It was pitch black.
“Where am I—” Joshua stopped.
None of his words were actually coming out.
He felt like he was flying. He could pick out every detail around him, like an eagle.
Joshua had experienced something like this before—the day the Agnus duchy was razed.
As soon as he realized that, his surroundings changed. The darkness that surrounded him on all sides vanished, giving way to brilliant light.
A huge plain stretched across his vision. In its center stood a castle, proud and secure.
Joshua saw the flag waving above the ramparts and his eyes widened.
This experience was different from the last time. Watching Draxia put the duchy to the torch was like a dream. Joshua wanted to move, but he couldn’t; he wanted to look, but he couldn’t. All he could do was quietly observe as the scene was presented to him.
This time, though, was different. He could streak through the air like a spirit, allowing him to look anywhere he wanted.
And what he saw was a chrysanthemum in bloom against a red field—the distinctive banner of the Principality of Thran.
Then… Joshua looked around with a sparkle in his eyes.
There were few reasons why a castle’s gates would be fully shut, and the bright red pennant flapping beside the national flag was only flown during wartime.
I thought so.
There was a massive army positioned before the castle’s entrance. They covered the plains, with no end in sight.
That’s the army of Swallow. If that death knight was really Duke Altsma, then this memory…?
The Principality was a very young country, in contrast to the Swallow Empire; the Empire had viewed the Principality as a subordinate state—almost like a master-slave relationship—since its inception. As such, there were few actual wars between the Swallow Empire and the Principality of Thran. Joshua definitely did not remember an army of this size ever laying siege to Thran’s citadel.
The biggest incident he knew of was their campaign against Prince Ulabis; Swallow fielded 200,000 soldiers against Thran’s 50,000 and failed to breach the stronghold, losing 80,000 men in the process.
A loud shout arose from the front of the enormous army.
“Ulabis, get out here, you brat! I swear, upon my name, that I, Lord Altsma, will have my revenge! I’m going to wipe Thran off the map!” Duke Altsma hefted his gigantic, sawtooth sword.
The knights behind him jostled each other.
“Is that his famous sword?”
Some of them hurled provocations.
“You sullied the name of our Lord!”
“Are all Thranians1 cowards? Are you just gonna cower behind your walls?”
The entire countryside roiled with mockery.
A man on a horse squeezed through a gap in the gates barely large enough to fit a man through.
“Who…?” Duke Altsma furrowed his brow.
“Fiery red hair, a tiny blade half the size of a longsword—No doubt about it, he’s Ulabis, the heir of Agreta.”
“He’s just a kid!” Duke Altsma belted out a laugh and then spurred his horse forwards.
“Back off, all of you. Let me handle this.” He chuckled to himself and then snapped his reins. “Let’s go!”
The space between the two men shrank under the horses’ galloping hooves.
When there was barely ten meters between them, Duke Altsma’s smiling lips parted.
“Are you the brat named Ulabis? I am Altsma brun Edenhaits2 of the Swallow Empire.”
His red-haired opponent stared at him with his deep, burning eyes.
“You need to introduce yourself again?”
“I just wanted to make sure you knew.” Duke Altsma dismounted with a broad grin. “Besides, wouldn’t it just be cruel if you didn’t know the name of the man who sent you to the afterlife?”
“The thing is,” Ulabis said softly, “you like to run your mouth, before and after the battle.”
“Bastard.” Duke Altsma grinned brightly and sprinted towards Ulabis, swinging his enormous sword. The blade was as long as he was tall, but quite narrow; it allowed him to both rip through flesh and stab, bringing him all the benefits of a two-handed sword and a one-handed sword.
Weapons like these were known as bastard swords.
The entire blade was crimson as if it were made of fire.
Duke Altsma’s eyebrows twitched. Ulabis maintained his stance in the face of Altsma’s attack, seemingly unaffected.
“You fool, breaking through made you overconfident.” Duke Altsma’s sword was raised towards Ulabis, shaking with ferocious mana. His Aura Blade was on full display. “Even if you broke though, I’ll show you that not every A-Class is created equal. The title of ‘Master’ is not a joke!”
“I’m looking forward to it.” Brilliant crimson flames burst forth from Ulabis’s blade, a raging and all-consuming inferno—yet there was something unshakeable about that mana.
Duke Altsma’s eyes brightened as he saw the Aura Blade.
“I’d like to see a bug like you block this.” Duke Altsma grinned savagely. “I’ll annihilate everything you fight for, along with the fortress behind you.”
He pointed his blade at the earth, dragging it along the ground. The shower of sparks was identical to what Joshua had seen the death knight’s sword produce. Duke Altsma was about to unleash the “Wolf’s Cry” once more.
Ulabis gently lifted his delicate red blade. Even in front of Duke Altsma, who had been a Master for almost a decade, there was not a hint of anxiety in Ulabis’s expression.
“Flame Emperor, wolves,” Ulabis whispered.
Ulabis’s swordsmanship was inspired by the place where he discovered the Primordial Stone, Magma. His mana caused the ground in front of him to fracture like an earthquake, and crimson lava gushed out of the fissures.
Heaven and earth were consumed by that dreadful blaze as the two warriors met.
A boom rent the skies, sending a cloud of dense smoke in all directions.
Whoa. Joshua let out a gasp. This was the first time he personally witnessed Ulabis’s power.
The smoke slowly cleared, but the scene it revealed was exactly the opposite of what Joshua expected.
The scene changed.
Duke Altsma awakened and howled with rage.
A crowd of nobility mocked and reviled him.
He was derived of the status of Master.
This is…? Joshua frowned, perplexed.
Duke Altsma lay in a room of about 20 square meters, covered in bandages and burns of varying sizes. In front of him stood a middle-aged man that resembled Emperor Verona, albeit more rugged.
Duke Altsma was screaming at him.
“Why would you do this? How can you—! Is it the throne you want? Why didn’t you try taking it, then? One of the Nine Stars should be able to do it.
“No, if you had shown even a trace of ambition for the throne, I would have readily followed you instead of your younger brother. Why are you here now?”
“Well… I’m getting more capricious as I age,” the other man said with his deep voice.
“I have no particular desire to become Emperor, it’s just that the world is so dull and monotonous right now. At my age, everything feels the same. We need a change.”
The man drew a knife from his sleeves.
“You crazy— What are you—?” Duke Altsma tried to force his damaged body up, but he found the knife buried in his heart.
“Just be silent.” The man twisted the knife around. “You’re going to die.”
“Urgh…” Altsma’s eyes gradually dimmed, and his body eventually fell slack.
That was where the Duke’s memories ended.
An astonishing conclusion, but Joshua’s vision didn’t end there. Just like when he saw the duchy ablaze, the memory continued for a little while after death.
Two men entered the room.
These two… Joshua’s eyes were taken with a bloody rage.
“You’ve worked hard, Father.” One of them, a man with green hair and eyes, bent his head. “I’ll talk to Lucifer.” He turned to the last man, who was shrouded in a black cloak. “Now it’s time to create that monster. With the soul of a knight who has dedicated himself to evil, it ought to be easy.”
The robed man bowed without speaking. When straightened back up, his face was exposed.
Joshua’s eyes bulged with surprise.
Swallow was in the throes of a violent power struggle, just as Avalon was.
Nevertheless, everyone in the room was linked to the Imperial family of Swallow.
Then the pattern at the basement entrance—
A brilliant white light swallowed Joshua.
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