Chapter 16

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Access to Duke Agnus’s training hall was restricted to a select few. One of the two men standing in front of it opened his mouth:

“You’re here,” Cain said. Joshua nodded silently in reply.

A group of people, including Duke Agnus, approached in the distance – exactly five men and two women: Duke Agnus, the two counts, and Chiffon, as well as—?

“Young Master Babel?” Cain’s eyes widened when he noticed an unexpected addition to the group, trailing behind the girls. Cain felt his stomach drop.

“You arrived first.”

“I greet the Duke.” Cain crisply made his greetings. Chiffon, however, was watching Joshua, waiting for him to fumble his greeting. Unfortunately for him, Joshua’s salute was picture perfect.

How could this boy manage such a perfect salute? Astonishment flickered through Chiffon’s eyes.

“I don’t remember teaching him etiquette, but he’s really good at it.” Duke Agnus’s eyes held a different sort of light than Chiffon.

“I just learned by watching.” Joshua stood firm and looked the Duke square in the eyes.

“Hahahaha.” Duke Agnus straightened up and asked, “Were you informed?”

Joshua nodded.

“They said you wanted to test me.”

“A test....” Duke Agnus trailed off into a fresh bout of laughter.

“Please be careful with your choice of words, Young Master.” Chiffon stepped forward, having gotten his expression under control. “You said it was a test.”

Joshua gave Chiffon a placid stare.

“It’s not a test, it’s a diagnosis. The Duke only wishes to cure the Young Master’s disability.”

“Disability?” Joshua was briefly embarrassed.

Chiffon’s slowly escalating mockery; Babel’s unexpected appearance; the “congenital mana disorder”; and Duke Agnus, who was supposed to wait a year, suddenly testing Joshua—the puzzle pieces were falling into place.

Right… Valderas den Chiffon was one of Babel’s people. In his last life, Joshua had left the Duke’s family before he reached adulthood so he didn’t know the specifics of the family’s internal circumstances. He was much better informed of events in the distant future.

“Are you ready?” Duke Agnus asked.

“Yes.” As Joshua answered, Cain took a step forward.

“Not you.” Duke Agnus slowly shook his head.

“Yes?” Cain asked blankly.

“A match between an adult and a child of less than ten years. The difference in basic strength is significant, isn’t it?”

“Ah.” Cain nodded his head in agreement. He was at something of a loss.

Wasn’t it inconvenient to raise my sword at someone who might become a master in the future? It was like all his worries had been washed away in an instant.

“We owe this to Master Babel himself: he said he would help his brother by sparring with him.”

Joshua didn’t miss the sly smile that danced across Babel’s lips for a moment.

These guys… Joshua’s eyes turned cold. Now I know for sure what these guys are thinking.

They intended to make a villain of Joshua under the guise of sparring.

If that’s what you really think… Joshua’s eyes were freezing cold. Let me show you.

Originally, Joshua hadn’t had any plans for the Duke of Agnus in mind. In spite of their fearsome reputation, the Duke of Agnus and his army would collapse in about 15 years.

A great war would take place in the next 10 years. This war would last for three years and result in the worst casualties in history. Duke Agnus would die in battle on the vast plains of Kraden.

After the war, Babel von Agnus, the Duke’s treasure, struggled to rebuild the family’s glory alone. But when the First Civil War broke out in the weakened Empire, Babel threw in with the ill-fated Second Prince. After that…

I heard the First Prince destroyed his mana hall and he became a delinquent. Joshua smiled bitterly.

At the time, Joshua was working as a wandering mercenary. Before the outbreak of the Second Civil War, the Fourth Prince, Kaiser von Britten, caught his eyes.

The reason Joshua wanted to leave the estate without regrets was that, even with his family’s support, he was confident that he would achieve his goals. It was the minimum of politeness to the family where he was born and raised.

But that was then and this is now.

In the past, Joshua used whatever he could to reach his objectives.

