Bonded Goddess – Chapter 40

The delicious glory of being burnt to ashes; that was what it felt like to be actually challenging a local hero. Well, not exactly local; Leonardo was the well-loved hero of a whole fucking country. I was just so darn filled with flavour moods, except sweet. I was salty about the fact that it was a wretched wedding ceremony. I didn’t think I would ever get over my hate of this showy performance of love, and then eventually showing that it was all fake love after all.

Anyway, when I challenged Leonardo right to his face, in front of every freakin’ happy person there; their faces were worth seeing, I tell you. They were all so surprised, even a jump scare from The Nun would have been less shocking. (That was the lamest of them all, I tell you; too many jump scares, though the story plot was bomb). With my sword almost out of its sheath, I had proclaimed and declared my wish to duel with their beloved hero.

Now what would he do?

Accept my challenge, on his wedding day? A day when shedding blood or engaging in violence is considered a bad omen; or, He would not accept my challenge? And thus make some old fool say things like their hero was actually a coward who was scared to accept a challenge thrown to his face and that too, by a puny man like myself, who was evidently the most hated man in the whole of valerian. Either way he would not be able to please anyone. Ah, what a nice day to be challenging a man I detest. Well, not exactly detest… it was more of a noble relationship with your arch enemy, a war over a woman.

I remained facing him, but my eyes scrutinized the whole darn hall. It was more like an arena where some Roman prisoner would have to wrestle with a tiger or some other wild animal. What a fucking eerie place! As my inner self felt a smirk forming in my face, I indulged in the pleasures of this wonderful show. I mean, I felt like a ringmaster putting on some show. I would have wanted to perform some poetry, with some elegance as well, but heck, no, I was not the poetry kind of person, but a light novel sort of person. Poetry is too refined for the likes of me (and you as well, bitch).

It was not the audience, or did they call them the invitees of the wedding, that enthralled me. I was very satisfied with just Elsha, the king, the Queen, Evelyn and Leonardo to see me pull off my feat. Or if it could even be called a feat.

Elsha was shocked all right. I mean, she looked… so shocked, more than I had ever seen her before. But it was not her. It was not even the King. I mean, his face was really satisfying. That heart of stone needed some grinding and mixing, and my sudden entrance was just the first stroke of hammer on it. BUT… Listen to me, y’all. It was Leonardo. The man who was set to marry my lover. Yes, it was Leonardo’s face that I couldn’t get enough of. He was so fucking shocked. His face reflected how fucked up he felt; and more than anything else, it reminded me of the first time we had a fight. He was so damn shocked to see me and Evelyn; well, technically, me fucking Evelyn out of spite. It was a similar shock, but not exactly, because the second time, he shielded Evelyn from me.

I was a generic villain, your everyday villains like Ursula (If you have never watched the Little Mermaid, even if you’re a boy; you should be ashamed of yourself.)

But I wouldn’t blame him, or anyone else for the matter, for being too shocked, or startled. The queen, for one, pretended to be surprised. I wanted to laugh, but laughing was not the most appropriate thing for me to do in such a situation. Besides, all I wanted to do was have a free and fair fight, not provoke the hero to some sort of malady and thus start digging my own grave.

I also understood a little bit about him.

First, he was a man who could NOT deal with issues of utmost shock. He was shocked to the point that he couldn’t move or think straight, and sought some form of comfort from Evelyn, probably the closest person to him at that moment. He was like someone going to little space (again, if you’re genuinely offended, I apologise… if you’re just pretending to be butt hurt; goeth and fucketh thyself.) And that made me feel a bit… sad (?) for him.

Second, he was indeed fucking naïve, gullible and too honest to a fault, which was quite unlike the dream of him I had had back in the second dungeon where Bald Jason and balding casa played around with me. From his face, it was easy to tell that he didn’t expect me to escape, he didn’t expect to see me again, so fucking soon. But could the man be blamed? Anyone, any fucking one would have a hard time digesting the fact that I was in front of every person in that hall, in one piece; and most of all, publicly challenging him. It was like social suicide, to be honest. Because if I lost, they would make more fun of me, and hate me even more. But if he lost, he may be mocked, sure by some old fools… but the majority of them would still carry him and make him rise from the ashes of shame into a phoenix. The only question was, what were the chances of me winning in a free and fair duel? Zero to two.

Well, either way I must have you know that I was so excited, I could hardly stay still. My heart beat so loudly, my breaths were ragged, and my throat felt dry. We exchanged glances, Leonardo and I. And yet even with his tiny ocean blue eyes on me, I knew he didn’t see me. He was too shocked to even see me; really see me. I walked down half the aisle. Fuck, fuck, fuck…. what the fuck was I doing? I entered the wrong way, now I look like a fucking bride walking down the aisle. This was not how I wanted to appear especially when I was here to challenge a hero!

I began taking steps towards them. The audience faded into the background, hardly noticeable, hardly audible… hardly even present; all that mattered was that I was in front of the two most important people there: Evelyn and Leonardo. Even if he was too fragile to be facing me at that exact moment. As I walked on, my gaze piercing straight ahead to the duo, with the priest in between them. The priest was probably the only one who didn’t look shocked. Maybe he had seen such scenes several time in all his career as a priest. Because that would be hilarious to see lovers trying to break a wedding.

But my vision was soon clouded with the row of soldiers in armours of white and azure. What a fucking ugly colour for warriors, ugh. It almost killed my desire to have a good fight. Wait- I was NOT there to cause some unsolicited trouble, fuck, I would not even choose to cause trouble even if the trouble was solicited, with all speciality from me. I was to face Leonardo, ALONE. I couldn’t afford to leach even an ounce of the precious manna the women had given me on these pawns.

And, why the fuck was I not feeling any stronger? It had been hours and even DAYS since I had taken the potions, and yet, my body was as weak. Or it FELT as weak as before. But that was not the most important thing to be worried about… well, maybe it was, but I was not all that worried about it.

Guards surrounded me, thick like an army of fuck faces locusts.

