For the next three days, Maumolla walks away from Glass Gate at a slow saunter. Her eyes are flickering multiple colors as she fails to control her powers properly. Finally, when she reaches an isolated area at the base of a massive cliff she activates the power of the Bronze Cognition and promptly falls asleep on her feet.
She wakes up a mere five minutes later, having collapsed on the ground. Her eyes are once again shifting colors. After trying a second time to use the Bronze Cognition to suppress her powers so she can finally sleep after six long years and waking up again after only five minutes she becomes depressed. She had hoped beyond all reason that she would finally find peace when she had collected all of the powers of the nine. It seems she was wrong though.
Maumolla stares at the face of the cliff for a long time with a sullen expression, listening to the sound of her own breathing. This is what she wanted, right? She wanted to be the only demigod in the world. No, she wanted there to be no demigods at all. Her quest is not over, not as long as she still holds the power of the nine.
Unfortunately when Ardine first tried to use the power of the Azure Savior on her, she proved that Maumolla was immune. She already has more energy than any normal human being. There is only one way she will be able to trigger the rapture and she already knows it.
Facing the cliff, Maumolla twirls her staff for a moment before stabbing it into the ground in front of her. She takes several steps back while making sure to keep in line with Arma Vec. Suddenly she leaps forward while activating the power of the Bronze Cognition, which once again puts her to sleep immediately.
She is jolted awake by the terrible pain of Arma Vec entering through the bottom of her chin and stabbing through the roof of her mouth. She can taste her own blood pouring onto her tongue. Is this it? Is this what death feels like? No.
She can already feel her other powers pushing the Bronze Cognition back. Her mouth is healing around Arma Vec. Quickly she grabs the handle, extending the blade until it has pushed through and out the back of her head. The pain has gone numb though. She is healing too fast. Eventually her body simply pushes the weapon out and closes the hole it made entirely.
Maumolla lets out a shrill scream while tossing the staff away. "It's not fair! Why won't you let me sleep?" she cries. "I'm tired, so tired. I just want this all to end. Please let it end. Make it stop. It's not fair."
"Why should anything be fair?" an echoing voice answers her pleas.
She can already recognize it as the voice from the river in the original Maumolla's memories. "You!" she screams at the sky.
"What would you ask of me?" A beam of purple light strikes the ground in front of her. After a moment a woman in a violet robe emerges. She is smiling cheerily in such a way that her eyes are made small by her cheeks. Maumolla's mouth hangs open in awe. "What would you ask of me?" the woman repeats.
"Take it." Maumolla holds out her hands to her. "Take this power back, please."
"Is that what you truly desire? Is there nothing else you wish to accomplish?"
"I said take it, goddamn it!" Maumolla screams while grabbing the woman by the front of her robe and shaking her. Slowly she backs into the light again, pulling Maumolla with her. A sudden bout of fatigue overtakes the demigod as she loses her unlimited stamina. She falls forward onto the woman's shoulder in a dead faint.
Maumolla has no idea how long she is unconscious for but when she awakens she feels completely different. Just touching her own skin she can tell she has lost the rest of her demigod power as well. "Did you sleep well?" The woman in purple is staring down at her from above.
Maumolla bolts upright when she realizes her head was in the woman's lap. "Clementine?" she asks cautiously. "That is your name, right?"
"You can call me that." The woman nods. "I represent the second hero of the wolf man fable, Clementine. At least, that is the role I have chosen for this game."
"Game?" Maumolla's face darkens. "What game? This is no game."
"On the contrary, that is exactly what this is. We are currently in the middle of congratulating our victor."
"Victor?" Maumolla repeats while glancing around. She has only just noticed eight other figures surrounding her. She can only recognize one of them though, a man in blue armor. "Boris," she mutters while pointing at him.
"Good day to you, milady." He bows politely. He gives off a strange vibe which disturbs Maumolla, mostly because his armor looks far too large for him. He is even taller than Ardine was but his lanky figure makes him appear weak, as does his short stubbly brown hair.
"So? Who won?" a different man interrupts. He is terribly short, with the appearance of a small child. He is wearing a dark green vest and trousers.
"Zachariah," Maumolla spouts immediately.
"Yup, that's me." He winks at her. "I represent the trickster in the wolf man tale. I am always meddling with the heroes and trying to set the wolf man free."
"So that's why Turok was so annoying," Maumolla surmises.
Zachariah makes a pained face before responding. "Well, it's not like I told Turok what to do. He simply played his own part. He lasted pretty long though, unlike some people." He glances over at a woman shrouded in a dark cloak. Her hood hides his eyes from view completely but her long black hair is visible from the front.
"Is that, Drusilla?" Maumolla blinks at her. The woman in black shrinks away immediately.
"That's our misleading witch alright." Zachariah nods. "Her role is to drop false clues as to the wolf man's identity and always lie when asked a question. It's actually quite rude."
