Blood Oath

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Sliver Bay

Nuve is the only one of his companions who is awake when the two coaches reach the city of Sliver Bay. It is a large port town at the edge of the ocean, making it a prime location for trade. Everything in sight looks grey and worn from the sea water in the air weathering it down. From his carriage, Nuve can see their destination; a grey stone castle with a large arena as its courtyard. Of course the stone wall surrounding it is all that is visible from their current location.

“Hey, someone wake him.” Nuve can hear the driver of Row’s and Seamus’s coach.

“Wait, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Nuve pokes his head out of the vehicle. Seamus has already been disturbed though and is now standing atop the driver’s bench waving his sword.

“What’s wrong with him?” the driver panics.

Nuve leaps from his carriage to the next one, snatching the sword from Seamus in the process. “Calm down, master,” he coos softly. “What’s the matter?”

“Humans, everywhere.” Seamus shudders. Nuve immediately notices that he has sprouted a pair of fangs similar to Row’s with the help of Wan’s shape shifting powers.

“You’re not a bloodsucker,” Nuve tries to calm him down. This was something he anticipated when he asked Lodar to read Row’s mind. Obviously there would be some difficulty replacing a human’s memory with that of a bloodsucker. It seems Seamus is having trouble remembering that he too is a human being.

Night terrors of this sort have become common place for Seamus as of recent. During his time as vassal to Seamus, Nuve has become accustom to dealing with these sudden outbursts. He almost feels sorry for the seventeen year old boy forced to endure four separate minds rattling around in his head.

Despite originally being disgruntled with his sudden servitude to this unlikely demigod, he has grown to respect at least some of Seamus’s strengths. The ability to remain sane despite everything he has been through is definitely worth praising. “Nuve?” Seamus reaches a shaky hand toward his vassal, which Nuve grabs and holds tightly.

“Calm down, milord. You’re not afraid of humans,” Nuve tries a different approach. “Some humans protect bloodsuckers.” He places Seamus’s hand on Row’s forehead. Slowly the bloodsucker starts to stir.

“Row?” Seamus’s eyes dilate slightly as his created fangs recede. Nuve is struck by curiosity as to whether he would have been actually able to siphon life energy like his mistress with them.

“Where are we?” Row yawns while stretching. “What do you want?” She quickly removes Nuve’s and Seamus’s linked hands from her face.

“Seamus? Have you come back to us?” Nuve releases his master’s hand and slaps his cheek lightly.

“Yeah, I think I'm okay.” He shivers violently.

“This is getting out of hand,” Row moans. “What are we going to do with him if he attacks us?”

“It’s not his fault,” Nuve sighs. “Perhaps there is a healer in Sliver Bay who can help him.”

“Wait, are we there yet?” Row scampers to the front of the coach to peek out. Her jaw falls open immediately at the sight of the seaside city. It is definitely less impressive than Glass Gate but she has not seen many different places since leaving her castle in Massmede. Everything is new and exciting. She likes to get lost in the wonder of visiting these magnificent places. It helps her forget that her entire life has been one of hiding.

“Where are we headed first?” the driver asks while smiling at her. He is a young man with a long blue trench coat and a matching three cornered hat to protect him from the weather outside the safety of the coach.

“Aren't we heading to the castle?” Row raises a confused eyebrow. “We were supposed to meet with Lord Louwits.”

“The lord is a busy man,” the driver informs her. “He has taken on all of the duties of his brother and ailing father in the past five years. This was something he was never groomed for.”

“How old is he though?” Nuve is suddenly curious.

“I hear that he is not yet twenty.” The driver shrugs.

“He’s younger than me.” Row’s eyes bulge.

“Wait, have you ever seen him?” Nuve continues to question the driver.

“Of course I have. He addressed the city after his brother’s passing. I must say, they look nothing alike. Lord Melwits was a spitting image of his father, Lord Sliverbane.”

“I thought Sliverbane was the family name. Doesn’t their father have a given name?” Seamus interjects.

