Book One: Knights' Festival

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Happy Endings Don't Exist

Samantha swallowed nervously. Instead of seeing the kind yet morose face of Prince Hayden, she saw the older and more vindictive face of Prince Reuben.

Prince Reuben chuckled. “I’m surprised that you managed to make it this far, princess. Without an escort no less, I’m quite impressed.”

Cathy snarled with both her daggers brandished. “Where’s Prince Hayden!?”

“At ease, Captain. The little prince is safe.”

“He better be!”

“Still mourning over poor mother dearest, I suppose. He was her favourite child.”

Samantha exhaled sharply, trying to keep calm. It was clear that her plan wasn’t going to work. She had hoped to ask the gentle younger prince for a little help. If it were Prince Hayden, he could have at least told her where to go or would have even provided the transportation itself! Samantha bit her lower lip as she remembered Queen Regina’s words: to be a queen, you must be well-rounded. She may not have been trained in the art of war like Brandon, Beatriz, and Daniel. But the game of political negotiation had to be won with brains more than brawn.

“Prince Reuben,” Samantha bobbed with a slight curtsy. “I see you have been taking over in your brother’s absence.”

“It is so, Princess.” Reuben chuckled and stood up from his throne. “Please, will you not come closer and regale me with your presence?”

Samantha exhaled and kept a steel expression. If it was one thing she learned in Spinner’s Forest, it was never to trust anyone that easily. She had made that mistake and Beatriz nearly paid dearly for it. If not for the lady-in-waiting’s immortality, Beatriz would have died. No one survives a sudden rush of Doom mana and the sudden extraction of it happening simultaneously!

She took a step forward until something gripped her wrist. Samantha glanced at the side and saw Cathy’s eyes flashing with a wary fury. Despite her small voice, Cathy clearly showed she was a force to be reckoned with. Samantha was certain that all those knives attached to her body were definitely not made for decoration. Murderous intent dripped from all sides of Cathy’s body. The princess swallowed nervously. Could she do it?

“I would but, your sentinels seem to tell me otherwise.” Samantha chose her words carefully.

It wasn’t a question anymore as to whether she could do it. It was more that she had to do it!

“Why so distrusting, princess?” Reuben remarked with a cool chuckle. “Am I not what you expected?”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps, it was because I was informed by Councilman Jun that the queen was well on her recovery.”

“Ah, Xychosia’s best and most terrifying council member. Yes, I remember him fondly. He told you that she was healing?”

“It seemed that way. Even Hayden believed.”

Reuben nodded. “Ah, my dear brother. So optimistic. But,” his eyes flashed with a dark glint. So dark that it was almost sinister. “Nothing in life is ever in the way we wanted. You yourself know that, princess.”

Samantha bit her lower lip. She was at a disadvantage! While Reuben had the home territory to win any battle of brute force she could come up with, she only had her knights. Despite their skills, it was impossible. There was no need to do the numbers. Beatriz may be able to kill a lot of people and could withstand Death. But that didn’t need that she could still be suppressed and sealed away. Most of all, she knew he was right. His words carved a gash in her heart but, Samantha shook her head. Keep going! I’m not going to be dead weight anymore!

“That’s true. But that’s why we work for what we want.” Samantha pressed on carefully. She took one step forward, watching the sentinels with Cathy following behind her. “But there are two ways: the good way and the bad way.”

Reuben snickered. “Aww, a little girl trying to play an adult’s game. It’s funny how we are the same but how we’re different at the same time.”

Samantha’s dark eyes flashed but she decided to keep calm. “Well, even little girls have to grow up. Everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls.”

“Yes. Everywhere, in every corner of the world but Machinos.”

“I’d like to think so, Your Highness.”

Reuben smiled and turned to Cathy with a pout. “Oh captain! There is no need to be hostile. It’s making the atmosphere rather tense.”

Cathy, with wariness and reluctance, slowly sheathed her daggers and relaxed her stance. “I was keeping my guard up.”

“I know, Captain. Thank you for doing your job well but unfortunately, it is not helping the situation at all.”

“I apologize, Your Highness.”

Reuben kept a steely gaze on the captain. “That was not how I taught you to apologize. Again.”

Samantha, confused, glanced towards Cathy as the petite girl begrudgingly dropped on one knee with her head hanging. “I apologize,” she said through gritted teeth. “Your Highness.”

“Hmm,” Reuben pondered for a moment.

Samantha swallowed nervously. Just for an apology, the proud Machinos’ Gear had to go down on one knee and grovel for forgiveness? The princess shook her head. What kind of monster was sitting on that throne? She clenched her hands tightly into a fist. The suspense was eating away at her. Her eyes widened when she saw Reuben suddenly rise from his throne and walk towards them. A large lump formed in her throat. Anxiety threatened to overwhelm her as the tension filled her mind. What was he going to do!? Finally when Reuben got close, he stood a few inches away from Cathy. He stared down at the grovelling member of the Machinos Gear.

