The Shadow Priestess Part 2: Power
Author: Moanna

Chapter 28
Chapter 28

I woke up with a furiously hammering heart. At first, I foolishly thought that I was about to have another day of quiet relaxation, but it soon dawned on me that this was my first day to be training officially with the one and only Lord Niklaus.
I saw that I still had two and a half hours left before I was due to go to his room. I took a slow, relaxing shower before attaching my 30 pound weights to my forearms and thighs, and getting dressed in my usual style. I took another nap until Claude woke me with fifteen minutes to go, and I hurried to Niklaus's chambers.
"Come in," he said after I had knocked three times. I could now feel my heart's frantic beating in my ears and even my cheeks.
"Good morning, my lord," I said.
"A very good morning to you, my lady," he said. "Now, during these hour-long sessions each day, I am no longer anyone who is familiar with you. I am nothing more than your master. The first time you complain, I will terminate these training sessions and then you can join the twins in training. Understood?"
"Yes - uhm - sir," I said, the word unfamiliar on my lips, seeing as I always just called my teachers by their names.
"All right," he said, "Take off your weights, and attach these."
He turned around and took a set of weights from the table behind them.
"Whoa, these must be twenty pounds heavier!" I said out of instinct. A quick glance at Niklaus's face made me change my tone of voice, "That is so awesome!"
He smirked as I attached the weights to my arms and legs. There was a slight pull on my weight, but nothing I could not handle; I had been walking around comfortably with thirty-pound weights for months now.
"Follow me," he said.
He led me, to my surprise, out of the room and into the corridor beyond, but even out of his small corridor and into the eleventh-floor corridor. A little way away, he stopped and turned to a piece of wall just like the rest of it. I watched with a frown as he lifted his hands, slapped them together in a praying gesture and muttered a strange incantation I did not recognise. A small blast of green Ceilos escaped from his hands, and a door handle popped out of the wall.
"That's so cool," I said with a grin. I followed him into the room and he closed the door behind us. Bright lights flickered to life from an incredibly high ceiling.
"This is my personal training room," he said.
"It looks more like a torture chamber," I said, staring at all the spikes protruding from the metal dummies and the strange instruments I had no idea how he would train with.
He chuckled, "Unfortunately, it will be for you, for a while."
I resisted the sarcastic remark that was sitting at the tip of my tongue, and instead followed him through the labyrinth. In the centre of the room was a massive space with a circle drawn on the floor. Niklaus picked up one of the spiked dummies with one hand and placed it in the circle.
I hoped against hope that this was some kind of joke, and I felt a wave of relief as he started pushing buttons on the back of the dummy. The spikes retracted and the dummy itself stood upright.
"It is now on Beginner mode," Niklaus told me, "This is the level I fought at when I made him."
"Can you give me a hint at how strong that is, exactly?"
"He is now perhaps on Aurora's level."
"And I'm supposed to fight him with a fifty-hundred pound disadvantage?"
"Do I hear you complaining?"
"No, no," I said quickly, "I'm just ironing out the details."
I snorted at my own joke and took a step forward. The dummy started swirling its hands and even its head in a menacing manner. I resisted pointing out that, that was a further disadvantage. If I could twist my limbs that way, this fight would already have been over.
"Just to be clear," I said, "How do I beat him? He's made of pure metal, so I can't actually punch him to death."
"He is programmed to shut down at the time when a human would either pass out or die."
"Great."
"Remember, this is a hand-to-hand exercise," Niklaus said, backing away, "No elementalism, and no weapons."
"Now I'm at even more of a disadvantage," I said instinctively, but then added, "Which is just awesome."
I took a deep breath, a step forward and, as fast as I could, circled him and landed a hit on his head.
"Sweet balls!" I swore, rubbing my hand. I had never punched pure metal before and thus had no idea that it would hurt this much.
I did not really have time to not-complain, because the dummy turned and aimed a mighty hit from above. I dodged it just in time, due to these annoying weights.
My fight with the dummy, summarised, was painful. Luckily, Niklaus had only one hour with me, and I had wasted a lot of time with all my questions, so I only had to fight the dummy for around forty minutes.
To my irascibility, it had landed several hits, and I heard some of my bones crack. I had only managed to hit him a few times, because I had to dodge Aurora-level hits with incredibly heavy weights. After ten minutes, I had started feeling them take their toll.
As Niklaus led me back to his bedroom, I resisted the very strong temptation to complain about all the aches I had in my body at the moment. I resolved that I would have Claude tend to the wounds and listen to my complaints throughout the whole day.
"Drink this," Niklaus told me, handing me a tiny vial with shocking red liquid.
I took the bottle and touched it to my lips. "If this is vampire blood, I'm going to be furious."
"It is not vampire blood, my lady. Vampire blood is silver," he said with a mocking smile, "It is a potion I made to strengthen the muscle capacity, and the speed at which the brain processes information. It will take years before the potion takes full effect, because doing those two things is so unnatural."
"But very helpful, I'd wager," I said, "Cheers."
The liquid tasted like absolutely nothing. I shrugged and handed him back the vial, and he said, "Do excuse me, my lady. I have important business to attend to."
I nodded, threw down the weights on the table, took my own and headed back to my room with a slight limp. One of my muscles had pulled while I tried doing one of my acrobatic moves with all that extra weight.
