Chapter 5:

Chapter 5 - Fiorir, Cherry Blossom Town

Of Heroes and Royals

A few days had passed since the battle at the checkpoint, a battle that had seen Alice, Apollo, Ciela and Naois have their first encounter with the Stratus Imperial Army since setting off on their journey. Since then, it had been smooth sailing for the group - for the most part.Bookmark here

They had decided against stopping at a town or otherwise densely populated area before reaching Fiorir, out of fears they might run into any more trouble. This meant Apollo was forced to empty his wallet buying an Elekrystal from a van driver at a gas station for a ridiculous price to replace the truck's broken one - after which, Naois was forced to listen to him rant for around two hours about "the nerve of that guy" and "the declining Elekrystal economy".Bookmark here

Fortunately, Alice and Ciela were spared from this harrowing experience, for they were sat in the cargo bed of the truck - the girls quickly closing the window that separated it from the inside very quickly into Apollo's rant.Bookmark here

Finally, after long hours of avoiding other similar uncomfortable situations, driving games, random conversations, and otherwise trying to stop themselves from being bored, the group had finally arrived in Fiorir.Bookmark here

"We're finally here!" exclaimed Alice, jumping off the truck's cargo bed into the small parking lot they'd parked in.Bookmark here

After what Alice had been through in the battle, Ciela had taken it upon herself to "take care" of the girl - which generally meant letting Alice use her lap as pillow (which Ciela might have not-so-secretly enjoyed) - so she had forced Naois into the front of the truck to leave them alone together in the back.Bookmark here

"Sure took a while. Hey Apollo, buddy, are you positive we weren't driving way below the speed limit?" Naois asked smugly. He looked over at his friend, who seemed to be lost in thought and was taking his time getting out of the vehicle.Bookmark here

This caused Naois to let out a sigh, because this wasn't the first time they'd noticed Apollo lost in thought recently. In fact, ever since Fiorir had come into view, along with the hulking mountain that dominated the landscape directly behind it, he had stayed completely silent. Even stranger, he had stopped the truck to double-check the map he was following several times, which only served to further frustrate his companions.Bookmark here

"Would you just spit out whatever's bothering you already?" groaned Ciela, who proceeded to open the truck door and drag Apollo out the vehicle by the ear.Bookmark here

"Oww, fine, okay. Listen, uhm... something weird is going on. You remember how I said the checkpoint wasn't on the map?" he asked, to which the others nodded in response. "Yeah, well... now there's something else that isn't on the map, and it... doesn't really make any sense. That mountain..."Bookmark here

Ciela suddenly decided to interrupt, shooting him a disappointed look. "For goodness sake, Apollo, would you get out of the stone age? Use your smartphone to navigate, already. They get updated maps and stuff. We wouldn't keep running into this problem."Bookmark here

"Get real, Ciela! Stratus created mobile phones. I don't trust 'em not to spy on our data every day, all the time. I only trust good old-fashioned printed street maps. Stratus does make surprisingly good games, though." responded Apollo, clearly getting slightly side-tracked.Bookmark here

"Wait, you're telling me Stratus made our smartphones?" asked a genuinely shocked Naois, reaching into his pocket to grab his phone.Bookmark here

Ciela looked over at the red-headed boy, dumbfounded. "And you graduated at the top of your class?"Bookmark here

"Anyway! What about the mountain?" asked Alice, trying to get the group back on track, eager to finish the conversation and head over to a food stall she could see not far from the parking lot.Bookmark here

"Right! Well, uh... it's not on the map." Apollo spoke in a serious tone, clearly disturbed and puzzled by what he had discovered.Bookmark here

As he was about to continue, however, their conversation would be derailed once more, as they heard the sound of smashing glass nearby and turned around to see that Naois had thrown his smartphone onto the concrete floor of the parking lot and was now stamping on it in a rather aggressive manner.Bookmark here

"W-What the fuck is wrong with you?!" Ciela barely managed to spit out, for, much like Alice and Apollo, she was unsure what she was looking at.Bookmark here

Naois stopped what he was doing and looked at his companions with a completely straight face. "He said Stratus made the phones. What else would I do with that information?"Bookmark here

Apollo looked up at the sky in an attempt to disconnect himself from the situation, and Alice put her head in her hands, both friends filled with an immense feeling of disappointment. Within an instant the group reached a silent understanding - which was that Ciela had already thrown her hat into the ring by trying to ascertain what Naois was doing, and it was now up to her to resolve the rest of his episode of sheer insanity.Bookmark here

Yet again, however, she found herself lost for words. "You... I... What...? I thought you were just grabbing your phone to check the GPS?"Bookmark here

And this was where Apollo felt obliged to tap back in, summoning the most sarcastic tone he could muster. "Oh, yes, Ciela. Because somehow, the million year long process of large-scale movement within the Earth's crust that is mountain formation somehow took place over the decade timespan since my map was published. A GPS will definitely solve the mystery here."Bookmark here

