I've Never Seen Her Before
The urge was tempting.
And everyone knew: Temptation was always the first step to complete destruction.
Temptation knocked on the princess’s doorstep as she found Prince Reuben pinned down to the ground and beaten black and blue. Her hands trembled as the force of the swirling gales threatened to explode from its compressed state. Her mana roiled. Her blood boiled. Everything screamed at her to take action.
Yet, she found herself sitting on the fence.
Her soiled body trembled from the force of the mana compressing between her palms. The air around her had become thin as it rushed towards the ball of wind. Samantha’s breath had trapped itself in her throat. Her voice faded behind the howling gales that she held in her hands. She could still feel Azaleth’s warm, ethereal hands overlapping her own. Her dark eyes looked up to see Brandon and Daniel trying to peel Beatriz off. But the petite girl would have nothing of it.
“If you’re going to make yourself useful, get out of my way!” Beatriz shrieked. She bared her fangs at the two boys. “I’m not letting this asshole live!”
Brandon narrowed his eyes. “I know but, will this really make anything better!?”
“It will for me!”
“It won’t solve the problem entirely! It’s a band aid on a dam!”
She could hear Brandon’s protesting voice over the howling gales and feel Beatriz’s vengeful and glacial anger. The princess saw Daniel, frozen in place, unsure of what to do. She herself was not sure of what to do. Her heart had tossed itself around in a sea of turbulent emotions. Her mind knew it was wrong but her heart demanded justice. But she knew she had to make a choice fast. The strain of using and compressing so much mana had taken its toll. Her vision had begun to blur and her nerves began to tingle beneath her skin.
“Princess, now is the time to make a choice,” Azaleth reminded. “Your indecisiveness would be your downfall.”
I know, Samantha wanted to say. She knew. But the problem was – could she do it? Was vengeance really the answer? Suddenly, her mind flashed back to the time her brothers had slaughtered all the soldiers who had come to her aid. The countless bodies strewn on the floor with their entrails decorating the walls and the fires that consumed the houses of Sofiene’s citizens flashed in her mind. The image of Arkamedon destroying Azaleth flashed in her mind where she saw the people screaming and begging for mercy before seeing how he had carelessly tossed Beatriz’s dismembered body aside. However, a golden light flashed before her eyes. Samantha stopped for a moment only to hear someone’s voice speak to her.
Two wrongs don’t make a right.
It was gentle, feminine voice. A voice that sounded distant but nostalgic for her at the same time. Samantha knew she had heard the voice before but a part of her couldn’t remember where. However, that golden light was soon crushed by another terrifying memory. She remembered every painful thrust that penetrated through her, all parts of her body threatened to explode; her voice retreated to the back of her mind as all she could hear was a sneer.
What a woman worthy to be part of the House Machinos!
And that sneer, was what decided it all.
Without a warning, Samantha hurled the ball of howling and ripping gales through the clear pathway heading towards the prince. Anger bubbled and boiled with a cold fury that showed no outward explosion. Instead, she kept her composure. No emotion betrayed itself on her face. A stony yet triumphant smile curved up her lips. Besides, it wasn’t as if that kind of attack would kill Beatriz anyway. It’ll probably just nick her a bit, her mind reassured her.
However, what she didn’t expect was Brandon to sprinting into action and knocking Beatriz out of the way. She tried to scream for him but there was no sound. Her hands rushed towards her throat and tried to force out a sound. Much to her dismay, her voice was gone!
The spell met his body with full force and tore through him. Samantha stood in admonishment as she watched the spell not only tear through Reuben but also Brandon as well. The winds tore his coat to shred and ripped his flesh with wounds spewing out blood. His blood splattered against the floor as the winds lashed out against his arms.
It’s just one life. One life to end a lifetime of nightmares. A voice reassured her.
It was a cruel choice.
But it was a choice that would let her move on.
However, a chain snaked out and pulled Brandon out of the blast before he could take more damage. Samantha’s eyes widened as the vigilante threw Brandon’s beaten and torn up body aside while letting Reuben take the damage. The duration of the spell seemed to take forever, shattering the glass windows that shielded the citadel from the blazing sunlight. The sentinels’ bodies that had been piled up into a pile of corpses crunched and curled up into a ball of metal scrap before being thrown aside. The red carpet was reduced to tatters as the curtains were ripped off their curtain rods and the throne had been turned upside down. As the spell ended, Samantha found herself in the middle of destroyed throne room. She observed the place for a moment before strolling towards the bloodied body of Prince Reuben.
“Ha, haha,” Prince Reuben coughed and spat blood with a chuckle. “Who knew that behind the ditzy face of the Princess of Sofiene lay a demon?”
Samantha remained calm. “The only demon around here is you.”
“Really? Is that so? Have you seen what you’ve done?”
“The words of a bastard mean nothing to me.”
“A… a bastard? I am the natural born son of Adolf Machinos! And also, Hayden already abdicated the throne! Bastards can rise high –!”
“—But bastards can also fall deep. Deep, deep they go all the way into the abyss of Tartaros.”
