Book One: Knights' Festival

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Seek The Source

Brandon woke with a start, noticing that Beatriz and Daniel had passed out. He had to admit however; he had half-expected the sentinels of Machinos to find them. A sigh relief escaped his lips as he got up and put on his coat again. The pirate captain took one look at Daniel and Beatriz who were both snoozing away peaceful despite living in a rickety house. Every step he took had the wood creaking beneath his feet as he made his way to the window.

The empire of Machinos seemed peaceful. As if nothing happened, the citizens continued to go with their daily lives. Nobody seemed to care about what had happened the day before. Last time he checked, everyone was hunting down Samantha for supposedly violating the treaty between Sofiene and Machinos. He looked at the citizens bolting to and fro while some seemingly just strolled by. He shook his head. How could people be so dense?

Brandon walked towards the other window that faced the slums of Machinos. Children, as young as five, grabbed food out of the garbage can. Hungry children begged their mothers for food. The mothers shushing her children and telling them it would soon be ready while stirring a stone in hot water. He could hear the loud angry cries and whiplashes, wincing at every sound. He shuddered; even as a pirate, he never whipped his crew members. Even if sometimes they messed up.

“Now that we’re out here,” Brandon murmured and brushed his fingers through the torn lattice. “We’re now fugitives and we’re still looking for our missing princess.”

A sigh bubbled from his throat as he looked around the area. He removed his coat and wrapped his gunblades in it before grabbing a tattered piece of cloth to cover his clothes. If he was going into Machinos, he had to make sure no one could find him or recognize him for that matter. And as far as he was concerned, his coat and his gunblade made him stick out.

Well shit, I won’t have weapons. He scowled to himself. Brandon sighed and looked around the dilapidated house for anything he could use. The pirate rummaged the kitchen only to find a rusty and broken can opener, a broken knife, and a splintered chopping board. He sighed and moved towards the bedroom only to find expired make-up and chipped leather bags. Brandon raked his fingers through his hair, mussing it up. Was there anything he could use?

Suddenly, an idea hit him when he saw the torn curtains. A smirk curved up his lips as he pulled it off the curtain rods and got his gunblade to slice through it. He cleaved the curtains into a sort of poncho to cover the top of his body and took the curtain rod and popped it into a shorter rod. He checked his holsters for his revolvers and his knives, hiding the curtain rod behind his back. At least I won’t stick out too much, Brandon sighed in relief. He took off his metal breast plate, revealing his white button-up polo shirt. His khaki pants which he had been wearing ever since he left Xychosia had a few stains but it had to do. He dusted his dark brown boots, shined the buckle to a decent gleam, and headed out into the alleyways of Machinos.

As he shut the door behind him, Brandon coasted through the area to make sure he didn’t attract too much attention to himself. The people who lived in the slums and in poverty paid him no heed as they went around their own business. They lived by the day; it reminded how he and Luke used to live before they amassed a crew of pirates. Scamming people for money to buy food, stealing the food outright, and threatening people for food – it was not the best method but it was the only way for them to get by. A sigh bubbled from his throat as he looked at the coins in his pocket.

“I have enough,” Brandon nodded. “Daniel managed to bring a whole stack of food back yesterday.”

He couldn’t help but wonder how Daniel managed to bring back not only a lot of food but more money. The agent said that he just went out to procure some food and some ammo for his gun. Yet when he came back, he came back with food worth five months, more gold, and more ammo. How did he do that though? The pirate wondered to himself. Brandon could have sworn he heard a gunshot from far away last night. But he shook it off. Probably another raid, the pirate mused to himself.

He finally reached the main streets and much to his relief, nobody noticed him. Brandon strolled through the streets and scanned through the crowds in hopes of finding the princess. Samantha couldn’t have gotten far, he told himself. Samantha may have journeyed with Beatriz a few times but it didn’t mean she was capable of going off alone. The last time she did, it ended up with them squaring off against Bianca. And the skill gap between him and Bianca was clear. The speed and the grace she had, the psychological tactic of her tears, and the sheer amount of her mana made her a terrifying opponent. Beatriz even insisted that he back away and she would fight her alone.

Brandon paid no attention to the signs and walked with the crowd. He could hear the beeping sounds of people’s gadgets. The honking of horns and the angry cries of drivers hollered through the streets. The pirate winced and quickened his pace. At every shriek of the horn, Brandon twitched and shuddered. He hated loud noises. It barely gave him room to think.

“Damn it,” he growled. “This is crazy. I can’t figure out anything!”

While walking by, he heard some people talking.

“Hey, heading over to the Dark Side?”

“Yeah, I hear they got new releases!”

Brandon frowned. The Dark Side? What was that? Sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, the pirate scowled. But it piqued his interest for a bit. After all, if he wanted to find Samantha, he needed information. He swam through the crowds to get closer to a group of men and women talking.

