Book One: Knights' Festival

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Spinner's Forest

A gunshot echoed once.

Another gunshot echoed again.

And then a small pause.

AK stood quietly at the ledge with his custom-made Glock 45 in hand. He still couldn’t believe who he heard that night. An Odissea – alive and walking – served as the princess’s bodyguard. While he knew it was one of the more prime choices, there was a question that remained unanswered. How was she still walking around? The Odissea were hunted down and killed in multiples of ways. It was the time people called the hunting of the Odissea known as the La Purga. Cults were raided. Houses were razed. And those who were either an Odissea or a loyalist – dead by fire.

If it were just a loyalist then, he wouldn’t have given much of a damn. But she was different. He pulled out a rusted gold pocketwatch from his pocket. Despite having a digital-analog more advanced watch, he couldn’t help but hold onto it. The pocketwatch deserved a medal of honour for what it had gone through. Not only was it rusted but there were deep gashes and the back had been bent in a concave form with a bullet dent right in the middle. He flipped open the watch to reveal that the mechanism had already stopped working. Neither hand twitched and at this, he shut his eyes. The date read as June 6.

The day of demons.

The day he hated but was forced to relive every night.

It was on the early evening of June 6. At 6:06 PM, the Odissea attacked. There was no mercy. No compassion. And, proof that being humane was a construct of society. He shook his head as the sound of screams filled his ears. People scampered and begged for their lives. Children cried and screamed for their parents. There were no weapons to defend them; save for the farming and fishing tools kept in the sheds. The fight was nothing brief as the village fell before the night ended. The men, though valiant their efforts, were still slaughtered and their flesh harvested for the minions of the Odissea. He could only assume that the women had no better fate. For all he remembered hearing was the screams of his mother behind a door before it became a deadly silence. He never saw her again.

“Tch,” AK growled. He reloaded the Glock 45 with a new magazine and opened fire.

With every shot, he remembered the fires that consumed his village.

Bang!

Another shot for his brother who had shoved both him and his younger brother under the bed before he was torn apart with one of the Dark Knights ravaging his corpse and bathing his blood.

Bang!

The sound he heard when he saw his father trying to negotiate only to be rammed and jammed with multiple cursed chains and dragged into the Nether realm.

Bang!

The sound of the door slamming shut as his crying and screaming mother was dragged into a room where he never saw her again.

Bang!

The shot screamed. The same way his youngest brother did when they subjected him to experiments as a medium for demon summoning before his own body had been violently ripped apart.

Bang!

The sound of the very first life he took when he attempted his first and final escape from the dungeons.

Everything was a blur after that. All he remembered after was being snatched by a couple of guards. They dragged him to the throne room where he remembered seeing the pair of icy blue eyes before everything went black. He soon found himself lying on a hospital bed the next time he opened his eyes with an IV drip attached to his person. He was covered with bandages from head to toe with his right arm covered in a cast.

“Shooting well today, aren’t we?”

AK turned around to see The Commander standing before him. “Sir!” He quickly saluted. “Forgive me sir, I was too engrossed with my shooting...”

“At ease, soldier. I just got here.” The Commander chuckled. He glanced around a bit before extending his arms. “How about a hug for your old man?”

AK chuckled and placed down the pistol before walking over to hug him. The Commander was the one man who insisted he stay with him. He was also the man who brought him to the hospital. Ever since that day, he had been training with The Commander. Shooting, sniping, infiltration, reconnaissance, spy work, table etiquette, cooking – almost everything! Even more so than his own father. But then again, it was more his mother who had taught him the essentials. After all, he was her favoured son.

“You’ve grown well, son.” He beamed. “I’ve taught you everything I know.”

AK nodded. “Yes. And I am forever grateful. However,” he hung his head. “The princess got away...”

The Commander smiled. “It’s okay. Your objective was to scout and watch. In which you’ve done wonderfully. Save for that attempt on Odissea girl.”

Upon hearing it, AK hung his head. “Forgive me, sir. Such misconduct will never happen again.”

“I understand that it won’t. But she was aided, was she not?”

