Blood Oath

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The Titian Witch

“We’ve been walking for hours. Why exactly could we not have ridden our horses here?” Prain whines as she trots up the winding mountain path as slowly as possible. She has done nothing but complain since she, Brand and her father begun their journey from the bottom. They are currently attempting to scale the largest mountain of the Raldesh expanse in Lord Raldwin’s territory in search of the Titian Witch, one of the few remaining demigods.

“The altitude is too much for them,” Brand answers her unnecessary question.

“Well it’s too much for me as well.” Prain shivers while crossing her arms in a feeble attempt to keep warm. She is wearing the warmest clothing of the three, a robe and shawl as opposed to a simple cape, but it doesn’t help. It is constantly snowing atop the gigantic mountain, despite only a thin layer actually managing to collect on the ground.

“Can you stop your whining for once?” Gall growls at her. “What did I do to deserve such an annoying daughter? For that matter, why did you even agree to be a vassal if all you ever do is complain?”

Prain is actually taken aback by this question. She stares at the back of Brand’s cape for a long time as she tries to think about how to answer. She is perfectly aware that she only agreed to become a vassal so she could follow him around wherever he went, but she is not sure if her father actually knows this. If he hasn’t figured it out yet, she doesn’t want to give him yet another reason to scold her.

“Now, now, Gall, leave the girl alone,” Brand chuckles, once again acting as a barrier between the two of them. Prain grits her teeth in annoyance. She is sick of needing to be rescued from her father’s ridicule by Brand. It only serves as proof that she is the youngest of the three and therefore incapable of defending herself.

“Now you’ve gone and upset her,” Gall snickers after stealing a glance at his seething daughter.

“Really?” Brand glances back. “What have I done now?”

“It’s what you always do,” she growls at him.

“What do I always do?” Brand clarifies.

“You treat me like a child,” she snaps.

“You are a child.” Brand raises a confused eyebrow.

“I am not!” she squeals. “I'm as old as you were when you inherited the role as Red Warrior.”

“Are you saying you want to replace me?” Brand tilts his head stupidly.

Gall is laughing so hard there is actually no sound coming from his mouth. “I had no idea you were this dense, milord.”

“What?” Brand turns his confused expression toward the old man. “Is there something going on that I don’t know about.”

“I'll say.” Gall continues laughing excessively.

This only angers Prain more. “Can you shut up, Father?” She stomps her foot.

“No, by all means, continue,” Gall urges her. “He’ll realize eventually.”

“What will I realize?” Brand glances back and forth between the fuming girl and her mocking father. “What is the matter with you two?”

“Ugh, forget it!” Prain makes an audible growling sound before stomping further up the path. “Let’s just find Brecha so she can…”

“So she can what?” an echoing voice interrupts her.

“What was that?” Prain immediately darts behind Brand and cowers against him.

“That would be the Titian Witch,” he informs her while trying to shake her off.

“Where is she though?” Prain glances around at the falling snow, which is now too thick to see through.

“Follow the sound of my voice, child. You’ll find me eventually,” Brecha assures her.

“I'm not a child!” Prain snaps.

“I never said you were,” Brecha responds curtly.

“Yes you did; you just said…”

“Must have been the wind,” she cuts her off again.

“How immature are you?” Prain screeches at her.

“Now who’s calling who a child?” Brecha mocks her.

“Alright, that’s enough, Brecha. Come on out,” Brand urges her.

“Fine. Here I am.” A small amount of falling snow dissipates, allowing them to see a lone figure standing on the ridge above them on the path.

“Good day to you, milady.” Gall bows politely.

“It’s been far too long,” Brand greets her like an equal.

“Is that really the Titian Witch?” Prain is extremely rude, earning her a slap on the back of the head from Gall.

“Who’s the little one?” Brecha asks. She is a short woman in a thick dark orange fur robe, probably made from a mountain lion of some kind. Her hair is a mixture of copper and yellow, poking out from under her fur hood. She is holding a scabbard in one hand and a rapier in the other, pointed at the sky in a non-threatening demeanor.

“This is my newest vassal; Prain.” Brand pushes Prain forward so Brecha can see her better.

“Newest? You mean your only one,” she scoffs. “You’re still running around with Genlock’s useless vassal, aren’t you?”

“As blunt as always, Lady Brecha.” Gall tries to maintain a smile.

“What have you trespassed upon my domain for?” she demands suddenly. “Are you here to drag me to Turok’s pathetic summit?”

“I'm afraid the summit is long over,” Brand chuckles.

Brecha suddenly bursts into a fit of coughing which lasts a good minute. “Good,” she spouts when she finally catches her breath. “That good for nothing troublemaker’s gonna drag us all down with him. Have the people of Iron Grove finally banded together to overthrow him?”

“I don’t think so, Brecha,” Brand laughs again. “We’re actually here for an unrelated matter.” He grabs Galls arm and rolls up the sleeve of his shirt and the chain mail underneath.

“Oh, the old man’s lost a few of his fingers, has he?” Brecha tries not to appear amused, but fails terribly. “I can't say I'm surprised,” she finally just gives up being polite.

