Book One: Knights' Festival

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The Sanctuary

The look on Kevyn’s face told Samantha everything.

Although she knew that it was a risky move (considering that the woman already hated people), she refused to return being the same old helpless girl that her knights were assigned to protect. Samantha clenched her fingers into a fist; this had to be the reason as to why Kevyn appeared in her vision. Why else would someone that she never met before appear in her vision? She exhaled and looked at Kevyn, wondering what the girl would say.

“Truth be told, I’m a shitty teacher.” Kevyn scratched the back of her head with a sheepish sigh. “Besides, many of the things I learned are based on experience.”

Samantha nodded. I don’t mind.

“I deal with harsh conditions and will make you feel the brunt of my frustration with humanity.”

The princess shook her head; was she trying to discourage her? I have to learn.

“You’re crazy, you know that?”

Samantha forced down the lump that formed in her throat and nodded. Kevyn was right; no sane person would want to learn under someone like her. The princess could make a long list as to why one should not train with her. But she couldn’t help but admire how well she fought back in the citadel. It was like watching one of the dragons in the utopia that she had built for them soar and dance through the skies with all the freedom in the world.

“I suppose you’re not going to give up.” Kevyn sighed and shook her head. “Fine. But when we learn, I’m not going to be teaching you.”

Samantha looked upon the dragon-tamer on in bewilderment. So who were they going to learn from? Kevyn suddenly started walking away as she bolted after her. The other dragons chattered and grunted in amusement while she ran after the dragon-tamer.

While running after her, Samantha couldn’t help but admire the beauty surrounding her. Even if the bright skies were only seen from outside the mountains, the sunbeams shone through the glacier surrounding the caverns. Stone pillars held up the ceiling of the caverns and crystals decorated some of the ledges. Samantha looked upon the flowers as one of the dragons shook its back to release some green spores to help the flowers bloom. She gasped and then turned to see smaller dragons swooping and flying in a ‘v’ formation similar to birds. Everything that she was seeing now was something she had never seen in the tomes of Sofiene and Xychosia.

But why keep them all here?

Dragons, if they were so powerful and feared, why would they need to hide? The sight of Blitzkrieg alone would have intimidated even the oldest of generals. She remembered hearing the mutterings and tales of the soldiers who have returned from a long journey, trembling while speaking about their encounter with a dragon. She remembered how the soldier mentioned that his left arm was fractured after the dragon had clamped it in between its powerful, gaping jaws. The searing heat of the flames that would have melted his skin off his bones, and many other tales instilled more fear than awe. But when she saw the dragons up close, she realized how wrong they were. Many of them looked upon her with curiosity, not carnivorous hunger.

“Surprised? So was I,” Kevyn said.

Samantha nodded.

“Dragons don’t attack people like many believe. They’re just trying to survive. It’s the humans who decided to think they were attacking them. So maybe the dragons scoop a lot more fish than humans do. But at least they just scoop instead of using dynamite and cyanide.”

The princess blinked. Dynamite? Cyanide? Such weird terms she had never heard before. Were they some new magic that she hadn’t learned yet?

“Dynamite and cyanide if you don’t know is made from Alchemy. It’s a mixture of different chemicals that produce different effects. Dynamite was made to be combustible and cyanide was made to poison and paralyze people. Imagine the effect it has on fish.”

Samantha shuddered. Paralysis? Poisonous? Explosives for fishing? Is that what people do for a living? No wonder people have such a hard time making money, Samantha shook her head. She looked at the other dragons that squawked and looked upon her in curiosity as small dragons squeaked and bolted past her. The princess let out a soft laughter, only to see Kevyn walking away. Her eyes widened as she leapt after the dragon-tamer. Only to bump into Kevyn; the young woman stood at the edge before bowing.

“You might want to bow,” Kevyn chuckled. “They’re awake.”

Samantha frowned; who was awake? The whole place began to rumble and growl when several dragons emerged from different parts of the sanctuary. A colossal, serpentine dragon with purple tints at its fins sprouting from its face emerged from the waterfall as it let out a screech. It had no wings but instead fins and spines covering its body. Sapphire blue scales shimmered covering its face and all the way down to its body. It had a diamond shaped snout with its spines slicked back similarly to Blitzkrieg except much larger. It had several rows of sharp teeth with shimmering emerald ruby eyes. Some of its fins were a bright purple colour, sprouting not just at the tail but at several segments of its body.

“The dragon you probably heard more of is him,” Kevyn nodded. “Leviathyn is the lord of the seas and the swamps. Known for his venom and power, he is also capable of being benevolent.”

Samantha could see how the dragons adapted to the sea would bow to it. The overwhelming aura and sense of respect caused even the most hard-headed and stubborn dragons to bow to him. She saw how he didn’t even force the dragons to bow to him. They just did.

An explosion thundered her ears as she yelped and jumped up in fright. She looked towards a cavern hole where lava flowed out and landed in a basin beneath it. The ground rumbled and thundered when a large wyvern, born from fire, spread its wide flaming wings and reared on its two hind legs. Unlike the Levianon, it had twin long, slender tails with arrow-head ends.

“The Ignetic, the largest wyvern and also the Lord of Fire,” Kevyn explained. “He has a special ability that the others don’t.”

Samantha blinked. What could it be?

“He could devour the fire of any other dragon and convert it to his own power.”

