Chapter 38: For A Better Tomorrow
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The sounds of hoofs upon cobblestone slowly came to a halt, and along with it, the large carriage returning from Norin stopped amidst the main street of the Almeran Capital. 

 

As it opened, Amaragi was the first to step outside and into the familiar cold air, feeling it freshly upon her skin. For a brief moment, she simply seemed to absorb and bask in it when a small breeze caused her hair to flutter in the wind, staring up into the darkened sky. 

 

But not soon after she turned around to face the carriage once more before extending a hand. 

 

And Maren was swift to follow her outside, accepting her hand with a wordless thanks in his eyes. 

 

However, instead of marveling at the familiarity of being here once more, Maren's gaze immediately wandered to the many burnt and ashen buildings all around them. Once tall and proud buildings, housing a multitude of people, now lay in ruins. Debris still littered the ground on every street, and even now, he could see all of the citizens working together to help and try to clear the streets, attempting to rebuild what was lost. 

 

And Maren doubted that he could truly understand the full capacity of the destruction that had once wreaked the capital, now that more time had passed and the reconstruction was already in the process. 

 

Of course, Amaragi was not oblivious to his staring. Neither was she oblivious towards the damage. Towards her people, who were holding together despite what they had witnessed. 

 

Whether or not Maren simply did not want to speak about it or he deliberately chose not to for her sake, she did not know. 

 

But amidst it all, her hand subconsciously clenched together in regret either way. 

 

'... you burned them to the ground, along with anything they might have held dear-'

 

His voice was echoing in her mind regardless. 

 

'… I did not want that…!'

 

Her eyes abruptly clenched together as wave after wave came crashing down upon her. She had no choice… what else should she have done…? 

 

Inevitably, Maren became aware of her internal struggle, wanting to reach out a hand-

 

-but suddenly, her eyes opened again and her sharp gaze met his own, immediately causing him to stop amidst his own actions. 

 

There was a flame burning in her eyes. 

 

"Come with me." 

 

Her voice was neither forceful nor angry. It was determined

 

Without truly waiting for a reply, she gently took his hand into her own before she all but pulled him alongside with her, and Maren was quick to fall into step with her to try and match her pace, questions lingering in his mind. 

 

What was she suddenly-

 

Even before, upon their arrival, the return of the Imperial carriage and troops had gained the attention of any citizen nearby, drawing one pair of eyes after another to the many soldiers who successfully returned from the war. 

 

However, as Maren watched in a daze where Amaragi was taking them both, he soon recognized the familiar marketplace where they had both met for the very first time. Most of the stands were ruined, yet it was here where most of the citizens and people assembled to clear most of the debris littering the main gathering place. 

 

Having seen the crown princess simply striding off on her own, the escort delegation of the carriage was soon following after her and Maren, gaining more and more attention of the people upon the marketplace. 

 

But even before they reached Amaragi, the moment she calmly ascended a large pile of debris, she wordlessly gazed at Maren to do the same as she helped him up to stand with her, being able to overlook the entirety of the marketplace. 

 

And by now, every last pair of eyes was upon them. 

 

Each and every citizen stopped amidst their activities, whether or not they were carrying something, in order to look up at their crown princess as she stood tall upon the pile of debris. 

 

Maren grew entirely self conscious in that moment as it turned eerily quiet, only able to hear how even their soldiers seemed to stop for a moment once they saw what Amaragi intended to do, before they took up positions accordingly beside and around the large pile to stand guard. 

 

Yet, before Amaragi spoke a single word, she silently turned to face Maren again and gave him a warm and reassuring smile. 

 

"... thank you… I don't think I could do it now without you…

 

He gasped at the barely audible whisper that was solely for him to hear before she turned to face the crowd once more. 

 

And the determination all but resurfaced in her eyes. 

 

"People of Almera!" 

 

Her voice was strong, reaching every last corner of the marketplace, radiating confidence with every word. 

 

"Today I stand before you, my beloved people, amidst the destruction that has wrought over our home. We all remember the day when Norin has come to our doorstep, despite all of our efforts to see beyond our past, to reach out a hand in friendship. Now, they have become the very aggressor they themselves have preached to blame, destroying our land in their wake."

 

Amaragi's voice never faltered as Maren listened to each word, looking at her intently from behind with an unreadable expression. 

 

"... but we have endured! We have shown strength in our hour of need, we have defeated Norin in a combined assault at the heart of their kingdom, and seeing you all now, hand in hand, standing together to help each other in a sense of unity, it fills me with joy!" 

 

A loud and enormous cheer followed not soon after. 

 

Emotion seeped into her voice. Moderate, enough to be recognized, but still true and genuine. For it was enough for the people to look at each other fondly, whether some of them were already standing together in a combined effort, or to see how everyone stood assembled here now at this place. 

 

And still, for a brief moment, Amaragi barely lowered her head, her eyes drifting towards where she knew Maren was standing behind her out of the corner of her vision, even if he could not see it. 

 

"However, I know better than to simply forget our past. I know, in the wake of our Emperor, Norin has suffered greatly from our previous desire for conquest, leaving their land and people in peril, desiring for revenge. I know… that you all yourself have suffered greatly in these daring and difficult times!"

 

Her eyes shifted back to the people, and she could see that now they were all looking at her intently. 

 

"Even without war, you struggled each day to ensure a new tomorrow, taking merit of what you still possessed and could call your own, despite the harsh reality. Seeing this, my heart bled each day, knowing for the first time in my life what it truly meant to be helpless. And now, even now, when debris is littering our homes and streets, you stand strong and united to face whatever peril awaits you, ready to overcome these obstacles no matter what. It is your strength, your will, the will of you all that I admire. That I alone would never possess."