“What do you know!? You barely left the castle!”
What he said was true. Samantha barely did leave the castle.
The princess looked upon his torn and bloodied body with nothing but an emotionless stare. Her arms hung limp on her side. She could hear the echoing footsteps of General Kaelyn rushing towards Brandon’s bleeding body. She also could hear Beatriz’s sudden stop in breathing. But Samantha paid no heed. She stood over his body, staring into every cut and every wound dealt on him. The princess stood in silence, without any tears, without any fits of rage, and most of all…
Not a single emotion on her face.
Daniel stood in silence, waiting for the princess’s command. His hand trembled. He didn’t expect her to have that much power. Let alone be able to harness all that power while being conscious! Most spell-casters submit to the destructive will of the mana in use. The image of the maniacal necromancer during Samantha’s birthday flashed through his mind. The necromancer had summoned man-eating creatures that had no will of their own, no capacity for reason. And instead, they devoured everything on sight indiscriminately. Just like how the necromancer could not pinpoint and eliminate Samantha head on and relished in the fact that he could kill people.
Come to think of it, Daniel pondered. Where did the necromancer come from? He definitely didn’t look like someone that Matteo and Santino would just randomly hire. The agent frowned for a moment before turning his gaze back to Samantha who stood in front of Prince Reuben in silence. It was then he saw a different look in her eyes. It wasn’t the usual idealistic and ditzy kind of look that she once had. A small nihilistic smile curved up the princess’ lips as she walked away. Her footsteps hollowed the throne room with every step she took.
“Sam,” Daniel asked.
The princess said nothing.
Samantha kept a straight forward path even with her lower half exposed. She barely said a word but instead picked up the cloak that lay on the floor and tied it around her waist. After wrapping the cloth around her waist, she turned to Brandon’s bleeding body while Kaelyn had begun to nurse his wounds with her magic. Daniel’s fingers wrapped around his throat and forced him to speak. But there was no sound; something inside him shut down his voice box. Was it fear? He didn’t know. When Samantha walked past him, it was like he stared into an empty void and got swallowed by it.
“For fuck’s sake, Sam!” He heard Beatriz yell.
The princess didn’t bother to spare Beatriz a glance. Fury caused Beatriz’s body to shudder as she launched herself at the princess and grabbed her wrist. The moment she did however, Samantha craned her head ever so slowly towards the petite girl with a nihilistic and dead stare. While Beatriz had an angry and furious gaze, Samantha’s face betrayed no emotion.
“What the fuck!? You were actually planning to blast me to pieces!?” Beatriz snapped. Suddenly, a chilling wave of mana swirled around her. “I may like pain but I know betrayal when I see it!”
Samantha said nothing but instead a huge wave of mana dwarfed Beatriz’s in comparison. Daniel saw how she didn’t even have to exert any effort but instead just let it out. She may have no voice but her mana speaks volumes, Daniel gawked. He could see that Beatriz herself was terrified of the power. It wasn’t just the size that spooked them but the weight. The air around them thickened and clamped its grip around his throat. He coughed and choked while watching Beatriz step back and tremble in fear.
“S-Sam,” Beatriz’s voice broke into a hoarse whisper. It was the first time he had ever seen Beatriz crack under pressure. Tears had begun form in the petite girl’s eyes. “Wh-what… wh-what happened?”
Samantha wrenched her wrist away from Beatriz’s limp grip and strode past her. Daniel prepped up his rifle and pointed it straight at the princess. His hands trembled and his whole body refused to stay still. His finger shivered as it wrapped itself around the trigger. The cold steel pressed against his finger, causing his hair to stand up on ends. She had the same exact dead look like someone he knew. Someone he knew from many years ago. However, Samantha instead squatted and began to chant something. It was spellcaster language but he had no clue what exactly she was saying. But whatever it was, it wasn’t doing any harm to Brandon. Otherwise, the pirate would have been screaming in pain.
“Hey!” Beatriz snapped. “Sam!”
The princess said nothing but instead finished up knitting Brandon’s wounds together. After finishing the final touches, she stood up and walked away. Beatriz’s cries and demands fell on deaf ears as Samantha made her way out of the citadel. Daniel stood frozen and glanced around only to see too that the vigilante was gone, along with her dragon. Where did she go? He pondered to himself. However, he heard footsteps rapping in the hallways and they were getting louder by the second.
“We have to go.” Daniel said. He turned to Beatriz. “Grab Brandon. He’s in no shape to walk.”
Beatriz spat with an annoyed scoff. “You pick him up.”
“Really? Are you gonna do this to me now!?”
“I can’t carry him!”
“If you can break ten hollow blocks with one strike, you can carry Brandon!”
“What do you think I am!? A mule!?”
Kaelyn looked back and cut between the two of them. “Guys, you don’t really have a choice in the matter! You better go – and you better go now!”
Daniel, frustrated, rushed over to Brandon’s unconscious body and swung him over his shoulder. He looked around only to see the shattered window where he had crashed through. Looks like we have no other way out, the agent groaned. He grabbed Beatriz’s wrist and dragged her towards the window.
