“This is the best way to bond!”
Rex raises his hand and clinked glasses with his friends around the table. Most of the Blades were dining outside, together, claiming they had stuff to talk about that didn’t involve their Drivers. Brighid had worn a grimace of distaste following Mythra and Nia outside.
It left their Drivers, and all the unconventional Blades, drinking inside the inn.
“Are you not too young for this, Rex?” Fiora inquired with a knowing smile. “We wouldn’t want to jeopardize you…”
Ready to retort, Zeke beat Rex to it, though the younger boy glared at him with exasperation: “It’s juice. We can’t have our little leader man here getting tipsy.”
“Well, in the Salvagers’ code-“
“Kids don’t drink. Such codes mean nothing then.” Mòrag added as she sipped on her beverage, soon followed by Elma, who downed her cup in a single motion. Fiora giggled and followed suit, though Shulk, visibly more reluctant, took a painful gulp that resulted in him trying to spit his guts out.
“This is nothing like what we’ve got on Bionis…” Shulk rubbed his chin repeatedly. Rex gave him an odd look, paired with a sly smile, and handed him his own drink, which Shulk gulped down rapidly. After coughing some more, he settled back down, Fiora tapping a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“You’ll get used to it, blondie. What kinda stuff do you have in your world?” Zeke inquired.
“Saltier things, and our drinks are usually a lot less… sugary”, Fiora supplied. “We’re not very fond of sugar. It’s nice to taste new things, though! The veggies here in Alrest are something else! That stew we made the other day was divine. The dish was from Mor Ardein, was it?”
“Mor Adain”, came Mòrag’s correction. “You liked it that much?”
At Fiora’s excited voice, Elma spoke up: “I cannot blame her. We have amazing cooks in our team. Both Pyra and you, Fiora. I know some people who would love to have a taste at what you’re making us daily. This significantly boosts team morale, and therefore increases our chances of victory.”
“That’s the military woman talking”, Zeke piped in. “There has to be something you love to eat that doesn’t remind you of war.”
“Actually, there is. Seafood is my favorite, this one Earth specialty called ‘sushi’, if you’ve ever heard about it.”
They gave her a puzzled look, at which she sighed pointedly.
“It’s a Japanese meal I used to eat it quite a lot back on Earth. Otherwise, everything my friend Lin makes is delicious.”
“And? Does Lin boost troop morale?”
Fiora elbowed Zeke in the ribs.
“She does. I’m sure you would get along well with her.”
“About that sushi, if you know the recipe, I’m sure Pyra would help us make it for you!”
Elma considered Fiora’s words and answered with a modest smile compared to Rex’ wide grin, though her face reflected her thoughts of asking the Aegis Blade. “I’d love to try and recreate it.”
“And you, Mòrag? Your favorite dish?” Fiora inquired, her eyes glistening. “I need to keep track of everyone’s tastes…”
“I like the meat found in Alba Cavanich. I’ll take you someday. Mor Ardain has some amazing butchers, you’d make one impressive stew with these wares, though I’d rather have some barbecue.”
“Barbecues are a thing here?” Elma wondered out loud, brushing her hair away from her face. “Now that’s unexpected. I wonder where the similarities with Earth end.”
Seeing Zeke roll his eyes, Fiora chuckled and announced: “I could maybe use vegetables from Zeke’s homeland and mix them with your homeland’s meat, no? That would make an impressive serving, I’m sure.”
To her amusement, the prince and the Special Inquisitor both grimaced. She laughed harder when she saw Shulk’s forehead wrinkle at the thought, punching his shoulder lightly, at which he giggled hesitantly.
“I’m not asking Zeke, I feel like he’d eat anything, even if it were off the ground.”
Rex roared his laughter. Elma lifted her eyebrows, expressing her concerns about Rex’ drink containing somehow alcohol. Mòrag eased her worry down, explaining it was his usual behavior at the inn. That he liked to make a spectacle out of himself.
“He is just a wee boy, let him have his fun”
“I’m not a kid! I’m not your kid! I’m not anyone’s kid! Now leave me alone, dammit!”