“Yes. By a Daniel Iscariot.”

“Funny how you both share the same name.”

AK’s eyes flashed. “The only name we share is Daniel. I am no traitor.”

The Commander nodded. “I know you aren’t.” He strode away from him. “You have always been loyal to our cause.”

“Yes sir,” Daniel saluted before returning to his shooting.


Samantha sat on the side of her bed, pondering. There were so many questions that needed to be answered. She glanced at the royal pendant resting in her palm. A tiny light flickered within the crystalline prison. It was like a tiny heartbeat; every pulse felt as if the mana was calling out to her. But what was the thing inside the pendant?

She glanced then around the empty bedroom before noticing a small rucksack with a note attached. Bewildered, she sauntered towards it and loosened the strings on the bag. The princess then plucked off the note. It read:

3’o clock. Main Gate. Wear the stuff in the bag.

Samantha glanced at the clock. It was 2:30 PM. She then emptied out its contents only to find a purple empire cut blouse and black leggings. A pair of gold ballet flats fell on the ground along with a small pouch. Curious, she crouched down to pick it up only to reveal a pendant that was similar to that of Sofiene’s royal crest. A frown marred her features; why make a fake one?

“Tch, there are so many things I can list that are wrong with this thing,” she shook her head. She took a glance at the pendant. “The wings aren’t painted properly, the gem stone is clearly a fake, and –!”

It was only then that she realized that there were so many things wrong with what she was doing. She joined the Knights’ Festival, joined in a war that didn’t need for her to be on the battlefield physically, and partnered up with a pirate. The princess of Sofiene years ago wouldn’t have condoned such behaviour. It was only now that she had decided to take her first step into the real world. As much as she wished it for it to be by choice, it was forced. Three years ago, she would have been content with just staying within the walls of the castle.

But now was the time to get up.

She exhaled sharply. The last battle had proved it. It wasn’t just a game of brute strength. It was a mind game. A shadowy game where all kiddie gloves came off. The princess never expected to have her knights be pitted against General Melissa. Already known as the Blue Lullaby, it was amazing for many – even for her – for her knights to be able to fight toe to toe with the general. She expected Beatriz’s power to scare the general and make-up for Brandon and Luke. But what had happened was the complete opposite. Brandon and Luke made up for Beatriz’s shortcomings in battle.

“I wonder where were headed off to,” Samantha undid the laces of the gown. “Ooh! Maybe we’re going to Machina Empire! Prince Hayden Machinos would definitely welcome us there!”


Brandon waited at the gate with some of his belongings. He didn’t really have much on him. As a pirate, he learned that bringing a lot of things only added more stress to him. As if looking after his wallet wasn’t enough, why bring more things? The only thing he needed was some petty cash, his gunblades, a few magazines filled with bullets, and a book. It was a well-guarded secret that only Luke knew. If there was anything he was more willing to steal than all the money in the world, it was a book.

The pirate stood against the stone walls of the tunnel that led out of the city. He took one last glance at the city of Xychosia. Ever since he had departed for the seas, no city was willing to house him under the knowledge that he was pirate. Xychosia was the only place that treated pirates like human beings. They had their own district to themselves. They were governed by the same rules like everyone else. The only condition they were given for being allowed to stay in that district was not to cause too much trouble.

Unfortunately, Beatriz decided to turn The Cove upside down.

The pirates were furious. They immediately filed their complaints and it didn’t help either when the pirates found out he had struck a deal with the “boob-brained lass and her forever-angry Pomeranian”. He scowled at the insults. Samantha had so much to offer as a princess. The first time he saw her magic, it was a sight to behold. She rendered the crazed Dark Knight useless in a matter of seconds. He frowned for a moment. The Dark Knight, how was she able to elude capture?! People who used magic like hers were captured by the Grand Magic Council in which they were tortured and killed for their war crimes!

“What’s taking Sam so long?” Beatriz scowled as she leaned against the stone wall. “She can’t be bringing all her luggage?” She swallowed hard and turned to Brandon. “Will she?”

