XVI. Tenebrism

She was jolted awake in utter darkness at a grip on her shoulder, and before she could scream, a voice soothed her nerves.
“Shh…it’s me,” Cephas’s whisper against her ear as he worked on the chains about her limbs. “Be still now.”
Are they in the dark dungeon the head servant described? She was disrupted from that thought as the smell of decay made her gag. Yet, she was too scared to hurry Cephas in his work.
“Are you alright?” He freed one of her hand and felt for the other, allowing her to feel for the first time how sore yet numbed she was.
“Yes, thank you.”
He did not speak again until she was freed and lifted to her feet, “Can you walk?”
She wanted to give an affirmative, but her legs melted and she leaned heavily against him.
He apologized and swept her off of her feet. For a split second, Eleanor indulged in the safety of being carried, her head, heavy with worries in the putrid atmosphere, rested against his shoulder. Then she remembered Sirius and the face of the beast, a cold grip upon her heart that made her shiver.

“Don’t worry, your brother is safe,” Cephas whispered as they passed a torch, flickering flames indecisive about whether if it should provide more shadow or light.

“Thank you,” she sighed, unwilling to think too much of the bizarre phenomenons that haunted her stay, and whether if the situation would necessitate her power.

The thought made the weight of her head all the more unbearable.

Then they passed wooden skeletons of the building and winding passages, though they snapped to a stop as they turned a corridor, and Cephas ducked back to the cover of the turn and cursed, “He’s here.”

She heard the approaching footsteps, too, clacks the pace of an unlikely leisurely stroll in a rotting prison, “Is there not another exit?” His silence answered her, and her hands clamped tighter upon the crook of his neck.

She noticed that, he too, was trembling despite his best efforts to hide it.

Eventually, he decided to retrace their steps to distance themselves from their doom. The slow pace of the footsteps did not stop it from growing louder, closer, and when Eleanor dared to look back over Cephas’s shoulder, she nearly expected LaLauren directly behind them. Instead, she faced a solid wall of darkness, the torches finally decided to succumb to the shadows. They raced against the devouring abyss, blades of cold winds massacring each indecisive lights they passed.

They reached the door of her cell at the end of the hall, and the footsteps also stopped.

Cephas set her back to the ground as per her request as their flight was terminated, and she strained to keep her sluggish head afloat.

And as though to thwart her attempt, the abyss consumed them, the last light extinguished and giving in to the complete gloom. She sought for Cephas’s hand and found it, warm against the wintry uncertainty. She relied upon her companion’s arm in her blind horror.

“Do you dare to defy me again, Cephas?” A question spoke direction into existence. “Has this lass infected you with her idiocy?”

The questions were followed by a blast of cold air that knocked Eleanor off of her feet and robbed her of her only sense of safety, “Cephas!”

A strong grip answered, overpowering her struggles and shackling her to a wall, “I should deal with you later, Eleanor, there are still use of you yet.” She could hardly draw the connection between the harsh tone with the same that comforted her heart crossed in love merely days before.

LaLauren went on to address his rebellious servant. “Cephas, did I not warn you?” Eleanor pulled against her restraints with all her might, though the effort only made her breathlessly desperate. “What did I say? ‘If you dare to help the two, I will make sure you can’t play your violin again.’ It seems that you do not value your crafts as much as I imagined.”

There was a sound of a scuffle that ended with a dull thud followed by scattered crunches inspiring an agonized scream.

“Cephas!” The cuffs torn the skin of her wrists with its gritty surface as she pulled too hard against it. Her blindness in the dark somehow managed to worsen with her indignant tears, and she could only make out his soft pants that sounded impossibly far away.

Then the voice startled her with its sudden proximity, so close as though she could spit into its owner’s face if she dared, “Now, now, Eleanor, promise to tell me several things so no one needs to be harmed…more than they are now.”

“Wh-what on earth do you want to know? What are you?”

“I only asked you to answer, Eleanor.”

“What d-do you want to know?”

“Where is the seal?”

Her heart skipped a beat, “I don’t know.”

“Are you sure?”

“I really never heard of–”

The multitude of joints being crushed as LaLauren repeated his destruction upon the violinist’s left hand was the harbinger to another cry, though this time partly muffled by gritted teeth and bloodied lips.

“No!”

“I don’t enjoy repeating myself, Eleanor.”

The seal, he must mean the seal. But who was she to tell an enemy, defying her mother’s warning at the expense of a servant she met less than a month ago? Before her in the darkness her mother’s stern form materialized beside…him. She made a decision, the right one, yet there was a bitter taste in her mouth.

“I-I will tell…please don’t hurt him anymore…”

“Oh?” A gloved hand took her by the chin and tilted her face up to look at more uniform darkness, though she froze as the cruel gaze of the monster need not be seen to be felt. “Pray tell, then.”

That second, she dared and spat at him. Consequently, a blow fell heavy across her face, her teeth collided with the insides of her cheek and washed away bitter guilt with the salty iron of blood.

“Your foolishness blinds me from any reasons for sparing you, Eleanor, ” Before she could argue, a grip seized her throat and wrung the breath out of her.

She wheezed, kicked, and strained against her shackles until blood trickled down her arms, still she could not even gain a gasp of air as her eyes blurred and she mistook the light from a revived torch for an ethereal entrance until the grip suddenly released her.

Her face would have planted into the cold stone floors had it not been her chains, though the sharp pain by which her weight relied upon her inflamed wrists made her wince. Retching and coughing, Eleanor made out the outlines of Cephas’s frame, creases in his shirt intensified by the beacon in his unscathed hand. LaLauren’s features were sharpened by the torch and scorn as he examined an injury upon his forearm, a scorched patch presumably authored by Cephas.

“Now, now, Cephas,” LaLauren smiled. “Was poor James not enough?”

“No…no more of this…please…” The light wavered.

“You seemed confused, Eleanor, I don’t blame you,” She hated the notion that the man addressed her directly to the point that she hated her name, but that only prompted him to continue. “Should I tell you how your Cephas killed poor little Jimmy, and how the boy fell to his miserable end? Did you already forget, Eleanor?”

“Don’t listen to him!”

“And your immediate denial only strengthen my words…how could you, Cephas, the boy looked up to you so much.”

“…No…stop…” Cephas made the ruinous mistake of allowing a split second of neglect derived from guilt, which LaLauren seized to his advantage; stepping forward and dodging a haphazard strike from Cephas, his fist colliding against an old wound, splitting it while he drew out a blade, sinking it between his ribs.

“Cephas!”

The lamp met the floor as LaLauren drew out the dagger, watching with suppressed delight as Cephas groveled to pain and blood loss, winded and broken too many times. He gasped, groaned, his lids heavy and half closed against increasingly vacant eyes as though to invite death. The monster stooped to inspect misery, “Oh, if only you would listen.”

“Get away from him, you sickly goblin!” Eleanor screamed: I have to do something…I have to stop him…the only solution came to her.

Her ability.

But, can she afford the cost?

She looked on, Cephas’s perishing breaths urging her forward. She ran her tongue over the bleeding in her mouth, squeezing her eyes shut as she unleashed her power, her consciousness diving into the chasm of mystery and evil that is “LaLauren.”

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