It was a feeling like no other.
Beatriz growled and lunged with her scythe whirling. She didn’t know what happened exactly. But whatever it was, it fuelled her. She could feel it bubbling inside. Her mana tossed and turned as it flooded through every fibre in her body. It wasn’t like adrenaline. She knew the feeling of adrenaline – it was a sudden rush of vigour that flushed out every sense of pain, hunger, and fatigue. The feeling she felt was as if they gave her a cup of coffee with thirty times the caffeine she usually drank. Her heart pounded in her rib cage as it threatened to lunge out.
The dark blonde girl dodged and leapt over the spell blasts with her scythe cleaving through a few of them. Her icy blue eyes narrowed at the spider woman as her scythe bounced off the shield that Ariadne made. The shock wave threw her back as Beatriz flipped and landed on the ground, digging her nails into the ground to recover. She hissed in annoyance and lunged again with her scythe.
“You’re never going to break through my barrier,” Ariadne jeered with a scoff. “Did you really think I fueled you up that much?! I have all the Doom Mana in the world!”
Beatriz snarled and swung her scythe. “Oh shut up!”
The dark knight hurled a glowing midnight blue arc at the spider-woman as its flames scorched the ground. The rocks flew as the dark blue flames burned and reduced the rocks into ashes and debris. The lady of Arachnos however leapt away and unleashed a whole barrage of arcane bolts flying towards her as Beatriz rolled on the floor to get away. She suddenly felt a large tremor throw her off balance as she crashed into a boulder. She gasped in pain as her shoulder dislodged itself and smashed into a rock.
“Tch,” Beatriz hissed as a numbness shot through her shoulder. “Fuck, I can’t lift it...!”
“Oh you poor little thing, disabled now are you?”
Wincing and grunting in pain, the lady-in-waiting looked up and glared at the spider-woman standing over her.
“You can’t out-power me.” Ariadne sneered. “I have 400 years worth of magic knowledge and mana stored inside every fibre in my body!” She then proceeded to stomp on Beatriz’s stomach repeatedly, guffawing at her. “Did you really think that you – an Odissea bastard – can out-power me?!”
Beatriz gasped as the blows slammed into her body. She winced at every stomp, feeling the blood churn with her stomach acids. How could her body still feel so limp? All her limbs felt heavy as if they were weighted down by one cannon ball each. She struggled to get her left shoulder working only for it to flop on the floor and have one of the spider legs stab right through her palm. She yowled in pain as another leg nailed her other palm to the ground and kicked her scythe away.
“Oh poor little girl, neglected by her mummy,” Ariadne cooed mockingly. She stomped harder and harder. “Some sick sob story! Do you really think I would buy that, you blood-thirsty whore?!”
Despite her shouts, Beatriz remained unfazed and sneered. “What? You think I was just going to lie down and let you stomp me all day?”
Ariadne gasped when she saw Beatriz’s blood pouring through the gashes and trenches in the ground. Her eyes widened with terror when it finally took its form: a summoning circle.
“You think your little tirade hurt me?!” Beatriz sneered before her eyes gleamed sardonically. “You barely even left a dent!”
Ariadne gasped as the circle beneath her began to glow. An ominous cold wind brushed against her arms as her hairs stood on end. A chilled wind howled and rushed around her, nearly throwing her off. Her eyes widened when she soon witnessed Beatriz’s battered and bruised body slowly become encased in a more formidable form of her jet black armour. Her pauldrons were adorned with spikes, gleaming with an ominous darkness. Her gauntlets covered her impaled palms and gave her claws over her delicate white fingers. Beatriz’s icy blue eyes gleamed sardonically as she grabbed both of Ariadne’s feet with her remaining arm and ripped them both off with one swipe. Blood splattered on Beatriz as she gleefully chuckled and stood up as Ariadne staggered aside.
“Y-you monster!” Ariadne gasped.
It was the same thing that her mother had called her before. She remembered the days that her mother had instructed her servants to hold her down as she was brutally beaten. Was it a belt or a coat hanger? Beatriz pondered. She scoffed and waved the issue aside; it wasn’t something that bothered her anymore. The dark knight always knew that her sister was the favourite. Conservative, sweet, obedient – everything that she was not. An itch scratched on her heart at the thought. No matter what she did, her sister always got everything she wanted while she was left with the leftovers. It was the reason why she and her sister often traded blows.
