrow. “How much do I owe you again?” He is suddenly in a hurry to leave.

“A full massage would be five copper pieces but you’re leaving early so I'll only charge you four.” She holds up her fingers as she counts.

“No, I'll pay you five,” he offers immediately.

“Really? That’s so sweet of you.” She wraps her arms around his shoulders to hug him. “I'll have to give you something special for being such a sweet customer.”

“That’s okay; I really think I should be going.” Nuve is backing towards the door with his shirt in hand.

“Wait, it’ll only take a second.” Minto grabs a different cup of oil from her tray and splashes it on Nuve’s back.

“Seriously, I need to leave now,” Nuve raises his voice in annoyance.

“Wow, you’re a tough one,” Minto starts to giggle.

“Tough?” he repeats while staring at her in confusion. Suddenly a bolt of pain shoots through his body. “What the…? What did you do to me?” He lifts his left arm enough to see a green liquid running down it.

“It’s poison,” she admits. “I’ve poisoned you.”

“Why?” he groans while staggering backwards.

“Simple, you have something I want.” She slips the purse of money out of his hand while lowering him back down to the rug. “Sleep now. It’ll be over soon.” He reaches a shaky hand toward her face but he can't say anything any more. The last thing he sees before falling unconscious is the back of her head as she disappears through the curtain with his money.

In the hall Minto immediately bumps into Cira. “Watch where you’re going, you invalid,” she snaps at her.

“Haha,” Minto pretends to laugh.

“Hey, weren’t you with that gimp?” Cira recalls.

“He fell asleep.” Minto shrugs.

“I don’t care if he’s dead. You keep going until the customer is satisfied, got it?” Cira seems to take joy in talking down to Minto.

The blind girl wrinkles her nose in annoyance while brushing past her peer. She does not care to listen to anything Cira is saying. With the money she has just stolen she should be able to get away from this horrible place and start a life on her own. With any luck she will never see her aunt or any of the other girls again.

“Hey, I'm still talking to you,” Cira calls after her as she leaves through the front of the building. “I'm telling Madame Evera on you.”

Minto heaves a sigh of relief as soon as she is out of earshot. She has never liked the stuffy atmosphere of her aunt’s call house and is glad to be rid of it. She may not be able to see sunlight but she can definitely tell the difference between indoors and the outside and she prefers fresh air.

She hails a carriage in the street and asks the driver to take her to the other side of the market area. It takes her a moment to recognize which coins in Nuve’s bag are copper and which are silver but she manages to pay the driver without resorting to asking him and potentially letting him rob her.

She knows exactly where she is going as soon as she steps out of the carriage. She has walked around the market during her free time away from the call house as often as possible. There is a small wooden stall at the very edge of the district. It is operated by an old woman with a black shawl covering her hair and thin fingers with bulbous knuckles. “Ah, welcome back, my child,” the woman recognizes her immediately.

“Hello, Lady Maralee.” Minto does a quick curtsy.

“What brings you all the way out here?” the woman is slightly confused. “Surely your working day has only just begun.”

“With any luck, today was my last working day ever,” Minto grumbles. She can hardly believe one of her customers was dumb enough to bring this much money into the brothel with him; a man with only one arm no less. His disability made him a prime target for even a blind girl. She does not feel the slightest bit guilty either. Surely any of her peers would have done the exact same thing. Relying on poison was a necessity of being blind however.

“Well, I can tell you’re in a good mood.” Maralee smiles at the young girl, knowing full well she can't see her at all.

“Do you remember what we talked about last time I came, Maralee?” Minto asks with a note of excitement in her voice.

“Of course I do. How could I forget?” Maralee starts to dig around amongst the items underneath her stall. “Ah, here we are. One seeing eye potion, as requested. I told you I could procure anything.”

“Excellent, Maralee. Give it to me.”

“A-a-a, not so fast.” Maralee slaps her hand. “I also told you it was damn expensive. I seriously doubt you could procure the type of money I'm talking about in your current line of business.”

