Chapter 60

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Joshua was thinking about the past again.

The First Prince’s Civil War, which would go down as the Empire’s bitterest and bloodiest war in history, was on his mind. The power vacuum left by Emperor Marcus’s disappearance plunged the already-weakened Empire into an all-out Civil War. The numbers of soldiers—and their accompanying Masters—on both sides was astonishing.

Joshua couldn’t help but wonder if the fight was really worth it. Even the Masters avoided the conflict; they weren’t dumb enough to risk their lives in a war against their own people.

Hundreds of battles, big and small, took place over the ten-year civil war. Only three engagements garnered casualties in the ten thousand in all that time. Critically, the Second Prince lost all of his supporters in those battles. He lost half of his army in the first battle and most of his territory in the second. The third battle was…

Truly, the Second Prince’s juvenile tactics lost him all of his forces except the Masters on his side. Regardless, the Masters jumped over to the First Prince’s side like they were turning a new leaf, and the Second Prince’s most important men, including Babel von Agnus, became the First Prince’s prisoners.

That aside, the First Prince welcomed the remains of the Second Prince’s army with open arms. In the aftermath of the devastating Civil War, the First Prince offered them compassion for the sake of the nation. The Second Prince’s allies were demoted, and a supervising organization was founded.

But then, out of nowhere, two people’s hands reached out to the dying Empire, like the light at the end of the ten-year-long tunnel. The Fourth Prince of the Avalon Empire, Kaiser von Britten, hoarded his knowledge and spared no words of comfort. Beside him was a master of tactics, said to carry a thousand stratagems in his mind; a war god, who led demon-like warriors to victory.

Icarus, Heaven’s Mind. And here he was, standing a few feet away from Joshua and Agareth. Joshua had to wonder if it was coincidence or fate. Icarus, like Joshua, was murdered at the hands of Kaiser von Britten, their trusted lord.

Joshua stared at Icarus. But at that time, he was obviously…

Icarus had pale, sky-blue hair and piercing blue eyes, charged with energy like a loaded gun. His features were nothing short of angelic, like a piece of Heaven sent down to Earth. He looked like a woman at first glance, and it made Joshua’s palms sweaty1. Agareth mumbled something about uglier noblewomen he’d met, suggesting he thought the same as Joshua.

“Ah, you—!” Agareth’s finger stabbed at Icarus. “Commoner! The only one!”

The Imperial Academy was famous enough that even foreign nobles and the royalty of minor countries traveled to attend the Academy. It wasn’t exclusive to the nobility but essentially was, in practice. The Academy didn’t treat commoners’ applications poorly, however; there were special exceptions.

Notably, Icarus. He was the one and only commoner currently attending the Imperial Academy—actually, he wasn’t a commoner anymore. He comes from Habest Estate, in the Southern part of the Empire. The childless baron and baroness there noticed his brilliance and adopted him so his talents wouldn’t go to waste.

Avalon’s nobles had an excessive pride, even compared to other countries, so the baron’s neighbors heavily mocked him for this uncommon happening. Of course, the baron didn’t pay them any mind—he had no desire for power, nor did he have the power to shut their mouths. And so, Icarus garnered some small fame.

“Hello?” Icarus grinned shyly and bobbed his head as if he’d anticipated the shocked reaction. “I… I never expected I’d share a room with Young Master Agareth. I don’t know if this is good or not.”

“Haha! I’m in the same boat as you… but don’t you think it’s going to be a great year?” Agareth laughed heartily.

“I had a feeling beforehand, but Young Master Agareth seems like a talkative, happy-go-lucky sort of person.”

“Is that a compliment?” The subtle sarcasm in Icarus’s voice seemed to fly over Agareth’s head.

Joshua felt strangely excluded. Aren’t they talking like they’ve known each other for a long time? He scowled. They were definitely as new to the Academy as he was, but there wasn’t a hint of unfamiliarity coming off them.

