Samantha quietly sat on the bed, letting Daniel’s explanation sink into her mind. She didn’t know that fear was capable of doing something like to someone. Fear, being a powerful driver, was what made empires fall.
Or so she was told.
She hadn’t expected fear to have that kind of effect on her. She only expected it to paralyze her but, not to play directly into the enemy’s hands. A wave of guilt filled her. It was all because she wanted to try venturing out into the world alone without anyone to protect her. Yet, she paid the price. If not for Brandon’s and Beatriz’s timely save, she would have been bleeding out on the fields. Her fingers traced gently on the wound across her abdomen as it already flattened out into a light discoloration. How could she have not seen that coming? Based on Daniel’s explanation, her body knew but her mind knew that she was completely powerless next to Bianca.
The next question now was – what could she do?
You have one summon to help you, her mind argued. Samantha shook her head. If it was one thing she knew about summoning, it was that sometimes the creatures could be temperamental unless she had a good reason for calling it out. But this was the lady of Azaleth! The true progenitor to Azalethian magic! She couldn’t just summon her on whim. And the power she displayed back in the cavern, it took a lot out of her. She remembered how tired she was after the summoning that she actually needed Brandon to carry her! But now, her knights were in danger! She had to do something!
“Daniel,” Samantha suddenly said.
The agent turned to her with a raised eyebrow. “Yes, ma’am?”
Samantha clenched her fists tightly onto the bed sheets covering her legs. Fear still seized her when she thought of facing Bianca. But there was a more powerful fear. A fear she knew that if she didn’t do it now, she would never forgive herself. Seeing Brandon’s and Beatriz’s corpses being lowered into the ground just because she couldn’t fight hit her with a large guilt wave that threatened to swallow her entire being.
“We have to go out there. We can’t let Bea and Brandon fight alone against Bianca.” Samantha shook her head. Her body trembled from the fear but she jumped off the bed and stood firm. “We’re going to help them.”
Daniel’s eyes widened in admonishment. “We are!?”
“We can’t leave them!”
“The power difference between you and her is pretty big. You’re not going to close that gap!”
“Well, what do you suggest we do then?”
The agent hung his head shamefully and sighed. “To be honest, I wanted to keep you hidden. Bianca clearly knows you’re the target. Putting yourself back out there will make it easier for her to accomplish whatever she set her mind to accomplish.”
“Hiding doesn’t seem to be doing us any good.”
“Well, it’s better than having you diced into little cubes of meat.”
The princess fell silent. While Daniel had a point, she was constantly bugged by the unsettling feeling in her stomach. What if Brandon was defeated? What if Beatriz was tortured? What if they killed Brandon slowly? All sorts of thoughts flooded her mind as she shuddered at the images.
Beatriz being whipped and beaten over and over again.
Brandon being pulled apart by some ancient medieval torture device.
Beatriz being burned at the stake.
Brandon being violated and crippled permanently.
Her body trembled at the ideas. How could she leave them to fight someone so vicious? Her hands clenched tightly into fists and her blood boiled inside her. She could feel her mana roiling and screaming for battle. For the first time, she wanted to get out and fight. Unlike the times she was angry and just went on pure emotional burst, this one was something she was very conscious about. She could feel every ounce of her mana threatening to explode and destroy. But it wasn’t indiscriminant; it had a target.
And that target was none other than the White Maiden Bianca.
Beatriz gawked. What was her sister doing? She winced at the incessant wails of her younger sister as she bawled in front of her former student. The dark knight looked up at Brandon who looked as bewildered as she did. What could her sister be trying to achieve? The elder Odissea groaned at the sight of her sister’s tear-stained face. What could her sister be crying about now!?
“For Deus’ sake, Bianca – get a fucking grip.” Beatriz rolled her eyes with a scoff. “What the fuck are you crying about now!?”