"You'll have to forgive Zachariah. He's obsessed with the tale of the wolf man." A man in full fur attire bows politely to Maumolla.
"Angus!" Maumolla shouts before she can stop herself. She is not sure why but all of these people look exactly how the original Maumolla imagined them when she first heard the story of the wolf man as a child.
"Yes, I am Angus, the woodcutter." He nods. "My role is as the heroes' first encounter. I provide lodgings for Boris and Clementine as well as directions."
"Then the rest of you must be…" Maumolla glances around at the other four figures. "You're Clarence." She points at an orange haired man.
"At yer service, milady," he responds with a thick accent. "I was the first victim of the wolf man." He seems slightly disappointed in his role.
"And you're Riana." Maumolla almost looks excited as she identifies each of the characters in front of her.
"Ah, yes, I am the beautiful and dazzling Riana, wife of Clarence and the second victim of the wolf man." The blonde woman tosses her locks as if to show off. Maumolla stifles a laugh as she wonders what Lodar would say if he knew his powers originated from a female god. It actually suits his weak character quite well.
"Then we have Antanon." Maimolla shifts her attention to a noble looking man with a red cape.
"It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance." He kisses her hand. "I am the handsome prince who falls in love with Clementine and fights with Boris for her."
"Your personality does not suit Brand or Genlock at all," Maumolla can't help but laugh. "Now, who do we have left?" She raises a confused eyebrow when she spots the final figure, an elderly man with grey hair and tattered clothing to match. "There are dozens of characters still unaccounted for in the story but I assume they were assigned the gods whose representatives died years ago."
"That is correct," Boris speaks up. "We all came here to retrieve our powers after you made it painfully obvious you did not want them anymore. We are the last nine playing this game."
"Game…" Maumolla repeats with distain. "How can you treat this like a game? Do you know how many people died for your entertainment?"
"Entertainment is the opportune word," Boris interjects. "This has helped us stave off boredom for over two hundred years. Now we shall be forced to find a new source of amusement."
"Or we could start the game all over again," Zachariah suggests. "This time we should all explain the rules to the humans. It really wasn't fair that you won at your own game, Boris."
"Wait, Boris won?" Maumolla is confused. "Why?"
"Technically the person he chose to represent him stayed alive the longest," Clementine answers. "In fact, young Ardine is still alive at this very moment."
"But the rapture," Maumolla tries to argue.
"Well, if you count passing your role on to a different person then I guess Drusilla wins, right?" Clementine directs Maumolla's attention to the cloaked woman in black.
"The Dark Assailant?" Maumolla is utterly confused. "Why would she win?"
"Because her power is still being held by a human," Clementine informs her.
"But that's not possible. I took everything from Seamus. He should have had the Dark Assailant's power as well." Maumolla grips her head in panic.
"Are you sure he had it?" Clementine is smirking at her.
"Well, I couldn't sense it in him but I thought that was because of the Bronze Cognition." Maumolla is breathing in and out deeply just to keep herself calm. She can not believe how careless she was. There is still one power unaccounted for. "What do I do? I need to find it."
"And do what?" Clementine asks. "You can't possibly stand up to a demigod as you are now. We've already retrieved all of our powers from you. You're human again, little one."
"Human?" Maumolla repeats slowly. She almost doesn't believe it. "I'm human." She can't help but smile as tears spring from her eyes.
"Now, little one, it is time for us to go." Clementine smiles at her.
"Go? Where are you going?" Maumolla asks.
"Back to the heavens of course." Clementine hugs her. "I'd offer to let you come with us but it might be too boring for a human."
"No, I'll come," Maumolla sputters. "Actually, please let me come. I don't want to stay in this horrible world. I have nothing here. I beg of you, let me see the heavens."
"Oh dear." Boris clicks his tongue in disagreement. "Look what you've done, Clementine."
"I'm sorry, I didn't think she'd actually accept."
"Wait, you weren't serious?" Maumolla looks like she is about to start crying again.
"Well, I was joking but I guess it doesn't matter now." It is obvious that Clementine has trouble saying no.
"I don't think this is a good idea," Boris argues.
"You wanted something to curb your boredom, right?" Clementine counters. "How about this, if she can name all of us from the story and which powers we gave the humans, we'll let her come."
"She already knows most of us," Zachariah reminds her.
"She doesn't know all of us though." Boris grins at the grey haired man.
"Go on, little one." Clementine pushes Maumolla into the center of the group. "Let's hear it."
"Um…" Maumolla is caught off guard. "Okay then. You are Hero Clementine and the Violet Champion. He is Hero Boris and the Azure Savior. This is Trickster Zachariah and the Jade Behemoth. Wow, I really thought he'd be larger."
"We didn't choose those silly names," Zachariah growls at her, pretending to be more annoyed than he is. "Turok just happened to be a large man and therefore received a fitting title. Just keep going. Who is she?"
