Chapter 161

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Akshuler’s saucepan-sized fist smashed through the air with enough force to make the air hum as it passed. His bare hand struck with a metallic clang—it didn’t make sense, but it happened.

Ulabis swung his hand at Akshuler’s fist and frowned, shocked.

“Formidable indeed…” The impact had left his hands numb.

He hefted his sword and swung it at Akshuler’s left flank. There was an enormous bang, even louder than the first impact, as the crimson Aura on Ulabis’s blade met with the transparent Aura on Akshuler’s fist. Ulabis used the recoil of their clash to wheel away and laughed.

“Ludicrous. It even warps your mana.”

Akshuler smiled fiercely. “You got anything that can match it?”

One of the characteristic qualities of Abraham’s Knuckle was its ability to distort the appearance of its user’s mana, hence why Akshuler’s Aura was not as visible as Ulabis’s crimson flames.

“You gotta use your other senses to detect mana, not just your eyes. It’s not viable in the long run.”

“Is that so?”

Akshuler shot forward like a rocket, fast enough that the only way to track his direction was from his afterimage.

I can’t let him get close. Ulabis watched the distance carefully, wary of fistfighters’ ability to close in unexpectedly and strike from awkward angles. Under the circumstances, he would be best served by using his weapon’s reach to his advantage.

Ulabis caught Akshuler’s next move and decided he’d swing his sword and see how it went. He needed to figure out how his adversary thinks, and particularly how he moves. Ulabis’s blade cut neatly from left to right, forgoing elaborate sequences in favor of being able to easily dodge.

To his surprise, however, Akshuler’s hands went right around it like his sword wasn’t even there.

I’m in trouble! Ulabis yanked his head to the side just in time for Akshuler’s fist to trace a bloody line across his cheek.

“What a shame.”

“A blade gauntlet?” Ulabis grimaced. A sword protruded from the back of Akshuler’s gauntlet; it had been concealed by his aura until now. “I didn’t think someone like you was fond of pranks.”

“That’s discrimination and stereotyping at the same time. Ehh, I’ll let you off since you grew up sheltered.” Akshuler looked Ulabis straight in the eyes. “I grew up in a place where the survivors became strong, not the affluent. How pointless would it be to die on the battlefield when no one would remember you? We’re not like the knights. Mercenaries value money over honor—don’t judge us by your standards.”

“I see…” Ulabis nodded in realization. It was ridiculous to cling to concepts like honor in a life-or-death battle in the first place. Let others judge him if they wanted—he just needed to do his best. “I apologize for my imprudent remarks, and… I will pit everything I have against you.”

“Good.” Akshuler grinned. “Gambling is addicting… twice the fun, none of the sadness, whether you win or lose. I’m hoping you enjoy gambling as much as I do. You gotta loosen up, y’know? Even though you’ve got responsibilities. Let’s enjoy this fight and gamble all the way. I’d be sad if I didn’t get to experience that with you, so… let’s fight.”

Ulabis grinned back. “If it’s as exciting as you say, I want it too.” He hurled his sword into the ground. “Yan Emperor, Wolves!”

Joshua’s eyes widened as the arena was split in two.

This is… the same move he’d used on Duke Altsma.

[That’s gotta be that big fiery crimson column, right? He’s gonna have a bad time with that—Oh, it’s already steaming. If that thief-y man1 was here, it woulda been a sight to see. Isn’t that the trick he used to make him kneel?]

“There are Hubalt residents here. If you make a mistake again—”

“Yes? What was that?”

Joshua jerked and found Iceline’s blue eyes gazing at him curiously.

“Nothing.”

[Why did he send that death knight, anyways? It’s powerful, sure, but the further it is from its power source the weaker it gets.]

Lugia didn’t stop talking, despite Joshua’s silence.

[Look at this Master… he looks good, but he’s so… stupid. So stupid.]

Joshua cut the connection to Lugia just as a pillar of fire rose from the center of the colosseum.

The front rows of the audience erupted into a chorus of pained groans.

“Ugh… What incredible heat!”

“It’s too hot!”

The blue sky gradually blushed scarlet as roaring flames erupted out of the cracks in the colosseum floor like the caldera of a volcano. It was nearly impossible to see the two fighters anymore.

“Ice Protection.”

Joshua shifted as he felt a soft wave of mana and coldness wash over his body.

“I want to help, even at times like this.” Iceline realized Joshua was still looking at her and flushed. “A-Aren’t we friends?”

“Thank you.”

“It’s nothing…” Iceline looked away. She’d been having trouble making eye contact since yesterday night.

Seriously, why am I like this? Iceline let out a deep breath. What exactly was it? Everyone else was excited about the fight, but she felt rather ill.

“Subspace,” Joshua mumbled. Lugia remained silent.


With the battle between Akshuler and Ulabis in full swing, a man approached Marquis Moreland and Count Ford, seated in the Hubalt Empire’s seats on the other side of the colosseum from Joshua.

“A message from High Priest Herald.”

Count Ford ignored the irritating heat and turned to the messenger.

“Speak.”

“Sir Christian’s recuperation is impossible. The High Priest intends to inform the organizers of his withdrawal.”

“Goddammit.” Marquis Moreland heaved a sad sigh.

“This… bullshit—!” Count Ford ground his teeth together. “What a mess. Avalon and Swallow already have one Master each; even the non-imperials are acting big. Why do the knights of the great Hubalt Empire surrender without a real fight?!” He beat his chest angrily. “It doesn’t make sense! We can’t return to the Empire like this. What are we supposed to tell the Emperor? What a disgrace.”

“Um.”

“Marquis Moreland, are you really going to let it go?!”

“What do you want me to do? It’s not like we can force Sir Christian to wake up. Such is Hermes’s will.”

“Hah!” Count Ford laughed blasphemously. “We can’t keep acting like this.”

“What are you thinking, Count Ford?”

“Unless something changes, we have to find an excuse to return. The High Priest and Sir Modrian said they’d do it themselves, but His Majesty the Emperor and the other nobles would never be able to persuade them.”

“Then how…?”

Ford’s eyes lit up. “This is Sir Christian we’re talking about! They said he was poisoned by magic when he left Avalon… a hostile nation.”

“You mean… we need a scapegoat?”

“It’s not that complicated. The boy there is all we need.”

“Baron Joshua Sanders…” The Marquis shook his head. “If you act without proof, it could spiral out of control. Now that he’s grown so much, it’s out of our capabilities.”

Count Ford grinned slyly.

“Master Joshua Sanders, you’ve just made my job that much easier.”

“What?”

“I planned on investigating him more thoroughly, but… now that I’m pressed for time, I’m going with my plan as-is.”

Ford whispered something into Moreland’s ear.

The Marquis shot out of his seat. “Baseless—”

“It makes no difference whether it’s legitimate or not. People believe what they want to believe.”

“That’s true, but…”

“Don’t underestimate human envy. All we need is a little spark.”

Marquis Moreland silently struggled with his emotions, but Count Ford’s grin kept widening.

1TL/N: i think this is talking about Duke Altsma

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