Daniel scouted the city with only his pistols in his holsters. Bringing the Assault/Sniper Rifle might cause a panic, he thought himself. As he left the house, Beatriz and Brandon were still resting from the evening shift. He didn’t mind that he scouted the city alone. In fact, he preferred doing things alone. Less drama to deal with, he thought to himself. Daniel closed the door behind him and made his way up the ladder.
He climbed up the ladder leading up to the roof, looking for a vantage point. As a scout, he needed a place where he could see everything in the city. As he scaled up the ladder, Daniel made his way through the roof and looked around him. The white smoke rose from the chimneys of the different roofs and the screeching and howling of the bullet train echoed through the grey skies. He could hear the loud honking horns and the screeching tires of different vehicles. A sigh escaped his throat as he sat himself on the ledge. As long as he had a good view, he didn’t have too much.
The agent pulled out a small gadget out of his pocket. It was rectangular in shape flat with the thickness of a finger with a black case. He pressed a button and he stuck an earbud in his ear. Daniel winced from the static crackling through his ear as he adjusted the signal. He brushed his finger across the screen to adjust the strength of the signal. Voices started echoing in his earbud as he tried to listen in the conversation.
“Did you hear? The Queen passed away.” He heard a male voice say.
“That’s terrible.” A female voice gasped. “Has anyone heard from Prince Haydyn?”
“No but now, Prince Reuben’s on the throne.”
“That stupid bastard, no respect for his brother.”
“How could he have any? Nobody gave it to him ages ago!”
Daniel frowned. Reuben was on the throne. And as long as he demanded for Samantha, they weren’t safe. He wasn’t safe. His fists clenched tightly into a fist. His knuckles paled and he bit his lower lip. The agent resisted the urge to grind his teeth; as much as he wanted to demand information off the bat, he couldn’t. As long as the Sentinels were roaming around, he won’t have an easy time. Unlike humans, Sentinels could easily confirm who he was without having to move. Tch, Daniel scowled. Their security was fool-proof.
Or at least if he did it that way.
There was one other way but asking a friend and a few favours might reveal his location. He clucked his tongue; there had to be a way in! If he made his way in, procuring a vehicle wouldn’t be so hard and finding Samantha would be a thousand times easier.
He sailed onto another roof and made his way towards one of the steel beams. Daniel looked down to see many of Machinos’ citizens strolling around with their eyes glued to their gadgets. The agent squinted a little to take a look at the news and used his hearing aid to listen in to the conversations. With a few swipes on his gadget’s screen, he increased the volume and the strength of his device’s antennae.
“We interrupt this program for this breaking news: Prince Reuben has demanded the return of his bride, Lady Samantha Machinos –”
“—Samantha Machinos my ass,” Daniel grumbled. “They’re not even married in the eyes of Deus!”
“The prince has offered a hefty amount of 50,000 gold pieces to those who find her. There is also a 10,000 gold piece reward for any intel and information for his missing lady and 50,000 gold pieces to the one who finds her.”
Daniel growled and shut off the receptor before shoving it in his pocket. What a preposterous thought, the agent scowled. Although he didn’t confront Reuben personally or did he ever speak to him in a friendly conversation, the sight he saw at the citadel was good enough. He saw the dead look in Samantha’s eyes. All her bubbly, cheerful, and optimism faded from her eyes. Her arms and legs flopped onto the ground, limp. He also remembered how Brandon and Beatriz didn’t hesitate to attack. Both knights lunged at the prince with their weapons drawn. Brandon’s lavender eyes glittered with a cold fury while Beatriz screamed bloody murder. It was a sight to behold. The two famed knights, Brandon Hawthorne of the Dancing Blades and the last Dark Knight Beatriz Odissea unleashing a tandem of fury like no other.
Daniel stood up and walked away from his perch before making his way towards a shed. The agent opened the door and descended through the dark stairwell with only the echoes of his footsteps being his only companion. He remembered how he was once afraid of the sound of footsteps descending down the staircase. It was once the knell for many from his village. He remembered how radical cultists of the Odissea Dynasty would randomly break into the jail cells before taking them away. First, they demanded for all the women. Afraid, he didn’t say anything. That was the last time he saw his mother and his sister-in-law. Next, they came for those who knew magic and alchemy. He didn’t speak as his eldest brother was taken away. Next, they asked for all the youngest ones. His youngest brother was taken away and he didn’t do anything. When they came for him, it was then he resigned to his fate.
For no one would speak up for him, the same way he didn’t for others.
He made his way down the stairwell and down to the streets. Daniel pat the back of his shirt to check for his pistols. He also checked his belt bag that held all his necessities. The agent unzipped the bag and searched for all his gadgets – multi-functional knives, medicines, bandages, tracking devices, and smoke bombs. As long as he had his gadgets, Daniel knew he would survive just fine.
