Disclaimer : I do not own anything you'll recognize.
A/N: It has been a long time. Nearly a year or more than one, I think. I do apologize, but Fanfiction was not the first thing on my mind lately. I wasn't that motivated to write and was more into reading. However that motivation has been slowly coming back. I also needed to know where I was going with this story.
As for now this chapter has not been betaed, I'm waiting for a response of my betas since I hadn't contacted them for quite a long time. So a corrected and edited version of this chapter will be posted later.
And so, here it is. I hope you will enjoy this chapter.
Chapter 7: Samhain
Shaking his head, he focused back to the present time as they neared the Arena's changing rooms' entrance.
Zoar looked them over.
"You have five minutes to ready yourself before we enter the Arena. Make the most of it."
Julian went inside the rooms and slowly stretched, ignoring the other graduates, some talking in hushed groups, others checking on their attire and weapons. Only a few others, among whom a young blood-red-haired vampire who was the group's Dux, were also stretching. Julian nodded approvingly at the young vampire. His name was Quinn if he remembered well. The challengers had very little chance beating him in a fight. Quinn had had the well earned reputation of being a shrewd competitor and Julian respected his skills.
He used the last minute of wait to centre himself, his eyes closed, sharpening his senses.
As Zoar came back to fetch them, his eyes snapped opened. Those next to him took a step backward at the power swirling behind the green irises.
They exited the room and entered the brightly lit Arena, a deafening cheer rising up in the air as they appeared.
Let the show begin…
:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:. .:¨:.
Julian's eyes widened minutely as he took in his surroundings.
He had been in the Arena many times for Duelling or Combat Competitions, for Duels, for War games or any practice their teachers saw fit to put them through, but never had he seen the Arena like this.
It had been built similarly to a Roman circus with a large arena in it centre which you could access from the sides by four entrances or through a fifth one which opened in the middle of the arena. It had been the one they had taken.
The stands were filled with all the school graduates, all dressed in black and grey. The columns going up to the dome seemed to have living shadows twirling around them, pulsing with the cheering coming from the crowd. The dome was obscured with a pulsing black mass seemed to be made of the night itself. From time to time, silver threads coursed through it. Julian felt as if it was whispering to him, welcoming him.
Silver and black draperies were hanging around displaying the school's emblem, the nundu shifting from side to side, letting out a roar from time to time.
A gleaming black Duelling ring had been set up on one side, its ward thrumming with power. On the other side, an altar had been raised.
However what caught Julian's attention was the gleaming pillar of power that seemed to shot up in the air. Silvery-blue in colour, it had hundreds of rings floating inside of it: all the ring of those graduates that had died since the founding of the school. Upon their death, the ring channelled their power to the school. It then disappeared to reappear in this pillar, a testimony to the graduate's existence.
Looking around, Julian quickly spotted all the teachers standing in a reserved part of the central stand, under a dais, overlooking the arena.
Looking intently through the mass of people gathered, he finally found his friends. All of them were watching him closely.
His attention was brought back to the Headmaster as he rose to his feet, making the stands quietened by his mere presence.
"Nightshades! Welcome home!"
He waited for the cheers to die down, a smile on his face.
"A new Samhain. A new night during which Shadows will roam the earth freely. Tonight new children will join our family. They proved their worth, their strength, their power. They are worth of the name of Nightshades! Welcome our new brothers and sisters!"
Loud cheering answered his words as the people in the stands stood up. Julian watched, impressed at the moving black mass, a hint of gold or silver flashing from time to time through the crowd.
One by one each new graduate was presented to the crowd, with their names, accomplishment and title announced for all to hear.
Finally it was Julian's turn.
"And last but not least, Julian Richards. As all of you are aware, Dux Graduate Richards finished our schooling two year ahead and obtained the Dux title. His year group graduated without him as he hadn't reached his majority yet. Tonight challengers will be able to call him on his title and his peers will complete their bond to Nightshades." Karal paused for a few seconds, a small smile on his lips. "I will remind you that he graduated among the top five of his peers, he gained Mastery in Poisons, Mind Arts more particularly Occlumency, Allure and Compulsion, Transfigurations, Charms, Duelling, Non Magical Duelling with a mention in swordsmanship, Runes in the fields of Animation, warding, enchantments and spell crafting, Arcane Arts, History and Inter-racial Magics. He studied under my tutelage and currently possesses the rank of Sorcerer Novice."
Julian bowed like all the graduates had done before him and looked around with a cool look. He still kept a tight grip on his Dissolvency shields, wanted to keep his true power hidden until the last second.
Karal resumed his speech.
"Before the Ceremony can begin, the challenges will take place. First, Dux Graduate Quinn will measure up with his challengers then Dux Graduate Richards will fight against his own. Should there be some who wish to call him on his title, I ask them to speak now or remain silent forever."
Julian watched coolly as six people rose to their feet and challenged him.
Ovou had been obvious. The Werewolf had never got over humiliation Julian had dealt him during their school days. He was a good fighter but tended to let his temper get the better of him and Julian knew which buttons to push to get him to snap.
Two vampires were making there way to him. Erwan and Gahail. Julian spared them a nod. Both were members of the Osrald Clan and acquaintances of Auguste. Erwan was a Summoner while Gahail was a blood mage.
He raised an eyebrow upon noticing that Apollonia had challenged him. The Veela was sashaying down the stairs relishing in the appreciative looks sent her way. She had always been most annoyed at his immunity to her charm. However he was not fooled by her angelic appearance, having seen her enthral rooms of people and made them perform her binding.
The last two were unsurprising, Vick, a Member from the Blackmoon pack in Austria, a werewolf that had specialized in Mind Arts. And lastly, Yraelle was entering the arena and stretching. Julian rolled his eyes as many males' eyes were going back forth between Appolonia and Yraelle. Both had had a strange relationship of rivals and allies. They had had been the upper females just as Julian and Evan had been the upper males in their year group. Yraelle was a hybrid Vampire and Succubi and had graduate with the rank of Novice Necromancer.
She shot him a sultry look, a small smile on her blood-red lips. He smirked back, looking forward their fight.
