Book One: Knights' Festival

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The White Maiden

Bianca was bored.

She tousled her long chestnut blonde hair in her fingertips and elegantly sat at a log on top of a hill. A small smile curved up her pink lips. From afar, she saw the village of Chemia shining amidst the darkness. Her pale ears twitched at the faint sounds of the music and the laughter of children. She sat in amusement; the village of Chemia was always so full of life. They were always showing new inventions and new tricks in the village. It was like a never-ending magic show.

“It’d be a shame if those lights were snuffed out one by one.” Bianca mused and folded her legs together. An annoyed scowl marred her oval shaped face. “After all, their so-called “alchemy” is nothing more than a parlour of conjuring tricks.”

Her white cloak, draped on her shoulders, billowed behind her with her flowing, wavy chestnut blonde hair. Beneath her white cloak, there was a short white flared dress with long flared sleeves. She had long white leather boots that reached her knees which had silver metal plating on them. Her waist had a silvery white fauld, strapped around her waist like a belt. The fauld’s pleats bloomed from her waist, forming a floral silhouette at the young lady’s waist. Strapped to her waist as well was a thin white cutlass and a small gladiator shield, glowing white like the moonlight. On top of her head, she bore a golden hairpin with a glittering sapphire stone.

Bianca walked through the meadows on the hills. She heard the dried grass blades crunch under her high-heeled boots. But that didn’t matter to her. For the moment she heard the seventh crunch, Bianca stopped in her tracks. A small smile curved up her lips as her pale slender hand made its way to her cutlass.

“It seems that you have persisted,” Bianca laughed; her laughter melodious like a song. “I did not expect you to make it all the way here.”

Behind Bianca, there was a little boy. Worn and beaten, the boy was gasping and panting heavily. His arms and legs were covered in wounds and bruises. His hair was a dishevelled mess; it was matted with knots and dirt entangling his tresses together. His eyes flickered with nothing. The child-like innocence that was to be expected from children didn’t shine at all. Not even a dying ember.

“But why follow me? I have nothing for you,” Bianca gave the little boy a sad smile. “The village of Chemia is just down the hill though.”

The boy coughed and gasped, only to reveal blood trickling down his lips. Bianca, bewildered, stared in confusion at the boy as his skin began dry up and crack.

“Oh?” Bianca blinked. “You’re already dead?”

Suddenly, the little boy began to shudder. His eyes bulged and his jaw stretched wide. His body violently trembled with all his bodily fluids splattering against the green grass. His shirt tore and ripped as he arched his back with tentacles bursting from his back. The boy’s skin slowly turned black as metallic, iron-coloured rods suddenly sprouted from his back.

“Correction, you’re no longer human.” Bianca chuckled humourlessly. She then drew her cutlass and pointed it at the creature. “So, I shouldn’t have a conscience in killing you. Yes?”

The creature roared and bared its fangs at the white maiden.

Bianca smirked. What an ugly creature, she thought. A scowl marred her features as she looked at the demon that the boy had morphed into. His once innocent features now had become more grotesque. His jaw had stretched and dislocated itself to reveal two rows of teeth on both upper and lower. His skin was no longer supple and soft but instead scaly and dry, revealing iron black scales covering his face all the way to his body.

“Well then,” she pointed her toes forward with her cutlass. A proud smile adorned her lips. “Shall we dance?”

The demon then roared at her with its tentacles swinging. Even with the danger incoming, Bianca remained unfazed. Her cloak billowed as she leapt away with her cutlass singing softly with the winds. The grass blades swayed with her as she wrapped one of the tentacles around her cutlass before letting out a small burst of white magic. A white light consumed the tentacle as a smoke began to fill the air. The creature screamed and cried in agony as it backtracked, gasping at the sight of its seared tentacle.

A faint smile curved up Bianca’s lips as she dashed forward again and brought up her shield to defend herself from the incoming spikes. She saw its limbs extend with its fingers shooting blades straight at her. With a quick sidestep and a few waltzes, Bianca danced past the raining blades without taking in a single hit. The demon swung a claw only for her to leap over its attack and land inaudibly on the other side. Another claw shot out for her only for Bianca to spin around and kick it away from her. However, the young lady heard a small rip from behind her. She turned around only to see that her cloak now had been reduced to tatters and frayed scraps of cloth. A sigh bubbled from her throat as she turned to the creature.

“Looks like it’s clear that I won’t be getting out of this unscathed,” Bianca mused as she fingered her tattered cloak. She shook her head with an annoyed snort. “And to think this was my favourite cloak.”

The demon roared in her face as she turned to it with a dark glare in her eyes. The creature seemingly froze as the air around her began to burn. Bianca could see the grass blades beneath her feet dry up from the arid winds as a white flame began to surround her. A devious smirk curved up her lips as the flowers around her began to die. She looked up once again at the creature who stared at her with saliva dripping from the corners of its mouth.

