Book One: Knights' Festival

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Sleep Tight

Samantha gasped as rays of light burst from her palms. Her eyes widened at the sight of the lights swirling around as it clashed against the waves of darkness emitting from Beatriz’s body. The demons coming out of the portals shrank at the sight of her power and retreated towards the portals. She gasped as the mana roiled in her veins. Where had this power come from?

In the ancient times,

Before the elements were born,

It is the energy within ourselves that we have harnessed.

Samantha’s ears perked up. Who said that? She looked around only to see nothing but the beat up tavern. The princess looked forward to see if the demons had gotten through the blazes of light only to see them shriek and shrink at the sight of her. She glanced towards the other end where she saw a small bespectacled boy gasping at the sight of the light while clambering against the wall. Beatriz’s dark aura had begun to shrink at the sight of hers. She glanced at her palm while watching the lights dance around her. It was amoral and unfeeling; it was as if she stared at the calm surface of the deepest oceans.

Since the beginning of time, darkness thrives in the void.

But always yields to purifying light.

The light suddenly shined brighter in her palm before knocking Beatriz back. Samantha yelped from the impact when the blast recoiled and flung both she and Beatriz in opposite directions. The two girls crashed on the ground, leaving nothing but a messed up tavern filled with groaning pirates rolling on the floor. She weakly lifted herself from the ground and scanned the mess she and Beatriz made. A sigh escaped from her lips; maybe she should have just picked people from the training grounds. Suddenly, the small boy made his way towards her although his body seemed to tremble and shudder when he stood in front of her.

“Wh-who are you? What do you want?”

Samantha shook her head. “I didn’t want any trouble. My friend and I were just looking for knights.”

The small boy raised an eyebrow. “Knights? You’re in the wrong place then.”

Samantha frowned; so much for trusting Beatriz’s intuition, the girl had said to start searching in a tavern to look for knights!

“They usually hang out in taverns in the Craftsman district. Here in the Merkanti District, it’s home to pirates.”

“Pirates? But… you don’t look like one.”

The boy shrugged with a small chuckle. “Pirates come in all shapes and sizes. I happen to be in fun size.”

Samantha nodded. But the young boy barely looked like a pirate. He had knobbly knees that were only one-eighth the size of his shorts legs with his white tunic draping over him like a burlap sack. The only thing that managed to convince her that he was a pirate was the bandana on his head and the dark red scarf and leather bracelets on his wrist. He was a scrawny boy with a bony jaw and circle-shaped eyeglasses mounted on his thin nose. And he was right about himself: she had never seen a boy so small or what he deemed as “fun size”.

Samantha laughed and clambered up to her feet. Upon inspecting the mess, she shook her head and bowed. “I’m so sorry for the mess my friend made. I didn’t expect her to be so riled up for a fight.”

“Yeah, they call that Battle Fever.” He then shook his head. “It’s okay. I didn’t expect Cap to get all fired up either. He’s normally a man of negotiation.”

“Yeah. Oh by the way, I never got your name.”

“The name’s Luke. Luke Henshel, first mate to Captain Brandon Hawthorne. And you are?”

“Samantha da Sofiene, one of the nobles from Xychosia,” Samantha glanced at the unconscious captain on the ground in disbelief. “He’s a pirate?”

“A lot of people seem to not think so. A lot of people say the way he carries himself and the way he looks – he looks more like a noble.”

“That’s what I thought too. You don’t normally go around in three-tailed coats with a black breast plate like that.”

Luke nodded. “Yeah but my captain’s a man of style. He prefers something sleek but still with a little flamboyant flair. And a couple of nobles do give us gifts in exchange for certain tasks they want done so, we do get a lot of stuff.”

“Don’t they usually pay in coins?”

“Not all the gifts were monetary. The red coat he’s wearing now was a gift from Lord Royce of Karthakos when cap helped him find a necklace made of Neptune Steel for his daughter’s birthday.”

Samantha nodded; she couldn’t believe that she was talking to a pirate. Back in Sofiene, her mother refused to let her mingle with the people beyond the walls. Her mother would scowl at them and say that she had no reason to mingle with “common folk” and “peasants” unless the situation was dire. But contrary to popular belief and all the books she read, Luke had an amiable demeanour instead of looking scraggy. He had no beard covered with dirt like she had read in the books. But his face was clean from any facial hair or dirt. The only thing that would have probably made her more precarious of him was his extremely accented jawline which was not because of structure but because he was already so scrawny.

