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I had to admire the ingenuity of the humans who originally built this fort. With the prison built in the walls, it meant that any invading party, if they wanted to attack said walls, were all but sacrificing the lives of all of their captured men. Put a single important person, like a prince or a general in that wall, and they would be severely limited in their capacity to attack. Well, not a prince like me. Hated by my people as I was, if it came to it, they would probably choose to destroy these walls with impunity to take out two birds with a single fireball.

On top of that, these walls could be seen by just about everyone looking out onto the courtyard. Escape would be almost impossible. They were also exposed to the elements, giving them just a hint of torture. I was lucky the day wasn’t too hot right now. If we had been traveling on a hotter day, I might have passed out from heatstroke. Instead, I only hung from my irons, wondering when the stubborn aunt finally folded, as I knew she would.

I was surprised when I heard the lock turning only ten minutes later. I was expecting to be in here for a few hours. Even I felt a bit disappointed at how quick this Aunt Ayda folded. Well, it wasn’t like I wanted to be in prison anyway. However, when the door opened with a rusty clang, it was Aeryn standing there. She took a step in, and the door closed. Although the door had a small window and there was an arrow slit behind me, these were the only sources of light, and thus we were plunged back into relative darkness.

Without saying a thing, Aeryn crossed her arms and leaned against a brick wall that didn’t look too dirty. Her piercing gaze then landed on me. I let out an irritated sigh.

“So, they decided to throw my maid in here too?” I asked, and then grinned. “Did you offend the general as well?”

Aeryn looked at me for another moment before she shook her head. “No, I asked for them to let me in. I am your servant. It is only fitting that I provide you… company.”

 “Is that so?” I responded, eyeing her up and down. “Well, usually, you’re the one tied up, but we can work with this. I suppose there are worse ways to pass the time.”

Aeryn made a face, shooting me an angrily look. “Why are you acting like a buffoon?”

“What is that? Your dirty talk can use as much work as your foreplay. You haven’t even begun to strip yet.”

She walked up to me casually, her face cold and expressionless as always. That’s why it came as a shock when her hand flew out and struck my face. She didn’t hold back at all. I could taste some blood in my mouth.

“You… are you not a slave? How can you injure your Master like this?”

“Master…”

“I should make you suffer for what you did. I should…”

“David!” the tone of her voice caused me to finally look up at her.

Tears were in her eyes, and a worried look was mixed into the usual cold features. Instantly, my hardened façade started to shake.

“Why did she do it?” I demanded.

Aeryn blinked under the dark expression on my face. “You mean… Bala?”

“She jumped in the way of the arrow. Why?”

“I mean, she is your slave, after all,” Aeryn said uncertainly.

“I didn’t order it,” I said. “I didn’t make her jump to save my life. In fact, she’s back in her elvish homeland. With me dead, removing that enslavement is only a matter of begging her father for help.”

“It is her way. She’s a soldier. She was tasked with protecting you…”

“Would you have?” I asked.

Aeryn froze for a second, looking down at her hands. “I… am not fast enough.”

“But… if you had a choice, you or me, who would you pick?” I said, fervently.

She looked away, not able to answer or even meet my eyes. I wasn’t really upset at her, but I didn’t know how else to deal with this anger inside me. Since the moment I saw Bala pierced by the arrow, it had been boiling. I knew I had been merciless out there. Did I need to be in this prison? Of course not. Things could have turned out differently.

“Master… you knew the consequences of enslaving us the moment you did so.” Aeryn said after a few moments of silence. “What is this really about?”

I lowered my head, letting the chains pull on my wrists painfully as I hung from the wall. “I wouldn’t have been hurt. Bala’s sacrifice, it was meaningless. She risked her life, for nothing.”

Aeryn frowned. “How can that be? The arrow was heading right for you. It would have assuredly struck.”

I grimaced, chuckling softly. “Of course, why would I put myself in a dangerous situation like that?”

“…” Aeryn continued to stare at me blankly.

“I have armor under my shirt!” I said bitterly. “It’s magic. Good enough to block an arrow. That’s for sure. I found it in the vaults of Virdainia. Lord Stebes had it up on some kind of stand like it was worth something. Baba said it was Mithril and forged by the Celestials, so I figured it’s good. It must have been his most hidden treasure. It’s probably worth as much as the Kingdom, but since he’s dead, I figured there was no harm.”

Aeryn reached out and pushed my shirt aside. Low and behold she found a thinly-laced chain mail carefully hidden underneath. The material felt really thin and light, but if a blow struck it, it’d solidify and block even a strong attack. Well, it would protect me from cuts and piercing, but a strong enough blow could still liquefy my insides. There was no blocking that without some cushion and perhaps a crumple zone.

“So, you see, even though she saved me, it was a waste,” I said bitterly. “It was all a waste. I mean, had I not enslaved her, her life would have never been in danger in the first place! Her life is my responsibility. Both of your lives are my responsibility.”