He shrugged. “That all depends. I did tell her to be here and I only gave her a small bag.”

“She’s not the type to read in between the lines.”

“Are you telling me she actually might bring all her – ?”

“ – Hey!”

They suddenly looked up and much to Brandon’s admonishment, Samantha brought not just a few things but everything! Samantha cheerfully dragged along five purple suitcases all tied up together with a string. He saw glyphs and markings covering the suitcases plus a few more padlocks and wires.

“So, shall we?” She beamed.

Brandon raised an eyebrow. “You’re seriously bringing all that?”

“Yeah!”

“What’s in there anyway?!”

“A couple of dresses, ten pairs of shoes, some make-up, my favourite lip gloss –!”

“And let me guess, you brought the kitchen sink as well?”

“... Oh. Was I supposed to bring that?”

Beatriz shook her head. “Sam, we’re going to be trekking across the land and you’re bringing all that crap?!”

“B-but I couldn’t leave my things behind!” Samantha burbled with glassy eyes. “They’re all purple!”

“Nobody cares!”

“I do!”

“Nobody except you cares!”

Brandon groaned at the sight of the two women. He knew women were crazy. But he didn’t expect Samantha to be the hoarder kind of crazy. He shook his head at the sight of the purple luggage. Was she really expecting to bring all that? He scowled. If anything, it was more to worry about.

“Leave the shit here.” Brandon said. He frowned at the amount of luggage. “It’s gonna get us killed.”

“No it won’t.” Samantha pouted adamantly. “I can’t leave without my stuff!”

“Yes you can and you will.”

“No I can’t and I won’t.”

“Woman, how bloody daft can you be? Those things will slow us down!”

“Those things happen to be my luggage and my important stuff!”

Brandon groaned. He then turned to Beatriz. “You’re telling me she managed to drag these all the way here while fleeing Sofiene?”

Beatriz shrugged. “She barely had any of that shit with her on our way here. She just happened to go on a shopping spree one day.”

“And she managed to buy all that?!”

“Well, she had a personal bank account...”

“Didn’t anyone think of freezing it?!”

“Don’t think Santino had the brains to do it. Matteo probably but he’s the lazy kind.”

Brandon raised an eyebrow. “Santino? Matteo?”

“Samantha’s half-brothers. They were both second and third in line to the throne.”

“They’re ... well, illegitimate children?”

“Sort of-ish,” Beatriz bobbed her head a bit with a bit of uncertainty.

Brandon sighed and glanced at Samantha. “I’m surprised the clothes fit.”

The princess curtsied a little while looking at the shoes. “Well, the shoes are a little snug. But, they’ll do.” She beamed. “I like the blouse though!”

Brandon chuckled and jabbed his finger at Luke. “Well, he’s the one who chose it.”

Samantha squealed before running to Luke. “Let me love youuuuu!”

Much to Brandon’s shock, she grabbed Luke and smothered his face against her boobs. The little boy gasped and waved his arms frantically. Brandon winced. How long could Luke last with his face being smothered by her boobs? He flinched as he heard Luke’s desperate yelps and wails from Samantha’s boobs.

“Help!” He gasped and waved his hands. “Air – !”

Beatriz snickered. “He must be having a hell of a time in there.”

Brandon gawked and twitched. “You’re not gonna stop her?!”

“I could. But, it’d be a shame to deprive him of such a bountiful experience.”

“Bountiful?! He’s gonna freakin’ suffocate!”

Beatriz gave him a sly grin. “You’re just jealous that you’re not getting smothered.”

Brandon gave her an incredulous look. “You’re fething joking.”

“Then again, I think I can serve as a good substitute. Hope you’re in for a little cracking and snapping.”

“No. I’d like to be able to walk in this millennium.”

“Aww, you’ll be fine. I always know when to stop.”

Brandon shuddered and snapped. “You only stop when they’re dead!”

“Mm, more or less.”

The pirate shook his head and stormed towards Samantha and wrenched Luke from her embrace. “Alright. Let’s get moving.” He winced as Luke gasped for air. “I need my First Mate alive. Not smothered to death.”

