Of Heroes and Royals
"Hey! Ladies, gentlemen, and everyone else, perhaps we can evacuate in a calm and orderly fashion?! No? Okay, I guess that's understandable."
When Operation Terra had commenced, Apollo had decided not to take part in the resistance's counterattack, nor hang back and protect their base with Mirri. Instead, he decided it was his duty to find Alice and Ciela amidst the chaos - an endeavour that, even though a good amount of time had passed, had yet to be fruitful.
"How on Earth am I supposed to find Alice and Ciela if I keep having to stop to help out people or beat up soldiers?" he asked, to no one in particular, letting out a deep sigh. Of course, it wasn't that he didn't think either of those things was helpful or important, but the more time that passed - the further the Cherry Blossom Town sank into ruin - the more fearful for his friends' safety he became. It felt almost like his endless struggle attempting to make his way around the town was for nothing, as though he was battling, futilely, against fate itself.
He didn't have time to dwell on that feeling though, as once he had finished complaining to himself, as though right on cue, another group of four or so soldiers came running around the corner - this time, with a rather impressive looking, heavily armoured and weaponised machine in tow.
"It's great the old bastard let us bring this and all, but I swear, we're running into less and less people to use it on." one of the soldiers complained.
"Well, that's only because we've been goin' ham with it for the past two hours. We've probably wiped out half the town ourselves at this point, and there's still that big monster and the other squads out there shootin' on sight." responded another.
"Shut it, there's another target up ahead." called out a soldier from inside the machine, which prompted all of them to look directly ahead and notice Apollo in the middle of the road.
The young man wasn't alarmed, though, and replied in his regular eccentric fashion. "Yup, that's me, another target!"
"Hurry up and blow him out of the road, then!" exclaimed one of the soldiers, ignoring the bizarreness of what their target had just said.
Apollo didn't even bother moving as the machine began to whir to life. Not only was he ready to warp away at a moment's notice, but he knew exactly what the machine was and wasn't alarmed at the sight of it.
It was another technical marvel developed by the Stratus Imperial Army's R&D division, known as a "piloted antipersonnel weapon". Powered by multiple Magikrystals of varying elements (such as the Elekrystal), this weapon was a dark-coloured, metal machine about the size of two men - naturally fitted with varying weaponry. With legs, fitted thrusters and wheels under its feet, the piloted antipersonnel weapon is essentially a large, weaponised suit of armour. Nowadays, the lucky knew them only from history books, as they were used most frequently to wreak havoc on the battlefield during the war between Stratus and Lumière - and with no war left to fight, they had ceased mass production.
"Man, I can't believe it. You guys brought a mecha just for me? I have always wanted to take a look at one of those things! I mean, they're like, antiques now, ya know that? Like a big scary steam engine!" taunted Apollo.
"Cocky rat!" the pilot yelled, as the machine fired off a rocket toward its target.
"Man, if I had a nickel for every grunt soldier who says... wait, no, this is the first time I'm fighting grunt soldiers." Apollo snapped back, which was the last thing the soldiers heard before their attack landed.
Smoke and the smell of gunpowder completely filled the area where the young man once stood, as they were once again amazed by the carnage the machine they'd gotten hold of was able to produce, even given its age.
Of course, that triumphant feeling vanished as they heard a voice from within the smoke.
"Oh, man, oh jeez, you really got me... this is really bad..." his voice rang out, almost sounding like it was struggling to hold back laughter. "Nah, I'm just messing with ya. You guys are still murderers, though. I mean, probably."
In the next moment, Apollo was on top of the AP Weapon, his hand reaching through its solid metal exterior until he felt the pilot on the other side. He grabbed the man by the throat, pulling him out of the machine and wrecking it in the process as the entirety of its front plating, along with everything underneath, came off in one motion.
Panicked looks grew on the faces of the other soldiers surrounding the machine as Apollo threw their comrade to the ground, but there was hardly anything they could do. In a matter of seconds, the young man had warped behind each of them and knocked them unconscious.
"If only taking on that behemoth was as easy as this," Apollo remarked with a sigh, as he stared down at his defeated foes. "None of these soldiers have any good information, either. Mirri said that Terra and the First King used to be friends, so why would it serve Stratus? And now that I think about it... if Terra could contend with the First King, wouldn't he be able to finish this rampage sooner? But it's been a few hours, and... I'm still alive, and there are still a bunch of buildings left."
The young man soon found himself lost in thought. As the chaos continued to unfold around him, he simply stood there.
"It's definitely Terra. The sheer amount of Magic Power that thing gives off proves as much. But I imagine it'd be beyond a human to control a God... and yet he's helping the people that killed him, and killing the people of his friend...? And somehow he forgot how to fight?"
Faced with some kind of realisation, Apollo abruptly turned to face the God of Earth off in the distance.
Suddenly, the young man took off running. And he wasn't continuing his search - he was heading back the way he'd come.
"Alice is with Ciela. They're smart, I'm sure they'll end up back at the base eventually. But I need to get back there. It's just an idea, but... maybe there is a way out of this disaster, after all." He clenched his fists as he continued. "No... there definitely is. I'm going to use my head... and figure out a way to save us from this dark future."
