"Alice!" Asbel called, cupping his hands around his mouth. "Please come out here, Alice!" He feared that the young girl had gotten herself into trouble as she was typically good at it. The auburn-haired boy stopped in the middle of road to take a quick glance around.
Suddenly all the color flushed from Hubert's face and Sophie traced his line of sight to a dark color painted onto the snow. "What's that?" She asked as she pointed to the area that Hubert was staring at.
The Captain walked over to the colored snow, already having an idea as to what it was. "Blood…" He muttered. "It's blood." Malik said nothing more as he clenched his teeth and tightened his fists.
"We need to hope that we're not thinking of what happened." Cheria replied as she looked off down the road. The blood was splattered on the ground rather than left in a trail so they had no way of finding Alice.
Just then there was a loud squawking noise that obviously belonged to a bird of some sort. The group took that as their lead and raced off the direction of the sound. As they grew closer to the continuous noise it became louder and louder until it was coming from the other side of a bush.
Asbel crashed through the line of bushes to see Alice take down a Strahteme, the squawking ceased immediately along with the bird's life. The princess retrieved the horn and tossed it into a pile of the horns. As the young girl turned around, Asbel wrapped his arms around her, pulling her face into his chest. "You idiot!"
She said nothing as the old friend hugged her tightly into his body. Alice was quietly enjoying the warmth of Asbel and didn't attempt to push him away as he spoke to her. "I can't believe you did that! Do you have any idea how worried I was?!" Asbel placed his neck on the princess's head before pulling her away to look her over. "You're alright?"
Alice nodded, "Y-Yeah, I'm alright." The princess looked down at her feet then slowly walked over to Captain Malik with a shameful look on her face. "Captain Malik…. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled at you like that…"
He shook his head, "No, I was too blind to see why you wanted to help those children so badly." Malik smiled. "You have a good heart; I understand now that you just didn't want that young girl to have to feel the same thing you're feeling now."
"There's like… Six… Seven… Eight Strahteme horns!" Pascal exclaimed as she examined the pile of materials. "Alice, you must be so tired!" She gathered the horns in her arms and looked up at the others before Alice. "We should head back to Velanik; it's getting pretty late."
Cheria nodded, "I agree. Without a doubt we're all very tired and it would do us all good to get some beauty sleep." She smiled as they began walking back down the road towards the small town. Alice had taken the horns from Pascal, carrying the bundle in her arms as she kept her gaze fixed on the glowing horns.
When they reached the inn of Velanik, the group was approached by an older couple. They had wrinkled skin around their eyes and thick clothing on to cover their already frail bodies. The woman came up to Alice and bowed to her, "Thank you very much young lady for gifted two horns to our inn." She smiled at the princess. "They will be of great use to us."
Alice appeared to be the happiest any of them had ever seen her. "Of course! It's my pleasure to help you in a time of need such as this." She then held the bundle of horns out to the woman. "Please, take these. I'm sure that this is more than enough for your multiple furnaces, correct?"
The two elders' eyes opened wide at the wealth of horns but neither placed a hand forward to touch them. "Oh my! You didn't have to do that for us, really! I can't accept these, it just wouldn't be right to take them from you."
"No please, I insist." Alice nodded. "My country has enough cryas so I wouldn't benefit from keeping these from you." The woman seemed slightly confused, "I'm from Windor; I assume you know our cryas position?"
The man bowed. "Your generosity is much appreciated, young lady. Please, allow us to repay you by giving you a free stay at our inn for the night. It's the most we can do for you since you were so kind as to simply give these to us."
Alice glanced around at the others and since none of them had any opposition, Malik nodded. "That would be very kind, thank you." They followed the elderly couple inside where it was much warmer inside. Alice set the horns down on one of the tables and she took a seat in front of the furnace.
Seeing the tired young girl at the fire, Asbel approached her and took a seat down beside her. "Hey, Alice?" He began while Malik and Pascal sat at the bar with Cheria took Sophie upstairs for a bath. Hubert remained near Asbel and Alice; seated not too far from the fire. When Asbel saw he had Alice's attention, he continued. "Are you alright?"
"What do you mean?" Alice asked. "I told you already that I wasn't hurt while fighting the Strahteme."
Asbel shook his head. "That's not what I meant." He saw the confusion on her face and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Earlier the Captain made you bring up your brother… You don't typically bring him up so I was just wondering if you'll be okay." Hesitantly, Alice nodded but the gesture wasn't accompanied by words. "Honestly, Alice. I can tell when you're lying."
She sighed and stared into the flames of the stove. "I know we're going to have to fight him again…" Alice muttered. "I don't want to hurt him but I know that it'll be much harder without me… It's just that… When I saw that little girl afraid to lose her brother; it reminded me of myself. The 'me' from seven years ago was so much like that and I just realized that I'm the same way now."