The agent slipped through the crowds while avoiding the sight of the Sentinels. He ducked the lasers tracking him down before sneaking behind the trucks. As long as I can dodge the laser, Daniel ducked and hid behind the dumpsters. He didn’t want to risk his position.
“Why slink around like a murderer, Dan?” A voice chuckled.
Daniel, tensed up, turned around with his pistol drawn. The moment he pulled out the gun, the person behind yelped and held her hands up in the air.
“Whoa, no need to panic!” The girl laughed. “It’s just me!”
Daniel groaned and put his gun back in his pants. “Deus’ sake, Janelle! Don’t do that!”
Janelle chuckled with a smile. “Aww, I was just teasing you.”
Daniel knew Janelle all the way back during his training days. She first appeared to him as a lanky girl, extremely skinny as if she had not eaten for two weeks. Despite her skinny figure, Janelle had a perpetually sweet expression with shining blue eyes and ginger red hair. When she hit puberty, she had developed voluptuous curves and curvaceous limbs. Training as an agent built and toned her limbs. Most of his classmates told him the kind of dreams they had of her every night. He shuddered at what they told him. But what he felt for her was a well-guarded secret.
“I know but I’m undercover right now,” Daniel scowled.
Janelle folded her arms with a raise of an eyebrow. “So I’ve heard. A friend of yours told me.”
“Yeah, so do you understand the level of caution of this mission!?”
“I do. I’m just wondering why you’re not acting natural.”
Daniel scoffed. “If I did, the Sentinels would shoot me.”
“All the more they’ll catch you where you are. They have hormone trackers; they can tell you’re hiding something via your circadian rhythms and your increased levels of cortisol.”
“They can do that?”
“Duh, your heartbeat’s racing. They can at least lock on that.”
Daniel sighed and shoved his hands in his pockets, relaxing his stance. “I suppose. But I’m trying to get information.”
“I need intel on the Machinos political system.”
“Why would you be looking into that?”
Daniel frowned. “It’s because he asked for it.”
“He did, now did he?” Janelle chuckled. She shrugged. “Well, he did want to keep track of what was happening. As far as he’s concerned, you’ve done pretty well.”
“Thanks.” Daniel ran his fingers through his hair. “It’s not easy switching every few minutes.”
“True. Balancing relationships can be hard work.”
“You can say that again.”
Janelle waved her hand. “Anyway, go ask Lenard for help. After all, what better way to use grief as a form of motivation?”
Daniel nodded. Suddenly, he realized. How did she know who Lenard was? Before he could ask, the ginger-haired girl already dove into the crowd. As Janelle disappeared into the crowd, he dove into the alleyways. He slipped past the people and went to the slums, heading to Lenard’s place. He remembered how he shot the speakers in frustration. Who wouldn’t? The man, despite sounding as if he were in his twenties, had the emotional maturity that of a five year old. He ignored Brandon’s explanations and went on blaming the pirate.
Then again, Janelle was right. Grief clouded the mind and could serve as a powerful motivator. It was easy; offer the chance and let Lenard do the rest of the work. After all, if Brandon was right on how connected Lenard was to the mainframe, getting through the security system wouldn’t be hard. All he had to do was to tell the truth with a bit of interpolation. After all, History was told in the eyes of the victors. Not those who were defeated.
He journeyed deeper into the slums where the people living there stared at him. Many of them were coated in dirt and he could see the sores covering their skin. Their nails, filthy from all the toil, were broken and cracked beyond recognition. Dried blood covered their nail beds with some of their fingers showing signs of gangrene. Their eyes stared at him but without any true focus, showing no signs of life or motivation. Daniel walked past the dead souls that walked the street and towards the alleyway where Lenard stayed.
Although he didn’t know exactly where Lenard lived, the best place to start was at the scene of the meeting. If he understood it right, Lenard would at least have a wired or a receptor that received a signal from where he was. From there, Daniel could just track it with one of the devices. A device he picked up from Militaris, he never expected that gadgets from the city that feared transparency the most would have such a powerful probing device.
The moment he reached the area, he found himself in the middle of dilapidated structures. The buildings were uninhabited with the chilly air licking his skin. Daniel clenched his fingers tightly and took deep breaths. I am not afraid, Daniel reminded himself. He had faced worse. He had seen worse. And if he was triggered by just empty buildings, he’d be ashamed of himself.
Suddenly, he heard something crackling. “You’re back again.”
Daniel recognized the voice, nodding. “Yes, I’m back.”
“Where’s that bastard?”
“If you mean Brandon then, he’s not with me. And, I found out something about Luke.”
The speaker fell silent. “What?”
