Joshua stopped as he was walking down the road leading away from the Knights’ headquarters. A man, over two meters tall, was planted squarely in the middle of the road.
“I heard you’re leaving, Captain.”
Joshua smiled faintly as Viper approached.
“I didn’t expect the rumors to spread so quickly. That look doesn’t suit your size, Viper.”
“Talking with you is pointless.” Viper closed in, blocking out the sun with his enormous frame.
Joshua’s smile widened when he realized what Viper was doing.
“I don’t need shade.”
“Why do you want to leave?”
When he saw Viper’s expression, Joshua couldn't bring himself to reply.
“You… can’t even answer?”
Viper bit his lip. “Can you answer this? Did you even think of us as your subordinates? Me… the 11th and 12th Battalions… I want to know what the Captain is thinking.”
It would be a lie if I said I didn’t feel anything.
The longer Joshua remained silent, the more Viper’s expression twisted. He admired Joshua, regardless of his age, and had truly considered Joshua his captain for the past five years. But… he was leaving now. And he hadn’t even planned to tell them. Did it mean nothing to him?
“I… I never considered the 11th and 12th Battalions, including you, my subordinates.”
“Ah…” It felt to Viper like the sky was falling. Everything he believed in came crashing down.
“Yeah, not subordinates… Not even comrades, nor colleagues… This position was only created to improve the Knights’ survivability, wasn’t it?”
His words were somehow familiar.
“Captain…” Viper’s eyelashes trembled, threatening to flood with tears.
“If you asked me if you were my people, I would have said yes without hesitation. My people. My precious companions.”
Viper dropped to his knees.
“The Captain I know wouldn’t leave without a reason. It must be so confidential it might end up harming us.”
“That’s an interesting guess… but it’s more of a personal thing.”
“Right. But if we said we’d follow the Captain to help with his personal matters, you’d stop us, right?” Viper smiled. “The Captain was faithful to his promise; you said you’d make us the strongest, and that we’d never have to bow to anyone. No one challenged us for the top since you took over—at least, not voluntarily—because everyone admires you.”
“I’m extremely grateful for the past five years.” Viper stood and saluted, fists against his chest. “I don’t know what the others will think, but you will always be my Captain.1 I’ll wait for you, Commander, so please… will you return?”
“This cow is pretending to be cool again.”
“Ca-Cazes?” Viper turned around, perplexed.
“Right. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t say anything; you’re just being arrogant.”
Cazes had purple hair and deep eyes, while Ranger had a white lion’s mane of hair. These two came up to Viper’s flanks, like his very own knights.
“We heard everything, Captain. If this yangban2(https://namu.wiki/w/%EA%B3%84%EA%B8%89), it is not a definite class like aristocrats. However, there was such a privilege their descendants would not become slaves.
Editor: I sure as hell don’t know a better word for it.] is going to put on airs, we figured we’d give it a shot too.”
“The 11th and 12th Battalions agree with Viper. We stand by you, Captain. Not as your subordinates, but as your people.”
“Thank you.” Joshua’s lips curled into a smile.
“I’m not going to call it the last time, but—” Ranger, captain of the 11th Battalion, drew his sword. “To our once, future, and eternal Captain, Baron Joshua Sanders, the most brilliant in all of history! Salute!”
The other two drew their blades, saluting Joshua as well.
The Imperial Palace was decorated with a long, seemingly endless red carpet. Beautiful chandeliers embroidered the chamber with their light, and a magnificent throne lay at the end of it.
Of course, only one person could sit in it. Avalon’s cruelest tyrant and the first person in history to achieve the vaunted rank of Master. A man who wore a frightening smile on his lips at all times.
Emperor Marcus von Britten, current monarch of the Avalon Empire.
For the first time in a long time, the court was filled with people. No noble lied outside of his sight right now; not the twelve marquises of the Twelve Families, not the Dukes. Every single one blessed the court with their presence.
“I can’t even begin to say this… but our Empire, the kingdom of knights, has no participants in the Master Battle. Not one.” Marcus stared at the middle-aged man with the deep blue hair in the front row.
The courtroom was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
“Y-your Majesty, I heard that the extra captain will take part—”
“That’s a story I purposefully spread to other countries, and it’s not final yet.”
“Then…” The nobleman flapped his lips dumbly.
“Don’t tell me you’re so complacent as to believe this era of peace will last forever?” Emperor Marcus smiled shiftily. “The only reason there is no war now is that the three great powers are in perfect balance. But what do you think will happen if one side becomes stronger and the balance is broken?
“It hurts to say, but the continent will be stained with blood. The weak will be devoured by the strong… And why? Because that’s the rule of the world. At this rate—” He paused, the corners of his mouth rising. “At times of peace like this, when war is absent, how can the people of the continent evaluate our power?”
The Emperor turned to the side, towards a middle-aged, mustachioed and bearded man with his long hair tied back. He was a knight of Avalon through and through.
Duke Jegar dun Reiye stepped forward.
“The great men of our Empire will lift our flag over the entire continent. That’s what I think, Your Majesty.”
“Right… fame is still the standard.” Emperor Marcus smiled contentedly. “Regardless of actual power, the proportion of Masters in a battle is large. Even after ten years, if this side has five Masters, and that side has ten, it’s obvious who will win. So you have to show your hand to the other countries a little—and Reinhardt is the best place to do it.
“And yet, not a single person wants to participate. Can you guarantee there will be no more wars?”
Jegar, knowing exactly what the Emperor wanted, spoke slowly.
“War is… I believe it always comes unannounced, Your Majesty.”
“Right… So. What are your thoughts, Aden?”
The nobles shuffled nervously. If Emperor Marcus was a hardliner, Duke Agnus, the strongest of the nobles, was a moderate. In fact, Duke Agnus was a “breakwater” for the Emperor, who was ready to kick off a war at any time.
Duke Agnus slowly opened his mouth.
“I will take part in the Master Battle.”
The crowd was wide-eyed as the voice pushed its way through the open door. Emperor Marcus himself cast a perplexed glance at the young man entering the court.
Duke Agnus was startled to find that the man was strikingly similar to himself.
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