Persona Non Grata
“Damn,” Beatriz shook her head. “He looks angry.”
Samantha nodded. “Hayden normally doesn’t get angry. This is probably one of the few times.”
“Well, he’s a complete wimp. Just fry him.”
“Tempting as it sounds; there are better ways to get what I want.”
Beatriz blinked in surprise. When Samantha declared her plan on entry, the Dark Knight already knew that something had happened. Something in the princess had changed. The fact that she fought Reuben and could fight alongside someone that was not her was proof enough.
“So, you gonna have tea and scones with him?” Beatriz raised an eyebrow.
“I guess. If they even have tea and scones,” Samantha laughed dryly. “The only thing they might have is fries.”
“Hey, fries are good!”
“They go to your thighs.”
“Only if you don’t move around.”
Samantha nodded. “True,” she laughed. “But I hope I can plea bargain with him. We did just decimate a stadium after all.”
“Yeah, I’ll stay here and keep tabs on this dumb shit,” she grabbed a fistful of Reuben’s hair. “You go deal with his younger brother. Bring the other knights with you.”
Samantha nodded. “Will you be okay?”
“I can’t die.”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t feel pain.”
“I thrive on pain, sweet thing.”
“It didn’t look that way when Kevyn shattered your bones.”
Of course it wouldn’t, Beatriz frowned to herself. Kevyn laced her limbs with mana. Also, she could only assume that the mana simply augmented her already almost superhuman strength. It was a sharp pain the first time before she found her arms and legs unable to move.
“Well, I would’ve won against her anyway. She would have run out of juice,” Beatriz folded her arms with a haughty snort.
“Yeah, yeah, keep talking,” the mentioned dragon-tamer scoffed and smirked. “Chillax, Sugar Queen. I got this.”
Ugh, that smirk of hers is so damn irritating!
Beatriz clenched her hands tightly into a fist as she watched Samantha give orders to the other knights. She then focused her attention on Reuben who coughed out blood. Despite his bloodied form, he still retained a haughty smirk.
“Well played, bitch,” he sniggered. “I didn’t expect much brains out of a blonde like you.”
Beatriz scoffed. “You’ve been watching too much cartoons. Your brain’s too damn scrambled.”
While she handled Reuben, her icy blue eyes rolled to watch where Samantha, Kevyn, and the other members of the Machinos Gear were going. She also spotted Kevyn slinging Daniel’s arm onto her shoulder as she brought him along. That woman’s a monster, Beatriz thought. She wondered – what kind of life did Kevyn lead? How did she get that strong?
But whatever it was, Beatriz wanted a rematch. She wanted to blow that smug look off Kevyn’s face if it was the last thing she could do!
As Samantha made her way into the throne room, she noticed how the air around the castle had changed. The curtains billowed and the servants scattered around while trying to get things done. The bustling noises echoed through the halls and the sun beams from the sky shone through the windows. It was something she didn’t expect, especially since the eldest prince of the Machinos royal family had his ego smashed by an exiled princess.
While making her way towards the throne room, the knights who volunteered for her cause followed her. They remained quiet and all of them had a steely expression. She glanced at Kevyn who kept a stony gaze with a dark and cold glare whereas the other knights seemed more determined to know what Prince Hayden wanted them for. She breathed in deep before exhaling loudly. While a part of her knew what she intended would have blemished her record, another part of her argued that it was justice. Justice, Samantha thought. It was such a powerful word yet it was so easily distorted.
When she finally reached the doors, Samantha stopped right in front of it. She glanced up, wondering what Hayden wanted to tell her. Was it to reprimand her for causing so much destruction? It wasn’t your fault, her mind argued. However, she shook her head. If she had finished Reuben off there and then, she probably would have had worse things to deal with.
“Don’t worry.” Samantha suddenly heard a voice tell her.
The princess turned around to see Cathy smiling.
“Don’t worry,” Cathy repeated with a reassuring smile. “I’m sure that Prince Hayden will be more reasonable. He’s nothing like Reuben; he knows the arts of courtly intrigue yet maintains his morals as a person. I don’t think he’s into victim blaming.”
Samantha nodded. “I hope so.”
“Reuben and he never got along. I highly doubt he’ll support his brother’s actions towards you.”
“I suppose but I don’t have any proof. Hayden may even sweep this under the rug due to a technicality.”
“The prince isn’t like that. He doesn’t condone that kind of behaviour.”
Sighing, the princess smiled weakly at Cathy. “I certainly hope so.”
Kevyn shrugged. “There’s no use whining over spilled milk. He’s probably more interested how you managed to fuck Reuben up the ass.”
“I certainly hope so,” Samantha chuckled and shook her head. “But still, a few rules before we go in.”
Kevyn nodded. “Yeah, yeah, keep my mouth zippered shut unless I got a better thing to say.” She waved her hand dismissively. “Blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada – don’t worry, lady, I know how to handle myself.”
Samantha shook her head. “I hope so. I’m starting to doubt that you can.”
“Calm your tities, no need to get your panties in a twist. I’m pretty sure I can handle myself.”
“Deus, I’m not sure whether or not your vulgarness is endearing or terrifying.”
“Fuck being prim and proper, sometimes, you gotta be brutal to get straight to the point.”
Abigayle chuckled. “To be honest, you would’ve made a good knight for Reuben. For all his lust, he prefers women who can snap back at him.”
“Well, he can go shove his preferences up his ass,” Kevyn scoffed in annoyance before folding her arms.