“Luke may be dead but I found his killer.”
“You… you’re lying!”
So I am, Daniel thought to himself but shook the thought away immediately. “Brandon revealed to me the location and it turns out this particular person was working with a certain someone.”
“Who is this certain someone? What does this got to do with me!?”
“Don’t you want to avenge Luke? After all, he was your best friend.”
Daniel hated playing on people’s feelings but to get what he needed, he had no choice. A sigh bubbled from his throat. “Yeah, I found the person.”
The speaker exploded to life. “Who is it!? Who!? Tell me! TELL ME EVERYTHING!”
Daniel nearly jumped back, surprised by Lenard’s enthusiasm. “Well,” – he quickly racked his brains for a story. “Brandon said that Luke bought him and the princess time to escape.”
“Princess?” Lenard gasped. “What princess?” He almost roared. “Brandon didn’t tell me anything about a princess!”
Yes he did, you fool! Daniel wanted to scream but chose not to. “Well, Luke and Brandon were trying to protect a princess on their way here. It turns out that the one who killed Luke was a knight. And not just any knight, a Machinos Gear.”
“A Machinos Gear? Why? They’re supposed to elite knights, not assassins!”
“The Elite knights can do all sorts of things especially if, they’re champions of that particular lord and lady.”
Daniel couldn’t believe how easy it was becoming to trick Lenard. As much as the lies felt like they were being ripped from his throat, he managed to keep a calm and steady voice. He remembered how Brandon dealt with Lenard; even with the man lashing out at him, the pirate kept a steady and calm voice. He breathed deep again and shook his head.
“Think about it: Prince Reuben has been on a manhunt for a princess. Haven’t you heard the news?”
Lenard grunted. “Yeah, some princess named Samantha. So what?”
“Your best friend swore to protect her with his life. He and Brandon swore.”
“And Brandon swore to protect him. He should have been the one dead.”
Daniel clenched his fists tight, controlling his anger. How could a former comrade say that about his former comrade? He took deep breaths again and forced down his twitching. The agent fought every urge to scream at Lenard. But now’s not the time for that, his mind chided him. He had to keep calm if he wanted Lenard to do what he wanted to do.
“It wasn’t Brandon’s fault that he died,” Daniel added. “In fact, if Brandon did not do what he did, Luke would have been turned into a mindless puppet for Machinos.”
Lenard gasped. “What!?”
“Prince Reuben from what I heard wanted to turn Luke into a mindless robot. He wanted to exploit the fact that Luke had an amazing power.”
“Yeah, his ability to control plants. I know. He’s one of the last of his race.”
“The thing is – are you really going to let Reuben get away with that kind of plan for Luke?”
“Of course not!” Lenard protested hotly.
Daniel smirked; now Lenard was exactly where he wanted him. “I know how to get to Reuben but I need your help. I can’t get in there without you.”
“What do you need me to do?” Lenard asked eagerly. “I’ll do anything!”
“I need you to hack into the citadel’s security. I need a way in so we can lure out Prince Reuben and I’m in dire need of an airship.”
“So we can easily bomb the citadel,” Daniel quickly said. The hell with that, you may as well just let Beatriz run loose. “After all, once we storm the citadel – the Sentinels are going to come looking for us.”
“But why?” Lenard asked.
“It’s because we did – or rather – we’re about to do something wrong.”
“What we’re about to do is revolt against the prince.”
“Why are we revolting?”
“Because he killed Luke and raped the princess?”
So much for eliciting concern, Daniel frowned. He didn’t expect Lenard to have such a flat affect. When the man had lashed out at Brandon, it was like listening to a toddler scream about a broken toy. But now that he was talking to him, his emotions seemed to have gone down the drain. A sigh bubbled from his throat and he shook his head. This is gonna take awhile, Daniel groaned.
Samantha gasped and panted for air. She didn’t expect holding and compressing her mana between her palms consciously would be mentally exhausting. Her chest burned. Her head throbbed and her arms shuddered in pain. She could feel every vein in her arms wince and scream in pain. But she couldn’t stop. Not when the compressed mana in her hands were enough to carve a hole through a mountain range.
“Are we done yet!?” Samantha wailed. She could feel her muscles in her thighs stretch from her splitting into a full 180 degrees. “Kevyn, please tell me we’re almost done!”
The dragon-tamer performed the same feat except her mana shimmered blue and crackled. Her eyes were closed as she balanced both her legs on two rocks. Her breathing was quiet and slow despite her legs being forced to stretch a full 180 degrees.
“Kevyn, don’t ignore me!” Samantha whined. “Can we please stop!? My legs hurt!”
“If you can’t concentrate and create a spell while in pain then, you can’t do squat on the battlefield.” Kevyn scowled. “Quit whining and more concentrating and moulding!”