“I… want… your… guts,” the demon smacked its lips and stared at her hungrily.

Bianca gave it a sultry smile with her eyes twinkling with mischief. “Unfortunately for you, I do not intend to become part of your menu.”

The demon’s hungry look immediately contorted into a look of rage before lunging at her again. Bianca smirked and sidestepped with its head and tentacles shooting past her. The white maiden lunged forward before suddenly phasing through the demon. The creature gasped at the sight of Bianca suddenly slipping right through it before suddenly appearing on the other side. It barely had time to turn around when Bianca flicked her wrist. Gashes and slashes suddenly covered its entire body when blood spurted from its shoulder all the way down to its waist. The demon howled in pain before Bianca leapt high into the air before weaving her cutlass around the creature’s neck. Its howls and cries came to an abrupt stop when Bianca had let her cutlass cleave through its windpipe and voice box. Bianca landed on the ground inaudibly with her cutlass covered with blood but not a single red spot on her armour.

“Shame, and I was hoping for a good warm-up before I meet up with the princess.” She pouted and sheathed her blade. “Well, I guess you had to do.”

Seeing that the demon offered no resistance, the white maiden shrugged and walked off. As she headed towards Chemia Village, the demon suddenly was covered with multiple slashes and gashes before bursting into multiple meat chunks with its blood painting the green grass red.

Beatriz sighed in relaxation with a white towel wrapped around her hair to keep it up. Her body immersed itself into the steaming hot bath, letting the steam relax her muscles. It was only then that the lady-in-waiting felt all the strain that had stocked itself in her body. Her arms and legs went limp and numb. She swooned away and closed her eyes; now, this was a bath she could enjoy.

“Whoever said that these hot baths are miraculous isn’t kidding.” Beatriz sighed in relief. “I can actually feel all my mana getting replenished.”

The lady-in-waiting couldn’t believe that she had expended that much mana. Well, she thought. She did grow a few new limbs. She looked at the scars slowly healing at the stump of both her shoulders and her knees. She remembered when Arkamedon had ripped those off and completely nullified her magic. A frown marred her features with a cross growl forming at her dark red lips. Doom Mana was a kind of mana that even her mother hated. Her mother, despite being the progenitor of all Dark Magic, refused to tamper with magic coming directly from Tartaros.

Beatriz growled in annoyance; how did Arkamedon manage to get a hold of Doom Magic without going insane? Then again, he was already insane. She could see that the darkness had taken a hold of him. When she witnessed the confrontation between Azaleth and Arkamedon, there was already madness evident in the man’s eyes. She still remembered his howls incessantly ringing throughout the caverns and his blabbering on how he would take on the world’s magic. Beatriz scoffed; nobody – not even her mother – could face the world’s magic head on!

“The only people who could have probably had the capacity to do so were the Aeons,” Beatriz mused to herself. “They were the first magic-wielding race on Zemlya. They drew energy from the very cosmos itself to summon powers that were unthinkable today. To even alter the orbit of the planets and the place of the stars on whim, it was that kind of power that remained untapped and ready to explode.”

She had never seen an Aeon up close. There was only one who saw it and as far as she knew, that person was buried six feet under. They were once a race that literally covered the entire continent of Zemlya. A race that people revered as gods, the Aeons were those who could utilize all forms of magic without suffering from any of the repercussions.

“Damn, that’d be awesome though.” Beatriz then glanced at her hand. “I wish I could do that.”

But she knew she couldn’t. Dark Magic was a rape of nature. Defined in the many books that she had gone through, Dark Magic wasn’t even supposed to exist. But people wanted a magic with no rules. A magic that was relentless and destructive. It was a magic that could even obliterate a mountain on where it stood. That was Dark Magic.

Beatriz remembered trying to learn the other magic. Fire magic was something she rather enjoyed; it was explosive, quick, and powerful. Ice worked well with her too for the Dark Magic she already had used the very darkness to chill her enemies to the bone. Earth magic was easy too along with Air. But when it came to using light and healing magic, she could have sworn that she fractured the bone instead of healing it.

“Tch, I don’t even need healing magic anyway.” Beatriz clucked her tongue in annoyance and sank deeper into the steaming bath. “I can’t even die…”

I can’t even die.

Those words rang loudly in the Blood Knight’s mind. She hung her head and stared at the water with her icy blue eyes. Beatriz couldn’t even remember when she was born. Or now that she thought about it, how long she had been walking the world of Zemlya? She glanced at her petite pale hand that hadn’t changed over the course the time. Her flesh had weathered through everything; being dismembered, mutilated, corroded, and subjected to all kinds of horrors. But there was not a single scratch, not even a slight discolouration from the damage. A frown marred her features when she looked at her abdomen where she saw a large gash that was crudely sewn together to keep her innards from falling out.

