The next day, Adrian went about his classes as usual. He treated it like an ordinary day, but he was not an idiot.
He noticed the stares. The sidelong glances. As his classmates whispered to each other when he walked by them.
“Immature,” he muttered to himself.
Adrian expected Onia to try and get back at him somehow. But he was not expecting this. Spreading rumors so people would avoid him? This was… normal.
No one ever spoke to him. Except for Alice. So it was not like this would make a difference.
In fact, most students already did not like him. He had gotten into a few fights because he refused to call any of them by their status.
His stubbornness on that issue was also the reason why he was failing his language and formality class. But that did not matter to him. Such skills would not help him in his goal. To find Melas.
He remembered the black haired girl. So quiet. Always calm. She was nothing like the students in the Academy.
Even in the Academy, people thought of Adrian as a genius. But she was different. She taught him things he did not know. She was a true genius.
So Adrian saw no reason to respect any of the nobles that went to this school, and he couldn’t care less about their petty squabbles with him. He simply ignored all the looks he was getting.
Then the bell sounded twice. For lunch. And class was dismissed as everyone went looking for something to eat.
Adrian packed his things. Got up to leave the classroom. And—
He walked out. The boy frowned as he looked around.
He saw her during classes. And she usually went to grab lunch with him during their break. But she was nowhere to be found.
A thought. A premonition weighed in on Adrian’s head. But he pushed it aside for the moment.
Maybe she’s in the cafeteria.
He found himself searching for the familiar blonde girl in the large dining hall, but he could not find her. He spent another 20 minutes looking around, but eventually gave up.
She could’ve been busy. Plus it was not like she should always follow him around. They weren’t even that close.
So Adrian ate his lunch. Today, it was seafood. A luxurious meal for the boy. He had never even seen a crab until the first seafood lunch he had in the Academy. He savored each bite, then went back to class.
He saw Alice there. He thought she saw him too, but she quickly returned to her seat. That’s…
Adrian was about to approach her, but the teacher came. So the boy got back to his seat. And while this was not history or language and formality class, Adrian did not pay any attention.
Instead, he kept casting glances back at Alice, as she avoided his gaze. He knew something was off. He had known since lunch. But he finally confirmed his suspicions when he caught a glimpse of Onia.
She saw him too. And for a moment. She just smiled sweetly at him. Then it warped into a smug grin. And she turned back to facing the front.
It was only during their dueling class, did Adrian manage to speak with Alice. Boys and girls were not separate. They could face each other without a problem.
Adrian was excellent in dueling. He may not have been very proficient with the sword, since he had not learned how to use it until he came to the Academy. But he could use mana tools well.
His dad had taught him how to use a gun. And he could actually aim well.
So with a sword in one hand, he parried his opponent’s swing. And as they pulled back to thrust at him, he used the gun in his other to shoot them in the chest.
The other boy recoiled. The blast knocked him back, but he was still up. Then Adrian struck him across the chest, and he collapsed.
Adrian stood over him. The other boy was not dead. They were using dulled swords and stun bullets. It still hurt a lot, but it was far from lethal.
The other boy was panting and gasping for air on the ground. And while Adrian was sweating and breathing heavily, he was not exhausted. He was used to physical exertion, unlike his opponent. That was the difference in their background showing. In how they were raised.
A noble would never have to lift a finger for themselves. Even if they trained hard, they never struggled the same way a regular person would. So Adrian had more stamina.
The brown haired boy grabbed a towel to wipe the sweat off his forehead, when he saw Alice exiting the training room. Adrian quickly excused himself, and followed after her.
While running out the door, he nearly bumped into another boy with light blue skin and slightly pointed ears.
“Excuse me,” Adrian said in a hurry.
Adrian stepped past the boy, and chased after Alice. He saw her walking down the corridor, headed towards the washroom.
He approached her, and called out her name.
The blonde girl turned around and blinked.
“Adrian? What are you—” she cut herself off, and stepped back. “I’m sorry, I can’t speak to you.”
