Quality Over Quantity
“Let me go!” Samantha kicked and struggled against the guards as they dragged her. “Get your stupid hands off me!”
Samantha couldn’t believe what had just happened. They had just casually walked into the castle before being challenged by an entire battalion of soldiers. Although Brandon had managed to push her out in the nick of time before she herself got cornered by the barbed wire fence, a guilty feeling bubbled up inside her. All she could do then was stand helplessly and watch as the guards cornered her off from the three of her knights and have them attack the three knights. It wasn’t Beatriz she was worried about; she knew that Beatriz could hold her end. She had seen the lady-in-waiting use her scythe and swing it around without being hesitant at all.
It was more for Brandon and Luke.
Luke, being a small boy, she reckoned he was no older than fifteen years old. It didn’t help that his body was small and scrawny with knobbly knees and limbs thinner than a bamboo shoot. Brandon, on the other hand, proved his swordsmanship against Beatriz and fighting against a battalion of soldiers. But a feeling of worry and guilt swelled up inside her. How could she not see that coming? Her arms and legs hung limply as the soldiers dragged her all the way to the throne room of Xychosia. The doors opened from behind her as the soldiers plopped her in front of the throne of Queen Regina, who clearly had a disapproving look.
“Your Highness, the princess,” the soldiers saluted.
At their response, Queen Regina glared. “That is not how you treat a princess. Especially, my god daughter.”
“I… uh,” the soldiers exchanged glances and bowed. “We apologize –.”
“– It’s not to me you must apologize to but the princess. Be thankful that Councilwoman Kara is not here to torch you into pieces. Nor is General Melissa here to shred you into ribbons – with or without her sword.”
The soldiers then turned to her. “Forgive us, princess.”
Samantha shook her head. “That sounded more like a command rather than a plea for forgiveness.”
“Please forgive us,” the soldiers shuddered and bowed their heads. “We meant no ill will.”
“That’s what they all say.”
“Please, princess, we did not mean to.”
“Yeah, tell that to my knights who are probably in dark, dingy dungeon cells because of you!”
Samantha suddenly then felt a golden sand stream tap her gently on the shoulder. Surprised, she looked up and saw Councilman Jun gently assuring her. “Now, now, Sam. They were just doing their jobs. There’s no need to unleash your fury at them.” He then turned to the soldiers. “You may go.”
The soldiers visibly relaxed. “Thank you, councilman sir.”
“However, the next time I see you mishandle the princess then, you’ll have more to worry about when the Bogeyman comes to visit.”
The soldiers stiffened and paled at the word “the Bogeyman”. “Y-yes sir!”
Samantha, astonished, watched the soldiers scamper out like terrified puppies and slam the door right behind them. She glanced back and raised an eyebrow at Councilman Jun. “The… Bogeyman”
“That’s a story left for another time,” Councilman Jun smiled serenely. He then folded his arms and resumed a more serious expression. “Now, can you tell me who those two boys are?”
“They’re not my boyfriends if that’s what you’re wondering,” Samantha laughed. But upon seeing Councilman Jun’s raised eyebrow and unamused look, she shook her laughter off and replied. “They became my knights.”
“And when was that?”
“Just now actually.”
Councilwoman Joy shook her head. “And do you know who they are at least?”
Samantha proclaimed proudly. “Captain Brandon Hawthorne and Luke Henshel of the Warhammer!”
“Pirates!” Councilwoman Joy exclaimed. She then cleared her throat and resumed a serious expression. “And what made you select them?”
Samantha pondered. Come to think of it, she just selected them out of nowhere. It was Beatriz’s suggestion to go check a tavern. And now that she got Brandon and Luke, she began to doubt herself. What exactly did she choose them for? Luke seemed to be a nice boy and Brandon… his purple eyes. She swooned at the thought of them. They reminded her of the sky during an early evening sunset or when the morning sun was just about to rise behind the mountains. They reminded her of the monkshood flowers that lined the roads of Xychosia and the lavenders that filled her bathroom with their scents every morning. That was self-explanatory enough. For her anyway.
“Well,” Samantha shrugged sheepishly. “Intuition…?”
Councilman Pocholo groaned. “Samantha, you cannot pick people based on your intuition!”
