Chapter 12:

Volume 1, Chapter 12: Thorne of the Bronze Rose

Parable of the Renegades [BETA Version]

With the suburbs of Falcon Rock situated at a high altitude, the air was always chilly even though summer had already started. It wasn’t a bother to Lucas, who hardly shivered on his walk to the bus stop even though he was wearing a short-sleeved hoodie instead of a jacket.Bookmark here

Just outside the entrance to Falcon Rock and on top of the steep road was a bus stop for a short trip to the town of Cameron's Feint. Several people wearing different clothes were lining up, waiting for the 7:30 bus to arrive.Bookmark here

Some of these people were students, who carried weapons along with their schoolbags. They were probably itching for action, keeping themselves proactive for self-defense or doing so only because it made them feel like a badass; maybe even all the above. It was also a school rule that while weapons were allowed to be brought, using them irresponsibly was forbidden and would result in confiscation until further notice. The same rule applied to smartphones as well but to a lesser degree.Bookmark here

Then there were those who didn't bother to bring anything other than their supplies for school. Carrying a weapon, especially a heavy one, was a hassle to do and some believed that the chance of being forced to defend themselves was next to none. After all, while the [Renegades] have been confirmed to exist, so far, they have been doing a good job of blending in with everyone else without arousing suspicion.Bookmark here

As he reached the bus stop, Lucas recognized one of the people in line. His messy, short black hair was sort of a giveaway, but the few bandages plastered on his face made his identity more obvious.Bookmark here

"Yo, Lucas! Over here!" Davis called out to him.Bookmark here

He was around the first few people in front of the line but allowed the person behind him to take his place so he could join his friend in the back. The two exchanged greetings before moving on to other topics.Bookmark here

"You weren't kidding when you said, 'these scratches heal in no time'." Lucas pointed out the lesser number of bandages on Davis' face compared to yesterday: one on his forehead, a small one placed near his right eye and one on his left cheek.Bookmark here

"It's just like I once told you. The fates favor me," Davis boasted. Sort of.Bookmark here

"And I'm digging the outfit!" Lucas added.Bookmark here

Davis was clad in equipment that combined light armor with modern clothing. An olive green short-sleeved T-shirt with flexible plating covering every part except the shoulders, one of which had a pauldron attached. He wore brown chaps over his dark gray jeans and had a double-edged falchion in a sheath strapped to his hip.Bookmark here

"Thanks! I made it myself!" he said graciously with a fist hammered to his chest.Bookmark here

Davis was wearing his latest creation of equipment as a way to advertise his family's blacksmithing business. Thanks to the fact that almost everyone wanted to wear fancy equipment, their business was booming.Bookmark here

"Now then," Davis moved on. "Let's talk about you."Bookmark here

"Um, me?" Lucas gulped.Bookmark here

"Yeah. Did something interesting happen last night? Did you witness something? Like that shooting star?"Bookmark here

"That was supposed to happen last night?” Lucas asked, feigning surprise. “Then I missed it."Bookmark here

"Aw, that's a shame." Davis sighed. "We won't be seeing something like that again for another thirty-five years!"Bookmark here

"Guess so," Lucas said, brushing it away.Bookmark here

"Okay, well, moving on!" Davis continued. "Have you finished one of those light novels I lent you? I suggest you catch up to 'D**M****,' the next volume is coming out soon and I'm dying to see what happens next to B***!"Bookmark here

"I'm... still in the middle of reading the latest volume you lent me," Lucas said, his guilt-stricken face implying something else.Bookmark here

Davis' questions so far, were quite trivial. Lucas was able to keep a straight face, that is until Davis' last question hit him.Bookmark here

"How about... A chance encounter with someone? A girl, maybe?"Bookmark here

Lucas swallowed another gulp of air and saliva. He pondered whether or not he should tell Davis what really happened to him: Witnessing the Knights of Viola get upstaged by a hooded figure? Witnessing them get slaughtered? His questionable encounter with Rio? Somehow being brought to Nihan, which is located far away from where they were? The fact that he is now an expendable slave for Rio and that he must kill seven [Renegades]? And that one of them is the identity of the hooded figure who actually lives in Cameron's Feint?Bookmark here

Lucas kept himself silent until the bus arrived as he had no idea on what to say.Bookmark here

Nah... like that's gonna happen. He's too shy, Davis told himself regarding Lucas' chances of scoring with the opposite gender.Bookmark here

✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧Bookmark here

As the bus passengers heard the vehicle's tires screech, then come to a stop, they all picked up their bags and prepared to exit. Lucas and Davis, who were seated at the back, continued to stay put in their seats while waiting for those in front of them to go down first. The wait was worth it. When almost everyone else was out, the duo picked up their bags and stepped out of the bus without any student traffic.Bookmark here

Something caught Davis' eye as he and Lucas entered the school grounds.Bookmark here

"Hey, let’s check that out!" he gave his friend a quick pat on the shoulder and pointed to a gathering of students.Bookmark here

Normally around this time, the students would be heading toward the school's gymnasium for their weekly assembly, but for some reason, they were gathered as a massive crowd much closer to the main campus. Bookmark here

"That's odd. Wonder what the fuss is all about?" Lucas began to ponder out loud.Bookmark here

The crowd was quite noisy and rowdy. Lucas and Davis edged themselves closer, but despite standing just a few feet away, they still couldn't see who was being the center of attention. All they could hear were questions being thrown all over the place. It was difficult to listen to since they were all being asked simultaneously, but from what Lucas could comprehend, he believed he heard the words "sizes," "taken," "go out," and "single." Now that he took a closer look, all the students that made the crowd were male.Bookmark here

Then in front of where Lucas and Davis stood, some of the students in the crowd began to make way for the one in the center. It wasn't because they did so willingly – that someone was pushing them aside as they tried to squeeze their way out. After a bit of a struggle, a girl whose skin had been kissed countless times by the sun forced herself out of the sea of people.

