At the sight of him, Samantha gasped in surprise. “Daniel!” She beamed. “You’re here!”
Daniel chuckled and slid off the rock, bowing. “In the flesh.”
Samantha couldn’t believe it. The last time she had seen him was when he was at her birthday and he took off in some sort of metal bird creature. He looked a whole lot different now. Instead of his usual gelled back hair style, his hair was a more natural spiky although it looked increasingly dishevelled. He no longer donned a suit but instead had a khaki brown poncho over a moss green t-shirt with dark blue jeans. He had two black leather belts that served as his holsters where she saw two other objects which appeared to be weapons sticking out. He also had a belt bag strapped to his waist with his black leather boots also holding what appeared to be knives.
“Wow,” Samantha shook her head. “You look like you’re prepared for anything!”
Daniel shrugged. “Well, I have to be if I want to survive out here. But more importantly, I was looking for you.”
Samantha blinked in surprise, pointing to herself. “Me? Why are you looking for me?”
“Which news do you want to hear first – the good news or the bad news?”
“Okay, let’s start with the good news then.”
Nodding, Daniel exhaled sharply and smiled. “The good news is – I’m offering my services to you as one of your knights.”
Samantha’s eyes widened in astonishment and she could have sworn her jaw dropped. Did he just offer his services like that? But it didn’t make sense! Most people would ask for something in return and there he was, offering himself to her. The princess didn’t know what to make of the news. The fact she was just thinking about him a few days ago and that he decided to show up and offer his services was a coincidence! A coincidence welcomed by her.
But the moment he said that, Beatriz stormed at him in an uproar. “What!? You can’t just randomly march in and say you can be a knight!”
Brandon shrugged. “To be honest, I don’t even know who the hell you are.”
Daniel chuckled and extended his hand. “So sorry about that. My name’s Daniel Iscariot. I met them in her birthday party two weeks ago.”
The pirate nodded slowly, taking Daniel’s hand and shaking it. “Yeah, pleasure to meet you too. The name’s Brandon Hawthorne.”
The lady-in-waiting spat venomously at him. “Ugh, what the fuck do you want!? Do you even know how to be a knight?”
Brandon turned to the petite girl, shaking his head. “Why? Do you?”
“I probably know it more way better than him!”
“That doesn’t mean that he can’t learn.”
Seeing the mixed reactions of the entire party, Daniel had expected his announcement to make a bit of ruckus. But he didn’t expect that kind of ruckus. A chill however still ran up his spine at the sight of Beatriz. He had felt her power when she had gone berserk. The winds chilled and all his hairs stood on their ends with Goosebumps covering every inch of his body. His blood boiled and chilled itself at the same time. There was only one emotion that could do that to him.
Unfortunately, that emotion was something known as fear.
In his book, it was normal to fear someone like Beatriz. Someone who slaughtered thousands and thousands of people in the name of madness was someone worth fearing. While most killers did it with a motive, Beatriz was different. Her eyes had said it all. She didn’t have any motive. She just killed because it suited her.
And that, was more terrifying to have running around than to have someone who actually had a motive.
“I know it’s kind of hard to take in but we don’t have much time right now,” Daniel explained. “The bad news is - Militaris sent someone to kill you.”
Samantha’s eyes widened. “M-Militaris!? What would they want!?”
“I don’t know. But whatever it is, it merited enough for them to send their most deadly agent after you.”
“W-wait, they sent who now!?”
Daniel shook his head. “In Militaris, there is a soldier who is sent on assassinations and to clean up any dirty work that Militaris’ government left behind. His name is not in the books. Only few are privy to his information and to knowing his existence. The man’s a monster. He’s never failed a kill mission.”
Beatriz scoffed. “Well,” she mounted her scythe on her shoulder. “There’s always a first time for everything.”
The agent shook his head. “It’s not that simple, Beatriz. This guy was trained specifically to kill magic-users.”
Despite the news, the lady-in-waiting remained unfazed and shrugged. “So what? Things like that have tried to kill me for 400 years and failed.”
“Trust me, you’d rather not cross this guy.”
“And so what if we do? We just chop him up to pieces like we do all the time!”
All of a sudden, Daniel heard a sharp whistle from behind a blanket of fog when he saw a small glowing red light screaming through the plains. His eyes widened and his blood ran cold; they followed him all the way to her! They used him as a tracker!
