Follow The Stars
Brandon managed to sleep.
If only for a bit.
But being a light sleeper meant that he would be awakened by even the slightest of sounds.
And he knew that it was for that very reason as to why he was never a morning person.
The pirate captain tossed and turned in his bed. He let out an annoyed grunt before kicking off the blanket and getting up. Much to his frustration, he sat down at the side of the bed in frustration. His ears twitched at the sound of Daniel’s snoring. He growled in annoyance and closed his eyes, trying to calm his rapidly beating heart. Sweat poured down his temples and his palms had become clammy. A nightmare? If so, how come he couldn’t remember what it was about?
And that alone was already frustrating.
Brandon knew he had trouble sleeping before but it was never to the point of him preferring the cold embrace of the stone floors. He folded his arms and closed his eyes. His breathing slowed down and his palpitations began to fade away. However, there was still a thorn stabbing him at the side. An inkling thought that bugged him. He opened one eye to check the dimly lit room. He saw Beatriz kicking off her blanket only to see she wore a black negligeé and her dark blonde hair being spread out on the bed. Daniel snored loudly with his left arm dangling from the side of the mattress. Brandon smirked; if Luke were still alive, he would have filled Daniel’s open palm with whipped cream.
If Luke were still alive...
Those were the key words that echoed in his mind. He still remembered the look in the young dryad’s eyes when he first met him. They were dead, devoid of any life. He barely could function except in menial tasks. He barely knew how to speak, capable of only grunting, groaning, or moaning. His reading skills were abysmal and his independent functioning was non-existent. Why did I buy him, Brandon asked himself. He then remembered the pouch that Luke gave to him before he died. The pirate captain, curious and confused, darted for his coat and plucked out the pouch in his inner pockets. His fingers traced against the silk covering with the golden ropes that closed the pouch. He felt the shape of the object in the pouch against his fingers. It didn’t feel like dust but more of an ornament-like object.
“I wonder what you are.” Brandon whispered.
He unravelled the strings and opened to find a golden earcuff inside. His eyes widened; where did Luke get something so valuable? He brushed his fingertips against the metal plating before taking a slight nibble on it. His teeth hit the hard, metallic surface. After he took it out, he brushed his fingers against the earcuff only to feel the dents of where his teeth bit. His eyes widened. The gift Luke gave him was solid gold!
“Where the hell did he get the money to buy this!?” Brandon gawked. He walked towards the torch hanging above the mattress to take a closer look.
Luke’s memento to him was a golden earcuff, moulded ornately to resemble the leaves off a laurel tree. Amidst its bough, he found a glowing gem, as green as the dark forest floors he had traversed through. A small smile curved up his lips as the memories he had with Luke flashed through his mind. He remembered all their adventures. The shrines they ventured through, the temples they raided for their treasures, and the many people who they managed to irk on the journey. It was an exciting three years.
But it wasn’t those exciting moments that stuck with him. It was the supposedly most mundane ones. He remembered the first time he brought Luke to the city of Libraria. The young boy was amazed by all the books. They had spent an entire three days reading and reading every single piece of literature. But there was one particular one that they at least managed to keep. It was a book about a little prince. The prince was a little boy, just like Luke. And it was by travelling that he learned many of life’s greatest lessons.
The same way Luke had tried to interact with the world.
“I wish I did a better job of filtering out the shit.” Brandon sighed and looked up at the starry ceiling above him. “You would have loved this place, Luke. You always did like looking at the stars.”
A small chuckle bubbled from his throat as he clipped the earcuff to his ear.The pirate captain sighed before noticing that the bed he leaned on wasn’t making a sound. Puzzled, Brandon quickly got up only to see that Samantha’s bed was completely empty. His lavender eyes widened into the size of dinner plates. The princess was gone!
“That idiot! Where’d she go!?” Brandon muttered. His eyes darted to and fro around the room, wondering where she could have gone.
The pirate scanned the room, checking for any possible method she could have left. Definitely not the window, Brandon frowned. Samantha would have made too much noise. He looked at the door and sighed. Did she really just sneak out right under his nose? A scowl marred his features as he bolted out the door.
“Tch, she really did!” Brandon muttered under his breath.