"That is Witch Drusilla and the Dark Assailant," Maumolla continues. "He is Woodcutter Angus and the Bronze Cognition. That is Innkeeper Clarence and the Titian Witch."
"Why does my title sound so feminine?" Clarence groans while the rest of the gods laugh at him.
Maumolla smiles but continues without faltering. "That is the innkeeper's wife, Riana, and the Golden Clairvoyance. Next to her is Prince Antanon, the Red Warrior."
"And finally?" Clementine is holding her breath. She actually seems to want Maumolla to come with them to the heavens.
"Finally…" Maumolla turns to face the grey haired man. "You are the wolf man, Isaiah. You are the Silver Shape Shifter."
"Aye." He nods solemnly.
Boris's mouth drops in disbelief. "Oh, she did it!" Clementine squeals while hugging Maumolla. You're so clever, little one. Come on, I can't wait to show you off to everyone; my own little pet human. Congratulations Maumolla."
"Taka," Maumolla mutters almost inaudibly.
"Excuse me?" Clementine cups her ear.
"My name isn't Maumolla," she whispers.
"Oh, of course not." Clementine shakes her head vigorously. "Maumolla was the first Violet Champion. Who were you again?"
"My name was… is Taka," she answers with a smile.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Taka." Clementine shakes her hand. Soon the rest of the gods have formed a line so they can be properly introduced. They each shake her hand with the exception of Drusilla and Antanon, one of which is too shy apparently while the other kisses her hand again.
Maumolla can hardly believe what has is happening. She is basically being welcomed into the heavens by the gods themselves. Mere moments ago she was blaming them for creating the sick and twisted game which took her humanity from her but now all she wants to do is stay with them. It is not just the demigods whom she despised; no they were once humans themselves. It seems she is incapable of living her life in the world itself. She does not belong there and she is happy to be leaving.
"I can't believe you two!" Nuve starts in on scolding both Row and Seamus the moment the guard that led him and Minto down into the dungeon to see them has left the room. "Of all the stupid things you have ever done…"
"Now, now." Minto squeezes his arm affectionately. "We can't really blame Row for trying to save her brother, and I'm sure Seamus only did what she asked of him."
"You're far too soft on 'em darlin'," he sighs. "You're lucky she's here or I'd skin you both… and I could do it too. No one would stop me… least of all you," he directs his insult at Seamus.
"Yeah, yeah," he sighs. He has already told Nuve how he lost all four of his powers and that the ghoul hunter turned vassal is now free of their contract and free to abandon him. Of course, even if he wanted to, Minto wouldn't hear of it. Since the events in Saltzden, she has become convinced that she and Row are the best of friends. Something neither Nuve nor Row are so sure about.
"Alright, you two stand back. I'll have you out of there in a moment." Nuve kneels down in front of the keyhole to the barred chamber.
"Do you have some sort of weapon to break the lock with?" Seamus asks. "They took Arma Sorn from me or we'd have already freed ourselves."
"They did not allow us to bring weapons either, but they weren't willing to deprive an invalid of his limb." Nuve makes a fist with his metal hand.
"How exactly is that supposed to help us?" Row scoffs.
"I'll punch the lock until…"
"That won't be necessary." They are interrupted by someone entering the dungeon behind them.
"Who are you?" Row frowns at the man dressed in royal robes.
"Sorry for not introducing myself. I was hoping to see if the blood of King Doryan we share would cause us to react with one another."
"Oh, that's right, I can smell it on you now." Row sniffs the air, causing Minto to cringe. She is still slightly uncomfortable with the strange habits bloodsuckers exhibit. "You must be Lord Glasstien's son," Row surmises.
"Technically, I am Lord Glasstien now. I have inherited the title and have no use for my original name anymore."
"How wonderful for you," Row sighs. "Is there a reason you have decided to venture in the dungeons of the city? I would have thought that would be the last thing the new lord would want to do after taking command of his father's territory."
"What kind of host would I be if I did not greet the lord of my neighboring territory in person?" He grins at her.
"Lord of what?" she cocks her head.
"Am I correct in assuming that you are Lady Rowleen Ironglave, born to Lady Owleen and Lord Ironglave twenty-four years ago?"
"And if I say yes?" Row remains cautious.
"I have come to invite you to a summit being held in my council chambers in a week's time. All twelve representatives of the twelve territories will be there to discuss the sudden absence of the demigods." Minto shifts her eyes guiltily but Nuve places a hand on her shoulder, assuring her that saying nothing is the best course of action for now.
"Why exactly do you need me there?" Row turns up her nose. "Just have that pathetic self obsessed steward attend in my place."
"Master Token will of course be representing Iron Grove, but I would still like the true lord to attend." He bows to her with his hand on his chest. "I am trying to rectify some of the wrongs my father did and one of them was turning a blind eye to Turok's annexation of Iron Grove. After receiving such swift aid in our time of need, it is apparent to us in Glass Gate that Iron Grove is an ally and we would like to keep it that way."