While he and his challengers were stretching and warming up, Quinn faced his own challengers and unsurprisingly defeated them, being met with the deafening cheers of the crowds as they shouted their approval. Karal spoke a few more words, acknowledging Quinn as the Dux, a tall Veela standing besides him as his Second.
Karal then turned to look at Julian with a small smirk.
"And know it is time to finish what was started a year ago. Dux graduate Richards was challenged and will now fight to prove his worth to his peers. It is up to the challengers to decide the terms of their duels and the order of passage. Dux Julian Richards, step in the arena and prove your strength. May the first challenger approach and the strongest win!"
Ovou immediately stepped forwards. Julian was amused to see Erwan and Yraelle roll their eyes as they conversed with the three others to agree on an order of passage.
"Ready to lose, Julian?" drawled the young Werewolf.
"You should lay off the white pills, Ovou; they do nothing for your sense of reality. Now name your terms," he sneered.
"Sword only, no magic of any kind. Until one of us is incapacitated."
Julian said nothing and unsheathed his own sword, his mind going over all the possibilities. He knew the Werewolf technique was better than his so had to play on his weaknesses…
They saluted themselves as the crowds started cheering for one or the other.
Karal raised his right arm brought it down.
Immediately they fell in their respective defensive stance. Silence fell on the stands as everyone waited for one of them to make the first move, watching with keen eyes as the two youths circled the other.
Julian had yet to let go of his Dissolvency shields. This challenge being purely physical, he had no need to release his power.
Finally Ovou grew fed up with waiting and lunged for him, sword raised. He feinted left before spinning on himself, his blade aiming for Julian's side. However the young sorcerer had fought against him often enough to know of his standard beginning move. He dodged the blow, not bothering to block it, knowing Ovou was superior to him in terms of strength and speed, no matter how much enhancement he had given his body through rituals.
He did not waste time striking back, aiming for Ovou's sword arm, only to be blocked. Not letting the werewolf lock his own sword, he rolled away, dodging and parrying the next blows, falling in a more defensive stance, knowing the werewolf would only grow more and more upset at his lack of offence.
And an upset opponent was more prone to mistake.
After ten minutes of this game, both were sporting shallow cuts on their bodies but none seemed about to yield. Julian was studying his opponent while defending. He could see that his attitude was getting to his challenger. Frustration and a gleam of gloating were rising in the werewolf eyes as he lunged for his left side. He jumped on the side, parrying the next blow and allowing Ovou to lock their swords.
"So Julian, getting rusty? Or are you too scared to fight?"
Julian raised an eyebrow.
"Why should I waste my energy on someone like you, Ovou? A kitty cat like you is not worth it, aren't you, Kitten?"
He knew he had him right where he wanted him as the werewolf roared in fury and lunged into a series of frenetic blows.
Dodging Ovou's blade, he parried the next blow, feinted for right before striking left. As Ovou blocked him and pushed him back, he used this momentum to make a back ward somersault. As soon as his feet hit the arena's ground he threw himself on the left and twisted on himself, his sword a flash of light as Ovou rushed past him, having rant straight for him in blind anger.
A sharp cry was heard as well as dull thud as Ovou's right arm fell to the ground, blood gushing from the wound. However Julian did not stop his attack. Werewolves were quite resistant to pain and he knew that Ovou could easily fight with both hands, something he had yet to master.
He sprang forwards and had his blade against the werewolf neck before he could react, the loss of his arm having stunned for the few seconds Julian needed.
"Do you yield, Ovou?"
The werewolf growled and tried to get out of the young man's hold, only to have the blade harsher against his neck, a thin cut appearing.
"Do. You. Yield?"
Ovou swayed on his feet, blood still gushing from the stump that had been his arm and even werewolf were not immune to blood loss."
"I yield." He ground out.
Julian stepped back and allowed two medics to step forwards. Cheers rose within the Arena and Julian smiled as he saw his friends clapping and whistling.
He turned to the other challenger, taking two small vials from his robes and swallowing them. The cuts immediately sealed themselves and he felt immediately refreshed.
Vick was the next one to challenge him to a Mind Duel that ended with the werewolf being blasted a few meters away after a few minutes.
Julian went to help him stand up, shaking his hand while the stands cheered.
"Well fought Vick."
"You've even gotten better, Julian. I never really had a chance," said the werewolf, smiling.
Erwan stepped on the arena and went to salute Julian.
"Erwan. What will it be?"
"A Magical duel, Unforgivables, Enchantment and Runes barred, until one of us is unable to continue."
"Focus or Wandless?"
Erwan eyed him before answering.
Julian bowed his head in agreement and both settled in the middle of the arena. They saluted each other before spinning on themselves and walking away. As soon as he finished his last step, he rolled forwards, sensing a spell pass above him.
Spinning on himself as soon as he was back on his feet, he shot a petrifying spell at Erwan who deflected it aside.
"Come on Julian, let me see what you can do!" shot Erwan, a smile on his lips.
Julian smirked darkly in return and sent a volley of spells his way, dodging the Confusion spell as well a mild pain Hex.
Ten minutes later, they were still going at it strong though it was becoming clear to those in the stands that Erwan was tiring. Julian used a wordless Serpensortia to conjure a snake which he duplicated quickly before ordering the reptiles to attack. Erwan quickly froze the advancing animal, dodging and attacking all the whiles. Conjuring blades he sent them for Julian along with a pain curse that had been the base of the Cruciatus.
Apparating out of the way of the Curse, Julian reappeared to Erwan's right, shooting a curse before apparating away again. Erwan followed him and soon everything became a blur of figures appearing and disappearing to the spectators.
A gasps echoed in the stands as Julian reappeared just as Erwan disappeared only to conjure a look-alike out of a pebble before disappearing again from view as Erwan reappeared flinging a strong blasting hex at the conjured dummy, making fly back and hit the arena's ground with a loud thud. The young man quickly cast a petrification charm on the dummy with slightly incredulous eyes.
He didn't have the time to finish his sentence as a hex sent him flying painfully in the air. Cursing, he shot back on his feet but was not able to avoid the barrage of spells that came his way. Cursing once more, he saw smirking green eyes before blacking out.
A few seconds later, he came back to his senses and noticed a hand in front of him. Grabbing it, he was hauled to his feet amidst the cheers coming from the stands. The two young duellers bowed to each other before shaking hands.
