Deus Ex Machina
Samantha stepped onto the battlefield. Her ears twitched at the sound of the howling crowds but more of the hot winds that brushed against her skin. She remembered the cold up in Yartengar Mountain Range. Somehow, she wanted to go back. At least she could feel the mana better up there. Probably another reason why Kevyn doesn’t want to leave, the princess thought to herself. A sigh bubbled from her throat as Reuben emerged from the opposing side.
Reuben donned some armour. An amused smirk quirked up her lips as she folded her arms. It didn’t look like the regular knight armour. In fact, it clung more to the body. But she wasn’t blind. His chest piece, despite its cloth-like appearance, appeared to be thick. His boots appeared more for warfare and combat. Samantha remembered Kevyn wearing a similar pair, causing her to rub her jaw. She remembered the time Kevyn kicked her in the face. Those things are heavy, she thought. Better steer clear of those, she added to herself. In his hand, she spotted two sticks. However, the moment he swung it, both of the sticks became two batons with electricity sparking off them.
“What now, princess? You don’t have a weapon,” Reuben sneered at her.
Samantha exhaled sharply and closed her eyes. Suddenly, the air around her froze and the water from the air rushed to her arms. She could feel the cooling moisture from the air wrap around her arms and form the tentacles she used back at the siege. When she opened her eyes, she couldn’t help but smirk at Reuben’s gawking expression. She lowered her stance into a battle stance.
“Shall we begin?” Samantha faced Reuben. She could feel her mana roiling her blood.
Reuben, without any warning, roared and lunged at her with sparking batons. Samantha could see the crackling electricity as she leapt back. The water tentacles on her arms snapped out and lashed at Reuben. She narrowed her eyes and snaked the water whips. They cracked and snapped at Reuben as he danced around her. Samantha backed up and kicked the sand up. She blew wind from her mouth as the debris flew into Reuben’s face. The prince flinched for one moment as Samantha cracked the water whip in his face. The prince staggered back while Samantha pushed forward.
“Don’t drop your guard,” Samantha reminded herself.
However, Samantha had to admit. Reuben looked as if he wasn’t moving. Compared to Kevyn who could vanish one moment and appear right behind her the next, Reuben just stood still. Her throat burned from the dry air but she paid it no heed. Sweat poured down her face as she wiped it away using her water whips. Suddenly, she stopped midway. She looked down and saw the sweat join with her tentacles. I wonder, Samantha thought.
Before she could do anything, a black sphere rolled at her feet. Samantha looked down and her eyes widened when she heard a beeping noise. The princess leapt away as the bomb exploded. Samantha tumbled back with her water whips lashing out. She quickly waved away the water and formed a bubble around her. As the explosion knocked her back, Samantha quickly stomped on the floor with a rock launching her forward. The princess sailed over the large cloud of smoke before dispersing the water bubble. She then whirled the water around her body before snaking it down. Reuben yelped and tumbled back as Samantha landed on the ground. Adding more mana, she froze the water into a rod before twirling it.
“Come on!” Reuben rushed towards her with his electric batons.
Samantha twirled her quarterstaff before blocking the batons. The wood clashed with the ice as the princess ducked Reuben’s attempt to bludgeon her head. Dust of ice shattered off her staff as the metal batons clashed against them. Samantha kept her eyes on her opponent, making sure she didn’t blink. She could feel the water giving out from the blows. But she couldn’t give up now. As his batons came to shatter her quarter staff, she immediately dispelled the water before curling up into a ball. She tumbled past him before sweep-kicking the prince off his feet. Her opponent crashed on the ground as she gathered herself.
“Fuck you,” Reuben seethed. “You think you can beat me with just those amateur moves?”
Samantha shrugged. “I’m trying… at least?”
Fury danced in Reuben’s eyes as he lunged at her again. Samantha narrowed her eyes and jumped back while trying to catch his movements. She yelped as the electric baton crackled to life and nearly met her face. She ducked to avoid it until Reuben slammed his knee into her nose. The princess grunted and fell back as the water splashed on the floor. She crawled back before grabbing a fistful of dirt. As Reuben raged towards her, she threw it into his face.
“Agh!” He staggered back and tried to wipe it out of his eyes. “Bitch!”
Seeing that he was stunned, Samantha clapped both her hands together and formed a fist. She slammed it on his foot and sent him teetering over. As Reuben fell back, Samantha managed to gather her distance again and called the sand to her. The sand whirled around and solidified into two daggers. Oh well, Samantha shrugged. She swung her daggers and clashed with Reuben. The prince swung his fist at her as she sidestepped and slashed him with the dagger. He hissed in pain before backhanding her face. Samantha staggered back before managing to kick him as she fell. Her foot slammed into his stomach as both royals staggered back. As the distance split between them, Samantha saw Reuben huffing and puffing. She couldn’t deny that her throat and her diaphragm burned with fatigue.
“So you managed to learn how to fight,” Reuben sneered. “So what!?”
Samantha exhaled sharply. Another thing she remembered Kevyn teaching her: don’t let your guard down. After all, the dragon-tamer had punched her into the wall for it. The princess also remembered how Kevyn kicked her into a boulder. Focus on your main objective, Samantha reminded herself. She stood up and began drawing on the sand with her foot. She kept her dark eyes on Reuben’s charcoal grey eyes. She could see his eyes burning with frustration. Keep wearing him out, Samantha heard Kevyn’s voice coaching her in her mind.
“It’s like that old saying,” Samantha murmured. “The hot-head always loses.”
Reuben roared and lunged at her again. Samantha jumped back and slammed her palm onto the ground. Suddenly, a bright light shone from the ground. Reuben, seeing the light, forced himself to skid towards the light. As the light engulfed the area, Samantha quickly launched several shards of stone into his face. Reuben gasped and bent back to avoid the incoming shards. As he sprung back, Samantha burst from the pillar of light and landed a punch against his jaw. When her knuckles met his jaw, Reuben used his other hand to grab her sleeve and send her falling to the ground. The princess crashed into the ground with her mouth taking in some of the dirt.