“When the previous lord dies, their heir inherits the title of lord of the entire territory. His given name is forgotten forever more. If I remember correctly, my grandfather once told me the ailing lord’s name. It was something very similar to his sons. I think it was Culdwits or something like that.”

“That’s extremely suspicious.” Nuve mutters. Seamus and he are both scratching their chins while Row remains clueless.

“So, where would you like to go first?” the driver repeats his question from before. “I will be sure to collect you when the young lord actually does summon you to the castle. It may not even be today though. I could show you the lodgings you shall be using in the meantime, if you like. There is a special guesthouse near the castle for respected emissaries. It is right next to the armory.” He redirects their path toward the castle without waiting for a response.

“Hold on, what exactly do you think we have come to Sliver Bay for?” Nuve spouts. “What have you been told?”

“Well, only exactly what I was told the five other times. The young lord has been desperately searching for the perfect lady to serve at his side. We have sent word to several surrounding territories with very specific instructions. Five other women have come seeking to marry Lord Louwits only to be turned away. Here’s to hoping you finally impress our finicky lord.”

“I can't imagine many people wanting to marry a child,” Row mutters. Nuve immediately covers her mouth while shushing her. “What?” she mumbles through his hand.

“Lord Louwits is not a child,” he whispers. “His appearance is that of a twenty year old man.”

“But if he’s a royal bloodsucker like me, then…” Row tries to argue but Seamus is the one to shush her this time.

“His people don’t know that,” he answers. “Lord Louwits is of at least thirty-five years.”

“Wait, you both realized this?” Row’s eyes bulge again. “When were you planning on telling me?”

“You’re normally not this dense,” Seamus sighs. “I wonder if your pre-wedding reservations have you on edge.”

“I'm not even engaged yet.” She slaps his arm. “Tell me why you think he’s not actually twenty.”

“It’s obvious really. If he is a royal bloodsucker like you, then he ages slowly,” Nuve reminds her. “At the age of five, most bloodsuckers suddenly begin to age at half the rate of a human. Once they reach the age of thirty five they remain looking like a young human in pique condition. Finally when they reach the age of three hundred, they begin to deteriorate. Their extra features become more prominent.” Nuve touches one of Row’s slightly pointed ears to make his point.

Seamus looks annoyed with his vassal but does not do anything. “My mother never really explained anything about bloodsuckers to me,” Row admits. “She was always too busy preparing me for the Nine.”

“A caring act to say the least,” Seamus assures her. He is almost positive Row is not so weak as to feel dejected for not knowing enough about her own race but he still wants to praise her when he can. Nuve is being a little too blunt with his beautiful mistress.

“Wait, that doesn’t explain something,” Row gasps. “How can he be over thirty if everyone thinks he’s twenty? They must have noticed something was odd about him.”

“My guess is that he did not appear in public at all until he reached his current age. Here, I'll show you.” Nuve taps the driver on the shoulder. “Excuse me, good sir. When exactly did you learn that Lord Louwits would be inheriting the territory from his father and late brother?”

“What? Oh, um… that’s a hard question to answer.” The man scratches his head under his hat. “To be honest, I wasn’t even aware of Lord Louwits existence until after his brother passed. He sort o’ just appeared one day.”

Nuve gives Row and Seamus an I told you so look. “See, an entire family of bloodsuckers is hard to raise when they are constantly in the public’s eye,” he whispers. “My guess is that the ailing lord is not even ailing. Lord Sliverbane is as healthy as every with the appearance of a young man. He can't show his face anymore though because he is supposed to be nearly a hundred years old.”

Seamus and Row are both staring at him in shock now. “Ah, here we are.” The driver brings the coach to a stop. “This is where you’ll be lodging. I'll let the bishop take of the job of showing you around now.”

“The what?” Nuve leans out of the coach. They are stopped on a dusty street directly underneath the wall of the castle, which is casting a shadow over everything; including a small cottage set against it. It is obviously where they are supposed to live for the next few days. There are two men waiting outside to greet them. An older gentleman in white religious robes with gold trim, obviously the bishop, and what appears to be a knight, clad in grayish armor and smiling proudly while glinting in the sun.

