Joker couldn't believe his eyes.
Isn't this as good as Commander Valmont? He expected to see these kinds of skills from a battalion commander. Alarms were ringing in his head.
This boy… is fucking dangerous. Joker clenched his teeth tightly. His instinct told him he needed to rouse his own mana to protect himself from the splendid point of mana Joshua had gathered.
I'll match you… No, I'll overpower you. The power Joker gathered wasn't hazy or cloudy; his mana was a deeper and darker blue than the depths of the sea: the exclusive traits of a B-Class Knight.
No one even noticed. Everyone's eyes were glued on the young boy across from him—no doubt they could feel the oppressive atmosphere as well as he could.
A spar between a C-Class and B-Class Knight rarely lasts this long. Under normal circumstances, the repulsive force alone would cause injuries… and my mission would be complete just like that. But what is this?
Joker's eyes narrowed. No matter hyped his skills were, the boy was only a C-Class Knight—and the gap between classes was an impenetrable wall. Yet, nobody took note of the difference in their value.
Sparks flew; weapons collided. Even as the shower of sparks faded, Joshua was slamming his foot against the ground.
"—WHAT?!" The stamina it took to perform those kicks and runs was astounding.
What happened next shattered all expectations.
Joshua stretched forth, lashing out to stab at Joker. His spear was too fast to track, leaving a white streak across the audience's vision.
That's too fast! I was going to counterattack, but… at this speed? Its speed was blinding—faster than light. All he could do was jam his sword in its path.
Lugia met Joker's sword, and the sky trembled. A swarm of white lights burst from the tip of Joshua's spear and scattered over the entire arena.
"Ugh!" Valmont was forced to shut his eyes.
It was so dazzling I couldn't keep watching. Is this a nine-year-old boy? This is a test, but his skill… is fit for the battlefield! A bewildering flood of thoughts washed through Valmont's head. He had never before seen someone more talented than him. Babel von Agnus, the rising star of the Empire? As talented as he was, he was famous for training in every waking moment; Valmont had achieved C-Class at the same age, but he took his time along the way to enjoy everything life could offer. Joshua was a level above them by talent alone.
When Valmont opened his eyes to brave the fading light, the first thing that caught his eyes was Joshua von Agnus. Red blood dripped from his lips.
No matter how powerful Joshua seemed, it was a clash between a B-Class and C-Class. The outcome was expected. No unexpected variables will emerge now.
"...Ten steps." Joshua wiped the blood from his lips. "You took ten steps back."
Valmont was shocked. He finally looked to the other side of the arena: unlike Joshua, who stood in the middle of the arena just as he'd started, his opponent was pushed into the far corner. Even more incredibly, he'd had to thrust his sword into the ground to stop himself from keeling over.
"What is this nonsense?" Valmont's voice was thick with disbelief, and no one could object to his words.
The arena was quiet enough to hear a pin drop. Most of the knights just gaped blankly at Joshua and Joker—even Evergrant, who understood little of swordsmanship, seemed mesmerized.
A small clap broke the silence.
"I really would have regretted not coming here." Prince Kaiser von Britten applauded Joshua with a wide smile. "As a Prince of Avalon, I recognize your talent… You will truly be a gem of the Empire."
This time, the Prince's words were sincere.
"Lord Valmont, isn't this enough for the test?" Prince Kaiser turned towards the still-shocked knights.
"Even with my cursory knowledge of swordsmanship, I think Young Master Joshua is amazing."
"Yes, of course."
Valmont drew his sword—it wasn't the sword he usually used, but a gorgeously decorated piece given to him by the Emperor for a specific purpose. The sound of it being unsheathed rang startlingly clear through the arena.
"I, Valmont dun Brown, speak by order of His Majesty the Emperor, the Sun of Avalon." As one, the Imperial Knights drew their blades. Their swords were raised in salute, and their faces were steely and expressionless.
"Joshua von Agnus, second son of the Duke of Agnus: approach."
Joshua made a troubled expression. Although he didn't show it, he was having trouble just staying standing—the side effects of using this power had stressed him beyond his limits.
I have no intention of playing along with this charade, but— Joshua grit his teeth. I never intended to show weakness.
Everyone was watching, to say nothing of Prince Kaiser and Duke Agnus's greed for talent.
My whole body burned for revenge when I looked at Kaiser. If I fail now, will I ever have a chance at defeating him?
"Are you okay?" Duke Agnus came up to his side. His eyes were clouded with worry.
What is this? Joshua chuckled. I've never seen him make this face before.
"I'm fine." Joshua gingerly made his way towards Valmont.
The hall was eerily silent except for Joshua's footsteps. The Imperial 9th Battalion, the Knights of Agnus, the Fourth Prince, Evergrant, the Duke of Agnus—everyone's eyes were locked on the small boy.
Eventually, Joshua stood proudly before Valmont. Valmont's eyes trembled, but his voice was steady and solemn.
This moment was the birth of the youngest mana user in the history of the Avalon Empire—No, in the history of the entire continent.
"In accordance with His Majesty's will: from this moment forth, I declare Joshua von Agnus a C-Class Knight!"
The day after the test, the Imperial retinue had returned to the Imperial Palace. Of course, Prince Kaiser hadn't left without trying to seduce Joshua with his sweet promises. Joshua had deflected him with vague responses.
"Young Master Joshua… no, it's 'Sir' Joshua now… I won't say that I want you to be mine now. There will be plenty of time in the future. If you happen to be in Arcadia, please don't forget to visit me. It would be a great help for the Young Master."
"I have to ask… what kind of help are you talking about?"
"Bypassing the normal exams, the royal family can recommend a knight to their service. Unlike the exam, you would not be obligated to ten years of service… In other words, the Young Master can have his fill of honey and leave whenever he wishes."
"Obviously, this isn't something I should be saying as a member of the royal family, but I want you to know that my greed for you is that great."
Joshua couldn't help himself from laughing at the memory. When Prince Kaiser offered him that kind smile, however, he felt his stomach turn. If it weren't for Evergrant and Valmont, Joshua would have shoved Lugia through his foul mouth1. No two words described him better than "hypocrisy" and "idiocy".
Contrary to public knowledge, the Imperial Knights have more than ten battalions.
The 11th and 12th Battalions: the knights personally brought in by the royal family.
The higher you go, the more skilled the knights were.
There was a chance to challenge a battalion commander… and once you become a battalion commander, you have an opportunity to set foot inside the Palace once a year.
The Palace housed an ancient artifact hidden from the public. It was one of Joshua's greatest regrets.
First of all, I should deal with the situation right in front of me.
He stood before an enormous and grandiose door. This was the entrance to the largest conference room in the Agnus estate; today, the entire family was gathered.
"In this life… You won't be treated like a puppet."
I'll take it into my own hands.
Joshua's expression hardened as he gripped the doorknob.
The door creaked open.
- Don't taint Lugia with such a dirty mouth fls↩
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