“I suppose I can forgive you.” He waved his hand dismissively.

Samantha gawked. Suppose!? It was he who had to beg forgiveness for humiliating her!

“That is, until I do this.”

Everything happened all so fast. Samantha held her gasp in her throat and jammed both of her hands into her mouth to muffle her screams. Reuben wasted no time and jammed his fingers into Cathy’s right eye. The captain gasped in agony as he ripped her eyeball out and kicked her in the stomach. Cathy rolled on the floor, coughing and gasping. Blood splattered on the crimson red carpet as the captain of Machinos crawled to her feet.

“How unsightly! A Machinos Gear, lying on the ground because of one lost eye?” Reuben scoffed coldly.

Samantha resisted the urge to scream or turn the said prince into a toad. As basic and as petty the spell sounded, the princess thought it’d be better to just transfigure him into something rather than blasting him senseless. No, I have to remain calm. Samantha reminded herself. All sorts of possibilities flashed into her mind. He could have already captured Brandon and the others. And because they were her knights, she could only imagine what kind of treatment they had to endure. Or worse – Samantha shook her head – she didn’t want to imagine what could possibly be worse.

As is, he just gouged out the eye of one of his own soldiers!

“Oh well, I did need the blood.” Reuben turned away with a smirk. “The carpet was lacking that strong, solid red dye I was looking for.”

Cathy hissed in pain and covered the bleeding socket of where her eye was with her right hand, slowly standing up. A glare flashed in her eyes, directed straight at the prince. However, Reuben didn’t seem the least bit intimidated. Samantha watched him roughly grab Cathy by her jaw with a sneer.

“Stop looking so pathetic in front of our guest. Otherwise,” a malicious sneer curved up his lips. “I’ll feed you to the Hell Hounds.”

Cathy narrowed her eyes with a deadly whisper. “I’m not scared of dogs.”

Samantha swallowed nervously. How could Cathy keep such a high level of defiance even if he had just randomly gouged out her right eye? She suddenly remembered what Kaelyn said before she entered. The Machinos Gears have a high turnover rate, the general said. Samantha shuddered at the thought. She didn’t know what was more terrifying – losing a knight due to a revolt or civil war or the slaughtering and dishonour of a knight in the hands of their own ruler. A chill ran up her spine at the sight of Reuben’s sardonic smile. She shivered when he suddenly pulled out a knife.

“You better watch out for what you wish for, captain.” He jeered. “Otherwise, you’ll end up like your precious Mato.”

Cathy bristled but bit her lip in silence.

“And if not Mato, perhaps, Kaelyn and Abi would be more willing to pay the price.”

Cathy’s face paled as she shook her head. “You wouldn’t…!”

“I would, Captain. After all, I have more than enough reason and motive to get the precious general and her lieutenant killed.”

What a sadistic beast! Samantha thought. She seriously considered turning Prince Reuben into a toad and wanted to leave him in Beatriz’s hands to dissect and maim. Bea would have such a wonderful time, Samantha realized. And as disturbing as it was for her to think about it, Samantha found herself not as worrying as much. Samantha gawked at the thought. What was happening to her?

“L-leave them alone,” Cathy then began to beg. “Kaelyn and Abi have nothing to do with this!”

Reuben scornfully laughed. “Is that begging I hear?” He turned to Samantha. “You heard that right? Would you allow your knights to grovel and cry like kicked puppies?”

The princess found herself in a deadlock. If she said “no”, it could result into Cathy’s death! If she said “yes”, he would have probably killed them both! What a dilemma, the princess thought. She looked at the bloodstained and tear-streaked face of the captain and then turned to the prince of Machinos.

“On normal cases, I would have said no.” Samantha said.

She saw Reuben’s grin become wider and Cathy’s face pale with dread.

“But, I’m not the kind of ruler who kicks her knights around for her own sick pleasure.”

Reuben frowned and scowled, throwing Cathy’s right eye on the ground. “There,” he scoffed. “Keep your eye. I have no use for it.”

As Reuben stalked off, Samantha checked to see if he was looking. He didn’t seem to care that his own knight was bleeding. The princess then rushed over to Cathy and grabbed her eye on the floor. Although the feeling of blood in her hands disgusted her, Samantha focused on the greater task at hand.

“Wait, there’s no need,” Cathy shook her head.

Samantha insisted. “I can and the earlier we start, the higher the chance of me reattaching your eye and having it work.”

