<Zion Academy, Nirvana, Year 2000>
Kai couldn't put the event which happened yesterday out of his mind. He was surprised that Adeline had rushed forward to embrace him, even though he knew it was from the strong urge to be comforted.
Regardless, Kai still felt a strange warm feeling bubbling within him when he felt the warmth of Adeline's body. Could it be love? Or was it simply a stronger version of the sense of familiarity that he had initially felt when he first met her?
Whichever it was, it remained true that Adeline has grown to be one of his closest friends, with her frequent visits to his place. As a young boy, Kai wasn't one of the most sociable kids, hence he had rather few friends from the neighbourhood, none of which he was close with.
Despite the lack of friends, Kai never felt lonely at all, for his time was all spent with his family, especially his adorable little sister Yuri. Moreover, it was precisely because Kai had spent more time being homeschooled by his father that he was able to achieve his current standing in Zion Academy. After all, Kai had the basics of mana armament well impounded into his body, not to mention training in the way of the spear.
All being said, Kai really enjoyed his new life in Zion Academy, with new friends like Julian and his clique as well as Adeline…looks like he really couldn't get her out of his head. Recognising that he couldn't let this sensation tug at him any longer, Kai resolved to muster his courage and confess to Adeline. Nothing ventured, nothing gained right?
Unfortunately, things were easier said than done. After school, even though Kai had many opportunities to break the truth to Adeline while walking home together, his lips remained stubbornly sealed as he felt extremely awkward.
Several questions flooded Kai's mind as he was walking. How should I start the conversation? If I confess, would I possibly ruin our current relationship? Will Adeline start to dislike me if I appear so shaky?
Meanwhile, Adeline could sense Kai's discomfort as questions started racing through her mind as well. Why is Kai feeling so uncomfortable around me? Is it something I'm doing? Something about my appearance?
The air of unease between Kai and Adeline lasted for a few minutes before it was dispelled from the unlikely of sources. From behind the corner of a building, they heard someone scream, "Ah, what are you doing? You need money…no, anything but that, please! Argh!"
Kai and Adeline quickly headed in the direction of the scream, navigating swiftly through the corner where Kai barely saw a figure disappearing into the alley, leaving behind a man sprawled on his back on the ground.
Kai said calmly, "Adeline, look after him, I'm going after that thief!" before he sprinted off in the direction the robber had disappeared into. Adeline swiftly helped the man up as she asked, "You alright? Don't worry, my friend is in pursuit of that thief, so let's get help from the City Guard to arrest that criminal."
The man, who had brown hair and was dressed in a rather exquisite clothing, similar to the attire of nobles, panted, "Thank you for your assistance, Miss. How could I be so careless? To lose something so important on today's occasion."
Adeline grew curious as she enquired, "The name's Adeline of Zion Academy. If you don't mind, what exactly was taken from you and why is it so important?" The man turned slightly embarrassed as he said, "Where are my manners? I'm Albert Cornaro, member of the Cornaro Family. The robber stole a…special flower from me, which I had intended to give to my fiancée as a proposal gift."
Adeline felt both touched and confused as she pressed on, "A flower? It's rare to see a noble willing to risk his life just for the sake of a flower for his fiancée." Albert replied indignantly, "It's not an ordinary flower, but a flower which value she appreciates best, not to mention how hard it was for me to obtain one. Anyway, shall we make a move to enlist the help of the City Guard? Time is of the essence after all."
Adeline nodded as the pair made haste to search for any City Guard on patrol nearby, every second ticking away in anxiety…
Meanwhile, Kai was hot on the thief's heels, as he had used mana to augment his speed, allowing him to cover great distance with each stride. The thief recognised that someone was catching up to him, so he quickly ducked into another alley, out of Kai's sight.
Kai was about to navigate the bend before he saw an incoming streak from the corner of his right eye. Instinctively, Kai arced his body backwards, bending his knees as he skidded a slight distance on the ground. Kai heaved a sigh of relief as he realised that he had barely avoided an elbow to the face.