The princess gawked. So anyone who had flaming arrows or a flaming boulder found themselves on the losing end! She heard an angry shriek as the Ignetic spread its wings and grew its flames into a roaring inferno. The fire dragons yelped and backed down, shrinking at the sight of the large flame. Samantha jumped back as the stream of fire nearly singed her dress.

“Oh, the Ignetic is a bit hot-tempered too.” Kevyn chuckled. “It’s a trait in all fire dragons.”

The princess nodded as the Ignetic stood proud and knowing. She never could see herself as someone who would force people to bow down to her. Nor did she ever see herself as proud of being above people. How could she be? Her status as princess has only led her into trouble and most of the time, she hid her identity.

She shuddered when the ledge on the other side began to crumble and rumble. The Leviathyn and the Ignetic backed up the flora on the rocks from a ledge seemed to move with it. What appeared to be a crack on the wall was in reality the border between the eyelid and the fold. A pair of golden eyes opened and revealed a group of branches woven on its head. Its feet stomped on the ground, covered with moss and grass. Its grey and green skin was a result from stones and flora covering its entire body. Unlike the Ignetic and the Levianon, it had a stouter snout with a large chin similar to that of a bull-frog.

“The Sylvalarion is the dragon of earth and forest,” Kevyn introduced. “He’s little shy and meek so don’t spook him too much.”

Samantha blinked. She could tell what gender it was from a distance? She shook her head. The princess herself was terrified of the sight because of their colossal sizes. How could they fit in here? How could they coexist when certain elements couldn’t mix? It didn’t make sense to her! She looked at the three colossal dragons that revealed themselves. Earth, water, fire, she counted. That meant the last dragon was air!

A sky-shattering screech filled the air as the other dragons leapt away. While the Sylvalarion rivalled the size of half mountain, the next dragon blocked out the sun with its two pairs of wings. Crossed over like an ‘x’, the leathery wings of the dragon flapped and unleashed a strong gust of wind that tore through the plants within the caverns. Samantha staggered back as a cream-gold coloured dragon spread its wings and landed on one of the ledges. It had a long snout that branched into two horns at the top of its head. The joints of its wings had swirl markings and all its limbs were long with three pronged claws, only the back limbs to be hock-jointed. And its tail had split into two forming some sort of soft barbs at the end.

“The Aeolyte, lord of the air,” Kevyn bowed.

Samantha blinked in surprise as even a proud dragon like Blitzkrieg bowed to the majestic wind dragon. She bobbed a bit with a slight curtsy, unable to tear her eyes away in astonishment at the sight. What scholars all over the world wouldn’t give to see this, the princess shook her head. The discovery of these dragons would cause ripples in the world today! She looked at how beautiful they are and looked at Kevyn bowed down to the dragons. It was then she knew why Kevyn had been so territorial. The world would slaughter them if they found them.

But that still didn’t explain to her as to why Kevyn kept on terrorizing Machinos.

She walked over to the dragon tamer and patted her shoulder. Kevyn looked up and asked. “Hm?”

Samantha wrote on the leaf again. Why attack Machinos then?

“Because I hate humans,” Kevyn deadpanned.

Samantha frowned.

“I know, I know. I’m just kidding. No need to get your panties into a twist,” Kevyn chuckled. She stood up with a mournful sigh. “This Elegane,” – she gestured to the orange dragon that squawked at Samantha, “Lost her babies to a raid led by Machinos Prince Reuben. This poor Rubblebuster,” – she gestured to the dragon with emerald green scales and revealed a missing leg, “had its leg torn off by one of the poacher traps.”

Samantha shook her head. How could people be so cruel?

“I lost a baby Hackmaw to a raid when they developed a more advanced net trap.” Kevyn shook her head. “Once you see the atrocities Man is capable of, you realize that Man is more of a monster than animals. While animals act upon instinct, Man can choose what to do. And sometimes, the choices they make are even more twisted than that of animals.”

Samantha couldn’t deny what the girl said. She had seen what Man was capable of. All the meaningless slaughter in Sofiene and even in the lands of Arachnos showed how cruel Man could be. She remembered all the bloodshed and even the most recent, the slaughter in Machinos. The sacrifice of Amethyst still fresh in her mind, Samantha shuddered and recalled the many displaced families just because she decided to hide in the Court of Angels. She clenched her fist tight and grabbed Kevyn’s wrist again. This time, she squeezed it with a bit more force.

Teach me how to fight. We can prevent this!

Kevyn chuckled. “You’re asking me to obliterate all of humanity? Really?”

Samantha frowned.

“We can’t bust the chops of every person. As much as I’d like to.”

The princess shook her head.

“So what do you propose to do?”

The princess stopped for a moment. She drummed her fingers against her chin and pondered for a moment. Her enthusiasm died down when she realized that she had absolutely no idea on what to do. The most common idea would be rushing in with all the dragons. Or try doing it the crafty way. But she stopped and let go of Kevyn’s wrist with a sad sigh. She backtracked and shook her head. The multiple times that her plans didn’t work deflated whatever self-esteem she had left. One even left a horrible scar on her.

“Your mind’s blocked by something.” Kevyn suddenly said. “It’s also the reason for your mutism.”

Samantha blinked. Really?

“I can help you get rid of it.”

The princess beamed. Can you?

“But it’s gonna be one hell of a ride, especially if it’s because of trauma. You’re going to have to relive it again.”

