Chapter 7:

Crowded Paths

Code: Zero Defect

After my last class for the day, I wasted no time to catch the next train. Apparently, word of my lineage began flowing around until it reached its peak. Now, everyone on campus knows my name and my connection with the greatest hero New Olympos has ever seen. Even in his absence, Father still manages to cause me trouble.

I leaned my arm on the window sill. As I glared at the ever-changing landscape outside, I couldn't help but reminisce about the comforting darkness of the undercity. Of course, I can't complain. Living up here is way better than living down there. Maybe it's because I've been here for so long that the undercity was an unexpectedly pleasant change.

A few minutes later, the train pulled into the station closest to my house. However, I stayed seated. While the majority of the Golden District is filled with residential areas, there's a glamorous shopping center known as the Jeweled Sector.

I never go there on my own volition, but Mother said she was gonna be there for today. It wouldn't hurt to meet her halfway so she doesn't get lonely.

The train then stopped at the Jeweled Sector, where most of the passengers got off. I was one of them. As soon as my foot touched the magnificently carved pavement, I wanted to leave.

Surrounding a massive circular plaza was a bunch of grandiose buildings with brand names slapped on the front of each one. At the other end, a staircase led up to another level with basically the same thing.

This place is way too bright for my taste. So many people, too...

I pulled out my phone and shot a message to Mother.

Me: "Hey, which store are you in?"

No reply. I leaned my back against a large sign and waited a couple of minutes. During that time, I caught a glimpse of the normal pedestrians walking around. Coming out of a dress shop was a seemingly happy couple. Trailing near the fountain at the center of the plaza was an older man with a way younger girl. I try my best not to judge, but disgust is an emotion I can't control.

I looked back at my phone. Still, no reply. Maybe she went home already. Oh well. I'm here, so I might as well take a look around.

I debated whether or not to walk into a clothing store to my left. The clothes in my wardrobe all came from that specific store. I'm not picky with what I wear. As long as it's comfortable and affordable, I'll wear anything.

Suddenly, I stopped when I bumped into someone.

"Ah, pardon me," he spoke elegantly.

I looked up to see a bright man, and that was no exaggeration. His scruffy hair, his soft eyes, and even his dignified robe were all white. His attire didn't look like something that just anyone would wear. Is he some kind of nobleman? Several lines marked his face, a clear indication that he is heavily augmented.

"Apologies, sir," I bowed my head and said. "I should've watched where I was going."

"Now, now, there's no need for such formalities," he chuckled. "Might I ask what's on your mind that is distracting you so?"

"Huh? Oh, it's nothing much. I'm just looking for my mother."


I saw his eyes trailing over to my name tag that says, 'De Leux.' There's not a single person in the entire city who doesn't know that name. I wonder how he'll react.

"Then I take it that your mother is Lady De Leux?" the man asked.

"Yeah, she is," I said. "Have you seen her?"

"Well, shall I make a minor deduction? Lady De Leux is quite famous not only because of her husband. She is also known for her grandiose beauty. Wherever she goes, there's bound to be a crowd. Now, let's take a look, shall we?"

The man rested his hand on my shoulder and lowered himself to my height. Slowly, our heads turned at the exact same pace. The Jeweled Sector is the most popular commerce strip in the entire city. No matter where we look, there will always be a crowd. However, just like he said, there was one particular spot that was much more populated than the rest.

It was a nice café with a fenced patio. When Caelus still lived with us, that place was our go-to spot. Right then, my eyes twitched. Among the customers, I saw Mother sitting at a table beneath an umbrella. Left and right, many people twisted and turned their heads to admire her.

"Seems like we've found our target," the man chuckled. "I've kept you for long enough. Why don't you go and join her?"

"Thank you, sir," I said. "May I know your name?"

"Ah, my name is as irrelevant as the stars that fade in and out every single night. Fear not, my friend. When the time comes, we will meet again... when the fall of the Spire is imminent."

"... Wait, what...?"

As soon as I turned around, the man was gone. What the hell was that?

'When the fall of the Spire is imminent.' What is that supposed to mean? Did he know that I was a defect all along? That's impossible. I've never even seen him before.

I decided not to think too much about it since he's gone now. Instead, I ran over to the café.

Right as I was about to approach Mother, I caught a glimpse of two men standing right beside her. I quickly ducked behind a lamp post. Not close enough to be noticed, but close enough to listen in.

"For the last time, please, leave me be," Mother sighed.

"And leave a beautiful lady like you all alone? Not a chance," one of them attempted to flirt.