“Yeah, I hear they also have a mana tracker!”

“No shit man, really?”

“Hell yeah, we can go find that whore of Reuben!”

“Think we’ll be paid?”

“Damn man, we might even get a chance to fuck her!”

Brandon clenched his fingers tight. His knuckles paled. His blood boiled. Bastards, he seethed. Rage and the urge to make those people insulting Samantha threatened to overwhelm him. He gasped and staggered back to keep himself settled. He shut his eyes, took deep breaths, and turned away. His body shuddered at the thought of ignoring it. But what could he do? If he leapt out and attacked them, it would have given him away. Or worse, he thought. Reuben would have used him as bait for Samantha.

But what piqued his interest was their mentioning of a mana tracker. Having one of those would have made locating Samantha a thousand times easier instead of just aimlessly searching through a crowd of people. The Dark Side, he mused. Brandon could only figure what kind of person would name a place such a thing. It’s probably the Black Market, the pirate thought to himself.

He continued strolling on, making sure he blended with the crowd. He spotted a few sentinels and hid amongst the people. The loud laughter of the women disguised his breathing and his footsteps while the loud music prevented the men and the soldiers from noticing that he had slipped past them. A smirk curved up his lips as he found a few paper bills in his hands as he shoved it into his pocket. Old habits die hard, he snickered. He continued strolling by with his hands close to the makeshift rod. As long as the Sentinels didn’t detect him, Brandon continued making his way around.

“That’s the first thing I should get,” Brandon murmured to himself. “A mana tracker would make my life a thousand times easier…”

He slipped through the crowds until he spotted a dark alley where people started coming out with plastic bags. His eyes widened as he saw the people coming out of the alley having a wary look. They seemed to scan the area for a moment before exhaling in relief and headed out. Brandon narrowed his eyes and moved past the people, diving into the alleyway. He slipped through the alleyway and past the people. He pulled up his poncho and covered his nose and mouth. A nauseating smell wafted into his nose and kicked him in the stomach. Brandon had to force himself to swallow his stomach acids and his breakfast. Ugh this place stinks! Brandon hissed to himself. He continued strolling on until he saw a bright red neon sign reading ’The Dark Side’.

“This must be it,” Brandon murmured.

He then pushed the door open only to step into a dark room. Bright red and dark pink lights flashed around him. Loud music suddenly blared into his ears with a combination of trumpets, keyboards, guitars, and percussion instruments. The pirate gawked when he soon saw spotlights flash on stage where there were women only in their underwear, slipping and slithering around the pole. He twitched as the women wrapped their legs around the pole and grinded against it. He shuddered in disgust until something slimy licked his ear. Brandon yelped and jumped away only to see a man only in his underwear, giving him a suggestive wink.

“For feth’s sake,” he hissed. Brandon rubbed his ear roughly and shuddered. “Eugh!”

He shook his head and walked away, rubbing off the saliva off his ear. Why would someone do that? Brandon hissed in annoyance before storming away. He surveyed the area for a moment, noticing other people from Machinos enjoying themselves. The boisterous laughter filled the air as the wisps of nicotine smoke choked him. Brandon coughed and hacked, waving the white smoke away from his face. The shining lights flashed on and off with the bass thundering in his ears. Brandon groaned; this wasn’t the Black Market. It was a strip club!

“Psst, hey kid!” Someone called.

Brandon turned around to see a man covered with courtesans from arm to arm. He grinned at him with a golden tooth gleaming in the darkness. He had shiny black leather pants with golden chains attached to each of his hoops for his belt. His dark blue button up shirt, soaked with sweat, was ripped open and exposing his bare abdomen. The cigar’s dying embers glowed in the dark as he extended his orange beefy hand stuck out.

“You look like you need a good fuck.” He chuckled. He gestured to one of his ladies. “How ’bout I loan you one of mine? After all, all you gotta do is grab ’em in the pussy.

Brandon shook his head and scowled in disgust. “I’m a man with ethics; not a douchebag.”

As the pirate strolled away, two big burly men stood in front of him. Brandon narrowed his eyes and stepped back. He rolled his eyes to check the weapons on their waists. Two Barettas each with a pair of brass knuckle-blades, Brandon mused. His hand slowly reached for the rod hidden beneath his makeshift poncho and watched their movements. Brandon snorted out the nauseating scent of alcohol from their breath.

“Aww come on, boy. No need to be shy.” The man chuckled. He raised an eyebrow. “Now, I know you want something. But, I really hate dealing with stuck-up customers.”

Brandon froze; he recognized the voice. “Goldtooth.”

“Oh? You know me?” The orange-skinned man guffawed. He sneered. “Who are you, cretin?”

