Book One: Knights' Festival

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Calm Before The Storm

Guilt and annoyance welled up inside Brandon as he and Daniel scoured through the alleyways. He didn’t want to leave the princess behind. Samantha wasn’t equipped to fight a whole horde of soldiers. Bea’s there, his mind argued. But he couldn’t help but feel uneasy. Leaving Samantha and Beatriz to deal with a whole horde of soldiers when he and Daniel were the best in close-quarter combat with the least amount of casualties made knots in his stomach.

“Tch,” Brandon scowled. “Let’s find Lenard quick! That way we can avert a disaster!”

Daniel shook his head. “To be honest, I don’t think there will be one.”

“Why?”

“It’s too quiet. If Bea started fighting, things would have been exploding by now.”

Come to think of it, Brandon looked back. There was no sound. It was too quiet. Too quiet for his liking. His blood ran cold. Was Beatriz defeated? Not that easily! She would have kicked up a tantrum if they just dragged her along and captured her. The floors would have been stained with the soldiers’ blood. He tapped the earcuff attached to his ear and heard a soft humming sound. He squatted down and pressed his bronzed palm against the rocky ground, closing his eyes to listen. Vibrations rang through his hand but that was it. He couldn’t get a good image.

“Shit, I lost her.” Brandon scowled and stood up, shaking his head.

Daniel asked. “Think they got captured?”

“Doubt it. They may have ran or something.”

“Wouldn’t we have at least crossed them?”

“No. The alleyways of Machinos are confusing for a reason. It’s to prevent raiders from storming the slums and killing whoever they pleased.”

Daniel frowned. “I didn’t know Machinos had a bloody history.”

“If you read your history books, you’d know that they were one of the cities with the highest amount of dead magi, sorcerers, wizards, and witches.”

“What?”

Brandon sighed as they walked along. “Long time ago, after the Odissea War, Machinos had a civil war amongst its people. There were those who wielded magic and there were those who believed in the power of machines.”

“The rise of technology, I’m guessing.”

“You can say that. Machinos split into two factions: the Machinators and the Magicians. These were the two factions that battled for supremacy.”

Daniel shook his head. “And the Machinators won?”

“Obviously. The Machinators then found every magic-user and condemned them to death with inhumane methods. Anyone suspected of being a magic wielder would be killed.”

“Reminds me of Militaris, to be honest.”

Brandon shrugged. “Machinos used to be a colony of Militaris before. It only got its independence back after fulfilling an armistice agreement.”

“The Treaty of Fusika.”

“Yeah, the treaty was signed in Fusika. One of Machinos’ colonies and thus declared that Machinos will pay for indemnity. In return, Militaris will grant Machinos their independence.”

Daniel nodded. “So, what about Bea and Sam? Do we go after them?”

“I want to but,” Brandon winced and growled. “Sam had this magic put inside me where I cannot deny her orders. No matter what.”

Daniel’s eyes widened. “Is that even possible?”

“When she knighted Bea and I, she passed some mana through us and then we suddenly were able to fight the champion of Xychosia.”

“Which one?”

“Melissa Expier.”

“Damn, and you’re still alive?”

“I’m talking to you, aren’t I?”

Daniel chuckled lightly and continued to search around. “So, this Lenard friend of yours – how long have you known him?”

“He was with the crew for a few years until he decided to establish his headquarters here.” Brandon explained. “He wasn’t the type either to constantly go sailing. He was my chronicler for awhile.”

“I see. Then, who replaced him?”

“Another crew member of mine. Joaoie P.”

“P for?”

“Never knew. He never wanted to divulge anything about his past life.”

Daniel nodded. “Makes sense, I suppose.”

Brandon watched Daniel’s eyes avert themselves and look all around the alleys they had escaped to. As much as he had proven some of his worth, there was still something inside him that didn’t want to trust the young agent. It was a tickling feeling in his gut that knotted itself into a messy clump. If there’s anyone who had good intuition, it was me, Brandon frowned. But, there was also something called paranoia. He couldn’t let his distrust lead him on forever.

