Book One: Knights' Festival

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Yartengar Mountain Range

While she was underground, she could not tell whether it was night time or day time.

But she could hear the loud thumping from the surface above.

Probably the guards hunting me down, she thought. She lay down on the makeshift cot made from old newspapers and old clothes. Her breathing, soft, filled her ears as she looked at the other families settle down. She could hear the children begging their mothers to read them their bedtime stories. A small and nostalgic smile curved up her lips. She remembered the days when her own mother would read stories to her. It was how the princess would always try to find herself and become the princess or queen she was meant to be.

But now here she was, lying low and in the slums.

If I haven’t left Xychosia, where would I be?

She pondered and stared at the frayed colourful cloth hanging above her. Samantha rested her palms against her stomach. If she had not left Xychosia, she would be resting on her bed. She would be lying down on her soft cotton bed with a silk comforter with Beatriz bringing in her breakfast every morning. Everyday would be a day of engaging her mind in the library. The multitudes of books would have deluged and delighted her mind with knowledge. She wouldn’t need to worry about the war.

Or would she?

A sad smile curved up her lips. That would mean she would be shirking on her duties. As Sofiene’s true heir, it was her responsibility to liberate her people. To let them live in peace, to let them live in security – that was her duty as the queen of Sofiene. She looked at the pendant hanging on her neck. What progress had she done? Other than find the knights, did she even know who her brothers recruited? Did she know which empire sided with which?

It was then she realized: failure stared her back in the face.

And it was this realization that bit her hard. Tears streamed down her face and teeth clamped onto her lower lip. Her teeth drew blood and the metallic taste filled her mouth. Samantha hugged her body and curled into foetal position. Hopelessness hit her like a tsunami and drowned every feeling she had swelling inside her. Forget the anxiety of her knights never being able to find her; forget the terror of having to face her brothers. Failure swallowed all of them up and shoved all of that into her face.

Where do I go from here?

Half of her wanted to go home. She wanted to retreat back to the safety behind the walls of Xychosia and go back to indulging herself with books, sweets, and fabulous dresses. She wanted forget all that had happened. All the attacks and all the people who had died – she wanted to forget it all! Her hands went for her hair and wished to rip it out from her scalp, gripping it tight in the spaces of her fingers. More tears streamed down her face and snot covered her mouth and cheeks as a silent, airy scream tore itself from her throat.

What do I do now?

Samantha shuddered at the thought. She was completely lost. She never knew how reliant she was on Brandon and Beatriz to do everything until now. Beatriz always had the drive and courage to jump into combat with her scythe swinging. She never once hesitated. Brandon was a man of mind; he planned everything step by step and always committed. There was Commitment. It was the one thing they both had even if their methods had a vast difference.

I have to do something.

Samantha got up and held the pendant in her hand. The eyes of the owl clutching the gem had suddenly begun to glow brighter than before. And the gem that it held in its claws flickered with a raging inferno within it. The fire in it lashed against the crystalline walls that enclosed it. It was no longer a waltz but instead, a flamboyant lash that threatened to explode.

It never did this before, Samantha mused. She cupped the gem in her hands when she noticed even the ring of Azaleth glowing. Unlike the energy inside the pendant of Sofiene, the energy in Azaleth seemed to shimmer like the stars in the night sky. It was resonating towards something but she wasn’t sure what. Suddenly, she heard something blaring loud. Her whole body jumped as all the people who were sleeping below awoke in a panic.

What’s going on? Samantha looked around.

Amethyst gathered her things. “The sentinels are here! They managed to find their way here!”


“I’m not sure but I think it spotted one of the children or it must’ve followed us in!”

Samantha’s heart dropped into her stomach. She was a magnet for trouble and calamity! No matter where she went, she would cause trouble. Samantha stood frozen as the women, the children, and the elderly were evacuated as first while the men and some of the women who refused to leave without their husbands gathered some of those who were disabled. She lunged and gathered whatever she could find until Amethyst shoved a map into her arms.

“You must head to the Yartengar Mountain Range!” Amethyst pleaded. She shook her head. “The sentinels can’t catch you there! It’s neutral territory!”

Samantha shook her head. What about you?

Amethyst gave her a rueful and cryptic smile. “I intend to answer injustice with justice.”

Samantha paled and grabbed her arm, shaking her head vehemently at Amethyst. You can’t! They’ll murder you!

“I refuse to let another woman be a victim of Reuben’s sick, sadistic fantasies! You must leave! Especially, if she is a princess!”

Samantha froze. How did she know?

“I knew the moment I looked through your soul. You had gone through so much,” Amethyst gave her a bittersweet smile. “The pendant and the ring on your neck is a sign of who you are. You are not just any princess. You are the princess.”

Samantha hung her head. I’m so sorry for deceiving you. But I was so afraid…

“And the more so I shall not let these sentinels get you.”

