Few nights had passed since the royal court assembly, and to my surprise, the nobles were yet to retaliate. It was fortunate that they were behaving, but it was also quite worrying.
“Your Highness, you’re still full of openings.”
My thoughts were interrupted by Sigrid’s attack, and it was already too late for defense. Her punch sent me flying for a few meters before Moria stopped my momentum midair.
“Aren’t you being a little too rough on our princess, Sigrid?” said Moria as her barrier brought me beside her.
After completing their training under Roesia and Baldric, I requested them to fight against me for practice. Now that the nobles are not hiding their hatred against me and Zaria, I had to thoroughly learn how to defend myself, especially against the stronger noble houses.
“I just want the lady to know the consequences of being distracted during a fight,” retorted Sigrid.
“She’s right,” Kei seconded. “They may be noble-bloods but most of their heads are battle veterans. You need to be careful, Your Highness.”
Even Irus agreed as he nodded passionately after Kei’s comment. For an assassin who had executed and seen the most brutal deaths, his agreement meant those nobles were the real deal.
And speaking of dangers…
“What are your thoughts about the recent attack?” I asked, shifting the topic from nobles to other vampyr kingdoms.
There was a vague cast of foreboding to their already serious faces.
“It’s quite odd, if I am being honest, Your Highness,” replied Moria.
“Why is that?”
“The ancient law forbade the kingdoms to attack one another but that didn’t stop them from checking the status of each other by other means,” dagdag ni Kei. “For instance, the kingdom of Slovar would occasionally send bats just outside Vrivarya’s and Remis’ territories to monitor their movements.”
Sigrid sent her scythe back to the shadows and gave an input. “But they would usually only send a small group of undead or familiars. Sending a highly capable soldier for reconnaissance is too risky as it can kickstart a fight that will surely escalate into a war.”
“Remis has done the same about a week ago, lady, when they sent a horde of undead, but they clearly trespassed our borders since they traversed the Sybaris Forest,” Moria added.
“Remis’ undead…” muttered Irus who was gripping his rapier tight. He must have been frustrated since the attack happened during the day and he was severely handicapped.
“Do they use humans, too?” tanong ko.
They all shook their heads as their expressions turned grim.
“Human travelers from Tuzkan would sometimes accidentally trespass our borders when they want to reach the Western Lands by sea since they have to cross Vrivarya to access the Sea of Mirovia, but we usually redirect them to the common road to avoid any kind of risk,” Kei explained. “However, this was the first time that the Lilith clan of Remis kingdom intentionally used humans for reconnaissance.”
I suddenly remembered what Zaria had said during the emergency meeting few nights ago. “Zaria said they may be planning to drag the magi into this matter.”
Kei’s shoulders twitched as realization dawned on his face. “Right. That must be what they are trying to do. If we killed humans, the magi would surely take action.”
A chuckle escaped Moria’s lips. “Leone’s liege is more cunning than I thought.”
If I remembered correctly, Leone was the mage who attacked us while we were enroute to Vrivarya. Lilith clan must be hellbent on killing me.
“Are the magi really that concerning?”
I could understand the unease with the other vampyr kingdoms, but magi were still essentially humans. In terms of abilities, I doubt they could best our most skilled fighters. I still wasn’t convinced how they could be treated as our natural enemies when we had several advantages against them.
Moria’s smile vanished. “They are, Your Highness. They may be technically humans, but they have already transcended the limitations of mortality.”
“They aren’t immortal like the undead, but they could live long. I think their current chief magus have been living for more than two hundred years. Worse, they could use holy magic and cast divine spells that could be fatal to creatures like us.” She paused for a second and stared right at me. “Especially to nobles and royals.”
Her statement was followed with a tensed silence. I finally understood why Zaria was desperate to prevent any reckless decision during the court meeting. If it escalated into an order to attack, we would be forced to fight against two hostile group, and who knows, the Slovar kingdom might do something, too.
Muli kong naalala ang pagtrato ng nobles kay Zaria. If it weren’t for her intervention, things would have escalated into a much worse scenario. Thinking about it was making me angry again.
“Those nobles know nothing about warfare, and they dare question Zaria’s judgment,” I murmured. “They are stoking up my anger more and more.”