“Well, these two boys were actually good at what they do!”
“Do you even know their history?”
“Do you know how they are in combat?”
“That part I know. He held well against Bea.”
Councilman Jocelyn shook her head, with concern lacing her voice. “What we’re trying to say is for you to be more careful. There might be people who are spies for your brothers lying around. Your brothers have made it clear: they will find ways to prevent you from joining the Knights’ Festival. Even,” she sighed deeply. “If it means killing you.”
Samantha fell silent. Councilwoman Jocelyn was right; it was a dark world nowadays. There were so many people willing to take advantage of the fact that she was trying to win back Sofiene. But not without their own personal agenda. She shook her head; now was not the time to think about this! She had to think about how to get her knights out!
“I understand,” Samantha nodded. But her voice remained firm. “But I still want Beatriz, Brandon, and Luke to be released!”
Councilwoman Joy shook her head. “We can’t just release them.”
Councilman Pocholo coldly said. “What do you mean ‘why’? To stand trial of course!”
“Trial!?” Samantha gawked; what in the world were they planning? The boys barely did anything wrong and as far as she was concerned, Beatriz didn’t commit any crimes under her nose! She racked her brains, trying to find any possible crime only to come up empty handed. “They haven’t done anything wrong!”
“It’s not that they did something wrong,” Queen Regina calmly explained.
“Then what is it!? What’s the trial for!?”
“Oh but Samantha if you’re going to be that lax with your knights, we have to make sure they have some,” Councilman AJ smirked at her. “Quality.”
A shiver ran down her spine at his words. Last time she checked, the councilman was known to be an excellent interrogator and to be good in extracting information through any means necessary. The princess swallowed nervously at the sight of the sadistic gleam in his eyes. Councilman AJ was the last councilman she wanted to deal with. Not because of how he looked but how his personality lay in his craftiness and cunning. There was a reason why he was made as one of the councilmen of Xychosia and now, she was about to see it.
“Y-you’re not going to scar them mentally, a-a-are you?”
Beatriz groaned and leaned against the cold stone walls of her cell. She thumped her head several times against the wall in boredom. She stared deep into the darkness. While most people feared the darkness and scrambled for the light, she basked in it. A small smile curved up her lips as she closed her eyes to feel its cold embrace around her. A sigh escaped her lips as she felt her breath brush against her red lips.
“I don’t like the dark,” she heard Luke say. “It’s… it’s cold.”
“I know,” Brandon replied. “It’ll only be awhile. If she takes longer than thirty minutes, I’m getting us out of here.”
Beatriz scoffed; what was so bad staying in a dark dungeon cell? Nobody cared about who she was in the dungeon. They all knew her; the name Odissea itself filled people with fear that even the most battle-hardened generals would turn tail and flee from her sight. It was said those looked upon her would have to hide and pray that she never found them. In the dungeons, it was the only place that really allowed her to do what she wanted. Eat, slug a few people, bath, and sleep – rinse and repeat.
She remembered the time she was in Sofiene’s cell. Their dungeons were far more dangerous and destructive. Although it was not as well maintained since Xychosia preferred more rehabilitation programs than prison time, it was still downright disgusting.
She remembered spending years in the dungeons. Majority of the inmates were either murderers or cult members. She chuckled; her crime? Mass murder, genocide and, murder of a few people she neglected to remember. Beatriz scoffed at the thought. She remembered being shoved into a cage where they whipped her back over and over. Her hands were tied to a wooden pole as they jammed a crown of rusted nails into her skull. Her hand ran against her skull as she scoffed. The scars had vanished over time. She also remembered them impaling her on their spear for a good fun game.
Death shouldn’t be feared. It should be embraced.
Beatriz scoffed at the morbidity of the thought. When was the last time she had deeply pondered? She let put a disgruntled snort. This was why she hated jail cells. When she got sitting down and thinking, it annoyed her with all sorts of thoughts filling her mind.
Suddenly, she heard something metal crunch and creak. Her ears perked at the sound of the hinges grinding against the knobs. She stood up from the clammy floors as she heard footsteps and the clattering of keys fill her ears. She then saw the shadow of the guard get closer as he whistled and spun the key-ring.
