Chapter 16:

Chapter 12: Thorne of the Bronze Rose

Parable of the Renegades


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AUTHOR'S NOTE:


Hi! Jio Kurenai here!


As usual free to leave a comment below. It can be anything like a random question, a comment for fun or any constructive criticism to help me improve!


A "LIKE" would definitely be appreciated too!


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With the residential village of Falcon Rock situated at a high altitude, the air was always chilly even though summer had already started. Lucas shivered as he walked to the bus stop, his hands rubbing the opposite arm in order to warm himself by friction. A jacket would have been nice compared to the short-sleeved hoodie he was wearing, but he didn't bother to change his attire as he wouldn't need warm clothes as soon as he left the village.


Just a few meters away from the entrance to Falcon Rock and right on top of the steep road was one of the many bus stops situated at certain points around the area and the town of Cameron's Feint. Several people wearing different clothes were lining up, waiting for the 7:30 bus to arrive.


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 of 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 for a week. The same rule applied to smartphones as well.


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 so far.


As he reached the bus stop, Lucas caught sight of 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.


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


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.


"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.


"It's just like I told you, after all, the fates favor me," Davis boasted.


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


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


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


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.


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


"Um, me?" Lucas gulped.


"Yeah, did something interesting happen? Did you witness something? Like that shooting star?"


"That was supposed to happen last night? Then I missed it."


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


"I guess so," Lucas said, brushing it away.


"Okay, well, moving on!" Davis continued. "Did you finish 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***!"


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


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


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


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 on the other side of where they were? The fact that he is now an expendable slave for Rio and that he has to kill seven [Renegades]? And that one of them is the true identity of the hooded figure who actually lives here in Cameron's Feint?


Lucas just kept himself silent until the bus arrived as he had no idea on what to say. Davis was and will always be his best friend, but maybe, just maybe, he's not yet ready to hear about a boatload of unusual events.


"Nah... like that's gonna happen. He's too shy," Davis told himself regarding Lucas' chances of scoring.


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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.


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


"Yo Lucas, look over there!" he gave his friend a quick pat on the shoulder and pointed to a gathering of students.


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 several meters closer to the main building. Lucas began to ponder.


"That's odd. Wonder what the fuss is all about?"


It was quite noisy and rowdy. Lucas and Davis edged themselves closer to the crowd, 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, Lucas realized that all of the students that made the crowd were male.


Then in front of where of Lucas and Davis stood, some of the students in the crowd began to make way for the one in the center as they moved to the side. It wasn't because they did so willingly - someone was pushing them aside as they tried to squeeze their way out. After a bit of a struggle, a girl 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 of an expensive brand. She was dressed in 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 bronze-medal layered hair that curled down to her shoulders, radiating a brilliant luster.


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. 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 just re-discovered a brilliant flower from a secret garden.


"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.


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


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


"Yeah..."


"She looks smokin' hot!"


"Yeah..."


"And she looks just like your mom!"


"Yea... W-Wait... WHAT!?"


A comparison between the bronze-haired girl and Rea began to play in Lucas' head. Their faces were situated parallel to each other for a second then slowly, they began to converge 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%.


Lucas was disturbed beyond belief. Without warning, he got his hands firmly clasped around Davis' neck and shook him almost like he was trying to make a broken toy work.


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


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


"Take that back! You take that back!" Lucas bared his teeth. It was looking 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.


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


"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 as a hand was barely raised 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.


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


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


"Hawawawawawawa!" Lucas blushed almost immediately and found himself spouting utter gibberish he never thought he would say as this sudden course of action took place. His hands were trembling so much that he could not lift them and embrace the girl back.


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


Lucas' utterances came to a stop when the girl gave him some space to breathe, taking a few steps back, but leaving her hands resting on the now red-faced boy's shoulders.


"Y-Yeah, I-It's been a while..." Lucas mumbled.


"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!"


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.


*Ahem* "Lucas..." Davis, who had already stood back up after recovering from getting choked out earlier, was faking coughs into a fist he made in front of his mouth, 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?"


"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!"


"Uh-huh. Okay, the pleasure is all mine," Davis accepted the handshake, but for some reason, he only did it so he wouldn't 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.


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


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


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


"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)."


Feeling like the conversation was finally over, Davis turned to the direction of the school's gymnasium and began to walk 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, they were no longer considered appealing. 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.


"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."


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.


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?"


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


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.


"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!"


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


"I'm looking forward to that first call or text, Violaaaaaaa!!!!" Davis didn't let Viola finish her point as he had already sprinted off to the gymnasium, performing jumping for joy poses every few seconds like he had already graduated to the inconvenience of some students he ran past.


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


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


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


"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."


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


"W-Who knows?" Lucas tried to keep himself calm and composed and only managed to do so with some difficulty. He couldn't stop his two index fingers from fidgeting as they kept pushing against each other. Deep in his thoughts, Lucas imagined that Rea must have been laughing at this moment, if only she witnessed this.


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!"


"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."


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


"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!"


At that moment, Lucas clutched a handful of his chest. He felt his heart ache but in a good way. It was like Cupid had shot him. Monday was never this good.


