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Chapter 1618 Sacred Rite
Following his proposal to Arika, Vahn had been convinced to spend, at the very least, one night in Ostia. Ana wanted to celebrate her daughter’s engagement, and, considering it would have been a little awkward to leave immediately after his proposal, Vahn didn’t have much ground to refuse. As a result, he once again shared a bath with the members of the Ostian Royal Family, and, though this was nothing new, things became admittedly more awkward when Ana attempted to ‘educate’ both Arika and Asuna in how to ‘properly’ wash a man’s body.
Vahn was admittedly used to being used in ‘educational’ demonstrations, but, with the other party being his mother-in-law, his primary instinct was to refuse. Surprisingly, though she later explained the reason, Arika took her mother’s side on the matter. She felt guilty about the fact she had been allowed to leave the palace and follow a different path than the one normally decided for members of the Ostian Royal Family. This was an opportunity that had been denied to her mother, so, while it caused her a considerable amount of shame and embarra.s.sment, she supported Ana’s mischief and went with the flow of events.
Though it put him in a rather compromising position, Vahn wasn’t particularly unwilling to have his body washed by Ana. Thus, with Vesperina also contributing her consent, he ended up in one of the few situations where he found it legitimately difficult to hide his own embarra.s.sment. Ana made up for the fact that she had no real experience by being ‘exceptionally’ bold, and, though this wouldn’t normally be enough to embarra.s.s him, the combined curiosity of the entire Ostian Royal Family was enough to color the ears of each of his avatars…
Preceding Vahn’s objectively enviable situation by a few hours, another man was experiencing one of the worst days of his entire life. He was forced to stand in the middle of a private arena as more than a hundred of the most prestigious members of the Imperial n.o.bility watched on in uncovered curiosity. Across from him, casually performing a series of light stretches in a garment that left little to the imagination, his much younger sister had a lackadaisical smile on her face as she warmed up for their impending match.
Under normal circ.u.mstances, the man, Prince Kacper Bas.h.i.+reia Herasu De Vesuperisujimia, would have relished the thought of being able to teach his younger sister, Princess Theodora Bas.h.i.+reia Herasu De Vesuperisujimia, a lesson. His pride did not allow him to consider, even for a moment, that he would lose against someone barely a quarter of his age. It didn’t matter that she was the future Empress who had received the Blessing of Vrixho, as, in his mind, her claim to the throne was illegitimate compared to his own…
Despite ‘knowing’ he was much stronger than his sister, Kacper had a blackened expression as he listened to the speculation from the surrounding n.o.bles. They didn’t even try to censor themselves, and, much to his chagrin, the majority seemed to be in favor of his sister’s victory. Some even went as far as to propose private wagers, but, with few willing to bet on his victory, these remarks quickly became more of a joke than anything else.
With even better senses than a normal h.e.l.lasian, Kacper could hear most of the crowd’s remarks. He could even recognize most of their voices, so, after committing them to memory, he swore to make each and every one of them pay for insulting their future Emperor. It didn’t matter if most of them were just joking around, as, after he rose to power, he intended to shape h.e.l.las into an even more powerful nation, one which would gradually conquer the entire world in his name…
a.s.sured of his own victory, Kacper glared back at the person he hated most in the entire world, his blue eyes blazing with an intense ferocity as he said, “You should surrender this farce. If you choose to go forward with this, I will not hold back. Though I will do my best not to injure you too seriously, accidents within the arena are as common as the clouds in the sky…”
Hearing her brother’s warning, Theo just giggled mischievously before adopting a wide grin as she said, “I’ll hold you to your words. If you held back, this would be over too quickly~.”
Understanding the implication contained within his sister’s words, Kacper’s expression became even darker as he looked toward his father, asking, “It is not my place to question the Emperor’s vast and immeasurable wisdom. However, I must advise against moving forward with this match. Theodora is still a child. I fear I cannot afford the repercussions of accidentally injuring the future Empress of the h.e.l.las Empire…”
Though he noticed the murderous glimmer in his son’s eyes, Michael repressed a sigh as he stated in a firm tone, “As per tradition, none shall be held accountable for any accidents that might occur during a Rite of Challenge. If it is determined that one side has an undeniable advantage over the other, the referee will intervene to prevent injury.”
