Duke Agnus and Count Rebrecca stood still and just watched. They couldn't believe it.
What is this? their eyes seemed to ask.
But Babel, filled with jealousy, struck at Joshua with all his hatred. His eyes were cold and unforgiving, and filled with all the power the young successor could muster.
“HAH!” With his sword held high, he cut diagonally across Joshua's body. However, Joshua read the attack and deliberately stepped closer, lowering his body to avoid the attack. From this defensive move, one might say Babel had the upper hand—but sometimes, being too aggressive would leave you defenseless.
Every muscle in Joshua's body exploded into motion. His stick, which he’d held carelessly, lunged at Babel.
Babel's eyes widened—it was too fast!
One of the sword's greatest strengths is its speed; a weapon as long as a spear, like Joshua's stick, could not hope to compete. However, despite raising his sword first, Babel's sword lagged behind Joshua's rod.
Rather than the usual clatter when two wooden weapons collide, the hall was instead rattled by an explosion.
Mana and mana.
A collision of Joshua's mana, no bigger than a coin but condensed to its limit, against Babel's hazy mana.
Everyone watching was astonished; what happened defied all of their expectations. Unlike Joshua, who took a single step back, Babel stumbled backwards three entire steps.
“Keugh!” Babel, stomach churning, let out a harsh cough. He couldn't believe what was happening. He was indeed… losing.
Is it really mana?
This unwanted bastard?
Trash born from peasant blood?
Moreover, mana – the end-all, be-all of weaponry in the Empire – wielded by someone younger than him?
“Don't make me laugh!” he shouted. Teeth grinding, Babel breathed more and more mana into his sword. His hazy mana began to take on a vivid color.
That's not real mana! I don't know what kind of trick he pulled… Unlike him, who cloaked his entire sword in mana, the scum in front of him had a tiny mote of mana on the tip of his stick. Surely there couldn't be any mana in that.
It's just a coincidence! This time I’ll prove… Babel bunched up his legs—he was preparing to attack Joshua again.
“Stop!” Duke Agnus's mana-infused roar shook the walls of the gymnasium.
“Ugh.” Joshua and Babel, who were close to the Duke, clutched their ears. Count Rebrecca, standing right next to him, was no different. The boys came to their senses and turned to find the source of the sound: Duke Agnus…
“You had to stop,” he murmured, and looked back. “Chiffon, isn't this enough?”
Chiffon was shaken from his astonishment by Duke Agnus's question.
“Do you still think Joshua has a congenital mana disorder?”
That—” Chiffon licked his lips and glanced to the side. There stood Joshua, silently gripping his stick. Chiffon bowed his head briefly to Duke Agnus, hesitantly saying:
“But Duke, that mana—”
“Clearly, it was mana alright.” Count Rebrecca interrupted. “Young Master Joshua's mana was not normal mana at all. In terms of quantity, it was incomparable to Young master Babel. But the concentration…” Count Rebrecca swallowed hard.
The audience wore mixed expressions.
“Mmm… Then you're really a mana user—a C-Class Knight?”
Charles, mouth agape, bounced out of her seat.
Iceline's normally expressionless face hinted at her agitation.
“Also…” Cain smiled, muttering so softly that only he could hear. His eyes were not wrong. I thought that this little boy might one day him, this boundless colossus. 1
“Mana at the age of nine.” Though quiet, Duke Agnus's voice was heard clearly. An obvious smile graced his lips. “How amusing.”
Sparing one last glance at Joshua, Duke Agnus turned away.
“Duke…?” Chiffon muttered blankly at Duke Agnus's back.
“Don't talk about it anymore.” 2
Chiffon immediately shut his mouth and followed. He knew better than anyone how to act when Duke Agnus's voice oozed with such a sense of intimidation. His master, Duke Aden von Agnus, was infinitely kind in front of his trustworthy subordinates, but would never show mercy to someone who crossed the line – no matter how talented.
“Thank you for today.”
“It's nothing,” Count Rebrecca answered quietly, shaking his head.
“Just go back. And—” Duke Agnus glanced behind him. “Babel.”
“You follow me.”
“Yes,” Babel answered weakly.
“Finally…” Duke Agnus paused for a moment. Joshua, receiving the Duke's attention, straightened. “Come to my room tonight.” 3
Chiffon and Babel were shaken—Duke Agnus had never invited anyone to his room until now. The Duke spent most of the day in his office. To his family, Duke Agnus's room was nothing more than a secret space.
“All right,” Joshua answered in a quiet voice.
Duke Agnus smiled with satisfaction and walked away.
Babel, who had been staring at Joshua for a long time, the two Counts, who were lost in thought, Charles, who was busy examining Joshua's face, and Iceline, whose face was once again expressionless, followed after Duke Agnus.
“I want my master to be someone strong.” With only the two of them left, Cain quietly spoke up. “Actually, as a knight sworn to lay down his life to protect his master, this is an absurd idea…”
“For ten years, I grew up watching the back of Duke Agnus… I hope the master I serve will be stronger than the Grand Duke. If the master suddenly becomes weak, it's hard to judge the future of the Estate.” Cain bowed with a before unseen respect. “I wish you all the best, Young Master.”
Shortly after Count Cox von Wagen and Charles returned to their room…
“Cox, that's great! This is awesome!”
“Princess, please calm down!” Watching Charles run around in excitement, Cox broke out in a cold sweat.
“A mana user at the age of nine! Does this make sense? Uncle and Babel were in their mid-teens!”
“Hah… Princess, I’m surprised too… but please don't get too excited.”
“There's been a change in plans…” Charles continued without listening to Cox. “He is a bastard in my mind, yes… but with that kind of talent, it's a very different story!”
Why do bad omens always come true?
Cox nervously awaited his master's next words.
“Shouldn't he be back in the mansion by now?” Charles, who was rolling around on the bed, bounced back to a sitting posture.
“Princess, please?” Cox frowned anxiously.
“Cox, relax!” With this beauty and prestige, how do you think I got this far?”
“Princess!” Cox screamed at Charles's disappearing back.
Cox slumped as he stared at the tightly shut door.
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