It was rare that he managed to get some time off. Most of the time, The Crusade always found him something to do. While most of the work passed to him was mostly covert work, he never expected himself to have free time especially when he was used to being piled head to toe with missions. Daniel leaned against his motorcycle with a sigh, watching the sun set behind the mountains that separated the Machinos Empire and the Xychosia Empire.
“Feeling bored, sir?” His motorcycle flashed its life and hummed to life with a female computer voice.
Daniel chuckled. “I’m afraid so, Judith. I’ve been getting rather antsy.”
“It means I’m fidgeting to get something done but know that I can’t because I’m under strict orders not to move yet.”
“It’s quite rare for you to take orders.”
Daniel sighed. “Well, for this particular case – I have to. Otherwise, there’ll be hell to pay.”
The agent sighed deeply and shook his head. He couldn’t help but wonder about the time he had shown up during the princess’s birthday. So many things had happened that day. For one, he didn’t expect Militaris to send their best sniper and spy to the scene. AK was trained by the Commander himself, knowing nothing but accomplishing the mission. Another was the existence of the dark knight. He hadn’t expected her to be still running around and kicking let alone, be one of the direct descendants of the Mad Queen Julia herself.
“Sir, you seem a little distracted. Is something wrong?” Judith asked.
Daniel shook his head. “It’s about that time. I just never expected a dark knight to still exist and run around.”
“She seems to be loyal to the princess though.”
“Which is quite surprising, to be honest. From what I know, most members of the Odissea are self-serving.”
Judith beeped in agreement. “But sir, have you found any new developments?”
Daniel nodded and opened a notebook in hand, glancing through his notes. “Based on the Intel I’ve been getting, the princess has expanded her band of knights. She now has two pirates and a dark knight with her.”
“She recruited pirates? And a dark knight?”
“Apparently so but, her knights are no pushover. The two pirates were formerly owners of the War Hammer ship. The pirate she managed to parley with is a pirate named Brandon Hawthorne. He’s a wily kind of man whose swords are rumoured to dance with the song of the oceans hence his title – Brandon of the Dancing Blades. He had a first mate as well, a rumoured dryad, named Luke Henshel. And the last of the band is the dark knight herself, Beatriz Odissea.”
“It’s amazing how she’s still alive. How did she survive the La Purga?”
The agent shook his head. “To be honest, I don’t know. She could have gone into hiding or something.”
“True. But does Crusade know about her movements?”
“They already do.”
“And do they have plans?”
“They probably do,” Daniel shook his head. “But they’re not telling me. Again.”
As much as he enjoyed working for The Crusade, he wasn’t entirely happy about being kept in the dark. They may have provided him with all sorts of cool gadgets and gizmos to help him get around. But the objects did nothing to soothe his annoyance with The Crusade themselves. A frown marred on his features as he sighed; it was no use wondering about something that he had no idea about. He smoothed out the grass beneath him before flattening a pad for him to rest on. His dark eyes stared at the floating pink clouds until he felt something vibrate in his pocket. His hand shuffled through his pants pocket and pulled out a small device, playing a loud ringtone. On the screen of the gadget, the device had identified the person calling with the name Alpha. He sighed before answering the call.
“Good afternoon, Daniel.” A deep baritone voice greeted. “I’m glad you actually answered your cellphone this time.”
“My old phone had issues, Alpha, sir. This one’s a new replacement.”
“Ah, but same model?”
“It always had been until someone thought it was a good idea to let her dragon fry its circuits.”
Alpha was part of The Crusade’s council. He was also Daniel’s personal handler when it came to handing missions down to him. From what Daniel knew, Alpha was also head of the council in which several others were present. Each member of the council also handled their own agents and sent them out on missions. But when it came to decision making, they decided as a single unit. He had seen many agents come and go, some even end up dead. Others, they just disappeared.
The agent heard his superior chuckle with mirth on the phone. “I trust you’re enjoying your free time off.”
“To be honest sir, I don’t enjoy being idle.” Daniel shook his head. “It drives me insane, actually.”
“Ah well, I suppose you have been on edge lately. And I don’t blame you.”
“Why is that, sir?”
