Of Heroes and Royals
The aura of the Guardian filled Ciela with a feeling of warmth as it radiated throughout her body. It was something she had noticed since the very first time she'd called it forth, years ago. It made her feel confident. It made her feel strong - strong enough to keep her promise, at least. She had figured out quite quickly what the source of that strength was, and it made her feel blessed to have this power.
This was the very first time, however, that the purple-haired woman was facing another magic-user. She could obliterate punching bags and decommission grunt soldiers all day long, but she knew this battle, right now, would be the true test of her abilities. The true test of whether or not she really could keep her promise.
"I'm going to protect you, Alice."
Her own words were all that echoed through her mind as she threw that first punch, sending Vidalia flying backwards several feet. However, one of the white, rapidly spinning white objects from before suddenly appeared above each of the lieutenant's hands - and as she thrust her arms back, she ground to a halt and landed on her feet once more. At once, the objects stopped spinning, and the woman grabbed a hold of them and threw them toward Ciela.
The purple-haired woman quickly ducked, narrowly dodging being hit, the objects merely skimming the top of her head. "You called those... Wind Shuriken, right?"
"Uh, yeah. Pretty cute, right?" responded Vidalia, making two more shuriken appear between her fingers to illustrate.
Ciela was already tired of this person. "Not the word I was going to use, but okay."
"Do you like, usually talk to your opponent during a battle? Not that I'm complaining or anything." Vidalia asked, though her tone gave the impression that she was indeed complaining.
"Blame my friends." promptly answered Ciela, thinking back to Apollo's grand speech during his battle with Capri. "Now that we're talking, though, what the hell is that giant rock monkey?"
"Oh, that's... Terra, or something. God of, like, Earth, I think? They want it to destroy the town, and we're here as backup." The lieutenant said this rather nonchalantly, but her words shocked Ciela and Alice both.
The girls stared toward the creature, off in the distance. Of course, it was still wrecking the town and worryingly seemed a little closer to where they were now. Their thoughts began to race, trying to rationalise what they had just heard. A god? That was impossible. But this woman didn't seem like the type to bother lying.
And after all - who else, but a God, could cause such destruction?
As her opponent was distracted, Vidalia took this as a chance to strike. She threw two more Wind Shuriken - which struck Ciela in each of her legs, and the woman let out a pained grunt. Vidalia was shocked at how surface level the injuries she'd inflicted were, though - the aura of the Guardian had protected its user from the brunt of the damage.
Nonetheless, Vidalia continued with her plan and charged forward. She closed the gap between her and her opponent, so close she was only inches away from the woman's face. Because of the Wind Shuriken sticking out of her legs, Ciela couldn't move. And so, Vidalia reached her arms high into the air, summoned a Wind Shuriken so large she had to hold it with both hands and swung down as hard as she could.
This was it, the lieutenant thought.
Her opponent had no way to dodge, and with all her strength behind it, this attack would surely pierce that strange red aura.
She had won.
She would slice the purple-haired woman in two.
"So, listen... this might sound weird, but... I got... one other question for you..."
The shuriken ground to a halt. Vidalia was confused, until she looked down and saw that Ciela had caught her weapon with both hands.
"H-Huh?" the lieutenant stammered, as she slowly began to be pushed back. Despite all the training she had been through in her time in the Stratus Imperial Army, this woman was somehow overpowering her with ease.
"What exactly are you fighting for?"
And as she said this, Ciela released one hand off the shuriken and punched Vidalia in the stomach as hard as she could - again, her overwhelming strength sent the woman flying backwards.
The lieutenant began coughing and spluttering, but managed to land on her feet. "W-Why would you ask that?"
"Just answer! I wanna know!" Her opponent exclaimed, which only served to perplex the lieutenant further.
It had been awhile since Vidalia had recalled her life before the military. Memories spilled into her mind, and she stared at the ground. The countless times she stared off the same hill, wandering what was past the horizon. The endless cycle of work she didn't want to do. A prison of monotony. "I... wanted a better future. I hated that life."
Ciela erupted into laughter. "A better future? T-That's hilarious!"
The lieutenant snapped back to the current moment as she heard this reaction. "H-Huh?"
She was... confused. Somewhat disheartened. Even Alice, who was still watching nearby, felt this reaction was inappropriate.
"Take a look around, you dumb bitch! Is THIS the better future you wanted? Surrounded by dead bodies, demolished buildings, as a rampaging god tears peoples lives apart - all the while, you're getting your ass kicked by some random chick from the sticks!" Ciela yelled at the green-haired woman without relent. She could see the look on her opponent's face turn sour as her eyes widened, but continued anyway. This wasn't the place or time to hold anything back. "I might not know where you came from, but this can't be much of an improvement."
"T-This is... just like, a stepping stone, don't you realise that?! If I beat you, and other strong people, then I'll totally get promoted again! And I'll have all the money and power I want! That's all I've ever wanted! Can't you get that?!" Vidalia spat back in response. She seemed desperate, as though she was trying to convince herself, too.
A look of disappointment grew on Ciela's face. She was shorter than the lieutenant, and yet, the green-haired woman felt like she was being looked down at.
"No, I can't get that. I do get something now, though. You're just fighting for yourself. And you don't care about anything or anyone else. I won't lose to someone like that. I'm done talking to you, so let's end this."
Vidalia began to panic. The purple-haired woman's words had caused her to lose her nerve.