Samantha froze. Reliving the past event that traumatized her again? She shuddered as her arms subconsciously wrapped themselves around her body. Emotions swirled and engulfed her mind and her body refused to budge. She remembered the sardonic sneer that painted itself across Reuben’s face as he forcefully overturned her paralyzed body. She also remembered the pain that burned through her body when he pushed through with it. Despite her numbed limbs, it didn’t numb the pain she felt upon penetration. The princess’s lips quivered and she hung her head with shame.

“It’s alright if you don’t want to.” Kevyn said. “But one day, you’re going to have to rise above your demons. And one of the best ways to do so is to confront them.”

Samantha looked at Kevyn and saw the mournful look in the dragon-tamer’s eyes. Despite the snarky and cold attitude, there was something there. A hint of kindness despite her tough exterior; it was something she hadn’t seen. It was rather hard to see, Samantha reasoned with herself. After all, Kevyn threatened to have her dragon fry her, kicked her into a boulder, and then flung her into a spring. She was the ultimate sink or swim teacher. Samantha clenched her fists; was it worth it? Facing her demons again? As is, there were some parts of her she could barely understand.

I have to try.

Samantha walked over to Kevyn and grabbed both her hands, staring at her long and hard. The dragon-tamer hissed and pulled back her hands.

“Don’t touch me. I hate being touched,” she growled. Kevyn glared at her before sighing. “Fine. But you’re gonna regret working with me.”

Samantha shook her head. For once, she had to be a bit gutsy about it. She steeled her nerves and exhaled. The princess looked at her damaged hands and skin. Never again did she want to feel that powerless. Never again did she want to feel that weak. She clenched her fists tight and her mana swirled around her. Waves of mana energy pulsed from her body as she felt a tiny spark ignite within her. A smile curved up her lips. It was a sweet, nostalgic, welcoming feeling that embraced every fibre of her being.

I missed this feeling, Samantha thought to herself. Even if mana were described to be power that could drive anyone into pure ecstasy and madness, she felt none of that. It felt like a mother’s embrace; a comfort that she had long been deprived of. She looked at her hands and then at the mana ribbons that danced around her. It was a beautiful yet nostalgic sight.

I haven’t seen this in a long time. Samantha beamed when she saw Azaleth smile at her. Azaleth!

The woman nodded. It’s good to hear from you again.

Samantha hung her head. I’m so sorry… I let my guard down. I thought –

Azaleth shook her head. Reuben Gears is nothing more but a swine. There are just some people you cannot trust.

The princess gestured to her throat. Can you heal my throat?

Azaleth shook her head. I apologize but that is something only you can do.

Me?

Samantha frowned. What was Azaleth talking about? She couldn’t even speak! Because she couldn’t speak, her spells had no power! Unless, she pondered. She remembered how Melissa spoke no words but instead relied on glyphs to empower her spells. The damage she had inflicted on Beatriz, Brandon, and Luke tantamount to what Samantha called catastrophic. Even Luke, Brandon’s first mate, used no words but instead just channelled his energy into the ground. Queen Regina needed no words to cast her magic. Councilman Jun when he used his golden sand spell on her knights – there was no verbal command either. The princess recalled the times when she used no verbal commands. The barrier to protect the nobles during her birthday, the fire balls she had thrown at the colossal spider-humanoid, the howling winds that threatened to tear Arkamedon apart, the compressed wind blast she intended for Reuben – all of them had no verbal commands. But the problem was, it took a drastic event that caused her to snap and release a sudden surge of mana. There was absolutely no control. How could she do it without having to stress herself out?

You really can’t hear the mana speak to you. Can you?

Samantha reminisced on Kevyn’s words and recalled how she had been walking barefoot. And despite the darkness, she led her to the sanctuary. Kevyn spoke about magic as if it were alive. She remembered how her visions showed Kevyn to her. Not a single word but instead a few hand-gestures to reveal electricity crackling in her hands. She remembered also watching her fight and using her magic just to amplify her attacks. It was an unorthodox style; but, if the style could save her life – why not?

She was truly meant to be my teacher.

Suddenly, a small pebble hit her head. Samantha yelped and turned around only to see that Kevyn had already closed the gap between the both of them. Her eyes widened as she staggered back in an attempt to stop her. Kevyn’s fist flew in a blur and slammed straight into Samantha’s jaw. The princess winced at the blow and crashed on the stone floor. She gawked at Kevyn as the dragon-tamer stood above her.

“Rule number 1: never let your guard down.” Kevyn said.

Samantha pursed her lips. You didn’t give me any warning!

“Warnings are never given. If people can sneak an attack and bash you without noticing, what makes you think they won’t do it?”

The princess frowned; such a dishonourable way to fight. She then remembered how Reuben took advantage of her. No such thing as honour, Samantha thought. The princess clenched her hands into fists and looked up at Kevyn who stood over smirking. Samantha looked to the ground and gripped a loose pile of dust into her palm. With that, she flung it in Kevyn’s face in attempt to blind her. Kevyn snapped her eyes shut to avoid the shards flying into her eyes.

Now’s my chance!