“Can you help him or not?” Brand asks in a serious tone.

Brecha stares at him for a long time, assessing how important this must be for the Red Warrior to have come all the way here. “Fine.” She raises her hands to signal surrender. “My cabin’s not that far from here. Just follow me.” She turns around on her ledge and walks off into the swirling snow.

Prain rushes up the path after her, making sure to keep her in sight, while Brand and Gall take their time. “Where did she go?” Prain mopes as she appears on the ledge above them.

“Check for tracks in the snow,” her father instructs her.

“Does such a person even leave tracks though?” Prain asks in an ominous tone.

“She’s not a ghost.” Gall rolls his eyes at her. Prain blushes as she suddenly feels extremely stupid. Despite being referred to as a witch, it seems unlikely that Brecha would bother using magic in order to spirit herself away when she just told them to follow her.

“Here they are.” Prain quickly locates the Titian Witch’s tracks in the snow. “I'm going on ahead.” She disappears from the ledge, bounding off the path and deeper into the swirling snow.

She has barely even been running for a minute before she bumps into the snow covered door of a cabin, very nearly breaking her nose in the process. “Ah, you made it.” Brecha opens it to greet her. Prain is rubbing her now red muzzle while blinking back tears. The cold air only makes it hurt worse.

“Prain, what are you doing?” Gall appears behind his daughter a moment later. “Haven't I told you not to run off on your own like that?”

“Ah, now I see.” Brecha nods slowly. “She’s the old man’s daughter.”

“I am not!” Prain spouts without thinking. She merely meant to deny whatever insult she expected the mysterious woman to spew. Instead she has just made herself look even more like a fool than before. In fact, she looks like she is about to start crying at any moment.

“Now, now.” Brand pats her on the shoulder.

“Leave me alone.” She shrugs his hand off.

“What is with you today?” He frowns at her.

“‘Don’t touch me so freely’ is what she means to say,” Brecha informs him.

“What? Why? I always touch her like this.” He presses his chin to the top of Prain’s head to dictate his point. This time she drops to her knees and crawls away from him, causing him to nearly topple over in the process.

“You shouldn’t treat a girl like that.” Brecha shakes her head disappointedly.

“He doesn’t think of me as a girl,” Prain mutters.

“I don’t understand.” Brand continues to frown. “She used to be so much less cold towards me.”

“That was ten years ago,” Prain spouts. “I'm not a little kid anymore.”

“No, of course you’re not.” Brecha rests her chin on top of Prain’s head in much the same way Brand had been.

Prain can't tell if she is mocking her or being condescending. “Get off.” She repeats her maneuver to escape from underneath the second demigod.

“At any rate, the next time you touch her, make sure you have a reason.” Brecha points at Brand accusingly.

“A reason?” he repeats stupidly.

“She’s not mad because you touch her. She’s mad because you act like it means nothing. When you touch a girl, it means everything to them,” Brecha continues to preach.

“You’re not my mother.” He crosses his arms.

“Although she is old enough to be,” Gall adds jokingly.

Brecha’s eyes flare bright orange like fire as she glares at him. “I'm only in my forties!” she announces proudly.

“You’ve been a demigod for twenty years,” Prain realizes.

“Worst decision of my life.” Brecha frowns.

“Really? Why?” Prain is now curious.

“Everyone is always demanding that you do things for them. They want you to fight bloodsuckers or cure illnesses.” Brecha gestures to Gall’s missing fingers to make her point. “Don’t I get to do anything for myself anymore?”

“That’s the price of being a demigod,” Gall sighs.

“No, it’s your price!” she snaps at him. “I don’t want any part of Lodar’s or Turok’s summits. I haven’t been to one in ten years. I'm perfectly content to stay up here by myself.”

“You sound like Ardine.” Brand can't help but smile.

“Don’t compare me to her.” Brecha’s expression sinks. “I'm nothing like the great Lady Ardine. I'm not refusing to involve myself for noble reasons or anything like that; I'm simply a coward who’s afraid of dying. I haven’t even left this mountain to visit my daughter in five years.”

“You have a daughter?” Prain gasps. “I thought demigods couldn’t have children.”

“Whatever gave you that idea?” Brecha can't help but laugh.

“Well, I’ve just never heard of them having any.” Prain’s face turns red as she starts to feel stupid again.

“While it is true that demigods find it difficult to settle with a human partner due to obvious differences in aging and strength, it is by no means impossible. My daughter, however, was born before I inherited the title of Titian Witch.”

“About that title…” Gall raises his deformed hand. “Is it possible for you to help me?”

“What? Oh that. No, I'm afraid not.” Brecha shakes her head.

“But you’re a witch.” Prain cocks her head in confusion. “You just said so yourself. You can use magic, right?”

“Not in the sense that most normal sorcerers can,” Brecha explains. “The source of a demigod’s immortality and strength is their aura. It absorbs all of their mana and directs it toward keeping them young and vitalized. In order to use magic, one would need to suppress their aura.”