The princess gawked and looked up at Amethyst. Was this woman crazy, she asked herself. Samantha knew firsthand how powerful the sentinels were. She remembered how they showed no signs of exhaustion and kept on getting up even with Beatriz, Daniel, and Brandon thrashing them out one by one. But the one she knew the most was Prince Reuben himself. The uncaring, cold, sardonic sneer curving across his lips with vengeance flickering in his grey eyes terrified her.

“Sofiene may be your home. But in the world of magic, there are so many things to see.” Amethyst said. Suddenly, the thumping of the steps became louder. “Quickly! Don’t tarry here any longer! Go!”

I can fight!

“If you fight here, the more so the prince will send another raid to get you! He always likes this game of spider and fly. Go!”

I have magic! Combat magic!

“And so do I,” Amethyst pointed out. Without warning, she grabbed Samantha’s wrist and bolted. “Move!”

Without any choice, the princess followed after Amethyst. Rocks and debris exploded and flew all over the place as the sentinels stormed the underground city. Bullets shrieked and tore through the makeshift shanties as the cries of the men who stood their ground echoed in her ears. Her heart skipped at the sound. It’s exactly what happened in Sofiene, Samantha shook her head. When would this pointless bloodshed and manhunt for her stop?

Until you’re dead, idiot. Her mind scolded her.

Samantha’s blood froze at the realization. But her legs continued to run with Fear powering them every step of the way. She looked back at the tarpaulins and makeshift shanties as they caught fire. Smoke clouded people’s visions as laser lights shot through the smokescreen. People screamed in terror while some continued to soldier on. The princess saw a dead little girl’s body riddled with bullets while holding her bloodstained doll. Another was a little boy who sat with trauma flickering in his eyes with blood pouring from the blast wound and shrapnel that slashed his face. Dust covered their skin as the sentinels stomped past them and riddled bodies with bullets.

“Here!” Amethyst shoved Samantha into the crowd. “Follow the people out! It’ll take you into the sewers. To get out of the city, keep running straight! Never turn! By then, you should be out of the city and be heading into the river. Ride the river currents and make your way to Yartengar Mountains!”

Samantha staggered back in surprise. Guilt welled up in her heart. Just like the last time, Samantha fought the urge to cry. All she had been doing is running. Samantha saw the persistent look in Amethyst’s eyes and clutched the map tight against her breast. The middle aged woman shook her head and smiled.

“Don’t worry. I’ll hold the door.” Amethyst reassured and patted Samantha’s matted and sweaty black hair. “We will meet again, Your Grace.”

Are you sure?

“I am not the one to kick the bucket so easily. This isn’t the first time I’ve faced a raid of sentinels.”

Seeing the determined look in Amethyst’s eyes, Samantha fought away her tears and sprinted down the tunnel. The cloak that had been tied around her waist as a skirt soaked up the water and began to weigh her down. Her feet trudged through the rushing, murky water and the stench of the sewers choked her and caused her eyes to well up with tears. Grabbing the hem of the coat, Samantha closed her eyes and concentrated on the wind within the area. She compressed it into a blade and cleaved off the portion that dragged itself through the sewage water.

Suddenly, she heard a loud gunshot echo throughout the sewers.

Her heart froze and the people’s cries deafened around her. She stood frozen and looked back down the tunnel that she had passed through. Silence wrenched her heart and her chest tightened. Her mind ignored the stench of faeces and urine and instead wondered at the fate of Amethyst. No, I don’t have time for this! Samantha scolded herself. If Amethyst did die then, staying in the sewers and getting herself captured would have made the woman’s sacrifice in vain!

The princess bolted with adrenaline and willpower being the only fuel for her speed. She didn’t look back. Her tears stung her eyes but she refused to stop running. Her lungs burned and her ribs threatened to split. But she continued. She remembered the time that Beatriz grabbed her arm and with all the adrenaline they had, began to flee Sofiene. Suddenly, a sharp pain hit her in the head when she remembered the time she and Beatriz fled Sofiene. All she remembered was white light. But soon, she heard something else: a loud roar. Samantha gawked. That wasn’t there the first time she tried to remember it!

Where did that come from? She asked herself. However, the thought of the sentinels chasing her down snapped her out of her daze and sent her running once more. The sewer waters splashed against her skin and she could have sworn that she stepped on some faeces. Samantha ignored the stench and suddenly, the current in the sewers grew stronger. She yelped as it threw her forward and set her sinking into the murky water. Samantha coughed and gasped for air as she managed to swim up.

Ugh, this is gross!

As disgusting as it was for her to swim through a stream full of faeces and urine, she found it better than being riddled by bullets. Or worse, being forced on again by Reuben. Despite the weight and current numbing her arms, Samantha forced herself to swim. Her blouse dragged her arms back but Samantha refused to back down. She continued swimming her way through until she saw the end of the pipeline.

The end of the tunnel!

A silent scream burst from her throat as the roaring sewage water through her out and onto the muddy pond below. She landed with a loud splash onto the ground with all the trash and faeces covering her body. She winced at the stench and the impact of her fall even if the urine-soiled mud and faeces cushioned her fall. Samantha clambered herself up and shook her hands to fling away the dirt. A shiver out of disgust ran up her spine when she found herself right at the river that Amethyst had said.