Ironically, he trusted Beatriz more. She was a little more – dare he say – transparent. Even if she was a little vulgar, it was one thing he learned on his trips and adventures: vulgar people tended to be more honest. Or so he thought. Beatriz always said what was on her mind. Whether or not it was socially acceptable, it was comforting to him that she at least proved that she was a terrible liar. A chuckle bubbled from his throat. And Beatriz’s main concern was more for Samantha than anything else. And as long as they had a mutual agreement, they would work together.

But what about Samantha?

Samantha was a different concern all together. The princess had been trying to learn despite her futile attempts. Her desire to no longer be dead weight – it was inspiring. A small smile curved up his lips at the memory. It was that time in the arena that she decided to take her destiny into her own hands. Fighting someone like Melissa would have been terrifying for first timers, Brandon mused. He had to applaud her. Even the most veteran soldier would have turned tail and ran.

She had grown significantly for him. Samantha fought her way through Azaleth caverns and even inherited something from the journey. It was as if she had inherited the will of the people of Azaleth. The presence of Azaleth herself said it all. To see the sun and be a proud race that they once were, Brandon thought. He remembered speaking even to the princess of Azaleth. Samantha held her ground even if her arachnophobia nearly had her screaming stark-raving mad.

I just hope she’s fine, Brandon thought to himself. Suddenly, he shook his head. What the hell was he thinking? She had Beatriz with her! Plus, she already had magic that was beyond any sorcerer’s widest dreams. He remembered the look on Arkamedon’s face when he saw Samantha unleash her power. Sheer terror painted Arkamedon’s face white and envy painted his eyes green. He hadn’t expected that Samantha had that much power.

It was like staring into a vast maelstrom, Brandon shook his head. Her magic was virtually untapped and ready to explode. Even for a non-magic user like him, he could feel the weight of the power crushing his shoulders. Most of all, he could feel the mana that Samantha knighted him with still roiling in his veins. It was weird but at the same time, strangely soothing. All his wounds seemed to heal almost instantly and he never felt as tired as he should.

As much as he didn’t really believe in the concept of magic being the end-all of all things, it did save his life a few times. His mind drifted to the memories he had with Luke and how the dryad’s affinity with plants had save him. The mushrooms, the vines, the trees and lastly, the vines that drew out the golden poison messing around with his blood – all that had saved his life numerous of times.

“Hey!” He heard someone call out for him.

Brandon snapped out of his daze and saw Daniel standing in front of him, scouting the area.

“You sure we’re in the right place? I don’t see anybody.” Daniel turned around only to see completely desolate houses. “They’re all kinda dead.”

It was too quiet, even for him. Brandon’s hand slowly went to his sword as his ears twitched. His heart began to throb and race. Blood rushed through his body with adrenaline burning his fibres to life. His fingers slowly gripped his sword as he looked around. Thumping sounds filled his ears. A distant growl echoed through the alleyways. The winds blew against the rotten wood window panes as they slammed against the metal and stone walls. Tattered and soiled curtains fluttered and billowed as an eerie wind brushed against the two young men’s skins. The small puddles on the ground had small ripples in it with the loosely attached metal plates shuddered from the shock. This isn’t good, Brandon shifted into a battle stance.

“You sure your friend isn’t a werewolf?” Daniel chuckled humourlessly. “I hear a lot of thumping.”

Suddenly, the growl got louder when the two knights looked up to see a large black wolf on the roof of one of the houses in the compound. Its saliva dripped from its bared fangs as it snarled at them. The eyes had a luminescent green glow to them with its jet black fur shining under the light. Brandon’s eyes widened when he realized what the creature was.

“It’s... It’s a Hell Hound.” Brandon whispered.

Daniel gawked. “I thought that was an old wives’ tale!”

“Thought so too. But clearly we have a snarling, glowing, bloodthirsty, angry, infuriated, black, demonic creature in front of us now don’t we?”

“You read the thesaurus just to tell me what the hell was in front of us?”

The pirate rolled his eyes. “Yes because I apparently was too damn dumb to describe the drooling mutt that was in front of us!”

“Did you have to be mean about it!?”

“Maybe I had to!”

Suddenly, the black canine creature let out a vengeful howl and lunged at them.

“Well, fuck this.” Brandon growled.

