Meanwhile, around the same time.
“Let’s start sparring.”
“Good. Never give up!”
Almost immediately after Ralph finished speaking, the training grounds filled with cheers.
Yes, he was in an exhilarating and awesome mood. With a chuckle, he faced his opponent.
The sound of swords clashing could be heard on the training grounds. Beads of sweat fell like rain.
“Everyone, stop dueling.”
The perfect vice-captain of the Knights of the Blue Dawn wore his monocle as always.
But something was odd.
At this time, even his monocle looked disheveled.
“What, what is it?”
Most of them stopped, with Ralph taking the lead. It was unusual for the vice-captain to stop sparring sessions all of a sudden.
He was normally in charge of extreme training. So it was only natural for the knights to be stunned. But the bemusement turned to horror.
The vice-captain’s mouth opened slowly.
“His Grace the Duke is coming.”
Ralph’s mouth dropped open in embarrassment. Still, he was in good condition. The nameless knight in front of him dropped his sword.
“Form a line, everyone.”
However, despite experiencing the duke’s fearsome notoriety firsthand, they quickly found their footing. The Knights of the Blue Dawn were, after all, the duke’s elite unit. Therefore, it was natural that they should be able to stand in a line with a flash of lightning and without much fuss.
Ralph slowly looked over to the training grounds door.
The butler, Harold, pushed the doors open.
“Here we are, Rina.”
The knights’ eyes snapped open at the duke’s voice.
They were expecting brutal training or a declaration of future bloody battles.
But after all of the dread, the knights saw no signs of evil from the duke.
“This is the training grounds. It’s fascinating!”
His sweet and gentle voice seemed like a man in love.
“What is your name?”
“The Knights of the Blue Dawn.”
The lady walked around the training grounds, glancing at the knights once in a while.
The duke was around her at all times, so the knights dared not even look at the lady’s face.
The sight of the duke with a lady with a beautiful voice was something Ralph had never seen before: a friendly and commonplace attitude.
‘Perhaps His Grace the duke has gone mad, ah, no, insane…then what’s going to happen to our duke?’
Ralph thought earnestly. He was determined to be loyal to Duke Pietro.
What if the duke was now possessed by the enemy?
Ralph’s mind raced with all sorts of possibilities.
And one conclusion was certain.
In deadly silence, Ralph thought.
‘So, yeah. I’m dead and in hell. Yeah, that must be it.’
If he survived this, Ralph promised he would believe in God.
When Ralph came back to reality, the lady was approaching the vice-captain.
“How many knights do you have?”
“Yes. There are roughly a hundred of us here.”
“Then that’s a lot for a small, close-quarters battle.”
“Yes. Most of them use swords. We’ve never lost a battle so far.”
“Wow, that’s impressive.”
“Well, it’s not the most impressive….”
The vice-captain scratched his head awkwardly. A smile tugged at his mouth as if he wasn’t used to being complimented by a lady.
“You look pleased, sir.”
His smile was shattered by the duke’s voice.
“I’m glad to hear it.”
The duke’s murderous aura dissipated at the woman’s gentle tone.
Ralph thought silently.
Who the hell was she? The future duchess? Or maybe a wizard, a sword master?
Ralph’s conjecture spiraled like a mind map. His speculations were interrupted by Citrina’s crisp voice.
“Ah, then does everybody wear mana stones to fight?”
“Yes, they do. They usually fasten them to the tops of their military shoes or wear them like a necklace.”
“May I have a look at it?”
The woman’s attitude was very relaxed and natural, but everyone in the room listened. In contrast, the vice-captain’s voice trembled terribly.
“Ma…na stones are cumbersome, so they are only worn in battle. Few knights were them during training.”
“It must be pretty cumbersome in battle.”
“Yes. Mana stones help, of course, but they’re definitely an inconvenience.”
“Then no knights are wearing a mana stone right now?”
The woman’s voice turned sullen. The duke spoke in a cool-headed voice.
“Don’t worry, Rina. If they don’t have one now, everyone will find one. Right?”
“Of, of course, Your Grace!” “No, you don’t have to. That would be uncomfortable”
“Well, one of the knights trains every day with a mana stone. His name is Ralph.”
“Who is Ralph?”
The duke’s cruel gaze swept over the line-up of knights. They shuddered as a group. The one who froze like ice though was Ralph.
‘Wh, why is my name mentioned all of a sudden!”
Ralph’s body moved forward. His left arm and left leg moved at the same time, while his right arm and leg also moved together.
All of the knights of the order were mourning for Ralph, and at the same time breathing a sigh of relief.
“Ralph-nim, my name is Citrina Foluin. I look forward to working with you.”