“Like the Bronze Cognition.” Prain snaps her fingers.

“Exactly.” Brecha nods. “If I had his power, I would be a much more effective witch. Unfortunately, all I can do is distort my own mana and aura.”

“What does that mean?” Prain doesn’t understand.

“It means I can perform magic as long as it does not exceed the abilities I have already gained as a demigod. For example, I can control what part of my body is affected by my aura the most.” Prain watches as Brecha’s skin begins to glow bright orange. She can assume that her aura is now visible. The glow seems to move along her body until it is conglomerated on her face and shoulders. When she rolls up the sleeves of her robe and shows Prain her arms, they have already begun to age rapidly, showing graying hairs and thicker veins than before.

“Ew.” Prain cringes. “What’s the point of that?”

“Oh, it’s very useful,” Brecha assures her. “If I were to be injured in a specific area, I could focus all of my power on that one wound and heal myself several times faster than even Maumolla.”

“What about Wan?” Prain asks with a twinkle in her eye. She is getting excited just thinking about how amazing demigods can be.

“Oh no, not Wan,” Brecha laughs. “Wan’s power is not a form of healing. He is literally changing his body inside and out. It works well for closing up wounds but it is not actually a type of healing.”

“So it’s more effective,” Prain surmises.

“For repairing broken bones or closing cuts, perhaps,” Brecha answers solemnly.

“But not always?” Prain bites her lip. She can tell Brecha is holding something back.

“If you were to lose a limb, how do you suppose you would heal that?” Brecha asks a separate question.

“Well, like my father over there, the wound would heal over into a stump.” Prain stares down at her hands shyly while twiddling her fingers. She is not sure of herself enough to speak with confidence.

“Exactly.” Brecha claps her hands. “Healing would not bring the appendage back; not unless it were somehow reattached beforehand. Now, how do you suppose Wan would replace a missing limb?”

“Couldn’t he just make a new one?” Prain asks with a little more confidence this time.

“How many times do you expect him to do that? Each time he does it would draw more and more from his immortal aura, making him weaker and weaker,” Brecha answers sternly.

“So it’s not unlimited,” Prain mutters meekly.

“No.” Brecha nods. “In fact, without an ability like Maumolla’s backing him up, shape shifting into anything larger than the mass of his body is pure recklessness.”

“So that kid we saw in Glass Gate…” Prain trails off as she notices Brand clenching his fist hard enough to turn his knuckles white. She quickly grabs his hand and laces their fingers in an attempt to calm him down.

“Kid?” Brecha leans forward.

“We encountered a kid who seemed to be in possession of the Silver Shape Shifter’s ability,” Gall informs her. “My lord beat him down repeatedly but he kept rising up again. It was as if he wasn’t human.”

“That is disturbing.” Brecha rubs her chin in thought. “I can only assume that he is part ghoul.”

“Wait, is that possible?” Prain gasps.

“A ghoul is simply a human whose body has been stressed beyond it’s natural limits. A human becomes ghoul when a bloodsucker or another ghoul feeds on their life force to the point of death without physically killing their body. Instincts take over the brain and they become feral, desperate to replenish their life force by any means necessary. It is futile though. Unless they recover it within an hour, they will forever remain a ghoul.”

“But why is a ghoul more resilient than a normal human?” Prain asks. “They don’t just act feral, they become stronger.”

“That is due to the body undergoing a change in order to preserve itself. Without a soul, a person is nothing more than meat. As long as they continue to replenish their life force their body can continue to repair itself. After the initial loss of soul, the body becomes less tethered to life and more like an entity. It’s merely flesh that can move. Cut it and it will bleed but it won't die; not unless you severe every control center in its body.”

“So you’re telling me this boy we fought was a ghoul?” Gall slams his fist on the wall of the cabin.

“In order for him to continue functioning the way you described, he must either have an inexhaustible source of life force, or he is still human. I'm only guessing, but I'm going to assume he allows his life force to be drained on a regular basis. His body his very nearly that of a ghoul’s because it has to adapt but he is not quite dead yet.”

“That bloodsucker girl,” Brand gasps. “He was traveling with a bloodsucker.”

“Then he must be her primary source of food,” Brecha surmises.

“That’s horrible.” Prain covers her mouth in shock. “He’s letting her feed on him just so he is less human and less likely to die?”

“I don’t think that was his intention,” Brecha disagrees. “He is probably in her servitude. It is not uncommon for humans to swear loyalty to certain charismatic bloodsuckers.”

“It’s still sick.” Prain grabs her stomach.

“Why?” Brecha raises an eyebrow. “Would you rather she fed on innocent people? He has volunteered to fulfill her feeding needs for the rest of his life; which will be a long one if he holds Wan’s power. Basically, there is no need to eliminate her like most bloodsuckers. She is not a threat to humanity.”

“Sometimes I wonder what would happen if the whole world thought like you did.” Brand frowns at her.

“You disagree?” Brecha frowns right back.