"Good duel Erwan, you've improved since last."
"I've been apprenticing under Sophie Beaumard," replied the young man good-naturedly. "She's been teaching me a lot."
Julian simply nodded before turning to see who would be his next challenger and made a sweeping bow as Appolonia glided to the centre of the arena.
The Blonde shot him an enchanting smile.
"It's good to see you Julian. You've made yourself scarce these past months."
Julian ignored the Veela compulsion that tried to ensnare him.
"What will be your choice, Appolonia?"
She eyed him up and down.
"Hand to hand," she answered with a small smirk, "until one of us yield or is unable to go on."
Julian tilted his head forward minutely.
He carefully shrugged off his robes before standing in front of the Veela who had followed his example. She was dressed in the usual Nightshades outfit: long form fitting grey pants and a top showing off her figure, while he was wearing his own grey pants and top that clung to his torso.
They circled each other amidst the cheers coming from the stands. Appolonia was moving with the inherent grace of the Veela women, her blond hair taking a sparkling edge in the lights of the arena, her ivory skin almost shining.
Suddenly she pounced forwards, her hands going for his head while her leg aimed for his knees. He dodged the blow and returned it. He had quickly learnt not to be fooled by her china doll appearance. She could pack a nasty punch as she had not been afraid to demonstrate repeatedly.
They exchanged several more blows, Julian barely side stepping a low blow to his privates. He rolled on his right before feinting left and jumping on her as she was about to kick him in the stomach. They both fell to the floor, Julian on top.
She brought her knee up, but he used his left hand to block as he tried to shift her to her side to get her in a choke-hold.
Suddenly, he froze for a split seconds as she undulated under him instead of trying to buck him off of her. Her eyes got a shine to them, teasing his senses as her beauty seemed to increase.
He quickly shook his head, shoving the compulsion away as he press himself to her, locking his leg through her right to stop her from rolling them over and gaining the upper edge.
Taking advantage of her surprise, he shifted on her right and got her in a bind.
"Do you yield, Appolonia."
"Julian dear, you know you really want to let me go," she said in a sultry, husky voice that would have entranced most men.
Unfortunately for her, Julian had never been amongst those.
"Do not make me repeat it, Appolonia," he said, tightening his hold.
He let her go and straightened himself.
"You've gotten even more resistant to me, Julian, if that is even possible."
Julian shook his head.
"You should know better, Appolonia."
She shot him a wry smile.
"That does not mean I cannot try," she answered before sashaying away, the eyes of nearly all males in the stands following her.
Julian only rolled his eyes then turned to the next challengers.
Gahail gave him a good fight but everyone knew that the real challenge would be the last one.
The female Succubus -Vampire hybrid stepped up, a small smile stretching a red lips.
"What will it be, Yraelle?" asked Julian nearly giddy at the idea of fighting the Necromancer Novice.
She shot his a smirk.
"All out bar Avada Kedavra," she said in a clear voice, the stands erupting in cheer upon hearing it.
Julian felt his magic rising up at these words.
He shrugged his robes back on, activating a few runes for weightlessness and to make sure they wouldn't get in his way while reinforcing the shielding ones. Then he rummaged through one of his pockets and withdrew a small gem that he fitted in the palm of his right glove.
He had had to bargain hard with the dwarves for this gem but it had been worth it. It was a completely pure thirteen-faced black diamond. The purity was a guaranty that the stone would not overheat or shatter as large amount of magic passed through it.
Looking back at his opponent, he saw she had her sword out and her focus settled in her palm too. She had favoured a net of thin chains holding a sixty-nine faced ruby. Julian only knew about it thanks to the dwarf that had sold his own stone. He hadn't stopped ranting against the hybrid that had him cut sixty-nine faces out of a perfectly pure ruby.
He bowed deeply, followed by his peer. There was a moment of silent as they fell into fighting stances before they lunged at each other.
Twenty minutes later including quite a lot of blood spilling over the arena, three corpses rising from the ground, a flock of minor demons running amok, Incubus Illusions and Trance, heavy transfiguration and animation as well as Runes being flung around while shock of sword meeting sword echoed in the place, Julian appraised Yraelle as her last demon withered away, both of them slightly out of breath.
They slowly circled each other, trying to gauge the other and find a weakness to exploit.
Yraelle was moving with unnatural grace, her Incubus heritage shining through. Julian dodged two spells aimed at him, sending some of his own back; nothing too serious, just to try to unsettle the other.
The young man made a few lunges at her which she parried easily.
Suddenly the arena seemed to dissolve around them, people falling to dust in the stands. Julian remained standing, completely defenceless and a bit unsettled as he suddenly found himself unable to move.
Taking deep breath, he crushed the panic rising through him at the idea of not being in control and focused on his core, throwing a shield up, anchoring it to a minor node he had found while in school.
Manipulating his own core, he blinked, shifting his vision, redirecting magic to his eyes. He could feel spells hitting his shield.
Realizing he was under an elaborate Incubus Illusion, he decided not to overthrow it immediately and prepared his retaliation. Following the magical threads running around, he tweaked them slightly, weaving his trap around his opponent.
As soon as he finished tying the last threads, feeding the web a tiny bit of his magic to make sure the whole thing would hold under pressure.
He allowed himself a small pleased smile as his construction strengthened with the additional magic. The only thing left was tying it to its victim. He shifted his sight, keeping himself firmly under control thanks to his Occlumency as the Illusion had shifted to a tiny room that seemed to close on him, trying to play on his fear of small space and of being locked up.
Maintaining his Dissolvency up, he allowed some of his magic to leak and shatter the illusion, hitting straight at the connection the young hybrid had made to his core.
Immediately, the arena came back into focus. Quickly, he disabled his shield and threw several curses around, taking advantages to the slight disorientation the magical backlash and wrought over his opponent.
It wasn't enough to prevent her from dodging the attacks but was sufficient to distract her as he keyed the trap to her core.
He took a lunge at her, which she parried, locking both their swords.
"You've improved, Julian."
"So did you."
She twisted his sword, lunging forward at the same time, bringing her left hand to his arm. He danced out of reach, remembering how she favoured potion laced darts back in school.