Samantha beamed and launched at Kevyn to return the favour. However, Kevyn suddenly shifted her stand and she saw the dragon-tamer’s ear twitch and her feet glide across the stone ground. The dragon-tamer bent back and Samantha saw her punch flying far from Kevyn’s face. Her eyes widened when Kevyn grabbed her arm, locked it in an iron-grip, and pulled her forward. She gasped as Kevyn landed a palm strike on her stomach and sent her staggering. Before she knew it, the dragon-tamer gave her a round-house kick to the jaw. Samantha staggered back and fell on the ground again.

“Nice try but you know what,” Kevyn ran her fingers through her hair with an annoyed snort. “This is dumb. I need you talking. Not swirling around in silence and just crashing on the ground.”

Samantha pouted.

“Well, how the hell are you gonna ask me proper questions or tell me if you need to take a piss or a dump?”

The princess pondered for a moment. Then, she decided to wave her hands in a frantic motion.

“Great, we’re gonna play charades to tell me if you’re gonna take a shit?”

Samantha nodded.

“Goddamn it.”

The princess beamed and took her stance again. She looked at Kevyn’s stance for a moment and began adjusting her stance. She spread her legs for a straddle stance and put up her fists. She shuddered only to notice that Kevyn’s stance had changed. Instead of a straddle stance, she had her right foot forward and her left foot back. Both her hands were in an open palm-style and her eyes were shut. Samantha stared at Kevyn’s unmoving body. She showed no signs of hostility and Samantha decided to strike. Copying Kevyn’s earlier tactic, she lunged forward with her fist drawn back.

“Tch, telegraphing. Never,” Kevyn ducked to avoid Samantha’s punch and covered her fist with electricity. “Never fucking telegraph!

Samantha gasped as the electricity blew her back. The princess winced and swallowed her urge to vomit before pivoting and lunging forward again. She focused on Kevyn once again and tried to punch her again. Kevyn sidestepped only to shove Samantha forward. The princess staggered forward and twisted her body to prevent herself from crashing only to fall flat on the ground. Her back slammed into the stone pavement when she looked up to see Kevyn not moving.

“You’re not thinking straight.” Kevyn pointed out. “You’re just flailing like some cheap shit from the dumps.”

The princess panted and gasped for air. She looked at her bruised knuckles, remembering how Phylline would have possibly scolded her. But that would mean she would be useless again. She brushed away the thought of her bruised knuckles and got up again to fight. Her lungs burned and her throat was parched. The air from her lungs dried her lips. Her body wobbled a bit from the impact as she noticed Kevyn relaxing her stance.

“We’re done.” Kevyn shook her head. “You won’t stand another shot from me. I’ll shatter your ribs with my next strike.”

Samantha gasped and fell to her knees, coughing.

“That’s how I teach. I teach via application; that’s how the dragons taught me.”

The princess nodded and propped her body up even with her arms trembling from the shock.

“I have to admit though; for a fancy pansy noble, you got balls.”

Samantha frowned. Was that all she had to say?

“Besides,” Kevyn walked towards Blitzkrieg and past her. “It’s feeding time.”

Samantha’s eyes widened. Was Kevyn going to feed her to the other dragons? Her blood ran cold at the thought until she remembered how the dragon-tamer scoffed at her assumption that dragons ate people. So what would they eat, she asked herself. The princess looked at the dragons flying around. Some of the dragons landed on the wall and began eating off the cavern walls. Others had a leafy snack. Was she going to raid Machinos for food? Where were they going to go?

“You can ride with me first.” Kevyn said and swung her leg over Blitzkrieg’s back to mount him. “Dragon training will have to wait.”

The princess nodded and warily made her way to Blitzkrieg. She shivered a bit when the Alastreus narrowed his beady golden eyes at her. The neon blue glow on its scales shimmered with electricity running beneath them. Blitzkrieg let out a low growl as she crept around it and made its way to its back. Electricity crackled and sparked as she jumped in fright.

“It’s alright.” Kevyn reassured. She then raised an eyebrow at her dragon. “He’s just trying to look awesome.”

Blitzkrieg let out a haughty chauff with a smirk.

Samantha, stiffening up with fear, sauntered before finally reaching Blitzkrieg. Her hand trembled as she reached out to help herself on. Blitzkrieg snorted as she jerked her hand back. Her heart jumped up and threatened to leap out of her mouth. She looked up at Kevyn who rolled her eyes and shook her head. Samantha sighed and steeled herself. Blitzkrieg wouldn’t fry her as long as Kevyn mounted him. Or so she thought. Finally, she mounted Blitzkrieg and clung onto Kevyn.

“Don’t worry, you won’t die.” Kevyn reassured. She patted Blitzkrieg. “Alright, nice and easy.”

Samantha swallowed hard until she felt Blitzkrieg launch himself into the air. If she could scream, the princess knew she would have been wailing her lungs out. She clung onto Kevyn for dear life as the wind blasted her in the face. The chittering and chattering of the other dragons along with the beating of their wings boomed through the caverns. The shadows of all the grand dragons shielded her from the sun as they rose into the air to create a diamond formation around them.

“Surprised?” She heard Kevyn ask.

Samantha nodded.

“Not as mindless and as dumb as you think, eh?”

The princess nodded again.

“Well, it’s time to meet him then.”

Samantha blinked; there was another dragon she hadn’t met yet? She watched the other dragons soar before they flew towards the sea. Her eyes widened when she suddenly saw the shining blue waters.

Wow, Samantha shook her head.