Yet, to be called the same thing that her mother used to call her by an enemy - it didn’t hurt at all.
She stared darkly at Ariadne, scoffing at her opponent’s attempt to scurry away. “Did you really think your 400 years of magic knowledge and mana could kill me?”
Beatriz couldn’t help but scoff. Watching Ariadne try to scurry and scamper away made a small chuckle bubble in her throat. To think that the spider woman was speaking so big awhile ago, Beatriz smirked. She could feel her limbs getting their sensations back. Her wounds all over her body slowly began to vanish.
“Trust me,” Beatriz snarled. “I’ve probably walked the earth longer than you ever have!”
With a mighty roar, Beatriz grabbed her scythe and lunged at the spider-woman. Her blood roared and rushed to life as her soul screamed the darkest depths. Her scythe glowed with her bloodlust rushing through the blade. She could feel the adrenaline forcing her to lift her left arm. Her scythe rose above her head as Beatriz rushed in for the kill.
Sheer terror painted Ariadne’s face white. “No, please –”
Before Beatriz could swing her scythe for the final blow, a sharp pain shot through her. She gasped as she saw the shot shoot clean right through her armour and under her breast. She gasped and coughed up blood when she saw the perpetrator standing before her.
“Arkamedon,” she growled. She slammed her fist on the ground. “I knew there was something fishy about you!”
“As I did, you, Beatriz,” Arkamedon smirked and strolled towards her. His eyes gleamed with malice and chilled her blood. Her hairs stood on all ends as he grabbed a fistful of her hair, ignoring her gasps of pain. “I knew who you were. You were there when Azaleth fell.”
Beatriz gritted her teeth and snarled. “And I was there when you told the queen that the spell you told her to use would save all of Azaleth and not sink it into the damn ground!”
“Well, the queen was so desperate so I just advised her like any proper adviser would.”
“You gave her a transmutation spell, you bastard!”
“Her fault for not reading.”
“She trusted your sly little ass!”
Arkamedon shrugged it off nonchalantly. “Well, it was her fault for listening to me.”
“… Y-you were the one?”
Beatriz glanced to the side only to see Ariadne, paralyzed by surprise. She cursed mentally as the spider-woman’s paled expression said it all.
“Y-you tricked her!?” Ariadne roared. Her eyes flared with a vindictive fury. “How could you!? She – !”
Before she could say another word, Beatriz gasped as Arkamedon fired a pressurized shot straight through her left breast. Ariadne gasped and hacked out blood as it splattered on her feet, falling down to the ground. Arkamedon strode towards her and stood above her with a smile.
“I did tell you that I wanted to be the king,” Arkamedon had a sly smile.
Ariadne hissed and coughed out more blood. “You won’t get away with this.”
“Oh, you poor thing.” He bent down and cupped her chin with a dark smile. “I already have.”
He stood up and circled around her, standing behind the lady of Arachnos. Ariadne barely had any time to react only for Arkamedon to grab her by the hair and slit her throat in one go. Her voice choked and croaked as she lay in a crumpled heap on the ground, with her own blood pooling around her. Arkamedon let out a sorrowful chuckle before looking back at Beatriz.
“I’m so sorry you had to see that,” he shook his head. “But I thought you’d be used to it by now.”
The lady-in-waiting lay frozen on the ground, not sure on what to do. She struggled to move her limbs only for both to die out on her. She gnashed her teeth in annoyance, feeling her limbs go limp on her. She dropped her forehead against ground, breathing heavily.
“Now as for you,” Arkamedon chuckled. “I’ll deal with you after,” he turned to Ariadne’s bleeding corpse.”After I take all that remains of Azaleth’s power.”
Beatriz growled inwardly to herself. How could she let this happen? She could barely feel her body moving but she could feel all her wounds sealing up. The lady-in-waiting lay motionless on the ground while trying to regain majority of her powers back. Her left shoulder was still maimed and mangled from the boulder. But her legs were starting to get their senses back. Her blood boiled inside her as she spotted her scythe lying on the ground a few inches away from her. She saw Arkamedon’s back turned against her as he began sucking out all the Doom Mana and the remains of Azaleth’s magic from Ariadne.