Ride the river currents and make your way to Yartengar mountains.

Her words echoed in her mind as Samantha looked at the pristine river. A sigh escaped her lips as Samantha focused on the water. The ripples in the water resonated with her mana as the water from the river spiralled and circled around her similar to that of a water snake. The water sprayed her clean as all the dirt and faecal matter was washed from her body. Samantha breathed in delight. Finally, no stench! She scrubbed and washed off the dirt from her body until her hand went to her waist. Her hand froze as she realized that was the only dirt that she could never remove. It was a stain now on her body. A permanent stain that could never go away.

I…I have to keep moving.

The thought of Reuben raping her felt like a boulder shackled to her ankle. Every step she took required pained effort. She stumbled through the rocky paths with the sharp rocks and stones cutting through the soles of her broken flats. The bandages that Brandon had used to mend her foot had been soiled with sweat, dirt, and other things she’d rather not think about. She stopped for a moment and sat down on a stone to remove the bandages. Her fingers trembled as she peeled the bandages that clung onto her foot after being soiled with dirt, blood, and other things, gasping in pain as the bandage pulled some of her skin.

Ow, Samantha winced as the bandaged pulled her skin. I should have had this changed, the princess thought to herself. She cast the soiled bandages aside and looked at her foot. The wounds were still there but it was not cut so deep. Some of the wounds had already transformed into a keloid. The others still had the flesh parted but no longer bleeding. Samantha cradled her foot and closed her eyes, focusing her energy into her hands that cradled her foot. Pulsing warmth filled her until she suddenly saw Reuben’s sneering eyes again. She dropped her foot in a fright and gasped for air.

I… I can’t even use my magic.

What was she thinking? Saying that she could help Amethyst when she couldn’t even heal her own foot! Samantha groaned and dropped her foot back down onto the soil before looking at the horizon before her. The grey skies and white clouds flew in front of the silhouette of what she thought were the Yartengar mountains. The mountains hid behind a blanket of mist as the trees seemingly showed her the way to the foot of the mountains. Her breath hitched in her throat. What would she find in the mountain? Now that Brandon, Beatriz, and Daniel were nowhere to protect her, she had to do this on her own.

I have to try, Samantha encouraged herself.

With that, she began making her way to the mountains.

Daniel threw his hood over his head and made his way through the streets.

Night had fallen but it didn’t mean that the sentinels let up in their hunt for Samantha. Daniel scoured through the city, leaping on the roofs to get by. He saw the white street lamps light up the streets before looking up at the starless night sky. A sigh escaped his lips as he used his binoculars to scout for any incoming sentinels.

“Coast is clear for now,” the agent said aloud to no one in particular.

He leapt off and landed with a soft thump onto the asphalt roads, wary of any incoming sentinels. Daniel spotted a few flashes of a flash light before darting away. He hid behind the crates, behind the dumpsters – anything that would prevent him from getting caught. A scowl marred his features. He wouldn’t have to do this if they didn’t run out of supplies.

“Tch, who knew I’d be stalking around like some shady murderer?” Daniel let out a hollow chuckle. He mussed his hair and pulled out what appeared to be a remote. “Time to jam their signals a bit.”

He pressed the button and a distinct buzzing sound surrounded him. Daniel looked towards the windows in the shops and noticed the glass vibrating from the intensity of the sound. However, he paid no heed. The device did what it had to do. As long as their sensors were jammed, the sentinels wouldn’t be able to detect his movements.

“Thank goodness I brought one of these,” Daniel chuckled. He shook his head. “You never know when one of those signal jammers can come in handy.”

He looked around the wall to see the sentinels clunking around with slight twitches. Their lights bobbed up and down while they clambered and staggered around. Daniel winced as one of them smacked straight into the street lamp with a thundering clang before backing up again. Things went better than he expected; the sentinels were completely disoriented!

With this in mind, he relaxed his stance and walked past them. The sentinels’ heads bobbed and turned while they staggered and clambered around from the damage of the signal jammer. Daniel smirked; they couldn’t see him now. He continued to walk past them and headed towards the bright lights shining over the buildings. The sentinels wouldn’t dare head there, the agent thought to himself. It was Machinos’ nightly bazaars. Even if they were under lock-down, it didn’t stop the merchants from peddling their wares.

He made his way through the streets and looked towards a construction site nearest to the entrance to where Samantha and he entered to get into Machinos. Daniel shook his head; based on the scaffolds and the materials, it look like that Reuben intended to build a wall. Making Machinos an impenetrable fortress, Daniel mused to himself with a shrug. He took a turn into one of the roads and saw a music store where he saw stereos, subwoofers, and many other sound systems he recognized. A chuckle bubbled from his throat; at least Machinos knew how to make technology for entertainment. Unlike Militaris, he thought to himself. Suddenly, he felt something in his pocket vibrate wildly in his pocket. He picked up the phone to check the caller. No identification, Daniel frowned. He then answered the call and pressed the phone to his ear.


