Of Heroes and Royals
"So, let me get this straight, Naois. As we just established, you just reached magical maturity... around two weeks ago. And you want... to challenge the tenth strongest person here?"
It was Ciela who broke the silence that had befallen the room as Naois had made his bold announcement. The group was still reeling in disbelief, Mirri included. It seemed like a fool's errand, and no one could tell if the boy was aware of this himself.
"Yep." he simply responded, and promptly exited the room, making his way back to where they had been earlier to search for the one known as "Hero".
With a slight look of concern on her face, Ciela turned her attention to Apollo, who had seemingly already moved on and had begun reading one of the books from his pile. "You're not gonna try and stop him, Apollo? This kinda seems like your expertise." she asked.
With a sigh, the young man put the book down. "I'm done looking out for him, I really am. He's always been sort of stuck-up, and loud, and rude, yeah. But I thought he was better than this, I really did. If hearing Alice's destiny actually sent him this far off the deep-end, then that's on him. He'll have to learn by himself. He WILL learn, at least I hope so. It'll catch up with him at some point, regardless. He doesn't get to keep acting like this without consequence."
"Do you really think he's that deep? Hasn't he always been just this much of an ass?" Ciela asked, a little unconvinced, to which Apollo simply shrugged his shoulders.
"Well... I'm going after him!" exclaimed Alice, who had been stood by Mirri's desk the whole time, trying to figure out what to do.
And go after him Alice did, catching up with Naois right as they both entered the main room, where they had been told the Hero was. Mirri had been right, there was something unmissable about the Hero, and they both spotted the blue-haired boy leaning against a wall right away. However, before Naois was able to go over and issue a challenge, Alice grabbed hold of the red-haired boy's arm and held him still.
"Hey, Naois... could we talk?" she asked politely.
"Go away, Alice." he muttered.
Alice squeezed his arm even tighter. "Naois, please. It... do you know how much it hurts, being near you? When you act like this? Especially after we... I mean, before we left..." She stuttered in her words, unsure of what the right thing to say was, simply wishing for the boy before her to understand.
"I said, go away!!" Naois yelled at the top of his lungs, so loud that the resistance members present in the room stopped and stared, including both the Captain and Hero. He spun around as he spoke, screaming at Alice right in her face. "I have spent the last three days trapped in the same vehicle as you, listening to your damn voice over and over, and I cannot STAND to be near you for even another second!"
What occurred next was the sound of a slap so loud that it resonated throughout the entire resistance base.
A painfully obvious, bright, red palm imprint was soon visible on Naois' cheek as he tried to process what had just happened. Meanwhile, a burning sensation filled what felt like his entire face as he stared at the ground, motionless.
As for Alice, tears were beginning to stream down her face as she slowly began to lower her hand - which she had accelerated toward Naois' cheek in a flash using Momentum Burst (a "Momentum Slap", if you will) - back down toward her waist.
Unlike Naois, however, she did not yell. Instead, she spoke quietly, though easily heard through the silence that smothered the room, the pain in her voice instantly apparent to all who heard it.
"You really suck, you know that, Naois?"
Naois only caught a glimpse of the silver-haired girl as she hurried out of the room, her eyes awash with tears, her cheeks flushed from embarrassment both from the scene they had just caused and the sadness she felt.
It didn't take long for the usual busyness of the resistance base to return to as it was. Most of the members returned to the business they had been attending to, and some others descended into idle conversation about how little time it took for the new recruits to have a lovers' spat. As for Naois, he remained stationary, still processing what had just occurred. Deep down, he knew he deserved the slap that Alice had just dished out, but for whatever reason - perhaps pride, ego, or selfishness - he still felt frustrated.
After taking a few deep breaths, Naois returned to fulfilling what he'd originally had in mind - challenging the Hero. However, as he finally looked up, he noticed that he had already caught the Hero's gaze. His eyes remained on the boy the entire time as he approached, staring daggers through him.
"You're the one they call Hero, right? I'm Naois. I wanna fight you." he asked in a most serious tone.
The look on the Hero's face was hardly a receptive one. "Yup, that's me. You know... usually I'm not into sparring with new recruits, but... I'm not sure I liked the way you spoke to your friend just now."
As the Hero spoke, Naois could sense his magic power - it was immense, and as he mentioned his distaste for the scene prior, it turned menacing.
"That's none of your business." the red-haired boy scoffed.
The Hero paused for a moment. In an instant, the menacing aura Naois had felt vanished, and the serious look that had been on the Hero's face also softened.
