Chapter 158

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“Excuse me.” Iceline strode into the room with a short greeting. She was struggling to control her nerves—regardless of her age, she hadn’t quite made the transition from girl to lady yet. “Well—”

“I want you to finish what you were saying earlier.”

Disappointment flickered across Iceline’s face, but that was all.

“You’re talking about the Mercenary King, Barbarian?” Iceline asked expressionlessly.

Joshua nodded. “Indeed.”

Iceline paused for a second.

“I think you’ve figured out something from what you’ve seen so far… Tell me what you know, first.”

“That’s simple. But I think we should talk about the Rebrecca family first, no?”

Iceline nodded after a moment. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Alright. Marquis Crombell is, ostensibly, the perpetrator of the Rebreccas’ demise and the current attacks on Duke Pontier. Then there is the Mercenary King, their hidden asset.

“Actually, I was confused when I saw you with Akshuler the first time. I couldn’t understand why he was with you. It would seem normal at first glance—mercenaries look egalitarian and free-spirited, but the truth is that no one is as hierarchical as they are.”

Anyone who had worked with the mercenaries would know. Joshua, having worked as a mercenary in his previous life, knew them better than anyone. Their hierarchy was no less rigid than the knights’. Their system of classifying people using silver and gold cards was an excellent illustration of this principle. If all they wanted to do was prove their identity, there would be no reason to divide the mercenaries into ranks.

“They may both have a diamond card, but Barbarian is the first Mercenary King. No one can deny that he’s the real head of the one million mercenaries.” Joshua glanced at Iceline, who remained silent. “And yet, Akshuler acts directly against the King. That is, to help the one and only scion of Count Rebrecca, the man the King brought down.

“You and Mr. Akshuler—as a third party, I have no idea what kind of deep relationships you have or what deals you made, but I know one thing for certain.” Joshua looked Iceline in the eyes. “If the Mercenary King and Akshuler had a good relationship, no one would have helped me so openly. Those two are literally the face of a million mercenaries. It may sound cold-hearted, but someone like Akshuler would never act on something as simple as an old relationship when it could destabilize the entire organization.”

“That’s true.” Iceline inclined her head slightly.

“The bottom line is: if those two men aren’t on good terms, there had to be some circumstances to bring them where they are today. That’s all I can guess with my rough grasp of things. If my knight had been there, I may have been able to pick up on other things, but—”

“Your knight?”

“A little feisty, but a very capable friend.” Joshua chuckled. “So, is that enough?”

“Of course. And… Thank you for telling me. It may be a little sensitive—”

“And you trusted me when you had no way out. As I said before, I understand.”

What should I say? It seemed to Iceline that this man understood peoples’ feelings too well. Even her, a normally frosty personality, felt something. If he approaches other women…

Iceline shook her head.

“Just as he thought, Akshuler hates the Mercenary King to the point of disgust.. I think it has negatively affected countless other mercenaries.”

“Disgust…” Joshua thought back to when Akshuler preached on the existence of mercenaries.

The mercenary guild was akin to the most profit-oriented merchants, in some ways. Rather than selling commodities, they exchange their manpower for compensation. Ergo, in order to remain as profitable as possible, the guild had to remain neutral—if they favored one country, what would their enemies think of the guild?

“Rumors have spread that the Mercenary King has been in the Marquis of Crombell’s pocket for many years. It’s even grown into rumors that there’s some kind of relationship with the Emperor. Speaking as an outsider, his actions are nothing more and nothing less than interfering in internal affairs no matter how you dress it. Because the reigning emperor tolerated it for so long…” Iceline clenched her fists as dark memories washed over her.

“The actions of the Mercenary King could be interpreted as that of the entire guild. As such, Akshuler judged that Barbarian’s actions were corroding the guild as a whole. He’s been building up to a confrontation for a long time… is that so?”

“Yes. That’s it.”

“Hmm…” Joshua stroked his chin thoughtfully. “So, what do you want me to do?” he eventually asked.

“Mister Akshuler is going to win the Master Battle this time and officially challenge one of the Twelve Superhumans. His target is, of course, the Mercenary King.”

“That makes perfect sense. If all goes according to plan, he takes the King’s seat and the whole situation is neatly resolved.”

“Right.” Iceline nodded.

However… Joshua had reservations, given his knowledge of history. He didn’t know anything else about the relationship between Barbarian and Akshuler, but he did know who the winner of this Master Battle would be. Assuming nothing changed…

“That’s it,” Joshua muttered.

“I’ve never seen him so nervous.”

“So at the end of the day, your request is for me to challenge the Mercenary King instead—assuming Akshuler loses.”

“That’s not it.” Iceline shook her head weakly. “Originally, I was going to ask you to stop Akshuler from taking the challenge once he wins, but… after seeing him the last few days—seeing how nervous he is—I thought that maybe winning the Battle was too much. In that case, there’s no need to worry. Regardless, whether you win or lose, I was going to say you should avoid the Mercenary King.”

“You…” Joshua stared deeply into Iceline’s eyes. “I’ve met him before, so—”

“Stop, please.” Iceline shook her head. She wore an expression of ugly anguish. “I’m begging you. I don’t want to lose the people around me anymore.” She paused, and her gaze fell on Joshua. “We’re… friends, right?”

“Friends—?” After a moment, Joshua burst out laughing. “I’ll take your advice to heart.”

Iceline’s face lit up. “Then—”

“For now.”

Iceline tilted her head.

“That’s for the day I win the Master Battle. For now, I have a fight to worry about—”

“Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you…” Iceline bowed her head.

“Now that’s the Iceline jean Rebrecca I know.” Joshua smiled brightly.

“What?” Iceline stared at him blankly.

“It’s your expression.” He lifted a finger and tapped her face. “Looks a lot better than before.”

Iceline could only keep staring.

“That was a long introduction. Shall we get down to business?”

“Business?”

“Yeah.” Joshua removed his jacket, startling Iceline.

“What are you d-doing…?” Iceline’s porcelain flushed an almost unrecognizable red, even though Joshua was wearing a shirt underneath his jacket.

“What? Didn’t you say you needed to take measurements for Laypone? I thought I should take my jacket off—”

“W-Well, you just have to stay still. I’ll take care of the rest…”

Joshua gave her a confused look but finally nodded. “Then please.”

“Right,” Iceline mumbled.

The long night of the opening match of the Master Battle wound down to an end.

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