All Hollow’s Eve
Since leaving Palinthia, Row and her three companions have been traveling from town to town and territory to territory in much the same way, not staying at any place in particular for long. In the past several months they have managed to avoid involving themselves in anything dangerous; a welcome change from how they used to be.
At this very moment, they are all riding horseback along a path through a massive field that spans the area between Lord Raldwin’s mountainous territory and the swamplands of Lord Madine’s territory. With only two horses, it is necessary for Row to ride side saddle behind Seamus while Minto does the same with Nuve.
It is early morning and both horses have been running all night, led by barely awake riders. Row is fast asleep with her head leaning against Seamus’s back. It took a long time before she became used to the galloping trot of the horse beneath her but eventually fatigue won out. Minto is similarly leaning against Nuve’s back with her eyes closed.
Off in the distance both Nuve and Seamus can see the terrain beginning to change from lush green to swampy brown and grey. The stride of their horses becomes erratic. They are aware of the impending change and are unsettled by it. It is enough to wake both sleeping women from their blissful naps. Row is the first to wake, jolting upright and glancing around with her glowing red eyes in an attempt to ascertain her location. It takes her only a moment to recall what is happening.
Minto’s awakening is much more violent though. She practically falls off the back of Nuve’s horse as soon as she opens her eyes, which are already black with the power of the Dark Assailant. With the power she can see her surroundings but she is still uneasy. When she looks up at the rider sitting in front of her she flies into an immediate panic.
“You!” she screams as best she can while pointing an accusing finger at him. In the months following gaining the power of the Dark Assailant the wound on her neck slowly shrank until nothing but a scar remained. She has regained her ability to speak, though is it not perfect, especially when she yells.
“What?” Row shouts while glancing around, looking for the source of Minto’s anger.
“He killed me.” Minto continues to point at Nuve with a shaking hand.
Row cocks her head in confusion for a moment before realizing what she means. “Are you Kifflan?” she calls to Minto over the sound of galloping horses.
“No, I… wait, is that my name?” Minto starts to stutter.
“So her memories have finally awakened,” Seamus sighs in a dreary voice. The fatigue of riding all night shows on his face.
“She thinks Nuve killed her,” Row sputters.
“Get away from me!” Minto screams while leaping off the horse, tumbling when she hits the ground to avoid serious injury.
Nuve tugs on his reins to bring his horse to a stop a few meters ahead of her as she stands to dust herself off. He stares down at her pityingly without saying a word. Unlike Minto the wound on his throat did not heal so well. The damage he did by burning it closed was irreversible. Though he can talk when the time calls for it, his voice is permanently weak. He can no longer shout at all.
“Seamus, grab her!” Row orders her servant, causing Minto to glare at her before attempting to flee back along the trail. Seamus hands the reins to Row before leaping off the saddle and tackling Minto from behind.
“Get off of me!” She uses his arm to flip him over so he is on the ground below her. “What do you want with me?”
“Wow, you’ve gotten so much stronger,” Seamus is more impressed than upset.
“Who are you?” Minto demands while sliding Arma Driv out of her sleeve where she has been keeping it since leaving Palinthia.
“I'm a friend,” Seamus tries to assure her.
“You’re a friend of a murderer,” she accuses him while gesturing to Nuve again.
“This is not good,” Row moans while climbing down off her horse.
“Stay back.” Seamus holds up his hands defensively. “I know what she’s going through. It’s happened to me multiple times before.”
“I know.” Row’s expression is a solemn one. She can still remember some of the things he has said while under the influence of the memories of the demigods he has killed.
“I will stab you.” Minto brandishes Arma Driv threateningly.
“You don’t have the resolve.” Seamus marches toward her calmly. The athamé shakes in her hand but she can not use it. She is either in a poor position to mortally wound him or she simply can't bring herself to actually do it. Seamus grabs the blade and twists it out of her hand, allowing it to cut him in the process. The wound closes up almost immediately though.
During the months that followed his near death encounter in Palinthia, he practiced controlling the Bronze Cognition until he was able to forcefully suppress it. He now has full use of his other demigod powers without Row having to siphon Husk’s ability from him anymore. As such, Row has returned to the appearance of a child, although she looks a slight bit older now, perhaps age fifteen. It has been over a year since they left Bos Stad after all and she spent a good portion of it with her youthful bloodsucker aura suppressed.
Seamus himself is now over eighteen years old and looks like it as well, mostly due to the effect of the Silver Shape Shifter which allows him to choose his appearance at will. Nuve is also a fully grown adult now with a slight amount of facial hair growing from his chin. Seamus however continues to use Wan’s powers to forgo the need to shave.
“You'll pay for killing me,” Minto growls as she hops up and down in a feeble attempt to retrieve Arma Driv from Seamus, who is holding it just out of her reach. Despite gaining the abilities of the Dark Assailant, Minto has no more combat prowess than before.
“She’s still talking like Kifflan,” Row shouts. “Do something.”
“What exactly.” Seamus frowns at her. “I’ve never dealt with this before.”
“You’re so useless sometimes,” Row grumbles. “Nuve normally handles it when you get like this.” Both of them turn their attention to the silent ghoul hunter only to find him waiting at a safe distance still atop his horse.
“Well?” Seamus is impatient. Nuve responds with a frown. He is not sure what they expect him to do. Even if he could talk properly it would probably do little good. Kifflan’s memories are controlling Minto’s actions. The only thing to do is try reminding her who she really is.
Row seems to have realized this already as she is still trying to talk to Minto. “Kifflan is a man. You’re not a man,” she tries to reason with her.
“I told you, I'm not Kifflan!” Minto’s voice cracks as she shouts too loud.
“That’s good. Tell me who you are,” Row coaxes her.
“Shut up!” Minto tries to grab Arma Driv again but is still too short to reach it.
“Useless weapon,” Nuve mutters in an extremely low voice.
“What did you say?” Minto glances up at him. He shrugs instead of repeating. “You called it that before.” Minto reaches into the sleeve of her robe, searching for one of Kifflan’s hidden weapons or devices. “Where are they?” She is confused when she does not find any.