“Pft,” she spat out the dirt before spinning around, wriggling.
Her eyes widened as Reuben grabbed her blouse and ripped it off. Samantha’s eyes widened and jammed her knee in between his legs. She grunted and struggled to lift him off her body. His nails clawed into her clothes as she slid her foot onto his stomach. She tumbled backwards to throw him off. Reuben tumbled over while she managed to gather herself onto her feet. The prince of Machinos roared and lunged at her again while Samantha slammed her palm into the ground. Suddenly, a large boulder shot up into the air and Reuben crashed into boulder. It took all her urge to suppress her snickering at the sight of Reuben’s bright red nose.
So this is what Kevyn meant about being creative, Samantha nodded to herself. She hadn’t expected her magic to easily adapt to non-chanting magic. All the years of her life, scholars and wizards assigned to be her mentors taught her nothing but enchantments and chant-based magic. But now that she learned how to use magic without casting, she found herself having an easier time. Although, she did notice one thing whenever she casted without a chant. I’ll probably tell Kevyn later, Samantha shrugged it off.
“Damn, she got better.” Beatriz whistled to herself in astonishment. “I didn’t expect that she knew how to do that.”
“I’m surprised she actually managed to punch Reuben,” Jeremiah admitted mildly. “You said your princess was a wuss.”
If she had to be honest, Beatriz had constantly believed it. It was why she loved being Samantha’s knight. She knew that Samantha needed her. Despite being a vat of mana, Samantha barely knew how to fight. But the scene she laid her eyes on told her otherwise. Samantha didn’t hold back; she continued her barrage of spells even if it didn’t appear as terrifying. The dark knight had to admit though; the only reason why it looked as if it had a chant was due to her mana fuelling the missing pieces. Imagine if she could say the whole chant quickly, Beatriz mused to herself.
However, she had to admit: Samantha had vastly improved. Her combat tactics didn’t look as if she was trying to kill a fly with a fly-swatter. She connected her attacks and had a combat sequence. She watched Samantha call up several rocks before forming a swirling stone hula hoop. Water flew straight to Samantha’s arms as she formed the whips again. Water and earth, Beatriz mused and nodded.
“You seem pretty astonished.” She heard someone comment.
Beatriz turned around to see Nellie fold her arms and stand next to her. “Never seen her fight before?”
“Nope,” Beatriz mildly admitted. “Samantha always just screamed in terror and I would go off to kill it before she gave herself a stroke.”
“I see. But you seem… rather… refreshed by the thought.”
“Well, I’m impressed that she suddenly grew a pair of balls. Not literally of course.”
“Obviously. But even I’m amused; most magic users would call her combat style barbaric.”
I have to agree, Beatriz thought to herself. She recalled how Kevyn wielded her magic. The lightning burst from her fingertips and she even coated her legs with electricity. It made sense if Kevyn were her teacher. Probably explains her levels of aggression too, the dark knight mused to herself. While a part of her wanted to cheer her on, her mind overruled her. After all, she had her own plans.
Suddenly, she heard the bell ring. The dark knight somewhat jumped when she saw Samantha and Reuben stand away from each other. A magical barrier split the two and she managed to catch a glimpse of the damage. Samantha’s chest was covered with scratches. Her arms were covered with wounds. However, Reuben took a lot of damage as well. The stones had scuffed and gashed his face. His whole body was covered with dirt and his clothes were torn.
“Unbelievable! We have a tie on hits,” the announcer declared.
Not bad, Beatriz mused. She stiffly nodded at the thought, remembering how they exchanged blows. Samantha managed to keep up with someone who had a stronger killing intent and more experience in combat. It was something she hadn’t expected. She suddenly heard stomping in front of her when she saw Reuben storming towards her. What she didn’t expect however was Reuben’s arm shooting out to grab her by the throat. Beatriz gasped and tried to pry off her fingers from his throats, meeting his charcoal grey glare with her icy blue ones.
“You… you taught her how to fight behind my back!” Reuben tightened his grip around her throat. “You dare betray me…!”
Beatriz coughed and choked.”I was in the jail cell, my lord! I couldn’t have taught her!”
Reuben narrowed his eyes. “You must’ve passed it to her via some magic,” he hissed.
“I was in a cell that nullified magic!”
Nellie quickly rushed over to the prince. “Milord, please! Strangling her will not do you any good! Either way, she couldn’t have!”
Despite Nellie’s pleas, Beatriz could feel his nails digging themselves into her porcelain white skin. Anger and fury boiled inside her. How dare he manhandle me, she growled in her mind. Anger roiled and boiled her blood and mana to levels people wouldn’t dare imagine. She clamped her hand on his fingers ready to pry them off, breaking them if necessary. However, that changed when the bell suddenly rang.
“Now for the second part of the event – Tag Battle,” the announcer cried out. “Milord and milady, choose a knight!”
Great, Beatriz rolled her eyes. Suddenly, she felt her small body being thrown forward. Beatriz crashed on the floor with a loud thump and hiss as she skidded across the sand. She coughed and snorted out the dirt that entered her nose before Reuben gave her a scathing look.
“You’re going to pay for your treachery,” Reuben snarled. Suddenly, a cruel and sinister grin curved up his lips. “Hmm, how about you kill her?”
Beatriz’s eyes slightly widened. Her blood ran cold. She? Kill Samantha? Her pale, petite fists balled into a fist. You have to be kidding me, her mind threatened to scream. She recalled Antoine’s words about being knighted. If knights and their charges were linked to that extent, she could only imagine what if Samantha would die. But you can’t die, stupid, her mind scolded her. Beatriz smiled bitterly. While it was true that she couldn’t die, she knew a fate far worse than death. Death to her was a welcome guest; he only needed to take her when he wished.