Daniel and he leapt out of the way with his gunblades drawn. Brandon winced as he crashed against the wall, firing a few rounds at the angry creature. He heard gun shots from Daniel’s weapon as the wolf redirected its attention towards the agent. Brandon scowled and kicked away from the wall to lunge. Where did that wolf come from, he wondered to himself. But whatever it was, it was bloodthirsty and hungry! And, it had him and Daniel as part of its menu!

“Daniel, get out of its way!” Brandon hollered.

Daniel nodded and bolted away, ducking as its claw nearly swiped his head off. “No need to tell me twice!”

The wolf growled and turned to Brandon and lunged at him. Brandon danced past its stomping paws before slashing its legs. He heard a loud cry of pain from the canine creature before dodging past its attempt to stomp on him. The pirate narrowed his eyes and slid past its whipping tail before bolting back towards it.

“Why would a Hell Hound be wandering around the slums like this?” Brandon pondered and deflected flying debris with his gunblades. “It doesn’t make sense! They’d be in places where there is a lot of resentment and,” he looked at his surroundings. “Hatred…”

Hatred.

Now that he thought about it, hatred was one of the most powerful lures for a Hell Hound. And the slums was the perfect feeding ground for it! He examined the tattered curtains and the broken window vanes that hung by a rusted hinge. His nose wrinkled from the pungent smell of trash that wafted all around him. As he took a step forward, he suddenly felt a lump under his boot. Brandon removed his foot when he saw a small doll that had been burned in a purple dress with black hair.

“There was a fire around here.” Brandon examined the place some more, noticing the scorch marks on the steel walls. “It was a big one too.”

“Brandon!” He heard Daniel wail. “If you’re done admiring the sights, now would be a good time to help me!”

Brandon paused for a moment, noticing Dan control his shots at the beast. The agent had shifted from wielding a rifle to two handguns. One appeared to be a revolver, similar to what some of the pirates he knew used. Another seemed to look like plastic and a simple gun but he could hear a stream of bullets exploding from the barrel. A chuckle bubbled from his lips. What was Daniel whining about taking down a Hell Hound?

“Meh, I’m sure you’ll live.” Brandon waved his hand dismissively. “It can’t be that hard.”

“Brandon!”

“Like I said, you’ve dealt with worse.”

“You’re doing this on purpose!”

Sort of, Brandon admitted to himself with a mischievous chuckle under his breath. Daniel may have had the information they needed but he still didn’t trust him. Samantha’s move to trust him was a little naïve, if he had anything to say about it. But what choice did he have? He was just her knight! His say didn’t matter much when it came to picking people.

Then again, she didn’t really treat him like she was above or he was beneath. It was as if, they were on equal standing.

Brandon shook his head. Now was not the time to think of that! He looked around and then at the angry Hell Hound. What could have possibly fed a Hell Hound so much that it was now twenty times its intended size? The pirate captain racked his brains for an idea until he heard something soft whisper into his ears. His eyes widened; where did that come from? He looked around as the plants started swishing to and fro. Oh right, Luke’s earcuff, Brandon remembered. Suddenly, an idea hit him.

“Wait, Luke was able to calm down that angry Bandersnatch in Xychosia.” Brandon murmured to himself. He looked up to see the slobbering and furious Hell Hound. “Maybe I can do the same…”

Brandon slowly approached the angry Hell Hound as it backed Daniel into a corner. He sheathed his blades as warmth suddenly began to fill him. It wasn’t Samantha’s mana that roiled. This time, it was soothing and the feeling – nostalgic. His arms no longer felt heavy and his heart, light. He kept his footsteps lithe and gentle on the stone ground, avoiding the puddles to prevent splashing.

Soon, he began to hum softly. The melody came to him as if it was from a memory of long ago. The Hell Hound, still furious, snapped its head towards the pirate captain. Much to Brandon’s surprise, his heart remained stout and refused to shudder. The pirate himself was amazed but what he was doing.

How am I doing this? Brandon asked himself. He shook his head; he had never done it before! Consoling and soothing a furious and bloodthirsty creature was something he never found in his repertoire. In fact, it was usually him who made the creature angry in the first place! Not my fault they had my treasure, the pirate in him argued. But the pirate shook the thought away and continued moving forward. The once ghostly presence in the slums around him began to fade as a choir began to sing behind him. Brandon turned white as a sheet; the melody and choir sang as if it was straight from the heavens!