However, that meant that Kai was now face to face with his quarry, who cut a rather menacing figure with his well-toned body that was barely concealed by his jacket. Kai said stoically, "Alright, just hand over what you have taken from that man and I'll pretend that I didn't see you steal it."
To Kai's horror, the bearded man before him withdrew a combat knife from his jacket as he replied coldly, "Pretend that you didn't see anything and I'll let you go unharmed. Don't make me do this."
Kai felt a little anxious before he calmed himself down, declaring, "I don't like being threatened. Looks like negotiations are off and we'll have to do things the hard way." The man retorted, "A pity indeed. I don't like hurting children after all but you've forced my hand."
The robber was first to act, as he lunged towards Kai, swinging his knife in wild, large swings as if in an attempt to intimidate Kai into retreat. However, Kai was having none of that as his training under both his father and Zion Academy kicked in.
Kai held his ground as he easily sidestepped all of the robber's advances, looking for the perfect opportunity to counterattack. The chance came quickly, which wasn't surprising given that the robber's large swings made him very vulnerable, a trade-off for greater range.
Kai took a step back with his left foot, before leaning his body forward, ready to pounce. Kai immediately streamed mana through his left foot, allowing him to take off instantly just as he had witnessed an opening in the man's defence.
Kai then swiftly threw his right arm forward, catching the man's chest with his right forearm as Kai instantly flowed mana through it for an explosive impact. The power of Kai's strike, coupled with the increase in momentum from his leap earlier, sent the robber reeling uncontrollably towards the wall, where he crashed unceremoniously.
Kai exhaled slowly as he thought, "It's over, I tried to minimise my power output so that I would only wield enough power to knock him out, and it looks like I'm successful. Just need to wait for Adeline to show up with backup."
As Kai approached the robber, suddenly, a tinge of electricity flowed down Kai's spine as he instinctively stepped to the side. Unfortunately, Kai was just a tad slower as the tip of the knife grazed his right cheek, despite his subconscious use of mana armament to protect his body.
Kai leaped back before wiping away the blood on his cheek. He thought, "What's going on? I had largely dodged that stab, not to mention that I have learnt how to use mana armament subconsciously. A normal stab wouldn't have cut me so easily, don't tell me…"
To Kai's horror, when the dust had finally settled, the robber was adopting a stance unlike before. Now, his posture was more like a fencer, with his non-wielding hand balled into a fist and placed firmly on his back, the back of his hand pressed against his back.
However, what caught Kai's attention was not the man's strange stance, but rather, the clearly visible mana wrapping around his knife. The man revealed, "Hmph, I should have known that you were a capable wielder of mana as well. That last attack of yours wouldn't have been possible without the use of mana to augment your strength and speed.
Unfortunately for you, I used to be a soldier working at the border between Nirvania and Miran, until I was unfairly dismissed for violent conduct. I mean, who cares how we treat those scum from Miran when they infringe upon our borders? Sadly, my superiors believed that my actions could provoke a great war, so they released me from duty.
Without a job and money, I really need this flower to accomplish something important, especially given the urgency of my situation. Please, if you don't want to get hurt, you'll back away now, nice and easy."
Kai scrutinised the man before him, and the mana around his knife which gave it a visible blue hue. Kai had learnt from school that one's mastery over mana armament can be determined by the colour in which mana manifested itself when emitted by its user.
The darker the colour, the stronger the mana armament, hence, Kai could tell that the man before him was at least an Expert tier combatant, making him at least a Sergeant in the Nirvanian Army when he served.
Seeing that Kai refused to back down, the robber said solemnly, "You can only blame yourself for what has happened to you." before he disappeared in a flash. To Kai's surprise, the man had closed the distance between them instantly, as he launched a flurry of stabs with his mana-augmented knife.
