Of Heroes and Royals
Capri Petridis was 16 years old when he first joined the Stratus Imperial Army. At the time, a civil war had broken out in the southern regions of the mainland, and an Empire that hadn't seen a full-scale war in almost seventy years was blindsided by the sudden conflict - and so, as a short-term measure, the government saw fit to begin drafting able-bodied men from the other territories they controlled.
Orphaned at a young age, the boy had never known his parents, and his future hardly seemed bright - so when he was ordered to join up, he didn't see any reason to resist.
The war lasted several years, but inevitably, the Stratus Empire came out on top, and the status quo was restored - with the empire seemingly flourishing more than ever. But it was during this war that Capri was first forced to take a life - and witness the deaths of many of those he had considered comrades.
The human will in a world of magic could be a truly terrifying force.
You see, Privates, and in fact, all non-officers, were not taught any magic. At that time, even teaching basic Support Spells was seen as a pointless endeavour. They were moulded to be mere soldiers, not warriors. Not knights, but pawns. Expendable to the highest degree.
So through that civil war, Capri fought, expecting to die at any moment. To be burned to a crisp, drowned in a river that didn't exist, or to be slaughtered by an enemy he couldn't see.
And yet, the boy lived.
And after all he had seen, going back to his previous life didn't seem possible.
So, he stayed - and slowly began rising through the ranks. The boy had seemingly little talent, but with each experience, with every battle, his skills and intelligence grew. He began to understand warfare and combat in a way unlike his peers - and little by little, the killing became easier, as did watching his comrades die. He started to grow into the cold, calculating person he would be in the present day.
That was, until, he met a woman.
The now 22-year-old got injured a lot, be it in active duty or in training. And there was a particular nurse that would always just so happen to be on duty whenever it was he ended up at the infirmary - a young lady around the same age.
Her face was now a distant memory - but her smile, the lieutenant could picture that as clear as day.
"I love you."
It surprised him that he was able to utter those words - but he knew from the day they met.
And the more they spent time together, it seemed like it became a little easier for Capri to take his mind off the bleak memories of the civil war. Combat was no longer the only thing he thought about.
"Never thought I'd see the day I look forward to getting my ass beat."
"As sweet as that is, you don't have to get injured to come see me, ya know."
"Yeah, but, if it gets me an extra ten minutes, it's worth it."
He found himself smiling a lot, back then.
"So when I found out we were having a kid, I couldn't wipe the grin off my face for like a week."
Capri began to dream of things besides rising through the ranks of the military. The kind of life that had seemed impossible to return to now seemed to be everything he could ever possibly dream of.
Together, they decided their future - they'd wait until the child was born, and then Capri was going to quit and search for a regular job. Somewhere far away from Lumière. They could get by on their savings, and his beloved could become a nurse anywhere they wanted.
Things seemed bright.
And for a single moment, when their daughter Aurora Petridis was born, Capri felt complete. He truly believed this was why he was here, why he had survived that horrific war - to hold the hand of his beautiful child and look upon the face of his beloved.
"I thought I was supposed to live for both of you."
But that moment came to a sudden, tragic end.
The doctors swarmed her, trying to bring her back.
The risk of death during childbirth is low. But even for the most technologically advanced nation in human history, that risk isn't zero. And for some reason, destiny had decided that the love of Capri Petridis' life wasn't meant to see her child grow up.
The man didn't get it. He didn't understand what they meant by, "she didn't make it,".
"What the hell are you talking about? Why are you telling me that? You're telling me for all your technology, all your expertise, the most advanced empire in history... can't even save ONE WOMAN?!" He screamed at the doctors, the look on his face growing more desperate with every second. "Give her BACK! It's not fair! She and I... have served this empire practically all our adult lives... and you can't even do this for her?!"
And so, Capri was left to look after their daughter, alone. He decided he couldn't quit the military anymore - he hadn't the drive to find another job, and he knew even an ounce more instability in their lives would make him lose it. Besides that, the dream of another life was pointless without her.
"I didn't... I didn't even get to marry her."
The years passed, slowly. Capri was forced to balance his job and raising his daughter. He knew it wasn't ideal - they were moved around a lot, and Aurora was constantly saying goodbye to her friends.
During this time, the man continued to rise through the ranks, all in an effort to make their lives easier - and eventually even managed to become an officer, a First Lieutenant. The position he would, of course, remain at.
