Prince. Those who aren’t wish they were. Those who are wish they weren’t. I am the latter. As the sixth prince of the Ravenwood Empire, I only have one path to survival: I must succeed the throne. If I fail, I die. My brothers understand this concept just as well as, if not better than, I do. I am the second youngest son, and the only one I have an advantage over is my little brother. The crown prince, my eldest brother, has fifteen more years of experience than me. Even the fifth prince has three years on me. I was lacking from the start.
Despite these disadvantages, I do not despair. Though my chances are slim, I still have hope. My mother’s side of the family belonged to the household of Cuchulainn, and the weapon spirit, Gae Bulg, has been passed down throughout the ages. Now, he is in my hands. My brothers also have formidable weapon spirits, but I do not believe mine is inferior to theirs. In fact, Gae Bulg has been rumored to fight to a draw against Durandal, the legendary sword of the Godking. I have asked him a few times about it, but he never answered me honestly. But still, all rumors stem from some kind of truth. My weapon is not weak.
A guttural noise entered my ears. “Someone’s coming.”
I turned towards the speaker, Gae Bulg. His corporal body is that of a beastkin—a werewolf to be exact. He wore deep-blue armor, which covered everything except for a hairy face and clawed hands. I lifted the spear that contained his life and threw it towards the door. I exerted just enough strength for the spearhead to pass through. Someone on the other side screamed and swore. Gae Bulg stood up and retrieved his weapon body before handing it back to me.
The door to the room burst open. “Lan!”
I glared at the red-faced girl who kicked open my door. She wore a purple dress with matching high-heels. She was Evelyn, my half-sister and also the second princess. As my eldest brother’s follower, she had no reason to be here. “What?”
“How rude,” she said and furrowed her brow. “But I guess that’s just how you are.” She rolled her eyes before smiling. “His Majesty wants to see you.”
The emperor? What did he want from me? I made eye contact with Gae Bulg. He shrugged. I brushed past my sister and stomped into the hallway with Gae Bulg following after me. Evelyn muttered something unintelligible.
“You’re not going to change?” she asked.
I looked down. I wasn’t wearing a shirt, and my pants were slightly tattered. It didn’t matter. The less noble I acted, the less my brothers would see me as competition for the throne. I snorted and continued down the hall, leaving deep footprints in the plush, red carpet. Evelyn sighed as she followed after me.
The emperor’s court was a crowded one. My father enjoyed surrounding himself with nobles attempting to ingratiate their family with ours. I suspect he wasn’t hugged enough as a child, but that’s to be expected. His mother was a lowly servant woman, yet he managed to occupy the throne while his brothers died in happy accidents. Was he afraid I could do the same?
“Lan. Evelyn.” My sister kneeled next to me when the emperor spoke. I remained standing with Gae Bulg behind me.
I crossed my arms over my bare chest. “Father.” The newer nobles in the court were stunned by my attitude, but the old-timers’ expressions didn’t change.
The emperor nodded. “Your seventh brother has gone missing.”
And he suspected me? It’s true I had plans to move against him, but so did everyone else. Everyone had plans prepared. Maybe this was one of my older brothers’ plots or even my sisters’. They didn’t like me either. I remained silent.
“I want you to find him. He set out on a mission to find the Godking’s treasure trove, but we haven’t heard from him for quite some time now.”
Byrant chased after the rumors? Only an absolute moron would volunteer to throw himself into such an obvious trap. Perhaps inheriting the Godking’s legacy was the fastest way to seize the throne, but who amongst us princes doesn’t know that? Anyone can set up an ambush, just like anyone can spread a rumor.
Even the emperor is conspiring with the mastermind. Only my eldest brother could do something like this. Just you wait, Algar. If I escape from this trap you’ve set for me, don’t expect to have any more peaceful days. I narrowed my eyes at my father. “I’ll go.”
“Evelyn will accompany you.”
So this really has been planned out quite thoroughly. They’re even sending a watchdog to look after me.
“Pardon?” Evelyn looked shocked. Was she acting? If I weren’t paranoid, I might’ve believed her.
The emperor cleared his throat. “You will accompany Lan to discover the whereabouts of Bryant. There is no room for negotiation. You two are dismissed.”
