The Shadow Priestess Part 2: Power
Author: Moanna

Chapter 21
Chapter 21

Sapphire.
After Lady Winter had threatened Lord Niklaus with torture, he very discreetly turned to face me and winked. That was as good a signal as any, so I turned on the spot and ran with all my might. I ran through the trees and the ice-covered grass fields all the way to Lord Niklaus's mansion, having Ceilos in my legs and never stopping. When I had reached my bedroom I had fallen down on my bed and was instantly asleep with the potion still in my hands.
Some maids woke me the following morning. One of my roommates, in particular, brought a message: an urgent summons from Lord Niklaus himself.
I had never gotten dressed and clean so fast before in my life. Fifteen minutes later I was running up the stairs, two at a time, to the eleventh floor with the velvet-wrapped potion clutched to my chest. After a few knocks and permission to enter, I curtsied in front of Lord Niklaus and kept my head down.
"Forgive my tardiness, my lord," I said. I knew better than to make excuses; it never served any servant anything.
"You are forgiven," he said, "Do you have the potion?"
"Yes, my lord," I said, setting it down at my table, "May I ask a question, my lord?"
"Of course," he said, walking over to the table I had just left and placing a hand upon the potion.
"What happened after I left last night?"
"Nothing," he replied. I frowned, but kept my gaze on his chin. "I was not in the Village of Water yesterday. It was a technique I used, a projection of sorts. The moment you were under the cover of the trees, I released the technique and the projection dispersed."
"I see," I said, mesmerised that he could maintain a technique at that distance. "What will you do, my lord? Will you follow Lady Winter's orders?"
"I have to," he said, "She was not wrong. She was the inspiration of most of my torture methods. She and I have met on several occasions before, and none of them have been pleasant ..."
"So ... Lady Victoria will go to the Village of Water two days from now?" I asked, bowing my head further. I had wanted to witness every moment of her recovery.
"Yes, I'm afraid so," he said, "But do not despair: I would prefer that you look at the situation as I do. The sooner we find the cure, the sooner Victoria can stop these periodical visits she is condemned to."
"Yes, my lord! I shall devote my entire day to helping you in any way I can!"
"I appreciate that, Sapphire," he said, and from the upper corner of my eye, I could see his thin lips twitching into a smile. "You are very loyal. There is no doubt in my mind that you would have made a great warrior, had it not been for your debt to me."
"I am no longer in your debt, my lord," I said, "Five years of servitude was our agreement, and that expired four years ago. I stay of my own free will, and I shall continue staying until you send me away."
"Those are very flattering words, and I am grateful of them. But no more wasting of time. We must evaluate your hard work and go heal my Lady Victoria."
"Yes, my lord!" I said.
I followed him out of the room, down the staircases and through the corridors, keeping my head down as every servant, male and female, bowed to him. He inclined his head respectively now and then, and I could see that he was incredibly excited about what was about to happen.
Finally, we were standing outside Lady Victoria's room, and I heard distressed voices from within:
"Get away from me, you monster!"
"My lady, please-"
"I know perfectly well how to defend myself! I will kill you with my bare hands!"
Lord Niklaus, after a deep breath, gently pushed the doors open, revealing Lady Victoria looking wilder than I had ever seen her before, pointing kitchen cutlery at a flabbergasted Claude.
"My lord," Claude said, bowing after a nervous glance at Lady Victoria.
"Leave, Claude," Lord Niklaus commanded, and the poor butler looked only too glad to do so.
I noticed that all the posters have been ripped off the walls and were lying in pieces on the floor. The wallpaper itself had scratch marks on it where nails had obviously been trying to peel it off. Several objects were broken and lying everywhere, even on the bed, accompanied with drops of blood here and there. Lady Victoria's clothes had little rips in them, and I wondered with surprise if she had actually slept on the broken glass.
"Lady Victoria," Lord Niklaus said.
"What do you want?" she demanded simply.
"I am going to give you this potion, whether you are willing to receive it or not," he said firmly. "It will restore your Ceilos system and your body itself and greatly delay the auto-immune illness you are suffering from. That will give me enough time to-"
"You are not coming near me with any godforsaken liquid," she said. I noticed that she had just stepped over a piece of rotten bread in order to assume a fighting stance. That led me to noticing how thin she was.
"Oh, I beg to differ," Lord Niklaus said.
Before I knew it, he had pulled the velvet cloth from the potion. At first it was beautiful, mesmerising, like fire contained in a bottle. The flames danced about on the inside. But as one continued watching, the flames grew brighter and brighter until my eye started aching, and I covered it just as a heard a scream from Lady Victoria as Lord Niklaus injected her with it.
And then there was silence.
I lowered my hand from my eye and watched as Lady Victoria was enveloped in beautiful flames before they faded away. When they disappeared, she stood up.
"I feel better," she said blankly. I frowned. Lord Niklaus caught my eye and I quickly lowered it.
"The potion cured her of her fear, as well," he explained, and I nodded. He turned to her and said, "If you try to use your Ceilos, you will die, so do not. In fact, stay in this room until I tell you otherwise."
She nodded and walked over to the window-seat, sitting down upon it. Lord Niklaus neared me.
"My lord, what makes you think that she will listen to you?" I asked.
"There are many specifics about the Tampered Mark that are not generally known," he replied, "One is that the ambition that fuelled the Choice will forever burn in the victim's spirit. Victoria will not try to use her Ceilos because, if she is dead, then she cannot avenge her family." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "Pack her things. Tell her, and anyone else who asks, that you are creating emergency provisions in case there is an attack, but elaborate no further. I think it will be best if the arrangement is a surprise."
I nodded and went outside, looking for a maid I worked comfortably with. Mercifully, Jayla passed me by. I hurried to her.
"I need your help," I told her in a hushed tone, "I need to pack emergency provisions for Lady Victoria in case someone attacks the mansion. Lord Niklaus informed me to do so. Can you just help me clean her room?"
"Sure," she replied, and we headed back inside Lady Victoria's room, "Who does he think will attack?"
"He didn't say ... but I think it'll be best if you keep this to yourself."