Bianca, wailing and crying loudly, suddenly got up and attacked Brandon with a swing of her cutlass. The pirate leapt back with his gunblades deflecting the incoming attack. Bianca’s attacks chained together into a relentless assault, tearing through Brandon’s clothes and inflicting deep wounds. Beatriz’s eyes widened; where did that come from? Her sister’s wails became howls as her strikes ripped through the meadow beneath her.
What is she doing!? What’s all the crying for!?
It confused her to no end. Her sister was never the type to cry especially, the waterfall kind. But she could feel the heat of the battle burn up. The murderous intent suddenly spiked and Brandon was suddenly being pushed back. As more tears poured down Bianca’s eyes, her attacks became more vicious. Brandon leapt away with his gunblades swinging and deflected her incoming attacks. He ducked and rolled away as she nearly smashed him down with her shield. Beatriz watched her attack patterns carefully, watching every strike. She couldn’t help but wonder about her tears. When did Bianca start crying when she fought?
She remembered years ago when they were fighting as children. It was in front of the entire congregation of those who served Julia Odissea. The two girls were pit against each other – Beatriz at the age of twelve and her sister, age eight. It was the day when Julia would choose her successor. And what better way to do it than Trial by Combat? She remembered the cultists who stood by at the side. The jury looked upon them with merciless and cold stares. Her sister on the other hand looked increasingly hesitant while she had the bloodlust to rip her limb from limb.
Go ahead. Kill each other.
That cruel, cold command coming from her mother set things off. With her scythe swinging, she lunged at her sister with a bloodthirsty roar. Bianca yelped and swung her cutlass at her. She could feel the hesitance in every swing her sister took. The clashes echoed throughout the cold, stone walls as their weapons slammed against each other. The mana bursting and roiling through their veins as sweat poured down both their faces. But it was then she also saw something inside Bianca that was far different from the usual members of the Odissea.
A completely spotless personality.
A naïve, sweet, and child-like innocence.
A girl with a complete hatred for killing.
Her sister barely had the bloodlust that it took to inherit her mother’s power. Her mother’s power was something that was “darker than darkness”. A power that could swallow even the mightiest of stars that shone brightly at the darkest corner of the universe. She remembered receiving the power after they deemed her sister unworthy. And it was then; she could have sworn that something in her sister snapped. Her sister, someone who had a complete abhorrence to killing, suddenly began to cry. Tears would pour down her face and her attacks suddenly had become increasingly vicious. At first sight, it looked like she was having a tantrum but then it was clear that her tears had another meaning.
It wasn’t out of despair.
It was out of atonement.
Suddenly, her sister broke out and attacked. She remembered how their blades clashed and ripped through her flesh. It was then that the jury of the Odissea realized they made a fatal mistake. It wasn’t Beatriz they should have picked and by then, the transfer ritual was irreversible.
It should have been Bianca.
Her realization snapped her back to reality when she looked up at Bianca and Brandon. Brandon still managed to deflect her attacks. But she could tell that his body was at his limit. His movements became more sluggish as his feet nearly got tangled among the plants. Beatriz growled and grabbed her scythe and lunged straight at her sister.
“Shit, if this continues any further!” Beatriz growled to herself. “Brandon’s head’s going to be lopped off!”
Finally, she closed the distance between her and her sister. With one spin kick, she kicked Brandon aside while wedging her scythe in her sister’s cutlass.
“Oh? You’ve recovered!” She beamed.
Beatriz narrowed her eyes. “Yeah, it’ll take more to kill me!”
Their weapons clashed again with sparks flying. Gears grinded against the steel as the powers between them roared to life. Their mana howled and burst in between them. Beatriz winced against the blast as it tore through her armour. But the lady-in-waiting refused to yield; losing to Bianca was against her pride. Her pride as Samantha’s knight – there was no way she could lose!
“You can fuck around with me all you like!” Beatriz snarled. She lifted her scythe and formed a bow and arrow with her legs, forming a dark thorn spear. “But I’m not gonna lose to some pansy like you! It’s because I am Samantha’s champion!”