They exchanged a few more blows as the stands cheered them on.
Julian dodged a bludgeoning curse, reflected a shattering hex aimed at his arm and shot his own back. Yraelle easily blocked them.
"Quit playing Julian," she snapped, getting a bit annoyed as she could see he was drawing out their fight.
"But who says I am?" he shot back.
"Please, I can sense your Dissolvency shields are still up."
"Who says I need to?"
Her eyes narrowed in anger as she spat a curse. However the curse never made it to its intended target as Julian activated the trap.
Yraelle's eyes widened as her spell bounced back to her. She dodged it only to have it bounce again as it hit something behind her. It ricocheted a few more times before seeming to be absorbed by whatever was surrounding her.
Cautiously, she raised her aura and expanded it, feeling it hit whatever was surrounding her. Narrowing her eyes, she poured some more energy and saw a tight web of magic surrounding her like a bubble. She fed it some more energy, examining the threads.
She poked at it with the hand holding her focus and with the one holding the sword. Looking up at her opponent she saw he had sheathed his sword and was looking at her, a smug smirk on his face. Infuriated, she conjured a heavily powered beam of magic and aimed at what she had deemed the weakest point of whatever Julian had conjured.
She shot it with as much power as she could gather and could only gape as it was once more absorbed and the bubble's size was cut in half, tightening on her.
She tried using her own Incubus branch of magic only to get the same results. Her following attempts weren't any more successful and made the web shrink even more around her.
Julian shot her a smug smile as he shot a petrifying curse at her doubled with a stupefying one. She managed to dodge the first but was hit by the second.
She crumpled to the floor in an unconscious heap.
The young Sorcerer could hear some disappointed groan coming from the stands amongst the cheers. It seemed some might have wanted a more explosive end to this duel… But Julian couldn't bring himself to care. Why waste power?
With a twist of his hand he freed his opponent and helped her to her feet.
"Well fought, Yraelle."
She sent him a small smile.
"Not well enough, it seems, Dux," she said, bowing with her hand.
Julian took her hand and kissed it gently amidst cheers and catcalls.
"Besides Evan, you were the one who came closest to defeat me. Had he not my second already, the title would have been yours."
Yraelle pulled her hand away with a smile, taking his words as the compliment they were.
"Careful, Julian, one might think you are human."
The young Sorcerer smiled.
Yraelle let out a small laugh.
"Time to face our peers Julian. However a little straightening wouldn't do much harm to the both of us."
Julian distractively waved his right hand, his focus glowing briefly as his clothes straightened themselves. He noticed Yraelle was back to her impeccable self too.
Meanwhile Karal had approached them, all the teachers of Nightshades, all the Dux currently alive, Quinn, his own Second and Evan following the Headmaster.
"Well done, both of you," he said quietly. Casting a wandless Sonorous on himself he turned to address those in the stands who had come to their feet.
"Friends! The challenges were met and answered. Anyone else opposing the Dux shall speak now or remain silent forever."
As silence fell on the arena, Julian couldn't shake the sentiment of being the bride offered in a wedding. Dismissing the thought, he reported his attention on his Master.
Karal smiled darkly.
"So be it."
He led everyone to the altar. Julian could feel the power slowly rise. The main pillar seemed to expand and the dome pulsed as silver strikes multiplied. Julian was ready to bet all he had that he could hear the whispers more clearly.
That last whisper carried anger that made a shiver ran down Julian's spine.
They stopped in front of the altar from which the pillar was coming from. Karal motioned to Quinn and Julian to step forwards with him, Evan and the other second close behind them.
The other Dux formed a half circle around them as the teachers placed themselves on each side of the altar.
Karal lengthened his fangs and cut his right hand, letting a few drops of his blood fall on the altar's top. Julian stifled a gasp as he felt a surge of power as he had never felt before. The silver strikes all shot down the pillar and coalesced, forming a gleaming blade.
It was a translucent blade with a black handle that Karal plucked from the pillar.
"Dux Quinn, step forwards."
Julian saw and heard nothing more as he was encased in darkness. Damn these secrecy clauses! He spread his magical awareness.
He could feel what he knew was the pillar pulse with power. He felt large energies flares as the past Dux activated their bond to the School. After some time, he felt a new entity being accepted amongst them. There was a magical blast as Quinn joined to the school power. He then felt Quinn's second and his peers join him, bonds forming between them and the giant nearly sentient power that was Nightshades. Then another blast much more powerful that washed over the arena connecting to every person present spare a few that Julian knew were his own peers as their connection to the school was only partial.
The darkness surrounding him lifted itself and he was able to see and hear once more.
Quinn had joined the other Dux and his second was walking towards the stands. Only Karal, Evan and he were still standing by the altar.
"And now, friends, a long awaited moment as Dux Julian Richards will finally join us." He paused as cheers erupted from the stands. "Julian Richards step forwards."
"You stand before us after having won all the challenges you were met with. Tonight, you will rise to your place among us and be forever tied to the school. We are one family and you will now stand bared before us, no mask, and no shield."
Julian nodded and for one of the first time in an unshielded room lowered his shields completely, letting his magic free.
Several gasps were heard as people felt his magic touch them.
As one all the Dux spoke up.
The pillar seemed to expand to twice its size.
"Step forwards, Julian Richards."
The young man obeyed quietly, coming to stand next to Karal mere centimetres from the altar.
"Your eyes will be Nightshades', your magic will be ours as ours will be yours, your sword will rise in our defence as will ours should you be in need."
As he spoke, Julian could feel the magic starting to thrum around him, enveloping him slowly, enticing him. His blood started to beat in time with the magic's thrum, deafening him.
He watched as the headmaster made a shallow cut across his left palm.
His aura spiked to its highest, making some around him take a few steps back or stumble. He saw Karal's lips move but could only hear the thrum of magic in his ears.
He felt his magic shift as it connected to those of the various Dux standing behind him. His eyes widened as he felt himself be lifted up and towards the large pulsing pillar of power. He found himself encased in it, surrounded and drowning into raw power. He dimly felt Evan's and his peers' magic being added to his, starting the bonding process.
Looking down, he saw Karal looking at him with a small smile as he uttered the school motto once more.
"So mote it be. Fides umbrae."
