It was only a few minutes after the second chime but the dining hall was fill to the brim with famished students.
Robert had quickly a found a nice spot just slightly away from the entrance to indulge in his anticipated homemade meal and awaited reading.
“Lying son of a bitch.”
Words filled with nothing but disdain and contempt stabbed into the ears of Robert as he was engrossing himself in his reading and meal, consisting of a red bean paste sandwich and a cup of warm honey milk. It was a wonder that the cup of milk hadn’t manage a spill and even retained its warmth, leading Robert to believe that the inner workings of the Storage Ring was some kind of a suspension of time and space.
With the sandwich in his right and the role of paperweight to the pages with his left, he leisurely brought his gaze up from his book to meet the foul-mouthed person who intruded on his peaceful break. Across the refectory table he was having his meal on, he found himself in the kernel sight of a glowering Samara towering his small figure with her incensed presence, and a tray of assorted dishes in her hands,
Their gaze clashed for a few seconds before Robert abated himself from the farcical contest.
“I’m sorry,” was the first word that came out from Robert’s mouth.
He broke a promise and he was in the wrong, simple as that, regardless of the circumstances that Samara wouldn’t know of, as of yet. He believed it was always better to apologize than to drag out the indignant wrangle.
“That’s all you will say?” Samara gave him a look like one would at a piece of waste. The clear menace in her voice and her imposing frame was raising quite a chain of whispers and unease among the other students who shared the same elongated bench and table.
“I have my circumstances, one that I cannot tell you.” Robert smiled brightly. “Might as well just apologize, then.”
Samara sighed and slammed her tray in front of his, turning more glances at their way but when she returned those glances, everyone went back to their respective meals and affairs. Samara then took a seat on the bench just across Robert.
Samara continued her glaring, emanating a heavy sense of intimidation, but Robert wasn’t the least daunted. Instead, “good afternoon to you too,” he greeted and went back to his book and bread.
Samara held her stare.
Robert played the fool to her temper.
But two could play that game. Samara did not drop her gaze.
Eventually, Robert gave in with a sigh. “How can I compensate you?” he asked with his head raised.
“I don’t want compensation,” she told him. “This is my future on the table here. If I want compensation, I’ll bring you to court. I want assurance.”
“Then, I assure you that I can’t assure you anything,” Robert retorted. “I’m not a Seer nor am I a Clairvoyant. There are days when things just don’t go the way we expected or wanted. Yesterday was just one of those days.”
Bafflement spread on her expression but it remolded into a scorn shortly after the digestion of Robert’s sentences.
“I can only do my best in fulfilling my promise as much as I can,” he said.
Samara stifled a snort but her eyes showed her nuance. “You’re close with Professor Soraes,” she asked as her eyes narrowed.
Pressing his lips for a while, Robert responded, “you can say that. She was a great help with my… accommodation.”
Samara’s eyes were only getting thinner at his statement.
“If you’re suggesting if I had share a bed or a night with her, I have not.”
“I did not say that.”
“You didn’t need to,” Robert said and went back to his reading.
There were still dozens of words Samara hoped to impart on Robert but as her vexation ebbed with the grumbling of her stomach, she relented on giving him pieces of her mind. After all, it was now recess and words could wait but not meals. She began eating her meal which was more varied than Robert’s.
Without being bother by the occasional glimpse from Samara, Robert finished his sandwich and devoted his whole focus onto the book, complemented with a cup of warm honey milk.
“Friend of yours?” Samara suddenly asked.
In less than a beat, Robert responded with a silent laughter, “if you’re referring to the golden hair boy with a very friendly smile, stealing glances at our way, ignore him.”
“Who is he and why is he looking here?”
“You are better off not knowing. As for his reasons— same reason as to why you are so on the edge towards me, I guess.”
Robert shrugged with his eyes.
Adversely, Samara accepted the reasoning but only to mollify her copious vexation which she didn’t like having during meals.
After some time but not even half a quarter of an hour, Samara eyed at the pages which was absorbing all of Robert’s attention.
Although Samara could not have been able to perceive the cover, the handwriting and the words used in the book reminded her of only one particular book. A book particular to commoners who wished to be enlightened with literacy, for the book contained letters proper enough to pass in high society and words simple enough to gain the understanding of the commoners. The book itself cost only a few dimes.
And so, it became the bread and butter for any lowborn who wished to be a literate.
“Why are you reading the ‘History and Culture of The Old Midas Valley’?” asked Samara.
“Because I’m not from here,” Robert retorted plainly.
“I know a lot of people who aren’t from here but most of them— or none of them even bothered to have this book in the corner of their eyes.”
