My stomach was turning as I looked around the cavern at the multitude of assassins. Since waking up, I felt a lot better, however, nowhere near ready enough to take these people on at once. The Priest was right, I was restrained.
I was powerless, there was nothing I could do to stop them.
“An underground pool, the water glows and gives the drinker immense power. The slight issue is that only someone like you can find it.” The Priest stated. I still didn’t understand any of this, nor did I believe it but I nodded, anyway. “All you have to do is follow the feeling of power.” I turned my eyes towards Syrus, there was still something that didn’t add up.
“How did you know I would come?” I asked, looking to the Priest.
“I was hoping you would ask. I left most of the planning to Leopold, he knows you best, and he did not disappoint. We placed that statue in the museum for you to find, and with your interest in expensive objects, we knew you would take it. Once you found out it was empty, you did as we planned, looked for another because you wanted to know what was inside. At the auction, we shot the statue, it upped the stakes for you, made you more interested.” The Priest explained, I looked to Leopold who lacked any form of expression. Was I really that easy to predict? To manipulate? “The Archives, we sent people there to make sure you knew you were on the right track and to make you think we were getting worried. You are predictable because of your greed, for gold and for power. You need to prove yourself better than those around you, than the men that surround you.” He added, my jaw was hurting…
“You aren’t working for the Pope, are you?” I asked, my voice barely above a whisper. How could I do this? Fall so easily into a trap? They tailored it for me, and I hadn’t even thought twice about jumping into it.
“No, we haven’t been asked to since my predecessor came here and… I think you already know what happened. We protected their history and were paid handsomely for it, I read about the pool from the scrolls we stole from here and ever since then I planned to take the power for myself.” The Priest explained, lifting an arm as a gesture to get me to move. I kept watching Leopold, I felt far too embarrassed to look back at the Dawsons and Vince. I got us into this mess, so it was my job to get us out.
But now wasn’t a good time, there were too many enemies and not enough power on our side. I could use the time we had to make a plan to escape… if I could pull it off. If I couldn’t get us to safety, then there was a complete list of possibilities and consequences to my actions.
My body still shook as I took the first step towards one of the tunnels, my legs threatening to give out. But I did as I had to, I would find the pool, I would follow the string of power that was once again overtaking my senses. Greed had gotten me into this mess, greed I had ingrained into myself from a life without being given anything, having to take everything, and it never being enough.
All I needed to break us free was a sip of the waters, of that power that the Priest was talking about. It would solve all of my issues. We could take some gold on the way out, start more stable lives…
I looked over my shoulder towards my three people, we needed that money, what I had stashed away wouldn’t be enough. But they also had to be alive to use it. When I looked where I was walking once more, I found Leopold to be next to me, his expression unreadable.
“You know, Caeli, you can come and join the Temple. We have a place for you, safety, money, a home…” He trailed off, I said nothing. What could I say to the idiotic proposition? “Your family would be safe.” He added, I still didn’t say a word. “I know you don’t like being controlled, which is why I would let you rule the Temple from my side as the Priestess.” He told me, and I had to stop myself from rolling my eyes. He would let me.
“There’s never been a Priestess.” It was the only thing I could bother saying in response.
“There have, they just have to be married to the Priest to have that title.” He replied, and I immediately felt my cheeks heating with anger.
“You want me to marry you? Just to be Priestess of a sexist, corrupted organisation?” I asked, my hands balling into fists, I could feel my nails digging into the soft flesh of my hands.
“To have the power you want and crave, at the small price of marrying me. It’s an offer I think you should take, I mean obviously not just yet since we’re both a bit young for that, but you can come with me and learn how the Temple works. Learn the power you will have. I’ve missed you Caeli.”
“You’ve missed me?” I asked in a venomous tone, judging from the sharp pain from my hands. I think I had managed to cut through the skin with my nails. “I offered for you to come with me when I left, and you stayed with these idiots.” The torches in the tunnel flickered slightly. “I offered you safety, a home, but you stayed. I hate to admit it, Leo, but I had a soft spot for you… now I found out you’ve been lying to me, you manipulated me into coming here, and you double-crossed me. The last person to do that to me ended up with a scar running down their face and an eye rendered useless.” I whispered, my heart racing as I saw Dallas’ face in my mind and continued speaking.
“I ran my blade from their hairline to their chin, taking my time as I cut through their eyes, making sure it would be unfixable. I only felt better about his betrayal once I heard him screaming in pain. If you cared about me enough to miss me, you wouldn’t have planned all of this, you wouldn’t have caught me, and you would have left the Temple a long time ago. Besides that, I would never sell myself out to gain a bit of useless power, I would never let someone control me just to get a morsel of leadership. Besides, what you offer me is a lifetime of living in your shadow. I am the Shadow, yes, but I don’t belong to anyone. So, fuck off with your offer. I’m going to kill you, maybe not today, but one day, you threatened the family that I have… that is a devastating mistake to make.”