Samantha shook her head before pushing the doors open.
As she entered the throne room, she saw Hayden sitting on the throne with two Sentinels standing at the side. Samantha exhaled deeply before walking towards him. She could hear the soles of her flats clicking against the marble but also the sound of her knights’ footsteps coming from behind her.
“Prince Hayden.” She curtsied.
“Princess Samantha.” He stood up from his throne and bowed. “I wasn’t aware that you were here.”
“It was alright. I also forgot to send you condolences for your mother’s death.”
“Thank you, your kindness is most appreciated.”
Samantha nodded but retained a steely expression. “However, I believe your summoning of me is no courtesy call.”
“Yes and if you understand then, I shall cut to the chase.” Hayden sat down on the throne and stared her down. “Your battle against my brother – what exactly was the wager?”
Samantha nodded. “He is to pay for his crimes against my knights and I.”
“Pray tell what this crime is?”
“He sexually violated me. He sexually violated Brandon. Daniel is currently drugged to the point of poisoning and Beatriz has been morally coerced.”
“Morally coerced to do what?”
“To serve as his knight unless she wants my head on a pike.”
“I believe that is her own choice.”
“It is still blackmail. And you’re willing to let a rapist like him run around?”
Hayden shook his head. “I can’t just jail him either. He has a large following which may cause a civil war.”
“So the violation of many little girls just to keep your false peace,” Samantha retorted.
“He’s not normally like that.”
“Are you saying I triggered him?”
“I said no such thing.”
“Your statement implies such.”
“Princess Samantha, you have no right to be unreasonable on this land,” Hayden chided with a glare. “As far as I’m concerned, you intended to make him pay with his life.”
“I gave no such order. Beatriz simply put him on a leash,” Samantha defended her knight’s actions.
“Who are you to lecture me about running Machinos? Forgive my rudeness but, your obnoxiousness and crude assumptions that I am not aware of my brother’s actions is irking me. After all, you are a queen who abandoned your kingdom.”
Samantha bit her lip at his comment. “Your actions are precisely why I was forced,” she emphasized on the word ‘forced’, “to abandon my people.”
Hayden remained silent.
“I thought I could pacify my brothers by giving in to what they wanted. They too had many supporters. After all, princes are expected to be kings. Princesses are bargaining chips and bridges for a political alliance.”
Samantha watched Hayden grip the throne tightly.
“But because of that, they created an uprising that resulted to the death of my parents, many loyal and good people, and the guilty consciences that the surviving soldiers have to live with,” Samantha finished and shook her head. “I’m sorry. But I’m trying to prevent you from committing the same mistake I made.”
She let Hayden’s hardened stare linger for a moment before he sighed.
“So what do you want?” Hayden folded his arms. “His public execution? His head on a silver platter?”
Samantha shook her head. “I simply want him to answer for his crimes. Have him tried. His being one of royal blood should not stop you. Also, he’s only a royal because he’s been legitimized bastard –”
“—Shut up!” Hayden slammed his fist against the throne. “You know nothing,” the prince of Machinos seethed.
Despite Hayden’s outburst, Samantha refused to let her resolve waver. “True but I know that if the people find out that you have been covering his criminal tracks, they will hold you accountable.”
Hayden gritted his teeth and hung his head. Samantha knew she had won. Her eyes rolled to check on Kaelyn, Abigayle, Cathy, and Patrisha. Much to her surprise, she saw nothing.
“You,” Hayden began and looked at the members of the Machinos Gears. “Did you all feel the same way?”
Kaelyn nodded. “When Reuben took over throne during the Mourning Period, we never liked serving him.” She gestured to the other members of the Gears of Machinos. “I think I speak for all the knights that stand here.”
Kevyn scoffed. “I never served that dumbass. Don’t know, don’t care.”
Hayden shook his head. “Considering that I could make you pay for all the construction damage, I have an offer.”
Samantha watched Hayden’s eyes shift slightly. “I’m listening.”
“I will provide everything you need. I’ll fix up your knights, and have you all fixed up for the journey,” Hayden said.
“But you want us to leave Machinos and drop charges against Reuben,” Samantha added. “Is that it?”
“You certainly good at these politics.”
“You’re defending a rapist and a threat to your city.”
“He’s my brother.”
“He raped me, gouged out Cathy’s eye, defiled Brandon, tortured Daniel and Beatriz,” Samantha added. “Did I forget to mention that he razed an entire community to the ground?”
“He was flushing out insurgents!”
“At the cost of the lives of people’s families and livelihoods!”
Before Samantha could continue scolding the younger prince of Machinos, Kevyn stepped up. “With all due respect, I understand you love your brother. After all, he’s all you have left,” the dragon-tamer began with a bitter smile. “But if you leave him loose, he’ll do more damage to himself and to you. He’ll rape more little girls, maybe even kill them if he got bored with them, and more people will suffer if you leave him out there.”
Hayden narrowed his eyes. “What are you suggesting?”
“He’s clearly lacking a nut or two,” Kevyn said. “Stick him in an asylum.”
“A mental hospital. He probably has more unresolved issues than genetic problems.”
“I can’t abandon him in there!”
“I’m not saying you should, Your Highness. I’m saying that you should keep him there so you can keep tabs on him. It’s a whole lot better than having me castrate the fucking bastard.”
Samantha paled and saw Hayden’s knuckles pale, causing her to immediately step in. “What she means is, having him plead insanity is far better than having him executed for his crimes. That way, you can also help him but temporarily appease the victims of his crimes.”