Brandon twitched and stormed forward. The girls yelped as Brandon wrapped his muscular fingers around Goldtooth’s beefy throat. Glasses and shots of alcohol slipped off the table and shattered. The bodyguards lunged at him only to have a foot stuck out at their faces. Brandon balanced on one foot while he narrowed his lavender eyes at Goldtooth. The pirate squeezed the man’s throat harder until he saw the man’s green eyes bulge out. It was only then that the pirate saw a light of recognition in Goldtooth’s eyes.

“C-c-captain Hawthorne?” Goldtooth gulped.

Brandon smirked. “Still the same disrespectful scallywag that I kicked the ass of, I see.”

“I-I-I didn’t know y-y-you were s-still alive!”

“I’m just one hell of an actor. Didn’t know you were some rich-ass noble.”

Brandon threw him back roughly onto the couch. The pirate narrowed his eyes at the beefy, orange skinned man who was once one of the members of his crew. He should have recognized him from the beginning. Orange splotchy skin, the clearly fake blonde toupee attached to his round head, the moss green eyes that flickered with fear the moment he towered over him – it was the same person he had threatened to throw off the ship himself. The bodyguards converged on him with their Barettas drawn until Goldtooth jumped up.

“Wait! Don’t shoot! He’s stronger than he looks!” Goldtooth warned. “He managed to take out forty guys with just his gunblades!”

Brandon noticed the two bodyguards step back as a smirk curved up his lips. How could he have forgotten that time? It was the time he had lost the War Hammer to his former First Mate. His fists clenched tight until his knuckles paled. He could feel his nails cutting into his palm as it drew blood. He narrowed his eyes at the memory before glaring daggers at Goldtooth.

“Good you remember what I can do to your filthy ass, you bilge rat.” Brandon hummed coldly. “Now, tell me – what’s a filthy blaggard like you doing in a wretched place like this?”

Goldtooth shook his head vehemently. “N-Nothing!” He growled. “You can’t demand answers from me!”

Without warning, Brandon’s fist flew and slammed Goldtooth straight with a right hook. The girls gasped in fright. Alerted, the bodyguards lunged at Brandon to take him out. However, the pirate pulled out the curtain rod and prepared to defend himself. At the sight of it, the bodyguards stopped in their tracks and slowly backed away. Brandon frowned. He normally would have kept his temper. But Goldtooth was someone he would have chosen to either walk the plank or behead him at where he stood. Taking a deep breath, the pirate tried to cool down his temper before his hand slipped and jammed the wine glass down Goldtooth’s throat. No, Brandon shook his head. He needed answers. Not a man’s blood on his hands.

“You’re familiar with the stuff around here, I’m assuming?” Brandon watched Goldtooth wring his hands nervously with a sheepish smile.

Goldtooth nodded. “Y-yes! Wh-why?”

“Because you’re going to show me where to get a mana tracker.” Brandon looked at Goldtooth straight into the eye with a snarl. “Savvy?”

“B-but, those are contrabands! You’ll get shot!”

“At the moment, I’m already dead. So, I don’t see what the problem is.”

Goldtooth shrunk at the sight of Brandon’s dark lavender stare. “U-uh, y-yes of course!”

“Now,” Brandon grabbed Goldtooth by the lapels of his shirt and hissed. “Show me or you’ll be sinking into Davy Jones’ Locker faster than you can pop.”

Brandon flung Goldtooth to the ground as the man shivered. “R-right this way,” he pointed.

The pirate nodded and followed after Goldtooth. He could see the ladies’ eyes on him as he pulled out ten gold coins. While he expected to find some information, he didn’t expect it to be in the form of a crew member whom he once sailed a ship with. As far as I’m concerned, he’s just a bloodhound, Brandon growled in his mind. He glared at his former crew member’s bodyguards before walking towards the girls. In each of their hands, Brandon dropped two gold coins in each of the five girls’ hands.

“You go buy something to eat. Find a nice place to stay, get some peaceful sleep, and look for a better job in the morning,” Brandon said. He threw a dirty glance to where Goldtooth scampered off to. “That sucker won’t even think twice about making you rape your baby brother just so he can jack off.”

Samantha shuddered and looked up at Kevyn in horror.

“Yes, we’re really going to do what you’re thinking of,” Kevyn shrugged nonchalantly. “Don’t worry; you’re not going to die.”

Says the one who has a dragon for a friend!

Samantha stood at the edge of the mountain where she could see a blanket of fog beneath her feet. A chill ran up her spine as she wondered how far up they were. The blanket of mist was so thick that she couldn’t see her own feet nor could she see the ground below. The chilly mountain winds licked her skin as she saw the Stonegnasher happily hovering a few inches off the ground. Terror threatened to overwhelm her. What was the purpose of the exercise anyway? Why make her stand at the edge of a steep mountain above a thick blanket of fog?