“Minto, look at your clothes,” Row urges her.
“Why am I wearing a dress?” Minto undoes the sash to her robe and lets it fall to the ground. “I'm, I'm a woman, aren’t I?” She stares at Row inquisitively.
“Well, that’s settled then.” Nuve marches his horse over to Minto and offers her his hand to help her back up. She backs away from him though.
“Why are you being so insensitive?” Row glares at Nuve. “Can't you see she’s terrified of you? She has memories of you killing her. It must be pure torture.”
“I don’t regret killing Kifflan,” Nuve admits. “I won't apologize for it. I'll be glad if I never see another demigod for the rest of my life.”
“You used to love demigods.” Minto pouts at him.
“Minto, are you back?” Row grabs her by the shoulders and shakes her.
“Oh god.” Minto turns and promptly vomits on the ground. “We need to stop. I can't ride any further today.”
“Are you sick?” Row presses a hand to her forehead. It is warm but not feverish.
“We can't stop,” Nuve argues. “There are no towns in sight.”
“There’s one beyond that ravine.” Minto points off into the distance. There is a mass of fog blocking the view in that direction.
“Can you see something?” Row leans close to her, standing on the tips of her toes so she can examine Minto’s black irises.
“There’s a town over there.” Minto points ominously. “We need to go there. I can't ride anymore.”
“You’re going to have to.” Nuve pulls her up onto his horse by the arm. Now that she has the unnatural strength of a demigod he no longer has to treat her like she is fragile. She refuses to look at him as they ride in the direction of the supposed village though.
As promised, they arrive at a small town hidden beyond a shallow ravine. Minto is breathing heavily by the time they reach it and is desperate to climb down from Nuve’s horse. She once again expels the contents of her stomach on the ground before collapsing against the wall of a nearby building for support. Row quickly drops down from Seamus’s horse to help her.
“What is wrong with her?” Seamus is thoroughly confused. “She can't possibly be sick, can she?”
“You should know better than anyone; demigods do not get sick,” Nuve whispers in his soft voice. “They are far too strong to succumb to any disease that plagues man. She would have to exhaust all of her stamina by overusing the eyes of the Dark Assailant before she would even come close to being susceptible.”
“And yet something is still wrong with her.” Seamus stares at the wheezing woman with concern. Nuve is starting to doubt his extensive knowledge of demigods himself. Seamus is actually glad to see the same amount of concern on his vassal’s face for once. Nuve’s all-knowing attitude mixed with his happy-go-lucky demeanor can be quite unnerving at times. Of course since leaving Palinthia, Nuve has been less than his normal cheerful self. He has completely lost faith in the demigods he used to worship.
After making sure Minto is comfortable leaning against the wall, Row runs off into the town, apparently looking for help. The first person she sees though is clad in strange clothing, a dark cloak with a hood hiding every part of them except for their face, which is covered by a stark white painted mask with colorful designs on it. Row stops in the middle of the street to stare at the strange man as he shuffles past, humming something indiscernible to himself.
“Excuse me.” Someone taps Row on the shoulder from behind, startling the normally alert bloodsucker. She nearly falls backwards when she sees yet another robed figure with a painted mask. This one is female judging by her voice and figure. “Excuse me but… are you a traveler?” the young woman asks.
“What, what’s going on here?” Row stutters in a terrified voice. “Why is everyone dressed like demons?” She is spinning around in order to take in the town in its entirety. Everyone she can see is wearing a similar robe and mask, including children. Even the shop owners who seem busy selling several different festive foods are wearing masks, though they have chosen not to don the strange robes that would make working and cooking cumbersome.
“Come with me, little girl.” The woman drags her toward a stall selling masks like hers. She hands the peddler a copper coin and quickly ties the mask onto Row’s face. “You should know better than to show your face on All Hollow’s Eve, little one.”
“All Hollow’s Eve?” Row gulps nervously. She recognizes the name from the stories her mother used to tell her. Apparently even the people of Massmede celebrated the devilish festival once a year. Everyone in town would don a ritualistic mask to hide their face except for one unfortunate woman chosen to play the role of the witch.
They would all celebrate into the night until it was time to light a gigantic bonfire, visible from Row’s castle. The witch was tethered to a stake nearby and pelted with food and sometimes even rocks. The following morning they were expected to have fled the town unless they were not old enough to survive on their own.
Whenever that was the case, the people would continue to degrade and torment them for an entire year until a new witch was chosen. Though no longer about killing witches, the celebration essentially banishes one of the villagers in every single town that participates, forcing them to flee on their own. Supposedly it brings good fortune and divine favor to the town.
“There you are, Row. Where did you run off to,” Seamus calls to his mistress as he rounds a street corner. “What are you wearing?”
“Oh, goodness, your friend is not prepared either.” The woman quickly purchases another mask for Seamus.
“We have to leave now!” Row is already panicking.
“Minto can't move. We need to find a healer,” Seamus disagrees. Row opens her mouth to argue but quickly bites her tongue. Her instinctual fear of a festival she has never attended before is not enough reason to risk Minto’s health. They have to stay at least until she is feeling better.
“I'm sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear; is your friend ill?” the woman asks while tying Seamus’s mask on. It is pure white like Row’s with a space below so his mouth is visible. Two fanglike protrusions hang down underneath it with red paint on the sides to represent blood. Row can assume what kind of demon it is supposed to be. Her dejected expression is hidden behind her own mask though, white with black whiskers like some sort of cat. “I am an apprentice healer,” the woman offers to help. “Where is your friend?”
“I'll show you.” Row takes the woman's hand to lead her back to the first building in the town, where Minto should still be resting.
The woman gasps as soon as she sees Nuve and Minto, neither one wearing a mask. “Oh no.” Nuve smacks himself in the face as soon as he sees Seamus and Row. “I'll be right back,” he assures Minto before dashing off to purchase one for himself and her.
“Why are these so important?” Row tilts her head in confusion.
