Babel and Joshua stood in a small training ground in the backyard of the Duke’s mansion. This time, Babel’s sword wasn’t wooden. His reflection shone clearly from the blade.
“This is my very own training ground, so you don’t have to worry about someone coming. Last time, we played games with those pathetic toys… I don’t think I can wield my mana properly through a piece of wood. This time, I want to fight using a real sword.” Babel shot Joshua a smug grin. The birds scattered from the trees around them, as if they could sense the danger in the air.
“If you need a sword, I can lend you one—” Joshua interrupted him with a laugh.
“You’re still crazy, Babel von Agnus. Pfft—” Babel scowled derisively at Joshua. “When I saw the look in your eyes, I thought ‘Did it happen again?’”
“What do you mean?” Babel frowned.
“Babel von Agnus… treasure of the family.” Joshua didn’t bother hiding his smirk. “You think you can fool me with that pathetic act of yours? Your desire for victory is just an illusion! All you really want is to get your filthy mitts on the Duchy.”
“You…!” Babel’s face flushed red. This insult was a disgrace to his very name!
Are you doing this for recognition? Babel thought.
You’re dog shit, Joshua thought. The Duke’s treasure and only heir; a C-Class Knight at the age of fourteen, renowned across the Empire. A person worthy of respect for just being… himself?
“No more insults will be tolerated,” Babel grunted, hefting his sword. “Take up your weapon, Joshua.”
“I don’t need any weapons.”
“For you, these fists are enough.” Joshua raised his bare hands. “Let me show you the difference between our talents.”
Babel’s face burned unbelievably red.
“Die!” Babel dashed towards Joshua. He wasted no time gathering his mana into a hazy mist around his sword.
“Haa!” This time his swing was neat and efficient, unlike the ignorant movements he used before. Elementary, but powerful.
When Joshua tilted to the side to avoid his attack, Babel calmly turned his sword towards Joshua’s side. The sword hissed through the air. But…
He disappeared? Babel couldn’t hide his bewilderment.
“Here.” Babel’s head snapped downward.
Pang! Babel’s sword rang from the impact of Joshua’s fist.
“Hngh!” Babel desperately clutched the hilt of his sword, which was rapidly becoming slick with his blood.
So much power. Cold sweat trickled down his back.
Many knights considered losing their sword in battle a fate more shameful than death. As a result, they tended to treat hand-to-hand combat as a vulgar act for lowly mercenaries.
“I can tell what you’re thinking just by looking at your expression.”
“You must have ignored the fundamentals of fistfighting, because it’s ‘just for sellswords’?” Babel flinched.
“From now on...” Joshua clenched his fists. “I will show you just how terrifying martial arts can be.”
The spear technique Joshua learned encompassed more than just the spear. It detailed various techniques to subdue the enemy using his entire body.
Joshua shot towards Babel.
“Ma-Mana?” Even in such a brief instant, Babel could see the energy in Joshua’s fists.
Mana in his bare fists! Infusing mana into the body should be exclusive to the Masters; the difficulty of simply applying mana to a medium, such as a sword, and directly to the body differed by an order of magnitude.
“Haah!” Babel desperately swung at Joshua.
The mana condensed on Joshua’s fist exploded against the tip of Babel’s sword. The training grounds shook from the detonation, louder even than the last time. Joshua had detonated his mana just before impact, doubling his effective power.
The name of this technique was “Aura Explosion”, and only Joshua could use it.
“Ugh…” Babel tumbled away, head over heels. Blood dripped from his mouth, and his sword – which he’d managed to keep his grip on – was bent at the tip.
It was as if he’d slammed his sword into a block of iron.
“Damn it.” Babel slumped.
I don’t want to admit it, but I have to: this guy is a genius. A genius incomparable to himself, who was already considered the best in the Empire.
It was then that Babel understood how vast the sky was.
“Are you upset?” Joshua’s voice rattled his exhausted body.
I know these words. Babel’s eyes widened. He’d heard the same thing from someone else not so long ago. I need to be stronger…?
While Babel mulled over those words, Joshua continued:
“Don’t forget this feeling. Don’t forget how you were beaten down by someone using their bare fists… the fists you looked down on so much.”
I want to make an excuse, but nothing comes to mind. In the end, he was the one who lost the battle.
“According to our agreement, one of your limbs was to be completely broken.”
“But because I haven’t seen a passion like that in a long time, I will let it slide this once.” Babel heaved a sigh of relief; had he won, he wouldn’t have hesitated for an instant.
“However…” Joshua approached.
“Tell me!” Babel desperately heaved himself up. The pain of defeat twisted his stomach, but he managed to look Joshua in the eyes.
“If you insult me or my mother again…”
“...I will make sure you never hold a sword again.”
For the first time in his life, proud Babel felt fear.
“You and me, right now… don’t forget how I made you kneel.” With that, Joshua walked away.
To Babel, it seemed as if Joshua’s back was larger than life.
“Damn it.” His quiet murmur echoed in the empty training hall.
One of the most secretive places in the Duchy was the Duchess’s room.
In the middle of Vanessa’s room, a glowing orb of mana crystal sat on a wooden desk.
A portable crystal ball like this one would cost incomprehensible quantities of riches. Even high-ranking nobles above the counts would struggle to acquire one. It was hardly a normal artifact, after all: these crystal orbs, developed by a Master, were worth tens of thousands of gold at a minimum – at that price, you could purchase any castle in the countryside.
As the crystal ball brightened, a human figure became visible within.
“Everything is ready.” The robed figure bowed deeply to Vaness before stepping back.
“Oh, Vanessa. It’s been a long time. Has the Duchy treated you well?”
“I am always fine.” Vanessa’s lips drew into a deep smile. “Is uncle doing well?”
“Well, Arcadia is the same as always. The same boring routine, every day.”
“That’s right.” Vanessa nodded along, but her eyes glittered with malice.
Her next words were quiet, but heavy and cold like a snowstorm.
“Uncle… I have something to ask you.”
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