“Today, you’re going to learn how to trust your other senses.” Kevyn explained. “The Stonegnasher relies on its skin and ears to listen and see better. Your eyes can deceive you. It can instill fear inside you and have it devour you alive.”

Samantha swallowed hard as she shivered at the sight of the thick blanket of mist. She scanned the area around her and saw Kevyn walking on the fog towards her dragons. She gawked; how could Kevyn be so calm? The dragon-tamer smirked and upon reaching her dragon, patted Blitzkrieg before mounting the dragon. Samantha watched the Alastreus take off with it hovering right above her. What am I supposed to do? She panicked.

“Trust your other senses.” Kevyn reminded. “Relax. Your eyes can lie to you.”

The princess gulped. Was she expecting to walk around blind? Samantha shook her head; she was insane! She slowly shifted her foot forward to feel if there was any ground. The princess heard and felt the sand and the pebbles shift beneath her feet. Yelping with fright, Samantha jumped a bit and shifted her foot forward again. A sense of relief filled her as she continued to inch forward. Even if it was slow, it was still some progress.

Samantha crept and inched through the fog and towards the Stonegnasher. The flittering and flapping off the Stonegnasher’s tiny wings filled her stomach with butterflies; it was as if there wasn’t any land beneath her at all. Her head tossed and turned to look any form of land. No such luck, she shook her head. All there was around her was a thick blanket of fog. She stepped forward again only to kick a tiny pebble. She gasped at the sound of the pebble with dread filling her as the pebble’s existence seemingly faded away beneath her. She didn’t even hear the pebble bounce! Just how high up am I? The princess wondered. While she was curious as to how high up she was, Samantha shivered at the thought of plummeting to her death.

“Come on, don’t be scared!” She heard Kevyn holler. “If you chicken out now, how are you going to fight?”

Easy for you to say, Samantha whined in her mind. Kevyn had a dragon to catch her should she leap off from the highest peak. There was no way Blitzkrieg would let her plummet to her death! Bea and Brandon used to catch me, she thought. The memory of the time Brandon asked her to trust her in the Arachnos caverns. It was a complete leap of faith; leaping and sailing over a ravine was not what she had in mind for a trust exercise. If she was still the princess she was years ago, the idea of her leaping over a ravine would have been incredulous! Instead of trusting Brandon, she would have chickened out and screamed, crying out for help.

How I’ve changed, she thought. Samantha looked at her fair-skinned hands. She remembered how smooth and moist her palms once were. It was once as smooth as a baby’s skin. The princess would remember how much lotion she would place on her hands to keep them smooth. Her fingers were always cleaned and manicured to look pristine and shiny. But now, her hands had become dry and rough. Samantha scratched off the dried skin being shed off her palms. Her skin was caked with dirt and covered with wounds. Her lips curved into a melancholic smile. The sight of her hands now reminded her that of the servants that had served her in Sofiene. Their hands, wrinkled, calloused, and overworked, always extended kindness to her and were willing to cater to her every whim.

Wait a minute, Samantha realized. She looked at her hands and then at the blanket of fog. Slowly, the princess crouched down and pressed her palms through the blanket of mist. She shut her eyes and inhaled deep. If her feet could feel the ground beneath her, so could her hands to help her figure out if there was land in front of her. Her hands sank through the mist until she felt something solid. Her heart jumped in delight. Solid ground, she beamed. With that knowledge, she dropped on her knees and began to crawl. Her knees brushed against the rough ground. The princess winced as some of the rocks cut into her knees. But she shook her head. She had to keep going.

She ignored the chilly mountain winds licking her skin. The blazing sun beat down on her back. Sweat poured down her face and her body shivered from the cold. Despite everything, Samantha pushed herself to move forward. Her head swirled and her visions blurred. Samantha gasped and coughed, realizing that the air was becoming thin. She squinted to get a clearer look through the fog until she made a slight misstep. Her palm slipped and Samantha yelped as she nearly fell. She crashed on her elbow as rubble cracked and fell below. Samantha quickly gathered herself up and pulled away from the edge.

I’m really high up! Samantha screamed in her mind. She looked up to see Kevyn resting on Blitzkrieg, not really caring what was happening. The dragon-tamer rested on the Alastreus’ back and twirled what appeared to be a knife in between her fingers. Samantha frowned and continued crawling on. One step at a time, Samantha reminded herself. Every step had her arms and knees trembling from fatigue and fear. Calm down, Samantha reassured herself. You’re not going to die.

Or so she would like to believe.

Suddenly, she heard a deep guttural growl above her. Samantha, nearly jumping out of her skin, froze and slowly looked up. The Stonegnasher hovered above her with a toothy grin. Samantha on the other hand could do nothing but offer a sheepish laughter. She could see the dragon’s large, bulky body hovering right above her head. The Stonegnasher chortled and flew past her while she continued to make her way across. From what she noticed, Samantha felt she was crawling on a thin stone bridge. But the question now was: when would she get to the other side?