"Shall we head out?" asked the other one. "We're staying at a really nice hotel."

"Not interested," Mother declined respectfully.

Mother and I have gone out into the city many times in the past, and almost every single time, she gets hit on when we get separated. She shoots them down to the best of her ability, but sometimes, they don't get the message. Unfortunately for them, I'm her son. I will never allow anyone to touch her. Not while she still loves that poor excuse for a husband.

"Eh? Come on," the man chuckled. "It's not like you're here with anyone."

"We're being polite here, ma'am," the other said as he reached for her shoulder.

My instincts kicked in. With as much speed as my body was capable of, I dashed through the patio, careful to avoid any possible collisions. Right as his hand was about to touch her, I forcefully grabbed his wrist.

He let out a painful grunt before glaring at me with disdainful eyes.

"Hey, kid!" he shouted. "What the hell do you think you're doing?!"

"Sol?" Mother gasped.

The other man swerved around his friend and raised his arms while dashing at me. All it took was a fist aimed right at his jaws to send him flying back. With my hand still firmly gripping the first guy's wrist, I twisted it up and landed a chop at his neck. He staggered back with intense coughs.

"Who the fuck...?!" the first man snarled. "Do you even know who you're messing with?!"

"Nope. Not like it matters to me," I said.

I pushed the strap of my bag just a little, allowing it to slide right off my shoulder. It hit the ground with a thud, and I stepped up to face the two of them.

"Looks like the kid needs to be taught a lesson," the second man smirked. "Let's-"

"Wait!" his friend shouted. "L-look!"

He pointed at my chest, where my name tag was on display for all to see.

"De... De Leux?" he muttered fearfully. "You...?"

"Shit!" the other one exclaimed. "Let's go!"

Just like that, they ran off and disappeared into the sea of onlookers that gathered during the last minute.

Tsk... So much for teaching me a lesson. Once again, the old man's name causes trouble for me. Only this time, it ended a fight when I wanted it to happen.

I picked up my bag and turned to Mother, who had the same look of bewilderment as everyone else.

"Are you okay, Mother?" I asked.

"Pft... You know, your father did exactly what you just did many years ago," she giggled. "It was one of the first instances where I began to fall in love with him."

"Like father, like son, I suppose."

"Indeed. Anyway, what are you doing here?"

"I thought I'd come and meet you here so you wouldn't be lonely."

"Oh, Sol... You didn't have to do that."

"Seeing what transpired just now, it's a good thing I did."

I sat down at the table next to her and picked up a menu. Looks pretty neat. They've got a wide selection of comfort food, but damn... They're all so expensive.

The De Leux family is pretty well off because of the old man's occupation. Even then, I don't really spend money like that. New tech and new clothes are irrelevant to me. My current phone has been working for the past four years, and I don't plan on changing it any time soon. Unless it breaks.

Once I decided on the item I wanted, I turned back to Mother. However, I froze on the spot. She had an elbow on the table while her head was propped on the hand. With a smile on her face, she kept her eyes on me.

That look... only meant one thing in the past.

"I... I'm sorry...?" I gulped. "Whatever it is I did, I didn't mean it."

She let out a small giggle. "Why must you always assume that my gaze is a symptom of condemnation?"

"Oh, gee... I wonder why. It's not like Caelus and I survived countless onslaughts that came after that gaze when we were kids."

"Whatever could you mean? I've never done anything that would warrant a fib like that."

"Oho, yeah. Yeah, you did."

She simply laughed. I'm glad she's able to smile again. It wasn't too long ago when she was in a pretty dark place, what with Father and Caelus being away from home all the time.

"How was school?" Mother asked.

"Eh," I shrugged. "Boring as always. I don't understand why they're teaching us outdated math and science when technology can accomplish that and more."

"Well, because if you don't, then the city would be overrun by dumb kids who can't do basic math and science. When I was in school, it sometimes baffled me how some of my classmates couldn't solve the easiest problem."

"I get that, but... you're not including me in those 'dumb kids,' are you?"

She simply picked up her teacup and took a sip while fixing those curled eyes on me. It was clear that she found my cluelessness amusing.

Finally, she sat the cup down on the table. "Not at the moment, but who knows? That could easily change depending on your studies."

"Tsk... And here I was hoping you'd think about letting me drop out." I mumbled.

"Don't even think about it, Sol."

"Hah. Worth a shot."

I've thought about moving out a couple of times in the past. That way, I can get to the undercity more efficiently. However, I ultimately decided against it.

Mother has already lost three members of her family. She can't handle losing her last one, which is me. And I don't intend to let her go through that pain a second time.