“Hey! What the hell are you doing!?” Beatriz shrieked as she found herself being dragged along. “Let me go!”
Daniel groaned. “Do you want to get killed by robots!?”
“They can’t kill me!”
“You just got blown by a grenade launcher!”
“I liked it! I want to get hit some more!”
“Yeah, my nuts are better than yours!”
Daniel groaned and looked towards the pathway where Samantha had walked out of. The dark hallways echoed with the distant footsteps of the soldiers. A knot formed inside his stomach; should he go after Samantha? He shook his head. At this rate, she’d be gone by now, his mind argued. He clucked his tongue in annoyance and rushed towards the window, taking a running jump out of it and ignoring Beatriz’s screams of protest.
That was the only thought that passed through her mind.
Samantha walked through the streets of Machinos. Anxiety filled her; were these people going to notice? She glanced at the people around her. A smile curved up her lips. Everyone was too preoccupied with their devices. Nobody noticed. Nobody noticed that she wore a tattered and bloodstained coat as a makeshift skirt. The sleeves of Kaelyn’s coat served as a belt for the skirt; something that she was grateful for. Her hand moved towards the knot of sleeves. Her body shuddered at the thought of her hand looming over her bikini line. The throbbing pain at her crotch was still there; it was a pain that she couldn’t ignore. Her arms hung limp at her side. Her mind swirled, as if it was being swallowed by a void. She wandered through the streets like ghost, with no particular goal in mind.
“I am not worthy,” she murmured. “I am not worthy…”
How could she consider herself worthy?
Samantha remembered all the mistakes she made. Dragging all that luggage, venturing through the Fool’s Gold Cavern, allowing herself to give into the temptation of gold, not being able to save Luke when she could have, allowing herself to be manipulated by Bianca – so many of those times, her knights needed to save her. Tears slipped out of her eyes in memory of the last mistake she had made. The latest one, the sexual assault was the final straw. Reuben had forced himself on her and cheated in the game. But that did nothing to soothe her pain. She couldn’t cheat a cheater. But the worst part was…
He was going to get away from it.
Samantha looked around the crowd as some glared at her with contempt. Men began to sneer at her and some women scowled at her. Others had a look of sympathy and the others had an empathic but sad smile on their faces. The princess ignored the looks of pity in their eyes. An empty self-loathing swallowed her whole as she slipped through the alleyway. Her feet trudged through the puddles and the dust-filled walkways. Her arms embraced her trembling body as the cold winds licked against her bare skin.
“Now, what’s a poor soul like you doing here all alone?” A kind voice asked.
Samantha looked up to see a middle-aged woman with a gentle smile. Her face had a few wrinkles from hard work and age but the mirth in her emerald green eyes sparkled bright. Her skin reminded Samantha of Brandon’s skin tone; it reminded her like a cup of hot tea with creamer and sugar. She had a fuchsia pink headband that held her curly long jet black hair back. She wore a white off-shoulder blouse with puffed up sleeves and a lavender coloured skirt. Around her waist, she had royal violet sash with golden trinkets dangling on it. She also had two golden bangles on her wrist and two gold anklets on her left ankle. But no shoes.
Samantha opened her mouth to speak only to have air come out of it. I… I don’t have a voice…
The woman shook her head and gently placed her finger on the princess’s lips. “Say no more. I know a victim of Reuben’s when I see one.”
Samantha winced at the sound of the prince’s name and hung her head. I couldn’t stop him…
“This is not the first time he attempted to force himself on a girl. Come here, let’s get you some nice clothes and a place to stay.”
Samantha couldn’t do anything save nod and follow after the woman. She travelled behind her with her palms pressing against the musty walls in the alleyways of deserted houses. Her dark eyes observed the slums around her. The wooden windows had been eaten away beyond repair. The stone walls had been chipped away by natural forces. Wires barely hanging by a fibre stretched across two rusted and shoddy roofs with some wet and tattered laundry hanging off it.
Samantha tapped the woman’s shoulder. Where are we going?
“We are going to the Court of Angels.” The woman smiled. “No need to force yourself to speak. I can read your lips quite well.”
Samantha nodded with a smile. Thank you.
“By the way, my name is Amethyst. You are?”
The princess nearly mouthed the word ‘princess’ but caught herself right away. She shook her head; where was the dignity of being a princess when she didn’t have it anymore?
“Oh, such a nice name! But it’s quite long, may I call you Sam?”
“Thank you so much. You may call me Ami if you’d like.”
Unlike the other people she had met, the woman exuberated mirth and kindness from every side of her body. It was a warm feeling; the same feeling that Samantha loved when she sat in front of the fireplace inside the Xychosia citadel, listening to Queen Regina’s stories. Suddenly, she found herself in a graveyard. Many epitaphs were erected on one side while others had a large tomb to accommodate the corpses. She saw the symbol of Machinos mounted on the tombs but also saw simple stone plates that were planted into the ground.