Hayden sighed as his temper cooled. “I… I suppose. But you will leave right?”
“As long as you deliver up on your promise,” Kevyn said and hiked her thumb at the princess. “Fix us up, get Lady Boobsalot her car –”
“—Hey!” Samantha stared aghast at the dragon-tamer.
“And leave Yartengar Mountains alone,” Kevyn enunciated every word carefully. “If you so much as send a single soldier to attack Yartengar, I will fucking fry that bastard’s ass and send his dick on a pike.”
Samantha knew what Kevyn wanted. She simply wanted the dragons to live in peace. She’s their only line of defense, the princess thought. While she remembered Khanara’s request, the princess weighed the consequences of taking Kevyn away from the dragons. If she took Kevyn with her then, the dragons would be left a risk for poaching.
“Very well, give me the location of where you’re staying,” Hayden finally agreed. He looked towards the former Machinos Gears. “Do you have any demands?”
Cathy shook her head. “We want nothing but to serve you once more as a Machinos Gear.”
Kaelyn nodded. “We wanted nothing but to be a knight of Machinos once more.”
Hayden sighed, “Very well.” He turned to Samantha. “I’ll have everything sent to your place by this afternoon.”
Seeing that they’ve come to an agreement, Samantha curtsied. “Thank you, Prince Hayden.”
Samantha and her knights returned to the inn with Daniel’s body slumped over Kevyn’s. She glanced at her hands and nodded. It was the first time she had ever fought on her own. And if she had to describe it, it was as if her blood had boiled to life.
“Excellent fighting out there,” Patrisha said. “I didn’t expect a princess like you to take command like that.”
“A wise woman once told me, ’a queen must be well-rounded’.” Samantha smiled fondly at the memory of her godmother. She pushed the door open. “And included in being well-rounded is being able to fight.”
As they entered the inn, Samantha found Brandon sitting at the bar. “I never knew you as a drinker.”
Brandon turned around while drinking a cup of tea. “I don’t,” he admitted mildly. “I needed Chamomile tea. Someone thought it was a good idea to throw her mana all over the place.”
Samantha, seeing his accusing gaze, scratched the back of her head sheepishly. “Sorry.”
“I’m gonna need compensation.”
“You already have it. You’re walking and not dead.”
“I clawed my way out.”
“Yeah but Princess Boobsalot over here knitted your muscle fibres all together,” Kevyn added. “If she didn’t, you’d be crawling on all fours like a shit-laden fuck toy.”
Brandon shook his head. “And who are you supposed to be?”
“Your temporary stand-in until you can get up and swing your swords.”
“Well, consider me capable.”
“Great, saves my brain from popping a few more cells.”
Samantha sighed and turned to Kevyn and the female knights. “Wait here, I’ll get our stuff. We’ll meet up with Beatriz.”
“Speaking of which, where is the crazy girl?” Brandon glanced and checked the crowd. “Thought she’d be with you.”
“She’s having her chance with Reuben.”
“Damn, she got a lucky shot in. I wanted a few kicks in too.”
“Well, I promised Hayden that we wouldn’t harm Reuben. We’ll let their justice handle him.”
“He’ll get out on a technicality.”
“I know but those are the terms we agreed on. You can’t persuade someone to cage their sibling that easily.”
Brandon scowled and dropped his head on the bar. “Damn it.”
Samantha nodded. “I know. But we don’t have much of a choice.”
“There’s always a choice.”
“Okay, let me rephrase: we don’t have much of a choice unless you want to fight an entire army to prove our point.”
“Ah, I see. Not taking the assassination route?”
Samantha frowned. “Brandon, I am no murderer.”
The pirate captain chuckled with delight. “Good just makin’ sure, lass. Keep your pretty white hands clean from blood. That’s my job.”
“Or your knights’ job for that matter,” Kevyn added. “As for me, I just kill shit because they screwed around with the dragons and that I fucking hate humans.”
Samantha giggled softly but turned her attention to Brandon. She saw something behind his cocky lavender eyes. Unlike the usual mischievous look, she saw concern but also his bruised dignity. The princess shivered at the thought. What did those soldiers in Machinos do to him? What kind of torture did they subject him to? The princess had to consider how advanced their technology was. If it were Sofiene, they used more magical methods such as Truth Spitter spell. For worse criminals, she didn’t even want to imagine what they did to worse criminals.
“So, getting back,” Brandon said before turning to face Samantha. “What do we do now?”
“Hayden promised to help supply us before we start moving again.”
“Really? But we’re considered persona non grata the moment we leave.”
“More or less.”
“That’s peachy. Just peachy.”
Kevyn nodded. “Don’t worry. I’ll guide you across Yartengar Mountain Range. Once you guys get across, you’ll have a village nearby. Also,” she added and pointed to a slumped over Daniel. “What are we doing about this guy?”
Samantha nodded and glanced at Cathy. “Cathy, please go to the Greenhouse and check if they have some Bezoar on them. Also, I’ll need a bit of wolfsbane.”
Cathy nodded and immediately set off.
“Kevyn, bring Daniel up and there’s a particular plant I need you to get. I saw it in the waterfall area of the Yartengar Mountain Range,” Samantha explained to the dragon-tamer. “It had blue flowers and only this large, long-necked, blue green dragon seemed to eat it.”
“You mean the Blue Oleander and the dragon you’re talking about is the Boiledron?” Kevyn nodded before heading upstairs. “Let me set down this guy first and I’ll head off.”
