Sophana ripped a leaf-blade from her arm and slung it across the wretched guest chamber. The metallic weapon pierced the over-sized portrait of her over-sized betrothed—right in his thick forehead. She glared at his red eyes, burning with lust and pride, even in the portrait. His giant foot crushed the neck of a fallen Kaimana warrior. Sophana’s own eyes welled with tears. The knight’s lifeless blue eyes shined like Ave’s—compassionate, brave, noble, normal-sized Ave.
“Ugh!” She tore another leaf-blade from her forearm and threw it at Prince Cadmar’s foot. Blood dripped from the tear in her flesh, blending into the crimson gown Father forced her to wear on this last day of betrothal arrangements. She turned from the repugnant portrait and faced the full-length mirror. As she stared at her hollow yellow eyes, Father’s words invaded her thoughts: Cadmar prefers braids so you will honor him by braiding your hair tomorrow. A tear escaped as she stroked her long side-braid. Another unwelcome voice intruded: Cadmar’s. Your pink hair is so womanly and ravishing. Everything about you is…delectable. Sophana huffed. “And everything about you is despicable!” She grabbed hold of the scarlet ribbon keeping the end of her braid intact and yanked it loose.
She clawed through her braid and then rustled her hair, shaking it free. It fell messily to her hips. Sophana chuckled as she strode to the giant bed where her luggage carrier lay open. She dug beneath all the silk and velvet garbs and grasped the leather Servant’s tunic from Knights Elect Academy. Ripped and blood-stained, the tattered garment wasn’t just a testament to all the battles she’d fought for Prince Nuelle, but all the times she’d been rescued by Ave: when she fell off her vanaph during the final challenge to become a Sentinel, how Ave hopped on one of the six-winged creatures and zoomed to her rescue; when she, Elisena, and Surta fell off of the vanaph mountain and Ave stretched his coral-arm and caught them before they could hit the ground; when he expanded those same coral limbs and made himself a giant and yelled like a madman to scare off the frost hounds in the Polarian Canyons who wanted to eat them for morning meal.
Ave Purine wasn’t just a peasant, like Father so wrongfully labeled him; he was a Sentinel and a hero. He hadn’t just rescued her multiple times from near death, but he also mended her broken heart. That once-prince Ludwig had shattered her already fragile trust of men when he tried to rape her. He burned with the same lust Cadmar seared with, but Ave, though attracted to Sophana, looked at her with different eyes. He didn’t see an object, or an accessory he could wear on his arm like a medallion, he saw a strong, gifted, and dedicated young woman who would be a crown and a life-long companion. Every day the two of them offered their life for Prince Nuelle, for a cause way greater than their own petty lusts, even if that meant never actually courting and becoming husband and wife—it didn’t matter. What mattered was that they loved each other and Prince Nuelle—and even Elisena, Surta, Riff, and Javin.
Sophana brought the worn tunic to her face and wiped her tears. She quickly stripped herself from her gown and shoved into the tunic. After slipping into the rest of her Servant’s attire, she faced the mirror again. With her messy waves and battered appearance, she smiled at herself. No matter who tried to force their will on her, the fact remained: she wasn’t just a princess anymore, she was a Sentinel.
Sophana looked at the portrait of Cadmar, hanging above the bed. “Goodbye, prince prideful.” She ran to one of the windows and threw aside the burgundy curtains, unlatched the frame, and shoved it open. Dawn’s crisp chill prickled her face. The golden daystar beamed down on six bulky patrolling knights. The usual three marched alongside the palace walls while the other trio lined the Granite Garden’s square perimeter.