“I, I am Ralph Dekarra of the Knights of the Blue Dawn. Hehe.”
The lady in front of him was pretty and smelled nice. As he stared at her, Ralph felt a pair of eyes on him.
‘Wh, what is this stare?’
Meeting the gaze of the duke, with his cold eyes and an icy demeanor reminiscent of a harsh northern winter, Ralph felt his life was in danger.
His face hardened rapidly.
“Can you tell me where you put your mana stone? Do you wear it on your boot or as a necklace?”
Ralph didn’t hear Citrina’s words as he was too busy meeting the archduke’s cold gaze.
[T. L. Note: As far as I know, this is the first time Desian has been referred to as the archduke.]
The archduke’s lips curled into a sneer. Ralph was mesmerized, unable to break his gaze.
He could see the Grim Reaper over that mountain. Ralph recalled how the archduke had been like a demon and a wild beast when confronting the dark tower.
How terrifying it had been to see him, covered in blood, smashing everything with an expressionless face.
“She asked where you put the mana stone.”
Ralph replied very quickly.
“Do you mind if I take a look at it?”
“N, not at all!”
Ralph hurriedly untied the mana stone on a cord around his neck. The mana stone was the size of his palm. It was too big for an ordinary person to wear around their neck.
Ralph held it out to her with the necklace in his hand. Citrina looked at it long and hard- at the mana stone and the thick cord tied around it.
“Does the lucky mana stone seem to work?”
“Yes! It seems like the strikes aren’t as harsh.”
-It doesn’t look like that to me.
Gemma whispered from inside the pendant. Gemma’s overflowing boldness gave Citrina a strange sense of amusement and unfounded confidence.
-Alright. I’m going to take a look at it.
“Will you hand it to me?”
“I’m sure it’s too heavy for the lady to carry….”
Ralph faltered as the duke stood next to him, radiating pressure.
“Hand it over, Ralph.”
Desian’s voice was languid.
“You know all of our names?”
A smile appeared on his expressionless face. Of course, Desian didn’t care about Ralph’s name.
But Citrina was looking at him with sparkling eyes.
Citrina gave a small gasp of admiration. At that instant, Ralph broke the mood once more.
“I, I’ll give it to you.”
A spoke in a squeaky, loud voice.
The vice-captain became contemplative, and Desian’s expression froze. However, Citrina was too busy checking the mana stone to notice. Ralph also didn’t notice as he handed over the stone.
In any case, the mana stone was safely in Citrina’s hands.
“Wow, it’s really heavy.”
Was it at least 3 kilos?
Citrina thought to herself. She knew the mana stone weighed more than its volume, but she didn’t know it was to this extent.
-From what I can tell, it’s okay, but it’s too heavy. It might even reduce the power.
– Do you think you can make a more powerful luck stone than this, Gemma?
As she talked to Gemma, her arm began to twitch. Desian casually took the mana stone from her.
“It was heavy, thanks.”
“You have weak wrists.”
Desian was always sweet as honey. Citrina turned to face him and smiled.
The genre was only romance for them. Ralph’s genre was thriller. Tears prickled in his eyes from the goosebumps sprouting all over his body.
“Does it seem like you’ll be able to produce a decent lucky stone?”
“Yeah, I’m feeling confident.”
Desian slowly took her hand. He meant to escort her.
However, Citrina was taken aback.
Oddly, ever since the day Desian held her hand, it had been awkward to hold hands.
‘Ah, it’s a little awkward.’
Desian’s affection was clearly palpable. However, Citrina’s feelings for him were less clear.
Like a fish out of water.
So Citrina decided to take her time to slowly figure out her feelings for him.
But the mere touch of his hand made her senses react, and she was not sure how to interpret it.
Was he aware of Citrina’s emotions changing?
Desian spoke lazily.
“Now let’s go make some lucky stones.”
“I’ll help you, Rina.”
Their conversation drifted away. The door to the training grounds slammed shut behind Harold.
The remaining Knights of the Blue Dawn weren’t sure what they had seen.
“You don’t think I saw a ghost, do you?”
“That’s blasphemy, Ralph, and it seems like you are about to become the duke’s dueling opponent.”
“…I’m afraid so, sir. Rest in peace.”
Ralph shuffled through the ranks of grizzled knights like a man who had accepted his fate.
The vice-captain’s prophecy was correct. Soon after, Ralph was dragged into the duke’s dueling chamber, where it was said he escaped after a tremendous struggle.
Had it not been for the mana stone or the duke’s graciousness in sparing his life
… Ralph would have died on the spot.
He resolved to cherish his newfound life.