"Well, I suppose you're right. Heroes just don't like to see people cry, you know? Anyway, my name is Akio! Call me that. Feels weird, being called Hero in casual conversation." he responded with a giant smile on his face. "I know your type, buddy. You feel angry when someone performs better than you, right? Makes you feel weak. That's what this is, right? Challenging me, it's an ego-boost. You really wanna win. Perhaps, a fight against a strong opponent would do you some good."
Naois was taken aback by Akio's response. He didn't like being analysed, and he certainly didn't like the idea that his challenge was only accepted because it was for "his own good". That said, he was still desperate to fight the Hero, so he went along with it.
"Uh... sure. I'm Naois, by the way." he muttered.
"Nice to meet'cha! So, follow me. We have like a... training area, of sorts, this way." He began to wander off as he spoke, leaving Naois to follow quickly behind. "From what they told me... back in the old days, this place was used as a venue for underground gambling rings. There used to be a lot illegal activity like that, not long before Stratus took over. As soon as the war ended, they cracked down on it. Ironically, the greatest hotspot for illegal activity is the mainland itself."
A chuckle left the boy's mouth as he mentioned this, and Naois got the sense that he knew more than he was letting on.
"Whoops, I got side-tracked. So, anyways, because of that we have this place, and there's some long rooms lined up in a row they'd put the bigger tables in... making them the perfect space for, well, this."
As he continued, Akio led Naois into a hallway in which there was entrances to three long, largely empty rooms, each the same size. The walls separating the hallway and each of the rooms were made of glass, allowing them to see inside. Two of the rooms were occupied, with a few people clearly running some kind of training exercise in each, so it was the empty one that Akio headed into.
As Naois was about to enter the room, he noticed Ciela running down the hallway toward him.
"Where's Alice? What did you do?" she grabbed hold of the boy's shoulders and shook him furiously.
"I dunno. She left, I think. And it's none of your business." he responded sharply, shoving the woman's hands away.
"How could you ever be sick of her, Naois? I mean, if you really don't even consider her a friend anymore... why even come with us, then?" Ciela pleaded, giving one last futile attempt to understand him.
With almost no hesitation, Naois gave his answer. "I just needed some time away from her. Is that too much to ask? Oh, what, just because I'm not obsessed with her like you, all of a sudden I'm an asshole?"
"Tch. Are you asking for a matching hand imprint on the other side of your face? Because I'd be happy to oblige. Nice look, by the way."
And with that, Ciela left to find Alice, leaving Naois to anxiously rub his still tender cheek.
"Seems that one wasn't happy with you either," observed Akio as his opponent entered the training room after him. While he had been waiting, he'd taken the liberty of warming up, and was in the middle of doing jumping jacks.
"Annoyingly. So, I'm pretty eager to blow off some steam." Naois answered, putting his hands together as he spoke, and with zero hesitation summoned his Flameblade.
It was a weapon that felt strange, almost off-putting to the boy, truth be told. He could feel the warmth of the hilt on his palms as he clutched it with both hands - a warmth that almost bordered on uncomfortable. He could feel the flames try to spread, desperately trying to grow stronger, like an out-of-control wildfire devastating a forest. This was something he was forced to keep controlled using his magic power, a constant sap on his stamina that refused to relent. Aside from its warmth, it felt like the blade had little tangible form, for no matter how tightly he gripped it or how swiftly he swung it, all that Naois felt he was holding onto was air.
"Whoa! That's one heck of a sword!" exclaimed Akio, who had stopped his warmup and was now examining the Flameblade from all angles like an excited child. "I imagine being on the other end of that has gotta hurt."
"Wanna find out?" threatened Naois, ready to begin their battle.
An excited smile grew on Akio's face. "Oho, I think first you'll have to find out if you can hit me. Say, shall I tell you about my Signature Spell before we start?"
"No more talking! I'll find out as we fight."
And indeed, there was no more talking - as soon as his mouth had closed, Naois launched forward ready to land his first attack.
He swung his blade down as hard and as fast as he could toward his blue-haired opponent - and yet, as he finished his swing he realised the boy was no longer there. In the split second between the swing reaching its apex and reaching its end, Akio had completely disappeared from sight.
Naois swung again, this time doing a complete 360 spin to hit everything in the Flameblade's range - a "spin attack", one might refer to it as - and again, Akio, who had previously dodged to Naois' left, simply and swiftly jumped backwards and out of the sword's range in less than a second.
"He's fast!" thought Naois, his brain frantically scrambling to figure out his next attack. Based on previous experience, he was used to everything he slashed at simply collapsing in a heap - much like the soldiers at the checkpoint - and so Akio dodging both of his attacks came as a shock. "Then I'll just have to not let up. I'm bound to hit him eventually!"