Samantha nodded and turned to Brandon. “Brandon, find some clean towels and a basin with hot water.”
The pirate quickly scrambled for the towels.
Samantha turned to Abigayle. “Do you know what kind of drug they used?”
“To be honest, I wouldn’t even call it a drug,” the gun-wielding woman explained. “I had only seen the source of it once and I don’t wanna even go near her.”
Samantha blinked. “The source… is a person?”
“Yeah, surprised? So was I. And she was so creepy, I didn’t want to get near her.”
“Really? She was that thing floating in a test tube?” Brandon came out with a basin full of water and clean towels. “She had black hair, wearing a blue dress, with pasty white skin as if she were dead?”
Abigayle’s eyes widened. “Wait, you saw her?”
“Yeah and when she said hello, I scrambled out as fast as I can. No way in hell am I staying near that crazy… thing… person… what the hell is she?”
“She’s Machinos’ first venture into Bio-Weaponry.”
Samantha gawked. “Bio… as in a Living Weapon?”
“In a sense, yes.” Abigayle nodded. “If you consider killing people and turning them into mindless slaves as your sole purpose in life then yes, your definition of a Living Weapon would be correct.”
“Well, Reuben’s cray-cray but he’s a smart kind of cray-cray which is a bad thing.”
Shaking her head, the princess slumped down on one of the chairs. The creation of bio-weapons – that was considered forbidden in the magic arts. She didn’t know that an empire like Machinos hid that in their basements. As is, she didn’t expect something as big as Deus Ex Machina to rise from the ground. She dropped her chin into her palms. If Reuben had the brains to do that, what more her brothers? As is, if they planned to make Sofiene competitive, they were already on the losing end in terms of weaponry.
“If I hadn’t left Sofiene, Machinos could have just wiped us out with a snap of their fingers,” Samantha murmured as the realization hit her. “If I didn’t depart for this journey to find knights to help me reclaim the throne, I’d be still twiddling my thumbs in my Ivory Tower.”
Suddenly, she heard footsteps descend from the stairs to see Kevyn all suited up.
“I got the little dumbass tucked in. Finding that Blue Oleander isn’t hard; it’s praying that the Boiledron didn’t eat everything,” Kevyn chuckled as she waved her hand. “See ya in a bit.”
As Kevyn left the vicinity, Cathy returned with the herbs. “Here, I got everything you asked me for. I also brought some additional detoxifiers like Kale and Pineapple.”
Samantha nodded. “Perfect, we can at least do the preliminary extraction.” She turned to Abigayle. “So, what is it exactly? Is it a drug? Poison? What is it she does?”
Abigayle pursed her lips for a moment. “It’s kinda like a virus but not at the same time. Like, she’ll activate it only when told to. Kinda like how a virus can play dead before attacking your body.”
The princess frowned at the notion. What kind of creature is that? She racked her brains for everything she studied in the sciences but none of them seemed to add up. A human person able to infect bodies – she shook her head. That kind of technology was impossible unless they had really planned from birth that the person would become a weapon.
“The way she transmits is similar to a spore,” Kaelyn explained. “I don’t know the full details but that’s all I know.”
Now that Kaelyn explained a part of it, Samantha beamed. “That’s all I need to know! Now we can help fix things!”
The girls and Brandon rushed up the stairs to find Daniel sitting up from the bed with pasty white skin. His eyes turned bloodshot as he suddenly lunged at all of them. Brandon quickly bolted past them and grabbed Daniel by the neck before slamming him into the bed. The agent hissed and flailed as he attempted to claw off Brandon’s grip. Samantha quickly joined in before grabbing some of the water in the basins that Brandon brought up before chaining him to the bed.
“Mercy Deus,” Patrisha gasped and shook her head. “If I didn’t know better, it would have looked like either a BDSM-rape scene or an exorcism!”
Brandon struggled to keep Daniel pinned. “I think the latter would be more appropriate!” He punched Daniel across the face. “Get a hold of yourself, you dumb shit!”
Suddenly, they heard a dragon roar from outside. Kaelyn looked out the window to see Kevyn tapping on the glass. She quickly opened it to let Kevyn in as she ordered her Alastreus to hide away.
“He’s yours?” Kaelyn raised an eyebrow at Kevyn.
The dragon-tamer smirked. “He’s my best bud. I don’t own him and he don’t own me. There’s no such thing as subjugation between me and dragons.”
Samantha nodded. “But never mind that, do you have the Blue Oleander?”
Kevyn raised a big of sack of it in front of the princess’s face. “Got as many as I could find. The Boiledron helped me too after I dropped off some mackerel for it.”
Samantha, beaming, grabbed the sack and poured out the flowers. “Kevyn, I need you to roast them. Cathy, grind the bezoar into paste. Abigayle, Patrisha, Kaelyn, Brandon, pin Daniel down. This isn’t going to be an easy thing to do.”
“Why don’t we just knock him out?” Brandon shrugged.
“See,” Kevyn hollered. “That’s what I told her the first time! But she started whining after!”
Samantha rolled her eyes. “Will you guys focus!? Daniel’s sanity might be at stake!”
“There’s not much to save then.” Kevyn shrugged as she continued roasting the Blue Oleander. “I gave him pretty good shock therapy.”
“You zapped his brains out!?”
“That’s what he gets for trying to put a fucking bullet in between my eyes!”