She was dressed like she was ready to go on a date. Slung over her shoulder was a white purse manufactured by Gucchi, a well-known brand. She wore a beige-colored blouse with a loose round neck that allowed a thin golden chain necklace to be noticed, along with sleeves that covered up to the elbow joints of her arms. Skinny black pants reminiscent of stockings and a pair of tan high-heeled go-go boots that reached just below her knees made her lower attire. A thick brown belt made of leather was also tied around her waist to complement the combination of clothing. The sun shined brightly on her shoulder-length bronze hair, which radiated a brilliant luster.Bookmark here

The sight before them forced Davis to squint his eyes and shade them with a hand due to the girl's radiance. He was most likely exaggerating as Lucas had a different kind of reaction. Bookmark here

His heart was set aflutter. It was beating at a faster rate than normal as his face became flushed. For a moment, he couldn't believe what he was seeing. When he witnessed the girl emerge from the crowd, he felt like he had re-discovered a brilliant flower from a secret garden.Bookmark here

"Whoa... She's cute as a button!" Davis exclaimed like he just hit the jackpot in a lottery. "Quick, tell me honestly, do I look okay?" He slicked a hand through his short hair which as a result, didn't make much of a change to his hairstyle while waiting for Lucas to answer his question.Bookmark here

"Yeah..." Lucas blurted without shifting his focus from the girl. He appeared to be in a trance.Bookmark here

"Awesome!" Davis grinned with confidence. "Man, I'm diggin' that fancy getup!"Bookmark here

"Yeah..."Bookmark here

"She looks smokin' hot!"Bookmark here

"Yeah..."Bookmark here

"And she looks just like your mom!"Bookmark here

"Yea... W-wait... WHAT!?"Bookmark here

A comparison between the bronze-haired girl and Rea played in Lucas' head. Their faces were situated parallel to each other for a second, then slowly converged until they overlapped each other. Their hairstyles and hair color were different, but the shape of their faces and their eyes were almost a perfect match. The result of this comparison was 91.69%.Bookmark here

Lucas was disturbed beyond belief. Without warning, his hands found themselves firmly clasped around Davis' neck, and they shook him like they were trying to make a broken toy work.Bookmark here

"Why... Why...? WHY!? Why did you have to compare her with Rea!?" Lucas roared as waterworks of tears flooded down his hidden eyes. "Now I can never unsee that!"Bookmark here

"I-I... was just... b-being... honest!" Davis' choked voice just barely rasped out.Bookmark here

"Take that back! You take that back!" Lucas bared his teeth. It looked like his jaws were about to open and crunch a chunk of Davis' face off. Things would have gotten problematic between the two best friends if it weren't for a timely feminine voice calling one of them out.Bookmark here

"Lucas Thorne? You're... Lucas, right?"Bookmark here

"Huh?" Lucas came to his senses and saw the state his friend was in. At this point, Davis was already foaming out of his mouth and barely raising on of his hands in an attempt to plead Lucas to stop. With a shocked yelp, Lucas released Davis from his iron grasp and the poor boy dropped down like a ragdoll and laid sprawled on the hard pavement.Bookmark here

Within a few feet of the two friends was the bronze-haired girl who had taken some distance away from her new fanboys to approach the duo. She was silent at first, but her emotions leaked out when she jumped onto Lucas, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him in.Bookmark here

"Lucas! It really is you! Long time, no see!" the girl said, tightening her hug.Bookmark here

"Hawawawawawawa!" Bookmark here

Lucas blushed almost immediately and found himself spouting utter gibberish he never thought he would say. His hands were trembling so much that he could not lift them and embrace the girl back.Bookmark here

A girl hugging him was not the only reason he was like this - the crowd that previously surrounded the girl, all aimed glares at him.Bookmark here

Lucas' utterances came to a stop when the girl took a few steps back, giving him some space to breathe. Her hands never left the now red-faced boy's shoulders, though.Bookmark here

"Y-yeah, i-it's been a while..." Lucas mumbled.Bookmark here

"I know, right? To think that five long years have already passed since we've last seen each other. But that just makes our reunion even more exciting! Hmmm...?" She smirked as her eyes narrowed down at a snail's pace, making their appearance more slanted like she had a devious plot in mind. "You're still going with that eye-shield hairstyle, I see. Well, I normally expect people to change their looks every few years, but then again I wouldn't have recognized you, so no complaints this time!"Bookmark here

Lucas felt like he was already dead and living in heavenly paradise when he was suddenly alerted by the sound of coughing. His blush immediately vanished after coming back to reality.Bookmark here

“Ahem, Lucas..." Davis, who had already stood back up after recovering from getting choked out earlier, was faking coughs into a fist he made, intending to give Lucas and the bronze-haired girl a reminder that they were not alone. The rotation of his wrist and gestures he made with his hand made it look like he was saying, "what the hell is this?"Bookmark here