With the group's attention now turning back to the previous topic, Naois almost immediately resumed aggressively smashing his phone.Bookmark here

"By the way, I checked, and it's not on the GPS map either," pointed out Alice, who had gotten out her phone and was holding it up for the others to see. "Which means we really do have a mystery on our hands."Bookmark here

"Not necessarily, for all we know that mountain could've appeared nine years and eleven months ago and the mystery has long since been solved." argued Ciela, before getting frustrated and yelling at Naois once more, who was still stamping at his phone despite the state it was already in. "Your phone is already dead, dammit! Stop that!"Bookmark here

Much to the woman's dismay, he did not stop.Bookmark here

"Ciela, you literally just tried to tell me to start using our phones' GPS for their updated maps. It's not showing up there, either... don't you realise what that means?" Apollo sighed, crossing his arms and waiting for a response.Bookmark here

Ciela paused for a few moments. It was almost as though Alice and Apollo could see the gears turning within her mind in real time.Bookmark here

"Wait... the GPS maps are updated every couple of days... so somehow, an entire mountain just poofed into existence between then and now? How the hell does that even happen?" a disturbed look similar to Apollo's from earlier grew on her face as she finally realised.Bookmark here

"Looks like your precious GPS was useful for something after all... I don't know, though. But I'd wager the resistance might know a thing or two about it." reasoned Apollo. "Come on, let's get going. I know where their base is."Bookmark here

As they followed Apollo through the streets of Fiorir, it struck both Alice and Ciela just how beautiful it was. They were a long way from their simple forest village, that was for sure. Fiorir was a bustling tourist town, with restaurants and cafes lining its cobbled streets. A river ran directly through the middle of the town, with the bridges that connected both sides being popular photo spots - the hot, midday sun reflecting off the water always made for a beautiful shot.Bookmark here

But it was neither the tourist attractions nor the architecture that was at the heart of Fiorir's beauty - it was the cherry blossom trees that could be found everywhere they looked.Bookmark here

"Hey, did you guys know? This is the only place on the continent you can find trees like this," Apollo explained as they walked, recalling what he had once read in a book. "Fiorir was founded generations ago, by immigrants from somewhere, and they planted the cherry blossom trees to remind them of their homeland."Bookmark here

"They're so pretty." responded Alice, before shoving another fried shrimp in her mouth that she had bought from a food stall. In one hand was a plastic bag full of her favourite fried snack, and in the other was a bag of sweet dumplings. Deep inside, Apollo wept, thinking of all the money he'd been forced to spend on the Elekrystal, while Alice and Ciela had gleefully splurged on street food.Bookmark here

It was slow-going, getting to where Apollo claimed the resistance base was. As it turns out, simply knowing the name of a pub didn't mean knowing how to navigate an entire town - and they repeatedly had to stop for directions. To make matters worse, every time the Autumn breeze blew by and forced cherry blossom leaves from the trees, the girls would stop to gawk at it. Usually, Apollo wouldn't have minded seeing the sights, but he had work to do, mysteries to solve, and was eager to get started.Bookmark here

Finally, they made it, however - to a busy restaurant pub known as La Rivière.Bookmark here

"This is the least cool-looking base I have ever seen." Naois commented.Bookmark here

"Uh... are you sure you have the right place, Apollo?" a concerned Ciela asked.Bookmark here

"Of course. I know what I'm doing, alright? Follow me." he answered, and went inside.Bookmark here

Despite having snacked on both fried shrimp and sweet dumplings, the aroma that hit Alice in the face as they entered made her feel hungry all over again. Looking over at some occupied tables, she saw pasta dishes of all kinds, and she made a mental note to eat dinner there that day. A second later, she also noticed the heavy smell of booze, which Apollo scoffed at, and she simply tried to ignore - though it did put her off a little.Bookmark here

Without nary second of hesitation, Apollo went up to the bar and whispered something to the bartender.Bookmark here

"Right this way," the moustachioed man responded, and Apollo gestured to the rest of the group to follow his lead.Bookmark here

He took them into the back of the bar and into a cramped storage closet. The group was naturally confused, but not for long, as the bartender pushed on closet's back shelf - which then opened up into a small staircase. He left the group to make their descent, closing the secret door behind them.Bookmark here

The sound of tens, maybe hundreds of busy voices filled their ears as they entered a room that looked completely different than the bar upstairs - being much more modern, the walls painted a dark blue, and the floor a sleek grey. Alice's mind drew comparisons to a military base, or hospital.Bookmark here

And so, after a long journey, they had finally made it - into the base of operations for the resistance, a sanctum of brave souls who fight to free their homeland.Bookmark here

Naois simply couldn't hide his excited grin. "I take back what I said. Now this... this is a base."Bookmark here

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