He bolted back in and grabbed the first weapon he could find. Ignoring what it was, the pirate bolted out the door and scanned through the empty streets of the village. There was not a single sound; not even a peep from a mouse. Brandon clenched his fists tightly, closing his eyes. The winds howled behind him as the leaves rustled with the branches cracking. Suddenly, the winds began to whisper in his ears.
Brandon’s eyes snapped open. Did he hear that right? “Wait, what?”
Brandon raised an eyebrow. When did he start hearing weird voices? He checked his person. He wasn’t wearing anything new. Except, Brandon’s eyes widened when his fingers traced against his earlobe. He felt the golden earcuff that he attached to his ear. It was Luke’s heirloom!
“He couldn’t have transferred his powers into his earcuff.” Brandon wondered. He then shook off his daze. “Wait, as long as Luke’s powers are in the earcuff, I can speak veggie!”
He stepped forward and looked around. Trees swayed with the wind as the moon tangled itself among its boughs. He could hear the leaves rustling as he closed his eyes. The pirate took a deep breath and his heart began to slow down. His heart stopped for a moment, letting out a slight flutter as he heard every sound around him. The pattering of the ants’ feet on the stone echoed loudly in his ears. The hooting of the owls and the squeaking of the crickets – everything! He couldn’t believe all the sounds he was hearing. Was this what Luke heard everyday? It was soothing; it kept his heart calm in a way he couldn’t explain.
“Alright. Let’s do this.” Brandon closed his eyes. He focused on the sound of the leaves. “C’mon, do something! What do I have to follow?”
Follow... the... stars...
Brandon blinked in confusion. “Stars?” He looked up only to see an empty black sky. “The hell with that! What fething stars are you talking about!?”
Follow... the... stars...
Brandon scowled. What stars were they talking about? The pirate scoured the area until he found glowing white flowers. His eyes widened as he made his way towards the flowers. He crouched down and brushed their soft petals against his fingertips. He could see the intricate veins that formed on the petals. The middle of flower had several yellow pistils sticking out when he realized what “stars” they were talking about.
“The Star of Bethlehem flowers,” Brandon murmured. He looked up only to see a lane before him filled with Star of Bethlehem flowers. “Wait, these are the stars!”
Follow… follow them!
Brandon wasted no time in bolting down the lane. He could hear the rustling of the leaves brushing against his boots. What if Samantha was in trouble? His heart stopped at the thought. He would have failed his job and he wouldn’t be able to face Luke on the other side. Forget the damn War Hammer; this was Samantha he was talking about! He remembered the first time he met her. She was rather ditzy and a bit of an airhead; not really well-versed with the world. But the sweet smile that she had plus the willingness to learn knocked him straight out of the field. He clucked his tongue in annoyance and forced more adrenaline into his legs.
“Tch, faster! Faster!” Brandon coaxed his legs.
The moment he reached the end of the lane, he found himself in a field of blooming white flowers. The Stars of Bethlehem glowed under the moonlight. The leaves rustled and the wind tossed around his jet black tresses and chilled him to the bone. A shiver ran up his spine when he suddenly stepped on something squishy. His eyes widened when he saw the Star of Bethlehem flowers coated in blood with Samantha’s lifeless body lying on the ground. Standing before Samantha’s lifeless body was a woman in white with her cutlass covered with Samantha’s blood.
“Hello,” she smiled. “I see you happened to find us.”
Brandon was frozen solid. Something inside him roiled wildly as the voices of the trees suddenly screamed louder. But he didn’t need the plants to tell him what he had to do. His hands immediately went to the weapon he had dragged out along with him only to realize that he had brought Daniel’s rifle instead of his gunblades. Frustration flowed through him; of all weapons he had to get, he just had to get the one he was the least familiar with!
“I remember you. You’re Brandon Hawthorne!” The young woman beamed. She curtsied. “Pleased to meet you, good sir. You’re looking better and taller too!”
Brandon narrowed his eyes at the woman. “Who are you? And why do you know me?” He then turned to Sam’s bleeding body on the ground. “And what did you do!?”
The young woman smiled with a shrug. “Well, she was a bit of an obstacle but I didn’t expect her to be so naïve. After all, the princess had already gone through a lot.”
“That doesn’t answer my question! Who are you!?”
“Oh mercy me, how rude! Isn’t it more gentlemanly for you to introduce yourself first?”