Suddenly, a familiar sight greeted him. Golden streams of mana swirled around him and made its way to the Hell Hound. The Hell Hound stopped snarling and instead stared at the pirate with a puzzled look. A golden aura soon emerged past Brandon’s body in the shape of a small boy. The singing voices no longer came from behind him but instead from the aura. Brandon could only watch in amazement as the aura began to soothe the soul of the creature.

“You poor thing,” Brandon suddenly said, with his voice sounding as if it had been fused with another smaller voice. His eyes widened; where did that come from!? Nevertheless, he had to keep talking. Daniel’s and his life depended on it! “You embodied all the hatred of all that died here.”

The Hell Hound let a pained and guilty whimper.

“Tarry no longer. This world is not meant for you. You are to lead the souls to the lands for the dead.”

The Hell Hound, slowly enveloped by the golden streams, shrank into its normal size and bowed its head to the golden aura and Brandon.

“Go, and be at ease.”

The Hell Hound seemed to nod and vanished, leaving Brandon and Daniel alone in the desolate slums.

Brandon snapped himself out of his daze as he found himself completely unharmed. He saw the golden streams swirling around him as it returned back into his earcuff. A small chuckle bubbled from his throat when he stood in the midst of a golden shower. He looked up at Daniel who had been gawking at him the whole time.

“You told me you couldn’t use magic!” Daniel exclaimed.

“I can’t!” Brandon argued back.

“Then explain the golden dust! And the weird singing!”

“How was I supposed to know what the hell I was doing!? Everything just happened!”

The two boys bickered amongst one another until they heard a loud static crackle from above them. They heard a loud applause all of a sudden, breaking the silence in the heart of the slums. Brandon and Daniel immediately turned around with their backs against each other’s. Brandon’s lavender eyes darted to and fro around the area only to see a small white box peeking out from a window.

“I leave you guys for 3 years and you get that weird and voodoo on me?” A crisp voice crackled from the speakers. “The hell with that, Cap! When did you suddenly do weird voodoo magic?”

Daniel raised an eyebrow. “Is that…?”

Brandon, seeing the white box, chuckled and shook his head. “I was pretty surprised myself, Lenard. At least you haven’t changed. Still speaking through that dumb white box of yours.”

“You know I have issues with people. They are weird, fucked up, creatures.”

“Yeah but you have to go out some day.”

“No! I refuse! Every time I do, something’s bound to blow up!”

Confused, Daniel turned to Brandon. “That’s Lenard?”

Brandon nodded. “Lenard’s always had an issue with too many people. Even as my chronicler, he liked staying at the top of the main mast just so he wouldn’t have to talk to anybody.”

“Talk about misanthropy.”

“No!” Lenard exploded with a loud screech bursting from the speakers, causing Brandon and Daniel to wince. “It’s not misanthropy! Misanthropy is defined as a hated for people! I don’t hate them! I’m just… well…”

“Socially awkward?” Daniel asked.

Brandon smirked. “You’re one to talk.”

“What?”

“Says the one who randomly goes up to people and dedicates themselves to a cause they’re not even informed of.”

“Oh come on, you’re gonna be a jerk now?”

The speaker crackled again. “Nah, Brandon’s always been like that. He always sought the deeper meaning of things. It’s what made him a good pirate to be frank.”

Brandon chuckled dryly. “Thanks, I’m glad you appreciate my methods.”

“Though, he can come off as an annoying, paranoid asshole but, it happens.”

“Sheesh, and here I was wondering when you’ve gotten polite.”

Brandon heard a snigger. “Oh come on, Cap. You yourself know you can be a bit of an asshole.”

The pirate captain shook his head with a laughter bubbling with his throat. At least, the man had not changed. It was the same old Lenard, the kind of man who never minced his words and just shoved it into people’s faces. A little more “in-your-face” kind, Brandon remembered majority of his crew members wanting to slug Lenard at least once for his bluntness.

“Anyway, where’s my little man? You know, the little beansprout? I don’t hear his voice.”

Brandon’s blood ran cold. Anxiety paled his bronzed complexion and his hands curled up into a fist. He didn’t know what to say. Luke was one of Lenard’s closest friends and one of the few who could take what Lenard could dish out. He looked at Daniel for a moment who just raised his hands up in surrender. A sigh bubbled from Brandon’s throat as he weakly admitted.