“Let this be a lesson, then,” he said jauntily. “Judging me with the common standards had not bode well for anyone.”
Samara scowled but only in her mind. She doubt she would have a long life if she minded his every whims and antics. It was a trial but it was one that she had to take if she wished to continue their acquaintances.
Silent ensued between the two. Samara smothered her looming irritation by wolfing down her meal. Despite her brisk pace of gobbling down her food, she at least had the decency to chew with her mouth closed.
Under a tenth of the recess term, Samara finished her meal and once again bestowed Robert with a look that held an array of meaning but none of them were benign.
Shrugging her scorn aside, Robert offered a clement gaze. “Shall we head to the gardens now?” he asked.
Samara frowned at the tenderly smiling Robert.
“I’m not courting you,” Robert said with an exasperated tone. “It is for your treatment, like you have adjured. By all the faiths, please stop painting me in such a black light.”
“You didn’t exactly left a good inkling.”
Robert sighed. “I suppose I didn’t.” he said on rose from the bench. Stowing away his empty cup in a single swift and subtle motion which impressed Samara by a huge bound, he ambled his way to the entrance passage of the dining hall.
Trailing after his figure with her eyes, Samara followed after a moment’s hesitation. Samara never did gave Robert a good look before but she swore that he had been shorter. He had grown taller in a span of a single day that she didn’t see him, Samara painfully admitted. Even his face now seemed a little chiseled, a feature of which was absent on the last time she saw his puerile face. And his hair, it looked freshly shorn.
Undoubtedly, he looked to be slightly more trust worthy than his former self but the chances of this observation becoming vocal through Samara’s lips were null. No matter how much she wanted to trust him, her instincts were always shouting the opposite. He was dangerous but she just didn’t know exactly how and she hoped she would never need to find out.
But fate loved its jokes.
A group of students of noble births brushed past Robert, except for one, a blonde jagged hair boy with an ever-present smirk on his face. The jagged hair boy shoved Robert into the ground while masking his intents as nothing more than his absentmindedness in his steps.
Samara stood stunt on the spot as she watched on. Her astonishment wasn’t the result of the bully but the fact that everyone around them wasn’t the least perturbed with the daylight bullying. The most profound reactions were only brief glimpses of sympathy but no hands were offer.
The noble bunch laughed at their own farce and walked on, disappearing into the crowd of apathetic gazes as they reenacted the same farce on other meek-looking students.
Robert merely groaned out his efforts as he pushed himself up from the ground, sparing not a glance to his bullies. He patted his clothes of dirt before turning to look at Samara.
“You still coming?” was all Robert said before walking artlessly out of the dining hall as though the bully was no more than a mirage.
“That’s it?” Samara questioned as she caught up to his shoulder.
“Why don’t you fight back?”
Robert canted his head. “There are Sentries in the academy. Other than the garden or the restrooms, I’m sure nothing would go under their notice. Fighting back will just be my bane.”
“And you’re content with letting those arses pushed you around and dawdled off right after?”
“What if I said yes? What then? You’re going to tell me how I looked like an idiot to others?”
“No,” Samara answered. “No one even bothered to look.”
“Exactly.” Robert grinned. “Why bother with people who doesn’t even know your name or remember your face? Even if they do, they’ll just forget about all of it by the morrow. You think nobles got to where they are because they were honorable, just, and virtuous? Of course bloody not, sweetheart. Besides—” He tossed a red lump into her hands.
It was a pouch upon a clear look. Samara’s eyes widened at the weighty feel and the sound of metal chirps from within. It didn’t take her more than a moment to realize what were the contents of the pouch.
“They should really start investing in Storage Rings,” Robert remarked. “And let this be another lesson, there are other ways to deal with these distasteful individuals.”
Samara stared enquiringly at him. “Is this—?”
Robert shrugged. “You don’t always need to meet a sword with a blade of your own.”
“W-what…“ she stammered. Her mind was still dragging behind on the present. What he did was an offence but having the pouch in her hand, she was already an accessory. Returning the pouch was long out of the window, not that she intended to return it in the first place.
Without minding Samara’s dilemma, Robert hummed and sauntered through the halls.
Samara could do nothing but gave in to the revolving situation as she followed closely behind Robert. A harmless act overall but how easy Robert made it out to be, was what she fear. Her sense of foreboding towards Robert had only deepened at the peculiar deed.
“Is my strength truly all that you asked of me?” Samara asked as she buttoned up her coat after her treatment. As if she was disappointed in all that was ask of her, she traced her finger woefully down her valley. Only a matter of course, nothing of the venereal sort had taken place. Her coat was the only piece of clothing that had left her body, even that was only for the benefit of the treatment. Although, anyone stumbling upon this sight right this instance would have a wholly different idea from the truth.