As they tried to get over me, I was actually reminded of rugby. YES! You heard CORRECT! RUGBY! I’m Asian for crying out loud. And football is NOT rugby. All y’all Americans have changed the meaning of so many things. But it would be wrong to blame only one country for stuff, it was a collective wrong… due to the one nation- one culture theory. What a fucking old and wrong thing. The indigenous- ness of cultures makes them cultures, and mixing is just an adulterated excuse of culture.

As they surrounded me, I walked on, not wishing to draw my sword quite yet. Because once you draw your sword, you declare war. Once you aim a sword, you’re betting your life for your opponents’ life. I wondered whether these samurai warrior spirit and principles would be forgotten eventually, as time went on. That would be one of the greatest loss of Japan, and it was a painful thought. Pushing aside the fact that I was getting all too patriotic, I felt them on me.

I almost drew my sword. ALMOST. Bitch I was close. I knocked some out with the scabbard, the sword still in it. Some with the hilt of my sword. I was to draw the blade only AND only when I was ready to lay down my life. This was not even being patriotic or warrior spirit shit anymore. This was something almost every anime about swordfights preached. YOU ought to know.

If they were not in armour, it would have been easier, both for me and for them. Knowing pressure points was vital in what I wanted to do. That was I wouldn’t have to hurt people, and at the same time keep them off me. The last thing I wanted to do was end up getting too serious with the guards. I was here for Leonardo, not the guards.

Making my way to the platform before the altar, I scrambled somehow. I didn’t step up the altar and all that. I wanted to puke just seeing that, I didn’t want to have anything to do with a freaking altar that symbolised my unfruitful and fucking failed marriage.

Leonardo’s eyes were on me, hand on autopilot mode, resting on the hilt of his sword. Who the fuck wears a sword on the wedding day? As if he was expecting someone to come and challenge him on his day. This man was really impossible!

And as I watched, the impossible happened.

NO, I didn’t feel any stronger and no one dropped dead. Nothing unusual happened… in the physical world at least. What happened was a volcano, and then a tsunami and an earthquake inside of me.

I saw me there.

I saw me, as a young man (remember, I’m forty two) nervously standing. As the young bitch Yuriko walked down the aisle. And fuck my past self but I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. My heart was overflowing with a joy, back then, I had a bad sense of beauty AND was the poorest judge of character.

Anyway, my point is, when I walked down and stepped a few paces from the altar, I couldn’t see Leonardo and Evelyn. I saw me and Yuriko. And I tell you, memories can fuck you up real good. I thought there were tears in my eyes, but they were dry, and stinging. I blinked away, and then smiled. I didn’t know the kind of smile I gave out, but it flowed out of me… like puke. It flowed out of me, and I couldn’t stop it. This whole situation was becoming weird, but I had to focus on why I was here in the first place!

“Hey… hero,” I said in a voice I hardly recognised. It couldn’t have been mine, because that voice was sympathetic AND understanding. Fuck, old age made me soft.

He wasn’t responsive but I knew he was listening. And so was everyone else. And bitch, I said some of the most embarrassing things there. I mean, it didn’t matter AT THAT TIME, but when I think back about it, I want to kill myself. What I said was far too personal, and far too… intrusive. I didn’t know what came over me, except knowing that I understood what he was feeling.

“You can call me a criminal and all that, but I think I understand how you feel,” I said, “I probably do. I know the feeling of another man snatching away YOUR woman… and it sucks. It really does. But as much as I hate to admit it, I will be completely honest with you… I was ridden with so much guilt when I learnt that I had practically stolen Evelyn from you the day Evelyn and I met for the first time. I mean, she didn’t- … she didn’t even love me first thing. In fact, she was going to slash my neck open the first time,” I gave a nervous chuckle, unsure why I was spilling so much information in one go. “I didn’t know she was engaged to you, and so I thought it was okay… but now… as I see you up there… I feel so darn nostalgic.”

My weird dialogue was met with a moment of silence. There was no sound except the blue birds tweeting, echoing in the hall as if it were empty.

Leonardo recovered while I was speaking. I could tell that he had recovered because the blankness of his eyes were restored into the same glimmer of the pretty boy he was. There was life in his face, the paleness was restored into fair and ruddiness again. He was indeed sort of handsome, which was probably why Evelyn was here with him. But I didn’t care about that, only my challenge to him even though I understood him.

“Why are you telling me all this?” Leonardo said finally. His voice had a slight shakiness. It was not fear, no; it was more of uncertainty. And that was worse than fear because it was making me feel a bit guilty.

“What?” I muttered out loud, did he really want me to explain again?! I didn’t want to appear too soft in front of all these people.

I related with his feelings about this situation but that was all.

“You will never understand how I feel…” Leonardo pursued the line of conversation, the exact opposite of what I had just said. Had I just wasted my time saying all that?!

“Oh-” I began, feeling like an old jiji talking to his grandson.

“In any case,” the priest finally spoke. His voice was like a sheep’s voice. He sounded like he was BLEATING. “In all my years of service for generations, conducting marriages, I have had young men stealing the brides away, or even the case of a lady claiming the groom. But never once have I ever seen a young man so passionately challenging a beloved hero like Leonardo. And the criminal who was locked up by Leonardo himself?” he paused and continued as my heart grew shocked, “I do not think this is the right occasion for this.”

WHA- WH- W- WHAT THE FUCK?

The priest was fucking crazy!

I had a right to challenge who I wanted, even if he was the Great Hero of Vaerian! Well, maybe it was not my right but I was here anyway. Now Leonardo’s face had changed from confused and dumb folded as he had been when I walked in, to angry.

“He can say what he wants, but he will not take my bride from me!” He said, facing the priest, then turned to me, “Do you hear me?”

The priest gave a kind smile, “I understand what he is saying is not pleasant to hear, and on this special day too. But you need to make a decision and respond to this man so that we can move on with the wedding.” he looked as if he was pleased with what he said, “Now, are you going to give the young man a chance to prove himself with a duel, or not?”

“Kyou?” Evelyn’s face fell, as a single tear escaped her eye.

Her beautiful face had a complicated look I tried to understand, as if she could not understand what was going on her wedding day to Leonardo. She even looked sad and a bit…guilty? Was she feeling guilty for marrying Leonardo or feeling guilty that I was here saying these things? Fuck Leonardo, she would not marry him if I had anything to say about it!