“Ever since the queen died, the graveyards have become more crowded nowadays.” The woman said. Samantha heard a sad sigh escape from her throat. “Reuben kills or exiles anyone who dares oppose him and it doesn’t help he thinks more with his cock than his brain.”
“But don’t worry. You’ll be safe in the Court of Angels.” Amethyst smiled and pulled down a pedestal where there was an angel. “Nobody knows this place exists except for those who live here.”
Suddenly, the graveyard began to rumble and tremble beneath the princess’s feet. Samantha gasped in surprise as the tomb door opened and revealed a set of stairs descending below. Amethyst snapped her fingers and created a purple flame on her fingertip. Samantha’s eyes widened; she could use an Aeonlight too!?
“I can see you recognize the Aeonlight.” Amethyst smiled. “Are you a magic user as well?”
Samantha nodded. Yes!
“I see. Then the more you are welcome to the Court of Angels.”
“Because many of us who are live here are magic users.”
Samantha shook her head. But Machinos Empire was an anti-magic empire! Anything about magic was considered blasphemy or incredulous! The concept of magic had become so foreign to them that anything related to magic instilled fear. She remembered how the soldiers shivered at the sight of Kaelyn when she used her magic. She remembered how the policemen man-handled her. That could explain why there was so much civil unrest, the princess thought to herself. And it didn’t help that the queen had passed away and now Prince Reuben sat himself on the throne.
As they descended down the stairs, Samantha took every step with caution and wary. Hesitance filled her at the sight of the abyss that she had begun to descend into. The only things that gave her light were the pendant of Sofiene and the ring of Azaleth. Her fair skin faded into the darkness only to be illuminated by the Aeonlight of Amethyst. She could hear her footsteps echo through the dark void of the staircase. But why name it Court of Angels? She wondered.
“We’re here,” she heard Amethyst say.
The earth rumbled and a door slid open for Samantha and Amethyst to step into.
“It’s okay. We’re safe down here.” Amethyst smiled.
Samantha nodded and stepped through the door, shivering at every step. This was the first time she had ventured without her knights. But I can’t go back to them, Samantha shook her head. She looked down on her sore and splotchy body. Not like this, she clenched her fists tight. Bitter tears fell down her eyes when she suddenly felt a hand alight on her shoulder. She looked up and saw Amethyst wiping her tears away with a handkerchief.
“There, there, there’s no need to be ashamed.” Amethyst reassured. She shook her head. “Though it’s true that the outside world could be cruel, there are still some pockets of goodness inside our dark world.”
Samantha crept her way in with her feet shuffling through the dark court. Her eyes widened in surprise at the sight that greeted her.
Instead of using light bulbs, they had torches. But there was no wooden shaft to bear the flame. Instead, the flames seemed to float around. Wooden sticks dug into the ground and propped up large bolts of cloth to form a roof of some sorts. The people sat on what she saw were last year’s newspaper of the Daily Blabber. Some of the tents were old tarpaulins and welcome banners from shop soft openings. Broken jars and vases caught the water leaking from above and others used old plastic containers to serve food. She saw what appeared to be a part of a stove, lighted. On top of the stove, there was a galvanized iron pot boiling some stew. The scent of beef filled the air as she saw people gathering around the pot.
Wow, Samantha gasped in amazement. There’s a city down here!
“Yes, many of us who were hunted during the raids retreat down here.” Amethyst explained.
“We were condemned for our practices.”
Samantha looked upon her in confusion. Practices?
Amethyst gestured towards the people. “Look around you. What looks familiar to you?”
The princess looked towards the inhabitants as she saw people watching another person use cards. Soon, the cards floated around and revealed pictures underneath. Children clapped for one of the dancers as water bobbed and danced around. Samantha’s eyes widened. They were all magic users!
Magic! Samantha beamed.
“That’s right,” Amethyst smiled. She nudged Samantha’s arm. “Come on, you can stay at my tent.”
Samantha nodded and followed after the woman. Her eyes darted around the Court of Angels. Laughter of children filled her ears as they began showing their magic to one another. The adults – both magic users and non-magic users - worked together to create something. While one of the non-magic users hammered down on a piece of steel with a hammer, the magic user created a flame at a constant heat to keep the metal heated. A family laughed as a mother pulled out the soup from the pot with a wave of her hand and distributed them equally to different bowls.
This is an ideal harmony, Samantha smiled at the image. Tears formed in her eyes. It was what she wished for in Sofiene. She remembered how bitter Matteo and Santino were when they found out she had magic. Her parents were delighted; well, more her father was than her mother. She remembered her first fireball she conjured in her hands. The first healing rain she had commanded to rejuvenate the crops of the Sofiene farmers, the first plant that she grew from the ground.
“Here,” Amethyst brushed away the curtain of her tent. “You can stay here.”
Samantha nodded. She walked inside the tent and saw the colourful room inside. On the floor of the tent, there were rainbow coloured rugs that had been knitted. The rugs had intricate patterns with several tassels knitted to them. Inside the tent, there were several wires that held up several portraits with different paintings on them. Samantha brushed her finger against the oil paintings of different people, places, and creatures.
