Vol. 4, Chapter 2, part 2
“An utter defeat…… huh. Am I really this rusty?”
It’s true though, that I, who once been called “Gorou the unscathed” didn’t fight once since I became a soba shop owner. Well, I can’t make excuses, I was beaten into pulp despite having an overwhelming advantage in terms of race. The humans are considered the weakest in this world, after all……
The talk was a bit provoking, but it doesn’t explain why I accepted the challenge. I thought my fighting spirit was irreversibly broken when I utterly failed the “Ryu Ceremony”……
It’s all coming back to me…… yes, I used to be so conceited because of being the strongest around. I started fights with other kids at the smallest excuse and beat everyone, it was all good until I saw my own strength…… and it was all bad after that.
This country respects the strong, so the duels are allowed if the challenge is accepted. Although killing your opponent is unacceptable. I just recently found out that there were people under His Majesty’s direct orders overseeing the duels in order to prevent casualties.
At the time, I was spending my days dueling non-stop. As I grew up, my body got bigger, and I grew more violent without even noticing, bringing trouble to others while rampaging around. Causing multiple problems for the officials…… I didn’t care about it back then, I didn’t reflect on my own rowdiness.
And then I felt that Ichigatake was not enough. There were no worthy opponents anymore, in search for those I tried to go to Niigatake and Sangatake…… but those who were considered men of valour there were no match for me either. Unable to find anyone worth fighting, I got very violent. Just thinking of how deeply I was mistaken back then makes a bitter feeling well up inside me.
In my quest for even stronger opponents, I went through Shiigatake, Itsugatake, and Rokugatake.
And, as I expected, there were quite a few strong people there, so I remember being satisfied for a while. But a couple of months later, I could beat my opponents effortlessly, much like Ichigatake. And before I knew it, everyone just refused to duel me.
No matter how much of a militant history the country has, just going around asking for duels will give you a bad rep. So, the worse part of me began to rampage again. I was irritated without a reason, wandering outside the town and beating not only demon beasts but usual animals.
On one of those days, there was a man who, surprisingly, challenged me to a duel. I won it pretty easily, and the opponent threw a line in my face.
“Tsk, you’re just venting your anger out here cause you don’t have the guts to challenge the “Ryu Ceremony”, ain’cha!!”
Enraged, I threw a kick at my opponent who was already down, so he lost consciousness.
(That’s right, I should be ready to challenge the “Ryu Ceremony”. I’m surrounded by weaklings, it’s so tedious. And, if I pass the trial, I will be granted a free passage out of the country! Then I will be able to fight stronger enemies! That “Ryu Ceremony” is not much of a challenge, it will open a way for me to stronger opponents!)
After this kind of simplistic thinking, I decided to brave the “Ryu Ceremony”. Thinking back on it, I understand how much of a fool I was.
“I see, so you went a long way to challenge the “Ryu Ceremony”, did you not?”
The gatekeeper of the Ryu King’s Castle inquired politely, and I replied with something like “yes I did, now would you please get moving and guide me in” in a very inappropriate tone.
When we went in, there was a spacious arena, surrounded by a barrier, and in the middle was a nicely dressed old lady.
“Hmm…… So, you are the challenger.”
“Whazzat, I’m fighting an old hag now…… it’s not much of a challenge, is it. Let’s get it over with, already.”
I remember looking at my opponent and thinking that the clothes may be fine, but the one wearing them was pitiful. Something along the lines “Don’t blame me if you get killed, I’ll end it quickly and have my sweet reward”.
“I see, I see. So we look like an old hag to you. Kuh-kuh-kuh, this is how you look inside!”
On saying that, the granny instantly transformed into a full ryu. That moment I understood that that shape was but a temporary one.
“With this, I declare the “Ryu Ceremony” has begun. Whether you can defeat us or your strength shall be deemed worthy by us, you shall pass. Let us begin.”
I stood there for a moment, dumbfounded by my opponent’s size but then a simplistic thought visited me, that is the contents didn’t change, the outer look is just for show.
So, I narrowed the distance and jumped up aiming at that ryu’s face. However, before my kick got to kick the face, an enormous finger appeared before me.
And then, I suppose, I was hit by a counter-attack, I don’t recall anything after that finger. When I regained consciousness, I was lying flat on the ground like a starfish, and my sturdy body, which came unscathed from numerous duels, just refused to budge.
And in an exasperated voice and contemptuous manner, the ryu proclaimed the result of the duel.
“The “Ryu Ceremony” is completed. It goes without saying, that you are not qualified. Your performance was the worst of all the challengers we’ve seen up until now. You’ve got only one more chance to challenge the “Ryu Ceremony”. Come better prepared next time…… physically and mentally.”
The next moment I was sent flying out of the castle gate. And, contrary to the time of entry, I was met with cold words from the gatekeepers.
“You called that person an old hag of all things. Their shape is changing depending on the viewer. If you saw her as a dirty elderly woman, is because your thoughts are unclean! Now go, back to Ichigatake, you are not welcome here anymore!”
And, being blasted away again, this time I woke up in one of the back alleys of Ichigatake.
Was I not the strongest? Then, why am I lying here in a condition worse than the opponents I’ve beaten up till now? While I lied there, confused, my thoughts in chaos, I heard a sound only I could hear – something invisible collapsing with a rattle. Back then, didn’t know what it was.
A long time has passed since then, I’ve been pulling a soba stall all along. I’ve never had a duel since that day. And one of those days I heard that the country would be opening its doors to other races, including humans. It didn’t bother me then, it didn’t have anything to do with me, I just thought that the number of customers would increase a bit.
But those thoughts were turned on their head. A human visitor easily defeated me in a duel. But after not having a fight in quite a while, this duel made me feel as if I’ve found something long-forgotten. — And I need to contemplate carefully over that something. In order not to regret later that “didn’t try my best”.
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