Almost immediately following the Emperor’s statement, a senior member of the Aristocracy, Earl Stanisław Jaruzelski, issued a courteous bow as he stated in a deep voice, “If it pleases his Imperial Majesty, it would be my honor to preside over this match.”
Though he was originally intending to have Jack referee the matches, Michael took a brief moment to consider the Earl’s request. This wouldn’t have been a consideration under normal circ.u.mstances, but, as Theo had noticed, the Earl was actually the father of the man she was ‘fated’ to be engaged to. This caused her nose to scrunch up slightly, but, as she wasn’t in a position to protest, she chose to remain silent as her father made his position.
Unfortunately for Theo, her father decided to give the Earl a bit of face, opening his eyes to state in a commanding tone, “Very well. We have supreme confidence in the Earl’s power and judgment.”
Gratified by the Emperor’s words, Earl Stanislaw leaped through the air before landing nimbly in the arena. He had previously been the ranking General of the Northern Fleet, so, while nowhere near his prime, mediating a battle between two junior members of the Imperial Family wasn’t an issue.
Both Kacper and Theo wanted to protest having the Earl referee their match, but, as neither had a good reason to refute, they remained silent. Questioning the Earl’s qualifications would be both an insult to the man in question and a repudiation of the Emperor’s decree. This would be a grievous faux-pas, so, rather than complain, the brother and sister set their sights on each other, both eager for the battle to come.
Noticing the duo was more than ready to begin, Earl Stanislaw couldn’t help but display an amused smile as he dutifully declared, “This is a sacred rite to determine whether or not the Third Princess possesses the strength to qualify as an adult under Imperial Law. Her opponent, the Second Prince, has graciously offered himself to test the mettle of his younger sister. If both contestants are ready to begin, you may salute the Emperor and take your stances.”
As the Rite of Challenge had several customs that must be followed, both Theo and Kacper obeyed the Earl’s direction. For Theo, this was more than just a battle to determine whether or not she was strong, as, even if they lost all three battles, a person could still be considered an adult based on their actions and behavior. Inversely, if they behaved childishly throughout the proceedings, there was a chance they could be denied recognition and placed under a probationary period. This was something she wanted to avoid at all costs, so, while it made her feel stiff and stuffy, Theo did her best to appeal to the audience by displaying her maturity. As for Kacper, his reputation had never been that great amongst members of the Aristocracy, so, if he misbehaved during one of their most sacred rites, he risked losing what little face he had left…
With their father giving them leniency to raise their heads, Theo adopted a low stance that was an exact copy of the Heavenly White Tiger form. She had sparred with Xiao Bai almost every day over a four year period, so, while she had developed her own hybrid form, the foundation of her style was directly inspired by the flexibility and power demonstrated by the admittedly adorable white tiger.
Seeing his sister squat low with her hands extended like claws, Kacper snorted disdainfully as he extended his hand to the side and manifested a ma.s.sive black blade. Weapon Summoning and its derivative skills were the foundation embedded into every member of the n.o.bility, as, despite their vast reserves of magical power, very few had the capacity to become a true Mage. They had always been more adept at reinforcing their body to deal with enemies at close and mid-range, so, seeing his sister forgo the use of weapons, seemingly intent on conserving her magical power, Kacper was planning to teach her a harsh lesson…
The moment Earl Stanislaw called out for the match to begin, Kacper adopted a defensive stance as he shouted, “Melody of Battle, Double my Speed!” (A/N: I decided to go with simple translations of magic spells to make it easier to read.)
