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Sam had had a hard day at work. It was far from his first hard day, and he was sure it was far from his last one too. The street lights cut through the night and yet he could only see the pools of light and whatever things nearby they happened to spill on. It was a claustrophobic sight, making him think of being in a tunnel. Only, after meditating on it as he slowly walked, he realised that it was simply because he hated his life and saw a similarity to it in the sight before his eyes.

As if summoned by his realisation, he heard the sound of a truck. It sounded close and getting closer. He turned around, then dived, the truck climbing the pavement and flying through where he had been a moment ago.

There was a difference between hating his life and wanting to die.

The moment passed, his heart pounding with adrenalin. He watched as the truck slid into the ditch, sparks leaping from the scraping undercarriage like fireworks in the fresh darkness, the nearby street lights flattened. Combined with the relief flooding through him, the sight mesmerised him.

And so he entirely missed the second truck that sought his life.

Falling, he felt like he had fallen through the earth, through the universe, an eternity. The entire time, he simply sighed. As miserable as his life had been, he had no regrets, only a simple wish that he could have had a girlfriend before his death. It wasn’t even that he cared about dying a virgin, he just wanted to know what it felt like to go on dates, the excitement of a first kiss, falling asleep and waking up with someone in his arms.

Yes, all he desired was a respite from the crushing loneliness that had long since moulded him into another cog of society.

Rather than the sensation of falling ending, he suddenly felt like the space around him began to fall too, gradually catching up with his pace until he seemed to have stopped. Yet that proved to be only momentary, the sensation returning but in the opposite direction. Flying, he flew faster and faster, everything being stripped away by the force except his very essence. Neither flesh nor bone remained, just a consciousness.

And then he stopped.

“Welcome, Sam,” said a voice, angelic, demonic, and he heard it with ears he didn’t have.

“Is this the last moment of my life stretched into an incredible length by some kind of stress-based hallucination?” he asked with a voice he didn’t have.

The other voice tittered, light notes of laughter that took on an either harmonic or sinister tone depending on which ear heard them. “No. You are dead; however, your death has meaning. I have summoned you to this world as a hero to right the balance good and evil.”

“So you are God?”

He saw her shake her head with eyes he didn’t have, and even then he had not seen her, had no notion of what she looked like, simply knew that she had shaken her head. “I am one of the twelve gods of this world, known by many names. You may call me Liliana.”

“Not Lilith?”

She laughed again, yet this time he felt a sharpness to it, as if listening to it for too long would lead to a cut appearing across his neck—not that he currently had one. “Liliana,” she said firmly. “It is a name of purity and not to be confused with that slut.”

He gave no comment.

She carried on from what she had been saying before. “Of course, we do not ask you to take on such a burden without due reward. Your new body will be highly capable and you may make a single request of us.”

“Any request?”

He saw her smile without seeing her. “Please note that I said you may make any request, not that we will grant it. A valid request could be to have the strength of ten men, or the speed of a galloping horse, or the sight of a hawk. Invalid requests include being irresistible to members of the opposite sex, seeing through clothing, and the modification of body parts to resemble other animals.”

“I want to be a girl.”

There was a moment of silence, and then she said, “What?”

“I want to be a girl—is that valid?”

She took another moment to consider. “Well, yes, it is so easy I would not even count it as a request, but why?”

“Dunno. Guess I’m curious and want to try something new? I feel like I don’t really have a strong attachment to being a man, so I think I’ll be fine.”

She gave him a long and hard look, which he could keenly feel despite being unable to see. “I suppose there is no harm. Now, did you have any other questions for me before I send you to the world?”

“Ah, is there any particular reason you chose me? Or did I happen to die at the right time?”

She laughed, and he was relieved that it was the lighter tittering from earlier. “Your universe is something like a breeding ground. All sorts of consciousnesses sprout out of nothing and grow through evolutionary pressures, which gives very robust results. However, this universe is one tended to by gods, which makes the consciousnesses gentle and caring and thus ill-suited to heroics. I chose you in particular as someone with the perfect consciousness to overcome the current growing evil.”