“You know how?”

“I was trained by Councilman Jun of Xychosia. And he has never lost a patient. I intend to keep that record clean.”

“I see.” Cathy nodded and felt Samantha pop back her missing eyeball. “Ouch!”

Samantha yelped. “Sorry! It’s my first time doing this.”

“That explains a lot,” Cathy chuckled dryly. “You sure you’ll connect the nerves to the right place?”

“You’ll just have to trust me.”

“I do hope you know what you’re doing, princess. For both our sakes.”

Seeing the bloody socket made Samantha’s stomach churn. But the princess shook her head. The more time she wasted, the higher the chance that Cathy would only be seeing through one eye. She placed her hand on Cathy’s bleeding eye. Samantha exhaled sharply and closed her eyes, letting the mana surge through her fingertips. The mana’s warmth filled her entire being as it swirled inside her. Samantha felt a funny feeling however in her womb. Of all places to feel mana, Samantha frowned. Why there?

A few minutes seemed to be forever as Samantha lifted her hand away from Cathy’s eye. The captain winced for a moment only to slowly open her eyes and find her sight completely restored!

“Y-you! You managed to—” Cathy gasped in surprise.

“—heal your eyes? If there’s anything I’d like to pride myself in, it’s healing magic.”

Yes but even the most talented healers wouldn’t have had that capability!

Cathy looked at her bleeding palm and then pressed her fingers against her healed right eye. What she did was impossible, Cathy thought to herself. She had read about magic and there was no magic in the world that could have possibly reconnected all the nerves in their proper order! Let alone, have a first timer be able to reconnect all her nerves perfectly.

How could that be, she thought. When did the princess of Sofiene having that much power? Such power was only left to Deus or thought only in an ideal world! There were no such reports that the princess could defy the laws of Nature or could replicate the power of Deus!

Cathy then spotted the necklace hanging on the princess’s neck. The amulet of Sofiene, she thought. Could the amulet be the source of her power? She took a closer look at the gem while Samantha proceeded to wipe the blood off her face and her palm. Suddenly, a light flashed when she saw a pair of gleaming eyes staring back at her. Her gasp trapped itself in her throat when she felt her whole body suddenly get swallowed by a large abyss.

“Captain?” she heard a small voice call out.

Cathy snapped out of her daze when she found Samantha staring at her in concern.

“Ah, sorry, Your Grace.” She bowed. “I… I was absent-minded for a bit there.”

What was that?

The energy had threatened to swallow her entire being – body, mind, and soul. Cathy shook her head in disbelief; the magic was monstrous! Her body shuddered at the weight of her magic. She stared straight into Samantha’s dark brown eyes and a sudden fire sparked in her blood. Something within her snapped. A rush of adrenaline and power filled her despite her fear. Her fear for the Prince Machinos was dwarfed by the sheer amount of energy that Samantha had injected into her veins. Did she do it on purpose? She wondered. But the innocent look on the princess’s face said it all.

It dripped off while she was healing me, Cathy thought. It was the most logical conclusion she had. There was no other physical contact other than Samantha popping her eye back into her eye socket and also the reattaching of every single nerve to the correct receptor. She then spotted also the ring on the princess’s finger. It was oddly shaped for a royal signet. It was a gold ring with a pink gem resting on the crown of the golden ring. She rolled her eyes to take a closer look at the ring only to see some ancient characters glow on the band.

Th-that can’t be! That civilization has been dead for the last 400 years! Cathy’s eyes widened in astonishment. She watched Samantha stand up and then looked at the cocky Prince Reuben striding towards his throne. The Gear of Machinos shook her head. The prince had no idea what he was dealing with!

Even if he had that thing sleeping under the citadel, she could probably just blast it in one shot! Cathy shook her head. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing! How could so much mana be contained in her body? Most reports had people dying of Overheat because the mana was too much to contain.

“So, what brings you to Machinos, milady?” Prince Reuben chuckled and sat on his throne. “You leave the comforts of Xychosia only to walk into danger. It must be important if you are willing to seek my help without enlisting your knights.”

Samantha maintained her composure. “I was told by someone that Machinos would be able to produce transports.”

“They are indeed right. It’s a booming industry here in Machinos.”

“I would like to procure one for my personal use.”

Amusement adorned the prince’s face. “Oh? You are capable of driving?” He asked.

Samantha shook her head. “I will learn.”

“It’s not as easy as you think.”

“I know. But it still does not mean I am incapable of learning.”

Prince Reuben smirked and guffawed. “A truly interesting woman! Most princesses would hide under their covers and hope for the best!”

