Chapter 19:

The Dark Room

The Wanderblood Princess and Sir Try Hard

Caramello’s fingers traced across Chiffon’s cheek, but they were like ice. Whether they shivered from nerves or delight, the darkness hid his face from her sight.

She pulled back but stumbled, noticing that her hands were tied together by something glowing. The clink of shackles echoed in the silent room, drawing another chill down her spine. She prayed that it was just one of his tricks. That he was only teasing her for an instant. The look in his eyes spoke otherwise.

“I wouldn’t bother. You know exactly what those are, don’t you?”

Given that Chiffon couldn’t simply tear them apart with brute strength, they were the Shackles of Sealing that worked like her bracelet. Those were meant for criminals and prisoners.

She was helpless with these on, just a normal girl without the blessing of a Royal. Perhaps, getting her blood riled would allow her to escape, but seeing Caramello betray her had deflated any will to fight.

Ominous footsteps followed as she pawed at the ground to make distance. A rather pointless act in desperation. Looking around, Chiffon found no one else to save her. The very man who served as her pillar was the one ensuring her imprisonment.

“I took care of your guardians in hiding as well. None know of this place.”

“Why, why are you doing this, Caramello? I gave you my heart, and this is how you respond?”

Her voice came as a whimper, fighting back a bitterness that felt sharper after all the sweetness before. Did Lombardy speak the truth? Had Caramello merely become her knight to get close and trick her?

A shadowy face popped out of the darkness, staring at her with rich, red eyes that were hungry for blood – the same as when she looked at herself in the mirror at times. She pulled back in fear, but a pair of hands gripped the back of her head, preventing her from looking away.

“If only I had a little more time… then your heart would have been completely mine. I could feel it. Your soul being drawn to mine. Nearly close enough for me to snatch it, claim it for my own. And then… I would have my revenge.”

Even now, the closeness of his face against hers drove her into a delirium. Like she could almost forgive whatever requests that he thrust upon her, no matter how treacherous. Once again, he made a thin cut on his neck, drawing blood.

Chiffon’s first instinct was to reach out and suck on it – to calm her nerves, to return some sanity to this crazy situation. But then, she understood that it was all Caramello’s doing, controlling her whims with sweet temptations that offered instant euphoria. Her head turned in protest.

“Still able to resist? I am sure of it now. Looks like I won’t be adding your soul to my collection. Oh, how powerful such a familiar you would have made in my control….”

“F-Familiar?... What?...”

“Oh, the poor, unfortunate Princess… If Mommy and Daddy hadn’t decided to block the memories of that incident, then you would have realized that the ‘clones’ I use in battle are a special technique of the Schichttorte Clan, the very same family that you slaughtered years ago.”

Chiffon’s eyes widened. Her memories of that incident had always been fuzzy, but her mind being tampered with by magic? All she recalled was being kidnapped and imprisoned. Somehow, her power flared up, releasing her from captivity after getting blood on her hands.

As to the reason why and the aftermath of it all, static buzzed in place of memories. Her juvenile mind had played it off as unimportant details that never wished to resurface. The mental block to bring relief from trauma had taken away vital information as well.

“You see… our clan has the unique blessing to manipulate the souls of others. Willing sacrifices are turned into ‘familiars’, allowing the caster to draw upon their power in battle. You have seen them used as clones or combined together in a single, powerful strike. But did you notice? That each one is a bit different, a personality of its own. As practiced as I am with it, there is no way to perfectly align two souls. Now… what would happen if we were to acquire the soul of one who held a blessing… a Royal, perhaps?”

The answer to Caramello’s question was obvious: a blessed soul made for a stronger familiar.

The Schichttorte Clan had kidnapped her, an immature possessor of the highest blessing in the kingdom. Turning such a person into their tool would bring about an upset in the balance of power.

“It is truly unfortunate…,” Caramello said, softly petting her hair. Chiffon found herself nuzzling against it even in such a situation. His fangs had truly reached deep within her. Even his warm breath against her neck as he uttered venom made her blush instead.

“That your sacrifice won’t be voluntary and without heartache. That you won’t simply slip into an endless sleep without ever recalling your bitter past or learning of my intentions.”

At once, Caramello backed away and slipped into the darkness. The heavy clang of an iron door shutting followed, leaving her alone in the dark.


“The only way to get her to submit is to break her.”

That one statement foretold a young Chiffon's fate. Locked in a cell, away from the warmth of the castle, she had been here several days already. The lack of any sunlight made keeping track of time impossible, the cold walls swallowing all sense of the outside world. The only breaks in solitude came about when her captors visited.

They held her down. Food was stuffed into her mouth, and her jaws forced to chew. It took several of them to pin her down the first time, but the Shackles of Sealing around her wrists now made it trivial.

Some of them were rough on her. Others had wicked intentions. But they all held back on doing their worst – it was her mind they were trying to break, not her body.

For a young child, solitude was her worst enemy. Even more so than torture.

It was a delicate balance. Go too far, and her young mind would likely fracture, creating unpredictable ways to cope with the stress. That wouldn’t do. Her soul would be twice as hard to convince if that were to happen.

