Of Staffs and Soldiers
Amused was an understatement.
Melissa pursed her pink lips. It had been a long time since she had stepped foot into Xychosia’s grand coliseum. She tousled her dark copper hair around her slim finger as her other slender hand rested on her gleaming silver rapier. Her feline gold eyes twinkled with interest. What could possibly merit a visit from The Sandman himself?
From what she heard, the princess of Sofiene had chosen three knights. A smirk quirked up her lips. Who could she possibly find as knights? Most of the soldiers of the Xychosian army barely raised a finger against her. Most of them were trained by Marcus, she scoffed with a roll of her eyes. She strode forward in the shadows as the heels of her white booties clicked against the sandy floors. Who else could Samantha have possibly found?
She had seen many warriors and so-called “weapons masters”. And many of them barely held their own against her. As a member of the Queen’s Guard, she had sworn an oath not only to protect the queen but also be the best of the best. Queen Regina had made sure she had received everything she needed. A land that was near the castle, a school for her brother to pursue his studies as a scholar, and a whole lot more. It was then that she settled that being second-best was not an option. She was going to make sure that not a single hair on the queen’s head was to be harmed.
Then, there was Samantha. She always found her to be the more book-smart type. The young lady was more into lady-like pursuits. She would be reading in the library, collecting little trinkets, buying loads of make-up, and other things. It was what was normally to be expected of a girl. What she didn’t expect however was that Samantha would finally make a move to join the Knights’ Festival.
“She finally gained a backbone,” Melissa chuckled. She then shook her head and strode forward. “Let’s see then who you selected as your knights.”
Samantha swallowed nervously. What kind of woman could strike that kind of fear into Beatriz? Even Brandon and Luke feared her. It was then she realized that she never knew the highest echelons of Xychosia’s military. She had only heard about Captain Marcus, who according to Councilman AJ, had less guts then that of a baby goat. A sigh escaped her lips. It definitely wasn’t him. Otherwise, Brandon, Luke, and Beatriz wouldn’t have shown any signs of fear.
She clenched her hands tightly into a fist. Who was this woman? How did she strike this much fear into people by the mere sound of the clicking of her heels?! The princess exhaled sharply as she watched a woman emerge from the shadows as the audience gasped in surprise.
“The show’s not over. Ladies and gentlemen,” Samantha heard Councilman Jun announce. “General Melissa Expier!”
Samantha looked towards the woman before her. She gawked; this woman was a general?! General Melissa had a slender figure with an hourglass figure for a body stature. Her arms were slender – not bulky and muscular – and toned with lines shaping her arms. Her skin was almost flawless! Samantha gawked. There wasn’t a single blemish on her face save for a small beauty mark beneath her lower lip. Her dark copper coloured hair gleamed under the sun but despite her beauty, her gold, feline eyes had a stern stare at her.
Samantha definitely didn’t expect a general to look so – dare she say it – fabulous. It wasn’t the glitzy kind of fabulous but a more formal and elegant kind of fabulous. She wore a sleeves royal blue button-up coat with a white collar. Beneath the coat, she wore dark brown leggings where she saw her silver rapier gleaming in its sheathe. One arm – the one she could only assume as her sword arm – wore a fingerless vambrace while the other arm sported a fingerless white glove. She strode forward with her white booties gliding across the ground as she drew out her silver rapier and pointed it at them.
“Your Highness, correct me if I’m wrong,” General Melissa seemed to scowl. Her rapier gestured to the three knights. “For your knights, you picked a bean sprout, a pirate, and a Gothic masochist-sadist with anger issues.”
Beatriz glared but dared not to say a word.
Samantha frowned. “They’re not that bad.”
“I’m not saying they are.” Melissa said flatly. “But you do realize that the mental profile of these knights may also be detrimental to your goal?”
“I’d like to think I’m not crazy,” Brandon pointed out.
Melissa scoffed with a serene smile. “That’s what they all say.”
Samantha swallowed hard. The serene smile sent shivers down her spine as all her hairs stood on their ends. She staggered back, watching Melissa’s golden feline eyes watch them carefully. It was only then she understood why Beatriz, Brandon, and Luke refused to raise a finger against her. The sheer weight of her mana dropped on her shoulders as if a boulder had dropped right on top of her.