I fixed my posture and turned around while Evelyn followed court etiquette and said goodbye to our father. His gaze burrowed into my back, but I ignored the uncomfortable sensation. He already plotted to have me killed. Why should I show him any respect? The nobles didn’t dare to meet my eyes as I marched out of the court with Gae Bulg. His wolf-like face was twisted into a sneer, revealing his yellow teeth. The doors to the court closed, leaving me alone in the hall with Evelyn and Gae Bulg. There were no guards standing watch. My father preferred his bodyguards to hide within his shadows.
I took the spear off my back and slammed its butt into the ground as I turned around. Evelyn took a step back and gripped her dress. Her knuckles were unusually white.
“What?” I wasn’t in a very good mood. After something like that, who would be?
“A-about the mission,” Evelyn said while biting her lower lip, doing her best to look scared. But I wasn’t going to be fooled. Underneath that soft exterior was a professional alchemist—a toxic alchemist. She was forced to marry an arrogant asshole from an influential family. He died of a heart attack within a week of her moving in. Coincidence? “Should—”
I pointed my spear at her face. “If you get in my way, Bryant won’t be the only one missing.”
Evelyn’s face paled as her mouth snapped shut. Although my mood was bad, it improved after finding someone worse off than I was. Was I smiling? It’s been a while since I’ve done that. Bring it on, Algar. Let’s see what exactly you have planned for me.
Roland’s Authentic Ice Cream. This was where Bryant’s lead led him? I took my spear off my back and stared at Evelyn. Who did she think she was fooling? How could this dingy ice cream shop in a backwater village possibly be the location of the Godking’s legendary treasure?
“H-hey,” Evelyn said and took a step away from me, hiding behind her group of five guards. “I’m starting to question my information as well.”
“It’s possible.” Everyone turned to stare at the speaker. Gae Bulg wasn’t perturbed. “The Godking’s name was Roland. And he was obsessed with ice cream.”
Is that something you find out by fighting someone? You learn their favorite food? Was Gae Bulg also in on this conspiracy to have me killed? Disregarding the coincidental name and favorite dessert, all of us knew before coming here that we weren’t going to the treasure trove. We were going to a trap placed by Algar to dispose of Bryant.
“We should at least check it out, right?” Evelyn asked, sending a glance at my weapon spirit. My hand tightened around my spear. Gae Bulg wouldn’t betray me. That glance meant nothing.
“You first.” I wasn’t going to be the first one to walk into a trap. I didn’t even have an entourage of guards with me. Act like a savage, be treated like a savage. I think a lack of guards was a fair exchange for my brothers’ wariness of me to drop. Besides, guards are one more form of asking to be stabbed in the back. A little bit of gold goes a long way.
Evelyn wrinkled her brow but said, “Fine.”
Oh, did I ruin your plans? Sorry. I waited outside of the decrepit shop with Gae Bulg keeping watch behind me. My spear was raised, ready for anything. I was always ready—living while knowing someone can assassinate you at any time does things to a person. Maybe I have become a bit paranoid, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t people who want to kill me.
“Should we go in?” Gae Bulg asked. Twenty minutes had passed, but we hadn’t heard a single sound. Was this part of their plan? I picked up a rock and threw it through the window. Glass didn’t shatter because it was already broken.
Well, at least I know they’re still inside.
“Lan! You could’ve just said something! You didn’t have to throw a rock at me.” Evelyn sounded a bit miffed.
Other than her aggrieved cries, there were no other sounds. I didn’t hear any extraneous footsteps or movements. Either the door was booby-trapped or the ambushers were top-notch experts. I took in a deep breath and kicked the door. It let out an ear-piercing groan as it flew wide open. How old were those hinges? I didn’t even kick that hard.
I was greeted by the sounds of chewing. I motioned for Gae Bulg to enter first. He carried a heavy steel spear—not his weapon body—and marched inside. He froze, and a strange expression appeared on his face. What was it?
“It’s safe,” Gae Bulg said. His voice sounded confused.
I stepped inside the shop and followed my weapon spirit’s gaze. Evelyn was sitting in a corner, eating an ice cream cone. Her guards were standing in line behind a counter. In front of them, there was a chubby, bald man wearing an apron. He raised his head and looked at me. One eye was higher than the other, and his nose and mouth were lopsided like someone grabbed his face and twisted it. His smile was crooked.