"Oh, is he a friend of yours, Lucas? Well then..." The bronze-haired girl took her hands off Lucas' shoulders and extended one of them to Davis, offering him a handshake and a smile. "Pleased to meetcha! My name's Viola. Viola Knightley. Any friend of Lucas is definitely a friend of mine!"Bookmark here

"Uh-huh. Okay, the pleasure is all mine," Davis accepted the handshake, but for some reason, he only did it to not look bad in front of everyone watching. He actually appeared to be more interested in ending the conversation as soon as possible, despite the excitement he was expressing earlier. "I'm Davis Crane. So, Viola, how long have you known Lucas?" he asked the question in a manner like he was giving her a serious job interview.Bookmark here

"How long you say? I've known him since we were kids!" Viola cheerfully declared.Bookmark here

"AWWWW!!!!!" The crowd of male students grew uneasy with feelings of weights on their chests as they groaned in the distance. Their cries were loud enough to be heard by everyone in the area.Bookmark here

Davis felt similar. He didn't like the girl's answer.Bookmark here

"I see... Well then, I don't mind being friends with you, but don't expect me to be around all the time. I know it's harsh and all, but you see... I'm a very, very busy guy, and I don't enjoy being the third wheel. So, it's nice to meet you, Viola (whatever) and see you later (hopefully never)."Bookmark here

Feeling like the conversation was finally over, Davis turned to the school's gymnasium and walked toward it, his hands deep in his pockets and a look of sheer disappointment all over his face. For him, girls in a relationship with someone other than him were uninteresting - no matter how good their looks or personalities were. He only desired "pure" girls that would only have eyes for him and him alone. Bonus points if they were constantly fighting for his attention. Such is the ideal of being a wannabe harem protagonist, in his opinion.Bookmark here

"Third wheel?" Viola tapped her index finger on her temple as her eyes pointed toward the sky to think. It wasn't even more than a few seconds later before she realized what Davis meant and called him back to tie the loose ends. "I'm currently single. And Lucas? He's my cousin."Bookmark here

Her last word made Davis halt in place and Lucas wince in emotional pain. He was not exactly fond of Viola bringing the c-word up.Bookmark here

Davis turned his head to look behind himself, making strange cracking noises as it almost rotated 180 degrees to the mild freak-out of every nearby student who saw it. "I'm sorry... You said what?"Bookmark here

"I'm... Lucas' cousin." Viola said with a bit of unease.Bookmark here

Before she could process what was going on, Viola suddenly found herself shaking hands with Davis again - both hands this time, right after he ran back to her with almost inhuman speed that could probably beat the records of the entire track team.Bookmark here

"You're his cousin!? HOOOOOOWEEEEEEEE!!!" The handshaking gradually became more and more intense as Davis suddenly decided that Viola was "interesting" again. It just took one word, no, maybe two for good measure, to rekindle it. "Well then, I think we're gonna get along just fine! If you need help with anything or if you just want to hang out for I dunno, anything, just contact me! I will definitely reply immediately and I'll be available 24/7!"Bookmark here

Viola was surprised by what Davis said just now because it contradicted his earlier statement. "But you just said you're very busy and--"Bookmark here

"I'm looking forward to that first call or text, Violaaaaaaa!!!!" Bookmark here

Davis didn't let Viola finish as he had already sprinted off to the gymnasium, performing jumping for joy poses every few seconds as if he had already graduated, much to the inconvenience of some students he ran past.Bookmark here

"Huh, what an energetic dude,” Viola remarked. “I'd say you're lucky to have someone like him as a friend. Right, Lucas?"Bookmark here

"Y-yeah... I guess," Lucas said. This was the first time he felt really happy on a Monday morning, aside from the times' classes had been canceled.Bookmark here

Not wanting to let this chance slip away, he tried to start a new conversation with Viola while he still had it.Bookmark here

"S-so... when Rea said someone from her side of the family was moving to Cameron's Feint, it turned out to be you. I-I guess that's why she kept the name a secret."Bookmark here

"That's right," Viola confirmed with a nod. "Wait, why didn't Auntie Rea tell you it was me?"Bookmark here

"W-who knows?" Lucas tried to keep himself calm and composed, but he couldn't stop his two index fingers from fidgeting against each other. Deep in his thoughts, Lucas imagined that Rea must have been laughing at the moment he was in, if only she witnessed it.Bookmark here

Then another matter came to Lucas' mind. "Wait a minute. Isn't it too late for you to transfer here now? Summer vacation begins next week!"Bookmark here

"I know," Viola assured him. "Which is why I'll be joining you in your sophomore year. I just came here now to discuss preparations for my transfer with the principal."Bookmark here

"I-I see..." Lucas looked down, lips twitching as he shivered with excitement. "S-so I'll see you later?"Bookmark here

"Yup! We got a lot of catching up to do!" Viola began to stroll over to the school's main building, passing the angry mob of male students along the way. She looked back to beam an affectionate smile. "See ya later, Lucas!"Bookmark here

At that moment, Lucas clutched a handful of his chest. His heart was aching but in a good way like Cupid had shot him. Monday was never this good.Bookmark here

His moment of bliss came to a sudden end when he was struck on the forehead with a small projectile. Someone had picked up one of the many pebbles that were lying on the pavement and hurled it at him.Bookmark here

Flinching, Lucas placed a hand on his forehead to rub the part that got struck. "Oww... Hey, who threw that!?"Bookmark here