“To hell with that! I’m pretty much a witness to an attempted murder!”
The woman shrugged. “Suit yourself.” She then brandished her cutlass and shield with a smirk. “It seems I’ll have to take you out then before I bury both your bodies.”
Brandon’s eyes widened when she suddenly vanished. He quickly looked at the gun, rushing a crash course on how to shoot. Finding the safety lock, Brandon took it out and opened fire. He pressed the buttstock against his shoulder and opened fire. He yelped when instead of a single shot – a whole stream of shots fired out of the rifle. The maiden in white leapt up high into the air before bringing up her shield to block the incoming bullets before landing a few feet away from him.
“Hmm, impressive. You adapt pretty quickly to a modern weapon,” she giggled. The young woman then clapped her hands. “For that, I applaud you.”
“Wait ’til I figure out everything about this gun and you’re going to have holes in places you never did.” Brandon seethed. He cast one glance towards Samantha. Shit, I have to finish this soon! Sam’s bleeding out!
“Oh my poor little student, you seemed to have forgotten.” He suddenly heard the young woman croon.
Brandon looked up in surprise as she gave him a sweet smile.
“You have forgotten about the first rule about fighting…” She then raised her sword.
Brandon’s breath got caught in his throat as he saw Samantha lying on the other side. He rolled his eyes to check for any possible escape routes. He could run backwards but he would lose his chances to grab Samantha. Brandon checked the length of the young woman’s cutlass before checking the distance between him and Samantha’s corpse. Determination filled him; he only had one shot!
I never liked using this move, Brandon shook his head. He exhaled sharply. “But, it’s now or never…!”
Suddenly, a large burst of adrenaline filled his legs. Brandon winced at the burning pain that seared through his calf fibres. It was a technique he had sealed away. He remembered using it once and it was more of a surround attack. But now, he needed it to use the ability to take a step forward. The faster he could grab Samantha, the faster he could run and grab his original weapons back from the inn!
The young woman cleaved Brandon in half as a sad smile curved up her lips. “Shame, I thought you’d do better than that.”
But much to her surprise, her sword just went through. There was no blood and Brandon’s image suddenly disappeared. Her eyes widened when she heard a loud crack. Her eyes widened when she saw a large bluish black bruise blooming at her abdomen. Her eyes widened as she felt her stomach force her acids and blood upward. The woman gasped as her blood splattered and painted the Star of Bethlehem flowers crimson. She slowly turned around only to see Brandon on the other side while holding Samantha’s body in one arm. The other arm had the rifle with its buttstock facing forward.
“Hmm, impressive.” The young woman chuckled. She bowed with a sweet singing voice. “I’m honoured. You don’t normally use that technique, Brandy.”
Brandon bristled at the nickname “Brandy”. But then, his blood also ran cold. There was only one person in the world who called him “Brandy” with that sing-song voice. His lavender eyes widened as he looked at the young woman before him. Dark chestnut blonde hair, cloaked completely in white, the innocent smile curving up those pink lips, the knee-high white boots, and the weapons – her sword and cutlass – how could have he not noticed before!? Brandon wanted to face-palm but there was no time for that.
“Ma’am B-Bianca,” Brandon whispered. “Y-y-y-you’re –”
“—Alive?” Bianca filled in for him with a smile. “Yes, I am.”
“But that isn’t right! You died at –”
“—the Battle of the Golden Lion. Yes but, if you have met my sister – you’d know why.”
Brandon was confused; what was she talking about? She had a sister!? He racked his brains and took a closer look at the young woman. Bianca’s slender figure and oval shaped face rang no bells. But her long dark chestnut blonde hair, her moon white skin, her dainty fingers, and most of all; her bright icy blue eyes – struck a few chords. Could it be, Brandon’s eyes widened.
“You’re –,” Brandon began.
Before he could say his answer, a black blur leapt into the air. Bianca immediately stepped back with her shield raised. A navy blue crescent glowed bright as it roared down and cleaved right through the field of bloodied flowers. The bloodstained petals flew in the air, revealing an angry Beatriz. Her black negligee was reduced to shreds, turning into a midriff with her black lace underwear peeking out. Her wavy dark blonde hair billowed in the wind, Beatriz’s gauntlets formed over her arms. She stood firm in front of a bloodied Samantha and Brandon with fury causing her mana to spike and dry up the flowers into dry, shrivelled tissue.