As always, the garden was sparse with students but abundance with Mana. Perhaps it was due to her recently opened pores, Samara could discern the faint flow of the dense Mana present in the garden, giving off a feeling akin to swimming underwater unconcernedly towards one’s breath.
Following her bliss, she was assailed by an apprehension as she recalled what happened just two days prior. The premonition prompted her to ask the victim-in-question of the happenstance of the tormentors’ return. Nevertheless, he assured her it would be nothing of concern, but remembering his words, “judging me with the common standards had not bode well for anyone,” she was exceedingly concern.
“I don’t know how much my words are worth to you but believe me when I say this,” Robert fixed his gaze on the frowning Samara, “I have never lied to you and I never will. If I can’t tell you something, I will simply not tell you, instead of substituting with a lie. I may tell you some half truths but I will never lie to you.”
“What about breaking promises?”
“That does not constitute as a lie,” Robert said, hesitantly. “I made the promise with the full intent of fulfilling it but circumstances were unkind. However, it does not deny that fact I have not lied, I was merely hinder by fate and my oversight.”
“Fancy way of deflecting the blame.”
“I’m not deflecting anything. I just want you to understand.” Robert sighed for the umpteenth time in a day. “This may be long overdue but… I am sorry.”
“I’m sorry for staring at you all the time before, despite knowing of your… predisposition.”
Samara blinked again.
Robert sighed again. He steeled his cheeks. ”Your insecurities.”
A sharp sound pealed throughout the garden, reeling a few gazes from the rodents hiding in the trees and bushes, and also a certain shadowy black cat with a split tail.
“That, is what you call a proneness, your proneness,” Robert said between his groans while stroking his left cheek which was left with a clear red imprint of a hand.
Samara herself had a similar color but tinged on both of her cheeks. She couldn’t believe what just came out of his lips but at the same time, she realized that she needed it— no, she desired it. With all the praises and flatters but all laced with venom, having someone giving it straight to her was a refreshing experience.
Her heart throbbed.1A whole new world~~ perhaps?
A smile touched her lips but she immediately shook it off. Even if she was seeing him in a better light, it was still not a valid cause to trust him fully, not that a smile had anything to do with trusts but she would never yield to any regards of the strange throb of her heart.
“So?” Robert asked. “No words of apology?”
“Why should I?” she shot back.
“I have done no wrong.”
“I was being earnest with you. Unless you prefer to chew on the sweet lies of those pretentious sympathizers.”
“You—!” She was about to burst into another fit but the rigid gaze from Robert quelled all of her unfounded anger.
Soon, the concession of her guilt seeped in.
“S-sorry,” she said, casting her gaze down. “T-that was…”
“Ungrateful and unseemly of you, quite so. Glad of you to finally think so.”
Samara feasted her eyes at his unbridled barbs. His words stung but it felt good, admittedly.
There were those who were honest alongside with their repulsion towards her but this was the first time where the honesty wasn’t supplemented with any animosity, just pure honesty. She had always shirked from the reviles and the looks of derision. She never understood why her bulky frame had been the cause of her many torments. She had thought maybe it was just an inherent thing to all peoples to dislike something without any probable cause.
However, now she found herself at another failure of comprehension.
The dull-looking boy had always inadvertently pricked at her frail mettle but far apart from the desire to shirk away, it invoked the fight within her. That newfound desire of wanting to retaliate, it made her happy. Robert made her happy, in turn of that realization, it no longer made her happy.
In fact, her spirit dampened at what might this entailed for her future.
Her doubts regarding Robert remained but it was considerably less than before. He wasn’t benevolent but neither was he malevolent, she conjectured. Maybe this foreboding was just the fear towards the unknown, which was what Robert is to her.
“I’m sorry too….” Samara finally responded after some deep pondering. “I guess I was being very silly.”
Robert flinched. “Oh… now you’re frightening me.”
“What? You don’t think I’m capable of an apology?”
“You’re capable of a lot of things, I’m very sure of it but… an apology? I think it’s somewhere at the bottom of the list.”
Samara rolled her eyes. “You know what, just forget about it. I said nothing.”
“Ah, there’s the Samara I know. I’m much more relieved now.”
Hearing that, her brows twitched.
As refreshing as it is, there were just some words that should not be said in certain situations.
Whether Robert knew of it or he didn’t, he was reminded of it as he let out a short cry as Samara drove her fist into his abdomen.
“A-and you were sorry…?” Robert moaned out his words.
“That don’t mean I’m just going to let you run your mouth off like all your delicacy be damned.”