“Things happen on All Hollow’s Eve that sociable people would never openly admit to being a part of. The mask is so everyone can look each other in the face tomorrow and pretend they weren’t involved in any of it,” Seamus explains. Row is reminded of the fact that he is only missing his personal memory. All of his general knowledge is still intact.
“I… hate… All… Hollow’s… Eve,” Minto wheezes between labored breaths.
“Calm down.” The masked woman rubs her back. “What’s wrong? When did this start?”
“I’ve been feeling sick for a few weeks now,” Minto admits. “It wasn’t anything serious until today though.”
“Oh dear.” The woman’s mouth, which is visible due to her mask ending just below her top lip, is now twisted in concern. “I'm not sure a healer can be of much help,” she admits.
“I know.” Minto nods. “My aunt always warned me about this. I need my medicine.”
“You know what’s wrong?” Row is both surprised and slightly annoyed. “Why didn’t you just say so? What is this medicine?”
“Cruentus lepus potion,” Minto answers while trying to keep from coughing.
“What?” Row’s eyes widen behind her mask. “What is bloodthirsty rabbit potion?”
“It’s a potion made out of rabbit’s blood, just like it sounds,” the helpful masked woman answers. “I don’t think it will help you though. You need lily root or rue herbs.”
“No!” Minto practically shouts at her. “You’re not using anything poisonous on me.” She grabs her stomach defensively.
“Then I'm afraid you have only one other option,” the woman sighs.
“Why won't the lepus potion work?” Minto whimpers. “All of the girls at the brothel took it daily. It’s why I hate meat so much.”
“You drank rabbit’s blood daily.” Row cringes. Minto glares at her angrily. Despite the fact that Row is in fact a bloodsucker, she does not actually suck the blood of anything. All she requires for sustenance is the life force of another living creature.
“Lepus potion will usually prevent a woman’s ability to bear children temporarily but once you stop taking it, you are vulnerable again. May I ask when the last time you gave service at your brothel?” the masked woman continues trying to help.
“Over a year ago,” Minto mutters.
“I see. So you are married now,” the apprentice healer surmises.
“Not exactly.” Minto averts her eyes.
The healer’s mask shifts on her face as she furors her brow. “Am I to assume you are bearing a child out of wedlock?” She frowns at Minto.
“Bearing a what?” Row practically shouts.
Just then Nuve reappears with two masks in hand. “There you go, Darlin’.” He ties one to Minto’s head, on the side rather than the front so her face is still visible.
“And this is the father then?” The healer continues to frown at Minto. She nods slowly.
“What?” Row is still in shock. “Nuve, Minto, explain.”
“What’s there to explain?” Minto grabs at her dress guiltily.
“Nuve?” Row turns her anger towards him instead.
“I didn’t realize what I felt for her until I nearly lost her,” he admits. “I regret nothing.”
“You’ll regret it if I have anything to say about it,” the healer spits in disgust.
“Honestly, it’s none of your business.” Nuve waves her away rudely. “Now that we know what is wrong, we will be more than capable of handling it ourselves, thank you very much.”
“On All Hollow’s Eve of all nights,” the healer grumbles as she shuffles away from them.
“I can't believe you two!” Row is still furious.
“Why does it matter,” Nuve sighs. “You and Seamus are no different.”
“Excuse me, I have done no such thing with my servant,” Row scoffs.
“Not this again,” Minto groans. “Do we really have to listen to how upstanding and noble you royals are?”
“I…” Row is caught off guard. “I just…”
Seamus places a hand on her shoulder to calm her down. “We don’t have to agree with their actions,” he whispers to her.
“So you disagree too?” Minto snaps at him.
“It is really none of my concern.” He shrugs. “As long as none of this interferes with my vassal’s duty to me I shall turn a blind eye to it all… as will my mistress,” he adds after a moment.
“What? Why?” Row sputters pointlessly. Eventually she simply gives up though. “Can we please leave this town now?” she asks while crossing her arms.
“Why are you so eager?” Nuve asks. “Should we not enjoy All Hollow’s Eve?”
“I’d rather not involve myself with villagers on the one day of the year when they refuse to be accountable for their actions,” Row responds curtly.
“We can't leave. I can't ride right now.” Minto rubs her stomach wearily.
“How far is the next village?” Row asks Nuve, the one of them most likely to know.
“It’ll be All Hollow’s Eve in every village,” he reminds her. “You can't outrun it.”
“Oh.” Row suddenly feels extremely stupid.
“Let’s find an inn.” Seamus says what they are all thinking.
With all four of them wearing masks now, Row no longer receives the startled stares of the villagers. She is greatly annoyed that they need such an item just so they can act in ways they would never do normally. She is positive any of these villagers could simply murder one of their peers without any repercussions the following day.
Dealing with the few people who are still dressed in their work clothes is a welcome relief though. Despite all still wearing masks it is obvious who they are so it is not likely they will do anything to destroy their reputation. “We need two rooms.” Nuve slams his palms down on the bar of the inn as soon as they arrive. The man behind it is wearing a plain mask with no hole for his mouth but he is obviously an employee or perhaps the owner, which puts Row’s mind at ease.
“One for the ladies and one for the gentlemen with two beds in each or two single rooms for a pair of two husbands and wives?” He asks in a deep voice. Even with their new masks it is obvious that two of them are women.
Seamus opens his mouth to say something but Nuve is faster. He drapes one of his arms over Minto’s shoulder and shoves Seamus into Row, forcing him to catch his balance by grabbing her. “We are married, yes.” He nods vigorously. He is hoping to avoid more of the spiteful looks the apprentice healer gave him before.
“Are you planning to turn in already? As you can tell, we have the festival well under way. Pumpkin treats on every corner. We even have some attractions like archery and knife throwing. You strong men look like you’d do well at the log chopping competition. If you win you’ll get a better view of the bonfire and the staked witch.”
“Thank you but no.” Row slams down the proper amount of money for two single rooms.
“Who is playing the witch this year?” Nuve is curious.
“Oh, it is tragic, isn’t it?” The innkeeper shakes his head solemnly. “We couldn’t convince any travelers like yourselves to do it so we held a lottery. The mayor’s daughter Elwin has been chosen.”
