Chapter 3:

Chapter 3 - What A Queen Does

Of Heroes and Royals

Alice awoke with a start. It was dark out now, and Apollo had been driving all night. She quickly came to the realisation that she was no longer being embraced by Ciela, and a small, sweet smile grew on her face as she quickly glanced behind her to see Ciela and Naois huddled under a blanket.Bookmark here

All of a sudden, Apollo broke the silence. "Shoot, a military checkpoint..."Bookmark here

"W-What's going on?" asked Alice groggily, still half-asleep. Looking outside the window, she realised that they'd pulled into some heavy traffic - the headlights of countless cars causing her to wince as her eyes adjusted to the light.Bookmark here

Apollo hadn't realised she was awake. "Oh, sorry if I woke you. It's... nothing, really. There's a checkpoint up ahead, but it wasn't on the map."Bookmark here

"That's odd. Guess they put it up recently?" pondered Alice.Bookmark here

"Who knows."Bookmark here

The two sat in silence for a little longer, as they slowly progressed through the traffic. Eventually, it became so noisy - from both voices and car engines - that even Ciela and Naois were both pulled from their blissful sleep.Bookmark here

"The Empire, huh?" remarked Naois, an angry look growing on his still tired face.Bookmark here

"Hey, Apollo, we're gonna be okay, right?" asked Ciela. "I mean, they won't stop us, will they?"Bookmark here

Apollo paused for a second. "They... shouldn't. We're citizens, I have our ID, but... this is Stratus we're dealing with - they could tell us to pull over for looking funny."Bookmark here

As the truck edged closer to the checkpoint, so did the tension within increase. The group had, of course, expected to have a run-in with the Stratus Imperial Army at some point - after all, this was the overwhelming force that had invaded and subjugated Lumière, their beloved home, along with many other territories across several continents. However, the group had hoped that with any luck, they wouldn't have any sort of encounter until after they'd met with the resistance and had more allies on their side. The Stratus Empire was the enemy - but their continued hostility toward the nations they occupied, along with their terrifying technological prowess, which was utilised for military purposes - made them not one to be trifled with.Bookmark here

"Let me do the talking," said Apollo, as they finally pulled up to a booth at the checkpoint. He gave the man within a casual smile, passing him their ID while doing so. "Evening, buddy."Bookmark here

"Aren't you and your group a little young to be out driving, especially so late at night?" the man responded, studying their ID carefully.Bookmark here

Apollo chuckled politely, as though the question did phase him at all. "Road trip. Fall break, you know? Figured we'd make the most of it."Bookmark here

The man paused, before hitting a button on the earpiece he was wearing. "Hey, Lieutenant. Will you come over to Lane 4? See what you make of this."Bookmark here

Apollo cursed under his breath but managed to maintain his casual smile. "Hey, come on, buddy, is that really necessary? We're just students. We're really tired - I mean, I've been driving all night - and we just wanna head to the next town and get some rest. Can't you just let us through?"Bookmark here

The man stayed silent, waiting until his superior arrived. When he did, he came right up to the driver's seat window and leaned into the truck.Bookmark here

This was a man who screamed authority - even if he was just the head of a single checkpoint, his pride was clear. He donned black armour, with a red scarf covering his neck. His eyes wore the look of someone who had seen many battles, and the length of his hair seemed to indicate he hadn't been home in quite a while - if that didn't make it obvious enough, then the scar that ran diagonally from his forehead to his cheek did. As he leaned in, Alice edged away from him - despite already being more than a seat away - not just because he intimidated her, but in order to avoid the smoke wafting in from the cigarette in his hand.Bookmark here

"I'd appreciate it if you didn't get smoke in my truck," Apollo muttered, rather passive-aggressively.Bookmark here

"Where you headed, kids?" the lieutenant asked, ignoring the request of the driver of the vehicle he was leaning into.Bookmark here

Alice was impressed by Apollo's ability to keep his composure. Here he was, having cigarette smoke blown directly in his face by a large, scary man, close enough to smell his nicotine-infested breath, who had ignored his request and spoke down to him. If it had been Naois or Ciela, they would have lost it ages ago - and yet, Apollo refused to raise his hand.Bookmark here