But on the other hand, with the Duke’s support my work here would be easier. Right, Kaiser von Britten?

“As it is sparring, you will be required to use a wooden sword rather than the longsword,” Duke Agnus said.

“I have already prepared.” Babel held up the wooden sword he had prepared in advance. Duke Agnus turned to Joshua.

“Then you—”

“This is fine.” Joshua picked up a broken push rod. For a moment, everyone was flabbergasted.

“Is he kidding? Sparring with a stick...” Charles muttered.

“Are you serious?”

“Yes,” Joshua replied to Duke Agnus without hesitation.

“Good.” Everyone but Joshua and Babel retreated from the hall.

“Babel, you already know this, but never use mana.”

“Don’t worry,” Babel said.

“I won’t need it to beat this bastard,” he muttered under his breath.

“Do you think you can scratch my sword with something as petty as that?” Babel glared at his opponent. “I think a bag of horse dung is more suitable for a worm like you… since you’ll be a mess anyways.” Babel stepped forward with a grin.

“Begin.” As the Duke’s voice boomed across the quiet hall, Babel’s smile deepened.

Just a touch of this will make your bones cry. Babel had a reason for preparing a sword in advance. This sword had an iron core beneath the wood – he was sure it would hurt more than a wooden sword. Fitting for this bastard.

“HAH!” Babel planted his feet firmly on the ground. I’ll beat you into a pulp!

Babel shot towards Joshua with a mocking smile on his lips. He hefted his sword over his head, poised to strike Joshua’s skull. Babel, the famed C-Class Knight, put all of his power into this strike.

The movement is just fast, and therefore simple. Joshua’s eyes lit up. It was an ignorant move that didn’t even consider Joshua counterattacking.

Joshua’s arm stretched out just in time.

Tak! The sound of a light strike filled the hall. Everyone’s eyes flew open.

Joshua had deflected the sword with the tip of his stick. Babel’s arms were flung into the air, leaving half his body exposed. It was a god-like, awe-inspiring move, but the concentration and alertness it needed was equally impressive.

Babel couldn’t hide his bewilderment at the sudden turnaround.

Joshua spun to the side and, using the rotational force, slammed his stick into Babel’s open side.

“Ow!” Babel grit his teeth, suppressing a moan from reaching the audience. His expression curdled as if he had been bit by a bug.

This… Joshua was disappointed. This is pure strength without mana.

The body of an untrained nine-year-old child had its limits.

If it goes like this— Joshua clenched his weapon. It was only a wooden stick, but it would allow him to fully leverage his knowledge of the spear.

Keep your distance. Hit and run using the long reach— Joshua’s meditations were interrupted.

A subtle change was taking place before his eyes—he could feel it. With a subtle vibration, mana gathered on Babel’s wooden sword. It was not fully formed, like a hazy mist, but Joshua knew better than anyone how dangerous it was. This hazy mana was exclusive to a Class-C mana user.

“Die!” Babel’s anger boiled over.

Where not only my father but Iceline and the others are watching! A single blow from a mere worm left a gaping wound in Babel’s pride.

Babel, eyes rolling wildly, ran straight at Joshua.

“This—!” Duke Agnus leapt from his seat. Count Rebrecca also started moving with a stiff expression. “STOP!”

But Duke Agnus was the one who stopped.

Another flow of mana. It was small, but a second stream of mana could be felt from the two boys.

“No way.” Duke Agnus raised his hand to prevent Count Rebrecca from moving further forward, staring straight ahead.

Mana gathered, small as a coin, but Duke Agnus and Count Rebrecca – the finest in their fields – could feel the peculiar air.

After a long moment, his gaze frozen in place, dumbfounded words spilled from Duke Agnus’s lips.

“Joshua von Agnus…” ...was where the mana gathered.

No one else but this nine-year-old boy, his own blood. Nowhere else but the tip of the stick he held.

“Oh my God…” Astonishment swept the audience.

A timeless genius, never before seen in history.

His small steps echoed quietly around him.

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