“And you’re going to beat her to death with stones and burn her alive,” Row mutters.
“Not actually, of course.” The innkeeper shakes his head quickly. “Considering the fact that she is not old enough to leave the town on her own, I assume she will remain here after the festival. It would have been nicer if a less well known girl had been chosen. Then at least she could pretend it wasn’t her tomorrow.”
“I don’t understand this pathetic ritual,” Minto scoffs. “In Glass Gate we have one witch chosen per district. Many times I have played the part along with others from the brothel. It is easier to force the role on those of lower standing. How exactly did the mayor’s daughter get picked?”
“In Saltzden we pride ourselves on equality. No one is exempt from being chosen, prostitute or nobility,” the innkeeper informs her.
“You’ve played the role of the witch before?” Row stares at Minto in awe.
“It’s not that difficult. No one knew who I was because I never left the brothel. I also couldn’t tell who was pelting me with rocks and food so it didn’t matter. The other prostitutes had to deal with it too so I wasn’t alone.”
“Perhaps you’d be willing to do our mayor’s daughter a favor.” The innkeeper wrings his hands nefariously.
“Absolutely not!” both Row and Minto shout at the same time.
“I will not be subjected to that humiliation again.”
“We would be most grateful. It is much better for the role to go to a stranger, you know. I would be more than willing to pay for your rooms tonight and your friends would receive special treatment at the festival. They would be at the front of the crowd when it is time to light the bonfire and would be tasked with throwing the first stone, so to speak.”
“I'm not throwing anything at my wife.” Nuve clasps his hands around Minto’s waist tightly.
“You did marry a prostitute, sir,” the innkeeper reminds him.
“You just said people were treated equally here.” Row frowns at him.
“Publicly, yes, but those with money and power, like the mayor, have ways of avoiding responsibilities like this. It will only be for one night and I can promise no harm will come to you.”
“You can't promise anything.” Nuve shakes his head. It is obvious he is thinking of the child Minto is carrying.
“Please, there must be something I can offer you,” the innkeeper seems desperate. “Elwin is a sweet girl. This could ruin her chances of inheriting the rule of the town from her father.”
“Did you not hear us?” Nuve is losing his temper.
“I'll do it!” Row spouts before Nuve can say anything else. Seamus pinches the bridge of his nose but says nothing. Somehow he knew things would end up this way.
Row has a habit of involving herself in the affairs of every town they pass through. Though they have not faced any demigods since leaving Palinthia, they have encountered more than their fair share of excitement, ranging from ghouls and bloodsuckers picking fights to other spiritual apparitions like the Each Uisge and even fighting their way through an underground cavern beneath the Raldesh mountains, filled with monstrous rock moving worms.
“Seamus, look after her, will you? I'm going to take my… wife… upstairs to rest,” Nuve does not want to be a part of another one of Row’s endeavors.
“Actually, I’d very much like to see the festival,” Minto admits.
“You just said you were too sick to ride,” he reminds her.
“I can walk just fine,” she assures him. “Besides, I’ve never actually seen a festival before.” She bats her eyelashes at him, showing off her eerie black irises. Nuve slaps his forehead in annoyance but does not argue. She has already made up her mind.
“I'll have my wife take you to the mayor’s house immediately.” The innkeeper rings a bell on his bar, summoning a short and slightly pudgy woman from the back of the inn. Of course, she is also wearing a mask. The innkeeper takes a moment to explain the arrangement he has made with the travelers before sending all five of them on their way.
It is a slow trek through the streets of the town as dozens of masked people are blocking their path at every turn. Row takes this chance to look upon the festival with renewed interest. Most of her original apprehension has faded and she is now fairly intrigued by what is going on around her.
“Did you have festivals like this in Bos Stad?” Nuve asks while watching the enamored bloodsucker act every bit as childish as she looks.
“We stopped celebrating All Hollow’s Eve before Row and Champaign moved to town,” Seamus answers. “I don’t know the specific reason.”
“You still don’t have any memories that don’t include Row in them, do you?” Nuve sighs.
“What’s all this?” Minto is intrigued by their conversation. “Is there something wrong with Seamus’s head?”
“It’s not important.” Seamus does not feel like explaining his situation to her.
“Come on, why won't you two ever tell me anything?” Minto whines. “All three of you think you’re smarter than me and that you don’t have to take time to explain anything. It is really annoying sometimes.”
Row starts to laugh to herself without taking her eyes off of the passing festivities. She is not exactly sure how smart Minto is but it does often appear as if she has less knowledge of the world than the rest of them. At the very least she does not have Nuve’s extensive knowledge of everything demigod or Row’s seemingly limitless reservoir of stories from her mother.
What she does have is exactly what Seamus has, the memories of a demigod and therefore all of the knowledge and wisdom they possessed at the time of their death. Unfortunately it is impossible to call on the memories at will without a power like the Golden Clairvoyance, making her that much more useless than Seamus; not to mention the fact that Seamus has three more sources to call upon than she does.
“Here we are.” The innkeeper’s pudgy wife stops them directly in front of a large fancy looking house in the middle of the village. “Elwin and her father Emerd are inside, preparing for the bonfire. Normally they would already be attending the festival but Elwin did not want to go out when she knew everyone would recognize her.”
“So how exactly am I supposed to replace her when everyone already knows she is playing the part of the witch?” Row asks.
“Well, normally we distribute wanted posters of the witch the day before when they are from out of town. That way everyone can recognize them. Obviously no posters were needed for Elwin. We’re going to need to put on a flashy display to get people’s attention and convince them you are the new witch.”
“How exactly should we go about that?” Row tilts her head inquisitively.
“I'm afraid I won't be able to help you with that.” The woman turns to leave. “I must return to my duties at the inn. Emerd only paid us to find him a traveler willing to take Elwin’s place. The rest is up to you.”
Nuve turns a disappointed glare on Row. It seems she has fallen for a trick set up and financed by the mayor. “I told you I hate All Hollow’s Eve,” Minto grumbles.