Kaelyn quickly diffused the situation. “We’ll worry about the brain damage later. I’ll pin his left wrist. Brandon, is it? Handle his left leg. Patrisha, right wrist. Abi, right ankle.”
With all the knights in position, Samantha turned to Cathy and Kevyn. “The herbs ready?”
Kevyn nodded. “Everything’s up and ready.”
Samantha grabbed the herbs and threw them into the water. She quickly mixed it before moulding the water around her hand. She murmured a set of incantations before hovering her hand over Daniel’s body. The moment she pressed the water against his skin, Daniel’s body jerked violently but the other knights kept him pinned. He howled in agony as Samantha extracted every bit of the drug she could find.
If it’s spore-based, they usually clump up together, Samantha thought to herself. She remembered the lessons of Councilman Jun especially in healing. She winced at Daniels agonized screams and gasps. She could see his veins popping from beneath his skin as he struggled to get free. He nearly kicked Brandon away if not for the water chains she had previously locked him with. The herb infused water in her hand slowly turned a murky, dark greenish grey. The moment it became completely murky, she placed it in the bowl. She moved on to the next attempt as more of the toxins appeared. Beads of sweat trickled down her face as she continued the detoxification. Kevyn and Cathy quickly moved to pin Daniel.
“Wait, let me see if I can make this faster.” Kevyn quickly ran her magic through her fingertips. “I’ll increase the temperature of his body. That way, his body will just sweat it out.”
Samantha nodded. “That’ll be helpful. Thank you.”
Daniel hissed and groaned in pain as more of the toxins poured into her water bubble. She filtered it out into the dirty bowl. She continued filtering it out little by little until Daniel’s skin colour returned back to its normal fair colour. His breathing was less laboured; his body relaxed a little as he seemingly sank into a dreamless slumber. Samantha sighed in relief as the knights also backed off.
“Damn,” Kevyn shook her head. “That was a lot.”
“They must’ve given him a full syringe.” Abigayle shook her head. “They used him as a hamster to test it.”
“To test what?” Brandon raised an eyebrow. “How to turn someone into a mindless zombie?”
“Wow, I was being sarcastic.”
“Reuben wanted an army of mindless but ruthless killing machines,” Cathy explained. “He said that the only reason why the Machinos Gears lost is because we had individual thought processes.”
“Great, so he wanted a fucking hive mind,” Kevyn growled. She sat on the other bed. “And Daniel over here was their test dummy.”
“In a sense, yes,” Kaelyn added. “But the fact that Daniel didn’t mutate proved that they were getting somewhere with that serum of theirs.”
Brandon shivered at the word ‘mutate’, remembering Luke’s final moments. “Mutate?”
“Those creatures you guys fought in Pandemona? Or rather the creatures that Beatriz slaughtered? Those were all the test subjects.”
Samantha shook her head. “What a monster.”
“Unfortunately, the word monster may be able to accurately describe him if you’ve known of what he’s done.”
Suddenly, they heard a few thumps up the staircase. “Nah, if he’s a monster, then what the fuck am I?”
Everyone turned their attention to the staircase where they found Beatriz walking up with a grin.
“Bea,” Samantha exclaimed. “You’re here!”
“Yeah, Hayden threw me out and made me escort the supplies,” Beatriz snickered. “All the stuff we need is down there.”
Samantha nodded. That means we better head out soon, the princess thought to herself. She glanced at the Machinos Gears. She couldn’t have accomplished everything she did without their help. But most of all, Kevyn gave her the specific tools. The dragon-tamer may have been a bitchy teacher; it didn’t mean her methods were useless.
“I guess this means goodbye,” Samantha said and turned to the knights of the Machinos Gears. “If it weren’t for you guys, I would still be a traumatized little girl without anything.”
“We didn’t do very much,” Kaelyn admitted mildly. “I even lost my match.”
“Just because you lost doesn’t mean you didn’t try.”
Kaelyn turned to Kevyn. “I guess you’ll be leading her out?”
“As far as I’m concerned, Reuben wants me dead and I hate him too,” Kevyn snickered. “Better to have us not within 10 metres of each other.”
“His followers probably would rather rape me too.”
“And if they try?”
Kevyn snorted. “Then, those fucktards should go fuck themselves and I’ll fry their goddamn balls while I’m at it.”
“That,” Kaelyn paused with a shudder, “was an image I was better off living without.”
“I’m amazed by your brutality.”
“I’m not brutal. If they attempt to rape me or hurt me, I fight back. Whaddya take me for? A wuss?”
Abigayle chuckled and shook her head. “You and Jeremiah would have gotten along.”
“Maybe,” Kevyn admitted. “But no thanks, I no likey Reuben.”
Samantha smiled until she heard a groan from the bed. Daniel rose up with his arms shaking as they propped his body up. He winced and groaned, shaking his head. The princess beamed in delight before pressing her palm against Daniel’s forehead.
“Good, I managed to break your fever.” Samantha nodded and sat down. “How are you feeling?”
Daniel waved his hand with a weak smile. “So-so, still a bit light-headed.”
“That’s normal. Kevyn did zap you.”
“So she did.”
Kevyn glared at him, growling. “In my defence, you tried to put a bullet into my shoulder, ass hat.”
“I didn’t have complete control of my faculties.”
“Yeah, you have shitty control over them.”
“You’re not dead, are you?”
“No but I have a fucking hole in my shoulder because of you.”
Daniel scratched the back of his head sheepishly. “Haha, uh, sorry?”
“Yeah, yeah. Next time, I’ll fry your fucking nuts.”
