“I can’t believe it,” Onia sighed.
“I don’t like this either, but you don’t hear me complaining about it,” Adrian said, ignoring the glare the noble girl gave him.
“It’s bad enough that I get grouped up with the half breed”— Onia gestured at the Half Elf boy standing off to the side— “but I have to deal with both commoners too?” She turned to the other noble in their group— a girl with pale green eyes and brown hair with orange streaks— and spoke to her, “Ilyse, please tell me I’m having a nightmare.”
“Unfortunately not, Lady Onia. If you were, I’m afraid to tell you that I am experiencing it as well.”
Adrian was about to retort, but Alice stepped in front of him and spoke quickly, “Um, Lady Onia, Lady Ilyse, I know we’ve had our differences. But why don’t we put it all behind us for today. Mr Lucas said it’s too dangerous for us to work alone, especially for our first time facing Monsters. That’s why we’re in our groups.”
“Dangerous?” the pink haired girl snorted. “Maybe for commoners like you who have never seen a Monster in their life. I’ve seen Kobolds, and I’ve killed them too. This is hardly a new experience for me.”
Adrian could not contain his annoyance any longer. They had been together for a total of 15 minutes, and he finally had enough. “I am so sorry that we had to be in the same group as you, Lady Onia. But unlike your maids and butlers who babysit you when your daddy brings you hunting, we won’t help you if you’re being killed by a pack of Monsters.”
Onia paused. She eyed the boy with cold eyes. “Don’t think too highly of yourself just because you cheated to beat me, Adrian,” she said dangerously. “I could have you and your girlfriend killed and nobody would be any the wiser.”
Alice visibly paled, but Adrian just met her gaze. “Why don’t you just do it? Maybe then I’d be spared from seeing your reptilian-like face every single day.”
The noble girl walked up to Adrian, and the boy just folded his arms. Ilyse tried to pull her back. “Lady Onia, it’s not worth it—”
But she just continued on. “Maybe I will,” she said, finally stopping right in front of him. “It’d be a service to every student in the Academy to be rid of you two.”
“Adrian, I think that’s enough,” Alice quickly spoke out, trying to stop the boy from saying anything else. However, he just shook his head.
“No, Alice. There’s no reason to be afraid of her. She’s just a rich, spoiled brat who never had to work a day in her life. I wouldn’t be surprised if they paid the Academy just to accept someone as talentless as her.”
“You know nothing about me.” Onia’s eyes flashed, fury blazing in her pupils.
“I know enough—”
“Guys,” a voice cut Adrian off. It was neither Alice nor Ilyse who spoke, but instead it was the other boy in their group, Faizan. “Look,” the Half Elf said, “there’s one.”
Adrian looked at what he was pointing at. It was a small, almost-hidden, pale green plant underneath a rock. It was a Pixie Bud.
The purpose of the field trip was simple: the class had been split up into nearly dozen groups to go explore the Defenor Forest. They were to observe the local wildlife and write a report on them, hunt down any Monsters in the area to help cull their population from growing too large, as well as gather any herbs or plants that could be used for Alchemy. A Pixie Bud was probably one of the most important of such ingredients.
Alice walked over to the Half Elf and peered over at the plant. “Why’s there only one?” she asked. “Aren’t they supposed to come in clusters?”
“They are,” Faizan said, carefully divoting the dirt below the Pixie Bud. He placed it into his basket and turned to the blonde girl. “They don’t grow too close to each other because of how each one affects the flora around it. That’s why each Pixie Bud is so rich in mana. But there should be more in the area, we just have to search for it.”
Onia huffed, flipping her hair— currently tied into a braid— back. “You go ahead and do that, half breed. Ensure every Pixie Bud around here is gathered. Ilyse and I will return in an hour to check on your progress.”
“Where are you going?” Adrian narrowed his eyes. He would have preferred it if the noble girl were gone since he did not have to interact with her, but he was not going to let her slack off while they did all the work. “Don’t think we’ll do your work for you, Onia.”