The blood pearling on his palm glowed brightly as several drops detached themselves from his hand. His back arched and his mouth open in a silent scream as a powerful magic like he had never felt before rushed through him, using his magical channels and connected to his peers, inducing in them a strong magical high. He felt like liquid fire was running through him, burning him from the inside out, washing away all taints on his magic and core. A sharp pain erupted where his scar had once stood and he could feel whatever bond might have been anchored there dissolve into nothingness.
At the same time he felt an entity older than time rummage through his mind, leaving him helpless as his innermost secrets were laid out, as his actions were judged.
Then the pain disappeared as quickly as it came and the soothing feeling of being embraced in comforting arms, a feeling he shared will all those bonded through him, replaced it as Nightshades welcomed its new children.
In a rush of picture and sounds, knowledge and history passed through all their minds as the collective memory of the school was transmitted to them. Julian's Occlumency skills went immediately to work as he was slowly brought back to the arena's ground, organizing the new information and rearranging his mind around the new bound that linked him to the school. He could feel it permeating his magic and immediately knew it would forbid him from ever entering a bond as a servant to someone not bound to the school already.
He repressed a satisfied smirk. That gave him a beautiful reason not to be marked and not even one that was of his fault. After there was nothing he could do, Voldemort would just have to swallow it…
That coupled with the breaking of the bond that the Dark Lord had unwittingly created the night he tried to kill him was more than he could have expected.
As he was gently brought back to the floor, he sent feeling of gratefulness across the bond tying him to the school, earning a mental caress in thanks.
Then he was back to the reality and stumbled a little. Gathering his bearing quickly, he opened his eyes. Unnerved by the silence reigning in the arena as all eyes were on him, making him a little self conscious; he looked down and nearly jumped out of his skin. Only his occlumency training kept him from letting out an undignified squeak as he noticed the thick silver aura surrounding him, tendrils shooting up to the pillar of power or down through the ground. Gently, he raised his Dissolvency shields, bringing his magic back to him. It took him a few minutes as his power rather enjoyed its freedom but he finally got his control back. A hand fell on his right shoulder making look into Evan's eyes.
Taking a deep breath, he nodded.
"I think so... It was …intense."
Evan rolled his eyes, a wry smile appearing across his face.
Squeezing his shoulder before letting go, he went back to the stands as whispers started to rise from the stands.
Karal sent him a small smile, pride for his protégé shining through his eyes and motioned for him to walk back to his side.
"Well, done, Julian," he whispered in his ear before addressing the crowd.
"Friends! Tonight new members entered our ranks and two new Dux rose to their rightful place among their peers. On this night, our power is strengthened once more. Let's rejoice and celebrate the Shadow's powers!"
The cheer that rose from the stands was deafening.
Julian watched with wide eyes as people stood up and swarmed the whole arena, magic rising in the air, the pillar of power widening and pulsing widely.
A deep beat started to echo thorough the place entrancing people, quickening and multiplying, leading them in a wild dance. He couldn't believe that the usually stoic Nightshades graduate could behave like this.
"Startling isn't it, Julian?"
He looked up, startled into the bemused eyes of Karal, snapping out of the partial trance the scene and beats had place him into.
"It's…" For once the young man couldn't find the right word.
Karal smirked, letting the young Sorcerer see gleaming white fangs.
"This is the one night when we can all surrender to our desires, our wants and let ourselves go free. The one night when we let the Shadows overcoming us and made us do their binding. Many times the fate of many of us was decided on that night. Many of us were also conceived on that night. The Shadows made sure that all those needed would be gathered when the time came for us to step up."
Julian shot him a shrewd glance as he was led towards the pillar of power.
"And you believe that time has come."
Karal shot him a look.
"You have been hearing the shadows as I have. The Dark and Light extremes are soon going to come to their last stand and destroy each other. It was Seen."
Karal let out a small laugh.
"Do not allow yourself to waste your life away. A prophecy will come true whether you do anything about it or not."
Julian opened his mouth to answer but was cut before he could utter a word.
"Now is not the time, Julian. Now we rejoice in our magic, our powers." As he said that, he pushed the young man into the pillar before following him, all the Dux behind him. One by one, they disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Julian barely managed to gather his bearing as he reappeared into a wide circular room with obsidian covered walls.
He sensed Karal appear behind him, but did not turn, his eyes fixed on the huge sphere hovering in the middle of the place, shooting tendrils of power all around that seemed to seep into the walls.
"The core…" he whispered.
Karal gently pushed him closer while all the Dux took their place in a circle.
"Yes, and now you will take your place among us. Lower all your shields even the deepest ones and let yourself go."
Dazed by the swirling movements of the power it could feel in front of him, he bared itself to it as Karal spoke out the school motto.
Immediately the sphere expanded to include all those present and Julian knew no more as he felt himself be swept away by the wild power. He could feel something or was it someone caress his face and sides, then be swirled around to have the sensation of a hand running through his hair while being embraced.
It would indeed be a night to remember.
Dumbledore looked at all the students gathered in the Hall for the Halloween feast with twinkling blue eyes. Ah! To be young again… Laughs, happy smiles and talking were filling the room for the night, the harshness of the war left behind for a time as children enjoyed behaving as such.
He could see young Longbottom sitting at the Gryffondor's table which had been pushed to the side, as had the three other tables.
Why the boy could not have been like his father?! Franck had been one of the backbones of his Auror team back then. However it seemed his son had not inherited his dispositions. Despite what the others might believe he was not completely blind. Even a troll would be able to see the boy was not suited to lead. His calling was with the herbs and within the Healing Houses.
But there were no others.
If only the Potter boy had not disappeared from the face of the world… He had tried everything to find him, used every tracking charms, every devices even called on a few favours from the Department of Mysteries to help him find the boy. A team was created to search for him. Not even Fawkes had been able to find him. By the time the boy would have turned fourteen; there had been no time or man power to spare to look for a boy that was probably dead while Voldemort was upping the ante in the war, striking the Wizarding with his full power.
He knew that the Potter vaults were still sealed, meaning that the boy was probably alive somewhere. The only way to explain how he couldn't find him was either a change of his magical signatures or wards strong enough to confound a phoenix.