“Consider that business a thing of the past.” Minto holds out a stack of five gold coins.

Maralee is immediately taken aback. “Wow, in all my years I never expected that from a girl such as you. Somewhere some rich man is missing that, ain't he?”

“It’s none of your concern.” Minto snatches the glass vial of black liquid from her while setting the coins down on the top of the stall.

“Careful now, it’s not permanent,” Maralee warns her.

Minto shakes her head. “I don’t care. I can't go on living not knowing. I need to see the world for myself at least once in my lifetime.”

“Well this’ll do it,” Maralee assures her. She watches intently as Minto drains the vial into her mouth. The effect is almost immediate. Minto’s eyes darken as they become usable for the first time in her life.

“My god,” she gasps as she looks around. “It’s exactly how I imagined it. You, you’re beautiful, Maralee.”

“Well thank you, child, but I'm far from what I used to be. I'm well aware that I'm past my prime.”

“I'm serious, Maralee. Look at all these people. How do I know what people look like?” Minto is gawking at every passing stranger.

“It’s basic instinct, child,” Maralee answers. “Every creature has at least some form of knowledge when they are born. Even though you never saw another person’s face before, your mind still knows what people should look like. Isn't it wonderful?”

“It is.” Minto nods. “I can't believe what I’ve been missing. I…” her voice trails off as she catches sight of a tall man in fancy attire passing through the market place.

“What is it, child?” Maralee can tell she is disturbed.

“What in god’s name is that thing?” Minto points at the man. “He’s a perfect monster.”

“Really?” Maralee raises an eyebrow. “He looks like a normal person to me.”

“Exactly.” Minto snaps her fingers. “He looks just like one of us, but he’s not. He’s not even human.”

“You can tell?” Maralee is impressed. “Now this is a surprise. I didn’t realize how deeply engrained your instincts would be.”

“I don’t understand?” Minto cocks her head to the side.

“You can tell what a human is supposed to look like; not only that, you can tell when something is pretending to be human.”

“Who would pretend to be a human?” Minto is still confused.

“Bloodsuckers, my child,” Maralee whispers.

“Bloodsuckers?” Minto repeats in a startled voice.

Maralee quickly covers her mouth. “Don’t be too loud. There could be dozens of them around here and you wouldn’t even know it. This city’s over due for a visit from a demigod. It’s become too much of a haven for those devils.”

“I still don’t get it,” Minto whines. “Are you telling me that those horrible creatures everyone is always talking about are here in the city?”

“They’ve been here since before you were born,” Maralee informs her. “A tenth of this city’s population is made up of bloodsuckers.”

“That’s horrible,” Minto gasps. “Why isn’t anyone doing anything?”

“Because they can't.” Maralee shrugs. “Lord Glasstien would rather let these creatures run rampant than surrender even the slightest bit of authority to any of the Nine.”

“The legendary remaining demigods,” Minto mutters to herself. It is a story she has heard many times from the other girls of the brothel and the passing customers. “What exactly am I supposed to do now, Maralee?”

“Enjoy your eyesight while it lasts,” she suggests. “It’ll be gone in ten hours so you may as well take in the city for at least one good night, eh?”

“But what about those things?” Minto cringes. “Do I point them out to the guard?”

“No!” Maralee almost shouts. “You can't do something so disruptive. Rather than being grateful, the guard will become suspicious of you. Furthermore, any bloodsuckers who realize you can identify them will try to silence you. No good can come of you sticking your neck out. Survive as we all do in this city; by remaining ignorant to the obvious truth of it.”

Minto clenches her fist but says nothing. She knows Maralee is right. It is not worth getting herself involved with the plight of the bloodsuckers. For now she should focus on enjoying the limited time she has with her new found sight. In fact, her first decision is to spend a good amount of time walking through the market and seeing if there is something worth buying with all of the money she has just acquired.