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


He flinched and placed a hand on his forehead to rub the part that got struck. "Oww... Hey, who threw that!?"


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. Right now, 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.


"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..."


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. 


Lucas was left dumbfounded.


"Really funny." He sure wasn't amused.


"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!"


"Hey!" Another random person in the crowd protested.


"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.


"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 inverted rose. "I like it. That nickname's alright."


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


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


"Then fuck-off!"


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. 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.


"Hmmph! You get what you deserve!" The biker student held his baseball bat horizontally behind his back, tapping his other shoulder 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 should sweep Viola off her feet.


"That... really... HURT!"


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. 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 slowly inhale then exhale instead. He was taking deep breaths to calm himself down and when he felt at peace, he relaxed and dropped his arms as he hid his teeth behind his lips.


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


...And what was the angry mob's response?


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


After a random person in the mob said his piece, 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.


"I... can't believe this is actually happening... You're going this far for one girl!?"


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


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 to harass her. Could he ever forgive himself if he were to allow such a thing to happen?


No, he couldn't. The obsessive angry mob must be stopped now or Viola wouldn't be able to live her new life as she sees fit.


He needed to protect her.


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


"So... you all think of Viola as a rose, right? Then I can say while every rose is protected by a group of thorns..."


"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-- "


"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!"


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


The angry mob emitted steam at Lucas' declaration of war. They were shaking with jealousy and rage as they gripped onto their weapons harder until a war cry filled the area.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


The internal flame called "determination" began to burn. It was now a fight-or-flight situation.


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. He released a battlecry to invigorate himself.


*HUAHHHH!*


When Lucas' fist and the biker student's bat collided, 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 digging into his mouth and nose contorted them and sent a few of his teeth flying as his entire being was hurled a few feet away.


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, but his intention was to simply disarm his opponent by doing so.


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 all of them. Calling him a monster or a demon was starting to feel like an understatement.


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.


Unfortunately for them, they had no idea that Lucas had plenty of experience in this kind of situation.


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.


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. His 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.


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.


In a similar manner to a weapon being activated, 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.


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.


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 hands extending up high as they gleefully chanted, "YES! YES! YES!"


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.


"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.


Lucas was holding his own 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 be able to avoid by instinct.


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. Numerous times, he howled 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.


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 the loss of a few liters of blood. Because of the delay, Lucas was dealt a clean hit. His rubber armor cushioned most of the blow that struck him, but a mace was a very powerful and heavy weapon. Lucas felt liquid building up inside him.


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 also broke his nose.


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 in standing still without wobbling.


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.


The two students surrounded Lucas from both sides with the intention of giving him an attack from both ends. A pincer attack.


The trench coat-clad student exploited Lucas' dizziness and attacked first with a horizontal swing with both 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.


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


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


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


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


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.


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?


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.


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.


The average human bone requires at least four-hundred and forty pounds of force in order 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.


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 stone.


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


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


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.


With both hands, he held a firm grip on Lucas' hair as he held 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 that he couldn't lift them up in time to fight back. 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 forehead.


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.


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.


"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--"


"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 as it sounded like he spoke with a lisp.


"Now, learn your place!" His fist came in swinging hard... But then it came to a sudden stop.


Lucas looked behind himself in surprise 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.


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.


The look in her eyes and eyebrows were slanted, giving off an angry vibe. She was fuming like a really pissed-off kitsune putting her life on the line to defend her injured mate.


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


"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...


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


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


"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!" 


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


"So what?" Viola looked over her shoulder while she defended her 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."


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 felt emotionally touched.


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


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


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


"No."


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 formed a hand spear where she folded all fingers except her index and middle fingers. 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 student 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.


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.


"Never ask me for my three sizes again."


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


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.


The one-inch punch sounded like it broke the sound barrier. A deafening echo reverberated across the school grounds. It was so amazing to those who witnessed it that the attack replayed itself three times in their heads.


Still standing, 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 was clutching his chest in pain while wondering why the rapid strikes Viola hit him with before that, didn't hurt one bit.


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


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 disrespectfully throw each of the teeth without the plastic bag. One by one, they bounced off the biker student's chest, making a *ping* noise before they landed back on the solid pavement again.


With this being said and done, Viola hammered the final nail into the coffin as she turned around to check on Lucas.


"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 merciless glare. "Don't... test me."


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


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 extinguished itself as Lucas blacked out and toppled over.


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.


"You alright, tough guy?" Viola asked, trying to comfort him with a gentle smile.


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


"N-No..." he admitted. "But I'll live."


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


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


"Where did you learn to... do that?"


"That's one reason why we need to catch up," Viola told him. "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."


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


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 was wearing 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.


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


Fenris, one of seven [Renegades] Rio assigned him to kill was standing in the distance, giving a quick grin before he turned away to leave.


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.


She smells nice...


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.


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.


As they were steps away from entering the school's main campus, Viola was counting down in her head. 


"And... 3... 2... 1..." *snap!*


"W-What did you snap your fingers for?" Lucas asked her.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


Oh yes, one more thing. The school nurse was denied her application for a sudden resignation that day.