9 Rusted Blade

Chapter 9

As the promised 3 months came to an end, the survivors were shepherded into another part of the floating ship. A part where none of us has seen before.

The same elderly woman came before us as she beckoned us closer.

"Congratulations on surviving. You will now begin the second and final portion of the Princess of Jahad selection" She gestured to the black door behind her. "All of you will enter through this door. Once this door closes behind you…it will not open until the princess is chosen."

She counted us as I did the same. 33 survivors…that meant 67 of us died in just 3 months.

"The rules are quite simple. You are not allowed to attack each other during meal times and designated sleeping periods. You are not allowed to eat or use other candidates' food, rooms, or their facilities as they are, obviously, served based on your rank. Finally, you must not attack or harm the servants or workers."

A girl, no memory of mine recognized her, asked the woman.

"What happens if we break the rules?"

"The offender will immediately lose your right to become a princess and be disqualified. Any offenders will be taken and placed into the single quarantine areas where they will wait out the selection alone."

The answer was something most members were hoping for. An answer of mercy and hope of survival. Looking across the faces of much of the competitors, especially the lower ranked, it seemed as if they planned on attacking the workers the moment they entered the second part of the exam.

"And what other rules are there?"

"There are none. You may try and break out but the walls were created by the Workshop so it will be impossible for you."

"How is the princess chosen?"

"All of you must agree upon a single princess. Any and all methods are acceptable."

False hope.

False hope as in some might hope to talk out the others and vote on a single candidate. False hope as in that there would be no betrayals, that everyone wanted peace…that all of us came to this hell in hopes of becoming the princess and all of us would be kind enough to lay down our swords and accept words? In the Tower? How ridiculous.

"You may enter. May your swords cut clean"

Feeling the comforting weight of the blade on my back, I walked in first through the dark door and hallway. I could see the bright light at the end of the hall but in truth I preferred that it would stay this dark. At least in the darkness I wouldn't see the blood I would spill.

… …

3rd person pov

Discrimination. Bias. Inequality.

Those three words were what came to mind when looking at the table that she was feasting on. Or rather where everybody dined at.

As the highest ranked among the candidates, she had everything at her disposal. A waiter took her order and attendants attended to her needs. The food served was nothing less of magnificent, especially the carbonara. Steel Eel Carbonara, Moray Eel Carbonara, Pork fat carbonara, original carbonara. It truly must be heaven sent chef working behind the scenes to create masterpiece after masterpiece.

Mother forbid me from drinking wine but it seemed nobody cared here. Wonderful drinks of all kinds were served, even those she's never seen before. What was this Coca Cola and why has she never tasted it before until now? Sparkling Wine was a novelty…she would buy it all if she could.

Yet from the corner of her eyes she saw the different meals others were having. To her side where the current rank 2nd was also eating lavishly…but noticeably less than herself. The trend continued as the quality and often times quantity of the meal and service decreased down the long table. Meals became meal, watery soup replaced sauce on the highest of meats as at the very end…

I knew her. The same girl who had carried me from death's door to my room to receive the proper treatment. Where she sat, she had only a wooden plate and cup in front of her. On her stool, she sat hunched away from the table holding a rather familiar black bread. Nearly rotten, hard, inedible piece of carbs.

She met my eye and looked back down at her plate. Her now empty plate and she knew she wouldn't be getting any more. As our eyes met a second time, she eyes were filled with…a different sense of determination. Not of winning or enduring but rather survival. And ironically her chance of surviving laid best at 'giving up'.

A clatter of the stool. A shout. The shine of a blade being drawn. Blood, shock, and screaming.

It was over in a moment as the girl was happily lead away by the workers leaving behind yet another dead member of the family. Perhaps used to the blood, the killing, the lack of emotion and sympathy, I gave back my new plate of carbonara where a single red drop landed.

"Another one my lady?"

I nodded. One could never have enough of Crystal Eel Carbonara. My compliments to the chef.

… …

1st person pov

The meal ended as the servants announced the time and began to clear away the plates. Having ate my fill, I put down my fork and took one last drink of the beautiful secco as I put down the crystal glass.

Standing up, pushing back the chair, I looked up at all those who were around the table. Tension filling the room as for the first time, chaos was about to ensue. Everyone knew it. They had to have expected it.

"Last chance. Attack the workers" My soft voice carries weight across the long table as at the other end of the furniture, two lash out at the attendant before they turn themselves in and taken away. Taken away to safety, safety the others aren't guaranteed.

We stand in silence as the last of the workers leave the room before I make the first slash. It finds its prey as it cuts clean through the shoulder and out the side of the girl who was eating next to me before changing targets.