That was if, he could.
Reuben stormed past her. “Come,” he ordered. “We will finish this with Samantha’s body in shreds and fibres!”
Beatriz nodded stiffly before standing up. She willed on her armour as Samantha stepped forward. The princess walked towards Reuben once more but this time, she had company. Beatriz’s eyes widened when she saw the dragon-tamer stand next to her. The dark knight forced down a large lump in her throat, feeling the mana swirling around both Samantha and the dragon-tamer. While Samantha was vast, the dragon-tamer’s crackled with a focused motive. Despite the weight of their auras, Beatriz couldn’t help but smirk. The adrenaline of finally seeing Samantha fight before her – she couldn’t wait to see it up close!
“I can’t believe they would do that to Daniel.” Samantha shook her head. “What did they do?”
“They probably drugged him. It’s probably some sort of mind-altering drug,” Kevyn explained to the princess. “But it was completely odourless. I couldn’t smell a thing.”
“You can smell those things?”
“After living with dragons, you pretty much have heightened senses.”
“Actually, you have it too. Remember the sound vibrations?”
“That’s pretty much it.”
Samantha’s mouth formed a small “o” in realization. However, she still couldn’t help but look at Daniel’s unconscious body at the side. He hadn’t moved after Kevyn zapped his lights out. Maybe she used too much electricity, her mind reasoned. Samantha nodded. It was kind of possible; Kevyn never did hold back even as they got close in the Yartengar Mountain Range. She looked one more time at Daniel’s body before rushing off to him.
“Oi, where are you going,” Kevyn called out. “We got some nuts to kick!”
Samantha squatted down and slung Daniel’s left arm onto her right shoulder. “Well, we certainly can’t leave him here!”
“Yes we can!”
“Kevyn, he’ll get killed! You and Bea are complete war-freaks! You won’t stop until you’ve levelled the stadium!”
The dragon-tamer pondered for a moment before shrugging. “Well, you aren’t wrong about that.”
“At least I know,” Samantha continued to chide her. “Now help me help him up. We’re going to have Patrisha fix him.”
Kevyn sauntered towards her and helped her drag Daniel along. Samantha looked at the damage carved onto his body, shuddering at the thought of what they could have possibly done. She saw slash marks and burns. While she knew the burns came from Kevyn’s attacks, the slash marks couldn’t have come from her. As far as she knew, Kevyn barely used her weapon against him. She also saw bruises that size of a softball covering his arms. She shivered; his torturers must’ve been terrifying!
When she reached Patrisha and the other knights, Samantha and Kevyn lay Daniel on the ground.
“Please start the basic healing,” Samantha requested from Patrisha. “He might have some drugs in his body. If we don’t take it out now, he might grow dependent on it.”
“Got it.” Patrisha got down on her knees and began healing and the drug extraction.
Seeing that Patrisha had everything under control, Samantha stood up and nodded to Kevyn. The dragon-tamer nodded in response while she made her way to the battlefield. Samantha could feel the sand shift beneath her feet. The chilling winds from Beatriz’s mana brushed against her skin. But she felt no fear. No, she reasoned with herself. It was more that she could not allow herself to feel any fear. Suddenly, she felt someone tap her shoulder.
Kevyn asked, “Feeling spooked?”
Samantha laughed nervously. “A little…”
“Lemme guess, it’s because your former knight can’t kick the bucket?”
“Well… yes. It pretty much means she wins in the long run.”
The dragon-tamer shook her head. “True but that doesn’t mean that she can’t get hurt.”
Seeing the determined look in her eyes, Samantha’s eyes widened. “Wait, what do you mean?”
“At this rate,” Kevyn explained. “She’s a good testing dummy for all certain death moves. I can’t kill her but I can at least stun her.”
“I’m scared… what do you have planned?”
“A few things that are bound to hurt.”
“Kevyn, please don’t overdo it. Her magic may not be enough to keep her completely sane.”
“What? She’ll be fine!”
Samantha frowned and raised an eyebrow. “And what if she has permanent scars?”
The dragon-tamer waved her hand dismissively. “Relax, I’ll make sure she’s not so beat up that she can star in her own horror movie and that she’ll die alone.”
“Make sure,” Samantha added a note of finality on her orders.
“Calm your panties, princess. This ain’t my first rodeo,” Kevyn chuckled and cracked her knuckles. “I’ll just knock her down a peg or two. Someone needs to teach her that brawns and mana tantrums don’t always solve the problem.”
Samantha nodded before heading into the battle arena. There, she saw Reuben and Beatriz standing before her. She could see the sinister and mocking glare in Reuben’s charcoal grey eyes. Much to her surprise, Beatriz remained completely calm. To meet her calm gaze, Samantha kept her own solemn gaze while Kevyn stood next to her.
“Well, well,” Reuben sneered. “Look who we have here. We have the princess and the dragon. You’re playing with a large fire, milady.”
Samantha remained calm. “A dragon protects their own. And they don’t randomly attack people either.”
Kevyn smirked. “Yeah, we only eat people we don’t like.”
“So, a cannibal then,” Reuben haughtily scoffed and jabbed his finger at Kevyn. “This brute is your knight?”
The princess shook her head. “She’s not my knight.”
“Oh? She’s not knighted?”
“Hardly. She’s a knight but I wouldn’t even call her a knight.”
Reuben folded his arms. “Oh? So what is she?”
“She cannot be a knight.” The princess shook her head with an incredulous stare, gawking athim. “She’s perpetually angry, a brutal teacher, speaks with such vulgar language, and definitely has no recognition for the social hierarchy! I can’t even imagine her as a knight!”
Kevyn gave Reuben a toothy grin. “Well, she ain’t wrong.”
Reuben chuckled and scoffed. “Clearly.”
However, Samantha’s next statement caught them off-guard. “She’s not a knight. It’s exactly as you said; she is a dragon.”