A voice beamed in delight. “Ah, I see you’re doing well.”

“I’m surprised I’m not dead yet myself,” Daniel admitted.

“I am too. Now tell me, any updates?”

“Just the usual. Samantha is still on the search for knights.”

“I see. And you’re in,” – Daniel heard the clicking of keys. “You’re in Machinos?”

“They wanted to find a vehicle to speed up their search.”

“Ah, that explains it. But has she found anybody?”

Daniel shook his head. “Not that I know of.”

“Very well, keep me posted.”

With that, the line went dead.

Daniel let out a sigh of annoyance. If he told his superior that he lost Samantha, he knew he’d be in for an earful. The agent combed through the streets for any blind-spots that he and the knights could exploit. He and the knights – he hadn’t been knighted yet unlike Brandon and Beatriz. A part of him felt ostracized but another part of him was grateful. Grateful, because his mind wouldn’t be blinded by the nagging desire to search and protect the princess. And for his line of work, he needed to stay calm. Calm and composed.

He slid through the dark alleyway and reached the bright bazaar square. Lights shimmered brighter than the streetlamps behind him. The heat from the bulbs caused him to sweat and wince a little bit. Music boomed through the speakers and people chatted and bustled through the crowded streets. The smell food made his stomach grumble and growl. His hand shot over his stomach as if to prevent it from growling.

Everything smells so good, Daniel groaned. Why did they have to send him to do the footwork for food?

It’s because they don’t trust you.

Although the truth hurt, the feeling was mutual. He didn’t trust Beatriz to protect Samantha. After all, what did someone from the bloodthirsty Odissea family know about honour and protecting someone? What did she know about the Code of Chivalry? A frown marred his features at the thought but he shook his head. Who was he to question Samantha’s choice of knights? Not when she needed all the protection she could get.

Speaking of which, where is she?

He pulled out an armband and began pressing a few buttons on the QWERTY keyboard. Soon, a hologram of the entire city of Machinos flashed before him. He rotated the image a bit, looking for anything recognizable. He glared at the blueprints before him. Samantha was nowhere to be found! He deactivated the hologram with a disgruntled snort. That was useful, he scoffed to himself in his mind.

He strolled through the marketplace and searched for food. Daniel pulled out a small bag of gold coins that Brandon and Beatriz had amassed after scamming the scammers. Word got around quick of their feats and scammers dissipated whenever they saw the two knights together. A chuckle bubbled from his throat as he made his way towards a barbecue grill. A man in an apron fanned the smoke away from the grill while a woman – who Daniel believed was his wife – immersed chopped pieces of pork shoulder in a sweet-salty and savoury marinade. The pork shoulder pieces were pierced on barbecue sticks and then grilled over charcoal.

“How much per stick?” Daniel asked in a low voice.

“20 silver for 5 pieces.”

If Daniel remembered right, one hundred silvers was equivalent to one gold. “I’ll take 25 pieces.”

The man’s eyes widened as Daniel dropped one gold coin into his charcoal-stained, sweat covered palms. “No, I’m not,” Daniel said. “My friends and I are kind of hungry.”

The man nodded vigorously. “R-right away!”

Daniel nodded and scoured the area for more food, drinks, and items. He found a few vendors selling survival gear. Others sold drinks. And in the middle of the bazaar, there was a flame-eater. He whirled his blazing batons as people gazed upon in awe. The orange flames dazzled them and burned the air. A glowing orange ring gleamed and swirled with a golden light. After twirling the baton, the flame-eater put the flame to his lips and blew at it. People gasped and cheered as a flame stream forth from the wick. After his flaming finale, the man bowed.

“Thank you! Thank you!” He beamed. “Really appreciate it!”

Daniel chuckled and strolled past until he heard a loud bell screech. He winced and plugged his ears until the incessant ringing died out. People howled and cheered at the other side of the bazaar. Curiosity got the best of him as he swam through the crowd to find out. Daniel shoved and squeezed his way through until he came across a pit where he found two people getting ready to brawl. One man had a big burly build. Similar to Dreadnought, save for the dreadlocks and the tattoos of machine workings spread across his body. The other one seemed to be a lanky man who looked scared skinny at the thought.

“Ain’t nothing going to save you now, boy!” The muscular man spat.

The lanky man whimpered as the fight began. People groaned and winced at the brutal scene. The muscular man, despite his size, zoomed towards his opponent and slammed his beefy fist into his jaw. A sickening crack and an agonized cry tore through the audience’s cheers. Blood spewed from the young man’s mouth as the muscular man kicked him in the abdomen. Daniel could have sworn he heard the man’s ribs shatter from the kick.

“Ugh, even in a time of sophistication – man could still be animals.” Daniel shook his head.