She had only seen the sea from a distance in Sofiene’s castle. The sea had always been so distant but now that she had a close view, the vastness of the sea engulfed her with its cool winds. Sunbeams shone on the blue crystal surface as she could see the silhouette of fish swimming beneath them. The crystal blue surface glimmered and mesmerized her with its dancing waves. She looked towards Kevyn as Blitzkrieg hovered in mid-air.

“Just wait for it,” Kevyn chuckled.

Samantha nodded until she noticed the sea swirled beneath her. Her eyes widened as a large whirlpool began swallowing up all the water when a large shadow appeared beneath. Even those that Kevyn had called the grand dragons, there was another one far more grand and colossal than the four dragons. From the water, a gargantuan dragon sprung out with a roar thundering across the sea. The other dragons chattered and others bowed their head in reverence to him. The princess noticed that the dragon didn’t even have to do anything to gain their trust or their respect. She shook her head; what she would do to be exactly like that.

“Amazing isn’t he?” Kevyn chuckled as she bowed her head. “Every colony has its queen but this is the king. He is the king of all dragons. He is the alpha; he is the great Bahamut.”

Samantha shook her head in awe. The Bahamut, covered with dark gunmetal blue scales, reared its reptilian head and flashed its two pairs of dark leathery wings. Crowning its head were horns that were shaped like plumes that had tints of magenta on each horn. Its tail was long and armoured, appearing to have hidden barbs beneath the each plating. His eyes reminded her of pure, unadulterated gold; with hints of kindness but royalty that she had never seen. She had only thought that the Bahamut existed only as a legend and in the tomes of old. But for the few days she had been staying with Kevyn, she had seen more than what the books knew. She remembered how knights would talk about how they would slay a mighty dragon to save the princess. Now she understood why Kevyn had hidden them all; her hatred for humans was not that out of vengeance but of pure indifference and simply protecting the dragons.

She tapped Kevyn on the shoulder and wrote on her hand using her finger. They’re amazing.

“I know.” Kevyn chuckled and shook her head, sighing while watching the Bahamut suddenly spew a lot of fish. “Well, better hang tight.”

Samantha blinked when suddenly, Blitzkrieg dove for the fish. She yelped and clung onto Kevyn as the other dragons soon followed. She watched them go after the fish, eating their fill. Even the formerly intimidating Alastreus appeared to be having a good time. Kevyn pulled out a basket and caught her fill of fish. Samantha attempted to catch a few of her own until someone grabbed her hand. She looked up and saw Kevyn shaking her head.

“I’ve got enough for us. Let’s just wait for Blitzkrieg to finish stuffing his face.” Kevyn chuckled.

Samantha nodded and beamed. Leaving Machinos had been a good idea after all. Thinking about it, she realized that her knights were not too fond of dragons or big scaly creatures either. Brandon would have tried to harvest some scales, Beatriz would have tried to kill it, and Daniel – she thought for a moment – he would have probably run for his life, especially since Blitzkrieg hated humans in a more vindictive way.

The Bahamut soon rose from the waters and led them back to the Sanctuary. It was the first time Samantha saw a dragon as colossal as the Bahamut. She couldn’t help but admire the majesty of the King of Dragons (as Kevyn had called him) and wondered: was there ever a queen of dragons? She did say that the colonies had their queen but was there one true queen? She also wondered – if the Bahamut were all male, where were the females?

She tapped Kevyn and pointed to the Bahamut before gesturing the shape of an egg.

“For some weird ass reason, I’m starting to get good with understanding your hand gestures.” Kevyn chuckled before shrugging. “I don’t know. The Bahamut I found was an egg when I first found him. He was about to be sold to poachers when I bought him.”

Samantha froze. Poachers?

“Anyone who’s a dragon hunter would know that having a Bahamut is a sign of prestige and skill. Dead or alive, it didn’t matter.”

The princess hung her head. Such cruel people.

“And now you see why I hate humans.”

Samantha nodded. From Kevyn’s perspective, it was quite obvious why and whose side the dragon-tamer was on. She gazed at the beauty of the dragons as they descended into the Sanctuary again; following the Bahamut as he led them back in. The other grand dragons made sure the formation didn’t break before they made their way in. The Alastreus descended down with its wings acting as a wind-breaker before it landed on the ground with a soft plop.

Samantha dismounted after Kevyn as the dragon tamer shot a small blue bolt of lightning towards the wood to create a fire. The princess walked over and sat next to Kevyn while watching the dragon-tamer make a meal. She grabbed some of the fish she caught, took out a knife and bowed.

“Thank you for the meal.” Kevyn whispered before beginning to scrape off the scales. She looked up at Samantha and handed her the knife. “Here, start removing the scales of your fish.”

Samantha took the knife and stared at it for a moment. She looked at the fish and then at the knife before trying to recall Kevyn’s movements. She began to remove the scales bit by bit, uncertain of what she was doing. She watched Kevyn use another knife and saw how her knife glided over the fish. Soon, she started getting the hang of it and increased the speed of her knife’s gliding.

“Not bad, you learn fast.” Kevyn chuckled as she got up. “Now to give the fish a little flavour.”

Samantha blinked as Kevyn walked towards what appeared to be another portion of her camp site. The princess noticed Kevyn pulling out some salt, pepper, harvesting a few leaves from the herbs in a pot before returning back to the campfire. She then began to rub it into the fish’s skin.

“A pinch of salt and pepper, a bit of rosemary and garlic.” Kevyn said before piercing the fish and mounting it to cook. “Now to grill.”