“Get me out of here!” Beatriz shouted.
The guard sneered at her. “Oh shut up! We all know that you’re better off down here to rot!”
“Suck a cock!”
“Shut up, b – hrgh!”
Beatriz gasped when a vine suddenly punched his face. She gasped in surprise as it slapped his face with a quick whip. The guard swooned and staggered around with his eyes swirling and rolling around. He groaned in pain as Beatriz saw the black eye and loose tooth hanging from his gums. She blinked in amusement when the vine tapped the shoulder of the guard. The moment the guard turned to face the vine; it clobbered him and sent him sprawling onto the ground unconscious.
“Why hello there,” Beatriz chuckled at the vine. “Where’d you come from?”
The vine hooked itself around the key-ring before pulling the keys away.
“Hey wait!” Beatriz called out as the vine vanished from her sight. “Damn...”
Suddenly, she heard something clinking. She stuck her face into the rusty steel bars when she heard a loud crunching and creaking. Much to her surprise, she saw Luke and Brandon step out from their jail cell. Brandon dusted the dirt off his coat and helped straighten out Luke’s tunic.
“What the –! How did you do that?” Beatriz demanded. She shook her head. “You guys didn’t even have magic!”
“I don’t have magic.” Brandon shrugged. He then jabbed his finger towards Luke. “But he does.”
Luke smiled and waved cheekily at Beatriz. “Yeap.”
The lady-in-waiting nodded. “Okay.” She noticed them just staring at her. “What are you idiots doing? Get me out!”
Brandon turned to Luke. “Do you wanna get her out?”
Luke shrugged. “I don’t know, Cap. It’s a pro and con thing to let her out.”
Beatriz groaned. “Are you guys serious?!” She seethed and slammed her face against the cage bars. “You’re actually going to debate on whether to let me out or not?!”
Much to her annoyance, Brandon ignored her. “Well, she does have good fighting skills and she is the princess’s pet.”
“I am nobody’s pet!”
“She did try to kill you,” Luke pointed out. “And did you see how she turned The Cove into shambles? What makes you think she won’t do that to you?”
Brandon pondered. “Point.”
Beatriz groaned and slumped onto the ground. How long were the pirates going to debate? She let out a growl of annoyance and slumped on the floor, pouting and folding her arms. She scowled. How the heck could they spend debating about their sentence when Samantha probably needed her for something? What of Xychosia decided to turn coat and turn in Samantha to her brothers? She glared at the two boys and kicked the bars.
“Fucking hell! Will you just get me out of here?!” Beatriz snarled. “Move your damn asses and get me out!”
Brandon looked away. “Hey Luke, did you hear that?”
The scrawny boy shook his head. “Hear what?”
“I could have sworn I heard a minx yowling.”
“Probably a councilmember’s pet. They have all sorts of creatures.”
Beatriz sighed. How was she going to get them to stop ignoring her? She bit her lower lip and hung her head. She gnashed her teeth at the thought of doing it. She turned around to face them and her arms dropped to her sides. Her ego screamed at her as her fists clenched tightly until her nails cut into her palms. She could feel the blood dripping from her pale palms from the sheer anger. Beatriz then slowly dropped to her knees, and bowed her head.
“Please, let me out.” Her voice broke from the sheer shame.
“You could step out now you know.” Brandon smirked. “Cage door’s open.”
Beatriz’s head shot up when she saw the cage door held open by Luke. The boy smiled sheepishly at her as she realized that the door was already open while she had been mulling it over. She felt all the heat and blood rush up to her pale cheeks. Her blood roiled and burned in fury as she stormed out of the jail cell, glaring at both of them.
“We will never speak of this.” Beatriz snarled.
Brandon shrugged. “Sure, not my problem.”
Luke nodded. “Yeah, it wasn’t our intention to make you beg. We were just teasing you.”
Teasing me, my ass, she scowled at the thought. Beatriz hated begging. It was never in her nature. She was a Blood Knight for Deus’ sake! She should never bow to people! Especially those who barely had any magic! But she had to admit, she was curious as to how they managed to snag the key. Not many people had that kind of affinity with plants. And normally if they did, it was almost downright impossible to summon something from below in the dark due to the lack of sun.