She frowned at the use of her name without any title, but did not comment on it. “Why, commoner, I’m being efficient. We’ll divide up the work— you three can stay here and do this boring task, while I will find us some Kobolds to kill. It’s not like you’ll be of any help regardless, so try and make yourself useful here.”
Adrian held himself back from snapping at her. “Fine,” he said. “Go ahead and get yourself injured by Monsters. But when Mr Lucas asks us why we weren’t there to help you, don’t go laying the blame on us.”
Onia scoffed. “I wouldn’t even think of it. If something were too much for me to handle, I sincerely doubt your presence would make any difference.” With that said, she turned around and walked away. “Come on, Ilyse.”
“Yes, Lady Onia.” The other noble girl hurried after her. Adrian watched them go, opting not to say anything.
“Are you sure we should just let them leave?” Alice asked, a worried look on her face.
Adrian hesitated. He stared at the two figures as they disappeared behind a thicket. Then he turned back to Alice. “Yes,” he said. “The worst thing that could happen is we get into trouble for breaking off into smaller groups.”
The girl looked unconvinced, but she didn’t argue. “If you say so…”
“I think that’s all of it,” the Half Elf boy said, slumping over.
“Thanks, Faizan.” Adrian placed a hand on his shoulder. “We couldn’t have finished up so quickly without you.”
Faizan looked unbothered by Adrian’s casual use of his name. Adrian knew his family was from a lower noble rank— a Baron, if Adrian remembered correctly. But he would have thought that the other boy would have been at least slightly concerned with formality.
Adrian didn’t mind it; it was better for him that way. He did not enjoy using titles, but he would have done so if Faizan requested it— he liked the Half Elf enough that he would do that for him.
“How did you know where to find all the Pixie Buds were?” Alice asked, looking amazed. “I’d have thought it would take an hour or more to find as many as we did.”
“My… mother taught me,” Faizan said, hesitantly. “She’s an Elf, and she was born in Ghab-Ha. So she’s good with nature. But I’m not— compared to real Elves my age, I’m nothing.”
Adrian frowned. Faizan had to have been around 20 years old from what he could gather, although the other boy was only slightly taller and more mature looking than him. That was young for an Elf, but slightly older for a Half Elf. Regardless, Faizan should still have been considered a child who was only starting to hit puberty. As far as Adrian knew, Faizan seemed rather talented and knowledgeable.
“It’s a compliment,” Adrian said, “don’t put yourself down.” He gave the other boy as reassuring of a smile he could give, and gestured toward the baskets full of Pixie Buds and a handful of other ingredients that could be used for Alchemy or Herbalism. “Let’s just go bring this back. Then we can find something to observe and write about while we still have time.”
“R-right,” Faizan said, nodding.
The three children began heading back to the large clearing near Defenor Forest’s exit. The forest had been developed because of the resources it provided to Xanderia, as well as its usefulness serving as a recreational and training area, which meant there were roads and small paths guided alongside signs throughout the place. Adrian, Alice, and Faizan simply followed one such pathway back to where they came from.
“Hey,” Alice said urgently, tugging at Adrian’s shirt, “what’s that?”
Adrian blinked. The girl was pointing at something off road at a distance— stalking behind some bushes and trees. It was…
“A Kobold? No— they’re supposed to be bipedal, although they usually walk around on all fours. But that’s not a Kobold.” Adrian felt for the weapon hanging around his waist. It was not a training sword with a dulled edge— they were here to kill Monsters. They had been trained to use proper weapons, and this was a test to see how well they could actually wield them.
“It’s a wolf,” Faizan said, not even squinting. Adrian could barely even make out the animal, but the Half Elf’s superior vision let him see objects almost twice as far as a regular Human. “A Dyre Wolf, to be specific. They’re mostly docile Monsters, unless they’re hungry. In which case, we should avoid them at any cost. They’re as dangerous as a pack of Kobolds. Although by the looks of it, that one seems to have already found its prey.”