The thorn flew out and charged straight at Bianca. The arrow flew with vicious speed until someone caught it in mid-air. Beatriz’s eyes widened when a hooded shadow caught the arrow and shattered it by crushing it in its fist.
“So you’ve improved, Rose.” The hooded figure chuckled in amusement. “I’m impressed. You don’t normally use ranged attacks or protect other people for that matter.”
Beatriz suddenly froze. That voice! “Y-y... you...”
“Goddamn it, did you really have to kick me!?” She heard an annoyed growl behind her. “I help you and this is the thanks I get!?”
Beatriz turned around and saw Brandon slowly getting up to his feet. She couldn’t help but be amazed by his tenacity. She could have sworn that she kicked Brandon hard enough to kick the air out of him, knocking him out. If she did, he would have at least survived the night. Instead of showing her concern, the lady-in-waiting smirked.
“I’m surprised you’re still up,” she shrugged nonchalantly. “I thought I kicked you hard enough to knock you out.”
Brandon glared at her, panting and heaving. “For feth’s sake, were you trying to kill me!?”
If she had to be honest, she was hoping to seriously maim him in hopes he would stop fighting Bianca. It’s not because I care, Beatriz growled to herself. She knew that if the battle persisted any longer, Bianca would have killed him. She turned back to her sister and the shadow that stood near her. She couldn’t believe it; he should have been dead!
“T-T-T-T –,” Beatriz stuttered.
Before she could move, the shadow suddenly moved right behind her with its hand raised to kill her.
“You’ve gotten soft, Rose.” The shadow said with a hint of disappointment. “This is not the woman I wanted to marry.”
Admonishment filled Beatriz as the nickname struck a chord within her and a familiar scent filled her nose. Her body trembled and her heart jumped out of her chest. She slowly turned around when the figure swung his hand down and backhanded her straight to the ground. Beatriz gasped and crashed onto the ground as he walked past her.
“You see, Bianca has a special condition.” The shadowy figure explained. “She can paralyse her pain receptors for a long time and thus keep fighting as if she never got injured. But, there’s a catch.”
Beatriz frowned. “I know. It’s a delayed reaction and will suffer immense pain thus disabling her for a long time.”
“Ah, good. You know.”
“Of course, I know! She’s my goddamn sister!”
The shadowy figure let out a humourless chuckle. “Ah but,” he glared past her. “I never knew you took on a new lover.”
Beatriz stared at him, perplexed. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Suddenly, realization hit her hard when she realized who he was talking about. He suddenly vanished and his shadowy figure appeared right behind Brandon in an instant.
“So, you’re my Rose’s new lover.” The figure growled with an ominous glare gleaming in his eyes.
Beatriz gasped and turned around. “Brandon! Get out, you can’t –!”
Before Brandon could move, the shadowy figure zoomed right past the pirate and cleaved past him. Brandon’s eyes widened as he coughed up blood. Beatriz stared in horror as the pirate was vivisected in different places before letting his body fall to the ground with a soft thump.
“I’m sorry, Rose. You should have known by now,” the shadow drawled. He then lowered his hood to reveal his face. “I am quite the jealous lover.”
His face chilled Beatriz’s blood. How could he be alive!? She was there when she saw him die! He was impaled multiple times before being bisected in half by her opponent. She remembered the anger that flowed and fuelled her power that day. It was because of that one man that he lay in pieces. Everything inside her numbed itself. Her heart, her will, and her desire – all that remained inside was her bloodlust. But much to her surprise, he now stood in front of her. Bright and alive like a sunflower in May.
The young man who stood in front of her was tall and lanky. He had abyss black eyes and bronzed skin, similar to Brandon’s. He had a triangle shaped face with a sharp chin and a defined jaw line due to his bones. Unlike the pirate however, he was much taller and also a lot less built than him. But he didn’t need the physical build to threaten people. His mana spoke for much more.
“Hmph, couldn’t keep up.” He sneered at Brandon’s fallen body. His smile filled with scorn. “Pathetic. This man has become your new lover? He doesn’t even match my standards!”