The fight ended quickly with the big man raising his foot and stomping on the lanky man’s head. Crimson oozed out of the man’s eye sockets. The young man’s tongue hung limply from his mouth with his throat dry. Coughs and gasps garbled his pleas of mercy as the burly man’s foot slammed against the man’s skull. The stomping repeated again and again as Daniel staggered back. Images of torture flashed through his mind as he remembered the arrows whizzing over his shoulder, fists colliding with his jaw, and the blood that spewed from his lips from every blow. He gasped and staggered back with his head swirling. Ugh, Daniel groaned. Not again!

The match ended when he heard a loud splatter on the ground. As he looked over the crowd, the man’s head had been crunched open with his brains spewing out of his ears. With a dark grin, the muscular man grabbed the corpse’s head broken and splintered skull before dashing its brains on the hood. The agent winced as people roared in delight and the winner let out a guttural growl in triumph.

“Alright!” The announcer beamed and looked towards the crowd. “So, who wants to challenge The Murderer!?”

People murmured and bustled among one another. Daniel shrugged and prepared to make his way out until someone shoved him into the ring. Daniel gasped and yelped before staggering onto the asphalt, crashing on the floor. The crowd howled and cheered as everything in his head decided to register. His dark green eyes darted around and he clambered up his feet and looked around.

Oh shit.

The announcer beamed. “We have a challenger!”

Daniel groaned in his mind. His eyes glared daggers, trying to find who had shoved him. Must be someone by accident, he thought. However, he froze when he saw a pair of mischievous grey eyes peek from behind the people. His fists clenched; that person meant to shove him into the ring!

What the hell is he trying to do? Is he trying to get me killed!?

“Hey!” A voice boomed.

Daniel yelped as the announcer slung his arm around his shoulder. “What’s your name!?”

“Uh… Dan –”

“—Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for our latest challenger: Dan!”

Applause rang out as Daniel spotted cameras centering in his every move. So much for being inconspicuous, the agent sighed. He wanted to keep himself hidden only to have someone to shove him into the ring. He dusted himself and looked at the big, muscular man standing before him with his knuckles gnarled and his yellowish teeth gleaming. Daniel sighed again and loosened his neck; if it was a fight people wanted, it was a fight they’ll get!

I normally shoot with a gun but if they want it done, Daniel shook his head. He turned to the announcer. “Any rules?”

At his question, the announcer guffawed and the people roared in laughter.

Guess not, Daniel shrugged. “Just making sure.”

“Are you ready!?” The announcer exclaimed.

The people cheered.

Tch, a dirty match. Daniel scowled. No rules meant that anything was possible. He kicked a small pebble with a grunt before preparing himself. His eyes scanned the man’s big burly body, remembering the astonishing speed the man was capable of awhile ago. He also remembered how he crushed his opponent’s head with no remorse but with a gleeful grin. Despite the killer grin on his opponent’s face, the agent felt no fear. His blood didn’t even shudder. After all, there was someone more brutal than this man was. And that someone, made his opponent look like a bleating lamb.

Blood spilled across the land that night.

No motive. Just pure massacre and mutilation.

“Fight!” He heard the announcer yell.

The beefy man charged at Daniel with a bloodthirsty roar. The agent shrugged; there were no rules. He grabbed his poncho and flung it off straight into the man’s face. People gasped as it blinded the man for one moment and simultaneously, Daniel pulled out his pistol and fired a round. The gunshot exploded and the bullet ripped through the cloth. The crowd fell silent. The announcer gasped. And the only thing that broke the silence, was the falling of the big man’s body with a loud thud. Daniel pulled back his pistol and blew away the white curl of smoke from mouth of the gun’s barrel. He stormed towards the big man and grabbed his poncho before turning heel and walking away.

“H-he shot him,” the announcer stammered. “He shot him…!”

Daniel didn’t care. If there was one thing he remembered, those who walked on people and harmed people were not considered human. It was the way he grew up. Whatever the intention was, the moment the human could not tell friend from foe – it warranted death. The drug addicts under influence who murdered and raped children, the rapists who hid behind the faces of kind people, and politicians who stole money from those who worked hard for it – they earned the merit of death. No matter how poor, no matter how rich, they who broke the law and harmed the law abiding citizens deserved death. After all…

Nobody could save anyone.

Beatriz sat on the ledge near the window while on guard duty. Brandon had taken his shift awhile ago and she insisted he got some rest. She remembered the violent winds that thrashed and tore through his body when he threw himself in the way. Why would he do that, she asked herself. All this time, she had done nothing but brutally murder people. Heck, their combat styles didn’t even mix! She resorted to a bloodthirsty and reckless combat style, similar to a Berserker. And Brandon, he resorted to a more finesse and technique-based fighting style.

But why would Samantha sacrifice me?

It was a question that bothered her. Ever since she saw the angry, compressed ball of wind magic swirling in Samantha’s hands, she had at least expected a warning from her. The Samantha she knew didn’t have a vindictive bone in her body. She didn’t even like fighting at all! It’s not in her nature, Beatriz thought. Samantha couldn’t even fight a spider without screaming in terror and then fainting. A small bitter laughter escaped her blood-red lips. She stuck her pale arm under the white moonbeams and examined her flesh. Not a single scratch.