Samantha pouted. “Aww, why so serious?”

“It’s called let’s get the feth out of here and start moving. Start moving your feet, ya lousy scallywags!” Brandon snapped. “The earlier we leave, the less problems we got!”


Queen Regina sighed. She sat on her throne with a relaxed smile. It was one of the rare times she managed to get some alone time. Not that she didn’t like people but, some alone time to allow her to read was something she appreciated. She glanced at the tome in her hand and plucked the pages open to read.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so special,” she murmured. She smiled and looked out the window where she saw a black rose in a vase. “That is true.”

Suddenly, the door slammed open with a sentry rushing in. “Your Highness! The princess! She has – !”

“Ah yes,” Queen Regina nodded. “She has escaped.”

“Well, yes! She’s gone with that pirate!”

A small smile curved up her lips at Samantha’s choice. Samantha had decided to become independent.

“Your majesty! What should we do?!” The soldier was frantic. He waved his arms frantically in the air. “Shall we send a party after her?!”

Queen Regina closed her book with a shake of her head. “That won’t be necessary. The princess has made her choice. And with that, she must bear the consequences and responsibilities of that choice. Her knights have chosen to follow her. Who are we to question that?”

The sentry shook his head vehemently. “Those are not knights! They are outcasts!”

Queen Regina chuckled at the panicking sentry. She could understand his reason for worry. “You have grown attached to her.”

He hung his head. “I would be lying if I said that I would not miss the rapping of her feet as she scampered around the citadel, milady.”

“I would too. But the heart and mind cannot be stopped.”

“But milady, does she even know where to go?”

Queen Regina cast her eyes towards the window where she saw the afternoon horizon beyond the gates of Xychosia from her throne room. The queen brushed the petals of the wilted flower in her vase. when she saw the sun beginning its decent behind the mountains. It was going to be awhile before she would see her god daughter again.

“Tell me, how many sunsets have you seen?” She murmured.

The sentry, bewildered, raised an eyebrow. “Your Grace?”

“In all my years, it’s only now that I have been able to relish in its beauty. The golden streaks in the sky and the orange ember glows – it’s a sight I longed to see.”

“But My Grace, the sunbeams can be seen from the windows.”

“It does take some time to understand. That to truly appreciate things, you must see not with the eyes but with the heart. A little woodland creature once said, it is with the heart that one can see rightly what is invisible to the naked eye.”

The sentry remained silent. He then glanced at the black rose sitting at the queen’s table. “Your Grace, that rose has long died. Why do you still keep it?”

The queen smiled cryptically. “Why do you still keep the very first sword you wielded in combat then?”

He remained silent.

“It is simply because you treasure all the moments you spent with it. It’s the same reason why we treasure people so.”

The sentry nodded and glanced out the window. “Do you think the princess will be alright?”

Queen Regina sighed. She looked out the window before casting her eyes towards the dead, rotting rose. As much as she wanted to throw it, she could not. It was the last rose given to her by a warden of The Forest dryads before he succumbed to his wounds and pleaded for release. She glanced at the water that kept the rose alive prior, a murky gold colour.

“I’m sure she’ll be alright.” Queen Regina nodded. “As long as she keeps her friends close.”


“Ugh,” Samantha groaned as she hauled her luggage along. “No one told me that we were going to walk this long!”

Brandon shrugged. “I thought you knew?”

“You didn’t tell me that the road was bumpy!”

“I told you to ditch your luggage.”

“But you didn’t tell me that the road was bumpy!”

The pirate captain rolled his eyes. “Then maybe next time, you shouldn’t bring so much!”

Samantha groaned and hauled her luggage along. She snorted in annoyance. Some knights they were! She scowled and grumbled until a foul stench wafted into her sensitive nose. It was only then that she realized that she stepped on something squishy and foul-smelling. Her dark eyes warily looked down when she saw her foot slowly being engulfed by faecal matter. Her face paled. She twitched and winced, trying every method she knew to suppress her screams

“EWWWWWW!” She screamed. She jumped out and wiggled her foot, flinging the faeces all over the place. “Wash it off me! Get it off me! UGH!”