The princess gawked and threw a pleading glance to the Alastreus. “Blitzkrieg, do something!”
The Alastreus snorted and snickered at her before resting its head on its legs, crooning and falling asleep.
“Thanks for the help!” Samantha rolled her eyes in sarcasm. “How long are we going to do this?”
“Until you quit your goddamn whining,” Kevyn snorted.
Samantha groaned and remained silent. She then decided to focus on the task at hand, realizing that Kevyn wasn’t going to change her mind. The princess then focused on the ball of mana that she had begun to compress in her hands. A basic exercise, Kevyn called it. All it took was a load of concentration which was hard as is. Then, Kevyn even had her split a full 180 degree split while balancing her feet on two flat rocks. Such a great idea, Samantha groaned. She blinked in surprise. The princess had never expected such a thought from herself. She turned to Kevyn who had done the exercise without complaint and even manipulated a more volatile element. That’s what she gets for staying alone, Samantha thought to herself.
The princess winced in pain from the training but she had to admit, the three days with Kevyn made her a whole lot stronger. If she was still with her knights and in the castle, the slightest difficulty would have deterred her. When it came to fighting, she left it in Beatriz’s and Brandon’s hands. Luke always had a clever way to get out of battles and Daniel; she hadn’t seen enough to see how he could work with her knights. In hind sight, it was only now she noticed how Beatriz and Brandon refused to trust him. They put him under a more scrutinizing eye. Then again, she thought to herself. Combat-skill wise, Brandon and Beatriz were deadly weapons by themselves. Brandon’s dancing blades and his finesse were already a sight to behold and Beatriz ploughed through enemies as if they were never a match for her to begin with. She shook her head. If she was going to keep up with them, she had to work hard and break her limit.
And Kevyn had every intention in making her breaking her limit.
Her body screamed in pain after all the exercises Kevyn made her do. The first one wasn’t so bad. It was meditation on the mountain top while listening to the wind and water. She remembered how Kevyn told her to calm down and relax. Listen to the sounds of nature, she said. Samantha took a deep breath and continued to focus.
“So, what exactly are we doing?” Samantha asked. She looked at the ball. “Are we going to do this all day?”
“Nope,” Kevyn said. “Or maybe we might. That depends how fast you can figure it out.”
“Figure out what?”
“I’m not going to spoonfeed you. Figure it out.”
“Can’t you at least explain it to me?”
“That would be spoonfeeding.”
“No, it would be enlightening me!”
Kevyn scoffed. “That would make it too easy.”
Samantha groaned and whined. “If this is all about mana control then, I know exactly how to control my mana!”
“Sure you do,” Kevyn rolled her eyes. She sneered at the sight of Samantha’s ball of mana. “Your mana barely looks like a ball of mana. It looks like some clay ball that you pulled out of your ass.”
Samantha pouted and returned back to controlling her mana. She took deep breaths and recalled all the classes she had back in Xychosia. Lady Kara and Lady Joy were her teachers for basic magic 101. She remembered how they did something similar except hers was based on reading the books. She remembered how they would explain the theories of magic to her and show her by demonstrating it to her. When it came to the written exams, it was easy to ace. But now that she had to apply the theory, it was a lot harder than she thought.
Concentrate and follow the flow of mana, the princess chanted to herself. She closed her eyes and let the energy flow through her veins. She recalled the time Brandon and her were in the Arachnos Caverns. Somehow, the energy flowing all around the cavern fuelled her power. All she had to do was remember how Queen Regina performed her Fireball spell and poof, it happened. The results were beyond her expectations; the fireballs were bigger than normal and the impact created such a powerful knockback that it nearly sent the giant falling down.
However, there was something amiss. Even with her knowing the theory of how to create the magic, she felt lost. It was as if her mind was completely separated from her body. It was like watching from another window, observing her body perform the feat for her. A void grew inside her. An emptiness dropped into the pits of her stomach as her arms lost all the energy to keep the ball contained. The only thing that held the mana in was her sheer willpower.
It’s so weird, she thought to herself. While Kevyn did train her, there was something missing. Even with her voice returning and her mana flowing back properly, there was something missing. She looked at her breast and focused in on the feeling. It felt that she had plunged deep into a forest in the darkest of nights with nothing to light her way.
“Hey Kevyn,” Samantha asked.
“Did you ever feel lost?”
“Like, you were following something and then it suddenly goes poof.”
Kevyn thought for a moment before shrugging. “A few times.”
“How did you find your way? Did anyone help you?”
“The dragons did.”
“Oh,” Samantha’s voice trailed away.
“But guidance can only do so much. In the end, I was the one who chose to make my own way. People can give you things but it’s your choice whether or not to follow.”