He mulled over what she’d said, and a question came to him. “Can’t twelve gods sort out the evil themselves?”

She let out a hollow laugh this time, and he could imagine her smile turned thin even if she didn’t show him it. “There are, of course, rules governing what we may or may not do. And before you ask, the evil comes from a fallen god whose name I dare not utter.”

“Are you afraid of him?”

“Her, and she was my wife before she fell, so I shall not dirty my mouth with her name.”

He thought for a moment. “Is it Lilith?”

Silence, and then she asked, “Any other questions?”

“Since you said making me a girl was easy, can I also be really cute?”

Another stretch of silence dragged on. “Okay, nothing else? Good. I shall send you down now. Enjoy your time, destroy the evil, live happily ever after. Perfect.”

No sooner had she finished than a new sensation took over his consciousness, feeling as if he was dissolving into nothingness. Only, that wasn’t quite right, no sense of loss accompanying the feeling. Gradually, he came to think of it as being like sound travelling through something solid. As before, that sensation grew until he felt that he’d reached something impossibly thick, and from there the solid grew softer and softer until he once again stopped.

It took him a while to notice a familiarity. Once he did, though, his senses began to focus, turning the vast emptiness of nothing into a messy and loud blur. Like waves crashing on a beach, his focus rose and fell, and like the moon, his senses waxed and waned. At times, he saw glimpses of faces or heard fragments of words, at other times felt a softness under his hands, a warmth in his mouth.

Seconds and months interchangeable as they passed, the tides gave way to a rising flood, the moon forgetting to wane. He awoke in a woman’s arms, his mouth around her teat: he had become a baby. While the current situation granted part of his dying wish, he felt it didn’t count.

Although he now had awareness of his senses, he still lacked control of them. His eyes wandered at whatever moved, his ears only heard random sounds, hands touched what they wanted. Even his less prominent senses eluded him, unable to notice until after he had soiled himself.

Week by week, that changed, and one other thing changed one day when he was being changed: as per his request, he had become a girl. With little else to think about, it didn’t take him long to adjust to being her.

She learned to look where she wanted to and to recognise her name—Samantha. Her muscles began to follow her unconscious thoughts; she could roll over and then later on sit up, and she could grab some things and shake them about.

The world around her built up from flickers and fragments to something solid. She recognised the people who often visited her, the room she lived in, and many of the words people used—everyday words like “food” and “bath” and “sleep”, as well as names.

While she had no say in the breastfeeding, she had felt conflicted over suckling from her own mother, even if it was perfectly natural at her age. Much to her relief, she eventually had the awareness to realise that the woman she suckled from was a wet-nurse. Still, she didn’t want to take advantage of her situation, so she just drank and enjoyed the scenery.

As she grew from a baby to a toddler, her old sense of consciousness began to merge with her everyday experiences. Although she behaved like Sam would have acted if he was genuinely trying to be a young girl, she held none of his memories, only a sense that she was special. She was now truly Samantha.

To others, she appeared a precocious yet sweet child. In her early years, those around her noted she had a preference for beautiful women, running up to them and asking for a hug—whether family, guest, or servant. As such, many women tried to bribe her for hugs with sweets, only to find she lacked the sweet tooth children often had.

Older, her preferences showed in the friends she invited over. Rather than tea parties or playing dolls, she took them for long walks through the flower gardens and along the edge of the lake, finding excuses to hold their hands until they gave up and just let her.

One such time, she had invited a cute girl around her age whose name was Mary Anne, but Samantha called her Marian. When Marian arrived, she asked what they would be doing.

“I want to go for a walk,” Samantha said.

Marian frowned, but offered no disagreement as she dutifully followed; even at such a young age, she was aware of her own status and that she had to listen to the Princess.

So the two strolled through the flower gardens and to the lake, which was Samantha’s favourite place in the warmer months. Beneath the willow trees, they slowly walked, and Samantha held Marian’s hand with a quietly said, “I am afraid you might fall in.”

Used to it, Marian gave no reply to the silly excuse nor offered any resistance.