Nagulat ako nang biglang lumitaw ang scythe sa kamay ni Sigrid. The other three readied their weapons and they were suddenly emanating killing intent.
“Should we dispose them, Your Highness?”
“How dare they disrespect the princess of the kingdom.”
The four started marching away, ready for a bloodbath.
“Whoa, halt, you four!”
They heeded my order and paused, but I could still feel their murderous gaze. Goodness, why couldn’t they act like normal retainers?
“I forbade you from harming the nobles,” I said with a hint of warning. “This is a political war. Let me win this in my own way.”
Fortunately, the four problem children dropped their weapons and calmed down.
“Alright, I need to go,” sabi ko. “Let’s resume the training tomorrow.”
“I don’t think this is the right attire for that.”
My face contorted into a grimace upon checking the reflection on the mirror. Zaria forced me to wear another fancy red dress that looked similar to what our mother liked to wear.
She suppressed a snicker. “You look good, Vyrka.”
It was a collared dress with black laces and corset that accentuated the thick petticoat and skirt. I thought I was already used to these extravagant clothing, but they were getting more and more outrageous.
“I’m just going to visit the Dvorach fief. This is too much, don’t you think?”
“You are going to our mother’s former fief. If anything, face value matters most when it comes to them.”
Natahimik naman ako nang marinig ko iyon. She was right. The Dvorach clan members are gifted charmers. To them, beauty is strength.
Isang malalim na buntonghininga ang pinakawalan ko. “You really are great with these kinds of things.”
Zaria chuckled as she adjusted my corset. “I’ve been observing the nobles since I was a youngling. For some reason, I could tell how they would think and move when it comes to political matters.”
“You should have been allowed access to court meetings every time,” I remarked. “You know more about politics more than those annoying nobles.”
“It’s thanks to you that I was able to participate more frequently. And I finally have something to look forward to.”
“What is it?”
Her eyes gleamed in excitement. “Once you’re crowned as the queen of Vrivarya, I want to be your royal adviser. I think we’d make a great pair.”
I was taken aback by her words, but she looked so eager. Father was still at his peak, and he was still strong enough to lead the kingdom. Besides, wala pa sa isip ko ang gusto niyang mangyari. It might still take hundreds of years before I could inherit the crown.
But…queen, huh? I couldn’t even imagine myself leading the court meeting let alone the country. It felt more of a burden to me than something to look forward to.
I heaved a long and deep sigh. “Being an heir is so bothersome. I don’t want that crown.”
Zaria broke into a hearty laugh. “You really seem to loathe that responsibility, but I know you’d be a good monarch. Don’t worry, I will be by your side all the time.”
Napangiti ako sa sinabi niya. Somehow, I felt assured whenever she says something because I knew she meant it. If she would be with me during my reign, then I didn’t have to worry. She was a capable royal, after all.
And on top of that, I wanted to protect that smile. She had been through a lot. If this was what would make her happy, then I would do it.
“There, you’re ready,” she commented after tying the lace on the back of the dress.
With a last look on the mirror, I nodded and flashed a practiced smile.
I had been in the Dvorach fief once when I visited each noble house during my induction as the princess and the rightful heir of the king, but I was still in awe upon seeing it the second time.
It was the largest among the noble fiefs and I had a feeling it was designed to look similar to the royal palace. The halls were teeming with attendants whose beauty could rival the most enchanting mages. Gold coated pillars lined the banquet hall that was only quite smaller than the throne room. In the middle, Kamilia and Girard Dvorach were sitting on the highchairs on the dais.
Everyone stood upon the announcement of my presence. Girard bowed while Kamilia curtsied. I could feel their eyes intently watching me. They gestured at the empty highchair between theirs, but I remained standing.
“I won’t stay long,” I said. “Just show me the synders.”
Her eyebrow subtly twitched, and I sensed emotion in her impassive face, but she managed to keep her composure.
I was only here to check the captured synders. Moria said synders couldn’t be killed my weapons or elemental magic, but they could be subdued by mind abilities or holy magic. Since Kamilia was the one who suppressed them, they were held captive in the Dvorach fief. I heard mother requested to imprison them in the royal palace, but Kamilia denied her demand.