“Get down!” Daniel shoved Samantha to the ground.
Brandon and Beatriz leapt away as a laser shot right past them and straight into a boulder. Daniel groaned from the impact, keeping his hands planted firmly on the floor. The moment he looked up, he saw a bright, glowing red-orange hole at the middle of the rock. A hard lump formed in his throat as the agent forced it down when he saw Militaris’ deadliest soldier stand before them.
“Dreadnought,” Daniel muttered. “Crap, I never knew they would send this guy.”
Dreadnought stood before them with big muscular build and a thick moustache. His beard grew small stubbles on his wide jaw-line all the way up to the sideburns leading up to his bald head. Unlike any soldier he had seen before, the man wore no camouflage uniform but instead wore a thin black suit made of latex, shaping every muscle on the man’s body. Strapped to his waist was a black metal fauld and his arms were protected by black metal armguards. His boots however had metal shin guards but the boots itself were made of leather.
“Damn,” Beatriz groaned as she pushed herself off the floor. The moment she stood up and turned around, she gawked and pointed at his armour. “That guy’s got the same stuff my armour’s made of!”
Daniel gawked. “Really? That’s what you’re concerned about!?”
Dreadnought growled before putting his two fingers in his mouth, letting out a sharp, ear-piercing whistle. Suddenly, there was a light glowing in between the man’s fingers. As the whistling sound screeched louder and louder, Daniel realized where the laser was coming from.
“Move!” Daniel hollered.
The laser shot out and went straight for Samantha until Beatriz swung her scythe down. Much to their surprise, the laser didn’t burn a hole through the scythe and instead, was sent straight through the night skies. Daniel’s eyes widened at the sight when he saw Beatriz standing in front of them with her scythe glowing a dark blue colour with her armour slowly materializing around her. A chilling wind rushed around him and froze his hairs to stand on their ends. Her spiked greaves glimmered despite the dying embers and her armour shimmered with the dark mana rushing through every crevice in her armour. The sheer force of her mana whipped a wind around her and carved dark glyphs into the ground.
“So you think you can take me out, huh?” Beatriz sneered. She brandished her scythe and leapt forward, growling. “Fine! Come and get some!”
Daniel gawked; how could she know no fear!? Her recklessness would get her killed! He winced at the blows exploding from her scythe and Dreadnought’s punches as they clashed. He could feel Samantha’s body trembling beneath him from the impact. He then pulled out his two handguns, both .45 Glocks, pointing it straight at Dreadnought. He winced as the ominous winds nearly knocked his pistol out of his hands as he tried to take a shot. The dark mana chilled him to the bone; his hands trembled as it desperately tried to keep his pistols steady.
Shit, I can’t get a good shot! Daniel scowled and narrowed his eyes into a squint.
“If you need a good shot, you’re gonna need someone who can fight with strategy.” He heard the pirate explain.
Daniel turned to Brandon. “I just need five seconds.”
Brandon nodded and drew his gunblades, smirking. “Leave it to me.”
It was then Daniel saw that both Beatriz and Brandon lived true to the rumours. The sheer, brutal, bestial way of Beatriz’s style of fighting complimented Brandon’s more skill-based style. Beatriz swung her scythe and cleaved a boulder in half as Dreadnought fired another laser at her. As the laser screamed, Brandon quickly placed his gunblades in front of her before deflecting it away. Dreadnought lunged towards Brandon and prepared to grab his head. The pirate rolled out of the way as Beatriz grabbed Dreadnought’s arm, crushing it. Daniel could see that Militaris’ Deadliest soldier was breaking a sweat against a little girl who was barely half his size. But Beatriz was no ordinary little girl either; her monstrous strength was from the souls she had devoured over the years. Just how many people had she killed? The mere thought sent shivers running through his body.
“What the fuck,” Daniel shook his head. “She can fight him head on with pure brute force!?”
Much to everybody’s surprise, Beatriz showed no strain but instead gleefully cackled. The lady-in-waiting’s howling, maniacal cackling echoed in the air as she pushed Dreadnought back. Daniel’s eyes widened in admonishment; it was clear that Dreadnought was struggling. He could see Dreadnought’s veins bulging on his arms. Sweat poured down Dreadnought’s temples as veins seemed to bulge from beneath his skin. His neck began to strain and Dreadnought’s face had turned from crimson to purple.
