It was time. After months of searching through dangerous lands, his quest was complete. He followed the castle guards with his arms wrapped around a worn wooden box, trusting no one else to deliver the rare and valuable items he had worked so hard to collect. He had even traveled straight from Ustelo to Napaea, unwilling to waste any more time by traveling home first. The only people he brought with him were his personal guards, who walked beside him as they were led into the throne room. A grin spread across his face as he stood before the large wooden doors, waiting to be announced.
“King Azrael, may I present his Royal Highness, King Strigoi of Moriyah.”
Strigoi stepped forward and smiled as Azrael stood to greet him. Azrael was King of the Blood Elves. He was taller than most of his kind, and his luminous white complexion was a trait of his Moon Elf lineage. After he and Rhiannon mixed their royal elven bloodlines, his long dark hair had turned cobalt blue—a small change compared to the Queen’s transformation.
“Strigoi, my friend, it’s so good to see you."
“Azrael! Great to see you, too; it’s been far too long,” Strigoi said as he shifted the box under one arm and gave Azrael a hug.
“Actually, I’m surprised to be seeing you so soon. You’ve already collected everything Rhiannon asked for?” Azrael asked.
Strigoi nodded, motioning to the box. “Yes, I have it all. I do hope she is here; I haven’t had time to send word that I was on my way.”
“She’s here. The guards told her your carriage was approaching, and she wanted to prepare. The girls are helping her; they should be here in a few moments. Would you like a glass of Bloodwine?”
“That would be wonderful. In all honesty, I can’t really remember the last time I fed,” Strigoi replied.
Azrael motioned to a servant who nodded and left the room. Within minutes, she returned with a glass of Bloodwine and handed it to Strigoi. He thanked her and drank.
“How are your lovely brides? Strange that none have accompanied you today.”
“They’re doing well. Contessa and Katerina are handling my affairs. Mila was assisting me through most of my quest, but I forbid her to join me in Ustelo. Too dangerous,” Strigoi said, finishing his glass.
“Dangerous? For a sorceress?” Azrael asked, raising an eyebrow.
Strigoi nodded. “You know better than most the stories concerning the Ruins of Athazaz.”
“Legends, not stories. But I suppose I would have done the same if it were my Queen or my daughters.”
“Yes, I could imagine a father’s unease is far worse than a husband’s.”
Azrael chuckled. “You have no idea. I thought my worries were supposed to lessen as they got older. Seems like they’ve gotten worse.”
“Oh, Daddy, we can’t be that bad! Well, maybe her, but not me.”
Strigoi and Azrael turned to see Princesses Lilith and Kali enter the room. Princess Lilith had been the one who spoke. Although they were twins, they looked nothing alike. Their only identical feature was their blue hair, which matched their father’s. Lilith was tall and poised while Kali was short and aggressive, but both shared in their mother’s proficiency for magic.
Behind them was Rhiannon, who entered the room with a devious grin. The Queen of the Blood Elves was small in stature, but not to be underestimated. Her eyes were completely black, and her pointed teeth made her smile all the more terrifying. Her frightening beauty and merciless nature made her a vicious adversary. It was these qualities that Strigoi admired most about the dark Queen, he smiled to himself as she walked towards him. She spoke to her servants, instructing them to set up a table and a few items she needed. The servants bowed and began to work as Rhiannon turned her attention to Strigoi.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” she said as she gave him a hug.
“Don’t worry; Azrael and I were just catching up,” he replied.
Rhiannon and the girls sat in their respective thrones as the servants continued to set up. “So, have you completed your end of our agreement?" Rhiannon asked.
Strigoi held up the box in response. The final product of his journey; five months of treacherous expeditions—a wave of relief washed over him as he handed the box to Rhiannon’s personal guard, Snaps. Now he would have the reassurance he needed to stop his pursuit of power, and enjoy the remainder of eternity with his brides.
Snaps handed the box to Rhiannon, and Strigoi waited as she examined her newtreasures. Inside the box was a large scroll, an amulet made of amethyst and gold, and an obsidian dagger, wondrous items that seemed ordinary in the eyes of a commoner. To a sorceress, however, these were powerful tools, hard to come by and even harder to use if your magic wasn’t strong enough. Rhiannon smiled with a flash of excitement in her black eyes. She closed the box and Strigoi raised an eyebrow with a smirk.
“Well?” he asked.
“Snaps. Take this to my work room.”
Snaps stepped forward and took the box with a bow. As she left the room, Rhiannon stood up and made her way to the table her servants set up. On the table was a large cauldron filled with a hot blue liquid. She began to stir the concoction and motioned for Strigoi to come closer. Strigoi smiled, stepping forward, eager to collect his payment.
“Your side of our agreement has been fulfilled. I will now uphold my end of the bargain—” she said as she took her dagger “—and tell you your future.” This special dagger had a long, slender blade with a needle-like point, its handle made of rare darkwood from the forest of Aranea. She punctured the tip of her index finger, and the blade began to glow red. She held out her finger, allowing the blood to drip into the cauldron.