“However…” A realization suddenly shot through me. “That’s not even the reason I’m so angry. The reason I’m angry… is because I care.”

“Care?”

“Bala is a tool to me. You are a tool. You’re tools I will protect and sharpen and be responsible for, but at the end of it all, you’re nothing but things I need to get what I want. So why… why did it feel so painful when she was hurt. Why did I wish it was myself instead of her? Why am I so upset about it? Why, when I think of either of you getting hurt, does it cause my heart to feel like it’s being squeezed. I’m weaker than I thought I was. That’s why I’m angry.”

“So… you’re angry because you’re human.”

“I’m a devil.” I shot back.

She flinched like she had been struck, but then reached out gently touched my neck. “Even so…”

“I’m not… strong enough.” I finally said with a sigh.

 “Do you expect me to refute this?” She asked. “Of course, we are your responsibility. You have delivered your seed deep in my womb and made me yours! You created this bond between us. It is only right that you care. Bala is no different than I am. You did this to us, now you have a responsibility to take care of us. That isn’t just a burden on your mind, but your heart as well.

“But don’t think for a minute that this means you must control our actions! We are your slaves, but we are still individuals. What Bala choose to do is of no importance to you. How we interpret your orders and how we follow them is our own right and not something you can dictate! Bala threw herself to protect you. Because she was enslaved? Because she wanted to? This is meaningless. The only thing that matters is that you continue to take responsibility! That burden on your heart, you will accept it, no matter how much it hurts you! That is the price you must pay!”

I blinked. I didn’t really expect her to suddenly lecture me. Strangely, she wasn’t angry or disgusted in the slightest as she spoke. Rather, she seemed to be completely level, as if she was explaining something that was obvious to everyone. Her eyes met mine, and a strange level of openness was in them that I had never seen before. It strangely made her look even more attractive than usual.

“Aeryn…”

She crossed her arms over her chest and spun away from me. “There was a time I thought you were strong enough to be responsible for your actions. Now, I wonder if I was mistaken, and I was really taken in by a child instead of a man.”

“Enough,” I said, my cold voice causing her to freeze her tirade in its tracks. “If you try my patience, don’t think that because I’m chained up, that I won’t be able to make you regret!”

My words weren’t said in anger, but rather I had a small smirk on my face. Her words had been enough to snap me out of my anger and self-loathing. Of course, I would have done it on my own, but Aeryn was a catalyst of self-realization. I recovered myself, standing back up, although I had to be on my tiptoes to keep any weight from my wrists. Aeryn looked back at me, a cold smile on her face as well. She took a step forward, lifting her lips to mine.

“I wouldn’t.” I said, “When you slapped some sense into me, I bled a bit. If you tasted some blood, well, in my current predicament, there is little I could do…”

Her lips pressed against mine anyway, and her tongue dived into my mouth without hesitation. The pair of us kissed for an indeterminate amount of time. The rusty noise of the keys in the door sounded. Before I could blink, Aeryn was on the other side of the room, straightening out her dress. As the door swung open, she gave no indication she had just been kissing me prior. Even I was a little winded, but her breathing was steady and her expression returned to the cold look she always wore.

As for the person who stepped in, it was two guards I didn’t recognize. “The General has ordered you to be brought to the health center.”

“Hmph…” Aeryn spoke, “Make sure to take responsibility.

She turned and headed for the door, walking out of it as the two guards went to remove my restraints.

“You don’t have to tell me,” I responded back, mostly to myself. “I plan to.”

The guards removed the restraints and then reattached them so that they were behind my back. They started pushing me out into the courtyard. The rest of my group had moved somewhere else. Only Captain Moar and the guard remained in the courtyard, remaining by my side in a sense of loyalty. They were watched by two guards to make sure that they didn’t attempt to break me free. Everyone else had been shown to a room inside the fort. Even my mother was currently absent from the courtyard.

The few elves that hadn’t left to do something else shot me dark looks as I passed by. I kept my head held high and remained aloof. Even if I admitted my mistakes to myself, that didn’t mean that I would apologize for them. I was a Prince. My actions were always justified, even when they were wrong.

While thinking this, I was led through several corridors before being brought into a room. The room had a single bed which Bala was lying down on with her eyes closed. Saria was by her side, as was Ayda. I glanced at the three of them but did not say anything. After a moment, Ayda nodded to the guards. They turned around and left, shutting the door behind them.

After another moment of silence, Ayda spoke. “I have told Saria about the nature of devil blood, and your proposition.”

I resisted making a hissing noise through my teeth. Perhaps I had underestimated this Ayda. I presumed a military-type would be the kind that would keep most information to herself while making any decision. I never would have guessed she’d run straight to Saria and spill everything. While it was unfortunate, I didn’t flinch in the slightest. I watched the three women, waiting for them to say what they needed to say.

“Do it…” Saria’s words cut into the silence.

Ayda’s superior expression immediately dissipated to shock. She shot a look over at Saria with her mouth open.

