Hyun-woo Imugi stood across from me, and I understood why Aaliyah had said he didn’t look his age. The man would easily pass for someone in his twenties rather than forties. I was surprised that he declared a second, given the power he was supposed to possess. Alma had warned me that Hyun-woo would be far stronger, faster, and more skilled with magic than even she was. She was worried about me, but I had an ace in the hole.
“James, would you like to declare a second now that your challenger has done so?” asked Adelmar.
I smiled, and watched as the room went silent. I felt a tad bit guilty over the looks of fear, even stark terror, appearing throughout the witnesses. Even Hyun-woo lost his swagger. Death herself had volunteered to be my second in this match.
When she told me, I protested at first, knowing well the effect she had on others, but Aaliyah insisted and explained in considerable detail how Hyun-woo had orchestrated the twins’ kidnapping and subsequent torture. He was the one who was behind the attempted abduction of my parents. The man abused his powers casually and with considerable joy from what I was told, and I knew Aaliyah wasn’t lying.
Many of the witnesses left their seats, some seemed frozen in place, and a few seemed to be fighting their fear. Adelmar looked strained, but the smile never left his face through the long silence.
“Yes, as you can see, I have a second today. She is known as Death, Death’s Daughter, The Reaper, and countless other names.” I told them.
“No! T-this is outrageous!” stammered Hyun-woo.
“Oh? On what grounds would you contest James’ second?” questioned Adelmar.
Hyun-woo’s mouth worked open and close, but no words came out. Eventually, he clamped it shut.
“I see. Warriors present your weapons, so we may all know this challenge is honorably met.” commanded Adelmar.
Hyun-woo pulled Muramasa, The Demon Blade, from his side and presented it to the waiting attendant. Alma had warned me of that sword. The blade was famous among her family as one of the most lethal weapons in their arsenal. The slightest touch of the blade, edge or not, was lethal. There were rumors of the blade devouring the souls of its victims. I wouldn’t be surprised, not with the unintelligible whispers I was hearing from it.
Unfortunately, my attendant had passed out. I looked to Adelmar, uncertain of what to do.
“Cousin, retrieve James’ blade for me. No, do not even think of touching that scythe.” he commanded, having turned to Alma. Then in a louder voice he said, “I’m sure we all know what James’ second carries, and I can verify its authenticity from here.”
Adelmar made a show, despite the diminished witnesses, of looking over Muramasa, Carnwennan, and a spear called “Tonbokiri” which Hyun-woo’s second had brought.
“I know these weapons and declare them fit for battle. Today we witness a contest between two men, both wanting the right to court Lady Alma Lucy Pendreigh, fifth of her name.” started Adelmar, continuing on with the lengthy, ceremonial speech he gave every time.
The weapons were brought back as he spoke. When at last he finished, I casually patted Aaliyah’s back as I passed her to go prepare for combat. She vanished, and I could hear gasps appear throughout the room.
I shut the door to the waiting room behind me and jumped back against it when I turned around. Aaliyah had taken the form of Trix and was in the middle of changing. I quickly turned back around.
“Aren’t you going to help me?” she teased.
“I’m sure you can manage.” I told her.
“I’ll gladly help you…” she told me.
“Aaliyah, I think I can manage.” I replied.
I fought the urge to run from the room as I felt her press against my back. The feel of her lips kissing the back of my neck gave rise to a panic that I fought to control. I couldn’t leave before the chime sounded without forfeiting the match. Wasn’t Aaliyah here to help me? Why was she…
“There. You’re changed.” she stated.
I found myself in the ritual garment. Aaliyah once more appeared as Death, but with her ritual garment strangely positioned over her robes. I supposed she was merely following the rules here, but I found the combination oddly comical. We spent some time discussing last night’s visit with the vampire brothers as we waited, but we were interrupted by the chime before the topic was exhausted. I quickly took my position by the door with Carnwennan unsheathed in my hand.
When the doors opened, I saw Hyun-woo taking a step back.
“My Lord, it defies the rules!” he exclaimed with only a slight shake in his voice.
“Do you really want to know what is beneath those robes?” asked Adelmar, sounding annoyed. “I thought not. Continue.”
I stepped out and was immediately under attack. Hyun-woo was easily faster than me, and I had difficulty defending against his attacks, despite some obvious mistakes he made. Was he trying to bait me? Dagger met sword, and there was an explosion between us, knocking me off balance. Hyun-woo recovered more quickly, leaping and kicking me solidly in the chest.
I flew backward, crashing into the wall. My chest felt sore for a moment from the strength of his kick, but he wasn’t pressing the attack. He stared, mouth open, at where Death waited. I took the opportunity to create a spell and charge him. The spell was blocked by another, but I did manage to throw Hyun-woo off-balance for a moment.
I jumped to the side, rolling back onto my feet, after my shirt was torn by Muramasa barely missing my skin. Could I beat this man? He was on me again in an instant, attacking furiously. Dirt obscured my sight, thrown by a spell I failed to counter. I ducked and rolled back, hearing the endless whispers of Muramasa and guessing where it would strike.
I threw a spell at Hyun-woo, hoping to knock him back. I needed time to recover, to think. Aaliyah’s presence was obviously unbalancing Hyun-woo, but I couldn’t keep this up for long.
A flash of light appeared in front of me, but I saw through it, allowing me to dodge the thrust and swing Carnwennan upward. There was a thunderous cry of pain as the flash of my dagger cleaved through Hyun-woo’s wrist.
I had acted instinctively, but I hadn’t meant to maim him. Fire engulfed me from a spell Hyun-woo casted as he grabbed the blade from the ground with his remaining hand. I covered myself in mist, not wanting to fight openly naked. His attacks seemed awkward now, and I was having an easier time keeping up.
At least, I thought I was up until the flat of his bladed slammed against my bare shoulder. I stood there in shock as I heard singing from Muramasa. The song spoke of battle, endless battle, and the blade’s desire to be in the middle of it.
“How!?” demanded Hyun-woo.
I looked him in the eye, smiled, and grabbed Muramasa’s blade with my bare hand, yanking the sword from his shaking grasp.
“Your sword prefers me to you, so it will never cut me.” I told him as he stepped away. I flipped Muramasa’s grip into my hand before saying, “You’ve lost. Concede.”
There was anger in his eyes, and I prepared to defend myself.
He glared at Muramasa. The he shuddered, his gaze moving to Death. “Victory is yours.” he declared.
I was thankful that he didn’t press things further and hoped there would be no more opposition against Alma and me dating. Would Adelmar understand if I skipped dinner with him? I needed to fly six hours and somehow make it to a wedding.