“I don’t know if anything you said is true, and honestly it would be great if all bloodsuckers lived like that, but I just can't trust that they do. I’ve met too many bloodsuckers that feed on innocent people. I can't just let one go because they might be different. Besides, that doesn’t excuse the fact that he obviously killed Wan in order to obtain his invincibility.”

“Unless someone else killed Wan and he killed them,” Brecha argues.

“Honestly, where do you come up with these ideas,” Brand sighs while grabbing the sides of his head. It is obvious he does not believe her.

“It was just a thought,” Brecha grumbles. “I’ve never met the boy and I probably never will. Forget I said anything.”

“Sorry,” Brand realizes how rude he is being. “You’re very smart, Brecha. I'll take everything you’ve said into consideration the next time I meet him.”

“So you do plan to meet him again?” Brecha’s eyes narrow. “Even after he did that to your vassal.” She gestures to Gall’s hand again.

“I have to.” Brand’s face darkens. “Even if I can't avenge Wan and the others, I need to see him again. I need to know what happened.”

“I was hoping we could put this all behind us,” Prain mutters sadly.

“There you go again, silly girl; trying to keep your lord from his duties,” Gall starts to scold her but stops due to a sudden onset of coughing.

“Father, are you okay?” Prain is genuinely concerned.

“I'm fine, I just…” Again he is unable to finish his sentence. His face suddenly appears flushed and there is cold sweat running down his cheeks.

“Is he sick?” Prain ask the only one of them with any medical knowledge.

“I assume his wound is slightly infected,” Brecha surmises. “This weather dropped his body temperature and now he’s got a fever.”

“That’s not so bad,” Gall chuckles. “I'll just need to rest for a bit.” He suddenly collapses on the floor.

Prain screams while rushing to pick him up. “He’s old. A fever could kill him at his age.”

“You’re absolutely right,” Brecha agrees. “Get him to the bedroom and start wiping the sweat off. I’ve got some medicine that will cure the infection but the fever is a different matter.”

“Can't you do something with your magical aura?” Prain demands. “What is it actually good for?”

“At this point all I could do is try to transfer some of my immortality to him. That should keep him from dying while we wait for his fever to break.”

“Then what are you waiting for? Do it!” Prain is panicking.

Brecha gives Brand a look that tells him to control his vassal, which he does by grabbing her hand tightly. “I’ll do what I can, but as you said, he is old. It may just be his time,” Brecha is brutally honest. Tears fill Prain’s eyes as she watches the demigod’s aura becoming visible again. She transfers a good portion of the orange glow to Gall, allowing herself to age almost twenty years in the process.

“Will she be alright?” Prain is suddenly more worried for Brecha than her father.

Brand grips her hand tighter to reassure her. “She’s only ten years older than me,” he reminds her. “If she were as old as Turok or Ardine, then we’d have to worry.”

“I hope you’re right,” Prain continues to whimper as she watches helplessly.

Over the next three days, Brand and Prain wait while Brecha takes care of Gall to the best of her abilities. His fever only seems to worsen though. Eventually Prain can not take sitting in the cabin and doing nothing any longer and leaves. She hikes down the same path they used to scale the mountain for several miles before she even realizes how far she has gone. The sun is barely visible through the blowing snow and it will not last much longer.

“This is just perfect,” she mutters to herself while plopping down in a bank of snow to think.

“Are you lost, dear?” a course feminine voice responds from beyond her vision.

“Who’s there?” she gasps while drawing one of the scimitars from her belt.

“No need to be alarmed, little human.” The masked figure of Maumolla emerges from the fog.

“You.” Prain points her sword at her. “You’re the woman from the summit. What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same question.” Maumolla eyes her up and down. “Am I to assume you are not alone? The Red Warrior is somewhere on this mountain.”

“Um, no. My father and I are here alone,” Prain decides to lie. She is not sure why though. Perhaps she is still jealous over how Brand acted the last time he met Maumolla.

“Ah, you’re adorable,” Maumolla laughs as she struts past her up the path.

“Wait, who are you looking for?” Prain chases after her. “Are you here to see the Titian Witch?”

“In a sense,” Maumolla responds vaguely without turning around.

“What do you want with Brecha? She says she doesn’t deal with the other demigods.”

“That’s a good thing,” Maumolla mutters. “None of their scheming ways have rubbed off on her yet.”

“Scheming?” Prain raises an eyebrow. “Do you not like the other demigods?”

“How many demigods have you met?” Maumolla asks a different question.

“Well, my master for one.” Prain begins to count on her fingers. “Then there is the Lady Ardine and Turok. I didn’t actually speak to either one but I saw them in the throne room at the summit in Massmede. Then there is that boy who took over Wan’s power and of course Brecha.”

“And of them how would you characterize their morals?” Maumolla pries.

“Well, I’d have to say that my master was displeased with Turok, to say the least. Apart from that I didn’t like that boy in Glass Gate. Otherwise, most of them are very nice people.”

“You’re lucky,” Maumolla sighs. “You haven’t been awakened to the true horror of what a demigod can become.”

“Are you talking about yourself?” Prain is only becoming more and more confused.

