Chapter 6

The day of the duel was bright, and the Count’s residence was swept away by a strange atmosphere. Many people were anticipating the fight between the eldest son, Zich, who had already lost his father’s favor, and the genius knight, Byner. It was even more exciting because although it wasn’t made official, they expected a duel for the succession between the young nobles, Zich and Greig.

However, there wasn’t a single person who wanted Zich to win. Inside the family, Zich was a complete outsider.

‘They planned this through and through.’

The circular arena looked quite unsophisticated, but it was large enough to make up for its crudeness. 

As a family that placed great importance on military might, Steelwall was used to opening tournaments from time to time. The circular arena was a place for situations like that, and now it was the place where Zich and Byner would fight.

‘To think that they prepared an arena for a single fight…’

Even if Zich was the Count’s eldest son, the scale of this event was too big. 

‘They probably want to taint my reputation and spread the news of my loss far and wide.’

Their agenda was obvious to Zich, but he didn’t care. He already expected this.

‘This is what I wanted.’

Zich looked around his surroundings. In the audience seats, there were more people than he expected. Knights, bureaucrats, retainers, and anyone else who had the time seemed to have come. 

Then, his eyes rested on one of the audience members: the Count and his family sitting on the upper seats. The Count wore his usual serious and solemn face, and next to him, the Countess was going on about something in his ear; and finally, there was Greig who arrogantly stared down at the view below him.

“They really fit each other.’

And there wasn’t a spot for him there. 

‘I didn’t realize that when I was young.’

Now that Zich thought about it, he had wasted a lot of time because he didn’t know that. 

‘I pity my dead mother.’

Zich turned his eyes away from the distasteful family. There was no need for him to keep staring at them uselessly. He had to focus on the opponent in front of him first.

‘He probably prepared everything he had for this.’

Byner, who stood in front of Zich, looked undeniably determined for the revenge match. Even though the match hadn’t begun yet, Byner’s hands kept going to his sword as if he was going to pull it out any moment.

“You must have been really waiting for this.”

“…”

Byner didn’t reply. His bloodshot eyes were locked onto Zich.

“Give it your all. If you want to make up for your shameful loss, this is your best chance.”

Only a few knew that Zich had beaten Byner, so baseless rumors about the incident spread across the Count’s residence. To ensure that those rumors stayed as rumors, Byner had to defeat Zich in this duel. 

Byner grunted, “Don’t worry. I have etched the lesson I learned from you into my heart. I think it is time for me to give you a lesson now. There’s a limit to winning by catching a person off-guard. In the end, the one with true skills will win.”

Byner’s attitude and stance were completely different than when Zich first met him; he was like a knight right before a battlefield.

“Your stance is commendable, but you must also know that if you lose here, it will worsen your already bad situation.”

“I heard that you started to learn how to control mana.”

“Did you hear that from Greig?”

“You don’t seem surprised that I know.”

“If you have a brain, it’s not hard to realize it. Of course, Greig will spread information that will put me at a disadvantage.”

“Do you feel confident just because you’ve learned a bit of mana control?”

“No, but that’s one of the many reasons.”

Byner’s face finally broke into a smile, but there wasn’t a shred of amiability in his expression.

‘That’s a good smile. It’s something that can really piss someone off after fucking them over. I should practice it later.’

There were still a lot of things to learn in this world.

“If that’s the case, then I’m going to destroy your delusions thoroughly.”

“Sure. Try hard to do that since we are not just battling for your honor.”

Zich pointed in a direction with his thumb. 

Since the arena was so large and the audience was scattered all around, it wasn’t hard to see what Zich was pointing at. Hans, whom Zich had beaten up, was hanging onto the wall that separated the audience seats and the arena. The servant’s stiff expression revealed his state of mind: if Byner lost this duel, Hans’s life was over. Byner would be disgraced and receive some punishment, but Hans’s head would be sliced off from his body.

“Don’t worry. There’s no way I will lose.”

That was why Byner wanted to recover his tarnished reputation and wanted Zich to have a taste of his own medicine.

“The duel will commence now!”

The knight, standing next to the Count on the upper seats, moved to the social seat that stuck out. As if he had infused some mana into his voice, the man’s voice echoed throughout the arena.

‘They really went all out on this.’

The man, who just spoke, wasn’t just any man. Among the Count’s troops, he was called the Kingdom’s metal fortress, the man in the forefront of all battles and the strongest, and best knight in the Steelwall army: Mihen Tiner.

Now that he was reaching old age, half of Tiner’s hair and beard had white streaks. Still, with his swelled-up muscles and bursting veins, he seemed to be defying time.

‘For the Captain of the Knights, Tiner, to be the host—what a spectacular duel.’

Of course, Zich didn’t feel any gratitude. 

“This is a duel between Zich Steelwall, the eldest son of the great Count Steelwall, and Halton Byner, the knight of the Steel Spear Order of Knights. The fight will continue until one loses consciousness or admits defeat! Murder won’t be accepted!”

The audience murmured. It wasn’t that they were surprised about the no murder rule. Even if the Steelwalls ostracized Zich, there was no way that they would approve of the killing of the Count’s eldest son. What surprised the audience was the first condition.

“The duel will continue until one of them loses consciousness or admits defeat? Aren’t they saying that they won’t intervene even if the fight becomes bloody?”

