The Shadow Priestess Part 2: Power
Author: Moanna

Chapter 10
Chapter 10

I searched through the underground tunnels as fast as I could, not only because I was searching urgently for my master, but also because the place was giving me the creeps.
Finally, when my eyes were stinging as though I had washed them out with onions, and my head began drooping, I heard a pain-filled scream at the very end of the tunnel I was in. I could clearly identify it as Sebastian's, and it sent chills through my body.
I ran as fast as my legs would carry me. Another scream echoed through the tunnel. When I reached the end, I was facing a circular room, in the centre of which Sebastian was chained.
But he was not chained with shackles. There were hooks that dug into his back and arms. He was being thrown across the room, hitting the wall. If his skin would tear, the hook would just dig through the next piece of skin. His eyes were glowing red, and the manic look on his face terrified me.
"M-Master Sebastian?" I called as he was hurled into the air again and slammed on the opposite wall.
"Sapphire!" he screamed.
"How can I help?" I cried, trembling.
"Ask-" he screamed again as he was hurled through the air once again, "-ask Master Manson! Go! Hurry!"
Without thinking twice about it, I focused Ceilos in my legs and ran at full speed along the tunnels, up the stairs and stormed into Lord Niklaus's bedroom.
I froze where I stood, fearing I would pass out from fear.
Lord Niklaus was upright again, but he was simply standing in the circle on the floor, staring at me. Master Manson was standing by the door.
"He cannot think straight just yet, I think," he told me. "His mind is regenerating."
"Ok, but I need your help," I said, not caring much for Lord Niklaus, "Sebastian-"
"Broke a rule and is being punished," Master Manson said simply.
"He was just-"
"He told you of one of Lord Niklaus's mortal - that is to say, immortal - enemies. He was forbidden to. And he has to learn his lesson, I think."
"Please, Master Manson," I pleaded, "I'm sure he won't do it again. We're just desperate to help Lady Victoria. That's why he told me of ... him."
"We are all very desperate, but I am afraid there is nothing I can do to help you."
"What do you mean?"
"I am not the one punishing him. Like I told you before, there are seals on the mansion that prevents the uttering of that name. It is the mansion itself that is punishing your master, I think."
"How long will this continue?" I asked, trembling worse than ever.
"I should think only for a few more minutes, but I am sure that he will be starving when he is released. Make sure he is well fed. That is all the aid I can offer, I think."
"Thank you," I said blankly.
"Nothing I do seems to be working," Lord Niklaus said suddenly, making me jump. He was still standing stiff: only his lips moved. "I've tried nearly all the combinations I know of-"
"That's right, my lord, nearly all the combinations," Master Manson said, in an irritated tone, to my surprise. He told me, "I think that now would be a good time for you to leave, Miss Sapphire."
I nodded, curtsied, and left the room, and not a moment too soon.
After fetching several blood bags from the kitchen, I ran back down the stairs to the basement. There were no more screams.
As I neared the end of the tunnel, a groan echoed off the walls, followed by Sebastian's strained voice, "Sapphire, I can smell you ... please, get out of here."
"I brought blood for you, Master," I said, hurrying. As I entered the circular room where Sebastian was held, I saw that the hooks were still firmly clasping his skin. His eyes were glowing brighter than ever, and his canines more menacing than ever before.
While he fed on the blood bags, I removed the hooks and helped him into a fairly comfortable sitting position. When he was finished, his collapsed into my lap.
"Dumbass mansion," I said to the room in general.
The sound of moving chains made me hurry out of there with Sebastian over my shoulder.