Fifty yards away, the same two guards stood watch in one of the four palace watchtowers. To the left of the Granite Garden, sat a giant boulder-slinging device. Sophana peered below at the red-rock covered ground. It was at least a thirty-foot drop. She tore off two leaf-blades from her biceps and carried one in each hand. With a quick exhale, she hopped onto the lattice and faced the concrete wall. Leaning to her right, she impaled the wall with the leaf-blades and then swung off of the lattice. Using the weapons, Sophana swiftly descended. They screeched and sparked against the stone. Within seconds, her boots landed on the red rocks. A pang rattled her knees as she raced to the boulder-slinger. Pressing her back against the contraption, she loosened her grip on the rose-gold leaves. Bleeding gashes marred her palms. Great, I’m leaving a bloody trail. She stuffed the leaf-blades—and her hands—in her pockets. Thumping boot-heels drew near. Sophana slinked behind the massive sling. Two knights treaded past. She peered up at the west watchtower. From her place against the slinger, she stood visible.
“Princess Sophana?” A knight stopped beside her, his helmet’s visor down, revealing a half-missing upper lip. His red eyes sized her up, lingering on the blood-stained tunic. “Are you—”
“I was just combat training in the North Courtyard.”
His voice spiked with interest. “A princess engagin’ in combat trainin’?”
She removed her bloody leaf-blades. “I love a good sweat-and-bleed in the morning. I was born lethal.”
He chuckled with glee. “Yeh make a fine bride for Prince Cadmar!”
She smirked. “Thank you, but now I must continue training in the Massadon Colosseum before first meal.”
“Of course, yer highness. Have a dangerous rest of yer day!” He bowed and then marched away.
Cover blown, Sophana marched ahead onto a dirt path parallel to the Granite Garden. She looked at the knights striding around the garden’s stone gate and nodded. They punched their breastplates in salute. Putting on her war-stricken tunic proved to be a blessing, but every minute that passed was another minute closer to Father knocking at her guest chamber door and discovering she’d fled. Sophana looked up at the watchtower, now thirty yards away. Both guards gazed down at her.
She raised a leaf-blade and yelled, “I can’t wait to slay a massadon!”
The two laughed. One of them called, “Meh wish meh could see it, yer highness!”
“Next time!” Smiling, she broke into a sprint. The Massadon Colosseum emerged twenty yards ahead, the redwood forest stretching just behind it. She quickly closed the distance.
Sophana stopped and turned around. The knight who had told her to have a dangerous rest of her day jogged in her direction, his helmet visor still lowered. “Meh fellow champions back there said meh can take a short break to watch yeh slay a massadon.”
Sophana tensed. “I don’t like being watched while I train.”
His brow furrowed and he spoke slowly. “Oh. I see…”
She forced a smile. “But I can make an exception this once.”
He grinned, revealing three missing teeth where his lip was partly gone. “Thank yeh, yer highness!”
“Certainly.” Sophana walked into the wide-open coliseum gate. If only the rest of the knight’s mouth could be swiped off.
The dome encircled, with two more closed, spiked-gates on the left and right, between rows of stone benches. Bright rays from the daystar reigned upon the dirt, revealing numerous splotches of blood. Sophana closed her eyes. Maybe I can fake a fainting spell. Ugh, but then the brute would carry me out. Or maybe I can just make a run for it now before—
The sound of a rising gate clanged to her left. Half-lip stood nearby behind a concrete podium with two sword-levers protruding from its top. His huge hand gripped the hilt of one sword. “Yeh said yeh couldn’t wait. Let ‘em have it, yer highness!”
A furry, brown, two-headed beast stomped through the open gate. Dried blood stained both snouts, snapping at each other with vicious growls. I guess one normal massadon isn’t enough for these barbarians. Sophana slung a leaf-blade. Both heads snapped in her direction and ducked, the leaf-blade swiping past. The beast dropped to all fours and bounded her way. Sophana sprinted to the right. She hopped onto a stone row and began diagonally ascending. She glanced back. The beast also mounted the rows, but slower.
