Chapter 37

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As magic had its own properties, so too were there objects with the power of the origin. Wizards speculated that each attribute had origin stones, such as water, fire, wind, lightning, and ice. However, only five stones would ever be found—even then, not until later.

Origin stones were a true treasure to the wizards: they could raise the power of a one-circle spell, like Fire Arrow or Ice Arrow, to that of 3rd Grade magic, such as Fire Spear or Ice Spear.

If so, wouldn't it be useless to the knights?

Not exactly—in Joshua's previous life, a knight achieved some truly formidable feats using the power of the origin stone.

The Knight of Red Flame, Ulabis.

One swing of his sword split the ground in two. A sea of fire erupts from the thrust of his sword and engulfs the world in relentless flames. An incarnation of battle, sweeping through his enemies like a wildfire.

Seulan, the only principality on the continent, will eventually gain independence from Seuwalloulo and become a sovereign kingdom.

The independence of the Seulan Principality would shatter the status quo between the continent's three powers.

The person who moved mountains to make this happen was the "Knight of the Red Flame", Ulabis.

Ulabis ascended as the first king of Seulan Kingdom, then surpassed the 12 superhumans and occupied the first seat of the Nine Stars.

He was the ideal figure of the Absolute: intelligent, skillful, and utterly undefeatable. Even as a child, Ulabis's talent for swordsmanship was too great for a mere kingdom—it was extraordinary even in an empire, befitting one of the strongest in the continent.

He was called a "magic swordsman" and shook his head at the knights who claimed such a thing was impossible. Many wondered if he would be the first and only superhuman of his kind; but, when his secret was revealed, everyone concluded that the "magic swordsman" was a lie.

It turned out, Ulabis was using the Red origin stone, the origin stone infused with the flame attribute.

"The attributes are not important," Joshua muttered.

They were dubbed "origin stones" because they collect the primordial power of the beginning; these artifacts had accumulated power over an incomprehensible amount of time, far from human hands.

I couldn't even begin to imagine the power that stone is hiding.

"Halt!" A roaring from the front of the expedition roused him from his thoughts.

Before him lied a small castle, designed with obvious practicality: the lord's castle in the Locke Territory, which bordered the Black Monster Forest.

"Salute the Duke!" At the cry of a muscular, middle-aged knight, the Locke soldiers saluted, chins raised.

"Rise!" Duke Agnus dismounted his horse and approached the knight.

"It's been a while, Roben."

"Yes, Duke."

Duke Agnus smiled softly.

"I always feel sorry for everyone here… especially you. Even after retirement, you're still suffering in this barren land." Duke Agnus displayed a sincere expression of regret.

Roben is one of the seven knights that served the Duke until just a few years earlier. The Duke particularly liked him for his dedication.

"I am honored to be able to assist the Duke with my humble efforts," Roben said with a friendly smile. "Even though my body is old and my strength slowly leaves my body, my heart is always with the glorious Duke. Moreover, all I wanted for the rest of my life was to settle with my family. I am happy, Duke."

The life he wanted… Duke Agnus's expression tightened. The Duke knew he could spend the rest of his life with his family too, but he knew that life would never be smooth sailing.

Roben was suddenly pushed aside by an enormous middle-aged man.

"I greet the Duke!"

"This—" Roben made an embarrassed face.

"Roben, are you losing your eyesight? If the Duke arrived, you should have called me first!"

"That—" Roben was about to say something but shut his mouth. He hadn't had any time to catch his breath while preparing himself for the expedition into the Black Forest, but he couldn't offer such excuses in front of the Duke.

"... I'm sorry, my lord." Roben quietly lowered his head.

"This is why you have to step down when you get older! With that kind of thinking, I'll have to take responsibility for any security breaches in the estate in the future!"

"Once again, I apologize." Roben's face flushed beet red. It was a common sort of discrimination, but it was difficult to defend himself especially in front of his most respected Duke.

No one cared if the venerable knight felt humiliated or night.

The middle-aged man stared at Roben as if waiting for the others to back him up. After a few seconds of silence, he ducked his head and turned away.