“We could just turn around right now and leave,” Nuve suggests. “Please tell her to leave,” he is practically begging Seamus to say something.
“My mistress does what she wants, not what you tell her to do,” Seamus scolds him. “The decision lies with her.”
“I’ve already made up my mind to help this poor girl.” Row crosses her arms confidently. Nuve ponders for a moment as to why this particular bloodsucker seems to have more empathy for others than some humans. Perhaps she has been belittled by Minto one too many times and is desperate to prove her wrong.
“Who’s there?” Their conversation has garnered the attention of someone inside the large house in front of them. “Alis, is that you? Have you found someone to play the witch yet?” A broad shouldered man in a uniform with a blue cape on his back exits the house. Just from his appearance the four onlookers can guess that he is the mayor. “Who are you?” he asks in confusion.
Nuve slaps Row on the back, causing her to stumble forward. “Um, hello, sir mayor. I was told you were looking for someone to play the part of the witch,” she gulps nervously.
“Really?” The relief in his eyes is obvious. “Oh, thank goodness. Elwin, come out here,” he shouts into the house.
“I'm here, Father.” A tall girl with curly golden hair in a white frilly dress exits the house next. “Is it time to attend the festivities?”
“Oh yes it is.” He nods happily while removing the cat mask from Row’s head and placing it over his daughter’s face.
“I don’t understand, Father. How are people supposed to recognize me as the witch if they can't see my face?”
“You needn’t worry about that, dear. Tonight we shall have a marvelous celebration without the need to tarnish your reputation at all.” He is grinning proudly at Row.
“She’s quite beautiful.” Elwin grabs part of her hair insecurely. She is obviously envious of the royal bloodsucker’s natural good looks. From what the four onlookers saw before her father covered her face she must put a lot of effort toward looking acceptable. Minto is actually reminded of the large amount of powder she used to wear while living at her aunt’s brothel. “I still don’t see how you are going to convince the people of Saltzden that I am no longer the witch,” Elwin is skeptical of her father’s plans.
“All we need to do is put on a better performance,” he assures her. “We’ll make this young woman so convincing as a witch that everyone will forget you were ever set to play the part. They’ll think a real witch has descended upon the town.”
“That seems a might bit dangerous, don’t you think?” Nuve is suddenly worried. “What if they really do try to burn her at the stake?”
“Here now, boy, why are you trying to dissuade her?” the mayor grumbles at him.
“I'm not changing my mind now,” Row snaps at Nuve. “Let’s just get to it already.” Again Nuve and Seamus share annoyed glances but say nothing. Row is technically older than them and the leader of their hierarchy due to being Seamus’s mistress. They could not go against her wishes even if they tried.
Over the next several hours Row attends the All Hollow’s Eve festival without wearing a mask, followed closely behind by Seamus, Nuve and Minto. Everyone she passes in the street turns to stare at her like she is crazy. Some of them even offer her money to buy one. Instead she responds by threatening to curse them or trying to sell them potions to destroy their enemies. She even goes so far as to steal small unimportant things from random people trying to enjoy the festival, ranging from food to the very masks they are wearing. It is quite comical in its own way.
After a while the people of Saltzden begin to recognize her whenever she approaches. They are all gossiping about the girl trying to play the role of the witch for no reason. They seem convinced that she is doing a good job though. Whenever anyone asks why Elwin is no longer acting as the witch she simply scoffs, calling Elwin a fraud not worthy of claiming herself a witch. Eventually the people accept that she has taken on the role. They all seem to agree that she is doing a better job than Elwin would.
Throughout the duration of Row’s antics, Seamus and Nuve participate in a variety of competitions, including the aforementioned log chopping contest. Nuve manages to take fourth place in archery and Seamus third in mock sword fighting. Minto on the other hand spends the majority of her time satisfying cravings for different types of food which makes Row jealous due to the fact that she can not consume human food.
Minto is not the only person gorging herself though. Seamus is known to have an insatiable appetite, mostly due to giving the majority of his life force toward sustaining his mistress. Consuming large quantities of food seems to be a necessity for him just to stave off becoming a ghoul whenever Row feeds on him. Tonight is no exception. Nuve is actually disturbed by how much his master and his supposed wife are able to eat.
Eventually, the people of Saltzden light several torches and begin to search the streets for Row. She does her best to hide from them but it is impossible. She is dragged all the way to the center of town by the mob and tied to a tall stake next to a gigantic pile of firewood and dry kindling. She tries to maintain a calm appearance while actually being quite terrified. Her breathing slows when she notices Seamus and Nuve pushing their way through the crowd. They each flash her a forced smile which puts her mind at ease for the moment.
After a while listening to the villagers screaming derogatory names at her, Row notices the mayor making his way through the crowd. “Can everyone see the witch?” he asks in a booming voice, and receives a roar in response. “How many of you have been unlucky enough to encounter her this evening?” he continues his charade. Again the individual voices of the townspeople are indiscernible. “The time has come for us to rid ourselves of this taint! Everyone, grab your stones!”
The mayor is the first one to lift a small smooth looking rock above his head. It appears as if it is intended not to injure Row very much but she knows it will still hurt if it hits her. She winces as the rock sails through the air, striking the stake and bouncing off. Before she can even sigh with relief, the townspeople have begun to throw their own stones at her as well. Unfortunately not all of them are as thoughtful as the mayor.
Before long several welts have formed on the bloodsucker’s exposed hands and arms as more and more of the airborne projectiles glance off of her rather than hitting the stake or simply missing. As Row has refrained from feeding on Seamus’s life force recently she is not as immune to injury as a fully sustained bloodsucker should be.
Eventually the mayor raises his hands to signal the end of the stoning. One more rock flies through the air, striking Row on the side of the head and drawing a trickle of blood down her cheek. The mayor glares angrily in the direction it came from but has no way of knowing who threw it. “It seems our witch has grown weary,” he addresses the crowd again. “It is time to light the fire and end the taint.”