Samantha watched the fire crackle and sparkle as it cooked the fish. She looked at her own fish before looking towards the urns at the makeshift kitchen. She tapped Kevyn and pointed to the urns.

“Yeah it’s okay.” Kevyn nodded. “Make sure you sniff it first before putting it on your fish. Some of the urns don’t have labels.”

Samantha nodded before looking at the urns. Now that she thought about it, she never did cook her own food before. Whenever she was at Xychosia and Sofiene, there were people who did that for her. But now she had to do it herself. And for some strange reason, she found it exciting that she would get to cook her own food. She looked to some of the herbs and began smelling them. One of them had a sweet yet pungent scent as she brushed the leaves in her hands. It was a round leaf with a smooth texture as she plucked off two pieces for her fish. She saw a pot labelled ‘garlic’ and took a clove from the pot. Some salt and pepper from the two urns and then she noticed bright red, juicy, smooth tomatoes hanging from a vine. Her mouth watered as she plucked off one and walked back to the campfire.

She got a knife and began chopping the tomato. Should be simple enough, she thought to herself. She slowly pushed the knife down on the tomato as one slice came off. She beamed and began trying again. Another slice came off, and another. Yay! She beamed in delight. Suddenly, she heard Kevyn chuckling beside her. Samantha turned to her with a pout.

“You look like a kid when you’re trying to cut a tomato. I’m guessing you never cooked for yourself?” Kevyn raised an eyebrow at her.

Samantha shook her head.

“That explains a lot.”

Samantha nodded and began chopping away again, careful not to chop off her fingers. If it was one thing she learned by being in the kitchen with Beatriz, it was to watch out for her fingers. Finally, she got the tomatoes and picked up a few sticks to pierce the tomatoes on. She stuffed the basil inside the fish’s stomach with garlic, salt, and pepper before sticking it through a barbecue stick and grilling it. The sweet scent of tomatoes and basil filled the air as she sighed in delight.

“Not a bad combination,” Kevyn smirked. She then turned to Samantha. “Although, the idea still stands.”

Samantha blinked at the dragon-tamer.

“I have to shatter that mental block you have in your head. It’s what’s preventing you from talking and using your magic. There are two ways to go around it.”

Samantha nodded.

“One is we wait for you to get over it. The second one is, I facilitate it and you fight through it. In other words, you’ll go through the traumatic moments again.”

The princess paused for a moment and looked at her hands. Without her magic, she was useless. She thought about learning physical combat – it seemed the most ideal even without her voice. She remembered how Kevyn easily dealt with her. The fluidity of her movements, how she used her surroundings to anticipate the attack, she didn’t even need to speak. She looked up at Kevyn and gestured to the weapon lying behind the dragon-tamer.

“You sure you want to learn Hand-To-Hand?” Kevyn raised an eyebrow.

Samantha, with no hesitation, nodded earnestly.

“Alright. But it’s gonna be a long road. We start tomorrow morning.”

Samantha nodded and beamed. Finally, she said yes!

“Oh by the way,” Kevyn pointed at the bonfire. “Your fish is burning.”

Samantha, blinking, yelped when her fish indeed caught fire and grabbed her meal off to wave away the fire. She could hear Kevyn smirking and Blitzkrieg laughing at her while she frantically waved her fish in the air.


He hated not knowing things.

Most especially if the things were about Samantha.

Matteo stewed in his own frustration in his study room. If it was one thing he was grateful for, it was Samantha’s gift to him on his 11th birthday. She knew he loved books as much as she did. She also knew that there were certain items that he wanted in a library. A chuckle bubbled from his throat as he plucked the Astrolabe off its holder and began examining the chart of the stars. A small smile bubbled up from his throat as he looked towards the golden telescope that Samantha had installed for him.

From what he had gathered, Samantha made her way to Machinos. He narrowed his eyes at the thought. Machinos suffered losses after the death of the queen and Reuben’s forceful claim of the throne. While the city was not plunged into a destructive war, it was clear that the empire suffered civil unrest.

“Such uncouth methods,” Matteo rolled his eyes as he tapped his pen on his study table.

As he tapped the pen on the table, he looked up at the portrait on the wall. It was a picture of him, a smiling Samantha, and his grumpy younger brother – Santino. A bitter chuckle bubbled from his throat as he looked at the city of Sofiene below. The people appeared to trudge along the streets, living by the day. The oxen and the horses pulled the carts for their masters and he could hear the bustling of the citizens down below.

“It’s too quiet up here.” Matteo groaned. He turned to painting and sighed. “I’m starting to miss you already.”

While Santino and he were closer in age gap, he appreciated his sister’s cheerfulness and her naïveté. He also liked her mischievous side; he remembered the day that both of them stole into the kitchen for some cookie dough before dinner. Matteo chuckled at the memory when he pestered her to blast freeze the cookie dough so they would be able to eat it right away. Although they were scolded later on by mother, it was a moment that he treasured. It was a time that they forgot that they were royals and that they were just kids.

“Could we have avoided all this?” Matteo sighed. He looked then at the Sofiene royal crest and exhaled. “You’re right. We couldn’t have.”

A knock suddenly echoed throughout the study. “Come in,” Matteo said.

