I remembered everything: from that first day that I was taunting Nicholas Nox and then chose the Dark side, to the night I drank Niklaus's blood, right up until now. Moments before, I had had no will to live. Now, it was no different.
All my horrifying actions swam before my eyes: all the people I killed, all the villages I wiped clean, all the servants I hurt with my despicable behaviour. I killed Luka, and had thought nothing of it but that he had been in the way, that I had actually aimed to kill Aurora, and that apologising with an empty tone would extract forgiveness.
It was my fault that Sapphire now lay on the sofa before me, staring at me with tears in her eyes. I had not known what else to say other than to apologise, and I could not even be thorough about it. It was my fault that she was dead: if I had not opened the door of the Shadows' hideout, we might even have escaped without needing to lose more lives.
I sunk to the floor where I stood.
My family would have been ashamed of me, and for a fleeting moment I was glad that they were dead. Just as that thought formed in my mind, I clutched my head in my hands and screamed. In that scream, I let out all of the frustrations I had been carrying around with me all these months, but had felt nothing of them.
I had turned into a horrible human being, happy that people were dead to protect my image, killing the citizens of the village I grew up in, in order to gain power to kill my own father.
I had killed Rynth, and possibly Noram as well. I had no way of knowing. The last time I was in my village, really inside my village, was when I was leaving my teacher and my fellow students to be buried in the rubble underneath the High Tower.
These past weeks, I had done nothing but read on battles, strategies, weapons, techniques, potions, herbs and all manner of things that would fuel my desire to kill everything in my path. That Spirit-forsaken crystal cave was nothing but a torturous tomb, filled with the knowledge of becoming a killing machine.
I remembered the time that I had spent in the forest after running away from the mansion. I had been so horrible to my angels. I broke into their minds, into their most personal experiences, and there had been no end to them: I had seen hundreds of years’ worth of torturous service to tyrannous masters.
I remembered how I had treated Lunarian. The very thought of him fuelled my scream even more. I had stabbed his whole body, taunted him, insulted him and his kingdom, and threw things that happened years ago, that he had begged forgiveness for, in his face. I wondered where he was now, whether he was still king, whether he still remembered me at all, whether he had moved on.
All that ran through my mind was blood, intestines, blades and bullets, merging together to tell me one thing: I deserved to die, to be the subject of revenge for all the people I killed.
At some point during my mourning, I was swept into strong, cold arms and carried up stairs. I was placed upon a bed and I assumed a fetal position, hugging myself and crying into the pillow.
"I am going to the Village of Water, my lady. I shall be back soon."
The words meant nothing to me. All that mattered was that I did not want to live anymore. There was not even any point left in trying to blame Father: he was not the one who made me turn into this person. I was.
That responsibility that I had to take, the acceptance of all the horrible things I had done, only drew more tears.
I had done what Klaus had suggested. After seeing Victoria, and knowing that she was finally, truly safe, was motivation enough for me to catch up on all the country's overdue documentation. I had finally caught up with it all, after several months of barely sleeping or doing anything else.
I barely ever saw Demetri, or any of my other close warriors, anymore. One evening, finally catching a break after working so hard, I went out to the village square, where I knew the training session was to be, and I stopped in my tracks on the roof of a nearby house when I saw what transpired there.
Demetri was busy teaching those who were too young to join the Academy yet, retired, or did not possess Ceilos at all. To my delighted surprise, they were jumping about and kicking and performing acrobatic skills I had never thought they would be able to.
I went to the Academy to see that the students there were fighting on the same level under Rufus's care, and at each of the ranks' training grounds, a massive group of people were training under an Animos leader's care.
My entire village was busy training.
My grin stayed in place all the way back to the High Tower, where I made myself a cup of coffee and stood looking out the window, appreciating the view, when I heard the last voice I wanted to on a day like this.
"Petty king," Klaus greeted me. I turned and glared at him. One of these days ...
"What are you doing here?" I snapped, "Victoria shouldn't be here until tomorrow."
"Yes, well ..." he said vaguely, clasping his hands behind his back in that aloof manner he always did when talking to me, "Lady Victoria was kidnapped by Morrow Obsidian. Sapphire died saving her, but her Mark is in its former glorious state."
