Chapter 146

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Before, when Joshua was dueling Duke Altsma, a man and a woman conversed amongst the mercenaries' hectic activity.

"The residents here had everything they needed. Obviously, I entrusted the valuables to reliable people in the estate."

Iceline pulled her eyes away from vacantly staring into the sky and turned.

"Thank you, sir."

"I just did what had to be done." Akshuler shook his head. "We can leave for Rev immediately, but I wouldn't recommend it."

"I understand your concerns, but I… must know the truth."

"Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. The pursuit of truth does not always lead you where you want to go."

"It may be a difficult truth to accept, but I do not want to live in ignorance."

Akshuler could find no reply.

"I'm always thankful to you, sir. For all that you've done for me this time, I am especially grateful." Iceline bowed her head. "But as of today, I go alone. I know how perilous this place is, yet I cannot bring you to the heart of the storm. Besides, you don't have much time left, do you? For the Master Battle."

Akshuler grinned sadly. "I'm really sorry I only amount to this much."

"That's not—"

"Every time I see you, I am reminded of your father, Count Rebrecca."

Iceline realized she'd heard something similar before and hesitated. She recalled a deeply profound gaze boring into her.

Why did I think of that day?

"As you know, most aristocrats consider commoners—such as my own parents—as less than cattle. There are few true nobles, but Count Rebrecca was one of them." Akshuler raised his head confidently. "As a commoner, I can say that Count Rebrecca was a noble among nobles, and I grieved his death beyond belief.

"I owe him a debt. I would not be able to face the Count in the afterlife if I let your life fall into jeopardy. Thus, I must protect you, even if it makes you despise me."

A flicker of warmth passed through Iceline's chilly eyes.

"Thank you… Thank you so much, sir."

Akshuler offered her a kind smile.

"Regardless, Rev Castle lies along the path to Reinhardt. The undead will make a good warm-up for the Master Battle." Akshuler flexed his tree-trunk arms and smiled bitterly. "That said… my 'warm-up' might be gone by now."

"Hm?" Iceline cocked her head. "What do you mean—"

"Did you forget? Someone got there a day before we did."

"Ah…" The man lingering in her thoughts instantly came to the forefront of her mind. "Isn't this rather risky, though?" she asked with a concerned expression. "He may be a one-of-a-kind talent, but he's only fifteen—not so different from me."

"Fifteen?" Akshuler's eyes widened. "Ugh. That kid looks like he ate an ape. What's he been up to at that age? What a time to be alive. It's so absurd it makes me want to laugh." He sighed and shook his head.

Akshuler glanced at Iceline and noted the unusual concern in her eyes.

"Hmm…" Akshuler's expression became mischievous. Iceline noticed and quickly resumed her normal expression.

"Is that what you mean?"

"Not really." Akshuler shrugged. "What I'm concerned about is that if Joshua Sanders of all people has an issue with his identity, I would not be safe there either."

Iceline was astonished. Just who was Akshuler, after all? His name was one of the most prominent on the entire continent, a gifted man on the verge of becoming a Master, and not one to be easily overlooked.

But to give such a humble assessment…

"Haven't you noticed as well? You know him better than I do."

"Right." Iceline nodded as she delved into her childhood memories.

"In the end, though, that's just how the times are." Akshuler nodded as well. "A kid of that age used mana before he turned ten, then went on to be the star of the continent.

"You saw it, didn't you? You can't just wipe out an entire horde of undead in one go… especially not with three dullahans."

"...Can I ask you something?" Iceline looked concerned.

Akshuler gave her a nod.

"If you and him face each other in the Master Battle, how do you expect it to end?"

It was a rather rude question.

Akshuler had twice Joshua's years, regardless of their reputation or talent. His wealth of experience was not something easily gained. However, Akshuler's delayed response was enough to settle Iceline's mind.

"Well… We all know how excited people get about young Joshua Sanders, but I don't really see it that way. I'd have to see it personally to draw any kind of conclusion, but I couldn't say with confidence that I won't lose. Perhaps I would lose to a fifteen year old boy."

Iceline's eyes widened, breaking her normally-frosty expression.

"...That's enough of that. If you've made your choice, you'd better head straight for Rev Castle. I need to go to Reinhardt, and I'll have to move quickly."

"Ah—" Iceline scrambled to catch up to Akshuler.

***

"My eyes!" Modrian and the High Priest gasped as they were blinded by the flash of pure white light.

The significance of this light was obvious to everyone present. All of them belonged to a group called "Hubaltra". In a group as high-profile as this, education was a requirement, not a choice.

"Divine power…? No, that's madness," Herald muttered. "Is this his divine power? The H-Holy Father…?"

Bemusingly enough, there were classes even among the priests of the Hubalt Empire. A strange thing for men of God, but they were only human, after all. There were hundreds of thousands of first-, second- and third-year priests. There were also bishops, archbishops, high priests, and cardinals, but the Pope stood at the apex of them all.

Herald was a high priest—quite a lofty position—but even he only met the Holy Father a few times a year. Cardinals, despite being roughly equivalent in rank, served closely with the Holy Father.

Regardless, it was enough for him to recognize the light—The problem was, it came from a foreign knight, not even a high-ranking priest.

Suddenly, a cracking noise dragged Herald's attention away.

"T-The God—"

The light had diminished, but not enough to see clearly. Despite this, Herald's eyes were wide open.

The crystal ball cracked, sending shards in all directions.

"No, no! I can't contact the Holy Father if something goes wron—"

The High Priest's impassioned words froze in his throat.

A beam of light tore through the fading glow, landing on Joshua's back and taking concrete form: a pair of enormous wings of light that filled no less than half of the first floor. They showered the chamber with menacing sparks, a peculiar trait that the High Priest recognized.

"The archangel, Michael…!"1

  1. In Judeo-Christian tradition, Michael is usually the highest-ranking of the archangels. That may or may not be relevant, but I haven't read 147 yet. I wouldn't be surprised, though. ↩️

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