Book One: Knights' Festival

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Body of a Human, Heart and Soul of a Dragon

Samantha followed after Kevyn as they began scaling the mountain wall. She gasped and panted, wincing at the thin air. A shiver travelled up her spine as she hesitated in climbing further. How far up am I? She wondered to herself. The princess rolled her eyes a bit only to see the silhouette of the mountains below. A shiver travelled up her spine and she yelped. Since when did she climb that high?

“I can’t believe I climbed that far up.” Samantha shook her head. She looked up and grabbed another rock, noticing Kevyn scaling the wall with her. “Wait a minute,” – she realized. “Why aren’t you just riding Blitzkrieg?”

Kevyn shrugged. “It’s called hard work and cardio.”

“You sure? This is kind of silly.”

“You might as well get used to it. It kinda does you wonders when you start fighting.”

“But the air is so thin up here!”

“You’ll get used to it.”

The princess frowned

Samantha stared at the wooden staff in her hand. “Are… are you sure about this?”

“Yeah you won’t die,” Kevyn waved her hand dismissively. She shrugged. “Besides, we’re only fighting on the flat ground of the highest plateau in the Yartengar Mountain Range.”

“Not helping!”

“I was supposed to?”

“Kevyn!”

The dragon-tamer chuckled. “Relax, we won’t be whacking each other senseless. We’ll be fine.”

The princess gulped and looked down. All she could see below her was the mist and fog. But unlike before, she actually could tell that they were that high up. Her lungs struggled to breathe and the winds swirling around her were cold. The hairs on her head and all over her body began to stand on their ends. Her knees trembled and her palms became clammy. She shook her head; how could Kevyn be able to withstand all that cold?

Samantha hauled herself up and climbed her way up until she spotted Kevyn standing at the top of the plateau. Gasping and panting, the princess pulled herself up in a huff before seeing the cloudy skies around her. She could barely see the ground below her and the world around her seemed to be nothing but white skies. The cold winds kissed her cheeks and the earth beneath her seemed to vibrate. She yelped as the ground beneath her began to rumble, causing her to jump back in surprise.

“It’s an earthquake!” Samantha screamed. “We have to get off!”

Kevyn chuckled. “Well, you’ve gotten better.”

“How am I better!? There’s an earthquake!”

“You moron, it’s not. I would have heard cracking from the base by now. What you’re feeling are the ants on the ground!”

Samantha blinked in surprised and looked down. She saw the ants crawling on the floor with food being hauled around. The princess looked up to see Blitzkrieg watching the ants bring their food into the hill. Her ears twitched at the sound of the ants’ footsteps and the vibrations of the shifting sand made her hair stand up on their ends. How did I do that? She shook her head. The princess knew she never had this kind of power before. It was as if a new door had been opened to her.

“H-how? I’ve never,” Samantha shook her head.

Kevyn chuckled. “Never felt this before have you?”

Samantha nodded.

“It’s because the scholars narrowed their minds and thought magic could be learned from the books. When in reality,” Kevyn chuckled and closed her eyes. “It’s all around you.”

Nodding, Samantha looked around her to see the white skies around her. If she had to be honest, there was no magic that could have gotten her up there. She would have never seen the clouds float by her nor would she see the mist swirl around her and cool her skin. The princess closed her eyes and let Nature do its thing. She remembered the darkness that engulfed her but the mana seemed to guide her. The mana swirled and embraced her, reminding her of a motherly embrace.

Come to think of it, my mother never really embraced me.

Samantha’s face fell. When she thought long and hard, it was then it occurred to her that her mother never did embrace her. No, now’s not the time to think about that, Samantha shook her head. She had time to mull over it later. But what she had to do now was focus on getting everything done. Her fingers clenched into a fist and her eyes snapped open. Despite the soothing feeling, there was much to be done. And for now, she had to ignore it.

“So, how are you going to train me? Where do we start?” Samantha asked.

Kevyn chuckled, shaking her head. “You’re an eager beaver today.” She snickered. “I’d thought you’d think I’m nuts after tricking you the last time.”

“I still think you are.”

“Good, then we’re on the same page about my kookiness. But you still need me, yes?”

“Yes.”

The dragon-tamer nodded. “Alright then,” she prepared her battle stance. “We’re going to learn through application.”