This time, Kai was experiencing far greater difficulty, since the man's attacks were short and rapid, giving him no opening to exploit. Eventually, in his retreat, Kai's back was pinned against the wall before he barely dodged the robber's stab which sank deep into the wall just beside his head.
The robber quickly followed up with a horizontal slash that sliced through the wall like butter, as Kai ducked down in the nick of time before rolling quickly to the side. Subsequently, Kai performed a quick back-flip, augmenting his hands with mana to push himself off with greater strength in an attempt to widen the distance between his adversary and him.
Unfortunately, the man chuckled, "Such futile attempts to run. Remember, you're the one who chose death!" The man immediately channelled mana into his legs as he took a big leap, looking set to close the distance between him and Kai within seconds.
Fortunately, a few seconds of space was what Kai needed, as he quickly reached into his pockets and drew a pen-like object. Kai exclaimed, "Extend and impale, [Cavalier]!" The pen immediately morphed into a spear that extended rapidly, its tip nearly striking the robber in the chest if not for his last-minute defence using the back of his knife.
Regardless, Kai had achieved his objective of keeping the robber at bay, since the distance between them was now approximately 40 metres. The robber remarked, "A magic weapon? Now, that's interesting. Let's see what you've got!"
Kai nodded as the robber began to advance rapidly towards Kai. However, when he was 10 metres away from Kai, the robber could no longer take a step forward as he was held in position by Kai's rapid twirls and swings of his spear, testament to his mastery of the weapon.
Compelled to block all incoming attacks with no means to dodge them the closer he had gotten to Kai, the robber thought, "Drats, if this drags on for any longer, the City Guard might arrive anytime soon. Guess I've no choice."
While continuing to fend off Kai's relentless strikes, the robber began to focus all his mana into a single point within his knife before he released it all with a powerful swing against Kai's spear. The force of the robber's attack reverberated through Kai's weapon, as Kai's arms were immobilised momentarily from the shock.
Seizing the opportunity, the robber instantly closed the gap between him and Kai and was about to launch a stab towards Kai's gut before he suddenly collapsed head-first into the ground. It was Adeline, who had descended from the sky and landed a drop kick onto the robber's head, sending him crashing into the ground as he lost consciousness immediately.
Kai, who was surprised by Adeline's peculiar entrance, simply gawked as he muttered, "Wow…thanks for rescuing me, it was a pretty close shave, hahaha." Adeline smiled shyly as she replied, "It's my pleasure. The City Guard should be arriving soon."
True enough, a group of 3 armoured knights with faces covered by their helmets entered the scene, walking crisply in an orderly fashion with their supposed leader in the front. To Kai's surprise, a female voice originated from the leader of the knights, "Help him up, I'm going to handcuff him."
The other 2 knights obliged as they lifted the unconscious man onto his feet. Subsequently, the leader pointed to the robber's hands and muttered, "[Wind Shackle]." as a handcuff made of wind encased both hands of the robber.
With their work complete, the leader turned to face Kai and Adeline before removing her helmet, revealing a head full of green hair. The leader commended, "Thank you for your hard work. Looks like Zion Academy students are getting more and more capable, haha.
To defeat an Expert tier combatant when you guys are just probably Year 1 students is a remarkable feat. In any case, I, Captain Nicolette, promise to bring this man to justice. Let's go and meet the victim outside to return the stolen item."
As they were walking together, Kai asked quietly, "How did you locate me earlier? Anyway, I want to thank you again for your assistance, I wouldn't be walking now if I was struck by that attack."
Adeline replied, "Well, I just followed your…unique mana signature. At least there's nothing to worry about now as the City Guard has got this covered. The lady captain may not look like it, but I can sense that she's at least a high Master tier. That man wouldn't stand a chance against her in a fair fight."
Kai gave a look of disbelief as he gasped, "Wow, I thought the robber was already incredible but that female captain is even stronger? Man, there's really so much to learn at Zion Academy."