“Well, it’s because we now have a new problem.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Militaris opted to send him instead.”
Daniel’s blood froze. “W-wait, you mean –?”
“Apparently, they thought AK might have ‘too weak a heart’ to finish the job. And considering the sudden spike in power from the rumours of Samantha’s knights, they’re now planning to nip it in the bud as soon as they can.””
“You’re kidding me.”
“I wished I was, Daniel. But unfortunately, they wanted someone who was more one-track minded.”
Daniel’s hands clenched tightly into a fist until his knuckles paled. If they sent him then, he was sure that a lot of blood was going to be spilled. He remembered the last time he crossed paths with him. He had barely managed to force the man to escape. Fighting him was like fighting a human with no conscience, a demon if he were to accurately describe it. A sigh escaped his lips as he sat up, now pondering on what to do.
“There are two ways to go around it.” He heard Alpha explain to him. “There’s the head-on method and there’s also getting her to join our cause.”
Daniel frowned. “You know she wouldn’t. She already told me bluntly and clearly that she didn’t care if humanity ‘fucked itself to the high heavens’.”
“Ah, still the vulgar little brat isn’t she?”
“That ‘little brat’ happens to have a dragon that nearly fried my brains out the moment I kept asking. Her dragon didn’t even hesitate to turn me into an appetizer for the lunch menu.”
“Well, can you blame her dragon? It is one of the more vicious breeds.”
“Vicious is attacking indiscriminately. This one mauls and kills humans, more like misanthropic if you ask me.”
His superior sighed. “Well, you now have a new objective if this is the case.”
Daniel raised an eyebrow. “And what would that be, sir?”
“Head to Chemia and intercept Militaris’ agent. Kill him if necessary.”
“I’ll do what I can, sir.”
After that, the phone line went dead.
Daniel sighed and lay on the grass once more with his arm resting on his forehead. He could see the orange skies and the pink clouds float by. He didn’t expect Militaris to make a move that big in the game. Was it because Samantha had knights now to back her up?
“Perhaps it’s because Prince Santino has sided with them that they’ve suddenly grown so bold.” Judith suggested. “But why Militaris however? Sofiene has been long-time enemies with them.”
“That’s what I’m wondering as well,” Daniel frowned. He then sat up and sighed. “Looks like we know where we’re going.”
“The village of Alchemy itself – Chemia Village.”
“Yes and if Deus willing, we might run into the princess again as well.”
Samantha quietly sat by the rocks and in front of the campfire, watching the sun set behind the mountain horizon. A wave of fatigue hit her and she never realized how tired she was until relief hit her when she sat on the grass. Her arms and legs still weighed her down with their numbness, only feeling the prickly and tingling feeling in them. The princess, wincing at her numbed limbs, struggled to lift them only for them to flop back down like a rag doll. She shook her head; she hadn’t expected herself to burn so much mana at the first part of her journey. As is, she hadn’t expected herself to unlock so much magic. What she unlocked normally in 2 months, she did in a week after she had left Xychosia. A sense of achievement filled her but also butterflies settled in her stomach. Her knowledge came at a great price. And that price was Luke’s death.
She glanced at the two knights who had barely said a word since Luke’s death. Beatriz lazily rested her back against a big boulder while keeping her scythe stationed near her. The princess couldn’t believe what Beatriz had said. How could she just brush Luke’s death off like that!? After he had sacrificed himself to save them from turning into gold statues, Beatriz had just told her to stand up and ‘forget about it’. How could she forget someone who died for her? It was like forgetting all the soldiers who had rallied to her for one last stand, believing that she was Sofiene’s last hope.
Her eyes then turned to Brandon who began sharpening his sword using a smooth pebble he had found on the ground. The bonfire flickered and gave light to his lavender eyes, giving them a light purple shine to them. Despite his stolid expression, she could tell he was conflicted. The way he gripped the small pebble – it was so tight until his knuckles paled. He seemingly ignored the sparks created by the grinding and sharpening of his blade as it flicked his skin. His lavender eyes would flicker here and there before focusing back on the sword.
“I still can’t believe we managed to get this far,” Samantha murmured. She shook her head. “To be honest, I never expected myself to survive past Xychosia’s gates.”
