“Defend our lord!”
The other Villas knights, waiting in the back, grudgingly drew their swords. Immediately, over a dozen people were blocking access to Veron. Count Rebrecca’s knights were reaching for their swords, too, when Joshua raised his hand.
“Do not step forward.”
“What do you mean, Young Master?”
“This situation is my problem… I don’t believe the Rebrecca Knights should become involved in this.”
“What do—?” Doesn’t this concern Young Lady Iceline’s safety? Even if Young Master Joshua is handling it right now, this still concerns Rebrecca. The knight’s shame was palpable.
But Villas’s knights, who had no idea who Joshua was, were absolutely perplexed by the situation.
How could the descendent of some family he’d never heard of act so boldly towards a Marquis’s son, Varon wondered.
Isn’t that borderline suicidal? I certainly wouldn’t object to a swordfight breaking out.
“The Frederick family… I’m not familiar with the name. What is your rank?”
“Does it matter?”
“It doesn’t, really.” Veron burst out laughing. “After all, your family will disappear from history real soon.” The boy sneered. “Your sin was not understanding the difference between my heaven and your earth. Interfering in my business must mean you have a death wish—I won’t just wipe out your family, I’ll kill your dogs and every plant growing on your estate. Then you’ll understand how foolish you were for provoking Veron Villas.
“That’s how powerful I am.” Veron’s mouth stretched into a savage grin. “Get down on your knees, Ash, and I might be merciful to only cut off one limb.”
He didn’t show it, but Veron was pretty pleased with the current situation. He was used to getting what he wanted: all he had to do was threaten everyone involved and they’d apologize, beg for their lives, and fork over the goods. However, despite his prodigal habits, he knew a Marquis’s son didn’t have the clout to challenge a high-ranking noble like a Count.
Well, it’s not that I fear the Rebreccas; it’s just that it would be a nuisance if the rumors reached my father’s ears.
As such, Veron was quite happy to assuage his pride by trampling the boy in front of him.
He’s perfect. By all appearances, Joshua was the spawn of some low-ranking noble hick. Veron’s snake-like eyes glittered, and he licked his lips.
“This is nauseating.”
“—What?” Veron was jolted out of his fantasies. “What are you up to now—”
“I said it’s horrid. The smell of trash makes my stomach churn.”
The rest of the group was blown away by Joshua’s offensive comment.
“This kid!” Muker shouted. “How desperate are you to die?! You don’t even know how respect works!”
“Respect? For that thing?” Joshua howled with laughter. “Is that the same ‘respect’ you use when you get a gang of knights together to persecute a woman?”
“Muker!” Veron decided that fun-time was over.
“Yes, my lord!”
“How much longer do I have to put up with these insults?”
“Give me the order! I’ll take care of it immediately!”
“Immobilize that insect—I’m going to kill him myself.”
“I apologize: it seems you need to die.” Muker hefted his sword. “You were the one who threw away your last chance… You have no one to blame but yourself.”
“Hah! ‘Blame’, you say?” Joshua sneered. “There’s no such word in my vocabulary.”
Joshua stepped forward to meet Muker’s advance.
Three people sat in the private office of Viscount Steck in Locke Castle: the owner, Viscount Vig Beck Steck, an unidentifiable, gray-masked individual, and a girl. Viscount Vig’s empty eyes stared into nothingness while the other two spoke.
“It’s been a long time, Miss Anna.” The masked one bowed to the girl.
“It’s been a while, Ju-ang. I see you’ve arrived earlier than expected.”
“I came in a rush when you summoned me.”
Anna just smiled.
“Figures… So, what did you want to talk about?”
“There’s a problem,” Anna said.
“You think it’s a problem?”
The girl nodded. “Maybe I should call it a nuisance rather than a problem?”
She seems to be in a good mood… Ju-ang’s eyes flickered with curiosity as Anna’s speech became excited.
“May I ask what this problem is?”
“A monster has appeared in the Agnus duchy.”
“Are you referring to Babel von Agnus?”
“I see the rumors haven’t spread too far yet, after all,” Anna said with a shake of her head. “Another child of Duke Agnus has appeared… and, horribly, he’s a scumbag who outstrips Babel von Agnus’s abilities.”
Ju-ang was astonished; Babel was one of the most talented people on the continent, never mind the Empire—how could some kid possibly compare to a genius like Babel?
“How come you didn’t report this sooner?!” Ju-ang leaped out of their seat. “You could have used a communication tool—”
“There’s a chance the information could leak.” Anna giggled when she saw Ju-ang clamp their mouth shut. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you, Ju-ang, so don’t overwork yourself. This information will spread all over the continent anyways.”
“He could wield mana before ten years old. That kind of talent is the greatest of all time, in the continent and beyond. Do you think Avalon will stand still with such a treasure in his hands?”
“Duke Agnus will spread the stories throughout the Empire to elevate his family’s reputation. In times of peace, like now, whispers like this can whip up a storm.”
“Yes, you’re right.” Ju-ang nodded.
On the surface, it appeared they were living in an unprecedented period of peace—but the continent was closer to a primed powder keg.
The continent had been engaged in a quiet buildup of power. The simple folks might rejoice because their country had become stronger, but those in the halls of power whispered of “rebellion” and “civil war”.
However, there was always a solution:
“In battle, the power of a ‘master’ is absolute,” Anna whispered. “No country would fight a war if they didn’t have a chance to win. So, they always need to know what the other countries are up to; the number of intelligence organizations has been steadily increasing.”
“The right information could be a game-changer when the other countries decide to defend or attack.” Ju-ang’s brow furrowed. “...I understand now, Miss Anna. But regarding the other son of Duke Agnus: his appearance is bad news for us. If you make a mistake, decades of your planning could go to waste in an instant.”
“I’m not going to let that happen.” Anna smiled bitterly.
“Are you thinking of…?”
“It’s simple. What if we could subdue that monster?”
“Is that possible?”
“It’s possible. Because he…” Once upon a time, he, too, was abandoned…
Anna swallowed the words and waved her hand. “Anyways, Ju-ang, I’ve come up with an idea. I’ll travel up to Arcadia to enroll in the academy.”
“The academy… Then, Duke Agnus will—”
“It’s fine, for the time being. Believe in me: I will bring him here, upon the name of Anna Bell Grace.”
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