“Welcome, welcome.” The bishop spreads his arms elegantly. “I am known as Grand Bishop Carcan. You must be the delegates for young Lady Ironglave.”

“That would be me.” Row tumbles out of the coach head over heels, giving them a clear view of her bloomers beneath her black dress before landing on her feet in front of them.

“Um, yes well, we never said you had to be civilized, I guess,” the bishop seems disappointed.

“Excuse me, but we have been fighting our way through the forest following the demigod Turok’s occupation of Lady Ironglave’s territory,” Seamus snaps at him. “Forgive me if my mistress is not up to your standards on civilized etiquette.”

“Ah, I had heard of the goings on in Massmede and Iron Grove.” The bishop hangs his head apologetically. “You’ll be pleased to know that the citizens and leaders of Sliver Bay do not recognize Turok as a lord and refuse to do business with him. Consider this the perfect opportunity for a well deserved rest. No one will pursue you here, especially if you meet our lord’s standards for his future wife.”

The knight next to him remains entirely quiet while the bishop continues spouting courtesies of nobility. Eventually the first coach pulls away, allowing the second one to take its place. Immediately Minto leaps out of the front, landing near Nuve who she promptly slaps on the back of the head. “What was that for?” he growls.

“Where did you go?” she demands while placing her hands on her hips. She is currently wearing a dress that emphasizes that particular part of her physique. Nuve pretends not to be listening to her while staring at her artificially widened backside. Fortunately for him she is unable to see where his eyes are looking. “I was in a panic when I awoke to find you gone,” she sputters. “I thought you’d gone to the castle and left me behind.”

“We are at the castle,” Nuve informs her. “In fact, you are in the presence of the Grand Bishop and Sir um…”

“Sir Prandon,” the knight finally speaks. Minto kicks Nuve in the shin with her heeled boots while blushing feverishly. She would not have acted so rowdy had she known she was in the presence of such high class people. Nuve simply laughs though. He seems to find it amusing when she uses her normal accent from the streets. He perceives her pretentious attempts to act well raised as lying.

“Excuse me for my rudeness.” Minto does a quick curtsy for the knight and bishop after having Nuve position her facing them, revealing his missing arm in the process.

“Well that’s something you don’t see every day.” Sir Prandon whistles.

“Dear child, how awful for you,” the bishop extends his obligatory grief, which seems to annoy Minto for some reason.

“What are you supposed to be?” she asks in a stern voice. Nuve tries to cover her mouth but she steps forward out of his reach. He may find it amusing when she acts like herself but that does not mean he wants her upsetting upper-class people at every opportunity.

“I'm sorry, I don’t understand the question.” Carcan’s eyes narrow suspiciously.

“You have the same presence as she does.” Minto points to Row. “You walk differently, you breathe differently, you’re constantly sniffing the air rather than seeing with your eyes; you’re a bloodsucker.”

“My dear child, whatever do you mean?” Carcan looks extremely nervous.

“Oh give it up, Car.” Prandon slaps him on the back. “I'm sure their bloodsucker has already realized it too.”

“Huh? Me?” Row glances around stupidly. It seems Seamus is correct that she is having a difficult time focusing.

“Yes, I am a bloodsucker,” Carcan admits finally. “I can smell it on you too.” He points at Row accusingly. “So, now we both know. What are you going to do about it?”

“Calm down, Car,” Prandon laughs. “They aren’t going to do anything. The whole point of this is to find another royal bloodsucker for the lord to marry.”

“So you know what he is?” Nuve asks.

“Of course we know,” Carcan scoffs. “The entire Sliverbane line has consisted of nothing but bloodsuckers for generations. Some two hundred odd years ago, bloodsuckers were just starting to thin due to the sudden appearance of demigods. Sliverbane became the first line of nobility to be infiltrated for the sake of sanctuary. After fifty years nearly every offspring was of bloodsucker origin.”

“Any child of a bloodsucker is full bloodsucker. There is no dilution of the bloodline,” Row answers in an uninterested tone. “Why does your lord need another bloodsucker to marry?”