As she walks through the streets of the market, her mouth hangs open in awe. Everything is something she has never seen before. Maralee was right though; on instinct, she can tell what most things are supposed to be. The smells she always used to recognize food remain the same, as do the textures of fabric and other wares.

Every once in a while though she comes across another pale figure with a strange feeling about them. They look exactly like normal people but she is positive they are not. They must be more of those horrible creatures known as bloodsuckers. How can so many of them exist in one city; in one sector for that matter. She almost wants to hold her breath every time one walks past.

None of them seem even remotely aware of her though. She is no different than the dozens of other humans blissfully unaware of how close they actually are to the monstrous creatures. She wishes desperately that she could not tell the difference; that she could talk to these creatures as if she had no idea what they are. When her sight fades, she will still be unable to forget them. She will never again feel quite as safe living in Glass Gate.

Somehow the dread of encountering bloodsuckers around every corner is still outweighed by the miracle of being able to see for the first time in her life. She stops at every stall and talks to every owner about what they are selling, or nothing at all in general. Her relaxing stroll is not interrupted until she encounters a band of men gathered around a small booth made from splintered wood.

It is a gambling game, run by a young boy no older than ten. He is shifting three shells around on top of his makeshift table and asking the greasy men if they can guess which one has a copper coin underneath. Every wrong guess forces them to add another copper piece to a pot setting off to the side of the booth. When someone finally guesses right, they are expected to win half of its contents while the boy keeps the rest.

“Watch where you’re going.” One of the men bumps into Minto quite deliberately as she tries to slip past.

“Sorry, sir.” She curtsies politely before attempting to scurry off.

“Hold on.” Another one of the men moves to block her path. “Are you a working girl?”

“What?” Minto is not thinking clearly. “Oh.” She realizes what he means after glancing down at her long robe. “I'm not actually working at the moment.”

“Doesn’t matter; he can't afford you anyway.” A different gambler slaps the man on the back. “He’s done put twenty pieces of copper in the pot already. I swear this game’s rigged.”

“Really? How many times have you won so far?” Minto’s interest is piqued.

“None,” three men spout at once. “Not once have we been correct. You’d think there’d at least be a one in three chance of gettin’ it right, wouldn’t ya? The little rat must have a trick up his sleeve.”

Minto’s intrigue is only growing. She could stand to watch for a moment. It does not actually cost anything to watch; only to guess. “I know that look.” One of them smirks at her. “You think you understand the game already. I'll tell ya, it ain't as easy as it looks. Just give it a go and you’ll see.” He places his hands on her shoulders and moves her forward so she is standing in front of him. “Alright, now watch the shell with the coin.”

“Does he show you where it was every time?” Minto asks when the boy lifts the left shell to reveal the coin.

“He has to or we’d think there never was a coin to begin with.”

“And then he starts sliding them around,” Minto mutters to herself as she watches the boy do just that. Round and round in circles he swirls them, making sure every single one of the men trying to follow the coin with their eyes fails miserably. “It’s impossible,” she whispers.

“What? What did you see?” The man with his hands on her shoulders is suddenly excited.

“No, nothing important,” she calms him down quickly. “It’s just that he’s definitely making it a game of chance. There is no way you’ll ever be able to follow it to the end. He’s watching each of you and making sure you’ve all blinked or looked away for a moment, or just plain lost track of the coin, before he even stops. He’ll keep it up forever if he has to.”

“We get that, lass.” The man nods in agreement, letting his beard brush against the sticks in her hair. “What we don’t get is how come randomly guessing don’t win us anything either. Look, look here. He’s done movin’ 'em. Watch and see if you can guess where the coin is.”

“Okay, well I’d guess the center one then.” She points confidently.

“Really? Why?”

“Well towards the end he was just spinning the two outer ones around it while waiting for me to blink. I'm almost positive he never moved the center one again after that.”

“Let’s see if your right then.” The man tosses a copper coin into the pot.