"So you want to pretend to be on good terms with both Token and me just in case I manage to take over again in the near future," Row surmises.
He nods slowly. "According to my advisors, you are the last remaining child of Lord Ironglave. It would not surprise me if you chose to reclaim your homeland within your obviously long lifespan." He eyes her up and down with a look of intrigue.
"Does that mean we are free to go?" Seamus asks warily. "We are technically prisoners of war."
"I will have you unofficially pardoned," the new Lord Glasstien assures them. "Only Grand Bishop Tasler knows the extent of your involvement and I have ordered her to hold her silence lest she face the wrath of the twelve lords for withholding a forbidden Arma for generations."
"What about my Arma?" Seamus leaps to his feet. "May I have it back?"
"I'm afraid all of the remaining Armas in the world are being locked away," he informs him. "With no more demigods there is no one worthy of wielding them. They are too dangerous for humans to use, especially in the face of what is coming."
"Are you predicting some sort of conflict?" Minto asks stupidly.
"Of a kind, yes." He nods. "Will you attend my summit, Lady Ironglave?"
"There is one last problem, though." She crosses her arms sternly. "Token will most definitely be against this."
"I have already spoken to him," Lord Glasstien informs her. "He has agreed not to do anything rash. His position is still unstable. Several citizens of Iron Grove are still bitter after Turok's rule and fear that he will be no different. He can not have one of his first acts as steward to be a confrontation with the rightful lord, by which I mean you of course. If he wants everything to remain the way it is, he will pretend he has never met you as long as he is in the presence of others. Recognizing you would be like acknowledging that he allowed you to be driven from your own home by Turok seven years ago. It would most definitely lose him support."
"So we both hold something over the other." Row grits her teeth in annoyance.
"If you do not wish him to reveal your bloodsucker lineage then you will refrain from confronting him as well." Lord Glasstien nods.
"Very well," Row sighs. "I will attend your summit but not dressed like this. I expect only the best treatment from your servants and a proper wardrobe to choose from. I also want a veil so I will not have to show my face, understood."
"Row, you're being too demanding," Minto scolds her. "Lord Glasstien's city is in ruins. You can't expect him to…"
"Understood," Lord Glasstien interrupts her. "I shall send for my best servants immediately. It is an honor to host you, Lady Ironglave. I pray you find your rightful place on the throne of Iron Grove soon. Good day." He bows one final time before leaving.
"Quite the cunning lord, isn't he?" Row is smirking.
"He was so nice, and you were so rude." Minto frowns at her. "Do you not realize your position? He could have left you here for years."
"And it would feel like the blink of an eye to me," Row reminds her. "He came to me for a favor, which meant I already had the advantage in this negotiation. I should have actually pushed harder to see how much he would give me. He might have even given me a proper dwelling in the city for me to bide my time before returning home to Iron Grove."
"I still don't understand why it was so important that you attend this summit," Minto argues. "He already has Token."
"You forget, this man, above all others, knows how bloodsuckers think. If and when I decide to reclaim Iron Grove, be it in ten years or fifty, he wants me to remember who helped me."
"He really does expect you to succeed," Nuve gasps.
Row shakes her head. "It doesn't matter if I do or don't. If I die trying to reclaim Iron Grove he can continue dealing with Token. If I succeed, this will become the single most important trade of his short human life. He had so much more to gain by helping me and nothing to lose."
"You've really thought this through, haven't you?" Nuve smiles at her nervously.
"You scare me sometimes, you know that?" Minto shudders. "I don't understand how you come up with these ideas, all of the time."
"That's my girl, smarter than anyone." Seamus hugs Row from behind and turns her head so he can kiss her.
"Is that really what he sees in her?" Minto whispers to Nuve. "Is intelligence really all that attractive?"
"In your case, no," Nuve insults her jokingly. Minto is at least smart enough to know when she is being mocked. She stomps on his foot before stalking off up the stairs and out of the dungeon. "Oy, darlin', wait, I didn't mean it." Nuve chases after her, leaving Row and Seamus to await their release so they can prepare for the summit. They do not seem to mind though. They have a lot to discuss on their own; some of it is serious business about Iron Grove and such while some of it is not.
Lord Glasstien, Lord Madine, Lord Goldfrey, Lord Dashire, Lord Raldwin, Lord Fablesmith, Lord Handsworth, Lord Oldenseer, Lord Pracivile, Lord Orbland, Captain Token, Sir Prandon; twelve representatives from twelve separate territories have gathered in Lord Glasstien's council champers to discuss the fate of the world in the absence of the demigods.
"Let me be the first to express my relief at hearing that you are doing so well following your slight rebellion, Lord Glasstien," Lord Pracivile is the first to speak. "I waited day and night for good news and was overjoyed to receive your invitation to this meeting."