“Because he needs someone who will age at the same rate as him,” Carcan answers. “You need not ask why he needs a royal one either. He is trying to preserve the blood of King Doryan as well. You see now why you are the perfect candidate, don’t you?” Row does not answer. She has already made up her mind to help her brother however he needs. She does not want to be constantly reminded of the fact that he is selling her life to a complete stranger.

“Um, okay then. Shall I give you a tour of the castle then,” Carcan offers. He can tell Row is not overly excited about her potential engagement. Perhaps he can prevent her from revoking her offer by occupying her time until it is too late.

“Are we all touring the castle,” Nuve asks, “or is this invitation limited to those of royal blood?”

“I'm not leaving my mistress’s side,” Seamus answers pompously.

“Ah, a very good sentiment to have.” Carcan nods. “Nobles should never go anywhere without their trusted servants close at hand. Sir Prandon, can you look after the other two? I have a feeling the lady will not be comfortable accompanying me anywhere.”

“As you wish, Grand Bishop.” Prandon bows as Carcan leads Seamus and Row through a small opening in the castle wall near the cottage.

“Well then, now that the high class snobs are out of the way, what say we have some fun?” Prandon adopts a cheery attitude.

Minto side steps so Nuve is between him and her. “You’re not a bloodsucker,” she mutters out loud.

“Last time I checked,” he laughs. “No, I simply serve his lordship. Not everyone here is one of them. In fact, humans and bloodsuckers co-populate the castle area quite harmoniously. It is my desire that one day our races will choose to exist together throughout the world.”

“Nothing more than a grog induced dream,” Nuve scoffs.

“Two races can not exist as equals when one eats the other to survive and lives for twice as long,” Minto adds.

“I’d think it would be clear who the superior beings were from that statement alone.” Prandon frowns at them. “The fact that they live in shadows while we populate the world is a miracle in itself.”

“They don’t seem shadow bound to me.” Nuve glances up at the castle which he has just been told houses an entire royal family of bloodsuckers. The hunter in him would like nothing more than to load up a dozen crossbow bolts and take on the entire Sliverbane line himself. Of course as a loyal vassal he will not do anything to embarrass his master though.

“People like you always have a way to hold on to your beliefs even if they are utterly outdated,” Prandon sighs. “Nothing I say will change your minds.”

“On the contrary, I have a rather high opinion of you at the moment,” Nuve admits. “If you continue trying to force your elevated image for these monstrosities upon me though, then I may lose a good deal of respect for you”

“You are lucky I am no more than a knight in service here,” Prandon grumbles. “If I had the authority to punish you for your blatant disrespect then I would.”

“Oh please,” Nuve scoffs. “If you really wanted you could call that Car fellow back here and have him throw us in the stockade or something worse. You won’t do it because it’s a hassle and it will reflect poorly on your lordship and our mistress’s decision to marry him.”

“Quite the annoying little schemer, aren’t you?” Prandon is halfway impressed and halfway annoyed. “Very well then, you’ve played your hand and called my bluff; I can not do anything to sew distrust in your mistress for the time being. I must say though, I am confused as to your loyalty to her considering your obvious distaste for the race as a whole.”

“My opinions about Row are none of your concern,” Nuve responds harshly. “She is merely a fact that I must accept for the time being. If her existence were harmful to me or others I would deal with her swiftly. For now she can continue to live as long as she minds her place.”

“Stout talk for a man missing his swinging arm,” Prandon laughs at him. Minto winces sympathetically. She can not see Nuve’s face but she is positive Prandon’s words have upset him.

Nuve however seems completely unaffected. He has been without his arm for long enough that it does not bother him. He slowly twists the stub toward his face so he can look at it while scratching his head in thought. Since losing the metal appendage in his short lived confrontation with Husk he has not actually had the opportunity to even consider replacing it.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Prandon interrupts his entranced gaze.

“What?” Nuve jerks to attention.

“I’ve seen that longing look before.” Prandon strokes his chin as he speaks. “How would you like to see our armory? Anything you like is yours. Consider it a friendly gift between loyal servants.”