Samantha continued to crawl forward with her hands crushing dirt and pebbles at every step. The princess shivered and refused to look down. She didn’t even want to fathom the thought of being way above the ground. Her heart stopped at every step. Her hands trembled at every inch. All she wanted was for the suspense to end. Finally, she put out both her hands and felt a wider ground before her. Samantha, beaming in delight, rushed forward.

Ground! She exclaimed and kissed past the fog. Samantha exhaled in relief until she saw Kevyn and Blitzkrieg hovering right in front of her. The princess frowned at the dragon-tamer’s smug features. She watched Kevyn dismount Blitzkrieg casually and land on the ground before snapping her fingers. Blitzkrieg growled and spread out his wings to blow away the fog that surrounded them. Much to Samantha’s embarrassment, the pathway she travelled was only two feet off the ground and the pebble landed into a pile of sand hence the lack of sound. Her face flushed as she got up and dusted herself.

“Well, you learned something new today.” Kevyn chuckled.

Samantha frowned.

“You know you did.”

The princess continued to glare at her.

“It’s not my fault you thought you were that high up.”

Samantha groaned and threw her hands up in the air in frustration. But she had to admit however; that crawling on the ground and feeling the earth made her feel more secure. Even at the sight of all the thick mist, she didn’t worry so much only worrying on was how far up she was. She looked at Kevyn who had a smirk on her face.

“Eyes can easily be rendered useless.” Kevyn said. “But when you know how to use your senses, you realize later on that your eyes can easily be lied to.”

While the dragon-tamer walked away, Samantha followed behind her with the Stonegnasher tagging along. The dragon purred and she affectionately patted its head and gave it a good scratch. The dragon growled and crooned at the scratch as Samantha scratched under its chin some more. Much to her surprise, the dragon began tapping the ground fast and hung its tongue out. Aww, Samantha giggled in delight. She never thought something so intimidating could actually be affectionate.

“The Stonegnashers are mild creatures. They’re one of the most docile amongst the Earth Dragons.” Kevyn explained. “And also,” she dropped down and picked up a rock. “They’re easy to feed.”

Samantha blinked until Kevyn tossed a rock to the Stonegnasher. The princess yelped in surprise when the dragon lunged out for the rock and ate it. She watched the dragon crush the pebble in its jaws contentedly enjoying its treat. The princess’s mouth formed a small ‘o’ as she picked up another stone. Her finger brushed against the smooth and dusty surface of the stone for a moment, seeing a bit of her reflection off it. A sad smile curved up her lips. Her hand unconsciously moved up to her erogenous area. She shuddered and shivered when Reuben’s malicious smile suddenly flashed in her mind. Samantha gasped and staggered back, shivering and trembling.

“It’s still there.” She heard someone say.

Samantha looked up to see that Kevyn now stood in front of her with Blitzkrieg. She opened her mouth to protest only to realize that she had no voice. Her hand went up to her throat and brushed her fingers against it. Without her voice, she couldn’t protest. She couldn’t bite back. She couldn’t fight back. Her arms dropped and hung limp from her shoulders; how could she have forgotten? Her head dipped in shame. How could she have even believed that she could do something right? Because of that one disastrous miscalculation, she paid for it. Heavily.

Suddenly, Kevyn crouched down in front of her and held her by the shoulders. Samantha saw a hint of wisdom flash in the dragon-tamer’s eyes for a brief moment. Kevyn sighed and shook her head.

“Trauma will always be there. It’s a demon that will eat you away and leave you in shambles. You can’t kill it. You can’t destroy it. But, you can rise above it.”

Suddenly, something inside her began to bubble. Tears welled up in her eyes and her body trembled in Kevyn’s grip. She could feel her heart pounding and everything threatening to burst out of her. Samantha couldn’t hold it in anymore. Without thinking or hesitating, she threw herself into Kevyn’s arms and bust into a broken sob. There were no sounds. It was a fountain of tears that sprung from her eyes, spilling all over her face. She tackled Kevyn hard enough to knock them both into the ground as she let out an airy scream and pounded her fist against the ground.

I want it to go away! Go away! Her heart screamed. Yet, her mind knew that the stain of being a rape victim would never leave. It would forever burn itself into her memory. The cinders and the ashes seared not only her mind but even her flesh. And the fact that Amethyst, a woman she met, sacrificed her life to save her even if she didn’t know her well enough made it more entrenched in her memories. Samantha buried her face into Kevyn’s chest, not caring if the dragon-tamer would kick her or drag her by the hair.

But much to her surprise, she felt a light tap and Kevyn didn’t seem to throw her off.

“Keep it coming.” Kevyn patted her head. “Better to cry now and look forward than to not cry and carry it as a cannon ball shackled to your ankle.”