Adrian leaned over to look at where the other boy was pointing. True enough, the Dyre Wolf seemed to be tracking something. It was following a pair of Kobolds, minding their own business.
“Should we tell Mr Lucas about this?” Alice asked. “Since they’re dangerous and all.”
“No,” Adrian said, shaking his head. “A single Dyre Wolf is much of a problem by itself. Although I didn’t think they were native to this area. I always thought Crymson Wolves were more the type of Monster canines that were near Xanderia.” He paused, thinking about it for a moment. “But it doesn’t matter, we can just leave it be.”
Alice nodded. “That sounds good to me,” she concurred. “If this wolf is trespassing in the territory of other wolves, they’ll take care of it. Let nature deal with nature.”
Faizan didn’t disagree either. “I guess that makes sense,” he said. So with the group in agreement, they continued back to where Lucas and Nero were waiting.
Their supervisors were waiting under an open tent. They were both in full plate armor, but the Holy Knight had mana crystals adorned on various parts of his armor, unlike the teacher who only had three small mana crystals on his armor that Adrian could see.
“Back so soon?” Nero asked, as the three students approached them. “Where’s the rest of your group?”
“We decided to split up. Divvy up the work so we can get done faster,” Adrian explained. “Onia and Ilyse wanted to deal with the Kobolds, so we’re doing the rest of the work.”
Lucas grunted in response. “So you’ve collected Pixie Buds, I see.”
“Yes,” Alice said, showing the ingredients in her basket. “And we also found some Sun Spores, Vetus Grass, and—”
The teacher waved a hand and cut her off. “That’s good enough for me,” he said. “Have you chosen your research subject yet?”
“N-no,” Faizan answered truthfully, and glanced at his two companions. “But I was thinking— if my group doesn’t mind— I wanted to inspect the Elysian Trees. Defenor Forest is the only place outside of Ghab-Ha where they’re fully preserved, and I’m… interested in them.”
“I’m fine with it,” Adrian said nonchalantly.
Alice nodded in agreement. “If that’s what you want, we’ll do it.”
“There you go,” Lucas said, shooing them away. “Just make sure you make actual observations about them— like the special properties of their wood or how their leaves seem to produce mana into the air. Don’t just write about what you’re interested in, and cover as much as you can in your paper.”
“Yes, Mr Lucas,” the three students chorused.
They left their baskets with the teacher, before heading off. They were graded by the ingredients they brought back, and Adrian was certain they gathered enough to get the highest grade— a Distinction. Once the field trip was over, all the ingredients would be equally divided amongst all students for their Alchemy class next week.
“So,” Adrian said, breaking the silence, “where are these Elysian Trees at?”
“You mean you don’t know what they look like?” Alice turned to Adrian in surprise. “Have you never seen one, ever?”
“Uh, nope.” Adrian scratched the back of his head. “Is that something I should know?”
Alice just stared at him for a moment, then she blinked as a moment of realization sunk in. “I forget you’re from Vitae sometimes,” she said, resting her palm on her forehead. “Elysian Trees don’t exist on that side of the world, right?”
“No.” Adrian first heard about them when Walden mentioned them in one of his lessons back in Villamcreek. However, he knew nothing about them beyond bare bits of information— they would only come up in a third year elective, so he had no reason to study them. “What’s so special about these trees?” Adrian asked.
“Well, first things first is that Elysian Trees produce mana,” Alice said, wagging a finger. “Sure, it’s minuscule in amount, but we have evidence that they do create mana.
“Furthermore, they are considered sacred by the Elves. The Great Hero Xander planted the first seed of the Elysian Tree after the Demon Lord was defeated. He said it was bestowed upon him by the Goddess as a gift for his second wife, the Elf Princess Qabul, when she announced that she was pregnant with his child.
“Each tree takes around two decades to fully mature, and they don’t produce many seeds, making them incredibly rare. And since they aren’t officially recognized as something ‘holy’ by the Church, many rich nobles cut them down to use their incredibly strong bark as a building or crafting material.”