Rage filled Beatriz. “Who are you to decide who my friends are!?”
“That’s no friend! He’s your lover!”
“No he’s not! He’s a knight!”
The young man scowled and turned away with a cluck of his tongue. “Believe what you want. But, I came here for other things.” He turned to Bianca. “Bianca, we’ve already fulfilled our mission. There is no need to kill anymore.”
Bianca’s tears stopped as a smile curved up her face. “R-Really?”
“Yes, Bianca. His Highness may have ordered you to ‘kill’ Samantha but don’t forget, I am still your boss. We are only here to assess their power.”
A sigh of relief bubbled from Bianca’s throat with a small laughter. “Thank Deus, and here I was thinking His Highness asked for their heads.”
“We would have brought it but considering,” the young man glared at Beatriz. “That Rose is here, we cannot afford to bring him their heads.”
Bianca nodded with a crestfallen expression. “Oh…”
“I understand. This defeat seems bitter in our mouths but we must swallow it for now.” He reassured the maiden in white. The young man turned to Beatriz. “Consider this your victory. Oh and,” he chuckled while pointing at Brandon’s bleeding body. “You should use your time glaring at me to check on your lover’s wounds instead.”
Beatriz snarled and snapped at him. “Oh fuck off!”
He chuckled and scooped Bianca into his arms with a bow. “Very well, I shall take my leave then.”
The young man vanished with Bianca with a swing of his cloak, leaving Beatriz and Brandon behind.
Beatriz still couldn’t believe what she saw. The young man in front of her was supposed to be dead! How was he still walking around? She could have sworn that he was completely vivisected into pieces by that demon. Her hands clenched tightly into fists and gnashed her teeth together. He was alive!
“Shit,” Beatriz realized. “Brandon!”
She bolted towards Brandon as she heard a pained groan. The lady-in-waiting turned Brandon’s body around and saw the deep gashes carved into his body. She couldn’t believe it; how did he master such a technique? By using his hand alone!
“Ugh,” Brandon groaned. “Bloody feth did he use on me…?”
“It’s an ancient demonic technique.” Beatriz explained as she tried dressing his wounds. Her eyes widened at what she saw; his muscles had been completely cleaved through! “Shit, he actually mastered it…”
Brandon coughed. “Mastered what?”
Beatriz sighed; she knew it was better to explain to the pirate what he used. “Long ago, my mother was defeated by three lords of three different races: demons, humans, and fae. The lord of demons – Rhakhasa used an abominable technique which could pass through certain dimensions by delaying his existence for a short while. His attack would function under the logic that ‘no two things could exist in the same dimension’ and when he would pass his hand through the bone of an opponent, the dimension would violently reject and cleave through. It was called the Black Blade.”
Brandon raised an eyebrow. “Black Blade?”
“Just like how a Black Hole would swallow everything in existence, the Black Blade would destroy anything that it would come in contact with.”
“That’s serious stuff. Where did he learn that?”
That was the thing: he shouldn’t have been capable.
Beatriz was completely confused; where did he suddenly gain the capability to perform the Black Blade – let alone demonic arts? A frown marred her features as she slung Brandon’s arm onto her shoulder to help him up, uneasily looking at how she managed to sew up his wounds. It was like staring at a temporary plug on a gushing dam; his wounds had clotted up majority of the damage.
“I’m gonna use a little magic on you.” Beatriz said. She shook her head. “I’m not very good in healing but I can do the basics.”
“Please don’t kill me,” Brandon wheezed with a hopeful smile. “I’d like to go home in one piece, thank you.”
“I know, I know. No need to get so damn snippy.”
“I’m just saying. He did pretty much cut me into pieces.”
“Yeah, cut you up like a steak he did,” Beatriz chuckled dryly. She examined his wounds on Brandon’s body. “Yeah, I think I can fix this.”
“I’m not Sam! I’m not some healer! Healers are useless in combat!”