“Why?” he asked. “What did Onia say to you?”
It was a guess. An assumption. But it was correct.
Alice shied back. She lowered her head, and avoided making eye contact with him.
“She…” The girl hesitated. “L-lady Onia was kind enough to give me a warning. To stop speaking with you. She told me that if I did not listen, she would not only get me kicked out of the Academy, but drive my father bankrupt.”
“That coward,” Adrian said as he clenched a fist. “She went after your family’s company?
“Yes,” Alice answered. She bowed her head, and turned around. “I think of you as a friend, Adrian. B-but I… I can’t be seen talking to you. I’m so sorry.”
With that said, the girl hurried off.
And Adrian could only grit his teeth as he watched her go.
It was petty politics. But the kind a noble child would learn from their parents. It made sense to Adrian, but he did not like it.
He went about the next few weeks dealing with constant stares. Odd looks by his classmates. And the occasional awkward eye contact with Alice.
He could understand her plight. She had to worry about the repercussions from rich nobles on her family. And unlike him, she could actually get expelled too. So he did not blame her for it.
But he was alone now. And yet, to him, the most infuriating thing was not having no one to talk to.
It was the constant taunting that was irritating.
Every time he would see Onia, she would sneer at him. Make a haughty joke and laugh at him with her friends. Or just go up and speak with Alice, while staring smugly back at him every once in a while.
The brown haired boy sighed, as he was heading towards the cafeteria. He was getting sick and tired of this. It was genuinely annoying to him. But his mood only worsened when a voice called out to him.
“Oh, look what do we have here? It’s a dirty peasant walking around the prestigious halls of this Academy.”
A dozen other voices accompanied it.
“That’s terrifying, Lady Onia!”
“What do we do?
“Should we call the guards?”
But the main voice spoke over all of them.
“No, no, Ilyse. That’s Adrian. He’s just a student here.”
“A student? Are you sure? I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to him before!”
There was a gaggle of laughter.
Adrian tried to ignore it. He continued walking, as the person continued. That was, until he heard what Onia said next.
“Of course not. He has no friends. Why should us nobles befriend someone of a commoner like him? But you can. So why don’t you go make friends with him, Alice?”
Adrian spun around at that. He saw Onia facing the blonde haired girl. Then she turned to him, as Alice answered.
“I do not wish to, Lady Onia. There is no reason for me to talk to him, for he has made a grave insult against you. And simply your presence is more than enough for me.”
She spoke in a monotone voice. Adrian could tell she was uncomfortable saying that. That she did not even enjoy being around Onia. But she had no choice— she could not get into trouble.
The pink haired girl nodded. She played with her hair as she addressed everyone else.
“Well you heard her. Then I guess there’s no reason for us to talk to him.” She declared. Then she slowly turned back to Adrian, and grinned. “Unless, of course, the peasant decides to beg for forgiveness for his offenses against me, and kiss my feet to show his sincerity.”
Adrian wanted to snap back at her. To yell an expletive back at her. But instead, he stayed calm and collected.
“And why should I do that?” he asked innocently.
Onia’s smug look disappeared. She frowned, and stared at him in disbelief. “Are you really asking me that? Are you that braindead, you peasant?”
The boy raised his shoulders in a nonchalant shrug.
“I don’t see why I should apologize, Onia,” he said emphatically, and she colored at his casual use of her name. “It’s not like you did anything to prove me wrong.”
“Yes,” Adrian spoke over her outburst. “You’re still so childish and can’t do anything by yourself.”
“I can’t… what?!” the noble girl sputtered. She gestured back at her posse, then at Alice who was ducking her head in silence. “I took away your only friend, and stopped everyone else from talking to you. How is that not something I’ve done by myself?!”
“You made others do the work for you, and hid behind your father’s influence.” The boy nodded along. Then he smiled politely at her. “So you’re not just incapable, but you’re also a coward. Got it.”