“It’s terrible,” Faizan finally spoke out, picking up where Alice left off. “The only reason why all the trees haven’t been chopped down yet is because we— I mean, the Elves— are preserving and growing them.” He paused, eyeing something in the distance, then added, “Plus, they’re massive.” The Half Elf boy pointed up, towards the sky.
Adrian turned his gaze heavenward, and he felt his breath caught in his throat. “That’s an Elysian Tree?!” he exclaimed.
The boy was staring up above the canopy of trees, at a protrusion that jutted out of the treetop like a hill in the distance. Except, it was not a hill— it was a gigantic tree.
The Elysian Tree rose up, far above the rest of the Defenor Forest, reaching out for the clouds up above. There were a few dozen of them, and each had to be at least 500 feet tall. Their trunks were 50 feet in diameter at their thickest; it was not the widest tree proportional to their size, but Adrian could not help uttering an oath, “Sacred piss, you weren’t kidding. Those are massive.”
“They are,” Faizan said, a hint of pride showing on his face. “And Ghab-Ha has hundreds of them.”
“What’s so special about their wood?” Adrian asked. “Why would anyone want to cut them down?” The boy was pretty sure felling a single one of those trees was a hazard to whoever was given that job.
“It’s because of their wood,” Alice piped up. “It’s called wisened wood because of what happens to them once the tree dies. It becomes harder than what it already is, and you don’t even have to dry the wood— they simply don’t decompose. Or if they do, we haven’t seen it happen yet.”
“They’re also fireproof,” Faizan added. “Which makes disposing of fallen Elysian Trees incredibly difficult. And that’s not including all the work required cleaning the other trees crushed by the fall.”
Adrian was still staring at the enormous trees in the distance. He could not see them as clearly above the treetops now that they were closer, but the image of the Elysian Trees was burned into his mind. Then a thought crossed his mind.
“If we know all that, what are we even doing observing it?”
“Well, there’s a difference between what we read in books and actually seeing it for ourselves. We want to compare the information in our notes with the preconception we have, as well as observe how the Elysian Trees interact with the wildlife in the area,” Alice explained, her blue eyes sparkling with even more life than usual.
“You really like researching these types of things, huh?” Adrian remarked, and the girl blushed. “You seem even more excited for this than Faizan.”
Faizan glanced between the two of them. “H-hey,” he started, “are you two—” He never got to finish.
A rustling of the bushes interrupted the Half Elf boy. The three students tensed.
And a figure burst out from behind the leaves. Ilyse ran out at them, visibly exhausted, heaving with labored breath. She was injured, but no terribly so, however that was enough to instill panic into the three children.
“Lady Ilyse, what happened?” Alice rushed to the girl, and practically caught her from falling over. “Where’s Lady Onia?!”
“You— where were you?” she snapped. “You weren’t where we left you! This wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t leave!”
“Calm down, Ilyse,” Adrian said, his words not matching his panicked voice. “What happened? Explain.”
“Lady Onia— she’s in trouble. We need to get Mr Lucas! Get Sir Nero to save her!” The noble girl tried to push past the group, but she could barely even stand by herself. She almost collapsed, letting out a whimper. Finally, she gave up, and looked all three of her group mates in the eyes. “A Werewolf attacked us. She bought time to save me. Please, she might still be alive.”
Adrian’s eyes widened. A Werewolf? But how—
It was not the time for questions. Adrian had been raised by a man who was experienced with avoiding Monsters when out hunting in the wilderness. The boy learned to react fast when such things happened.
“Faizan,” he said, bringing the Half Elf boy out of his stupor. “Go get the adults. Now.”
Adrian did not have to say it twice. Faizan immediately took off in a run, not even wasting a single second to ask questions. Adrian then turned to Alice.
“You stay here with Ilyse. She can’t walk. Protect her in case any stray Kobold or wild animal decides to attack her.”
“What are you going to do?” the girl asked, staring at him with fear in her eyes.