Beatriz shrugged. “Who are you kidding, Sam? You have the pirate and I to keep you in one piece. Besides, you have your magic.”
“Yes but my magic was used only when I suffered severe physical or emotional stress. I can’t keep doing that.”
“It’s been working so I don’t see why you should stop.”
“It’s because of the fatigue, isn’t it?” Brandon suddenly said. He looked up from his sword and at Samantha. “You’re feeling the effects of it right now, aren’t you?”
Samantha winced a bit and hung her head in defeat, admitting. “Yea, unfortunately.”
“Your limbs probably feel like lead. It’s not helping that you were just spared from turning into a golden statue.”
Brandon nodded. “We should get some sleep. I don’t think anything’s going to attack us while there’s a fire going.”
Samantha shook her head and suddenly said. “You guys go ahead. I’ll keep watch.”
Brandon and Beatriz stared at her, incredulous. “What?”
Samantha didn’t know what prompted her to say such a thing. She knew she was almost downright defenceless as long as she couldn’t use her magic. But she could still feel the mana roiling and replenishing itself inside her. After sitting down for some time, she felt some of her sensations come back and her fingers began to tingle and twitch.
“I’m slowly getting some of my mana back and I can keep the fire up,” Samantha explained. She smiled and shook her head. “Besides, you guys have done enough.”
Beatriz scoffed. “Don’t pull that selfless bullshit on me, Sam. You’re the one who went out tearing caves and turning things inside out.”
“I can handle it, Bea!”
“Oh yeah, so says your appearance!”
Whether Samantha wanted to admit it or not, she knew that Beatriz was right. She appeared to be far worse for wear than she thought. Her favourite purple mantle had been reduced to the looks of a common dish rag. The silk had frayed and there were rips from getting snagged from all sorts of rocks and branches. She looked at her flats as well, noticing how the golden dye had been scuffed off. Her blouse had been ripped in all sorts of places and her rosy skin was covered with cavern dust. Her leggings ripped at the seams, revealing a cut on her knee. She didn’t even notice half the damage done to her own body. A sharp pain also shot through her foot when she remembered the time she had to leap over the ravine. She gasped in pain before slowly removing her golden slippers shakily. Much to her horror, her whole foot was covered with blood.
“Oh my Deus,” Samantha gasped.
Beatriz shook her head and stomped towards her. “See? You didn’t even know your foot was grated into Mozzarella!”
Samantha yelped as Beatriz stormed towards her and roughly grabbed her foot, nearly turning her upside down. “Wah!”
Brandon shook his head. “Bea, take it easy. You’re supposed to be mending her foot not rending it.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Beatriz waved her hand dismissively at Brandon. “Give me time. I never excelled in healing class.”
Beatriz dropped Samantha’s foot roughly onto the ground before sitting down and focusing on it. For a few moments, Samantha and Brandon watched Beatriz tried to knit the wounds back up. Sweat poured down the dark blonde girl’s face as her icy blue eyes focused on Samantha’s wounds. The princess and the pirate waited for something to happen before Beatriz growled in frustration and threw her hands up in the air.
“Ugh, fuck’s sake! Let’s just cut the damn thing off!” Beatriz snapped and called her scythe to her.
Samantha’s eyes widened as she pulled her foot away from Beatriz. “No! Leave my feet alone! I can’t grow limbs back like you can!”
“You’re gushing out more than Madame Flo on her worst day!”
“Am not! I just have a few – ”
“– Gashes and scratches, that are pretty much an inch deep because you’ve been running with stones inside your shoes!”
Brandon sighed and stood up, moving past Beatriz. “Here, let me do it.”
Samantha blinked and slowly put her foot on Brandon’s lap where he began to take a good look at it. She could see his eyes were examining every single fiber in her flesh. She could feel the warmth of his hands and the cottony touch of his palms caused by calluses from wielding his gunblade. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw his lavender eyes focus with such intensity on her wounds and felt his fingers lightly glided over the wounds. His touch alone soothed her fears of Beatriz’s mutilating her foot away. Brandon then exhaled deeply before grabbing his gunblade.