Next thing he knew, Lucas found himself surrounded by the same crowd that was previously circulating Viola. Unlike Viola, however, the crowd wasn't gathered around him out of admiration. They had turned into an angry mob. Compared to Viola, Lucas had more space for himself as the crowd was not as huddled together as earlier, leaving plenty of gaps that allowed other students to see what was going on.Bookmark here

"Who threw that?" One of the people in the crowd parroted in a mocking impersonation of Lucas. He looked like a biker from an apocalyptic world, wearing a tough leather jacket with small shoulder pads attached. "Oh, that. I think the one who did it was..."Bookmark here

Everyone in the crowd pointed an accusing finger at a random person among them, almost at the same time like they were all protecting each other from being labeled the true culprit.Bookmark here

"Really funny." Lucas was left dumbfounded and he sure wasn't amused.Bookmark here

"Yes, it's really funny why that bronze rose would go to someone like you instead of picking someone who could give her what she wants. Someone like... I dunno... me!"Bookmark here

"Hey!" A random person in the crowd protested.Bookmark here

"Ugh... I mean us!" The biker student slumped and lied reluctantly for the sake of appeasing the rest of the people that made the crowd.Bookmark here

"A bronze rose?" Lucas held his head back as he was somewhat intrigued by the biker student's analogy for Viola. With hair that looked like layers of petals, Viola's hairstyle could best be compared to the appearance of an upside-down rose. "I like it. That nickname's alright."Bookmark here

"You will stay away from her or else!" A student wearing a plated black trench coat behind Lucas warned him.Bookmark here

"Hey, I don't want any trouble…" Lucas said as he turned to the direction of the trench coat-wearing student.Bookmark here

"Then fuck off!"Bookmark here

From behind, Lucas was sucker-punched on the back of his head by a heavy blow from the biker student. The blow was so powerful that he was sent flying a few feet before he fell face-first onto the hard pavement. All the students who weren't part of the angry mob were shocked. The biker student didn't strike Lucas with one of his fists - he actually disobeyed the school's rules and used his weapon of choice: a 50-ounce baseball bat made out of maple wood, the type of bat that is used in the major leagues thanks to its density and sturdiness.Bookmark here

"Hmmph! You get what you deserve!" The biker student held his baseball bat horizontally behind his back and tapped one of his shoulders with it. "Now then, how are we going to settle who among us gets that bronze rose?" he asked the others in the crowd who all began to ponder who among them should sweep Viola off her feet.Bookmark here

"That... really... HURT!"Bookmark here

The crowd gasped in surprise as Lucas gradually pushed a hand and elevated himself off the ground while his other hand held his head. Despite the few indications of mishaps due to a mild concussion, he eventually managed to stand back up. Bookmark here

His patience was put to the test. He snarled, baring his teeth on one side of his mouth as his hands balled into fists that he positioned in front of him to form a fighting stance. He seemed to be ready to retaliate, but to everyone's surprise, he started to inhale then exhale at a steady pace instead. Bookmark here

He was taking deep breaths to calm himself down. When he felt at peace, he relaxed and dropped his arms as he hid his teeth behind his lips.Bookmark here

"Last chance, you guys. There are better ways to settle this." He tried to plead for a more peaceful solution.Bookmark here

And what was the angry mob's response?Bookmark here

"You're just saying that because you know you've already lost!"Bookmark here

After a random person in the mob said that, the sound of metal hissing filled the area as the rest of the students that made the mob brandished their weapons in a manner of kill-or-be-killed. Their arsenal ranged from variations of western arms like claymores, longswords, bastard swords, axes, maces and even a few unconventional ones like the baseball bat made of maple wood. With their RPG game-inspired outfits, the mob looked like a group of adventurers that formed a raid party against a single target - an unarmed target.Bookmark here

"I... can't believe this is actually happening...” Lucas shuddered. “You're going this far for one girl!?"Bookmark here

He was to fighting groups of people thanks to his time in the Underground Arena, but that was only because weapons and armor were banned. For the first time in his life, Lucas faced a crowd of a similar number but they were heavily armed with bladed and bludgeoning weapons while protected with armored clothing. If that wasn't enough, they were all stacked against him instead of the usual free-for-all.Bookmark here

At first, Lucas was disheartened. He questioned if his own capabilities could help him make it out of this unscathed or even alive. It hurt him the most when the potential consequence of failure taunted him. Viola had just moved to Cameron's Feint. He had no desire for her transfer to be plagued with his fellow students invading her personal space and harassing her. Could he ever forgive himself if he were to allow such a thing to happen?Bookmark here

No. He couldn't. The obsessive angry mob had to be stopped now, or else Viola wouldn't be able to live her new life as she saw fit.Bookmark here

He needed to protect her.Bookmark here

Filled with newborn resolve, Lucas clenched his teeth, swallowed his anxiety, and straightened himself, standing tall and valiant. There was no turning back now.Bookmark here

"So... you all think of Viola as a rose, right?” he addressed the crowd surrounding him. “Then I can say while every rose is protected by a group of thorns--"Bookmark here

"Hey look! He said something that's actually sensible!" The student in the black trench coat remarked as he twirled his dual swords around him. "We are the group of thorns protecting that rose from-- "Bookmark here

"When I said, 'group of thorns', I wasn't referring to any of you," Lucas cut him off. "And this rose doesn't need a group. A single Thorne is more than enough to protect her! And that Thorne… is right... here!"Bookmark here

With a fist of concentrated bravado, Lucas hammered his chest twice, one for each of the two last words he shouted.Bookmark here