So, the best way to break her was to do nothing at all. To dim the fires of her desire to live gradually, until it was nothing more than a single ember. At that point, she would be fine with anything, just to be free from it, to see any change. The sweet release despite being confined to another – its freedom was a childish whim satisfied, compared to an eternity in the darkness.

Her body lay on the stone floor, chilling her bones. No one had come to save her. The tears of crying for help had all dried up days ago. The many hours of her own screams echoing back to her was her only companion, but even that lost its intensity. The pain in her fingertips gone raw was one of the few reminders that she was still alive, and not just merely floundering aimlessly in the darkness for a way out.

Chiffon coughed lightly from the dirty ground. Even sickness seemed like it would be inviting at this point. But her captors made sure that any illness of the body was dealt with immediately using magic brews.

Slowly, even her own body started feeling like a cage of flesh, unable to do anything. Her will to move had been sapped. That was exactly what they were looking for. And it would have happened already if a light tapping in her cell didn’t break the silence.

“Are you awake?” a light whisper sounded from where the noise came from. A hand waved where a hole in the wall happened to be.

Immediately, Chiffon crawled over to the spot, clutching the hand for dear life. It was the sole thing she looked forward to. Tears sprang from her eyes as she cried upon her lifeline.

Just when she had given up on life, the sounds of another caught her attention. It was likely a boy from the Schichttorte Clan, bored enough to mess around with their prisoner. But that didn’t matter to her, it was another person – to talk to, to hold his hand. Any resemblance of being alive came roaring back when he showed up, even if he barely said or did anything.

Her interest in living became entirely him, whenever the boy had the time to slip away and break into the adjacent room. He hated being treated like a servant, owning nothing to his name. No one else had realized that there was even a hole there. A secret belonging only to him felt precious. A meeting done in secret was her everything.

But since he couldn’t see the prisoner enclosed in her cell, sticking his hand through that hole seemed like a smart option – for a child anyways.

But for Chiffon, that hand and its voice was the bouy in the sea of darkness. The small but rough palm told her that he was likely a child around her age, forced into manual labor. She traced every one of his fingers in the darkness, all while they spoke in hushed tones to avoid the guards. But the most interesting thing was printed on the back of his hand – a painful, uneven texture that looked like someone had branded it.

“What is this?” Chiffon asked innocently, lightly stroking the grooves.

The hand twitched before suddenly retreating into the hole, much to Chiffon’s dismay. But moments later, a voice, brooding and hesitant, responded.

“That marks me… as a failure. I can’t do anything for myself… so no one wants me.”

The boy had not the capabilities of his peers. He was not smart, nor was he strong. He couldn’t be relied upon as a defender of their clan, and as a result, he was treated as nothing more than a servant. A life without blessing was discriminated against.

The fact that he could stow away unnoticed was because there was hardly anyone who cared enough to check on him, unless things didn’t get done. Being soft-spoken added to that.

“Hand, please.” Chiffon begged, feeling joy when it returned.

She greedily accepted him regardless. Even if it was only a single touch, words muffled with a wall between them – they mattered to her. He was the one sign that told her that she was still alive, that there was something to look forward to.

But even then, such things didn’t last.

The door opened, the slightest bit of light invading. Several men filed in, one with the barest amount of nourishment to keep her alive. They shoved it into her mouth, like scooping trash into its bin. All during that time, their hands prowled around her.

It was disgusting. She wanted no other but that boy’s touch.

“Her soul’s not getting any dimmer. She’s fighting back more than usual too.”

“What’s up with this? It hasn’t changed for days now…”

Chiffon froze. She had forgotten that the men expected her soul to wither within these walls.

A slap rang across her cheeks.

“Who else has been coming here?! The other cell’s been unlocked!”

They had uncovered the hole where the boy had stuck his hand through. With shouts of anger, the men stormed out and slammed the cell door before Chiffon could even bring up any form of denial.

She was back in the darkness, now an immense dread within her. Her lips muttered a single phrase over and over again.

“Please don’t come…”

Her prayers weren’t answered. The screams of a boy woke her from a tired slumber. Chiffon’s back arched each time the crack of a whip sounded, the boy’s punishment for bringing hope to her. It hurt her more than anything that had been done so far. The sobs and cries grew lighter eventually, returning some hope that his torment would be over. But then, she heard it.

“Kill him.”

A loud crunch followed. An earsplitting shriek after that. Another crunch and then silence…

Chiffon’s body shook, unable to believe what she had heard.

The sound of her cell door opened, the man standing before her grinning like he had thought of some sick pastime. He tossed something onto the stone floor, which made a splat. It was wet and stained the ground.

“Is this what’s been holding you up? Go on. Take it. He offered it up so readily for you.”

Chiffon crawled over and immediately gagged. The hand before her had the same mark that she remembered. Reaching out, she lightly touched it. The subtle texture invoked a sense of familiarity upon her fingertips. But the coldness of that skin and a rich scent flooded her senses.

The man laughed at her actions, his jeers echoing within the cell. He couldn’t believe that the girl petted the torn arm so tenderly, letting the blood smear all over her. The scent of iron filled the air. It blended with the darkness.

But then, he heard a low growl. And what he saw next was a pair of red eyes, shining in the dark.