Adeline turned to face Kai before asking seriously, "You know, if you had used your Lightning magic, you probably wouldn't have been caught in that situation. Why didn't you do so?"
Kai replied confidently, "Well, the use of magic outside is heavily restricted for us students and I didn't want to hurt him more than I had to. I thought that the use of my spear was more than enough to defeat him, but I ended up risking my life instead. I ought to be more careful in the future, right?"
Adeline turned away shyly and muttered, "Yeah, you should…" as both of them continued walking together, closely behind the City Guard and the unconscious robber.
It wasn't long before they met up with the victim, Albert Cornaro. Upon seeing that the thief had been apprehended, Albert exclaimed, "Oh thank you so much! I wouldn't know what to do if I had lost that flower. Good, it's still in perfect condition…"
Albert picked the flower gently from the robber's chest pocket. When Kai first laid his eyes on the flower, apart from the fact that it was brightly coloured in red, he couldn't tell what made Albert or the robber so fascinated by it.
On the other hand, Adeline immediately recognised the flower as she said, "That flower…don't tell me it's…" Before Adeline could complete her sentence, she was interrupted by a loud voice, "Dad! Where have you gone all this time, we don't have time to waste, Mum's…Dad?"
It was a young boy, aged no older than 10 with yellow hair. He was dressed in poorly patched clothing, which clearly indicated his status. Upon hearing his son's voice, the robber slowly regained consciousness as he groaned, "Argh…what happened? Mickey, what are you doing here? Ah, I see, I've been caught…I'm so sorry, Mickey. Go home to your mum, she needs you more than ever now."
Realisation soon struck Mickey as tears began to fill his eyes. Refusing to believe the truth before his eyes, Mickey ran straight towards Captain Nicolette and tugged at her arm repeatedly, screaming, "Let my Dad go! Whatever he did, he only did it for the sake of rescuing my Mum! Let him go, you meanie!"
Captain Nicolette's expression softened momentarily, but it wasn't long before she steeled herself as she said, "I'm sorry, kid, no can do. Your father committed a crime in my city and it's my responsibility to sentence him to justice-"
Before Captain Nicolette could finish, Albert interrupted her, "Captain, may I ask a question? If I, the victim, call off the charge against this man here, we can treat it as though nothing has happened, right?"
Both Captain Nicolette and Mickey turned to face Albert in shock as the captain replied, "Erm…yes, if you are willing to withdraw your charge, I'm willing to let this man go right here. However, this man is armed and dangerous, are you very sure you want to do this?"
Albert answered calmly, "Well, my answer would depend on this boy, Mickey's response. Mickey, tell me, what's ailing your mother?" Mickey released Captain Nicolette before wiping away his tears as he explained slowly, "I don't know what exactly is wrong with her, but she's been suffering from some high fever with rashes all over her body for 3 days already.
Dad and I were out in hope of finding someone to treat her, but everyone we went to told us that this was an expensive condition to treat. With neither money nor time to waste, Dad was at his wits' end until something caught his eye and he just told me to stay put before running off. Whatever thing he took from you must have something to do with treating my Mum."
The robber nodded remorsefully as he added, "Yes, I was really troubled until I saw that flower hanging out of this young man's pocket. From my time as a soldier, I recognised it as the extremely rare Blood Rose, a flower which petals are said to contain extremely potent medicinal qualities that can treat almost any illness. I really didn't want to hurt anyone, all I wanted was the Blood Rose…"
Adeline clapped her hands together as she remarked, "Ah, I see the pieces coming together now. Your wife's severely ill and hence you wanted the Blood Rose to treat her condition. That flower is indeed extremely rare and valuable, now I understand why a noble would be willing to risk his life for simply a flower."