“She’s so strong,” Samantha shook her head. “We… we can’t defeat her…”
Beatriz scowled. “You gotta be kidding me. We have to fight her?”
“To be honest,” Brandon shook his head. “I’d rather avoid her.”
Luke nodded. “Can we?”
“In front of thousands of people who are watching our every move? That’s gonna be hard, Luke.”
“Can’t I grow a tree and we can run?”
“Will you quit using your powers!? I swear, once people are done with you – you’re going to be turned into veggie powder from some weird voodoo ritual!”
It seems you’re underestimating yourself, princess.
Melissa frowned at Samantha’s words. Could the princess not feel her own magic spewing out left and right? Why didn’t Brandon and Luke feel anything? Beatriz should have too. She narrowed her eyes at Samantha. She probably didn’t recognize it as she grew up. There was something about the princess that bothered her. She took one look at the royal pendant of Sofiene. It was twenty years before the pendant started becoming active and protecting the princess. Before, it was nothing more than a chunk of rock encased in a fancy ornate silver design.
But she began to notice. A little ember had danced within its crystalline prison. The gem was alive!
How could that be?
At the sight of the gem, there were only two conclusions she could draw from it. One, that the gem was older than she was and had existed way before. Or two, it was some trick of the light. But she highly doubted the latter. Samantha’s atrocious and vast mana was evidence that the pendant held more. Not only that, Samantha had been saying spells that required a different language and most of them required an insane level of power. She had mostly amplified her spells via glyphs. But for Samantha to use the raw power, it was admonishing yet admirable at the same time.
But the question was: could Samantha really do it?
She looked up at the knights. “Alright then,” she pointed her rapier at them. “Let’s see if you can really do it.”
Without any warning, the general lunged at her knights.
She could hear Samantha yelping in the background while she had begun her attack. Beatriz and Brandon lunged at her with both their weapons swinging. She ducked as the scythe’s crescent blade missed her head by a hair’s width while she kicked the lady-in-waiting straight in the stomach. Beatriz crashed on the ground and tumbled in the dust.
One down, two to go.
She glanced at Brandon who zoomed towards her. Her eyes widened when she noticed multiple after-images suddenly rushing towards her with the gunblades swinging. Impressive, she thought. She knew he had the speed and finesse but not at the level he was showing now. She closed her eyes and listened to the humming of their blades.
“You may deceive the eyes but your ears can never be deceived,” Melissa said.
Soon, her rapier flew with blinding speed. Clashes and sparks burst between the two swords with Brandon striking from different directions. She could hear his boots kicking the dust from skidding to and fro to launch an attack at her. She wrapped her rapier around one of his gunblades only to hear a soft click. Her eyes snapped open when she found her rapier wrapped around one of Brandon’s gunblades but found the other had its barrel pointed to her head.
“Well, you can make last minute decisions though.” Brandon shrugged. A roguish smirk appeared on the pirate’s face. “Let’s see what’s faster: a blade or a bullet.”
A smirk curved up the general’s lips as she quickly ducked and swept him off his feet. The pirate grunted and rolled away to gather his balance while she continued her attack. Seeing that Brandon needed time to recover, she focused her efforts on him. With her wrist flicking swiftly, she drew three white glyphs in the air and lunged at him.
“Sorry but, I’ll have to end this quickly.” General Melissa chuckled.
Before she could launch the glyphs at him, a vine suddenly shot out and grabbed her wrist. Her eyes widened; where did that come from? She turned her head only to see Luke summoning vines from within his sleeves. So this is the Dryad Jun was talking about, she thought. Her head bobbed with a slight nod. Interesting.
“Interesting little fellow you have with you,” Melissa turned to Brandon. “Where’d you find him?”
Brandon raised an eyebrow. “You’re asking that now?”
“Well, we have a little time.”
“Weren’t you the one who once told me that there isn’t normally this much talking during combat?”
Melissa chuckled. So he remembers. “Ah, yes. How silly of me.”
She pivoted on her heel and changed her target towards Luke. Her steel grey eyes focused on the little boy as more vines shot out. She clucked her tongue and leapt over the incoming thorny vines that threatened to immobilize her. The general waltzed through the incoming rabid plants before quickly closing the gap between her and Luke. The dryad’s eyes widened as she closed the distance between them.