I choked on my coffee and the mug fell from my hand. Klaus looked at me like I was a three year old who had just broken a precious vase.
"What part of which sentence confused you?" he asked simply, in his usual condescending tone.
"When did this happen?" I demanded.
"She was kidnapped sometime last night, and I traced her scent to the Shadows' hideout," he said, and his mouth twisted into something of a disgusted snarl, "That ridiculous body lotion you had her grow into the routine of using actually had a use."
"What happened at the Shadows' hideout? Did you kill Morrow Obsidian?"
"My dear, pathetic king, if I knew how to kill Morrow Obsidian, do you not think that I would have done so when I met him the first time, sometime between seven and eight hundred years ago?"
I had nothing to say to that.
"Sapphire was very good with stealth work, and she offered to retrieve Lady Victoria from within the hideout. Victoria, however, not having any will to live and therefore not caring at all about how any of her actions would impact those around her, she accidentally alarmed Morrow to their location and, just as I teleported the three of us back to the mansion, he stabbed Sapphire with a venomous blade."
"It was very noble of her," I said softly, sitting down, guilt bubbling in my gut, "Of Sapphire. Can I come to her funeral?"
"She was a servant. There will be no funeral."
Several insults found their way to the tip of my tongue, but I dared not utter any of them. Instead, I said, "Can I come see Victoria?"
"She is in no fit state to receive visits from anyone. Her actions over the past year took a great toll on her. She is mourning. My butlers are watching over her."
"When can I see her, then?"
"Goodbye, petty king. I shall, hopefully, not see you soon."
With that, he disappeared with a wisp of black smoke. I growled in anger, "Selfish bastard."
Almost a week had passed. There had been a small ceremony for Sapphire among the maids, which I also attended. Niklaus had had a beautiful white and blue casket made for her, and it was horrible to see her getting buried under the ground.
I had spent every day, the entire day, curled up in a fetal position, asking the Spirits for forgiveness for all my horrible deeds, and wondering why on earth I had not simply gone back to Lunarian the moment I had the chance.
Sometime during my mourning, I recalled the words of Lady Winter the night that we had attacked the Village of Water. I decided that I was going to confront Fate and demand what he was playing at, toying with my life like he did.
I went to the river in the forest surrounding Niklaus’s mansion and begged of the Spirits to grant me an audience with him. My pleading turned demanding, and then threatening, but still there was no sign of any of them. I started cursing at Fate himself, pouring my heart into the worst insults I had ever uttered in my entire life.
“You know what?” I screamed. “Since I’m your favourite toy, what if I just take my own life?”
When there was still no response, I growled angrily and took out my jacket before impulsively jumping into the lake. If he no longer had me as a piece in his game, he would lose.
As soon as I broke the surface of the water, I felt as though I had been shoved into a freezer with no clothing. My lungs began burning, but I tied my own foot to a rock with a piece of weed. I clutched at my nose to keep it closed and my lungs seared with pain. My vision began swimming after a while. I wanted to get out of the water, but I knew that Fate would get me out, and then I would curse at him like I had never done before.
My vision began growing dark, and my lungs burned worse than ever.
Just as I felt consciousness slipping away, I felt a hand grasp me by the back of my collar and wrench me out of the water.
“You!” I screamed, expecting some sort of spirit, but instead I was looking at Claude. I groaned in pain and I watched his skin sizzle. Some pieces fell from his body, but regenerated quickly.
“My lady?” he breathed when he had finally recovered. “Why?”
“I …” I knew that what I was going to say would sound foolish, so instead I remained silent. “Why did you jump into the water? You knew you would get hurt?”
“Was I supposed to just let you drown, my lady?” he asked me.
Fate, you son of a bitch, I thought, looking up at the sky. Out loud, I said, “Thank you, Claude.”
On the fifth day after I got my emotions back, I had gone round to every maid and apologised if I had ever been rude to them. I apologised to the butlers, as well, and helped them make my breakfast. Today, I was going to apologise to the remaining elementals.
I got dressed in clothes similar to the traditional clothing of the Village of Water, but more stylish, after attaching my weights to my forearms and shins. Tio was standing in the corner of my bedroom. I had not touched it in a week. I did not need to. I knew that I was safe.