“You may be Militaris’ Deadliest Soldier,” Beatriz spat with venom dripping from her words. Her eyes sparkled with arrogance. “But I am Sofiene’s Most Powerful Knight! And there’s no fucking way in Tartaros that you’re stronger than me!”
Dreadnought roared and flung Beatriz towards a boulder. He then put his two fingers to whistle out a laser, forcing the lady-in-waiting to roll away. The laser seared through the boulder as Dreadnought then turned to Samantha and Daniel. The agent’s eyes widened as Dreadnought stormed towards them. He immediately clambered up to his feet and fired a round. A bullet shot out of the black barrel and ripped through Dreadnought’s shoulder.
“Run!” Daniel ordered Samantha.
The princess quickly clambered up to her feet. “I’m not letting you guys fight this thing alone!”
“Princess, trust me! You don’t want to cross this guy!”
“But I can’t let you fight him alone!”
Daniel sighed; when did the princess get so eager to fight? He saw the determination flashing in her eyes and her pink lips curl up with a certain ferocity that he couldn’t help but find rather endearing. He let out a helpless chuckle before he pulled out one of his pistols and handed it to her.
“Ever shoot a pistol before?” Daniel asked.
Samantha blinked several times as she stared at the pistol. “What’s a pistol?”
“You know, something that goes pew-pew?”
Daniel resisted the urge to slap his forehead; how could she have never seen a gun before? She’s a princess, you dumbass, his mind corrected him. Oh right, Daniel groaned inwardly. Samantha came from a family of magic wielders! Using weapons had been completely beyond them. The agent sighed before standing behind her, helping her point the gun at Dreadnought.
“W-wait!” Samantha gasped. “Wh-what are you doing!?”
Daniel frowned. “If you’re really so desperate to fight then, the best way to learn how is through experience. That’s how all of us learned.”
“How do you think Brandon and Beatriz managed to survive all this time?”
“And how do you think they learned?”
Daniel sighed and shook his head. “Princess, when it comes to fighting, nobody learns from book.”
“Really? Don’t they have instructors?”
“Some do, some don’t. But the best learn from experience.”
Samantha swallowed nervously and stared at him. “So, what do I do?”
Daniel stood behind her and held her arms, keeping it steady. He could feel the trembling of her whole body in his grasp. Sweat poured down from the back of her neck and onto her soiled clothes. He could smell the fear off her; she had never fought head on before – let alone, fired a gun. Daniel knew that same kind of fear that once seized him.
“Take a deep breath, relax,” Daniel coached her. He planted his hand at the butt of the gun. “I need you to keep your hands steady and stay focused.”
Samantha shook her head vehemently. “W-wait, what if I hit Bea!? What if I hit Brandon!?”
“How do you know that!?”
“Trust me, you won’t hit them. I’ll make sure you won’t miss.”
Despite his reassuring words, fear still flickered in the princess’s eyes. “O-okay…”
Daniel sighed deeply and helped Samantha hold the pistol, watching Dreadnought tango with both Beatriz and Brandon. His heartbeat slowed down and his breathing began to calm down. He heard Samantha’s breathing slow down as their breathing became synchronized. The pistol in the princess’s hands trembled and swirled around until he finally got the barrel to hold still.
“Fire!” Daniel ordered.
Samantha yelped and pulled the trigger. As he expected, the princess couldn’t take the recoil. Samantha, stumbling and staggering, yelped before crashing on him. Daniel fell back as well as the barrel pointed straight up into the air and sent the bullet screaming into the air, way off target. The agent scowled darkly and shook his head. What could he expect? She was a princess! And as far as he was concerned, gun slinging wasn’t a part of any princess training program.
“Okay, forget the gun,” Daniel shook his head.
Samantha began hyperventilating. “Oh my Deus, I could have killed somebody. I… I didn’t…!”
“Sam, you completely missed.”
Daniel shook his head; there had to be another way to do this. “It’s alright. Hey!”
Samantha snapped out of her daze. “Huh?”
“It’s alright. Nobody’s perfect. We all don’t get it right the first time.” Daniel reassured her, only to dodge another laser that nearly singed his hair. “But we’re definitely going to need a new battle plan.”