Again a roar of approval erupts from the crowd as those still holding lit torches approach the bonfire kindling. The dry wood bursts into flame almost immediately, startling Row. A terrified gasp actually escapes her lips but it is lost in the noise of the villagers. They are all chanting, “Burn the witch,” over and over again. It almost seems as if some of them would actually do it, given the chance. This is what scares her about All Hollow’s Eve; with none of their faces showing, these normally placid villagers have no reason to act civilized.
Nuve and Seamus are dutifully watching to make sure her fears remain unfounded. As they wait the villagers start to chant something indiscernible, meant as a prayer to the gods requesting divine favor in exchange for the life of the witch they are about to sacrifice. The entire ritual seems quite barbaric. At what point in time was this practice actually allowed to occur? What ever made killing witches a source for divine favor? Currently, those who can use mana to heal the sick or otherwise are regarded rather highly. The time to be afraid of those who can practice magic is over.
Unlike Nuve and Seamus, Minto is much more excited about what she is witnessing. “This is amazing,” she gasps. “I had no idea it would be like this.”
“I thought you hated All Hollow’s Eve,” Nuve reminds her.
“I hated being the witch,” she corrects him. “I’ve never actually seen the festival, decorations and all, before.”
As the night draws on the chanting dies out and the villagers begin to disperse. Some of them return to the festivities to eat more food and play more games while others decide it is time to turn in for the night. The fire has grown low and Row has passed out from heat and exhaustion. The mayor is the one to wake her by splashing a bucket of water down her front. “How do ya feel, lass?” He pulls her eyelids up to make sure she is still alive.
“Terrible,” she admits while trying to wipe her face on her sleeve. Having her arms still bound behind the stake makes it difficult though. Her throat is dry due to her proximity to the fire but now it is gone and her wet clothes are causing her to shiver.
“Hey, what’s the hold up?” an annoyed voice bellows over the sound of the remaining villagers.
“Out of the way, Emerd. We need to finish this soon.”
“What’s happening?” Row groans while raising her head enough to look around. The masks of the villagers look angrier than before for some reason. They are all still holding rocks and torches, ready to resume stoning her at any moment. “I don’t understand.” She looks to the mayor for answers.
“I'm terribly sorry about this.” He shakes his head apologetically but does not move to free her.
“Let me go. The festival is over.” She begins to struggle.
“Surely you did not think I was so desperate to remove my daughter from this ritual simply to protect her reputation, did you?” his voice changes from sympathy to mockery. “We had a terrible harvest last year, did you know? It’s these marshes; they’re not meant for raising crops. We’re all out of ideas here, ma’am. I do hope you understand.”
“I don’t believe this,” she starts to panic. “It’s just a game. You can't really earn divine favor by doing this.”
“Perhaps not, but there is only one way to be sure.” He retrieves one of the rocks thrown at her earlier.
“Seamus!” she shouts into the crowd as best she can with her dry throat. He is close enough to hear her though. The villagers whine in protest as he and Nuve shove them out of the way so they can reach Row. Her eyes are already glowing red as Seamus begins to untie her. The moment his neck is within range, she lunges at him, sinking her fangs into his flesh and drawing blood. For a moment Seamus’s eyes cycle through the colors silver, green and yellow.
“Bloodsucker!” the villagers gasp immediately.
“The witch is a bloodsucker! Kill her! Kill it!” Most of them scatter but a few actually raise their torches, preparing to converge on Seamus and Row.
The first one to reach them is a woman with a small scythe in her hand and a mask with puffy painted cheeks, perhaps like a rabbit’s. “Come here you little miscreant.” She reaches toward Row’s face with her unoccupied hand.
“No!” the bloodsucker shouts after breaking away from Seamus. Leaving a glowing trail of green where her eyes were a moment ago, Row vanishes like her brother always does. It is obvious to Seamus and Nuve that she has just activated Turok’s time slowing ability.
A gust of wind blows the masked woman’s hair up as Row dashes past her several times. Eventually she stops directly behind the woman, digging her steel fingernails into her throat and lifting her off of her feet, which is not an easy task considering their difference in height.”
Nuve and Seamus watch in awe and horror as Row vanishes again, taking the woman with her. They reappear almost thirty feet in the air, already sailing between two rooftops. Rather than bringing the woman with her to safety though, Row simply releases her, letting her plummet to the ground below, which she meets with a sickening crunch.
“What is she doing?” Minto’s dark eyes widen in shock.
“Never interrupt a bloodsucker while she’s feeding,” Seamus shouts at the clueless villagers. “She’s completely feral.” Suddenly Row appears behind another one of them before vanishing into the air again and dropping them the exact same way.
“She’s going to kill them all like that,” Minto realizes.
“Seamus, how many powers were you using?” Nuve asks a serious question. Seamus stares at him blankly though. “How many powers did she siphon from you,” Nuve repeats. “How many were you using at the time.”
“I was on guard,” Seamus snaps at him. “I was preparing to fight.”
“What does that mean?” Nuve asks despite knowing the answer full well.
“All of them. I was using all except for the Bronze Cognition,” Seamus admits. “She has all of my powers, Nuve. She’s as powerful as me.”
“I don’t understand. How can she steal your powers like that without invoking the rapture?” Minto is more curious than afraid.
“She didn’t steal the ability, just the aura I have stored,” Seamus tries to explain. “A demigod’s power comes from the mana in the air. They absorb it and transform it into their aura and use it to remain youthful and to supply their ability. In a day or so the power will have faded from her and I'll have replenished my aura.”
“But that didn’t happen with the Bronze Cognition,” Minto argues. “She held onto that power for days.”
“The Bronze Cognition is the exception,” Seamus informs her. “It can be described as the lack of an aura. There is nothing to fade from her or replenish in me, just the ability itself. In fact, it is easier for Row to steal the Bronze Cognition than any of my other abilities.”
“Why is that? Isn't life force pretty much the same as an aura?” There is no end to Minto’s questions.
“Energy in this world exists in multiple forms. The three most prominent being mana, life force and aura,” Seamus continues his attempts to enlighten her. At the moment there is nothing he can do but watch Row flicker around the town square, drawing people up into the air and dropping them, seriously injuring them if not killing them. He has no actual desire to save any of them after their admitted intention to stone his mistress to death.
