Walking back to the castle made me feel more conscious than running through the courtyard earlier. Every knight and castle staff that we passed by gave me curious looks. Idagdag pa na tumitigil ang ilan sa paglalakad o sa kanilang mga ginagawa para lang tumingin sa akin kaya gusto ko na lang tumakbo para makaiwas sa kanila.
I could also feel Sigrid's irritation despite her impassive expression. Well, I couldn't blame her, because instead of meeting the royal family, I went to my retainers, who were probably deemed as insignificant compared to them.
I strode toward Moria's direction. "She's angry, isn't she?" bulong ko habang nakatingin sa likod ni Sigrid. She was walking with obvious haste, yet she managed to maintain her elegance.
Moria nodded in response. "She's a tracker, lady, so she likes everything to be in order. On top of that, royal maids are sticklers for punctuality. They do not like it if their supposed schedules are not followed."
Napalunok na lang ako nang marinig ko 'yon. She might be the in the same class as Kei, but Sigrid was way scarier than him. Idagdag pa na kakakilala ko lang sa kanya. Mas lalo tuloy akong natakot na i-approach siya dahil sa nangyari kanina.
Meanwhile, Kei was still struggling to walk by himself, so Irus was assisting him. Rurik said he would need days of rest to fully recover, but he insisted on going with me. Still, I was thankful that he reverted to his old self and could do things on his own will.
After a few minutes, we were finally back to the main building of the palace. We quietly followed Sigrid, thinking that we were going to the throne room, but I frowned upon seeing the familiar hallway.
"Sigrid?" I called in confusion. "Are we going back to my room?"
She lightly bowed in response. "Yes, lady."
"I thought we're going to meet the royal family?"
Sigrid stared a long moment, and I hoped she wasn't cursing me inside her head. With a dejected sigh, she turned around and continued walking.
"Surely, you won't present yourself to the king in that plain dress, lady?" she commented, a hint of displeasure on her tone.
Huh? This dress was still plain to her? Halos mahiya na nga ako nang isuot ko ito dahil mukha akong a-attend ng sobrang formal na event. I didn't want to wear something fancier than this!
Sigrid halted upon arriving in front of my room. Her maid dress billowed as she turned to my direction. The door creaked open, and she gestured me to come in. "Please allow me to pick a better dress for you, Lady."
My retainers accompanied me inside the room, much to Sigrid's dismay. Hindi ko alam kung may history ba siya sa tatlo o ganoon lang talaga ang personality niya. She seemed to be hostile with them.
Irus stood guard beside the door, while Moria examined the surroundings. Napaupo naman ako sa kama habang dumiretso naman si Sigrid sa closet. She promised to return with the best dress she could find, which I hoped would be something I could possibly wear.
Halos mapatalon ako nang marinig ko ang boses ni Kei sa gilid ko. Pagtingin ko ay nakaupo na siya sa tabi ko. He still looked frazzled, but the blood he just drank seemed to be taking effect now.
"Lady?" he repeated, and I realized I was staring at his face worriedly for several seconds now. I cleared my throat, trying to remember his question.
"I would be lying if I said no," I murmured, thinking of what could happen after meeting the sovereign of this country.
Come to think of it, I traveled all the way here to find the answers to my questions, but instead of explanations, I just got more confused. All I wanted was to know why I was attacked that day, and why my grandparents were suddenly missing, but I did not expect the response I'd be hearing. I was suddenly announced as a princess. As an heir.
That thought alone made me shiver in fear. It was one thing to know that I was an undead, but bearing the responsibilities of being a royalty, of a whole country, was another, and definitely out of my abilities.
I glared at him after realizing something. "You three knew who I am and yet you didn't even tell me!"
Kei pressed his lips together and averted my gaze. "Well, lady, I told you that we were only tasked to protect and bring you here. We were not allowed to disclose your true lineage. Besides, you would surely run away if you knew."
Natahimik ako nang sabihin niya 'yon. He had a point. I might have completely given up finding answers and would outright run away from everyone.
"Lady," rinig kong tawag ni Sigrid kaya agad akong napatingin sa direksyon niya. "I found the right dress for you."
My brows furrowed upon seeing what she was holding. "W-wait, Sigrid, that's—"
The dress I was wearing already looked extravagant, but Sigrid's choice appeared to be a cumbersome masquerade gown. Add to the fact that I didn't have the confidence to wear something like that.
"Oh!" Moria exclaimed beside me as she gazed at the dress, too. "That looks good, lady."
I let out a sardonic laugh. "You think so?"
Tumitig lang din sa akin si Sigrid hanggang sa mailang ako. She gestured at the mirror near the closet, and I dejectedly stood up. Wala rin naman akong magagawa dahil kahit ilang sandali pa lang kaming nagkakasama ni Sigrid ay alam kong hindi ako mananalo sa kanya. She was the personification of stubborness, alright.