She then glanced around, noticing Parmas on the wall. “Well, since we don’t have weapons – a shield will do the trick.”
Brandon nodded. “Yeah, at least you can bludgeon people with it.”
The three knights grabbed the shields and broke into a sprint. Beatriz led the charge as the guards spotted her running towards them.
“Hey! Get back in your cell!” The guard roared.
Beatriz mentally berated herself for never learning how to use a shield. It wasn’t her thing; shields were just off-hand weapons. She scowled at the thought of swinging her shield and bludgeoning people with it. How she longed to use her scythe!
“We have to find our weapons! Fast!” Beatriz slammed the rim of the shield against a guard’s face. “I can’t keep fighting like this!”
“Definitely,” Brandon blocked a spear before kicking a guard down, wrapping his legs around him and, brought him down before kicking him in the face. “With my gunblades, I would have made short work out of these guys.”
Luke yelped as he placed the shield on his head, blocking a mace that would have crushed his skull. “Yes please, that would be great!”
Beatriz shook her head. “Wait a minute,” she glared at Luke. “Can’t you use your magic!?”
“Uh, would rather not to,” Luke ducked and jumped over a guard that nearly took his legs off.
“And why not!?”
“Uh, long story! Story left for another time!”
Brandon punched another guard using his shield. “Yeah. We have to get moving. If we’re gonna find Samantha, we have to beat the daylights out of everybody.”
Beatriz grinned deviously. “Oh this is gonna be fun!”
She launched herself past the guards and rammed them down with a shield. Beatriz bolted for the stairs with both Brandon and Luke trailing behind her. She leapt and skipped up the stairs, finding her way towards winding stairs.
“For fuck’s sake,” Beatriz groaned and bolted up the stairs.
Before she knew it, someone grabbed her by the waist. She yelped only to see Brandon and Luke taking a shortcut: riding the thick branches of a tree.
“Now you use your magic,” Beatriz rolled her eyes. “What the hell is wrong with you?!”
Luke shrugged. “Well, someone happened to have a mangrove sprout growing in the cracks of the floor. I just gave it a little push.”
The tree popped them straight into the air and let them off at the top floor. Beatriz leapt for the torch and pulled down the sconce, revealing a hidden passageway.
“How’d you know that was there?” Brandon raised an eyebrow.
Beatriz shrugged. “If you’ve been alive long enough, you’d know how these things work and how predictable people can be.”
Beatriz, nodding, rushed out of the hidden staircase and into another room. The room appeared to be a living room where the fireplace had concealed the hidden stairway. She helped Luke out of the staircase as he huffed and puffed while Brandon guarded the rear. The two pirates gasped as Beatriz ran for the other torch and yanked it down, slamming the fireplace shut with a loud thud.
“Geez,” she gasped. Beatriz then fell flat on her butt before throwing her discus shaped shield aside. “I never liked climbing stairs.”
“Thirty flights of stairs will always be terrifying,” Luke shook his head. He huffed and puffed. “I really, really don’t like stairs and… tight spaces.”
Brandon let out a heavy huff. “Yeah.” He shook his head. “The last time I did this was when I was thrown onto that island with only one bullet left in my gun.”
Beatriz raised an eyebrow. “Huh?”
“Mutiny. First Mate threw me off.”
“Luke wasn’t my first First Mate.”
He then dusted himself and cast the shield away. “Anyway, do you have any idea where our weapons might be?”
Beatriz shook her head. “There’s only one place I know where they might have it and that’s usually in the tower on the other end of the citadel.” She sighed deeply. “But that place is loaded with booby traps and the traps are a hairline trigger. Even a strand of hair can trigger it.”
“That’s fantastic,” Brandon groaned. “Lemme guess – it’s probably guarded by a vicious serpent that would rip our heads off. Or some security system with some homicidal glitches it thinks it’s the winning part of his personality.”
“I don’t know.” Beatriz shook her head. “To be honest, I’ve never really been there,” she admitted mildly. “But I do know that it’s where they keep all the weapons of their prisoners.”
“They better not break my sword or I’ll break their face,” Brandon grumbled under his breath.