“Some girl you are.”
“Me? A girl? In this world, girls are just taken advantage of!”
Samantha shook her head. What Kevyn said was the truth. It was why she ended up fighting Reuben in the first place. She glanced at her body, remembering all the bruises that covered her body. The feeling of wanting to rip her skin off, the rash idea of scrubbing her skin with a stone, and the horror and hatred of feeling “dirty” rushed into her mind during that time. But ever since she had what Kevyn called “unlocked” her magic, she felt a whole new rush of power. But there remained one question: what was that large thing in Sofiene that managed to decimate majority of her enemies? Where did that come from?
“Anyway before we lose track,” Samantha said. “As promised to Prince Hayden, we’ll have to leave Machinos by tonight.”
Brandon frowned. “We did nothing wrong.”
“In the eyes of their law, I just assaulted the highest royal in the land.”
“He assaulted you first!”
“We don’t have evidence to prove that.”
Brandon hissed and slammed his fist against the table. “Damn it!”
“I know. It’s frustrating.” Samantha gritted her teeth. “But it’s for the best. Ever since we got here, it’s been one bad thing after another.”
Kevyn nodded. “Totally agree. I’d rather not be here when the civil war happens.”
“They’ll peg her,” Daniel weakly groaned, referring to Samantha. “They’ll put her on trial and do anything to declare her guilty.”
Kaelyn nodded. “As much as I hate to admit it, Daniel is right. Sexism is rampant in Machinos. There’s so much inequality here that you wonder why people haven’t done anything.”
“They’re probably fighting a battle somewhere else. Like, I don’t know, the internet?”
Brandon scoffed, “what a bunch of useless scallywags.”
“Useless scallywags on the outside but crazy keyboard warriors on the inside. If they want something to change then, do something instead of whining on the damn internet.”
Samantha shook her head. “Will you ever be nice?”
“To humans? Never.”
“Obviously you would for dragons. But what you did for me today, thank you.”
Kevyn narrowed her honey gold eyes at Samantha. However, the princess could have sworn that she saw a hint of mirth and warmth in the dragon-tamer’s eyes. But Kevyn scoffed and folded her arms, stalking off.
“Don’t take forever. We don’t know when Reuben might send a bunch of his lackeys to come and get us. And frankly, I’m not in the mood to kill shit right now.”
Samantha nodded before turning to Daniel. “Okay then, I’ll just nurse Daniel a bit before we head off. I can do the rest at Yartengar Mountain Range.”
While she began to nurse Daniel, Samantha didn’t notice Brandon and Kevyn make their way downstairs.
Brandon hobbled his way down, wincing at every step. His fibres still burned from Samantha’s reckless use of mana. While he didn’t see what Samantha did exactly, the rainbow coloured lights told him everything. He sauntered down the stairs before spotting Kevyn taking a seat at a bar.
“What will it be, miss?” The barista placed a teacup in front of her. “Lemon or milk?”
Kevyn shook her head. “Plain. I’d like some pure green tea. Nothing fancy.”
“Ah, so you’d like the Sencha green tea?”
“Yes. How’d you guess?”
The barista chuckled and steeped her tea. “You’re a pragmatic spirit. Sharp, no-nonsense, straight to the point and snarky – am I right?”
Kevyn chuckled, “you’re not wrong there.”
Brandon then made his way to the bar and took a seat next to her. “Thanks,” he suddenly said.
Kevyn rolled her eyes. “I just wanted her out of my hair. Besides, she was the only shot I had to get to Reuben and fry his fucking ass.”
Brandon shook his head. “You’re not the one to mince her words, are you?”
“Pfft,” Kevyn scoffed and rolled her eyes. “What’s the point if everyone’s gonna be a dick?”
“Not everyone is.”
“Don’t give me that. You’re not special and neither am I. Everyone is qualified to be called an asshole by some dick because they’re too dumb to figure it out.”
“True, ignorance can bring out the worst in people.”
“You don’t say?”
Brandon chuckled. Considering how Beatrice and Daniel were, having someone with more sense would be nice. Kevyn proved herself on the battlefield. The fact that Samantha came back unscathed was proof of that. He glanced at her arms and saw bandages dressed around them. She must’ve taken a lot of damage from Bea, he mused. If there was one who fought for keeps, it was the Dark Knight.
“She really did a number on you, did she,” he asked softly.
“Yeap, Bea hits like a goddamn truck. If I didn’t know nerve striking, I’d be dead.”
“Yeah, I literally controlled her mana with every strike.”
Now that caught Brandon off-guard. “You controlled her mana?”
“Yeap, smack her in her nape, forehead, rib, and right armpit to shut down her scythe.”
“Eww, you shoved your fist into her armpit?”
“I have no time to complain in the battlefield. Whatever keeps me alive, I gotta do it.”
Brandon nodded. “That’s true,” he admitted mildly. “You sure you don’t wanna come?”
“Join us. Sam would really appreciate it.”
“Sorry, I hate people.”
Kevyn chuckled, shaking her head. “Daniel tried to recruit me too but, I threw him out. I can’t abandon the dragons. I committed a crime against the dragons and still have to serve the sentence.”
“Killing for a Dragon General.”
“Oooh, not nice.”
Snickering, Brandon shook his head. “You would have made a fine pirate.”
“Thanks but hold up, what’s your name?”
“Brandon Hawthorne. Why?”
Kevyn smirked. “So I know whose ship to not bomb if I see it and whose ship I can dig for food.”