The angry mob steamed at Lucas' declaration of war. They shook with jealousy and rage as they gripped onto their weapons harder and harder until a war cry filled the area.Bookmark here

"Let's show him he's all bark and no bite!"Bookmark here

That was his cue to prepare himself. Lucas clenched his hands into fists once more and raised them in front of his face. One foot slid across the pavement as he bent his knees, lowering his center of gravity.Bookmark here

Most of the students who were bystanders felt this was potential internet material. From their pockets or their bags, they took out their smartphones and began recording what was going to happen next.Bookmark here

The biker student charged first, readying his bat to be swung down at a vertical angle with the intention to crack Lucas' skull open. If one wasn't enough, then multiple strikes should eventually split it apart.Bookmark here

As the proximity between himself and the weapon became closer, Lucas' body reacted on its own by pumping adrenaline and cortisol through his veins. His heart-rate increased dramatically, and a burst of strength and energy erupted within him.Bookmark here

The internal flame called "determination" began to burn.Bookmark here

The bat came swinging down hard as Lucas faced it head-on. Stamping a foot forward and bending the knee, Lucas built up potential energy with a lowered stance as he pulled back his fist and torqued himself counter-clockwise. His desperation to avoid injury resulted in a quick combination of positioning and a powerful straight, released with a battlecry to invigorate himself.Bookmark here

Lucas' fist and the biker student's bat collided, and everyone watching saw the space at the point of impact distort in the blink of an eye. Then as the mini-shockwave subsided, the biker student couldn't believe how things turned out. Lucas' bare fist of flesh and bone snapped one of the most durable bats in the world in half and without any momentum lost, clocked the biker student hard in the face. The fist dug into his mouth and nose, contorting them and sending a few of his teeth flying as his entire being was hurled away.Bookmark here

Lucas himself was shocked that this was the result, but he was satisfied nonetheless. Out of instinct, he aimed his punch at the bat's closest point to where it was being held just above the knob. That was the thinnest part, after all.Bookmark here

As the biker student hit the ground and bit the dust, the other students that made the angry mob started to regret their bold claims. Their sole target was unarmed and only wore minimal protection, but to them, Lucas was now the deadliest among them all. Calling him a monster or a demon felt like an understatement.Bookmark here

For a moment they hesitated. Then, they silently agreed with a nod that the best option was to simply attack him all at once and charged with mad rage.Bookmark here

Unfortunately for them, Lucas had plenty of experience in this kind of situation.Bookmark here

As the throng closed in on him and his breathing space became more compact, Lucas was reminded of the many Battle Royales he endured in the Underground Arena. With the variety of opponents he faced, Lucas was given hands-on experience with several fighting styles. It was thanks to this that he began to adapt. As his experience grew, he assimilated everything that intrigued him. Fighting moves, techniques and even playing dirty made their way into his own repertoire.Bookmark here

He went for the closest opponent within his range. This one wielded a longsword which he swung horizontally with one hand in an attempt to decapitate him. Lucas ducked under the deadly swing, leading the weapon to only cut off a few strands of his hair. He then rushed in, closing the gap between them and preventing the longsword wielder from using his weapon properly. As one of Lucas' hands took hold of the arm that held the longsword, his other hand went around his opponent's back and pulled him in for a powerful rising knee strike to the solar plexus. The longsword wielder’s padded clothing couldn't protect him from the sheer force of impact. Bile began to build in the poor guy's throat, which he tried to swallow back down.Bookmark here

Another student who held a battle axe was about to prepare a downward chop on Lucas' back. Lucas, realizing the situation he was in, took notice of how the longsword wielder looked like he was about to hurl judging by how green his face had become and how his cheeks were swelling up. After giving himself a few seconds to find the right moment, Lucas struck the longsword wielder in the stomach with a brutal uppercut, right after aiming his face directly at the one behind him.Bookmark here

Like the activation of a weapon, a cannon stream of vomit shot out of the longsword wielder's mouth and right into the battle axe wielder's face. He took a few steps back, shrieked and dropped his axe, letting it clang on the ground as the green, disgusting liquid burned and blinded his eyes. Some of it even dripped into his mouth right after he opened it. The battle axe wielder had actually skipped breakfast in order to arrive at school on time that day, but now he had his morning meal in the form of recently digested milk, buttered toast, bacon, and sunny-side eggs - all at once.Bookmark here

Taking full advantage of this distraction, Lucas finished the now malnourished longsword wielder with a short-ranged elbow strike to the face, knocking him off his lights. Lucas then ran toward the battle axe wielder and jumped, positioning his body horizontally while tucking his legs in as close to his chest as possible. His legs then sprang with incredible force, firing a pair of missile dropkicks to the battle axe wielder's chest. He was propelled several feet backward, knocking several other members of the angry mob behind him like bowling pins. Lucas scored a strike as he landed on his back from the jump; the rubber armor on his back broke his fall.Bookmark here

At this point, the outnumbered fighter's winning streak in the brawl was inspiring most of the bystanders to cheer for the unarmed underdog. Mostly three or four-syllable chants combined with numerous rhythmic clapping started to fill the vicinity. Among them were general chants like "This is awesome!", "Holy shit!", or "Fight forever!" Then came along some rather unusual ones like "Lucas owned you!", "What's your safe word?", and "50 shades!" As Lucas continued to beat down on more of his weapon-wielding opponents, a vast portion of the bystanders began pointing their index fingers to the sky, their arms extending up high as they gleefully chanted, "YES! YES! YES!"Bookmark here