"Do you want me to accompany you, my lady?" Claude asked me.
"Sure," I replied, forcing a smile.
The truth was, I still hated Aurora. She always got on my nerves, but I knew that killing Luka, or aiming to kill her, was a step too far. She deserved an apology. And I needed to redeem myself somehow, and apologising to people I have wronged seemed like a reasonably good way to start.
Claude followed me through the corridor and down the stairs to the room where Aurora shared a room with her brother. The door was closed, so I knocked a few times. Aurora opened.
"Oh, dear God," she said with an expression of disgust, and made to slam the door in my face.
"Wait!" I said, stopping the door before it slammed. I pushed it open with little effort while she struggled to keep it closed, and for a brief moment, I remembered my intense training with the angels again.
"What the hell do you want?!" she demanded, "Have you come to rub it in my face that you killed my boyfriend, and then his ex-girlfriend, so now they can be together in the afterlife?"
"Well, no, but since that's what you want-"
"Get the hell out!"
"Chill out, Aurora, I'm kidding," I said, holding my hand up in a gesture of surrender.
"Miss Aurora, Lord Niklaus will not think highly of you if you are disrespectful-"
"No need, Claude," I said, "Can everyone please just friggin relax?"
"Hello, Lady Victoria," a voice said from the corner of the room behind the door. I peeked around it and saw Arrow reading a book while sitting in the corner.
"Hey," I said, frowning at him. He freaked me out. I turned back to Aurora. "Look, I'm sure you know that I got my emotions back-"
"Well, whoop-dee-doo, now you're not special anymore-"
"Will you please just let me finish talking?!" I growled, punching the door in frustration. It folded under the force of the blow, and several splinters got caught in my arm when I pulled it out again. I took a heavy, deep breath and continued. "I came here to apologise, you half-witted pig. All right? I'm sorry that I killed Luka."
She fell silent, staring at me as though seeing me for the first time. She opened her mouth several times, but each time thought the better of it and closed it again. I got impatient and walked away. If she did not want to accept my damned apology, then it was her problem. I was not about to start begging.
"May I tend to your arm, my lady?" Claude asked as I stormed into my room.
"Sure," I said, forcing myself to remain calm.
I stayed still while he pulled out the splinters with tweezers. After all the torment I had forced my body to endure the past several months, I barely felt it.
"How do I begin to make amends, Claude?" I asked, sighing. "Not many of the people I apologised to have been truly forgiving."
"Just give it some time, my lady," he said, "They will all see that you are a good person at heart."
"You know, even after all this, I can't shake the feeling that I just want my father dead with all my heart," I said, "I take full responsibility for all my actions, but the fact remains that he has to pay for what he did."
"I agree, my lady."
"You do?" I asked, surprised.
I let him work for a few silent moments until I heard knocks on my door and I saw Aurora standing in the doorway. Before I could say anything, however, she spoke, "I'm sorry about earlier. You just really get on my nerves all the time, but I get that most of it was because you didn't actually have any feelings. I forgive you."
"I still hate you," I said, "I just felt like you deserved an apology."
“I hate you too. I just felt like you deserved an acknowledgement for your apology,” she said, and walked away.
Claude finished bandaging my arm and then stood up, walking to the window and staring out of it, "Perhaps you should apologise to your angels, as well, my lady."
"I know I should," I said, "I've just been dreading it. Where do I even begin to say that I'm sorry for watching, and forcing them to watch centuries of humiliation and torture?"
"You will know what to say when the time is right."
I sighed. "Do you think Niklaus will train me now? I mean, he said he would when I am stronger than you two."
"Why not duel Sebastian again?" he suggested, "There can be a banquet afterwards, to celebrate your rescue, and survival of an attack against the Shadows themselves."
I nodded in agreement. It seemed fair enough. I said, "I'll talk to Niklaus. There are things I need to thank him for, and apologise for."
"Very well, my lady," he said, "I shall wait for you in the lunch room. Do you have any requests for lunch?"
"Victoria sponge cake," I said with a grin. For the first time ever, I saw the corners of his mouth lift into a slight smile.
I slowly opened the door of Niklaus's bedroom and peered inside. It was just as I remembered it: his black-draped double bed in the right-hand corner, and a stack of paintings in the other. Right now, he was busy painting what looked like the mansion. When his eyes rested on me, he placed his pallet and paintbrushes down, wiped his hands and approached me, placing a kiss on my forehead.