Samantha enjoyed the sense of peace and comfort, had always found herself at ease when engaging in innocent physical contact. Not yet six years old, she truly had no ulterior motives beyond the pleasant feeling that came from holding a cute girl’s hand.

However, something caught her attention on their walk—a distant sound. Such a harsh noise, she was drawn to it and led Marian over to the field beyond the trees and bushes which surrounded the lake.

It was an unkept field, a mess of grass and wildflowers flattened by heavy boots, patches of dirt showing through. Ten large stakes were driven into the ground, sticking out as tall as a man and wrapped in hay and cloth. A few racks, the kind that held weapons, lay bare.

Alone in the middle of all that stood a young girl. Samantha wasn’t sure, but she thought the girl around her age, perhaps older by a year or two. Her skin glowed a workman’s brown, sweat giving her a bronze glow as she caught the sunshine, her shirt and trousers loose and somewhat ragged, hair pulled into a rough ponytail. If not for her intuition, Samantha would have thought the girl a boy.

The maids who kept an eye on Samantha approached, and one cautiously said, “Your Highness, she is training to be a Royal Guard—we should leave her to practise.”

Samantha knew of the Royal Guards; some would follow her at times or be present when she saw her parents. They were mostly men, tall and muscled, yet a few she had seen around her mother had been women.

“Will she be my guard?” she asked.

The maids looked at each other, a difficult expression passing between them, until one hesitantly said, “If she continues her training, she may be.”

Samantha nodded to herself, and then decided on something. Raising her voice, she said, “Girl, continue your training.”

The girl, half-way through a swing, jumped at the sudden noise, her wooden sword hitting the stake at an unpadded point and so sending a painful jolt through her arm. With a clatter, the sword landed on the floor. Once the moment of pain passed, she jerked around to see who had teased her, only to find the Princess. Swallowing the outburst of anger she had prepared, she bent over in a bow, stiff, and she didn’t dare say anything but, “Yes, Your Highness.”

Her curiosity indulged, Samantha turned around and led Marian back to the lake. Little did she know how that simple meeting had so greatly influenced her future.

Over the next several years, Samantha maintained her sense of precociousness. While she showed herself to be a very capable student, her dislike of studying was widely known, yet she always attended her classes and did the homework and treated the tutors with respect—as long as she was suitably rewarded. Most often, she gave her cooperation in exchange for visits from cute girls.

As the only child of the King and Queen, her education covered all the necessary topics to one day lead the country. However, her personal learning was more focused on the sorts of things girls liked, so she knew of all kinds of sweets and sweet words, aided by a voracious appetite for romance novels.

At twelve, she had come to understand herself. While she did not know the word “lesbian”, she knew her disinterest in boys went beyond what was normal, and the same was true for her interest in girls. To her, girls and women were beautiful. She wanted to watch them, to hear them, to touch them, and even their perfumes agreed with her nose. When she read books, she replaced the heroes with herself so that it was her saving the damsels and kissing them, sometimes rewriting whole sections as she disagreed with how the hero acted. Women weren’t for taking, she knew, but for loving.

So it was that the innocent days of her childhood gave way to her adolescent desire for a first kiss. Yet the girls who had accepted her hand-holding, who had accepted her countless compliments and smiles over the years, were rather reluctant, and she wasn’t going to force them. There was no sadder sight than a lady with a troubled expression.

It was on one such day, having been rejected, that she wandered aimlessly around the grounds. She had felt so sure that Marian would indulge her, thus her despair ran deep. Lost in those feelings, it was only when a maid warned her that she observed where she was.

Ahead of her were archery targets, some five lined up with bales of hay behind them. On the ground, various distances were marked out by curved lines of stones and twigs, a few broken arrow shafts littered around. Two people were stood at a modest distance holding bows, and Samantha realised she recognised both.

One was the girl she had seen many years ago practising her swordsmanship—when it came to girls, Samantha had an incredible memory. As for the other, well, she despised him. It was one thing for a girl to reject her, a much worse thing to have to listen as a girl went on and on about how dreamy and amazing Sir Humdinger’s squire was.