Samantha nodded silently. She looked at the pendant that hung on her neck. What exactly was she fighting for? Did she really want to fight for Sofiene’s future? It was a question that was always answered by other people. They always said it was her right to the throne. But with what Kevyn said, another question bothered her: who really had the right to decide what belongs to whomever?
“So, what led you to the dragons?” Samantha asked. “Don’t you miss your family?”
Kevyn shook her head. “Nope.”
“Not even a little?”
“… For awhile, I did.”
Samantha nodded. “Can you tell me about them? I… I want to know more about you. It’s kind of unfair that you know more about me than I do you.”
For a moment, the dragon-tamer seemed to pause. “It’s not a glamorous story,” Kevyn admitted mildly. “It’s just a disagreement that escalated. That’s it.”
Seeing that Kevyn refused to drop anymore information, Samantha decided to keep it at that. The princess remembered the comment she threw at Kevyn that nearly got her gelded where she stood. The moment she saw the stormy grey skies and blue lightning flash in the dragon-tamer’s eyes, true fear swallowed her entire being. It was for the first time that she was sure that she came face to face with Death. But I’ve gone through that so many times, she thought. She shouldn’t have that fear. She had seen villagers dismembered, disembowelled, raped, and violated. Why was she afraid now? Soldiers threatened to do the same thing to her. But she didn’t feel like she faced Death. Or maybe I did, Samantha grimly thought. Suddenly, the image of her dark knight flashed in her mind. Bea? She thought. What did she have to do with it? Her blood froze when she came to a chilling realization: everything had to do with it.
She never realized how Beatriz had easily neutralized that fear. Because the Dark Knight’s mana dwarfed anybody who dared to oppose her, she had no reason to feel that fear and despair. But the moment Beatriz disappeared, she remembered how nervous she was when she faced Prince Reuben alone. While verbal sparring wasn’t a problem, it was the fact that he had used underhanded tactics to get to her. If Beatriz and Brandon were standing with her, Reuben would have thought twice.
No, he wouldn’t have. Samantha shook her head. She looked at her pendant and the ring on her finger. Despite all the power she allegedly had, she still didn’t have the guts to stop Reuben from violating her. Another instance was when she could do nothing when Bianca rammed her blade into her abdomen. She couldn’t do anything. No matter how much power she had, Bianca and Reuben still managed to pummel her down and damage her. Images of the rape flashed through her mind as she yelped. The realization of her being damaged goods flashed before her again. Tears streamed from her eyes as her concentration died out and the ball of mana disappeared.
“C-Can I… Can I really do it?” She asked no one in particular. “Can I really take a life…?”
Noticing that her wind ball had been snuffed out, Kevyn stopped her meditation and gathered herself up. Much to the princess’ surprise, Kevyn stood up and faced her with a stern look.
“There are some who really can’t take it.” Kevyn shook her head. “But that’s okay; that just means you’re a decent human being.”
Samantha raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“If you can choose a logical reason as to why not to take a life then, you just became more human than anyone else.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Kevyn shrugged. “Think of it this way: why do most people kill?”
Samantha pondered for a moment before shaking her head. “For a variety of reasons. There’s power, revenge, lust, endless greed, fear –”
“—Good, now that you know that – what’s the one thing in common they all have?”
“Uh… they all end up with bloodshed?”
“Yes, and what else?”
Samantha pondered for a moment. All reasons pushed people to kill one another. She saw that first hand. The civil war in Sofiene was proof of that. She remembered how people howled and cheered when her knights were thrown into a pit to fight a bunch of creatures. Even if Luke was a little boy, they didn’t seem to care. She thought long and hard. What could possibly be the reason why? None of it made sense to her at all! Suddenly, she froze. What if it was because it didn’t make sense?
“They all don’t make sense?” Samantha said.
“Exactly. The lack of rationale is what leads to those things.”
Kevyn nodded. “Say for example, power. People can get drunk on that. Anyone can. You, me, your best friend, heck – even parents can get drunk on power. Humans are that vulnerable. That’s why I hate humans.”
“You’re human yourself!” Samantha pointed out. “Don’t you make mistakes too!?”
“I do. But, there are people who refuse to admit their own mistakes and narcissistically believe that they are always right.”
The moment she heard Kevyn say those words, she saw the look on her face. The dragon-tamer no longer had her cocky and smirking expression. Instead, it appeared crestfallen expression. She could see a haunted look in her eyes. While Beatriz’s eyes were haunted by war crimes, Kevyn’s eyes appeared to be haunted by guilt. But Beatriz never felt guilty or the need to atone. Kevyn on the other hand refused to talk about it. She remembered the time Kevyn nearly gelded her for mentioning something about “running away”. What was that about?