“Tch, she was the only one who could do that to me.” Beatriz scoffed and looked at the ceiling.”And vice-versa.”

It was only then however she realized that she had not heard from her in a long time. Not that she wanted to see the said person; she figured that she had faded through time. Probably just went around pissing off people with her goody-two-shoeness, Beatriz rolled her eyes. She knew she was stronger than her. After all, she had been roaming the battlefield far longer than she had.

“Her magic is the complete opposite of mine. Although I wonder,” Beatriz looked out the window, noticing the pale white moon staring back at her. “I wonder what the hell happened to her while I was stuck in that dingy dungeon.”

Samantha sighed in relief after changing into a new set of clothes. She sighed to herself at the tattered mess her other clothes turned out to be. She would have had more clothes if Brandon, Beatriz, and Luke opted not to leave her suitcases behind. A sudden guilt shot through her heart as she recalled Luke’s final moments in Fool’s Gold Pit. She remembered how he seemed to tremble in Brandon’s arms and how the fear flickered in his eyes only to slowly revert into acceptance. Her own body trembled and her stomach nearly hurled out her food as she dropped down on her knees on the ground.

“I can’t… I can’t,” Samantha shook her head. She clasped her hands over her ears. “Stop, stop!”

Although she had seen people die back in Sofiene, this one was particularly different. While the people who died in Sofiene were just soldiers, the one who died to keep her and the other two knights alive was her knight. And he was the youngest to boot!

“I’m sorry…” Samantha whimpered and crouched down, hugging her legs. “I… I wish I knew more magic…”

More magic would not have brought him back, princess. A small voice whispered to her.

Samantha’s eyes snapped open when she heard the small voice. Much to her surprise, she saw a young boy with a hood covering his face. All time seemed to stop around her when she found herself frozen in time as well. All the sounds from outside the inn had faded into a distant echo while she could only hear her voice and the little boy’s.

“Who… who are you?” Samantha asked, her voice trembling. “I-I’ve never seen you before!”

Maybe you haven’t known me. But it was then I’ve been a part of your past and, future. And for now, the present.

“But that doesn’t make sense! It still doesn’t tell me who you are!”

It’s time you look beyond yourself. If you truly wish for Sofiene’s peace, you must first understand yourself.

“W-wait, what are you talking about!? What is there to understand!?”

Her questions went unanswered as time soon began to flow normally once more. Samantha found herself on the floor with her hands trembling and her fingers gnarled through her hair. The princess huffed and heave as she sat on the ground. From the corner of her eye, she could have sworn that both the ancient relics of both empires glimmered for a small moment. She took the ring off her finger where she watched the remains of the true Azalethian magic swirl within the gem. She could feel the warmth from her palm and then turned to the Sofiene royal heirloom.

If you truly wish for Sofiene’s peace, you must first understand yourself.

Samantha frowned for a moment. What did the little boy mean by that? And who was the little boy? She sighed deeply only to look into the pendant again. What was there to understand about herself? She was the princess of Sofiene, Firstborn Lady of House Sofiene, First of Her Name, Sorceress, and the true heir to the Sofienian throne. She clenched her fists tight; the thought of her brothers fighting for the throne befuddled her. But she could feel her heart wavering and shaking. What if she was not cut out for it? The princess remembered how she easily she fell prey to the magic in Fool’s Pit Gold. She remembered the fear that seized her when Beatriz had been captured. To her amazement, it was Brandon who stepped up to the plate to save her lady-in-waiting. A wave of guilt smashed into her; how could she have faltered so easily?

“Princess?” She heard a voice cut through her thoughts.

Samantha looked up when she saw Daniel standing before her, staring at her queerly. “D-Daniel! What are you doing here?”

Daniel raised an eyebrow. “Uh, this is our room?”

“Yes but I thought you went off to take a shower.”

“I don’t spend too long in the shower. Having short hair is easier to manage.”

The princess nodded and ran her twitching fingers through her. Calm down Samantha, the princess scolded herself. She thought she had gotten over the issue with Luke. Brandon and Beatriz had said it themselves; he wouldn’t want her to be lying on the floor in a crumpled heap. But why, Samantha asked as she examined her pale clammy palms and her trembling fingers.

Why am I still shaking?

“You’ve seen someone die, haven’t you?”

Samantha looked up to see Daniel crouching in front of her. “... What?”

“I know that look in your eyes. It’s a nostalgic look but not the one of fond memories. Memories you’re trying to desperately supress,” Daniel explained. He then leaned against the trunk where Samantha sat. “You killed someone?”