“Do you really have the right to do that?” Nuve is skeptical.

“I am the foremost guard captain of this castle,” he spouts proudly. “Every weapon here was commissioned by me or my predecessor and constructed by our talented blacksmiths. I have full right to do whatever I want with them. I am in charge of distributing them to my men as I see fit.”

“If you are trying to gain my approval through bribery it’s not going to work,” Nuve responds pompously.

“Why is everything a competition with you?” Prandon pinches the bridge of his nose in annoyance. “I hope my children are not this difficult when they come of age.”

“Are you calling us children?” Minto crosses her arms to feign offence.

“Just follow me you pair of walking contradictions,” Prandon snaps before spinning around and marching through the same hole in the castle wall Carcan used. He was hoping to get along well with the human servants of Lady Ironglave but he is finding it increasingly difficult and it is entirely their fault.

“Here we are,” he announces as soon as they arrive at a shabby looking wooden storehouse. There is a wrought iron lock and chain binding the front door shut, which he promptly removes with an equally heavy looking key. “Well, what do you think?” Prandon can't hide the look of pride on his face as he spreads his arms to present the mass of metal weapons conglomerated in one place.

Each wall has a different type of tool on it, ranging from shields to spears and swords to maces. “It’s interesting,” Nuve tries not to appear too impressed.

“I think it looks wonderful,” Minto announces in a far too enthusiastic tone.

“I’ve been meaning to ask, is there something wrong with her?” Prandon whispers to Nuve.

“Ignore her.” He waves his hand at the knight uninterestedly. It is Minto’s choice whether or not to tell the different people they meet about her condition. For the most part she seems to be able to get along without anyone noticing.

“So, which weapon do you like best?” Prandon rubs his hands together eagerly. He is excited to have finally found some common ground between him and his guest.

“I'm more of a bow person myself,” Nuve admits.

Prandon raises an eyebrow while staring at Nuve’s stump. A bow is obviously a weapon that requires two hands to operate. “Ah, I think we will need to visit the blacksmith shop before I can accommodate you.” He turns to leave again.

“What’s at the blacksmith shop?” Minto asks as she chases after the sound of the two men’s footsteps, not wanting to be left behind and perhaps locked inside the wooden shed.

“One of our best metal workers is actually the descendent of Crass Bulkere,” Prandon answers. “I'm sure you’ve heard of him.”

“Crass Bulkere was one of the great masters,” Nuve responds. “He is said to have created the special Scythe Arma Lita specifically for the demigod Genlock. Are you saying his heir can create a forbidden weapon for me?” Nuve is suddenly excited.

“She will do no such thing,” Prandon’s voice becomes stern. “Do not ask for the impossible. Only if one of the Nine were to have their Arma destroyed would they need another one and only then would they seek a great master to make it. Until that day, no one will practice the forbidden techniques without being punished severely.”

“You people are too strict,” Nuve sighs.

“It is not my rule; it is the law of this land,” Prandon informs him. “In order to prevent these weapons from falling into the hands of those who would use them against humanity they can not be entrusted to anyone other than a demigod.”

Nuve is reminded of the bloodsucker Besking who wielded Arma Lita and went insane because of it. “So what are we heading to your great master for if not a forbidden weapon?” he asks in a slightly disheartened voice.

“You forget, just because great masters know how to make forbidden weapons does not mean that is all they ever make,” Prandon chuckles. “If anyone can construct a mechanical arm capable of moving like a real one, it is Nordila Bulkere. She’ll have you pulling back the draw string of a bow in no time… though we may need to make you one strong enough not to be accidentally crushed by your new appendage.”

“How about building it into the arm?” Nuve’s eyes are already lit with excitement again. It seems he will not have to amass the same fortune he used to pay for his original arm this time.

“I'll ask if she can do that but I'm not sure.” Prandon laughs again. He is already quite happy with his ability to calm at least one of these two disagreeable guests. For the moment, the other one is following silently as well though she does not seem as interested in weapons and blacksmiths.