“Evelyn?” I said back, waiting for her to say something.

Leonardo looked at me like I was a banana peel. He was trying not to be rude, but the redness of his face. He was angry that I dared to speak to his bride after I interrupted them and shocked everyone here.

“I thought you said you understood me?” he asked, as if confused.

“That is not the point,” I said quietly, “I am not here to pity you.” I glared at Leonardo, he swallowed a breath and said, “So you were just lying?”

I was not having this nonsense anymore.

“What makes you think that I was lying?” I said angrily, “I am here to challenge you to a duel, and to fight for Evelyn’s hand, not prove whether I am telling the truth or not,” I continued, “Anyway, as I was saying, I can so relate to you… even if you don’t want to accept that. Because there was a time I was so darn in love and with someone,” I glanced at the priest, “I have experienced the pain of my wi- erm, lover being snatched away from me just for the greed of money and material possessions… she turned out to be a succubus.”

Now that I had explained myself, maybe we could get to the duel and get this over with? I had said my peace, which was honourable to do that even a hero like Leonardo could understand that and accept that.

“Two things,” Leonardo said, now getting serious again, “First, As long as I have breath in me, as long as my heart beats, and I have blood coursing through my veins, I will NOT allow you to take away Evelyn! If you thought it was going to be that easy, you are mistaken. She is not going anywhere, except staying by my side. She belongs with me, and not you!”

“Screw you, hero,” I began to curse, and mocked him. He might a hero but I was also a determined man, not a child.

“Second,” he cleared his throat, “What is a succubus?”

Really? He was curious about the succubus?! At this important and serious moment?

“You should just keep your mouth shut,” I growled.

In any case, Evelyn was still looking at me, and I needed to fight for her. Not keep talking about pointless things and arguing.

Her face was now conflicted. She was conflicted about my declaration about understanding Leonardo.

Even I would be conflicted about it, if she were to do something like that. I mean, it wouldn’t be exactly comfortable with me discussing my bitchy ex in front of every fucking soul in there as if I actually still loved her, which I didn’t. I hated her, more than I could tell… probably even more than I ever hated Leonardo. But it wasn’t hate I felt for Leonardo. It was an empathy, and a slight… disbelief that he could be so dense and naïve.

He was like a five year old right now… and damn, I was in no mood to deal with him anymore.

I hated how they looked at me like some sort of confused person, but I hated how Evelyn looked at me, even more. She looked worried, and I didn’t like that. I didn’t want this, or plan for things to have to turn out that way, with my guilt seeping in along with the nostalgia and sadness. But in that moment, I couldn’t control it. Now that it was already said, it was time to move on.

“Hey, hey man…” I said calmly, “Get back to the point, will you? I only said I understand how you feel, because I have had a similar experience… but that does NOT mean in any way whatsoever, that I will go easy on you.”

“That’s-” he muttered out, eyes worried.

“I mean it… I am not a person who pities people, so rest assured, I so don’t pity you,” I said with a smirk, “In fact, I want to face you fair and square so that you would at least have had a good and fair chance of winning Evelyn back… it helps in keeping the ego and dignity in check, you see.”

“But I can’t accept your challenge… you are… a criminal, and you were never supposed to come back here.” He said, eyes turned to the side, a weird look on his face… he looked so damn similar to Sera at that exact moment.

I wanted to say something, to respond to what he was saying. But that didn’t happen. Because then I felt something pass by, in a very swift fashion. The tip of the long sword was on my neck, just a few millimetres away from my skin. My skin was palpitating, with beads of sweat. Damn, if this was Leonardo’s abilities and speed… I was screwed.

But it was not Leonardo. That Vaerian hero would probably not be okay for a few minutes at the very least, because I doubt that he would kill someone who challenged him without a fair fight at that instant.

It was Elsha’s sword pointing at me.

I liked the Elsha who came to meet me in the second dungeon, because that was the Elsha who wasn’t affiliated with anyone, not even the kingdom or the army of the country. But a version of her who was unbiased and just a warrior, not even a person or princess… just a normal warrior, who wanted to send me her compliments.

Good game… she had said.

Tsk, what a pain it was to have so many skilled people against me. Maybe I would end up losing today after all, then all this would be over. Which was no comfort to me, because that didn’t stop the blade pricking my skin at the moment.

“Stay down and know your place, you criminal,” she said, eyes narrowed into slits.

Ouch, it was a pain.

Don’t get me wrong. It was not the pain of being called a criminal, I was a strong man that such words didn’t hurt my feelings. If that is what they wanted to call me, it was their problem not mine. The pain was from Elsha’s sword. The sword was going nowhere. If I made a move, my head would go off, I was sure. It wasn’t even about keeping me alive for Evelyn’s sake anymore.

“What do you say,” I said, eyes past Elsha to Leonardo, “Do you accept my challenge, the valiant Vaerian hero, Leonardo Taebutopia Rey? Will you agree?”

Leonardo, passed a hand over his blond hair, and said with narrowed eyes, “That will never happen…” he then scoffed, “You know that you’re still far weaker than me. I don’t even need to use my left hand to beat you easily… just the thought you had is so… silly.”

“He who wears his armour must not boast like he who removes them,” I said, remembering King Ahab of Israel. I totally understand if you don’t know who that is, even I came across that story by accident.

“It IS obvious, proved by how terribly you lost that day… the day of our first fight,” He smirked, “You were this close,” he held out his right hand to show the inches with his fingers, “to dying, and killing Evelyn in the process.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” I rolled my eyes. Even I knew how close I was to death. I did not need another reminder of the day.

“Don’t you know your own level? You’re way below me, you don’t even stand a chance with my knight Leroy,” he said with a sudden victorious smile.

“I do admit my level is not very high,” I said. It was just sugar coating it. My level basically was so low, it didn’t exist. “But as long as I have life I will return. If I can’t run, I will walk. If I can’t walk, I will crawl. Cut off my legs and I can drag myself with my arms. Cut off my arms as well, and I will train my stumps to hold a knife and swing a blade. But I will return, all the time. And not just to fight over a woman… but to meet you and fight you as well, to restore my dignity and to strip your dignity. I will not parry and die. Nothing can kill me.”