“Fair enough…” Robert whimpered, his hands rubbing at his slightly bruised belly. He didn’t lift his clothes to see but he was sure it left a bruise. “Damn, you hit harder than before.”
“Thanks to you.”
Robert stared. “By all the Divines, please don’t make me regret this.”
Samara glanced at her hands. “You know, it felt like my strength has leaped over a gap instead of just taking a single step forward.”
“Well, I did say you were very— for a lack of a better word— strong.”
“Stronger than Olivia?”
Robert paused and considered the question warily. Olivia had been one his eye candies ever since the first day. One wrong word, he could revert Samara’s impression of him. “That depends,” he said.
Robert pursed his lips. “You’ll see.”
Robert pointed at the arch entrance of the garden.
Samara’s apprehension came true as she saw the student who hobbled through with an inconstant gait. Seeing the two of them, the scowling noble limped his way towards them with the crease on his face becoming more and more apparent as he approached nearer.
“Asten,” she gasped. Memories from two days prior resurfaced into her mind. She turned to Robert but he had already placed himself in front of her just like before. “Rob—”
“No,” he cut her off. “Remember what I told you.”
This time, Samara shook her head. “No, I will not—”
“It will be different this time.”
“But does it involve you being thrashed by him again? I don’t see how’s that any different?”
Robert thought for a moment. “That’s actually not a bad move, for me at least.”
Samara sighed. “Can’t you at least fight back?”
“I can but… I don’t need to.”
“Trust me, Sam. Like I have I told you, you don’t have to meet a sword in kind.”
Hearing his words, Samara complied with a nod filled with reluctance. She only relented because she remembered his utterance, I have never lied to you and I never will.
“Thank you,” Robert said.
“Don’t call me Sam.”
Samara offered no response but the wrinkles in her brows made her reason apparent.
“You litters of wenches!2my best alteration for sons of bitches.” Asten shouted. When he reached the two, he was already out of breath. He couldn’t be said to be rotund but neither was he in a good shape, he was just caught in between.
“Good afternoon, young lord,” Robert greeted.
Asten clicked his tongue and glared at Robert’s knees which remained unbent. “You have learned nothing of respect, do you?”
Robert smiled. “How’s your toes?”
A vein bulged on his forehead. “You dare to ask me that?”
“I dare, I can, I will, and I have.”
“Insolent sheep!” Asten snarled, his brimming Arcane begged to be let loose.
Robert retorted with an imitation of a sheep’s cry.
More veins bulged on Asten’s temples. Fire burned in his tightly clenched fists but he held the flames back and looked Robert right in the eyes. “My friends, what have you done to them? And what have you done to Clan Riean!?”
Robert arched an eyebrow. “I don’t know what happened to Clan Riean.”
“Don’t play dumb with me!” The fire flared as Asten thrust out his fore finger.
A thin string of flame seared across Robert’s cheek but only a small trail of sooth was present. Robert smirked in his heart at the sign of the growth of his Arcane.
“I know it was you,” Asten growled. “You did something to them!”
“How astute of you,” Robert said absently. “What happened to Clan Riean?”
“So you admit?”
Robert chuckled. “Does it matter? You’ll smear your flames on my face regardless. So, just get on with it.”
“You….! On your knees, plebeian! Now!” He raised his open palm at Robert with the fire surging wildly and radiantly in his hand. “And tell me! What happened to them!?”
Asten threatened with a flaunt of his blazing Arcane. However, it only caused Robert to lazily tilt his head sideways.
“No,” he retorted dryly.
“Do you have trouble understanding your peril in the face of a highborn!?” Asten raised his voice when he saw the two remained impassive at him. Never once had he felt so much disregard towards his authority as a noble, no one had dared to since everyone knew who backed his clan.
Although recently, he felt that everyone around him was becoming more and more audacious, like they knew something he didn’t.
“I do understand,” Robert said. “I just don’t care. So, come on, then. Hit me.”
“You insolent swines!” Asten screamed, barely passing the coherent mark. “I will make sure you regret disputing my wrath!”
“Will they?” A calm and unyielding feminine voice trailed into his ears.
Asten spanned his eyes at the dreadfully familiar voice. He turned to the owner of the voice who sowed fear into his heart. His pupils shrunk with his nerve at the girl who entered his eyes.
“So, will they?” the girl roused. “Answer me, Talron.”
“Olivia Harix,” Asten gasped with a shivering tone.
Robert tittered inwardly and leaned into Samara. “Let this be another lesson, my dear Samara. You can always draw the antagonism away from yourself and direct it unto others.”
Samara restrained a sigh and the urge to drive another fist into him. “You really are a scum,” she rebuked under her breaths.
“I know,” Robert acknowledged.