Samantha mimicked Kevyn’s battle stance. Left foot forward, Samantha stepped forward and put up but both her fists. She lowered her stance a bit, noticing how Kevyn’s knees were perpendicular from the floor. She clenched her fists tight until her knuckles paled. Every breath she took struggled to calm her pounding heart. Her eyes narrowed onto Kevyn; if she was going to learn how to fight, it would have to come with a few a bruises.

“Alright,” Kevyn smirked. “Looking better.”

With that, the dragon-tamer lunged forward. Samantha stepped back to avoid Kevyn’s punch before throwing her left in retaliation. The dragon-tamer sidestepped and caught her fist by her wrist, yanking her forward. Samantha yelped and staggered forward only to try kicking her instead. She saw Kevyn kick back and threw her forward by her wrist, sending her to the floor. Samantha crashed onto the stone, coughing in pain. She could feel her body screaming and her eyes threatening to spill out with tears. Samantha shook her head and slammed her fist on the ground, clambering up onto her feet. She wiped the tears away from her eyes and stared back at Kevyn.

I will not cry!

Samantha lunged forward with a battle cry with her right hook flying at Kevyn. Her eyes widened when the dragon-tamer ducked and swept her off her feet, sending her to the ground. She winced a little only to land a clumsy kick at Kevyn’s chin only for the drgaon-tamer to roll out of the way. She gathered herself again until she noticed Kevyn’s fists change. Instead of her hand being balled up into a fist, Kevyn had two fingers pointed out before she began to perform something like a dance.

Samantha shook her head. “What are you doing? You’re –”

Before she could finish her statement, blue lightning began to crackle around Kevyn’s body. The lightning seemed to follow her fingers with its loud chirping before exploding into a large flash. Samantha’s eyes widened when Kevyn stopped for a moment before launching an explosive beam of electricity towards her. Samantha screamed and ducked, letting the lightning shoot inches right above her head. She looked up to see Blitzkrieg catch the lightning and eat it, delectably licking its chops after eating the bolt.

“You…” Samantha twitched. Did her dragon just eat it!?

“He can eat lightning. It’s part of who he is.” Kevyn explained. “He is an Alastreus after all.”

“An Alastreus?”

“Yeah, they’re known to swoop through the sky in the middle of thunderstorms. They eat lightning and usually are the reason why thunderstorms occur or why the lightning doesn’t strike the forests.”

Samantha nodded. Something new, the princess shrugged. In the books she read, there was no definite detail about dragons other than the fact that they were extinct. She shook her head and got up again when she heard more chirping behind her. Realizing that Kevyn was revving up for another attack, she rolled away and quickly imagined a shield. Remembering the time during her birthday when she fought the flesh-eating abomination, Samantha channelled the mana into her palms before making a purple bubble to cover her. The lightning smashed into the shield and knocked her back. Samantha yelped as the bubble around her jiggled from the impact, absorbing most of the force.

“Wow, I never knew that were magic-users like her out here!” Samantha shook her head. She examined the bubble dome she made for herself. “One more blow and this bubble is going to explode!”

A cloud of black dust swirled around the field before her when she tried to look past the dust. She dropped her shield and stood up, seeing the dust form a circle around her. A lump formed in her throat as she forced it down. She shuddered and looked around to find Kevyn’s silhouette in the smoke cloud. Suddenly, she recalled the time Kevyn made her crawl on the bridge. She couldn’t see anything at all.

Your eyes can deceive you. But your other senses will not.

Samantha inhaled deeply and closed her eyes. She stood still and listened for the other sounds. Vibrations tickled her skin as she felt the sands and pebbles shift near and beneath her. The winds brushed her hair away from her face and she brought her hands together. She imagined a ball of mana forming in between her hands. A warm feeling pulsed in her hands, swirling and bubbling. Her ears twitched when she suddenly heard crackling behind her.

There!

She turned around and hurled the ball in the direction of the crackling noise. Her eyes widened that the moment she threw ball of energy it exploded on contact and burst into a large fire. Samantha yelped as a large inferno burst in front of her and knocked her down. The smoke rose up into the air and made a bigger smoke cloud. Okay, wrong idea. Samantha shook her head. She closed her eyes and remembered the feeling she had in Machinos. The ruthless feeling and making Reuben feel all the humiliation she felt when he had penetrated her. The winds swirled but instead in between her hands, it began forming an orb around her. The winds brushed away the dust and blasted the debris away. The moment the dust cleared, she spotted Kevyn smirking right in front of her.