Daniel sighed; maybe he shouldn’t have told her about Militaris’ Deadliest Soldier showing up on her doorstep. He could see the fear flickering in her eyes and the terror that caused her hands to pale and tremble. Sweat poured down her face and her eyes widened. The agent knew he had to end this quickly or at least help them make a quick get-away. He searched the terrain only to hear the clashing of steel between Dreadnought and Samantha’s two knights. Is there really no way out for this? Daniel asked himself. He shook his head; there was always a solution to a problem and he wasn’t going to let some bloodthirsty soldier shut down that belief.
“Alright, this is what’s going to happen.” Daniel explained to the princess. “You are going to stay put.”
Samantha gawked. “But – !”
“– No but’s, I’m going to help Beatriz and Brandon deal with the soldier.”
“But, I don’t want to be useless!”
Daniel, with frustration building up inside him, grabbed the princess roughly by the shoulders and shook her. “Listen to me, right now - you charging in will get you killed and that’s what Militaris’ wants. They will not care if your body has been violated and raped before having Dreadnought crush your skull under his foot.”
He could see something glimmering in Samantha’s eyes. It was a light he once saw in his own eyes. It was confusion but at the same time, a sort of understanding.
“Now, this is what I need you to do: you’re a sorceress, right?” Daniel asked.
Samantha nodded weakly. “A sorceress in training…”
“Doesn’t matter. What matters is, you have some knowledge in magic. And at this point, that will do.”
“Wh-what do you need me to do?”
Daniel glanced back at the fight between Dreadnought, Brandon, and Beatriz. He could see large wounds and gashes on Dreadnought while Beatriz and Brandon attacked in tandem. They at least managed to work out a strategy, Daniel thought. Beatriz’s small size gave her an advantage; she could slip past the laser beams and deal heavy amounts of damage. Brandon on the other hand had relied on his mobility and lack of strength to get the upper hand. He could have sworn that there was a soft humming from Brandon’s blades but every time he heard it, he saw nothing other than a deep gash appear on Dreadnought’s arm.
“Alright, we’ll pin our hopes on escaping. We can’t fight this guy head on,” Daniel explained. “I’m gonna need a wide smoke-screen. Something that has a lot of dust and dirt. Meanwhile, I’m going to get both Brandon and Beatriz out of the fight so we can actually make our way to Chemia.”
Samantha frowned. “Won’t he follow us to Chemia?”
“I’m praying he doesn’t. Dreadnought doesn’t have much of a self.”
“In simple terms, all traces of his identity are pretty much smashed. The only thing he really does know is how to kill magic users.”
Samantha shook her head. “But that’s impossible!”
Daniel nodded. “You’d be surprised on how cruel the world can be.”
After all, he knew that first hand.
Ever since he had been inducted into The Crusade, he had seen many things happen. He had made many choices that were morally – and humanely – questionable. But sometimes, things had to be done for the greater good, his conscience argued. Daniel shook his head; but what was the greater good? Everyone was at war with one another and people barely got things done because of the constant waging of war. The Crusade existed to prevent those wars.
“Unfortunately, we’re doing a shitty job.” Daniel groaned and unhooked his rifle from his body. He then began opening a black metal creature with three legs. He positioned his rifle and pressed his cheek against the gun to look through the scope.
Samantha gawked. “What is that?”
Daniel explained. “It’s a tripod. I need this if I’m gonna have a steady shot.”
“It looks interesting. Can I try?”
“I’d rather not. Sniping takes a great deal of concentration.”
“I can do that.”
“You couldn’t fire a pistol.”
“That was different! I can fire this!”
Daniel sighed in disbelief; how could the princess keep on insisting? She already had magic. Why resort to non-magic methods? He shook his head and pressed his chin against the assault-sniper rifle’s stock. Daniel took a deep breath and kept his hand steady, making sure he had the right target. With Brandon and Beatriz dancing around Dreadnought, he only had one shot and one misfire could kill Brandon. Beatriz wasn’t his main concern; he knew that not even a shot was going to kill her.
“Alright, like a thread through the eye of a needle,” Daniel exhaled sharply. He kept his focus. “Wait for your window of opportunity.”
Suddenly, Dreadnought stopped midway with Brandon and Beatriz both kicking the said man across the floor. Daniel smirked as he found his opportunity. Gotcha!
