the three kingdoms
Kill or be killed.
This had been the unwritten law of the land since time immemorial. Only the fittest would survive, and only the strongest could conquer the top.
And one of the apex creatures that were capable of such feat were the vampires. The strongest among the undead and the most favored due to their bloodline abilities, they could even rival other dominant creatures like the skinwalkers and magi. What made them more formidable was that they were practically immortal. Other species would not even dare cross paths with them, perhaps apart from the magi or the magic-borns, their archnemesis.
Magi were humans gifted with witchcraft abilities and longer lifespan. Despite being physically weaker than the undead, they were able to protect the humans from other creatures by using magic and their cunning abilities to exploit the vampires' grave weakness: their sparse populace due to their exceptionally rare and difficult breeding method.
There were only three vampyr kingdoms that survived the long-standing onslaught and clan extinction: the kingdoms of Vrivarya, Remis, and Slovar, which were ruled by the royal clans of Stryzyga, Lilith, and Moroi, respectively. The power balance among the three had been maintained for millennia . . . until rumors about Vrivarya having another heir reached the ears of the two kingdoms.
A lone, gloomy castle sat among the craggy peaks of a mountain in a country called Remis. Its walls were adorned with jet black roses and red chrysanthemums while creeping vines grew up at the sides of the towers. The castle could be considered as one of the greatest wonders in the northern region, but no one would dare called it one because it houses one of the most dangerous clans in the world.
A hooded figure emerged from the shadows and knelt in front a woman sitting in the garden. "I have returned, Your Grace."
The lush garden was such a stark contrast to the somber ambiance of the castle. Different night flowers bloomed at the sight of the moon, and some were even glowing. A white tea table set was placed in the middle of the garden where someone was quietly sipping her drink.
Despite the darkness, her milky white skin and unrivaled face stood out. Even her simple black evening dress and the runes spread across her impassive face did nothing to sully her ethereal beauty.
The woman gracefully set her cup down and shifted her gaze at the hooded figure kneeling in front of her.
"Tell me what happened, Leone," she said in an alluring yet authoritative voice.
Leone removed her hood and revealed her scarred face. "The speculations are true," she bitterly said. "I have caught up with them, but we were already too late. The second heir has returned to Vrivarya."
The woman's eyebrows slightly twitched upon seeing her retainer's marred face, but she shut her eyes for a few seconds to control her rage after what she had reported. As the rightful heir of the Lilith clan and the next sovereign of the kingdom of Remis, Hanaia had to deal with the potential heirs of the two other kingdoms. The emergence of another one from Vrivarya meant she had to deal with a more powerful Stryzyga clan for the next centuries, not to mention the sudden collapse of the millennial-old balance among the three.
"You were with Alfonse and Handor, aren't you?"
Leone knelt deeper, ashamed of what had happened. "We were defeated, Your Grace."
A thin-lipped disappointment appeared on her face. "An inexperienced vampire defeated three mages like you? Surely, that is not possible, is it?"
"She wasn't alone, Your Grace."
"She was with their archmage and best tracker, I know, and the Moroi clan took care of that," Hanaia said, her patience already wearing thin.
"Yes, but she was with another group of undead, and they were able to escort her out of the mainland."
Hanaia's sharp eyes studied her retainer closely. "Did the group defeat you?"
Leone shook her head and met her liege's gaze. "No, Your Grace. We were defeated by Roesia. The archmage arrived before we could land another attack on the heir."
Hanaia noticed her retainer's apprehension. She tilted her head, a sign that she was waiting for whatever Leone was hiding from her.
Leone, on the other hand, swallowed nervously. "And it seems like the heir has somehow managed to draw forth her power."
A shiver ran across her arm, a feeling she was unfamiliar of. "She unknowingly tapped into her power despite being away from her bloodkin?
"I believe so. Something is unusual about her, Your Grace."
"She must have awakened," she murmured.
Hanaia regained her composure and casually waved her hand. Two incorporeal figures materialized beside her, quietly waiting for her order. The one on the right side took the shape of a huge raven while the other one began to look like a bat, and the rune on her forehead gleamed as soon as she stared at them.