“Wow, thief much?”
“I prefer the term vigilante.”
Brandon spotted the bartender slipping him a cup of Chamomile Tea. “And you?”
“Yes, you. What’s your name?”
“Not me, you.”
“I am Yu!”
Brandon frowned. “You’re bloody trolling.”
Kevyn snorted in amusement. “Yeah, yeah – the name’s Kevyn.”
“Kevyn, huh,” Brandon repeated. “Princess would feel bad if you didn’t join her.”
“Sorry, I work alone.”
“Alright. But you’ll escort us at least through the mountain range, right?”
“As promised. A dragon keeps its word.”
“I thought they torch people?”
Brandon snickered and sighed, slumping down on the table. “This is the first sensible conversation I’ve had in awhile.”
“When was the last?”
“Two weeks ago.”
“That was before Reuben chucked you into jail?”
Kevyn took a sip of her green tea with an empathetic look. “Valiant effort but it sounds to me that you guys got sold out.”
“Yeah by someone who I thought was a friend,” Brandon admitted bitterly.
“Betrayal is nothing new. It’s just that someone offered him something better.”
“He probably was offered my head on a silver platter.”
“Wow, hatred much? Whatcha do? Call him a hypebeast because of his ugly, dorky shoes that look like socks with rubber padding under them?”
Brandon laughed. “Wait, what?”
“I’ve seen fist fights happen because of those.”
“Wow, people have gotten shallow.”
“Humans are stupid. It’s why I hate them and would rather not give a fuck about them.”
Brandon nodded. “True.”
“But seriously, what exactly did you do?”
“A friend of ours died under my watch.”
“I couldn’t save him.”
“It’s why he wanted me dead.”
Kevyn pursed her lips and folded her arms. “Ah, the typical story of vengeance. Ha, I saw that coming. Vengeance for the death of a friend that clearly wasn’t your fault.”
Brandon shook his head. “You don’t know that.”
“True I don’t know the gory details as to what happened. But I know one thing: your dead friend would have not blamed you unless you were the one who stuck the blade into him.”
Brandon stiffly nodded. As much as he hated to admit it, Kevyn’s words made sense. But how could one easily toss away their guilt? He glanced at Kevyn who continued to take a sip out of her tea. Despite her cold statement, he knew she was right. It made sense; Luke made his choice to suck out all the golden poison from his blood.
“I suppose so,” Brandon murmured and looked into the tea cup, watching the waves ripple across the tea.
Kevyn raised an eyebrow. “Unless, you performed euthanasia.”
“Y’know, mercy killing?”
At this, Brandon fell silent.
“So you did,” Kevyn said and shook her head. “Did he ask you to?”
“He did. To be exact, he said to kill him while he still had a shred of humanity left.”
“At least you didn’t do it with malice.”
Brandon nodded. Kevyn did have a point. But he still wished that there was another way. An antidote – yet according to the dryad, there was none. A sigh bubbled from his throat as he took a sip of his tea. He stared at the ripples in the tea cup, swirling some of the stewed leaves inside.
“He wouldn’t want you to mull over it.”
He glanced over at Kevyn. Her voice had audibly become a soft whisper as her honey brown eyes watched the ripples in her own tea cup. Her once pragmatic and straight-forward expression suddenly became forlorn. A sigh bubbled from her throat as she folded her arms on the table and rested her chin on her arms.
“Sometimes, I believe that the dead aren’t really dead,” Kevyn whispered. “They’re just in a better place where they won’t feel pain anymore.”
Brandon raised an eyebrow. “Is that why you’re okay with killing people?”
Kevyn gawked at him. “Me? Kill? No, no, I don’t kill people. I just maul ’em to death.”
“That’s… leaving them at certain death.”
“No, I at least allow them to decide whether they live or die. It’s the law of nature. The strong defeat the weak. But the smart defeat the strong.”
“It’s that kind of thinking that gets you killed.”
“Not if I’m the strong and smart one.”
Brandon chuckled as he heard footsteps go down the stairs. There, he saw Samantha sighing and wiping the sweat off her eyebrow.
“Well, Daniel should be ready soon. He’s just getting his senses back,” Samantha explained to both of them before taking a seat at the saloon area with them. “After that, Kevyn, I’ll need you to lead us through the Yartengar Mountains.”
“Sure,” Kevyn said while taking a sip from her tea. “Just tell me when you’re ready. Though, I’m curious – what was that thing they pumped into Daniel’s blood?”
“I’m not so sure but from the looks of it, it was spore-like in nature.” Samantha shook her head as the bartender gave her a cup of tea. “Thank you.”
The bartender nodded. “You looked like you needed it.”
Upon hearing this, Kevyn raised an eyebrow. “So, they literally infected him using mushrooms?”
“That’s a crude and sad way to put it but yes,” Samantha laughed softly. “I like how you simplify things.”
“When someone’s life is on the line, you have no time to make things complicated.”
Brandon glanced at the cargo on the side, musing. “Wow, he really supplied us. He really wants us to get out.”
“Well, after assaulting a royal, blowing up half the stadium, and kicking the boxers out of every single soldier they sent after us does kinda merit a stain on their oh-so-perfect record,” Kevyn sniggered. “Obviously, they wanted us kicked out.”
Brandon chuckled. “I suppose. How are you going to lead us through the mountains though?”
Kevyn smirked. “Simple,” she said with a snap of her fingers.