“Try to move your legs.” Melissa advised. “You’re small; use it to your advantage.”
Luke squeaked and ducked before tumbling right in between her legs. Melissa chuckled; quick thinking for someone so young - and most likely, inexperienced. She knew that Dryads aged differently from humans. And from her observation, Luke looked no more than five years old in human years!
Melissa quickly changed direction until suddenly the ground cracked beneath her and she ended up tripping. The general gasped and unable to set herself up, crashed onto the sandy ground. The general looked up only to see a small crack in the floor and saw Samantha with her hands glowing a gold colour with stones forming around her wrist like a bracelet.
“I’m guessing Lia taught you that one.” Melissa stood up and dusted herself. “She was always into simple yet straight to the point spells.”
Samantha laughed sheepishly. “Uh, yeah...”
“Didn’t Kara teach you any fire spells?”
“She did. But–”
“–There’s no need for you to hold back.”
“Yeah, she’s right, Sam.” A voice suddenly said.
Suddenly, a chilling energy filled the arena as the audience gasped in terror. Melissa smirked and turned around to see a bloodthirsty and a battle-happy Beatriz with her black armour covering her body. When was the last time I saw that armour? Melissa frowned to herself. She shrugged. It was probably when she was still a lieutenant or so. Despite fighting Beatriz once or twice, the lady-in-waiting’s mana never failed to elicit a chill from her.
“I was wondering when you would get up,” Melissa chuckled. “You took your sweet time.”
Beatriz sneered. “Well, always save the best for last - don’t we?”
“I sure do hope you’re the best.” Melissa flipped her hair with an unamused look. “Frankly, Brandon did a better job than you.”
Although she knew goading Beatriz was insane, Melissa wanted to see the full extent of the lady-in-waiting’s power. While the petite young woman was not busy serving Samantha, she was a terrifying force. A dark force to be reckoned with, ever since the time of the Odissea Madness.
“I thought you would have learned by now the difference of a taunt and a real challenge for battle.” Melissa scoffed.
Beatriz sneered. “Well, too bad. I’m a slow learner!”
“I thought a century would be enough for you.”
“It’s been more than a century. You might wanna check your calendar.”
Melissa watched the lady-in-waiting lunge at her once more with her scythe growling. She could hear the gears on the Beatriz’s scythe grinding and shrieking for her blood as it reflected Beatriz’s bloodlust. Calmly, she jumped and dodged the incoming attack while drawing her white glyphs in the air to unleash a white fire. The fire descended on Beatriz but the petite girl refused to stop. She lunged further, chasing after her in the sky.
Berserker-like rage, Melissa took note. She ducked as her rapier parried Beatriz’s incoming attacks. Complete commitment to one’s attacks, she added mentally. Her body twirled in the air as she avoided a magic wave that nearly cleaved her in half.
Beatriz is at least capable of protecting Samantha, to a certain degree.
While there was nothing to deny when it came to Beatriz’s powers, Melissa found an opening. The general saw that Samantha was completely unguarded and went straight for her. Twisting her body in mid-air, she kicked off a glyph drawn by her boots and launched herself straight at Samantha. Her rapier posed to impale Samantha until a purple blob-like shield suddenly shot up and encased Samantha, parrying her blow.
“Hmm, your own creation?” Melissa raised an eyebrow.
Samantha shrugged. “Uhmm, yeah?”
“Not bad. But, you really should come up with something a little more solid and less... well... gooey.”
“This is why,” Melissa carved her glyphs into the shield. “Glyph of Explosion: Elektrode.”
Samantha’s eyes widened when her shield suddenly exploded in her face. The princess yelped and crashed on the ground, leaving her completely defenceless against her. Melissa gave her a steely stare and could feel Samantha shivering under her gaze. In the air, she drew another glyph and pointed it at Samantha.
“Sorry, princess.“Melissa coldly said. “This is how your knights have failed you.”
