Wortenia Senki (LN) - Volume 15 - Chapter 4

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Chapter 4: Master of the Twin Blades

It was the day after Lady Yulia’s meeting with her father. Just past noon, Lady Yulia made her way to one of the Christof Company’s brothels, as per her father’s instructions. Her intention was to discuss her meeting with Ryoma the day prior, but she also planned to address the future coexistence of their companies.

Having arrived shortly before the agreed upon time, Lady Yulia followed a middle-aged receptionist to a reception room on the brothel’s third floor.

They’re less antagonistic than I thought they’d be. I was prepared for them to turn me away at the door, actually. 

The room’s decor was luxurious. The furniture and the carpet were high quality, even to Lady Yulia’s discerning eye. It was clear that this room was meant for meeting important guests and clients.

Lady Yulia had sent a messenger this morning to arrange this meeting, and based on their report, it seemed the Christof Company wasn’t fixated on its dislike of the Mystel Company.

Not that I intend to be careless, though.

Lady Yulia was aware that Simone and her company had reasons to resent her. Business rivalries could be similar to war. Just like in real combat, one took advantage of openings and moved in on a weakened opponent, but that didn’t necessarily mean that the opponent would take that lying down. In addition, things were exacerbated by how the Mystel Company had used Lady Yulia’s marriage to Count Salzberg to apply pressure on Simone. They had taken measures to ensure that things never crossed that final threshold, but Lady Yulia didn’t think that would make for much of an excuse. She wouldn’t be surprised if, despite this friendly welcome, Simone was planning to outright poison her. Fortunately, Lady Yulia’s expectations were unwarranted.

There was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Lady Yulia called, and the door opened.

“My apologies if I’ve kept you waiting, Lady Yulia Salzberg.”

A woman entered the room, her hair arranged neatly. She wore a fair dress with a low neckline and a daring design, but the laces holding it together kept it from looking too striking.

Lady Yulia slowly rose from the sofa and shook her head. “Oh, I don’t mind at all. If anything, I should be thanking you. After all, you took time out of your day to meet me despite my sudden request.”

Simone’s expression wavered somewhat, and Lady Yulia noticed it. She just barely caught the momentary shift in Simone’s complexion, a shift so subtle that most people wouldn’t notice it at all. But Lady Yulia, who’d held countless negotiations over the years, wouldn’t miss it.

It looks like my intentions got across to her.




Normally, Lady Yulia would never need to apologize to Simone. She was a legal wife and member of House Salzberg, and with her husband dead, the citadel city of Epirus was hers in both name and substance. Simone, meanwhile, was just the acting president of a simple trade company. Lady Yulia was far above her in rank. Despite this, Lady Yulia had just apologized to Simone. It could only mean one thing.

That said, Simone was a fine woman who’d continued running the company even after her father became infirm. She wouldn’t give away the momentum in the conversation that easily.

“It wouldn’t do to talk while standing, so please, do have a seat,” Simone said as she sat opposite Lady Yulia. “So, what business brings you to me on this fine day?”

Her attitude remained strictly polite, but it made the unpleasant distance between them that much more palpable.

Like I thought. But, no...

Before Lady Yulia married Count Salzberg, she and Simone had been close. Both were daughters of major firms in Epirus, and both were talented women blessed with business acumen. They were rivals even back then, so they hadn’t exactly been friends, but they had exchanged greetings every now and then, and they’d talked and exchanged pleasantries during dinner parties and meals.

Their friendly rivalry had crumbled when Yulia Mystel married Count Thomas Salzberg. Count Salzberg deeply disliked his father and wanted to rebel against him, and those emotions progressed into full blown hatred and a desire to kill. He’d had his reasons, and the hatred had continued to smolder even after he killed his father and younger brother.

Unfortunately, the real problems had come after that. Count Salzberg had wanted to wipe away any and all traces of his father. He submerged himself in pleasure without caring one bit for governing his domain and even besmirched the very name of House Salzberg, a proud warrior family, because he resented and hated his family as a whole. In fact, he hated the very existence of nobility. He despised being a member of the aristocracy he so loathed and sought to escape from that reality. To him, the Christof Company, which had supported the citadel city’s economy for generations, was a despicable opponent whose existence he simply couldn’t tolerate.