“So, you decided to show up.” Beatriz seethed. She brandished her scythe in Bianca’s face. “You stupid little bitch, how did you find us and how the fuck did you get so close to Samantha!?”
Bianca shrugged. “Well, the little lady was rather naïve.”
“You little brat, you took advantage of her!”
“I’m the little brat? For your information, sister – I am much taller than you.”
“Well guess what, I’m older!” Beatriz roared and lunged at her.
Brandon watched the two sister’s clash while keeping the pressure on Samantha’s stab wound. The mana exchange between the two sisters was explosive. Each strike ripped the flowers from the ground with the petals whirling and rushing into the sky from the singing winds. He could see the sweat pouring down their faces and a part of him wanted to help Beatriz finish the battle quickly. But another part of him kept his knees cemented into the floral meadow beneath him. Fear and adrenaline filled him as his hands trembled. But much to his surprise, a wave of mana knocked him and Samantha back. Brandon gasped and tumbled, keeping hold of Samantha to make sure she didn’t suffer any more wounds.
“Get Samantha and go!” Beatriz roared. “You’re not going to survive here!”
“You’re bloody insane!” Brandon snapped. “You can’t fight Bianca and win!”
“Yeah right! Shut up and go!”
Brandon gnashed his teeth in annoyance. Was she really that powerful? His hands clenched tightly into a fist. As much as he wanted to help Beatriz, he knew she was right. The sheer force of the mana alone convinced him. It was a clash between light and dark; cold and hot. It was like watching the balance of the two forces fight against one another. Fighting the urge to go help her, Brandon quickly grabbed Samantha’s limp body and bolted off towards the inn.
Seeing that Brandon had fled with Samantha, Beatriz smirked. Now that he was gone, she could now go full-out. She knew how powerful her mana was. She had strangled someone with it once. Crushed their windpipe and suffocated them with the sheer force of her mana. But now that there was nobody around; she didn’t need to worry.
Beatriz danced around with her scythe whirling around and clashing with Bianca’s cutlass. Anger boiled inside her at the sight of Bianca’s shrewd smile. She ducked and rushed past the shield, closing the distance between them. Bianca’s eyes widened when a frosty air suddenly swirled in between she and her sister. Beatriz smirked as the air chilled into a deathly cold.
“Time to chill you to the bone!” Beatriz mocked with a malicious grin.
Seeing the frost forming between them, Bianca whirled around and kicked Beatriz straight into the stomach. Blood splattered against the petite woman’s face as she staggered back. With a quick twist of her body, Beatriz quickly recovered and dug her nails into the soil to catch herself from flying too far. Sweat poured down her face as she looked up to see Bianca staggering back, limply gathering all her wits.
“I see Brandon gave you quite a pounding,” Beatriz smirked. “Not bad, I half-expected him not to even lay a hit.”
Bianca scoffed. “Please, I train my disciples well. I would not have expected less from him.”
“You taught him!?”
“Dear sweet sister, I trained him when he was still trying to figure out what a gun was. He was such a cute little tyke too.”
“Ugh,” Beatriz spat in disgust. “I hate children.”
“Yes, yes, we all know what you would have done.” Bianca waved her hand dismissively. She rolled her eyes. “You would have killed the poor boy before he knew what sex was about.”
“Maybe I’d even get that crazy clown to go after him.”
“Ugh, you’re incorrigible. How are we sisters?”
Beatriz narrowed her eyes and brandished her scythe, her blood boiling with hostility. “I don’t know! All I know is – I have to kill you!”
Bianca smirked and whirled around to reveal her shield and cutlass. “Desperate to be an only child?”
“If someone had a sister like you then, yeah!”
“Come to think of it, I am quite looking forward to it as well.” The white maiden’s icy blue eyes glimmered with delight. “Well then, let us dance!”
Beatriz smirked and unleashed all the mana she had kept away. It’s a good thing Sam’s not here to see this, she said to herself. The chill of her mana licked against her skin as her hair stood on all their ends. Her body shivered with delight as a moan bubbled from her throat. This was the power she was looking for! She could feel something sprouting from her arms as all her bodily fluids dripped from her body. Her teeth then changed into fangs and her icy blue eyes narrowed to reveal two pupils dancing in each eye. Her bare feet soon were covered with scales that web-like patterns.