“Yeah, I’m bleeding and you don’t know diddly squat about sewing wounds up.”
Beatriz let out a disgruntled snort, gripping his arm tightly. “Ah shut up, I managed to fix some of it!”
Although Brandon was right, she would never admit it. She begrudgingly let out an annoyed growl bubbling from her throat while looking at his wounds. A wave of relief hit her when she saw Brandon’s wounds healing. Surprise hit her however when some of his wounds already completely shut. She then saw his gunblades glowing and slowly turning red.
His wounds are being healed by the sword? Beatriz mused. She shook her head. “Neptunian Steel doesn’t have healing properties does it?”
Brandon shrugged. “They do but extremely minor.”
“Really? That’s not what your swords are showing me.”
Beatriz pointed to his gunblades. “Look at the colour of your gunblades.”
The pirate looked down only for his eyes widen at the sight of his gunblades. “They’re red?”
“Yeah, care to explain that?”
“But its healing properties are only due to contact. I didn’t cut myself with my blade nor did my blade touch me.”
“Then, why’s your blade red?”
Impossible, he couldn’t have inflicted that grave a wound. Beatriz shook her head. Brandon was fast but he didn’t have the inhuman speed of her sister. Nor did he have the special ability to numb himself. Suddenly, her eyes widened when she remembered the duel between Bianca and their tandem. Was it possible that he did inflict some damage? She smirked; he was getting more impressive by the day.
“I can see why Sam’s so concerned about you.” Beatriz let out a hollow chuckle. “You’re worth your weight in gold.”
Brandon gave her a puzzled look. “What?”
“Not many people have the gall and the ability to face Bianca head on.”
“Yeah, she told me that herself.”
Beatriz nodded in amusement. “Oh, well – then she’s right.” She muttered in annoyance. “For once.”
Brandon raised an eyebrow. “Mind telling me what beef you have with Bianca? I’d like to know why she tried to chop me up into tiny little pieces.”
“You sure you want to pound 400 years worth of history into your banged up skull now?”
“I don’t mind. I read a lot.”
Beatriz chuckled with a seductive smirk. “Aww, there are other things worth pounding into you.”
Brandon’s face turned bright red as he twitched at Beatriz’s suggestion. “No.”
“But I just found a new whip made from horse hair. It’s pretty strong.”
“I’d like to go back to my ship with my dignity intact.”
“Oh, you’re more into the raw stuff? My fist’s small enough.”
“I value my capacity to take a dump, thank you very much.”
Beatriz pouted. “Aww, you’re no fun.”
“It’s more like I don’t want to die.” Brandon snorted in annoyance. “Besides, I’d like to be with the woman I love when I do.”
Beatriz scoffed with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Pshaw, where the fuck did you pull that out? People fuck everyday.”
Brandon rolled his eyes. “Again, how did you become one of Samantha’s knights?”
“She needs me to keep her life exciting. Life’s boring without a few weirdos to question the way of life.”
“That’s new. When did you start spouting proverbs?”
Beatriz shrugged with a grin. “I guess Luke rubbed off on me a bit.”
It was a carefully guarded secret. A sad, hidden smile curved up her lips when she remembered how Luke wielded her scythe to save their lives. It took a lot of nerve to pick up her scythe. She remembered the first time she took hold of her scythe. Her mother would whip her and beat her for crying when the thorns of the scythe’s shaft ripped through her flesh. It was then she learned how to laugh and love pain. It was part of her magic; it was what made her the way she was. But Luke, who was her complete opposite, picked up the scythe anyway and fought. He even let it feed on his mana.
There was only one thing she had for him.
It was respect.
For those who knew her, respect from her was hard to come by. Most people had to beat it out of her to get her respect. Like a rabid wolf, she was beaten, mauled, and torn apart. But Luke did none of those things. He looked at her with such rose-colored glasses; she could have sworn that she would have thrown up at his ideas about her. But a part of her missed that kind of idealism. It was that kind of idealism that allowed her to keep at least a bit of her humanity.