“As always,” Beatriz sighed. “Flawless.”

She looked up into the starless night sky and looked at the moon. The dark knight closed her eyes and basked in the moon’s light. She could feel the mana roiling in her veins and her lost strength returning to her. Despite her immortality, fatigue and weakness still tore at her body. Her legs hung limply from the ledge while her chin rested on her knee. Her icy blue eyes, weary and bewildered, drooped while looking at the glowing lights.

“Probably a bazaar,” Beatriz murmured. “I wonder, where did Daniel head of to?”

As far as she knew, he was off getting supplies. She stood up and began to search the house for anything. She checked the burners on the stove and tried to ignite it. No such luck. She bent down looking for the gasoline tank only to see an empty space beneath the stove and a cracked tube. Beatriz stood up again and searched the cupboards. All she found were plastic and chipped plates in an assortment of colours. She took out the purple plate and brushed her hand against it. A small smile appeared on her lips. While purple wasn’t her favourite colour, it reminded her much of Samantha.

The bubbly and ditzy Samantha who believed in fairy tales.

The determined yet afraid Samantha who pushed through with finding knights.

The forgiving Samantha who stopped her execution and asked her to be her playmate.

She hated to admit it but; she owed Samantha her life. She hated serving people, taking orders, and the mere thought of conforming nearly made her hurl. But Samantha was an exception. She had seen the princess grow up more and more everyday. For the last fifteen years, she had never felt so cherished. Even when she had a lover before, nobody struck that kind of chord inside her. Never did she complain about having to brush Samantha’s hair. She never complained about baking three purple velvet cupcakes for Samantha just because the girl wondered if purple velvet cakes were possible. But it was that key emotion that she had with Samantha: anything she desired, she’d get it for her. Some would call it servant loyalty and obligation. But she felt none of that while with the princess.

“She treated me as me,” Beatriz murmured and looked at her hand. Her eyes narrowed at the hidden marking beneath her skin. “Not the vicious Dark Knight she made me to be.”

Now that she was alone, she found herself with sometime to think. Ugh, I hate thinking, Beatriz growled. But there were times she had to. Especially now that Bianca was around. Half the time, she had relied on her sheer brute force to win her fights. But that was before she thought that she was the last remaining Cursed in the world. Bianca had been cursed as well. But unlike her, Bianca could kill without remorse even if her expression was incongruent to her intention. She remembered how her sister viciously attacked Brandon and her. Even with Brandon and her attacking Bianca in tandem, they could barely lay a finger on her. And to think that Brandon was mentored by her, Beatriz frowned at the thought. That would have given Bianca a big handicap!

“So how the hell did she get past me!?” Beatriz clenched her fists. “And most of all, what the hell is she sticking her nose into a business that isn’t hers!?”

You’re one to talk, her mind scoffed. You’re Samantha’s knight!

Beatriz scowled. So what if I am, the dark knight growled. The next person she remembered was the dragon vigilante. Beatriz knew she had the upper hand over her. She had her immortality, her endless supply of mana, the dark chilling energies – all coupled with her thirst for blood would have won her the fight. But the girl didn’t even initiate the attack. She would stand and wait, blocking or parrying the attacks. The vigilante would only move if there were bullets or if Beatriz had swung her scythe at her. Did she know that immortals could feel fatigue, Beatriz asked herself. Not many people knew that they could still feel fatigue. Even if people like her were unable to die or age, they still felt exhaustion.

“Damn,” Beatriz placed the plate back in the cupboard. “So many wannabes nowadays.”

She now had three things to worry about: Samantha’s safety, Bianca, and if whether or not that vigilante was out to kill Sam. Agh, Beatriz screamed in silent frustration. She couldn’t scream after all; it would wake Brandon. And as far as she knew, he was a light sleeper. She noticed his hands twitch at every step she took through the dilapidated kitchen. His breathing pattern would change; his eyes would flutter a bit until the evening lulled him to sleep.

She walked towards the window again to look at the moonlit sky and then at the slums that surrounded the house. Beatriz could hear every rush of blood and the roil of every person’s mana in those who were magic users. Her ears twitched at the sound of faint lullabies from the mothers. She closed her eyes, trying to distinguish the different sources of mana. However, her blood ran cold.

Wh-why? Why can’t I feel Samantha’s mana!?

For once, fear and rage threatened to explode inside her. It was a weird feeling; it was not fear that was powered by self-preservation nor was it the kind of fear that froze her in her tracks. It was a fear that boiled her blood and spurred her into action. She clenched her fists tight and concentrated harder. Her eyes shut tight and her nails cleaved through her palms. Beatriz didn’t care about the blood that spilled out of her hands.

My blood, my wounds, my hatred shall be THEIR loss!

