Fandom: Baten Kaitos I: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean
Title: So Late Ago, Chapter 4 - Lost
Theme: #9 - body language
Rating: PG. Mention of character death. There will be F/F slash in future chapters - if that's not your cup of tea, stay clear. Spoilers for the entire game, so don't read it if you haven't finished.
Summary: Xelha discovers just how much the war has taken out of her former adversary.
There were whispers and stares all through Cursa. Xelha had been expecting a stir, but nothing quite this severe. It seemed that the whole town had somehow heard of Melodia's arrival - certainly a good three quarters of the population were lining the icy streets as they headed for the castle. The skydock was around the back of Kaffaljidhma and everything; they'd certainly gone out of their way to be here. A glance at the little heiress told Xelha that she was probably used to this. There was something horribly experienced in the way she looked at nothing. Every so often, though, something would tug at her gaze, almost bring her into eye contact with one of the onlooking crowd. Xelha wasn't sure, pressing on, whether that little flicker of something was pride or fear.
Typically, no sooner had they entered the castle (and supposedly the safest haven in Wazn) than the response to Melodia's arrival became a lot less passive.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
It was the kind of voice that people want to have on their side. Xelha had been glad of it, though perhaps a little embarrassed by it, on more occasions than she cared to number. Unfortunately, this time it seemed to be turned against her. Catranne's clawed shoes clicked across the icy floors with determined precision, and the bird-woman's feathers were severely ruffled as she glowered at the heiress. The effect was startling: Melodia, she who had laughed in the presence of death and destruction, almost seemed to recoil.
"What," Catranne demanded, "Grandpa get sick of you or something?"
Xelha was mortified. "Catranne!" she admonished, too late.
"...I suppose so," Melodia said quietly, looking anywhere but at the sneering bird-witch before her.
Catranne spread her wings in supplication. "Oh, so he sends you to bother us instead? That's just great!" Catching Xelha's eye, perhaps deciding that it wasn't worth aggravating her further, she headed for the nearest window. "You know what? I'll be up in my tower, well away from the danger zone. Someone call me if she goes psycho - I could do with an excuse to lay her out."
And she was away, taking to the air in an easy manner that filled her earthbound queen with silent, bitter envy. There was not long for it to simmer, though: light footsteps tinged with guilt were heading for the stairs, were half way up the stairs, though they did not know their way. Xelha followed her silent guest at a respectful distance, reasoning that trying to direct Melodia now would likely do more harm than good. One more voice telling her where to be and how to act could only be counter-productive. When the heiress reached one of the wide windows, however, an instinct probably at least half motherly prodded her to intervene.
"...Be careful," she warned quietly. "No glass in them. The spells only keep out the wind and the snow."
"I expect the hail gets in."
Melodia had not turned around. Her tone was haunting, almost faltering. Xelha swallowed. "...Some days."
"I know the kind."
And here they were, talking about nothing again. The Ice Queen ran one gloved hand through her hair, feeling captive snowflakes melt and seep in among the strands.
"...She was out of line," she tried, knowing how weak it sounded.
A shake of the pale head. "No. No she wasn't. ...Perhaps she was right, too. Perhaps I shouldn't have come."
No. "...Don't say that." You're welcome here. You are. This is not Catranne's castle, and you are welcome. "I wanted you to come. Please don't say that."
"I - " Melodia sighed. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be ungrateful."
She hadn't meant that. "You're not - "
"No, no, it's all right. I..." Those hands looked strange in gloves. Xelha wondered whether they were to keep the world out or to keep Melodia in. "...I sometimes wish I could go somewhere where I wouldn't trouble anyone. Somewhere with no one, perhaps. No one but me. Maybe then the world could have a little peace."
It was Xelha's turn to sigh. She could feel a headache creeping in at the corners of her eyes. "...How can you go on thinking you deserve this kind of treatment?"
When Melodia turned to meet her gaze, it was not the melancholy of it that struck Xelha like an iron-clad fist. It was the certainty.
"With all due respect, your Majesty," the little white lady answered, "how have you become so convinced that I don't?"
