I hadn’t really felt any emotional high after my awakening but watching the proud warriors of Vrivarya fight in the coliseum earlier stirred some forgotten sensations inside me. Their unwavering resolve and uninhibited bloodlust gave me a peculiar sense of pride and at the same time, envy.
Designated as the loyal retainers of nobles and royals, these undead were not even at the top of the hierarchy yet they had the strength to topple a country. As this kingdom’s princess and the rightful heir to the throne, I should have been the most powerful undead next to my father, and yet I felt like I was nowhere near my retainers’ strength. The yawning gap in our powers somehow made me feel unworthy of their service.
The night was already deep when we reached the courtyard, and Sheriff galloped away as soon as I unmounted from his back. Nakabalik na kami sa palace grounds pero hindi namin kasama ang apat. They went straight to the dark mountains to train for the semifinals tomorrow. Hindi ko alam kung ano pa ang dapat nilang i-improve dahil sa nakita ko kanina, hindi malayong isa sa kanila ang manalo sa finals.
I turned my head in the direction of the voice and saw Rurik coming out of his tower. His silver hair and white cloak gleamed under the moonlight as he ran toward my direction. It has been a while since I last saw him, but I don’t remember him being that pale.
“Your Highness,” Rurik repeated with a smile on his face, but there was noticeable exhaustion in his eyes.
“You look paler than usual. Are you alright?”
He chuckled in response. “I must have looked terrible in your eyes, Your Highness.”
“That’s not what I mean,” I muttered.
Rurik heaved a sigh as he looked over the tower. “A lot of royal knights and palace attendants that are on active duties today have suffered horrible injuries from the tournament. They would be fine with a few ounces of blood and at least two nights of rest but we need to watch our borders especially now that the tension among the vampiric kingdoms is at its highest.”
His eyes gleamed with foreboding. The festivities had almost made me forget about the heightened unease among the kingdoms. Sure, our warriors were strong enough to defend the land, but Vrivarya still needed the royals’ skills to minimize the casualties.
My train of thoughts was interrupted by Rurik’s voice. He had to leave since he was needed in the tower. Agad naman akong tumango at pinanood siya habang naglalakad pabalik. With nothing left to do, I decided to go back to my room, too.
Deeply lost in my thoughts, it was only when I turned my head in the balcony’s direction that I realized the day was already breaking. Tumayo ako mula sa kinauupuan ko at naglakad ako patungo sa malaking salamin. My face looked paler and frigid. The crimson lining around my eyes were also thicker now. They said the stronger I get, the more crimson lines and runes would appear on my face. Yet my growth in strength seemed to be stunted even though I had been here for over six months.
Improving my physical strength wouldn’t be enough. If I wanted to protect the kingdom from the looming war, I needed to learn how to properly use my power. Although Zaria might have an idea on how it works, I think it’d be insulting to ask her about something that she had been disrespected for. The easiest way would be asking my father about it, but I had a feeling he’d be disappointed with me if I were to do that.
Mabilis akong lumabas mula sa kuwarto ko at nagmartsa patungo sa lugar ni Rurik.
The tower looked less eerie during daybreak but there were occasional grunts and cries echoing from the inside. With careful steps, I trudged the stairs and walked toward the main chamber. Agad akong napatigil sa naabutan ko roon.
Wounded and broken bodies were lined up on the tables. Some had their limbs detached, while others had nasty holes in their chests and heads. The worst I saw was an assassin who nearly got decapitated, with more than half of his neck sliced off. The winners of the tournament got to bask in glory, but those who lost carried the weight of shame and regret on their shoulders.
I continued walking toward the end of the chamber, but one noticed my presence and immediately got up to give his respect.
“Y-Your Highness!” he uttered while desperately trying to cover the hole in his abdomen. He must have been a royal night or a palace attendant since he easily recognized me.
Confusion crossed some of the patients’ faces, but it was only a matter of time before everyone else stood from their respective tables and knelt in my direction.
I nodded, acknowledging their respect, and continued walking. As if on cue, Rurik emerged from the connected doorway at the end of the chamber, who looked quite surprise at my sudden visit.
“Your Highness,” he bowed after placing the jar he was holding on a nearby table. “Pardon my unawareness, Princess, but to what do I owe this royal visit?”
Agad akong napalingon. The tournament participants were still kneeling because of my presence. Both realizing it wasn’t the right place to talk about, Rurik led me to his personal space inside the tower chamber.
The room almost looked similar to his working space, albeit much smaller. Several floating braziers illuminated the place and I saw rows of centuries-old books neatly stacked in the shelves against the wall. Hundreds of potions and decoctions were safely stored in glass cabinets. But what caught my attention was the tall and narrow glass display at one corner of the room. Intricate-looking bottles of crimson liquid filled up each row. A single look…no, my instincts were telling me that those were a collection of high-purity human blood…and maybe even some high vampiric clan blood.