Just as I entered my room, I called, "Claude!"
"Yes, my lady?"
"Heal me, massage me, and listen to my whining," I said, falling down on the bed.
His tone was amused when he said, "Very well, my lady."
Surprisingly, Claude did just that throughout the whole day. He healed the ugly bruises that had formed all over my body, along with a slightly damaged forearm, an ever-so-slightly cracked spine, and cracked knuckles. Thereafter, he massaged every inch of my body with hands no masseuse in the world could hope to compete with, while listening to my incredibly annoying whining.
The following day, my muscles were, despite all Claude's massaging, on tearing point. It was a nostalgic feeling: it reminded me of the time I ran around the entire village.
Niklaus made me attach forty-pound weights to my arms and legs and then do some ranged combat exercises. Although I would not exactly call it an exercise when one is running from a dummy with a bull's eye circle on its stomach, trying to hit it before it spiked you to death. He again gave me a tiny vial with red liquid to drink.
He miraculously gave me Wednesday off. I spent the entire day loafing around in bed, only sitting up when Claude brought me breakfast, lunch and supper.
Thursday, he repeated Monday's exercise, and Friday was once again ranged combat. On Saturday, he trained me with my water manipulation. For half an hour, he made me create incredibly difficult objects, such as the mansion or a person, which I failed at terribly, but the remaining half hour, he made me fight the combat dummy using nothing but my elementalism. Luckily I now wore no weights, so it was much easier. Sunday contained the same exercises, but by the end of it, I felt as though I would die, and I seriously considered using Tio's power to lift the pain a little.
On Monday, Niklaus handed the fifty-pound weights to me wordlessly, and led me into my new training room. I started fighting with the steel dummy with not much confidence.
"Victoria, you are not even trying," Niklaus said from a few feet behind me. "Think about why you are doing this. You are becoming strong to avenge your family. You are trying to achieve the same level as your father."
These words sparked a rage within me that all but removed the pain in my knuckles as I punched the dummy right in the face. It bent over backwards, but just jumped right back up for more.
"Really put effort into it," Niklaus pressed from the side-lines, "You are trying to become strong enough to make your father pay for all the despicable things he did to you. Think about each and every scar on your back. Some of them might have been the king, but it was your father who hired him. Think about the thorn bush he planted in your yard: if he had not, would you have gone through all that pain when you fell into it? Really put your effort into this, Victoria!"
Niklaus's words unlocked all the rage I had been trying to bury away these past few weeks, all the pain that I tried to control to compensate for all the horrible things I had done to the people around me in the past year, and the dummy was the one who suffered for it. By the end of the half hour, my knuckles were bleeding, and the pain returned, along with the realisation of what I had just allowed.
"My lady," Niklaus said, approaching me. He caressed my chin, and lifted it so that I looked at him, "This rage you feel, that is what will drive you into finishing the deed. Your hatred will be the thing that will make you strong. Relish it, and let it fill you."
I did not know what to make of these words. I quietly allowed Claude to heal my wounds while I pondered over them. I could not fall into the Darkness again: Mother always said that truly strong people are the ones who fight for the things they love, not to destroy the things they hate. Her voice rang in my mind, and my pent up rage was released again. I grabbed the nearest object, which was one of my would-be textbooks, and threw it to the other side of the room. It collided with the door of the cabinet, which shattered.
"My lady?" Claude said, his tone startled but his face expressionless.
"I'm sorry," I said, running my fingers through my hair.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, I - I'm fine," I said.
The routine repeated over the weeks that followed. Shadows appeared under my eyes after a while: my muscles hurt so much every night that I could not fall asleep. Niklaus planted horrible thoughts and memories in my mind, ones that made my progress skyrocket, but also messed up my mind. I found myself once again having violent dreams where I kill my father or speak to the ghosts of my family.
I had resolved to trying to train myself to be pleasant throughout the day, and hateful whenever there was a weapon in my hand. After six weeks of training, it did not go so well. I snapped at random times during the day, yelling at a servant unnecessarily or throwing something against the wall whenever Father - no, Mordax - came to mind. I then decided that I would just resume my classic attitude of indifference to anything not concerning me.
I spent Wednesdays alternating between the different training rooms. Niklaus had, apparently, worked out training programs for the male servants, the female servants, the remaining two elementals and the butlers. It was quite entertaining: I watched with glee as Aurora struggled to fight her combat dummy with five-pound weights.
After a month and a half, upon concluding my two-hour session of water manipulation on Sunday, Niklaus stopped me before I tried to leave.
"I have been recruiting," he told me.
"And?"
"There are twelve new servants in the mansion, but there are four specific individuals I want to introduce you to," he said, "Join me this evening in the dining hall."
"When did you start recruiting? And why? This mansion is teeming with servants whose fighting skills are not bad."
He smirked, "When you meet these four, you will understand. I shall see you at around seven o'clock."
"And I assume I am your date?" I asked drily.
"Well, naturally."

 

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