“Presenting his lordship our great and bountiful ruler, Lord Louwits Sliverbane,” Carcan gives a proper introduction just outside the throne room of the castle before pushing the doors aside to allow Seamus and Row to enter.

Row glances around with mixed intrigue and regret as she remembers the castle in Massmede where she once lived. Though this one is much larger and more colorful, they are still both castles; they have an atmosphere around them that is unequaled by anything else she has ever seen.

“I see you like my home,” a soft and kind voice emanates from the throne in the center of the room. Two servants quickly spin the massive chair around to face the entrance. There is a short man, no taller than Seamus, with his feet resting on a large cushion at the edge of the throne and his shoulder length hair dangling almost to the floor as he hangs practically upside-down on his gigantic chair.

“Um, hello, your lordship.” Row curtsies quickly. “My name is Lady Ironglave. I received a summons from your…”

“I know who you are, sweet girl,” Louwits cuts her off. “I assume you had a pleasant journey. No thieves tried to rob you on the trail, did they?”

“We were accosted at one point by bandits but your men handled it quite well,” Row answers.

“Really?” Louwits raises an eyebrow. His face is round and young looking, despite the fact that he should be over the age of thirty-five as explained by Nuve. His hair is dark but not black and held back behind his ears by a royal looking metalwork tiara of some kind. There are several shiny jewels dangling from his ears and adorning his fingers. His robe is loose fitting and purple with gold fringes. He is exactly what Row expected of a young lord thrust into leadership after the sudden loss of his brother.

“Yes, Lord, the guards you sent to protect Lady Ironglave were more than efficient,” Carcan answers the question Row assumed was rhetorical.

“I was hoping to hear of a valiant struggle in which her three servants proved worthy of the title she projects,” Louwits yawns.

Carcan quickly leans over to whisper in Row’s ear. “Please forgive his brash attitude. Our lord is not what he appears. He may act childish and inexperienced but he is in fact…”

“A bloodsucker,” Row spouts loud enough for Louwits to hear.

“Excuse me?” The lord cups his ear, mocking the fact that she needn’t have shouted.

“You are a royal bloodsucker, like me,” Row continues. “You are a descendent of King Doryan, are you not?”

“Forgive me for refusing to answer you.” Louwits flips himself over so he is finally seated properly. “I appreciate your honesty, but you must never speak too freely with strangers. What I am is of great interest to several people inside and outside of this city. I can not expose my true identity for any reason; not even if you were to become my wife.”

“Well then, I'm sorry, but I see no reason to offer myself to a lord who will not even admit he is a lord.” Row yawns. Seamus’s eyes bulge in disbelief. His mistress is normally not so bold.

“Wait!” Louwits loses his calm demeanor for a moment. It returns almost immediately though. “I was merely being cautious. Of course I am the one and only lord of the Sliverbane line. I am a descendent of King Doryan, as are you. Together we could create a powerful empire capable of withstanding the changes coming to this world.”

“Changes?” It is Row’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “What changes?”

“I'm sure you’ve heard of the ancient art of soothsaying.” A mischievous smile spreads across Louwits’s face.

“I was unaware magicians capable of that practice still existed,” Row admits.

“Oh, magicians are not as scarce as many lords would have you believe. While it is true that the majority of children who show promise in the art of mana manipulation are quickly trained in the art of healing, others have a higher calling. Do recall, combat magic is still used as a form of war. One magician serves as enchanter for an entire battalion.”

Row is reminded of the sorcerer she met in Massmede, if only for a moment. She can not recall the name but she knows she was a powerful water caster capable of summoning a shield able to encompass an entire drawbridge. “So what about these soothsayers,” Row decides to draw the conversation back to the original question.

“I have employed a very powerful seer in my service,” Louwits answers. “She has seen what she calls the end of our age. She claims that the old ways will perish and something called technology will take its place.”

“How far ahead has she seen this?” Seamus interjects. “Will such a thing happen within your lifetime?”