“Not bad,” Kevyn chuckled and clapped her hands. “And you’re not even using a medium. I half-expected you to be using a medium.”

Samantha frowned. “I am using a medium!” She showed her pendant to Kevyn. “This is my medium.”

The dragon-tamer shook her head. “Foci don’t make blasts that big. You’ve been using the Nature around you as a medium.”

“Am not!”

“Of course you are! How else were you able to track me down? Don’t tell me you grabbed your pendant and swung it like the goddamned idiot that you are!”

Samantha opened her mouth to retort and grabbed her pendant. However much to her surprise, the pendant didn’t seem warm nor did it resonate with any mana at all. She looked down at the pendant and then at the ring. Then what have I been doing? Samantha asked herself. She shook her head; if what Kevyn said was true then, what was she doing?

“I can even say you’re not even scraping the surface of your magic.” Kevyn shook her head. “I haven’t seen magic that big in all my years of fighting idiots who walk into this place.”

“Y-you can tell?”

“I can smell the magic off you. I can even feel the flow running through your veins. My only question is why you’re not using that power. Or the better question would be – why can’t you use it?”

“How should I know!? I didn’t even know I had that much power!”

“Sheesh, no need to get your tits so riled –”

“—Tits!?” Samantha gawked. How could she be so rude and so obnoxious!? Fury boiled inside the princess. She had enough. The princess stomped over to Kevyn and jabbed her finger into her chest. “Now listen here, you, you…!”

Kevyn smirked and folded her arms, raising an eyebrow at her. “You flat-chested savage?”

The cocky smirk curved up Kevyn’s lips flared Samantha even more. The princess had never met someone so callous and so incredibly annoying! How could she be so apathetic to humans and so sadistic at the same time? Her blood boiled and her mana began to spark and hiss inside her, threatening to channel right into her finger tips.

“You flat-chested savage!” Samantha repeated and snapped. “I’ve been putting up with your antics and you decide to kick me into a boulder, throw me into the water, deceive me as if I’m going to fall and die –”

“—Yes, yes, name all the atrocities that could have gotten you killed but you didn’t.” Kevyn rolled her eyes. “If you haven’t noticed, you’re still alive.”

“That’s not my point! This is attempted murder!”

“You were the one who wanted to train with me.”

“I didn’t expect you to be so life-threatening!”

Kevyn rolled her eyes and muttered. “Somehow, I liked it better when you weren’t bellowing in my ears.”

“What!?”

“Of course you wouldn’t hear me! All your damn shrieking must’ve broken your eardrums by now!”

“Ugh!” Samantha threw her hands up in the air. “You’re impossible!”

“And you’re goddamn annoying.” Kevyn scowled. She huffed in annoyance. “This is why I hate people. Always being so whiny and demanding. And if they don’t want it that way, why ask the person who does it that way!?”

“I thought you weren’t crazy!”

“Well too bad, we’re all crazy!”

The princess shook her head. How could she have believed that Kevyn could teach her anything? She screamed in annoyance and threw her fist at the dragon-tamer. However, her eyes widened when she saw Kevyn sidestep and a numbing pain hit her neck. She coughed and gasped, falling to floor. She caught herself with her palms and looked up with her vision blurring. Despite her wobbling, she shook her head and lunged herself at Kevyn to tackle her down. Her sight was foggy but it didn’t mean she couldn’t see the colours or hear the stepping of Kevyn’s feet.

Wait, Samantha stopped. It was then she realized that Kevyn’s training did work! She had been using her ears and feet to see. She stopped dead her tracks and looked at her hands. When did she get that aggressive? A small triumphant smile curved up her lips and a giggle bubbled from her throat.

“I see the training’s working.” Kevyn chuckled. “Now, will you quit throwing a fuss? I warned you, you dumbass!”

Samantha shook her head and nodded. She blinked a few times, seeing that her vision was still blurry. She stretched her arms out with her feet inching forward to get a balance. Despite hearing Kevyn’s voice, her throat swelled from the blow. What did she hit me with? Samantha coughed and gasped. Suddenly, Kevyn’s silhouette moved closer to her and pulled up her arm. The princess yelped as she felt Kevyn’s palm slap her elbow.

“The elbow is one of the parts that inflict the most painful of blows. Slam it hard enough and you can cause internal bleeding,” Kevyn explained. “Hit it in the right place – you can kill a person.”