Samantha could feel her blood boiling and a sudden urge to turn the said prince into a toad. Ugh, he’s so annoying! She scowled in her mind. Samantha immediately cancelled the thought as it entered her mind. When did she start coming up with thoughts like that? Probably hanging out with Bea and Brandon did that, Samantha assumed. She clenched her hands tightly and stared hard at the guffawing prince.

“Well, perhaps that kind of thought is due for a change.” Samantha quipped. “Now, I would like to deal with the idea of getting a vehicle.”

Prince Reuben chuckled and folded his arms. “Well, well, if you’re that insistent. I propose a little game.”

Samantha nodded. “And what would that be?”

Prince Reuben stood up and commanded. “Sentinels!”

Samantha nearly jumped as they stomped and marched, turning to face their ruler.

“Step aside!”

The sentinels moved aside.

“Princess,” Reuben asked. A devilish glint appeared in his eye. “Do you know the game of War of Five?”

Samantha raised an eyebrow. “War of Five?”

“The rules are quite simple. You have five rulers on each side. Your goal is to defeat the other five kings on the other side.”

He snapped his fingers. Suddenly, a grid shone beneath Samantha and revealed a black and white board. Transparent figures rose from the ground, some looking like regular soldiers and others looking like horsemen. But there were five distinct ones – all that bore the head of an owl while the opposing side had gears for heads.

“Your strongest weapons are the five kings. However, they are also your lives. The game ends when the opposing side’s kings are destroyed.”

Samantha nodded slowly. “How do the soldiers move?”

“It’s similar to pawns in chess. The horsemen move like a queen in chess.”

“And how do I destroy the kings?”

“If the pieces are within your pieces range of movement, it can be destroyed.”

Samantha nodded. “I see. Is it eliminated in one shot?”

“My, someone’s quite meticulous.”

“I don’t intend to lose.”


Samantha narrowed her eyes. “I’m not a little girl, Reuben. I have people whose will I have inherited. He died to save my life. I will not fail him here.”

Reuben smirked. “Oh? You don’t seem to be the type to take in a lover.”

“He was not my lover. He was my friend.”

“I see. Well, in answer to your previous question – each piece has its own life force.”

“Very well, let’s begin.”

Samantha saw the pieces light up and the grid gleamed. She exhaled sharply; this is where the game began. She could feel her body tense up from nervousness and anxiety. But she knew she couldn’t stop now. Not when Brandon and Daniel were still out there! She had to keep going otherwise, no one was going to stop Beatriz. Leaving Beatriz outside alone and unsupervised was like leaving a hungry demon to devour many unsuspecting villages.

“I’ll make a deal with you, princess.” Reuben smirked. A malicious gleam twinkled in his dark crimson eyes. “If you win, you will get your car and Machinos’ alliance.”

Samantha winced. “And if I don’t?”

The prince’s demonic smirk curved even wider.

“You will declare me as legitimate ruler of Machinos and you will be my wife!”

Samantha gawked; she was only one country that would recognize him as legitimate! “That won’t do much.”

“It will when you become my wife! And also, it’ll give me a foothold in Sofiene. Matteo and Santino will not have anything on me!”

“Bastards don’t rise very far.”

“You’d be surprised. After all, those two bastard brothers of yours are the ones ruling Sofiene while you’re running around without a crown on your head.”

Samantha clenched her fists tightly. “Let’s play.”

The board lit up and Samantha watched the board carefully. She exhaled sharply and shook her head. This time, she had to win. She had no choice but to win! There was no way in Tartaros that she was going to marry a sardonic prince who knew no compassion! Most of all, she had dreams of marrying for love. But it was like what she said. Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls. And marrying for love was a dream, unfortunately, for little girls.

But it didn’t mean that she was going to let herself get married to someone like him!

“The movement is simple.” Reuben explained. “Point to the piece you want to move and wave your finger in the direction you want to move it in.”

Samantha nodded. She pointed at one soldier surrounding one of the kings and moved it forward.

“My turn then,” Reuben smirked.

Samantha watched him move one of his pieces as the tension began to eat away at her. The mere thought of her marrying him disgusted her! A shudder racked through her body. If she really had to choose someone from Machinos, Prince Hayden was a better choice! He was the legitimate child and also a kind-hearted spirit. Soft-spoken but brilliant, Prince Hayden was the one who had been running the kingdom when his mother’s body would not let her.

Soon, Reuben moved one of his horsemen three spaces forward. Samantha narrowed her eyes. An aggressive attack, Samantha shook her head. He’s planning to split my forces open!

Samantha gestured for one of her soldiers to move again. The moment she did, a loud thunderclap exploded outside the castle. The sheer volume shook the castle as the floors trembled beneath her. Much to Samantha’s surprise, she also heard a loud shriek that filled the air accompanied with the crackling of lightning.

