Of Heroes and Royals
"I-I'm very sorry for the trouble..."
Ciela did not have to look far to find out where Alice had gone. All she had to do was step outside the resistance hideout, and there she would see the girl sat alone at a table in La Rivière, being crowded by several staff members who seemed to be very concerned by the fact that the girl was crying. In an attempt to cheer her up, they had given her some food on the house - prompting Ciela to apologise profusely on her behalf once she had calmed the girl down.
"Please, don't worry about it," reassured the bartender, the very same which had led them into the resistance base earlier. "We fully support the resistance, so we're happy to help. Just uh... take good care of your friend."
"Yeah, I'll try my best. Thanks again." the purple-haired woman responded, before heading back to the table where Alice was sitting.
"Sorry, Ciela." she muttered.
Ciela sat down across from her friend and leaned over the table directly toward her. "Oh, Alice, sweetie, you don't have to apologise," she spoke softly, placing her hand on the girl's cheek. "He really got to you, didn't he?"
Alice frowned. "Yeah..."
"Did something happen between you two? I mean, aside from him losing his marbles after hearing your destiny, obviously." Ciela paused for a moment, considering her words. "It's just... not like you to get upset like this."
"I don't... I don't know. It's complicated." Alice sighed, brushing Ciela's hand away and slumping over the table in a sulk.
Both girls went silent, sharing a quiet moment as they simply tuned in to the ambience of the bar. Alice's mind raced with thoughts about Naois and the fight they'd just had, while Ciela remained completely focused on her upset friend - slowly running her fingers through the girl's soft, silver hair as she considered ways of lifting their spirits.
"Say, Alice... why don't we get out of here?" asked Ciela, after several minutes.
Alice slowly took her head off the table. "And do what?"
"Apollo booked us rooms in a hotel, a little ways from where we parked the truck. Let's go back there and get comfy. We could watch a movie - if they have TVs in the rooms, anyway... oh! And we could order room service, and then charge it all to Apollo!" she answered, chuckling a little as she spoke, hoping the girl would be on board with the idea.
A rather insincere smile grew on Alice's face. "Okay."
Ciela could tell she wasn't completely sold on her suggestion, and likely would have preferred to stay in the bar and mope. However, she was clearly trying, so she could hardly complain.
As the girls walked through the now chilly streets of Fiorir, the night sky looming above and their surroundings being lit by streetlamps, a question sprang up in Alice's mind.
"How did Apollo afford to book this hotel? I thought he emptied his wallet with that whole Elekrystal ordeal," she asked.
"Well, shortly before I met up with you, he called his Dad and yelled at him for 'setting him up', because he 'absolutely knew' that crystal was broken already. To which, his Dad asked if he wanted him to transfer money into his bank account, and Apollo replied only if he was sure." Ciela explained.
Alice quickly found herself asking a follow-up question. "And what did his Dad say to that?"
"Supposedly his exact response was, verbatim; 'Apollo, I am a widowed man, who now lives alone, in a house with no mortgage, working as the greatest damn mechanic in all of Lumière. Do you think I need money, dumbo?' and his son barely got so much as an 'Uh...' out before hanging up."
Both girls erupted into laughter once Ciela had finished her explanation.
"That man is a gift!" chuckled Alice.
"Oh, yeah, I freaking love him. Apollo's lucky!" Ciela added.
The two soon descended into idle conversation as they recalled other entertaining memories regarding Apollo and his Dad.
"Hey, do you remember at Christmas, when he...?"
"How could I forget?"
The two laughed, joked and got nostalgic as they continued to make their to the hotel. They almost felt a little bad that their walk had to come to an end so soon, but Ciela felt satisfied that she had cheered Alice up sufficiently, and they could now have a nice time relaxing.
As for the hotel, it was a quaint place. It had three floors, with their rooms being situated at the very top. The bottom floor had a bar, which Ciela spotted Alice glancing toward as they checked in and promptly dragged her away. The rooms themselves were also pleasing - Alice's had a view overlooking the river, and they did indeed come with TVs - but most of all, the girls were happy to finally lie on an actual bed again (rather than sleeping on the cargo bed of a truck).
It didn't take long for Ciela's wish to come true - they were soon lying in bed, watching television and eating room service food together.
As Alice became absorbed in the old Western movie that was playing, Ciela looked over at the girl lying next to her and smiled. She could feel her heart begin to beat quicker and quicker as her thoughts and feelings began to well up inside her.
Alice was special. She'd known that since the day they'd met, and the announcement of her destiny only confirmed that. The purple haired-woman considered it a privilege to join her friend on the journey she had to undertake - nay, to call her a friend in the first place. There was nowhere in the world she'd be happier than where she was at the current moment.
"Alice, come outside with me for a second." Ciela blurted out all of a sudden, taking the girl's hand and almost forcefully dragging her off the bed and onto her room's balcony.
"B-But what about the movie?!" Alice stuttered, desperately trying to keep her eyes on the TV, but to no avail.
"It'll only take a second!"
The sky was dark. The streets were mostly empty now, and the only sounds that could be heard were the night-time ambience - the gentle breeze, the river, and so on. The girls stood a few inches from one another on the balcony, their faces illuminated only by the escaping light of the hotel room and the moon. Ciela looked Alice deeply in the eyes, who in turn seemed to be a little bewildered.
"You know, things are only going to get more dangerous from here on out." Ciela began. "I mean, we're resistance members now. Criminals, officially."
Alice nodded nervously. "Right."
"You know, we should remember today. December 6th, the day we joined the resistance. The day our adventure REALLY began." the woman continued.
"Uh, yeah, sure," replied Alice, still unsure exactly what was happening.
Ciela took a deep breath, placing both hands on her chest in an attempt to calm herself down. She could still feel her heart beating incredibly fast. "I know... how we can remember it. How I want to remember it."