House Salzberg was charged with two important duties: protecting the kingdom’s northern borders and warding off monsters invading from the Wortenia Peninsula. To do so, it had spent a vast amount on military expenses, which in turn had greatly impacted their financial standing and left them in dire straits. The only reason House Salzberg was able to maintain appearances at all was because the Christof Company was working behind the scenes to support its headship and Epirus’s financial growth.

The first thing Count Salzberg did upon inheriting the headship was change the head of the city’s merchants’ union. To him, the Christof Company was an enemy that had backed his hateful father for years. Instead, he chose Zack Mystel, the man who’d built up the Mystel Company within a single generation, to be the new head of the union.

When Count Salzberg first approached Zack with the idea, Zack had been perplexed. But as a merchant, he couldn’t turn down an offer that would expand his company that much, so he’d agreed to Count Salzberg’s proposal. In a way, he’d had no choice but to accept. If he’d turned Count Salzberg down and refused to give the count his daughter in marriage, Count Salzberg would have used his full authority to utterly crush the Mystel Company.

The rumors said that Zack was the one who’d approached Count Salzberg with the intention of selling off his daughter, but the truth was quite the opposite. Zack was, in a sense, both a victim of Count Salzberg’s and an accomplice. That had hardly mattered to Simone’s side, however. The victim of a crime cared little for the tragic circumstances that drove their assailant to commit it.

Even so, I can’t back down now. What would be the point of coming here, then?

Ryoma Mikoshiba had made it very clear the day prior that he wanted the Mystel Company and the Christof Company to work together. That also meant that he wasn’t going to pick sides, something he was adamant about. Still, if the two companies were to outright clash, there was no guarantee that he would stick to his word.

If it came to that, Ryoma would likely expel the Mystel Company first. It wasn’t explicit whether that would destroy their company entirely, but it was obvious that they wouldn’t be able to continue business like they used to.

If it’s between newcomers like us and Simone, it goes without saying. Simone has sided with him from the very beginning.

It wasn’t even favoritism; that was the rational choice. If the Mystel Company wanted to be the better choice, it would have to be the more profitable and reasonable option. All the same, beating the Christof Company’s profit, when it had so far managed all trade in the Mikoshiba barony, would be difficult. If it couldn’t be the most profitable, it would have to be the most moral and just company of the two.

Of course, it would be best if our two companies really could work together...

Whether reconciliation was possible depended on the other party’s personality and way of thinking, especially in this case, where Lady Yulia was a victim of circumstances too. If Lady Yulia were to needlessly demand justice for that, they probably wouldn’t be able to come to a compromise.

Yulia’s concerns proved to be misplaced, though.

“My apologies. That might’ve been an unpleasant way of putting it. Do forgive me,” Simone said, smiling at Lady Yulia. It was the same soft smile Lady Yulia knew from before.

Simone then picked up the bell on the table and rang it twice. Lady Yulia watched her suspiciously, but Simone just smiled again.

“I’ll have some more tea prepared,” she said. “I’m sure we have a lot to discuss, but we won’t make the most beneficial deals if we negotiate while we’re both on edge.”

At that moment, a maid entered the room as if she’d been waiting for Simone to say that. Simone instructed her to prepare tea. The tea had likely been made ahead of time, because as soon as the maid clapped twice, another maid opened the door and pushed a cart loaded with a teapot, cups, and snacks into the room.

The maid served them with practiced motions. Lady Yulia watched as she poured an amber-colored liquid with a reddish tint into her cup. Lady Yulia recognized it as soon as the scent wafted up.

This aroma...

It was the same tea Ryoma had served her just the day prior—black Qwiltantian tea.

I see. So that’s what this is about. I didn’t think she’d pay me back with the same thing I did way back when. Ironic.