That’s definitely going to take awhile, Beatriz scowled. She then turned to see her scythe, desperately trying to reach out for it. “I have to kick this guy to the curb otherwise, we’re going to have a big problem on our hands!”
Samantha stood at the edge of the cliff with Brandon and Luke, looking at the mangled and mutilated body of Sandor. How could something that big be created? She shook her head; that was a powerful transmutation spell. To change something or someone into something different involved the Law of Equivalent Exchange. It was the same reason why she never liked doing crafting spells or transmutation spells. A lot of them had mechanics that she could barely understand.
“What kind of spell could have made something this big?” Brandon shook his head. “The last time I saw something this big, it was a mommy kraken trying to shoot me for supposedly kidnapping one of her babies.”
Luke shrugged. “Even then, her babies are already considered big.”
The princess shook her head. “It’s a transmutation spell.”
The two pirates raised an eyebrow at her. “A what?”
“A transmutation spell involves changing something or someone into something else,” Samantha explained. “Every element in the world has different kinds of spells – conjuration, summoning, enchantment, transmutation, manipulation, strengthening, and reduction.”
Brandon asked. “And you use...?”
“I use conjuration most of the time. Conjuration has lower requirements in comparison to Transmutation. A good example of the others – let’s say manipulation – is Luke’s ability to control plants.”
“Makes sense. He doesn’t magically just shoot plants out of nowhere.”
“But what about Sandor?” Luke down below beyond the cliff. “What happened to him?”
“His was a transmutation, I think. I’m honestly not quite sure,” Samantha squatted down at the edge to take a closer look. “It could also be strengthening but the problem with Dark Magic is that it has its own pantheon and mechanics for its magic. Bea would have probably explained it better.”
Brandon shrugged. “Probably. But even she had a hard time with that thing.”
“That thing happened to be Sandor,” Luke pointed out.
“Keyword is happened. It’s in the past tense. The moment he lost all sense and started swinging those eight legs of his, Sandor died.”
“Still, it was made from him!”
“It was made from him and transformed into something else. That isn’t Sandor anymore.”
“But it wasn’t his fault that he turned into that thing!”
“Luke, whether we like it or not – that spider-giant decided we were on its blacklist on who was going to die today! We can’t just sit there and try to talk him out of it.”
While the two pirates were arguing, Samantha took a good look around at the area. She could still smell the putrid stench of the dark magic and Doom Mana swirling in the cave. She snorted it out; dark magic always left a bad taste in her mouth. The princess strode away from the edge of the cliff until she suddenly felt a surge of mana hit her. Her eyes widened when she cast her eyes towards the ruined citadel where she felt all the mana burning.
“I... I think I found Bea!” Samantha exclaimed with her eyes beaming.
Brandon and Luke glanced back. “Where?”
Samantha pointed to the citadel. “There! It’s where all the mana’s coming from!”
Brandon nodded. “Looks like we at least have an idea where to head towards.” He then turned to Luke. “You wanted to tell me something awhile ago?”
Luke chuckled dryly. “I’m surprised you even remember.”
“I always do.”
“So says the one who sometimes doesn’t remember where his gunblades are.”
“I do too!”
“Again, so says the one who can space out after a good three minutes.”
“Damn it, Luke.” Brandon ran his fingers through his hair, shaking his head. “You snarky bastard.”
“I’ve only learned from the best.”
“Yeah, not sure whether or not to be complimented or not.”
“Anyway, what I was trying to tell you was the history of Azaleth. The people of Arachnos were descendants of the empire of Azaleth.”
Samantha gawked. “Really?”
Luke nodded. “400 years ago, the Mad Queen Julia Odissea had begun conquering other lands and Azaleth happened to be one of the neutral states left still standing. She then decided to conquer it in hopes of obtaining the Azalethian magic – which was an ancient magic that existed far before her.”
“But,” Samantha shook her head. “She couldn’t have used it! Azalethian magic only responds only to those of Azalethian blood!”
“Based on historical recounting, yes. But, she didn’t seem to care. She just stormed the empire with an army of ten thousand strong, slaughtering all who crossed her path.”
Samantha and Brandon exchanged glances. That explained why the empire was so desolate!