“Maybe not in yours, but I plan to continue living for quite some time, young human,” Louwits answers. “Even after my death, I would like if in some way the Sliverbane line survived. For this I need help building up what I am calling a new empire; one capable of withstanding the test of time. Will you help me, Lady Ironglave? Will you join my family and make our bloodlines that much stronger?”

“I don’t know,” Row answers calmly. “I'm afraid I am not here for reasons of my own. I come to you seeking aid for a separate matter.”

“You speak of course about Sir Castine and his intended rebellion within the city walls of Glass Gate,” Louwits sighs. It is not surprising that he already knows everything she was about to tell him.

“It does not concern me what becomes of other kingdoms, only mine,” Louwits continues. “I can not say I like or dislike Lord Glasstien. Our paths have never even crossed. I can say that I would be willing to aid my wife with anything she asked of me, even leading an army to destroy another lord’s territory. Would you ask this of me though, Lady Ironglave? Is this really your desire?”

Row’s head is spinning with thoughts of her brother. Of course she would do anything to support Corvic but does that really mean overthrowing an entire city? Could she not simply circumvent one whole uprising and instead ask Louwits to help her overthrow Turok in Iron Grove? “Let me think about it,” she finally responds. “I have something I must discuss with my brother.”

“Ah, you mean Lord Corvic.” Again Louwits knows more than she assumed he would. “He was a good friend of my late brother,” he explains. “I would enjoy hearing his council on this. I shall send word to Sir Castine to summon him here as soon as possible. Until that time, feel free to rest and recuperate from your journey. Everything here is at your disposal.”

“Thank you.” Row bows before turning to leave.

Louwits is apparently not done talking to her yet. “I hope you will at least consider my offer for its serious merit though. Is this not the best way to insure the survival of yourself and your descendents through the new age, Lady Ironglave? Think about it.”

“I will,” Row mutters without turning around. Seamus quickly follows as she struts out of the room. It seems Louwits has actually managed to break through to her. Nothing she is thinking about now has anything to do with why she came to Sliver Bay in the first place. Seamus is not happy about it though. He has no idea how the society of nobles or bloodsuckers works but he is pretty sure he is the only person here concerned at all with Row’s actual happiness.

Even the young bloodsucker herself seems intent on ignoring her own feelings in order to achieve her goal of helping her brother. “Is something wrong?” Row asks while continuing to face away from Seamus as he follows her down the hall. She does not want him to look at her right now for some reason. Perhaps she is afraid he will shake her resolve.

Seamus waits for a long time before responding. “Nothing is wrong,” he lies outright. It is not his place to question his mistress’s methods. Whatever choice she makes, he will follow her. That is all he can do. It would be downright insulting to even offer his opinion to her right now.

Of course, that is exactly what she wants him to do. She is not pleased with the situation either but she won’t be the one to admit it. She needs him to tell her not to go through with this. She wants him to fight to keep her.

“And this little quaint house is where Nordila Bulkere lives and works,” Prandon announces as he pushes through a large oak door into a stone house far from the castle. He had to call a driver and a coach just to bring Nuve and Minto here.

“Is this it?” Nuve asks as he steps inside. “This is the blacksmith shop Crass Bulkere operated?”

“Is there something wrong with that?” the high pitched voice of a woman startles him.

“Where did you come from, young one.” Nuve leans down so he appears shorter.

“Can I punch him?” the woman asks Prandon. She is at least a good foot shorter than Nuve with short choppy black hair. She is wearing men’s trousers with suspenders and a leather vest with no sleeves, showing off several severe looking burn marks.

“You can't hit everyone you don’t like,” Prandon sighs. “You’d have no customers left.”

“Why is this kid so violent?” Nuve asks.

“That kid is Nordila Bulkere; your blacksmith,” Prandon informs him.

“What? Seriously?” He is shocked. “How old is she?”

“I'm twenty-five.” She stomps on his foot.

“Don’t tell me she’s a bloodsucker too,” he groans.

“No, she just doesn’t sleep or eat enough,” Prandon chuckles.

“I'll hit you too.” She threatens him with a hammer.

“Nordila, I’d like you to meet Nuve and his um… friend,” Prandon doesn’t know how to introduce Minto.