And as Apollo set off, there was another who had just arrived at La Rivière - not Alice or Ciela, but a lieutenant. Lieutenant Capri Petridis.
He'd been greeted by three people - Mirri, the Resistance's cheerful librarian, along with Benson and Wallace, the Resistance's weapon technicians. None of them were particularly skilled in battle, and Capri could tell at a glance. This didn't stop the two young men before him from raising their weapons though, as the young lady hung behind them.
"Hey there. Resistance members, right? I'm looking for some kids that are a part of your group, and I'd appreciate your co-operation," Capri began, flashing them a fake smile that didn't make any attempt to seem too genuine. "Alice Bavaria. Apollo Senna. Tell me where to find them, and don't make this difficult."
Mirri's eyes widened as he spoke the names of the people she'd met just the day before, one of whom had been by her side until not long ago.
"I think I'd rather make it difficult, old man." Wallace spat back.
"Agreed," chimed in Benson.
The two young men charged at the man as he let out a sigh - Benson firing a pistol repeatedly, while Wallace gripped a knife. The bullets seemed to have no effect, simply ricocheting off the man's armour with a spark each time.
"No, don't do it!" exclaimed Mirri.
But it was too late. As soon as the two were in range of the man, he swiftly took action. He grabbed Benson's wrist, gripping it with such strength that he instinctively dropped his weapon, before throwing the young man over his shoulder like a ragdoll and into some nearby rubble. And not a second later, he punched Wallace in the stomach and up into the air, before following up with a roundhouse kick that sent him in the opposite direction of his partner.
Both men were knocked unconscious upon impact - and a satisfied Capri turned his attention toward Mirri.
"So, how about you, girl?" he asked menacingly, slowly beginning to make his way toward her.
"I will not... abandon my duty." was the only thought that entered Mirri's mind as she stayed silent, and remained stationary.
"Tell me where they are. Or I won't be as merciful with you as I was with your two friends over there. Nor will I with the next of your friends I ask... or the one after, or the one after. Ah, you get it." Capri continued.
"I-I refuse," muttered Mirri. He was towering over her now, the distance between them closed.
"Really? I really think you should reconsider."
As he spoke, Capri grabbed the girl by the neck with one hand, lifting her up so their eyes met. His grip was strong, and she soon found herself unable to breathe, her legs thrashing around in the air as she tried to get free - to no avail.
"Please don't... make me hurt you..." Mirri managed to utter.
The lieutenant didn't waver. "Oh, I wouldn't worry too much about that."
And there they stood. With each passing second, Mirri began to struggle a little less, and a little less. The stern look on the man's face was unchanging, and a momentary silence set in. All that could be heard was Terra, continuing his rampage, off in the distance.
Of course, upon seeing this, that young man certainly wasn't going to let it stand.
"What did I say would happen... if you touched one of my friends again?"
Just like last time, his it caught the man off-guard, as it came from seemingly nowhere. Apollo's fist slammed into Capri's cheek, though this time he wore a much angrier look as he made his move. The lieutenant was flung backwards, dropping the girl whose life he'd been about to end, as the young man caught her in both arms.
Mirri gasped for breath, meekly looking up at her saviour.
"You must like getting kicked around a lot, huh, Capri?" taunted Apollo, attempting to ease his anger by mocking his foe. As he made his way back and La Rivière had come into view, that sight was truly the last thing he'd expected to see.
Capri ignored what the young man said, and began to chuckle. "Ah... looks like I didn't have to come find you, after all. You came straight to me!"
The young man looked puzzled. "You were looking for me? What do you want?"
"A rematch. To test the limits of your ability." the lieutenant answered.
As he spoke, Capri held out his hand and summoned forth his weapon - it was a large sword, like last time, though different. It was a blade, but it had a chamber and a trigger, much like that of a gun. Specifically, it resembled some sort of combination of a claymore and a revolver.
"Oh, fancy new weapon, old man. What is that, some kinda... Gunblade?"
The lieutenant lifted the blade skyward. "Not new. Finally convinced the doctor to return it to whom it belongs."
Apollo didn't really care for whatever backstory the man was alluding to, and simply shrugged. "Do you really think you can win, just because you have a different weapon? I really figured you'd have more sense than that. I mean, I'm shocked."
"Guess we'll see."
Apollo took a deep breath, and Capri noticed the look in his eyes seemed to shift.
"Fine. If you really insist, then this time... I'm going to finish it, Capri. Remember what I told you? I'm not going to let you keep coming after people I care about." As he spoke, he gazed at Mirri, who was still in his arms.
Capri smiled. To Apollo, it seemed like another fake smile, but in reality, it was genuine. Everything was going the way the lieutenant had wanted it to. As he pictured her face in his mind, he felt a strange sense of excitement and apprehension. For someone who had given up, he felt strangely determined.
"So, you want to be a killer, kid...? Well, that's fine. I wouldn't want to do this any other way. This is it, Apollo Senna. Let's do this. One final match, one last time."