Fiora’s voice died down instantly. She tilted her head with concern as she eyed Rex’s punch on the table. She threw a glance at Elma and Mòrag, who had both raised their heads at the noise, interrupting them as they started to talk about Mor Ardain’s military. Targeted by both Elma’s and Fiora’s inquiring gazes, Mòrag reassured them with a curt nod that it was a not so uncommon occurrence with Rex.
The kid stormed off. By the looks of it, he was going to see one of his Blades, probably not Mythra, though. Since her arrival and her joining up with Rex, Elma had quickly understood the different dynamics of the group. Blades tend to obey their Drivers like – and Heavens forbid someone heard this thought of her – pets, always eager to please and quickly silenced. Though, Rex’ reaction isn’t something she could’ve planned. Humans, no matter the world, really were mysterious…
Back in their rooms, the women address the situation.
“Zeke tends to baby him a lot, and Rex cannot stand it. That would explain his reaction.”
“So do you, in a way”, Elma noted. “Don’t take offense.”
“None taken. I try not to, but you must admit, it’s quite the arduous task. He is often reluctant to talk back to me, which is why I try a bit harder than those two, I guess.”
“Poor boy…” Fiora muttered, then clasped her hands on her mouth as she realized the meaning of her words. “I mean…! Oh, I get it. He is quite young, we all know that. And he’s got so much to shoulder! We have room to worry…”
“I know one too many children with too many responsibilities for their young age, forced into this predicament by circumstances they could not influence…” Elma’s words echoed in the room. “I try to lessen the weight on Lin’s shoulders, but I’ve learned with time that this type of children grows resilient and then drown themselves in more difficulties.”
“I think the same. Mor Ardain is ruled by the Emperor, who happens to be my younger brother. Much younger brother. I do not doubt his abilities or his decisions, but sometimes his resolve. A mind not yet fully ripe can be so easily… defeated.”
“I wouldn’t put it past ill-intentioned people to try and manipulate them, but Mor Ardain is standing today, and from what you told me, is fairing quite well as a nation. Only impressive leadership skills could let Mor Ardain amount to such heights.” Elma commented with a strangely soft tone.
“But you wish better for your brother, no?” came Fiora’s sweet inquiry. “Don’t want to put words in your mouth, though.”
“I think you addressed it quite properly. It’s hard to see him sometimes, his face wrinkled by inhuman worry…”
“I know someone like that too”, Fiora piped in. “A friend of mine, she has a brother who thought he could right the world on his own. In the end, he put himself in dangerous situations, but… you know, every child we’ve just talked about, the three of them, although they have a lot of work ahead of them, they act for the greater good, don’t they? You don’t see people this young, either forced into it or not, act wickedly. I think it’s as Elma said. They need help, our help, to alleviate their burdens and to make life smoother, right?”
“I wish they could meet. Our kids.”
Fiora chuckled at Mòrag’s wording, who didn’t understand what she could have said wrong. Elma sported a small smile as well, nodding wordlessly.
“Well, I think we have a boy to cheer up, don’t we?” Elma stood up, taking her empty glass with her to bring it back to the innkeeper. Mòrag sighed with a tone that could have been sad, or tired perhaps, but she followed suit and asked Fiora to go fetch Pyra. They needed all the help they could get their hands on.
It was Elma who knocked on Rex’ door. They decided it amongst themselves, between hushes and worries, realizing that she was their best bet. She knew him since only recently and she, as she worded it herself, didn’t have that “motherly” attitude going for her. Fiora knew she’d take pity of the boy and would show it and resigned herself to talking with Zeke in the common room to brief him on their mission. Mòrag knew Rex since the beginning of his adventures, so he may have been able to see right through her stoic face, so she was supposed to come into play later
They hadn’t thought it all through, but Elma still felt like it would all work out. Rex didn’t seem like the complicated kind of person.
She knocked twice, then spoke up:
“Rex? May I speak with you? I have questions I think only you can answer.”
It doesn’t happen immediately, but the door does open, showing Rex’s scowl as well as his forced, tired grin.
“Hey, Elma. I’m, uh… What do you need?”
“I have questions about Alrest and its wonders, but especially about Blades. As the wielder of the Aegis, I figured you’d be the best person to turn to, although I have yet to comprehend the meaning behind the term ‘Aegis’.”