However, she decided to not press. “So, wait – the meditation was to control our mana?”
Kevyn nodded. “Yeap, control’s the first thing you have to learn.”
“Okay, so what’s next?”
The dragon-tamer looked around for a moment before picking up a stone. “Since you know how to control your mana, I want you to channel your mana into the rock.”
Samantha blinked and took the pebble from Kevyn’s hand. She examined the little stone in her palm and looked up at Kevyn. “Do I do it now?”
“Within this millennium would be nice,” Kevyn smirked with a fold of her arms.
“Sheesh, there’s no need to be snarky about it.”
“I’m always snarky. It keeps people on their toes.”
The princess sighed. With a shake of her head, she cupped the pebble in her palm and closed her eyes. Recalling how she concentrated her mana in her palms, she focused it into the stone. Samantha remembered how she focused the energy all into her pendant to create a violent shredding wind that would tear Reuben apart. The principle should be about the same, she thought to herself. Slowly, she began to exert more and more mana into the pebble. Different sensations shot through the stone. A soothing feeling washed her hand with a warm touch. Her lungs relaxed and the pebble seemed to vibrate in her palm.
“Wow, fuck me.” She suddenly heard Kevyn say.
Samantha snapped out of her trance. “What?”
“You can control all.”
“All elements? That’s crazy!”
“Well, you just called yourself crazy.”
“No I didn’t! I can’t control all!”
Kevyn shrugged. “Okay fine rephrase: you have an affinity to all the elements.”
Samantha gawked; that was impossible! “That’s impossible! No one’s been able to do that!”
“Oh yeah? Think I’m lying?” Kevyn pointed at the pebble in her hands. “Check your rock.”
The princess looked down only to see that Kevyn was right. The rock had small cracks but from each of the cracks, different auras seemed to glow from it. A red ribbon stream hissed and burned parts of the rock into ash. Another portion of the rock was wet and another crack of the rock had a grey stream of mana floating into the air. Her eyes widened. Her mana had that many colours!? That’s impossible, she shook her head vehemently in admonishment.
“Now you believe me?” Kevyn folded her arm with a smirk. She raised an eyebrow. “This is the fun part: you get to choose what element to start with.”
Samantha blinked. “Really?”
“Yeah and the first thing you have to do is ditch everything you picked up from sitting on a desk and burying your head in a book.”
“What? Don’t believe me?”
“Does that really work?” Samantha raised an eyebrow. “I’m starting to doubt your training methods.”
“It’s worked for me. It can work for you. We’ll just wing it as we go along.”
You better be sure, Samantha frowned in her mind. She nodded. “Okay, let’s start with Water.”
“Alright,” Kevyn smirked. “We’re gonna have to take a little swim.”
“Um, we’re in the mountains and the pond of water you threw me in isn’t deep enough.”
“We’re not going diving. Knee-deep should be good. Y’know, just for you to know water.”
The princess nodded. “But doesn’t Water also come from the air? Like, it’s present there?”
“It’s possible. But let’s start with pure form first before deriving it from another element. Splitting elements isn’t funny.”
Samantha nodded. Fair enough, she thought. The princess followed after the dragon-tamer as they made their way towards the spring that Kevyn flung her into the first time. After Kevyn helped her fight her trauma, somehow a spark ignited inside her. A smile curved up her lips as she looked at her palm. The mana began to mould and dance based on her intention. She danced her fingers around to see blue mana whipping from her fingers. Her dark eyes watched the ribbons in amazement. She had never felt so free before. What she may have been performing may have not been a rudimentary spell but it somehow gave her a better control on things.
The two women reached the crystal blue spring surrounded by several mountains. It was only now she had time to appreciate how beautiful it was. The crystal blue waters reflected the stones below. Flowers that never grew in Xychosia such as Jasmines and Stargazers bloomed at one side. Above the spring, a tall Narra tree grew above them with orchids growing from its trunk. It’s a literal spring paradise, Samantha realized. She smiled and relished the view until she noticed Kevyn kicking off her shoes and rolling up her pants.
“Okay, so what do we do from here?” Samantha asked.
Kevyn pointed to her pants and shoes. “Ditch the shoes and roll up the pants. You’re gonna need full skin contact.”
“So I can feel the mana in the water?”
“Wow, you’re catching pretty quickly.”
I have to if I have to deal with your insane, unorthodox methods. Samantha chuckled at the thought and followed suit. She kicked off her shoes only to spot the scars from the stones that cut through her flesh. She winced for a moment as the sweat from her shoes permeated the air with a raunchy smell. Samantha shuddered; when was the last time she took a decent shower? She brushed the smell aside; this was the wilderness. She should have gotten used to it by now!
She rolled up her pants and stepped in the water to face Kevyn. “What do we do now?”