He found a strange sense of comfort in that life. He could never call himself "happy" - he missed the woman he loved far too much for that. But Aurora gave him strength. Knowing she'd be there when he got home was reason enough to get home, no matter what he was faced with, or forced to do.
"To kill, to make others suffer, then go home and see your daughter the next day... you have to start turning off a part of you. And for your sake, Aurora... to give you some semblance of regular life, I was willing to do it. For better or worse."
Every now and then, Aurora would bring up her mother, curious and confused.
"Daddy, why isn't Mommy here?" she asked, one late evening when Capri had taken her to a playground.
The question made Capri's throat hurt, but he answered anyway. "I'm not really sure, sweetheart. I know that she wanted to be. More than anything else."
The girl paused for a moment. She didn't really get it, but even her young mind told her that dwelling on it would make her father sad.
"So... did Mommy like it when you smoke?" she continued rather sarcastically, pointing at the cigarette in the man's hand.
"What? Smoking? What are you... talking about? This is just... how do you know smoking is bad, anyway? Who have you been talking to, Aurora?" the man replied with a chuckle, and the girl burst into laughter.
"Your mom didn't know about the smoking, actually... I picked it up again after she went."
Truly, his daughter was everything to him.
Around the time Aurora turned eighteen, Capri had come to serve under Doctor General Azazel, and they had moved to the city. The lieutenant didn't know what to make of his superior, but life in the city turned out better for them, so he had no reason to question the decision.
But it was around this time that Capri's life would begin to take a turn. Once again, his peace was to be interrupted, and both he and Aurora found their lives thrown into turmoil. You see, when one comes of age, they reach Magical Maturity - and their Signature Spell manifests.
The spell that Aurora manifested, though...
...it was of the Wild Card.
Those who bear the Wild Card, each take on a "Curse". And that curse began to affect their lives in a major way - until neither of them could take it anymore. Aurora fell deep into despair, and the lieutenant was beside himself seeing his daughter in such pain.
And so, he went to his superior.
"Please, Doctor... you have to cure her. I don't care if she loses the ability to use magic forever, you just have to get rid of that damn curse!" the lieutenant begged.
And with a twisted smile on his face - one Capri would never forget - Azazel agreed.
Aurora was sent to live at the Doctor's research facility, and every day, her father would try to go check on her - only for Azazel to say that they were still conducting research, and she couldn't have visitors.
The man worried to no end, but he trusted his superior to find a cure. After all, he was said to be some kind of genius - one of the greatest minds the Stratus Empire had to offer, who had gained his rank solely due to the absurd number of contributions he'd made to the nation's technological and scientific progress within his lifetime.
So Capri waited.
And after months...
He was finally reunited with his daughter.
"I have no more use for this one," the Doctor simply stated, with no hint of remorse in his voice. In fact, there was no emotion at all in his speech. It was like he wasn't referring to a human being anymore - he was talking about an object. "It broke, you see."
Aurora was slumped over, on the floor. She was still alive - but she didn't respond, no matter how many times her father called her name.
He carried her home, begging her to say something the entire way.
When they got back, Capri placed her on her bed, and that's exactly where she stayed.
She rarely moved, she hardly ate, and she never uttered a word. The look in her eyes was like that of a broken doll. Sometimes, the lieutenant felt compelled to check if she was even still breathing.
"I didn't know what to do. I felt so powerless... and at the same time, I felt like it was my fault."
Capri's world stood still.
He'd go to work, and all of it would blur together - until he was there, standing before his catatonic daughter once more. Like that image was all there was.
Sometimes he yelled. He didn't know how to process all the pain he was feeling.
He was desperate for something, anything, any kind of response.
Until a little over a month since Aurora had come home. When got back from work that day, he felt different. For the first time since that nightmare had started, he felt calm. Like he was slowly beginning to process it all.
So, he knocked on her bedroom door and just began talking.
"Aurora, listen, I... I know things have never been perfect. I know I haven't been the best Dad I could've been, and I know that, no matter how much I've tried, you never had the normal childhood you deserved. So if that... what I'm trying to say is, if whatever happened is too much for you to talk about with me, I get it." As he spoke, he placed his hand on the doorframe. He'd never been good at things like this, and he hadn't had to do anything like it in a long time. So no matter how much he tried, he couldn't stop his heart from pounding. "I get it, but... you're all I got, Aurora. So I'll do... whatever it is you need me to do, to make this right, you hear? I know you're still in there, I know it... I'm sure you can hear me. So... just... whenever you're ready, alright? I'm here. And if I'm not what you need then... we can go to some kind of specialist or something. Just... whenever you're ready, sweetheart."