“W-wait! Are you serious!?” Samantha paled. “Don’t cut off my foot!”
“Will you relax!? I don’t dismember people like a certain idiot,” Brandon snapped. He then placed the gunblade on her foot and closed his eyes, controlling his breathing. “Do your stuff.”
Samantha’s eyes widened in amazement as the gunblade began to glow a bright light blue colour. All the blood seemed to be drained away from her wounds as the dirt on her flesh vanished. Her wounds slowly began to close as the gunblade seemingly took everything out - dirt, blood, and infections.
“The rest, you may have to do it yourself.” Brandon said. He wiped away the sweat from his forehead, gasping heavily. “I’m not too well-versed in magic either and I may have turned your leg into a toad.”
Samantha gasped in amazement. “That sword… it’s so amazing! I want one of those!”
The pirate chuckled and shook his head. “Sorry lass, no can do. There are only two pairs of this sword in this world and I have no bloody clue where the second one is.”
“Awww but, it’s so useful.”
“Lass, it can be useful if you start learning how to fight. You can’t use your instantaneous bursts of mana to save our asses all the time.”
At Brandon’s statement, Samantha fell silent and she knew he was right. Over the times they battled together, the only reason why she managed to survive was because of her magic. She recalled the time she had summoned a large gust of wind in both the arena and a large turbulent, howling wind in the cavern. She remembered the time that her little flame died out just because she had panicked at the sight of the spiders.
“Even then, your bursts of mana are charged up by your adrenaline.” Brandon explained. “With more adrenaline flowing through your body, you don’t really notice the pain or the damage you cause anymore. It’s either fight or flight when it comes to adrenaline.”
Samantha nodded slowly. If anything, Beatriz and Brandon had been serving as her shields. She remembered the time that she had to defend herself on her birthday. Watching Beatriz, Daniel, and Ser Ace fight it out against a furious, flesh-eating abomination had made her feel completely useless. She remembered how her fear instantly seized her and how Phylline instantly, without a second thought, commanded her knight to go slay the foul creature. How she longed for that kind of initiative! What got her moving more was the inspirational move by Queen Regina herself. Despite being a royal with her own knights to fight for her, the queen had taken it into her own hands to burn the creature to pieces. It was a sight to behold; a queen fighting in the front lines instead of cowering behind her men. That was the kind of queen she wanted to be. Samantha clenched her fists tight and turned to Brandon with a more determined look in her eyes.
“I want you to teach me.” Samantha suddenly said.
The pirate stared at her, puzzled. “Teach you what?”
“Teach me how to fight.”
“Uh, lass, you sure about that?”
The princess knew that she had to. If she was going to make herself more useful in battle or if ever she was to be separated from her knights, she knew she had to act. It was either act now or die later. And dying, was a luxury she could not afford to have.
“Yes.” She nodded. “I want to learn. I need to be able to defend myself should you guys get separated from me. These artefacts,” – showing them both the pendant of Sofiene and the signet ring of Azaleth. “These can only do so much. Besides, I at least won’t be dead weight.”
Brandon shook his head. “Is that what this is about?”
“Brandon, you know I’m dreadful at combat. Look at the spiders!”
“Yeah, let’s not forget your aim is bloody terrible. Even Luke shot a shotgun better than you.”
Samantha frowned and leaned closer to Brandon. “And that is why I have to learn how to fight! I can’t let you guys keep taking the hits for me all the time! It’s not right!”
Brandon bit his lower lip. “Why don’t you ask Bea?” Brandon hiked his thumb towards the lady-in-waiting’s figure lying on the ground. “She uses magic just like you do.”
“I’m a fucking terrible teacher and Sam would have gone wailing and screaming her head off with the way I teach people.” Beatriz grumbled with an annoyed snort. “I don’t have the patience.”
Brandon sighed and shook his head. “So, that leaves me now does it?”
Samantha begged with her best pleading look. “Please?”
The pirate remained silent for a few moments. After that, Brandon let put a sigh and gave in.
“Fine. I’ll teach you.” Brandon groaned. He pointed at her wounds. “But not with those wounds and your fatigue. Rest up. We’ll start tomorrow morning when we head to Chemia Village.”