Samantha yelped and jumped around to fling off the dirt only to feel water whiplash her in the face. She coughed and gasped with her dark hair clinging to the sides of her face and her clothes completely soaked. The princess brushed her drenched bangs away only to see Brandon holding his sword in front of her with an amused look.

“Fortunately, this blade does have some water-like property so splashing it off you won’t be hard.” Brandon chuckled and sheathed his blade. “Come on, keep moving.”

Samantha scowled. “You wet me!”

“You were whining about shit being stuck to your shoe.”

“You try stepping in it and see how it feels!”

“Lass, I’ve stepped in worse.”

“Like what?!”

“Don’t try me.”

The princess moaned at the sight of her soiled flats. She then turned back to her luggage and grabbed the rope that bound it together before dragging it with her. She huffed and puffed, not caring how heavy it was. It was her stuff in there! Everything that was purple must be brought with her! She grunted and groaned as she tugged her luggage along with all her might.

“You gotta be kidding me,” Brandon raised an eyebrow at her. “You’re gonna sacrifice everything for your damn luggage?”

“It’s my purple luggage,” Samantha added curtly. She yanked again and again before gasping and panting for air. “Ugh...”

Brandon scoffed. “We’ll take ages at this rate.”

“What’s wrong with you and purple luggage!?”

“I have nothing against it. My problem is you hauling those five heavy suitcases around when we need to travel light!”

Luke tried to pipe up in between them. “Guys.”

“It has all my purple stuff!” Samantha protested with a childish pout. She folded her arms defiantly. “I’m not leaving it behind!”

“You’re Deus-damn purple stuff is what’s going to get us killed!” Brandon’s fury rose. “How in Tartaros am I supposed to make sure you come out in one Deusdamn piece!?”

Luke piped up. “Um guys…”

“It’s still my stuff!” Samantha shrieked back.

“Yeah, the same stuff that’s going to get us mauled to pieces!” Brandon retorted. His eyebrows furrowed. “You keep dragging that behind us and it’ll take us years before we get to where we want to go!”

“No it’s not and it won’t! It’s purple and purple can do no wrong!”

“Sure it can’t! We can’t even use it to camouflage!”


Luke sighed. How could they possibly fight over something so small? Then again, he glanced at the luggage Samantha dragged along. How could she possibly bring all that let alone possess the common sense to want to use all that during the trip? He shook his head. Beatriz stood next to him with a shrug.

“How long do you think this is going to take?” Beatriz smirked. She shook her head. “They don’t look like they’re going to stop anytime soon.”

Luke nodded. Beatriz had a point. “What I don’t understand is why Samantha had to bring all,” he groaned and gestured to her big luggage. “All that.”

Beatriz shook her head with a shrug. “I don’t know.”

“Don’t you even try to talk some sense into her?”

“She doesn’t stop me from what I do so I don’t stop her either.”

“Even if she’s potentially going to screw us all?”

“She can’t really screw if she hasn’t tried.”

“That’s not what I meant!”

Beatriz smirked. “Why so jittery, Luke? You’ve never seen a woman naked before or something?”

Luke could feel the heat burning up his cheeks as he shook his head. “That’s not my point! And when did this become about me!?”

“Well, you did say she was going to potentially screw us all. It’s possible,” Beatriz tapped her chin.

A relieved smile spread across the First Mate’s face. She understood!

“But it’s gonna be a bit messy. She’s the one who’s gonna have to hold us all together.” She then gave him a sly smile. “Since you’re a bit small, we’re gonna have to do this slowly.”

At the sound of that, Luke hung his head, despondent. “We’re doomed.”

Chuckling, Beatriz shook her head and patted him on the shoulder. “Relax, it’s not that bad. Besides, I know what you mean. But convincing Samantha to ditch her all-purple luggage is like trying to tell me that I’m not evil.”

Luke raised an eyebrow. “But… you’re not.”

“Trust me, I’ve done a lot of shit that would’ve gotten me executed. You thought betraying someone thrice was bad? Boy, you haven’t seen what I could do.”