Lady Yulia understood everything now, except whether Simone meant it as a prank or as malicious provocation. She watched as Simone picked up her cup and took a calm, collected sip of her tea, but Lady Yulia couldn’t read what was in her heart.

The air filled with tension...and then Simone laughed. Her demeanor had completely changed. Her gentle smile was gone, and her expression was now that of a hardened merchant.

“My apologies. I might’ve taken my jokes too far. I heard you often drink this tea during your meetings with the lord, so I thought I should try it. I meant no ill will.”

“I see. That’s good, then.”

Lady Yulia nodded, seemingly satisfied with that explanation. Her heart was still throbbing, and she struggled to calm her fears, but Simone’s new attitude did put her somewhat at ease.

It really was just a prank, albeit in bad taste. She wanted to get back at me on some level. I swear, she hasn’t changed in that regard. But if so...

Lady Yulia knew that Simone Christof usually maintained a mild-mannered facade but could exhibit a startling degree of toxicity. When Simone dealt with a difficult opponent, she made some truly scathing remarks. When she talked to an enemy, she surpassed even that.

Simone likely sensed Lady Yulia’s hesitation, because she suddenly said, “Let us do away with the games and get to the heart of the matter, shall we? I know your reasons for coming here.”

“I see. And what does the Christof Company intend to do?” Lady Yulia asked, her expression stiff.

In Lady Yulia’s eyes, ninety percent of this conversation had gone as expected, but she still couldn’t know for sure what would come next. Whatever Simone said could seal her father’s and the company’s fate. Not even Lady Yulia could remain composed in this situation.

“Yes, well... We have some emotional baggage to sift through, but I’m aware of your circumstances, and more importantly, I can’t ignore the lord’s will.”

Simone dropped her cold expression and smiled at Lady Yulia.

“The Christof Company will continue to use Sirius as its base of operations to maintain trade along the coast, namely with Helnesgoula and Myest. We would like for the Mystel Company to handle sales with the three kingdoms of the east, especially Rhoadseria, in tandem with us.”

Lady Yulia exhaled loudly. It wasn’t proper etiquette for a young woman, and normally she wouldn’t display her emotions so outwardly, but she couldn’t restrain her relief.

“I understand. Thank you kindly. I am grateful for your magnanimous words.”

“Oh, it’s fine. Doing so costs me nothing at all,” Simone said, her tone sincere. In truth, she had no choice but to accept this reconciliation.

There isn’t any value in fighting the Mystel Company now anyway, Lady Yulia told herself, confirming her suspicions.

Simone would surely gain satisfaction from crushing the Mystel Company, but from a business standpoint, it would be a bad move. The Christof Company was wholly occupied at present. Trade activity in the north had been on the rise since Helnesgoula and the three kingdoms of the east had formed a trade union.

At first, only the Christof Company’s ships handled shipping to those kingdoms, but now, vessels from all over the continent sailed for trade. Sirius had even started allowing ships from both Helnesgoula in the north and Myest in the east to stop and restock as they traveled the northern sea routes.

Ferrying goods by ship to Sirius was both the fastest and the easiest way to transport most goods in one trip. As a result, many merchants had sought permission to use Sirius’s harbor. However, back then, Ryoma had allowed only the Christof Company to dock in his harbor, making it essentially Simone’s exclusive port. Thanks to that, the Christof Company’s profits had skyrocketed.

There were drawbacks to their expansion, though. Because of the sudden growth, the Christof Company didn’t have enough people to handle operations. They’d managed to stay on top of things so far, but it had been difficult. It was becoming a burden to dispatch clerks who could read, write, and calculate numbers.

With the situation being what it was, it would be insane to crush the Mystel Company. In fact, if the Christof Company did crush it, it would create a financial void in the northern regions—a void that the Christof Company wouldn’t be able to fill. At worst, a third party could move in to close the gap, and they might not necessarily act in the Mikoshiba barony’s favor.

Compared to that, partnering with us is a much better alternative.

Even so, Simone’s feelings could have been an issue. Calculating profit and loss was an exact science, but emotions often muddied the waters, leading people to reject the most profitable option. Nonetheless, Lady Yulia had predicted that Simone would know better than that—and the gamble had paid off.

