The Shadow Priestess Part 2: Power
Author: Moanna

Chapter 20
Chapter 20

Sapphire.
"You're making a mistake!" I yelled out of the bars, clutching them tightly in my fists, "Lord Niklaus will never fall for this kind of blackmail! I'm just a servant! Just let me out!"
I had no idea what would happen to me. I was positive that Lord Niklaus was not about to leave his mansion while trying to make a cure that would save Lady Victoria's life, simply to meet with a king hundreds of years younger than himself.
I paced about the room. I did not have the strength to break through the bars: I specialised in stealth. But there was no way for me to sneak out, either, and I was too afraid to try: the bars might have seals preventing certain methods of escape, and if I tried any of those...
I wondered how Lady Victoria was doing. Was she still frightened of everything? Was she awake at all?
"King Lunarian!" I cried, grasping the bars again.
"Hey, lady, there's no use in screaming. His majesty can't hear you from here," one of the guards at the door outside the room said.
I ran my fingers through my hair. This was bad, so very, very bad. If I did not return to the mansion within two days, I would be punished. Lord Niklaus would not care about the reason for my delay. I could already see him towering over me as I beg him at his feet. He would say, "I have trained you to be stronger than this. You should have been able to escape, Sapphire."
Tears started glistening in my eyes. This would be the first time since Claude started training me that I would be punished. I have tried so hard not to inconvenience Lord Niklaus in any way, and now look what I had done.
Forgive me, my lord, I think to myself, sagging against the bars and burying my fingers in my hair. When I tried to remove them, I cried out in pain as something gripped my hair.
The bracelet!
With newfound hope, I start untangling my hair from the fastener of the bracelet and rubbed the stone with all my might.
"Sapphire," a voice said from above me. I bowed forward at Lord Niklaus's feet.
"I'm so sorry, my lord!" I cried, "The king tricked me. I made the potion, and then he imprisoned me-"
"Who are you?!" one of the guards at the door yelled.
"It's Klaus!" the other said, "Run! Inform the king!"
I said nothing. If he wanted to kill them, he would have, but perhaps he felt like meeting with the naive king in person. In any case, I kept myself as low to the ground as I could, staring at his glistening shoes.
"Get up, Sapphire," Lord Niklaus said. I stood up, but kept my gaze down. "I expected better of you. You have had much training at your disposal. Of course, I cannot blame you. These runts are cunning, and they would have caught you one way or another ... Where is the potion?"
"Right here, my lord," I said, holding out the velvet cloth. Demetri and I had wrapped the potion in it, firstly, because the bottle burned like fire and, secondly, because it was nearly blinding to behold.
"Keep it with you," he said, suddenly in a hushed tone, "When I give you my signal, you will run with everything you have back to the mansion. Forget about anything you brought with you. Simply run. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, my lord!" I said, holding the potion to my chest and glad that I had not brought anything valuable with me.
"Klaus," the king said, having suddenly appeared in the doorway to the dungeon.
Lord Niklaus walked forward and placed his hand on the lock of the door and pulled it out of place as though it was nothing. He threw it on the floor and I followed him out of the dungeon to the hallway outside.
"You got my message?" King Lunarian asked.
"I must have missed it," Lord Niklaus replied smoothly, adjusting the sleeves of his jacket at the wrists. They might have been discussing the weather.
"Then why did you come? I sent Heath-"
"He is probably dead," Lord Niklaus interrupted, and I could see the king fuming with anger, "I have told you on several occasions, both in person and in writing, to keep your men off my grounds."
"It is not your grounds. It is in the Country of South, therefore it belongs to me-"
"Oh, I beg to differ. I have an eight-hundred year old contract clearly stating that the neighbour country on the borders of the Country of South, is my property. Would you like me to show you?"
I smirked. The king might be strong, but no one - no one - could equal Lord Niklaus in any way.
"Why have you imprisoned my servant?" Lord Niklaus asked casually.
"To get you here."
"And you assumed that I would stay after I returned her to her home?"
"That monstrosity of a castle-"
"Is my home," I said angrily, unable to contain myself. I bowed my head, "Forgive me, Lord Niklaus."