“Wait, I didn’t say you should trust me,” Minto suddenly panics. She has no idea what these men might do if she ends up losing them a lot of money.

“Don’t worry, I don’t expect to win. Just watch.” He holds her head still as the boy lifts up the center shell. Sure enough, there is nothing underneath it.

“Wait, that’s not fair. I saw it.” Minto lurches forward.

“I told you it was harder than it looked,” the man laughs. “Nice effort though. You really thought you could keep your eye on it the entire time, did ya?”

“No, I knew it was in the center one,” Minto wails while flailing her arms around, trying to free herself from the man’s overly friendly grip. “I could hear the coin scrapping the wood under the shell.”

“Now you’re just makin' things up,” the man is still laughing at her. “How can you possibly hear anything over all this racket?” He gestures to the crowd of screaming men.

“Alright then, show me,” she demands. “Show me where the coin really is.” Obediently the boy lifts the left shell with an elegant sweeping motion, revealing a rather shiny copper coin underneath.

“What?” Minto’s jaw drops. “But that’s… that’s not fair. I know I was right. He’s, he’s cheating.”

“Of course he is.” The man pats her shoulder. “The aim of the game is to figure out how.”

“I want to play again.” Minto slams her palms down on the booth.

“Easy now, lass. Ya ain't wastin’ any more of my money on this.”

“I'll use my own.” She digs around in the coin purse she has hidden inside her robe. Some of the men try to leer at the silk dress she has on underneath but she quickly folds it shut again.

“You make a lot of money at the call house?” the man behind her asks with a greedy glint in his eye.

“I just made out better today than usual,” she lies. “I got to leave early as a reward.”

“Really now?” The man leans over the top of her head so he can stare down her front. He is still unable to see into her robe though.

“Madame Evera didn’t let me take my earnings with me of course,” Minto makes a desperate excuse. “This is just the tip my last customer gave me.”

“Is that so?” The man does not look convinced in the slightest.

“Here we go again!” the boy’s shrill voice draws both of their attention. “One, two, three, stop!” he shouts as he brings the shells to a halt in a neat row.

“That was amazing.” Minto’s jaw is once more agape. “You heard what I said about listening to them drag, didn’t you?” The boy stares back at her with a blank expression, the best face to bluff with. “I know how he’s doing it,” Minto mutters so only the boy and the man behind her can hear. A slight look of concern gleams in the boy’s eye. “You tried too hard to mask the sound this time.”

“What are you saying?” the man is becoming impatient. “Where is the bloody coin?”

“Coins,” Minto corrects him. The man furrows his brow in confusion. “There are three of them,” she elaborates. “There are three coins; one under each shell.”

“No there ain't,” the man scoffs. “He showed you there weren’t before.”

“He lifted up the shell I pointed to, along with the coin underneath,” she explains.

“You lost me again.” The man grabs his head as if thinking is too much work for him.

“I realized it when he lifted the other shell,” Minto continues. “He did such an exaggerated motion to make sure the coin would be left behind.” The man is still clutching at his head, prompting Minto to explain further. “There is something inside those shells that attracts the copper coin. I’d say he used telekinetic magic except that he would have run out of mana by now if he were.”

“So what did he use?” The man has managed to calm down enough to listen to her again.

“I don’t really know.” She shrugs. “Haven't you ever found two pieces of metal which simply attract for no reason?”

“Well yes, but copper doesn’t do that,” he argues.

“Which brings be to my second realization. All three of these coins are perfectly shiny; too shiny, in fact. There is some other metal mixed in with the copper which is attracted to another metal in the shell. While he shifts them around, the coins are drawn up into the top of the shell. He jerks his hand so violently when he lifts them to make sure the coins are left behind.”

“Brilliant, just brilliant.” The man claps. His hands are too close to Minto’s ears though, causing her to cringe. “Now all that’s left is to prove it.” He snatches two of the shells off the table and turns them over. As explained by Minto, there are two shiny copper coins clinging to the inside. “Magnificent, absolutely amazing. I think this is the first time in my life I’ve ever been impressed with a working girl.”