Samantha blinked. “Chemia Village?”
“It’s one of the villages at the outer rim of the Machinos Empire. I’ll explain tomorrow morning.”
The princess decided to leave it at that. Her heart threatened to burst with joy. She couldn’t believe it; Brandon was going to teach her how to fight! Excitement and anticipation filled her every vein before she decided to pluck off her mantle off her shoulders. She folded it up and took one last look at her pendant and signet ring before finally lying down on the ground. Although she didn’t realize it, it only took her three minutes before she fell asleep.
Seeing Samantha fall asleep instantly, the pirate chuckled softly in amusement. He saw her curl up against her mantle and fall asleep near the fire. It is a cold night after all, Brandon thought to himself. He then shrugged off his coat before draping it over her body.
If he wanted to be honest to himself, he didn't want to train her. Why? It was because the way he taught was on the spot experience. The same way he was taught before. She needs a more formal instructor, he shook his head. He could probably teach her the basics and the rest she would have to learn on her own.
Brandon sighed and sat in front of the campfire, smirking at Beatriz’s back. “You’d rather not have her fight, wouldn’t you?”
Beatriz scoffed. “What the hell do you care? You’re teaching her anyway.”
“You’re much better suited considering you already have some knowledge on magic.”
“Fuck that, my knowledge in magic is purely destructive. I don’t do that pathetic healing crap.”
The pirate smirked. Despite the frostiness of Beatriz’s voice, he could detect small hints of concern in them. Whether the girl wanted to admit it or not, she did hold some reservations for Samantha learning how to fight. It wasn’t him that was problem; but it was the general idea of having Samantha throw herself into the middle of combat when she barely could keep her nerve.
“Well, I do admire the girl’s determination though. Not many princesses pursue martial arts.” Brandon shrugged before taking a bite out of wild boar jerky. “They usually say that fighting is such an ‘unlady-like’ pursuit.”
The lady-in-waiting grunted. “Yeah, and fortunately for me, I’m not like those girls.”
“I wasn’t talking about you.”
“I know. But the difference is – Samantha is one of those girls who would rather pursue those lady-like pursuits.”
“Are you actually saying that she should stick to her stereotype?”
“It’s my job to keep the princess in one piece.”
“It’s also mine.”
“Since when? You’re just a pirate who wants your ship back.”
Brandon remained silent for a moment, noticing Beatriz’s subtle barbs. “And last time I checked, you’re just a mass murderer with anger issues.”
Beatriz’s eyes flashed. “You know nothing about me,” she seethed.
Brandon chuckled. “I know something. That should count.”
“No it doesn’t.” The lady-in-waiting’s ice blue eyes began to glow. “Unlike you self-righteous morons, I take pride in being able to slaughter thousands of people with a single swing. All it takes is a little fear before I make their blood spray!”
“Touchy, touchy, if you’re so proud of it – why so riled?”
At the sound of Brandon’s words, Beatriz roared. “Fuck you!”
Without any warning, she lunged at him. Brandon could see her rage had blinded her for she had left her scythe behind and confronted him hand-to-hand. His eyes narrowed as he sidestepped and Beatriz crashed face first into the soil. Brandon quickly got up to his feet as Beatriz’s eyes gleamed with a satanic stare. His hair stood on ends from the cold winds that burst from her body and when she revealed her long, sharp jet black nails.
“Let’s see how you like it when I rip that tongue out of your mouth!” Beatriz shrieked.
Brandon wasn’t sure what to feel. Should he be terrified because Beatriz was lunging at him with her perfectly manicured black nails? Or, should he be amazed that Samantha had not budged a single inch even with the lady-in-waiting shrieking at the top of her lungs? But he knew one thing: in terms of unarmed combat, he had the advantage. Beatriz charged towards him with her eyes flaring and her teeth bared at him. Primal instincts, Brandon chuckled. This should be easy.
With one sidestep, Brandon let Beatriz slip past him and he stuck his leg out. The furious lady-in-waiting growled and completely ignored his outstretched leg before tumbling over and slamming her face into a rock. Brandon regained his composure while Beatriz gasped and panted loudly with her eyes flashing with rabid rage. She roared and lunged at him again to swipe his face only for him to catch both her arms. Beatriz’s ice blue eyes widened as Brandon’s grip tightened around her wrists.