“What was that!?” Samantha gasped.

Reuben’s eyes flashed. “That dragon woman is here.”

“Dragon what?”

“She storms the city everyday and destroys my people with her dragons. The little bitch ought to learn her place.”

The princess frowned. No one would just randomly attack people like that! It didn’t make sense to her. However, she couldn’t help but recall that she heard Brandon and the others speak about her before.

She terrorized the entire pirate council. They couldn’t do squat against her.

She is the master of dragons. She actually tamed one as a pet.

Who could she possibly be? Samantha pondered. However, she snapped herself out of her daze when she saw that Prince Reuben had already moved one of his other soldiers forward by one space. Samantha clenched her fists tightly and pointed to one of her horsemen, moving it four steps forward.

“I have to win, I have to win,” Samantha repeatedly chanted to herself. Bea, Brandon, and Daniel are counting on me!

Suddenly, Prince Reuben’s horseman met one of her soldiers head on. In one strike, the soldier exploded. The princess yelped and suddenly, the grid crackled to life. A stream of electricity shot out and zapped the princess and unleashed electricity to fry her body. Samantha screamed in pain before falling onto her knees.

“Princess!” Cathy shouted. She turned to Reuben. “You –”

Reuben shrugged nonchalantly. “She never asked.”

Samantha gasped and winced as the electricity surged through her nerves. Her arms began to twitch and spasm from the electric shock. I thought they could withstand blows! Samantha thought. She glared at Prince Reuben who shrugged.

“This is why you should think first, princess. You never did bother asking what happened after the pieces exploded.”

“You said they had their own life forces!”

“Yes but the horsemen have a special ability: if they have initiative, their damage is increased. Your soldier was helpless as a newborn baby.”

Samantha frowned; now that was one detail that she didn’t ask about. How was she supposed to know what had what? She had never played the game before! How barbaric, she thought. But she shook her head. Now was not the time to complain and make excuses. Now, was the time to fight!

I have to keep going, Samantha told herself. She steely focused on the knight that destroyed her soldier and was now on its space. Seeing her soldiers nearby, she pointed to one of the pieces and checked for any distinct abilities. Much to her dismay, there was none. She gritted her teeth in annoyance before checking the king.

Wait a minute, she pointed the king and checked for any special details. And lo and behold, the king had a special ability!

“By sacrificing a small amount of life, the king can grant two soldiers the ability to evolve.” Samantha read quietly. She blinked in surprise; the soldiers could evolve? Her arm still twitched and jerked from the aftershock as she tried to keep her arm steady. “Should I?”

“Princess, please. This is not a tea party!” Reuben groaned. “I am not waiting for the paint to dry or my tea to cool.”

Samantha frowned a bit. She then activated the ability of her king and chose to soldiers to evolve. The grid was suddenly enveloped in bright light and the two soldiers changed into two bigger soldiers, looking far more menacing than soldiers or the horsemen.

“Ah, impressive.” Reuben smirked. “You chose to evolve them into berserkers. This will be a problem.”

Samantha could see the difference. Not only were they bigger and stronger than the soldiers but they were also more mobile than the horsemen. A smile curved up her lips as Reuben was forced to pull back the horseman he had used to destroy her soldier.

“Your turn.” Reuben smirked. Samantha twitched; how she wanted to wipe that amused smirk off his face!

Samantha nodded and highlighted the two Berserkers. Her eyes widened when she saw the attack power and also the special ability: by killing one piece, it could still move and destroy another. Her eyes lit up. That meant she could go on a relentless rage! It reminds me of Beatriz, she thought for a moment. Beatriz was someone who brutalized people with sheer brute force and intimidation. It was more like “kill now and think later”. A smile curved up her lips as prepared to move the Berserker.

“Alright, I’ll launch my attack next.” Samantha pointed the berserker towards the horseman. “Take him out!”

Reuben winced as the horseman was shattered in one blow. Samantha beamed; now the next one was to wait for the blow that hit her when her soldier was destroyed. She waited. And waited, and waited but much to her dismay…

“Why aren’t you getting shocked!?” Samantha demanded. “That’s not fair!”

Reuben shrugged. “You do everything you can to win, princess. It’s the law of nature.”

Samantha frowned; he cheated her out! She could still feel the pain from the last electric shock and glanced at her Berserker. Seeing that it was still lit up, the princess smiled and looked at Reuben with a triumphant and stony expression.

“I guess you are not aware of the Berserker’s ability.” Samantha smiled.

Reuben raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“You should look at the abilities of your pieces more often.”

“So what? They’re just pawns.”

The princess frowned. “Not when they’re the ones who are going to smash your entire army!” She directed the berserker to attack again. “Attack again!”