“Row explained this to me before.” Minto snaps her fingers. “Mana exists in everything in nature, the water, the air, the minerals in the ground.”
Seamus nods in agreement. “Exactly. It is the original form of energy. Plant life that is consumed by animals and humans transforms into life energy. Eat an animal that has life energy and it will transfer to you.”
Minto sticks out her tongue in disgust. She has mentioned on multiple occasions that the only animal she will eat is fish. “Wait, so when bloodsuckers feed on animals they are really just eating plant life that has been processed for them,” Minto realizes.
“It is no different when I eat meat,” Seamus admits.
Minto can tell that to Seamus Row’s feeding habits are completely natural if not somehow less barbaric than his own. “But why can't Row simply absorb mana from the air?” Minto cocks her head. “It would save her a lot of trouble, wouldn’t it?”
“Life force may come from mana but it is not the same thing. You can't survive off of pure mana either, can you?” Seamus douses her suggestion outright. “If you try to absorb mana your body can not transform it into life force. Instead it surrounds your body like a shell. That is your aura. Right now, since you have the power of the Dark Assailant, that aura is transformed into the ability to see. That is what Row took from me, my aura, not my power. The only demigod that’s ability literally turns mana into something that can sustain them is Maumolla. She could probably go years without eating anything.”
“So what about ghouls?” Minto is not out of questions yet. “If they have no life force, then how come they don’t die?”
“The absence of life does not mean death.” Seamus shakes his head. “There are many things in this world than can move despite technically not being alive to begin with. Each Uisge is a prime example. When a creature loses all of its life force it becomes a nonliving entity. It tries as hard as it can to replenish its life force by consuming other animals that still have theirs. Unfortunately if a creature remains void of life for too long they lose their ability to store it. They permanently transform into a creature that’s bloodlust is only satisfied for the few moments directly after feeding.”
“I don’t like ghouls.” Minto shudders. “I can't believe that knight in Glass Gate married one.” Before Seamus can respond to Minto’s statement, she vanishes into thin air, having been snatched away by the rampaging bloodsucker he has chosen to ignore so far. It seems he can no longer do so now.
“Put her down!” Nuve shouts into the air as loud as he can despite his throat injury. He has no idea where Row is at the moment.
“It’s alright!” Minto’s voice emanates from the top of a nearby building. Row is standing on a lower part of the roof with her eyes glowing a dim green. “She’s not going to hurt me.” Row bares her fangs as if to disagree.
“Seamus, do something,” Nuve hisses at his master.
“Why?” He shrugs. “Let her destroy this pathetic town.”
“It’s not their fault. She was the one that volunteered to be the witch,” Nuve argues.
“She was just trying to help them. Why does it always end up like this?” Seamus groans.
“I think you know the answer to that. People aren’t ready to exist with bloodsuckers harmoniously. Hell, I'm not ready.”
“But you can,” Seamus counters. “You’ve been traveling with us for the past year without once trying to sever your contract with me, even after seeing that it is actually possible. Even if you don’t like it you can live with a bloodsucker. Sir Castine is married to a ghoul, Nuve. It’s not impossible. People are just so stupid.”
“Now you’re starting to sound like a demigod.” Nuve half frowns half smirks at him.
“I really do have to stop her, don’t I?” Seamus’s face darkens.
“I’ll help you,” Nuve assures him.
“I'm not sure I like that idea,” Seamus admits. “If you can defeat my mistress when she has all three of my powers, then what does that say about me and you?”
“I was always better than you, and you know it,” Nuve laughs as he dashes off toward the building where Minto and Row are perched. The villagers have already gathered below and are throwing more stones at the bloodsucker while continuing to shout derogatory phrases at her. Minto is clinging onto the chimney of the building and shaking her head disappointedly. She is beginning to hate her own race more and more.
Before Nuve has even reached the building, Row disappears again. A moment later she reappears holding Mayor Emerd off the edge of a different building. “Please, it wasn’t my fault,” he breaks down, sobbing pathetically. Row seems incapable of responding. Her human traits such as speech have been suppressed. The mayor screams shrilly as she tosses him into the air a good twenty feet. He comes crashing down in the center of the crowd below but they all move away rather than trying to catch him.
From the way he is positioned Nuve can tell that his neck is broken. “Row, you need to stop.” Nuve holds up his hands to show her they are empty. He left his metal bow at the inn and Arma Driv is holstered in his belt. He has no intention of using it on his master’s mistress.
Row either can not understand him or simply does not care. She flickers from view, only to appear directly in front of Nuve with her right arm already extended in the motion of punching him in the stomach. He tumbles backwards head of heels until he slams into the wall of another building on the other side of the town square. “Hey, why’d you do that?” Minto shouts at her. “He's your friend.”
“Friend?” Row repeats while flickering directly in front of Minto. “You’re not my friends. You hate me.”
“That’s…” Minto does not have an excuse. She has made her dislike for everything bloodsucker too apparent to deny it now. “I'm sorry, okay? You’re my friend now, Row. Please believe me.”
Row makes a thoughtful humming sound while tilting her head. “No.” She makes up her mind right before shoving Minto off the roof. The new Dark Assailant is more than capable of controlling her decent though. It almost seems as if her eyes are telling her the best way to fall without injuring herself. She lands hard on her left foot, twisting her ankle terribly but is otherwise unharmed.
“Okay, that’s enough, Row,” Seamus decides to finally interfere. “I don’t care what you do to these villagers but I can't let you harm our friends.”
“I just told you, they’re not my friends!” Row screams, shaking the entire town square with her echoing voice. “You’re supposed to be on my side.” He eyes turn yellow as she tries to control him. Arma Venture sprouts from his forehead without warning, creating two holes bleeding profusely. Without Wan’s power to help, using Arma Venture is much more painful. Row is unable to infiltrate her servant’s mind as long as he possesses the powerful Arma. Instead she resorts to controlling the villagers.