Strigoi watched as she raised her hands up and tilted her head back. Rhiannon began to chant in an ancient elvish tongue Strigoi couldn’t decipher. A wispy blue smoke began to rise out of the cauldron. Rhiannon closed her eyes and inhaled, allowing the smoke to enter her body. The smoke filled her and she began to rise. Strigoi stepped back, unable to take his eyes off the levitating sorceress. Suddenly, her eyes opened wide, and a glowing blue light beamed out of them. Her head jerked forward, focusing on the Vampire King, and she spoke in a deep, grisly voice.
“Before the seasons change and the leaves descend,
Strigoi of Moriyah, your reign shall end.
A usurper will strike in your weakest hour,
And in the darkness drain your power.
An unforeseen foe shall cause your demise,
When the old King falls another shall rise.”
“Demise? What do you mean? Explain yourself!” Strigoi shouted. Snaps ran back into the room and put her hand on his shoulder but Strigoi pulled away from her.
“Don’t touch me, you mongrel!”
Azrael stepped forward as Strigoi’s anger increased. This must have been a mistake. Or a cruel joke. Who could drain him of his power? The very notion was absurd! Strigoi glared at the Queen, waiting for answers; but his time was up. She closed her eyes and the smoke left her body. Azrael approached her as she began to descend, ready to catch her. She landed on her feet, but almost fell as she took a deep breath and held her throat. The girls ran to their mother’s side, trying to help her regain consciousness. Everyone in the room was concerned for her well-being…except Strigoi.
He didn’t budge an inch; he kept his eyes focused and his jaw clenched. He was cheated. He risked everything to hold up his end of the bargain as requested. Now, after he waited so long for answers, she left him with more questions. He growled deep in his chest, trying to contain his anger. Perhaps all was not lost just yet.
“Mother!” Lilith said as Rhiannon opened her eyes for the first time since entering her trance and took slow, steady breaths.
The Queen blinked and rubbed her forehead. “Help me up,” she whispered to Azrael.
With Azrael’s help, Rhiannon stood up. In the beginning, before Strigoi had started his quest, she had explained to him that this was why she rarely enacted spells that foretold the future. Each time she did, it took a toll on her. Azrael escorted her back to her throne and she rested her head back. Strigoi watched as they seemed to ignore his presence. He then approached the Queen, much closer than was allowed. Snaps stepped in front of Rhiannon, ready to challenge the Vampire King.
“Move. Before I rip your fucking throat out,” Strigoi growled as he locked eyes with Snaps.
“Leave him be,” Rhiannon said with quiet strength. Even in her weakened state, she feared no one. Snaps glared at Strigoi as she moved back to her post.
“What was that? You can’t just tell me I am going to lose my reign and leave it at that. I need to know more. I need to know how I can prevent this from happening!” Strigoi shouted.
Rhiannon shook her head. “I cannot tell you anymore than what was foretold. There is nothing I can do.”
Strigoi grumbled in aggravation and shook his head. “That’s not good enough!” He slammed his fists on the stone armrests of her throne and screamed at the fatigued Queen. “How am I supposed to prepare a defense for such a vague attack?”
Azrael stood and Strigoi sighed, taking a step back. He pushed his hair back in frustration. A servant brought the Queen a glass of water, and Rhiannon took a sip before placing a hand on Azrael so he could sit down.
“Explain to me, how is it possible that my impenetrable fortress could be taken over?” Strigoi paced from side to side like a caged animal. “No. No, it’s impossible. This is wrong. Some kind of trick. Tell me the truth. I held up my end of our bargain. Do not deceive me!”
“Enough,” Rhiannon said. The room fell silent as the Queen sat up and spoke. “I have held up my end of the bargain. I have not deceived you; as a matter of fact, that wouldn’t be possible. I have no control over what is foretold. I am simply a vessel; the spirits use my body to communicate with our world. Do not blame me for your fate. The only person you can blame for the outcome of your life is yourself.” Strigoi lunged forward and his arms were caught by two guards.
Azrael sighed, stepping forward in front of the thrashing Vampire King. “I think it’s time for you to go, old friend.”
Strigoi broke free from the guards and adjusted his jacket. The two Kings glared at each other and Strigoi scoffed.
Strigoi shoved the guards out of his way as he left the room. His life was in jeopardy now. Everything he had worked so hard for was doomed to end. He entered his carriage, followed by his own guards, and they began moving away from the kingdom of the Blood Elves. He could not allow this to happen. He had dedicated too many years to building his empire. He took a deep breath to calm himself. Now he had to prepare for war against an unknown enemy. His brides would be disappointed, but that was the least of his worries at the moment. For now, he needed to think of a weapon. Something so powerful, it could take out anyone who opposed him.
“My Lord, the driver has asked what our next destination is. What shall I tell him?” one of the guards asked.
“Home, and make haste. I might not have much time left.”