34 A Wounded Lion(1)

--- Lord Kioshi's POV ---

The grandeur of the imperial palace seemed to mock me as I traversed its ornate hallways, a lone figure burdened by the weight of a failing empire. In the prime of our reign, no one dared challenge the might of our lineage. But now, as we showed the smallest chance of weakness, our dominion faced unprecedented challenges.

My heart boiled with an impotent rage, and my mind, laden with sorrow, echoed with an unspoken lament.

"When did things start to go wrong?"

I pondered, each step through the hallowed corridors imbued with the silent cries of a once-proud dynasty.

As I entered his chamber, the once-mighty Emperor lay frail upon his bed, his vitality diminished by the cruel hand of illness.

"Do not make such a face, son,"

He uttered with a strength that defied the feebleness of his appearance.

My facial expression of numbness crumbled as I could not contain my frustration.

"It's because of them, Father. The doctors, the nobles—they're all conspiring against us. I would unleash my wrath upon them if I could...!"

His weakened hand reached for mine, a touch that transcended the physical frailty that marked his condition.

"Do not act recklessly, my child. Do not surrender to a losing battle on their terms. As one of imperial blood, you are not to bow to anyone."

His words, punctuated by a cough that spilled blood, served as both a stern directive and a poignant reminder of my impending solitude. My mother's sacrifice to birth me, my father's imminent departure—soon, I would stand alone, tasked with protecting an empire on the precipice of ruin.

The Emperor's gaze met mine, and I discerned a regal wisdom that transcended the confines of familial bonds.

"If no one stands by your side, my son, use them all as tools. Act within their expectations, wield their implicit attacks as weapons. The most dangerous lion is a wounded one, and they fear your potential for destruction. Turn their machinations against them, and in their own folly..."

His grip tightened, an unexpected surge of strength coursing through his frail hand, causing my fingers to throb with pain. In that moment, the feeble Emperor transformed into a formidable force, his words a proclamation of regal authority.

"They will meet their end."

Before I realized, I was shivering. The last vestige of a mighty monarch that could change everything with a simple snap of his hands, had never let the illness win over him. Despite teetering on the edge of mortality, he clung to the dignity of a regal lion, resolute and unyielding.

I rose, preparing to leave the chamber. Before parting, I cast a final glance toward the man who was both father and sovereign, my gaze full of respect.

"Thank you for all you've done, for this country, and for me. Though my words may not be on behalf of every heart in this empire, all the commoners recognize the greatness of their Emperor."

With those words, an unspoken resolve ignited within me.

Little did I know, it was the last exchange with my father, the final communion of a son and an Emperor before the curtain fell on an era.

--- Rin Tatsuya's POV ---

This country has no future.

Among the nobles, discontent festered like a virulent wound, and the heir, Crown Prince Kioshi Uzuru, bore the brunt of their scorn. His failure to assert dominion over the throne transformed him into a laughing stock, a puppet prince unable to even obtain the respect of his subjects.

The unclaimed imperial throne cast a long shadow over the land, a symbol of weakness and indecision.

My sentiments mirrored those of my peers. A tinge of disdain flavored my thoughts as I yearned for a leader of chivalrous mettle.

An Emperor should boldly claim the throne, compelling the nobles to submit to either his strength, or his power as an Ouzuru. Yet, the Crown Prince's feeble approach only intensified the mockery further.

Nobles grew as bold as to insult him in public settings...

No knight among us stood ready to champion the prince with fervor. Our allegiance was not for an individual but bound by loyalty to the sanctity of the Throne. 

After all, the vow we all swore was not empty words at all.

The nobles' sinister intentions were known to me, and if they dared to harm the prince, we, the defenders of the Empire, would be compelled to wield our swords with lethal resolve.

He is still his son, after all. We all fell for the late Emperor's might and want to do our best for him, even after he died...


As my blade cleaved through the air in practice, I remained ensnared in contemplation, oblivious to the silent observer beside me. Only when his voice pierced the surroundings, did I snap to attention.

"...You're not half bad."

Fear coiled within me, my reflexes urging me to strike. However, the man before me stood unperturbed, seemingly impervious to the gleaming blade poised at his neck.

In the grip of realization, my heart seized. Horror painted my expression as I recognized the object of my unwitting aggression – none other than the elusive Crown Prince himself. Hastily retracting my sword, I bowed low in a desperate apology, inwardly cursing the folly that had brought me perilously close to a royal execution.

The spirits of my ancestors, all knights loyal to the throne, would probably be rolling in their graves if they knew their descendant was about to die for such a stupid reason...

"Interesting. Why don't you and I have a duel?"

I was so sure I was about to die, his words didn't register at all as I raised my head slightly in confusion

"...I'm sorry?"

And this, is how I would soon be known as the Prince's punching bag....