Immediately the possessed people begin attacking each other with their torches and stones. Though at first all they do is club each other they soon figure out how to inflict more damage, ranging from setting fire to clothes and hair to bludgeoning each others’ skulls until they are either knocked unconscious or killed.
“Stop!” Seamus pleads with his mistress. He may not like these people but he can not stand to see humans suffering.
“No, I will not stop.” Row shakes her head solemnly. “This is what they asked for. They should have just been content with their withering crops. Yes, stoning a witch brings reaction from the gods; just not the one they were hoping for.”
Seamus watches helplessly as the villagers slowly kill each other off until only one remains, Elwin, the very girl Row accepted the role of witch in order to save. Nuve has managed to stand up again and is shuffling toward Seamus. “Every town we visit we leave in ruins.” His eyes are wide in disbelief.
“It doesn’t matter.” Seamus clenches his eyes to avoid looking at the bodies piled around them.
“Yes it does!” Nuve grabs and shakes him.
“No it doesn’t!” Seamus raises his voice. “Nothing matters. I resigned myself to this a long time ago. Nothing matters as long as I have Row.”
“How can you be so selfish?” Nuve continues to shake him until Minto limps between them, forcing them to break apart.
“It doesn’t matter,” she repeats Seamus’s words. “There’s nothing we can do now. It’s not Row’s fault. It’s not anyone’s fault.”
“Yes it is.” Nuve is blinking back tears. “It’s all of our faults… and theirs.” He gestures to the dead villagers. “You can't absolve anyone of blame for this. We should never have come here. Row should have known better than to volunteer, especially when she hadn’t fed in so long. They should have never tried to complete the witch burning for real. It’s everyone’s fault.”
“And that’s okay.” Minto hugs him. “There’s nothing you can do.”
“Isn't there?” Nuve glances up at Row who is still staring down at them menacingly. The yellow glow is only just fading from her eyes. “I could stop her.” He draws Arma Driv from his belt.
Minto slaps him before he can even react though. “Don’t you dare. Do you know what it feels like to be cut by that thing?” She slaps Seamus’s chest to make her point. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
“Then what should I do?” he begs her for instructions.
“You killed a demigod by yourself once, remember? Think of something yourself.”
“Kifflan may have been the weakest of the nine,” Nuve admits. “This is Row; a royal bloodsucker with the power of Turok, Lodar and Wan. I don’t even think Maumolla could stop her.”
“We have to try.” Minto’s eyes flicker for a moment, revealing their normal brown color before turning black again. Before she can even attempt to approach Row though, a sharp pain shoots through her stomach, causing her to keel over.
“What? What is it?” Nuve is kneels down next to her.
“I think it’s the baby,” she groans. “Something happened when I fell off the roof.”
“What? When?” Nuve was unaware that she had fallen. “We need to get you to a healer.”
“No one in this town will help us.” Seamus shakes his head.
“I'm getting my horse.” Nuve stands up again.
“We can't leave Row,” Minto wheezes.
“I don’t care.” Nuve runs off toward the inn where they left their horses tethered. There are other people outside of the town square, completely unaware of what has happened. None of them seem to notice as he rushes past though.
“Seamus, you have to stop Row,” Minto pleads. “She’s the closest thing to a friend I have. Please, help her.”
“How?” he is at a complete loss.
“Yes, how?” Row suddenly flickers in front of them. “More to the point, why?” Her green eyes are on Minto. “I told you to stop calling us friends. I want nothing to do with you.”
“I know you don’t mean that,” Minto breathes heavily. “I have never been nice to you and I'm sorry. I was wrong about you and about bloodsuckers. I see now what makes people so afraid of them. I also realize that you almost never act like this. If this is what bloodsuckers are supposed to act like then you are a miracle, Row. In over a year you have never once lost control like this before. You amaze me. You must constantly be at war with yourself. You must really love Seamus if you act so human just for his sake.”
“Shut up.” Row covers her ears, which have become more pointed, perhaps due to Wan’s shape shifting power.
“It’s okay, Row.” Minto’s breathing is slowing. She seems about ready to pass out. “You are a good person. You are a better human than any I have ever met. You have the ability to do all this but you never do. And look.” She gestures toward Elwin who is now sobbing over her father’s body. “Look what you will do to save one little girl.”
“Please stop.” Row seems to be in pain just from hearing Minto talk. She is causing a conflict between her mind and her instincts. She stares up at the sky and tilts her head in confusion as a strange looking bird flutters past. It is completely black with glowing yellow eyes, meaning that it is a ghoul bird.
“Now, Seamus,” Minto shouts.
“Now what?” He stares at her stupidly.
“Kiss her!” Minto orders him. He stands stock still for another moment but Minto sticks out her leg, kicking him in the shin with her heavy boot. He nods slowly before pivoting to fact Row who turns a tear stricken fact toward him which causes him to falter. She closes the distance though, bringing her mouth to his.
Minto can see Seamus’s eyes as they turn brown for a second. Soon the power has transferred to Row though, causing her to grow like she always does when she takes on the Bronze Cognition. She jerks back away from Seamus but he holds her shoulders to keep her from escaping. “What have I done?” She gazes around at the destruction.
Before either Seamus or Minto can answer, the ghoul bird Row saw before lands on her shoulder and drops a folded piece of paper in her hand. “What is that?” Seamus tries to grab it.
Row is faster though. She unfolds it and scans the tiny scrawled words quickly. “It’s Corvic. He wants us to meet him in Glass Gate.”
“Please, anywhere else but Glass Gate,” Minto moans. She has as much hatred for her hometown as Nuve has for his.
“Should we go?” Seamus asks cautiously.
Row stares around at the destruction she has caused before answering. “I have to. He’s my brother.”Seamus does not let his disdain show as he nods obediently. His opinion of Corvic means nothing to Row and would not change her mind even if he voiced it. He gives one last fleeting glance to the sobbing girl Elwin, kneeling in the center of a dozen bodies, some she herself killed. As he himself said, it does not matter; there is nothing they can do now. It seems they will be returning to Minto’s home city of Glass Gate soon. He has no idea what Corvic has waiting for them though.