A day had passed by since Zich caused an uproar by challenging a knight. At the crack of dawn, Zich headed towards the back garden where there wasnt a single person in sight.
Zich took in a deep breath and gripped his sword. The fresh morning air filled up his lungs.
He tightly held onto his sword. He heaved a few breaths in and out and warmed up for a bit.
The sharp sword cut the air in front of him, and the morning dew shivered in surprise at his quick movements.
He moved his foot with natural ease, and the unfettered dirt let out a stream of dust.
Then, he placed some weight on his moving feet and spun himself. The force from the spin was transferred onto his shoulders, arms, and to the very tip of his sword.
His movements were beautiful yet menacing. The sunlight seeped in through the tree leaves and shattered on the sword in a multitude of lights.
Swish! Swish! Swishh!
Zich used a different type of sword movement. Before, his movement was sharp as glass, but now, it was heavy as a bludgeon. His sword style kept changing. It became slow and then fast, sharp and then soft.
Zich gradually lost track of time.
He stopped moving his sword around and calmed his breathing. His whole body was covered in sweat.
My condition is better than I thought.
He clenched his fist and opened it. His hands were rough but pale, representative of a nineteen-year-old body.
At nineteen years old, Zich hadnt learned sword fighting, but he had completed the basics to hone his body. Of course, it was incomparable to the days when he was called theDemon Lord of Strength.. Considering his age, however, it was in good shape.
Its actually better that I didnt learn any sword fighting.
Zichs current body was like a raw, untouched stone. It was a body that had fundamental strength but no basic structure. If he poured in his experience and expertise from his days as theDemon Lord of Strength, he would be able to progress at an exponential rate.
I feel a bit bitter thinking about the reason why I received no basic training though.
No matter how much the Count did not want to pass down his sword fighting techniques to Zich, his family was called the metal fortress. There should have always been a way for him to learn sword fighting.
I was so desperate for my fathers approval that I wasnt even willing to glance at sword fighting techniques other than the special ones passed down in this family.
It was not that Zich was desperate to succeed as heir or learn sword fighting—he merely wanted to gain his fathers attention and approval.
Reflecting back, I really was innocent.
If people realized that theDemon Lord of Strength, Zich Moore used to be a weak and vulnerable boy in his youth, they would all be paralyzed in shock.
Well, I did suffer a lot after I left the family.
Before Zich was able to earn the title ofDemon Lord of Strength, he went through a series of enormous suffering and trials. It was almost strange how these trials and problems kept happening one after another.
It was to the extent where it felt planned.
Zich laughed. It was pointless to think like this. When the Count had expelled him, he had no power, wealth, or background, and many people tried to take advantage of him.
If I wasnt so talented, I would have died over a hundred times.
He stopped thinking pointless thoughts and began practicing with his sword again.
I like how my body is in shape, but it will be difficult to win this duel.
His opponent was the genius knight Byner, who was only in his early twenties. There was no way Zich could catch up to him in physical strength by the time of the duel.
Byners skills were also superior at this point in time. Even though he had his knowledge of skills asZich Moore, his body was still untrained.
Im gonna have to practice like mad to instill the skills into my body. Thats the only possible way for me to use them like second nature.
And as mentioned before, Zichs body was not trained to that extent.
But most importantly—
Zich took in a deep breath once again and relaxed his body. It was different from when he tried to relax right before spurting. Zich closed his eyes and tried to feel his internal body.
The soft breeze tickled his foot, and the ground felt firm under his feet. He ignored these outside sensations and tried to deepen his focus. He felt the blood vessels beating and the blood flowing inside his body.
Then, he went deeper inside. He began to feel something—an enormous matter that was immobilized by various substances intertwining with each other. It carried such great strength that a major city would be decimated in a second if he let it all out.
Zich began to slowly feel around this matter. As if it was indifferent to all outside stimulation, it didnt respond to Zich at all.
Sweat began to trickle down Zichs forehead. He maintained extreme focus to make the matter react.
The matter finally gave a small response, and Zichs focus shattered at once.
Zichs body shook from the shock, and he collapsed onto the ground. At first, his knees landed on the ground, and soon after, he landed on his butt.
“Argh, damn it! This bastard is still so tricky to control!”
Zich placed his hand near his heart. The enormous and destructive matter that resided inside Zich was his mana.
Even though I concentrated so much, only a fraction of it awoke.
He felt dejected for a moment. Exhausted, he laid flat on the ground.
It cant be helped. In regards to the amount of mana I have, I really am talented.
Each person had a limit to the amount of mana they had. And Zichs amount of mana was incomparably large to the average persons.
Well, an elf compared the amount of mana I had to a now-extinct dragon.
One of the reasons why Zich became the Demon Lord of Strength was because of this dragon-like amount of mana. However, as of right now, Zichs current mana was the same as having no mana at all. There was no way he could control such a large amount of mana in his current state.
Its almost too much mana.
Zich gained complete control of his mana long after he left the family. For that reason, there were rumors that Zich, heir to Steelwall, had no mana at all. It was another obstacle that prevented him from succeeding as the Count of Steelwall.
However, this was Zichs second chance at life. He obviously wouldnt be able to fully utilize his mana right now, but he could take the first steps to master it.
As evidence of this statement, a sliver of mana floated on top of his hand.
With this, my chances at victory have increased.
But his chances were still lacking—even with all his experience as the Demon Lord and his ability to control mana somewhat, it would be a challenging task to beat a knight.
Our basic skills are on totally different levels right now.
But all of this didnt matter to Zich. In the first place, Zich knew all of this information and still challenged a duel with the knight.
There is nothing for me to lose either.
Zich already decided that he was going to leave the Steelwall family anyways.