“That’s true,” Brandon chuckled bitterly. He hung and shook his head. “Luke would have said something like that to be honest.”
Beatriz smiled sadly. “I miss him already.”
“Yeah, we all do.”
“Brave little sprout did the one thing we couldn’t do: sacrifice. I wonder though, why did he do it? Wasn’t he scared of dying?”
Brandon pondered for a moment before shrugging. “… I don’t know,” he finally said. “Luke was never so headstrong before about those things.”
Beatriz sighed and looked into the starry sky while keeping Brandon propped up. She could see the blood trickling down Brandon’s legs from the wounds inflicted on him from their attackers. A sigh bubbled from her throat; he did come back for her. She at least owed him an explanation.
“The two people who attacked us were Bianca Odissea and Miguel Cruzé,” Beatriz finally said.
Brandon nodded weakly. “I know Bianca’s your sister. But Miguel who what now?”
“Miguel Cruzé was… my lover back then,” Beatriz admitted mildly. She sighed deeply. “He confessed to me when I was doomed to an arranged marriage with some prince from a neighboring tribe.”
“You had a paramour?”
“Well, yeah. What the hell did you think I was!? I’m not a goddamn prude!”
“I thought you’d be faithful to at least one guy.”
“I am! That marriage I was forced into was just a paper marriage. He sucked at fucking, too.”
“Not sure if I should be amused that you can say it with a straight face.”
Beatriz shrugged.”Well, the Odissea council expected me to bear a child but I couldn’t because it took them two damn weeks to realize that the magic I inherited subconsciously acted upon my will.”
“I refused to have children.”
Brandon nodded. “Couldn’t see yourself being a mother?”
“It’s more like I hated children with every fibre of my being. Those crying, crapping, whining hurricanes,” Beatriz grumbled and helped Brandon hobble along. “Come on, we have to get you back to the inn. The longer we leave your tendons unattended, the lower your chances of you ever walking again.”
As they began to shuffle their way back, the lady-in-waiting heard a loud cry. “Brandon, Bea!”
The lady-in-waiting looked up and relief flooded through her at the sight of both Daniel and Samantha. The nightmare of seeing Samantha’s bleeding corpse etched itself in her mind. How could Samantha walk out like that without even sensing the danger!? Fury filled her at the thought of Bianca managing to take a pot shot at the princess. She helped Brandon hobble along a little closer before setting him on the meadow floor.
“Brandon, Bea!” Samantha gasped as she saw their bloodied forms. “What happened?”
Beatriz snorted. “Faced a bunch of dumbasses who thought they could kill me.” She then glared at Samantha. “And you!? What in Tartaros were you fucking doing sneaking out at night!?”
Samantha yelped and shrunk at the sound of Beatriz’s fury. “I-I…”
“Why didn’t you run from Bianca!? For Deus’ sake, if she were in a worse mood, you’d be chopped into ground meat for Siomai by now!”
“I… I… I –”
“Ugh, for fuck’s sake never mind!” Beatriz snapped.
It was rare for her to feel that kind of rage. Although there were times she wanted Samantha to truly learn her lesson, this one was too close for comfort. Bianca nearly killed her and from the sight of her wound, she knew exactly where to aim. She took one glance at Samantha, noticing that her wound had healed. A sense of relief filled her; at least Samantha was spared.
But there was something else: she also realized that if Bianca was here, then that meant her brothers knew of her quest.
She didn’t know which brother exactly Bianca served but whoever it was, he knew. Her hands clenched tightly into fists and her knuckles paled. Rage and fury flooded through her at the thought of Bianca murdering Samantha. But what puzzled her more was the thought of Miguel Cruzé being alive. She remembered his death at the hands of that one man. He was tortured and pulled apart before his body parts were unceremoniously impaled on pikes for her to see. She remembered that day; it was the day she finally unleashed the Curse of Death – a magic that was tied only to her that not even her mother could control or stop.