It seemed Simone was aware of Lady Yulia’s expectations. They nodded at each other, and the tension between them petered out. The two women, and the two companies, had officially reconciled.

“Since we have this chance, may I ask a question?” Lady Yulia said as she brought her teacup to her lips. “Miss Simone, what do you predict the lord’s next step will be?”

“What do I predict?” Simone replied.

“Yes. From what I’ve seen, it seems he intends to rule over the ten houses of the north’s territory.”

Lady Yulia had actually doubted Ryoma’s intentions this whole time. After all, Ryoma had burned down the ten houses’ domains during the war.

He did that to drive the refugees out and tilt things in his favor when he besieged Epirus. But if he wanted to rule those territories after, that was a bad play. More importantly, does he know that?

Ryoma had used a viable war tactic, but as a merchant, Lady Yulia saw it as ruining the territory’s economic equilibrium. On top of that, burning the refugees’ homes and assets would create unrest among his population. No such feelings had surfaced yet, but it was only a matter of time until things reached a boiling point. The best way to avoid that would be to permit them to return to their villages and resume their lives, but Ryoma seemingly didn’t have any intention of doing that. Many of the refugees were still detained in Epirus’s streets and outskirts.

He’s providing them with food and shelter, so things are much better for them, but...

Ryoma hadn’t abandoned them, so he was obviously aware of the problems, but Lady Yulia just couldn’t fathom what his endgame was.

Simone, understanding Lady Yulia’s misgivings, nodded and said, “Indeed. I’m not privy to all of his plans, but I think this is all groundwork for the future.”

“Groundwork?” Lady Yulia asked.

“Yes. He’s preparing for a war that will break out in the near future.”

Lady Yulia looked at Simone. “With the House of Lords? I mean, I doubt they will simply overlook his war on the north, but are you saying that he’s already considering the possibility of a war with them too?”

Lady Yulia’s surprise was understandable. The House of Lords was the cornerstone of Rhoadseria’s justice system. It arbitrated conflicts among governors and punished nobles who’d broken national law. It would not stand by and do nothing after the war Ryoma had waged. Ryoma Mikoshiba had earned the wrath of Rhoadseria’s nobility, and they would not overlook his actions. War was an inevitability.

“That’s part of it,” Simone said, “but I think he’s looking even further ahead.”

“Further ahead?” Lady Yulia furrowed her brows. “You don’t mean...”

Lady Yulia realized what Simone was implying and came to a conclusion, but it was so absurd that, if this were any other conversation, she’d have laughed it off. But it wasn’t, and she didn’t.

Is she serious? A mere baron going that far? But if you think of it that way, everything does start to fall into place.

The pieces gradually began to form a bigger image, a picture more vast and grand than anything Lady Yulia Salzberg had ever envisioned.

“So this is all just groundwork?” Lady Yulia asked. “He’s calculated everything, even his war on the north, all so he can... So his duel with Sir Robert in a few days, to decide whether Robert will serve him, is that...?”

Simone nodded. “In all likelihood. Burning the ten houses’ villages, filling Epirus with refugees, keeping them there... His final objective is...”

The two women gazed at each other until, eventually, they both let out the breaths they’d been holding.

“So that’s what he’s thinking,” Lady Yulia concluded. “The man we’re serving is either the most indomitable hero of all time or the world’s greatest, most unsalvageable fool.”

Simone smiled bitterly, but she didn’t blame Lady Yulia for the comment, instead implying that she felt much the same way.

“It doesn’t matter much which he is,” Simone muttered, speaking from her heart. “Be he a hero or a fool...”

Was this the cold, calculating nature of a merchant? Or was it a woman’s affection for a man? Whichever it was, Simone Christof would not choose a different path. Her heart had been set ever since the day she first met Ryoma Mikoshiba.

Lady Yulia nodded deeply, indicating that she felt much the same way.

A large, round moon floated outside the window. It was just past midnight, but candlelight still illuminated Ryoma’s room in Count Salzberg’s estate. Ryoma was resting on the sofa, staring up at the ceiling.