“You!” Onia pointed at him. “I will turn your life into Hell unless you apologize right this instant!”
“I told you, I don’t have a reason to say sorry.” Adrian sighed over exaggeratedly. “But if you insist so much, why not make me?”
“Make you?! I will have you—”
“No, not with any of your noble powers. Prove yourself in a duel, and I will take back what I said. I’ll even be your servant if you want.”
“You want to duel me?” The girl laughed. “I’ve been studying how to duel since I was seven. You’re a farm boy who never even picked up a sword until Saint Theron showed you some pity and brought you here!”
“I’m not from a farm, but ok.”
“Y-you—” Onia snarled at him. “You really don’t know what you’re doing. Fine. I’ll duel you, and if I win, you will be my servant. Forever.”
“And if I win?” Adrian asked.
The noble girl harrumphed and folded her arms. “You won’t win. But if you do, I’ll take back everything I said to everyone including your commoner friend, and I’ll apologize to you.”
She looked at him expectantly. And he grinned.
“Why do they even need to duel? Lady Onia is obviously superior. He’s a commoner!”
“Look at him, he barely even knows how to hold a sword!”
“And didn’t he just turn 12 years old? Why would they let someone as young as him into the Academy.”
A crowd— not just Onia’s clique— gathered to watch the duel.
But Adrian ignored all of them. Well, except for the last one. He wanted to smack whoever said it in the head. They were only a year older than him. It made no difference. He knew that for a fact. Because… of Melas.
She was a year younger than him. And she killed a Chimera.
He remembered that very clearly. That was the day she saved his life. And it was also the last time he saw her.
The brown haired boy shook his head, and focused. He had to deal with what was in front of him first. He turned around—
And was met with two big blue eyes.
“Adrian, don’t do this,” the girl pleaded. “I’ve seen you duel— and you’re good. But Onia is different. She’s one of the best duelists in our class!”
“And I’ve fought Monsters. Real ones. I’ll be fine, I promise,” he reassured her.
“But if you lose—”
“I won’t,” he said simply. “Just trust me.”
Alice looked unconvinced. She was about to say something, before Adrian added.
“And after I win, we can hang out again. What was that book you liked talking about? The Fall of the Stars?”
The girl giggled. “That’s not it, dummy. It’s—”
The two looked up, as someone called Adrian’s name.
“Well, I’ve gotta go. Seeya in a bit.”
“I— good luck.” She called after him. Then she whispered quietly to herself. “Goddess grace you.”
Adrian did not hear it, of course. He walked up to Onia. She was waiting with her arms folded, and sword and shield by her side. She tossed one of her pink pigtails behind her back, and picked up her weapons.
“What took you so long? Nervous? Regretting your decision? If you apologize in front of everyone now, I’ll let you off with just being my servant for one year.”
“You know, you’re really annoying, right?”
Adrian drew his sword and pistol. He held them in front of him, in a cross guard, as the two duelists waited for a moment.
The crowd watched with bated breath, as they circled each other slowly. They were in a small arena. The ones used for proper sparring by the older students in the Academy. And one of those older students was refereeing this bout.
The boy looked between the two duelers, and nodded.
“You may begin,” he declared.
Onia wasted no time. She charged Adrian without any hesitation.
Adrian backed up, and fired two bolts at her. She raised her shield to block. The bolts of stun energy bounced harmlessly off it.
The girl closed the distance in an instant. She was not incredibly fast, but the arena was not huge either. And Adrian could only back up so quickly.
He lowered his gun, and braced for the coming attacks. He deflected a swing at his head. Blocked a strike to his body.
Adrian sidestepped a stab, countering with his own attack. He slashed at the girl, but her shield took the hit.
The boy tried circling around her, attacking her as he went. But her defense was good. What she did not block with her shield, she parried with her sword.
Her face, her body, her arms. There was no difference. Everywhere he swung at, the girl would block.