I may not be very strong but like I said, I was determined. And I would not back down from my word.

“I like your spirit,” he nodded to himself.

I was not expecting him to say that. What I said had just been inspired in the heat of the moment to hide what I was really feeling on the inside. I was surprised to hear that warrior- like compliment after I had broken the golden rule of Kendo during our first fight.

“Don’t look at me like that,” he muttered as if he were irritated, “as if we understand each other.”

BUT I was not letting him have any of that justification I was so generously refused.

“But you just said you liked my spirit, meaning you respect and understand where I am coming from.” I said, with a fake confused and fake innocent face.

This could cost me my life, but dang it was WORTH it. Definitely worth it. If I went down, I would take him down to the ground as well. It would make me very pleased to go ahead to the afterlife, and meet Enma in the gates of hell. Hah.

“Silence!” The King’s voice thundered and filled the room loudly. Damn, I saw the reason why a fucker like him was a fucking king. He had the authority, AND the aura of authority. He was the KING, and for a reason too.

“Your majesty!” Leonardo and Elsha said in unison.

They were ready to serve his wishes, anything he wanted. It must be a nice thing to have all that power and authority over people. It would come in handy over enemies. Not, Elsha, she was nice to me, even if it was just once, but Leonardo. He was the one I would love to toss around in a piece of sock.

“Speak not!” He roared again, a hand raised to shut up any fucker that dared to speak while he was giving his roars.

I wondered, like, genuinely wondered if he ever spoke just normally. Not softly or even gently, but just in a normal volume and in a tone that doesn’t necessarily betray his blood? Because all I ever remembered him doing ever was either roaring, thundering or being angry and it was ALWAYS with ME. Really, ALWAYS with me, ALL the TIME.

“Ogawa Kyousuke,” he said, NOT roared for the first time. But it was angry nevertheless, “Either you go to your world this instant and NEVER return here, OR you go back to a dungeon! It’s your pick.”

“Of course, I’m returning to my own world. Who would want to leave their birth land?” I shrugged, “But, I have business to keep me busy for once,” I looked at Leonardo’s face. I wanted to mess up his face, the ‘I so fucking hate you’ kind of and ‘I so want to kill you, I hope you die in some gas chamber’ kind of beating.

“Duelling you this day…” Leonardo said, the blue of his eyes on Evelyn, “Is not a good omen for a happy wedding life, even though… you want direct and instant answers, and I understand how restless you must be. I don’t have anything against you and your tastes, and the fact that… you’re here, asking me to accept your challenge,” he shook his head, “But I must have you know that not only am I not interested in duelling with you… you can’t randomly ask me to duel with you, unless you move up your rank, that is just how the law here works. Or…” he was thoughtful and muttered to himself, “forget it, we can’t have a fight as of now.”

“Oh, you WILL fight me,” I said in a condescending tone, “You will have NO choice but to. I will leave for my world, I tell you, and I WILL take with me my lover. I am not leaving this rotten world of yours without my lover.”

Elsha retrieved her sword, making me breathe fully again, It was a pleasure to be able to breathe.

“Huh,” she said, eyes closed with a face that was half pleased, half anti- me. But I could see her face. She sort of understood me. And I felt a sudden redemption that made me almost smile at her.

“You will not take her anywhere!” Leonardo’s voice rose, making me think he might fight me after all.

“Silence!” The King’s voice thundered again. And again, everyone cowered before the authority emanated by his presence. He had this weird ability to make his presence known or hidden. It was a great ability for assassination. Remember Nagisa from Assassination Classroom? Yeah, something like that, but on a huger scale, because his presence was intimidating in itself.

We all looked at him.

“Ogawa Kyousuke, you’re getting ahead of yourself,” He said, “You are going to dungeon at this rate. You threw away the chance to return to your world.”

“Not unless I duel Leonardo,” I retorted, voice loud. I was actually shaking inside, I knew the proximity of his powers and they could kill any person. The reason he was king was because in their society they followed the law of the jungle, and he was too fucking overflowing with power.

“You will NOT duel Leonardo,” He said with a smirk, “I shall not grant it, boy.”

“It’s not about granting, is it?” I thought to myself.

I wanted to do everything correct but I guessed that I would have to play dirty and sneak attack Leonardo, and in that way force him to fight with me. But hat would be a bad move, because if it were a sneak attack, it was NOT playing it fair. And that would entitle him to use the support of all the knights around us, and more that were outside, patrolling. Either case, I was at loss… or so I thought. It was a waste, I wanted to disappear, but not for long.

The King said again, “however, if you insist a duel with the beloved hero of the Vaerian Kingdom, actually rejecting a challenge speaks badly about the kingdom; it’s not like anyone here is even slightly threatened by you. But I do not want to permit any bad omen this day, so I shall NOT grant you a duel. However, a duel may take place if any person of the noble ranks speaks up for you. If someone, anyone important speaks up for you, then you shall be granted a duel.”

This made my hopes rise up again.

What were the noble ranks anyway? I looked at Evelyn and she shook her head. She was NOT of noble rank. Nobel rank probably meant people like Leonardo or Elsha, and if Evelyn was NOT a noble rank… I was screwed. I was not having my duel.

Before all that I was scared and excited about the duel and the techniques I could execute to beat Leonardo. A part of me even wanted to escape from that. I wanted to NOT do that for a while. But then, I was refused that honour of fighting this man who was to get married to my lover, it was an inexplicable feeing I felt. My chest tightened, and I wanted to throw up.

I hated it.  But who could I blame?

No one trusted me, and I was the criminal everyone hated, the criminal who had dared to kidnap and rape their princess and somehow brainwashed her into loving me like some lunatic. I knew it, but it still was painful. Things like this never stops to hurt. Hate never gets old.

The King chuckled. No one joined him because it was not a funny chuckle. It was the angry kind of chuckle that meant that I was in some kind of impending doom.

“See,” he said, voice almost light hearted, “NO ONE, absolutely no one who wants you to fight. No one thinks you deserve to have a chance to duel Leonardo for his or Evelyn’s hand.”

At least he understood that it was Evelyn that I was after. The misunderstanding about Leonardo had started to get on my fucking nerves.