Albert nodded to show his comprehension of the situation as he declared, "I've made up my mind. Captain, please release this man, I would like to take him under my charge. Is that possible?" Captain Nicolette nodded as she added, "It is, sir, but what about your safety? The moment this criminal is no longer under my charge, I can no longer offer you any protection against him as that would no longer be within my line of duty. Is that fine with you?"
Albert replied resolutely, "That will be no problem at all. Adeline and her friend, would you guys be willing to accompany me to resolve this situation? I promise that you'll be appropriately rewarded for your services. If these two accompany me, I don't see any issue with my safety, right, Captain?"
Captain Nicolette heaved a sigh of relief as she said, "You're right, sir. Now, you two, are you willing to accompany Sir Cornaro here to guarantee his safety? The life of a noble is no laughing matter after all."
Kai was quickest to answer as he exclaimed, "We'll do it. In any case, from my exchange with this man earlier, even though he may be a little aggressive, but I do not sense any malice from him. Furthermore, kindness begets kindness, right?"
Adeline nodded her head in agreement as Captain Nicolette concluded, "Very well, it's decided. You are now placed under the charge of Sir Cornaro, and as such, you're free to go." Upon being released from the captain's [Wind Shackle], the man rushed to embrace his son in a tearful exchange.
When he was done, the man thanked Albert profusely as he choked, "Thank you so much for your benevolence, Sir Cornaro. Would you like me to swear an oath of allegiance to you, my Lord?"
Albert Cornaro replied calmly, "No, there's no need for that. All I need from you now is to follow me, if you want your wife to be treated. Let's make haste, time is of the essence." The man nodded as Albert led the way, with the man, Mickey, Adeline and Kai following closely behind.
It wasn't long before Albert had led them into a dainty apothecary, located in the suburbs of Nirvana. Upon entering the apothecary, Albert exclaimed, "Aria, you there? I've got someone in need of your urgent help!"
Upon hearing his voice, a young woman with red hair emerged from the blinds covering the entrance to the medicinal store as she replied cheerily, "Ah, it's you, Albert. Who requires my assistance?"
Albert referred the man to Aria as the two had a short conversation regarding the condition of the man's wife. Upon hearing the man's story, Aria appeared astonished as she cried, "This is really bad, let me get my things ready and you'll lead me to your place thereafter. If her condition isn't treated any sooner, she might really die!"
Before Aria could rush into the medicinal store to prepare the necessary ingredients, Albert tugged at her arm before passing the Blood Rose to her. Albert said calmly, "Would this help?"
Aria scrutinised the flower heavily before exclaiming in excitement, "Yes, this Blood Rose would definitely help, it is not only more fast-acting than the other herbs I have, the medicine I can create with it would require less ingredients as well, hastening the treatment process. Thank you so much, Albert, tell me later how you got your hands on such a rare medicinal herb!"
Albert smiled in appreciation as Aria quickly completed her preparations for the visit. When she was done, the group took off once again, this time heading towards the man's house.
When they had finally arrived at their destination, Aria swiftly examined her patient, a woman with shoulder-length yellow hair who was bedridden, mentally noting down the symptoms to confirm her condition. When Aria was done, she quickly transited into her preparations for making the medicine that would facilitate the woman's recovery.
Adeline joined her, as she said warmly, "Let me help you, I've got some experience as a herbalist as well. Here, you can use this as a catalyst so that you can use less of that precious Blood Rose." Aria nodded in appreciation as she recognised the substance in Adeline's hands as she replied, "That's some pretty rare herb that you have in your possession, you sure about this?"
Adeline nodded, assuring, "Don't worry, I have a reliable source where I can get a steady supply of this plant from. Feel free to use as much as you need, saving lives are more important." The 2 ladies got to work, which included pounding the ingredients into a paste before mixing them together, thereafter adding hot water to dissolve them all into a single concoction.
Meanwhile, the man was gently wiping his wife's forehead with a wet cloth, while his son, Mickey, held her hands tightly as he said, "Don't worry, Mum, you'll feel better very soon, the medicine's almost ready. Just hang tight and you'll be fine."