“Remember the blue mana ribbon?” Kevyn asked.
“Use it to call the water.”
“Sorry, wrong word. Rather, use the ribbon to pull the water.”
Samantha nodded. Use the ribbon to pull the water, she chanted to herself. Samantha closed her eyes and cast all that she had learned from the books. If the books were what held her back then, she had to abandon it. All those times she panicked while casting – it was because the book never taught her how to use them in actual situation. But with Kevyn teaching her, she started seeing the connection. How she had pulled the wind into her pendant, how she compressed all the heat in the caverns beneath Spinner’s Forest – it made sense.
She took a deep breath and focused her mind on the blue stream of mana. The ribbon appeared in the darkness and the soothing feeling filled her fingertips. Soon, she felt the tug and flow of the water. It was smooth but relentless, flowing wherever it wanted to go. The cool waters soothed her legs as she raised her arms a bit. The moment she opened her eyes, Samantha saw a large wave suspended in mid-air. She gawked and saw Kevyn smirked.
“Good, you got that part.” Kevyn chuckled. “Now, try moulding.”
“Anything. A cow, a dog, a ball, a person – heck, you can make it into a weapon.”
Samantha nodded. “Am I supposed to hold it or do I have to freeze it?”
“Let’s do holding first. We’ll do elemental subgroups later.”
The princess nodded and recalled her test in moulding the ball of mana. If what Kevyn said was right, the principle would be the same. She created a large circle in the air using her hands and the water followed where her arms moved. No need for words, Samantha told herself. Water is a fluid element, Lady Joy once told her. Water cannot be bent to one’s will but its path could be controlled. She reflected on those words and created a pathway for the water to flow. Soon, she then began to compress the water which suddenly started the violently rumble.
“Ah, what’s happening!?” Samantha yelped.
“Too much pressure,” Kevyn told her. “You’re using too much mana.”
“But I thought it took heat to make water boil!”
“Heat is not the necessary thing to make water boil. It’s the pressure exerted. Lessen it. You’re compressing the water too fast.”
Samantha nodded and loosened the pressure. Much to her amazement, the water stopped boiling. It instead swirled around and moulded itself into a ball. While the water was still rippling, she contained it in its form.
“Basic rule of Water: water cannot be bent nor can it be controlled.” Kevyn said.
“Only its pathway can be controlled,” Samantha finished and nodded. “I know.”
“Alright,” Kevyn, nodding, drew out electricity from the air. “Let’s do basics. Mould the water into anything and I’m gonna attack you.”
Samantha paled. “Wait, what!?”
“Relax, I won’t kill you.”
“But water conducts electricity!”
“And you’re pushing through with it, why!?”
Kevyn narrowed her eyes. “So that you’ll learn how to move…!”
The moment Kevyn finished her statement, she lunged at Samantha. The princess yelped and broke the sphere to throw a wave of water in front of her. She waited for the blow only to never feel it. Much to her surprise, nothing hit her. She looked up in surprise as the water threw the electric charge aside. Her eyes widened; water could do that!? I always had to chant the spell for full power, Samantha thought. But now, she had no need. She looked at Kevyn who had a serious look on her face. Without Beatriz and Brandon, she now had to fight on her own.
Samantha steeled herself and pulled the water to cover her. The water exploded and hissed into steam when the electricity came in contact. Kevyn jumped back and shot lightning bolts again while dancing around to compress all the lightning beams into one large laser. Samantha yelped and dropped the water as the laser came crashing down with a screech. The lightning cleaved straight through the stone and Samantha found herself defenceless. Calm down, Samantha reminded herself. She looked to the water again and used the blue mana ribbons to call the water to her. More lightning crackled and fizzled in her face as she moulded it into a ball and flung it at the dragon-tamer. Kevyn sidestepped and let the water ball zoom past her before blasted a rock into tiny debris. Samantha’s eyes widened. She didn’t expect the water ball to be that painful.
“Damn,” Kevyn whistled and shook her head. “That could have blown me in half!”
Samantha shook her head. “I-I-I…”
“Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it right! Don’t hesitate! Commit!”
Samantha nodded and imagined moulding the water again. This time, the water engulfed and wrapped around her entire arm. She remembered how compressing the water with too much pressure caused the water to boil. Now wouldn’t that hurt, Samantha thought. She focused on that image and compressed all the water covering her arm until she noticed that the water began vibrating in vicious speeds.
I’m doing it! Samantha exclaimed in delight. When Kevyn charged at her again, Samantha stood up from the water and met her head on. The water splashed against her blouse and caused her clothes to cling to her skin. But that didn’t stop her. Letting out a wild battle cry, she charged at Kevyn and swung her fist. Kevyn ducked and tried to kick her but Samantha jumped to the side to hit her with her water blade. Kevyn caught her arm with her bare hand, wincing as Samantha pushed all her weight onto the blade. She then noticed how the water’s vibrations sharpened the water and turned it into a blade.