Tatawagin ko pa lang sana si Moria pero lumingon si Sigrid sa direksyon nila. She stared threateningly at the three, and they promptly stepped outside my room. Oh, they were afraid of her, too. Akala ko ako lang ang natakot sa aura niya kanina.
"Uhm, thank you, Sigrid, I can do it—"
"Please, I will help you, lady," she insisted.
"Lady, you can undress now."
It was so absurd that I just stared at her for a few seconds. Upon realizing she was dead serious, I could only gasp in disbelief. What made it more embarrassing was when she motioned me toward the huge mirror and silently waited for me to undress. Gusto ko nang lumubog sa kahihiyan pero pikit-mata ko na lang na hinubad ang damit na suot ko dahil mukhang hindi rin naman ako mananalo sa kanya.
Undressing while someone was watching was the most difficult thing I had to do after everything that I had gone through. However, I came to a halt when Sigrid inhaled sharply. She was staring at the huge scratch on my belly and immediately shifted her gaze toward the door. Clenching her fist, she muttered a curse directed to my retainers outside.
"They ought to protect you at all costs," she grumbled through gritted teeth.
"W-well . . ." I forced a laugh. Fortunately, it was just a scratch and there was no blood. "It can't be helped. We were chased by strong creatures. Anyway, Sigrid, the dress . . ."
Saka niya lang na-realize na hawak niya pa rin ang dapat isusuot ko habang yakap ko ang katawan ko. It was a turtleneck red dress with a volumized skirt, accented with black laces and ruffles. She quickly put the dress on me, and I could feel my belly and waist getting squeezed tight from the laces and corset around the already narrow waistline.
After lightly brushing my hair, she steered me back to the huge mirror and I stifled a gasp after seeing my reflection. I honestly thought I would look stupid, but Sigrid managed to make me presentable. But what astounded me was the new look on my face.
Noong naglakad ako rito kanina ay hindi ko naman tiningnan nang mabuti ang mukha ko kaya hindi ko rin akalaing may pagbabago ro'n. There were crimson linings around my eyes, which coincidentally, the same areas where it felt hot whenever I tried to harness the power within me.
Sigrid must have noticed the utter confusion on my face because she pointed at the strange alteration on my eyes.
"Ah. That's the mark of Stryzyga," she remarked.
"Mark?" I intoned. "What?"
"Any member of Stryzyga clan, once awakened, will have blood linings, and sometimes runes, around their eyes," continued Sigrid. "You will probably fully awaken once you are in close proximity to the royal family."
Bigla ko namang naalala ang nangyari noong makapasok ako sa lugar na ito. When I met the king's gaze and he announced my real name, it felt like my blood was boiling in rage and excitement. It was as if my own blood was yearning for him to acknowledge me.
Muli akong napatingin kay Sigrid. "What would happen if I became fully awakened?"
Her eyes gleamed in subtle anticipation. "Perhaps you will manifest a power similar to His Majesty's."
"And what is that power?"
A faint smile crossed her lips. "Blood Dominance, lady. The power to manipulate and control anyone's blood, whether they like it or not."
Only our echoing footsteps could be heard while walking through the seemingly endless hallway.
Sigrid was leading the way, while the three were walking behind me. Overhead, a row of gothic chandeliers, each with unique and miniature carved gargoyle designs, gave the place a sense of eerie grandeur. The marbled floor was illuminated by the moonlight filtering in from the grand windows on one side. However, despite the splendors of the castle's interior, my mind was reeling with thoughts about Sigrid's statements earlier.
She surmised that I would have a power similar to the king—something that could manipulate blood. Bigla kong naalala ang unang beses na nag-manifest iyon. When we were cornered by a group of Katteris, the rage and frustration that had been bottled up for days exploded into some kind of horrifying power. The Katteris' blood burst out and turned black. In addition, their bodies were squeezed dried, leaving nothing but contorted bones and flesh. Even Kei got affected . . . but I didn't.
Blood Dominance, huh? That was, frankly, a terrifying power.
"Are you okay, lady?" tanong ni Moria nang makita niyang malalim ang iniisip ko.
I heaved a sigh and nodded. "Yeah."
Naalala ko rin bigla noong nasa disyerto kami. Moria said I killed the ghouls when they had the advantage of numbers. I could clearly remember the largest one tearing the skin on my face, and I was so scared because she said their claws and teeth were the most poisonous among the undead . . . yet I did not feel anything after that.
Our journey to this place introduced me to the world that I originally belonged to, but it also brought a lot of questions and utter confusion. The once passive power inside me was slowly awakening as we faced stronger enemies. I did not want to admit it at first, perhaps because at the back of my mind, I still wanted to retain the humanity I had to discard sooner or later, but this power was the same thing that had saved me several times.