When the medicine had cooled down to a reasonable temperature, Aria lifted the bowl as she said, "Mdm, it's time for your medicine. You two, help her up." Mickey and his father obliged as they gently lifted her up into a more upright position. As Aria placed the bowl near the woman's mouth, the semi-conscious woman opened her mouth and willingly drank every single drop of medicine before laying back on bed.
Within 30 minutes, the effect of the medicine was clearly visible, as the woman's body temperature had dropped considerably, while her rashes were also lightening. The woman, who now had enough energy to regain her consciousness, opened her eyes weakly as she muttered, "Thank you all for helping me, I thought I was done for already. More importantly, thank you, dear, and of course, my beloved son, Mickey."
Tears welled up in both Mickey and his father's eyes as they entered into a group hug with Mickey's mother, the scene touching to all who were present as they decided to leave the family of three alone to have some private time. When they were done, Aria exchanged a few words with Mickey's father, giving him some instructions on how to follow up with the herbs that she had left behind, which he duly noted before thanking her profusely once again for her help.
Now that the treatment was finally completed, it was time for the group to leave. As they were walking together along the passageway, Aria mused, "Wow, I can't believe that I still have half of the petals of the Blood Rose with me. Thanks, Adeline! Without that herb of yours, the whole Blood Rose would have to be used to treat that condition."
Adeline nodded before giving a slight smile as Albert added, "Thank you, you two, for accompanying me on my selfish request. Now, regarding compensation-" Kai interrupted and said, "It's okay, sir. We didn't have anything meaningful planned for the day and performing this deed together with you was certainly enriching. Right, Adeline?"
Adeline nodded her head in agreement as Albert now turned towards Aria. He said with a tinge of emotion, "Aria, you know, I would very much want to give you the Blood Rose as a whole, but forgive me for being only able to grant you half of it. Please accept my sincerest apologies."
Aria turned slightly amused as she replied, "What nonsense are you spouting, my dear? It has always been your heart of gold that has made me fall for you so much. Your kindness is a rare quality among nobles, whose sheltered lives have often left them ignorant of the troubles of commoners, making them apathetic to their needs.
However, you are different, often pulling your own wealth out of your pockets to help those around you, even if you drew the ire of your family members. It's precisely your love for the people around you that has made me attracted to you, you big dummy."
Albert turned slightly red at Aria's remarks before he quickly got down on one knee, and flashed out a ring. Albert said solemnly, "If that's the case, will you marry me?" Aria was stumped for a second before replying shyly, "Yes, I do." Albert then lifted Aria off her feet in a princess carry as they laughed in jubilation, oblivious to the fact that Kai and Adeline were still around as the students decided that it would be wiser for them to leave the couple to their own devices.
Twilight shone across the horizon as Kai was walking Adeline back to her place. Kai commented, "Ah, what an eventful day it has been, from fighting an Expert to helping a family and even witnessing a proposal, what are the odds of all these events happening in one day, right?"
Adeline replied gently, "Yeah, you're right, it certainly has been a memorable experience for me as well. I think it was pretty heart-warming for us to be personally involved with such good deeds, not to mention that I learnt firsthand what true love really means; to go beyond one's means for the sake of your significant other. Both Mickey's father and Albert displayed that in one way or another."
Kai turned a little red as he scratched his head awkwardly, before finally opening his mouth, "You know, speaking of love…to be honest, I really like you. Would you give me a chance to be your boyfriend?"
Adeline was stunned for a second before she finally replied shyly, "I…thought all this while that my feelings were one-sided. Thank you, Kai, for mustering your courage before me to tell me the truth about how you felt towards me. Yes, I'll be glad to be your girlfriend, if you're willing to give me that honour."
The newly minted young couple then embraced each other under the setting sun, this time with feelings of pure romance instead of sorrow…