The following morning, Jayla and I had finished packing several outfits for Lady Victoria, and some of her lesser fighting equipment, such as her throwing knives and a set of two beautiful daggers I had never seen before. Lord Niklaus was with her in her bedroom, but the door was closed. I could hear him speaking words of comfort, which was followed by a dull thud and then silence.

***

Demetri.
Everyone had left already. Rufus, Ylnor and I were in the village square the entire day, working with the villagers, motivating them as best we could and pushing them to their very limits. They started looking up to us. Children not even young enough to join the Academy yet, as well as retired warriors, started joining the training sessions. They were glad at least some people were trying to keep the country from falling into ruin.
I had not known what to expect of the Nox family. Perhaps that they at least came to the training sessions and helped the villagers out. We could not train an entire village if not even a quarter of it fitted into the village square. We had to work in sessions as it is. Nevertheless, I was outraged at their cowardice, and my respect for Victoria's family multiplied tenfold.
They would never have allowed their people to live in fear like this. If they had even the faintest inclination that the Country of North was looking for trouble, they would have started the war first, simply because they cared too much for their people to have their village destroyed.
I had received messages from the others throughout the day, updating me. Most of the villages seemed keen to learn how to defend themselves, but some were apprehensive and with not much spirit. Luckily, the two villages with that attitude had Lionel and Leanthor to deal with, and I had faith that those two would hammer some sense into the people.
I hoped so, for all our sakes.