“So, what brings you here to Machinos?” Amethyst suddenly asked. “Most people wouldn’t go here unless they want to get beaten by Reuben.”
Samantha hung her head. I wanted to find ways to travel faster.
Amethyst nodded. “Oh so you were looking for a car of some sorts?”
“It’s metal and has wheels?”
Samantha stared at her quizzically. Like a carriage with no horse?
“You can say that,” Amethyst chuckled. She then raised an eyebrow. “Where are you from?”
Samantha shrugged. Sofiene.
“Oh that explains a lot.” Amethyst shook her head. “They’re not very open to technology, are they?”
The princess shook her head. No, we usually use carriages or we just walk around ourselves.
“It’s like they’re the complete anti-thesis of Machinos. Everywhere in Sofiene, I heard, is run on magic. Machinos, people hate magic. They fear it.”
Amethyst shook her head with a shrug. “Nobody knows. Some say it’s because they believe that magic originated from Tartaros. Other people say it’s because it reminds them of the Mad Dynasty. Some people even say it’s because they don’t know how to explain it. It’s quite peculiar.”
Samantha nodded. What about you?
“I was taught to love my magic. And, it can make sense. I don’t have a powerful magic like most mages do.”
Everybody’s magic has some sort of use.
“You can say that. For me, I have the power of looking into someone’s soul. It’s quite invasive if you ask me.”
Samantha shrugged. Every magic has its pros and cons.
“Yeah, just like everything else.”
With a sad sigh, Amethyst poured herself and Samantha glasses of juice. “Fear nowadays is so powerful. Mixing that together with what people only accept as a confirmation of what they know, it can be a terrible thing.”
“If only people could look past their fear and look with an open mind, maybe this world would be a better place.”
Samantha gave her a sad smile. She remembered the people in Arachnos and how scared they were of magic. She also remembered how she was before she left the castle. Back then, she expected the knights to be those who donned shining white armour and wielded a gleaming blade. Their armour was pristine and their swords bore no dents. But now she knew better. Brandon, Daniel, and Beatriz never wore white armour. But she found knight-like qualities in each of them.
Brandon and his compassion.
Beatriz and her loyalty.
And, Daniel and his righteousness.
A small but bitter smile curved up her lips. It was only now that guilt shot through her like a knife. How could she have been so relentless? When had she become willing to forsake Beatriz’s life just for her own revenge? But the mere idea of pummelling Reuben with everything she had was irresistible. The temptation drew her like a bee to honey and seduced her with the satisfaction of giving him what he deserved.
“Anyway, such a terrible topic to talk about over dinner.” Amethyst brushed the thought away. She smiled. “I’d like to see what kind of magic you can do!”
Samantha beamed in delight at the thought. She looked around for a moment and spotted a wound on Amethyst’s wrist. Her eyes widened as she pointed to it.
“Oh this?” Amethyst pointed to her wound. She chuckled and shook her head. “It’s nothing. It was that one time that I let my own despair swallow me that I decided to try ending it all.”
Samantha paled. She tried to take her own life!?
“But I decided to try and live.”
The princess cocked her head to side.
“When I wandered here to the Court of Angels, people accepted me with open arms. Apparently, the people of Machinos hate those who are different. They would dub us as gypsies for not following the conventional way of life.”
Samantha shook her head. It doesn’t mean you’ll have to be treated differently.
“But to them, that’s what it meant.” Amethyst sighed.
Samantha slowly nodded then beamed all of a sudden. She took Amethyst’s wrist and placed it on her lap. The gypsy blinked in surprise but Samantha instead closed her eyes and placed her palms onto the wrist. She took in a deep breath and focused on the scar beneath her palms. The mana inside her bubbled and swam around her veins. A soothing feeling bloomed in her hand until in the darkness she saw a pair of sneering dark grey eyes staring at her. Samantha’s body froze and her mana spiked, causing her to yelp and shove away Amethyst’s wrist. An airy scream burst from her throat as she backed away from Amethyst.
“Samantha!” Amethyst cried out. Her emerald green eyes glistened with concern. “Are you alright?”
Samantha hugged her shivering body. The same taunting eyes that she saw in Reuben flashed before her in the darkness. She remembered how his grip tightened over her arms as he flipped her over and slammed her into the ground. The distinct sound of her pants being ripped off echoed and the painful penetration that ripped through every fibre of her being threatened to tear her apart. Samantha dug her fingers into her hair and began attempting to rip it off.
He’s… he’s inside me! Get him out! Get him out!
“Samantha, stop!” Amethyst gasped.
She lunged for Samantha and pulled away the princess’s arms. Samantha’s fists curled up into a ball with her knuckles paling from the tension. Her silent screams shook with an airy voice and tears streamed down her face. The whole princess’s body shuddered as Amethyst immediately pulled her into her arms. Samantha’s body, wracked with tears and rage, shuddered and trembled in the older woman’s arms.