“Wow, this is the first time I’ve… well,” Samantha scratched the back of her head sheepishly.

“Associated with a pirate? It’s okay, not many nobles would like to associate themselves with the likes of cap and I.”

“Yeah but that’s because –.”

“—We plunder and steal the crown jewels. Impersonate a member of the clergy to steal food, raid the house of tax collectors and take the money. But not many people know the other side of the coin. Then again, not all pirates have a good intention in mind.”

Samantha nodded. It was true; as is, she was already having a hard time believing that Brandon and Luke were pirates. Suddenly, she heard a groan from behind the bar. “Bea!”

Luke also heard a groan and coughing from behind Samantha. He saw his captain slowly gather himself, struggling to even lift himself from the ground. “Cap!”

The princess rushed to her lady-in-waiting’s side while Luke made his way to his captain. Samantha helped Beatriz up to her feet and noticed the girl’s icy blue eyes staring blearily into nothingness. She also saw the bartender who had mocked Beatriz leaning against the cabinet where all the utensils were and a cracked bottle of Vodka by his side. His body smelled putrid with the mix of sweat and vodka covering his body.

“Are you okay?” Samantha asked. She helped dust Beatriz’s armour.

The black armour faded off Beatriz as the lady-in-waiting shook her head. “Yeah,” she groaned. Her eyes still drooping and her voice slurred. “What the hell happened?”

“Well, you decided to destroy a tavern. That’s what.” Samantha reprimanded. “We were here to negotiate. Not to blow it up pieces.”

“It was the fat ass’s fault for calling me Goldilocks and not taking me seriously.”

“Did it mean also roughing up every other pirate?”

“What? You wanted me to go easy!?”

Samantha sighed and glanced towards Luke. “How’s your captain?”

The young man slung over Luke’s shoulder coughed with his black hair dripping with sweat.”I’ve been better. I didn’t expect to deal with dark magic at this early time of the day. Especially that of a Blood Knight.”

Beatriz snickered. “Well, you know my magic. You could have used it to your advantage.”

“It would have required me to kill you. Besides,” his lavender eyes flashed at Beatriz. “I don’t think killing you is going to work.”

“Oh really? You haven’t even tried.”

“Trust me, a pirate can tell if his opponent has something fishy about them. And I don’t mean the blood magic.”

Beatriz fell silent at his comment. Samantha then glanced at Beatriz with a raised eyebrow; what did Brandon mean? She had grown up with Beatriz all her life and nothing seemed wrong with her. Well, other than what the girl considered as her hobbies, Samantha found nothing wrong with her. “Say,” she clapped her hands to break the tension. “Why don’t we go somewhere less… in shambles so we could… talk properly?”

The moment she said that, one side of a wooden beam crashed onto the ground from the ceiling and cracked a table in half. Brandon and Luke exchanged glances with one another before noticing the sheepish smile on the princess’s face. The two pirates exchanged glances again; what could she possibly want to talk to them about?

“And where do you propose that is?” Brandon raised an eyebrow.

“You didn’t tell me she was a noble,” Brandon hissed into Luke’s ear.

Luke shrugged. “Didn’t you already see that she was in a fancy dress?”

“No, I was too busy dealing with the other crazy girl with a gear scythe who threatened to tear The Cove into nothing but splinters!”

The two young men sat in the carriage that had been called by the two girls. Brandon exhaled sharply and laid back against the red velvet chair, looking out the window. He saw the many citizens of Xychosia selling their wares and many of the nobles dressed up in commoner clothes to buy in the markets. A smirk formed on his lips as a chuckle bubbled from his throat. Xychosia was a place where prejudice and discrimination was actually a felon; Queen Regina had put people in detention for that.

“Before anything,” Brandon narrowed his eyes at the young woman sitting across him. “I’d like to know who my client is. I don’t just randomly take any jobs just because it suits me.”

The black haired girl nodded. “Right. My name is Princess Samantha da Sofiene. I am the true heir to the throne of Sofiene.” She gestured to the petite girl next to her. “And this is my lady-in-waiting, Beatriz Odissea.”

Brandon nodded. “That explains the blood magic and dark magic.”

“Yes. She is a true member of the Odissea family.” Samantha nodded. “And you are?”

“Brandon Hawthorne.” He then glanced at the small boy. “This is Luke Henshel, First Mate.”

Samantha smiled. “Okay. Now that we have that settled... On to more pressing matters...”