Samantha swallowed hard. “K-k-kill?”

“Yes but it’s your choice whether or not to kill.”

Your choice.

It was my choice, Samantha reminded herself. Reuben’s sinister grin appeared in her mind. Fear filled her but it was not because of what he did to her. It was because she saw what she was capable of doing. She remembered how the winds violently tore through Brandon’s body and a bit of Beatriz’s. Her lady-in-waiting’s leg got caught in the turbulent winds and the blades ripped through her flesh. At least it was just her leg; Brandon was not as lucky as she was. He took the full brunt of her spell. And Daniel, he just stood there. Whether it was because of fear or indifference, she didn’t know. A sigh bubbled from her throat as she stood in silence.

“Hey! Earth to the dodo brain!” She heard Kevyn yell.

Samantha snapped out of her daze and looked up at the dragon-tamer. “Oh! Sorry,” she apologized and shook her head. “I… I was just thinking about something.”

“If that something involves guilt then,” Kevyn shrugged. “Ask for forgiveness then.”

Samantha blinked. How did she know what she was thinking about? “But what if they don’t accept it?”

“That’s their choice. Forgiveness is a gift; it’s not something you can demand that they accept.”

“I suppose,” Samantha’s voice trailed.

The princess looked at her palms and then at her pendant and her ring. A part of her felt that she had relied too much on it. The pendant was a part of her; she had worn it ever since she had fled from Sofiene. Azaleth’s ring had also proved its use but also made her realize how she had constantly relied on it. The sudden jump of power, the ability to harness the elements more easily, and the sudden boost in her confidence, all of those things were because of two amulets that she had been wearing. While many people it would have been appealing to have all that power, to realize that all her talent was because of two trinkets caused her stomach to twist into knots.

“Hold on.” Samantha said.

Kevyn raised an eyebrow at her. Samantha ignored her puzzled look when she removed her trinkets. She took off the pendant of Sofiene and laid it on the side with the ring of Azaleth on one of the rocks. She stopped and stared at the jewellery at the moment. A void suddenly grew in her chest and her hands began to tremble. She bit her lower lip as anxiety filled her. Breathing deep one more time, Samantha turned to Kevyn and positioned to fight again.

“Let’s try this again.” Samantha said with her fists raised up.

Kevyn raised an eyebrow and folded her arms. “What the hell is this? Some dumb unlocking of the seal cliché or something?”

“I don’t want to rely on those anymore.”

“You never were, dumbass.”

“I was. But not in the magic way.”

“Ah, like a security blanket?”

“You can say that.”

The dragon-tamer then shrugged. “Yeah, makes sense I suppose. You wouldn’t wanna lug that big thing anyway. Someone could strangle you with it.”

Samantha nodded. She watched Kevyn’s movements carefully. She let her feet feel the vibrations in the ground and her ears listen to the wind. Her heart slowed down and all the other sounds save for hers and Kevyn’s died out. She took a deep breath and exhaled to calm herself. While her mana began to roil harder than before, the certainty that was once inside her was gone. The certainty that she could have easily knocked Kevyn off her feet with a gust of wind but instead, found herself completely naked without her jewellery. But I have to learn, she coaxed herself. Using the trinket was not getting her anywhere.

Here I go, Samantha lunged forward. Her right fist drawn back, Samantha prepared to punch Kevyn. The dragon-tamer ducked and slammed her knuckle into the princess’ stomach, causing her to cough. She reeled back and felt something dislodge from inside her. Ignoring it, she tried to kick her instead. Kevyn skidded with her back bent back right beneath her leg before springing up to tap her back with her knuckles. Samantha staggered forward and saw her left arm hanging limply. She tried to lift it but much to her dismay, it wouldn’t move. She winced. How did Kevyn do that? Panic filled her as she desperately tried to lift her left arm.

“Aaaah!” Samantha screamed and began waving her limp arm. “Help me! It doesn’t wanna move!”

Kevyn rolled her eyes and grabbed her wildly flailing right arm. “Alright! Alright! Quit waving your goddamned arm! You’re gonna throw your fucking arm off!”

“But I can’t move it!”

“I can see that.”

“How could you be so calm!?”

“Because I know how to fix it, stupid.”

Samantha whined. “Then fix it!” She continued waving her numb arm. She didn’t like the feeling. It was as if all the mana from it just stopped flowing into it.