"There's nothing wrong with not changing…" Asbel assured her. "Back in Lhant, Sophie said that you and I were the only two who hadn't changed in the seven years we were all apart. Sometimes, remaining the same is a good thing."
Alice smiled, "That boy somewhat resembled Richard with his attitude. When I was little, nothing could stand in the way of my invincible brother. No matter what it was, he would always tell me that everything would be okay and I believed him because he was Richard; the big brother who was capable of anything." She rested her head on Asbel's shoulder. "Asbel… I'm starting to miss him even more…"
He let the princess rest her head and he sighed. "I know Alice, so do I." Asbel muttered quietly. "That's why we're going to do whatever it takes to make sure we get him back to you the way you remembered him. The way we both remembered him."
It was the middle of the night and Alice sat up in her bed, looking out the window to see snow plastered to the glass. With a low groan, she sat up in her bed and looked around, wondering how she had gotten there. The last thing she had remembered was sitting with Asbel in the main lobby so she figured someone carried her upstairs.
The bed across from Alice had been used but the person who was using the room had disappeared. Alice shivered despite having four thick blankets covering her plus the Captain's coat. She got out of the bed and wrapped two of the blankets around her body as she left her room to hear voices downstairs in the lobby.
Slowly, Alice made her way downstairs to find Malik and Pascal at the bar with Hubert standing not too far away. Alice stood at the corner, peering down at them without giving away her presence until the Captain looked up to see her standing there. "Princess; what are doing up?" He motioned for her to come downstairs. "Come warm up at the fire."
Alice hurried over to the bar and sat up on the stool. Although she was legally too young to sit there, Malik seemed to have no problem with having her simply standing there. "I'll make you some hot chocolate." He said before turning away as he heated up some water over a stove. "You're worried about tomorrow, aren't you?"
"Huh?" The princess had been caught off guard by the question but she soon sighed. "Yeah, I'm afraid we'll meet Richard again at the valkines… I'm afraid of what he'll do this time; if he'll attack me with such hatred imagine what he'd do to the rest of you." She seemed more worried about everyone else rather than herself.
Captain leaned over the counter and smiled at the blonde-haired princess. "Don't you worry a bit about the rest of us, alright? I will personally take up that as my responsibility." He assured her in his deep-toned voice. Malik turned around to finish making Alice's hot chocolate then placed it in front of her. "Be careful, it's hot."
As Alice took the cup from Malik, she raised the edge to her mouth and loot a small sip from the piping hot drink. It warmed her up instantly and the welcoming warmth reminded her of her older brother. She licked the chocolate from her upper lip then set the cup down while keeping her hands wrapped around it to stay warm.
"Strahta was too hot but Fendel's much too cold." Pascal exclaimed. "Captain how can you stand such cold weather? I'm dying here!" She leaned against the princess and nearly knocked her off the stool as Alice had to swing her arms to keep balance. Once both of them straightened, Pascal took a sip of her fruity alcoholic drink. "Does anyone know what time it is?"
Hubert approached the bar and placed an elbow on the counter but didn't take a seat for himself. "It's about two in the morning, I'd say. Much too early for a fourteen year old to be awake after recovering from a horrible illness." He sighed. "It may not be my place to say but I believe it's time for the princess to go back to her room."
The princess shook her head vigorously as she took a larger sip from the hot chocolate. "I will once I finish by drink…" Alice replied quietly. "Besides, it's freezing in my room since Cheria insisted that the window stay open a crack for fresh air. That really makes no sense to me if it's below freezing outside."
"Alice!" A voice shouted from upstairs as heavy footsteps descended to the lobby floor. "What are you doing up at this hour- And having hot chocolate?!" Cheria walked across the room to the bar and she placed her hands on her hips. "Captain, what are you doing letting her stay up and even giving her hot chocolate?!" She scolded the older man.
Alice sighed, "It' alright, Cheria. It just got cold and I couldn't sleep so I came downstairs." She smiled at the other girl as she took another sip from the hot chocolate only to have it snatched away from Cheria.
She looked down at her as she ushered the young princess off the chair. "You need to go to bed right now." Cheria ordered and guided her to the stairs as Alice walked upstairs reluctantly. "Honestly, Captain… She's too young to be staying up this late for hot chocolate."
Took me awhile to update this but here it is! I felt that Cheria was being a little neglected so I decided to give her a little limelight as a mother figure to Alice. Oh and in case you haven't noticed yet, I really like expressing the relationship between Alice and Malik. A lot. Also, I just realized that I have kind of been giving false hope to those AlicexAsbel fans and I'm sorry xD I didn't realize how much that appeared like the intended pairing.