"I can only imagine." Lord Glasstien flashes him a fake smile. "It must have been similar to how I felt when I received word that Iron Grove, Sliver Bay and Madenhime had sent aid to my father. It really is a shame the forces of Pracifortia were unable to spare any soldiers."
"Sir Prandon is originally from our humble lands," Lord Pracivile laughs nervously. "Surely his aid was invaluable."
"Sir Prandon's choice to help was his own, as was his choice to abandon his homeland," the secondary representative of Sliver Bay speaks out of turn.
"Know your place," Prandon scolds his subordinate. In the large circular room, there are twelve chairs seated in a ring with two more chairs behind each, designated for advisors and other witnesses. Directly behind Token, two women are sitting patiently. One is rather old with grey hair and wrinkles while the other is younger and wearing a ceremonial magician's robe. They are unfamiliar to anyone else in the room but they are actually Kalina and Ardine, come to give support for Token in his time of need.
Seamus and Row are seated directly behind Lord Glasstien. He is not expecting them to speak up unless absolutely necessary, giving them plenty of time to examine the other occupants of the room. Obviously the military leader Cashak is sitting behind his lord, Madine. The rest of the faces are unfamiliar to Row and Seamus.
"Shall we move on from chastising those who did not feel the need to spend the lives of their own soldiers in a conflict that did not concern them?" Lord Fablesmith decides to back Lord Pracivile. It is a well known fact that the two of them are trade partners and all around allies. Unbeknownst to Seamus, they are the decedents of the two men who married daughters of King Doryan. Their titles were bestowed upon them by the fallen god himself.
"If you would accept it, Pracifortia is willing to send aid to help you rebuild," Lord Praciville offers politely. "We have two hundred soldiers and workers willing to sacrifice time for the sake of helping an ally."
Lord Glasstien thinks to himself for a long moment before responding, letting the eyes of the other lords glance over him impatiently. "Your offer is most welcome." He can not afford to pass up aid in any form.
"Excellent. I shall begin moving troops as soon as I return to Pracifortia. Of course we will need to carry out a purge before they can actually begin rebuilding." A gasp travels around the room. The small note Lord Praciville tried to slip past was obviously noticed and not well received.
"Why exactly should we conduct a purge?" Lord Glasstien frowns at Lord Praciville.
"Obviously, it is not safe for my soldiers in your city," he stutters nervously. "Once I am sure that no straggling rebels remain, then we can start the rebuilding process without worry."
"And if I refuse to let you purge my city?" Lord Glasstien is glaring now.
"I don't think what Lord Praciville is asking is unreasonable," Lord Fablesmith comes to his friend's aid dutifully. "How can you expect him to risk the lives of his own men?"
"Why don't you just come out and admit what you are suggesting?" Sir Prandon interrupts them. "You don't want to purge the city of rebels, you want to purge it of bloodsuckers." Another gasp travels around the room.
"And what's wrong with that?" Lord Praciville crosses his arms. "Bloodsuckers are a taint on society and our whole nation. I refuse to offer aid that may go to helping them rebuild as well."
"A good portion of my citizens are bloodsuckers!" Prandon slams his fists on the short podium in front of him. "If you are planning on suggesting a purge of Sliver Bay as well, you can forget it."
"That's not a bad idea," Lord Fablesmith snickers at him.
"I'm afraid I must agree with Sir Prandon." Lord Glasstien nods. "I am suffering from a shortage of citizens. Now so more than ever I need every able body, bloodsucker or otherwise. There will be no purge. Glass Gate will now officially be welcoming bloodsuckers as full citizens. Refugees are welcome as well. The more newcomers the better. We have dozens of empty homes waiting to be occupied."
"Are you mad?" Lord Praciville gasps. "Do you know what you are suggesting? I can't condone this; I won't. If you do not enact a purge on Glass Gate of your own volition, I shall be forced to march upon your weakened city."
"I second this motion." Lord Fablesmith raises his hand.
"Ahem," the sound of Lord Goldfrey clearing his throat startles everyone. He is a middle-aged man with shoulder length white blonde hair and a stern face along with bushy eyebrows to accent his almost always angry expression. "Did I hear you correctly, Lord Praciville? You plan to invade another lord's territory? I'm sure you realize that what you are suggesting is a crime. You do know how I feel about crime, do you not?" He leans across his podium so the other lords can see his stern face properly.
It is a well known fact that Lord Goldfrey is a devout punisher of lawbreakers, going so far as to designate the entire town of Palinthia for the purpose of executing criminals in such a horrific manner that other lawbreakers will be deterred from being caught offending within the confides of his territory. If Lord Praciville plans to invade Glass Gate as he claims he will most certainly make an enemy of himself in Lord Goldfrey's eyes.