Samantha stared aghast. “No! Of course not!”

“Then why so jittery?”

“You’re accusing me of murder!”

“I said nothing about murder.”

“Murder is defined as killing someone!”

“Killing someone with malicious intent is different from killing someone in the battlefield.”

Samantha glared at him only to see that his own gaze was unrelenting and unflinching. She then realized that he had the same look that Beatriz had. The eyes of a soul that knew the coldness of the world; it was cold, dark, and hiding the terrors he had seen. She then looked at his knuckles, noticing scars and welts. The princess couldn’t believe herself; how could she have not noticed his wounds before?

That’s because he was in a suit.

Samantha remembered how dashing her appeared to be in a tuxedo. He had a more boyish appeal to him with his goofy grin and his attempts to be a gentleman. They appeared to be a little forced and his way of speaking did come out a little rugged. If she had to compare between Brandon and Daniel, the former was more of an enigmatic charm while the latter had more of a sunny charm despite his cold eyes.

But she rolled back to his question. Had she killed someone? She knew not directly but rather, indirectly.

“I didn’t kill him directly,” Samantha admitted softly. She shook her head. “B-but he died for my sake.”

Daniel raised an eyebrow. “Who?”

“Luke. He,” her voice began to crack. “He was the third knight. You were supposed to be the fourth.”

“I see.”

Samantha rested her chin onto her arms. “I… I don’t understand. Why… why am I still feeling this?”

Daniel shrugged. “There’s no shame feeling about someone who died.”

“But Beatriz just brushed it off.”

“You’re not her, princess.”

“But how could she and I can’t? We both saw the same thing!”

“Not necessarily.” Daniel pointed out to the princess. “Beatriz has always been in the front line, I’m guessing. She’s been the one who’s been slaughtering the people. Whether or not you’re directly involved with the death of the person, does make a large difference. You were in the back lines, supporting and lending her firepower.”

Samantha wanted to say something but chose to keep her mouth shut instead. Whether she liked it or not, Daniel had a point. Beatriz had been fighting for her. What was the term Brandon used for her again? Beatriz was their powerhouse – she was the one who had the most power among them. She looked at her own hands, recalling the times she had used her own spells. But a lot of them were stress-induced; none of them were chosen on her accord.

“And maybe before, watching people die wasn’t so bad because you didn’t know them personally.” Daniel pointed out. “But this particular knight who died, you knew him personally. You basically bonded with that person.”

“You tamed that person,” Samantha murmured, recalling Luke’s words to her that time about Brandon. It was only then that she realized; she had tamed Luke and he did the same with her. “It makes so much sense now.”

“You what? And what makes so much sense now?”

The princess shook her head. “It was something he told me on the night before he died.”

“Oh, mind telling me what it is?”

“It was rather a strange concept.”

“In this world, princess, nothing in the world is normal. Everything was once strange.”

The princess nodded, looking up to the ceiling where she saw the shining lights above her. “I suppose so.” She then laughed softly. “He spoke about taming. Taming a person in a way that, when you do so, you establish ties.”

“Basically you make a bond,” Daniel added. The agent shrugged. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“He said that taming also worked both ways. There was no master or slave.”

“If there was, that would be subjugation and not taming.”

Samantha nodded. “Yes… and because of that, he was really close. Most especially to Brandon.”

Daniel nodded. “I’m guessing that Brandon was the main knight and he was initially just a plus one.”

“No! He was really a knight! I – !”

“ – I never did say that you considered him to be cannon fodder. But he probably appeared that way the first time. Brandon’s skills as a swordsman and a seaman are quite overwhelming.”

Samantha wanted to protest but remembered the day she first saw Brandon and Luke. It was back at Xychosia in The Cove where she was trying to find knights. If not for Beatriz’s mistake and leading them to the wrong tavern, she would have never found Brandon and Luke. She could only wonder; would the journey have turned out the same way? Would she have turned out the same way? She shook her head. It was something she didn’t know and couldn’t predict.

And that thought alone infuriated her.

“I… I just don’t understand,” Samantha shook her head. “I… I never had these kinds of nightmares before. It’s only now that they got worse.”

Daniel raised an eyebrow. “What got worse?”

“All the dreams and the nightmares I’ve been having. They’ve gotten more vivid. Every night, I see a person die. All the people I left behind in Sofiene, they were razed to the ground. And then, I still remember how Luke was trembling when he realized that he was on his last leg. There was fear in his eyes; he looked like wanted to cry.”

It was only then Samantha had begun to sob. She didn’t know where the tears were coming from but everything started to stream out.

“I… I don’t think I could have faced Death head on like that.” Samantha sniffled and admitted sadly. “I would have cried and screamed, begging for mercy. I… I just don’t understand why… I feel this horrible urge to throw up every time I think about it.”