“He’s… He’s dead.”

Suddenly, the speaker went dead silent. Brandon could feel the air around him become thick and tense as it strangled his throat. The suspense killed him, wondering what Lenard was thinking or how the former chronicler was going to cope with the dryad’s death.

Daniel turned to Brandon with a raised eyebrow and whispered to the pirate captain. “You sure you should have told him that?”

Brandon shrugged. “Better tell him the truth than nothing at all.”

“It wasn’t painful for him, was it?” Lenard suddenly asked. “W-was it bloody?”

Brandon could hear the pain behind Lenard’s words, no longer hearing the cocky attitude he had gotten used to. If there was anyone else that would have been affected by Luke’s death as bad as he had, it was Lenard. While everyone wanted Lenard to walk the plank, Luke insisted and argued with him to keep the man. Brandon remembered that day so well. Lenard was about to walk the plank until Luke used some of his vines to catch him. Unfortunately, Luke was lighter than Lenard so both of them ended up in the water. He had to jump off the plank and take a dive himself to save the two of them before they got mauled by sharks.

“No,” Brandon said. “It was quick. Like falling asleep.”

Lenard sighed in relief.”At least… it wasn’t gory and torturous. He didn’t have a slow death.”

“Trust me, it wouldn’t have happened that way. I wouldn’t have let it happen that way.”

“You wouldn’t? Brandon, he trusted you with his life!”

The pirate captain backed up from Lenard’s explosion. The sorrow and pain was clear in Lenard’s voice. Filled with hurt and agony, as if he had lost a dear family member. He remembered how he too refused to believe that Luke demanded that he die by his hand. The conflict and storm that raged inside him tossed and turned his conscience. His heart stopped and sank to his stomach, leaving him guilt-stricken. Maybe Daniel had been right. He shouldn’t have told him.

“Fuck! Brandon! Luke was literally attached to your goddamn side and you just let him die!” Lenard roared. “Some fucking captain you are!”

Brandon prepared to retaliate until Daniel stepped forward. The pirate captain could see a cold fury dancing in the agent’s eyes. Something that he had not seen in the agent even when they first met up.

“Hey! Everyone dies in war. Luke gave it his best shot. It’s not Brandon’s fault that he’s dead! In fact, if there’s anything, you goddamn hermit – you’re the one who should have been there if you’re so damn concerned about Luke’s well being!”

“What do you know!?” Lenard snarled back. “You know nothing about Luke!”

Daniel then fell silent. His words cut cold and clear. “That’s true.”

Lenard growled. “So what excuse do you have!?”

“I don’t have any. But at least I’m not blaming someone else for the death of someone I clearly didn’t have any power over.”

Brandon was admonished; Lenard was right! What did Daniel know? But the moment he looked into the agent’s eyes, he saw something else. A pain that had ripped through the young agent’s soul for years. It tore his identity asunder; it took no prisoners. But instead of crushing him, the pain strengthened the young man’s tenacity. It was resilience that he had never seen before.

At Daniel’s words, Lenard’s temper cooled. “So, what do you want?” But his words were still cold.

Brandon said. “I was hoping for some way to get transportation. I’m heading off to Xychosia.”

“Get the Warhammer.”

“Don’t have it.”

“What!? Not only did you get Luke killed, you lost your goddamn ship too!? Shouldn’t you be under the sea with it!?”

Daniel whistled and shook his head. “Sheesh, talk about lack of social graces.”

“He can’t help it. It’s who he is,” Brandon whispered back to Daniel.

“I could have protected him!” He shrieked. The two young men could hear him slamming his fists on the table. “You couldn’t do it! I had to be the one!”

Brandon shook his head. “Look, Lenard! Yelling at me will not bring Luke back! But helping me get a transpo will!”

“How!?”

“Luke gave his life up to protect a princess. And if you don’t help us now, that princess is gonna die!”

“She doesn’t matter! Luke’s dead!”

“She inherited his will! I inherited Luke’s will! So stop your goddamn moping and help me!”


“Get moving, bitch!” One of the soldiers snarled.