Samantha sniffed and sat up, wiping her tears against her arm. Snot spread across her face as she rubbed her eyes. Her fingers and hands were covered with her tears. She sighed and let Kevyn sit up as the dragon-tamer wrung her shirt dry. Despite the cold expression on Kevyn’s face, there was a hint of empathy she saw in the young woman’s honey brown eyes. It was something she thought only extended to her dragons. She does care! Samantha beamed. She suddenly felt Kevyn grab her face and use her thumbs to wipe away her tears.

“Acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step to solving it.” Kevyn nodded. She folded her legs in front of Samantha. “Now that you finally let that out, we can begin.”

Samantha blinked. Begin what?

“We can start confronting those demons. But, my question to you is this: do you want to take them all out at the same time or would you rather do it at your own pace and slowly?”

The princess pondered for a moment. If she blazed through her demons, it would be easier for her to find her magic and learn. However, a part of her hesitated. It trembled in fear; scared skinny at the thought of fighting all her demons all at once. She looked at her hands and then at the pendant hanging on her neck. She looked at the ring of Azaleth, both gems she had never removed. The Sofiene pendant began to pulse with warmth and glow, as if urging her to go for it. The Azalethian ring’s intention resonated with that of the Sofiene pendant by glowing past the sand and dirt. With that, resolve filled the princess. Samantha then nodded at Kevyn.

I’m ready.

“You sure?” Kevyn raised an eyebrow. “Once you start, there’s no going back.”

Samantha nodded.

A smirk curved up Kevyn’s lips. “Alright, assume the lotus position.”

Samantha blinked until she saw Kevyn’s legs folded together. Oh!

She folded her legs together similar to Kevyn’s and rested her palms on her knees.

“Close your eyes and control your breathing. Feel the world around you.” Kevyn said. “You are to listen to only two things: Nature and my voice.”

Samantha nodded and closed her eyes. She took deep breaths and felt the world around her. The winds’ howls slowly became nothing but a light whisper. She could hear the ants travelling beneath the earth and the stones that moved along and shifted with their footsteps. The water in the air seemed to sing to her as well and the heat from the sun no longer beat down on her. The whole time she spent in the mountain felt different. It was as if her heart had been lifted and forgotten everything that had happened down below at Machinos Empire.

“Here we are, all alone in the mountains. There’s nothing that can distract you,” Kevyn continued. She could hear Kevyn’s breathing become slower. “Listen to what nature has to say. Listen to what lies deep in your mind.”

Samantha nodded. As she continued controlling her breathing, the sounds around her suddenly began to fade out. The princess sank into the darkness, falling without end. Her arms went limp and her mind dropped into the void. She could feel her mana bubbling and soon roiling inside her. The darkness was soon illuminated by several coloured ribbons. Samantha raised her arm in amidst the darkness to brush her fingers through the ribbons.

However, the moment she stretched out to touch it, everything changed. Howls and screams in terror thundered in the darkness. A blood red moon shone its light on top of her. Samantha found herself back in Sofiene with fires consuming the city. People screamed in terror as the soldiers raped and pillaged the village, leaving nothing but destruction in their wake. The princess gasped as the fires roared louder as she heard the battle-cries and the many citizens fell to the onslaught. Blood splattered on her skin, their guts and entrails lay strewn out on the floor. Women and men alike screamed as they were penetrated and violated. Samantha shivered and gasped.

“Let go of what could have been. Let go of the terror you suffered being unable to do anything.” She heard Kevyn’s voice guide her. “Never forget the atrocities but let go of guilt and remorse within yourself that you did nothing to save your people.”

Samantha winced and watched the villagers run. Their voices faded into the background as she stood frozen. She let their images fade and run past her. Their cries turned into silence. The blood faded from the ground. The howling fires died out and left nothing but destroyed homes, desolate and burned.

But suddenly, she heard a loud groan from behind her.

A bright light shined over her, casting her shadow onto the cobblestone pavement. Samantha swallowed hard and slowly turned around to see the citadel of Sofiene before her. But unlike before, it was no longer just a white flash of light. The memory didn’t just end there. The citadel was surrounded by two pairs of large angel wings. A golden halo shone above the citadel with white feathers bobbing in the air. A pair of large metal hands shot out from the sides and embraced the entire citadel with the wings folding around it.

What is that? Samantha gasped. She had never seen it before! Yet, a strange nostalgic feeling filled her. Her jet black eyes widened in awe. Bright lights shone from the wings as the feathers suddenly suspended itself in mid-air. The feathers froze and slowly morphed into pure light, shining bright like stars in the night. The citizens looked on in awe and astonishment. Soldiers gasped in terror as the light blazed and shone down.