With one quick tug, he pulled the trigger of his assault rifle and sent the shot flying. The bullet shrieked through the wind before putting itself right into Dreadnought’s right temple. The soldier growled in pain before falling onto the ground with a loud thump. Brandon and Beatriz were both huffing and heaving in exhaustion. The two knights looked over Dreadnought’s unconscious body lying on the ground.
“Whoo! Right down Main Street,” Beatriz cackled with an evil grin. She then saw the gun that Daniel was holding. “The hell is that?”
“It’s called the weapon that solves all your problems. Well, more mine actually.”
Beatriz whistled at the sight of his assault-sniper rifle. “Damn, I’m not a gun person but even I know that’s good enough to fuck people over.”
Daniel nodded before turning to Samantha. “Ready with that smokescreen?”
The princess nodded before closing her eyes. Soon, a cold wind whirled around them as the mist began to settle in. Daniel gawked in amazement as the mist swirled around them before dropping itself over them like a white blanket. The mist slowly covered the ground and even the fallen body of Dreadnought as all the knights and the princess stuck together. Daniel exhaled sharply; at least with a blanket of fog, they could easily get away.
“Alright, now what?” Brandon raised an eyebrow.
Daniel nodded. “Now, we run.”
Beatriz gawked. “Run!?” She pointed to the silhouette of Dreadnought’s unconscious body. “You shot him in the head!”
“If you didn’t notice, the bullet didn’t even go through his temple.”
Suddenly, they felt the ground shift beneath them and a powerful wave of mana strike through them. Beatriz winced as Samantha and Brandon shuddered from the impact. Daniel’s blood ran cold; that bullet was an armour piercing bullet and it didn’t kill him!? Although he didn’t see the bullet break through the man’s skull, he was certain that the bullet’s impact would have at least knocked him out for three hours or at least killed him via concussion!
“Well, shit,” Brandon shook his head. “He’s got a head made of steel.”
Beatriz snickered. “Let’s hope that the other head is chrome plated too.”
“Bea, seriously? That’s all you can think about!?”
Daniel shook his head and grabbed Samantha by the wrist. “Never mind, we don’t have time to argue! Let’s make our way to Chemia Village before he gets up.”
Santino growled in frustration.
He knew that sitting around wasn’t his best attribute.
But it was the most logical thing to do.
Santino had preferred swinging the sword himself rather than sitting down and playing the political game. He sighed and leaned against his arm while plopping his butt lazily onto the throne, getting antsy in the Sofiene War Room. He couldn’t believe that his sister finally had the guts to go out and find her own knights. According to the intel that he received, she already had three knights: two pirates and her lady-in-waiting. He scoffed; the pirates were barely a threat to him. The one he feared most was her lady-in-waiting. She, between his sister and her, was the one he’d rather not get involved with. After all…
She was the one who listened to her conscience the least.
He remembered the times he had bullied his sister. How could he not? She once walked into his room. He hated people just barging it which was why he had begun locking the door to prevent people from making their way in. But it was also those times when he bullied her that the lady-in-waiting nearly fractured his wrist into shards. Even though she was the same size he was at that time, she didn’t have the looks of a child.
She had the eyes of a killer.
Santino growled in annoyance. Eliminating Samantha from the game was going to be harder than he thought. He wished that he could find someone who could easily blaze the trail in. Actually, he pondered for a moment. He only needed one person who could outsmart the Dark Knight. Someone who knew her fighting style in and out. He glanced towards the chessboard where he saw two chess pieces. He never really did like chess but it did serve as a finishing touch to designing his throne room.
On the marble chess board, there were two sides. One white, and one black. Both sides had one loss each; both pawns were taken out of the game. He mused for a moment, wondering why Matteo had insisted on such an arrangement. He took a look at it, spinning the white king piece.
“I find it amusing that you would arrange it this way, Matteo.” Santino chuckled. He spun the piece. “But damn, I wish you would tell me why you did!”
Suddenly, the doors swung open and revealed one of the generals coming in. The prince could tell he was one of the generals of Sofiene from the badge that he wore on his waist instead of the usual position of it being on his right arm. Santino chuckled and folded his legs, fixing his sitting position as the general made his way in. The man was tall and bulky with a gruff expression. His chin was covered with stubbles and his hair was a buzz cut. His body, despite being more leanly built, screamed an intimidating presence as he kept a stone expression. The general then walked towards Santino and saluted him. The prince smirked; now he could start his counterattack.
“So, what are we in for today, General Kuviron?”