With a single slash—just one—everything in Joshua's path was swept away. All he could see were shredded bodies and mulched vegetation. It had all been reduced to a sticky mess by the wind pressure from Lugia. The howling vortex seemed to take on a life of its own, smashing through the forest like a titan's fist.
It was a bloody massacre… Maybe he'd swung Lugia a little too hard?
"Hup!" Joshua took a short breath and slammed Lugia against the ground. There was a thump like a boulder hitting the ground, and the slowly settling dust was blasted away. Only the whimpers of dying monsters remained to disturb the still air.
"Ah, well…" A disappointed sigh slipped out of Joshua's lips.
I thought I'd mastered level 2, but it seems I'm still far from perfection. It's not even half the original power. A child's body has its limits.
His whole body screamed from the excessive mana use, but Joshua had no time to waste.
I saw the direction the monsters were going—there's a high chance they'll encounter the campsite soon.
Time was of the essence. He had to get the stone and rejoin the group as quickly as possible.
It's definitely here. Joshua's eyes lit up as he peered into the darkness the monster horde had departed from.
As he approached, the confidence in his eyes was slowly replaced by caution. The origin stone had the strange power of attracting all living things, like a sweet siren song. Joshua's finely tuned senses could feel the energy radiating from the origin stone—energy that would give Joshua tremendous power.
Joshua stepped into the heart of the forest, eyes dancing with excitement when they landed upon the dark object buried in the forest floor.
The entire forest felt tense, as if weighed down by the primordial power practically exploding from the legendary stone. It crackled with black currents of energy as if tapping into the power of the forest itself.
The Red Knights and the soldiers of the Locke Estate were enjoying their sweet break time—
"Battle stations!" A hundred Red Knights hurried into formation at Chiffon's call.
"The Knights of Locke will take their respective positions! Soldiers, cover the knights!" Roben rallied the thirty-or-so knights and five hundred soldiers that had accompanied them.
"Duke, something is strange." Viscount Vig, clearly having just woken up, approached Duke Agnus with a trembling voice.
"Ah, well…" Duke Agnus licked his dry lips and glanced into the sky.
The Blood Moon peeked bashfully back at him from behind the hazy clouds. By all calculations, the Blood Moon shouldn't have risen until midnight of the next day—obviously, though, they'd been wrong.
And now we pay the price.
Duke Agnus stared at the thousands-strong monster horde approaching them.
"A knight should never lose his composure, neither in fortune nor failure."
The humming of voices fell silent as Duke Agnus spoke.
"Just show the skills you've trained all this time, and…" Duke Agnus took a careful look at the knights. "...follow my lead."
A rush of adrenaline flooded their veins.
"The Duke is with us!" Chiffon was the first to voice his excitement.
The air was quickly filled with their shouts.
"The Duke is with us!"
"The proud men of Locke shall also go forth!" Even Viscount Vig, who wore a perpetually terrified expression, puffed his chest up and stepped forward.
"YAHHHH!" The troops of Locke jostled each other, overcome by the mood. Viscount Vig grinned, buoyed by their confidence.
Duke Agnus turned slowly to face the horde.
"Please hold." Chiffon raised his hand to stop his subordinate, who looked ready to jump out at any second.
"The Duke has not issued orders."
The young Red Knight turned to watch Duke Agnus intently. For an instant, he seemed to shiver, and then his sword appeared in his hands. A dark blur of movement split the air in front of him—something had been cut, though no one had seen the sword move.
"Uh… sooner or later…" The knight was a promising young talent in his early thirties who had recently reached the expert level, yet he hadn't felt the Duke move at all.
But what happened next was even more astounding: hundreds of creatures, well over 20 meters away, erupted into a chorus of screams as they were split in two. Their halved bodies tumbled to the ground, staining it with blood and viscera.
"That slash…" Chiffon mumbled blankly.
At first glance, the move was simple, but these were godlike actions only another Master could duplicate. Even then, Chiffon was sure that they wouldn't be able to match his master's sheer power. His overwhelming strength stunned even the simple-minded beasts; nowhere else could you see a monster cowering before a human being.
"Young Master! That is your father: Aden von Agnus!" Viscount Vig shouted at Babel with a flushed face. The boy quivered with growing excitement, though he didn't show it on his face. "You, who inherited his blood, will surely be like that too! Ah!"
No matter how much of a monster you are, you're still a child. No doubt it's surprising to see this for the first time. Viscount Vig smiled as he misinterpreted Babel's trembling.
Isn't he a lovely nephew? He was an infinitely caring uncle to Babel. Vig knew Babel would be a big help to him in the future.
Wait… come to think of it… A startling notion brought a frown to his face. He snapped around but couldn't find what he was looking for.
Viscount Vig cautiously approached Chiffon, his frown deepening.
"Sir Chiffon, where is that trash—ah, no. Where is that child?"
"What do you mean, 'that child'?" Chiffon cocked his head quizzically.
"I mean, the bastard who said his name was 'Joshua'?"
"Ah!" Chiffon nodded in understanding and peeked around. "Yes. Come to think of it… I can't see him either."
"I guess he ran away and left us all to die, did he? This lowly thing. Tsk."
The knights could clearly hear Viscount Vig's voice in the peculiar lull created by Duke Agnus's attack.
"What? Did he really run away?"
"No matter how young he is, I haven't seen him once."
"Hah, I knew it. He really was different from Young Master Babel."
"He's really acting like this—the blood of the Duke no less!"
Little by little, the murmurs of discontent swelled. Noblesse oblige—yet the person who should be leading by example was the first to flee. Joshua's reputation was tarnished.
"What are you doing? There are enemies before us!" The Duke's thunderous voice drew them back to the present.
"Glory to Agnus!"
"The Duke is with us!"
"Raise your swords!"
Duke Agnus advanced towards the reeling monsters as the knights prepared to do battle. Just as the horde looked like it had lost the will to fight, a thunderous roar kicked up a dense cloud of dust behind the beasts.
The Black Ogre emerged from the forest and casually reduced a kobold into mincemeat. The terrified monsters began to edge towards the knights again.
"It's…" Chiffon's face fell. This could have ended as a minor incident, but that was all in vain.
We will have no choice but to confront the monsters head-on like we'd planned.
Duke Agnus had remained stoic through it all, but now:
This energy…? For the first time, his countenance was shaken.
Something dark erupted from behind the monsters' ranks.
"I— That—!" Chiffon boggled at the sight. "Joshua… Young Master Joshua?"
Before the eyes of the assembled knights, Joshua fell from the sky like a bolt of lightning.
With a deafening roar, white lightning struck the Black Ogre's head.
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