***

Lunarian.
My heart hammered within my chest. I was going to see Victoria again! She might not have feelings, but she still has memories. It might be possible to reminisce about our times together, and Klaus seemed to be under the impression that he would not need much more time with creating a cure to her disease. Everything would soon be the way they used to be, and should always have been.
I was standing at the icehenge with Lady Winter, waiting for Klaus. She had created a great snowstorm all about the village that would keep the citizens indoors while we took Lady Victoria.
"Listen to me carefully, Lunarian," the snowflakes that formed her mouth, said. "You will only come with me this one time. Thereafter, her safe-house will be impenetrable even to your pleas. You will not try to see her. If you do, Niklaus and I shall make other arrangements."
I glared at her in outrage, simply lost for words. Before I could think of any, she started raging.
"Grow up! You are a king and yet you behave like the youth of this village. You have a kingdom to protect. I daresay you have a lot of administrative work to do. While I care for Victoria in this period, you shall do that. You will right the wrongs you have done to your reign, or else."
"Very well," I replied coldly, just as a figure emerged from the trees ahead.
Klaus came into view, carrying Victoria in his arms and a duffle bag on his shoulder. She was unconscious, and there was a bruise to the side of her head.
"What have you done to her?" I growl.
"Lunarian," Lady Winter said warningly, and I kept my mouth shut. I walked forward and took Victoria, not failing to notice the glare Klaus gave me as I did so. He slung the duffle bag over my shoulders, not bothering to be gentle, before extending a greeting to Lady Winter.
"You may go now," she told him, "The less minds that have memory of this place of hiding, the better. You may come to take her again exactly twenty-seven days from now."
"Very well," he replied, dispersing the same way he had two days before.
I watched as the snowflakes that were Lady Winter became more solid, and started colouring until Lady Elenee stood before me, her human form, not wearing a corset dress, but leather clothing meant for battle.
"Follow me," she said.
I did so silently, unable to stop myself from glancing at Victoria every now and then. We headed through the trees and in the direction of the mountains on the other side of the village, directly between the Black and Nox neighbourhoods. As we approached, the mountain seemed to split in two to reveal a crevice, only to seal itself behind us as we walked. Finally we were walking in a cave made, not of stone, but crystal. The sight was nearly blinding. Eventually, a likeness of a bedroom came into view: on the crystal stood a bed, a desk and chair, and several mighty stacks of books, parchment and quills. I placed Victoria on the bed. She stirred and her nose twitched. I smiled as I felt my eyes water.
"She will stay here for twenty seven days," Lady Winter told me, "It is a fairly unpredictable number. This cave is of a special kind of crystal called mithril. It is thousands of years old and impenetrable even to diamond catapults. She will be safe here. I shall keep an eye on her."
I nodded and watched as she traced snaking lines in the air over Victoria's wrists, and then her ankles, and I saw wires of light wrap around them.
"These chords will absorb any Ceilos she tries to use, but it will allow her comfortable movement so that she can spend her time reading."
I nodded again.
"I shall give you a brief moment with her, but then you must leave again."
"Thank you," I croaked.
I slowly walked forward and kneeled at her side. I felt Lady Winter's presence disappear, but did not dwell on the observation.
"Hey, you," I said, caressing her cheek, wondering whether she could hear me, "My hair got even longer. I've been meaning to cut it, but who would pass up the opportunity to start cracking bald jokes at me?"
Tears started glistening in my eyes. "There are studies that suggest that unconscious people are actually aware of what happens around them. I'm not sure if that's true, but I'll take my chances just this once ... I just - I wanted to say I'm sorry. For everything. For confusing you, and for not being able to save you from the Tampered Mark or Klaus, or revenge. I've wished for so long that you would stop trying to take revenge on your father. Everyone saw how important it is to you, but it's ruined you.
"I'm not going to take this time to lecture you. It might be a while before I see you again, so I just wanted to assure you that I'll get the kingdom to its former glory again. I'll try my best, like you always do. I just want you to know-"
"Lunarian, you can go now," the voice said before the woman appeared.
I bowed my head for a moment. I wiped the tears from my face and got up, exiting the cave before coming to a standstill outside it.
"... that I love you," I finish.

 

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