But what he said left an impression on me to not trust anyone anymore. I felt my heart climbing, crawling up my throat like a spider and running away from my body. I looked around, probably looking as pitiable as I felt. I was fucked up; and I knew it well, and it didn’t feel good. From one end of the hall to the next, my head oscillated, eyes begging, even though my mouth was sealed together so that I wouldn’t cry out. I had never felt so alone in my whole life. Even Evelyn, my goddess couldn’t save me that time.

As my head bent, preparing to be in a dungeon and rotting away with sorrow and depression, someone spoke up. It was a male voice, and it sounded a bit familiar.

“I think this man deserves a chance to duel Leonardo,” the voice said gently. My eyes travelled to the source of the voice. I knew I had heard that voice somewhere.

My eyes rested on him. And so did everyone’s the room. We all watched him, standing tall and mighty, with enough authority to make the people quiet and yet not so much. What the hell was his name again? You know him… wait, Taebutopia Rey… oh, I remember now! Erich Taebutopia Rey, Leonardo’s big brother.

And HE was supporting ME?!

What a nice way to support your siblings, eh? I wondered what the fuck was going on in his mind, but I was very grateful nevertheless. I am also certain that everyone else also thought that as well.

I mean, it was pretty evident from the looks on the faces of every person there: They looked as shocked as I felt. It was justifiable though. I was still technically the villain to them; I was the criminal who had dared to kidnap and rape the princess, and ALSO dare to defy the so called Holy and Royal wedding of Leonardo and MY lover. Either way, I could see their point, I was THE obstacle for everything going right. And as such, it was a MYSTERY and fucking stupid decision to actually back me up. And there was No obligation on Leonardo’s part to actually accept a duel, or something of the sort.

And of all people, it had to be Erich Taebutopia Rey, his very own big brother. My, my where was the world going? I was weirded out. What was the world headed to?

“Erich?” Leonardo’s shocked voice cracked in between the awestruck silenced audience. Erich was, in many ways, similar to Leonardo, but different in all aspects as well. And I think I was starting to like him more than Leonardo, which was very easy considering the fact that I liked everyone else more than him at that moment.

“Ah, it’s big brother to you, Leo,” Erich said with a pleasant smile.

And then realisation hit me: damn, he was the sadistic one. Out of the three blond siblings, at least one had to turn out to be a bad egg. Not that he was a bad egg; he was more… condescending, and demanded less attention but was the silent killer.

“Shut it,” Leonardo growled. It seemed to me that he was more disturbed that his own brother would say something that could potentially waste his wedding day away; than the fact that I had interrupted his wedding day, or even that I had demanded to fight him.

“My, my,” Erich said with a super fake smile.

“Why the hell would you, the Grand Archduke of Vaerian support the puny demands of a criminal?” Leonardo said, his voice low and incredibly mad.

Ah, Grand Archduke… hmm? Why the fuck would the Grand Archduke of Vaerian actually stand up for my need or want of a duel? I didn’t understand, and as little as I understood, Leonardo was as equally confused and mad. The signs of feeling betrayed. Ahaha, I have experienced all that. And I was in no mood to offer my comforts again, least he misinterpreted it again. We didn’t have time for that again. Ugh.

 

“That is no civil way to speak for respectable gentlemen,” Erich said calmly. I wondered how he managed to wear such a calm and placid face all the time. He didn’t look at Leonardo again, but turned his gaze at me once. His eyes were not warm like the ocean blue in Leonardo and Sera’s eyes. It was like the sky, cold and light.

He turned to face the king and was probably the only one who spoke to him so collected and casually, “Your majesty, I still stick to my suggestion that the duel be granted to this man, it would only be fair.”

“Like I asked, why would you do that?” Leonardo cried out from where he stood.

There were many possible reasons why he did that: First, he knew our power difference, and was confident that Leonardo could beat me, and wanted to put an end to this charade. Second, He knew how persistent a pest I could be and decided that the only way I would really shut up and swallow it was if I were given a free and fair chance at a duel, whatever the outcome may be. Third, Hedid not get allng very well with his brother after all and was trying to grab at any chance to humiliate him, which would explain why he fit in as the sadistic egg; this theory had a plot hole: the fact that it was just me and my opinion. Fourth, he was just bored and wanted to see a good fight, which would be a really cool personality… as long as it wasn’t me.

The King wore a serious expression and spoke in a lower than normal tone, which was still pretty loud to my ears, “Are you serious, grand Archduke? Because I do hope you know the gravity of what you are saying, and I don’t want you to play around just because you enjoy watching a food fight.”

So the king suspected what I thought as well! Interesting.

“Of course, I am serious, your majesty.” He said with the slightest smile and nod, “I wouldn’t dare to try to extort fun out of a serious fight, and on my own little brother’s wedding day, too. I would like to see how far the criminal is willing to go for his lover’s sake.”

He glanced at Evelyn as he said it, making me feel grateful to him.

“And what noble reason do you give?” The king asked, the sceptre in is hand shaking.

“It is a repayment of a debt I owe to him,” he smiled, but his eyes were so fucking cold, they could harbour some virus, “And not just I, but the whole Taebutopia Rey household.”

“What do you mean?” Leonardo cut in.

I wanted to know too. What kind of debt did they owe ME?! If it was back on earth, it would have been the best feeling… to know that I had lent some money to someone and they come to repay it.

“Without him, even as he is deemed a criminal, the daughter of the household, Sera would have been killed,” He said, his cold eyes on Leonardo fully, destroying him bit by bit, “She was attacked one morning, by the woods, and this man here was her personal knight. And as I say this I might add that he was selected knight on the basis of merit, and nothing else. If it weren’t for his protection that morning, Sera would have died.”

 

Everyone gasped, and I thought Ah, that thing. I didn’t even remember it anymore. What was it? Assassins? Trying to assassinate her? And why? Well… we never figured out why, or maybe they did, but I was already in prison by that time.

“Why did-” Leonardo said, his body had a slight tremble. He was conflicted, which was a good point for me. The more conflicted he was, the more likely his blade was to be blunt, and the more likely for me to be able to land a good ol’ cut on him.