And now, I would finally meet the people who had the same abilities as mine.
We finally saw an arched double door with intricate patterns at the end of the hall. Two carved sarcophagi with heads of what looked like the past king and queen stood on both sides of the door, along with royal guards dressed in armors and their heads wrapped in bandages. Agad akong napatingin kay Irus nang makita ko iyon. I took a mental note not to bother them because they were surely assassins like him.
"Sigrid of Mazir bloodline, lady-in-waiting of Princess Vyrka Stryzyga," she announced. "The Princess would like to have an audience with the royal family."
Few seconds later, guards from inside opened the door and my body almost staggered in nervousness. Sigrid stepped aside to let me walk to the throne room first and I complied, although initially hesitant.
Huge alabaster columns with distinctive glints of gold were spread evenly across the vast room. Labyrinthine chandeliers hung elegantly on the ceiling, each crystal gleaming like exquisite gemstones. A velvet carpet ran down from the door to the dais at the far end of the room. Three highchairs decorated in crimson and gold stood imposingly on the center and I stepped dead in my tracks upon seeing the reigning family sitting on two of them. I silently wondered why the third seat remained vacant when another woman, whom I assumed was the firstborn princess, was standing beside them.
The knights who were lined up on each side of the carpet simultaneously stomped their right feet and raised their weapons on the level of their chests, like a form of salute. Nagulat din ako nang biglang lumuhod si Sigrid, pati na rin sina Moria, Kei, at Irus.
The King and Queen stood in elegance, as well as the older princess, and the moment I met his gaze, that strange feeling overwhelmed me again.
The effect was immediate. For a second, I felt suffocated even though I should have been fine without breathing. My blood coursed rapidly throughout my body, and I wanted to scream as my bones and flesh felt like they were being torn apart.
"Awaken, heir of Vrivarya," he said in a cold and controlled tone, and my very essence responded.
I felt a burning sensation in my eyes, and I knew the blood lining around them were getting thicker and darker. What seemed like seconds of painful development inside me felt like hours . . . and then suddenly, there was nothing—no fear, no exhaustion, no lingering emotions. There was just an uncanny calmness seeping through my flesh and bones. And that was when I realized I had finally discarded my humanity.
A chorus of gasps reverberated around the throne room as everyone stared at me.
"You have finally awakened your lineage's power," King Zemus announced.
Muli akong napatingin sa kanila at doon ko lang napagmasdan nang maayos ang kanilang mga mukha. King Zemus had an intimidating magnificence that made him look stern and cold. His facial hair added ruggedness to his otherwise handsome face. But what struck me was the red lining around his eyes similar to mine, only he had several runes across them, too.
The Queen, whom I still didn't know the name, had similar features, except her hair color was in between blond and gray. Her dainty face was much gentler than the king, and she was as pale as Moria. But I was more intrigued when I saw the other princess.
She smiled at me, and I realized how similar we looked. If all my good features, which I could count on my fingers, were enhanced, and the bad ones were discarded, she would be the result. She had the same dark hair, but with accents of gray in strands, and was wavy like the Queen's. However, unlike them, her eyes did not have any lining or marks.
"From now on," the King said, shifting my attention back to him. "You will bear the royal name bestowed on you—Vyrka Stryzyga, I hereby acknowledge your royal lineage."
Weeks ago, I was a normal human who only wished for a small celebration for my birthday. Then I was suddenly thrown into a world unbeknownst to me. Learning that I was an undead—a vampire—made me question everything I had believed in. Realizing the life I had lived was fabricated sent me into an identity crisis. But meeting my retainers gave me an understanding, albeit vague, about the world beyond the living.
We had encountered creatures I thought I could only see in fiction. I channeled frightening powers that almost made me wish I didn't have. And at the end of that journey, I learned that I was a royalty. Someone who belonged at the top of the hierarchy. Someone who was born to rule.
There were still a lot to learn about my real family, the country, the people, and even about myself, but for now, accepting who I am was the first thing I had to do as a princess.
The king raised his hand and coldly stared at me. "My heir, I am expecting great things from you. In the name of our ancestors, may their blood guide you to the throne."
His declaration sent shiver all over my body, and everyone in the room hailed their thunderous salute. Despite his expectations giving tremendous pressure to me, there was a sense of pride brimming inside my body.
From now on, I am Vyrka Stryzyga, Princess of Vrivarya, and heir to its throne.
But little did I know, there was already a looming chaos upon my ascent as a princess, and my existence would tip the immemorial balance among the reigning powers.
And the day I had awakened also marked the beginning of a catastrophic bloodbath.