"No, no, it's quite all right. Runts like the ones residing here would not recognise true beauty if it were right in front of them. Let us leave."
"Not so fast," Lunarian interrupted. "I need to talk with you. In private."
"This is as private as it is going to get, my dear king. Sapphire has as much right to hear what you have to say-"
"I meant that we should move this conversation to the icehenge. Having it here is not safe."
I could feel the air contracting, making it hard to breathe. Lord Niklaus's very presence bubbled with menace. He took a step forward and towered over the now puny-looking king. "Don't interrupt me when I am speaking, Lunarian. It is impolite."
Just as suddenly as it had appeared, the strange aura was gone.
"Do keep up," Lord Niklaus said, and then he ran.
Caught by surprise, I froze for a moment just as the king also started running, and I followed him through alleyways and strange shortcuts until at last we reached a thick row of trees that opened into a familiar clearing, at the edge of which a mighty icehenge stood.
"What is it you want to discuss?" Lord Niklaus asked, seemingly bored. I circled them until I had my back in the direction I needed to turn to the moment Lord Niklaus gave his signal. I wondered for a moment what it would be, but then I reminded myself that he always made it distinct to the people who knew him, and I relaxed a little.
"Victoria's safety. What else?"
"As I have told you on numerous occasions, she is perfectly safe-"
"Not according to Lady Winter," the king interrupted. I tensed. "We need to unite our strengths."
Lord Niklaus towered over Lunarian again, and from this distance I could still feel that menacing aura envelope him. The king lowered his gaze and his shoulders slumped in a faint cower.
"Interrupt me one more time and it will be the last thing you do, petty king," Lord Niklaus said, "I have allowed you to live this long, because you are much less trouble than any other king this country has had. You are weak. Have you noticed that while you search for Victoria, your kingdom is falling apart? Your warriors are weak, and so are the spirits of your citizens. I will not leave Victoria in the custody of such a leader."
"Once Victoria is safe, my main concern will be my kingdom-"
"That is exactly the kind of attitude that would have been whipped out of you if Mordax had had any sense left in him," Lord Niklaus snapped, "How can you gamble with your kingdom for a single woman?"
"I love her."
"Perhaps you should consider strengthening your kingdom. If you had done that first, perhaps you would have been able to rescue your dearly beloved by now," Lord Niklaus said, "I have no time for this. Farewell."
Just as Lord Niklaus turned on his heel to walk in my direction, a strong gust of wind passed us and manifested in the form of a woman a few feet from Lunarian, so that the three of them formed a triangle of hostility.
"Niklaus," Lady Winter said.
"Greetings, my most traitorous lady," Lord Niklaus said coldly. "I hear you have a service required of me."
"Not so much a service as a debt. You are still alive."
"You do not decide whether I live or die. Your master does. Since I am still here, he clearly still wants me on the board."
"I will not play games with you, Niklaus," she said, the winds howling with the anger in her voice, "You and Lunarian can alternate between Victoria's safekeeping. That way, Morrow Obsidian will never know where to look. Keep in mind to have her in different locations each time, and work out a very unpredictable pattern."
"I will not leave Victoria in this man's care. She will be safer if she slept right outside the Shadows' hideout," Lord Niklaus said stubbornly.
"I will care for Victoria while she is within the king's reign."
"She is safe with me. My house is protected against Morrow."
"Not if he disguises himself. You know as well as I do that the man is even more powerful than you, and he has a set of very skilled warriors at his disposal, some of which are traitors. You can never know where their loyalty truly lies."
"I shall take my chances."
"But I shan't. The time for the prophecy is drawing near, but it is not yet upon us. In the meantime. Victoria can stay for two more days in the mansion, during which time you can heal her. Thereafter she will come here, and I will care for her. As you know, I have many places where she will be guarded from all eyes, and you will have more time to find the cure for that despicable technique you used on her."
"What will be the consequences if I refuse this offer of yours?"
"Do not forget that I am the origin of most of your torture devices."