"Are you suggesting that we do nothing?" Lord Fablesmith is not deterred. "You enjoy punishing crime so much, what about Lord Glasstien's crime? Harboring bloodsuckers is a crime only matched by the crime of being one."
"That's right," Lord Praciville finds his nerve again. "Won't you join us in our quest to purge these lands, Lord Goldfrey? You of all people should appreciate the effort we expending here."
"Shut your lie spewing mouths, why don't you?" Lord Madine is the next to speak. "Honestly, if King Doryan could see you two, he'd be ashamed. Lord Goldfrey will not have anything to do with either of you conniving windbags."
"You speak out of turn," Lord Goldfrey scolds him. "I am more than capable of representing myself, thank you very much."
"Sorry, sir." Madine shrinks in his seat. It is obvious that he holds a certain amount of respect and fear toward the elder lord.
"So which law are we abiding by?" Lord Orbland interjects. "Are we invading Glass Gate or are we harboring bloodsuckers? Both sound equally bad in my opinion."
"It seems we have reached an impasse." Lord Goldfrey is smiling sinisterly. "I suggest we take a vote to see which law is more important. Who all here agrees that invading another lord's territory should be perfectly legal?"
"You can't be serious," Lord Praciville gasps. "No one is going to agree with you."
"Really? I thought you'd all jump on the chance. You all seemed to find it perfectly acceptable to allow the demigod Turok to annex Iron Grove unimpaired. It's not so simple when it's your own territory on the line, now is it?"
"We get your point," Lord Fablesmith spits angrily. "None of us are willing to make it legal to invade another lord's territory. I suppose you think this means we'll back down. Well you'd be wrong there. We still have a duty to uphold the other laws. Harboring bloodsuckers is a heinous crime and Lord Glasstien has all but admitted to it. We can hold a trial right here and find him guilty. The punishment will be the dividing of his territory between the remaining eleven lords, ten if you don't count Madine."
"What was that?" Lord Madine slams his palms on the podium in from of him.
"That is a risky initiative, Lord Fablesmith." Lord Goldfrey clicks his tongue inquisitively. "If I may, I would like to offer an alternative. Who here votes that we should abolish the law stating that harboring of bloodsuckers is illegal?"
"What did you say?" Both Praciville and Fablesmith stand in disbelief. "That's not even remotely funny. You shouldn't joke about such things."
"And if I'm not joking?" Lord Goldfrey is smirking. Apart from his strict law-abiding nature, he is also known for going to great lengths in order to amuse himself, sometimes at the expense of others.
"You seriously want us to vote on this?" Lord Madine has gained interest.
"Oh please," Lord Fablesmith groans. "You know he's just going to vote against whatever I vote for."
"While I'll admit that my view does differ from yours, and that I will be voting to abolish the law on harboring bloodsuckers, I still take great offence to your accusation, Lord Fablesmith."
"Yeah, yeah." The curly blonde lord groans while pinching the bridge of his nose. "Let's just get this over with. Who else agrees with mad old Goldfrey?"
"I don't think I have a choice," Sir Prandon speaks up. "I have already openly admitted to considering bloodsuckers citizens in my territory. I would be mad not to take advantage of this opportunity to resolve this peacefully."
"That's three votes, counting my own." Lord Goldfrey smiles at Praciville and Fablesmith. "Four more and we have the majority."
"Any fewer and we'll have the right to uphold the law," Lord Praciville warns him.
"Well I think my bid should be an obvious one." Lord Glasstien raises his hand. "Three more. Anyone?"
"I think I've had enough of unlawful intrusions upon my rice fields," Lord Dashire speaks up. "I do not agree with the harboring of bloodsuckers but if the alternative is to invade Glass Gate then I vote against it, here, here."
An eerie silence falls on the council as they wait for two more votes. Lord Goldfrey is sitting with his hands laced on his lap and his eyes closed while Sir Prandon jerks his head at Token repeatedly, silently begging him for his vote.
Finally after several minutes Token rises from his seat reluctantly. The rest of the council waits with baited breath as he clears his throat. "First of all I would like to remind Sir Prandon and Lord Glasstien of the fact that neither one of them sent aid to Iron Grove when we were unlawfully invaded by the demigod Turok. I understand how unimaginable the idea of standing against a demigod is but I have done it.
"Now you both ask me for my vote in your favor and I say, aye; not because I believe harboring bloodsuckers is right but because I can not in good conscience leave you in peril the way you left me. I want you to know that I am not like you and I want you to feel guilty every time you remember how willing I was to help you in your time of need unlike you."
Both Sir Prandon and Lord Glasstien hang their heads in respect and shame. Neither one of them was in control of the territories they now command at the time Turok took over Iron Grove but there is much more they could have done. They have no right to ask this of Token and are unworthy of the support he has just offered.
