An eerie atmosphere flowed through the audience. The Count, Greig, and the Order of Knights had their mouths shut, not saying anything. No, they were at a loss for words.
On the other hand, the Countess and the others who didnt know much about military arts were surprised by the strange atmosphere. They sensed that Zich had done something amazing, but they didnt know to what extent.
Verden Trell, the butler of the Counts family, asked, “Contrary to our expectations, the young master is doing well. But seeing the knights reaction, it seems like he is doing better than what I am seeing. Could you perhaps explain the situation to me”
Trell had a long, neat beard and was an old man who had assisted the Count as a retainer since the Counts young days. He was an essential servant who took care of all sorts of matters in the Counts absence. Furthermore, he was one of the very few people who didnt discriminate against Zich.
Trell asked his question to the middle-aged man behind the Count, named Danny Chris Nunn, the vice-captain of theSteel Spear Order of Knights. Chris Nunns standing wasnt comparable to Tiner, who was the captain of the Order, but he was one of the three most influential people in Steelwall.
“Oh, oh my. Zich seems to be doing well, but doesn't Sir Byner still have the upper hand”
The Countess felt personally offended by all the compliments that Zich was receiving and hurriedly placed Byner back on the pedestal. Trell smiled pleasantly and responded to the Countess, but it wasnt what the Countess wanted to hear.
“Since the young master has never properly learned swordsmanship before, Sir Byner would, of course, have the advantage in a duel. If thats not the case, then the Order of Knights will be disgraced.”
Chris Nunn sighed. As the vice-captain of the Order of Knights, he felt particularly pressured.
Trell continued on like he had missed the Vice-captains sighs.
“But it is true that the young master, Zich, is doing much better than we expected. Seeing the knights reaction, it seems his skills are much higher than what we can see. I cant be happier to see that the young master of the Steelwall family is so highly-skilled even without proper training.”
The Countesss expression darkened while Greigs breathing became harsh. But they didnt show any reactions beyond that because Trell was someone who even the Countess had a hard time dealing with.
“How is it, Sir Chris Nunn”
“Im sure you are aware of the Extension of the Senses.”
“From what I heard, I know that Extension of the Senses is a skill where you can synchronize your body and sword with mana and move a sword as part of your hands and feet. Is that right”
“That is exactly right. Its a rite of passage for a standard knight to learn the skill, but it is also challenging to learn because you have to control your mana very subtly. Its not something that someone in Byners age range can normally do.”
“Is Sir Byner in his young twenties”
“He is twenty-three.”
“Hohoho. Its a blessing for Steelwall to have such a young talent. But Sir Chris Nunn.”
“Young master Zich seems to be able to use that amazing skill. Is that right”
No matter what, he was still the Steelwalls butler, and Trell had enough sense to notice that Zich was using the same skill calledExtension of the Senses that Byner used. Chris Nunn took a quick glance at the Countess, but in the end, he nodded.
“That is right.”
“And isn't young master Zich, nineteen this year He is younger than Knight Byner by four years. How many have mastered that skill at that age”
“…As far as I know, no one in our Order.”
“Including Knight Tiner”
“To my knowledge, the Captain learned the skill around the same time as Byner.”
“That is really impressive,” Trell said in admiration. He then rolled over to Greig who was sitting next to the Count. A combination of agitation, embarrassment, jealousy, and a sense of inferiority flurried onto Greigs face at once. His eyes blazed as he stared down at the fighting ground.
“Does that mean that young master Greig has also not mastered the skill yet”
Greigs face stiffened. Chris Nunn nodded again while sensing Greigs change in expression.
Chris Nunn didnt support Zich; he actually thought Greig was the rightful heir like the rest of the people in Steelwall, and he was simply answering a question as a fellow fighter.
“E-Even if Greig hasnt mastered this skill yet, he knows many other good skills.”
“The Countesss words are right. Extension of the Senses isnt the only skill that a knight has to learn. It is definitely a vital skill, but other skills are also critical.”
Chris Nunn supported the Countess.
“Of course. I know how amazing young master Greig is. He is the pride of Steelwall.”
Trell smiled and went with the flow.
“Im glad that you recognize that.”
The Countesss expression finally loosened, but as if he was doing it on purpose, Trell provoked the Countess again.
“As the familys butler, my heart overflows with emotions now that the Steelwall family has two people to boast about.”
With almost teary eyes, the Countess stared at Chris Nunn. It was evident that she wanted him to somehow prove that Greig was better than Zich. Unfortunately for the Countess, Chris Nunn was a beast in battle but weak in politics. Chris Nunn continued to stare at the fighting ground with an awkward expression until his eyes widened.
Byner drew his sword backward and quickly threw it in the air.
There was an explosion, and the space in front of Byner curved strangely.
With a theatrical voice, Chris Nunn spat,“That is a skill calledPiercing Space. You have to concentrate mana into the ends of your sword to fiercely pierce at the space in front of you to shoot air mixed with mana-like arrows at your opponent. Its also a difficult skill to learn, but young master Greig can also execute it.”
“Thats amazing, but Sir Chris Nunn...”
Trell pointed to the fighting ground with his hand.
“Doesnt it seem like young master Zich can also use it”
Trells finger pointed at Zich who seemed to be skillfully avoiding the invisiblePiercing Space moves and was actually responding with the same techniques.