Before the glyph could explode in the princess’s face, a vine suddenly pulled Samantha away from the line of fire. Melissa’s eyes widened when she turned to see Luke in his full form. His skin was no longer covered by human flesh but was more herbaceous in colour. The patterns on his skin were similar to leaves and his hair was covered by thin leaf blades. And his eyes glimmered with their mismatched colours of rose pink and gold.
“Oh, so someone decided to get angry.” Melissa chuckled. She turned to the small boy. “When did you get angry? Most of the time, you usually cowered behind Brandon.”
Luke shrugged. “I still do sometimes.” He then pointed behind her. “Although, you really should take note of whom you’re fighting with.”
A sudden surge of chilling, dark energy hit her as Melissa turned around to block Beatriz’s incoming attack. The lady-in-waiting’s scythe grinded against Melissa’s rapier as Beatriz pushed all her weight on her. Feeling the strain in her legs, Melissa quickly jumped away to relieve her body from the stress of the weight. However, she heard a soft hum only to see that she had leapt straight into Brandon.
“Luke’s a pretty good diversion don’t you think?” Brandon smirked.
Melissa’s eyes widened when she saw his arm raised.
“I don’t normally use this technique but you’re one of the few people I have to use it on.”
Suddenly, his arm disappeared from her line of sight. Despite its disappearance, she could hear it whistling in the air. The song of the oceans and sea filled her ears as his blade flew. An amused smile appeared up her lips; this was something new.
His quick draw speed is not so bad, Melissa nodded in approval. She had seen him use quick draw a few times but not in rapid succession like he did now. He swung to and fro to avoid the thrusts of her rapier as she ducked to avoid his attempts to mince her into smaller pieces. She swung her body to and fro as they clashed in mid-air. Even the finesse and style of his technique is defined, she smirked. Suddenly, one of his attacks broke through and nearly speared her through her head if not for her sudden quick cast of a shield. The impact knocked her back and sent her plummeting to the ground.
“Tch,” Melissa contorted her body in mid-air and hoped to land on her feet.
Samantha couldn’t believe what was happening.
Not only was she fighting a general but she was fighting the best general of Xychosia.
Samantha had never expected them to face someone so strong. But she could see how hard her knights were fighting. Beatriz and Brandon poured all their energy to stopping her and even Luke had been forced out of his shell to go and fight her. Samantha swallowed nervously – was there really any way to defeat General Melissa?
Watching General Melissa plummet straight from the sky, Samantha saw Luke setting up a trap. His palms were planted firmly into the ground as he focused his energy. The earth beneath him began to rumble and tremble beneath her. Widespread warmth filled the arena and penetrated through her slippers as vines suddenly burst from the ground. The vines shot out and headed straight for Melissa with their bodies whipping and their thorns brandished in her face. But despite the thorny vines getting ready to devour the general, Samantha saw something else.
Melissa had no sign of fear written on her face.
None at all.
The princess shuddered; how could the woman face fear head on like that without being terrified of certain death? Suddenly, she saw why. With Melissa’s feet pointed towards the rabid vines, she watched General Melissa draw a glyph with her feet before creating a large explosion to boost her away. She cartwheeled in mid air, using the glyphs as platforms. Samantha gawked; why hadn’t she thought of that? It was so innovative!
“She interrupted the casting of the glyph to cause a back draft and an explosion to propel herself away,” the princess whispered in awe and amazement. “That is so cool!”
“Um, princess?” She heard a voice ask.
Suddenly, she saw Luke, Brandon, and Beatriz gather up in front of her. Sweat covered their faces. She could hear them breathing heavily as they tried to keep themselves together. The princess saw it in their eyes; they were tired. Who wouldn’t be, her mind reasoned. They were fighting against one of the champions of Xychosia! The princess clenched her fists tight and steely looked on as General Melissa gracefully landed in front of them. There had to be a way to defeat her!
“Well, do you have any plans?” Brandon gasped and shook his head, panting. “I’m throwing it wide open to the group.”
Beatriz shook her head. “To be honest, even I’m getting exhausted. And this is something for someone who can really get mutilated to pieces and walk away as if nothing happened.”
Luke turned to Samantha. “Do you have any ideas?”