“Why did I not tell you?” Erich cut in with puckered lips, “Well,” he smiled, “I’m telling you now, am I not?”

“You know what I mean.”

“It had to be kept a secret, to be able to track down who in his right mind would dare defy the Taebutopia Rey household,” Erich said, initially all flowery, but darkening his countenance, “it bugged me personally, as well.”

“And? Did you find them?”

“Oh, that is NOT important,” he gave a laugh; “What matters is that this man be given a chance at a duel. He’s not asking for something hard.”

Was this really happening?! Would I get what I wanted today after all? I felt my brain plotting several things all at once. Seeing support from Erich, I felt a little boost of confidence underneath my flaring nostrils.

“As fact stands, the Grand Archduke, Erich Taebutopia Rey have voiced his support for my humble request,” I said, feeling all too glad all at once, “So, I ask you again, Leonardo… I challenge you to a free and fair duel again. Would you accept this challenge, or would you shy away like a new bride?”

His face grimaced.

He was conflicted. His face was too honest, and that made it so damn easy to read. It was very easy to tell what was going on in his mind, when he was lying or if he was being dishonest. A big conscience is the enemy of all sinners and criminals. Good thing I didn’t have one back then.

“Your majesty,” Leonardo said, “Do you permit this challenge? Is it sanctioned by you?”

Why was he so fucking traditional? Oh, because he was talking to the king.

Now, all eyes turned to the king. He was in deep thought and seeing Erich look at him, he decided to trust Erich, or so I presumed. Erich would never do anything to sabotage how things went, and he knew it.

“I suppose so,” he said, a hand on his beard, “The request has been made, the challenge presented. You may or may not agree to fight him, it’s your choice, Leonardo.”

And this made him even more conflicted. he would have take up his words and spar with me that very instant if he were ordered to do so by the king, but when he was given the choice to choose between accepting and declining, his face began to falter, and it was just its first signs. I wanted to see how far he could stand, and his breaking point, if he began to crumble down slowly that way. I was making my mental strikes at him, before even the physical began. What a great technique! Oho!

I was enjoying watching his face go from ‘I will not fight him because he saved my little sister’ to ‘why the fuck should I not fight him? All he did was his duty as her personal knight’ to ‘But it is a public challenge and even Erich supports it’ to ‘What if he loses? Will he really leave Evelyn and I alone?” to “What if he wins? Will he steal away Evelyn?’

As I watched, and everyone waited, the silence and the tightening tension was suddenly broken when the huge main door opened with such a creak. It attracted everyone’s attention.

And entered the women who gave me their manna. They all wore fine gowns. Sera and Fianna looked as they usually did. But Emilia. She was the BOMB. She looked the part of a princess, for one. And her gown accentuated her curves so well, that she ceased to be a loli with oppai to a suddenly full grown woman… just kind of short. But a full grown woman nevertheless.

She wore a silver tiara with little flower designs, and curves. She suddenly looked like royalty, and it felt like she was royalty… just with a fucking silver tiara.

They walked the nicely marled floor of the hall with definite steps. They weren’t unsure of where they were going, they formed a triangle, an arrowhead with Emilia on the head, Fianna and Sera on her left and right respectively. You want to know what they reminded me of. They were like the Plastics from Mean Girls One. They were only three girls walking, with one of them underage and leading the other two. And yet their footsteps sounded like an army approaching a war front. They would be ready to combat in case they were attacked.

But why would they be?

“Emilia!” The queen’s voice pierced the air, “Where have you been?”

“Busy being a princess,” she said with a nonchalant wave, as they walked.

They walked straight to the platform in front of the altar.

“Hey, priest over there,” she said in spite to the priest. It was a distasteful scene, “Before weddings commence, they always ask who is against the wedding, correct? I’m here for that. And don’t tell me I am late.”

“Well, actually no,” the priest said docilely, “the wedding has been in a standstill for a while, as you can see,” he nodded to the people, “This young man has claimed his love, and is challenging the groom because of it.”

“I see,” her lips curled up in a sly smirk.

She walked to Leonardo, and hands on her hips said, “And what will you do about it? Surely, you won’t be a so chicken hearted man to NOT accept it, right? Besides, it will prove your worth,” she whispered loud enough, in the most venomous voice, “Leo nii sama.”

As this went on, I noticed Sera. I felt terrible to be doing that to her. I wanted the earth to swallow me for a while, just a while. She must have been feeling terrible about being a ‘bad’ sister and all that shit. It must have pained her. And it aggravated my heart that she would have to face that. Well, I felt bad for Leonardo as well. I mean, Emilia was giving him no chills. And like I said, he was too pure hearted to NOT be able to deal with it, and he had these little bouts as if he had a little space thing as well. And that didn’t make me feel any better.

“Emilia!” The King shouted. It felt as if some sort of fire ball would come out of his mouth, “What on Fayriel do you think you are doing? You have no right to do that!”

“Ah- uh,” she sighed loudly, “And here I was, thinking that if I finally become a princess even for a day, all of you would be please with me…” she pretended to be sad, “I’ll just go back then.”

“Emilia,” the queen said, firm yet gentler than her hubby, “Stay here. You shall be a witness as well.”

“Very well,” she said with a smile. Maybe the only person she was NOT mean to or was a bitch to was her mother.

“Tell me, Emilia, why are you supporting this criminal’s puny request? Surely, you know better than to do worthless things!” Elsha said, out of amazement.

Emilia put on an innocent face, “What are you talking about?”

“You know very well what the king and I have asked of you,” Elsha said, irritated, “Either you don’t speak at all, or you answer.”

“I see it’s come to this, what a pity,” she muttered and then gave a wide smile, “I just want to know who is the strongest and who really deserves Evelyn nee sama, just in case the answer comes out differently.”

Her smile was not one bit pretty. It was awesome though.

“That’s-” Elsha said, surprised that Emilia thought that I could BEAT Leonardo. I was surprised at her confidence in me as well. Maybe she was just confident in her manna inside of me, but oh well, anything went.

I never felt the need to thank someone so badly my entire life.

