Of Heroes and Royals
"This shouldn't be too difficult," Apollo thought to himself, as he warped in front of Capri.
Both men had made large declarations, but in truth, the young man didn't expect this to be much harder than last time - it was a one-on-one fight, after all. And there was simply an insurmountable gap between him and Capri, one that he'd assumed the lieutenant could never close, because of the Signature Spell he'd worked so hard to master. Without magic, it was a gap no one could possibly close. He fully expected to quickly shatter the man's armour, just like last time, along with his resolve.
As Apollo got close, intending to kick Capri into the air again, the lieutenant swung his sword into his opponent's stomach. Naturally, it didn't have any effect.
"Didn't you learn anything from the last time we fought? That won't work o-"
Apollo stumbled backwards, his eyes wide.
A cocky smirk grew on the lieutenant's face. "I learnt a lot, actually. And I've had plenty of time to think about your Spell."
As the man spoke, Apollo began intensely coughing up blood, barely able to get a word out. "C-Crap..."
"This blade fires bullets like a gun. Could you tell by looking? Maybe, maybe not. But it has this other trick to it, too. If you give it a little bit of magic... sort of as a replacement for the trigger... you can fire the entire chamber at once. Shall I continue?" Capri began, and he took Apollo's silence as a confirmation that he should keep going. His hunch had paid off, it seemed. "So, that's six bullets I just unloaded into your gut. Your Spell... it really is just teleportation, right? It's not automatic, but you've honed it to an instinct, so the moment something comes into contact with a part of you, down to the nanosecond... you teleport that part away. I can't imagine what kind of training you put yourself through to accomplish that. But that got me thinking, you know. Just how many separate chunks of your body can you teleport away at one time? I imagine it'd be difficult, going beyond even one. And that's why... those bullets, as they left the chamber, became separate from the gun... they hit, right? Because you were already negating the damage from the blade."
Apollo couldn't believe what he was hearing. "What the hell...? This guy... he's way too good for a lieutenant! He really managed to figure this out just from fighting me ONCE? I really screwed up... I shouldn't have let him live the first time...!"
"Well? Did I hit the nail on the head?" Capri asked, mockingly.
Apollo hung his head low. "Mm, yep, looks like you got me. That's right, I can't warp away more than one chunk of my body at a time... it sorta feels like trying to breathe through my mouth and my nose simultaneously."
"Think you can still go on fighting?"
His opponent stayed silent for a moment. Capri was genuinely curious as to how he would react - whether the young man would grow afraid now that his weakness was exposed, or if he would find the will to keep fighting.
And when he finally looked up, Apollo simply gave a pained smile. "Whatever! This kind of thing happens all the time. What's a little bit of internal bleeding? I can still mop the floor with you."
"That's what I like to hear."
As he finished speaking, the lieutenant fired his weapon once more, having reloaded the chamber. In that instant, Apollo warped a few metres to the right, aiming to dodge the bullet completely - only to find himself rather confused as the bullet curved a full ninety degrees in the air to hit him in the back.
It was only one bullet, so the young man was easily able to negate its damage - the bullet flying completely through his stomach before coming to a halt, and dropping to the ground. However, Capri knew this, and he wasn't aiming to inflict damage this time around. He simply wanted to show his opponent his ability.
"And another thing, there's actually one more reason I wanted this weapon back. See, I do actually have a Signature Spell. I call it Bullet Blitz. My Magical Affinity is Elemancy... specifically, Air." Capri explained, his weapon still aimed directly at his opponent.
Apollo quickly interrupted. "I get it. You're manipulating the air around the bullet."
The lieutenant nodded. "That's right. I can manipulate tiny air pockets, about the size of a coin. It's pretty useless on its own, but just like you, with a bit of creativity, I managed to turn my basic ability into a real asset. I coulda called it something to do with air, but this seemed a lot more fitting."
It seemed like things were growing more and more difficult by the second.
"That's why he didn't use it last time... all he had was that claymore. Ugh, this is why I don't do rematches." Apollo thought to himself, a concerned look growing on his face as he tried to figure out how he should tackle Capri's Signature Spell, and as he felt a sudden, sharp pain in his abdomen. "AND he's put me on a time limit with the whole internal bleeding thing... this is bad."
It was Mirri who interrupted his chain of thought. Apollo was so focused on beating Capri that he hadn't even noticed that she'd moved from the spot where he'd set her down previously. It had taken her several moments to catch her breath and recover from earlier, but she was finally back on her feet.
"Let me back you up." she declared. "I should be able to stop his bullets, even if just for a short while."
Apollo's face shifted to one of relief, as he recalled when Mirri had shown off her power earlier. "Oh, right! Your Signature Spell! Our powers fit together pretty well, don't you think? Yours is Time, mine is Spatial. If you think about it, it's almost like we were meant to team up."