And then, with the night sky, the moon and every star in the cosmos as her witness, Ciela made the following vow.
"I'm going to protect you, Alice. No matter the enemy, no matter the mission, no matter what comes our way... I will always be there to save you. And I'll always support you, in whatever way I can! I promise... no matter what."
As she finished, Ciela gave Alice a cheerful, innocent smile. The silver-haired girl felt her cheeks flush red as she didn't know how to respond. And rather than saying anything, she leapt at her friend and gave her the tightest hug she could muster.
"Huh? What's that for?" Ciela asked.
"I didn't know how to respond. I never could have imagined anyone would ever say something like that to me. So... I just thought I should give you a hug, instead." Alice answered.
Ciela chuckled and patted the girl's head. She didn't regret the promise she had just made in the slightest. "You are such a sweetheart. Now, come on... let's go watch the rest of that movie."
And so they did. Afterwards, Ciela lay with Alice until she fell asleep - which didn't take long, because the day's events had taken their toll, and the girl was exhausted. With nary a care in the world, she drifted off in her friend's arms. The future Hero Queen slept soundly.
Truthfully, Ciela knew she was far from perfect. She didn't seem like the type that could be of use to a great queen at all, at least in her eyes. She could be rather crass, rude, stubborn at times yet weak-willed at others, prone to anger, and a little too quick to turn to alcohol to cope. But when it was just her and Alice, that Ciela seemed to disappear. She felt like Alice brought out the good qualities she didn't know she had.
Which is exactly why she was determined to see her promise through for as long as she could.
As the two girls slept in their hotel rooms, the night continued. Elsewhere, Naois was still recovering from his humiliating loss against Akio.
It felt like all eyes were on him as he hobbled through the resistance base, desperate to reach the exit.
"That's the newbie who thought he could challenge Akio."
"Him? He looks pretty weak."
"Yeah, nothing special at all."
And other such things were what he imagined his new colleagues were whispering behind his back.
In reality, this could not be further from the truth, as most of the resistance was still scrambling to figure out the mystery behind the mountain's sudden appearance, or were chatting about what it could be.
Nonetheless, the intense feelings of shame that consumed Naois drove him to try and leave as soon as possible. As he approached the exit, however, someone called out to him and told him to wait - to his surprise, it was the Captain.
"So... Akio did you in, I hear." he said, with a slight chuckle.
"News travels fast." Naois scoffed.
A look of concern grew on the Captain's face. "Listen... don't let him bother you too much, alright? I know what he's like... he probably tried to berate you for that incident earlier, didn't he? He has a habit of sticking his nose in other people's business. He has the best of intentions, though, I promise."
Naois simply opted for his usual dismissive response. "Sure."
"Hey... kid. What did you say your name was, again?" the Captain asked.
"Naois. Naois Sovrano." he responded.
"Sovrano... ah, so that's why you look familiar!" the green-haired man exclaimed. "Your father, he was one of us, wasn't he?"
"...Yeah." Naois spoke quietly.
"He was... a great man. A brilliant soldier. We went on a few missions together, back when my Grandfather was still the Captain around here. I'm... sorry. About what happened."
The Captain spoke in a solemn tone, clearly recalling painful memories. As for Naois, he stared at the ground. This was the last conversation he had expected to be having today, and after succumbing to his feelings not so long ago, this was hardly the time he wanted to be thinking about such things.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to ruin the mood." the Captain apologised. "How's your mother? I hear her business is doing well. Her company is kind of a household name now. I never... got the chance to see her, after everything happened."
Naois sighed. "That doesn't surprise me. She always puts business over family matters."
The Captain put his hand on Naois' shoulder in a reassuring manner. "Hey, listen... you're one of us now. So, don't be afraid to rely on us. Your mother might put business over family matters, but we don't. If you ever need anything, anything at all, you know where to find me."
And with that, the Captain waved goodbye, and they went their separate ways.
After leaving the base, Naois realised he didn't really have anywhere to go and made his way back to Apollo's truck. The walk seemed to have a good effect on him and his injuries, so by the time he arrived he was hobbling a lot less and walking at a much quicker pace.
"Well, I walked it off, but I'm sure I'll still feel like crap tomorrow." Naois groaned, as he hauled himself onto the truck's cargo bed, lying down and looking up at the night sky. The blanket that he and Ciela had slept under on their first night on the road was still there, so he curled up under it to try and fight off the night's chill. "He really didn't even try, did he...?"
His fight with Akio had been playing over in his mind non-stop. How little he'd been able to do against the Hero, how easily he was defeated, but most all, the words he had said.
"What a disgustingly self-obsessed individual."
"But you're not even willing to put in the effort."
"How long are you going to let that ego of yours ruin your relationships, Naois?!"
Akio didn't know anything.
He didn't know anything at all.
That's what Naois kept trying to tell himself, and unsurprisingly, he had little difficulty convincing himself it was true.
A look of contempt grew on the boy's face.
For Naois' entire life, all he had ever heard was praise. He heard it from teachers, from his peers, and he heard it every time he managed to get his mother on the phone for more than ten seconds. All he had ever felt was that life was too easy, minus the things that were out of his control.
This was no different.
"Fine then, I'll start training from tomorrow. And I'll surpass him in no time at all." he decided. "And my relationships... are none of his business."
It wasn't long before the boy began to drift off to sleep, satisfied by his newfound resolve.
"Watch me when I win, Dad..."
But life was not as simple as Naois believed. Nor was magic, nor was the future. Because unbeknownst to him, he never would get a rematch. And he would meet his next opponent not in a training room, but on the battlefield.
These truths he had no way of knowing. Nor did anyone. But that future was still a little ways down the road.
For the night was still young, and the sun was still far from rising on that dreadful day.