She hadn’t thought it possible to hate him more than she already did, yet then she caught the face the girl was making.

Without a thought, Samantha walked over in time to catch him say, “You won’t go back on your promise, right?”

Samantha had an image of a pure and delicate young lady, one which she purposefully kept since it meant that pure and delicate young ladies would like her company. However, she had no need to keep up such appearances in front of him, so her voice came out cold and smile was sinister. “Pray tell, what promise would that be?”

The girl looked over and, at once, recognised the Princess, bowing deeply. He took his time turning around and a second longer to realise, only then giving a polite bow. “Your Highness,” he said in greeting, and his smile suddenly broadened. “We are having a friendly competition, won’t you oversee it?”

“What promise?” Samantha repeated, this time looking at the girl to answer.

His smile became forced and he also turned to look at the girl. “Go on, Julianne,” he whispered.

Samantha heard him and memorised the name—Julianne, she liked it.

As for Julianne, she felt all the more put on the spot and humiliated for the Princess’s arrival. “Master Squire has asked me to the garrison’s dance if he can best me,” she said, her gaze on the floor a step in front of her.

It took Samantha but a moment to unravel the story hidden between such words. She pinned him with a stare, one which he found difficult to return, yet he had no shame. “Would Your Highness be our judge?”

“There is no need for a judge over such a matter,” she said, her smile sickeningly sweet. “However, I shall observe.”

So the two of them lined up and he took his shots first. They were good shots, landing near the centre. Samantha could see the resignation in Julianne’s eyes before she let loose her first arrow, and it grew heavier when her arrow barely scored. For all three shots, Samantha continued to closely watch Julianne, followed the lines her body made as she stretched back the bowstring, saw how her eyes focused, the slight parting of her lips before she released.

A beautiful sight Samantha engraved into her heart.

Alas, Julianne’s results were poor, and she felt ashamed for showing the Princess such patheticness. Years ago, it had been the Princess’s encouragement which pushed her to carry on, to raise her sword one more time, to run one more stretch, to loose one more arrow, and yet she had little to show for her dedication.

Meanwhile, Aaron looked on with glee, knowing full well that Julianne could hardly violate a promise made in front of the Princess. He turned and went to speak, only to be stilled by the beautiful expression the Princess showed. Never before had he seen her look so pretty, usually appearing stiff and uncomfortable on the occasion he caught a glimpse of her.

Having had a moment to appreciate the sight, Samantha thought through the problem. “Say, no one would object if I wished to partake in this competition, would they?” she asked.

That question hung in the air for a long moment, Julianne looking on with surprise as Aaron sought help from the maids, only to find them unwilling. Pulling himself together, he put on a polite smile. “Of course not, but I fear that a bow is a weapon and not something we could lightly give to Your Highness.”

Samantha ignored what he said as she took her place at Julianne’s side. “If I best his score, then may I ask something of you?” she softly asked.

“Yes, Your Highness. Anything, Your Highness,” Julianne said, her words a mix of duty and pleading.

With a sharp smile, Samantha turned to him and held out her hand for the bow and quiver. “If you would be so kind.”

Trying to keep his expression cordial, he held his bow close. “If I may, Your Highness, my bow requires more strength to pull than Miss Julianne’s—would hers not be more suitable?”

“If you would be so kind,” Samantha said, her smile sharper.

Reluctantly, he handed over his things.

Samantha took them and imitated how Julianne had stood a moment ago. “As this is my first time, I hope you may indulge me a few shots for practice.”

“Of course not, Your Highness. As many as you need,” he said, his voice a touch strained.

Julianne said nothing, thought nothing. Never in her life would she have even imagined that the Princess would come to her rescue, so all she could do was watch, watch as the Princess took her position and gripped the bow, then raised it with a kind of grace, her fair skin glowing in the summer’s light as her eyes focused keenly on the target.

The first arrow flew short, barely pegging the target and landing outside the scoring rings. Yet it surprised Julianne. As the Princess prepared the next arrow, Julianne closely watched the Princess, saw those slender arms exert more strength than she could, and the Princess showed none of the strain that Aaron had when drawing it.