Daniel had remained silent until he opened up his med kit and pulled out a plastic bag. Samantha stared at him for a moment as the soldier explained to her.

“If you’re going to hurl, may as well throw it into the bag so you have less to clean up.”

Samantha couldn’t believe that she was pouring her heart out all of a sudden. She was certain that her face was covered with snot and tears. Nonetheless, she gratefully took the bag and began to breathe heavily through it. She could feel her heart pounding and throbbing inside her rib cage, threatening to explode.

“I know what you’re feeling. It’s something all veterans have.” Daniel explained to her. “It’s called PTSD.”

Samantha blinked, patting her nose with her handkerchief from her pocket. “PTSD? Is that some sort of spell?”

“No, it’s a kind of disease known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s commonly caused by trauma. Usually, it’s any kind of trauma but most prevalent in those who have fought on the battlefield. Be it indirect or direct.”

The princess shook her head. “H-how come I never read anything about that?”

“It’s because people immediately assume that soldiers are trained to deal with those kinds of things. But what they don’t know is the danger of that assumption.”

Samantha couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Did that mean her soldiers suffer it as well? “I… I never knew that. Is there a cure?”

Daniel shrugged. “I wouldn’t call it a cure. It’s called management. You can try to treat it and try to manage it. But the chances are fifty-fifty. Sometimes, it goes into remission for good and the other times it jumps back up into your face with double force it had the first time.”

The princess paled at the sound of the disease. If the disease was that powerful then, it would explain why so many soldiers would quit the army. But what about Beatriz, she wondered. If what Beatriz said was true, that means she had been suffering the same thing for four hundred years! What was her first time like? Did she panic as well? All the blood and damage that happened during those four hundred years, it was terrifying. She had only read about the terrors about the wars in the books in the libraries. It was nothing but chaos and turmoil.

“But, it’s okay to feel that.” Daniel suddenly said.

Samantha raised an eyebrow. “To feel what?”

“It’s okay to feel turmoil, to feel pain, it’s what makes us human. We cry, we bleed, we smile, and we laugh – it’s these feelings that keep reminding us that we’re still human.”

“But –”

“—True that it is detrimental on the battlefield. But not everything is perfect. The world as how we see it, it’s only flawed because we ourselves are flawed.”

Samantha nodded. “You and Luke kind of talk alike.”

Daniel raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Yeah, he always had something wise to say. Something that really made me feel better in his own, innocent way.”

“Innocent? Wisdom normally comes from experience.”

“I thought so too but from the way he explained it, he made it seem so simple.”

“That’s quite something.”

The princess sighed and looked at her feet. “I know,” she laughed softly and leaned against the cabinet. “Maybe that’s why until now I’m still seeing those weird visions. Those nightmares, maybe, just maybe – I can’t just let it go.”

Daniel, chuckled for a moment, slowly dropped his hand onto Samantha’s shoulders. He gave he an uneasy smile but she could tell he was trying to comfort her. Even if his smile seemed a little awkward. A small giggle bubbled from her throat at the sight of him. He looked as uncomfortable as a fat chicken in a working kitchen.

“Thank you.” Samantha wiped away her sniffles. “I just needed to let it out. Brandon and Bea were just telling me to get over it.”

Daniel shrugged. “Well, at some point – we all have to. It’s okay to feel bad but it’s bad to mull over it over and over again.”

Samantha nodded at Daniel’s words. She picked up her pendant and then the Azalethian ring. She remembered the words of the last princess of Azaleth. The true lady of Azaleth, as the servant had addressed her. But what she remembered most was the dream that the lady had told her. As simple as seeing the sun once more and feeling the summer winds brush against her skin, it had become her main reason for living. A small smile curved up her lips when she examined the Azalethian ring in her hand. Even if she had the grotesque spider form for her lower limbs and her sight robbed away from her, she still continued to hope. She didn’t let her circumstance stop her.

“But it’s okay. Everyone has a first time. Nobody said that the first time is supposed to be wonderful.” Daniel chuckled softly. “I remember the first time I put a bullet through someone.”

Samantha shook her head. “What was it like?”

“I remember. I didn’t even know who he was. He had a bag over his head. Surprisingly, I just shot him. No flinching, no hesitating – it was just a simple pull of a trigger. But...”

“But then...?”

“When I removed the bag, it was only then I realized that the person I shot was none other than my own mentor. It was seven days after the exam when I found out and I was already working under my current superior.”

The princess shuddered; how could people do such brutal practice? “But, that’s…”

“Insane? Mundane? Stupid?”

“Well, yes –”

“—On the battlefield, you have to be willing to kill anybody.”

Samantha fell silent for a moment before swallowing nervously, knowing that her question might be devastating. “So, have you?”