“That means the fight will go on even if one of them is fatally wounded. Is this really alright?”

With the exception of a fight for life and death, these rules were among the most dangerous and intense rules for a duel. 

Byner thought the same way.

“Are you fine with those conditions?”

“Why, does it scare you?”

“The cost of your recklessness will be high.”

“It won’t matter if I just crack the back of your head like last time.”

In contrast to people’s worries and thoughts, Zich seemed as calm as ever, but having been reminded of his humiliating defeat, Byner’s emotions rose again.

“…Fine.”

Byner hardened his heart, and Byner thought he shouldn’t kill Zich. Instead, he’d give the young noble a stronger thrashing than he had planned. 

“Although they raised their swords because of clashing views, I pray that their intentions are pure! Let them prove their pure intentions with their swords!”

“Yes, it’s definitely pure. Pure enough to try to cover up their wrongs and accept a duel with lies.”

Zich’s sarcasm pierced Byner’s heart, and he gritted his teeth.

“Unsheath your swords! 

Sling! Sling!

Both Zich and Byner pulled out their swords. The murmuring audience fell into silence, and heavy tension blanketed the arena.

“Start!”

Two swords moved in unison.

Clang!

The piercing sound of clashing swords echoed throughout the arena. Swords bounced off from the impact, and Zich and Byner softly stilled their swords. 

A distance between them formed.

Bam!

Byner ran in first. He had no intention of dragging out this duel; he wanted to end it as fast as possible and wanted an overwhelming victory to cover for his past, humiliating defeat. 

‘It doesn’t matter if he gets seriously injured! I shouldn’t think about controlling my strength right now!’

Byner had also prepared a potion and a fuse just in case. His muscles twitched as mana flowed through him, and superhuman power surrounded his body.

Woooooo!

Mana, which strengthened his muscles, seeped into his sword, and the sword began to ring. Its cries sounded like the screams of a homicidal maniac crying for blood. 

‘It’s over,’ Tiner thought as he watched the duel from afar. The Zich he knew didn’t have the skills to stop the next series of blows. 

‘Even if he’s started to learn about mana, this is not something a beginner can block.’ 

And Tiner strained his muscles so that he could move immediately. Even if Zich was almost disowned by his family, he was still the eldest, and Tiner couldn’t simply let Zich die.

‘Byner is too excited. I should really make him go through more mental training…’

Clannnnng!

The sound of iron rods clashing against each other disturbed Tiner from his thoughts. The sound was extremely high and sharp, as if swords of similar strengths were confronting one another, and Tiner immediately began thinking again. 

‘This is…’

It was unbelievable—Zich and Byner were engaging in a close fight, and Tiner’s eyes widened to witness the brilliance of such a battle. 

                                                                 *     *     *

Swords danced in a dizzying whirl. The duelers sometimes swung their swords widely or instantly drew their swords back and sharply pierced toward their opponents’ vulnerable spots again. 

The audience felt an odd mix of tension, excitement, and confusion. They felt excited from witnessing a fight that could easily result in a death with a single mishap and felt a sense of embarrassment from seeing how Zich’s skills were well beyond their expectations.

Clang! Clang!

They exchanged a countless number of clashes. 

Byner swung his sword again with murderous intent. As expected of an official knight, he showed sophisticated skills and swung his sword with great strength. 

Claaaang!

Once again, Zich’s black sword stopped his sword. 

‘Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! Goddamn it!’

Byner grimaced, and in his heart, he had already sworn more than a thousand curses. His plan of defeating Zich as quickly as possible to recover his honor had already crumbled into dust. 

Inside the arena, Byner could feel the mood that was spreading among his audience.

‘He hasn’t even learned proper swordsmanship!’

If things continued like this, his reputation would be tarnished even more. Byner had the upper hand for now, but it was not enough with just that. 

Slam!

Byner took a step backward and thought, ‘I will bet my victory on this!’ 

Then, he tilted his sword horizontally and brought it next to his face. The end of his sword was aimed at Zich’s neck.

‘A big one is coming.’

Zich prepared his stance, spread his legs wide apart, and lifted his sword straight up.

Byner’s sword began to cry crazily, and mana flowed into his body wildly. Mana circled through his body once like a turbulent wave and passed into his sword and back to his body again. A huge stream circulated through his body and sword, and at that moment, Byner’s senses extended from his body to his sword.

‘That is!’

Tiner’s eyes widened. Everyone who recognized Byner’s state became surprised, and even the Count leaned forward. Byner was using a considerably advanced technique. Even though it was a skill that most of the knights in Steelwall could use, it was beyond what people in Byner’s age range could do.

Shoot!

Like a stream of light, Byner’s body seemed to elongate, but it was only an illusion. Then, in the blink of an eye, the ends of Byner’s sword inched toward Zich’s neck.

‘Caught you!’

Byner’s eyes sparkled. 

Clang!

After feeling the shock, Byner hurriedly straightened his body again and held onto his sword.

Skritch!

Byner’s sword slid down as it scratched the body of Zich’s sword.

Slam!

Byner’s sword stopped and got stuck on Zich’s guard, and Zich smiled at the sight of Byner’s sword hanging next to his face.

“What did I tell you?”

Byner stood still from the shock of seeing his killer strike get blocked and he heard Zich’s voice ringing in his ear.

“I told you that you were easy.”

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