The commotion was quite loud and rowdy as it caught the attention of Viola, who ran out of the school's main campus to see what was going on.Bookmark here

"Lucas..." She felt herself growing nervous as she saw the situation he was in and buried a hand into her purse. As it emerged, firmly grasped in-between her fingers were a trio of long steel needles as she formed a fist with the same hand. She wanted to intervene on Lucas' behalf as this was probably her fault but then she began to contemplate if it was the right thing to do.Bookmark here

Lucas was holding his ground quite well, but defending against weapons was a new challenge to him. He had to focus on dodging as he would most likely injure or lose his limbs if he tried to block something as sharp as a sword. Anticipating a weapon being swung felt difficult compared to anticipating a punch. The arching motion was similar to some kicks, but the angle felt too new to avoid by instinct.Bookmark here

As more and more of the mob started to attack him then taste the bitterness of defeat, Lucas found dodging without getting hurt to be next to impossible. Soon enough, he was howling in pain as he could just barely escape the vicious strikes that cut him again and again. Soon enough, almost every weapon the angry mob used was stained with his blood. The rubber armor on Lucas' shirt gave him some protection, but they could only cover so much of him without hampering his movements. The unprotected parts of his body, along with his arms and legs soon obtained plenty of cuts and nicks - so much that his shirt and pants had numerous shreds, while his white hoodie was eventually stained red on almost every part of it. The only thing keeping Lucas from fainting was his determination, which continued to burn within him.Bookmark here

Another student with a blunt mace tried to cave Lucas' head in with a powerful smash of his weapon. Lucas backpedaled and just barely managed to avoid it leading to the mace striking the pavement instead. A small crater in the same shape as the weapon was formed as bits of gravel erupted from the ground. The mace wielder was in no mood to stop his assault there and managed to swing the heavy metal weapon at Lucas again, this time, he aimed for his target's stomach. Lucas was still trying to regain his bearings from the backpedal, but found himself taking a bit longer than usual to recover due to blood loss. Because of the delay, Lucas was dealt a clean hit. His rubber armor cushioned most of the blow, but a mace was a very powerful and heavy weapon. Lucas felt liquid building up inside him.Bookmark here

He had no intention of just letting it happen without using it in some way to fight back. Lucas coughed out a small mouthful of blood, just enough to fill his lower jaw, but spat it out directly to the mace wielder's face instead of the pavement, blinding him in a similar manner to the battle axe wielder from earlier. Lucas grabbed hold of the opening he was given and incapacitated his distracted opponent with a powerful headbutt that broke his nose.Bookmark here

Right after the mace wielder lost consciousness, Lucas realized he was starting to get dizzy. His immense stamina kept him from running out of breath, but his loss of blood was starting to mess with his senses. His vision began to blur, and he started to have difficulty standing still without wobbling.Bookmark here

With dozens of students now incapacitated, Lucas had defeated almost all of the weapon-wielding opponents that tried to dispose of him. Only three people were left standing: Him, the black trench coat student and the biker student who had just recovered enough for him to stand.Bookmark here

The two students surrounded Lucas from both sides with the intention of giving him an attack from both ends - a pincer attack.Bookmark here

The trench coat student exploited Lucas' dizziness and attacked first with a horizontal swing of his dual swords combined with a spinning movement. Out of a combination of instinct and a mind out of focus, Lucas did something that everyone believed to be downright stupid.Bookmark here

Everyone fell into silence as they heard a sword successfully striking flesh and bone. They were given a harsh reminder that the sharp weapons some of them brought were not toys.Bookmark here

Viola gasped in horror, worried that Lucas had made a terrible mistake.Bookmark here

...He had attempted to block the swords with his bare arm instead of avoiding it.Bookmark here

Truth be told, it was a terrible mistake for Lucas to block something so sharp with his own arm, but to the shock of everyone, especially Lucas, his arm wasn't chopped off as expected.Bookmark here

Instead, the twin swords were partially embedded into the bones of his arm. Not even less than half of the blades had sunk into his flesh. As newly sharpened as they were, and as hard as they were swung, the trench coat student failed to cut Lucas' arm off despite landing a clean hit from an unhindered swing.Bookmark here

For the second time that day, Lucas couldn't believe what just happened. First, a maple bat, one of the hardest and heaviest baseball bats in the world failed to shatter his skull. Now a pair of dual swords failed to chop his arm off. How is it possible for him to withstand such powerful weapons?Bookmark here

Physical strength, intelligence, dexterity, and mobility. With every person, combinations and levels of those talents are born. Peak physical strength, and dexterity but inferior intelligence and average mobility are just one of the countless possible combinations. And then there are those few with incredible or mediocre levels of everything.Bookmark here

Lucas Thorne was born with average talent. A jack of all trades, but master of none. With no strengths or weaknesses, he was neither praised nor ridiculed, just ignored. When one is lacking in talent, one can train it in order to one day bring it to the peak condition. In Lucas' case, he had trained his bones without even realizing it.Bookmark here

The average human bone requires at least four-hundred and forty pounds of force to break it. When the force is strong but insufficient, small cracks begin to form and branch upon the points of impact. These cracks are called "microfractures." Fighters often inflict themselves with these by constantly striking dense objects such as wood or concrete with their fists, elbows, shins or feet. In time, the fractures will heal through a process known as "cortical remodeling," and the bone becomes reinforced, making it more durable than before. This training method is excruciatingly painful, and only a few are dedicated to it as they should be.Bookmark here