"Ah, you think so?" Mirri replied with a chuckle, one that made Apollo's heart melt.
A drop of sweat rolled down Capri's face upon hearing their exchange. "Hey, kids, is this really the time to be flirting? Or should I light a cigarette and let you finish?"
Apollo promptly snapped back to focusing on the lieutenant. "Ah, right, sorry, I'm meant to be kicking your ass."
And without another word, they were off.
As his opponent charged forward, Capri fired a whole chamber of bullets from his Gunblade once more. Apollo warped a few metres to the left, and Mirri watched as all six of the bullets began flying off in different directions as the lieutenant used his spell.
The instant Apollo reappeared, the bullets all began to reconverge on his location.
"Stasis!" Mirri called out, causing all of the bullets to freeze and begin emitting a yellow aura - just inches from the face of their target.
Without even pausing to take a breath, Apollo warped again, this time above the bullets. He punched downward, his fist managing to make contact with all six of them, so that when Mirri released her spell a second later their momentum sent each of the bullets flying toward the ground.
The young man then warped toward Capri, who was already reloading his weapon and jumped backwards to create more distance between them. The lieutenant fired two more bullets - one which he sent directly toward Mirri, and the other toward Apollo.
"Stasis!" repeated Mirri, just in the nick of time, freezing the bullet that had been sent toward her with less than a second to spare.
And as for the other, as it entered Apollo and he negated the damage, Capri used this opportunity to close the distance between them and punch his opponent directly in the cheek.
Unable to negate the damage of a second, simultaneous attack, Apollo was forced to take the punch - meaning Capri finally landed a real blow against the kid that had humiliated him so badly previously.
Apollo could feel the years of experience and training behind the lieutenant's blow - as it sent him flying backwards, as the side of his face felt like it was on fire from the pain, he counted himself lucky that he hadn't been forced to take a punch from Capri before now.
Mirri quickly ran over to him. "Are you alright?!"
"Yeah, don't... don't worry about it." the young man replied, rubbing his cheek while getting back up. "We better kick it up a notch."
The brunette nodded and ran back over to where she was previously stood.
Apollo warped over to Capri once more, before warping again, this time behind the lieutenant. And then again, and again and again. He hoped a string of feints would be enough to catch the lieutenant off-guard.
Capri fired off a full chamber again, having reloaded while his opponent had been recovering. The bullets separated the instant they were fired, though Mirri preemptively caught three with her stasis. It had hit her previously just how difficult it was to freeze all six at once, how quickly it drained her magic.
Upon noticing what Mirri had done, Apollo brought his string of feints to a halt and warped over to where each of the bullets had been frozen by the young lady's spell - their position in the air made clear by the yellow aura of the Temporal Stasis - before giving each a kick.
"Gotta hit them... at the precise angle..." he thought to himself, quickly running calculations in his head. The hours of studying he had done alongside his physical training were, at last, paying off.
It took only a glance from Apollo for Mirri to know what to do. "Release!"
And at once, the bullets shot through the air toward Capri. They travelled at such a speed the man could barely react in time, and at such a precise angle that they slipped through the tiny gaps in the man's armour.
The lieutenant let out a grunt as pain shot through his torso. "Damn, that was some quick thinking, kid."
A triumphant look grew on Apollo's face as he warped back to the ground. "Almost as impressive as you figuring out my Spell, I'd say."
A pained look suddenly grew on the young man's face as his abdomen surged with pain once more, and he remembered that time was of the essence. Capri tried to take advantage of this moment and strike, as the remaining three bullets that Mirri hadn't frozen all began to converge on Apollo's position.
"Stasis!" called out Mirri, her voice somewhat shrill. She managed to freeze two of the bullets - allowing one of them to be safely negated by their target's ability.
Apollo felt himself being pulled closer toward death's embrace as he warped back to where Mirri was standing, taking the opportunity to put some distance between him and Capri. The pain in his abdomen only seemed to grow worse by the second, and as his vision began to blur, it seemed like Capri was getting further and further away.
"Damn... I'm really not used to this, after all. We're just gonna keep going round and round, at this rate. I'm sure this is exactly what he wants... to draw it out..." he thought to himself, wiping blood from his chin as his mouth was bombarded by the taste of iron. He looked over to Mirri, who was also hunched over, trying to catch her breath. "Looks like she's starting to get tired, too. I guess as a librarian, she doesn't get to use her power too often..."
"Looks like you two are growing tired. Is that it then, Senna?" Capri taunted. Despite the bullets he'd taken, the man still seemed to be going strong - and he aimed his Gunblade toward Apollo once more, its chamber fully reloaded, though was refraining to fire just yet.