“I would if you’d stop going fucking bananas!” Kevyn snapped. She grabbed Samantha by the shoulders. “If you start kicking up more of a fuss, I’m gonna blast your ass. So shut up.”

Samantha swallowed hard, remembering how Kevyn fired that large bolt of concentrated electricity. She immediately snapped her mouth shut and let the dragon-tamer handle it. She felt Kevyn spin her roughly and a punch on her back. Samantha gasped. Something inside her popped. Her arm no longer felt numb and all the missing mana flowed right back into her. Amazed, the princess looked at her arm become a rosy colour again and turned to Kevyn.

“How did you do that?” She asked.

“Do what? Make you into a rag doll?”

“That. And how did you fix it?”

Kevyn smirked. “It’s Mana Control. It requires complete control and knowledge of the Mana Circuits in your body.”

Samantha looked around. “But… don’t you need a –”

“—A teacher? Yeah, I did have a teacher.”

“Who?”

“Its name was Experience.”

Samantha frowned. “You’re telling me no one taught you?”

“Well, there was one.” Kevyn frowned for a moment. She shook her head. “Never mind. That’s too advanced for you. You might kill someone if you hit the wrong place.”

Samantha groaned. “If someone uses it against me, how do I stop it then!?”

“Don’t get hit then. You’re fault for not dodging.”

“That doesn’t make sense!”

“Life doesn’t make sense.”

“At least I try to make sense!”

“There are just some things you can’t make sense of and just take it as is.”

Samantha snapped. “Like what? Why a runaway like you isn’t facing her problems head on!?”

The moment she said that however, the skies suddenly got dark. Kevyn whipped around and she could have sworn blue lightning cracked in the young woman’s eyes. She could feel the sheer weight of Kevyn’s mana crashing on her shoulders. Fury danced in the young woman’s eyes and there was no explosion. There were only large flashes of light and dark rumbling sounds whirling around them. It was hot but unlike fire, it had a focused target. She swallowed hard. And unfortunately, that target was her.

She stepped back. “I…I…”

Kevyn said nothing until Blitzkrieg walked over to her and dropped its snout on her shoulder. It snapped Kevyn out of her cold trance as she patted her dragon. The skies turned blue again.

“Thanks. I needed that.” Kevyn cracked a small smile in front of her dragon.

Samantha couldn’t believe what she saw. She had seen people with a sinister stare or something more malicious. But it was something she had gotten used to. However, Kevyn had a different air. When she stared right at her, there was no malice. It was raw; a feeling she thought she only saw in killers: cold, apathetic, and completely focused on one thing and that one thing alone. Shivers shuddered down her spine; even though Kevyn said she had more mana than she did, a part of her knew that Kevyn could geld her where she stood. After all, Kevyn also pointed out something valid: she didn’t know how to use her power. Kevyn, on the other hand, did.

“I-I’m,” she forced out her words, only to stutter.

“It’s fine.” Kevyn dismissed it. “We should rest for now. We’re probably angrier than normal.”

Samantha agreed. She picked up her jewellery and carried it along, following after Kevyn down the mountain trail. The princess saw Blitzkrieg refuse to leave Kevyn’s side. She heard a few grunts and snorts before some crooning as if pleading for Kevyn to say something. The dragon-tamer however simply just patted her dragon with a small smile, shaking her head.

“I’m fine, bud.” Kevyn said. A chuckle bubbled from her throat. “I’m just a little exhausted.”

Blitzkrieg purred with a disbelieving snort.

“I’m fine.”

The dragon nudged her again.

“Really! I’m fine.”

Blitzkrieg scowled.

“Come on, bud,” Kevyn chuckled. “You’re not gonna keep this up all day, are you?”

The dragon gave her a look that said: I can and I will.

“Well, don’t. It’s nothing. Nobles can be a bit tactless anyway. It’s something to be expected from a noble brat.”

Samantha gawked. A noble brat! She glared at the dragon-tamer’s back and resisted the urge to throttle her. Resisted, because she knew that she couldn’t do it. If she took Kevyn to fight her, there was no way in Tartaros that she could win. Kevyn clearly knew hand-to-hand way better than she did. And the other thing that separated them both was that Kevyn did not hesitate to punch her lights out. A sigh bubbled from her throat as she shook her head.

I’m hopeless.

“Hey!” Kevyn’s voice snapped out of her thoughts.

