Chapter 6:

Into the Limelight

Code: Zero Defect

I closed my locker after grabbing all the necessary supplies I needed for the day: a history textbook, a fresh journal, and some pens. Behind me, a group of guys were messing around until one of them tripped and slammed against the locker next to me. They laughed it off and moved on as if it was a normal occurrence.

Another day at school, another day of dealing with the excessive noise that comes with it. I wanted to drop out a long time ago, but Mother didn't let me. Obviously, right? Well... It's not like she knows what I've been up to late at night. I'll indulge it for her.

"Hey! Solas, right?" said a voice.

I turned my head to see a small group ready to greet me with friendly smiles.

"Can I help you?" I asked.

"Your last name is De Leux, isn't it?" another one inquired. "Like... General De Leux?"

Ah, so that's what this is about. Of course. Not like I've been swamped this past week after my victory against that sergeant. Nope, definitely not that at all.

"Yeah," I said. "He's my father."

"No way!" the same guy exclaimed. "Well, I guess it's no wonder that you beat the officer who was teaching us last week."

"I guess so."

"Say, you think we could... you know, meet your dad one day?"

It amazes me how everyone sees him as a hero. I suppose it makes sense because he was the one who spearheaded the Reclamation, earning him the title of a hero. However, I can't even applaud him for that. The only thing I see in him is a failed father and husband who abandoned his family for the sake of work.

"Who knows," I replied as I began walking away. "I don't even get to see him much myself, so you might have a rough time."

I haven't seen the old man in... eight years now. He shows up on television a lot, being the first general of the Queen's Guards and all. I couldn't care less about that. Every single day, I see Mother looking at our old family portrait. Nelia's death played a huge role in her suffering, but it was made worse by the old man's absence. I can never forgive him for that.

As I was making my way through the busy hallways, my phone vibrated in my pocket. I pulled it out and was pleasantly met with a text from Mother.

Mother: "Sol, are you in class right now?"

Me: "About to be. Did something happen?"

Mother: "No. I'm heading to the Jeweled Sector. Is there anything in particular you want to eat when you get home?"

Me: "Hm..."

I stepped into my first classroom for the day. Already, I noticed a bunch of eyes on me. That's strange. I'm receiving a lot more attention than I'm used to.

Did the rumors somehow rekindle? How did that happen so fast? Just yesterday, I was practically a ghost to everyone else.

No matter. I'll just ignore them. I don't do well in crowds, nor do I enjoy being in them.

Me: "I'm okay with whatever."

Mother: "Sol... You're not giving me a lot to work with."

Me: "What can I say? Caelus taught me to eat everything you gave us."

Mother: "Woe is me for being a good mother. Fine, I'll take a look around."

Me: "Thanks, Mother."

I slipped my phone back into my pocket and sat down at my desk. Suddenly, a trio of guys stopped right next to me. I figured they were simply passing by, so I abstained from looking up. However, their tenacity became far too obvious.

Finally, I raised my head to see them looking at me with displeasure.

"Tsk, this is him?" the foremost guy grunted. "For real?"

"That's what everyone's saying," said the guy behind him.

The way they're looking at me is distasteful, to say the least, and those words were enough to catch me off guard. Have I been caught? Has the identity that I've flawlessly hidden from the coatsmen been deciphered by a bunch of kids?

The first guy slammed his hand upon my desk, gathering the attention of the entire classroom. His angered eyes met mine, but it did not deter me. I must be ready to silence him if he reveals my identity.

"What the hell does Ange see in you?" he growled.

"... Huh...?" was all I could say as my mind immediately went blank.

Wait... so this isn't about my secret identity? In hindsight, of course, it isn't. There's no possible way they can know. I make sure to cover my tracks whenever I finish up in the undercity.

For that matter, how would some kids from the Golden District know anything about Strider? Never mind that. Who in the name of the gods is Ange?

"Who...?" I asked.

"You know damn well who I'm talking about," he said. "Ange Cross! Ring a bell now?!"

I've never been more confused in my life. Did I get drunk last night and confess or something? When did I have time to talk to a girl?

"Sorry, but I have no idea what you're talking about," I said.

"Eh?! Then why are words going around saying that she's suddenly interested in someone?!" he exclaimed. "And that someone is you!"

I have to be hallucinating or something. Ange Cross... Must be a popular girl if everyone is paying so much attention to me because of her. But what is this about her being interested in me? I don't even know who she is.

"Answer me," the boy snarled once more.

"I think there's been some kind of misunderstanding," I said. "I've never spoken to... Ange before, much less seen her."

"Quit lying!"

Hold on a second... Am I... getting yelled at by a kid? Granted, we're probably around the same age, but what I'm used to is being threatened at gunpoint by coatsmen. This is just an embarrassment.

"It's not a lie," I sighed. "I really don't know why this person is interested in me. Like I said, I don't know her."

"Hah, still trying to play the clueless game, eh?" he chuckled.

He then snatched the collar of my shirt and pulled me up.

Okay. Now, I'm getting annoyed.

I grabbed his hand and squeezed it. With a pop and a crack, he immediately released his grip and let out a groan of pain.

"Don't... touch me," I muttered.

Seriously? I'm not even applying that much pressure and he's over here acting like I'm breaking his hand. This is so easy. When I pushed him back, he stumbled and fell on one of the empty chairs behind him.

He turned his head back with anger, but that confident look dissipated as soon as he saw my face.

I'm not a good person, nor am I patient enough to deal with baseless drama. I'm responsible for the death of many. Whether or not I was the one holding the dagger, it doesn't change the fact that I led the cause. When kids like him think they're at the top of the world, it's a form of justice to show them just how small they are.

"I don't bother myself with petty lies," I said. "They're called 'rumors' for a reason, but let me debunk them from you. They're not true. Ange Cross? Never heard of her in my life, so use your fucking head next time. A bit of fact-checking might save you a lifetime's worth of embarrassment. Ah... Then again, it might be too late for that."

Without even so much as a reply, he scurried off.

Honestly... What is going on today? After one bothersome event, another one arises.

I should renegotiate with Mother so I can drop out. This place freaking sucks.