The berserker launched itself towards the nearest soldier and shattered it in one blow. The grid lit up again and it took out another one. Samantha winced at the gruesome battle; how long would it be before the berserker would finally give out? The princess however couldn’t help but be reminded by Beatriz’s battle behaviour when seeing the berserker rush through and slaughter everything in sight. Mindlessly drawing blood from one soldier to the next.

“Impressive,” Reuben chuckled. “You paid attention to detail.”

“When you mentioned that your horseman had a skill, I was thinking that the other pieces would have their own skills as well.” Samantha said. “Everyone has something contribute. Not everyone is useless.”

“Except princesses who remain stuck in their ivory towers all day.”

“And princes who don’t appreciate those who help them.”

Reuben chuckled. “Once I win, you’d make quite the bride. I can’t wait to make you mine.”

Samantha narrowed her eyes. “Sorry, I’d like to marry for love and not some deranged fool like you.”

“So you have said. But tell me, how long is that dream going to stay in your mind?”

The moment Prince Reuben said that, the Berserker had already stopped attacking. Samantha’s eyes widened; why did it stop? It was only then she realized that the Berserker had already begun attacking one of the kings. However, she had to admit; she didn’t expect the Berserker piece to get far.

“Well, you managed to make a mess.” Reuben chuckled, keeping his haughty expression. He applauded her lightly. “I’m amazed, princess. You picked up quickly.”

Samantha narrowed her eyes. “You have to learn quickly when you’re out on the battlefield.”

“Oh? Someone’s been learning on the outdoors. Not bad, princess.”

Actually, she herself was amazed by her progress.

Despite just being randomly thrown into the open field, she had managed to learn. The princess learned by watching Brandon and Beatriz fight. And Luke, he played a big portion of what she had learned. While Brandon and Beatriz were masters of their weapon, Luke had nothing but his mind. And his mind played a big contribution to getting her this far. She clenched her hands into fist and exhaled sharply. They hurt little girls everywhere in the world, she reminded herself. And Queen Regina’s words also echoed in her mind.

To be a queen, you must be well-rounded.

The night she saw Queen Regina fight alongside her knights and soldiers opened a new possibility for her. She saw also how Princess Phylline respond to the situation; hiding behind her knights and yelling orders – it made her cringe in disgust! She also remembered how helpless she felt in the caverns and the dead city of Azaleth. When Beatriz lay on the floor dismembered, something in her mind clicked. It was then she realized that she had to fight. Even if the image of Bianca still terrified her, Samantha shook it away and faced down the royal in front of her.

“Well, unfortunately for you,” Reuben chuckled and gestured to one of his kings. “A greenhorn like you still has much to learn.”

Samantha watched Reuben evolve two of his soldiers: one into a berserker and another into a wizard.

“If you think that this is going to end up as happily ever after,” Reuben sneered with a mocking smirk. “You’re sorely mistaken.”

Beatriz gasped, short of breath. She couldn’t believe it!

There was someone out there who managed to outlast her!

Standing in front of her, there was a woman with a dragon. Beatriz couldn’t see her face but she could tell that she was a woman. She wore a tattered poncho over her shoulders similar to Daniel and her helmet was shaped that of a dragon’s skull except wrapped with a black cloth around the helmet. And behind the helmet, there were shreds of cloth that formed a mane. She could see a pair of black fingerless vambraces underneath and a black body hugging shirt hidden under the tattered poncho. She had a pair of baggy jeans that were tucked in a pair of black military boots.

“Talk about rugged look,” Beatriz mused. She then spotted the woman’s weapon. “What the hell is that…?”

The weapon in the woman’s hand looked like a simple rod but she was sure that it wasn’t. The gash marks on the floor said it all. The rod hid two extendable blades that she could use as both a double-edged sword and chain whips. Beatriz looked to her left and saw the damage that Kaelyn sustained. Her clothes were torn and she was covered with scratches and blood from the strikes. And the dragon did nothing but watch, Beatriz growled inwardly. If the dragon did attack, Beatriz knew they would be toast by now.

“But why would she be attacking Machinos?” Beatriz frowned. She looked up at the silent attacker. “To think she just went in by herself and,” – she then glanced at all the fallen bodies. “She took out thirty men without even using any magic.”

Suddenly, the woman sheathed her blade and strode past her. The dark knight heard strange clicking sounds to which the dragon responded with a few grunts of its own.

“What the hell did she say?” Beatriz gawked. “I don’t speak dragon.”

Kaelyn shook her head. “I don’t know but I guess that we’re not her main objectives.”

“What do you mean?”

“This is the fifth time around that she had attacked. But she never attacked the civilians. She only heads for the citadel.”