With a pale-green aura surrounding his body, a vicious smile spread across Kacper’s face. Melodia Bellax was an Intermediate-Grade Reinforcement Magic, and, though many could use it, mastering it to the point of manifesting a stable aura was difficult, generally taking years of concerted effort. This was his greatest advantage against Theo, as, no matter how talented she was, there was a vast gulf in their experience due to the age gap…
Just as this thought crossed his mind, Kacper’s mind dulled as he noticed the figure of his younger sister turning into a wispy haze. At the exact same moment, an awkward-sounding voice echoed from behind him, saying, “You are thinking too much. If you don’t trust your instincts more and pay better attention to your surroundings, this is going to be over very quickly…”
Recognizing who the voice belonged to, Kacper spun on his heels, his oversized sword drawing a deadly arc towards the wryly smiling Theo’s neck. To his surprise, she didn’t even try to dodge, the blade cleaving through her so smoothly he didn’t even feel any feedback. This caused a ma.s.sive grin to spread across his face, but, before he could celebrate the death of his most hated person, a powerful force slammed into his left cheek. The next thing he knew, he was embedded into the far wall, while, in the center of the arena, Theo awkwardly scratched the back of her head. She had held back a lot to try and make the fight last longer, but, even without using any special techniques, her brother seemed incapable of even following her movements…
After fighting with ‘monsters’ nearly every day over a four year period, Theo had completely lost the ability to gauge her own strength. She was actually the weakest among those who trained inside of the Diorama, so, after continuously breaking through her limits to try and overcome people much stronger than herself, Theo had forgotten what it was like to fight against someone weaker. She did her best to hold back so they could enjoy a prolonged battle, but, much to her surprise, her brother was significantly weaker than she imagined…
Though he knew his daughter had gotten much stronger during her time in Ariadne, Michael was at a complete loss for words after seeing her display. He was watching the match from the outside, so, by all rights, he should have been able to see her movements without any difficulty. Instead, he saw Theo’s body flicker, and, in the next moment, she had soundlessly appeared behind Kacper without the latter’s notice.
The Emperor knew a lot more had happened in Ariadne than the reports mentioned. The ‘choker’ around his daughter’s neck had drawn a considerable amount of attention, and, though she didn’t seem to be aware of it, he had seen her absentmindedly caressing the band numerous times over the last few days. It was clear she had received more than just simple lessons from the Sage Dragon Emperor but nothing could have prepared him for her monstrous increase in strength. It was almost like she was a completely different person, and, though it seemed absurd, he got the impression his fate wouldn’t be much different than his son’s if they traded places.
With even the Emperor harboring such thoughts, it was easy to imagine what was going through the minds of the various Aristocrats in attendance. They were utterly gobsmacked by Theo’s speed, and, though he had confidently declared himself capable of referring the match, even Earl Stanislaw was at a complete loss for words. He actually thought his senses were playing tricks on him when he saw two Theo’s appear within the arena, and, for a brief moment, he even considered stepping in when the Prince swept his sword towards the Princess’ throat.
Realizing that the young girl wryly smiling was even more powerful than himself, Earl Stanislaw was both mortified and excited. He had already been negotiating the marriage between his son and the future Empress, and, unless something drastic changed, there was no reason for the two not to be wed. His family was directly responsible for goods moving in and out of the country, so, while their wealth couldn’t be compared to the Imperial Treasury, they were one of the primary reasons it had grown so extensively over the last couple of centuries.
Remembering his purpose for being inside of the arena, Earl Stanislaw returned to his senses, his voice much louder than before as he declared, “Princess Theodora has won her first match with an impeccable display of both speed and power! I dare say we have gathered together to witness the birth of a true prodigy! This is a tremendous omen of good fortune! Glory to the h.e.l.las Empire!”
Awakened by the Earl’s outburst, many of the loyalists within the crowd echoed his cry, shouting, “Glory to the h.e.l.las Empire!” before following it up with a resounding, “Long live the Emperor! Long live the Third Princess…!!!”
Hearing everyone cheer for her, Theo began to feel even more embarra.s.sed. She was grateful for their support, as it would make things much easier in the near future, but, seeing her brother still embedded in the wall, she began to feel guilty about using him as a stepping stone…just a little…
(A/N: Alternate t.i.tles: ‘Ara Ara~ intensifies…’,’Saitama vs. King!’,’Just a teenie tiny amount…’)
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