From the countless fights in which he had been struck with near bone-breaking force in the Underground Arena, Lucas had already been inflicted with microfractures that covered every bone in his body more times than he could count. With the number of times that his microfractures mended themselves and the amount of brutal physical punishment he endured for years, Lucas had unknowingly tempered his ordinary bones into becoming a skeleton that far surpassed the density of stones.Bookmark here

The trench coat student freaked out at his failure. "What the... What the fuck are you!?"Bookmark here

"I'm only human..." Lucas answered with hardly a shred of doubt and with a little bit of a growl.Bookmark here

Apparently angered at the answer he received, the trench coat student didn't bother to pull out his swords from Lucas' arm and decided to instead attack in the best way possible to beat a dizzy opponent: a strike to the head.Bookmark here

With both hands, he held a firm grip on Lucas' hair as he pulled his own head back to prepare a headbutt. Lucas' arms felt too heavy from the lack of blood and the pain of the twin swords lodged in them and couldn't lift them in time to fight back. Bookmark here

Right as he unleashed his momentum, the trench coat student lifted up the curtain of bangs that had been hiding Lucas' eyes from everyone's view so he could land an unprotected hit on his opponent’s forehead.Bookmark here

To his shock, a pair of furious ghostly white eyes stared back at him and into his soul. He was struck with horrifying thoughts as this sudden sight made him feel like he was looking straight into the abyss.Bookmark here

The nasty surprise caused a disturbance in his momentum and as a result, the insufficient force he exerted on Lucas' skull rebounded back to him at double the force. Like he had just attempted to run head-first into a solid wall, the trench coat student knocked himself out with his own failed headbutt.Bookmark here

"Looks like I got lucky." Lucas coughed as he painstakingly removed the two swords that jutted out of his arm and let them fall to the pavement with a resounding clang. "Now... just one more--"Bookmark here

"And he's gonna finish you off! With or without his weapon!" The biker student bragged as he charged to the now defenseless Lucas from behind. His missing teeth didn't impede his speech from becoming incomprehensible, but it made him spit saliva and blood while sounding like he spoke with a lisp. "Now, learn your place!" Bookmark here

His fist came in swinging hard. But then it came to a sudden stop.Bookmark here

Lucas looked behind himself and was surprised to see a glowing radiance of hair. Someone had stepped in between him and the biker student, ready to fight by the stance she took.Bookmark here

She stood up straight, facing the biker student at an angle. One arm was horizontally angled behind her back while the other one was bent and diagonally positioned at a vertical angle with the back of her hand facing the biker student.Bookmark here

The look in her eyes and eyebrows were slanted in anger. She was fuming like a really pissed-off kitsune putting her life on the line to defend her injured mate.Bookmark here

"V-Viola...?" Lucas whispered under his breath before he coughed out a bit of blood into his hand."Bookmark here

"Oh, h-hey! So nice to see you again! Uh... Lovely day isn't it?" The biker student put down his arms and tried to make himself look harmless.Bookmark here

But Viola wasn't amused. "It's a lovely day alright, but it won't be one for long if you try to lay a finger on Lucas."Bookmark here

The biker student felt like he didn't deserve to be put aside in favor of someone like Lucas. He started to nitpick.Bookmark here

"Just what do you see in him!? He's shy, a goody-two-shoes and he hides his eyes behind his hair! I bet you they look really girlish or something like that!"Bookmark here

Lucas slumped a bit. As much as he hated to admit it, most, if not all of those were true to him.Bookmark here

"So what?" Viola looked over her shoulder at her surprised cousin before shooting a glare back at the biker student. "He's not perfect, but I think that's part of his charm. He doesn't need to compensate for his tiny issues like you guys do."Bookmark here

Hearing her words filled Lucas with emotion. While Viola came to his defense, Lucas started fighting another battle - the battle to keep his tears from cascading down his eyes. He was uncertain if Viola's opinion of him would change for the better if she caught him crying even if it was because he was emotionally touched.Bookmark here

The biker student continued to complain. "He just mercilessly attacked us!"Bookmark here

"Right..." Viola deadpanned. "An unarmed person attacked a group of armed people without being provoked. What a good reason to pick a fight."Bookmark here

"Alright, alright, we did it." The biker student rescinded. "I won't attack him anymore, but only if you could make it worth my--"Bookmark here

"No."Bookmark here

Viola tossed her purse high into the air, which every eyewitness followed. While the white bag was suspended, Viola got up close and personal beneath the biker student's nose and folded all fingers except her index and middle fingers, fashioning her hand into a spear. In a flash, she stabbed the biker student in his solar plexus, stunning him. Following that, Viola attacked with a rapid flurry, jabbing the bigger person with a torrent of strikes that felt like being shot with a pellet gun. She aimed for various points of the body: chest, arms, torso, neck, and the head. Her movements were so quick and fluid, it was nearly impossible to see clearly with the naked eye. It looked like she could go on forever, but Viola stopped her attack to catch her purse before its white color could get tainted with dirt.Bookmark here

When he was no longer feeling any strikes pelting him, the biker student was left in a state of tranquility as a delicate, feminine hand gently touched his chest, fingers-first. He let out a satisfied sigh, thinking it was all over, but it was revealed to be nothing more than a cold-blooded masquerade when he heard Viola speak to him with a heartless tone as cold as ice.Bookmark here

"Never ask me for my three sizes again."Bookmark here

Without warning, the tranquil atmosphere was replaced by a dark flare of murderous intent that surged from the girl with bronze hair. The biker student was left too frozen in fear to run away.Bookmark here