“So tomorrow’s the day,” he murmured to himself. He was alone, and his voice echoed loudly through the room.

Dammit. Am I nervous?

Ryoma couldn’t help but sneer at his own actions. His duel with Robert Bertrand to decide whether Robert would serve Ryoma was at noon tomorrow. It wasn’t a fight to the death, just a practice match, but it could still be dangerous for two reasons. The first was that this duel was a showcase to illustrate that Ryoma was worthy of Robert’s service. Robert was famous across the neighboring kingdoms as one of Count Salzberg’s Twin Blades and as one of the strongest warriors in Rhoadseria. It was going to take a great feat from Ryoma in order to show his strength and worthiness as Robert’s new lord.

The second reason was that since Ryoma wanted Robert’s service, Ryoma obviously couldn’t kill him, but nothing prevented Robert from killing Ryoma. On top of that, even if neither of them wanted to kill the other, Robert was so skilled that even a careless move could get either of them killed. They were also fighting with real weapons, not ones used for training, and they could use martial thaumaturgy. Therefore, while this wasn’t real combat, it was as close as it could get. One unlucky move could literally cost Ryoma his life.

The biggest concern, however, was that Ryoma wasn’t in prime condition.

I’m doing much better now, but...

During his duel with Count Salzberg, Ryoma had used Kikoku’s power, which had temporarily unlocked the use of the sixth Ajna chakra, located between his brows. It was as if he’d been an electrical appliance charged with more electricity than he was meant to hold, allowing him to operate beyond his normal capacities. Such a surge was sure to fry the motor or burn the wiring, and it had naturally resulted in a backlash.

Ryoma had used some of Kikoku’s prana as a battery, taking it into his body. That had given him temporary access to the Ajna chakra, which he couldn’t use yet. With that, he’d wielded more power and speed than he was capable of and successfully slain Count Salzberg.

In yoga and Chinese sorcery, prana flows through the nadi, channels connected along the median line of the body at points called chakras. It might be helpful to liken the nadi to blood vessels and the chakras to organs.

Unfortunately, when Kikoku unleashed its power, it had damaged Ryoma’s nadi. It didn’t impede his daily activities, and he could do office work without any trouble, but every time he tried to use martial thaumaturgy, his entire body screamed in agony.

Still, considering how reckless he’d been at the time, Ryoma counted himself lucky to have gotten away with so little damage. Using martial thaumaturgy hurt, but as long as he didn’t use it, he felt no pain. Ryoma could have been irreparably injured, so relatively speaking, he got off with little consequence. The pain wouldn’t last forever either, and his nadi would recover given time.

I was prepared for the risks when I used that power, but...

Kikoku was full of mysteries. Douman Igasaki, the first head of the Igasaki clan, had forged it, and the Igasaki clan had passed it down for generations, but the clan’s members knew little about its powers. Ryoma still didn’t know the full breadth of its capabilities either, even though Gennou had given it to him and he’d become the master of the Igasaki clan. One thing had gradually become clear, though; it took in the prana of those it slew and stored it within itself. It also allowed its wielder to absorb that prana, temporarily granting them superhuman strength.

The first time Ryoma had used that power, he’d experienced some backlash.

But there’s a world of difference between using it in training and using it in live combat. The backlash with the latter is much harsher. I never expected it would take so long to recover from it.

It was similar to a muscle ache that filled his entire body. Much like how a weightlifter felt pain the day after their exercise, Ryoma was feeling the feedback of what he’d done. But a weightlifter’s aching muscles passed after a few days, and Ryoma still hadn’t fully recovered even after two months.

And now, Robert wanted to duel with Ryoma, but Ryoma’s body was still far from peak condition. In a sense, it was almost suicidal to go through with it.

Still, that doesn’t mean I can postpone the duel. 

Things wouldn’t end with their fight. Once he settled this with Robert, his plans would begin in earnest. Based on Ryoma’s estimate, it wouldn’t be long before the House of Lords responded to his war on the north. Of course, he had weapons ready to fight the House of Lords, and Robert’s acceptance would be the final touch in his preparations for the coming war.