A sudden thirst for blood violently stirred inside me and it took a great amount of effort just to avert my gaze from the glass display. I thought of all the disgusting human food I could think of to quell my blood lust, and fortunately, it worked after a few seconds.
“Are you alright, Your Highness?” asked Rurik, a hint of worry visible on his face.
I nodded in response. “I am. The bottles of blood just distracted me for a bit.”
“Oh, that. I apologize, Your Highness.” A black curtain suddenly appeared from the ceiling, and it covered the entirety of the display cabinet. “I should have been more careful.”
He led me to the oak chair on the center of the room and we sat opposite each other. Only the crackles of the embers in the floating braziers could be heard in the otherwise silent room, until Rurik asked a question.
“May I now know the reason of your visit, Your Highness?”
Without any preamble, I asked him about my main concern. “Do you know anything about our clan’s unique ability?”
Taken aback by my straightforward question, Rurik could only stare for a few good seconds, but he easily regained his composure afterwards. With a proud smile on his face, he nodded at me.
“I do, Your Highness. As arcanes, our most important responsibility is to save a royal blood in case something bad happens to one. The clan of Stryzyga possesses the blood dominance ability, hence, we need to know everything about blood.”
My face lit up upon hearing that. “Then, can you tell me the principle of it and how to control it?”
Instead of answering me, he got up from his chair and went to the nearby shelf. He scanned the books on each row until he got a thick ancient book on his hands. Bumalik siya sa kinauupuan niya at ipinatong ang libro sa lamesa sa pagitan namin.
“A lot of vampiric clans gained insight and unique abilities after evolving thousands of years ago, but only a few survived and kept it running in their respective bloodlines,” he said as he carefully opened the pages where the history of our evolution was written. “Surely, you have learned about that from princess Zaria, Your Highness.”
Tahimik akong tumango. Several royal and noble clans were wiped out due to their constant conflicts and the involvement of magi. As a result, the vampiric clans had been reduced to three royal kingdoms with a few noble bloods as part of their courts and military power.
“What’s amusing is that the three remaining royal clans have abilities that are so distinctive from each other. The Lilith clan possesses noncorporeal domination while the Moroi clan can control and shapeshift into nocturnal animals and lesser undead. And as you know, your clan can manipulate blood. Each clan could overwhelm one another with their bloodline abilities, but personally, I think the Stryzyga clan has an upper hand when it comes to individual strength and strategies.”
“You think so? But I am way behind my father’s strength. If both kingdoms attack us, father can’t take two royal clans even with his monstrous power. That’s why I want to know more about our bloodline ability.”
Rurik suddenly snickered. “I see. Allow me to help you then, Your Highness.”
He flipped the pages until we were looking at a pictograph that looked like a war.
“From what we have learned, the Stryzyga clan has a bloodline ability called blood dominance. The first vampire who manifested this power was king Eiryk, the first Stryzyga.” He pointed at the drawing of a man who was surrounded by what looked like giant tendrils. “Records said that king Eiryk could take the blood of those he had killed and have control over it. He could change its shape and use it against his enemies.”
Shifting my gaze back to the page, I realized the giant tendrils around the man was the blood of the fallen people below him.
“There have already been about ten rulers after king Eiryk and each of them could control blood in different ways. King Zemus, the tenth sovereign, could manipulate the movement of blood inside the body of anyone he could see.”
“Do you also know the nature of my power?” tanong ko. “Is it blood poisoning or something related to toxins?”
After its first manifestation during our fight with the horde of Katteri and with what happened to Kei, I was certain it had something to do with poisoning.
Muling tumayo si Rurik at naglakad papunta sa nakatakip na glass cabinet. He grabbed two of the bigger bottles and went back to his seat.
He placed the two bottles on the table and looked at me with an amused expression. “What do you see, Your Highness?”
My brows knitted in confusion. Both bottles contained blood, but one was bright cherry red while the other was purplish black. “This one is a normal blood,” I said while pointing at the left bottle, “while this one is contaminated with some kind of poison.”
“Correct, but what’s amusing is you affected both bloods.”
“What do you mean?”
“The bright-colored blood is Khmer’s,” he replied. “When I extracted your blood from him that time, I tried to separate yours from his as an experiment. For some reason, his blood seemed to be healthier that it almost resembled a human’s. On the other hand, this one is from Moria,” he said, pointing at the purplish black blood. “She came here with an awful blotch on her arm and said it happened during your training. I extracted her contaminated blood and found out that it was, indeed, poisoned.”
My lips parted in surprise. Compared to father’s bloodline manifestation, I thought mine would be much inferior, but…
“You can add or remove any blood constituents, even change its physical and chemical properties. You can manipulate blood beyond its motion and shape. You have absolute power over its composition, Your Highness. That is your power.”