True to what everyone had said, Adrian was not the most skilled duelist. He was talented, but he was still new to it. Yet, he saw that she was not moving. Her feet were planted firmly on the ground, as she guarded from the onslaught.
Adrian saw his chance. An opening. He went low, straight for her legs—
And he stumbled backwards.
She bashed him with her shield. She pressed him as he steadied himself, and managed to land a hit to his side.
Adrian reeled back from the hit, but he managed to roll out of the way from the next strike.
“Is that all you’ve got? How disappointing, after all that talk you’ve been doing,” Onia taunted him.
The boy got back up. He felt his heart racing, as the crowd cheered for the noble girl. Her defense was good. Almost too good.
They were all right. Adrian was not good at dueling. At least, not yet.
As of right now, whatever he learned in the last few months was not enough to beat someone who had been doing it for years. She had to have studied all the basic weaknesses to her defense. She was prepared for it.
Adrian drew his gun, and fired more shots at her. It made no difference. She brought her shield up as she charged him. She watched as he tried to step into her guard.
It was ridiculous. She would just knock him back again—
Adrian grabbed her shield with one hand, and head butted her.
She slashed at him with her sword, but he just took the hit. She tried to swing her shield at him, but she struggled as he held on to it. He had tossed away his own sword! Then Adrian raised his other hand.
The noble girl’s eyes widened, as she stared down the barrel of a gun.
Adrian pulled the trigger once, and Onia stabbed him in the chest.
Twice, and she tried to kick him back.
After the third shot, she finally let go of her shield and tried to back up.
On the fourth, fifth, and sixth shot, she dropped her weapon, collapsed, and covered up in pain.
“I yield! I yield!” she cried out frantically.
And Adrian stopped firing.
The crowd was dead silent, as Adrian stood triumphantly over the Onia Octavius. The duel was over.
He had won.
It was a dirty win. And Adrian did not come out unpunished. He had a few bruises on him from all the hits he took. But that did not change the outcome.
The boy refereeing the duel stared at him. He pointed accusingly at Adrian.
“Y-you can’t do that!”
There were a few murmurs or agreement. Adrian just shrugged.
“Why not? It’s not against the rules.”
And there was more talking. As everyone realized he was right. It did not go against the rules of a duel. But…
“But if she was using real weapons, you’d be dead!”
“Well it’s not even a real duel. And I’m not dead. So I’m the winner, right?”
Adrian looked at the referee, and the older boy answered. “You are, but—“
“Good,” Adrian said, satisfied. Then he walked up to the noble girl, as one of her lackeys was helping her up. “Now then, where’s my apology?”
Onia froze. Ilyse spoke up from her side. “You cheated! That was unfair! She doesn’t have to apologize to you!”
“But I won. He said so.” Adrian gestured at the referee, and he slowly nodded. “So give me what I deserve. Apologize.”
“I can’t! Why should I apologize to you! You’re a filthy peasant!” Onia said, clearly flustered.
“It was part of our agreement. I thought you were a Duke’s daughter. Don’t you have any honor?”
“I—“ The girl wanted to argue. But she caught a glimpse of the crowd. At everyone staring at her. They knew he was right.
And she did too. So, with her cheeks burning red, she whispered to him.
“I… I’m sorry.”
Adrian wanted to say something like ‘I can’t hear you’. To taunt her, and relish his victory. But he was not that cruel. He took his apology in stride.
He turned around, and the crowd parted as he made his way out of the room. Alice followed behind him.
“You did it, Adrian! That was so cool! How did you know to do that?”
“Her defense was too strong. So I just attacked her where she was most vulnerable, even if it made me vulnerable.”
“But isn’t that dangerous? You could get hurt! I mean— you did get hurt!”
“I know. But I’ve seen it done before. And it… well, it mostly worked out.”
The boy shrugged.
“Someone did it. When they were fighting a Monster.”
“Someone?” The girl tilted her head to the side. “Who?”
Adrian did not answer her question. But the answer was obvious to him.
That person was Melas.
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