“Ohhh and what is this?” Bianca raised an eyebrow in amusement. “I’ve never seen this form before.”
Beatriz growled. “I got this from the city of Azaleth. The big mistake they made was trying to make me one of their lackies.”
Bianca nodded. A small smile curved up her lips. “Of course, an Odissea listens to no one. I’d be ashamed of you if you did.”
“That’s the only thing we can agree on.”
“Good to know. However...”
Beatriz raised an eyebrow until he saw her sister’s icy blue eyes glow bright. The lady-in-waiting lowered her stance with her scythe brandished as the air began to shift. The cold winds suddenly became warm and the darkness began to yield to a large blast of white light. Beatriz’s eyes widened when she saw a pair of white wings suddenly sprout from her sister’s head. The white leather boots ripped from the sheer force of the blast and revealed Bianca’s legs now to be completely ripped off its flesh and hock-jointed. And on the young woman’s back, four wings spread out from behind her.
“Oh dear,” Bianca looked at her hand. “Hm, this doesn’t feel like much.” She looked down to her legs. “Although, I will need some new boots.”
She then turned to her back, noticing two pairs of white wings. “Oh... and my back got heavier...”
Beatriz’s eyes widened. When could her sister do that!? All the four hundred years she had been alive, she had never seen her sister unleash that kind of power. Her body shuddered and cowed under the weight of the holy energy. Tch, Beatriz scowled. She raised her arm to shield her eyes from the light only to wince in pain. She howled in pain as the white energy began burn away her skin. However, she refused to back down. With a frosty glare and all her mana dripping from her body, Beatriz shrieked and lunged towards Bianca with her scythe swinging.
“Come on! Let’s do this!” Beatriz roared.
Bianca smirked. “I’d be delighted.”
Beatriz swung her scythe and slammed against Bianca’s shield. She could feel her scythe drawing power from her open wounds as the gears grinded against the shield. The Dark Knight snarled and whirled around to kick the shield away only for Bianca to duck and slip past her with her cutlass aiming for her neck. The petite girl, noticing the blade, immediately twisted her body and dropped down before closing the gap between she and her sister. Her scythe roared and slammed into her sister’s cutlass. Sparks flew and lit up the darkness. The wind caused by the blows tore through the flowers as the white petals spiralled into the air. The leaves withered and died at every step Beatriz took while Bianca brought the dead back to life.
“This battle will never end, sister.” Bianca chuckled in amusement. “Life and Death cannot exist without one another.”
Sweat poured down Beatriz’s face as she snarled. “Let’s see about that!”
Beatriz diverted all her mana into her scythe and slammed it against Bianca’s shield again. The moment the two weapons came in contact, the mana exploded between the two of them. A shockwave knocked both girls back. Bianca managed to float away gracefully while Beatriz clumsily tumbled down on the ground. Frustration piled up inside Beatriz as she dug her nails into the ground. She cast her eyes towards her leathery wings that sprouted from her arms to reveal her jet black armour beneath her wings. Her ears had become more bat-shaped with her teeth sharpening into long, vampire-like fangs.
“Hm,” Bianca shrugged. “You’re gotten uglier with age.”
Beatriz growled. “And you got dumber with it!”
The elder Odissea lunged at her younger sister with her weapon singing. She brought her leathery wings up to block the sword coming for her face as she whirled around and kicked Bianca in the stomach. A wicked grin curved up her lips when she saw Bianca suddenly spit out blood. The lady in white skidded back while Beatriz saw the weakness she could exploit. Brandon’s last blow gave her an opening!
Damn, he must’ve bludgeoned her that hard! Beatriz smirked. “Thanks, pirate. I owe you one.”
Brandon hated fleeing from matches.
But he knew that fighting Bianca head-on with the wrong weapon was suicide.
How was I supposed to know I got the wrong weapon!? Brandon growled to himself. You were rummaging through shit in the dark, stupid, his logic snapped at him. The pirate sighed to himself. If he had his gunblades, it would have been easier. Not saying he could beat her, but he could have at least given her a run for her money. And if he could at least fight Beatriz and give her a run for her money, fighting her sister shouldn’t be too hard, right?
Or so he would like to think.