“I’ll find Onia. Try and buy her some time until the adults arrive,” he said, voice final. He faced Ilyse. “You guys wait here for when Faizan returns with Mr Lucas and Sir Nero. Direct them to where Onia is.” He hesitated, and looked over to his right. “You said you were attacked back where we were collecting those Pixie Buds, right?”
“Y-yes,” Ilyse answered, pointing at the direction he was facing. “But you can’t go, you’ll die—”
Adrian ignored her. He took off, running through the trees, straight for Onia— his bully. A bratty noble girl he hated.
Why was he doing this? Should he not have hoped she somehow died from this? It would be a boon to his time in Xander’s Academy if she were gone for good.
Except, there was a reason why he ran to help Onia. It was a simple reason— which did not require any explanation. It was this: Adrian was not a psychopath.
That was all.
So Adrian ran straight into danger. His mind was racing as his legs carried him as fast as it could through the uneven terrain, and around the obstacles in his path.
The Dyre Wolf, he thought. It’s the Dyre Wolf!
It had never been a Dyre Wolf. It was a Werewolf the entire time. That was what Werewolves did— Adrian read it in a bestiary; Werewolves disguised themselves as a prey to a predator— such as Dyre Wolves to Crymson Wolves— to draw out said predators. Then, they would catch their prey unaware, by transforming into their real forms: a large, seven foot tall wolf-like creature with claws longer than knives and fangs as numerous as a shark’s teeth.
There was no way Onia could slay such a beast. She was going to die, and Adrian could not let that happen. He had failed at saving someone once. From a Chimera. And she had been forced to save him instead.
Adrian knew he could not kill a Werewolf. That was why he had sent Faizan to get Nero or Lucas. They could save Onia. And Faizan, being part Elf, could run the fastest out of all four of the children that were there at the moment. But they could be too late, which was why Adrian was doing this.
He found himself back where he last saw Onia. It looked like there had been a battle here. Broken branches and destroyed bushes and—-
Adrian’s heart stopped. But there was no body. Onia could still be alive. He saw the blood leaving what seemed to be a trail, and he quickly followed it.
The boy followed it until he saw a shape in the distance. He heard the clash of claws against steel, and watched as Onia flew backwards into a tree. Her shield was knocked aside from the hit, and her sword was nowhere to be seen. The Werewolf loomed over the noble girl as her face visibly paled, even from a distance. It raised its claw—
And a bolt of energy struck its side.
“Over here, you stupid Monster!”
The Werewolf spun around, assessing the new threat.
Adrian was not holding a stun gun. This was not a duel, his weapon was real and carried with it a force stronger than even a crossbow. Xander’s Academy was a rich institution; Adrian knew this pistol he had was better than his dad’s pistol. Yet, the Werewolf looked even less hurt than the Chimera was from his shots.
Adrian drew his sword, firing more bolts of energy at the Monster. The Werewolf struck its hand through the air, blocking the attacks with its claws. Adrian tried racing around it— circling it— as he continued shooting as many bullets as he could.
The Werewolf was hit by a few more bullets before it decided Adrian was another easy target. It charged the boy, running on two legs as it swung its arms at him. Adrian just barely ducked under the first swing. He quickly countered with his own stab at the Monster’s legs, but he barely cut through its flesh. He practically only gave the beast a haircut!
Adrian had to bring his sword up to block the second attack. The force of the blow sent Adrian stumbling backwards. It followed up with another strike, and Adrian parried again. This time, the boy went flying and crashed into some bushes.
He tried to pick himself up. He was bleeding and bruised in a few places. The Werewolf was charging at him, now on all four legs. He fired another shot as it came closer, and rolled out of the way of the frenzied attack.
Adrian steadied himself for just a moment as the Werewolf turned back around. It was too close. He was going to die unless someone came in now to save him. Or unless he felled the beast by himself.
But he could not do that. He could not even hurt the Monster—
The boy paused, as he remembered Melas. He remembered an explosion, and blood flying through the air. It was a dangerous tactic, one that nearly got the girl killed. But it worked.