"Anyone else willing to vote, please do so now," Lord Goldfrey bellows. The remaining six lords all look at each other, silently threatening one another to hold their tongues. "I'm deeply disappointed in some of you," Lord Goldfrey sighs while eyeing Lord Raldwin particularly. "Well that settles it then; we are evenly split. You know what the means, gentlemen."
Seamus silently taps Row's shoulder until she turns to face him. "What does it mean? I don't understand," he whispers.
"The lords are divided. We are going to war," she answers solemnly.
"The council is dismissed!" Lord Goldfrey shouts. "Be safe when traveling back to your own territories and be warned, the next time we meet, some of us shall be enemies."
Lord Fablesmith wrinkles his nose in annoyance as he stalks out of the room but Lord Praciville seems genuinely scared. He did not come here to start a war. It is too late though. The other lords are already preparing to fight. He will have to do the same or become one of the first casualties.
"I can't believe this." Seamus watches in awe as the rest of the lords leave one at a time until only Lord Glasstien remains.
The young ruler of Glass Gate is currently talking to one of his guards in a serious tone, just loud enough for Row and Seamus to overhear. "Go and release Sir Castine from the dungeon," he orders his subordinate.
"Sir?" the armor clad man is confused.
"We're going to need him."
"That's an order," Lord Glasstien loses his patience for a moment.
"Yes, sir." The startled guard stands to attention before sprinting from the room.
"Are you sure you can trust him?" Seamus asks as he and Row approach the young lord.
"His ideals are the same as ours." He nods. "He's the type of man who will jump at any chance to achieve his goals. I'm more interested in you at the moment though." He turns to face Row. "Have you decided what you are going to do?"
"If you are asking if I plan to retake Iron Grove then I can't give you a clear answer. I have five hundred more years to decide if I ever want to set foot in that place again. It is not a pressing issue at all," Row sighs.
"May I ask that you make it even less pressing for the moment?" Lord Glasstien bows politely.
"Are you asking me to refrain from attacking Iron Grove until after you are done using it and Token for your war?" Row's eyes narrow.
"You are ever so smart." He continues to smile at her as he raises his head. "You said it yourself, it may be years before you stake your claim to Iron Grove. I only ask that you not waste Token's resources until after I have dealt with this conflict. This war works out for your kind as well you know. Despite merely being a catalyst for Lord Goldfrey to incite unrest over, he did offer to abolish the laws oppressing bloodsuckers. This is good for you. Can you not see that?"
"Unfortunately my kind is not so tightly woven as humanity," Row responds calmly if not coldly. "I am more concerned with what is good for me as an individual."
"But of course, we can renegotiate your terms." Lord Glasstien wrings his hands eagerly.
"I want my own estate in Glass Gate, larger than the horrible dwelling we were assigned when we fled Quess. I want the right to come and go as I please with at least two servants on staff at all times. I need money and the freedom to pursue my own agendas separate from yours. Naturally I will not interfere negatively with your war efforts. My acquaintances, the ghoul hunter Nuve and his wife who came to visit me in the dungeon, will also have any requests they desire granted, including an estate of their own or certain amounts of money within reason."
"Row? Don't you think you're asking a bit much?" Seamus is becoming nervous.
"Understood." Lord Glasstien accepts without any hesitation. "You do know how to negotiate, Lady Ironglave. I shall see to your requests immediately." He scurries out of the room. He pokes his head back through the doorway a moment later though. "By the way, milady, welcome to Glass Gate." He bows politely before disappearing again.
"Row, what are you doing?" Seamus hisses at his mistress. "You can't just involve yourself with his affairs like this. What if he expects you to offer support in his war."
"He hasn't asked me to yet. In fact, he seems to want me to stay neutral for the moment. It's a good offer, don't you think? Free lodging in exchange for doing nothing," she does not appear even slightly concerned.
"You shouldn't go making bargains with people like him. "You're placing yourself in a position of debt for things we don't really need."
"But we do need them," she raises her voice. "Seamus, you're not a demigod anymore. I thank you for the excellent service you have provided up until now but it is my turn to protect you. I don't want to lose you, Seamus. Please, I'm not a fighter like you. I use my intelligence to get what I want. Just let me take care of you, alright?"
Seamus stares at her in awe for a moment. He is not sure why but the thought of this normally cold and removed bloodsucker doing so much for him makes him extremely happy. She is absolutely right; this is how she does things. She is the smartest person he knows and he should trust her. "I will do whatever you ask of me." He kneels down in front of her.
She quickly pulls him back to his feet by his shoulders and hugs him. "You're not my servant anymore," she whispers. "I hereby dub you Lord Seamus Ironglave. You are officially my equal now. Do you understand?" He nods while closing his eyes to kiss her. He has no idea if he can live up to the standards of any of the lords he has just witnessed arguing but he will not turn down a request from his mistress.
"What is this place?" Nuve gasps in awe at the sight of the massive temple at the top of a long and tall set of stone steps on the far side of Glass Gate. From here they can see the entire city below in all its glory and ruin.