There was an anecdote about Icarus that Joshua remembered very well. The low-born Icarus was a perfect victim for the bored noble brats—they just couldn’t leave him alone. Icarus’s life in the Academy was a living hell. Regardless of his abilities, Icarus was the perfect target for their contempt and disdain.

This is the first I’ve heard of Icarus having a friend. In that nightmare, the first person to reach out to Icarus was none other than Kaiser von Britten, the Fourth Prince. He was the first to treat Icarus like a human being. Kaiser discovered a diamond in the rough and gave him the chance to grow as his heart desired. Icarus was devoted to Prince Kaiser.

However, until then… Joshua eyed the boy suspiciously. We’ll see soon. Icarus is a one-of-a-kind talent I can’t let get away.

He and Icarus had a lot in common: they were taken away from disdain and contempt only to die at the hands of Kaiser von Britten. In Joshua’s eyes, Icarus was already a friend; the enemy of your enemy is a friend, after all. This friend happened to be glowing with talent.

Let’s take our time and enjoy it. There will be an abundance of opportunities in the future. Joshua watched Agareth and Icarus with sparkling eyes. He was convinced that their meeting was ordained by fate. Over a thousand cadets enrolled every year, and the three of them had ended up as roommates. How could anyone believe it was just a coincidence?

My trusted friend turned out to be my enemy—but was fate on my side? Joshua’s lips curled into a gentle smile.

But Joshua didn’t know that fate was a fickle mistress.

“Can you tell me what you’re doing?”

“Du-Duke!” Lucia jumped like a startled rabbit and spun around to face the Duke. “My humble self greets you, my Duke.”

Duke Agnus gazed at Lucia with clouded eyes for a long minute.

“Are you enjoying your stay?”

“Yes. Thanks to the Duke’s thoughtfulness, I am living a humble but good life.” Lucia bowed her head respectfully.

The Duke eyed her with obvious interest. He seemed to contemplate something and then sighed. “If you find anything uncomfortable, please feel free to let me know. I’ll let everyone know you can approach me at any time.”

“Ah…” Lucia fidgeted.

“Let’s go.” Duke Agnus turned around without giving Lucia an opportunity to speak.

“Yes, Duke.” The middle-aged man accompanying the Duke bowed to Lucia and then hurried after Duke Agnus.

Lucia finally came to her wits and hurriedly bowed to Duke Agnus’s distant back. I hope he’s not upset that my bow was late.

The man walking beside Duke Agnus cautiously broached the silence. “Duke…”

Duke Agnus cast a sidelong glance at him without stopping. He had a moustache but a completely bald head. The man’s name was Baron Hed, one of Duke Agnus’s few true vassals and the long-time manager of the family’s administration. He was also Duke Agnus’s personal secretary in the capital, and he rarely offered advice.

Baron Hed resolved himself and gave Duke Agnus a questioning look. “It may be pretentious of me to ask, but… May I inquire as to why Lady Lucia was brought into the mansion? I’d heard you’d made a wager with Young Master Joshua. However…” Hed seemed a little frightened. “I’m concerned that Duchess Vaness would be jealous.”

Duke Agnus offered him no reply.

“Young Master Babel has been the designated heir for a long time now. Even the vassals are perplexed by the current state of affairs. I’ve heard that Young Master Joshua is incredibly skilled, but even if he’s stronger, I can’t help but consider Young Master Babel’s royal heritage. I think it’s best you take a firm stance this time and maybe just let Young Master Joshua assist the family in other ways.”

“To put it another way, you’re worried about Joshua’s lineage.”

Baron Hed nodded without hesitation. “Yes… Young Master Joshua’s blood cannot be ignored; if Young Master Joshua received the Agnus name, there would be an uproar in and out of the family.”

“Well,” Duke Agnus slowly shook his head. “If it’s about bloodlines, then…”

“...Yes?” The Baron tilted his head inquisitively.

“...No. For the time being, let’s keep an eye on it.”

“Yes. As the Master wills.”

The legitimacy of blood… A strange light shone behind Duke Agnus’s eyes.

  1. Mom’s spaghetti ↩️

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