"Make your way to Slovar," ordered Hanaia. "Inform the Moroi clan about her existence."
Leone, hearing that, stared in confusion. "Pardon my impudence, Your Grace, but are you going to ask for their help again?"
The princess scornfully chuckled. "Help? Do not make me laugh, Leone. I am merely using them to pit against the Stryzyga. Those beasts are strong, but they lack wisdom. We must use this situation to destabilize both kingdoms."
"As you wish, Your Grace."
"Stand up now. Mother and father are waiting for your missive."
The two marched toward the castle's main door while the phantom figures flew beyond the gates and across the mountains and seas to reach the kingdom of Slovar.
Deep in the underground chambers, screams of pain echoed across the halls as two undead soldiered through their critical injuries. A moment later, a man dressed in royal attire made his way through the darkness and stood in front of the dark chamber.
"Will they survive?" he asked.
The arcane mage stationed at the chamber grimly nodded. "They will, Your Highness, but I'm afraid they need a longer time to recover."
The man stared at the two mangled figures on top of the tables. If it weren't for their clothes, he would have not recognized her own retainers.
There were rumors about Vrivarya having a second heir floating around and even the kingdom of Remis was worried about it. Rojan, being the heir of the Moroi clan, could not just sit around knowing they would surely be the first to fall once the balance had been toppled.
The kingdom of Remis officially sent them a royal missive, and king Morgan appointed Anatol and Milena, Rojan's retainers, to eliminate the alleged heir as part of their preparation for the upcoming royal parley, albeit against Rojan's will.
"A measly youngling does not have any chances against them," the king reminded him.
At the back of his mind, Rojan had a lot of apprehension. Surely, Vrivarya would not leave a youngling alone without any powerful companions. However, he also believed in his retainers' strength . . . as long as they would not encounter any archmages or master assassins.
But they were unlucky. His retainers returned with fatal wounds despite bringing an army of undead with them. It turned out they fought against strong adversaries.
The veins on his forehead bulged upon reminiscing the Lilith's clan trickery. His retainers became the sacrificial lambs while they kept pursuit of the heir.
A guttural sound escaped from his mouth as his eyes gleamed with rage. "Those conniving phantoms. I shall make them pay."
His gaze shifted back to the arcane mage. "Monitor their recovery," he said in a controlled tone. "I am leaving them in your able hands, Sagan."
"I shall, Your Highness."
Rojan's cloak fluttered as he walked away from his retainers' current chamber. He knew they would survive, but for the time being, he needed a plan of action without them.
Both Vrivarya and Remis were making their moves. He swore to avenge his retainers and to get even with Hanaia's deception. This time, the Moroi clan shall stand at the apex.
Humans had long been the prey of beasts and creatures due to their weak physical strength and their appetizing meat and blood. Not to mention there were plenty of them and would never experience scarcity as they could easily reproduce. However, a subspecies of humans emerged, making them stronger than the average ones and imperishable by weak monsters.
They called themselves magi, or magic-borns, and became the protectors of human nations. Magi liked working behind the scenes, away from the eyes of people. Like urban legends, they were never seen, but eternally feared.
In a sanctum hidden behind the thick mist of Fortuna, a conclave of magi silently watched the world from a water scry.
"There has been a disturbance in the equilibrium," a female magus announced as they monitored the clash among the undead in the forest boundary of Urbedza and Vrivarya."
"It will be good if they can just eliminate each other," said another voice.
Somebody clicked his tongue. "But that three-way standoff is also the reason why we can fight them equally. Get rid of that and we will be facing the wrath of three equally powerful kingdoms."
There was an uneasy tension among them. The vampires were their strongest adversaries. Having that standoff due to their ancient laws was like a tight leash that prevented them from using their full strength against each other and against the magi. Putting an end to that meant chaos and annihilation for the humans and their race.
The supreme leader tapped her finger on the table, calling everybody's attention.
"For now, we shall watch how things will unfold," she announced. "A bloody war is bound to happen, but perhaps . . . we do not need to be involved."
The witches and warlocks, albeit worried, gradually agreed in hushed voices. And they went back to watching the distant land of the north . . .
. . . quietly waiting for the inevitable bloodbath among the damned kingdoms of undead.