The words she had often screamed to seal her enemy’s fate howled in her mind as her mana exploded. She didn’t care if it drew attention but she wanted to find Samantha and she wanted to find her now! She continued to let her power surge and focus in on every strand of mana she could find. There were red strands, blue strands, yellow strands, and all sorts of colours filled the air. Her frustration fuelled her mana. Her rage now had a target. And it wasn’t just the brothers of Samantha. The vindictive and bloodied face of Prince Reuben flashed in her mind as she shrieked.

“FUCK YOU REUBEN! I WILL MAKE YOU EAT YOUR FUCKING COCK IF I HAVE TO!” Beatriz roared and slammed her fists against the wooden window frame.

The window frame stood no chance against the dark knight’s unbridled fury. The wood splintered and shattered into a thousand splinters and piece, rolling at her feet. Beatriz’s knuckles were sore, covered with splinters and small cuts. The dark knight looked at the splinters around her before collapsing onto her knees, breaking into a heartbroken sob.

What is this feeling?

It was a feeling she never entertained before. Even when she had her paramour, he never induced tears to fall from her eyes. She remembered attending his services and his death meant nothing to her. She didn’t even shed a single tear. Was it numbness? She shook her head. Was it because she didn’t care? She couldn’t tell either. When she had taken him in as her lover, her marriage to the other prince had become easier for her to bear with. Her husband had been a loud and angry drunk; it didn’t help that he had jealousy issues either. Everyday of their marriage, he would send a scout to make sure that she wasn’t cheating on him or sleeping with some other person.

Insecure jerk, she scowled. Unfortunately, her paramour had the same problem. He had been easily angered at the thought of anyone spending time with her. It was then she spent a life more in battle than in socializing. She may have been the princess and the heiress to the Odissea dynasty but the accolades felt like nothing. She had been revered by her people, and hated by others. Beatriz barely remembered the feeling of love at all.

Despite her and her paramour having made love, it felt empty. She knew how to please. It was a part of her magic. To drain the energies of those who have willing let their guard down in front of her. But she never found that urge to absorb the energies from Samantha. It wasn’t that she wouldn’t. It’s more that she couldn’t. Abilities-wise, she could. But something in her heart and mind prevented her from doing so.

Heh, when did I have a conscience? Beatriz smirked at her state. The Beatriz four hundred years ago didn’t have any. She killed as she pleased. She didn’t conform to anybody. As long as it was on her whim – bad or good – it must be done. A helpless chuckle bubbled from her throat with a defeated smile. She rested her forehead against her palm. What have I become? She asked herself. Before, people and all magical creatures alike trembled at the sound of her name. Her expression, blasé and sadistic, struck horror and froze any attacker in his tracks.

I’ve gotten soft.

It was the only explanation she had.

“Ugh, what’s with all the racquet?” She heard Brandon groan.

Beatriz turned to see Brandon. “Oh, you’re up.”

Brandon scowled and mussed his hair with a groan. “How could I not be? I heard something explode.”

Whoops, Beatriz snickered. She hadn’t meant to wake up the pirate. “Ah, it’s nothing.” She reassured him. “I was just digging through the cupboard and cabinets of this place. The wood rotted out so bad that everything just crashed.”

“Ugh, did you have to go scavenging now?”

“Better than never.”

“Point. Just try to keep it down…”

“Yeah, will do.”

As Brandon went back to sleep, she couldn’t help but glare at his back. He wormed his way into Samantha’s heart. Him and his lavender eyes, Beatriz scowled. He was a pirate; all her experiences involving pirates often ended up in disasters. Some cheated her out of a deal and she dealt with it like any Odissea would: with violence and impunity.

But he got Samantha so hooked onto him.

Wait a minute, Beatriz shook her head. Why was she even thinking this? Then again, she thought. She never did mind what gender her partner was. Was it her fault that women had some desirable qualities she liked? Was it her fault that she treasured the warmth that the princess was capable of giving? Was it her fault that she liked boobs? She chuckled; from what she knew, society would say yes.

“But I don’t care,” she whispered. She looked at her palms where her nails had cleaved right through it. “That’s their damn problem.”

She dropped her head against the rotted and splintered window pane. Beatriz hated the feeling. The feeling of powerlessness and uselessness. Ever since she was young, she had been trained to loathe feeling. To hate it with every fiber of her being. Powerlessness led to groveling; uselessness led to dependency. It would make her weak, the elders said. So would the feelings of love and compassion. All that should remain was her lust. Her lust for battle. Her lust for blood and her lust for pleasure. Her hand placed itself on her chest. When Daniel returned, he better have made a plan.

I just hope Samantha is at least out of Reuben’s reach.

Samantha stared at the large mountain range before her. A shiver ran up her spine as she embraced her trembling body. The mist surrounding the mountains cooled the humid air and descended on her body. She looked at her bare feet, abandoning her shoes on the side of the river. The tattered coat, still soaked from her washing it in the river, clung to her legs and chilled her further. But she knew she couldn’t give up. Amethyst’s sacrifice would be in vain if she chickened out.