"I dunno about tired... just sick of you, old man..." Apollo spat back.
The young man's mind was racing. He thought about Alice, about his purpose, what he was put here to do.
He could hear his heavy breath reverberate loud in his ears.
The unrelenting fatigue invited him to give up, tried to lull him toward giving into endless sleep.
Even still, his eyes remained firmly on his objective.
"I have to find a way to end this. I have to secure us a brighter future than this one."
And as he squinted at the lieutenant, several yards away, he was reminded of his own words.
"A stepping stone."
That's what Apollo had called Lieutenant Capri Petridis, when they'd first fought. That's right - he was just an obstacle to be overcome. And that's when an idea occurred to the young man.
And despite the situation, despite being on the brink of death, in the midst of tragedy, despite all of that... he managed to force a smile. "I guess old tricks die hard, huh. It's gonna be risky... but it'll have to do...!!"
He turned to Mirri.
"Got a plan?" she asked.
"I just might," he responded with a wry chuckle. "His armour, do you think you could...?"
Even though she wasn't certain, the young lady nodded.
Apollo turned back to face Capri. And deep inside, he could feel his heart burning with determination. Unlike last time, he wasn't just fighting a rather pointless battle. This time... he was fighting to fulfil his purpose. He was sure of that, and it gave him the will to stand tall, one last time.
"A stepping stone."
With a deep breath...
He leapt toward the lieutenant.
"Let's bring this to an end, Capri!!"
"Fine by me, kid!"
As a loud bang resonated throughout the area, the lieutenant fired off another chamber, and Apollo warped past the bullets to close the distance between him and Capri. He kicked his opponent high into the air, just as he had done the last time they fought. But his intention wasn't to kick the man into submission like last time - no, he knew that wouldn't work this time.
"Stasis!!" With a pained face, Mirri activated her magic yet again.
And as soon as Capri's heavy armour began to radiate the Temporal Stasis' yellow aura, cutting off his movement and preventing him from returning to the ground, he knew exactly what they were planning.
In the next instant, Apollo was above Capri - and his right hand was through the lieutenant's neck, cutting off his airflow.
"Last time... I did this to knock him unconscious after winning the fight. This time... I have to use it to win the fight!" The young man thought to himself, hoping and wishing with everything he had for Capri's eyes to close as they both hung there, in the air. "I just have to hold out... even if it means getting sliced or shot...!"
Capri wasn't finished yet, though. His Gunblade was still in his hand, and he quickly moved to try and slash his opponent.
Her voice was shrill, and she could taste iron in her mouth. Even still, reaching out with both her hands, still barely managing to hold on, Mirri managed to freeze the blade with her Spell.
Of course, the lieutenant still had one thing left at his disposal. Using Bullet Blitz, he lifted the bullets he fired right as Apollo had charged at him previously high into the sky until they were positioned directly above his opponent.
The ground cracked beneath Mirri as she called that out one last time.
As all six bullets were frozen, she began coughing up blood profusely.
Her body began to visibly shake, barely able to stand through the pain. It was quite clear that the resistance's librarian was far beyond her limit, and she herself wasn't sure how or why she was going this far.
"Come on... come on... please... let this end...! Just close your eyes already!" Apollo repeated those words in his mind again and again as he locked eyes with Capri, as though he were begging for mercy.
As his strength began to dwindle, Capri let go of his blade, and as it stayed in place, he began punching it - building its momentum. And at the same time, he used his Spell to build the momentum of the bullets that remained in the air. He'd figured out the girl's ability from watching Apollo interact with it, you see, and now he was in the perfect position to use it against them - depending on who gave in first.
"Come on... hurry up...!"
And then, Capri stopped fighting. Instead, moments from death, he smiled. And this time, for some reason... Apollo's mind registered it as genuine. It confused him, as did the words that left the lieutenant's mouth.
But before he even had time to process it, the moment was over.
"I'm sorry... can't hold it anymore..." Mirri muttered as she collapsed to the ground.
At once, the yellow aura vanished. The bullets shot through the air, and as for the blade, it began to spin.
So, in order to avoid the blade cutting through his neck... Apollo was forced both to give up on his final plan, and let those six bullets rain down upon him. But that blade would still take a life - that of Lieutenant Capri Petridis. And as it continued to spin, it cut clean through the man's neck.
As he returned to the ground, Apollo could hardly believe what he was seeing. It had all happened so fast, and so not according to plan, that he wasn't sure if it was real. A severed head, several feet away from a headless corpse, fully armoured.
The sight shocked him so much that the young man barely registered the similarly shocking amount of blood that had begun seeping through his clothes. It hadn't even occurred to him that, he too, was moments away from death.
"What... the... hell...?"