“Thanks, I think.” Minto frowns at him.

“So that means we win, don’t it?” The man reaches for the pot, only to have his hand swatted by the boy. “Hey, what’s the big idea?”

“Thank you for not revealing the trick to everyone,” the boy whispers while leaning close to Minto. “Unfortunately you will never again be allowed to play, understood?” Minto nods with a disappointed look on her face. “You neither, old man.” The boy waves his hand at him as if to shoo him away.

“Just give me the money,” he grumbles.

“As promised, here is your half.” The boy splits the pile of coins down the middle unceremoniously, leaving the smaller half on the table while scooping the rest into his hat. “Take your money and go.” He shoves the rest toward Minto.

“You’re going to continue?” she is taken aback.

“Now that you’ve proven the game can be won, more people will try their hand at it,” he explains. “You’ve only helped me in the end. Now please leave.” Minto has a giddy expression on her face as she sweeps the remaining coins into a handkerchief and ties it in a knot. When she turns to leave though, she comes face to face with the man who has been standing behind her the entire time.

“I believe you have something of mine.” He holds out his hand.

“Nah uh, you paid for the first round, I paid for the second round,” she reminds him. “This is all mine.”

“Technically, I paid for half of your tries. That means I get half your winnings, to say the least. Hows about you hand it over before I have to mess up your makeup.” Minto touches her face as she remembers that she is still wearing the excessive powder from her work. As she had no way of knowing when enough was enough, she always had to ask one of the other girls for help with it; today just so happened to be Cira’s turn.

Minto takes a deep breath while wiping a good portion of her makeup off. “Your intention was to mock me. You did absolutely nothing to help figure out how he was cheating. I earned this money myself,” she tries to maintain her confidence.

He sighs loudly while pinching the bridge of his nose. He seems to consider hassling her to be tiring. “Did you hear the boy? I'm not allowed to play anymore either. You’ve ruined the game for me. You should compensate me for that lost opportunity.”

“What loss?” she scoffs. “It’s not like you would have ever figured it out on your own.”

The man’s face turns a deep shade of purple. “Did you just call me stupid?” he growls at her through clenched teeth.

“Wow, you figured that all out on your own,” she can't help but push him even further over the edge. She knows she is playing with fire but she can't help it. She stole more than enough money from her one armed customer. She could simply give this man what he wants and leave. For some reason she is enjoying the excitement though. She wants to live as much as she can in this moment. Besides, the more money she has, the more of these seeing eye potions she can purchase from Maralee.

“You really want to make me stoop so low as to hit a lady,” the man hisses at her. “I'll give you one last chance to hand over the money or…”

Minto doesn’t let him finish. Instead she leaps up on her tiptoes and presses her cheek against his lips, smearing them with white powder. Then she promptly begins to scream at the top of her lungs. “Help, help me please. This man is asking for service without paying!” Immediately the crowd parts, creating a circle around the pair.

The man glances around in fear for a moment before realizing that none of these gambling men are going to help the screaming prostitute. “Bad idea,” he laughs at her while lifting her off her feet by the front of her robe.

“Guards? Anybody?” She is the one glancing around now, searching for anyone nearby who would be willing to involve themselves for the sake of a lady. Again the man waits, making sure no one is coming. When he is sure her pleas have fallen on deaf ears, he rips open her robe with the intention of retrieving both the money she has just won and what he saw dangling from her sash before.

“Hey, what’s going on here then?” Finally someone outside the circle of gamblers decides to interfere. The thief quickly drops Minto onto the ground while trying to wipe the powder from his lips. “Have you paid for her services?” a tall man, with broad shoulder, emphasized by metal shoulder guards, and light stringy hair, steps through the circle. He is quickly followed by a square jawed man with darker shorter hair and a small tuft of a beard.

“Who are you?” the thief demands. “You are not of the guard. What gives you the right to judge me?”