Samantha blinked and looked up only to see Kevyn standing in front of her. The princess swallowed hard when her dark black eyes stared straight into Kevyn’s honey brown ones. She swallowed hard. Her palms became sweaty. She had half-expected the dragon-tamer to hit her. But instead, the dragon-tamer poked her forehead with a smirk.

“Quit your worrying. I’m fine.” Kevyn chuckled. “Surprised that a noble brat cares about a flat-chested savage.”

Samantha pouted. “I’m not worrying!”

“So says the one who’s been dazed out for a good two minutes when I’ve been calling you, dumbass.”

“I didn’t hear you!”

“Proof that you were worrying.”

“Was not!”

Kevyn shook her head and hiked her thumb over her shoulder. “You might want to check this view out.”

Samantha, huffing in annoyance, stalked past Kevyn and headed towards the ledge. The moment she reached it, her eyes widened at the sight before her. Her jaw dropped. She had never expected to see a sight so beautiful!

The sun began to set with its orange-golden hues fading behind the mountains. The skies turned chartreuse with a hint of pink and gold cloud ribbons drifting by. The silhouette of the mountains shaded by the sun had turned midnight blue. Even with the sun setting, the moon’s white face slowly began to appear despite the brightness. The winds no longer chilled her to the bone but instead kissed her skin with soothing warmth. She closed her eyes and felt the winds, the setting sun’s rays, and the moon’s emerging touch.

“Nice ain’t it? This is the place where almost all the mana meets up.” Kevyn explained.

Samantha blinked. “All the mana? What do you mean?”

“Different kinds of mana mean different natures. Different natures mean different elements. No two mana ribbons are the same. It’s rare to find a mana hub nowadays.”

“That’s true. The people of Machinos don’t use magic.”

“That’s a lie. They do.”

Samantha blinked. “How?”

“Where do you think they can get all that energy to sustain their lifestyle? Their gas-guzzling, their electricity burning, the water free-flowing – where do you think that all comes from?”

A rock sank in the princess’ stomach. “Mana.”

“And they draw it straight from the earth. They’re sucking the earth dry.”

“And if they run out?”

“Then they’ll drain it from magic users.”

“They wouldn’t!”

“Humans fight for self-preservation and destroy anything to ensure it.”

Samantha, as much as she wanted to deny it, knew what Kevyn said was true. Beatriz fought to kill and survive on the battlefield. Brandon stole from nobles to feed himself. Luke abandoned his ideal beliefs to fight and protect them. Her brothers killed people to get the throne. It was a vicious cycle that she couldn’t understand. But why did people have to kill? Wasn’t there a better way?

“I know this will sound naïve but,” Samantha shook her head. She asked. “Why do people have to kill?”

“It’s because we’re animals.”

“What?”

Kevyn shrugged. “If you think about it, humans are part of the Animal Kingdom. They evolved from animals. A famous theorist said they evolved from monkeys. Others say that they evolved from fish. But whether we like it or not, it’s a part of life.”

“That’s pretty morbid.”

“The strong survive and the weak die. The power of Natural Selection.”

“But… why can’t we just help one another survive?”

“That’s being idealistic.”

The word idealistic stung her hard. There was one person who she knew as idealistic. And, he paid the price. His choice to save her and the rest of the knights ended up demanding an extremely high price. She remembered how he trembled and teared up, realizing that he was going to die. The memory of his final moments he shared with Brandon before his captain impaled him on his sword made her clutch her dress near her chest. Samantha hung her head at the thought. Did that mean Luke’s ideal could never work?

“It’s hopeless then. We just have to keep killing each other.” Samantha sighed and sat down, hugging her knees. “To keep on surviving…”

“That’s only for humans.”

“What do you mean? We know that killing is bad!”

“But knowing is not necessarily the same as understanding now, is it?”

Samantha wanted to say something but chose not to. She hung her head in silence and looked at the golden horizon fade behind the shadowy silhouettes of the mountains. The shadow of the mountains grew as the lush green forests faded into the darkness. The princess sighed and looked over the mountains, wondering what Sofiene was like. How long had it been? Samantha asked herself. She hadn’t noticed how long she had been away. Her face fell. Her heart sank. A part of her longed for home.

“Anyway,” Kevyn walked towards the caverns. “We should be going. Things get more dangerous at night.”