“During the war, all wizards and witches were called to the front line. Particularly, those who were capable of summoning.”
“Summoning? Summoning what?” Brandon raised an eyebrow.
Luke shook his head. “Creatures beyond human understanding. The books I read told stories of people summoning even the King of Dragons himself or the Queen of the Stars. But many of these people were known as High Summoners and many of them had to pay a ridiculous price to summon them.”
Samantha gasped; summoning was the oldest form of magic! “I thought summoning died out a thousand years ago!”
“Based on the history I found in the Arachnos library and Arkamedon’s room, it was still alive the last four hundred years ago. Anyway, the Azalethians found themselves on the losing end. Their king had been slaughtered and the forces were already invading the city. So, the queen was advised to use a powerful spell that would unleash a devastating power to destroy all those under the Odissea banner.”
Brandon looked around and scoffed. “I see it worked.”
“Yes but what she didn’t know was that it was an ancient dark spell,” Luke pointed out. “In doing so, there were repercussions to her using the spell.”
Samantha shook her head. “Like?”
“The remaining people of Azaleth were then condemned to losing half of their humanity and living as spider-people. The caster herself, the queen, suffered the worst blow along with her children. All twenty four of her children suffered the full-blow of the repercussions of her spell.”
“Wait, did you just say twenty four?!”
“Yes, princess. She had that many children.”
Brandon whistled. “Someone’s been busy.”
“What? I just said that she was busy. I didn’t say she was busy screwing.”
Luke shook his head. “Anyway, the spell then ate away their humanity until they were left with nothing but half of their human body and a spider’s body. The spider form was because the spell once belonged to an ancient sorceress named Arachne. All her spells were spider based.”
“That at least explains their obsession with it,” Samantha shuddered. She shook her head as a chill travelled down her spine. “I hate spiders.”
Brandon chuckled. “I clearly saw that. All you did was scream burn them all while firing everything at anything.” He scowled. “Including me.”
Samantha chuckled sheepishly. “Sorry, I just wanted the spider to go away.”
Luke nodded. “With their civilization then deteriorating, they then covered the remains of Azaleth along with burying their history of magic so that nobody on Zemlya would ever abuse it again.”
“Makes sense,” Brandon shook his head. “If Azalethian magic can make something as whiny as Sandor into a colossus on steroids then, we definitely better keep that stuff buried.”
“But that’s the thing. What made Sandor wasn’t Azalethian magic – it was Doom Magic. It’s a kind of magic that originated from the original dark magic known as The Abyss.”
“So, where did the Doom Magic come from?”
“Its remnants came from the spell used to obliterate both the Odissea army and the Azalethian people. It drew on the life-forces of the Azalethians to empower the spell even further. Back then, there was only one wielder of Doom Magic. In fact, he was even what some people called the Origin of Doom Magic.”
Samantha and Brandon exchanged glances. “He?”
Luke nodded. “Yeah and –”
Before he could continue, something suddenly came up from behind Luke with a rusty knife on his throat.
“Luke!” Samantha screamed. She bolted towards him.
“Don’t move!” A voice behind Luke threatened. “Or I’ll slit this little boy’s throat clean!”
Brandon put his arm in front of a frantic Samantha, narrowing his eyes. “Who are you?”
Samantha swallowed nervously as the figure revealed himself to be a hunchback. She winced at the glowing sac that had been pulsing and throbbing on his back. His skin, greying over the years, had been reduced to nothing but wrinkles and dead flesh. His right eye bulged out of its socket while his left eye was covered with another glowing sac. His withered and bony fingers tightly gripped the stone blade that he held against Luke’s throat. She shuddered at his menacing glare as he dragged Luke back.
“You! You have killed my prince!” He howled.
Luke shrugged at Brandon. “Told ya.”
“He was going to turn us into a pancake!” Brandon snapped back. “What? Am I supposed to just stand there and get smacked around!?”
“He was my prince! And the lady’s brother!”
Samantha blinked. “The lady?”
The hunchback growled with his nostrils and eyes flaring. “The true lady of Azaleth, the Witch Queen!”
Samantha, Brandon, and Luke exchanged glances. "She's still alive?!"