“Not bad,” Kevyn smirked and winced a bit. “You’re getting a little tougher now.”
Samantha shrugged. “I try.”
“Alright! Let’s see how long you can hold that up!”
Kevyn attempted to kick her again but the princess brought up her leg to block the dragon-tamer’s body shot. She winced at the impact but proceeded to try and slug the dragon-tamer instead. She called the water again and splashed it straight into Kevyn’s face. The other woman staggered back and coughed, gasping from the water that shot through her nostrils. Seeing this as her chance, Samantha controlled the pathways in the pool. Soon, the water began swirling and whirling around her until started creating a whirlpool. She flicked her arms up into the air and the whirlpool shot her up into the air, leaving Kevyn down below.
“Whoa!” Samantha gasped. She looked down to see Kevyn below. “This is amazing!”
“Great!” Kevyn chuckled and folded her arms. “Next question: did you know you just made a big mistake against a Lightning mage?”
Samantha’s eyes widened. “What?”
When the princess looked down, Fear seized her when she saw Kevyn’s two fingers crackling with electricity. She yelped and quickly pulled up another column of water and jumped. Samantha yelped as the water exploded behind her. The water columns caught her and swallowed her before bringing her back down. They spat her out and Samantha gathered herself while calling up the water again. Kevyn lunged at her with her fists swinging. Samantha grunted and crossed her arms to catch the other woman’s fist. She locked Kevyn’s arm in the joint made by her crossed arms. Seeing that Kevyn was pinned, Sammantha kicked her straight into the stomach. The dragon-tamer staggered back but lunged again with a spin kick. Samantha tried to move back but Kevyn’s reach was longer than she thought. The tip of Kevyn’s foot slapped her face and sent her staggering. Samantha fell into the water with a loud splash before looking at Kevyn.
“Well,” Kevyn shrugged. “Not bad. So you did learn something.”
Samantha nodded and smashed her fist into the water with a splash. She gathered herself again and opened her hand towards the water.
The water compressed and launched a stream of water with a pressurized tip towards Kevyn. The dragon-tamer ducked as the javelin crashed behind her. She looked back and coated her arms in electricity and deflected the next set. Samantha, seeing that Kevyn began deflecting her attacks, changed her strategy. She called another column of water but instead had it slam into Kevyn, sending her straight towards the other side. Kevyn tumbled and gasped before gathering her wits and recovering her stance.
“Well, you’re getting creative.” Kevyn smirked and stood up to wring the water out of her hair. “Let’s kick up our training up a notch.”
Samantha nodded and positioned herself, calling more streams of water. “I’m ready.”
Kevyn smirked and lunged at her again. Samantha ducked and whipped one of the water streams at her. The dragon-tamer attempted to pull away only for the water to wrap around her foot. Samantha nodded and with one pulling gesture, caused the water to yank Kevyn towards her. The other woman crashed in the spring with a loud splash before zapping the water tentacle that wrapped around her foot. Narrowing her eyes, Samantha called up more water tentacles to surround her.
“You know what’s funny?” Kevyn chuckled.
Samantha blinked. “What?”
“You’re doing this without using your emotions as fuel. You’re actually thinking for once.”
The princess froze. Kevyn was right; she was perfectly conscious of what she was doing. She looked around her to see the water octopus floating behind her with its many tentacles. Wow, I actually made something that big, Samantha thought to herself. The princess observed the form and waved her hands a bit. It was then that the tentacles started waving too.
“I’d call this the Water Oct,” she giggled. Samantha turned to Kevyn. “Pretty cool, huh?”
Kevyn nodded. “I gotta admit; it’s a whole lot better than what most people could have come up with.”
“Thanks, for helping me.”
Kevyn shrugged. “I gave you the tools to help you. It was more that you helped yourself.”
Samantha shook her head. “I don’t think so. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Like I said, I didn’t do much. You were even telling me I was insane half the time.”
“That’s because your plans were insane half the time!”
“So, I’m insane. What’s new?”
Samantha sighed and shook her head. She couldn’t believe the kind of progress she made by staying in the mountains. The princess took a look at her palm and saw the wrinkles and wounds from the strain she had put. Her forehead dripped with sweat and her lungs burned from the exhaustion. As much as her body throbbed from the training, she wanted to continue training. After all, she had her knights to go back to. Come to think of it, she thought for a moment. How long had she been training? She shook her head; she had to keep going. With that, Samantha beamed at Kevyn with an enthusiastic grin.
“So, what’s the next element?”