It was also this curse that kept her alive for so long.
She glanced back at Samantha who had begun mending Brandon’s legs. She could see the concern flicker in the princess’ eyes. A small, mournful chuckle bubbled from her throat. Samantha’s naivety had been long robbed from her ever since Xychosia had been destroyed. But she still managed to maintain that aura of compassion. Something she knew Samantha had the upper hand over her two brothers. She watched Samantha’s hand glide over Brandon’s wound as the pirate winced in pain.
“Tch, Miguel knew how to aim that stupid technique too,” Beatriz growled inwardly to herself. “Any deeper, he would have chopped off Brandon’s legs!”
“What happened?” Samantha asked while mending Brandon’s legs. “What did Bianca want?”
“Obviously she wanted you dead,” Brandon rolled his eyes with an annoyed snort. “What I want to know is who is she working for and what does Miguel Cruzé got to do with anything.”
Daniel shrugged. “We at least know that Bianca’s working for one of Samantha’s brothers. I think it’s Prince Matteo though. He appeared to be a little more specific with the people he picked as his champions.”
Beatriz nodded slowly. “Yeah, sounds like it.” Her voice trailed away to the distance.
He certainly knows a lot about our enemy.
But that was the thing that egged her. How did Daniel know so much about their enemy when they didn’t have diddly squat? He is an agent, her logic argued. Beatriz shook her head; even then, he seemed to know that Bianca and Dreadnought were going after them. So, why did he come after them now? Did he have a death wish? Beatriz growled mentally and slapped herself; she hated thinking too much. It drove her insane!
“Bea?” She heard someone call her.
The lady-in-waiting looked up to see Samantha staring at her with concern written all over her face. She chuckled; what kind of knight was she? What was she doing making Samantha worry? She slapped the insecurities aside and gave the princess her usually haughty smirk.
“I’m fine! What kind of knight would I be if I let Bianca kick me around like a rag doll?” Beatriz sneered. “Besides, if I were someone that weak – I wouldn’t be a knight of Sofiene now would I?”
Samantha frowned. She knew Beatriz was hiding something. And it was rare for Beatriz to hide things from her. When she looked into her lady-in-waiting’s eyes, it was clear that the petite girl had been shaken. Shaken by the appearance of her younger sister and whoever Miguel Cruzé was. Guilt and annoyance bubbled inside the princess but she knew that now was not the time and place.
“This means we have to move up our schedule a bit,” Samantha said as she turned to Brandon. “Can you walk?”
Brandon nodded. “It’ll take me some time but I can walk. I just can’t fight with that insane speed I showed you guys in the caverns of Arachnos.”
“That’s fine. As long as we can sprint our way to the empire, we should be okay. I guess…?”
“Machinos isn’t that far. Besides, we can take the shuttle. It should be leaving in a few hours.”
Samantha blinked until she remembered that Daniel did tell her about the empire. “Oh right! The shuttle!”
Beatriz nodded. “We better get our things then. I don’t like leaving traces of myself behind.”
“Nobody does,” Brandon chuckled with a humourless smirk. “Let’s start moving.”
As the knights gathered themselves up, Samantha followed after them. But not before taking one last look at the meadow of flowers in front of her. Where did Bianca come from? Beatriz never did mention having a younger sister before. Her hands clenched tightly into fists when she took one look at Beatriz and the other knights walking away from the meadow. She looked down on the flower where she saw the Star of Bethlehem flowers blooming at her feet. She stepped back for a moment and took a close look, squatting down and brushing the lush petals against her fingers.
“Whoever she is, she’s powerful enough to scare Beatriz.” Samantha murmured to herself. “She’s incredible…
“Sam, quit dilly dallying! We have to go!” She heard Brandon holler.
The princess nodded. “Coming!” She hollered back.
Thoughts about Bianca and Beatriz filled her mind. How powerful were they? How long had their feud been going? It was something that egged her to no end. Why would Bianca suddenly show up now instead of trying to rescue her elder sister from prison? Nothing made sense!