The hairs on the back of Gae Bulg’s neck stood erect, and I involuntarily shivered.
“Gae,” I whispered and slowly reversed my grip on my spear.
“If you fail, I’m ready.”
I inhaled through my nose and let out a shout as I threw my spear as hard as I could. It flashed through the air like a lightning bolt and stabbed into the chubby man’s brow. His feet were lifted off the ground, and his body flew backwards until it crashed into the wall. The spear entered his forehead, suspending him on the wall like a painting. Evelyn screamed. The guards drew their weapons and turned to face me.
“Just because you’re a prince doesn’t mean you can kill disabled people! You really are a mad dog!”
I pointed at the chubby man. “There’s no blood.”
Evelyn and her guards froze before turning their heads. The dead man’s body really had no blood on it. In fact, he was deflating like a balloon. His skin turned grey as he continued to shrivel up like a prune. His legs merged together and revealed a vine while the rest of his body transformed into a leaf-like structure. The vine led towards a door behind the counter.
“What the f***?” Evelyn asked with a pale face, forgetting her status as a princess. Her hand trembled. Was her acting that good? Or was this really not an attempt on my life?
A guard asked me, “How did you know?”
“How did you not know?” I looked at the ice cream cone that Evelyn had dropped in the corner. “I wonder if that was really ice cream you ate.”
Evelyn’s face turned even whiter than it already was, and she promptly vomited onto the floor. Maybe this really wasn’t an attempt on my life. Gae Bulg kept his eyes on her guards as I climbed over the counter to retrieve my spear. The leaf disintegrated when I pulled the spear out. I pointed at a guard. “You. You’re first.”
His face paled when I gestured for him to enter the door behind the counter. No way was I going to risk my own life. I didn’t feel bad for sending a man to his potential death. They’re the ones who wanted to kill me after all. Might as well make it as hard as possible for them to do that. The guard didn’t move.
I pointed my spear at him. “Are you disobeying a prince?”
“N-no,” the guard said and lowered his head. “I’ll go.”
I climbed back over the counter and stood behind the guards and Evelyn. It may have been a bit shameless, but there’s no point in pride if I die. The guard opened the door, revealing a stairwell heading down. Evelyn turned her head to look at me. Like little ducklings, the guards mimicked her action.
You really think I’m going down there with you behind my back? “Ladies first.”
Evelyn’s eye twitched. “Go,” she said to her guards. They seemed a bit reluctant, but they followed her order. I entered the stairwell after them, but not before stabbing the vine to make sure it was truly dead. It was.
We arrived at a metal door. The vine had snaked through a crack between the floor and the metal. A guard copied my earlier action and jabbed it with his sword, but there was still no reaction.
“Open it,” Evelyn said. Her hands gripped her dress as she took a few steps back. I made sure to be behind her at all times. Metal creaked as the door swung open, revealing a room. The smell of carrion assaulted our noses, and one of the guards vomited. Limbs and butchered bodies lay scattered across the floor. The first thing I did was track the vine back to its source. It was connected to a black rose that grew out of a severed head. I recognized the face even though it was rotting and filled with roots. It belonged to Bryant.
Evelyn screamed. I turned around and was about to leave, but I saw an expression of excitement on Gae Bulg’s face. I was curious—nothing excited him. “What is it?”
“Durandal,” he said in a low growl. “I can smell his scent.” His hands opened and closed, his claws scratching the armor covering his thighs. “But it’s faded. He’s not here anymore, but he was.”
“How are you so calm!?” Evelyn glared at me. “Bryant’s dead!”
I ignored her. “Do you know what that flower is?”
Gae Bulg shook his head. I kicked one of the guards in the back, pushing him towards the black rose. There was no reaction from the flower. Seems harmless enough. I wandered around the area, keeping my spear at the ready. There was nothing unusual—unless you counted the flower and dead bodies—and there were no treasures. However, there was a library, but the covers of the books were so faded, I couldn’t make out any letters.
Evelyn followed me and kept quiet, but I had Gae Bulg watch her in case she tried to kill me.
“Is this really the Godking’s treasure trove?” she asked. After getting over the initial shock of Bryant’s death, she became curious.