“I… I see. Listen, I’d love to answer, I swear, but I’d like to be alone right now…”
“Alone? It doesn’t sound quite like you. Is it because of what Zeke said?”
“It’s not… It’s not... I need me time, I guess.”
“Are you certain? I could get your grandfather, if you’d like. Or I could lend you my attentive ears.”
Rex seemed to ponder the pros and the cons but was quick to make up his mind. He leaned against the doorframe and asked in his most serious tone of voice:
“Do you think I behave like a kid?”
“I would say it depends. Do you have a concrete example?”
“If I were to, like, jump in a fountain… that’s in front of the inn… would that be childish?”
“In a way, yes. But is that really a problem?”
“When Zeke calls me out for it in front of everyone, it sure as hell is! I was having fun with Floren, and he just…”
Fuming, Rex crossed his arms on his chest and heaved a puff. His salvager’s armor clinked as its parts collided with each other. This thing was way too large for his small frame, but Elma liked the confidence he boasted with this attire.
“I think it’s not fair”, he went on. “When he acts like a fool, he’s just an idiot. When I do, I’m an idiotic kid who can’t look after himself! Also, he brought Floren to tears.”
“That’s very irresponsible of him. How is Floren doing?” Elma asked, although unsure of who Floren is.
“Fine, I guess. Brooding in a corner. I mean, it’s only logical! If Zeke stopped being self-centered for onc-“
“Zeke is a prince. He was raised to give orders and make an example of himself, you know.”
At least, that’s how she figured princes were raised.
“Please. He disrespected his father in front of all of us and committed blasphemy at least three times just today. Being a prince doesn’t justify his jerky attitude.”
“I can relate to the sentiment, but tensions in a group always lead to defeat in some kind of way. Shutting yourself out, as our leader, will destabilize the bases upon which our bonds forged themselves… All that to say that you should talk to Zeke.”
“You know what? I will talk to him, but only so he can apologize to Floren.”
That’s as good as it can get, Elma reflected as Rex stomped his way towards the common room. Really, by coming from Mira to this place, she didn’t think it would mean trading the Ganglion supporters for petty bickering. Though it was a brutal change of pace, she couldn’t say she disliked it. She could still fight and train and keep fit, and there wasn’t the whole ordeal of hierarchy from the BLADE.
Alrest was an interesting world for sure, in more than one way. In all her space travels, she had never heard of other human races, and she had made her research thoroughly. To learn now that humanity was split in three was quite the shock. Be it Homs, or Rex’ kind of human, or the one from the Earth she knew…
She had to find the common points. She had to find a reason, an explanation to all this. She has worked her whole life for humanity’s future, so her mission on Alrest wasn’t any different from her work on Mira. And for reasons unknown, she was convinced there was something much bigger than all of them on Alrest. Much bigger than what she’s ever planned…
She walked towards the common room as well, shrugging in Mòrag’s direction after noticing her inquiring gaze.
Rex had already made his way to Zeke, who had been talking with Fiora. Watching the whole act play out, Fiora winced at Rex’ tone. The boy was angry and wanted it to be known.
Elma disregarded her previous concerns, keeping them for later, as Fiora stood up abruptly and chained Zeke to herself, clinging on his arm as she led him outside, where she threw him in the fountain.
That hadn’t been part of the plan.
The furious air she boasted was enough to shush any complaint from Zeke, who looked away as Fiora ranted on, and on, and on about how “an adult with a child’s mind shouldn’t make fun of his younger peers for their innocence”, something Elma could find humor in.
Mòrag, on the other hand, seemed ready to turn around and desert the scene, though she changed her mind as soon as Fiora took notice of Floren, sitting cross-legged next to the inn’s entrance, tending to white flowers without his usual passion. The Blade was lifted by the shoulders and she took him to the fountain, where she pointed an accusing finger towards Zeke, then forced him to apologize.
Without surprise, the situation escalated. Floren insisted that it was okay, then Rex joined in and, by fully ignoring Zeke, asked Floren if he wanted to have fun in the fountain again. It got Poppi’s attention, who pushed both boys into the water with a cry.
If there is any way to sum up how it all ended, let it be known that their little group had fun, under Elma and Mòrag’s watchful eyes.