Confusion and terror swirled in Samantha’s mind as she gripped the ruffles of the woman’s blouse. She knew she got the spell right. But why did she see his eyes in her mind? She remembered how he sneered and cheated in the game. She remembered how he forced himself on her. The pain seemed to last like an eternity instead of what people saw was only a few minutes. She remembered the scowls and looks of contempt as she made her way through the bustling street.
I… I can’t… Her voice let out an airy burble from her throat. It’s too much!
Amethyst sighed with a sad smile. “It’s alright,” she soothed her and brushed the princess’s hair with her fingers. “He’s not here. You’re safe here.”
Samantha sobbed and let out an airy scream again. It was all she could do. After all when everything happened…
Nobody could hear me.
“We’re lucky we found a place to stay.” Daniel sighed deeply. He brushed aside the tattered curtains and sighed. “Even if it’s in the slums.”
The three knights managed to retreat but all of them looked worse for wear. Save for Beatriz whose wounds began to fade. Daniel grunted and ripped a cloth off his shirt and used it to patch up some of the scratches he had from bursting through the window. The strip of cloth soaked up majority of the blood and he wiped away the dirt. Brandon groaned and shook his head.
“Ugh I feel like someone hit me with a hammer,” Brandon massaged his temple. “What happened?”
“Sam let her emotions get the best of her and she throttled you with a spell.” Daniel explained with a nonchalant shrug.
Beatriz snorted at him. “Geez, you forgot to add that she was raped by said bastard she wanted to throttle.”
Brandon clenched his fists until his knuckles paled. “Reuben Gears…”
“The little bastard did never know how to keep his pants zipped.”
“Does anyone know where Samantha went to?”
Daniel shook his head. “Before I could track her, a whole legion of soldier is out there scouting for our heads.”
“And for what reason?” Brandon gawked. “We didn’t even do anything!”
“You know how powerful information dissemination could be. Before we could do anything, there was a story that came out that Samantha tried to rape Reuben.”
“Ugh, the sympathy vote kind of thing.”
“Yeah and as of now, the entire Machinos is after us.”
Beatriz growled and slammed her fist onto the rotting wooden table. “All because he couldn’t keep his goddamn cock –”
“—Bea, enough.” Daniel chided. He looked out the window through the tiny tears in the curtain. “Right now, we need to find Samantha, get a vehicle, and get the hell out of here.”
“That’s without getting caught,” Brandon added.
“Just making sure you know that. People can be forgetful.”
Frustration built up inside Daniel. How could he have not rushed things? Why didn’t he detect that Samantha was in danger? Only Brandon and Beatriz did. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t knighted, his mind reasoned with him. He was selected but not knighted formally. A sigh escaped his lips and he leaned against the window pane. Daniel watched the soldiers flood the streets and the citizens screamed in terror. Others beckoned their children and shooed them away before the sentinels unleashed their array of lasers and bullets.
“But first thing’s first, we have to track Sam.” Daniel said. He sat down on the wooden floor with his legs crossed. “Anyone have ideas?”
“She could be roaming the city for all we know.” Brandon pointed out. A sharp exhaled burst from his throat as he winced in pain. “Tracking her’s going to be a problem especially since we can’t just go out there.”
“That’s true. But that’s why we have technology. We won’t need to scour the lands themselves.”
“You’re thinking of using drones?”
Beatriz blinked. “What the hell is a drone?”
“A drone is a machine that does reconnaissance work for you,” Daniel explained. “It prevents the enemy from discovering who you are on first glance.”
“Oh? Where do you get that stuff?”
“They should sell a few here. Or we can just dig in the junkyard and fix it up.”
“And do you know how?”
Daniel opened his mouth to say something until he realized that he never did go that far into reconnaissance training. He groaned and dropped his head against the window pane with a sigh. So much for inconspicuous reconnaissance, the agent shut his eyes. Annoyance bubbled inside him. There was no drone but, there were legions of soldiers stalking the streets to find them. Suddenly, something occurred to him.
“Guys, it just hit me now.” Daniel suddenly snapped his head towards Beatriz and Brandon. “How did Samantha escape without getting caught?”
Brandon and Beatriz froze. The two knights exchanged horrified looks with one another and gawked. “They could have captured her!”
Daniel shook his head. “I doubt it.”
“And why’s that?” Brandon raised his eyebrow at the agent.
“Because if Reuben did,” Beatriz scoffed and folded her arms with a disgruntled snort. “He would have displayed Sam’s violated and mutilated corpse for everyone to see.”
“That man’s brutality knows no limits now does it?”
“He never did have any limits. He fucked anyone he pleased, he killed anyone he pleased. He’s a modern day me.”
Daniel and Brandon gawked and stared at Beatriz.
“What?” Beatriz shrugged. “The only thing I never did was fuck anyone I please. I have my fantasies but I do have some sense of decency.”
Brandon shook his head. “Okay, so we at least know that Samantha’s in the city. She couldn’t have gotten very far.”