Reuben’s eyes widened as Samantha continued her explanation.
“A dragon protects his or her own. A dragon fights for its home,” Samantha explained. “And most of all, dragons are masters of the sky, sea, and the world around them. They are guardians of the world left behind by the Primordials. Dragons are no slaves; they are the captains of their fate, the masters of their souls.”
Kevyn smirked and generated electricity covering her body. “No shit we are!”
Reuben brandished his batons with Beatriz wielding her scythe. “You will pay!”
Samantha summoned stones to form an armour with Kevyn coating her body in blue lightning. “Of course but only after I’ve claimed my debt from you!”
As the two royals faced off, the announcer hit the bell. “Second stage, begin!”
Reuben roared and lunged at Samantha. However, the princess quickly dodged out before punching him in the back of the head. Kevyn on the other hand lunged at Beatriz and drew her weapon out. The lightning charged up her weapon as the chained sword shot out. The dark knight jumped up with her scythe swinging as dark blue waves of energy shot out.
As the battle ensued, Samantha kept her focus on Reuben. He swung his electric batons as she controlled the rocks to block the attacks accordingly. Pebbles and debris from the stone flew from the sheer impact of Reuben’s attacks as he tried to kick her. Samantha quickly caught his foot before twisting his ankle the other way. She yelped when she suddenly heard a sickening crack as Reuben cried out in pain. He fell back while Samantha kicked away his batons. He growled and glared at Samantha as he grabbed a fistful of dirt and threw it in her face. The princess yelped and staggered back with her hand shielding her eyes. As she staggered back, Samantha felt a blow to her abdomen which sent her flying. She heard a crunch beneath her back when she found Reuben growling and snarling, limping towards her with his electric batons.
“I’m gonna fucking kill you,” he hissed.
Samantha quickly conjured a sandstorm wall around her. The winds roared viciously with the sands forming a cloak around her. She staggered and clambered up to her feet. Dusting herself, Samantha gathered herself and began casting spells. As she began drawing a glyph, the ground around her began to glow. The howls of the audience echoed throughout the stadium while she tried to listen to the footsteps of Reuben. Her ears twitched as she kicked off her slippers to feel the ground. The cries and cheers of the audience resonated off the ground. Even the footsteps and clashing sounds of the two knights ripped through her ears. I need to discern, Samantha reminded herself.
She closed her eyes and let the vibrations sound off in her mind. While some of the sounds were badly muffled, she could still hear different footsteps. Suddenly, she heard a loud scream of agony and when she snapped her eyes open, she saw Beatriz’s body break through her sand dome. Samantha’s eyes widened when she saw Beatriz’s bones broken in directions she didn’t know were possible. She gawked and looked up at Kevyn who shrugged.
“It was a gamble,” she explained. “She can probably grow back her limbs faster than repairing at least 30 shards of bones floating around in her body.”
Samantha gawked. “You broke her bones!?”
“Well, got any better plans, princeza?”
“Couldn’t you have just knocked her out!?”
“Try doing that to someone who makes sex groans in the middle of nowhere!”
Beatriz rolled her eyes at the two of them. Such virgins, she thought at the sight of the two bickering girls.
Watching Samantha and her knight argue, Beatriz knew what Kevyn said was true. Perceptive, Beatriz smirked. Her shattered bones didn’t regenerate as fast as her severed limbs. However, she did fail to add one thing (and for that she was grateful): severing her nerves would have taken her longer. She shook her head; no time for that kind of thoughts. She tried to find the bone shards Kevyn shattered off. Apparently, Kevyn did not kid around when she said that she shattered everything into shards. Damn, Beatriz snarled mentally. She knew how and where to break her bones. Recalling Antoine’s words, she knew repairing it would take much longer. Did Kevyn know that she had been knighted and these were the consequences? Or did she just operate purely on the fact that she was immortal?
“But whatever it is,” Beatriz growled under her breath. “Fuck, she hits like a truck!”
Ooh, that rhymed!
Not now, her mind scolded her.
Because of her shattered bones, Beatriz found her arms flopping around as if she was just a rag doll. She gnashed her teeth and seethed in annoyance. She wanted to ball her hands into a fist until her knuckles paled but Kevyn shattered everything – down to her fingers. She looked up to see Kevyn walking towards her before taking a seat, watching Samantha fight Reuben.
“Aren’t you gonna help her? You can end that quickly,” Beatriz asked.
Kevyn shook her head. “It’s Sam’s battle. I don’t wanna spoon-feed her.”
“You’re supposed to be protecting her.”
“I already did. My goal in protecting her was to kick down the biggest threat. In which case, the threat was you.”
Systematic, Beatriz wanted to remark. But she kept quiet. Kevyn, despite her similar vulgarity to her, had one stark difference: she found herself chaotic while Kevyn fought with a surgical-grade precision. When she exchanged blows, she hadn’t expected Kevyn to know which part to target. If it were her, she just smashed everything in sight. Either way, everything was going to end up the same anyway.
She glanced at the dragon-tamer who casually folded crossed her legs and sat down. Beatriz gawked. She didn’t even have the slightest hint of concern as Reuben swung the electric batons at her. However, another part of her was astonished when she saw Samantha catch the batons with her rock covered fist. Just how much had she learned while she and the other knights were gone? Her heart sank. Did it also mean she did nothing but pull Samantha down?
“You weren’t pulling her down,” Kevyn rebuked her thoughts. “She just relied on you too much.”
Beatriz scowled. “Quit reading my mind.”
“Sorry, tell that to my bloodline.”
“You’re from the Mystlraine bloodline. Didn’t know some of you still practiced that kind of power.”
Kevyn shrugged. “Whether they like to or not is their choice. I chose to hone it for practical reasons.”
“Like stealing castle blueprints without actually having to steal the blueprints?”
“Something like that.”