My blade is blocked and I see the chaos running free in the dining room. Already, half the competitors had made a run for it through the various hallways, hoping to stay away from the madness and wait it out. Others were locked in combat while the group in front of me…

5, only 5 of them. 6 including this one

A form of temporary alliance had them swinging their blades at me while completely ignoring the girl who had locked mine. Using a burst of strength, I break it out of the lock before grabbing her with my free hand and throwing her (with shinsu body reinforcement) at the others.

Directly following the throw, I stab through the body instantly killing two of them.

4 left.

3 blades come simultaneously from around me as I dodge under the first two and parry the third.

"Now! Lock her!"

The blade is twisted as the other two come in place forming a triangle lock around mine. I analyze their blades as I see that…it wasn't masterclass craftsmanship.

I didn't have the luxury as I saw a fourth blade emerge from my blindspot and almost manage to skewer me.

Pandora's Curse; Lyssa-Reflection

My left eye pulsed in pain and power as the coming blade was repulsed away in the opposite direction. I wasn't able to see anything but the sound of knife through flesh told me enough.

Most importantly…

I'm not blind…! It doesn't hurt like that anymore either! No blood flowing out?

My sight was a mere shade darker that what it would usually be. No pain other than when I had first activated the ability…and thankfully the crimson liquid seemed to be content with not flowing out of my sensory organ once again.

Having almost been turned into a skewer, I didn't feel the need to apologize as I made my counter lock. Stabbing my blade up through the lock I brought up the guard around to the fragile area of their blades.

"Wait, she's going to—"

Arie Style- Close Range Lock Breaker

Their blades shatter against mine as the shards fly everywhere. Using strengthening I endure the falling shards as I make use of the chaos and swipe left and right. It was done in blindness but the raw proximity of the three was more than enough.

As the last of the shards hit the ground, there were four more bodies on the ground as well. Three dead from deep gashes that reached places they shouldn't have and one barely alive…holding onto her own blade which had gone through her.

"Please…please…I'll surrender. I'll—" A small cut on her neck silenced her as it drew more of the red around her.

Looking around the dining room, it had become a scene of slaughter and death…quite fitting for a process choosing a monster to climb the tower. Anyone who climbs the tower would eventually find their hands dyed in red…it was simply the fact that becoming a princess simply got one used to the process beforehand.

I wiped the blood on my blade using a napkin that had miraculously stayed clean as I turned my head to other targets.

33 entered this test. 1 would be leaving.

… …

It took 5 days to catch all those who didn't surrender but it was done…it was finally done.

Those who refused to give up had either tried to fight her directly or run. Run as long as they can and make the best use of the 'safe zones' and 'safe times' where no one was allowed to attack each other.

Still, it was all useless in the end. Those who fought me were dispatched with ease while the ones who ran…they lived for a little longer. The smarter ones simply surrendered themselves to quarantine after seeing that there was little hope if any at all.

33 entered the test. 12 surrendered. 20 died. 1 survived. I survived.

All alone at the large dining table as I finished my meal, the door opened from the far side as I sensed someone walking down the hallway. As I wiped my lips and cleansed my mouth with a sip from that beautiful secco, I saw the familiar figure walk in.

"As I expected, you are the winner." The elderly woman looked around at the blood-splattered room. While all but one body was taken away, the smell of iron, rust, and blood was still strong.

"I did not win anything. I merely survived while the others died." I gestured to my sword which was still dripping the blood from its latest and last victim. "Choosing a princess could mean all of us could have agreed upon a single candidate. Yet, we all knew that was impossible. This was the only way they would understand." I said with a tone of finality.

"A sword through their stomach?"

"And their hearts too if it's not enough."

"Very well. Regardless of what method, you have been chosen as the princess candidate of Jahad of the Arie family.. The Selection is over…I wish you the best of luck"

Timeskip 1 year

The selections were finished. She was chosen. The main family's reaction to her victory was one of both pride and acceptance.

"It's only natural that the main family…" "The direct descendants…" and so on. Their only surprise and sadness came from the loss of Victoria but in front of the chance of getting a princess after hundreds (nearly a thousand) of years, her loss was accepted as a cheap price to pay. In the end, it was only Victoria's parents that weeped for the loss…as well as the dozens of families who've lost their daughters in the tournament.

For months on end her training increased to never-before-seen levels as the family poured their resources into her. Her talent and potential, once tested, soared through the roof and sky as they pampered her even further. It didn't help with keeping her self esteem in check.

It was the day of learning to control shinsu externally that she hesitated. Learning to manipulate and fight with shinsu outside her body would be a great addition to her force but…but…

It had to do with age and her physical appearance.