Sophana tossed her other leaf-blade. It pierced the beast’s shoulder. It roared and leapt forward, soaring over five rows and landing fifteen feet from Sophana. She tore off another leaf-blade and launched it. The beast jumped again, closing the distance by five feet. It swiped a giant, bloody paw. Sophana dove to the right into a roll. Her feet slammed into the concrete and she sprang upright into a sprint. The beast trailed. Sophana jumped and kicked off the wall on her right as the beast charged beside her. She landed atop it, tearing off another leaf-blade. She jammed the blade into one of the heads. As it wailed, the other head bit into her arm. She yelled as the beast groaned, three of her leaf-blades protruding from its snout. She yanked her arm away and fell off the beast, landing on her feet as it swayed and then collapsed onto a bench.
Cheers resounded from below. The boulder-headed knight and three others with him hollered, standing around the sword podium. Sophana rose, blood pouring from her arm and onto the stone. As she descended the bleachers, the knights approached. With her wounded right arm, she tore off another leaf-blade and jogged down. When she reached the bottom, she strode toward the brutish group, as they chuckled and applauded from the center of the colosseum.
“What a show, Warrior Princess!” one of them said.
“No wonder Prince Cadmar wants you for a bride!” said another.
She flung her leaf-blade. It zipped between two of them and slammed into the second sword’s hilt on the podium. The weapon pushed forward. The second gate began to rise. Sophana raced to the colosseum entrance as its gate closed. She slid on her heel and bent beneath the spiked wood before it slammed shut. She pushed off the ground with her hands, rose, and then glanced back as she continued running. The knights yelled and unsheathed their swords as a five-headed lizard-like beast charged their direction. Sophana smiled as she ran toward the redwood forest. Though her arm seared and throbbed painfully, she’d escaped! Somehow she’d get back to her palace in Athdonia where Ave and the others waited for her. Her stomach swelled with a bubbly tingling and her chest burned within. She’d kiss Ave if he’d let her.
The red covering of leaves cloaked her. She weaved around thin and thick scarlet trunks until her lungs and bleeding arm forced her to stop. She doubled over, panting. Slowly, Sophana raised herself. With a trembling right hand she yanked off a leaf-blade from her forearm and used it to cut the bottom of her tunic. Using the leather, she wrapped it around her bloody bite-wound and then walked onward.
Her heart stopped. She ripped a lead-blade from her bicep and turned around.
Cadmar stopped walking and raised both of his giant hands. His crimson eyes shined like his ridiculous ebony braided man-bun. “And where are you off to in such a hurry? Your future palace is back this way.”
“Your brutal fortress will never be my home.”
He stepped forward. Sophana pointed her leaf-blade at him, her hand shaking.
“You’re hurt, Sophana.” He took another step.
She backed away. “Turn around and go or I’ll be forced to hurt you.”
He chuckled. “Like you hurt Ludwig?”
The few remaining leaves on Sophana’s arms quivered.
Cadmar’s lustful eyes grazed over them. “I see you’re also still hurt by his…” He slapped the leaf-blade away, snatched her wrist and raised it as he clasped her waist and pressed her close against his hard abdomen, “…desire for you.”
Sophana opened her mouth to scream, but a whiteness clouded her vision. She blinked as Cadmar’s bulging chest and the surrounding trees blurred and doubled. A sharp pang sliced through her brain. Her knees weakened as her temples pounded. Cadmar’s grip around her waist tightened and he spoke softly. “You have fallen in love with me. You want nothing more than to be my bride.”
His words filled and echoed in her thoughts. I am in love with Prince Cadmar. I want nothing more than to be his bride. Her temples stopped throbbing. The whiteness cleared. She peered up. The dashing Prince Cadmar held her close in his grip. He frowned at her arm. “My love, you’re hurt. Let’s bring you back to the fortress so a medic can take care of you.” He gently released her, but she grabbed his hip and held him, wanting nothing more than to enjoy his warm, powerful embrace. A sweet, husky chuckle tickled her ear and Prince Cadmar kissed her forehead. “Ah, my future queen, I cannot wait to be yours.”
Sophana smiled at her beloved. “Neither can I.”
Want to read the full story? Get Book 1, Prodigy Prince, and Book 2, Withering Princess on Amazon.