 

And suddenly, the fierce determination in her eyes burned anew. 

 

"But I have learned. Just like you, I have learned to lean upon others for help, to try and overcome obstacles not alone, but together! And from now on, from this day forward, I vow to you all, as the crown princess of this land…" 

 

Her hand clenched together into a fist and she raised it aloft with pure and utter conviction. 

 

"... I will do everything in my power to ensure that you will never have to endure any of this ever again!" 

 

And for the second time, growing even more enormous than before… 

 

… the people cheered. 

 

With bated breath, Maren watched as the people upon the marketplace raised their hands aloft alongside her, and within their eyes, he could see a true glimmer. A glimmer of hope. Of wanting to believe in Amaragi's words as she spoke out her heart. 

 

She had struck a chord. 

 

Only when the cheer slowly but surely died down did Amaragi lower her hand to speak anew. Her voice now moderate once more. 

 

"I promise that I will do everything so that the destruction may not leave a single trace anymore while the Emperor is unable to. As I am sure you have heard of the grim news, our Emperor was severely injured in the battle for our capital. As such, I will do all I can to ensure a new course of action as long as I remain responsible. However, know that I will not be your Emperor. Know that I will never be someone who stands above you to look down on you all. Know that I will always only be your crown princess, in service to you and no other, who wishes for nothing more than for your lives to prosper, as I do for our country."

 

This time, as Amaragi's speech came to an end, there was no cheer. Instead, one after another, the people clapped into their hands, looking up at her silently but with no less amount of respect. 

 

And instead of her people, it was Amaragi herself who bowed deeply to them before she descended from the pile alongside Maren. 

 

Only when she was back upon the ground, the pile partly hiding them from view, did Amaragi silently let her eyes linger intently upon Maren, hoping to be noticed. 

 

And yet, the latter seemingly stared into the air for a moment, before finally catching her gaze. 

 

Thus, it became too much for her to bear. 

 

"... how… was I…?" 

 

Again, he stared for a moment upon seeing how, ever so often, whereas before, her eyes had spoken of nothing but utter confidence, strength and conviction, here she was now, almost sheepishly looking at him for confirmation. 

 

"You have spoken your mind."

 

Her eyes widened, lips parting slightly. 

 

"You have actually opened yourself up to them, whether or not you have completely realized it. And they appreciated it, I'm sure of it." 

 

For a brief second, he glanced at the ground, before he silently took one of her hands into his own. 

 

"... thank you… I know what you have meant. And I know also that you meant every single word by heart." he looked into her eyes with a small but genuine smile. She regretted her actions deeply, even though she thought them to be necessary. And she did not solely blame Norin, despite what they had done. 

 

Amaragi was silent herself for a moment, utterly staring at him, before slowly but surely, he could see the vulnerability she finally allowed to show. 

 

"I desperately hope I can keep my promise…" and she lowered her head to the ground. 

 

Of course, she was not naive. Whatever remains of Norin's forces were scattered throughout the former kingdom, they would not relent. And they were not the only enemy they had… Glenrock still remained, even if they had not been the primary focus before. 

 

But not even just that… it was true what she had said. She would try anything in her power to help and protect her people for as long as her father was not in charge, to repent for her own actions, but if or once he recovered… she would assume her role as the second in line once more. 

 

And yet… a small part of her hoped that her people would at least believe in her now instead of her father… 

 

Her eyes widened once more when she felt the sudden warmth around her hands, looking up to see that Maren was wordlessly giving her a reassuring smile. 

 

He believed in her. 

 

As her heart began to clench with unspoken thoughts, her lips hesitantly parting slightly in the intent to speak about something that had been in her mind for a long time-

 

"Magi…" 

 

-she was suddenly interrupted when a familiar voice cut through her thoughts. 

 

Both her and Maren turned their attention towards the figure that had seemingly soundlessly approached them. 

 

And Maren could hear the small and almost inaudible gasp escaping Amaragi's lips when she locked eyes with her younger sister. 

 

Namagi stood just a small distance away from her, for once, her oversized saber nowhere to be seen, as she simply opted to stare at Amaragi. They both did. 

 

And needless to say, even Maren could tell that there was an unspeakable tension in the air. 

 

Amaragi's eyes faltered as much as Namagi's did, namely not in the slightest, but even so, the sheer glimmer in Amaragi's gaze revealed the regret within them, as did the barely recognizable pain in her expression. 

 

But in the end… 

 

… in a brief second, Namagi spared a glance at Maren before looking back at her sister, and ultimately, her shoulders faltered slightly as she closed her eyes with a small sigh. 

 

"... nice speech there, I have to admit… didn't think I'd hear of something like that anytime soon." 

 

Her blank sense of humor returned, even if it was dulled as Namagi's lips formed a line. But her eyes spoke differently. 

 

And Amaragi could feel a weight lifting off her heart, just as her own eyes lifted slightly with a new kind of glimmer. 

 

"Though I don't think we should necessarily speak out here." 

 

Namagi glanced at the palace grounds in the distance, her intent clear. And Amaragi was quick to nod her agreement, glancing at Maren, who had no objections. Thus, she wordlessly took his hand once more before the three of them were on their way, the escort of guards not far behind. 

 

For there was apparently a lot to catch up to. 

 


 

AN:

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A like, a comment, a favorite
Each of them; I know how to savor it
To keep me writing for days~

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