“It is of no consequence to you.” Maumolla gives up on enlightening the apparently thick headed girl. “Where is the Titian Witch? I must judge her.”

“For what exactly?” Prain continues asking annoying questions.

“Does your mouth ever stop moving, girl?” Maumolla can not hide her aggravation.

“My father says my mother was the same way,” Prain answers with a shrug. “Is it so bad to talk when I feel like it?”

“Lots of questions are the sign of an empty mind,” Maumolla responds with a proverb.

“Are you calling me stupid?” Prain frowns at her.

Maumolla suddenly reaches behind her back to press a finger to Prain’s lips. “Be silent,” she hisses. “Someone’s coming.”

“Oh, that’ll just be Brand,” Prain scoffs. “I’ve been gone for far too long. Hello! Brand, can you hear me?” she shouts into the fog.

“Prain? Where are you?” her master’s response is immediate.

“I'm just a little further down the path,” she answers. “I was talking with Maumolla and…” she stops mid-sentence as she realizes that the demigod has vanished from her place in front of her on the path.

“Huh, Maumolla?” Brand emerges from the fog a moment later. “Did you say Maumolla was here?” He glances around suspiciously.

“Would you be happy if she were here?” Prain frowns at him.

“What?” He does not understand her question. “What’s with you?” He ruffles her choppy short hair until she slaps his hand away.

“Wow, you two are awfully close, aren’t you?” Maumolla reemerges from the fog on the ledge above them on the path.

“So you are here.” Brand smiles at her. “To what do I owe this great honor, Lady Maumolla?” He bows politely. Prain promptly pinches his arm to convey her annoyance, but it obviously does not hurt him at all.

“I am here to see the Titian Witch,” Maumolla answers honestly.

“Are you injured?” Brand asks while glancing at the blood stains in her purple vestments.

Prain’s petty attitude is quickly replaced by genuine concern as she spots it as well. “We must get her back to the cabin immediately.” She rushes up the winding path so she can examine the demigod more closely.

“I'll carry her,” Brand offers.

“I walked all the way here on my own,” Maumolla informs them. “All I need is for you to show me the way.”

“Um, it’s up here, I think.” Prain trots up the path while glancing around pointlessly in the endless fog and snow. Maumolla follows her patiently as she leads her back up the mountain as best she can. Though she is eager to meet Brecha, Maumolla is not actually in a hurry. Her wound is long healed. All that remains is the blood on her clothes.

“Here we are,” Prain breathes a sigh of relief when she finally locates the cabin again. It is obvious she was not confident in her ability to find it. She leans against the door while trying to catch her breath, only to end up stumbling into the cabin when Maumolla opens it without warning.

“You’re back late,” Brecha’s voice emanates from the bedroom. “I was beginning to wonder if you found your little vassal or not.”

“Oh, I found her alright,” Maumolla calls into the other room. Immediately the sound of something shattering on the floor startles Prain. She rushes into the bedroom to find Brecha digging through a pantry in search of something. When she can't find it she grabs her rapier and draws it from its scabbard. “Now that’s not a very nice way to greet a comrade.” Maumolla shakes her head disappointedly.

“Stay back you heathen!” Brecha jabs at the taller woman with her sharp sword.

“Brecha, what is the meaning of this?” Brand pushes his way into the room so he can stand between them.

“Don’t tell me you’re on her side,” Brecha spits accusingly.

“What side?” Brand is confused. “Are we not all noble demigods?”

“Noble?” Maumolla snorts. “You people are the farthest things from noble.”

“I, I don’t understand.” Brand is perplexed. “When we met in Massmede you said…”

“I said I would hold off on judging you,” she interrupts him.

“Does that mean you’re here to judge him now?” Prain asks in a shaky voice. Her hands are gripping the hilts of her dual scimitars sheathed in her belt.

“That depends,” Maumolla’s voice is calm and unnerving. “I herby judge the Titian Witch as unworthy of the title of demigod. Her punishment is death. What say you, Red Warrior?”

“What?” Brand nearly stumbles backwards in shock. “What are you saying? Brecha; unworthy? Why?”

“The reason is not important right now. What is important is what you plan to do about it.” Though still wearing her ceramic mask, she is obviously staring directly into his eyes.

“When last we met, I asked if you would show me the face of the beautiful Maumolla. I will make the same request again.” Brand is sweating nervously, despite the cold air wafting through the open door of the cabin.

“Again, I shall deny your request,” Maumolla responds calmly.

“Why?” he raises his voice. “Why do you hide behind that mask?”

“My face really isn’t much to look at,” she makes an excuse.

“Yes it is… or at least… it should be.” His eyes narrow. “Maumolla was supposed to have been the prettiest of all the demigods. Why cover up something worthy of such praise?”

“Do you even realize what you are referring to?” Maumolla scoffs. “Surely you’ve noticed your own appearance changing in the last ten years. A demigod isn’t a demigod because they are beautiful. A demigod is beautiful because they are a demigod. It’s part of their aura. Their own enhanced body slowly changes the longer they possess their powers. Maumolla wasn’t beautiful before she became the Violet Champion. Over the years her body and face changed into their most ideal form.”