“You just need to be within range of Machinos to actually pinpoint the engineer.”
“True, it’s a bit of a pain. But luckily, Yartengar Mountain Range is right at Machinos’ doorstep.”
Beatriz nodded. That explained why Reuben wanted the mountain range so badly, the dark knight realized. After all, anyone can build a base there. This included rebels or any person and they would employ guerrilla tactics. Brilliant strategy, Beatriz nodded. She shook her head; when did she compliment strategies like that? She never needed one! As long as she couldn’t die, charging in wasn’t a problem.
She glanced at Kevyn who just continued to spectate. “So, you’re really not gonna do anything?”
“Why the fuck should I care?”
“She’s the princess!”
“I haven’t been knighted unlike you.”
Beatriz’s eyes widened. “You knew?”
“Of course. Samantha picked up your distress 3 miles away. That can’t be only one-way.”
“How do you know this? You haven’t been knighted.”
Kevyn shrugged and lay down on the dirt. “I’ve studied magic for years particularly, the transactional relationship between elements and linking magic.”
Beatriz shook her head. “… What?”
“Magic isn’t passive. It’s an active agent that shapes even one’s personality. But humans are not passive either. They shape their environment and their environment shapes them.”
“The fuck with that, stop speaking in such big words.”
Kevyn got up and then squatted next to her, flicking her forehead. “You know, that’s the only reason why your magic ain’t gonna get any better.”
As Kevyn walked off, Beatriz gasped as her magic started to return. She could feel her limbs becoming lighter and all the sensations rushed through her nerves. Her body convulsed at the sudden rush of mana. The mana roiled her blood to life as electric shock of mana burst inside her. She redirected all her mana into mending her bones and her wounds while watching Reuben take a beating from Samantha.
“Tch.” Samantha ducked and swung her earth covered fist.
Reuben jumped back in an attempt to kick her. However, the princess instead stumbled back and caused his kick to miss. Reuben smirked and rushed towards her only to get kicked with an electric powered kick. Samantha’s eyes widened when Kevyn landed a blow as Reuben’s body slammed against the wall. She gawked at Kevyn who casually dusted herself.
“Man, that felt good.” Kevyn stretched her arms up and loosened her shoulders.
Samantha pouted. “I thought you were going to leave him for me?”
“I just wanted one shot.”
“Well, you got it. Let me handle it!”
“Yes, yes, Your Whininess.”
Samantha huffed in annoyance before throwing away her stone fist before coating her arms with water tentacles again. She glanced at Reuben’s fallen body. However, she had other thoughts before turning to Kevyn.
“Kevyn, grab Daniel and bring him to our side,” she ordered.
Kevyn gawked. “What!? He put a fucking bullet through my goddamn shoulder!”
“Kevyn, now isn’t the time to argue! He didn’t mean to!”
“He sure as hell did!”
“Kevyn, please just get him out of there! I might accidentally kill him in the crossfire!”
Kevyn, snorting in annoyance, zoomed towards Daniel’s unconscious body. Samantha sighed and turned back to Reuben when she suddenly saw a bright glowing light. Her eyes widened when she saw a deadly spark in Reuben’s eyes.
“You know what’s funny?” He stalked towards her with his lips curling up into a sinister sneer. “I always thought that magic was useless. But the worst part is – it’s the reason why I can’t ascend to the throne. But thankfully,” he showed her a glowing pendant. “I have this.”
Samantha’s eyes widened. She recognized the gear-shaped pendant with a glowing green stone inside. The aura swirled around them with the feeling becoming quite similar to the time she had summoned Azaleth. The air around her became thick. The ground rumbled with the skies becoming dark. Samantha stepped back and focused her mana onto her gems. Soon, a large machine suddenly cracked from beneath her feet. The princess staggered back and her eyes widened when an insect-like buzzing filled the air. The audience cried out in terror as a large shadow loomed over the stadium. She shuddered at the metal crunching as it moved even the slightest inch.
The machine had claws similar to a Praying Mantis with several pairs of wings similar to that of a cockroach. It had a long body like a butterfly with its legs only at the upper thorax. The face however appeared to be more similar to that of a demonic Hercules Beetle except for the horns being almost similar in length that they almost touched. The horn on top was an inverted crescent which touched the crescent horn beneath the jaw pointing upward. Its claws and legs landed on the sandy floors with a loud kablam on the ground.
“Behold, Machinos’ pride and joy – the Deus ex Machina!” Reuben proudly presented.
Samantha narrowed her eyes at the large creature. A memory flashed back into her mind when she recalled how Beatriz, Brandon, Luke, and she fought the Hydra. The creature spawned many heads no matter what happened yet Luke managed to seal it away. She remembered its gaping, salivating jaws with its bloodstained twin rows of teeth. Its long neck craned over and prepared to slurp up her up. But her knees no longer buckled beneath her. Her throat no longer felt dry. Instead, she focused all the power to summoning one of the Primordials to her side.
“She who entrusted the freedom of her city to me,” Samantha chanted. “She who bears the name of the Last Witch of Azaleth – I am her vessel; the instrument of the world’s oldest sorceress…!”
A bright rainbow light burst from the yellow stone on her bracelet as she unleashed a torrent of mana.
From afar, Brandon watched the rainbow lights shoot into the darkened clouds. The clouds that once loomed over the stadium parted at the glaring light. A small chuckle bubbled from his throat as he swung his legs over to stand up and walk. A sharp pain still burned in between his legs. But he remembered the determined look on Samantha’s face.
“If she can pick herself up,” Brandon reminded himself. “Then, so can I.”
His legs shakily made their way off the bed. Pins and needles tickled his nerves. Ugh, he groaned in annoyance. If there was anything he hated, it was trying to get his legs to be conscious after sitting in bed all day. He could have sworn that his body was covered in bed sores. He threw his blanket to check only to notice that his body was completely smooth, devoid of any scars.
