Chapter 30

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Everyone was gathered in the biggest training arena in the Duchy. The retinues of Arden von Agnus and the fourth prince Kaiser von Britten and Archmage Evergrant were present; being the grandest such facility in the estate, it could accommodate the entire crowd with room to spare, even with knights and their weapons on each corner.

Valmont gulped when he spotted the Duke’s commanders in the crowd. It was his first time seeing these prominent figures in the flesh.

Two men stood alone in the middle of the arena, judging each other and being judged by the spectators.

Or rather, one man and a boy—a young cub without a hair to tickle his chest.

“Are you ready?” The boy’s opponent was Joker, the second-in-command of the Imperial 9th Battalion. Seeing him nod, Joker continued. “The test will be simple… We will fight three rounds before the judges. If any of them nod in approval during those three rounds, you pass.”

“You don’t have to worry too much. I’ll only use mana on the lowest levels of C-Class.”

Joshua’s unresponsiveness made Joker chuckle.

I guess anyone would be nervous in this kind of situation. Of course, Joker had no intention of accommodating him. There was a reason why I didn’t like this scumbag of a child. I can’t even think straight in front of him.

“Don’t be nervous. Should an accident happen, wouldn’t the Duke, the pride of the Empire, come running right away?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

Joker spoke with a modicum of courtesy because the people of the Duchy were watching, but to Joshua his patronizing attitude was palpable. The Imperial Knights were aware as well and were laughing their heads off.

“But I told you—” Joshua smirked coldly. He wasn’t about to let Joker walk away.

“—You talk too much. You’re a proud knight of the Empire, right? Don’t you need to watch your wagging tongue?”

“You crazy—!” Joker was furious but he had to shut his mouth; the other Imperial Knights were equally silent. His expression was stiff but his anger was obvious nonetheless. Joshua had just insulted the entire Imperial Knights.

“...You’ll regret saying that.”

“If I’d regret it, I wouldn’t spend my time laughing at your pathetic face right now.” Joshua guffawed.

“—What?”

“I’m not soft enough to feel something as frail as ‘regret’ even in the most unusual circumstances.”

“I guess you fight with your tongue, not your arms.” Joker’s eyes were as sharp as the blade hissing from his sheathe.

I was planning to give you a mild beat down because there’s so many eyes… But I’m going to make sure you never hold a sword again.

Joker was about to take a step forward, but abruptly halted.

“—Is that a weapon?” When he first saw the iron rod lying on the ground, he didn’t pay much attention to it. He ignored it and focused on his opponent. But when he saw Joshua pick up the rod, he frowned.

“...What are you up to?”

“The test is too abstract. I want to change the rules a little bit.”

“What do you mean?” Joker rolled his eyes.

“Simple… if you take a step back after receiving a hit, you lose. How about that?”

The arena was overtaken by silence.

Is he insane? Is he trying to take on a B-Class intermediate knight? Even Duke Agnus’s implacable facade cracked.

“You’re a cheeky bastard with too much ambition… I don’t know if you’re talented or just prideful.”

But, when Joker stopped to think about it, isn’t this the best situation to get the job done? It was way better than doing something that would cost him his pride.

“Are you okay with that, battalion commander?” Joker’s lips curled into a fishy smile.

“Ah, that—” Valmont was rattled by the sudden turn of events.

He glanced at Duke Agnus. Valmont was responsible for the test, but he couldn’t help but look to the Duke for approval.

“If you wish.” The Duke seemed to settle his thoughts and nodded sharply.

Valmont smiled awkwardly and raised his hand, joining his thumb and forefinger to flash an OK sign.

“I’ll do it if that’s what you want.” Joker grinned savagely at Joshua and adopted a stance that balanced defense and offense. “Attack me first.”

What nice weather! I was thinking… I’ll show that cheeky kid hell on earth. As an added bonus, I’ll cripple him so he won’t be cocky again.

Outwardly, though, Joker’s words retained a veneer of sympathy:

“It won’t happen, but the test will end if I take even one step back—in other words, you’ll officially be a C-Class Knight of the Avalon Empire from that point on.”

Joshua hefted the iron rod. The motion was incredibly natural, as if the iron rod were an extension of his body.

Joshua and Duke Agnus shared a look.

“If you want to gamble, you go big or go home.”

Joker made a puzzled expression.

“I think a slight punishment is in order if you’re the loser… the number of steps you take back will be the number of times you crawl on the floor and bark like a dog.”

“I want to teach you a lesson… The way you posture like royalty troubles me.”

“Like a dog at its master’s heels…” Joshua mouthed these last words, but Joker had no trouble understanding him.

“Let’s just begin!” His face flushed red.

“Great.” Joshua gripped the rod firmly and straightened his posture. The playfulness in his face was suddenly gone, replaced with a trance-like focus.

What is this feeling…? Joker was startled by the sudden incongruity. He’s just a child with an appetite… Even if he’s a genius beyond even the Grand Duke, I know he’s only a C-Class at best… But what- what is this ominous feeling?”

Isn’t this what a knight felt when he looked Death in the eyes on the battlefield? Joker could feel the specters of death hovering in the air.

In contrast to Joker, Joshua was a little troubled.

At this level, it’s still difficult to use with a young body. Cold sweat beaded on Joshua’s forehead. He could tell he was overworking himself right now. To use this technique properly, I have to be at least level 3. In an adult’s body it’d be easy but—

Joshua hadn’t been standing still this last day. He’d managed to master the technique Lugia had told him about; Joshua had passed the first stage of the Magic Spear Technique and reached the second stage.

It’s still unstable inside. Like parasites, the two energies in his body were still locked in combat. He had enough control to exert a modicum of control over them, driving them into every corner of his body. The magic and divine power were usually quiet, but they had a tendency to react violently and unpredictably to Joshua’s mana; like a maddened beast, it would lunge at Joshua’s mana.

It takes a lot of time to use, but its destructive power… Joshua had tensed as if he was going to rush forward right away, but didn’t move after a long minute.

“This is the wrong time to be scared, kid.” Joshua didn’t even react to Joker’s sarcasm.

I slowly raised the mana in my body over time.

Did his efforts finally pay off? The three energies, entangled and absorbed, spilled forth from Joshua’ fingertips and embraced the iron rod.

Except that one time, this is the second time I’m using this. Joshua squeezed his eyes shut.

Hey, what is this…? Was it just an illusion, or did Joker feel an explosion of huge energies?

Joshua shot Joker an embarassed look, and lowed the iron rod at Joker.

“Lugia.” The rod responded eagerly to Joshua’s voice. The shape changed little by little as if it knew exactly what it had to do—from an ordinary iron cylinder to a peculiar spear with a forked tip.

“An artifact?” Duke Agnus was astonished.

A weapon that changes shape? As far as he knew, only artifacts had special powers. What’s more, a weapon with such unusual shape was probably ancient.

“Perhaps the test will end with this round,” Joshua intoned.

The sparks running hotly across the spear finally gathered at the tip.

Joshua’s mana, which lost its dazzling luster, was an enigma. The color of mana is determined by a person’s innate character, but Joshua’s mana was dark blue, a black-than-black hue, and a pure white. None of the colors mixed, like oil in water.

“Crazy!” Joker rushed to rouse his mana.

“Now.”

Lugia shot forth with thundering force, leaving behind a blinding trail of white.

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