"This is our new home," Row answers proudly. Seamus is standing behind her with his arm draped over her shoulder.
"How did you manage this?" Nuve is still astonished. "There is nothing you could trade to Lord Glasstien worth this."
Row blushes for a moment. "Apparently I was too hasty in my demands. A lot of the sectors of Glass Gate are under reconstruction. I made my requests sound urgent so Lord Glasstien allotted one of the least damaged locations entirely to me. He said it will be a while before he can appoint us proper homes in the city but if we like it here we can stay. He will even assign me a title like the grand bishop if I want."
"I'll never understand how you do this." Nuve is smiling while shaking his head in disbelief. "Royals really do have more to offer and receive from the world than simpletons like us."
"Oh, you'll be living here too," Row spouts. "I asked that Lord Glasstien abide by any request you have but at the moment anything outside of this city is beyond his limits. It is no longer safe to travel between territories without an armed escort. I'm sure you would do a wonderful job of protecting yourself, Nuve, but I urge you to stay here for Minto's sake."
"I hate this place," Minto mutters.
"Why? It's amazing." Nuve twirls around happily. "I could spend a lifetime exploring it."
"I hate Glass Gate," Minto raises her voice. Nuve watches as she points down at the red roofed building at the edge of the slum sector. "Can you see it? That is my aunt's brothel. Somehow it survived everything, as did she. I hate her and I hate that whole sector."
Nuve startles her by hugging her from behind. "That's the wonderful thing about a city as massive as this. You could spend fifty years here and never encounter your aunt again. I doubt she even thinks you're alive."
"I wish she weren't alive," Minto grumbles.
"I'm sorry." Row starts to pout. "Like I said, Lord Glasstien can not provide anything outside the safety of the city right now. As soon as I can set up a meeting with Sir Prandon or one of the other allied territories I'll see about finding you a better place to live."
"You don't have to do all that for us." Nuve shakes his head. "Trust me, I understand her desire to run away from a place with terrible memories. I still resent Palinthia but she'll get over it. She has not even seen half of Glass Gate yet and it is undergoing a massive reform. Besides, as you said, it is the safest place to be right now… as soon as they finish repairing the wall of course." He glances at the far side of the city with a nervous expression.
Minto frowns at him for a moment while thinking to herself. She does not like that he has basically decided he knows what is best for her but she knows he is right. She is not smart enough to survive on her own and she wouldn't want to. She needs to follow Nuve and Row at the moment as they are the strongest out of the four of them now.
"How exactly did the wall break?" She decides to hide her annoyance with more of her infamous questions. Not knowing anything about the world for so long has made her curiosity limitless. Whenever she sees something she does not understand she almost has to ask about it.
"I heard it was Maumolla," Row answers. "She tore down the entire section with that menacing staff of hers."
"Maumolla really is scary." Nuve shudders. He knows full well that he would not be able to fight her if they were to meet; not with his arm being made out of metal.
"I wonder what happened to her," Row sighs.
"I hope we never encounter her again," Minto spouts.
Seamus stares off into the distance for a moment before joining their conversation. "Something tells me we aren't going to," he answers solemnly. From what he glimpsed of her mind she does not seem like the sentimental type. Now that she perceives her quest as complete she may never want to fight again. He would not be surprised if she retired to a lonely mountain like Brecha.
"Enough talk about Maumolla, I want to show you two around." Row grabs Minto's hand and drags her into the temple. "There are dozens of rooms for you to choose from. We can be neighbors or you could stay as far away as possible so you and Nuve can have some privacy."
Minto can't help but smile. "What about you? Do you and your servant need privacy too?"
"Servant? Who's a servant?" Row glances around in mock confusion. "I see no servants here. Do you, Lord Ironglave?"
"None in sight, milady." Seamus smiles at her.
"What? When did this happen?" Minto gasps. "Was there a ceremony? Why wasn't I invited?"
"There hasn't been one yet," Row assures her. "Don't worry, you're the first person I will invite."
"When are we doing this?" Minto is bouncing in excitement. "We have to do it as soon as possible. If the war starts before we do it then we might never get the chance."
"She has a point." Nuve unlinks Minto's hand from Row's so he can lace his fingers with her instead.
"Fine, we'll do it soon," Row gives in. "I just need to find a way to convince the grand bishop to perform the ritual. She really hates Seamus right now for some reason."
"I have no idea why," Seamus pretends to be oblivious, causing everyone to laugh. Slowly they continue walking into the massive temple with Row bounding ahead of the rest of them while shouting in a voice that echoes off the walls. She is extremely excited to be showing off the home she has acquired for them.
Despite looking younger than the rest of them she is technically the oldest and feels responsible for them. This is her way of providing for the closest thing she has to a family. For as long as she can live amongst these three mortal humans she will be as human as she can and look after them. This is her new place to belong.