The question is how much I will recover before the war starts.

Suddenly, Ryoma heard a knock on his door.

“Come in,” he instructed.

The door opened, revealing two girls wearing maid uniforms.

“Thank you for waiting,” they said in unison.

They were twins, so their facial features were alike, but it was easy to tell them apart. One had silver hair while the other had golden hair.

Laura, the older of the two, and Sara, the younger, entered the room. They pulled Ryoma up from the sofa and led him to his bed.

“If you’ll excuse us, Master Ryoma...”

They began removing Ryoma’s clothes, but not for a bit of fun before his match with Robert.

“I’m sorry you have to do this so late at night, you two,” Ryoma apologized.

Laura shook her head. “No, don’t let it bother you.”

Now shirtless, Ryoma sat cross-legged on the bed. The twins’ small, smooth hands slid over his wide, muscular back.

“Let’s begin, then,” Sara said.

Ryoma closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and silently bid his chakras to rotate. He entered something similar to a meditative state, but then his body shivered with pain stemming from his still-damaged nadi. Aside from that, Ryoma also felt something warm flow into him from the Malfist sisters’ hands. The warmth seeped into every cell in his body, feeling gentle and reassuring as it slowly but gradually curbed the pain tormenting him.

Ryoma couldn’t tell how long they’d spent in that state. Was it twenty minutes? Thirty? When large beads of sweat rolled down his forehead, staining the bedsheets, the twins finally let go of his back.

“How do you feel?” Laura asked, something she’d asked countless times already.

“Yeah, it’s fine...” Ryoma replied, giving her the same reply as before.

The chances of a full recovery at this point were slim, but Laura and Sara’s powers had helped tremendously. All that remained was to try using martial thaumaturgy.

“Let’s try it out, then,” Ryoma said, getting off the bed and taking a deep breath. He pulled air into his stomach as he inhaled, and pushed it out as he exhaled—similar to the meditative breathing techniques unique to karate. He closed his eyes and concentrated his consciousness.

I can feel it...

It began rushing up his spinal column like a torrent, surging from his perineum and up through his nadi. Ryoma’s eyes fluttered open. Prana ran through his nadi all the way to his head, forming a pillar of light.

It only lasted a moment—an entire world encapsulated in a second. The flow of prana ebbed, and the rate at which his chakras rotated gradually decreased—like the tides had receded.

Bit by bit, his chakras began rotating at a more consistent pace. Ryoma opened and closed his hands, feeling the tension in his muscles and the state of his body.

Not bad. This is pretty good, actually...

This process was taxing, both on Ryoma, who received the prana, and the Malfist sisters, who gave him their prana. The three of them had to synchronize their breathing, and since their bodies were producing more prana than usual, they had to perfectly control their energies.

Their efforts were not in vain. Though only momentarily, Ryoma was able to open the seventh chakra, the Sahasrara chakra, the limit of what mankind could achieve. In the Chinese occult, this was akin to achieving immortality.

Well, it’s only for a moment, so it’s not much good in a fight.

By meditating, steadying his breathing, and borrowing the Malfist twins’ power, Ryoma had reached the level of an ascendant, if only for a second. In order to retain this power, he would need to use force of will and freely control this state.

In any case, this was massive progress compared to what Ryoma had done before. In all likelihood, when Kikoku had forcibly unlocked Ryoma’s sixth chakra during his duel with Count Salzberg, it had given him the strength to momentarily open his seventh chakra.

That just leaves...

Ryoma glanced at the wall. His eyes were fixed on a spear resting on a special plaque.

“We pray for your success, Master,” Sara said.

Ryoma turned around and nodded. The Malfist sisters got up from the bed and bowed their heads.

The following day, just as the sun reached its zenith in the sky, two men equipped for battle faced off in the courtyard of the Salzberg estate. One of them wore metal armor and held a long-handled battle-axe, a weapon that had served him for many years, in his right hand. The other one, a young man with a mature-looking face, wore leather armor and held a weapon rarely seen in this world—a spear or trident of sorts. The blade branched off to the left and right, and it was attached to a metal tube for a handle.