And so, that's what Naois did. He swung at Akio again and again, launching himself at his opponent once more each time as he moved out the way - but no matter what he did, Akio always seemed to be just out of grasp. The more he dodged, the angrier and more frustrated Naois grew - and the sloppier and less accurate his attacks became.
The Hero saw the rage in Naois' eyes. "Does it anger you? The fact you can't hit me?"
Naois took a step back, forced to catch his breath before being able to answer. "No, what angers me is that you're not fighting back."
"I don't have to. Hey... Naois, that's your name, right? Naois, have you ever been around children? When I was younger, I used to hang around at this orphanage in my village. I don't often have time to visit anymore, but... when the kids are determined to try and fight me, what do you think I do?" Akio began, crossing his arms as he spoke. Naois didn't respond, sensing this was a rhetorical question. "Obviously, I didn't fight back, because I didn't want to hurt them. And I didn't let them win on purpose, as that would make them overconfident. No, I let them run around until they got tired. Do you see what I'm getting at?"
Naois knew exactly what he was getting at, and he wasn't happy about it. This only served to further the rage and frustration he felt, and he launched himself at Akio one more time with an aggravated grunt. He could feel the muscles in his legs burn as he did so, already feeling fatigued from the amount of times he had launched forward with as much force as he could muster.
Akio let out a sigh. "I... were you even listening? You can't hit me."
Naois showed no signs of caring. He thrust his Flameblade toward the Hero like previously - and as usual, his opponent simply stepped back.
However, this time, right at the last second, the tip of the Flameblade seemed to grow in length - taking Akio surprise. For a split second after his initial dodge, the Hero had let his guard down - and so for the first time since the start of their battle, he failed to jump fully out of the way.
...the Flameblade pierced the outer layers of his stomach's skin.
Blood slowly began to trickle out of his newfound wound as burn marks began to appear on its edges while a pitiful laugh left Naois' lips. His face looked crazed and desperate, like he was waiting for Akio to fall to his knees at any second.
"Huh. Well, how about that. Nice job, bro." Akio spoke nonchalantly, seemingly unfazed. Much to Naois' horror, the boy did not even flinch, let alone collapse. "Well, don't say I didn't warn you."
A swirling red aura appeared around the Hero's hands as he geared up to attack for the very first time since the start of the battle. The overwhelming, menacing feeling Naois had sensed earlier returned.
"Boiling Blood Fist!" Akio yelled, as he dealt Naois a devastating right hook that sent him flying in to the nearby wall, with such force that it caused the ceiling to shake.
Ripples of pain began to rush through the boy's body as blood came spewing forth from his mouth. He hit the wall back first, falling limp to his knees with a dazed look on his face. His cheek began to swell and steam began to rise from where Akio's fist had made contact - it felt unnaturally hot, like a steam iron had been pressed against it, only adding to the incredible amount of pain he was currently in.
And that was only a single punch.
"T-That's hot..." Naois mumbled.
"Yeah, though not as hot as your Flameblade. I'll tell you about my Signature Spell now, while I wait for you to get back on your feet. You know that idiom? About making your blood boil? Well, in my case, it's kinda literal. It's a Superhuman spell. I can use magic to hijack my body's heat production systems, and heat my own blood to boiling temperatures... and then use that to make my attacks stronger." As he spoke, he summoned the "red aura" around his fist once more, heating the blood to such a high temperature that it evaporated in a matter of seconds.
"Isn't that... dangerous?" asked Naois, still on his knees and catching his breath.
"Oh, you bet! When I first awakened this power, I'd end up in the hospital for days at a time after using it. But I continued to use it, putting myself at risk to save people... and now to help out the resistance. I can't tell you how many times I've nearly died. But that's how I became the resistance's Hero. I can't help it, I want to help anyone and everyone." Akio paused for a moment. "Even you, Naois. So I have to ask... is that really how you want to go about treating the people in your life?"
Before he could continue, Naois, still on the ground, swiped the Flameblade toward the Hero's feet - who simply jumped over it, as though one would a skipping rope.
"Hey! That's rude. I was saying..."
And again, another slash had come his way. This time, Naois had finally gotten back on his feet - coming at Akio the same way he had countless times before. As usual, the attack was dodged, and an exhausted Naois was unable to launch into another attack. Instead, he fell flat on his face.
"Yeesh! Hey... that trick you pulled off before, that let you finally get a hit in... was that the first time you'd done that?" as he spoke, he turned his back on Naois - a clear indicator that he was no longer taking the fight seriously, as his opponent barely seemed to stay on his feet.