“I may not serve the Lord Glasstien but I am a guard captain all the same,” the blonde one speaks. “I serve the late Lord Ironglave in the castle of Massmede. My name is Token.”

“I am vassal to the demigod Turok,” his partner answers next. “My name is Grange. Perhaps you have heard of me or my brother Amon.”

Immediately a rumble of murmurs travels through the circle. Obviously some of them have heard of him. “What, what are you doing here?” the thief is suddenly nervous. “Surely something so trivial does not interest you.”

“The cries of help from a lady are always my concern, even one so wretched as this one,” Token answers pompously. Minto glares at him but says nothing. She is not going to take this sudden gift of interference for granted.

“Well… as you can see, this harlot has taken my money yet refused me service,” the thief makes something up on the spot.

“Is this so?” Token turns a suspicious eye toward Minto.

“Never in your dreams, sir,” she answers in the sweetest and most innocent voice she can muster. “I am not working right now. I am merely purchasing supplies for my madam,” she comes up with a believable excuse as well.

“My, this is a poor situation, isn’t it?” Grange smirks at Token.

“Don’t act like it doesn’t concern us,” the guard captain snaps at him.

“It doesn’t concern us,” Grange spits back. “We are on our way to negotiate with Grand Bishop Tasler for the right to operate within the city. We can't afford to waylay ourselves with every poor prostitute we pass. Do you have a soft spot for working women, Token?”

“Enough.” Token’s eyes flare angrily. “You may hold the position of vassal to a demigod but I am guard captain to a lord…”

“A deceased lord,” Grange corrects him.

“I will not have my authority questioned by the likes of you,” Token raises his voice.

“Lords are so annoying,” Grange grumbles. “We are doing the Lord Glasstien a favor by coming here. He is lucky my master felt the loss of Wan a few days ago and decided to send us as aid. I'm fairly certain he won't accept it though.”

“If you keep your mouth shut and present yourself as a mere servant of Lord Ironglave like myself then everything should turn out perfectly,” Token hisses at him.

“What are they arguing about?” the men in the circle begin to mutter amongst themselves again.

“I think they are vassals to the demigod Turok.”

“Do you suppose he’s coming here?”

“Will he finally put an end to these roaming bloodsuckers? I can't let me wife and daughter go out at night anymore for fear they’ll be devoured by these creatures.”

“Great, now you’ve started rumors,” Token blames Grange for the sudden bout of whispering. The vassal merely rolls his eyes in response. He does not care what people think of him in the slightest. He did not become a vassal to protect people from bloodsuckers. He lives strictly for the hunt; and now, revenge against the former knight Champaign for his fallen brother.

“Um, if you could just tell this man to leave me alone, I shall be on my way.” Minto tries to slip past the circle of men. She stops in her tracks though when a chill runs down her spine. “Bloodsucker,” she whispers as a pale man stalks past.

“Where?” Both Token and Grange spin around, drawing there swords in the process.

“Well… I… I'm not sure,” Minto sputters nervously. She is positive the man she just saw was a bloodsucker but she does not know if telling these two bickering men is a good idea. As Maralee said, she could do more harm to herself in the process.

“There he is.” Grange points his sword at the pale man.

“How can you tell?” Token is skeptical.

“I’ve been hunting these things for years. I can spot weak bloodsuckers from a mile away,” Grange starts to brag as he breaks through the circle to chase the man. It is only a moment before he realizes he is being pursued though and decides to leap over the next building in order to escape.

“Weak, eh?” Token snorts at Grange.

“He must have just fed,” he makes an excuse while running around the side of the building.

“We are definitely going to be late to the meeting with the Grand Bishop now,” Token sighs as he follows after his partner. The commotion has been more than enough to allow Minto to escape. When the thief turns his attention back to his prey, he finds nothing but a circle of men gossiping about everything that has just happened. Soon they all begin to disperse, leaving the man by himself to curse angrily while kicking at the cobblestone street.
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