The princess fell silent and looked down at her pendant. She saw the flames flicker inside the pendant until it started to glow brighter. Suddenly, she could see the flames taking shape of the symbols of the different elements within the gemstone. Her eyes glimmered at the sight of the elements and felt everything around her all of a sudden. Everything around her began to respond. The winds began to sing, the dust and earth began to resonate with her mana, the water beneath the city began to rush below the stadium, and she could feel the heat of the sun burn with her mana. She looked at General Melissa once more as her mana roiled to life.
“I do but it might be stupid,” Samantha said.
Beatriz shook her head. “You had me at stupid! Go for it!”
“But first, to make things formal.”
Samantha pressed both her hands on the shoulders of both Brandon and Beatriz. “Do you, Beatriz Odissea and Brandon Hawthorne, wholeheartedly accept to become my knight?”
Beatriz raised an eyebrow. “I thought we made this clear!”
“Just yes or no, Bea.” Samantha said.
“Well no shit, yeah of course.” Beatriz nodded and scoffed. “I don’t understand why we still have to do this.”
The princess then turned to Brandon. “Do you?”
Brandon shrugged. “I guess.”
With both their answers, it was then Samantha felt a new energy welling up within her. Her eyes widened in surprise as she turned to both Brandon and Beatriz only to see that their breathing had settled down. Her mana synchronized with the very life force within both her knights as their energies resonated together. Soon, the feeling died down with Brandon and Beatriz being cleared of any wounds. Their eyes appeared brighter and their breathing calmed down.
“Damn whatever the hell it is you did,” Beatriz shook her head and beamed. “Do it again!”
Brandon looked at his hands, stretching his fingers. “This is amazing...”
Samantha nodded before pointing at Melissa. “Brandon, Beatriz, this is a direct order from your princess: defeat General Melissa head on!”
Brandon and Beatriz blinked for a moment only to see a shining determination in Samantha’s eyes. Although she knew that they both could sense her fear, she wanted to make sure that her command got clear cut and across. After all, if they couldn’t defeat General Melissa who was obviously playing around with them, what more the enemies outside?
“Sure,” Beatriz grinned sardonically. She turned to General Melissa. “This is going to be bloody!”
Brandon shrugged with a sigh. “Oh well,” he smirked and readied his battle stance. “It’s a direct order from the princess.”
Samantha watched her knights attack with full force. Brandon and Beatriz fought in tandem with their blades swinging. She could see that General Melissa was being pushed back by their power. Beatriz had all the mana in the world at her disposal; fighting General Melissa in terms of mana wasn’t hard. But what Beatriz lacked in strategizing, Brandon made up for it with his speed and tactical style of combat. His swords flew and covered up Beatriz’s openings, forcing the general to back up. Samantha nodded before turning to Luke.
“Luke, can you make a big forest?” Samantha asked. “I know it might be too much so even a couple of vines can do.”
The dryad chuckled. “Yeah, forest no. Vines, yes.”
He pressed his hand on the floor and vines started to grow. “So, what do you need me to do with it?”
“I need you to link it up to me.”
“Uh, say what?”
“Like, get the vines to attach themselves to me.”
Luke raised an eyebrow. “What are you going to do? It sounds weird.”
“I know it doesn’t make much sense now.” Samantha shook her head and begged. “But please, Luke! You have to trust me! Brandon and Beatriz can’t stave off Melissa’s assault forever!”
The dryad, clearly confused, instead nodded. “Alright. I’ll try to see what I can do.”
Samantha saw Luke squat down and focus on the ground. Vines began to sprout and wrap around her legs. The princess shuddered a bit and waited for the vines to constrict her tightly only to have it hug her as if she were their mother. A small smile curved up her lips as she closed her eyes and felt the mana around her. The songs of the winds grew louder, the heat of the sun burned against her skin and boiled her mana, the waters below rushed around her, and the earth warmly received her with warmth of its own. Her hands waved around the air and swirled the mana around her. She soon compressed the mana into her pendant and the owl’s eyes began to glow.
“The life and soul of Sofiene flows within me. I who carry the blood of Solomon da Sofiene call upon your name,” Samantha began the chant.