“Ah, so lemme guess – you’re looking for knights?”

“So you do know.”

“Word gets around.”

Samantha nodded as she gripped the hem of her skirt. “Then you know that I’m in need of knights to reclaim the throne?”

Brandon pondered for a moment. Although the thought of being a knight had some money involved, it was the social repercussions he knew that he would have to suffer through later. He didn’t like big gatherings and flaunting; it was the one thing he hated about nobles. He didn’t like dressing too fancy either since it restricted his movement. And most of all, the last time he dealt with a princess – all she did was use him as a chew toy for her favourite knight.

“My answer’s no.” Brandon said flatly. “I don’t do knighthood.”

Samantha pouted. “But why? You’re so… talented!”

“Like I said, I don’t do knighthood. I don’t have the nobility for it,” Brandon scoffed. He folded his legs and leaned against the red velvet backrest. “Secondly, I don’t want to deal with all that political drama. I’ve already gone through enough of that.”

“I haven’t seen a knight fight as well as you did against Bea!”

“A lot of people could probably beat her if they figured out that all she did was swing that bloody scythe of hers aimlessly. If I wanted to kill her, all I had to do was close in the range and ram my blade up her stomach.”

Beatriz glared at him and snarled. “You wanna have a go at it!?”

Samantha quickly grabbed Beatriz’s shoulder. “Bea, stop! We’ve done already done enough!”

“He’s mocking me!”

“I heard nothing about mockery there.” Samantha glared at Beatriz. “Sit. Down.”

Beatriz froze, hearing the daggers in Samantha’s voice. She then narrowed her eyes at the princess before plopping in her chair, muttering and grumbling.

Samantha then turned to Brandon. “I’m sorry. She loves a good fight.”

Brandon chuckled. “Don’t we all?” He glanced at Beatriz. “She a knight?”

“Well,” Samantha bobbed her head a bit. She seemed to ponder for a moment before shaking her head. “Not really. Well, she’s not officially dubbed.”

“Do you have to?”

“Well, just for formalities I guess. I never saw the point in touching both shoulders with a sword.”

Brandon nodded. It was one of the few reasons why he stayed away from nobles. There were too many things to be done. Papers here and there, dances, galas, and everything – he frowned at the thought. People always demanded some sort of theatrics in order to make something official. For pirates, all they needed was a number of steins, a wooden table, and a couple of chairs for them to talk. Nothing fancy. If anything, he preferred lurking among the shadows and watching people fight amongst themselves. It was a waste of energy, he believed. If he could talk his way out, he would.

“Please, I need a good knight.” Samantha pleaded. She sighed. “How much do you want?”

Brandon shook his head. “It’s not about money. I don’t want to deal with the politics.”

Luke suddenly tugged his coat. “Maybe she can help us with it.”

“I don’t think so. I don’t think she’s ever even seen it.”

“It’s worth a shot.”

“I don’t know. The last time we asked a favour from noble, things went to shit.”

Luke rolled his eyes and then turned to Samantha. “There is one thing you can pay us with.”

The princess beamed. “You’re going to be my knight?”

“Well, it depends. Do you know anything about the Warhammer?”

Brandon groaned. “Luke...”

“Cap, it’s worth the shot.”

Samantha raised an eyebrow. “Why are you guys looking for a hammer?”

Brandon rolled his eyes. “It’s not a hammer. It’s a –.”

“It’s a pirate warship,” Beatriz suddenly said.

Samantha gasped and turned to her lady-in-waiting. “You saw it?”

Beatriz nodded. “I’ve seen a ship with that name emblazoned gold on the side. It was loaded with weapons and barrier generators mounted across the deck. The starboard and the port side are armed to the teeth with some weird metal barrels all clumped together with a belt loaded with metal bolts strapped together. There was a carved winged siren at the nose of the ship.”

Luke gasped and jumped from his chair. “That’s the one! Where’d you see it?”

Beatriz shrugged. “It was at the ports of Sofiene. The ship had become a flagship for Matteo’s fleet.”

Luke gave Brandon a triumphant grin. “So...? Cap?”

Brandon sighed. He hated when Luke had the upper hand. Then again, he had taught his first mate everything he knew in hopes of having Luke take over the crew if he wanted to do something else. A frown marred his features when he glanced at Samantha’s expectant eyes and Beatriz’s grumbling expression. A dejected sigh bubbled from his throat.