“Anyway,” Emilia said, quickly clearing her throat, “I reckon, we would all like to see how strong the man really is when he CLAIMED to have slept with the queen, which we all understand is a lie. However, it just intrigues me, to no degree…” she looked at the king from the corner of her eye in victory.

She was a master at provoking people.

I mean, now the king had no choice. If he didn’t really allow me to fight Leonardo, it was not only doubting Leonardo’s ability to beat me, but was also saying that I had indeed fucked her good, and way better than he ever could. And if he did allow it, it would be like granting me a pleasure, which I knew was like a thorn on his side; it was a win- win situation.

I wanted to adopt Emilia as my daughter over Kirino. I know we have had times such as transfer of manna via the lips, involving deep Frenching. But I have kissed Kirino as well, and Emilia is a better kisser.  Anyway, not that it mattered. She was this little ball of intelligent savage that would make the best person to be around with, of course, aside from Evelyn.

 

The King’s face was the prize of my lifetime. He had a slightly creased brow, and that showed how ticked up he was. He placed a hand on the sword by his side. His scabbard was diamond studded, by the way, just in case you were wondering. That was a tic. Like, policemen would do when face with an adversary. It was a reassurance to them, but not to the king. He made sure to NOT lift it out of his scabbard, because he would end up being the sole attacker of what could become a massacre.  I had a kind of a respect for him at that moment.

He breathed in and out and then let go off the hilt. That was both a relief and panic- rising situation. Either he would go calm, or berserk with no in- between.

“Leonardo,” the king said, “Would you accept the duel?”

His face gave way to NO emotions. He would easily be the winner in a poker face competition, a professional I tell you. The KING, not Leonardo. He was a wee baby, compared to him.

“I suggest that you do,” the king said again before he could answer.

It was the moment. It was Leonardo’s moment, everyone looked at him, and his suddenly pathetic face. It was endearing to many people I am sure, but not to me. I wanted him to stop hesitating and just fight me, with any possible outcome. I mean, all chances were against me, truth be told. I was weaker, physically, in skill and technique and most of all in magic, and yet he was acting like some cry baby, I wanted to hit his pretty boy head with a hammer in case it makes the remaining brain cells in his brain to activate and function again.

“What say you, Evelyn?” he said looking at her, for the first time in a while. They were both pretty deranged according to me, “Should I accept this duel? If I win, we can get married and if he wins…”

She nodded to show that she understood what he meant.

“I-” Evelyn’s voice was breaking, “I don’t know how I am supposed to answer that… we were never taught that, were we, Leo?”

“I guess not,” he said with a slow shake of his head.

Her face was as conflicted as his. It was dragging out so long, I wanted to roll my eyes and do some weird sit, but I was not insane yet. I could watch all day, I mean it was such a sad and pathetic scene.

“I’m sorry Leo,” she said sadly, eyes on the floor, “I’m sorry,”

“Hey, hey, hey…” he crooned, LOUD enough for ME to hear anyway, “It’s not your fault that things turned out this way, okay? No matter what, I love you, even if you might not love me back.”

“I’m sorry for being so selfish…” she said sadly. She was sad that things had to turn out that way, but her voice had no regret. Either way, I was winning her back. Things to do before I go back to my world if I win: Choke the priest.

Leonardo was equally sad to see her sad. As I watched with a grim face, I could see that he was indeed in love with her, the most childish and yet purest kind. Like your first crush or first love. Well… this was technically his first love.

As he turned to face me, my breaths grew shallow. His face was so fucking sad, I wanted to go away. But nah, I was a man with issues, and I was selfish. And I wanted her, no, needed her in my life.

“I, Leonardo Taebutopia Rey accept your challenge to a free and fair duel,” he said, still as sad. He was killing my will to fight him. It was evident that he was not as excited as I was, to fight,” he continued, eyes on me, “If I shall emerge victorious, I do not wish to imprison you,”

And everyone began murmuring. I was a little taken aback as well.

“However,” he said, “I must ask you to return to your world promptly after defeat, not another second, no goodbyes… you are to leave and forget this world. You are not to mention a thing about Fayriel to anyone from that world,”

Oh, well… RK and Grace… well… ahhaha.

“You are never to return in this world, not even by accident, and you shall terminate all contact will everyone from this world, and particularly princess Evelyn,” he said, and added in a lower voice, “We know the issue about a link, but that shall be worked out, and I pledge on my own life if it kills either you or Evelyn. Are we clear?”

“Yes,” I said and nodded.

“Any complaints?”

“No, none at all.”

“Do you accept the conditions?” He said again.

“Yeah, with the whole of my heart,” I said. I was not a person to break such things.

“What about your conditions in case you win?” he asked, highly doubting my ability to win.

“Well, the same goes,” I shrugged. I didn’t care about that, all I wanted was to win the fight, get Evelyn back and go away to my planet earth. I added, “of course, I will return to the other world, but with Evelyn, and you and y’all aren’t allowed to contact Evelyn or I, however, we may contact you as and when we please.”

“Fair enough,” he nodded nonchalantly. He probably was not even listening to me, but whatever. It didn’t matter, as long as I won.

I looked on and then he looked at me, his face became determined again. He nodded firmly. Only god knows what kind of spirit took control of him, but it reenergised him and me as well.

“Whatever it is, gentlemen,” the king said, getting all docile, “Settle this is the arena like warriors, shall we?”

We both nodded, eyes on each other. It was a mystery how his warm ocean blue eyes could turn as cold as the sky, a transformation between Sera’s eyes and Erich’s eyes. Though Erich was on MY side and that was in itself something I would be ever grateful to him for, but if I had a choice, it wouldn’t be him. Ugh, why do I sound like a pushover?

Suddenly, everyone dispersed to go to the arena. It was so damn organised, even my dear japan did not have such discipline shown there. Like, I tell you, watch a video about Japan and its discipline. That was something on another level, it amazed even me.

After about an hour or so, everyone went out.

I stood there, preparing myself with a few stretches, mentally preparing, strategizing. But it was impossible to strategize, not knowing the REAL technique used by Leonardo. What was it even called? Vaerian sword style? Hah, it was something more sophisticated.