Samantha nodded and followed after Kevyn. She looked back one more time at the setting sun. How long would it be before she got home? How long would she have to wait? She clenched her fists in frustration and bit her lower lip. She had spent her time on the mountains and for some strange reason, she felt a whole lot stronger. She could feel her mana rush through her veins and even when she had used the wind, it didn’t take that much effort out of her anymore.

But there was one thing that bugged her: where did Kevyn come from?

While Kevyn appeared to be human just like she was, the dragon-tamer never mentioned her family. Nothing either about where she came from. A frown marred her features as she followed after Kevyn into the caverns until she heard Kevyn’s footsteps stop.

“Blitzkrieg, lights.” Kevyn said.

Samantha heard a small shriek as lightning bolts shot through the darkness and lit up the room. Her eyes widened when she saw several stone chairs and stone tables with a hearth on the side. Blitzkrieg jumped in and sat itself on a large stone before letting out a stream of blue fire onto the ground. It crooned in delight before curling its tail around its body and folded its wings to rest. Samantha giggled and looked up to see a large ice stalactite hanging from the ceiling where water began to trickle down into an urn. Another thing she spotted was a chandelier hanging above her made from dragon scales. The chandelier had shell-shaped frames for each of the lights, all of them glowing blue.

“Wow, you eat dinner in here?” Samantha asked. She shook her head. “This place is beautiful.”

Kevyn chuckled. “Thanks, it took me awhile.”

Samantha nodded and asked. “Is it okay if I sit down?”

“Yeah go ahead. Make yourself at home.”

“Thanks.”

The princess walked over to a chair and made herself comfortable on a chair. Her arms draped and hung limply on the side and her legs squealed in relief. She hadn’t expected herself to climb up a plateau and fight. She hadn’t expected her body to be able to survive climbing the mountain let alone be able to fight Kevyn. However, a part of her was amazed by her improvements. She couldn’t believe that her senses had become that sensitive; going as far as detecting the vibrations on the ground from the ants that crawled. She looked at her hands and remembered the blast of wind she managed to create. She remembered creating that kind of wind only once. And like most of her times, it was anger fuelled.

Only this time, the wind she created was on her own conscious choice.

“You’re actually improving.” Kevyn chuckled as she began setting the table. “Last time, you couldn’t talk and your punch wouldn’t even hurt a cotton ball.”

Samantha frowned. “I never learned how to fight.”

“And now you did. At least you can now punch a flower.”

“A flower? I thought you said I’m improving!”

“I said you were but I said nothing about how much you have improved.”

Samantha scowled. “You’re horrible.”

“I know but I’m kidding.” Kevyn chuckled with a smirk, rolling her eyes and walking back to get some food that she left cooking. “You’ve improved. The first time I saw you, you were too spooked to do shit. Now, you actually have the balls to try and punch me. Not bad, Sugar Queen.”

Sugar Queen? Samantha frowned. “I’m not a Sugar Queen.”

“So says the one who’s wearing the shiny stuff.”

“Shiny stuff? Those are ancient relics!”

“Still shiny jewellery nonetheless. Not really useful unless, I use it.”

“For you?”

“Yeah, I can choke you with it by stuffing that ring into your mouth and strangling you with the chain of the pendant.”

Samantha shuddered. How could the dragon-tamer talk about something so morbid so calmly? The princess shook her head. “I’ll never get it.” She sighed. “How could you talk so calmly over something so morbid?”

“It’s simple, lady.” Kevyn scowled and placed a plate of filleted fish and noodles on the table. “It’s called being realistic and pragmatic.”

The princess shook her head and looked at the plates in front of her. “What kind of fish is that? I’ve never seen it before.”

“It’s a new fish that I managed to catch. It’s called a Parrot Fish apparently. They don’t normally show on these parts,” Kevyn explained and cut off a piece. “They’re soft and cotton in texture.” She gestured to Samantha. “Try it; you won’t normally get this in your fancy kitchens.”

Samantha blinked and looked at the white fish meat for a moment. It was filleted and braised in some brown onion stew. There were onion rings floating in the soup with a bit of peppercorns and some chopped garlic cloves. The sauce appeared to be clear as the sweet scent of broiled onions filled the air. On the other dish, she saw pasta. Unlike the pasta she was served in the castle, it was a simple dish. She saw chopped leaves of basil, oregano, rosemary, and some garlic mixed with a green oil. The pasta noodles didn’t look white but instead a brownish red colour. The noodles were tossed with the sauce and decorated with shiny, fresh cherry tomatoes.