“Before anything, exactly how are you going to help us reclaim the War Hammer?” Brandon mussed his black hair. “Sofiene’s a civil wasteland, lass.”

Samantha explained. “That’s why I need your help. The only way I can get your ship back is when you help me the Knights’ Festival!”

“It’s not that easy, lass. You’re probably gonna have knights that are thrice your size.”

“Are you scared?”

“If you haven’t seen Luke, his size leaves much to be desired.”

Samantha sighed and shook her head. “Shame. I was hoping that, if you help me win – I could easily hand over the Warhammer to you.”

Brandon narrowed his eyes at the princess. “You’re playing a very dangerous game.”

“Well, it’s like what the queen said,” Samantha shrugged. “In the game of thrones, you either you win or you die.”

Luke blinked in disbelief. “That sounds... sad.”

“That’s the way it is, Luke.” Brandon pointed out to his First Mate. He shook his head and scowled at the princess. “Now do you see why we stayed away from nobles?”

“But this is the Warhammer!”

“We could get it back without them.”

“Yeah by turning ourselves into fugitives! Cap, this is a way we can actually do it without being blacklisted!”

As much as he hated to admit it, Luke was right. Brandon and he had already gotten themselves blacklisted in three other cities. They were blacklisted for all sorts of things – impersonating a member of the clergy, impersonating a high-ranking officer, libel, piracy, and other things he neglected to remember at the moment. A sigh bubbled from his throat and shook his head.

“Fine,” he begrudgingly growled. “We’ll help.”

Samantha beamed. “You will?”

“But! Under one condition.”

“That would be...?”

“When you win, I want the Warhammer back.”

Samantha nodded. “Done!”

Brandon smirked and extended his hand to shake her hand. “Good. Then it’s official. Captain Brandon Hawthorne –.”

“– And Luke Henshel,” the small bespectacled boy piped up.

Brandon nodded with a chuckle. “And Luke Henshel, at your service.”

The carriage then stopped as the coachman alighted down. The doors opened as Samantha stepped out of the coach. Luke followed after and Brandon prepared to follow after her until a pale arm shot to black his way. Puzzled, he looked towards the seat when he saw Beatriz’s icy blue eyes glaring at him.

“Samantha’s very trusting. Watch it,” she coldly scowled.

He could hear the veiled threat. A smirk curved up his lips. “Don’t worry. I have no reason to harm the princess. A little advice however.”

Beatriz remained silent but her flare intensified.

“Keep your little rage in check. It might be you in the end who could get her killed.”

Beatriz snarled. “I have faith in my own capacity, thank you very much.”

Brandon smirked as he brushed her arm aside and stepped down from the carriage. He looked up when he realized that the carriage had taken them into the inner grounds of Xychosia’s castle. He inhaled deeply; how long had it been since he had stood in a meadow-like estate. He could smell the tiger lilies and monkshood flowers lining the stone pathways. He glanced up to see tropical orchids with a bloodstain pattern growing on the Narra Trees and spotted a coliseum in the horizon. A smirk curved up his lips; it’s been awhile since he had last seen that place active. The wind brushed past him with its own song, tossing his black tresses around.

“Ah, the music from the sea,” Brandon murmured. “What do you have for me today?”

Suddenly, he heard loud hissing and screeching. He snapped his head up when he saw a soldier of Xychosia dragging along what appeared to be a Pincer Drake. Its teal coloured scales were a dead giveaway along with its pincer-shaped legs. Its roars and hisses were distinct that even an animal could tell if a Pincer Drake was coming to hunt them down.

“Get over here, you overgrown,” the soldier grunted. “You overgrown crab-snake thing!”

Brandon winced as the Pincer Drake put up a fight, digging its claws in the ground. He saw more creatures being hauled along. He didn’t get a good look but the hisses and the snapping sounds discouraged him already.

“Hey pirate! Get your ass here!” He heard Beatriz holler.

The pirate shook himself out of his daze before following after them. As he followed after Samantha, he heard something trigger beneath him. His feet felt a slight rumble when he realized what it was.

“Tch, it’s a trap!” Brandon hollered. He shoved Samantha out of the way. “Get out!”

Samantha yelped and crashed on the ground as two barbed steel walls shot out from the ground. Beatriz gasped as one shot up right in front of her. Brandon staggered back and bolted for the other side only to see another barbed steel wall shot up in front of him.

“Quick, we can scale it!” Luke yelled as he took a running jump.