“What the,” Brandon gasped in surprise. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing! “My wounds are gone…?”
The pirate ran his fingers against his skin. While he could see some markings from the multiple lacerations, he could have sworn that Derrick did more damage than what he saw. Derrick, Brandon seethed at the sound of his name. Brandon’s hands clenched tightly into fists until his knuckles paled. He intended to make Derrick pay dearly for what he did. No one screws him over and gets away with it!
He slowly rose from the bed and took a step forward. A sharp pain burned his calves. Must’ve been from all that goddamn running, Brandon growled to himself. He noticed that his legs had shrunken considerably. He hadn’t expected staying in bed would have shrunken that small. Brandon staggered forward with his legs trembling at every step. He spotted his gunblades leaning against the wall. He remembered managing to steal it from a soldier who nearly shot his own foot. Idiot, he thought. Didn’t he see where the mouth of the barrel was?
Every step burned his legs. But he refused to give. I won’t let anybody have the last laugh, Brandon thought to himself. He could only imagine the battle going on in the stadium. His heartbeat jumped when a sudden surge of energy filled his veins. Because of that, Brandon nearly stumbled but managed to catch himself with the footboard of the bed. He hadn’t expected that kind of energy to burst from inside him. Where did that come from, he gasped. The pirate captain recalled the dancing rainbow lights from the stadium.
“Damn, Sam’s getting reckless,” Brandon murmured. Suddenly, a burst of energy made his chest throb in pain. “Gah…!”
Brandon gripped his shirt before falling to his knees. The earlier surge of energy paralyzed him as a sharp pain crawled all over his skin. He gasped and fell on both his hands. The pirate captain gnashed his teeth as he nearly slumped over. He could feel all the energy spilling into his body. Why the hell am I feeling this, Brandon gripped the carpet hard. He could only assume one thing: Samantha’s magic had nowhere to go. But because she was linked to them, her magic poured into them instead.
“Oh come on,” Brandon groaned and lay flat on his back. “Why the hell can’t it just pour outside of her body?”
As he turned over, his eyes widened when he saw the scars on his arms slowly sink into his skin as if it had never been there at all. Brandon jerked up in surprise and felt more energy simmer in. Instead of the sharp pain, it became more soothing as he finally stood up. He found his legs standing completely still, not even showing any signs of weakness.
“Damn.” Brandon looked at his hand. “Her mana just sewed everything up!”
He stood up and looked out the window where he saw the shining bright rainbow lights. He could only wonder; what was Samantha fighting. But whatever it was, it seemed so big that it could cause problems.
Samantha yelped and ducked as one of the claws narrowly missed her head. The Deus ex Machina roared and lunged at Azaleth who threw beams of light at the large machine. The gears grinded and the steam hissed from its exhaust while the electricity crackled through the Deus Ex Machina’s wires. The princess jumped and ducked from the incoming attacks, leaping into the safe zone. She watched many of the members of the audience flee in terror as the machine continued to attack.
“That thing is fucking huge!” Kevyn gawked. “That thing better have not come out of his ass!”
Abigayle winced. “It’s one large poop if you ask me.”
“You gotta be kidding, where did he manage to hide that?” Kaelyn shook her head in dismay.
“That’s what I wanna know,” Cathy yelped.
Samantha narrowed her eyes and quickly turned to Kevyn. “Can you call the dragons here?”
“We’re too far but I can try,” Kevyn reassured.
The princess nodded and the dragon-tamer bolted away towards a higher portion of the stadium. She looked back at the Deus Ex Machina that duelled against Azaleth. The princess exhaled sharply before stomping the ground. Suddenly, a pillar of earth shot from beneath her and propelled her into the air. She pulled the water from the air again before throwing a whip forward. The water tentacle wrapped around a strand of Azaleth’s hair before hauling Samantha up. She landed right on the Primordial’s shoulder and stared straight into the eyes of the Deus Ex Machina. Her hairs stood on their ends as the red eyes of the Deus Ex Machina. She watched the mechanism inside its eye shrink and dilate as if it were a regular human eye.
“Wow.” Her mouth hung agape in astonishment. “It’s… a metal beast with… behaviours that of a…”
“Samantha,” Azaleth hollered. “Now is not the time to dawdle! We have bigger things to kill!”
Samantha snapped out of her daze as the Deus Ex Machina roared and lunged at her. The princess yelped and clung onto Azaleth as the impact nearly threw her off. Dust and dirt flew around her until she spotted a faded silhouette in the shadows. As the dust cleared, her eyes widened when she found Reuben sitting on the top of the head of the creature. She squinted her eyes for a better look when she saw something similar to a piano mounted on its head.
He’s controlling it from there, Samantha could only assume. Every time he pressed a button, the Deus Ex Machina would change. It would sometimes reel back before slashing it again with its claws. Azaleth screamed in pain as the claw dug its way through her shoulder. She narrowed her eyes before lunging again. Samantha clung onto the angry primordial until she heard a loud roar in the sky. She looked up to see Kevyn on top of Blitzkrieg as they sailed straight into the air. Lightning flashed across the darkened skies as it rushed towards Blitzkrieg and Kevyn. Samantha nodded before turning to Azaleth.
“Lure that creature to the centre! I have an idea,” Samantha said.
Azaleth shook her head. “It better be good. We only have one shot!”
“I definitely agree!”
Azaleth retreated a bit and let the Deus Ex Machina come closer. Samantha soon felt something wet drop on her head when she looked up to the sky. Suddenly, raindrops began to fall and pelt her skin. The cold, rainy air swirled when suddenly the dark sky lit up. Lightning flashed and thunder cracked. Samantha saw Kevyn calling down the lightning as Deus Ex Machina drew closer.
