“Ah, it looks like we’re here,” my father said as the spells increasing the carriage’s speed and the horses’ stamina dispersed. “Pretty big place, huh? It didn’t look like this thirty years ago. They’ve done some major construction works.”
I followed my father and Durandal out of the carriage. In front of me, towering above, there was a transparent wall with thousands of patterns scrawled upon it. The mana radiating off the structure made my stomach churn. Were the humans trying to show off their empire’s might? If a group of seventh-circle magicians operated the spell formations on the walls, they could easily repel a couple of ninth-circle magicians.
A massive crowd of people were gathered around the walls, camping in tents and other shoddy shelters. A few looked homeless, but the majority of them were demons and beastkin. There were one or two clusters of elves and dwarves, but they were by far the minority. Hundreds of stalls were set up along the road leading to the wall where a relatively tiny gate waited.
“I finally caught you bastards!” a voice shouted. Footsteps that sounded like thunder echoed throughout the area as Lucia ran towards us, the ground cracking and fracturing underneath her feet. The next set of travelers were going to have a tough time traversing through those broken roads. I pitied them. Lucia ran up to Durandal and raised her sword over her head. “You! How could you….” She froze as the mob of people turned their heads to stare at her. “The heck is this? Why’s it so crowded!? You told me there were 60 competitors!”
“Mm, no,” my father said and smiled. “There’s 20 guaranteed competitors from each empire, but anyone, as long as they’re under 30 years of age, can compete. After all, Cain is hunting for talent. Though rare, there are some talented commoners out there.”
Yeah, Lucia was one of them. I didn’t tell my father about Lucia’s past. I figured it wasn’t my place to tell.
“So I have to compete against all these people here? They’re all kind of weak, don’t you think?” Lucia asked and tilted her head. The glares coming from the surroundings intensified. Lucia snorted and crossed her arms over her chest. “What? Got a problem? Fight me.”
“Lucia…, I don’t think you should provoke this many people.” What happened to Lucia? I thought she got nervous around crowds. “Aren’t you nervous?”
Lucia slapped Durandal’s back, causing him to stumble forward. “With him here, what do I have to fear?” She stuck her chest out and smiled while staring up at the sky, striking a heroic pose while her tail twitched a few times. So it was Durandal. Again. The instant he came back, Lucia’s and Puppers’ personalities changed. I don’t like him. All I did was make him apologize for his master’s misdeeds. He didn’t have to, to…, I don’t want to talk about it.
“Mm, well, we’re not here to mingle with the commoners,” my father said and walked forward along the road. It was surprisingly clear given the amount of people nearby. A few discontent beastkin and humans approached us, but my father let his mana out in a massive surge, knocking them off their feet and throwing them back dozens of meters. My father tilted his head up and swept his gaze over the crowd before letting out a snort. Everyone averted their eyes, and even the merchants manning the stalls stopped shouting. How could my father, the duke of the Tristam Empire, allow random rabble to approach him? It wasn’t often I got to see my father’s domineering side. I know he always dotes on me.
“Whoa, what was that?” Lucia asked, her eyes glistening. She poked Durandal’s back with her sword. “Why couldn’t you teach me something useful like that? Ah! I’m supposed to still be mad at you for making me run that whole way!”
“Oh, what’s that over there?” Durandal asked and pointed behind Lucia. She turned her head around, and Durandal pulled out a steaming cup of hot chocolate.
“I don’t see anything strange?” Lucia asked. She turned back around and blinked as the steaming mug was forced into her hands. “Ooh! Thanks! You’re the best.”
My lord. I knew Durandal wasn’t a good person. Watching Lucia fall for something that even a child could see through was painful. It really makes me wonder if there’s a god in this world. How can someone like Lucia become a divine warrior while people like the Godking couldn’t? Lucia hummed as she followed after Durandal, sipping on her cup with her tail swishing from side to side. I sighed and followed after them.
As one of the nobles with a guaranteed spot, my father was allowed to enter the city with his entourage, us, before the day of the competition. Of course, that also meant everyone else who had a spot could enter it as well. We passed through the gate without any issues. The buildings were to be expected of the humans. Their designs were a bit lacking, trying to emulate the sharp, crisp edges of demon architecture while trying to mimic the gracefulness of the fae at the same time. Unfortunately, it failed at both, becoming some sort of odd mishmash between the two cultures. The Godking really was a good human, or maybe the humans took after the Godking—appropriating other cultures and claiming it as their own invention. It’s an open secret amongst nobility that the Godking claimed credit for hundreds of things he didn’t do, including inventing the new magic system of circles and creating the world’s strongest weapons and enchantments.