"I was wondering when you would come to see me, if it happened at all," he said, lowering his hands from my shoulders.
"I know, it's long overdue," I said, "I just came to say I'm sorry-"
"There is nothing you need to apologise to me for-"
"But there is," I interrupted. To mask my regret at doing so, I continued, "I've been nothing but a burden ever since I came here. I'm aware of that. Please do not take offense in these words, my lord, but let's face it: the only reason you've been putting up with me is because I remind you of your wife. If any other person took advantage of your hospitality the way I did, they would have been drained of blood on the spot. Once again, no offense. Great Spirits, this is hard."
I looked down and took a deep breath. I was not used to apologising: I usually made other people apologise through intimidation.
"I'm sorry for all the trouble I have been, and for killing one of your elementals. If it's any consolation, I really didn't mean to. I was aiming for Aurora, but then something twitched and - holy damn!" I said, running my fingers through my hair. Apologising was damned difficult! "I'm sorry."
To my surprise, Niklaus started laughing. I relished the sound: it was one so rare that it lifted my own spirits, too. "You really are quite a piece of work, my lady, but of course you are forgiven. Listen to me carefully: you are not only here because you remind me of my wife. I have realised that you are, in fact, nothing like her. I care for you because I want to, and that is all that needs to be said."
"Uh - thanks, I guess," I said. I decided simply to ask him about what I was planning, "I was wondering if we could have a sort of party tonight."
"You hate parties," he said in surprise.
"Deep down, yes, but even deeper down, I love them," I said, looking down, wondering whether he would allow it.
"What did you have in mind?"
I grinned and looked up at him, and saw a strange twinkle in his pitch black eyes that I had never seen before.
"Well, I was thinking ..." I started, not really knowing what to say. "You said that you would train me if I was as strong as the butlers, and I kind of defeated Sebastian once already. But I thought that, this time, we could have a kind of showdown in front of the whole mansion. If I defeat him again, you can ... decide whether you want to train me yourself. And I was thinking that, afterwards, we could have a banquet."
"And what would be the purpose of this banquet?"
"You know, celebrating the fact that we're all still alive," I said, punching the air slowly for dramatic effect.
He chuckled and caressed my cheek, "I have never had the chance to know the real Victoria Black, the energetic one that I have heard so many rumours about, and I am finding that I quite like her."
"So that's a yes?"
"It is a yes," he said.
"Goody, goody, goody! See you at around seven o'clock in the butlers' training room!" I said, running from the room excitedly, but then slowing my pace immediately to an aloof walk.
Seriously, what was wrong with me? I had not been so cheerful in years, at least not sincerely.
By sunset, everyone knew about the party, thanks to me, Claude and Sebastian. I spent the last hour preparing: I only put light makeup on, and tied my hair in a bun before putting on clothes more comfortable for fighting, and strapping Tio to my back. I was surprised at how comfortable I still was with it: I had thought that, with the Dark side gone, I would be repulsed by it.
The Dark side will always be there, though, I thought, it fuels the desire to kill Father.
With five minutes still to go, I started walking up the stairs to the training room where the butlers always trained: it was the biggest one. When I entered, however, I did not recognise it at all.
All the training exercises had been cleared out and stands now stood all along the walls. Just as I entered, cheers erupted, nearly making my ears explode. I continued walking with a hammering heart toward where Niklaus was standing in the very centre of the room, a warm smile ever so slightly touching his lips, and Sebastian a little way away to his left. When I stood a few feet from him on his right side, he lifted his hands and the crowd fell silent.
Holy damn, I thought to myself, I had no idea that there were so many people in this place.
"Welcome," Niklaus said, his voice somehow carrying around the whole room, "This showdown between Lady Victoria and Sebastian is a form of entertainment in celebration of her rescue..."
I did not listen to the rest of his speech. Sebastian looked more confident this time, which was surprising because last time he was beat so badly he could barely stand up again. That suggested that he had been training hard enough to be under the impression that he could not beat me. I sincerely hoped that that was not the case. I hoped even more profusely that the weight I permanently carried on my legs and arms would be enough training to beat him. If not, I always had my angels, assuming they still served me at all.