A twang, and the second arrow embedded itself deep into the target, albeit barely in the outermost scoring ring, this time high.

“I will be competing now,” Samantha said.

Julianne felt like her heart itself stilled as she watched the Princess’s graceful movements, and when the Princess let loose the arrow, Julianne felt like it struck her heart. Too entranced to see what score it may have earned, she continued to stare at the Princess with an intense admiration. One, two, the arrows flew, and Julianne had no doubt they landed true.

“I believe that is my victory,” Samantha said, holding out the bow for Aaron.

He took it numbly, his heart beating wildly in his chest. Yet she disregarded him and instead reached for Julianne’s hand. Julianne let her, followed her. Anywhere the Princess went, Julianne would have followed her, happily followed her.

Rather than anywhere, Samantha walked back to the lake. The maids knew to fall behind and she knew to speak softly, making it the most private place she could be with someone. Julianne’s hand felt nice to hold. She had thought that part of her distaste for men had been because they were rough and calloused, yet she didn’t mind Julianne’s hand.

Once she reached a place she liked, she brought them to a stop, turning around to face Julianne. The six or so years ago when they had last met, Julianne had been very tanned, and Samantha had thought her cute. Since then, Julianne had grown taller, and her skin was fairer yet still bronzed, her pale hair now darker, seemingly no two strands the same colour as Samantha could pick out every shade of brunette from walnut to mahogany to birch. Slender, yet taut with muscles, Samantha felt tempted to touch Julianne’s arm, curious how it would feel.

If Julianne was uncomfortable with how Samantha looked at her, she didn’t show it. In fact, she returned the interest, for the first time seeing a girl so beautiful.

After a long moment of silence, Samantha was unable to hold herself back any longer and so spoke. “You said I may ask for anything, so I shall ask for a kiss,” she said. But she was not shameless and turned her cheek towards Julianne.

Yet even that felt too much, regretting her teasing the moment after. Turning back to face Julianne, she went to say, “I am joking.”

Only, she didn’t get to finish. Julianne hadn’t hesitated at all to leave a kiss on her cheek. However, because of Samantha’s movement, the kiss landed not on her cheek, but her lips. Having closed her eyes, Julianne didn’t notice, the touch so light and brief. When her eyes then opened, Samantha showed no sign of anything having happened.

Five years later, Samantha walked alongside the lake with a lady her age from a northern kingdom, which was renowned for its romanticism. She called the lady Rouge and the two had a good mood going, the result of a week’s effort on Samantha’s part. There had been long discussions over tea and biscuits, and dancing practice, and a piano recital of all her favourite songs, and a trip to the garden at dusk where Samantha had picked her a single rose, passionate pink in colour.

Now she walked, not hand-in-hand, but arm-in-arm with Rouge, close together, laughter flowing. They came to her favourite place, a bench (that she had asked to be placed) that hid behind a thorny bush.

“My Rouge,” she whispered, putting an accent on the name.

Rouge giggled, bowing her head. “Your Highness.”

“When it is just the two of us like this, call me Samantha,” she said.

They sat close together, and Lady Rouge showed no discomfort at Samantha’s hand resting on her thigh. Desiring to be closer, Samantha leaned over until their shoulders touched, only then satisfied. They said a few more sweet nothings to each other before settling into a comfortable silence.

When she felt the time was right, Samantha spoke. “Would you hate me if I asked for a kiss?”

Rouge looked away, in shyness rather than disgust. “I haven’t kissed anyone since I was a child,” she said, her voice light and airy.

“Did you used to kiss your sister on the cheek?” Samantha asked.

“Yes, I did,” Rouge said.

Samantha slowly licked her lips. “Then, if I call you sister, will you not kiss my cheek?”

“What if… I kissed you where a sister should not kiss?” Rouge asked, little more than a whisper, her cheeks living up to the nickname Samantha had given her.

Pushing away her dirty thoughts, Samantha knew where Rouge was talking about. “If I still call you sister, does the taboo of kissing me not make you even more excited?”