“Nice to meet you.” The former prostitute does her signature curtsy. It is the only way she knows how to greet people as it circumvents the need to shake hands or make eye contact.

“Well, at least she’s polite.” Nordila frowns at Nuve. “So, what does he want?”

“So you’re the descendent of Crass Bulkere?” Nuve eyes her up and down. “Between you and me, can you create a forbidden weapon like Arma Lita?”

“Prandon, kill him,” Nordila spouts immediately.

“Hey, I was just curious. I heard Crass Bulkere made Arma Lita when he was fourteen. You’re nearly twice his age now.”

“I warned you about this; forbidden techniques are exactly that, forbidden,” Prandon reminds him. “If you do not let the issue rest I may be forced to silence you.”

“Wow, you people really take your rules seriously,” Nuve gulps. “Fine, I'm just here to see if you do moveable mechanics.”

“You mean like crossbows?” Nordila tilts her head.

“I mean like this.” Nuve shows her his stump. The sleeve of his shirt has been tied in a knot to keep it from fluttering around pointlessly, making it obvious that there is no arm inside.

“Dear lord, what happened to you?” Her eyes bulge.

“I asked the same thing.” Minto smiles proudly, causing both Prandon and Nordila to cringe.

“I was bitten by a ghoul once,” Nuve surprises all three of them by answering the question. It seems he is finally ready to tell someone what happened.

“Did it tear your arm off?” Nordila asks while leaning closer to examine the stump.

“No.” He frowns. “It was dragging me off into the woods with the intention of eating me later. In order to save me… my comrade tried to chop off the ghoul’s head.”

“He missed,” Nordila whispers solemnly.

Nuve nods slowly. “I never blamed him for it though. It wasn’t his fault.”

“How old are you, boy?” Nordila lifts his left arm so she can compare it with his nonexistent right one.

“Sixteen,” he answers.

“That’s a horrible thing to go through at your age.” She clicks her tongue. “What were you doing fighting ghouls in the first place?”

“I was trying to prove myself,” Nuve answers honestly while tracing a W on his chest. “I wanted Wan to make me his vassal.”

“Praying to a demigod is pointless.” Prandon frowns at him.

“Don’t.” Nuve grits his teeth.

“It’s true. They are nothing but monsters abusing their gifts. They don’t care about humanity or justice and they don’t care about you.”

“That’s enough!” Nuve snaps at him.

“Why do you worship them?” Prandon doesn’t stop. “Why would you pledge your loyalty to someone like that?”

“Because I believe in them!” Tears spring forth in Nuve’s eyes. “I have to. I don’t have any other choice. Husk killed my father. He chopped off his head right in front of me.”

Prandon’s eyes widen as he falls silent. He already regrets pushing Nuve. “Kid, you don’t have to say any more.”

“I don’t hate him.” Nuve is actually crying now. “It’s not his fault. He was just doing his job. That’s what I tell myself every time I think about it. It’s how I live. If for one moment I lose faith in the demigods then it means my father died for nothing. I can't do that. I can't abandon the hope that everything they do serves a purpose. You can hate them all you want, Sir Prandon. I simply can't.”

“That’s enough.” Prandon shakes him. “I'm sorry I said anything. I don’t know where you draw your courage from but it’s a better place than mine. I won't mock your faith again, so just stop.” Minto has also started to shake. She is remembering the fact that she tried to kill Nuve for absolutely no reason just to steal his money. The guilt of what she did is finally sinking in. It is no wonder he doesn’t seem to hold a grudge. He has forgiven the gods themselves for far worse things.

“Let me just get some measurements and I'll get started on a new arm for you,” Nordila tries to break the tension in the room. Prandon steps outside while Nuve removes his shirt. It is a difficult task for a one armed person.

Minto can hear him struggling but can't bring herself to help; not because she can't see but because she feels she has no right to touch him. This boy has gone through more than she can imagine and yet she wanted to be the one to end his life without even knowing anything about him. Even if he has already forgiven her, it will be a while before she can forgive herself

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