"Trying to get to the next town, so we can rest. Your buddy here won't let us through," Apollo answered. "Could you do something about that?"Bookmark here

Apollo was ignored once more. "Those clothes look awfully expensive. How'd you manage to afford 'em?"Bookmark here

"Oh, we all took summer jobs. Made some good money, went to a tailor. We're using that money to pay for this trip, too - a trip we'd really like to continue." Once again, Apollo replied politely. His previous smile was painted on his face, and it would've been impossible to tell what he was really feeling - if not for the fact that Alice could see his hand shaking as he clutched the hand brake.Bookmark here

"So, where are you all comin' from?" the lieutenant asked next, but before Apollo could answer, he seemed to receive some kind of message through his earpiece. "No ID, huh? I'll be right over. Just... let these ones through."Bookmark here

Apollo let out a heavy sigh.Bookmark here

As the man in the booth opened the gate in front of them and they began to drive off, Alice watched the lieutenant head over to a car in another lane. There was a man inside, who was being harassed by multiple men in armour - soldiers, who, unlike the lieutenant, wore helmets that completely covered their faces, meaning she couldn't even tell what hair colour they had.Bookmark here

That didn't matter, though. Because soon, Alice's curious look turned to one of horror as the lieutenant pulled the man out of the car, threw him on the ground, and ordered the armoured men to begin beating him up. Apollo, Naois, and Ciela noticed this too, and the atmosphere in the truck changed in an instant.Bookmark here

"Those bastards..." hissed Naois, seething with anger.Bookmark here

"We should do something! We have to go back!" exclaimed Alice.Bookmark here

"No! It's too dangerous." Apollo quickly retorted. "Let's not try to piss off the entire Stratus Empire before we even make it to Fiorir, alright? That would create more problems. It sucks, I know. But we'll change it soon enough."Bookmark here

Unable to contain his rage, Naois slammed his fist against the side of the truck. "Fuck you, Apollo."Bookmark here

As much as he hated it, however, he knew there was nothing he could do with Apollo in the driver's seat. So, rather than trying to continue an argument he knew he would lose, he lay down on his side and tried to go back to sleep - his head beginning to ache from the countless spiteful thoughts that had begun rushing in.Bookmark here

"Don't take your anger out on the truck," Apollo spoke sternly while keeping his eyes firmly on the road. The noise and many headlights that surrounded the checkpoint were beginning to grow further and further away, and Alice could no longer really see what was happening to the man.Bookmark here

"How terrible," remarked Ciela, before patting Apollo on the back through the window. "Well, I realise it's a bit late now, but... good job back there, Apollo. That was pretty impressive."Bookmark here

He let out a sigh. "It was pretty close, though. Honestly, that guy seemed kind of over-qualified to be running a simple highway checkpoint."Bookmark here

As Apollo and Ciela began to descend into idle conversation, Alice was becoming lost in her own thoughts - similar to what Naois was currently going through. This seemed to be becoming a regular thing for the girl. This time, however, it wasn't doubts about her future that had her feeling torn.Bookmark here

Was this the right thing to do?Bookmark here

"Is this... what a Queen does?"Bookmark here

More than that... is this what a Hero does? Leave people in trouble behind to suffer, so long as it's inconvenient to herself?Bookmark here

These questions swirled around in her mind, until she came to a sudden realisation.Bookmark here

"Ah, maybe I'm asking the wrong questions."Bookmark here

I'm not a queen yet, and I'm certainly no hero. So... what do I want to do?Bookmark here

"With my power, I could race back to the checkpoint, save that guy, and get back here before anyone notices. Assuming... I manage to use it correctly. Ugh, catching up to a moving truck sounds like a lot of work!"Bookmark here

Well, time to make a decision, Alice.Bookmark here

Setting aside everything else - forgetting about destiny, fate, the future, the expectations of everyone else - because it doesn't make a difference. Because there's only one thing that really matters.Bookmark here

"What do I want to do, right now?"Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.