“Kyou,” Evelyn’s voice brought me back from all the possible battlefields.  Damn, I never realised how I missed her voice. I mean, I know I met her before the ceremony and all that, but damn, it was different. She was in all white, getting ready to get married, and she said my name. It was an overwhelming feeling to be honest. She made me want to actually get married again. AGAIN! Fuck me and my simple minded heart.

“Yeah?” I said, with a slight twinge of my lips. It was like a nervous tic that I developed at that moment. I couldn’t stop my lips flaring up into a smile, but my heart was beating so fast, I wanted to run away for a while. Of course that was just a passing thought and I had no intention to work on it.

“Do you think you can win, Kyou?” Evelyn said, eyebrows deep, worried, “I mean, if Leo went all out, do you think you can still stand a chance?”

“Hey, Evelyn,” I said, “I can’t say, honestly, I don’t know. I really don’t know, and truth is, there are higher chances that I will be beaten, if he goes all out and uses his full ability… I mean, I might even die that way,” I raise my eyebrows, “But that is not the most important,” WHAT A FUCKING LIE.

I continue anyway, “What is important is that I fight with all my might, all my strength and all my will, till I beat him. He and I, we are both in love with you, and we deserve the equal opportunity to win you, you know.”

“Yes, I do understand,” she nodded and then smiled, “Thank you, Kyou.”

“No, don’t thank me,” I held her face, “Because I am doing this for me, I need you to survive.”

She held my hands with hers. It felt like the first time I have ever held hands with a girl AFTER puberty, which means it was a fucking big thing for me at that time. I mean, it just felt different right after getting into adolescence.

Evelyn’s hands were as soft as I remembered and I wanted to insert a nice ring on her ring finger. Damn, I was beginning to WANT to get fucking married to her! It was a dang damn dangerous thought. But it couldn’t go away.

“No matter what, remember that I will always love you alone,” She said, eyes on your entwined hands, “it doesn’t matter if you lose or win, to me you will always be the only man I shall ever love and had ever loved. You know that right?”

I nodded tight lipped. I felt terrible for Leonardo for one. I mean that poor boy only wanted to marry his childhood sweetheart and there he was, in a war of love with a low rank like me, to win the woman he was betrothed to. It must have been so fucking unfair to him, and I knew how it felt to feel life begins unfair to me. But I knew he would be okay because he was not like me. Either that, or he would be so fucking dumbfounded that he would go to his own version of little space permanently. If you don’t know that that means, it means that he would be a baby in the body if an adult. In short he would be simply surviving and would be useless as a man and as a knight from then on. I hoped that that didn’t happen though.

For two, I couldn’t say that back to her. I mean promises like I will always love you alone and all that kind of shit. I didn’t mean to be a meanie and all that but it was a fact that I didn’t believe I’m such empty words. Even my bitch ex wife and I had promised before an altar that we would be in love with each other alone and be together ’till death do us part’ what a fucking lie. A darned lie. Besides even though I had taken the vow that she would be the one for me for all times, truth was I was no longer in love with her, but with Evelyn. Maybe not really in pure love with her like Leonardo. But in love and in NEED of her in my life. Sometimes you don’t have to live your needs and that was why I couldn’t find the heart to tell her the same kind of corny things.

Emilia walked over to us, still in her princess gown. She looked really good, even up close.

“Hey princess,” I said with a smile, “nice tiara there.”

“Don’t even go there,” She said with a semi- disgusted faced, “it is a nuisance while tort- erm, I mean hunting. It is a nuisance while hunting!”

Evelyn and I burst out laughing. I needed that as well. I was hell heck nervous and that was a calming thing.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Not yet,” She said.

After a while, Emilia spoke up again, “You will win this thing, right?”

“Anything for you,” I said with a wink.

“It’s not the time to be kidding around,” Emilia and Evelyn said together. Emilia smiled at her sister.

“Get a room geez,” I mumbled, “what a siscon!”

“What are you saying?” Emilia hit me hard in the stomach. Damn, I thought she had given me her manna, yet she still was so damn strong. “Come again, Kyou?” She said, her eyes slanted upwards, “I think I have some trouble hearing you.”

“Whatever baba,” I said and rolled my eyes heavily.

I breathed, “I don’t know if I can win, but I will try to. I will fight till I drop down due to exhaustion.”

“That’s no good,” She said and then glared at me, “you HAVE to win no matter what, you get me?”

“Oh of course,” I rolled my shoulders back, “I won’t let your hard work go to waste.”

 

Have you ever witnessed the moment in a gladiator’s fight against some animal, the exact moment the beast comes out to the gladiator?

When I was young, I witnessed a cock fight before it became illegal. One of the cocks was smaller but nimbler. The other was big and proud. They cocked to fight. Bets were placed as to who the hell would win in a cock fight. And then when I was a little older, I went to watch a bullfight. There the men would oil themselves and shake a red cloth before the bull to enrage it. I still couldn’t understand how the hell red and anger is affiliated.

Anyway, it was always the same. One weaker but saner one. One stronger but blinded one.

There too at the arena it was the same. One saner but weaker one. One blind one with the advantage on strength. It was a repetition of what I had seen several times in the past. One of us was the man and the other was the bull.

And I couldn’t tell which one of us was the human, and which one was the beast. Now, it may sound like I’m the human, but either way it was the same scene.

As we stood at the arena, eyes on each other.  The cheering began. Woo, yay, cheers for Leonardo though he didn’t pay them any attention. And boos and curses for me, though I wanted to NOT pay attention, I couldn’t help it. It’s not something a man, any man or woman could help. Why, you ask, did Leonardo seem unbothered? Well he was NOT a fucking human being even though he looked like one.

He raised his right arm and said aloud, “all these noise is droning on my ears, silence please!”

And then there reigned pin drop silence. It must be such a nice thing to be loved and held in high esteem. It must have had its own charms and perks for him to be able to command people that way. And even if he was sympathising with me, I have him one. Because I probably made him feel like shit the whole time.

“There are no rules, and we fight till either of us is passed out or admits defeat. Killing is illegal for a duel,” Leonardo called out, “No cheating!”

I would not cheat, I was not that desperate… Yet.

“May the best man win,” Erich said, standing atop a floating thing, “Let the fight commence.”

And then I went in for the offence. Good offence is always a good defence.

 

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