I spent the following two days treating Sebastian whenever I had the chance - I got up early in the morning and finished all of my chores as quickly as I could, and spent the night-time bringing him blood bags and treating the wounds the hooks had left on his skin. Not even vampiric regeneration beat a mansion that was - so it seemed - almost alive.
I remembered that, on my first night, after my torturous test, when I had time to ask Lord Niklaus questions, he told me that he had attached half of his soul to the mansion. I realised that it had not only been to invite people inside, or because it was his right as the first-born son - it was protection. Nothing could get to him if he lived in a building that protected him. And I had the sense that it would preserve him so that, even if he died, this piece of his soul lived on - perhaps even held on to the other piece. All that would be needed was a new body, and he would be a normal ... immortal again.
On the evening of the second night, I entered the room Sebastian was kept in to find him in full health. He took the blood I gave him, thanked me, and went about serving those ungrateful elementals.
I was to be Lord Niklaus's personal servant, as were his orders, seeing as I had been personally trained by Claude and Sebastian, but they were too busy with keeping the mansion - I thought with a hint of amusement - in good health.
There was simply no improvement in his behaviour. He would spend three or four days endlessly working on creating the technique that would cure Lady Victoria before going rigid and collapsing in the strangest of positions. After a few hours he would simply get up, stand in the circle painted on the ground for a few minutes, and continue about his mission as though he had not been interrupted at all.
Several weeks passed. Everyone in the mansion became agitated, because screams and explosions rang all through it day in and day out, all from Lord Niklaus's bedroom. Everyone preferred Lady Victoria's bad treatment over our master's manic behaviour.
One morning, well into January, I was walking through the lobby to take a tray full of blood bags and a single obsidian rock to Lord Niklaus when I heard a few weak knocks on the double doors. Frowning, I balanced the tray on one hand and opened one of the doors.
The tray slipped from my grasp due to numbness in all my limbs.
"Lady Victoria?" I breathed.
She was covered in bruises and cuts. Her hair was wild, and her clothes torn. Her canines and nails were menacingly long. One of her elbows was severely dislocated, and she gripped her Spirit Blade with the other hand. Before I could say anything else, her eyes rolled upwards and she fell into my arms.
"Sebastian!" I screamed, "Claude!"
"What is going - good Lord," Sebastian said, arriving seconds later.
"Is it-?"
"Help me," I interrupted Claude, "She's injured. Master Claude, please inform Lord Niklaus."
Not caring that I had given him an order, Claude disappeared up the stairs. With Sebastian's help, it took mere moments to get Lady Victoria to her room. In a panicky frenzy, we started treating her wounds. Sebastian relocated her elbow with a loud crack, and did the same with one of her ankles, which I had not noticed until then. To my utter horror, I saw that Lady Victoria was not gripping her sword: patches of charred, red and black skin clung to the hilt of the sword as though it had been burned. During all this, she gave no reaction other than a pained frown on her face.
Afterwards, while I treated her wounds, he cut the cloth on her thigh to reveal her disturbingly distorted Mark. He placed his hands one over the other on top of it, and closed his eyes before starting to mutter. A strange green glow enveloped his hands.
Not five minutes passed before Lord Niklaus stormed into the room. Before he slammed the door shut, I saw several maids gawking into the room.
"Victoria," Niklaus breathed, falling down on his knees beside the bed. He caressed hair from her eyes and planted a kiss on her forehead.
"Lord Niklaus," Sebastian said in alarm., opening his eyes and lifting his hands, "She is near death. We must operate."
"What is the matter?"
"Her Ceilos system is a mess," he said, "Look."
Lord Niklaus placed one hand over her Mark and the same green glow enveloped it. His eyes widened in terror, agitating me more than ever.
"Claude," he said dangerously, and I noticed the other butler for the first time, "Bring me all my Spirit Tools."
"Yes, my lord," he said, and disappeared.
"Spirit Tools?" I inquired.
"They are the - for lack of a better description - medical tools one uses to operate on the Ceilos system," Sebastian explained.
He cupped her burned hand in his and, again, a green glow enveloped them. After a few seconds, he shook his head gravely.
"It is not her skin gripping the sword," he said, "It is her Ceilos."
Before I could cry out in panic, Claude arrived, carrying a massive glass case with slightly translucent, green-tinted objects inside.
I decided not to say anything, and rather to observe whatever it was that they were doing. They moved the bed away from the wall, and Claude took his place at her head. He placed his fore- and middle fingers to each of her temples, closed his eyes, and the strange green glow enveloped the tips of his fingers.
Sebastian moved to her feet, gripped her legs tightly, closed his eyes and the same green glow enveloped his hands, as well.
Niklaus pulled the bedside cabinet nearer, slammed away the lamp, alarm clock and books that had been stacked upon it and placed the large glass case on it. After opening it, he took one of the strange tools: it was in the shape of a scythe, and that scared me. I held my hand over my mouth to prevent myself from breaking their concentration, because this was clearly an extreme case of life or death.