Rouge bit her lip, such a sight intoxicating to Samantha, pulling her in.

Coming to her ear, Samantha whispered, “Sister, please won’t you kiss me?”

A shiver ran through Rouge. Her cheeks were hot, and her eyes which had already been mesmerising grew deeper still, her legs moving over to lightly rub against Samantha’s. “Mother and father would be disgusted,” she said, playing along.

“Let them be, let everyone be: all I need in this world is you, my precious sister,” Samantha murmured, her every breath hot on Rouge’s ear.

“Sister,” Rouge said, almost a moan, and it sounded to Samantha like she was begging.

They adjusted their position, facing each other. Samantha gently cupped Rouge’s cheek and lost herself in those eyes that looked as intoxicated with lust as she was sure her own were. In a pained voice, she said, “As your elder sister, I cannot be the one who takes away your innocence. If you truly wish for us to be together, not as sisters but as women, then I ask you to give up your innocence willingly and without regret.”

Having said her lines, Samantha fluttered her eyes closed and lightly pursed her lips. In the darkness, she felt Rouge’s soft hand caress her cheek, and she felt Rouge’s hot breath land on her face, on her lips.

A heartbeat away.

But before her heart could make that last beat, distant screams rang out. Jerked out of the moment, clarity quickly returned to Rouge’s face, and with it faded those sordid desires that Samantha had so painstakingly stoked.

And before Samantha could even lament the timing, someone pushed through the thorny bush, scaring off Rouge—no doubt for good, Samantha cynically thought. When she looked up at the intruder, though, she merely sighed. “Julie, I was this close to my first kiss,” she said, holding her finger and thumb a heartbeat apart.

Julie (nowadays rarely called by her full name of Julianne) gave her a crooked grin. “There is a minor disturbance, Ma’am—I assure you I didn’t come here to interrupt.”

Samantha got to her feet in a huff, the anger she had been ready to direct at Julie now looking for a new outlet. “Who is it? I’ll make them sorry,” she said, striding off towards where the screams had come from.

“Ma’am! Please wait,” Julie said, jogging to catch up. “We need to evacuate.”

“They are the ones who need to evacuate,” she said, her voice growing colder with every word.

Julie let out a frustrated sigh, resisting the urge to pull Samantha in the opposite direction. “It’s a wild beast, Ma’am,” she said, emphasising her words.

“I swear to the twelve gods, I do not care if it is Lilith herself, anyone who gets in the way of my dates will feel my wrath,” Samantha said with conviction.

At the end of her wits, Julie grabbed Samantha’s hand, but even then she couldn’t stop her as Samantha simply dragged her along. “Ma’am, please!”

Her pleas fell on deaf ears.

Giving up on stopping her, Julie moved in front to take a defensive position, holding her sword and shield. The sparse forest and thick undergrowth soon gave way to mown grass, the flower gardens ahead. From the sounds of distant commotion, she guessed the wild beast still rampaged on the far side of the palace, guests to the Princess’s birthday celebration fleeing in all directions.

A squad of Royal Guards having spotted the Princess, they rushed towards her. Samantha paid them no attention and instead fixed her eyes on the corner of the palace.

No sooner had the squad reached her, the leader already beseeching her to fall back, than the wild beast’s head darted out from behind the palace, with corrupted skin like boiling tar and eyes of obsidian, sharp gaze cutting through the pitiful nobles as it then fixated on her. She returned its gaze with such iciness that it stilled for a moment.

The rage swirling inside her unquenchable, she simply reached out and plucked the bow from one of the guard’s. When she touched it, tendrils of light began to flow from her fingertips, wrapping around the bow until the whole thing shone with a divine glow. The same happened when she took an arrow from the guard’s quiver.

She carried on walking while she drew back the string, the longbow like a toy in her hands as it strained against her strength. Without stopping, she let loose the arrow, one a moment a twang and the next an ear-splitting roar; a speck of light glowed in the middle of the wild beast’s eye.