“Of course, she’s still alive,” he snarled. He yanked Luke back, causing the dryad to stagger back a little. “And if you don’t come quietly, I will have you killed!”
Brandon glared and drew out his gunblades. “Have me killed? Pshe,” he scoffed. “I’d say bring it, but not sure if you can.”
The hunchback growled as Samantha stood between him and Brandon. “We actually want to meet her,” she said. “Can you please take us to her?”
Behind her, Samantha heard Brandon hiss. “What the hell are you talking about? We – !”
“We could find a way to free the city and find Bea,” Samantha whispered back. “If he has us go there to her, she may give us answers.”
Brandon growled and sheathed his blades. “Tch, fine.”
The hunchback narrowed his eyes as Samantha stepped forward carefully, watching his hand near Luke’s throat. “Now, there’s no need to slit Luke’s throat. He didn’t do anything wrong.”
“He should join the rest of his race!” The hunchback shrieked. “Dead and buried as compost!”
Luke frowned. “Um, we don’t turn into compost...”
“Silence, you useless weed!”
“I’m just saying that I don’t turn into crap.”
“Your words mean nothing to me, you slave!”
At his words, Luke’s eyes flashed. “I am no slave. And I’m not a bargaining chip either!”
Brandon’s and Samantha’s eyes widened at everything that happened in all one smooth motion. Luke grabbed the hunchback’s arm that held the knife before wrestling it away from his attacker. He then wriggled himself out and peeled off the fingers that held the knife. In one smooth motion, the hunchback found himself now at Luke’s mercy as the dryad spun and stood behind him with the knife held above his head.
“Slitting throats is too much like Jack the Ripper,” Luke said. “You might as well just jam the knife into their brain to get it done and over with.”
The hunchback, terrified, began begging. “Mercy! Mercy!”
“You didn’t show any mercy when the kind princess tried to bargain for a parley.”
“Please! I was trying to protect my princess – !”
“For all you know, your princess would want you dead. So do us a favour and make yourself useful.”
The hunchback gasped as Luke kicked him at the base of his back. Samantha winced at the sickening crack as the former attacker now cried out in pain, gripping his hip. The princess shook her head. When did Luke become so brutal? She could see his mismatched gold and rose pink eyes glowing in the midst of the darkness as he cast the knife aside.
Brandon whistled. “Damn, when did you learn how to do that?”
Luke shrugged. “You tend to learn a lot of things while waiting for someone to rescue you after getting kidnapped.”
“Is that how – ?”
“ – Yeap, that’s how I escaped the last time.”
“Did you kill them?”
“Nope, just knocked them out and jumped into the sea before strapping my feet to the back of two sea turtles.”
Brandon shook his head. “You’re one hell of a pirate, mate.”
“I learned from the best,” Luke shrugged with a humble smile. “If you didn’t teach me how to fight back then, I’d probably be rolling around in ropes like most would do.”
Samantha shook her head. She had always thought Luke would be the sweet one! It was only now that she had seen a more pragmatic side to him. She saw how Brandon and Luke began laughing a few minutes after they had begun their heated debate. It was something she never did see herself having with Beatriz. Beatriz would snarl back, true. But Beatriz never did show any signs of affirmation or affection.
She snapped out of her daze when she heard the servant writhing on the ground. Samantha walked over and crouched down, extending her hand. “Now will you take us to her?”
The servant glanced at Brandon and Luke who both had their cold and dark stares locked onto his shuddering form. Trembling, he nodded. “V-very well.”
Samantha nodded with a smile. “Good! Please do. We’re kind of in a rush.”
The servant, still trembling from Luke’s kick, whimpered as he scampered away from the dryad. “Please, follow me.”
Samantha nodded as she gestured to her knights to follow. The three of them soon began making their way into the darkness and through the alleyways of the dead city of Azaleth.
The princess couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Four hundred years worth of magic and history had been buried away after a great war and destruction. She gasped in amazement when she looked up at the columns that held the arches in the city. The ancient artistry of the city – it amazed her to no end! She brushed her hand against the stone pillars and walls, feeling the depth of each carving. Her eyes widened when she passed a large temple.
“What temple is that?” she pointed to the large structure.
It had no roof but had walls. Carved on the walls were the pictures of men and women interacting with one another. Some had their bodies pressed against one another. Other carvings had two women becoming more intimate with one another.