Just a little more, Samantha watched it closely. She exhaled sharply as Azaleth continued throwing her blows. Blasts of light crashed onto the joints of the Deus Ex Machina. Samantha ducked and avoided a flying bullet. The mechanical creature roared and lunged at them with a hail of missiles. She ducked and danced away as one of them nearly blew her foot. Azaleth shattered the others and shot a beam of light, tearing through some of the armour.
“What’s the matter,” Reuben cackled with sadistic glee. “Where is your magic now?”
Even with Reuben sneering at her, Samantha refused to back down. Instead, she pointed to the sky. “Justice shall rain from above!”
Reuben snapped his head up when he saw a blue lightning blast suddenly roaring towards him. His eyes widened in terror as the blast hit him. The impact caused the Deus Ex Machina to shudder and nearly flung him off. Samantha looked up to see Kevyn diving straight down with a long torus of blue fire bursting behind her. However, she heard loud crunching and cracking. Samantha snapped her head towards the source where she saw the Deus Ex Machina recovering from the shock. She could hear the gears crunching and grinding with Reuben redirecting its attention to Kevyn.
“You bitch!” He pressed a variety of buttons.
Samantha’s eyes widened when she saw its claws raising itself to cleave Kevyn in half. Fuelling her arms with mana, she stretched her arms out and began tugging the metal with all her might. Beads of sweat poured down her face as the claws slowly began to move away from Kevyn. The Deus Ex Machina screamed in agony as it struggled to pull away from her. But she refused to let go. Despite her mana burning her veins and her skin burning from the heat, Samantha continued to pull. Her salty sweat slipped into her lips but she continued to spread the claws apart until Kevyn had a clear pathway.
“Now,” Samantha screamed.
With a large opening, Kevyn tore a hole straight through the Deus Ex Machina with blue flaming engulfing the machine. Samantha heard the machine scream in agony but she could have sworn that even Reuben’s agonized screams managed to squeak past the machine’s cries. The machine collapsed as she watched along with Azaleth.
“This is what happens when you anger the gods,” Azaleth coldly said.
Samantha shook her head. “No, this is what happens when justice rains from above.”
As the machine crumbled down, Azaleth let the princess down as she stood amidst the dust cloud. Samantha watched the primordial take her leave before observing the aftermath of the battle. The stadium had been destroyed and the Deus Ex Machina now lay on the ground as a pile of metal scrap. She quietly stood over it before taking note of the ancient markings covering its body.
This thing’s probably as old as Machinos itself, Samantha mused. She stepped closer and observed the ancient writings engraved into the metal sheets. As the dust cleared, she saw Kevyn calmly sitting down on top of the Deus Ex Machina’s claw.
“Well, you definitely have Sofienian blood.” Kevyn leapt off the claw, dropping down next to her. “You’re probably stronger than any of the Sofienian princesses before you.”
Samantha shook her head with a small laugh. “I don’t think so. I’m sure there were others.”
“Doubt it. Based on history, I’ve never read about a Sofienian princess manipulating the earth that easily let alone bending the damn metal as if she were a goddamn magnet.”
“Must you be so vulgar?”
“It’s who I am. Who the fuck are you? My mom?”
Samantha laughed. “True but I was hoping you could at least sound like a human being.”
“Ugh, too mainstream. I’m not conforming to your standards.”
“I thought so.”
Samantha looked back to see a barrier shielding her other knights. “Are you guys okay,” she asked sheepishly, scratching the back of her nape.
Kaelyn chuckled, “You could have at least warned us ahead that you were gonna make a big mess.”
Abigayle snickered and grinned. “Well, you did a fantastic job.”
Cathy nodded while mending some of Daniel’s wounds. “Yes you did. But a warning would have been nice.”
“Sorry about that,” Samantha laughed softly. “I didn’t expect it to escalate so quickly either.” She glanced at Daniel. “How is Daniel?”
“The physical wounds are easy but I think he’s drugged,” Cathy explained. “His skin’s pasty white and his eyes looks so dilated. Someone must’ve injected that drug into his system.”
Samantha nodded. “I’ll flush it out of his system then later on. Cathy, please accompany me to your version of an apothecary around here later on.”
“Of course, milady.”
With a small smile, Samantha nodded at the sight of Daniel being on the mend. At least that makes two of my knights, she reminded herself. A part of her hadn’t expected to win this gamble. Yet, she knew she had to. Her knights’ dignities and her own were at risk. Their lives were at risk. What kind of queen would she be if she didn’t know how to fight back and protect her people? A stupid one perhaps, her mind joked with her. A small yet triumphant smile curved up her lips as she realized how big the step she took to start her journey. Leaving the confines of Xychosia was one thing. Battling and standing up for herself was another. And as far as she was concerned, she learned how to at least hold her own. Suddenly, she heard loud huffing and panting. Samantha and her knights turned around to see Reuben dragging himself out of the metal scraps.
Dirt covered his face with his arm covered with blood. Scratches and slashes covered his flesh with his clothes torn up. Blood trickled from his temple and from his lips. Sweat washed away the dirt as he dragged his broken leg behind.
“You,” he panted. “You… bitch…!”
Samantha remained stoic. She clenched her hands into a fist as he staggered towards her. The prince of Machinos no longer looked princely. He looked like something the cat dragged in and the bear also mauled. Despite his torn state, he still had an arrogant look on his face.
“You still manage to fight me even with your stains,” Reuben hissed.
Samantha shook her head. “Those stains don’t define me. But they define you though.”
“Nobody will ever accept you. I’m already a part of you.”
“Yes. Yes you are.”
“But you’re just a small part of me. You’re not a large portion of who I am.”
Reuben’s eyes widened but Samantha kept her cool. She knew his tricks. But she was over that. Now that she had a closer look at him, he looked – dare she say it – pathetic. He once looked so big but now, Reuben was nothing but a toddler who threw a temper tantrum.
“You’re so small,” Samantha suddenly said.