“An assassination attempt maybe?”

“Doubt it. It’s too upfront.”

Beatriz bit her lower lip. Kaelyn had a point; if she wanted to assassinate the prince or the queen, she would have done so quietly. The same way the queen and king of Sofiene were assassinated. She looked up only to realize that the dragon warrior was much closer than she thought. Her footsteps are so light, Beatriz gawked. She didn’t know anyone who could walk that lightly!

However, the moment the woman was within five inches from Beatriz, a gunshot cracked out loudly. Beatriz’s eyes widened when she saw the hole creating a distance between her and the dragon warrior’s feet. Where had that come from?

“So this is what you’ve been doing nowadays,” Beatriz heard a cheeky voice from above.

She looked up to see Daniel with a sniper rifle in hand. The young man lifted his head from the sniper scope and stood up to look down at the dragon warrior.

“I knew you hated humans but for you to terrorize people? I didn’t think that it would be part of your nature.” Daniel said. “Besides, what are you doing here? I thought you already settled on the mountain range being a demarcation line.”

The dragon warrior said nothing but instead lunged at Daniel.

“Daniel! Get out!” Beatriz screamed. “She’s fast!”

Daniel quickly jumped away as a large gash appeared on the stone ledge that he stood on. He landed clumsily as more gashes appeared on the ground. Beatriz could hear the loud crunching and shattering of rocks and metal but she could barely catch a sight of the woman’s weapon.

“Damn, she’s swinging it that fast!” Beatriz growled and quickly gathered her composure. “Daniel can’t fight her! He’s too used to being in the back line!”

Beatriz quickly summoned her scythe again and lunged at her. “Hey!”

Her yelling caught the dragon warrior’s attention as their weapons clashed. The gears grinded against the metal double edged sword with sparks flying at their faces. Beatriz dropped all her weight onto her scythe as she tried to get a closer look at the woman’s face. Suddenly, Beatriz gasped and had the wind knocked out of her when the woman kicked her in the stomach. The lady-in-waiting grunted in pain and tumbled down only to have her body slam into something softer than the floor.

“Ow,” she heard a male groan.

She turned around to see Brandon. “Brandon! Where have you been!?”

“I just ended up yelling with a twenty five year old man who has the emotional capacity that of a three year old.”

“Oooh, I take it that was Lenard?”

“Yeah and it didn’t work out too well especially when he found out that Luke died.”

“Thought you weren’t going to tell him?”

“Better now than later.”

Beatriz nodded as Brandon helped her up.

“As for you, where’s Sam?”

Beatriz pointed to the citadel standing behind her. “She’s in the citadel but she’s been in there for a long time. They better not be eating those sweets without me!”

“I don’t think so,” Brandon shook his head. “Daniel just recently informed me that Prince Hayden has been inconsolable for days and thus the orders to unleash a raid was not on his orders.”

Beatriz’s eyes widened. “S-so, who’s running the show now?”

Brandon shook his head. “Apparently, the queen was the second wife of the Machinos king. And the Machinos king was one bloodthirsty and horny bastard. He decided to flay a man alive and rape a man’s wife. The woman then conceived and had a son who everyone knows as...”

“… Prince Reuben Gears,” Samantha narrowed her eyes and winced at the electric shocks. “You…!”

Reuben chuckled and gestured to the grid, revealing three of his kings still standing while she only had two left. “Well, it was a good battle, princess.”

Samantha swallowed nervously. She hadn’t expected him to evolve all his pawns! The shocks from the grid still reverberated through her body. Fatigue and exhaustion began to overwhelm her but she shook it off. She glanced at her side of the field having at least five pawns left. The only two kings remaining was one having the ability to evolve soldiers at the cost of its life and the other one was capable of creating turrets. She had five turrets, four soldiers, three horsemen, one berserker, and one incredibly weakened mage.

“Wow, he really took out my army.” Samantha murmured. She looked over to his side and saw that he had only lost five soldiers but had three berserkers, two horsemen and, two mages. And all three kings were still at full life! “I have to think of something quick.”

If there was anything she prided herself on, it was her mind.

She knew that she couldn’t match Beatriz and Brandon in terms of sword. She couldn’t shoot that weird metal contraption Daniel called a gun. But she had spells and she knew all sorts of things.

Unfortunately, the game required something that she herself didn’t practice: war tactics.

“I admit,” Reuben scoffed with an amused smirk. “I didn’t expect someone like you to know how to play or to easily learn how to play.”

Samantha smiled. “It proves that you should never underestimate your opponent.”

“Yes but the beauty of me knowing that you’re still learning gives me an advantage to take you out faster.”