Suddenly, Brandon heard a loud roar and a thump outside. The pirate’s eyes widened when he saw a familiar dragon. He remembered the time Daniel and he ventured through the slums and saw a large shadow looming over them. The dragon had shining emerald green eyes with silver blue scaled with a large wing span and slender tail. It had a streamline face that had a sharp snout.
“Blitzkrieg and I will guide you through the mountain range. We’ll also have the Gemsniffs figure out a route.”
Brandon blinked. “Gemsniffs?”
“They’re Earth-based dragons,” Samantha explained. “They know the caverns better than any of us.”
The pirate captain nodded slowly. He watched Samantha talk to Kevyn as they seemingly planned out a route. How much did I miss, Brandon wondered. The fact that Samantha survived the death match alive showed that something did happen. Brandon made a mental note to ask her later.
“Well then, we good?” Someone behind him asked.
Everyone turned around to see Daniel up on his feet, fully clothed and geared to go. Cathy, Kaelyn, Abigayle, and Patrisha walked down the stairs with him, gathering around Samantha. The pirate captain, seeing that Daniel was all geared up and ready to go, stood up and walked past Kevyn.
“We’ll be counting on you to get us through the pass.” Brandon patted her shoulder.
“I’ll be counting on you not to piss off any of the dragons then,” Kevyn chuckled at him.
“Being roasted isn’t part of my bucket list.”
“Common misconceptions: not all dragons roast their enemies.”
“But majority of them do.”
Brandon nodded until he felt a tap on his shoulder. Puzzled, the pirate captain turned around to see Samantha smiling and handing him a bag. He took the bag from her as the princess nodded.
“I got you some new clothes. Your old ones were way beyond saving.” Samantha shook her head. “I don’t think even the best tailor can fix your clothes.”
“Damn to think that was my favourite coat,” Brandon muttered before graciously accepting the bag. “I’ll go change then.”
“Please do. We can’t have you walking around in hospital clothes.”
Brandon made his way towards the bathroom and closed the door behind him. Quizzical, he looked into the bag before pulling out the clothes. Much to his surprise, Samantha knew how to pick out clothes. It was a white button up shirt but she had also packed a brown belt sling for his gunblades. Inside, there was also a pair of khaki pants and a brown belt for him to wear. A mirthful chuckle bubbled from his throat. When was the last time he changed clothes? The better question for him was, when was the last time he took a decent shower?
“At least I smell better now instead of smelling like sweat and other things,” Brandon murmured before placing the clothes on.
As Brandon vanished into the bathroom, Samantha smiled. She looked at her old group of knights and those who have temporarily swore their allegiance to her. A sense of pride and triumph swelled up within her. She didn’t expect her plan to work out so perfectly. However, a part of her felt sad. After all, she had bonded with the other girls the same way she did with her knights. Then again, they were only working together simply because they wanted the same thing.
“Thank you again for everything,” Samantha said to the Machinos Gears. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this without you.”
“You helped us liberate our empire.” Abigayle grinned. “I think that’s payment enough for us.”
“We wanted nothing but to make sure Reuben paid for his crimes and that the queen’s last wishes be honoured,” Kaelyn explained. “Her wishes were at least half-fulfilled.”
Samantha blinked. “Half-fulfilled? What is the other half?”
“The other half being Reuben pay for his crimes.” Cathy shook her head. However, she looked up and reassured Samantha. “However, we will make sure he’s under better surveillance. Kevyn’s suggestion seemed to be the only compromise Hayden was willing to make.”
“You speak about him so casually.” Daniel slung on his assault rifle. “Does he really allow you to speak in such a way?”
Kaelyn smiled. “We grew up together. All of us – we went to the same academy for nobles together.”
Samantha nodded; it was similar to how she and Beatriz grew up together. Although Beatriz didn’t age, she had gone through life with Beatriz. She couldn’t imagine her world without her.
“Back,” she heard Brandon say.
When she looked towards the source of the voice, Samantha gawked at the sight. While he didn’t have his signature crimson coat, the royal purple coat did him justice. The coat had been split into two tails with golden embroidery of a serpentine pattern. The coat had crimson red accents for the collar and the cuffs of the sleeves. Inside his coat was a white button-up shirt and a brown leather holster. His pants were a midnight green hue paired with brown leather boots.
“I’m surprised you knew my size, lass.” Brandon examined the clothes. “Heck, these are probably expensive threads.”
Kaelyn shook her head. “Prince Hayden always gives people grand gifts. Besides, all former prisoners have their biodata stored in the databases.”
“Great. That’s good to know.”
“Well, don’t worry, your future ladies won’t know your sizes.”
Brandon shook his head. “I’m not sure if I should be amused that you know that much about me, lass.”
“Better me than an enemy,” Kaelyn retorted.
Samantha laughed and waved off the squabble. “Alright, I think we should get moving.”
“I agree,” Daniel added. “We don’t know when Reuben’s supporters might come after us.”
Samantha nodded until she saw Cathy hand her a roll of paper. “Here, I mapped out your route out of here. You’ll have the least amount of trouble if you follow it.”
The princess received it gratefully. “Thank you, Cathy. I wish I could have had you as a permanent knight.”
“You honour me, milady. But my allegiance belongs to Machinos and its crown alone.”
“I understand. I won’t press any further.”
Samantha then turned to her knights. “You guys ready?”
All of her knights nodded. Samantha handed the map to Kevyn. “You lead the way. You know the mountains better than I do.”
Kevyn nodded and took the map, smirking. “Alright ladies – roll out!”