The moment he wrapped his fingers onto the wires, a current of mana rushed into his fingers. Luke cried out in pain as a mana shockwave knocked him off the barbed wall and into Brandon’s arms. Beatriz bit her thumb again, drawing blood as a gauntlet formed over her arm. She roared and lunged for the screen, trying to punch a hole. The wall however absorbed the impact and blasted her with twice the force and sent her sprawling to the ground.

“Bea! Brandon! Luke!” Samantha wailed until guards flooded out from every door way. “What the –!”

Brandon looked up when he saw soldiers flooding in from every doorway. Five soldiers cornered Samantha while the others rushed towards them with their spears pointed at them. He narrowed his eyes and drew his gunblades while Beatriz had willed her armour on. Luke stood on the other side as the three of them stood back to back with one another. Sweat poured down the pirate captain’s face as he watched the incoming soldiers.

“Any ideas, cap?” Luke swallowed nervously. “I don’t think we’re equipped to fight an army!”

Beatriz growled. “We can take ’em! Let’s show these shits who’s boss!” She formed a light at her fingertip before etching a symbol in the air. Much to her dismay, the glyph fizzled out. “What the –!”

Brandon looked on the ground and tapped the floor with his foot. “Lumina Stone. A neutralizer for dark magic.” He turned to Beatriz. “They came prepared.”

Luke swallowed nervously as the men pointed their silver spearheads at him. “Um, Cap…?”

Brandon glanced back and scowled. How in the world did he get caught up in all this? First day being a knight, he already gets captured by a bunch of nobles. His hands gripped his gunblades tightly while watching the soldiers converge on him. He looked up to the ledges only to see the councilmen and councilwomen looking down at him with contempt as Samantha was kept away from all three of them.

“Throw them in the cells,” he heard a cold command from above.

The soldiers converged closer with their spears swinging. Brandon narrowed his eyes. “No fucking way, am I giving up without a fight!”

He struck fast and soundless. His swords cleaved through the air and shattered the spears in one strike. Brandon narrowed his eyes and lunged towards them before twisting his body mid-launch. His blades swirled around him as he cleaved right through.

“Guys, move!” He roared.

Beatriz jumped back and dodged a soldier flying at her. “If you haven’t noticed, I can’t use my magic!”

“It doesn’t mean you can’t buff yourself!”

“Oh, right.”

Beatriz bit her thumb again with the blood covering her body and materializing her armour. “This better be worth the fight!”

The soldiers gasped in terror as she lunged at them with a maniacal laughter, swinging her scythe. Brandon smirked; at least her insatiable blood thirst had some use. He glanced at Luke who tripped one soldier with the classic trip over the leg trick before unbuckling a soldier’s belt and yanking his pants down. Brandon snickered; he wouldn’t expect anything less from Luke who had nimble fingers.

“Not bad,” Brandon chuckled. “Your prankster tricks have a use.”

Luke snickered and poked another soldier in the eyes and kneed him in the groin. “And you told me that learning pranks was a waste of time.”

“I stand corrected then.”

Brandon kicked another soldier in the stomach before grabbing Luke. “Luke, start kicking!”

With one swing, he whirled around and Luke stomped on each soldiers’ face before they fell to the ground. Brandon placed Luke down on the ground before clobbering another soldier on the head with the stock of his gunblade.

“Welp that takes care of our side” Brandon smirked. He glanced towards the other end. "Bea, how about –?”

His question was cut short when the whole floor was littered with the bodies of the Xychosian soldiers. They let out groans of agony while Beatriz stood above them with a whip in her hands. She tightened the whip with a loud crack. Brandon shuddered as she let go of the whip, letting its tail fall down to the ground.

“Do I… even want to know what she did,” Luke asked with a hushed voice.

“Best we not know, Luke,” Brandon shook his head. “I don’t think I even want to know what it’s like to be in a room alone with her.”

“Aye, I agree, Cap.”

“And that whip, how the hell did she sneak that in?”

“I don’t think I want to know, Cap.”

Brandon shook his head until a glyph circle shone beneath their feet. His eyes widened when he glanced up to see two councilwomen standing above them. The glowing white glyph beneath their feet shot up walls of light before swirling with golden sand. Brandon’s eyes widened as Beatriz yelped and Luke staggered back with the golden sand swirling around them. Brandon backed up into them when he looked up to see a young man with a serene smile yet a serious expression in his eyes.

“Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”

And before he knew it, everything went black once more.

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