“It should be.” I took a book off the shelf and flipped through the pages. A few words were readable, but the majority of the pages had blurred due to mold.
A guard screamed from outside the library, and Evelyn and I dashed outside with Gae Bulg behind us. A flower had bloomed from a severed hand, and a vine had entangled one of the guards. I looked up and saw three motes of purple light descend from the ceiling. When they touched the severed limbs, flowers began to take root.
Gae Bulg and I made eye contact. We both lifted our spears, shouted, and ran away at the same time, shutting the metal door behind us and running up the stairs. Evelyn and her guards had been left behind.
“Should we have done that?”
I shrugged. Not only was Evelyn a professional alchemist, she was also a first-circle magician. She’d live. Probably. I was starting to feel a little guilty. Though I suspected she wanted to kill me, she hadn’t made any attempts. “We’ll wait for a day.” That was the least I could do.
Gae Bulg grunted, and we both sat outside of the ice cream store. The smiling face embedded in the ‘O’ of Roland seemed to be laughing at us. A few hours later, the doorknob turned. I had my spear ready—Gae Bulg had alerted me of footsteps beforehand. I took a step forward and lunged, thrusting my spear at the opening gap. Evelyn screamed and ducked, dodging my strike. I checked her feet during that time. There weren’t any vines.
I looked past her. None of her guards followed her out. She started to cry.
What did I do to deserve a brother like this? Did I assassinate the pope in my past life? Maybe I offended a god during the period of reincarnation. When we found Bryant’s last known location, Lan glared at me and threatened to stab me with his spear. If you want to stab someone so badly, stab Bryant! It’s not my fault we’re at an ice cream shop. Luckily, his weapon spirit spoke up. Thanks, dog-person. I’m sorry you’re stuck with Lan for an owner.
Not only did he threaten me with a spear, but when I was eating ice cream, he threw a rock at my head! And then he killed the nice shop owner the instant he saw him. But, then again, the owner turned out to be an evil plant of sorts, but still. He gave me free … ice cream. What if that ice cream was made out of human brains? I vomited.
It was then that Lan pulled the gentleman card. Ladies first? Who would want to be the first one to go down an ominous set of stairs? Don’t act like you’re doing me a favor. I had my guards go down instead. We arrived at a metal door. When my guards opened it, the first thing I saw was Bryant’s severed head. I screamed. I’m not afraid to admit I grew up in a sheltered home while being pampered in my own little bubble. Severed heads were not something I was usually exposed to.
But how was Lan so calm!? He even turned around to leave after accomplishing the mission. Was he used to sights like this? I thought back to the rumors of Lan sneaking out at night to slaughter people. Of course, there was no evidence against him, but I was starting to believe it was true. I glared at him as he talked with his pet wolf-man. Did they say Durandal was here? Regardless, that didn’t matter.
“How are you so calm!? Bryant’s dead!”
Do you know what he said to me? Nothing. That savage completely ignored me and asked his spirit about flowers. He wasn’t sure if the flower was dangerous or not, so he kicked one of my guards towards it. Can you believe that? I don’t understand why he was so hostile towards us this whole time. He was like an unchained dog that we had to bring along. This mission would’ve been so much easier if he wasn’t here—except for that shopkeeper bit.
Then he acted as if I didn’t exist, but his weapon spirit sure didn’t act like it. The wolfkin kept glaring at me with those yellow eyes, and if I stepped too close, he snarled at me. Never in my life have I been treated like this before. I guess if I interacted with Lan in the palace, I would’ve. How is he nobility? Just what part of him is graceful? He’s even worse than my deceased husband!
We entered a library that had more books than our own. I picked up a book and opened it. The words were faded, but I could still make some out. Wasn’t this an entry-level alchemy textbook? Well, the Godking did die eighty years ago. There have been a lot of advancements during that time. “Is this really the Godking’s treasure trove?” I wasn’t asking him. I was asking myself, but he answered anyway. I guessed the silent treatment was over.
“It should be.”
And that was when Joey screamed. We dropped the books and rushed out of the library. A scene of carnivorous evil plants greeted us. Joey’s hand was being eaten by a flower. Lan and his spirit nodded at each other and drew their weapons. At last, they’d be useful…. Did they just run away!? The metal door shut with a clang, and my heart dropped to my stomach. He really left….