“Why do you keep talking about yourself like you’re a different person?” Brand asks.

“Milord, you need to stop,” Prain squeaks in a terrified voice. “This isn’t Maumolla, it never was.”

“But… but… then where is the real Maumolla?” His face shows that he already knows the answer.

Maumolla retrieves Arma Vec from her back and twirls it in front of her. “Am I to assume you plan to defend the Titian Witch?” she asks in a tone of disappointment and perhaps boredom.

“God damn it.” Brand clenches his fists. Maumolla ducks underneath his first swing as he tries to make contact with her face. He wants to end this before it even begins. He follows through by trying to kick her, which she leaps back through the doorway to avoid, out into the snow. She is light on her feet, making dodging him look effortless.

“You can still change your mind,” she offers him. “Is the Titian Witch really worth your life?”

“You killed the real Maumolla, didn’t you?” he spits at her angrily.

“So what if I did? She wasn’t worthy to be a demigod. She abused her powers just like Turok.” Maumolla twirls her staff above her head.

“Then why are you here judging Brecha when he is still occupying Iron Grove?” Brand asks while leaning back to avoid a slew of shards flying off of Arma Vec like arrow heads.

“I'll get around to judging every single one of the nine eventually.” Maumolla shrugs.

“You’re too late though,” Brand sighs. “Someone has already killed three of them.”

“Oh,” Maumolla pretends to be surprised. “I'll have to thank him for making my work easier.”

“Work?” Brand’s eyes flare bright red as he stomps hard enough to crack the ground. “What you’re doing is murder.”

“I'm giving you a chance to defend yourself, am I not?” She sends another slew of blade shards his way. Arma Vec does not seem to be shrinking though. In fact, every time it touches the metal plate of armor on her chest it regains some of its mass.

“What are you doing?” Brand asks while tilting his head. “Are you using your own armor to replenish your weapon?”

“Clever little trick, isn’t it?” She chuckles as she sends another wave of shards at him. As usual though, he has no trouble dodging them. Even when a few of them make contact, they are incapable of breaking through his tough skin.

“That tingles,” he admits while shaking the shards off. I suppose that will be your Arma’s second ability; leaching like the Burach Bhadi of the northern lakes.”

“Exactly.” Maumolla nods. “You sure are knowledgeable. Do you know what Arma Tua is made out of as well?”

“I heard that Great Master Ledon Pence used Peri fairies to bestow its unique properties upon it,” Brand answers.

“Interesting.” Maumolla bobs her head approvingly. Apparently she did not know that about Arma Tua before. She is startled from her calm by a kick to the face from Brand, which very nearly cracks her ceramic mask. She has no time to recover before he has brought his foot down on her stomach like an axe, breaking her already weakened armor in two. “Damn it, I let my guard down,” she groans while rolling away before he can kick her again.

A crater forms where his foot lands. She would have almost surely had internal bleeding if he had been able to touch her. “You are an excellent monster.” She spits out a mouthful of blood as she climbs back to her feet. It immediately vanishes into Arma Vec though.

“You’ll even use your own blood to feed that thing.” Brand cringes. “And you call me a monster.”

“I never said I wasn’t one as well,” she admits while charging towards him. He side steps easily but the blade of her staff bends at a right angle, slicing through his vestments and glancing off his stone hard flesh. “I can see this won’t be easy,” she sighs.

“Easy? It’s impossible,” he scoffs.

“Confidence will be your downfall,” she is not deterred. Brand responds by kicking off the ground into the air with his powerful legs. He sails above her head, grabbing her braid in the process and smashing her face into the ground with his full weight, shattering the bottom half of her mask in the process. Before she can stand up, he kicks her in the jaw, chipping at least one of her teeth.

“Try recovering from that,” he taunts her.

“I’d warn you against letting your opponent rest, but you know it changes nothing for me.” She is drooling blood as she pulls herself to her feet again. From the way the blonde hair is spilling out from the now disheveled braid, it is obviously not her own.

“What the…?” Brand’s eyes widen in shock. Maumolla takes advantage of this, plunging Arma Vec through his chest guard, which is promptly devoured by her hungry weapon and used to extend the blade, pushing him backwards along the ground, leaving skid marks in the snow. It is still unable to penetrate his skin though. “That’s enough!” He laces his fingers and brings his fists down on her head, knocking her to the ground again and destroying the rest of her mask.

Maumolla quickly pulls herself up into a sitting position with her hands on the ground behind her, allowing Brand to see her full face for the first time. “Not bad,” she coughs up yet even more blood. Shards of her mask are jutting out of her face but the wounds have already started to heal.

“Not even Maumolla was that good.” Brand shakes his head in disbelief.

“Yeah, I don’t exactly understand it myself.” She chuckles while pulling out a necklace with a single bloodsucker fang dangling from it.

“What is that?” Brand squints at it.

“Do you know what it’s like to be the Violet Champion?” she asks with a solemn smile. “I don’t sleep. I haven’t been able to actually rest in over five years. Every drawling hour, I'm awake. The closest I get is when I touch Arma Vec. It drains my stamina if only slightly.”