“Have I what?”

“Killed anybody?”

Daniel paused for a moment, nodding. “I have. But my targets are men. I leave women and children alone.”

Samantha wasn’t sure how to understand the concept. Have Brandon and Beatriz killed people as well? The idea of it terrified her. She knew Brandon had killed someone. But his act of killing was out of mercy; Luke didn’t want to become a flesh-eating monster. She shook her head; why did people have to resort to killing all the time? Wasn’t there a more peaceful way to end things? She wished there was; all the people who died had lives ahead of them. Yet everything was taken away from them by either a blade, a spell, or whatever was shot out of the gun.

“Didn’t you ever feel guilty for the people you killed?”

Daniel fell silent for a moment before nodding. “I did. Sort of.”

“Sort of…?”

“I don’t kill unless it’s necessary. Most of my missions involved more restrain and capture. Bring the target back alive, basically. I’ve only killed two people but that’s because they already killed people dear to me.”

“… But that didn’t bring them back, did it?”

“Vengeance is a powerful thing. It can consume you and destroy you. At that time, I thought of nothing but killing the people who took those people away.”

Samantha fell silent.

“But I know better now. That’s why as much as possible, I use rubber bullets.”

“Bullets? Rubber Bullets?”

“You know, the thing that comes out of a gun?”

“Oh, so that’s what they’re called. I was about to ask you what they’re called.”

Daniel chuckled and pulled out a handful from his pocket. “Here are some of them. They’re made of rubber so they just bludgeon the person. Nothing piercing.”

Samantha stared at the dull coloured bullets in Daniel’s palm. She poked it a few times, noticing it just roll around harmlessly. She picked up one and squished it in between her fingers. Much to her surprise, it was rather soft and she could mould it easily before it inflated back into its normal shape.

“Cool beans,” Samantha beamed in amazement. “Where did you get these?”

“Believe it or not, I got it from Militaris. And they were known more for the terminal, angry solution.”

“True. They never did see eye to eye, especially with Sofiene.”

Daniel shrugged. “Anyway, I’m gonna head off to bed. All that running and stress from Dreadnought was a bitch.” He yawned and stretched his arms. “Well, I’m heading off. You should be heading to bed too, princess. We’re gonna have a long journey ahead.”

Samantha nodded. “But isn’t Machinos Empire just like a few walks away?”

“You’re going to Machinos?”

“Brandon and Luke suggested that we go there to get a vehicle so we can travel faster.”

“Well, if that’s the case – then we shouldn’t have a hard time then.”

“Huh? There’s a shorter way than walking?”

“Yeah, it’s called taking a shuttle. Chemia has a shuttle that brings people from here to the main empire. One ride’s at least 15 minutes.”

“Wait, a shuttle? Aren’t those things on a spindle and loom?”

“That’s a different kind of shuttle. I’ll show you tomorrow.”

Samantha blinked in surprise; she had never seen a shuttle in Xychosia or Sofiene. But she did remember taking some sort of cable car or carriage in Xychosia and Sofiene. Was that what Daniel defined as a shuttle? But whatever it was, it was an exciting and intriguing thought. A wave of anticipation and excitement kept her sadness at bay as she made her way towards her bed.

“Alright, I best get some sleep then.” Samantha beamed and climbed into her bed. “Good night, Daniel.”

Daniel chuckled and nodded, pulling the blanket over himself. “Good night, princess. Sleep well.”

Upon hearing the news, AK was frustrated.

Why would they send Dreadnought and not him? He did a pretty good job the last time. He managed to perform reconnaissance without screwing up! Except for that time you let your anger get the best of you, his conscience argued. He scowled at the thought. He remembered nearly getting the shot at the lady-in-waiting and the princess only to have his shot blocked by the umbrella. I wish I could keep one of those, AK groaned. Nothing was more appealing than a functional accessory.

He looked up to the ceiling, trying to figure out the next thing. Now with Dreadnought on the loose, things would have to be moved up schedule. He didn’t expect The Commander to send Militaris’ most deadly soldier. He let out an annoyed sigh before letting the sounds of the wind from outside brush through his black tresses.

“Dreadnought knows nothing except to kill and destroy.” AK shook his head. “What are they planning to do?”

He never saw Dreadnought up close but this was the first time he had seen him. Even then, being a few metres away was good enough for him to see what kind of damage he was capable of. He also saw the princess and her knights trying to take Dreadnought out. And much to his surprise, Beatriz managed to fight Dreadnought. He remembered the strain that Dreadnought encountered while facing Beatriz. He had expected more punching and explosives. But Beatriz stopped him dead in his tracks. She actually got him to struggle.

That little girl is something else.

“I don’t think she’s a little girl.” AK frowned. “She’s much older than that.”