Whatever it might be, it didn't bode well for them. No, it was better to make use of what they had. He would allow the youths to believe he hadn't caught on their little scheme of making Neville their figurehead but have the Weasley boy as their real leader.
As long as Neville was able to deliver the final blow, the how didn't matter.
Seeing all those youths made him think of another one.
His meeting with the young man had worried him. He could admit if only to himself that he had not behaved as he should have with him and might have alienated him.
But he had needed answers… ones he hadn't got, though he should have foreseen the boy would have strong mental shields with Severus being his Master.
The boy was barely seventeen and that thought had brought even more worries to him. So young and already such connections… This was not that strange given his schooling in that Vampire's school. But his youth coupled to the fact that he had already graduated from Nightshades meant that he had also some power to back his connections. Strangely only the fact that he had attended Nightshades was doing anything to reassure him.
He had learnt the hard way that no Nightshades would ever swear allegiance to someone or something other than their school. But that did not change the fact that he was working in Voldemort's lab.
He would only have to make Severus see that sending his apprentice to Hogwarts could only be beneficial to the boy.
What he would do with the boy's connections to the Vampires and Werewolves. The Vampires were a lost cause already but maybe some could be persuaded to withdraw their support. As to the werewolves, he could only do so much without the backing of the exiled Ministry. Most of those working there had left the moment the Ministry had been attacked. Well, those that had survived the attack. That did not stop them from being a real pain, thinking they knew what was to be done.
But that was another issue for another night. He needed to get closer to that boy and the only way to do so was through Severus. If only there wasn't that apprenticeship. It made things much more complicated for him to get the boy out of Voldemort's reach. Short of kidnapping him, Severus was the only way to get the slightest access to him.
And he wasn't about to kidnap a Nightshades graduate…
He was shaken out of his thought by a high pitched scream and had to bite back his chuckles upon seeing several students turning into giant bats, spiders and pumpkins… It seems the youngest Weasley boy had still to overcome his fear of spiders if his shriek had been any clue.
Dumbledore leaned back in his chair and let himself be drawn in a conversation between Minerva and Filius. There would be time to worry over that particular problem tomorrow. For now he had to make sure the people enjoyed themselves as much as possible.
He eyed the crystals he had painstakingly placed all around the Hall and could see them faintly glowing as they filled themselves with all the positive energies and light Magic permeating the room.
The wizened wizard knew that the Chosen one would have a power the Dark Lord did not know of, but it couldn't hurt to be prepared and Dumbledore knew for sure that positive energies and feelings were completely alien to Voldemort.
He discreetly waved his hand, triggering the charms he laid over the ceiling during the afternoon and soon a show of lights that would have made Muggle fireworks proud was met with awed faces and bright smiles while Fawkes let out a joy-inspiring thrill.
Dumbledore settled back in his chair, a satisfied gleam in his eyes as the crystal glowed even brighter.
Voldemort surveyed the ballroom, a pleased smirk on his face. He was sitting on his throne under a dais, Severus Snape in robes of the deepest black sitting on his right and Lucius on his left attracting a lot of eyes in his grey and silver robes. They made a startling and powerful contrast given the awed glances shot their ways which had been what Voldemort had been aiming for. Of course, initially he had wanted to have his Dark Prince on his right and the young apprentice on his left. Now that would have been an inspiring sight for his men. To see those two powerful men under their Lord's control like barely tamed vipers… He dismissed the thought. It was no use chasing after what would not be.
Suddenly a sharp pain erupted in his head, making him feel as if his head would split in two. Then as brutally as it had started, it stopped, leaving only a slight throbbing behind.
"Severus, do you have any headache draught with you?"
The man shot him a piercing look as he handed him a small vial.
The Dark Lord gulped its contents, feeling the throbbing disappear in mere seconds. As he massaged his temples, he quickly checked on his Occlumency shields to make sure that it hadn't been an attack against him. Reassured that no one had dared to do so, he reported his attention back on the Hall and the people before him.
His servants were mingling together, talking, dancing and for some of them having fun with the Muggles he had ordered caught for their entertainment. Some had been locked in rooms linked to the Hall by a door concealed behind a tapestry to provide some pleasure to his men. Others were sent to the dungeons to entertain the more twisted of his followers. No matter how fond of torture he might be, completely gratuitous torture was a little distasteful even to him. However he needed the brute strength those enjoying it provided him. The fear of a loving one being tortured was a powerful deterrent for those that might think of opposing him.
The rest of the Muggles had been spread through the Hall and transformed into living furniture. Several of them had been made into large tables that supported the food. Others were used to holds the drinks. Many had been made into chairs that were having quite the huge success.
Voldemort had turned a blind eye to the slightly different use some of his followers had made of the "furniture". As long as the Muggles were still breathing and relatively unharmed, he saw no problem with his servants using them for their pleasure.
He saw Bellatrix and her husband disappear through the door leading to the dungeons and knew the woman's crimson robes would have acquired a new shade of red by the time she returned.
Narcissa Malfoy was talking with several other pureblood wives in a corner, their gazes eyeing the youths dancing in the middle of the room, no doubt discussing future betrothals.
Voldemort shifted his gaze to the youths in question. He knew the time would soon come when he would have to choose one as his heir, even if he did not plan to die any time soon if ever if his plans succeeded. But a Prince would reassure the masses and give him someone he could delegate some of his authority
The Malfoy heir would never have his father's imposing presence. He was powerful and a deadly dueller. But he was also impulsive, something his father had yet to cure him from and quite vain too. But he could be trained…
The Zabini boy was not one for the limelight but would make quite the spymaster. The Nott heir did not have the charisma needed.
The Lestrange twin was also a distinct possibility. Bellatrix had trained her children well, too well to Voldemort's taste. The boy was too ambitious and bloodthirsty even by his standards and would have to be brought to heel swiftly.
The girl held a bit more promises. She was ambitious but did not have yet that glint of insanity present in her brother. However her possessiveness and jealousy could become a hindrance quickly.
But none of them held the appeal Severus' apprentice exuded or his power, not to mention his Slytherin heritage.
The boy might hide it, but Voldemort knew better. A basilisk would never submit to an average wizard.
It was a pity the boy couldn't be here. It would have been interesting to see him in the middle of the pure-blood dances.