“That’s not Maumolla’s power,” Brand repeats. “She could sleep just fine. I have memories of Genlock watching her curled up on the ground when she refused to sleep near his campfire with Lodar.”

“I don’t understand it either.” Maumolla shrugs. “I think its Melwits’s fault.”

“Is that the owner of that fang?” Brand jerks his head at her necklace.

“It’s scary to remember,” she sighs dreamily. “He and I both touched the rapture when the real Maumolla died. We both inherited the Violet Champion’s abilities.”

“Now that’s impossible,” Brand doesn’t believe her.

“Think what you like, but it’s true,” she assures him. “I had to fight off a bloodsucker with half the power of a demigod. Not to mention the fact that he was my lord. After I killed him, I inherited the other half of the Violet Champion properly; it just wasn’t the same though. It’s like it never stops, not even when I'm holding Arma Vec. I can't sleep, I can't grow tired, I'm always awake. These past five years have felt like ten. It’s hell, I tell you.”

“Allow me to end it for you then.” Brand leaps at her again. She tumbles to the side but the cracks that form in the ground when he lands trap her trailing arm. “Oops,” he feigns ignorance as he steps on her hand, snapping the bones within.

“You’re really heavy,” she grunts while reaching toward her staff with her other hand.

“Prain!” Brand shouts at his vassal. Obediently she snatches the weapon out of Maumolla’s reach but shrieks and drops it when a sudden numbing jolt hits her. “Careful, that thing will bleed you dry,” Brand warns her.

“That wasn’t very nice.” Maumolla frowns at Prain. “Be a good girl and return what’s mine.”

“How do you plan to even hold it?” Brand asks while stepping on her shoulder, which promptly dislocates with an audible pop.

“You’re real sadistic, you know that?” She grits her teeth to avoid screaming. “It’s alright, I know it’s not your fault. You inherited the Red Warrior’s failings just as I inherited Maumolla’s. I have the same hunger she had; the same desire to remove your flesh and see if it remains as impenetrable. And now I can.” She stretches her working arm toward Arma Vec again.

“Shut up!” Brand stomps on her stomach before she can reach it, very nearly creating a hole straight through her.

“Ah, time’s up,” Maumolla laughs as three bumps suddenly protrude from the side of Arma Vec, pushing off against the ground and launching the weapon into the air. It lands perfectly in Maumolla’s uninjured hand which she promptly uses to swing it at Brand’s leg. He does not even attempt to dodge it though as he knows his body is tougher.

When he lifts his leg with the intention of stomping on her again, a clean cut appears midway down his shin. It travels all the way through, severing the limb entirely. “Milord!” Prain gasps while covering her mouth in horror as his leg falls to the ground, leaving a perfectly flat stump in its place.

“What?” His red eyes flicker a few times as he tries to regain control of the limb he can no longer feel. His foot is still moving despite the fact that it is completely disconnected. Eventually he is forced to kneel just to keep from falling over. “How did you…?” He glances down at Maumolla as she slowly rises to her feet. In her right hand is Arma Vec, as white as always but with a new shape. It is now formed like a gigantic butterfly axe. “Arma… Tua…” Brand mutters in disbelief.

“I knew I couldn’t face you without a backup plan,” she admits. “I still have Maumolla’s memories of Genlock; the only one of the demigods who could stand against her. It took him fifty years to reform her from a psychopath to an upstanding demigod. It only took his death to bring it all crashing down. She relapsed into her old ways and made mistakes just like Turok. Do you see why I had to kill her now?”

“So he's dead? Turok is really dead?” Brand is still staring at Arma Tua, not listening to her at all.

“Don’t be too upset now,” Maumolla mocks him. She knows full well how much he despised his superior.

“You killed him and absorbed his Arma into your own; I don’t believe it.”

“It’s over for you, Red Warrior, do you admit defeat?” Maumolla is now towering above him. Just as Brand is about to bow his head, Maumolla jerks to the side to avoid being stabbed through the back by Brecha with her rapier. “Oh dear, is that Arma Fathra?” she asks while blinking at it. Her face is calm and unnerving with all of the damage Brand did already healing, save for her chipped tooth. The dried blood dripping down her cheeks remains as a reminder though.

“What have I ever done to you?” Brecha screams while trying to slice Maumolla again.

“This isn’t about me, it’s about you.” Maumolla lets Arma Vec slide through Arma Fathra just to prove how powerless the Titian Witch is. “Humans aren’t meant to live forever. If you won't die of old age, I'll just have to end you myself.”

“But I'm only forty,” she sobs while swinging at her wildly. It is obvious Brecha rarely fights one on one. From the way Maumolla is dodging her rather than returning her attacks, it almost seems as if she does not want to kill the pathetic woman.

“For a demigod, you sure seem… human.” Maumolla tilts her head in thought.

“I was human, I mean, I am human!” Brecha very nearly slices Maumolla’s trailing arm, still dislocated at the shoulder. It pops back into place on its own when Maumolla is forced to jerk it away though.