“That is the temple of Kama,” the hunchback explained. “The goddess of love.”
Luke nodded. “The City of Azaleth was composed majority of Pagans. But they didn’t believe in god of the elements. They believed in the gods of virtues.”
The hunchback nodded. “Kama was a beautiful goddess who adored all forms of love. Familial, pious, romantic, passionate – gender did not matter to her. She was what the people called the Sacred Feminine for she was what made Sutra, whole.”
“Sutra?” Samantha asked.
“The Sacred Masculine.”
Brandon shrugged. “Looks like a place to screw each other to me.”
Samantha and Luke gawked at Brandon. “What!?”
“He is indeed right.” The hunchback explained. “When a man and a woman, or a woman and another woman or a man and another man would wish to profess their love, they do it there.”
Luke shuddered. “In the public?!”
“Showing love should not be shamed. It is because of people’s greed and ambition that many of these virtues such as love and honour have been forgotten.”
Samantha nodded as she saw another statue standing before her. “And who is this?”
The hunchback smiled. “The triplet goddesses of that is Sa, Be, and Ka. Most people referred to them as Sabeka for convenience. But they are the goddesses of balance. Sa represents Magic, Be represents Strength, and Ka represents Spirit.”
Luke nodded. “The former coat of arms of Azaleth – magic, strength, and spirit.”
“Indeed. We were a people who believed that it is within oneself that we can help change the world for a better place.”
The princess couldn’t believe that all this history had been buried away. Soon, they found themselves going down deeper into a cave. Her eyes widened when all she saw was nothing but the top of the stairs as the hunchback stopped her.
“Please wait,” the hunchback warned. “I shall step in first.”
The moment he stepped in, the sac on his back began to glow brighter, illuminating the steps in front of them. Samantha gasped in amazement as they soon followed the hunchback down, making their way down the stairs. The darkness began to fade away as she summoned also a small purple pilot light, letting it guide them through the darkness.
“You... you are a sorceress?” The hunchback asked as he noticed the purple light.
Samantha nodded. “Yes, I learned magic when I was small.”
The hunchback chuckled. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Aeonlight.”
“It was named as such for only Aeons were the ones who could create such a beautiful fire.”
Samantha nodded slowly with a shrug. “I just thought it was a torch.”
“Ah but even a simple torch can tell much of a person. Even the simplest of magic can tell people who you are.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
As they reached the end of the staircase, the hunchback gestured them to a glowing cavern. “Please, follow after me.”
Samantha, Luke, and Brandon nodded as they followed after the hobbling hunchback inside the cavern. The moment Samantha stepped in, she nearly screamed only to have Brandon slap his hand over her mouth.
“Whatever you do, don’t shriek,” Brandon whispered sharply. He then saw ooze slowly drip before his eyes. Samantha could feel him breathing deep and shuddering. “We are not to say anything.”
Surrounding them was a shrine full of cobwebs and egg sacs. Some of the egg sacs were suspended on the walls with their fluids dripping off their gelatinous bodies. The egg sacs were covered with some veins and arteries, causing them to pulse and spew more ooze onto the ground. The princess’s blood curdled inside her as all her senses went dead. She could see the world swirling but shook it off when she heard something crack. Samantha gasped in surprise as one of the egg sacs opened, revealing many spiders suddenly crawling out of them. She whimpered and clung onto Brandon, digging her nails into his arms through his coat.
“Ow!” Brandon hissed. “Sam!”
They then turned to the hunchback who bowed in reverence. “Milady of Azaleth, I have returned.”
It was then that Samantha confirmed Luke’s story. If the lady in front of them was truly the princess of Azaleth then, she really did suffer the worst of the repercussions. Her lower torso was a spider-like abdominal. But it was unlike any spider-like appearance. It appeared to be mangled and abused with their legs buried into the cavern walls. Despite her spider lower half, the woman herself was beautiful. Pale skin like snow from the lack of sun with diamond white hair cascading past her slim shoulders, the lady had retained her beauty despite the catastrophe her empire suffered. The only flaw that she seemed to have was the grotesque corroded flesh ripped across her eyes that rendered her blind.
“S-Sister?” She whispered.