Duke Agnus stared at Joshua.
“I will ask again: who are you, really?”
“Joshua… Joshua von Agnus.”
Duke Agnus looked deeply into his eyes with a gaze that seemed to pierce his very soul. Joshua didn’t avert his gaze.
“A lot of things have changed since I last saw you,” he finally said.
“Because a lot of time has passed.”
Duke Agnus could only smile bitterly.
“Do you resent me?”
“I do not.” Joshua answered without hesitation, to the Duke’s surprise. “You expect nothing from anyone because you are watching the Imperial family.”
Duke Agnus visibly trembled.
“But…” Joshua’s voice was low and sombre. “But I have a request.”
“A request.” Duke Agnus’s eyes lit up. “I won’t say I’m sorry. Because in this place, might is right—If you become stronger than me… Then, I will apologize.”
An apology? I don’t want such pleasantries. In a world of savagery and cruelty, apologies were the privilege of apex predators. Anyone without strength would just be eaten.
“The reason you called me here must be because you saw some potential in me. The Duke is someone who reaches out to the talented, regardless of their origins.”
“...I won’t deny it.” The Duke eyed him questioningly.
“You need to take me to the capital,” he said quietly. Again, surprise flashed through Duke Agnus’s eyes. The Duke waited for Joshua to elaborate, but no explanation was forthcoming.
“Why?” he asked.
“There are two reasons.”
“Two?” Duke Agnus leaned forward with genuine curiosity.
“Firstly, it is your responsibility as the head of the family to keep the family in order.” Seeing Duke Agnus’s silence, Joshua continued. “Everyone here never doubted that you would be succeeded by Babel von Agnus. But suddenly, I appeared. Normally, you wouldn’t even worry about someone who was ignored and despised for being a bastard.”
Now, Joshua’s gaze sharpened.
“It would be a different story if that boy had the skills to overcome the successor. The impoverished are slow to change their circumstances… yet here comes untold power. Anyone would be shaken.”
“It sounds like you have that kind of power,” Duke Agnus muttered.
“At least…” Joshua ventured. “I think it will be enough not to disappoint the Duke.”
The Duke’s lips curled upwards, ever so slightly. His eyes belied joy, a little anticipation… and a little regret.
If I had raised him properly from the beginning… Duke Agnus swallowed his disappointment. It wasn’t too late. Joshua was already a C-Class mana user at the age of nine. Just the fact that this unprecedented talent was here would make the Agnus name renowned throughout the continent.
“What is the second reason?”
“Second is… The Duke’s personal greed for talent.”
The Duke stared down at him.
“If I achieve a level beyond even the Duke, your power will rise again. Maybe to the point where you don’t need to watch out for the Imperial family.”
“Hoooh.” After a while, Duke Agnus let out a low chuckle.
It was a masterpiece.
I thought he only had skills, but it turns out he also has guts. His firstborn had talent that drew the envy of the entire Empire, but his mindset was lacking. But the progeny standing before him was perfect.
Did this little boy really turn nine this year?
“Okay. If you say so.” Duke Agnus was taut with anticipation. “I have a card that can solve both at once… Do you know what I know?”
“Of course.” Joshua’s immediate reply made the Duke’s eyes light up.
“You’re thinking of sending me to the academy in the capital.”
That’s right. But those two reasons aside, I also wanted to monitor him from nearby.
“It’s incredible—You know what I’m going to say before I say it. I’m at a loss for words.”
The children of nobles in the Avalon Empire are obliged to attend the academy from the age of ten to fifteen – a period of six years. That said, with the right skills you could graduate early.
Why did the Imperial family establish such an academy?
The official reason was that their unique curriculum would foster outstanding talent, but only a fool would believe that. The Imperial family was holding the nobles’ children hostage, binding the most talented children to the Imperial family.
“Babel has to leave the family next year, so it’s not bad for you to stay up here…”
For similar reasons, noble children are required to travel the world for three years upon their sixteenth birthday. Nobles have few opportunities to experience the world at large, particularly if they’re not called to war. However, most children would just take up residence with a suitable family and play around for three years.
“I think it would be best if you came to the capital along with me.” Duke Agnus smiled bitterly. “If you’re nearby, I can see you in person from time to time.”
What an incredible statement. A Master, of which there were only five in the Empire, and one of the Nine Stars, was saying he would personally teach him the sword. This opportunity couldn’t be bought, no matter how much you offered…
“I’m fine.” Joshua shook his head resolutely.
“Fine?” Duke Agnus asked blankly.
“The Duke is a master of the great sword. But I…” Joshua held out his hands. “I intend to take up the spear.”
“Spear?” Duke Agnus frowned.
I wondered if it was possible to win a spar using a stick… He never dreamed of such a thing. Nevertheless, the perception of the spear in Igrant was the worst.
A crude weapon for untrained conscripts, nothing more and nothing less.
Not a single spear-wielder stood in the vaunted ranks of the masters. Therefore, when Joshua beat back Babel with his stick, Duke Agnus firmly believed it was simply the result of Joshua’s sophisticated understanding of mana.
“You don’t understand.” Hackles raised, Duke Agnus reached out and clutched Joshua’s head. “Will you really use a spear?”
His oppressive energy made it difficult to even open his mouth, but Joshua refused to back down. His boundless pride for the spear was more than a match for the Duke.
“My…” Blood dripped from between his lips.
“My spear will topple anything that stands in my way. Even…”
Joshua locked eyes with Duke Agnus.
“...Even one of the Nine Stars.”
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