I hope so.
That was the only thing that Daniel could think. The thumping of the sentinels throughout the streets caused the rotting wood beneath him to rumble. He pulled out a pair of binoculars out of his survival kit and took a look out the window. As long as the sentinels scoured the city 24/7, finding Samantha wouldn’t be an easy task. And as far as he was concerned, Samantha had to live. As she was the only hope of Sofiene, squashing the hope of the Sofiene this early in the game was not a good idea.
“Anyway, there is one person we can go to.” Brandon added.
Daniel shook his head. “We are not going to that inept, bratty bastard named –”
“We’re not going to Lenard.”
“Oh? Well, this guy better not be an ass.”
“Daniel, for Deus’ sake, Lenard just found out that his best friend died. Will you stop being so damn insensitive?”
Beatriz snickered. “Wow,” she leaned against the chair and folded her arms. “This Lenard guy sounds like crap.”
“He wasn’t until Brandon decided to tell him that Luke’s dead.” Daniel scowled.
The pirate captain’s lavender eyes flashed. “What would you rather have me do? Lie?”
“You pirates don’t even have a code and now you’re being concerned about lying!?”
“This is not about pirate’s code, Daniel! It’s called being a decent human being!”
“Well, if you haven’t noticed – we’re in a city full of indecent ones anyway!”
Beatriz groaned and stepped in between the two boys. “Hey, put your dicks back in your pants. We don’t need you two flaming hot heads to go bumping foreheads and seeing whose head will crack first.” She shoved the two boys away. “Right now, we have to find Samantha. And I have a pretty good idea where she might have headed off to.”
Brandon raised an eyebrow. “You only say this now, why?”
“It was faint but her energy was deep underground. It was like six feet under.”
“You mean like the sewers?”
“Past the sewers even.” Beatriz shook her head. “It’s hard trying to get a signal when you’re literally fighting against 2000 feet worth of soil.”
Daniel beamed; she found her! “Good, is she alone?”
“No, she’s got others. She’s not alone. There are other magic energies surrounding her.”
Brandon nodded. “That makes perfect sense. To mask her presence, she hides among magic users.”
“I don’t think she even thought of it that way considering her mental state,” Daniel pointed out. “With that kind of trauma, she probably just wandered around before falling into the rabbit hole.”
Beatriz gave him a dry laugh. “At least she didn’t eat any weird food that makes her grow or shrink.”
Daniel gawked; how could Beatriz even find the gall to joke when her princess was in danger? There was no hint of worry or paranoia in the lady-in-waiting’s eyes. There was only mirth and amusement. His hands clenched tightly into a fist. It was that kind of unconcerned attitude that could get the princess killed.
“Now’s not the time to joke, Bea. Samantha could be in danger.”
“I don’t think so.”
Beatriz pressed her hand against her chest and smirked. “Because I know so.”
“That doesn’t make sense!”
“Of course magic doesn’t make sense to you, you dumbass. You’re not a magic user.”
“Nor was he knighted.” Brandon added. He turned to Beatriz. “But I do have an inkling as to what you’re talking about, Bea. If she were dead, I would have felt her mana inside me fade.”
Beatriz gave Daniel a triumphant grin. “See? Nothing to worry about!”
“Bea, how can you say that when she tried to blast you into smithereens!?”
“It’s because I know she didn’t intend to.”
Daniel froze for a moment. “What?”
Beatriz shook her head. “I saw that look in her eyes. It was like her world just crashed around her. It was literally she having the blue screen of death. Tight-lipped, dead inside – yeah, I’ve seen that look. It’s the look that most of my prisoners gave me after I tortured them senseless.”
Daniel and Brandon stared agape at her again. What kind of insane person was she!?
“Oh come on, in a time of war – torture was the norm!”
“Uh, that explains a lot.”
“Kind of explains also your tendencies.”
Beatriz scoffed. “Ugh, stop being such prudes! Everyone has their fantasies. Don’t tell me you guys don’t have one!”
Brandon turned bright red and hid his face under his blouse, muttering. “It’s not worth talking about.”
Daniel froze and paled at her, twitching. “We shall never speak about it.”
“It’s called being normal.”
“More like being boring,” Beatriz scoffed. She then sighed. “But, getting back to the point, Sam’s pretty much underground. We at least know she’s safe for the time being. It gives us more time to look for her.”
Daniel nodded. “I agree. The thing is, anyone know how to go underground?”
Brandon shrugged. “I’m sure there’s a staircase leading down.”
“The staircase only leads to the underground bullet trains.” Daniel pointed out. “Beatriz said that Sam’s at least two thousand feet below. That’s way past the subways.”
“Sheesh, I don’t understand why you guys are making such a big fuss when it’s easy to dig.” Beatriz rolled her eyes. “Besides, there’s only one way to get down below without making such a big ruckus.”
Daniel raised an eyebrow. “And pray do tell what this is?”
If he had to be honest, Beatriz’s slow smile created an unsettling feeling in his stomach.