“Very well,” she said while descending the dais. “Follow me, Your Highness.”
Kamilia, along with two of her mages, walked toward the long hallway at the right of the banquet hall. It took us a few minutes before turning right again, but this time, the hallway was pitch black.
Fire suddenly blazed from the braziers that were apparently floating on each side of the hallway, illuminating the path.
“This is claustra,” she mentioned. “A pocket of space for detaining incorporeal beings.”
A rip in the air appeared and I almost gasped when she started going inside. Would that be safe?
She turned around and curved her lips. “Come, Your Highness. The synders are here.”
The place looked suspicious, but I was the one who requested it in the first place. I wanted to see what the situation was, and I wanted to understand the synders’ power.
With my renewed resolve, I stepped into the claustra.
Claustra was a place I wouldn’t be able to survive for days.
It was a closed room, but where the walls should be was a translucent barrier that prohibits any kind of matter to pass through.
The synders were restrained at the far side of the room with transparent chains attached to the strange barrier.
The captive incorporeal beings suddenly turned aggressive as soon as they saw Kamilia, but she subdued them with a single word.
I felt a stinging pressure on my arm after hearing her command, but it wasn’t as compelling as I thought it would be.
“From our own investigation, these synders were tasked set foot in Vrivarya and inflict harm to any noble and royal blood.”
“Did you know who ordered it?”
She nodded. “It was Queen Lilia but the suggestion came from Princess Hanaia, the rightful heir to Remis’ throne.”
This was the first time I heard their heir’s name. If she could propose such bold move to the sovereign and had that much influence on their warfare, then that meant she was already set for the throne.
“Princess Hanaia have already fully inherited the Lilith’s bloodline power,” added Kamilia. “They are one step ahead of us already, Your Highness. Perhaps you should spend less time with Zaria and start training more seriously. For Vrivarya’s sake.”
My eyes narrowed at her choice of words. She sounded concerned, but I could sense the mockery behind them.
“It’s Princess Zaria,” I corrected. “And worry not, I am doing my best to hone my abilities.”
“Pardon my impudence, then, Your Highness,” she replied with a suppressed grin. “I hope it is going well. The kingdom needs your power, after all.”
That was as far as my tolerance could go. I gazed at her with a scornful grin.
“I was hoping you’d do your best with the synders, too, but your charm seemed to be inferior to the queen.”
My words stoked the murderous ire of the Dvorach matriarch, but the smile remained on my face to assert my standing.
I said it to keep her in her place, but it was also the truth. Mother was able to make two synders as her chamber guards, but Kamilia was struggling to keep them from being hostile toward her. If it were the queen, she would have already turned them into her retainers.
“Watch your words, Your Highness,” she warned.
“You should,” I retorted. “Zaria was lenient to you, but I won’t.”
The threatening expression on her face suddenly disappeared. Instead, she gave me an amused smile. “You sound like your mother.”
My brows furrowed at her strange comment. The queen rarely spoke because her words were too powerful, but they were sisters, so she knew what she was like before she became the king’s consort.
“You are quite protective of princess Zaria, aren’t you?”
For a second, I felt uneasy. Was it because of her ability?
“She is my sister, after all.”
“Strange,” she murmured. “Familial ties are only for political use and to ensure the bloodline continues. You seem attached to her. Is it because you grew up with humans?”
I couldn’t respond right away. It was true that being with humans taught me several emotions that the undead lacked, but after spending time in Vrivarya, some of them, I had already forgotten.
“And why is it any of your concern?” I asked.
Her smile grew as she sensed my apprehension. She walked toward me, and I wanted to get away from her, but it would look like I was afraid.
I tried holding my ground and stared back at her.
She leaned to my left ear. “You must be careful, Your Highness. Sometimes, the person you trust the most holds the most dangerous weapon.”
I turned to her, glaring. “You dare accuse a royal blood, Kamilia?”
“I do not,” she replied with a beguiling smile. “But remember this, Your Highness. Envy is a powerful tool that can make the powerless yearn for everything you have.” She paused for a moment and there was a dark glint in her already frigid eyes. “And I can vouch for that.”
Basking in the feeling of dominance, Kamilia started walking away. “Let us go back, Your Highness. They must be waiting for us.”