"A-And what if it was?" Naois grumbled in response, desperately trying to stand back up.
"Then... I'm impressed! That's the first cool thing you've done this whole fight! Awakening new abilities in a pinch is the kind of thing heroes do. The only other cool thing you've done, is, well... just summoning your Flameblade. Again, that thing is super awesome! And..." He looked down the open wound on his stomach. A large patch of his blue vest had turned a dark shade of crimson. "Yep, it certainly packs a punch."
As Akio continued to talk, Naois finally stumbled back onto his feet. He nearly lost his balance several times, drifting from left to right, but thrusting his Flameblade into the floor in front of him to steady himself temporarily allowed him to stay standing.
His whole body ached. He could taste iron in his mouth. Throughout this whole so-called fight he had only taken a single punch, and he still felt exhausted.
"If heroes are all... self-righteous bastards like you... count me out. Stop running your mouth, and stop acting like you know me." he declared, the disgust in his voice immediately clear.
Akio turned around to face him. "The more you talk, the more I understand. The way you speak, the way you present yourself... what a disgustingly self-obsessed individual. You want people to look at you. You want to be the best at everything, so then only you get attention. But you're not even willing to put in the effort."
Akio continued. "You just expect all of that to happen, because you're you. I feel bad for you, I really do. A lot must've happened for you to end up like that. And I will help you, because you're one of us now. But you know what? I feel worse for that girl. I'm sorry that she has a friend like you. She cares so much that she's willing to shed tears... and for what? Someone who doesn't give a damn? How long are you going to let that ego of yours ruin your relationships, Naois?!"
Naois looked about ready to kill someone. And in truth, he was - Akio's words sent him over the edge. All the negative emotions he held inside came pouring forth all at once.
Everything buried deep inside. And every instinct, every cell in his body told him to take it out on the man in front of him.
"I said... shut the hell up, you bastard!"
Naois launched himself forward with all the strength he could muster. Akio could see the bloodlust in his eyes, and for the first time decided to retaliate.
"Boiling Blood Fist!"
The Flameblade and Akio's Boiling Blood Fist clashed directly, resulting in a spontaneous flash of red and orange sparks to come pouring forth from the impact. Both combatants pushed against the opposing attack with everything they had - Akio's overwhelming strength from several years of pushing himself to the brink, and Naois' wrath, all of his anger and frustration toward events both old, new, and current.
There was no contest.
Seething with rage, Naois thrust the Flameblade forward toward his opponent with everything he had. However, the gap between him and Akio was simply insurmountable. He could feel himself slowly being pushed back, losing his balance, knees slowly beginning to buckle as the Hero brought the might of his magic down upon him.
No matter how hard he grit his teeth, no matter how desperately struggled, no matter how much that rage burnt inside him...
...it wasn't enough.
After only a few seconds... Akio punched directly through the Flameblade.
The top half of the blade disappeared in an instant, separating into hundreds of small embers - like that which escapes a campfire - around the Hero's fist. The rest of the blade dissipated slowly in the same way it would when Naois defused it naturally, even as the boy frantically tried to cling to it and prevent it from disappearing.
It was too late.
The second and final Boiling Blood Fist sent Naois to the ground in a heap. Despite his aching muscles, swollen and burning cheek, and other injuries from his impact with the wall, he still refused to give up. His arms and legs shivered as he tried to force them to move.
Akio wasn't going to let him, though. He hovered over Naois, who was lying face up, his fist only a few inches from the boy's nose.
"Consider this your first lesson. Stay down."
The look on his face told Naois everything he needed to know. The fight was over. He shut his eyes and took a deep breath... and allowed his emotions to dissipate. The exhaustion he felt made this a little easier.
"Phew. That was fun!" Akio exclaimed, returning the previous demeanour he wore before the fight. All of a sudden, he felt a stinging pain, and remembered the wound on his stomach. "Oh, that's right. Hm... Laina isn't here, and I don't wanna disturb anyone... so I guess I'll just fix it myself."
With little hesitation, he used his Signature Spell to weld his own wound shut, leaving behind what would likely be a permanent scar. Naois' eyes widened at the sight of this.
Akio let out a yawn. "Hmm... you know, I'm kinda tired out. I think... I'll take a nap right here!"
And so, rather eccentrically, Akio let himself fall onto the training room floor and took a nap right then and there.
Naois didn't quite enjoy the idea of sleeping in the room as the person who had just defeated him so humiliatingly. So, with a little trial and error, he forced himself back on his feet and slowly hobbled out of the training room.
Before leaving, he took one last look at the sleeping hero. "Tch. Self-righteous bastard."