The princess looked at him straight in the eye. “You have to step on people’s toes to make them acknowledge you. You have to talk big just so people will take you seriously. All this time, you stomp on people to make yourself feel better. And what do you get? A swelled up ego until someone decides to pop your bubble.”
She could see the prince of Machinos visibly swallow a lump down his throat. With that, the princess pressed her advantage before moving towards him.
“Now with that bubble gone, you’re nothing more but an insignificant little boy.” Samantha shook her head. “Now, the next question is – what to do with you?”
Reuben shook his head vehemently. “This battle isn’t over!”
“So you say but you’re the one lying in a pile of rubble of your so-called “secret weapon”,” Samantha retorted calmly and folded her arms at the sight. Somehow, her desire for vengeance and to make him pay mellowed out into pity. “The only reason why perhaps you became so small is because you were neglected by your father and mother.”
The prince of Machinos’ eyes widened.
“I know what it feels to be cast aside by my siblings simply because they had the upper hand,” Samantha continued and walked over to him, squatting in front of him. “You wanted love, you wanted praise. Your mother could not give it because you were not her true son and that your father must’ve had issues of his own. Your own mother, cursing your existence, left you with your father in hopes of starting anew.”
Reuben shook his head. “H-How…?”
“According to some friends of mine, that is the common story of bastards born in the royal families.” Samantha smiled sadly and sat in front of him. “When I came here, I hoped to make you feel my pain and make you feel what it was like to be violated. To have your dignity stripped away from you in front of the eyes of many.”
“That can be arranged you know,” a voice suddenly added.
Samantha looked up to see Beatriz standing behind Reuben with her scythe pointed to his head. The princess noticed Reuben’s blood run cold as his skin paled and his eyes widened in terror. His body visibly trembled and all of the wounds Beatriz suffered prior seemed to vanish instantly. A small smile curved up her lips. Of course, this was the Beatriz she knew. She knew that the Dark Knight wouldn’t take orders just like that. It made no sense if she suddenly did. At the same time, she was knighted. Allowing herself to be tethered to her alone was a testament to her loyalty.
“I knew you wouldn’t take orders from him unless you had your own motive,” the princess chuckled lightly. “I didn’t expect you though to be such a talented actress.”
Beatriz shrugged. “Sorry, to deceive your enemy – you have to first deceive your allies.”
“So true, it’s the art of war.”
“You’ve learned a lot while I was away.”
“Mm, I needed to learn how to stand on my own two feet. With Brandon and Daniel incapacitated, you working with Reuben, my allegedly vast mana had to be put to some use.”
Beatriz nodded. Suddenly, the women heard the chuckle from the incapacitated prince of Machinos as he looked up to the dark knight.
“So this is your true colour,” he scoffed. “Such a vulgar red and black colour…”
“Oh fuck off, you’re not my mother.” Beatriz rolled her eyes at the injured prince. “I could fucking castrate you right here and now.”
“And to think I found you so beautiful… with those haunting icy blue eyes…”
“They’re only haunting because you believe they are. But let me tell you something, I don’t give a fucking damn to all those I’ve slaughtered with my scythe.”
As Beatriz and Reuben conversed with one another, Kevyn glanced at Samantha. “So, have you thought of what you’re going to make him do?”
“Make him confess his crimes and make him give us one of those rolling metal beasts,” Samantha said.
“You mean a car?”
“All this time you’ve been thinking a car is alive? Uh, no. It’s called a car – you know, four wheels and go vroom-vroom?”
Samantha’s mouth formed a small “o” before pouting at Kevyn. “I knew that!”
“So says the girl who played charades with me if she wanted to take a shit.”
“What? You know it’s true.”
The princess shook her head and stared down at Reuben, halting Beatriz. “Wait,” she ordered and turned to Reuben. “You know our wager.”
Reuben glared at her with defiant eyes. “Never.”
“You lost, asshole,” Kevyn snarled and charged electricity with her fingers. “Time to pay up.”
Samantha however put her hand in front of her and shook her head. “Wait,” she said before looking up at Beatriz. “Bea, do you know what they injected Daniel with?”
Beatriz raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean? He looked normal to me.”
“How does mentally-enslaved look normal to you!?”
“He’s pale, lanky, and slouching. That’s how he always looked like.”
“But silent and emotionless!?”
“Well, he was always socially awkward.”
“Bea! That’s no excuse!”
Beatriz pouted and shook her head. “Fine, fine, I’m honestly not sure though,” she admitted mildly. “We were kept in separate cells. It’s only now that I managed to get a good glimpse of him actually.”
Samantha nodded slowly and turned to Reuben until she heard the loud blaring of the horn. She snapped her head towards the balcony where she saw the announcer suddenly step away. The audience fell into silence when everyone acknowledged the arrival of the prince and now king of Machinos. Hayden stood over at the balcony with a quiet and solemn look before straight at Samantha.
“I believe my brother has challenged you to a wager to merit this kind of,” he paused for a moment to gesture to the destruction the battle caused. “Destruction.”
Seeing the mess the battle caused, Samantha sheepishly bowed. “Your Highness, I harbour no ill will. Your brother unfortunately provoked me—”
“—Yes, I’m sure he did. But I would like to discuss the matter with you properly and not like some ruthless barbarian.”
Stunned by the young prince’s demands, the princess of Sofiene found it wiser to comply. “Of course, milord.”
“As for your knights, have them brought to the palace.” Hayden turned away from her. “They have much to discuss with me.”
As she watched Hayden walk away, Samantha looked back at Reuben who sneered at her. However, she didn’t care. In the end, she got what she wanted. If she wanted to be shallow about it, all she wanted to do was to beat Reuben and make him pay for all the damage he had done. Not only to her but also to her knights. That and she needed a form of transportation to help them get around. There’s no way she wanted to travel on foot anymore!
“Well, time to talk to the king then.” Samantha shrugged before beckoning to Kevyn and the other knights to follow her. “Looks like this is a battle of words and the mind now.”