Adrian felt himself touching the mana crystal in his gun. He did not exert any force over the mana just yet, however he was considering it. The Werewolf ran at him again, and he hesitated.
No, I have to do this!
Adrian brough the pistol up. The mana crystal flashing. It glowed, as the boy pushed at the mana with all of his strength.
But nothing happened.
The Werewolf reached the boy. It brought its claws down at him, and he closed his eyes. This was how he died. He wondered what would happen to Alice— he hoped she wouldn’t blame herself for his death. And he never even got to see Melas again.
There was a yelp. Adrian opened his eyes and saw Nero standing in front of him. The Werewolf was backed up, a large gash opened up on its chest.
“Well then, it seems like I came just in time,” the Holy Knight said, grinning.
The Werewolf howled, clasping at its chest. It charged the man that just injured it, and he easily sidestepped the attack. Nero swung at its legs, his sword easily cutting through its thick skin.
“Come, now. Is that all you got?” Nero taunted the creature.
It leapt back, now staring warily at the Holy Knight Captain. Adrian stared in awe as the man easily countered another attack. And another. Then, the Werewolf finally had enough. The Monster reverted back to a wolf— a smaller wolf than a Dyre Wolf— and tried to flee. But Nero just laughed.
“You’re not going to escape!”
With that said, the black haired man swung his sword at the escaping Monster from a distance. A red blade of energy flashed through the air, and sliced the Werewolf in half. It fell, dead.
“Amazing,” Adrian breathed the word.
The Holy Knight slowly sheathed his blade, and lifted his visor up. He turned to Adrian, then to Onia. Adrian saw as Lucas approached with Faizan, Alice, and Ilyse in the distance. They rushed to the injured girl, and the teacher quickly began applying a healing potion on her wounds.
“You children are more trouble than I thought you for,” Nero said, grabbing the boy’s attention. “Trying to face a Werewolf by yourself is a fool’s move already. And yet, you took it a step further and tried to destabilize your weapon’s mana crystal to explode it. You’re fortunate that all of the Academy’s weapons are made with precautions to prevent an accident like that from happening. It’s a dangerously foolish act, one that defeats the purpose of this field trip, enough to give you a failing grade.”
Adrian opened his mouth to protest.
“But,” Nero cut him off, raising a finger. “You did so to protect your friends. And for that, I’d say it’s worth a Distinction, no?”
The boy paused, staring at the Holy Knight for a moment. Then he spoke out, “Onia’s not my friend.”
“But you still tried to save her regardless.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter what you think. I am simply stating what I see.” Nero flashed his charming smile, then walked away from Adrian to the others. The boy frowned, but didn’t say anything.
Later, after Adrian was healed up as well, the group returned back to the main clearing of Defenor Forest. They had to cut the field trip short, out of fear that there were more Werewolves in the area.
Alice was clinging on to Adrian, not letting go of his arm. “You had me worried sick, you know? I thought you were going to get yourself killed!”
“I’m fine now,” Adrian said. “So please, let go of me—”
The boy paused, as Onia came up to them. Alice immediately straightened, and turned to the noble girl. “L-lady Onia,” she said, not meeting the other girl’s eyes. “Are you alright? We’re so sorry about what happened—”
“Why did you save me?” she asked, ignoring the blonde girl.
Adrian eyed the noble girl. He turned to Alice, standing uncertainly to the side, then back to Onia. He took a deep breath, and spoke, “Don’t ignore Alice.”
“You heard what I said,” Adrian replied, not masking his irritation with her. “You know, Onia, I don’t like you. Despite what Sir Nero said, I don’t think you’re my friend. You ask me why I saved you? It’s because I’m not a callous individual like you, who would leave a stranger to die if it did not benefit you in any way. Most regular, decent people would save the life of someone in danger if the situation arises.”
Onia froze, slowly processing his words. She looked like she wanted to snap at him, but she bit back her tongue. “I… I’m sorry, Alice,” she finally said. “And to you, Adrian, for offending you.”