The pirate remembered feeling the weight of her mana crush his shoulders. His knees nearly buckled from the sheer weight as he remembered the blasé look in the white woman’s eyes. It didn’t even look like much to her. Bianca didn’t even seem to break a sweat despite fighting Beatriz. And that was saying something. He had only fought Beatriz once and he already felt a strain on his body after fighting her for a good twenty minutes.
“Tch,” Brandon growled as he bolted his way towards the inn.
The moment he entered the inn, he kicked the door open with a loud kablam. The receptionists yelped when they saw a sweaty pirate holding a bleeding princess in his arms. The male receptionist immediately fainted while the female receptionist was pale with fright.
“No time to explain! Bandages, now!” Brandon snapped.
The female receptionist, shivering in her chair, nodded vigorously and bolted to find some bandages. Brandon wasted no time running into the room and kicked the door open. The wooden door swung with a loud kablam against the stone walls. Inside the room, Daniel yelped and tumbled down from his bed. He crashed on the cold floors with a loud thud. The agent yowled in pain before snapping his head.
“Don’t you know how to knock!?” Daniel roared.
Brandon turned to Daniel with a glare promising the agent’s funerals. “How about I knock your head clean off your shoulders if you don’t get off your stupid ass!?”
“Then what are you yelling for!?”
“Will you look at the princess and get your goddamn brain working!?”
It was only then that Daniel realized the severity of the situation when he saw Samantha bleeding in Brandon’s arms. “Oh.”
“Geez, move your legs, ya scallywag! She’s bleedin’ like a fucking waterfall!”
Daniel jumped and scampered about, grabbing his bag. He dug through his things and found a medicine kit. “Brandon, here!”
The pirate placed Samantha down on the bed, ignoring the blood coating his hands. Her breathing was ragged and laboured. As much as he didn’t want to lift up her shirt (because he didn’t want a repeat of his other misadventures), he had no choice. The blood was pouring out and there was no time to whine and waste. He quickly lifted Samantha’s blouse and saw the stab wound. He ripped off a piece of cloth from the blanket and cleaned up her wounds. He grabbed the medicine pouch and found a disinfectant and began cleaning it up. His fingers traced the wound. It was a small laceration on the surface but he could tell that the blade went in deep.
“I hope it didn’t hit anything vital.” Brandon murmured to himself.
It was then he was glad he had watched Luke patch him up. He remembered how he used to take a lot of damage before and return to the ship, full of scuffs and scars. Luke would even berate, scold, and sometime purposely use the more intense medicine just so he would learn his lesson. Brandon chuckled and shook his head, ignoring the sweat that poured down his face.
“I hate leaving scars but I don’t have magic to fix this.” Brandon growled in frustration. He grabbed a needle and thread. “Tch, this is gonna be a lot of patchwork.”
Daniel shrugged. “Can’t you just get one of the healing stones that they have around here?”
“Daniel, I don’t use alchemy. I might accidentally change her into a lizard.”
“You don’t need to know. You just need the manual.”
“Every alchemic crystal has a manual. You just need someone who can use it.”
Suddenly, the door swung open to reveal the female receptionist with a doctor.
“Here. I brought some extra towels and a doctor.” The female receptionist said. She placed the towels next to Brandon and gestured to the doctor. “This is Doctor Iñiaki. He’s the best in the village.”
Brandon looked behind him to see a young man with medium length, dishevelled, coffee blonde hair. He had a scruffy look with his oval frameless glasses resting on his high bridged nose. He was lanky with a crumpled white coat over a casual, scoop neck, dark red shirt and a pair of black pants.
“I’ll handle this.” The doctor placed his bag down and began looking over the wound. “You did a pretty good patchwork.” He turned to Brandon. “You a doctor?”
Brandon shook his head with a wistful smile. “I wish I was.”
“I’m just going to fix the aesthetics. But you did a good job sealing up most of it. I’ll have to do some internal check as well.”
Brandon backed up and let the good doctor do his work. Daniel backed away as well as they watched the doctor tend to Samantha’s wounds. Seeing that Samantha was in good hands, Brandon knew he could leave. He glanced around to see his gunblades lying on the side and remembered that Beatriz was still out there! He bolted for his gunblades and threw the rifle aside on the bed. Without wasting another minute, Brandon bolted out the door and made his way back to the meadow.