But it was only a minor setback. There were still the Solstice's celebrations to see how the boy would fare amongst Purebloods out to make him fall.
Never mind their plotting, the boy would be his. Voldemort's eyes glinted excitedly at the challenge seducing the young Parselmouth to his side would represent.
He stood up.
"Friends! Tonight we celebrate the dark; we rejoice in its power, we let our magic run free!"
Cheers nearly deafened him.
"And now for your entertainment, the Arena!"
He waved his hand, triggering the charms he had placed before hand.
Slowly a part of the floor started to slide aside, revealing an underground circular arena. Seven doors were blocked by bars and about twenty to thirty Muggles, dressed like gladiators were cowering in the middle of the arena.
Voldemort shot them a chilling smile.
"The rules are simple, filth. You will fight for your lives, amongst yourselves or against animals. If you are still alive by the time the sun rise, you will be allowed to leave."
Many Death Eaters were gathering around the arena, shouting.
Four men herded all the Muggles bar one through one of the door. This one wore a simple leather armour, and carried a spear and a round wooden shield.
Voldemort sat back, waving his left hand and one of the door opened, a starved Hippogriff running into the arena immediately. His wings had been clipped, preventing him from escaping.
The Dark Lord sat back, the cheers of the Death Eaters massed around the arena mixing with the screams of beast and man and with the orchestra whose waltz was making many couples glide across the room.
It was their time, he thought, time for the wizards of true power and blood to take their rightful place.
Julian stirred with a soft sigh, feeling quite sore. He opened his eyes sleepily, raising a hand to rub at them. Despite the soreness of his muscles, he had never felt as rested and relaxed as he then felt. It was then that he realized that….
He was naked…
His eyes opened fully and he sat up abruptly, looking around himself, his memories coming back to him in flashes of sounds, pictures and feelings.
Shaking his head, he decided he was better left not knowing what had happened in its details. He was not worried about consequences. He had made sure through handy little runes that nothing would ever come of a one nightstand. With a wave of his hands, he summoned his clothes to him and dressed quietly.
"Your wandless practice is going well I see." Julian turned sharply and saw his Master looking at him with a small smile. The young man nodded minutely.
"I still have a lot to learn."
Karal's smile widened.
"We never stop learning, Novice. That is the path we chose to walk as Sorcerer."
He fingered Julian's Sorcerer medallion that he rarely parted with.
"You are the most promising student I have ever taught, Julian."
"I am the only apprentice you ever took, Master."
Karal ignored his answer.
"We, I mean the Council and I, have high expectations for you."
Julian bowed his head before looking straight in the Vampire's eyes.
"And I will do my best to fulfil those, Master."
"I know you will. I will advise you to practice extreme caution. They are all starting to notice you…"
The young man nodded.
"If their eyes are focused on me, then it will make them blind to what others will do."
Karal's eyebrow shot up.
"Indeed… I foresee a few interesting months coming up… Do you have anything to tell me?"
Julian shook his head.
"Not for now. I will keep you updated on our progress and will pass you the word when the time will came."
"Very well, Novice. I will also relay your progress to the Council, give my greetings to Severus and tell him I would enjoy seeing him again..."
None of them said more on that subject, having already told each other enough and went back to more mundane topics as Karal led them to a hidden door on their right.
An arch opened and they stepped through, followed by those who had woken up. They walked quietly through a maze of corridors before stepping into the central Arena.
Julian's gaze swept over the area, immediately noticing that the pillar of power had disappeared and that the place had returned to its usual state if you omitted the hundreds of people in various state of nakedness lying around. Some were already up and talking quietly as they dressed up and left. Others were stretching, while some still appeared to be sleeping despite the light spilling through the dome.
The young man immediately spotted his friend and upon getting his master approval headed towards them.
They all congratulated him warmly.
"Well done, Jul…" said Thynan, a wolfish smile on his face.
Auguste bowed his head with a small smile.
"Indeed, it was certainly more fulfilling than the last ceremony."
"You can say that again, Auguste. That is without mentioning the fact that you have been holding out on us, Jul."
"How did you manage to gather so much power, Jul. You must have broken another threshold again…" The young Rune Novice said, frowning.
"It must have to be linked to that heritage mark you're now bearing," answered Selene before Julian could answer his friend.
"It does," he said, "The ritual Voldemort used seems to have unlock a part of my magic I had not been aware of."
Kal eyed him, a serious look in his eyes which was unusual for the carefree vampire.
"Do you need me to readjust your weapons and arms bands?"
"I do, I was going to ask you if you could adjust them."
Kal shot him a smile.
"No problem, just come see me tomorrow and I'll modify them."
The young human nodded.
"So," started Evan, "what did you think of the celebration?" He smirked at his friend, his canines glinting in the light.
"It was definitively… unique and something to remember…" replied Julian, not rising to his friend's bait.
They all laughed as they made their way out of the arena and wandered for some time around the school's ground, talking quietly. From time to time they would stop to discuss with others and little by little they left the school to go back to their own places.
Finally only Evan and Julian were left.
Having decided he would come back later to discuss with his former allies and teachers, Julian headed for the stairs which would lead back to the outside.
Once they were outside, they both tightened their cloak, raising their collars to block the biting wind sweeping over the ice-covered land.
Cursing under his breath, Julian immediately cast a warming charm on himself. Evan was watching him with a smirk, hardly hiding his amusement at his friend's plight.
"Don't even say a word," warned the young man.
Evan's smirked deepened.
"Why would I need to…"
He ducked the itching hex that was sent his way, laughing.
"Feisty aren't we this morning? Didn't you get enough exercise last night?"
"Leave the lewd comments to Kal, Evan, they don't become you."
The vampire just shook his head.
"Nevermind. How is our little project progressing?"
"Quite well. Kal really outdone himself with the various papers and parchments we needed. They were easy to slip through the Ministry's files and now Syrin's industries, led by Rex Tomskjav are the only ones allowed to exploit that part of the ocean and its ground by Magical and Muggle Law."
Evan rolled his eyes.
"I see that Kal worked his magic again… I assume he weaved compulsion and obliviate charms through his ink once more…"
The young Sorcerer's smirk was his only answer.