“I know the feels. I feel bad for my scythe too.”
Luke glanced around only to point to a painting. “What’s that, Cap?”
Brandon glanced at the portrait. “It’s a painting.”
“No duh but what is the painting depicting? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
On the painting was a naked man with a red cloak billowing behind him. He held a sword in his hand with an angry expression as blood splattered on the sandy floors. He saw another lion lunging from behind as he blocked its incoming attack with a discus shaped sword. Luke stared at the portrait intently as his scrawny fingers brushed against the rough oil painting.
“It’s called a gladiator match, dummy.” Beatriz rolled her eyes. “Haven’t you seen those before?”
Luke shook his head.
“Where the hell have you been living?! Under a rock?”
“Well, I was just born two years ago…”
“What!? You don’t look like a two year old!”
“Appearances can be deceiving.”
“Yeah, who am I to say? I should have died by old age by now.”
Luke blinked. “Huh?”
Beatriz smirked and waved her hand. “Nah, don’t mind me. Just rambling again.”
The small boy nodded slowly. “Umm... ok.”
Beatriz scoured the area and walked into another hallway. A sigh escaped her lips; where could Samantha possibly be? She exhaled sharply and closed her eyes for a moment. Everything went dark as she started seeing small waves of light dancing before her. Her nose twitched at the multiple scents. She scowled; how the hell was she going to find Samantha with all these scents?
“And what the hell are you doing?” She heard Brandon ask her.
“Shut up, I’m trying to track Sam,” Beatriz snapped.
“Wouldn’t tracking her by magic be easier?”
“That’s what I’m doing!”
“I don’t think it can work here.” Luke protested.
Beatriz’s eyes snapped open. “What do you mean it won’t work?!”
“It won’t work if there are too many magic wielders in one area.” Luke explained. “Unless you have something that specifically is hers then, it’s like finding hay in a needle stack!”
Brandon tapped the small boy’s shoulder. “It’s the other way around,” he corrected.
“Oh. I mean, finding a needle in a hay stack!”
Beatriz sighed as she closed her eyes again. The waves of mana filled her vision with multiple colours. It was an ability she had picked up long ago. During Ophelia’s Rebellion, it was a power she needed to fond Executioners – assassin-mage hybrids that were known for their cloaking ability and their magic. She exhaled sharply again and focused all around the place. Unfortunately, her vision just filled with more waves of light.
“Damn it, finding Sam’s impossible.” Beatriz growled and stomped her foot on the ground. She turned to the two pirates. “Any idea?”
“If she’s not around here, maybe she’s in the throne room?” Brandon offered. His expression then became serious. “But we can’t just barge in without weapons.”
Beatriz nodded with a grin. “Yeah and I know just exactly how to get there without being attacked or shot.”
Samantha tapped her foot on the ground. Boredom began to overwhelm her as she began pacing around the throne room.
“Sam, there is nothing you need to be worried about,” Queen Regina reassured her. “I’m sure AJ,” she shot a withering glance at the man. “Isn’t planning to torture them or anything.”
Samantha sighed and shook her head. “It’s not them I’m worried about. It’s the soldiers who would have to fight them.”
As much as she knew that the soldiers were talented, did they have the same level of brutality and ruthlessness as Beatriz had? Did any of them have the skill and talent that surpassed Brandon’s? And Luke, she bemoaned mentally. He was the smallest among all of them and she hadn’t seen him fight! Was he going to be okay? Many thoughts of concern rushed into her mind as she began pacing around again.
Councilwoman Joy sighed. “Samantha, pacing around never helps.” She smiled and gently tried to reassure her. “Breathe, relax. They’ll be fine.”
Samantha moaned. “Will they? Their weapons are locked up in the Tower of Braavade.”
“Samantha, if they are truly as skilled as they are, I think they already would have gotten out by now.”
Before Samantha could say anything, a soldier suddenly barged into the room gasping and panting for air. Sweat poured down his face as the spear from his hand fell out and clattered down onto the ground. He staggered forward and fell to his knees, groaning in pain. The princess quickly rushed to his side and helped him up.
The soldier barely managed to catch his breath as he announced.
“The prisoners! They’ve escaped!”