From what he had seen, Beatriz had more extreme measures. Extreme, drastic measures that sometimes didn’t work well with his code of ethics but, what could he do? She was the de-facto leader of Samantha’s knights based on seniority. But if he had to choose to trust his life into someone’s hands, she’d definitely be the last person to trust. However, it pained him that she also knew Samantha best. Living with Samantha for a long time gave her the upper hand and made her the best equipped to track her down.
“Okay,” Daniel mussed his hair and raked his fingers through his dark strands. “And what’s this so grand plan of yours?”
Beatriz smirked, sending chills down Daniel’s spine.
“How chicken are you boys?”
Samantha stared at the bowl of gruel in her hands. Better than nothing, she thought. She could hear her stomach rumbling. Yet, the mere thought of eating made her want to puke. She gripped a part of her blouse and crumpled the cloth in her hands. Her stomach rumbled and grumbled at her but, her hand refused to lift up her spoon. She could feel all the gastric juices inside her threatening to explode out of her mouth. She reluctantly placed the bowl down and instead resorted to watching the fire boil the water in the kettle.
It had been a few hours. Or so she counted, ever since she had left the capital. She couldn’t remember much other than the pain that burned at her crotch. Samantha shuddered and stared at the rust stained metal bowl that lay at her feet with the gruel emulsifying inside. She looked at her palms and felt the mana spark a bit. She sparked and buzzed inside her only to die out in a flash.
It won’t leave me alone.
The dark image of the Machinos Hallway flashed before her eyes. Her body relived the pain over and over. Her voice drowned out by the realization that Reuben had forced himself upon her. The cold marble pressed against her palms and the electricity seared her fibres and sealed her mana. It numbed all her limbs in her body. She remembered the sight of Reuben also gouging out one of Cathy’s eyes. What a monster! She thought.
She looked towards the fire again and heard Amethyst take a seat next to her. “Sorry if the gruel isn’t great. Our chef, Bobson, doesn’t really believe in the three basic food groups.”
Samantha giggled and scooped a spoonful, forcing herself to swallow the muck on her spoon. It’s okay.
“By the way,” Amethyst smiled. “I never did show you my magic.”
“Here, give me your hand.”
Samantha nodded. She placed her spoon back in the bowl and gave Amethyst her hand. The woman smiled and held Samantha’s hand. She brushed her fingertip against the lines on the princess’s palm. Amethyst took a deep breath and closed her eyes as a white glyph surrounded them and began to glow. Samantha’s eyes widened as they swirled around in the cosmos when she saw herself floating in the middle of it all.
“Wow,” Amethyst gasped in awe. “You have a vast mind…”
Suddenly, she saw Azaleth floating around. There were other shadows surrounding them. She could only make small assumptions from their silhouettes. She saw what appeared to be a male harpy. Another one looked like a woman sitting on the moon. A demon consumed in fire, a unicorn with eight legs, and the other silhouettes, she could not identify. However, there was one that loomed in on her. It was a large shadow and all the silhouettes bowed down to it. Samantha shrank at the sight of it and Amethyst froze in place.
“Wha… Impossible,” Amethyst shivered. Her voice cracked in a stammer. “Th-that magic died out years ago…!”
Samantha blinked. How could that be? How could she be able to use a magic that died out years ago? She looked at the many silhouettes that bowed to the large one. Where did those come from? Suddenly, she heard a deafening metal crunch. The large silhouette stared at her with glowing gold eyes as it bowed down to her. Samantha shivered as the other silhouettes turned to her and bowed. Trembling, the princess tried to curtsy only for her knees to give out beneath her weight. The silhouettes and Azaleth bowed to her in respect. What does this mean, Samantha asked herself.
Suddenly, she heard laughter throughout the darkness. Samantha looked past the silhouette as she saw a young woman around her age. Unlike Samantha’s busty build, she had an athletic and muscular build. She stood strong and her eyes glimmered with a hardy confidence. The young woman was in dark red robe with golden linings sewn on.
Samantha gasped. Who are you?
Suddenly, the image faded and returned her back to the Court of Angels. She and Amethyst exchanged shocked looks. Samantha shook her head and mouthed. Who was that?
“I… I don’t know,” Amethyst shook her head. “I’ve never seen her. Have you?”
Samantha shook her head. No. I don’t even know her!
Amethyst pondered for a moment before nodding. “Then it must be someone who’ll be important to you later on.”
But how can I find someone I’ve never met?
“You’ll find her soon enough. But I think the fact that she’s within the depths of your soul means you’ve seen her at least once.”
Samantha frowned. Once? She never saw her before! Someone with that cocky smirk on her face and that kind of build – she had never seen that person before! Her hands clenched tight into fists when she looked at the fire before exhaling. Where was she going to start? Normally, she asked Brandon where to go. Speaking of Brandon, Samantha sighed. She remembered how he took the blow for Beatriz. She remembered how the winds tore through him and flung him aside as if he were nothing more than a useless husk. Guilt wretched through her as she realized that this one thing that she had to do alone.
And that thought terrified her.