Julie moved quick, taking a handful of arrows from the guard’s quiver. Samantha held out her hand and Julie placed another arrow in it. Once again, Samanta loosed an arrow, landing true. Never pausing nor slowing, she placed the dozen arrows in a tight grouping in the wild beast’s eye, even as it thrashed about.

Acrid smoke billowed from the wound, harsher than what emitted from the rest of its corrupted skin. In its violent rage, it smashed the palace, turning several bedrooms and lounging rooms into rubble, leaving behind vast burns, deep gouges on the summer-hardened ground. Yet it clearly had lost some strength, its movements almost drunken, unsteady.

Samantha glanced behind her and, seeing Julie had run out of arrows, sighed. “Your sword,” she said.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Julie said, quickly unsheathing her sword and presenting it.

Although Samantha hadn’t held a sword before, she felt that Julie’s one was a good weight. For a moment, she observed the hilt, and then pulled her focus away with a renewed hatred for the wild beast. Like before, tendrils of light engulfed the sword.

The wild beast seemed torn between wariness and aggression, turning its good eye to face her, snarling and stamping its feet.

She had no such hesitation and simply drew back her arm, then she flung the sword. It spun as it flew across the vast distance, a glowing blur, making only the slightest arc before smashing into the wild beast’s face, yet the goopy surface meant it sunk in rather than deflecting off. Immediately, the wild beast howled, brought up its paws to claw at its own face, flinging huge globs of corruption in all directions. Where they landed, they spat and hissed and evaporated into a thick, black smoke.

One such glob landed on Julie’s shield, held up to protect the Princess. “Ma’am, we should fall back,” she said, desperate.

Watching the death throes of the wild beast, Samantha found her anger sufficiently vented. “Keep in mind what happened here before you interrupt me next time.”

It took little time for the news of what had happened to spread—she had hardly been subtle about it—and so there came an easy consensus that she was, in fact, a hero. However, she saw no reason to go on a heroic journey. All she wanted to do was go on cute dates with attractive young women, which was something she could already do, and already did. They had nothing else to offer her. She was a princess who would eventually become a queen, known far and wide for her beauty, temperament, and competence. The only thing she lacked was a romantic partner and she doubted the Corrupted Lands had many willing women.

So Julie had to take matters into her own hands. “Ma’am, if you journey to vanquish the Great Evil, I’ll be your lover.”

Samantha gave Julie a long look. By now, they had both mostly grown as much as they would, Julie taller than her by a finger. Slim, yet her muscles defined, Julie had an almost boyish appearance with her hair cut short. Her face, though, was too delicate, especially with how easily it blushed. And those thin, pink lips had haunted Samantha’s dreams in the most pleasant way. She couldn’t even remember the feeling, hadn’t felt it at the time with how unexpected and brief that kiss had been, yet that had only made her curious to find out what she had missed.

As for what Julie had said, Samantha thought the offer over seriously. She had never pursued Julie over the years because of their significant difference in status. Still, she had teased Julie now and then, and Julie had stumbled across many of her rendezvous with other ladies, yet Julie had never shown disgust. Samantha had been reluctant to think that that meant anything, instead taking it as Julie being used to her behaviour.

However, since Julie was going so far as to offer herself in such a way, Samantha thought that, like the role-play she had gone through with Rouge, the problematic aspects could perhaps be overlooked. She was certain no one would have ordered Julie to do it, her family very much in denial about her queer preferences and sure that it was simply a childish phase she would grow out of. And for Julie—who well knew of her queer preferences—to make such an offer, Samantha felt that there was perhaps the slightest chance of mutual feelings.

Ever since she realised she was different, she had truly never thought she could be loved, that she could only seek out fleeting pleasures.

Faced with that hope, she could excuse away any other opposition that came to mind. “Very well.”

For the next three months, she went through various trainings and, through persuasion and threats, convinced her parents to let her organise the journey as she wished. There would be no grand send off, no strict itinerary, no party of Royal Guards.

When the day to leave finally arrived, it was simply Samantha and Julie, side by side on their horses, going at a canter out into the unknown. The beginning of their adventures—in more ways than one.

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