The door opened to reveal a busty, bronzed woman clad in a dark grey body hugging jumpsuit. Her mahogany brown bob cut hair framed her round face. She had a pair of round eyeglasses mounted on her nose. She had two belts on her waist, crossed over, holding her daggers and several pouches. She also had leather bands strapped to her legs to hide other weapons while wearing a pair of brown leather boots. She had leather pauldrons with gleaming silver plates and rivets strapped across her chest and secured on her shoulders. She also had a jet black hood with the symbol of a bat embroidered on the hem.

“Ah, Kimberly.” He chuckled. “Have you found any traces of Samantha?”

Kimberly shook her head and bowed. “Unfortunately, no. I lost her trail at the graveyard of Machinos.”

“Anyone come across her?”

“A few but none gave anything substantial.”

Matteo nodded. “Is that so?” He looked at the books on his desk and smiled. “So tell me, how are Cathy and the others? I hear Reuben is as unpleasant as ever.”

Kimberly scoffed. “The bastard should know his place. He gouged out Cathy’s eye when I found her.”

“Is that not why you left the Gears? He wanted something else from you?”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“I’m quite surprised that he hasn’t hunted you down yet.”

“Oh he has tried.”

“I take it all your pursuers are dead.”

Kimberly smirked. “It’s like what those pirates say: ‘Dead men tell no tales’.”

Matteo chuckled and applauded. “Your assassination skills are impeccable.”

“Of course. What kind of champion would I be if I were some second-rate contract killer?”

The prince nodded. While Santino opted to use all the generals of Sofiene, he opted to look somewhere else. Kimberly Tai Long was initially a vassal of the Shen Hu family. The Tai Long family had been serving the Shen Hu family for centuries and when he brokered a deal for their freedom, Kimberly had offered her services to him as his eyes, ears, and his shadow.

“Kimberly, have the others arrived yet?” Matteo asked.

“Liam will be here shortly, My Prince. He’s just…”

“Ah yes, he is terrible with directions. The others?”

The door opened to reveal another man. He brushed his blonde hair into a suave curl with a haughty smirk on his face. Under his blonde hair, he had a pair of light brown horns that stretched back with his ears being a form of white-gold leathery fins instead. He had a pair of fangs and his draconic eyes were a blazing, crimson red.

Mounted on his shoulder, he had a dragon’s skull with his breastplate shining with polished amethyst purple scales and his chain mail shimmering with white gold rings linked. His gauntlets, adorned with emeralds, forged from a synthesis of Jade and Ellarium metal and gave it that sea green hue. Trailing behind him was a tail attached by a brown belt where he hid two of his pistols. He donned beige coloured pants with dark brown boots. Strapped onto his back was a large hammer with what Matteo saw as pipes attached.

“Ah Talemn Crough,” the prince smiled. “I’m glad you could make it. Have you seen my sister?”

Talemn shook his head. “I’m sorry, sir. I only found dead-ends to your sister’s trail.”

“I see.”

“If she was in Machinos, perhaps her knights are still around.” Kimberly suggested.

Matteo shook his head. “I don’t think so. They would be moving as a unit and staying under radar.”

“If they were in Machinos, there is one place she could have gone.” Talemn walked over and pulled out a roll of paper, spreading it on Matteo’s desk. “I think she would be right here,” he pointed at a set of mountain ranges.

Matteo frowned. The Yartengar Mountains, he thought. It was a mountain range that no one dared venture into. People would say that those who entered the mountain never came back. Others chickened out and fled before blabbering about seeing dragons. He scoffed. There were no such things as dragons anymore. Dragons were a myth; they were used to scare children and make knights brave and aspire for something. He drummed his fingers on the desk and shook his head.

“Talemn, head to Machinos. Talk to your friend.” Matteo said. “You have a friend named Lenard, yes?”

Talemn nodded.

“Talk to him. Maybe take him out for coffee.”

“Sir?”

Matteo ignored his question and turned to Kimberly. “Kim, I want you to visit Karthakos for a bit. Your friend – Pam is there no?”

Kimberly nodded and bowed. “Understood, Your Grace.”

“Good, you’re both dismissed.”

Talemn shrugged and walked out the door with Kimberly following after. Matteo sighed and looked at the map before him. If Talemn was right, what could his sister possibly gain in the Yartengar Mountains? Was she lost? Or was she crazy? He shook his head. In the Yartengar Mountains, he knew that explorers would prefer taking the long way around instead of crossing through the mountain range. It’s highly unlikely that she went there, Matteo shook his head. Hearing the door almost close, he shot up from his chair.

“Oh yes, Kim?”

Kimberly turned around. “Yes, milord?”

“Before you go, please go find – ”

“—Go find Liam? I know.”

Matteo chuckled and shook his head, folding his arms. “Thank you. I don’t want him wandering around in the forest for the next one week.”

Kimberly nodded. “Of course.”

With that, Kimberly excused herself and left the study room. Matteo soon found himself alone again with his books and his papers. His eyes focused on the mountain range on Talemn’s map. He brushed his fingers against it, pondering. If Samantha did make it to the mountains, wouldn’t she be dead by now? No, he shook his head. He himself would have known. Sofiene would have known. Santino would have rejoiced. And most of all, Matteo shook his head.

He would have known.


Samantha woke up with a start and found the sleeping bag next to her empty. She sat up and found herself on a soft bed with a small white fire shining in the lamp. The princess looked on in amazement before swinging her legs out of bed. She looked towards the table where she spotted a pair of black breeches and a cream coloured tunic hanging on the back of the chair. Puzzled, she walked over to it and saw a note.