It was only then AK realized that it had been a long time. How long had it been? He rested his arm over his eyes as he stared into the endless abyss above him. He slowly began to close his eyes, letting sleep overtake him. Suddenly, the darkness flashed. A great big fire consumed his vision and screams filled his ears. AK could feel his heart racing from the terror. Sweat poured down his temple as he struggled to keep his eyes shut. Fires raged and howled. Blood splattered on the ground before him as the screams began to fade into distant echoes. His fists clenched with his nails cutting into his palms. His teeth clamped onto his lower lip as he tried to prevent himself from screaming. His body shuddered and trembled. His vision changed into a dark dungeon room. He heard metal clinking on the ground as it dragged on the ground. AK gasped, tossing and turning. The fibres in his back shrieked as if on fire. He remembered the cold metal that lashed at his back. Every rusted edge on the chain ripped a new wound on his back. The soldier gasped and flipped around, choking. He gnashed his teeth and his arms flew straight onto his body and his nails dug deep into his flesh. Soon, a pair of icy blue eyes sneered at him from the darkness.

Stupid little boy.

With that, AK woke up with a loud gasp. He shot up from his bed with sweat pouring down his face and down his white shirt. He dropped his hand onto his chest, trying to calm his palpitating heart. His lungs threatened to burst out of his rib cage. His throat burned as his voice died out in his throat. He didn’t expect it to be that bad. He dropped his head back on the pillow with his blanket covering his body.

“Damn,” AK shook his head. “I hope I don’t need medication for this. I’ve held out this long...”

Although he had held out that long, the better question was: how long could he hold it?

It was something he knew came with every military brat. They have seen the terrors of war and the many implications included. But he didn’t expect himself to be thrown into the fray without training. The first time he had killed someone – why did that never haunt him? AK shook his head; the fact chilled him to the bone when he figured out why.

It was also chilling for him to realize that it was that same reason as to why he soon nodded off to sleep, peacefully.

Samantha woke up in the middle night. As much as the bed had a wonderful softness that instantly would have sent anyone to the dream world, she found herself barely able to sleep. She sighed in annoyance and looked up into the black abyss above her. She could hear Daniel’s ragged breathing and Beatriz’s snoozing. She looked at the bed in front of her and saw Brandon plastered on the mattress as well. She could see that he didn’t even bother drying his hair anymore. He just dropped onto the bed, exhausted.

“He did do a lot of the fighting. And he’s been through so much.” Samantha murmured softly.

She stood up from her bed and walked over to the mattress that Brandon had passed out on. She crouched next to him, hearing a slight snore from the pirate captain. Despite the darkness, the dim lighting shone on his face. He peacefully slept through the night, not even moving. She could hear his quiet breathing despite his face being planted into the pillow. She brushed his black tresses away to see his face. A small smile curved up her lips as she stood up and made her way towards the door.

“Maybe a little fresh air will help.” Samantha thought to herself.

The princess made her way out of the inn and into the streets of Chemia. A wave of anticipation filled her. This was the first time venturing out of the inn by herself! Samantha warily took a step onto the cobblestone beyond the inn’s doorframe. The moment she did, Samantha snapped her eyes shut. Was the world going to blow up?

Much to her surprise, nothing happened.

Joy filled her as Samantha made her way out of the door. A part of her always wanted to explore on her own. As much as having Brandon and Beatriz were wonderful protectors, she always wanted to explore without people nagging her. Not that Brandon and Beatriz did nag, it was just that there were times she really wanted to see things for herself. She knew that Daniel had a point. The only way to have her learn how to fight was by application. She nodded; now was the perfect time to learn!

She strolled down the village lane and admired the lights that lit up the city. Each streetlight had some sort of magical stone that kept the streetlights alive. She could feel the warmth beneath her feet from the energy below. Her eyes widened; when did she learn that? Much to her amazement, she soon started seeing a stream of mana flow beneath her. Every single organism around her had mana flowing through it. The plants, the trees, the earth beneath, and even the very dreams of people had mana. The princess couldn’t believe what she was seeing!

“It’s... It’s so beautiful,” Samantha murmured.

“Yes. Yes it is.” A silky voice replied.

Samantha turned around and gasped in surprise. Before her, there was a young woman with dark chestnut blonde hair. She had an oval shaped face with a small smile curving up her pink lips. She had a moon white complexion, almost akin to her glowing like the moon. Samantha saw some similarity to her. She looked a bit like Beatriz except taller and slender in shape. She had narrow shoulders with long, lanky arms.

Unlike Beatriz, she wore a short white dress with a white tattered cloak billowing on her shoulders. She had bright silver gauntlets that gleamed under the moonlight. A cutlass was strapped to her waist with a brown belt. A glimmering silver fauld bloomed at her waist like a white lily. She had streamlined silver greaves that moulded itself to the shape of her long legs. Adorning her hair, she had a navy blue ribbon forming a headband.