Samantha yelped as they roughly shoved her forward. She winced at the sharp blow on her back; how could they be so rude? You’re currently assumed to be a criminal, Sam, her mind reminded her. The princess sighed. Now that she thought about it, maybe her plan wasn’t so bright after all. She trudged along the asphalt roads as the soldiers then placed her in front of two steel metal doors. Her blood ran cold. Where was she going? What were they doing? Her mind raced in a panic as she darted to and fro to find Beatriz.

“Hmmm, quality stuff.” She heard a familiar voice say in an amused tone.

Samantha looked to her left and found Beatriz being dragged along by chains. She already had some sort of collar around her neck with chains attached to them. She also had a pair of shackles locked on both her wrists and her ankles. From an amused look, Beatriz’s expression turned that into a cold and sultry smirk.

“So, you guys seem to be enjoying these things.” Beatriz nodded slowly. She turned to them with a sly smile. “I guess you’ll be jerking off tonight.”

One of policemen, flushing hard, snarled. “Shut your mouth, slut!”

“Oh? I didn’t know you were still in the closet.”

“Keep your thoughts in your damn vagina! I don’t need to listen to a whore like you!”

“Intense on the slut-shaming, aren’t we? Mind telling me why?”

Finally furious, the soldier pressed a button at the end of the chain. Samantha’s eyes widened when a white spark crackled and rushed through the chains. She turned to Beatriz as the surge of electricity burned through Beatriz’s fibres, electrocuting her. Samantha winced and shut her eyes, shivering at the way they electrocuted her. Fear and panic rampaged through her mind unlike before. This was a bad idea! But much to her surprise, Beatriz barely screamed. She didn’t let out a single sound. Instead, the princess heard a burst of maniacal laughter from the lady-in-waiting.

“Mmm yes! More! Give me more!” Beatriz moaned. “I love it!”

Samantha could tell that the soldiers were now increasingly afraid of Beatriz. Their torture devices weren’t working and even their interrogation methods barely made any progress. Instead, they had a laughing and moaning lady in chains in front of them. They were stunned on what to do and Samantha knew it could only get worse as the electricity ripped through Beatriz’s skin.

“Ah yes, the perfect timing!” Beatriz swooned and turned to the guards. A shiver ran up Samantha’s spine as a sinister and gleeful grin curved up the lady-in-waiting’s red lips. “After all, my wounds and my pain will be your loss!”

Suddenly, a dark mana burst all around them. Samantha yelped as the cold winds brushed against her skin. She couldn’t help but be amused; what took Beatriz so long? She had half-expected the dark-knight to lash out on first sight or even against her order! Then again, the princess thought. She needed a catalyst. And her catalyst was the wounds and pain she had sustained from the earlier beatings.

“What!? A magic user!” The soldier roared. “Monster!”

“Get rid of her! She’s a terrorist!”

“Fucking terrorist! Get out of our city!”

Beatriz’s narrowed into deadly slits. “Terrorist? Me? I’ll show you who’s a terrorist!” She roared in a satanic voice.

As Beatriz unleashed more energy, Samantha yelped and backed off in fear. “Bea! Stop!”

However, the dark knight refused to listen. She grabbed the chains despite the electricity and absorbed all the incoming energy screaming through the chains. The escorting soldiers gasped and bolted away in terror as Beatriz unleashed more power. The dark energy swirled around Beatriz’s small body as the impact knocked back the soldiers. Samantha shivered as veins began to bulge at Beatriz’s temple and her body began to contort. Her dark blonde hair grew longer and her nails suddenly became more like claws. A spade shaped tail suddenly snaked out with metallic wings sprouting out of her black. The feathers shined like blades under the morning sun as Beatriz had a dark sneer on her face.

“So you assholes still think you can hold me down?” Beatriz cackled. Her expression chilled others with its fury. “I’ll waste you all!”

Before she could snap the chains, Samantha heard a loud hum from beneath them. She looked down only to see a white glyph swirling with magic and energy and encasing them in a force field. She yelped and staggered back when suddenly words appeared on the transparent wall written in a glowing purple colour.

No human shall pass.

Samantha frowned. It was a more modern kind of magic known as Judgment Magic. She brushed her hand against the Judgment magic’s force field and felt the mana pulsate from each corner. Judgment magic’s most basic form was a force field where its caster could make the rules. It should be renamed as Ruler though, Samantha thought. She hadn’t expected someone using Modern Magic to be roaming the streets of Machinos.