In the residential areas far from the center of the tower, most residents lived around 200-300 years. None of them would ever learn to manipulate shinsu and half of them would not even know of its existence.

Regulars in the tower who gave up their quest and returned would live anywhere between 500-1000 years while rankers would live over a thousand years. This depended mostly on their environment (shinsu density) and their ability to manipulate shinsu.

Not to mention High-Rankers of whom most found a way of semi-immortality of never aging and the 10 Families and King Jahad who literally achieved Immortality and near invincibility.

Basically, age was just a number. There were rankers who looked like children who lived for hundreds of years while in the residential areas elderly men at the end of their lives barely passed their 100th year; because of this, people were treated based on their physical appearance. No matter your age, if you looked like a child…then you were a child.

As a child of the Arie family, she had already learned the basics and intermediate arts of shinsu body reinforcement and putting it together with the sword. Her aging process had already slowed down to a crawl; still, she made do with much of the special foods that the family gave her.

Learning to manipulate external shinsu. To learn to create rooms (baangs) would guarantee her staying at her age for hundreds of years. She would stay…short.

"Youth is a blessing" her instructor told her. "It's why Wave Controllers often live the longest. Even the Ancients are still with us for that very reason"

It seemed her worries were useless. She was already chosen to become a princess; to receive his blood.

"The blood of the King will soon flow through you. Within 500 years you will reach the optimal age before ceasing to age forever."

She took his word…and from her palms a small white light shined, creating her first attempt at a room.

… …

POV Arie Aria, mother of Arie Pandora

She was not the first wife of the White Oar, nor the second, nor the third. Compared to the others who earned the love and respect of the Great Warrior, she felt like a whore who had simply caught his eye one day.

She was not a High Ranker. She did not have a strong bloodline. She has never held a blade like he did…she knew this. To make matters worse, it seemed as if she was too weak to carry his child. He embraced her on multiple occasions but she has never been able to give him a child.

It was painful when she heard that he had a new wife…someone who was far more talented and worthy of the position than she would ever be. Then another…and another through the ages.

It was thousands of years when she was called to his chamber once again…and this time she birthed a miracle. A child…her child. Her little princess was born into this world.

She was inseparable from her child. Being with her every waking moment and every second asleep. She watched and took care of her little child with all her love, all she was. It didn't matter who she would grow to be…Pandora was her child and that was all that mattered.

In secret she hoped that Pandora would grow weak enough that she would never be chosen to enter the tower; that she would stay by her side forever…but fate was cruel and since the moment of her birth, Pandora showed signs of talent; talent that far exceeded anything that the family had seen thus far.

The moment Pandora picked up her blade, her training began to become the loyal killing-machine that the Main Family elders wanted her to be. Unfortunately, Pandora simply broke all of their expectations as she continuously outstripped her peers, instructors, without any time for her proper education as they said.

She…she was content. As long as Pandora came home unharmed and safe. As long as they could still have their baths together and sleep. As long as she could make Pandora her favorite lunch (Carbonara) and dinner (also Carbonara), hug her, kiss her, protect her…cherish her like the miracle she was.

Due to Pandora's lack of words, expression, and oftentimes reaction in general she knew what the others thought of her little baby. Heartless. Cold. Cruel. It hurt her to know that others thought of her greatest treasure like that…but only she knew the truth about little Pandora.

Her baby wasn't heartless, she wasn't cold or cruel. She was just…extremely shy. She simply didn't know how to respond to people's words and when she did…it just happened naturally that she would only respond the way the family taught her. Ones which were composed of 'Arie supremacy' or 'direct bloodline' but most of the time her shyness which was mistaken as 'silent treatment' did not earn her many friends.

Still, all of that didn't matter. It was at home, and only at home where Pandora smiled. Her straight lips would curl up the slightest bit as she expressed her content and joy, her satisfaction and love of where she was. As a mother, that was all that mattered. There was no need for superior swordsmanship, superior blood, and even anyone else.

Only her daughter's happiness mattered and if she was happy where they were…then she prayed that god would never take her away.

She had hoped that her daughter would surrender during the Princess Candidate selection process…but she emerged as the chosen one.

god…god is cruel. Her beautiful and loving child was taken away into that dangerous place. Jahad Princess Selection. Soon she would be taken away yet again as she fought against the other families as well…to choose the Princess of Jahad.

Weeping, sobbing, but respecting the decision her little doll has made, she would wait…she would wait. Wait until she returns. Even if she dies she would wait. She would wait and hope she returns as that was all she could do.

(Princess Arc Over)

(I really should include the other families fighting but I think it dragged on for too long. It's time to finish up the arc and begin climbing)

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