"Then, we have had three platforms set up thanks to the Goblins and Corina's Family."
"They work in the Mining business, don't they?"
"Exactly, the Elementals have set up a dome over the whole area and erected a pathway to link the platforms to the dome. Some of them are still working on stabilizing the ground and set their web for when we'll decide to raise it back to the surface."
Evan's eyes widened.
"How did you manage to get them to agree to that? Last time I checked they had withdrawn from the world and were frying anyone hinting at them coming back."
"I didn't say it was easy… However they are facing several problems which have to do with that isolation. Problems we might be able to solve for them."
"And which problems are we talking about?"
"A compromised immune system that make them more sensible to common diseases, a level of in-breeding that have managed to keep quite low for now due to the care they put into the pairing of their youths and the balance they are keeping to keep their population at a manageable number as well as diversifying the gene pool. But even with that they are coming to the end of this system."
Julian shook his head.
"No, they are also asking for several rare potions, a focus stone carved by a rune master, some gold and for us to act as mediators in their feud with the dwarves."
"The potions, I'm sure you can deal with. The focus stone shouldn't be too hard to come by with, same for the gold. The last one I wish you luck with…"
"You mean you wish US luck with it…"
"You know very well that dwarves and vampires do not have the best of the history!..."
"That was 800 years ago, Evan…"
"That was worth a try… How is the rebuilding going on?"
"As I said the Elementals are strengthening the ground and redirecting the power lines with the help of some of Ilana's Elfish friends. The goblins and the dwarves are managing to work together with little bloodshed. We won't do more for now until the power lines are stables and the whole area is completely disconnected from the ocean ground. Only then will we start on the wards and the actual construction as well as enchanting."
"Good, I'll keep my father informed on the progress. Do tell me when our men will be able to come."
"I'll keep you updated."
The vampire adjusted his cloak and raised his hood, followed by his friend.
"Be careful and take care, Julian? Do not hesitate to call for us should you need it."
"I'm always careful, Evan. That's how we survive."
They both brought their right fist to their hearts, bowing their head and murmuring their school motto.
They then disappeared, drifting to a first location before making several quick apparition jumps to finally both reach their destinations.
Julian reappeared at the apparition points near Voldemort's Headquarters. He quickly walked to the entrance, letting the ward check his identity as he said the password. He then stopped before the guards, allowing them to check his identity, glowering when one them dared to ask him to relinquish his wand.
The Death Eater faltered at his glower and the second guard having finished his check motioned to the Potion Apprentice to enter the Stronghold.
Tightening his Dissolvency shields as he did so, he walked briskly through Lazarin. It seems that most of its inhabitants were still sleeping.
As he made his way through the fortress, he could see hints of what had occurred the night before. The house-elves still had to erase all the curse marks on the walls or the blood that was marring some of the stones.
Curious, he made a small stop in the ballroom and made a grimace of distaste.
What a waste.
A small army of house-elves were working hard at cleaning the place. Several bodies of muggles were piled near the entrance, some of them having not met a quiet death.
Bellatrix' handiwork no doubt. Several others seemed to have been mauled or partially eaten by various beasts. Apparently Voldemort had decided to bring back the antique Circus' games to the "gout du jour".
What a waste of lives, minds, blood, power and energies.
With a sneer, he whirled on his heels and strode back to his suite. Once there, he changed back to his brewing clothes and headed out to the Laboratories.
As he stepped in them, he saw that only his master was there, a cauldron simmering in front of him as he carefully dosed Kelpie's blood.
"Master," he saluted as he went to look at the assignment's board. Quickly jotting the potions and their quantity in his notebooks, he went to fetch the ingredients required as his master finished his work.
As he organised his work table, he could feel Snape's gaze on him.
"I assume that your night was profitable, apprentice."
Julian gave a short nod.
"It was master. I hope your Samhain was equally enjoyable."
Snape shot his a nasty sneer.
"If you can call enduring a whole night filled with simpering idiots, insane and bloodthirsty maniacs trying to show their superiority by hurting those weaker than them, purebloods attempting to be subtle in their manipulations then yes my night was… enjoyable"
Julian knew better than answering.
"Your connection to the Dark Lord was dissolved last night, wasn't it?" finally asked the potion master.
"It was. My link to the school would tolerate no others."
"I thought so when the Dark Lord asked me for a headache draught. He has not made the connection yet and I don't think he will. It will give even less reason to be suspicious of your true identity."
He continued upon seeing the young man nod.
"We will be left in peace today. Everyone will stay in their rooms at least this morning or be too tired for the day to be a hindrance. Your assignments are on the board. Once you are done, you have your day to do as you wish. You will wait for me at the entrance after dinner dressed for outdoors with your sword and one of your focuses."
"Very well, master. Good day to you."
He opened one of the pouches hanging on his belt and took out a shrunken leather bundle. Restoring it to its size and undoing the latch, he opened it, revealing several knives, mortars and other brewing instruments. Taking a steel knife, he started to dice some slugs.
Snape looked at him pensively.
It was apparent that the ceremony had changed his apprentice. No matter how much his shields hid, his power was perceptible to those sensible enough. It was also more stable, anchored, flowing effortlessly through the boy's body.
He knew more than the average wizard about Nightshades and some of its secrets. After all he had been one of the very few outsiders allowed to peruse the school library. That's how he had gotten a lead on the Wolfbane potion and his current research for a cure to Lycantrophy.
That's also how he was aware that no other bond or mark would be able to be imposed to his apprentice. They would just not take hold; the bond to Nightshades would tolerate no other allegiances. Nightshades knew only Nightshades.
However Voldemort would never admit that something could be stronger than his will. He had seen the looks the Slytherin heir was sending his apprentice. While he knew the boy would easily deal with most of the Death Eaters around, the Dark Lord was a whole other problem.
He could not do much, having already to juggle between Voldemort and Dumbledore, but he could give the boy some skills and more importantly some time to implement the first step of his plan.
He was not blind and he was taking steps to make sure he would not end in the middle of what was coming but come on top as one of the boy's advisor. When things would come to an end, he would disappear like any self-serving snake would. Everything was set up already. He just had to say the word and Severus Snape would be no more.
He would do what every true to heart Slytherin would.
He would prevail.