“I'm not here to deny the life that you lived; only to ensure that it does not exceed its limit,” Maumolla assures Brecha.

“You don’t get to judge that.” She nicks Maumolla’s cheek with the tip of the sword, drawing yet another streak of warm red blood. Instinctively, she shoves Brecha away from her, sending her tumbling backwards until Brand reaches out a hand to stop her.

“Are you ready to give up as well?” Maumolla asks hopefully.

“We give up, we die,” Brecha hisses as her eyes glow orange. Brand Lurches forward as blood starts to pour from the wound on his leg. He has lost his ability to control the bleeding. Maumolla barely has time to blink before Brecha has punched her in the face, sending her cart wheeling backwards into a formation of rocks buried in the snow.

“What was that?” Prain gasps while rushing to help her master.

“I, I think she stole my power,” he wheezes. Prain glances up at the red glow now surrounding Brecha. Sure enough she is now in possession of his aura and abilities.

“I didn’t know she could do that,” Prain is impressed.

“Please, I need her to give it back,” Brand begs. “I can't stop the bleeding.”

“Right.” Prain nods while standing up again. “Um, Miss Brecha.” She taps the demigod on the shoulder.

“What?” she screams while spinning around to face her. The orange glow in her eyes is now mixed with red, making for a fearful sight. Instinctively Prain covers her face, expecting to get hit in much the same way as Maumolla, who is only just recovering. “Oh, I'm sorry.” Brecha calms down quickly. “I…”

Her apology is interrupted by Arma Vec extending like a thin needle and puncturing her chest and the lung beneath. It is not enough to kill her though. Brecha stumbles backwards while struggling to breath. “There, that should help you calm down,” Maumolla mutters while shuffling toward her through the snow. She has her, no longer broken, hand covering part of her face; presumably to hide how much damage Brecha’s fist inflicted upon her.

“Leave me alone!” Brecha wails while propelling herself toward Maumolla and tackling her to the ground. She proceeds to punch her in the side of the face and the sternum repeatedly while continuing to scream incoherently.

Prain winces at the sound of each bone snapping as Maumolla struggles to reach Arma Vec which is just barely out of her reach. Looking back at Brand, Prain can tell he is fading. He needs Brecha to return his power soon or he will not be able to reattach his leg. He may even die from blood loss. “Give it back,” she whispers. The two tussling women are making too much noise to hear her though. “I said, give it back!” she shrieks while drawing her scimitars and pressing one to Brecha’s throat.

The demigod is distracted enough to stop hitting Maumolla, giving her the chance to grab Arma Vec, which she stabs into Brecha’s side. “That was a stupid thing to do,” she coughs at Prain. “You just helped your enemy.”

“I don’t care.” Prain quickly drags Brecha back to her fading master’s side. “Give it back,” she is half ordering half pleading. With a look of defeat Brecha touches Brand’s hand, returning his red aura to him. Prain immediately grabs his severed leg and begins to bandage it to the still bleeding stump with the same length of cloth she used on her father’s hand. It has always been her job to provide medical attention when necessary.

“Amazing.” Maumolla can't help but smile as she watches. “Can he really heal from something like that? So he really is the most powerful of the demigods.”

“What are you going to do?” Prain tries to swallow the lump in her throat unsuccessfully.

“You… love him, don’t you?” Maumolla touches her cheek. Tears stream down the young girl’s face but she does not answer. “It’s so strange.” Maumolla wipes them away. “Fine, I'll give you a chance to live a normal life. That’s all you get though; one normal life. Brand has been alive for thirty years now. That means after fifty more, I shall return to end him; and you know I can.” She holds up her axe shaped staff threateningly. “That goes for you too.” She stares at Brecha ominously. “Fifty years,” she repeats while backing away from them until she is no longer visible in the blowing snow.

“I don’t believe it.” Brand’s mouth is agape. “Did she really come all this way just to show us her new toy?”

“Who cares, she said she wasn’t going to kill us,” Brecha is sobbing with relief.

“She wanted us to know she could kill us at any time,” Brand continues to mutter. “She’s warning me not to step out of line like Turok. She’s the new leader of the nine… or what’s left of them.” He glances over at Prain to see if she is listening but is surprised when she leaps at him, wrapping her arms around his chest and knocking him to the ground.

“Thank goodness,” she sobs into his torn tunic. “I thought she was going to take you away from me.”

“Um, are you alright?” he stutters nervously.

“You idiot.” She frowns at him. “When are you going to stop pretending?”

“Well…” He pretends to scratch is chin. She puffs out her cheeks in annoyance as she waits. “Fine.” A smile spreads across his face. “She did say I only had fifty years left to live. I better start figuring out how I want to spend my time.” He drapes one of his muscular arms over her frail shoulder and hugs her tightly.

She closes her eyes as she continues to lie on top of him. Despite the snow swirling around them she is not cold in the slightest. In fact, she feels more alive than ever. This has been an eye-opening experience for the both of them. The way of the demigods is ending. They should be living their lives as humans while they can.
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