Finally, the crowd erupted in cheers and I was pulled from my thoughts, to see Niklaus leave our battleground and Sebastian's legendary smirk to become even more prominent. I took a deep breath and assumed my battle stance, unsheathing Tio and flicking my wrists so that the blades snapped outwards; Sebastian pulled two daggers from the inside of his jacket and also assumed a fighting stance. I took another deep breath in an attempt to settle my rapidly beating heart. When I was certain that he would not be the one to make the first move, I started weighing my options.
I needed to somehow fight differently than I had before. Fancy twirls and kicks and slaps would not be enough to win this fight. I felt my eye twitch with stress when he started circling, and I followed.
Count the friggin vital spots on the body! I yelled at myself, Larynx, spine, lungs, liver, jugular vein, collarbone, kidney, heart ... the easiest would be the larynx, but if I go for that the whole time, he'll figure it out ...
I decided what my tactic would be. I leaped into the air, for the sake of tricking him, twirling in mid-air and aiming a kick at his face. As I expected, he parried it with the back of his hand. I changed the position of my foot and stepped on the dagger he was holding, taking another leap and doing a somersault in the air, holding Tio out in front of me to slice at his back. To my surprise, it caught a small part of his jacket, which ripped.
No, I told myself, It's a trick ... don't fall for it.
We fought like this for a few minutes more. I continued twirling and performing acrobatic arts so that he would think that it was truly my style to do so. But the twirls took time I was too impatient to waste. I grew bored.
I decided to up the ante. I took a leap and, not expecting it, Sebastian could not parry the leap from his chest that I took. I flew through the air to the other side of the battleground and focused on the water simply bubbling inside me, eager to escape. Soon, ice spikes were hovering all around me, but Sebastian's face remained expressionless.
I sent the spikes flying after him, and while he was busy dealing with them, I took the weights from my arms and legs, letting them fall to the ground with a resounding crash, before forming more spikes just as he started running toward me. I smirked and started running in circles around him, forming more and more spikes, gradually making them bigger until, soon, he was fighting ice swords. All at once, I made a horde of spikes and sent them at him before making two head-sized disks, spinning them on my hand, and throwing them as hard as I could.
Sebastian was too slow in dodging them, and only managed to do so halfway. One caught him halfway up his thigh, and the other on his shoulder. Both made ugly gashes, which he ignored.
I swallowed heavily. The elementalism took a toll on me. I needed water.
Just one more blow, I forced myself, but midway in forming new spikes, I stopped, and decided to act on impulse. My moment's hesitation was enough time for Sebastian to run toward me, and the stab at my face was dodged just in time.
However, I had a plan.
It could not possibly be any more difficult than doing it all at once to four damn strong angels. I smirked. I would make it work.
I started whispering the incantation, and repeating it to improve the capacity, all the while glaring at him in the eyes, which he foolishly also did. I could feel the Ceilos building up inside me, more concentrated in my head.
Just as I felt as though it would be ready to explode, I directed it through my gaze, directly into his. His eyes widened and I could feel him trying to block it out, but it was too late. I was inside his mind.
I caught a glimpse of a young boy hiding in the corner, his arms attempting to cover the eyes and ears of his younger brother, while an older man was raping a beautiful woman. She thrusted and pushed and bit and shoved until the man growled and beat her to death.
That faded into a view of a teenage boy. He was holding a small flower and staring at a pretty girl standing with a lot of other girls, until his cheeks flushed red. He approached her and handed her the flower, but her friends laughed at him. One of the other girls grabbed the flower and stomped on it.
Finally, I saw Sebastian as he looked today. He was dying, blood spurting everywhere, his intestines lying about him and his hand missing a finger. Claude was lying in a similar condition not two feet away. Niklaus approached him, and they spoke inaudible words, until the vampire dropped some blood into their mouths, and their eyes glowed red.
I withdrew before he caught himself and, acting on impulse, drove Tio's blade into his gut. He spurted silver blood and fell backwards. To my horror, I saw tears glistening in his eyes, but I knew what my priority was.
"One flick of my wrist and the blade slices through your heart," I said ruthlessly. I would apologise to him later. "That's me, victorious."
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