“Saria… perhaps I wasn’t clear. This blood is an potent aphrodisiac! You’re giving this man permission to ravish my niece!”

Saria’s words appeared to conflict with what Ayda thought was going to happen. The way Saria thought was often difficult for me to follow as well, so I sympathized with her. However, I didn’t want to say anything myself and potentially upset the balance here. I wisely chose to continue to remain silent.

“You were abundantly clear.” Saria responded, “If she doesn’t get his blood, there is a chance she may die. I will not bet things on a chance!”

“Yes, but…” Ayda seemed uncertain all of sudden.

“No but!” Saria growled. “I will do whatever it takes to save my sister! Whatever it takes!”

Ayda lowered her head, a defeated expression on her face. She likely had already come to this conclusion herself. However, she was perhaps hoping Saria would talk her out of it, or at least make things uncomfortable for me for a while. It wasn’t exactly vengeance, but at least some vindication for having to do something she fundamentally disagreed with. However, Saria was too much of a pragmatist and wouldn’t concede to those fancies.

“Very well…” Ayda finally gave up. “I will have our medic come in and…”

“No, that won’t be necessary.” Saria suddenly said. “Leave me the tools. I will protect my sister myself.”

Looking up at Saria, I began to realize that she had a similar feeling of helplessness and a need to save her sister as I did. Even though we had both used Bala to our own ends, we weren’t all that different in the end. We both seemed to care about her.

“Niece… that…”

Saria shot her a no-nonsense look, “Make sure we aren’t disturbed. No one is to enter this room, no matter what is heard. In fact, have a mage cast a sound barrier around this room!”  

Ayda looked like she wanted to argue, but she seemed to fold under Saria’s gaze. She was surprisingly weak when it came to her nieces. She immediately stood up. As she walked by, she shot me a warning glare, but then tossed a key on the ground and left. When the door closed, I grumbled, awkwardly getting down on my knees and leaning to grab the key with my hands behind my back. Saria watched her sister the entire time, not even offering to help as I practically had to lie on the ground. Once I had the cuffs off, I rubbed my wrists which were slightly red and swollen while standing back up. I glanced down at Saria, who still had her eyes glued to her sister.

“Is what you told Aunt the complete truth?” She asked.

“To the best of my knowledge, yes,” I said. “Although with her wounds closed, the risk to Bala’s life given her own strength in constitution is quite low, if I give her my blood, it may increase her recovery time and increase her chances of not facing repercussions.”

“Then, sit down.” She said, her voice slightly severe.

I did what she ordered sitting in the seat Ayda had been in a moment before. I immediately began pulling up the sleeve of my shirt. My pale grey skin was in contrast to the white elvish skin of Bala’s arm. I was still skinny, but training with her in sword fighting had started to put muscle on me, and I had just the hint of abs.

Saria grabbed the tubes and needles from a surgeon kit left behind and then sat next to me. She actually didn’t know how to do blood at all, so I quickly showed her the ropes. She watched me as I tied my own arm and then practiced finding the bulging vein. Finally, after she felt she was comfortable with it, she poked my arm with the needle.

Whether it was the grace of a princess, the eloquence of an elf, or pure luck, she hit the vein on the first try. Blood started to flow up the tube and she quickly squeezed it to keep it from spurting everywhere. It was a dark blood, far darker than that which came from elves or humans. She looked at the other needle, and then at the tube. Without warning, she suddenly put the tube to her mouth and sucked.

“What are you doing?” I said in surprise.

However, the act was done so quickly, that she had swallowed two mouthfuls before I could stop her. She had already pulled it back out and then put the needle in it. I stared at her, my eyes wide.

“I wouldn’t put my sister through anything that I wouldn’t do to myself!” She said. “B-besides… y-you’re my fiancée… so I won’t allow it without m-me…”

I was completely floored by her words. I thought she’d leave the room when things got heated. It turned out she had no plans of the sort. She was committed to being here through the whole thing! I remained in shock as she blushed and then finished poking the needle into her sister. There was an enchantment that ensured that the blood only ran one way, so blood started flowing from me into Bala directly.

“You know what this means… don’t you?” I spoke to Saria as the blood continued to enter Bala.

“Y-you have permission to alleviate my suffering, but you absolutely can’t put it in!” She declared, her cheeks growing pinker, and her body starting to sweat.

Saria started giving off a strangely sensual air. Her breathing grew ragged. Her knees started to squeeze together. While giving blood to her sister, I watched Saria grow more and more overwhelmed. By the time fifteen minutes had passed and I pulled the needles from our arms, Saria looked incredibly ragged. She managed to heal our pricks, but only barely. Her body was twitching uncontrollably. Her tolerance for blood was much lower than Aeryn or Bala. Her mouth was open and she was panting like a dog while looking at me like a bone.

Just at that moment, Bala’s eyes snapped open. I couldn’t get even a word out before I was suddenly thrown on the bed. With all pretense gone, Saria suddenly attacked me too. The true battle had just begun.

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