“If you’re evil then, why are you helping Samantha?”

The lady-in-waiting shrugged with a nostalgic smile. “I don’t know. I could spend all day telling you the melodramatic story of how I spent my years trapped in a cell before being thrown into a guillotine and then being saved by the princess."

Luke remained silent.

"She was the only one who looked at me as a friend," Beatriz's voice trailed away. However, she soon snapped back to normal. "But still, I had to keep an eye on her. Play with her and play with her dollies. Ugh,” she scoffed with a fold of her arms. “I had real dolls back then. They were made of real hair and bones too. Every time I stabbed them with a needle, it would scream in agony.” She let out a nostalgic sigh with a dreamy smile. “Ah, those were the days.”

“Uh… you sure those were dolls?”

“Yeah! They were my kind of dolls.”

Luke groaned before sauntering on. While his captain and the princess were still arguing, he grabbed the rope that was loosely dangling from Samantha’s hand before dragging it along. He let out a small huff before pulling it with all his might, dragging it through the mud and soil. The bickering immediately stopped when Samantha and Brandon saw him trudging through the dirt.

“No mate, put it down,” Brandon frowned. “The little lass needs to get around without it.”

“No,” Samantha shook her head, pouting. “Luke, you do not have to.”

The small boy shrugged. “Someone’s gotta make sure to clean up after you guys.” He let out a withered sigh. “It might as well be me.”

Beatriz snickered and strode along. “Yeah, we might as well get going!”

Before Beatriz could get ahead, Samantha strode in front of her and frowned. “Bea.”

The lady-in-waiting rolled her eyes. “What? Are you telling me to actually help him?!”

“Bea, you’re supposed to.”

“Who the hell said?!”

“He’s so much smaller than you!”

“He’s a head taller than me!”

“Can’t you see how much scrawnier he is than you?!”

Beatriz snapped. “I don’t take orders from anybody!”

Luke groaned as he hauled the luggage along. Sweat poured down his face as the rope cut through his palms. He could feel the strain of the ropes but it didn’t really bother him. He had gone through worse. He remembered pulling ropes to raise the sails of The Warhammer. Scrubbing the deck, loading up the cannons, polishing the machine guns, swabbing the rails – a small smile curved up his lips. It was like the good old days. He then glanced at his hands as he noticed his human flesh peel away to reveal leafy and woody texture beneath it. He could see his human flesh desperately crawling to trying cover his swollen palms.

I can do this, Luke breathed and chanted mentally in his mind. He inhaled deeply before feeling the earth beneath him respond. The warmth of the earth’s mana pulsed beneath his rubber soles and soaked themselves into his skin. He could feel the mana slowly climbing into his eyes and felt the change the moment his vision began to blur. He scowled for a moment as he quickly took off his glasses and pulled the luggage some more. But this time, he needed less effort.

“Luke,” he heard Brandon get snappy. “Give me that.”

Luke looked up as Brandon grabbed the ropes from him and yanked it forward. Luke suddenly had his hand popped up and his glasses were shoved back onto his face.

“Keep those on will you? You’re going to give yourself away.” Brandon chided.

Luke hung his head. “Sorry.”

“I know you’re trying to be helpful but the little lass ought to know how to live out here.”

“Is it even possible?”

“Her supposed fugitive life should have taught her that.”

“Her fugitive life was in Xychosia’s citadel.”

“... Point.”

Luke chuckled. Brandon always preferred teaching people through tough love. That was how he learned a lot of things from him. When he tried to load up a cannon, he had been loading it the wrong way. It was only after he finally got exhausted from running back and forth to put in the cannonball that he asked Brandon for help. Another one was when he kept trying to yank down only to be constantly pulled upward by the sail’s weight.

“Where do you plan to start though, captain?” Luke asked. “Any ideas?”

“I was thinking of heading to the Machina Empire. They could at least provide us some transportation.”

“Or what about Golden Lion, City of Trade? We can talk to them.”

“Not in a thousand fucking years, no.”

“They can’t be that bad.”