They stood twenty meters or so apart and gazed silently at each other. Signus Galveria, the judge of this match, stood between them. This duel didn’t require a referee, since Ryoma and Robert would decide who the winner was, so Signus’s role was just to watch over their battle and see it to its conclusion.

There were no spectators. Ryoma had forbidden everyone, even the Malfist twins and Yulia Salzberg, the original owner of the estate, from coming here. A group of experienced Igasaki ninjas led by Gennou guarded the thirty-meter perimeter of the courtyard, forming a double layer security network, so no one could enter. There might have been other people in the mansion more skilled than a single ninja, but the Igasaki clan was adept at fighting as a group, and few people could penetrate their watchful gaze.

Robert Bertrand was the first to break the silence.

“Before we start, let me thank you, Baron Mikoshiba. Thank you for accepting my rude proposal, even though I am nothing but a prisoner to you.”

Robert bowed his head with a perfect knight’s bow. It was an unusual gesture from him, as Robert was usually gruff and arrogant. Signus, the sole witness, tensed, and Ryoma noticed it at once. However, Robert’s attitude was no trick, nor was it a lie. The terms he’d drawn up were absurd. He’d basically told Ryoma that if he wanted him as a vassal, Ryoma would need to prove that he was the stronger one.

Normally, no one would be fickle enough to want Robert as their vassal that badly. Moreover, Robert had lost in the war and was being held prisoner. He should have been speaking to Ryoma’s heart, seeking mercy and begging for his life.

Despite this, Ryoma had willingly accepted Robert’s arrogant, belligerent demand. That was a warrior’s nature—the urge to compete with the mighty and compare one’s mettle. Ryoma must have realized Robert’s feelings, because he met Robert’s words with silence. He had no words to tell him because all the answers were in the match that was about to begin.

“Let’s get this started, shall we?” Robert growled, holding his axe with both hands and leaning it on his right shoulder.

Ryoma spread his legs wide and crouched in response. He held his spear between a middle and lower stance—at his waist while keeping it aimed at Robert’s legs.

Fighting spirit surged from both opponents. Signus could feel the heat in the air, and a lump formed in his throat.

Robert made the first move. He immediately closed the distance and swung his axe down with all the force he could muster. An axe was Robert’s weapon of choice. Axes stressed force over technique, so swinging with all of one’s might was more useful than blocking and defending.

Ryoma, however, wouldn’t allow his opponent to get a hit that easily. He blocked Robert’s diagonal slash with his spear’s handle.

They stood close enough to feel each other’s breaths, but after struggling for a moment, they changed their stances. They were too close for long-range weapons to be useful.

How about this, then?! Robert thought as he quickly pulled back, creating some distance between them. He let his axe fall, holding it like it was dangling in his grip...then swept it up from below right toward Ryoma’s neck.

Ryoma tilted his head to the side, easily avoiding the swipe.

This bastard can detect my range...

Robert had fought over ten thousand opponents so far, both human and monster alike, but in most cases, he’d dispatched his foes before they ever really locked blades. Some of his opponents had been able to block his swings, but he’d never met anyone who evaded him with so little movement.

I see. So he doesn’t focus on technique in large-scale battles, but instead saves his more refined skills for one-on-one combat.

Robert’s animalistic senses instinctively sussed out the nature of Ryoma’s capabilities. Ryoma used the techniques his grandfather, Koichiro Mikoshiba, had passed down to him for live combat to dispatch a single opponent. And, unlike Robert, Ryoma hadn’t nurtured his skills on the battlefield.

The difference in their techniques was obvious. That wasn’t to say that one way of learning was superior to the other, but simply that they were different in nature. Yet, somehow, Ryoma had mastered his skills to the point that his performance was abnormal.

Robert took a large step back to rearrange his posture. That was exactly what Ryoma wanted him to do, though.

“It’s my turn now!” Ryoma cried.