“From what I understand, you need blood to trigger your magic.” Brandon restrained the hissing and struggling Beatriz. “Specifically, your blood.”
Beatriz hissed. “So what!?”
“As long as you don’t bleed, you’re pretty much as defenceless as a newborn baby.” Brandon smirked. “Am I right?”
Horror filled Beatriz. And the paled look on her face said it all; he had figured it out! However, that horrified expression soon contorted into a look of bloodlust and rage. She growled and revealed her ring, flipping it open to reveal a blade.
“I don’t need you to hurt me.” She growled. “I have my own ways!”
However, Brandon had already seen it coming. He quickly entangled his legs with Beatriz’s before she slipped and dragged him down with her. Brandon grunted as his knees slammed onto the ground, wincing in pain. He managed to fling her ring off her finger, throwing it amongst the grass. Beatriz’s eyes widened as she went for her next alternative. She quickly brought down her teeth onto her lip and tore through it. Brandon, seeing her blood, rolled back and quickly grabbed his gunblades as a burst of mana nearly knocked him back.
“How do you like me now, you cocky bastard?” Beatriz grinned, calling her scythe to her. “You can’t beat me! I’m stronger than you and I’ll carve that into every bone in your body!”
Brandon narrowed his eyes with a smirk, revealing his glowing gunblades. “I’d like to see you try.”
A rage-filled Beatriz lunged at him with her scythe swinging. Hearing its whirling, Brandon quickly slipped past them only to leave several after-images behind. He could see the admonished expression on the dark knight’s face. The pirate had expected her shocked expression. It was a move he kept hidden; a technique that only Luke had seen when he had become vindictive. When was the last time he used such a move? Brandon sighed to himself. Nostalgia hit him as he remembered the slave drivers who had kidnapped Luke. He remembered ignoring all the taunts that burned his ears. But what triggered him more was that one of the slave traders, specifically one he had broken the nose of for trying to steal his gunblades, dragging Luke’s battered and bruised body in the bloodstained soil.
It was hilarious! He was whining and crying, “Cap!” as I beat the living shit out of him!
And that marked the day of his very first and last time he had committed mass murder.
He remembered every bandit not even catching a glimpse of him drawing his sword, gasping in surprise as they were reduced into useless meat chunks. He remembered the vengeance and anger that roiled through his veins that day as he remembered even unlocking his swords’ special ability. The gunblades absorbed the blood on the ground and turned into a crimson red, becoming stronger at every strike. Bandits fell one by one as he didn’t even hesitate in slitting their throats, shredding them to pieces, cleaving them in half, and riddling their corpses with bullets.
“So this is the real you!” Beatriz sneered. She lunged at him with her scythe growling. “Come on, my scythe’s hungry!”
Brandon remained silent as he deflected her attacks. She pushed him back only for him to use his gunblades as a spring to help him somersault over the small girl’s shoulder. He skidded across the ground with dust flying towards the campfire. A wave of mana rushed towards him with the sheer force nearly throwing him off his feet. Brandon winced and struggled before pointing his gunblade at Beatriz. All he had to do is look for an opening and put a bullet in between her eyes. It’s not as if she can die anyway, Brandon rolled his eyes.
Before he could pull the trigger, another gunshot exploded in the air. Samantha, jolted awake, yelped at the sound of the thunderous explosion while Beatriz suddenly stopped dead in her track. She gasped in terror as her hand dropped her scythe on the ground. Brandon’s eyes widened when he saw Beatriz’s hands now have a big circle in the middle of her palms.
“I don’t think knights should be arguing amongst each other, to be honest.” A calm voice came from above them.
The moment Brandon looked up, there he saw a tanned, young man with dishevelled, short, spiky black hair. He had a pair of frameless spectacles mounted on his nose, a small moustache, and a light beard. He had a scrawny build but not as stick thin as his former First Mate. A rifle almost half of the bespectacled young man’s body leaned against his shoulder as the young man casually sat on top of a boulder.
He then saluted with a boyish grin. “It’s been awhile, princess.”