Adrian blinked, surprised at her level response. “Oh, uh, as long as you understand—”
“However, you are wrong about me,” she cut him off. “I am not a callous individual. I am a Duke’s daughter. There is a certain standard I have to uphold, and unfortunately, you comm— two, refuse to let me maintain it.”
“What?” Alice asked, aghast. “I have been nothing but courteous to you, Lady Onia.”
“Yet you hang around this insolent fool who insists on addressing me so casually, ignoring all status between us. I gave you a chance to rectify that error, but you valued your acquaintance with him more than mine.” Onia shook her head. “Don’t mistake my gratitude for something else, Adrian. At the end of the day, you are still a commoner, and I will become a Duchess once my father passes his title to me. I know you are from the Rem Republic where the aristocracy is weak and holds less than a third of the power of government, but we’re not in the Rem Republic. This is the Holy Xan Empire, and if you want to survive here, you need to play by our rules, and not make up your own.”
Adrian wanted to snap back. He wanted to argue. But he realized she was telling the truth. From her perspective, Adrian had been nothing but rude from the first day, refusing to use titles for any of the nobles in Xander’s Academy. The boy thought he would give respect to those who deserved it, but that was not enough. Not when he was casually disrespecting them from the very first day. He took a deep breath, and thinking of Alice, he spoke out.
“Onia— no, Lady Onia. If I were to use your preferred title from now on, you’ll have to stop treating Alice and I as outsiders,” Adrian said, gesturing at the blonde girl next to him. “Perhaps you may think I did not earn my place in the Academy because Saint Theron pulled some strings to get me in, but Alice certainly has. And have I not proven from my time here that I am very much qualified to be a student here? Or are you disputing the veracity of my grades?”
“I am doing no such thing, and I would rather you not make presumptions on my behalf in the future,” the noble girl sighed, but pressed that issue no longer. Instead, she brought out a hand. “I have considered your offer, and I accept your terms. I sincerely doubt you would be willing to bow your head to me despite your reluctant use of my title, so we shall shake on it, only to simplify this issue.” She waited, her hand opened for him to take.
Adrian hesitated, eyeing the outstretched palm for a moment. “What about Faizan? Are you going to stop calling him a half breed and acknowledge him? He is a Baron’s son, after all.”
“I…” Onia trailed off as Adrian raised an eyebrow. Then, after some internal conflict where her good sense won, she responded, “Very well. But only because he helped in saving me by calling Sir Nero.”
The boy nodded, deciding that was the best he could get out of this. “So I guess we have a deal then?”
Adrian and Onia shook hands as Alice watched, mouth agape. With that, the pink haired girl turned around and took her leave.
“Adrian!” Alice said excitedly. “You just made us friends with Lady Onia! Do you understand what that means?”
Adrian frowned. “I don’t really think we’re friends, and I don’t know— what does it mean?”
“It means you have access to one of the highest social circles in all of the Holy Xan Empire! These types of relationships go a long way, Adrian!” the girl chattered, waving her arms about. “Networking, getting to know the upper nobles. These are all things I thought would take me years to do once I got accepted to Xander’s Academy— in fact, I thought I’d spend the first three years talking only to the lesser nobles. But now that Lady Onia is properly acknowledging us, that’s not going to be necessary anymore!”
The boy looked at the girl skeptically. “I really don’t think it’s as big of a deal as you’re making it, Alice.”
She sighed. “I’ll have to teach you a lot more things about how the nobility and the Holy Xan Empire works, don’t I? You’re still oblivious to so many things even after being here for half a year!” Then she laughed, smiling brightly at Adrian. “But don’t worry, once I’m done with you, I’ll make sure Xanderia feels like a second home!”
Adrian paused, catching a glimpse of Nero in the background. He saw the man’s sable black hair hanging freely without a helmet in place, and thought of someone else.
Sorry Alice, he thought to himself. But that’s never going to happen.
Because even if Onia was actually a good person, even if Faizan was an interesting new friend, and even if Adrian liked Alice’s company, it still did not change the fact that he believed the Holy Xan Empire was evil.
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