“I-I see. It seems that young master Zich has also mastered the skill.”
Chris Nunn clamped his mouth shut after saying those words. He would only lose if he recklessly opened his mouth again. He could feel the Countesss eyes, filled with resentment, prickling along his back.
* * *
Byner was in a state of confusion.
“What in the world!”
He never thought something like this would happen, not even once. His opponent was a beginner who just started playing with mana and had never learned swordsmanship.
But now, his opponent was showing off advanced skills one after another and putting up a good fight; and of course, the audiences interest was on Zich.
Byners plan to overwhelmingly and spectacularly defeat Zich to recover his tarnished reputation was already ruined. Anyone could tell that this duels main lead wasnt Byner but Zich.
I have to win! I have to win! I have to win!
Byners head was only filled with his desire to win. The only thing left for him was to protect his honor by somehow winning this duel.
Fortunately, my skills dont look too awkward.
There was a slight delay every time Zich used a skill against Byner as if he was using something his body wasnt used to. It was a very faint gap, but Byners prodigal instincts sensed it.
By whatever means! I have to knock him down!
Byners heart burned with emotions that teetered between justice and murderous intent.
It wasnt a good situation for Zich.
My body is starting to crack a bit.
Even if Zich was utilizing the experience he had gained as the Demon Lord of Strength, he was slowly reaching his limit. His current body hadnt gone through the same training.
The skills arent absolute either.
Zich was using many advanced techniques, but that was only because he was able to control his mana to near perfection.
Although many had misunderstood Zichs techniques to be rough because of his nickname as the Demon Lord of Strength, that was only because the results of his actions were so destructive; many of his techniques were actually very sophisticated.
But that was all. Zich lacked in everything else that didnt require mana control. Furthermore, because his body wasnt used to the techniques, there were slight cracks in his movements that came out here and there.
Its like thinking about how I have to move each muscle fiber beforehand.
It was also a moment that revealed how monstrous Zich was to put something as nonsensical as that into action.
The distance between the two widened again.
“It seems you have trained in secret for quite a while. To think you even know how to use Extension of the Senses.”
“Something like extending my senses is a piece of cake.”
He didnt mean to provoke Byner. For Zich, who had near-perfect control in mana, Extension of the Senses was an easy skill to master.
“Then keep hanging on like that.”
Byner rushed in again.
The sound of clanging iron echoed. The situation was the same as before—no, it only seemed that way. Byners attacks poured out in violent waves, and Zich resisted and strategically fought back.
But anyone with good senses realized it.
It will end soon.
Tiner guessed the end of this surprising and unexpected duel. Although Zichs abilities were surprising, as expected of Steelwalls best knight, Byner knew Zichs weak spots.
When Byner started to poke at these weak spots, Zichs hands and feet started to lose control.
But young master Zichs skills are really surprising. Did he always have this much talent
Seeing the gaps in his techniques, it looked like Zich had learned them recently, but the completed execution was surprising.
He must have practiced the techniques for a while, and after learning how to control mana, he must have exponentially brought them to completion.
Although the techniques that Zich was using were impressive, they were also widespread. Tiner thought that Zich could have chosen from a lot of people to teach him.
But it doesnt change how amazing this is. He can really push young master Greig out of the picture at this rate.
Tiner glanced at Greig who was biting his lips while intensely staring at the duel before him.
Blood spurted out, and groans or exclamations escaped from the audience. The place where the blood poured out was from Zichs forearm.
Its deep. I guess it will end like this.
Tiner was sure that the duel would end with Zichs surrender, and he got ready to step down to the stage.
Blood spurted out again, but this time, the blood wasnt Zichs.
He stabbed back
Tiners body froze in place. The absolutely unexpected was taking place on the fighting ground.
* * *
Byner looked down at his burning wound. There was a deep, long cut in his left forearm, and blood was trickling out of it.
What the hell!
Byner recalled what just happened; he aimed to attack the vulnerabilities made by the gaps in Zichs techniques. The gaps in Zichs techniques were getting bigger, and he finally succeeded in piercing through the defenses to land an attack on Zich.
But at that exact moment, he was wounded by Zichs sword.
Byner suddenly realized what happened.
No, he didnt defend. He gave up on it!
Knowing that it was getting hard to defend, Zich gave up on defending all together. Zich had sacrificed a little to gain much more.
Stay calm! Stay calm, Byner!
Byner had heard about a situation like this in his education many times before, and considering the situation, he was still at an advantage. His opponent was cornered to the point that he had to give up his defense, and although his wound pained him, he had experienced this kind of injury many times before.
However, his heart continued to beat like crazy without any sign of calming down.
Although Byner had seen many guys rush into fights out of desperation like mountain bandits, it was his first time against a tactical opponent on a similar skill level. His experience was lacking even if he was a genius knight.
“You are nervous, right” Zich asked. Unlike Byner who was desperately trying to calm himself, Zich was smiling. Byner began to feel terrified.
“This is just the beginning. Its going to be a deathmatch rather than a duel. Stay alert.”
Zich rushed towards Byner. It wasnt like the sophisticated movements he had shown so far, but a straight forward dash with many open spots, but Byner couldnt attack. He knew that if he tried to attack Zichs weak spots, Zich would pay him back with a greater attack.
Byner helplessly blocked Zichs attack. And afterward, like Zich said, a battle that reeked of blood unfolded.