“They got useless the moment they got scared of a female dragon rider.”

The princess blinked in surprise. “A dragon...?”

“Yeah,” Brandon nodded. “I too, thought they were dead. Apparently, they still exist.”

“But that’s impossible!” Samantha exclaimed. She shook her head. “Books said that they died out after Solomon’s Rebellion!”

“Or so we thought.”

Samantha shook her head. “I really don’t think there are dragons still alive. It doesn’t make sense! My father killed the last one!”

“History is normally told by the victors. Not by the losers.”

Luke chuckled. It was true. Most of the stories he read from the library, he always asked Brandon if it was the truth. The day the captain adopted him, the first place they went to was the pirate library. It was there that he learned everything he needed to know to survive. But while he absorbed academic knowledge, he appreciated more the wisdom that Brandon had taught him over the years.

Samantha shook her head. “I’ve always wondered what dragons were like. I’ve only seen them in books.”

“Trust me you’d run away at the sight of them,” Beatriz shook her head. “The last time I tried fighting a dragon, it managed to rip put my entire left side. Not a fun way to die.”

“But you’re alive.”

“Yeah. But I should have been dead. That dragon pretty much took out three-fourths of my intestines and my left lung.”

Samantha shook her head. “But to imagine riding one – it’s amazing. Let alone trying to tame one!”

“Well, we never know. It has been 400 years since the last dragon. We’ll have to find out.”

The princess nodded before turning to the pirates. “So,” Samantha asked. “Where exactly are we going?”

Brandon nodded. “Luke and I were deciding between Machinos Empire and The Golden Lion.”

Beatriz raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t The Golden Lion like a month’s journey to go there?”

“That’s what I said to Luke as well.” Brandon explained. “If we head to Machinos Empire, it’d be easier to procure a vehicle that will get us to The Golden Lion.”

Luke nodded. “Yeah but, there’s one problem...”

Samantha asked. “What would that be?”

“It’s gonna be one hell of a walk.”

“How long will it take?”

“If we go over the mountain, it’ll take us two weeks. Tops.”

“With the extra luggage, maybe three,” Brandon smirked scornfully. He cast a withering glance towards Samantha’s purple luggage. “Maybe if we chuck the luggage off the cliff.”

Samantha glared. “No! It’s my luggage! It’s my purple luggage and Luke was already pulling it along!”

“He’s not your slave, lass.”

“He offered to do it! I didn’t command him to!”

“That’s because he’s too damn nice to do anything about it!”

“And quit calling me lass! It’s princess to you!”

“Yes, Your Highness.” Brandon scoffed teasingly with a mocking bow.

Samantha, scowling, turned to Luke. “Is there any way around the mountain?”

“Not really around,” Luke explained. He unrolled the map. “More like go under the mountain.”

Beatriz raised an eyebrow. “Under?”

Luke spread the map on the ground and pointed the direction out for them. “We’re still currently on Xychosia’s land territory – the Friedan Floodplains. As soon as we see the Spinner’s Forest, we’ll know that we’ve already left Xychosian territory. The forest also hides the underground passage to the other side known as Fool’s Gold.”

Samantha raised an eyebrow. “Fool’s Gold?”

Brandon frowned. “Let’s not. Luke, we are not going in there.”

“Better than hiking.”

“I’ll take hiking.”

“It’ll save us more time if we go through the cave.”

Samantha snickered. She raised an eyebrow. “Scared?”

Brandon scoffed. “Me? Scared? Wait until we get to Spinner’s Forest.”

“Spinner’s Forest? What can be so bad about a place that just has spindles and spinning wheels?”

Luke and Brandon glanced at each other before bursting into laughter. Beatriz groaned and shook her head at the princess. Luke couldn’t believe what he was hearing! Spindles and spinning wheels? Well, Luke shrugged. She wasn’t completely wrong. The Spinner’s Forest was where one could find the rare Arachne Flower which looked like a spindle. It also was home to plants that were used to make the finest cloths.

“Oh Sam,” Luke did his best to suppress his chuckles. “You’re gonna be in for a big surprise.”

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