Im glad I got another chance to start over, but that doesnt mean I want to succeed as heir. If I do, Im going to feel frustrated to death.
Just thinking about how he had to get each and one of his brothers supporters on his side gave him a headache.
I will be so frustrated that I may die young. It will be a miracle if I dont turn over the whole family before I actually succeed as the Count.
There was a high possibility that it might turn out exactly like how Zich pictured it to be—no, it was certain. Rather than go through all these frustrations, it would be much better for him to leave Steelwall.
“You finally awakened your mana”
A sudden voice interrupted Zichs thoughts.
Zich grimaced in displeasure and did not even turn around as he said, “Whats up with you If you are spying on me, just go away and dont bother me.”
“You knew I was here”
“What kind of nonsense are you spitting out when you move so noisily You sounded like a moving ogre.”
Annoyed, Greig scowled in response to Zichs words.
I tried somewhat to silence my movements.
Greig didnt erase his whole presence like an assassin, but he also had been careful to stay still. The Zich he knew did not have such keen senses to notice an unmoving intruder.
Also, his speech and actions are still weird.
So far, the Count and Countess had not given much thought or reaction to Zichs sudden change in behavior; that was how much this couple was indifferent to their “son.”
But unlike them, Greig felt suspicious about Zichs change.
Without saying anything, Greig stared at Zich.
“What If you have something you need from me, quickly say it, and if you dont, ** off.”
“…Do you really think it is possible”
“What do you mean Cant you speak straight-forwardly”
“I mean about the duel with Sir Byner. And also the succession.”
Greigs speech began to become a bit rough. “I dont know why you suddenly decided to change your behavior, but you know its all fruitless, right You should get what you can and leave. If you know your place, I might prepare a farewell present on your way out.”
Ha! This twit.
Even though Zich had no desire to become a count, hearing Greigs taunting annoyed him.
Zich quickly got up and walked towards Greig. Even as he moved, Greig did not move back a single inch.
“Are you afraid that I might succeed as the Count of Steelwall”
“Why should I be afraid If I can't even triumph over someone like you, I should just give up on becoming the heir.”
His smile was mocking, as if he really thought there was no possible way Zich could succeed as the heir. But instead of getting angry at his mockery, Zich made a soft smile.
“Really If my dear brother says so, that must be right. Are we not brothers after all”
Zich tapped Greigs shoulders a few times, and Greigs face completely distorted at this movement. Feeling pleased with Greigs change in expression, Zich spoke again, “But I still have my advantage as the firstborn. So why dont we do it like this”
“We are a family of fighters. Unlike other families, we put significantly more importance on personal strength and ones ability to fight.”
“Wait, are you asking for a duel A duel for the succession”
“Of course. What else can I possibly mean”
Greig looked at Zich with suspicion.
“Are you seriously challenging me to a duel And the matter with Sir Byner too…are you really out of your mind”
“What, you afraid”
Greigs eyebrows twitched. He bit his lips and glared at Zich.
“…Alright. Theres no reason for me to refuse.”
I knew you would say that.
If his memory served right, Greig would have made significant progress in his fighting prowess around this time. There was no reason for Greig not to accept a duel against Zich who had not even learned the basics of sword fighting and just recently awakened his mana.
“However, even if I accept your duel, it cant be related to the succession. Our father wont allow it.”
Even though individual fighting prowess was indeed important, it was not the only necessary component for being the heir.
Moreover, even if everyone in the family was united against expelling Zich, a single duel could not determine a significant matter like succession. As the firstborn, Zich had the advantage of traditional legitimacy.
“Duh, you idiot. But if we duel, father will spread a rumor that I challenged you to a duel with the succession on the line. Think about what will happen to me if I lose. Even though our duel would be informal in nature, I will no longer be able to openly declare my right to succession. Even though Father seems like the type of person to fix all of his problems by strength, he is a noble after all. It will be a piece of cake for him to accomplish a small scheme like this.”
Greig stroked his chin. There were a lot of things he could gain by accepting this duel.
“Then a major obstacle to my succession will largely disappear.”
“Yeah. But of course, all of this is in the case that you actually beat me. You have more things to lose than me. If I win, you will be losing to someone who hasnt even learned the basics of sword fighting and doesnt even know how to control mana properly. No matter how much Father backs you up as his heir, there will be great resistance among the people in Steelwall. Because even though we are nobles, we are a military family after all.”
Greig sneered, “Me, losing to you”
“Are you that confident”
“Im still wondering if you have become insane.”
“Isnt it better for you if I am insane Even if I am the first son, you cant make a crazy person the heir.”
“That is also true. Alright, Im going to go talk to Father right now.”
“Wait a moment.”
Zich stopped Greig who was about to leave.
“If you are so confident, can you give me an advantage”
“…What are you scheming”
With suspicious eyes, Greig stared at Zich.
“You dont have to be so suspicious. I just want to decide when the duel will take place.”
Greig thought about Zichs words for a brief moment and then slowly nodded. No matter what devious tricks Zich had up his sleeves, such a request wouldnt impact his chances in winning.
“Deal. But, I also have a condition. I want to have the duel at least within the next half a year from now.”
“Dont forget—half a year. You cant make any excuses like how you need to recover from Byners duel or things like that.”
In such a short amount of time, Greig had thought that far.
“Dont worry. I also dont have any intentions to drag it out for that long.”
Pleased by Zichs words, Greig turned around and left. Watching his younger brother walk away, Zich held his sword tightly once more.
That little punk looks down on me so much. Im going to make sure to leave him a big present right before I leave.
As if he was slashing towards Greig, Zichs sword sharply cut through the air. After a few days passed, the date of Zichs duel with Byner arrived.