Lord Niklaus, a frown creasing his brow, touched the tip of the instrument to the top of Lady Victoria's chest, and sliced down.
I placed my other hand over my mouth, but her skin did not tear under the instrument's touch. Instead, it made a glowing, pale green line, as though it was cutting into her soul, but not her body.
After making the - for lack of a better word - cut on her torso, Lord Niklaus placed the instrument back in the glass case, took a deep breath, and dug his hands into her body. My stomach churned uncomfortably, but what Lord Niklaus pulled out was not her intestines, but a tangled, glowing, pale green mess that I recognised as the Ceilos system.
The sight numbed my legs so much that they gave way under me. I sat on the carpeted floor, watching the tangled mess that should actually be an orderly mass of thin wires and, despite myself, tears formed in my eyes.
What on earth could have caused such a mess?
Lord Niklaus took more instruments from within the glass case, some resembling tweezers, others resembling tiny hairbrushes. While he carefully untangled the mess, he would occasionally brush away what looked like burnt paper that had been clinging to the wires.
Almost an hour passed, and Lord Niklaus had barely made any progress. However much I wanted to run to the other end of the castle, I could not leave Lady Victoria. I wished beyond reason that there was something I could do, but I had never operated on the Ceilos system before. I feared I would only make it worse simply by speaking.
The glows on both Claude's and Sebastian's hands revealed the wires within her head and her legs, and their unbroken concentration slowly but surely untangled the wires there, as well. I knew that Lord Niklaus had to work more physically because the largest sum of wires were in the torso, around all the organs. The way they were tangled, I was sure they had been cutting into her organs. I wondered how on earth she had survived this long.
After another hour, I noticed that the three vampires' eyes began glowing slightly. It must have taken great power to sap their strength so quickly, and I finally found use for myself. I ran down to the kitchens, retrieved as many blood bags as I could carry, and carefully fed each of them without talking. I knew that they would sense me, and smell the blood, and each opened their mouths obligingly.
More hours passed and, by dusk, the blood supply in the large fridge had halved. By this time, Lord Niklaus had successfully untangled the entire system in her torso, made enough room for each of her organs, and carefully placed it back inside her. Sebastian and Claude were both finished, as well. I could tell they were exhausted.
"What could have caused such damage?" I asked as Lord Niklaus sunk into a nearby armchair. I handed him another blood bag.
"It's all her power doing this damage," he replied. "The Tampered Mark was never designed for people who have other extraordinary powers. I never realised that it might see those as a threat. What you saw here was the result of the Tampered Mark that had attacked Dominatio per Malum's power via her Change."
"How did that happen?" I asked.
"The Tampered Mark runs within the Ceilos circulatory system and merges with the victim, whilst the Change's power covers each wire. The black substance on the surface of the wires was where the wires had been attacked from within. That is how a wire's wound looks."
"My lord, I hate to ask, but how far are you toward creating a cure?" I asked carefully.
"Sapphire," Claude snapped.
Lord Niklaus looked out the window with a frown, "It is all right, Claude. Sapphire has been very useful these past several weeks, and especially the last few hours. You have grown into a worthy servant, Sapphire, even though it sounds contradictory to state it like that." A sad smile passed over his face, and I felt my face heat up. "I am afraid that I am no closer to creating the cure than I was last month. There was never supposed to be a cure. That is what I wanted. And now I am paying the price for my foolishness."
I allowed him some silence while he finished the blood bag, before I took it and threw it in the garbage bag I had retrieved for all of it. Then I asked, "What happened to her hand?"
"That is Dominatio per Malum trying to hold on to her. You see, the sword was especially made for the Black family. Now, seeing as she is one of only two possible heirs, it grows desperate for a master. It does not want to let go."
"It's alive?"
"In some senses of the word, perhaps ... I must get to work on it."
I watched with great pity as Lord Niklaus took the same scythe-shaped object as before and made a cut on the back of her hand and pulled the Ceilos out of it. It was just as tangled here as it had been everywhere else in her body. It took a considerable shorter time fixing it as it did her torso, and finally the sword fell from her grip. Lord Niklaus healed the skin and then stood up.
"My lord, would it not be best to simply destroy the sword? Wouldn't the power die with it?"
"No," he replied, "Spirit Blades cannot be destroyed by mundane means. Like with techniques, the creator is the only one who can either cure or destroy it. If we keep it from her, it will seek her out more intensely, and worsen her condition. It would be best if it was kept at her side.
"I must return to work. Thank you, Sapphire, for all your hard work. When all of this is over, you will be rewarded ... call on me as soon as she wakes."
With that, he disappeared out of the room with Claude close at his heels, leaving me stunned into silence.
"Did I just ..." I started, "Was Lord Niklaus just nice to me?"

 

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