The streets were empty, which wasn’t a surprise. We came here extra early after all. The trip should’ve taken a much longer amount of time, but Durandal decided to have that impromptu training session with Lucia. Well, it was almost empty. A human with curly blond hair and green eyes approached us. Behind him, there were three women around Lucia’s age and one old man who was wearing a suit. One of his eyes was closed with a jagged scar crossing over it. They were wearing clothes that I recognized as the robes of nobility. It was in one of my father’s books on etiquette. The man with the curly hair stopped in front of my father. He jutted his chest out and stared him in the eyes before saying, “Crown Prince Algar greets Duke Pentorn.”
My father raised an eyebrow. “You know me?” he asked. “Then I greet the crown prince in return. Do you have some business with me?”
Algar shook his head before staring at Lucia who was blowing on her hot chocolate. She dipped her fingertip into her cup and flinched, bringing her finger back and sucking on it. The prince’s eyes changed from narrowed to widened, and he cleared his throat. “I have business with Durandal’s owner,” he said with hints of hesitation in his voice. “That’s her…, right?”
Lucia raised her head and blinked. “Huh? How’d you know?” she asked and tilted her head. She brought her cup to her lips and blew on it again before taking a sip. Halfway through swallowing, she froze. “I mean! No! Wrong person.”
Algar pointed behind us. I turned my head. There was a piece of paper on the wall of a nearby building, and I squinted at it. …It was a full-body portrait of Lucia with large text beneath it. I read it out loud, since I knew Lucia couldn’t read, “Lucia Fluffytail. Owner of Durandal. Slayer of princes. Betrayer of the fae. During an expedition with Prince Bryant, she obtained Durandal and slew everyone who accompanied her before crossing the border and entering the Tristam Empire. She now works under Duke Pentorn as a representative to attend the Godking’s Brawl. This informational flyer has been brought to you by the Flopsy Gang. This mark, as many magicians will know, is a brand of truth, guaranteeing nothing on this document has been falsified.” Next to the text, there was an array that I recognized as a truth brand that pulsated with mana.
“Gah!” Lucia shouted and ran up to the poster. She tore it down, ripped it to shreds, and stuffed the remains into her mouth before swallowing. She coughed a few times before drinking her hot chocolate in one gulp, clearing her inner passageways. “F***ing Snow!”
Algar stared at Lucia as if she were a strange creature with thirty legs and twenty eyes. “There’s, uh, thousands of those flyers everywhere, including the capital and some port towns…. You, you’re not going to eat them all, are you?”
Lucia sighed and hung her head. She raised it and placed her hands on her hips. “Alright then,” she said. “What do you want from me?”
“I’m willing to buy Durandal from you,” Algar said. “Gold, property—”
“Impossible!” Lucia said, shaking her head. “Demand something else.”
Algar furrowed his brow. While he was hesitating, one of the girls behind him asked, “Excuse me, Miss Fluffytail, do you know anything about my brother Lan? The last time I saw him, he was chasing after Durandal.”
“Ah! You’re Evelyn the Witch!” Lucia said, pointing at the girl who just spoke. “Are the rumors true? Did you really poison your husband on your wedding night?”
Evelyn’s eye twitched. “I did no such thing. Please don’t slander me.” She bit her lower lip. “About the prince…”
“Nope,” Lucia said. “No idea what happened to him. I heard from some mercenaries that he was killed by Snow Flopsy though. But you know what they say about mercenaries and rumors.”
“I do,” Evelyn said and nodded. “So there’s a chance Lan’s still alive.”
“He’s dead, Evelyn.” Puppers appeared next to Lucia. “She killed him.”
“Puppers!” Lucia shouted. “What are you doing!? I was just beginning to like you!”
Puppers stayed silent as Evelyn stared at him, shock painted on her face. Ah, so Gae Bulg was passed down to a prince … who Lucia killed. Great.
“I’ve thought of something,” Algar said, breaking the silence. “But it’s a bit of a sensitive topic.” He approached Lucia and whispered into her ear. What was he saying for Lucia to not instantly reject? Maybe it wasn’t about Durandal? The prince took a step back and smiled. “So, do you accept?”
“Really?” Lucia asked, her eyes wide. “If you don’t keep your end of the bargain, I’ll beat you up. I can definitely do that, you know?”
“I swear on my title as crown prince,” Algar said with a nod.
“I’ll do it!” Lucia said and beamed.
Stop keeping me out of the loop! I want to know! Lucia better not have been tricked by the promises of hot chocolate or sweet foods again. It’s upsetting that’s something I even have to consider.