“Oh but I’ve been coping well if you haven’t noticed.”

The prince nodded and dismissed her with a wave of his hand. “I suppose but,” he sneered at her and gestured to the field. “Look who’s winning now.”

Before Samantha could say anything, Reuben began his attack. He unleashed his Berserker and let it lash out on the field. Samantha winced as it lunged at one of her five soldiers and shattered it one strike. It then lunged to another one and destroyed her already weakened mage. And all of a sudden, it stopped. Samantha blinked; why did it stop? Shouldn’t have continued its rampage?

“It stopped because it only has a 2x2 detection radius.” Reuben explained before gesturing to the princess. “What are you going to do now?”

Samantha exhaled sharply and looked at her turrets. They only had a short shooting range in comparison to that of the mage. The mage on Reuben’s side was what obliterated half her troops. If I had known that mages had that kind of ability, Samantha shook her head. She clenched her fists tightly. One move could spell her fate. She only had one move and multiple pieces. All of them could be used if set up properly.

I better take out the berserker first. Samantha thought to herself. She then gestured the turret to take out the berserker.

The turret fired and shattered the berserker. But much to her surprise, the bullet shot suddenly ricocheted and damaged another piece. She gawked; that was possible? She looked up to Reuben’s face that clearly had the same expression she did.

“Tch, you got a chance shot.” Reuben growled. Seeing Samantha’s pale expression, he dusted himself and regained his composure. “Not bad but that chance shot won’t save you.”

Samantha swallowed hard. He was right; that one shot wasn’t going to change much of the tide. If I want to win, she glanced over to the three kings. She had to destroy the three kings somehow in one fell swoop. But she could feel her head swirling with nausea and the fatigue from being shocked over and over began to overwhelm her. Her knees buckled beneath her as she slowly dropped to the ground.

“Oh, is this a moment of surrender?” Reuben chuckled. “Can’t take the pressure, princess?”

Samantha winced and glared. “You cheated.”

“So does the rest of the world. And, the only way to win is to cheat your way out. It’s called having the special ticket. A special ticket known as cunning.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it.”

Reuben smirked and gestured to one of the kings. “Your black and white way of thinking is going to get you killed. This is what I hated about you scholarly types. You always think by the book.”

Samantha gasped when he activated his mage’s special ability. The princess’s eyes widened at the sight of the prince activating his mage’s ability to unleash a terrifying fire storm. Terror seized her when his mage shattered one king and left one standing on its last leg.

“Well then,” Reuben smirked. “I think this is where it ends.”

Samantha’s eyes widened when the grid growled to life. Sparks and electricity crackled as it shot towards her. The electricity seared through her veins and boiled her blood. Her mana surged and sank and her head began to swirl. Her vision began to blur as her knees began to give. She winced to keep one eye open to watch Reuben sneer at her impending doom.

“Reuben! That’s enough!” Cathy roared. She drew her daggers. “Leave her alone!”

Hearing Cathy’s defiant cry, Reuben growled and his expression contorted that into a maniacal and furious one. “Sentinels, kill her!”

The sentinels marched and turned to face a captain of the Machinos army. Cathy’s eyes widened as she drew her daggers and prepared to fight, forcing her to backtrack away from Samantha. The princess looked back to see that the captain was cornered and the shock wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. Samantha gasped and winced when she saw that the prince had something in his pocket.

“Y-you,” Samantha gasped and choked.

Reuben snickered and pulled out a remote control with a red button with his finger pressing down on it. “I was wondering when you would notice.”

“Y-you cheated!”

“I know and that’s why happy endings are stupid. Because there will always be people like me who enjoy wallowing in your pain.”

Samantha winced and gasped, screaming in pain. She couldn’t feel her arms and legs anymore. Both of her limbs were numb as she collapsed onto the floor in a crumpled heap. The princess gasped as she looked at the game and Reuben deactivated the grid separating them.

“Well, it was already given that I would win.” Reuben sneered. He walked towards her and grabbed Samantha by the chin. “To be honest, I don’t need all of you. I just need the parts of you that would give me an heir and a foothold in Sofiene.”

Samantha, still recovering from the shock, could do nothing but watch. She tried to force her arms to move only to have Reuben roughly flip her over onto her stomach. Samantha gasped in pain and tried to get her body to move. None of her limbs would respond! The princess tried to scream but her throat was too dry and burned out to do anything. She struggled to get anything working, even her mana only to realize that nothing was responding to her. Suddenly, a loud rip of cloth filled her ears. Terror seized her as she heard also the unzipping of a zipper and felt the contact of skin against her backside.

No! No! BEA! BRANDON! DANIEL! Her mind desperately screamed.

And it was only then she realized.

Nobody could hear her.

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