Then again, neither do your flashbacks.
She remembered the flashbacks she had suffered back in Xychosia. All the screaming, the corpses that lined the roads of Sofiene, and all the blood that splattered against the concrete walls – it still plagued her every night. Her whole body shuddered as the white light flashed before her eyes once more. But this time, it was a little clearer. Behind the white light, there was a dark silhouette. The silhouette of a mechanical armour loomed over the opposing armies of Sofiene. She gasped and snapped herself out her daze. What was that? Where did that come from?”
“Sam!” This time, it was Beatriz who hollered after her. “Get moving! We don’t have all day!”
Samantha snapped out of her daze and bolted after her knights. But the thoughts now began to plague her. When did her memories become clearer? She looked down at her pendant where the light within it began to swirl brighter along with the jewel of Azaleth. Could it be, she thought to herself. Was the magic responsible for solving her amnesia? For clearing her thoughts? Whatever it was, she was determined to find out.
And she was going to do whatever it took to get those memories sorted out.
Morning light dawned upon them as Samantha and the rest of her knights made their way to the shuttle heading towards the Machinos Empire. She looked at her small suitcase, no longer the five big heavy suitcases she intended to drag along with her. Now that she thought about it, Brandon and Beatriz were right about her not dragging her suitcases with her through every cavern they travelled through. It would have taken longer and Dreadnought and Bianca would have caught up faster.
“Now that we’re here, the trip to Machinos shouldn’t take too long.” Daniel said. He gestured to Samantha. “This is the shuttle I was talking about.”
In front of Samantha, there was a double decker bright red metal creature with four wheels with the insignia of Machinos welded onto the back and the front of the metal beast. Samantha gasped in amazement; they never had any of that in Sofiene. When she thought about it, shuttles like that could save so much time and decongest the streets of Sofiene. Instead of making their way through the city by carriage or by walking, the shuttle would take them to and fro wherever they wanted to go.
“If we had these things in Sofiene,” Samantha shook her head and exclaimed. “Surely, things would be done so much faster!”
Daniel nodded. “Definitely. However, the main problem is – do you have the engineers and the brains to build it? And most of all, will the people of Sofiene accept technology like that?”
Samantha smirked indignantly. “Of course they will! Especially when they see how fast they can get things done.”
“Remember, everything has a consequence, princess. I know someone who promised to eliminate drugs in six months. And another leader who opted to build a defensive wall to protect the people from invaders.”
“And how did that turn out?”
“Blood-soaked streets and loads of extrajudicial killings. Severe discrimination. May I add that there are discrimination who believe that their beloved leader can do no wrong?”
Samantha shuddered. “That sounds like a war-torn country!”
“It is. A war waged against drugs never works.”
“What city is this? Maybe we should avoid it.”
“It’s the city of Militaris. One of the most technologically advanced cities in the continent of Zemlya.”
Samantha nodded as the people began to board the shuttle. She stared at it warily before taking a step on the metal staircases. Her body trembled for a bit while she examined the metal floors.
“What do you call this thing? Just “shuttle”?”
“It’s a Double Decker Bus.” Daniel explained. He saw Brandon and Beatriz get on the bus with no problems. “You guys have been on one?”
Brandon shrugged. “It shouldn’t be as bad riding a ship.”
Beatriz grinned. “Yeah, it should be fun.”
Seeing the hopeful and cheerful looks on her knights’ faces, Samantha felt a new emotion well up inside her. All her worries settled down as she looked at her knights all pile into the bus. Why should she be worried? She did swear that she would do whatever it took to save Sofiene. She looked forward to the shadowy silhouette of the Machinos Empire with a beaming smile. No use worrying, Beatriz once said. And the princess knew that her lady-in-waiting was right. The more she worried, the less things she would accomplish.
Thus, she took a step on the metal stairs and rode the shuttle heading towards the Machinos Empire, the City of Technology.