You might want to change into something more flexible. Fighting in a skirt might have you toppling over.

– Kevyn

Samantha nodded and began putting on her breeches. It felt funny; she had never really worn pants before. Only when she had chosen to leave Xychosia that she started wearing breeches. She had been taught that princesses never wear breeches. They were known only to belong on men. But somehow, it felt a little more practical. She wiggled her leg and then her other leg, noticing how much freedom she had. A sigh escaped her lips as she removed the dress and put on the tunic. She slid the tunic over her head and suited herself up. She looked around to check if she had a mirror to check her appearance. What am I doing? Samantha shook her head. There wouldn’t be a mirror in the mountains!

No time to be vain, Samantha thought to herself. She was about to learn how to fight; not to meet some prince!

With that thought, the princess then headed out the cavern.


As she reached the outside of the caverns, Samantha saw Kevyn casually sitting on a boulder. It was only now that she had noticed how Kevyn didn’t look like a savage like she had expected. Her hair was neatly combed and styled into a ponytail. Her clothes were clean although a bit crumpled. Her fair skin was flawless; there wasn’t a single mark other than the small mole on her cheek. Even her nails looked perfectly manicured! How does she keep herself so clean!? Samantha gawked. Stop thinking about that, her logic scolded her. The princess shook her head; now was not the time for vanity!

“Good morning, Sleeping Beauty.” Kevyn smirked as she stood up. She stretched her arms and crackled her knuckles. “Ready to begin?”

Samantha nodded.

“Alright, the first thing I’m going to teach you is hand-to-hand combat. Show me your combat stance.”

The princess exhaled sharply and bent her knees and widened her stance into a horse stance. Samantha saw the look in Kevyn’s eyes as the dragon-tamer circled around her. She let out an airy yelp as Kevyn straightened her shoulders, nudged her knees for a wider stance, and grabbed her head to make her look forward.

“Now, I want you to control your breathing. Today, we’re going to learn how to fight from a Stonegnasher.”

Samantha blinked. What was a Stonegnasher?

Kevyn snapped her fingers as an emerald green dragon appeared. Samantha gasped as she recognized the dragon when she first entered the Yartengar Mountain Range. The dragon had four stubby legs and a short body with hexagonal emerald green scales with a few light blue spots covering its bodies. The dragon flared its nostrils with a small snort while its ears twitched to listen for the sounds around it. The Stonegnasher also had spades on its back and a small wing-span.

“I’m going to teach you how to stand your ground.” Kevyn smirked. “The Stonegnasher is a dragon that relies on momentum and rolling for its power. If it gains enough momentum, you’ll be squashed into a pizza.”

Samantha swallowed hard. Nobody told her about that! She looked at the Stonegnasher who purred affectionately at Kevyn who gave it a scratch beneath the chin. A giggle bubbled from her throat when she saw the dragon lift one leg to start scratching itself. Who knew that dragons could almost be similar to cats and dogs? Samantha thought to herself. She looked towards the right where Blitzkrieg lay down on the ground with a yawn, folding its wings.

Blitzkrieg looks so different when he’s not trying to protect Kevyn, Samantha thought.

“The first thing you have to do is to examine your opponent for a weakness.” Kevyn explained. She picked up her staff and pounded its end on the ground. “Every opponent has a weakness - be it emotional, physical, mental, sexual - see it and exploit it.”

The moment Kevyn finished pounding, the Stonegnasher charged at Samantha. The princess swallowed hard as she remembered what Kevyn said regarding the dragon. The moment it gained enough momentum, she was done for! She closed her eyes and focused on her mana, only for it not to spark at all. It sparked before dying out in a fizz. Fear seized her; how was she supposed to stop an angry charging dragon now?

Every opponent has a weakness - be it emotional, physical, mental, sexual - see it and exploit it.

Remembering Kevyn’s words, she looked at the dragon one more time. The dragon had stubby legs, a small wing span, a single horn on its nose, and small ears. It had a large nose and its ears seemed to flap as it charged towards her. She pondered for a moment but she knew she couldn’t stay long. The longer she stayed thinking, the more momentum the dragon had. Suddenly, a strong smell filled her nose. She snorted at the strong sweet scent only to find it was a plant that she was stepping on.

Hold on, Samantha looked at the plant. I recognize this!

The plant in her hand had long parallel lines on its blades, similar to grass. But unlike grass, there was a scent to it. And as far as she knew, the scent from that particular plant was so strong that anyone who sniffed it suffered induced narcolepsy. Samantha looked towards the dragon and waited for the dragon to get closer and held the grass behind her back. Her heart thumped as the dragon closed in. Her body shuddered from the force. But whatever it was, she knew she had to try.

It’s now or never!

The moment the dragon was a few inches away from her, she thrust her arm forward and stuffed the grass into the dragon’s nose. The Stonegnasher stopped dead in its tracks, sniffing and snorting out the contents of its nose. Recalling how Kevyn made the creature affectionate, Samantha sidestepped and scratched it right beneath the chin a few times before it turned over, belly up.

I… I did it! Samantha exclaimed in glee.

“Good, that’s part one.” She heard Kevyn say. Samantha also heard the dragon-tamer chuckle. “Wait til we move on to part two.”

At the sound of that, Samantha groaned.

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