He thrust his spear at Robert’s throat. It was just an ordinary thrust, no tricks to it, and normally Robert would have been able to deflect it with his axe, but the sheer speed of it was faster than anything Robert had experienced. It was a thrust delivered with the speed of a god.

Robert somehow deflected the first blow, but then came another in quick succession. Robert desperately swung his axe to block Ryoma’s attacks.

Dammit, how fast is he?! And he pulls back his thrusts so quickly!

Robert jumped back to create more distance between them, while Ryoma recovered and fixed his posture. Robert scanned Ryoma’s body. Ryoma was holding his spear up, ready for his next move. It was then that Robert spotted something familiar about his stance.

I think I see. So that’s the trick behind his speed.

The tube on the spear’s shaft slid back and forth, so Ryoma could thrust and pull back faster than if he were just holding it directly on the handle. Still, this was easier said than done, and it took practice and technique to use. Yet Ryoma could manage it easily.

I hate to admit it, but as far as technique goes, he’s got the edge.

Just from their clashes thus far, Robert had gotten a general idea of Ryoma’s skills. From that, he could tell that since his forte was pushing with all his strength, he couldn’t withstand a prolonged battle.

That leaves me one option!

Robert cast aside all notions of defense and focused all his strength into one fatal attack.


Howling from the pit of his stomach, Robert reinforced his steel-like muscles with martial thaumaturgy. His entire body became visibly more bulky, and his face turned red. It was like a fire surged up inside him.

Ryoma merely held up his spear, but his fighting spirit matched Robert’s. He was like the still surface of a lake, reflecting the sky above him, but Robert could tell that under that calm surface was a furious surge.

Robert was the first to move. His legs reinforced by thaumaturgy, he kicked against the ground with supernatural force. He launched like a bullet toward Ryoma and closed the distance between them in one bound. Then, without slowing, he shifted the force from his waist to his shoulders, swinging his axe down with all his might.

Signus had never seen a finer blow from his sworn friend. Any attempt to block it would shatter one’s guard and crush them at once. Despite that, Ryoma remained completely still as he held his spear up.

Robert howled and swung at Ryoma with everything he had. But just then, Ryoma slashed up with his spear, as if he were skimming the air. Because of the elasticity of its wooden shaft, the spear rushed at Robert. It flew toward Robert’s hands, which were gripping his ax.

Fine. Have a few fingers. Take my whole hand if you want!

A drawback to using a long-handled weapon was that the hands holding it were a weak spot—a natural opening created by the very design of the weapon. Robert knew this, so rather than pointlessly trying to dodge, he pressed the attack even if it meant risking his life.

Ryoma seemed to anticipate Robert’s resolve. He rotated the spear’s grip in his hands and moved the cross-shaped spear’s tip. It caught the ax’s handle and threw it into the air. Ryoma then rotated his body, changing position as he jabbed the spear’s handle into Robert’s unguarded stomach.

The blow expelled all the air from Robert’s body, and he felt stomach acid rising up and burning his throat. He crumpled to the ground, overcome with pain and gasping for air. Nevertheless, even in his weakened state, Robert looked for a chance to turn the tables.

Well played. His skills are impressive. I didn’t think he’d deflect my strongest blow. But this match isn’t over yet!

Robert’s experience on the battlefield had taught him that the moment when his opponent was confident that they’d won was the prime opportunity to strike back. Robert clenched his hands and prepared to defeat Ryoma when he let his guard down.

This wasn’t a cowardly act. In fights to the death, carelessness could claim one’s life. Robert had taken advantage of that carelessness and defeated many opponents with nothing but his monstrous brute strength. However, his opponent this time was different.

As Robert looked up, the glint of a blade blinded him. After Ryoma had delivered that last blow, he’d carefully assumed his former stance, keeping the tip of his spear aimed at Robert.

No openings, eh? Robert thought as all the strength drained from his body.

“That’s enough!” Signus called, signaling the end of the battle.

That was the day that the two warriors praised as Count Salzberg’s Twin Blades entered Ryoma Mikoshiba’s service.

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