Chapter 71

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Joshua returned to his room after class and took a deep breath.

I thought it would just be a simple get-together for kids, but I guess I was wrong. He shook his head.

The cliques or “circles” he’d asked Amaru about. A circle was a small group within the Academy dedicated to particular hobbies of extracurricular activities; the issue was Avalon Academy’s definition of a circle was a bit different. They weren’t made for fun; they were made as a way for the children to throw their weight around.

Children, as usual, loved to show off to their peers. Seeing their classmates bowled over with one punch, or crushed by their family’s might, made them feel a rush of success and satisfaction. The “circles” are just a vehicle for it.

The children of high-ranking aristocrats flex their power to form a circle with children of similar prestige. The children of lower-ranking aristocrats are left in the dust while the more prestigious families gather talents.

They’re not scared to kill the children who oppose them. There are hundreds of children from influential families, so the instructors have to watch themselves.

That was what Kane was worried about.

But you can’t expect changes unless you adapt to reality. Leaving the matter untouched will create another vicious cycle.

I’m leaving this place, but I’ll dismantle the system before I do. Not out of some irrational sense of justice, but to serve his own ends.

Perhaps I can win Icarus’s heart more easily than I expected. Joshua grinned. I’m looking forward to seeing Kaiser struggle after I steal Icarus from him.

The door opened, and a young boy entered the room.

“They claimed that if I said anything, a tiger would come for me…” Joshua laughed.

Icarus froze.

“I see you were here first.”

“As you can see.”

“What are your plans now? They say the Sten family is sending someone soon.”

“Then there’s no need to be concerned. I’m getting along swimmingly with the person in question.”

“You met Young Master Amaru?”

Joshua nodded.

“...Even so, there’s no assurance that the Stens won’t act. They certainly feel like their swordsmanship hasn’t received the recognition it deserves. It would help them reestablish their position.

“More importantly, Araksha will surely approach Young Master Ash.”

Raksha was the largest circle in the Academy, according to Icarus.

“I don’t give a damn.”

“Yes?”

“I can solve both of those problems at the same time.”

“How…” Icarus’s eyes widened. “How do you plan on doing that?”

“Simple: I just need to make them so scared they sweat just from hearing my voice. Anyone can understand power.”

That’s obviously impossible! Icarus had to swallow a lump in his throat. Yet there was a curious expectation that the boy would actually do it.

“Do you recall our wager? You said you’d grant my request if I defeated Amaru bron Sten and lived to tell the tale.”

“I recall.”

I’m going to say it now: I want you.”

“Huh?” Icarus gaped blankly at him. “What do you mean?”

“Literally: Icarus, I want you to be my man.”

Icarus’s face flushed. Your wording is a little deceptive. He calmed himself quickly, but his heartbeat refused to settle.

Joshua approached and gripped Icarus firmly.

“Will you use your abilities solely for me?”

Icarus backed away from him.

“If… If Young Master Ash actually makes his plan happen, I’ll consider it.”

With that, Icarus turned around and left the room.

“Isn’t this progress?” Joshua grinned.

What Icarus was thinking, he didn’t bother wondering.


“Hooh. Hooh.”

A man stood inside of a small training ground lit by the sun. He exhaled hot air, carefully managing his focus; blood and sweat dripped to the floor from the wounds on his body. His swords were slack in his grip as if they could fall at any moment.

It was Cain, Joshua’s first knight.

“Are you sure this is enough to protect your lord? Looking at you now, I’d be surprised if you didn’t trip and twist your ankle in a battle.”

Cain bit his lips hard. The insults made him want to hurl himself at his opponent, but he knew that any mistake would cost him his life. The man closed the distance between them with a quiet stillness, filling the space with his massive presence.

Cain, on the other hand, could not manage a single step. His body had been pushed to its limits as he swung his sword with all his might for three hours under the withering sun. Cain’s skin was marred by cuts big and small, enough to put down a lesser man—but Cain fought through by sheer force of will.

The approaching man looked down his nose at Cain for a moment.

“You’ve bled too much now. It’s a miracle you’re still standing, just looking at your wounds.” The man’s expression was mild and unchanging. “What’s with the sudden urge to change weapons?”

“...Ankle.” Cain’s voice was shaky and tenuous. “I don’t want to twist my ankle.”

“What?” The man seemed amused by his familiar choice of words.

“I… I don’t want to be a stumbling block to my chosen master; I want to be an asset. That’s why—no matter what, no matter how many wounds I take—I can’t break that promise.”

“Promise?”

Cain nodded without hesitation. “No one… He will ensure that I bow to no one except him. I promised my lord… to guard and trust my master. My aim, from now on—to be strong.”

Cain gripped the blades with all his remaining strength. He staggered but swiftly recovered his strength.

“So now… I respectfully decline the Duke’s offer.” Cain leaped off the ground towards Duke Agnus, eyes burning with passion. One would not believe that just a moment ago, he’d been on the verge of unconsciousness.

“Your determination is admirable.” Duke Agnus watched Cain soar towards him with a faint grin.

The Duke gently swung his magenta greatsword up and down. The training ground was instantly filled with its raging light, hurling Cain’s body into the corner before he could even get close to Duke Agnus.

He was defeated.

“Take him and heal him.” Duke Agnus spared the unconscious knight a glance as he turned away.

“Yes, Duke!” Several knights, waiting nearby, moved quickly to follow the Duke’s orders.

“To make one of my people so loyal in such a short amount of time…”

Asking the Duke to teach swordsmanship to this guy was ridiculous. The first time the Duke had heard it, he’d been furious at Joshua—but now, his anger had vanished.

All that was left was an inexplicable feeling of contentment and delight.

“You’re not going to bow to anyone except him?” Duke Agnus’s grin stretched widely as he left the training ground. “How fun.”

“Duke.” Baron Hed, the Duke’s exclusive servant, was waiting outside. “Intelligence says that the Imperial Family will complete ‘the task’ soon.”

Baron Hed immediately had the Duke’s full attention.

“...What’s the source?”

“The Sten family.”

“Is this directly from Arie?”

“For more information, take a look at this letter.” Baron Hed pulled a paper from his breast pocket and reverently held it out with both hands.

Duke Agnus silently took the letter and began reading it. He quickly checked the contents and then burned the letter with his ring’s fire magic.

“Should I say… Finally?”

“Do you have any plans?”

Duke Agnus shook his head. “For the time being, I have no choice but to watch. There’s nothing we can do right now on our end.” The Duke seemed to fall deep into thought and then started moving quickly. “In any case, if you notice anything unexpected, report it right away.”

“Yes, Duke.” Baron Hed bowed deeply.

Duke Agnus’s face was more serious than ever as he hurried on his way.

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