He put his ear to the door. Suddenly, he felt a pit in his stomach. For some reason, the man felt, very strongly, that he should check if she was still breathing once again, as he'd done many times before.
Slowly, he gently opened the door.
What Lieutenant Capri Petridis saw when he peered into that room was something no parent should have to see. What he felt was something no parent should ever have to experience.
Whatever the mad doctor had put the girl through had been too much for her to live with.
She had taken her own life.
"No... no... no... no...! No... sweetie, wake up...! Aurora, wake up, PLEASE!" Without thinking, he ran over to where her body hung and clutched her wrist. She was cold, but the lieutenant didn't flinch. All he felt, all he saw, was his little girl.
And from that day forward...
Capri would never be the same.
Every single thought, every single feeling, every single cell in his body burned with one desire alone.
"I'll make the Doctor pay."
But he soon realised that task would take time.
"I figured out real fast that there was no way I could kill the Doctor myself, at least yet... he never went anywhere without that girl by his side. And I knew I couldn't beat the Reaper myself. She'd gut me in an instant."
So he resolved to bide his time. Every single action he took was to get closer to that goal.
But Azazel knew the man would be after him - so the General kept Capri at a distance. But close enough that he could still keep an eye on him. At least, that's what the lieutenant surmised.
He would seem to get passed up for promotion again and again, and assigned to missions away from the city - while never being transferred out of it.
The longer time went on, the more twisted the man grew and the hotter his hatred burned. He fully embraced turning into the cold, calculating person he'd almost become once before. And yet again - the lieutenant thought he'd found his answer to why he was still here.
"To kill that bastard."
He truly believed that, for better or worse.
That was, until, he met a party of four, on a routine assignment. Among them, a girl who had the same kind of power as Aurora - as well as the young man determined to make her Queen.
In their first meeting, the young man completely overwhelmed the lieutenant - who, by then, had over thirty years of experience.
And yet, all he felt was relief.
"In six long years, I'd accomplished nothing... and those kids, fresh on their journey, beat me in a day."
For Capri, It was humbling. In the most refreshing way possible.
And as he recovered from their fight, he couldn't stop himself from thinking it over, countless times.
"Those kids, they could do it. No... if anything, with the path they're on, they'll definitely end up clashing with the General. And let's be real, after that display... they have a far better chance of winning than I ever could."
And so, for the final time, he thought about why he was still here.
About that which they called destiny.
It wasn't a particularly great reason... but it brought him a sense of satisfaction he hadn't felt in a long time.
"Let me be your villain... your stepping stone."
He couldn't just run and join them. He'd have the Reaper on his back in a second. And if he tried to start explaining in full, who knew if Apollo would believe him - or if Azazel would find a way to interfere.
So he decided... as long as he could do something, it was enough.
That thought kept him going, throughout his and Apollo's final fight.
He didn't want to fight the young man. He wanted to sit down with him, tell his story, warn of things to come. Tell him he was sorry, and that he believed in him. He wanted to talk to that sliver-haired girl again, the one that reminded him so much of his daughter, and say what he should've said last time.
All of these truths, he wished could say.
But Capri's was a story destined to never be told.
All he could do was say one thing, right at the very end.
"Keep that queen of yours away from the doctor."
And with a smile on his face, Lieutenant Capri Petridis departed to be with his daughter, once again.
Leaving his clueless opponent to stand there, baffled by what he had just heard.
"What... the... hell?"
Apollo didn't understand. He didn't know why the man would say that, after pushing them so far. After all of the things they'd said, and the blows they'd exchanged. He never would.
"You... you crazy bastard...! Why would you do that?! Why the hell... would you risk it all to beat me...? And... how dare you say something like that?!" he yelled, gasping for breath. The adrenaline was starting to wear off, and he was beginning to feel pain throughout his entire body.
Apollo tried taking a step forward. He still hadn't noticed the blood spilling from his wounds, and he was having trouble figuring out why the ground was suddenly getting so much closer than before.
"Dammit... I guess we'll... call this one a draw..." he muttered, his voice reaching the ears of no one.
As his body hit the concrete, the final thing the young man heard was Mirri calling his name.
And then... all seemed to disappear, as he was pulled into the dark abyss of unconsciousness.