The lights all flickered out momentarily as I finished speaking and came back on a second later. Once I could see again all I saw was the anger on Leopold’s face. It in no way matched the fury I felt, but there was also a bit of fear in his eyes, I didn’t understand why… he had never been afraid of me before. I turned away from him and kept walking, forcing myself to relax my hands. He threatened my family…
My family was in danger, I had to focus on getting them to safety more than the power and the gold.
My body was getting stronger, the shaking becoming weaker with each step. Whoever the Temple had brought here before me, they couldn’t control the power they wielded. The energy that I wield. My past, it was a part of all of this. The past I pushed down, ignored… I had to bring it forwards.
The Order of Shadows.
They gave me these abilities that lead me to this point, they somehow gave me the power that allowed me to find this pool. They were careful, Ashford was careful. There was no way they would have given me these abilities without having a way to control them. If I didn’t have control, then I would be dangerous to them, a liability, so I had to be stable in terms of this power. If they had made me into a ‘lightning rod’ for magic, there had to be a way to redirect the electrical currents, to utilise them.
I could use this power, I had to control it, there was no choice. But no matter what I did, I had to be smart with it. I looked over my shoulder to my family again, still separated by assassins. Now wasn’t the right time to act. We would have to wait until my family was no longer divided. When the focus would be on me and not them.
At the pool, it would be most likely that they would bunch the Dawsons and Vince together, that way they could have fewer assassins around them and more around me. At some point, it would have to happen. I didn’t let myself look too hopeful, kept myself looking small and tired and weak—a perfect target. I had been underestimated again, and although I was angry about it, I would use it to my advantage.
This power, whatever it was, had a tie to my emotions. Each time I had become angry, the lights flickered or temporarily died out. I looked at the Priest who had a cool-coloured lamp on his belt like all the Temple assassins. Maybe I could get rid of their light, figure out a way to get our weapons back and we could get out. That would be essential to us getting out, stealing our guns back.
We turned a corner in the tunnel, having been walking for the best part of twenty minutes when there was a glowing light up ahead.
“You know, by now the other one had already been gaining back his strength. I hope you know better than he did.” The Priest spoke out loud, I shook my head. I knew better. I knew I had to bide my time, wait for the right moment to strike, not act on impulse.
“I do, we both know you have the upper hand,” I replied, my eyes meeting his, hopefully expressing desperation. “Don’t hurt them, please,” I whispered. I would play the part of the desperate and helpless teenage girl for as long as I had to, and then I would get my family out.
“Be a good girl, and we won’t.” The Priest responded. I wonder if he knew that I would kill him too, whether it was before or after Leopold I had yet to decide. We then came into a cavern larger than a house, only a glowing pool of water inside. The blue-green light from it gave an alien-like light to the room, tinging everyone’s skin the same colour. I looked at the water cautiously, surveying the Priest as he walked to the edge of the water.
“According to the scrolls, only a handful of people can drink from these waters, by the ones who can find it. I would like to test that theory…” The Priest trailed off as he knelt at the edge of the water, touching its surface with his fingertips. My chest tightened as he moved to hold that hand in the air next to him, he was waiting for a volunteer, a sacrifice to come forward.
“I shall do it, my Priest.” An assassin that had been standing guard to Nylah spoke up and walked forward, taking the Priest’s hand.
“You must give some of yourself…” The Priest said, taking out a dagger from his cloak and cutting into the assassin’s hand, immediately drawing blood. The Priest then moved the wounded hand over the water, and a few drops of blood darkened the glowing liquid before dissolving.
“Now drink.” The Priest instructed, the assassin dipped his unharmed hand into the water and sipped some of it. Nothing happened for a few moments, at least until his wounded hand glowed and the cut stitched itself back up. Magic. If I had any doubt before, it was gone now.
The cavern was deadly silent as everyone watched the phenomena with amazement, but I was the first to notice something else happening to the assassin’s body. His other hand was turning black. I said nothing as the darkness crept up his arm and dissolved his muscles, almost like his body was rotting.
The assassin was the next to notice what was happening, and whether he saw or felt it first, I would never know. But he screamed once he noticed. The rot seemed to move faster and faster as he panicked, but soon enough and the screams stopped. The decay took over his lungs and his head, probably dissolving his brain like it did the muscles on the rest of his body. When it finally finished, his entire body was covered in black, taut skin that shone in the pool light. At least, before he crumbled into dust.
My heart hammered in my chest as the Priest turned his attention away from the small pile of dust and turned to look at me.
“Come, it seems only you can drink this water, Shadow.”