***

Demetri.
That fool was driving me crazy!
What sort of king would jeopardise his entire reign for a teenage girl who clearly did not want to be with him anymore? How much clearer could she have made the message? He was going to get us all killed!
I stormed from the house and to our secret meeting place underneath the High Tower. What place more inconspicuous than directly underneath the danger?
They were all already there. I did a head count: Noram, Ylnor, Rufus, Leanthor, Tarnix, Tobias, Rohan, Lionel, Deana. They were all students who had known Victoria. Some of them had taken the Warrior's exam with her, and three of them had been her closest friends before her family was murdered.
We had formed this group in the hope of trying to save the kingdom before it fell into total ruin. We had been training together for several months, basking in each other's strength and improving much more than any Academy could hope for. Tonight was the night that we took a final stand before going our separate ways.
"Listen, we don't have much time," I told everyone, crouching along with them. "The king just left, and I don't know when he'll be back. Everyone clear on the plan?"
"Each of us are going to different villages to train the citizens," Leanthor recited with a grin. I nodded.
"Noram, I want you to go to Amera," I told him, "You went there once with Victoria. The people might recognise you." He nodded. "Leanthor, I want you to go to Lyncor, Tarnix to Malthar, Deana to Nardorn, Tobias to Enryth, Lionel to Cyrthar and Rohan to Quasvin. Now remember, guys, don't force anyone to train with you. Simply offer complimentary training lessons from the king."
"What if the king finds out about this?" Tarnix asked.
"That's the beauty of the plan," I said with a smirk, "This king is too dull-witted to figure it out, and even if he does, I suppose he'll just be glad that we looked after his people when he 'couldn't'."
They nodded. I turned to Rufus and Ylnor.
"The three of us are going to stay in the village and teach the locals," I told them, "Students heading off won't arouse too much suspicion, but if three teachers leave the same day, that ought to arouse some curiosity ... Now, Ylnor, you and I still have three training lessons with the entire village, and everyone who attends seem to be improving at a satisfactory rate. I want you to personally the Animos and Raidos groups, as well. I will take the Warriors and the Glados. Rufus, the younger ones are very familiar with you, so you'll be able to get through to them better than either of us. You can train the Manos and the Academy students."
They also nodded in agreement. I smiled faintly. All our hard work would hopefully pay off in the future.
"All right, guys," I said in conclusion, "Good luck to all of you, and I shall see you in September, four months from now."
I watched as the students ran off to head in their different directions, and I joined the two teachers in walking silently out of the High Tower and to head our own separate ways home.
I just needed to do one more thing. I waited until I was completely out of sight of Rufus and Ylnor before masking my Ceilos signature and then ran with all my might to the eastern part of the village. Finally a light coloured stone wall loomed over me, with the Nox coat of arms, a lynx twirling around an eye. I neared the massive, oak front doors and pulled on the knocker with all my might before letting it go. From within the Nox Neighbourhood, I could hear it echoing off the wall.
A strip of wood at my height slid away to reveal two white eyes, and a rough voice asked, "State your name and your business."
"My name is Demetri Klaus. I am personal advisor to the High King. I wish to speak with your leader," I said.
"He is unavailable," the voice said.
"When will he be available?"
"When he wishes to be."
"Listen to me," I said deliberately, through gritted teeth, just as the slip of wood wanted to return to its original place, "Our kingdom is in a dire state. We need the fellow founders of this village to stop cowering and start fighting for what is rightfully theirs."
"That's quite all right, Danus," a new voice said from further behind the doors, a voice simply dripping with power. I could feel it. "Unmask yourself, stranger."
I assumed he was referring to me, and the only mask I was wearing was the one over my Ceilos system. I lifted it in anticipation. The rumours that flew around the Academy about this family were keeping me on edge a little.
"Ah, I would recognise this scent anywhere," the new, strong voice said, "And it is not a dangerous one. Let him inside."
"Yessir!" the rough voice said. The oak doors were pulled inwards inch by inch, and the lifted shadows revealed a man that I would instantly describe as a monk, except for the long flow of hair that ran down his shoulders.
"Greetings, sir," I said awkwardly, not knowing how else to address him, "I come on behalf of the king-"
"In that case, we should move this conversation somewhere a little more private," he said.
He turned on his heel and walked away. I frowned, but followed him. This neighbourhood looked more like a fortress. The walls were so white they seemed to shine in the moonlight, and each roof was a light flesh colour. I foolishly wondered how the residents found their own homes in this labyrinth.
We stalked through unfamiliar corridors, all lit with candles in wall-hanging candlesticks, until we reached a large room, empty of anything except a few large pillows at the end, on one of which sat a beautiful woman with full, red lips and radiant blue eyes who was drinking tea, and on the other, Nicholas. The man in front of me took his seat between them, and the doors behind us seemed to close of their own accord.
"What is it you wish to discuss?" he asked.
"As I told your gate guard, our kingdom is falling apart. Citizens' spirits are wavering because of the lack of attention from the king," I said, "I was wondering whether you and your family would be interested in aiding my campaign."
"Which is?"
"Training the people of this country," I replied, "I sent some of my men to other villages already, where they will train the citizens to at least be able to defend their loved ones and remain alive. Some of the teachers and I are going to train the locals. But your fighting style is unique in its essence, and people are aware of your titles. If you would please just come out in the open to show that you will fight for your own country-"
"Are you suggesting that we leave the safety of our home?"
"If you don't, then there won't be a home to be safe in left," I said heatedly, "Don't you understand how vulnerable the Country is at the moment? Any invasion from any country will result in our downfall! We have two very strong enemies, and from what I've heard, the Country of North isn't very keen on forming an alliance with us, either."
"Have you considered, Demetri, that the reason that we have not yet come out of our home, is that all your predecessors have failed to make us comply?"
I shook my head in exasperation. Are you kidding me? I could not help myself any longer. "You're all cowards! The entire country is falling into ruin, and yet you sit here drinking tea! I've seen with my own eyes the kind of power you contain within you! You are perhaps even on equal grounds with the Black family in their prime! Nicholas used to be part of the High Guard, on his way to becoming captain, I daresay! Where are the two girls who used to be his partners?"
"They keep the house clean," Nicholas said carelessly.
"Another talent, wasted!" I snarled in outrage, "If anyone - and I repeat, anyone - in this country dies because they could not defend themselves, then it will be your fault!"
With that, I stormed from the room. I knew they would not chase after me and punish me for my disrespect: they were too cowardly to oppose the High Tower and anyone with a place in it.
I hoped the others and I were able to produce some results in training up the Country, otherwise, soon, there might not be one left to try and protect.

***

 

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