Viola took a deep breath then exhaled in conjunction with a powerful flick of her wrist. One inch off the biker student's chest, Viola's extended fingers transitioned into a fist as she delivered a single punch that burst forth with incredible speed... and explosive force.Bookmark here

A deafening echo reverberated across the school grounds as Viola’s one-inch punch broke the sound barrier. It was so amazing to those who witnessed it that the attack replayed itself three times in their heads.Bookmark here

The biker student was sent skidding over two meters away from Viola across the pavement, creating a small dust cloud until he came to a stop. He clutched his chest in pain while wondering why the rapid strikes Viola hit him with before that, didn't hurt one bit.Bookmark here

"Oh yes, you can have your teeth back. I picked them up before stepping in."Bookmark here

From a tiny zip-lock she took out of her purse, Viola revealed the three teeth the biker student lost earlier. However, rather than toss the entire bag at him, Viola opted to throw each of the teeth disrespectfully without the plastic bag. One by one, they bounced off the biker student's chest and made a ping sound before they landed back on the solid pavement, again.Bookmark here

Then Viola hammered the final nail into the coffin as she turned around to check on Lucas.Bookmark here

"If you piss me off or mess with Lucas again, I'll make sure you start eating with a straw. Don't even bother going to the dentist; I'll make sure he can't do anything." She turned her head to look behind her and shot the biker student with one last spiteful glare. "Don't... test me."Bookmark here

The biker student sheepishly nodded as he tried to hide his whimpering then proceeded to pick up his broken pearly whites off the ground.Bookmark here

Viola approached a wobbly Lucas, who looked like he could hardly stand. He'd lost too much blood his body could take. A small stain of his crimson liquid had already formed around him on the ground. With the fight now over, his internal flame had extinguished itself. Lucas blacked out and toppled over.Bookmark here

Slowly, his eyes re-opened. Lucas was expecting himself to be intimate with the ground by now but instead found himself caught and supported as his right arm was around the shoulders of the one who helped him continue to stand.Bookmark here

"You alright, tough guy?" Viola asked and tried to comfort him with a gentle smile.Bookmark here

Lucas looked at who was helping him and in less than a second, most of the blood that remained in him rushed to his face.Bookmark here

"N-no..." he admitted. "But I'll live."Bookmark here

Viola paid no attention to her cousin's blush and gave a quick whistle to his answer. "At least you're honest."Bookmark here

Lucas was satisfied for a moment until his curiosity was piqued again. Those moves Viola used on the biker student were so breathtaking, he couldn't take his eyes off it.Bookmark here

"Where did you learn to... do that?" he asked her.Bookmark here

"That's one reason why we need to catch up," Viola said. "So much has happened to me these past five years, but now is not the time to be sharing stories. C'mon, I'll help you to the nurse's office. Hopefully, she could do something about your injuries. Maybe I could help, too."Bookmark here

Lucas nodded without another word as he struggled to walk despite Viola's assistance.Bookmark here

As they were getting closer to the school's main campus, Lucas turned his head to his left, the side where Viola wasn't supporting him, and caught a glimpse of someone who was watching from outside the school's property. Ashen hair, a medium length ponytail, and braids on either side of his head. His striking emerald eyes glowed in the sunlight, and he wore a pendant consisting of a small gem in between a pair of tiny feathers. A familiar backpack was strapped to his shoulders, and his right arm was covered all over with a long cast of bandages.Bookmark here

That's... Fenris!? What are you doing here!?Bookmark here

Fenris, one of seven [Renegades] Rio assigned him to kill was standing in the distance, giving what Lucas thought to be a quick grin before he turned away and left.Bookmark here

Lucas began to worry that he wasn't out of the woods yet, but the intimate distance he shared with Viola led him to involuntarily smell the exotic scent she emanated from her clothes and hair.Bookmark here

She smells nice...Bookmark here

Viola smelled like a combination of Sandalwood and Vetiver, which Lucas recognized from the numerous herbal scents he had been exposed to. It put him at ease.Bookmark here

The rest of the students who witnessed the entire event walked toward the gymnasium, all satisfied and still on time for the assembly. They never thought Monday could ever be this amazing. The biker student with his teeth in his hands tried to follow suit, but his legs began to feel strange.Bookmark here

As they were steps away from entering the school's main campus, Viola did a count down in her head.Bookmark here

"And... 3... 2... 1…0!"Bookmark here

"W-what did you snap your fingers for?" Lucas asked her.Bookmark here

"Oh, it's nothing to worry about." Viola cooed with an easygoing smile.Bookmark here

Immediately after Viola snapped her fingers. The biker student's legs shook before he crumbled to the ground. They were now numb and no longer capable of supporting his weight.Bookmark here

"My legs! I CAN'T FEEL MY LEGS!!!!"Bookmark here

Unfortunately for him, his cries for help didn't reach anyone as they had already left his vicinity. Under the hot summer sun, the biker student sat alone until the weekly assembly ended. Wearing a full set of black clothes wasn't of much help to him either.Bookmark here

On this very Monday, the school staff was wondering why the majority of the boys failed to attend the weekly assembly or class. Lucas' actions excused him from attending class and his privilege to fight in the Underground Arena remained untarnished because he fought out of self-defense. It did take a little bit of vouching from Viola though.Bookmark here

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Oh yes, one more thing. The school nurse’s attempt to suddenly resign that day was denied.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.