“I see we have someone a little more rowdy than usual,” she heard a female voice chuckle from above.

Samantha looked up to see a muscular young woman dressed in robes, standing on the edge of the building rooftop. The woman’s black hair had been cropped and layered short, reaching until her nape. It clearly had not been combed and her bangs framed the side of her face. She had a square shaped face with moss green eyes that shone with confidence in her magic.

The woman looked almost the same age as General Melissa. Her robes were the colours of Machinos: red, black, and grey. The robe was more of a leather coat with dark grey linings and a black panel with crimson red markings, bearing the insignia of Machinos. Underneath her coat however, she wore a black midriff and a pair of crimson red pants. Her arms and legs were covered with dark grey armour as if they were made from a different kind of metal.

“So you actually caught a dark knight for once.” The woman chuckled dryly. “And an Odissea no less!”

The soldiers beamed. “Yes General, and we intend to –”

“—Intend to what? Put them on trial? For what?”

“For using magic, ma’am! The prince had decreed – ”

“ – The prince is currently working on the minority of magic users here in Machinos,” she interrupted curtly with a frown. “And I have not heard of this rule ever since his mother had passed away.”

Samantha clearly saw the soldiers swallow nervously. She also saw the cold sweat pouring down their faces as the woman leapt down and landed on the ground.

“You men, thinking only with your dicks.” She scowled and turned to her and Beatriz. “Are you two girls okay?”

Samantha nodded weakly. “Y-yes, we’re okay.”

But what terrified Samantha more than the verdict that the soldiers had for her was the magnitude of the woman’s power. It was dense like Beatriz’s but calmer and less turbulent. She shuddered from the weight as it dropped on her shoulders while the barrier suddenly dropped down.

“Now I know you little racist bastards have something against magic users but in doing that,” the woman growled with a deathly glare. “One false arrest and you will answer to me, understand?”

The soldiers shivered and immediately unhanded Samantha and Beatriz. “Y-yes, ma’am!”

“Now, get the hell lost, you crooked fools!”

The soldiers scampered away and left Samantha and Beatriz alone with the angry woman. Terrified, Samantha forced down a lump forming in her throat. Who was this woman? She had never seen a power that vast before! Other than Beatriz’s power, she never knew that there were people who had magic as vast as Bea’s.

“I’m sorry about them.” The woman bowed. “There has been a lot of civil unrest here ever since the queen passed away.”

Samantha nodded and bowed her head. “I’m very sorry to hear about her passing. I hope Prince Hayden is okay.”

“That I’m not sure but,” the woman then spotted the necklace hanging on her neck. “Wait, Princess Samantha?”

Samantha’s eyes widened to the size of dinner plates. “Uh… y-yes?”

Beatriz groaned and shook her head. “You idiot, you’re not supposed to confirm that you are the princess! What kind of half-wit does it like that!?”

“Forgive the maltreatment,milady.” The woman bowed. “I will see to it that they will suffer for their actions. Personally.”

Samantha shook her head and smiled. “There’s no need. They were just doing their jobs.”

“Oh how I wish I could have that kind of idealistic thinking. But with people like them roaming the streets, it’s downright impossible.”

“What do you mean?”

The woman glanced towards the citadel. “Allow me to escort you the citadel. I shall answer any question you need answered as we move along.”

Beatriz gawked. “You’re giving us a free pass!?”

“You wish to see the prince, do you not? It’s one of the only reasons as to why the princess is crazy enough to walk around with only you and no guards.”

“Hey! I’m good enough to take out half your men!”

“So I am aware, ma’am. But, let’s not add fuel to an already growing fire.”

Samantha stared, confused. “What do you mean? Everything looks so peaceful.”

The general of Machinos shook her head and gave the princess a cryptic smile. “There’s always something known as the calm before the storm.”

The princess swallowed nervously and exchanged glances with Beatriz. Annoyance was written clear on the lady-in-waiting’s face. What exactly was going on in Machinos? Samantha looked back and remembered the desolate alleyways and houses in the slums. But she was more concerned about Brandon and Daniel. She could only hope that they were okay.

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