"Stay back!" she yelled, beginning to throw her Wind Shuriken wildly. She didn't have a plan anymore - she wasn't even looking at where she was aiming. She simply used her magic, again and again, hoping that eventually her wish would be realised and she would pierce the red aura, causing her opponent to fall.
Much like Ciela and her promise, this was the only thought that entered the woman's mind. It was her dream on the line, now. Her future. If she lost, it meant her opponent was correct. And she couldn't let that happen. That was what she told herself, at least.
Shuriken after shuriken struck Ciela as she charged to her opponent, unfazed from her task. She made no attempt to block, or dodge, and simply let the aura of the Guardian take the brunt of the attacks. She simply wanted to end this as soon as possible.
Time seemed to slow down for both women as the distance between them was closed.
"You know, I had this crazy idea that, maybe... since we were around the same age, perhaps you were like me. Perhaps, you had someone you were fighting for, too. I figured that was the only reason someone like you might join them." Ciela reeled back, clenching her first tightly, readying one final punch. "I fight for Alice. So I can't imagine... what a miserable existence it must be... not to have anyone to fight for but yourself!!"
This time, her punch didn't send Vidalia flying backwards in a dramatic fashion. She simply collapsed to the ground in a heap, her purple-haired opponent towering over her.
Ciela let out a sigh as the aura of the Guardian dissipated. She turned around and began to walk back over to Alice. Her arms and legs stung from the cuts she'd received from the shuriken, but for the most part, she felt relieved that she'd come out relatively unscathed.
She couldn't stop a smile from forming on her face as she looked at the white-haired girl waiting for her. She had finally proved it to herself - that she could keep her promise. That thought filled her with more joy than she had felt in a long time.
However, before she had reached Alice, a gust of wind interrupted her train of thought.
"Ciela, look out!" Alice yelled, pointing at something behind the woman.
It was Vidalia. Though exhausted, though it felt like her knees were about to buckle any second, despite the beating she had taken, she had gotten back on her feet.
"I can't go back there... so... I just, like... can't give up on this future, just yet..." the woman panted, her breath heavy due to her exhaustion. "I worked hard for this... don't... underestimate... a lieutenant of the Stratus Imperial Army..."
Ciela could sense massive amounts of magic power now coursing through the lieutenant's body. This was new for her - the "sensing" of magic. In time, for those who battle with magic, it was a feeling that became the norm - Naois had sensed it the night before in his battle with Akio. An immense pressure. Like how, sometimes, you can sense someone's presence in another room without even seeing them - but dialled up to an absurd degree. It was like a sixth sense, a primal instinct. Ciela had never felt this before, and something within told her what it was in an instant.
Vidalia raised her arm high into the air, her palm wide. As usual, a Wind Shuriken appeared above it, beginning to spin rapidly.
And it grew.
And grew even further.
Until it was bigger than both women, and the wind it was producing from its high speeds rivalled that of a hurricane. The nearby cherry blossom trees shook wildly, and the river's water rippled intensely. A drop of sweat down Vidalia's cheek, as she poured more magic power into this spell than she ever had before.
"Why bring a God, when you can just bring a hurricane..." grumbled Ciela, holding her arm by her hair in an attempt to stop it blowing around wildly while struggling to keep her balance.
This was Vidalia's final attack. She knew she wouldn't be able to get up again after this. But that was alright - the lieutenant was putting everything she had into this attack, including all of her faith. "You don't know a thing about me! You don't know what I want! Being here is way better than being on that farm! It's way better than working from dawn until dusk! It beats letting my destiny being decided for me, every day of the week!"
"Ciela, we should run!" called out Alice.
"Better bring out that weird of aura of yours again! Not that it'll be enough for this." Vidalia taunted her opponent with a chuckle.
And Vidalia threw her Giant Wind Shuriken with all of her might.
As for Ciela, she stood still as it began to approach. Once again, time seemed to slow down.
"The Guardian's source of power. I've known it since day one." she thought to herself.
"Think about what'll happen if I let this thing cut me in two."
Think about how she'll feel. Think about the look she'll have on her face.
Think about what that bitch will do to her after I'm out of the way.
"Picture it! Burn it into your mind!! And do everything you can to make sure that never happens!!!"
The red aura of the Guardian appeared once more - but only around Ciela's hands and feet. She thrust her arms outward with everything she had and pushed against the Giant Wind Shuriken with both hands as it slashed against her palms relentlessly. The woman grit her teeth as its force began to push her back and her hand burned with pain, blood gushing forth.
"Ngh... like I'd... lose to this... to protect Alice... I'd even kill a God!!"
She forced the images of what would happen to play in her mind over and over. And in the end, her thoughts returned to one final thing - Alice's smile.
That smile filled her with warmth, time and again.
...she caught it.
The spinning stopped.
The pain persisted.
But she leapt toward Vidalia one final time anyway, shuriken in hand.
"I hope one day, you find that person in your life that's worth fighting for. Because only then..."
The shuriken was so large that as Ciela used it to slice Vidalia's shoulder, it cut down a branch of a nearby cherry blossom tree. As the lieutenant watched her triumphant opponent pass by with wide eyes, sharp pain and a moist warmth began shooting down her arm. And yet, she didn't despair. Cherry blossom leaves flew through the air, filling her vision.
"...only then will your future be bright."
Ciela spoke, shining brighter than ever before.