Samantha yelped and covered her eyes as the blinding light engulfed the entire field. She kept her eyes shut until the light died down. As the light died down, she lowered her arms only to see she was surrounded by darkness again. She looked around and saw a mirror right in front of her. The princess, curious, stepped forward with an outstretched arm. However, Samantha gasped as the mirror flashed an image. It was her but stripped naked and with a marionette-like stare. Samantha shivered and spotted all the wounds covering her body. But what terrified her most of all was seeing a dirtied hand and the malicious smile of Prince Reuben right behind her. His hands roamed around her body, groping every part of her. Samantha tried to scream but produced nothing but a soundless whimper.

“Let it out and let it flow through you,” she heard Kevyn say. “Don’t focus on what could have been. Focus on what you can do now.”

Easy for you to say! Samantha screamed in her mind. She shivered as Reuben continued to let his hands roam over her body. Her reflection however in the mirror didn’t move. She let his hands move around her body. Samantha shivered as his tongue licked her neck yet there was no expression. However, she could see that her mind writhed in disgust. Samantha launched herself at the mirror and grabbed the sides, shaking it.

Move! Move! She screamed. But her voice refused to burst from her throat. She could do nothing but watch her reflection be violated by Reuben. The mirror image did nothing to fight back; she just stood there with a dead stare at her. Tears spilled from her eyes as she shook the mirror over and over again. Despite her shaking, the reflection did nothing. Her arms slowly gave out as she slumped down in front of the mirror and on to her knees. Her body shuddered; Samantha buried her face into her hands with her whole body racked with sobs. The princess whimpered, heartbroken. How could she have let this happen? She should have fought back! She had the magic! She had the power! Why didn’t she fight back!? So many questions exploded in her mind. Samantha let out a voiceless, airy scream at the mirror before letting her arms drop to her side. It’s pointless, her mind said. You can’t do anything.

Samantha panted and gasped, hanging her head and let the scene replay. The princess looked at her hands and then at her body. She looked down at the pendant that was covered with muck and dirt from her previous travels. Her ring had also lost its lustre from the sand. Yet both gems still continued to shine. Samantha looked at both gems before Kevyn’s words resounded in her mind.

Don’t focus on what could have been. Focus on what you can do now.

Samantha froze and looked up. She gripped her dress and slowly stood up. Her dark eyes stared straight at the image with Reuben still having the mocking sneer spread across his face. Samantha pressed her hand against the mirror and felt a pulse. It was pulsing inside the mirror; it was as if her reflection itself was alive. Instead of pressing her whole palm against her mirror, Samantha pressed her pointer finger at her reflection.

“You can’t do anything! I have you now!” The illusion of Reuben sneered at her. “I am already a part of you!”

Samantha exhaled and shook her head. It was then her voice burst from her throat. “Yes you became a part of me. You became a part of my memories. You became a part of my past. But, you are not all of me. I am still Princess Samantha da Sofiene.”

Reuben froze at her declaration as Samantha tapped the mirror. When she tapped once, a small crack formed. The second tap made a bigger crack. Another tap, another crack. The cracked lines spread across the mirror like a spider’s web. Samantha’s naked reflection slowly curved up with a smile as the princess began to tap it some more. The more she tapped it, the more cracks appeared on the mirror. Reuben’s face contorted into anger and Samantha’s reflection beamed at her. Samantha smiled and saw the last portion that held the mirror together. Her reflection, no longer naked but instead, was clothed in her former clothes as the Princess of Sofiene and nodded at her.

“You are my past but, you’ll never be my future.” Samantha whispered.

With one more tap, the mirror shattered into tiny shards. The shards crashed and shattered into dust on the floor. Samantha stared at the space where the mirror once was and revealed a portrait behind it. Samantha’s eyes widened when she saw herself. But she wasn’t in her royal robes. What she saw was her in a sleeveless v-neck robe with a sash made tied into a ribbon behind and a long skirt with a pair of short boots. She had a mantle placed on her shoulders with a staff in one hand and a crystal ball in the other. But what caught her attention was the portrait of her wore the ring of Azaleth, the pendant of Sofiene, a pair of earrings, and a tiara. There was something else in the portrait but she couldn’t figure out what it was. Her hand brushed against the portrait before the darkness around her shattered. Samantha yelped and instead, it revealed a village in a valley.

“Where… where am I?” Samantha asked.

Flowers of every season bloomed and covered an entire meadow. Other plots of land were covered with crops of all kinds – rice, coffee, corn, tomatoes, and other vegetables. Houses made of stone stood around with a fountain gushing in the middle of the village. She saw several people walk towards the crops and with a snap of their fingers, the crops instantly grew. She gasped and saw other people mixing glowing substances in several vials before placing it on a glyph that was written on a piece of paper. Her eyes widened as the contents of the vial changed into a form of medicine.