Suddenly, a bright purple light began covering her entire body until she was nothing but an ethereal, glowing purple being. Samantha could feel the mana coming from the vines fuel her power and the spell in her hands compressed tightly. She looked up into the sky where she saw the stars shine in them. The night sky past the morning skies of Xychosia loomed over her as shadowy figures appeared before her. One was a graceful young woman with angel wings, garbed in an elegant gown. Another appeared to be a wrathful dragon with glowing gold eyes. A sea serpent moaned with the waters following it as the creature waltzed around what appeared to be the world of Zemlya. Samantha trembled in fear and awe. Her knees nearly buckled beneath her as she stood on a pathway of light.
“Wha...who are you?” Samantha asked.
The shadowy figures offered no response and instead, knelt before her. Puzzled, Samantha stared in surprise until she felt a larger mana loom behind her. Her blood froze as she slowly turned around only to see a large silhouette of a complete knight’s armour. Samantha staggered back as the weight of the silhouette’s mana dropped on her shoulders. The sheer weight forced her down to her knees as she could do nothing but bow her head in reverence.
To know oneself is to travel. Travel to your heart’s content. Seek the Heart of Magic. For you shall find your purpose and who you are.
Samantha blinked. The heart of magic? What is that?
Suddenly, the darkness faded against the light as the clashing of steel echoed in her ears. She snapped herself out of her daze when she saw multiple glyphs covering her body, swirling all around her. Seeing that Brandon and Beatriz already being pushed back, Samantha pointed the spell at General Melissa.
“Brandon, Bea! Move!” She ordered.
Brandon and Beatriz looked back and without hesitating, launched themselves away. The moment the two knights got clear, Samantha unleashed the spell. Swirling with mana and energy, the spell roared and ripped through the earth. The princess yelped as the recoil threw her back and sent her flying into the wall. Samantha gasped only to crash on something rather bony. She looked down only to see Luke groaning beneath her.
“Oww,” Luke whimpered.
Samantha gasped and helped Luke up. “Oh,” she dusted him with a sheepish smile. “Sorry...”
She then saw Beatriz leap into the air with her scythe. With mana burning in the scythe’s curved blades, the lady-in-waiting unleashed an unholy blast that propelled Samantha’s spell forward.
“Well, good luck!” Beatriz grinned. “I’m gonna tear you to pieces!”
The spell soon crashed right on General Melissa, completely on target. The audience gasped as the mana swirled and exploded straight into the air. Gasps and murmurs were overwhelmed by the roaring that consumed the arena in a large light. Samantha yelped as she covered her head, trying to shield herself from the blast’s shockwave. Suddenly, she saw a shadow loom over her. The princess looked up to see Brandon shielding her. She desperately searched for her lady-in-waiting only to see that Beatriz had grabbed Luke and thrown her behind him.
“Damn! You loaded that thing!” Beatriz whooped in delight.
Brandon winced from the light. “I don’t think I want to be on the receiving end of that spell.”
Slowly, the light began to die down and the dust swirled in the air. Samantha was completely on the edge. Dread and anticipation filled her. Had she done it? Had she defeated General Melissa? She shuddered at the thought of General Melissa surviving the attack. That would mean her spell would have been for nothing.
“Now, that,” a voice praised. “That was spectacular!”
Samantha’s blood ran cold as she saw a white dome forming over General Melissa. But she could see that the spell had taken its toll on the Xychosian general as well. Sweat poured down the woman’s face as she held herself up using her rapier. But most of all, there was a small trickle of blood from a cut right at her temple.
“I haven’t dealt with that kind of energy in a long time.” General Melissa chuckled. She then looked up to the council members of Xychosia. “They’re rough around the edges but, they’ll do.”
Councilman Jun nodded and declared. “The match has come to an end! The knights have proven themselves worthy!”
The audience howled and cheered at the conclusion. Samantha couldn’t believe it. She – or rather, they – had won! Joy filled her as she cheered and jumped in delight. She then threw her arms around the nearest person, all giddy and happy.
“Oh my Deus! We actually did it!” Samantha beamed.
“Yeah, we did.” A male voice drawled in amusement.
Her enthusiasm immediately died down when she realized that she was hugging Brandon. Blush rushed up her cheeks and turned her bright red. A chuckle bubbled from the pirate’s throat as he nodded.
“Well then, let’s head out. We have ways to go.”