After ringing the bell, Sauran moved his head to make his face soak in blood. What a coward. Even as a joke, he was a Prince.
What to do? Push his head down so he suffocates on the blood?
No, no matter how evil his plan was, killing was too much. Being in the land of the dead would exempt one from the fight to push the throne on someone else. We couldn’t lose an important human sacrifice.
“You have some nerve, Sauran! Since you have such a weak body, today I will send you to the world of the dead right here!”
However, the eldest brother showed his usually lack of judgement. Holding his foot over Sauran’s head, he dropped it like the blade of a guillotine.
Sauran moved an inch to the left.
Iifu’s heel missed Sauran’s head by a hair’s breadth and hit the tatami mat.
Iifu kept dropping his foot onto Sauran and Sauran kept dodging. Blood splattered from the impact of the shoe slamming into the floor.
I quickly held Iifu back and said,
“Calm down. Ran is also a precious Emperor candidate. If you killed him, we’d only be hurting ourselves.”
“Let me go, Sugen. I won’t allow that bastard to go on. I’ll smash his tiny head to pieces.”
However, Sauran, blood-covered as he was, looked at us with a calm gaze.
“Haha…it’s useless.There is nobody in this world that is better at avoiding things than I am. Now, there should be even more people coming because of the noise. You three should fight for the throne by yourselves…”
Iifu and my gazes met.
Not only did Sauran ring the bell, but the flooring was stomped upon by Iifu. Yet, nobody had came over to check.
The reason was behind us. A person had sneaked in while we were preoccupied.
“How long do you all plan to stay in one corner? Also, do you think acting the idiot will make the Emperor leave the throne?”
The listless person fanning herself with a folding fan was my sister, Ryausha.
She still had grace and beauty even in her leanness. Dressed in her usual cheongsam, her sex appeal was enough that patrons would come flocking if she was in the same red-light district that Iifu was last night.
However, appearances are deceiving. Her strength was recognized by the Emperor, and she was a candidate for the Crown Princess. Above all, she had many strange skills.
“Acting as unseemly as that is useless, Sauran. I have already cleared the area of outsiders.”
“…Did you read it?”
“Yep. Don’t think lightly of my divination. I can see through all of your transparent plans.”
She called herself “The Sorceress.”
Ryausha could do many things, but her most prided ability was to see the future. Her accuracy? Bullseye every time.
As for me, I really didn’t think she actually had supernatural abilities. I believed that this was all predictions based on gossip or news she heard before.
“Let’s just go to the dojo. It’ll be easy since you can just watch me lose.” She folded her fan and started briskly walking away.
I called out to her, “Wait a second, sister. Who do you foretell to win?”
Without stopping, she replied,
“Who knows? I can only tell that it isn’t me. My condolences, Sugen.”
Impatient as I was, I had to compose myself. This was one of Ryausha’s abilities, psychological warfare. Rather than the truth, divination was a self-fulfilling prophecy; it laid a foundation to make it the truth.
That’s why the probability was not one in three. It was still one in four. Don’t be fooled.
With no witnesses coming, Sauran left the patch of blood and stood and halfheartedly trudged to the dojo. Iifu closely watched his back so he couldn’t escape.
“The one who loses―will be me,” I declared.
I clenched my fists, watching my siblings go on ahead.
“I don’t need a f*cking weapon! My fists are enough!”
“This is impossible, father. I cannot fight against my brothers…”
“My disease is acting up again…!”
This was the situation a second after the match started.
By the way, while the others were blabbering about, I did my pupil-disappearing trick and collapsed on the tatami flooring as planned.
The match’s rules were as thus:
Everyone was given a wooden sword, and one would lose once hit in the vitals with one. In other words, any attacks from something other than a sword would be counted as invalid and not grant a victory.
Basically, Iifu was obviously throwing away his sword so it was impossible for him to win. The other two were acting as they had no fighting spirit.
“…Who are you all.”
The Emperor, watching from a corner of the dojo, furrowed his brows, fed up with our antics. There was a raised deis for noblemen to watch swordsmanship, but it wasn’t close enough to judge skill precisely.
All of our efforts ended in vain.
“Iifu, pick up the sword. Ryausha, you are not such a good person. Sauran, cease acting sick. Sugen, nobody has even attacked yet. Everyone, immediately restart.”
Hearing that, we all reluctantly grasped our swords, but we had absolutely no conviction. As nobody had the desire to win, we were all waiting for someone else to bridge the gap―wait.
One would lose if a sword hit their vitals. So if I used an opponent’s sword to hit my vitals, would I be the one to lose?