After that she had to let her go. A few murmured directions to the room she had set aside for her, and Melodia was gone.
It was not long before the weight of failure began to settle upon the Ice Queen's shoulders. Her arms wrapped around her, fingers curling into her jacket, she dropped on to the windowsill and gazed listlessly out into the gently falling snow. Minutes passed as she tried to think of nothing.
Time was, not so long ago, when that would have been Barnette's voice. Xelha's gaze dropped to her lap. One more thing she didn't want to remember.
"...I'm making a mess of this, Kodelle," she said quietly. "A complete mess."
"I am." She turned to look at the other with a pained expression. "I was so awkward, and then everyone was staring all the way here, and then Catranne, she - augh, and - and now Melodia's gone off alone and upset and here I am moping about it all."
The soft pearlescent halo shimmered silently as the First Witch approached, the amethyst crystals about her person catching its light and glittering. "Then perhaps my queen ought to pursue her guest," she suggested.
"What for? So I can upset her even more?" Kodelle gave her a Look. "...sorry. I know I shouldn't talk like that. I just...nothing seems to be going right. I meant well, Kodelle, I really did, and now it's come to be it's...it's..."
"Not quite what you were hoping for?"
"...yeah. Not what I was hoping for at all." She rose slowly from the windowsill. "I wanted to make her happy. Or stop her being so sad, at least. All I've done so far is make things worse - any sensible person would have tried to comfort her, and what did I do? I talked about the windows. I'm hopeless at this."
Kodelle's expression shifted only slightly, but Xelha knew this one - the witch was troubled. "I fear I'm equally inept, my Queen," she answered, "and my customary port of call for such matters is...notably absent."
Oh. Xelha didn't know quite what to say to that. She hadn't meant to remind Kodelle - goodness knew it was hard enough carrying the thought of Barnette's death herself. Nanny to three generations of Ice Queens, Xelha included, the elderly witch had been one of the sort everyone thinks will go on forever. Kodelle, Glamyss and Catranne did their best to fill the void, but for the First Witch in particular the strain was terrible. They had been close friends. Not that Kodelle would ever show her grief: unlike Xelha, it was not in her nature to be open.
The amethyst-clad witch was continuing. "...But if there's..." There - the pause was only slight, but she was faltering. "...anything I can - oh - "
Her queen had needed no further excuse for the embrace. Even if the tall witch was not the sort to initiate a hug, she did not seem about to complain.
"I miss her too," Xelha said softly.
Kodelle gave the sentiment only silent acknowledgement. One hand, encased in its customary crystalline gauntlet, rested carefully on the Ice Queen's back. "...If there's anything I can do..." she prompted, probably in an attempt to take the conversation away from painful subjects.
Xelha sighed. "Just...call Catranne off, could you, please? She always listens to you."
"Not always," Kodelle corrected gently, "but nonetheless I'll do my best, my Queen."
"Thank you...so much." The embrace was a little return to her former self - by the tone of her voice, Xelha felt sure that the dark-skinned witch was looking down at her with that little half-smile. "...I really need this to work out. Please don't ask me why - I just do."
"Ridiculous though it may sound," came the soft reply, "I think I understand." Letting Xelha go, Kodelle stepped back to a more respectful distance. A smooth movement of a hand too sharp to be graceful indicated the stairs. "Try, my Queen. Go after her. Do your best for her - surely she will appreciate the attempt if nothing else."
Xelha nodded. "All right. I'll try. ...Thank you."
As she hurried away, she wished she might have said something more - perhaps that Barnette would have been proud of her successor, or that she appreciated how hard Kodelle was working. Playing them over in her head, though, they all sounded patronising. Everyone was mourning Barnette, not just her closest friends - the loss was terrible no matter where you stood. Queen or not, there was no good in seeming to raise herself above Kodelle now.
Besides, she thought to herself, stopping in front of a door much like any other and raising a tentative hand to knock, she had never felt less like a queen - less like a credit to her departed friend - than she did today.
Three knocks, one-two-three in succession, echoed in the silent hallway.
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