“Wow,” Samantha shook her head. “This place is amazing.”

Suddenly, she heard a bell ring throughout the valley. The citizens within the valley soon stopped whatever they were doing and began moving towards a pathway leading towards the mountains. Bewildered, the princess rushed after them and followed them into the tunnel. Nobody seemed to notice her. Samantha proceeded on until she passed right through the tunnel.

The moment she reached the end of the pathway, Samantha gasped at the sight of the sight before her.

She stood in a roofless pavilion with several columns that towered into the sky. In the middle of the circle, there was a stone table with several engravings on the ground. I remember this, Samantha gasped. She rushed forward and squatted down on the ground, brushing away some of the dust. She saw it again. It was the picture of a woman garbed in rainbow colours. But this time, she saw other creatures on the ground. One was an owl head attached to a human body with its wings forming a cloak. Another one was a large three-tailed scorpion with large pincers. And the fourth one appeared to be some sort of gargantuan octopus.

“What are they?” She brushed her hand against the four engravings before looking at the table. “Ah!”

On the stone table in the middle of the colonnade, there were more engravings. The outer ring of the table had been carved from obsidian stone with ancient characters engraved on them. The inner ring was made from Tiger’s Eye except with a selection of numbers on them. But what caught her eye was the middle of the table. Made from pure white marble, the table had several slots in it. Put together, the slots made one large sphere. But what she didn’t understand was what was supposed to be inside. She looked towards the pillars where she saw different creatures and different structures. One had a sea serpent; another had a dragon, a bipedal horned ram, and many more. Samantha shook her head; it was amazing!

“Where is this place?” Samantha shook her head.

“It’s a place deep in your memory.” She heard Kevyn say. “But even I haven’t seen this place before.”

Samantha turned around to see Kevyn standing behind her. “Ah! How did you…?”

“It’s called Astral Projection. A gift I’m not too fond of as it leaves me vulnerable.” Kevyn chuckled. She looked on at the people entering the colonnade and bowing to the pillars. “But whatever it is, it seems to be important to you.”

Samantha nodded. She looked around the colonnade to see the many people bowing and offering some sort of smoking sticks to them. The princess looked at her pendant and noticed the owl carving on the ground. Could it be, she asked herself. She also saw the woman clad in the rainbows and looked towards the ring of Azaleth. The resemblance was uncanny! But where is this, Samantha looked around.

“Anyway, we better head out.” Kevyn nodded. She waved her hand. “Take your time, will wait for you outside.”

As Kevyn’s image vanished, Samantha found herself standing in the colonnade all alone. However, the colonnade triggered something inside her. It was a nostalgic feeling; a feeling of belonging and warmth. She brushed her hand against the stone table and examined the ancient engravings carefully. The carvings suddenly began to glow as a voice echoed in her mind.

To find your true power, seek the source.

Samantha jumped in surprise as her surroundings began to blur. The colonnade began to crack and her surroundings seemed to crack as if she were in a glass dome. She yelped and jumped back, avoiding the falling shards. The shards shattered into sparkling glitter and dust before a bright white light swirled around her. Samantha staggered back as ribbons in different colours shone and wrapped around her before a white light consumed her once again.

Samantha gasped and awoke from her trance. Sweat poured down her face as she found herself back on the mountain. She looked at her hands and then at her body. The wounds covering her body no longer irked her. The markings and the swollen welts sunk back into her skin, fading into her normal skin tone. Her body no longer seemed cold. It was pulsating with warmth; her mana roiled and flowed through her once again. Samantha sighed in relief and embraced her body. She felt like herself again. She felt whole.

“So, you ready?” Kevyn asked.

Samantha looked up at the dragon-tamer and nodded. She dusted her pants from the dust and looked towards the other dragons. The creatures gazed upon her with all curiosity and the princess smiled at them. She felt something inside her just reconnected. But something still bothered her. What was that place she saw in her mind? What was the colonnade that surrounded her with the symbols of several different empires that she had seen in the books? Samantha frowned. She had never seen that in any library she had seen!

“Yeah but I am curious,” Samantha shook her head and raised an eyebrow at Kevyn. “What was that place?”

Kevyn shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like it. Libraria however might have a map and information as to where and what it is.”

“I suppose. So, what do we do now?”

“Well, it’s quite simple. We have to finish what you started.”

Samantha looked up at Kevyn as the dragon-tamer smirked.

“Now that you’re talking, we can now move on faster and to the more advanced stuff.”

The princess shivered. “Will that kill me?”

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Samantha gawked and nearly fainted. What kind of crazy training was Kevyn going to subject her to now? But she had to admit; now that she was talking, she wouldn’t have a problem casting spells. A sigh of relief bubbled from her throat. At least she now could help preserve herself physically.

But it didn’t mean that she was going to be able to preserve all of her sanity.

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