“Oh.” Samantha stepped back in surprise.

The young lady smiled apologetically. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“No, no, I... I was just surprised.”

“Surprised that someone else did not sleep?”


The young woman smiled and curtsied. “Ah, where are my manners? I am Bianca. You are?”

Samantha curtsied in return. “I am Princess Samantha.” She looked up at the moon. “It’s beautiful tonight... isn’t it?”

Bianca nodded. “Indeed it is, princess. It’s what helped me find you.”

“Find... me?”

“Yes. You see, Grand Maester Kazfiel sent me to find you.”

Samantha’s heart jumped. Someone who supported her father was still alive! “Oh my! He did?”

“He has his hopes pinned on you, milady. He wishes for your immediate return to Sofiene.”

“B-but, I have no knights!”

Bianca shook her head. “Of course you do. You have me and several others waiting for you in Sofiene.”

Joy suddenly filled Samantha. Someone had gathered knights for her! And this was Grand Maester Kazfiel, the elderly scholar who taught her the many things she knew. But there was something inside that stopped her. She looked back at the inn where her three knights were sleeping. She couldn’t leave them behind! Not after everything they have done for her!

“B-but my knights,” Samantha began to protest.

“They shall be well compensated for and protected. But we must make haste princess. We do not have much time.”

Samantha looked back for a moment. Beatriz had never left her side and neither did Brandon. Although Daniel was new, she didn’t want him to get involved anymore. Too much blood had been shed on her account. She looked at the pendant hanging on her neck and then at the Azalethian ring. She now had the right to take things into her own hands! At least they won’t get hurt, Samantha consoled herself.

“Alright,” Samantha nodded. “Lead the way.”

Bianca nodded and walked forward. Samantha trailed behind her as they made their way towards the fields. Bianca suddenly stopped in her tracks. The princess stopped in her tracks as well as the winds suddenly began to whisper around her. Samantha gasped in amazement when she saw white flowers blooming on the ground. They looked similar to the white flowers that were growing in the window sill box. Her eyes widened in amazement as the white petals began to swirl around them due to the summer night winds.

“Wow,” Samantha gasped. “I’ve never seen these flowers before.”

Bianca giggled. “Do you like them? They’re called the Stars of Bethlehem.”

“They’re beautiful.”

“Indeed they are.” Bianca smiled before pausing for a moment. “Do... do you know what Floriography is, Your Highness?”

The princess cocked her head to the side. “Language of the flowers?”

“Yes. Flowers can speak to people even without using human language.” Bianca bent down and brushed the flower petals against her fingers. “Quite amazing no?”

Samantha nodded. “Yeah,” she then remembered Luke. “I knew someone who could do that. Literally.”

“Oh? Where is that person now?”

The princess paused for a moment, hanging her head. “He’s dead.”

Bianca gasped and smiled sadly. “I’m terribly sorry.”

“No, it’s okay. I... I just haven’t gotten used to it.”

“Well, perhaps you can send these flowers to his grave. They make wonderful grave markers.”

“Yes, maybe I should pick a few...”

“Perhaps.” Bianca nodded. “Do you know what the Star of Bethlehem says?”

Samantha shook her head. “Sorry, I do not speak to plants. Nor can I hear them.”

“They speak of atonement. Forgiveness.” Bianca smiled and plucked a flower from the ground. “Imagine how one flower can say such a beautiful word.”

Samantha nodded. The flowers were beautiful but there was something that distracted her. She could feel a chill in the air. Her hairs stood on their ends. The princess couldn’t understand; where was that coming from? She looked up only to see Bianca walking up to her and handing her a flower.

“Here, for you, princess.” Bianca smiled.

Samantha blinked in surprise. At the sight of Bianca’s smile, she shrugged off the chill running up and down her spine and took the flower. “Oh, thank you.” She looked up. “Whatever for?”

Bianca didn’t respond. Instead, Samantha felt a sharp pain in her abdomen. She gasped in pain only to see a blade rammed through her abdomen. A crimson flower bloomed on her dress when she saw the blade. Her fibres screamed and burned in pain only for the pain to last a short while. Her eyes looked up only to see instead of warm icy blue eyes, a pair of cold ruthless ones. But it was nothing like Beatriz’s. While the lady-in-waiting’s icy blue eyes bore a cold fury, this particular one showed no feelings. It was completely amoral and unfeeling. She could feel something warm drip out of her mouth and her chest began to tighten as her knees began to buckle beneath her. The Star of Bethlehem that Bianca had handed her was now stained with her blood along with flowers beneath her.

“Forgive me, princess. For I must take your head.”

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