I have to try.

But you can’t protect yourself, her mind argued. Your magic is shot!

It was the sad realization. She couldn’t even call the water to her like she used to. She couldn’t summon winds and fire like she had done in Arachnos cavern. Tears streamed down her eyes at her helplessness. How could her knights protect someone so useless? She found herself to be almost bad as Phylline. Barking orders and just sitting in the corner like some ornament in the living room. The princess shook her head; better that she try than not at all.

I’ll have to outsmart them then.

She hobbled her way into the mountain range as the fog enveloped her. Samantha took each step slowly and carefully. Sharp stones and tiny pebbles cut the soles of her feet. The cold touch of the rock caused her to shiver. The cold mountain winds draped themselves on her shoulders as the sun faded behind the fog. Samantha embraced her body and slowly made her way through.

Where am I? I can’t see!

Samantha weakly stretched her arms and hands. It was for the first time in forever that she discovered how sensitive her skin was. The moment a droplet of fog and mist touched her skin, she jumped and shivered from the cold. Her feet twitched every time she stepped in the moist soil. She yelped in pain at every stone that cut through her foot.

Ow, ow, Samantha moaned.

The princess soon noticed that her steps had become sticky. She shuddered at the thought of her wounds being cut open again. Samantha pushed on and tried to find spots that didn’t have sharp stones. Her eyes winced and tried to see through the fog. Suddenly, her hands touched flat surface. Her hands brushed against it. It was cold and smooth – as if it was a sword. She extended her foot to find out how big it was. Her toes followed a curved figure which ended with a scaly feeling after. Suddenly, she heard a snort and felt hot air against her forehead. Her eyes widened.

Was that… hot air? Samantha shivered.

She heard another snort and felt the hot air again.

Samantha swallowed hard and looked up at the source of the hot air. A loud beating of what she believed was a pair of wings thundered through the area. Samantha crossed her arms over her face as the winds rushed past her with the fog. She shivered from the sheer force only to stare with a mixture of daze and admonishment at what stood before her.

It was a large creature. Its diamond shaped face made it appear as if it had a beak with a pair of spines sprouting from its cheeks that appeared to be similar to feathers. Stag-like horns sprung out like branches above its eyebrows. The creature craned its long, swan-like neck to look down at her with its beady orange eyes. Diamond-shaped, amber-coloured scales covered its slender body save for its belly which was covered with gold rectangular scale plates. Its long tail spread out like a fan and swished around in curiosity. It had two pairs of feet that were covered with both orange and yellow scales and both having three pronged claws. Suddenly, it spread out what she thought were wings that revealed closely clustered spines that looked similar to feathers.

Samantha swallowed hard and staggered back. D-D-Dragon!?

The dragon squawked loud, causing Samantha to stagger back and fall flat on her butt. She crawled away as the dragon looked at her with curiosity. The dragon thrust its snout at her and sniffed her body. The princess, paralyzed by fear, shivered at the sight of the creature. Her nerves screamed at her to run; but her legs refused to respond. Her back was already pressed against a rock when she saw other dragons crawl out of their caverns in curiosity.

Another dragon had four stubby legs and a short body with hexagonal emerald green scales with a few light blue spots covering its bodies. Unlike the large orange dragon, the dragon had a thick snout with a single horn on its nose. It had small flaps that appeared to be ears with large nostrils flaring. While the orange dragon had an elegant, long neck, the emerald green dragon had a short neck with a train of spades sprouting along its spine. It also didn’t have any special adaptation to its tail unlike the orange dragon that stood close to her. The wings were not as long as that of the orange dragon; its wing spanned over only a few metres past its body.

The dragon right behind the orange one had a massive violet and gold body. It only had a pair of two legs but its body was supported by a pair of claws attached to its leathery, leopard spotted wings. It had a long snout but with whiskers and feline-like eyes. It had long, tear-shaped ears and curled horns on its head similar to that of a ram. Its long tail swished around with two pairs of fins from the middle to the tip.

There were other dragons but that was the one she managed to notice without showing any signs of fear to the dragon invading her personal space. She winced and shut her eyes, letting it snort out its hot air fan against her skin. She could feel its entire body hovering over her and its tail brushing against her legs. She could feel its claws being a few inches away from her legs.

I don’t taste very good!

Samantha whimpered and gripped the soil and the pebbles in her hands. Was she going to die? She didn’t know that dragons lived in the Yartengar Mountain Range! She thought that only one lived in the Yartengar Mountain Range and that was the one owned by the one attacking Machinos!

Fear overwhelmed her until a rattling sound filled the air. She opened her eyes to see that the dragon sniffing her had turned away. All the other dragons turned away and turned towards a smaller silhouette. The shadowy figure emerged from the fog standing next to another dragon. The princess swallowed hard at the masked figure and shrank away. She had no weapons, no magic, and nobody to protect her. Worst of all, she had no voice! Screaming for help was impossible.

H-help me! She screamed in her mind.

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