"Ahem… It's been a while since I last saw you, my Duke. I apologize for this rather unfortunate greeting—I was too busy preparing for dinner. It pains me, but it's my fault for managing the staff poorly. Please punish me, my Duke."

"No need," said the Duke, straight-faced. "...Although I must say, you seem to have gained weight since we last met, Vig."

As the Duke had noted, his flesh swayed with each movement, and buckets of sweat poured down his body like broth—a distinctly uncomfortable sight for the knights. The more perceptive vassals noticed the discomfort in Duke Agnus's words, yet the man named Vig burst out laughing. Like a pig, it seemed as if he didn't notice their judgment at all.

“Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! I'm sorry—but isn't this all thanks to the Duke's special attention?" Vig rubbed his hands together as he spoke. "I was deeply moved when I heard the Duke came to solve the problems of this humble estate within a month."

Roben, the only man with equal authority to Vig, simply remained silent. This ponderous, bloated, piggy man was the lord of the Locke estate, Viscount Vig Beck Stek. Viscount Vig was related to Vanessa, the current lady of the Agnus family; when Vanessa was married to the Duke of Agnus, Viscount Vig came with her. To put it bluntly, he was a low-ranked noble riding on the Imperial bloodline.

Duke Agnus opened his mouth to say something but instead sighed and turned to someone else.

"—Anna, how are you?"

"I greet the Duke." The girl in question had brown hair and light freckles, a common appearance she shared with her father. She couldn't be compared to Charles or Iceline, but her beauty stands out in its own way—pure white skin, a pretty face, and fine features. Anna, the only daughter of Viscount Vig.

Duke Agnus eyed the Viscount once again, startling him.

"Huh? Is that… Young Master Babel is also here!" The Viscount approached Babel with an ever-so-welcoming expression.

"It has been a while, Uncle."

"You have grown taller, Young Master Babel! This makes me so happy and emotional. Hahahahaha."

Babel smiled faintly.

Some people might point at me and say I'm only doing this out of self-interest—but to me, at least, he loved me like a relative."

"You've become so powerful that even me, who knows little of swords, can feel it!" Viscount Vig quivered. "I wonder if another master will be born in the Empire soon… Hahahahaha."

Viscount Vig then tilted his head.

"And who might this be…?" Only then did he notice Joshua standing beside his father. The presence of this young child stood out in this dangerous place.

"This is Young Master Joshua, Viscount Vig." Chiffon stepped forward to answer.

"Ah! Long time no see, Sir Chiffon—but… Young Master Joshua…?"

"The Duke's second son."

Naturally, Viscount Vig's expression was incredulous. Rumors abounded of Joshua's unheard-of talent, but it had only been a short time since he had gained influence—he'd changed so much, one might think he was someone else entirely. The remote Locke estate received information at a slow trickle.

"I see—I must have had my eyes and ears shut for a long time, haha. When did sister Vanessa give birth to the Young Master, again?"

"He's not a son of Lady Vanessa." Chiffon shook his head.

Viscount Vig felt like a bucket of ice water was dumped on his head.

"Did the Duke take a concubine?"

The Duke showed no intention of answering his question, nor did anyone else. Even Viscount Vig could notice he'd broached a sensitive topic.

"Oh, I hope you can forgive me… I was just surprised by the sudden revelation. I never knew the Duke would take a concubine, but I don't mean it as a bad thing! It's only natural for a hero to take in a second or third wife."

Viscount Vig shot glances at Chiffon, but the knight refused to meet his eyes.

"Well then, what lineage does the Young Master come from?"

"Unfortunately, it's not a noble family."

"What do you mean?"

This time, Chiffon kept his mouth shut. "Commoner, and a lowly maid," rose in his throat, but he would rather not offend his Master. Vig ought to be able to understand it on his own.

Just as he predicted, contempt stained the Viscount's demeanor.

"Dirty bastard," Viscount Vig muttered, studiously avoiding Joshua's "disgusting" gaze.

But the knights' sharp senses could hear him clearly.

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