I heard more screaming as another cluster of flowers bloomed on the severed body parts that littered the ground. Joey screamed as a green vine grew out of his nose and blossomed into a flower. Calm down, Evelyn. You’re a magician of fire. You can do this.
I sucked in a deep breath and willed my mana into my palms. I raised my hands and pointed them at the flowers. “Conflagrate!” The plants exploded, relieving the pressure on my guards who were fending off vines. They tried to free Joey, but he was already dead, so they hacked off the flower that was binding him.
“What was that?” I asked. None of my guards had an answer. A black vine sprang out of the floor and curled around Jordan, one of my guards. It pierced through his chest, pushing his heart out of his body. It beat a few more times as the vine throbbed in tune like it was drinking something. I ran for the door. I don’t want to die!
My guards saw my actions and made it to the door before me. When Josh touched the metal, a vine fell from the ceiling and wrapped around his neck. There was a snapping noise, and Josh stopped moving. I couldn’t stop the scream from escaping my body.
“Conflagrate! Conflagrate! Conflagrate!”
All the visible vines in the room exploded. My throat burned, and my legs grew heavy. I felt like I had sprinted for a mile. My remaining guards looked at each other, but neither of them were willing to touch the door first. Before they could decide, the ceiling exploded. Rocks fell to the ground, revealing a massive rafflesia with thousands of vines wriggling around its flower. Three vines shot for the door, blocking off our escape. I was too spent to cast anymore spells.
My guards tried cutting the vines, but they were harder than metal, making their swords ineffective. “The library,” I said. They picked me up and ran towards the library. One vine snaked around Julian’s leg, causing him to trip. Multiple vines promptly turned his body into a pincushion. Jack continued to run, refusing to let me go to save himself. Before we reached the door, a vine stabbed through his chest, causing him to scream. With the last of his strength, he threw me inside of the library and reached for the door. He smiled at me as it swung shut.
I passed out. When I woke up, my body was sore and my stomach growled. I didn’t know how much time had passed. Was I going to die here? Lan wasn’t going to come back to save me. I already knew that. Maybe if I surrounded my body with flames, I could make it out alive. My mentor had taught me a human-bonfire spell, but I always thought it was stupid, so I never practiced it. How did it work? I experimented with my mana, attempting to wreathe my body in flames. After a dozen attempts, I managed to get it to work.
I rested and waited inside of the library until my mana was recharged. This is it. I activated the spell and pushed open the door. I was greeted by a sea of black vines. As if sensing the flames around my body, they drew back and parted. I took even steps towards the exit, unimpeded the whole way. A few vines tried to grab me, but they were incinerated before reaching my skin. I pushed open the door, stepped outside, and closed it, maintaining the spell until I reached the top of the stairs. I deactivated it because I didn’t want to set the building on fire and closed the door behind the counter. I made it. I was still alive.
I opened the exit, and a spearhead rushed towards my face. I screamed and ducked before shouting curses. I recognized that spearhead from back in the palace.
“Just checking,” Lan said as he took a step back.
Just checking? Just checking!? I almost died! My screams reduced to sobs. Why was I stuck with him? Why!?
“Why did you take so long to come out?”
“Because f*** you! That’s why!” If my mana weren’t exhausted, I would’ve conflagrated his ass.
Lan shrugged. “Well, at least I know you’re still alive.” He turned around and walked away. Was he leaving me again? What the hell?
“Where are you going?” I wiped away my tears and blew my nose on my sleeve. F*** manners.
“Chasing Durandal. You can go back first.”
He was walking away from the direction we came from. I watched his back as he left. Good riddance. There was no way I was going to follow him, that was just asking for death. My stomach gurgled, and I stood up. I didn’t want to stay in this damned ice cream shop any longer. A bag on the steps caught my eye. I opened it and found a sandwich inside. A note on it read, “It’s not poison. – Gae Bulg.”
Maybe his weapon spirit wasn’t such a bad person. What did Lan do to deserve someone like him? I shook my head and walked away as I ate the sandwich. Our carriage was still where we had left it—no one had the audacity to steal a royal carriage. I boarded it and urged the horses to make haste towards the capital. I think I’ve had enough adventures for the rest of my life.