The princess, staring at the fish for a moment, shrugged and took a fork to take a piece. The meat flaked off and when she took a bite, it was soft and melted into her mouth. Samantha gasped. Kevyn was right! While it wasn’t anything like crab or shrimp, the flavour was light and braised in an onion stew. She squealed in delight and took some more.

“I see you like it.” Kevyn chuckled as she poked a noodle. “Try the spiral noodles. It’s an herbal mix of rosemary, oregano, garlic, and basil. I tossed it a bit with some cherry tomatoes. I’m missing something though. Not sure what.”

Samantha poked a spiral noodle and put it in her mouth. She chewed for a moment, tasting the fresh herb-like taste. She shuddered for a moment, melting into her chair. The pungent taste of rosemary was countered by the sweet taste of basil and oregano. The powerful flavour of garlic gave the pasta more body and the juiciness of the tomato balanced the strong taste. But Kevyn was right. There was something missing. She smacked her lips for a bit before realizing what it was missing.

“You need cheese!” Samantha cried out. “Cheese always works.”

Kevyn paused for a moment and nodded. “Hm… possible.”

“You can only get that if you go to the city though.”

“I do go into the city.”

“Yeah to attack Machinos.”

“For a good reason.”

“That would be?”

Kevyn frowned and folded her arms. “Remember all the baby dragons you saw?”

Samantha recalled the time Kevyn brought her into the cavern where she saw baby dragons chittering and playing with one another. The memory warmed her heart and a smile curved up her face. They were flying around, nipping, and playing with one another without having a single care in a world.

“Yeah,” Samantha nodded. “Why?”

“Machinos storms these mountains and raids them. There was a time that Blitzkrieg and I went out for awhile. We went down to the city to just buy some food.” Kevyn explained. Her hand balled into fists. “It was only then I heard explosions and gunshots. Blitzkrieg may have been an Alastreus, one of the fastest dragons alive. But the time we got there… it was too late.”

Samantha’s eyes widened. “They were slaughtered?”

“Majority of them.” Kevyn said. “There were a few that survived but grew up with handicaps. When I got there, the soldiers were bringing the dragons back to Machinos. On their way back, I saw them snap the necks of the rowdy baby dragons with their big beefy hands. I remembered how they cried and screamed before their bodies went limp. The soldiers threw their bodies carelessly into the cart, guffawing at the pile of corpses. The moment I saw that, something in me snapped. I couldn’t live with it. So, I did what I had to do.”

“Wh-what did you do?”

“Like what any leader would do. A leader protects her own. I slaughtered them all.”

Samantha swallowed hard. The air around her died and she could have sworn that the blue flames in the chandelier dimmed. Kevyn’s expression fell with cold fury dancing in her eyes. The princess could feel her anger. But it wasn’t anything explosive. It was cold, vindictive, and completely indifferent to humans. It was as if, the dragon-tamer’s eyes showed no mercy to any human she came across. The princess looked at Blitzkrieg who had also a mournful look on its face. Her heart sank at the thought. No wonder Kevyn hated humans so much. But, Samantha realized. Kevyn herself was human.

“But aren’t you human too?” Samantha asked.

Kevyn nodded. “Biologically, yes. I walk on two’s, wear clothes, speak human tongue – yes, I am human. But,” she gave Samantha a determined look. “My heart and soul are that of a dragon. That will never change.”

The princess nodded. But it was also Kevyn’s words that rang true in her mind. A leader protects her own, Samantha repeated to herself. The ideal of being able to protect her people, it was the ideal image of a queen. She knew politics; there were many things she learned from books. But nothing in the library ever taught her how to fight or how to listen to the elements using her own senses. It was amazing!

“I see,” Samantha nodded. She exhaled sharply. “I’m wondering though where they could be.”

Kevyn raised an eyebrow. “Who are you looking for?”

“My knights. The ones who have been with me throughout everything.”

“They shouldn’t be too hard to find. Especially if one of them’s a magic user.”

“Really?”

Kevyn chuckled and nodded. “What I’m about to show you is a more advanced technique. It’s something I learned by watching the water flow and watching the water dragons play in the water.”

Samantha blinked. “And what would that be?”

For a moment, Samantha could have sworn that Kevyn’s eyes twinkled with a cocky light. The dragon-tamer smirked at her and leaned on her elbows against the table.

“Ever heard of Omnivision?”

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