In the time I took to think, Iifu had already started to move. I was holding my sword feebly, as if it would drop with a faint gust of wind. Yet, my expression showed the ferociousness of a boar.
“Haiya! Let’s do this!”
While he was yelling out, he pointed his sword at mine. His charge was fierce. My sword was already at the tip of his nose.
“As if I’d let you!”
I quickly managed to bring back my sword to its original position and sidestepped Iifu’s charge.
“You bastard! Stop resisting and let me f*cking hit you…!”
“Oh my. Should the weak and helpless me not be the first one to be hit?”
Iifu was made to trip mid-charge by a rogue foot. That foot belonged to Ryausha.
Iifu’s body flew through the air from his previous inertia. Without the ground to reorient himself with, he could not stop his body from crashing forward.
In that time, Ryausha conveniently placed her face in the path of Iifu’s sword―
“Sister. That place is dangerous.”
Ryausha’s hand was grabbed and her body was switched with the one who grabbed her. The one fishing out of troubled waters was Sauran.
“You! What’re you doing?”
“To protect my sister has long been my greatest ambition.”
Shamelessly pulling words out of his rear end, Sauran happily placed himself in the sword’s path.
Iifu masterfully bent his grip of the wooden sword. The sword that was going to hit Sauran square in the face only brushed by his bangs.
As soon as Iifu landed, all four of us scattered to different corners.
An expert’s fight. If an ordinary person was in here with us, they would become the winner without a clue how.
All of us continued to merely glare at each other.
Although it was easy to dodge, Iifu was on the verge of defeat just a few moments ago. Everyone understood the first to make a move would be in the worst situation. In order to break this situation―
“Listen to me! I have prepared myself!”
My sword was pointed perfectly straight. It was a position with no gaps.
“Brothers, sister. I will seriously take you down. Come!”
In fact, this time I truly had the intention of defeating them. Therefore, there was no lack of fighting spirit emitted.
Iifu, with the most heightened senses of the siblings, immediately jumped in.
“You are finally ready, Sugen! You were raised well! You deserve to be Emperor!”
“Yes. I will do my best―”
My sword was pointed straight at the eldest brother’s nose. However, I had already readied my foot to connect before the sword. Unable to dodge due to purposely trying to be hit,
Iifu was kicked directly in the face.
It was not final if it wasn’t a weapon. If the opponent’s sword hit me in a hand-to-hand fight, it would count. Ryausha demonstrated that with her tripping Iifu.
Iifu dropped to the floor with a thud. He lost his grip on the sword, dropping it on the floor.
Without a moment’s delay, the three siblings left swarmed around the sword and hit their own faces with the dropped sword.
“Did you see, Your Majesty! The victor is Iifu!”
Facing the jubilant I, the Emperor applauded with a calm smile.
“Ah, I have been carefully watching, Sugen. By the rules, it would certainly be Iifu’s victory.”
“However, who actually lost is a complex thing. One can win the battle but lose the war. Iifu was the victor in the case, yet he is collapsed on the ground. He lacks prudence.”
“A win is a win.”
The Emperor shook his head.
Before I noticed, large numbers of officials and Imperial guards had already assembled. As if some ceremony was to be conducted.
“I can see who won and who lost at this occasion. It was clear that all of your goals were to lose. I said that I would ascertain your skills.”
I felt a chill run through me. Ryausha and Sauran started to edge away from as if I was something absolutely detestable.
“I was troubled on whether you or Ryausha were to be the true victor. Ryausha was the one to trip Iifu and implant the idea of hand combat. However…”
Ryausha cut in, “Father, you are reading into this too deeply. I had no such ulterior motive. I was only desperate to stop my brother, and tripping him was all I could do.”
“There was no evidence to show that.”
I did not miss the cold sweat run down her forehead. What a blunder. I guess this is how it ends.
“In any case, the final victor is decided to be you. Therefore, the next Emperor is Sugen. I have appointed you. All officials here will serve as witness.
When the Emperor finished speaking, the officials started to applaud. At the same time, I was attacked with a strong sense of vertigo. It was at the level that I started to suspect if it was a sound attack disguised as applause.
I, the Emperor.
My frivolous life as an Imperial Price would end, and I would have to continuously toil in bureaucratic and military affairs…
“From tomorrow, you will be specially trained as the heir. Everyday, report to the dojo at four in the morning. As a matter of course, I will give an intense training that will make you wonder if you are living.”
But, on the next day, I was not in the dojo.
Because I had already ran away from the Imperial Court the night before.