Most of my notes on this story contain spoilers, so contrary to my usual practice, I'm putting them at the bottom. For now, suffice to say that the milieu and characters of this fanfic are all property of Nintendo and Monolith Soft. Oh, and this story takes place during the trip to the Valak Mountains.
The Cruel Heart
plot and script - Martin III
Even though the thrust of the discussion was now a purely academic point, Melia couldn't help but keep thinking about what Sharla said about Shulk. Her position on the matter was odd, even disturbing.
Even if one allowed that it was at all reasonable to think a romantic liaison between her and Shulk could be worthwhile, it was nothing short of bizarre that Sharla would be so prejudiced against this Fiora that she would favor Melia over her for a place in Shulk's heart. How could she feel so sure that Fiora would not be better suited for him? More importantly, the girl was in some sort of awful trouble, and Shulk apparently had a prior attachment to her. Did Sharla honestly think it was desirable for Shulk to betray Fiora for her?
If Shulk's affections were to prove as wayward as that, I could not continue to feel for him as I do. If... If this Fiora were to somehow be rescued from whatever trouble it is she is in, and cured, then with time Shulk's affections might turn to me, as unlikely as that is. But if his feelings for Fiora were to fade as easily as Sharla suggests, why would I trust his feelings for me?
Riki's voice broke her out of her reflections, and brought a cease to her absent-minded stroking of his furry belly. "What is it, Riki? Do you not like the way I'm doing this?"
"Oooo... Melly very distracted! Not notice that the pod has landed?"
"My goodness, you're right." She got to her feet, sending Riki tumbling down to the floor as well. "Let's get going."
Her shoes clacked against the metal pod as they disembarked. With the exception of Dunban, the others had all already gotten off and started walking. Melia felt just slightly embarrassed at this.
"What Melly thinking of, hmm?" Riki prodded.
"Oh, nothing. ...Nothing that matters, I mean." Even if there were no Fiora, Melia knew she could never have Shulk. As queen, she would be required to have not only a Homs consort, but a High Entia one as well. Shulk would never stand for that, nor did Melia feel he should. He deserved a wife's undivided affections.
I seem to have a habit of wanting men I can't have, Melia sighed to herself. First Kallian, then Reyn briefly, and now Shulk.
Of course, Kallian was a very different matter from Shulk or Reyn, she amended. Though she felt desire for Kallian, she had always loved him purely as a brother, never as a man. That had made it all the more appalling to her when she first realized the lust she felt for him. Like a hand jerking back from the touch of a hot stove, she had stifled the thought with all her mental strength.
But that, of course, did not hold. Weeks after, she had stumbled on the steps of the Imperial Villa, and Kallian had been near enough to catch her arm, preventing what might have been a bad fall. No one else was about. And she was flooded with the urge to pull her body against his statuesque masculine figure, to envelop his mouth with hers. Though she of course did not give in, the temptation deeply shook her faith in herself.
From that moment on, she accepted that her foul yearning could not be suppressed, only resisted. She reminded herself over and over that Kallian would be revulsed if he ever knew, and more importantly, that any fulfillment of such desires would be a betrayal of her love for him as her dear half-brother. But even her thoughts were enough to cause trouble. On one occasion, Lorithia noticed her looking at Kallian with an other-than-sisterly expression. Melia had frozen in terror, but Lorithia merely gave her a reproving look and turned away. She said nothing about the matter to either her or Kallian, and for that, Melia was eternally grateful.
But now, her corrupted impulses towards her brother had faded. She still found him as attractive as ever, a paragon of High Entia masculinity, but her attraction to him was no longer barbed with a sense of intense need. It was over... but only, it seemed, because similar feelings were directed first towards Reyn, and now Shulk. And that was worse, in a way, because unlike Kallian, Shulk aroused improper feelings beyond mere lust. She genuinely loved him as a man.
She quickened her pace a moment, so as to catch up with the target of her affections. "Pardon me, Shulk. May I have a word with you?" There was no answer. Melia prodded, "Shulk?"
"Hmm? What is it, Melia?"
He's thinking about her. She's all he'll be thinking about now. Melia reprimanded herself for these thoughts, reminding herself that she had no evidence that they were true. "Well, Shulk... I was wondering what you're planning to do when you find Fiora."
"Well, I... I don't know. Talk to her, I suppose. Find out what happened to her."
"I see." She allowed a pause, strictly for caution's sake. "And what will you do if you don't like the answers you find?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, if there's no way to get her back to how she once was. Or more precisely, if she doesn't want to go back to how she was."
He looked at her a moment, then shook his head. "We'll cross that bridge if we come to it. I have to at least know that she's alright."
"We may not have the luxury of dealing with things that way. Suppose she tries to kill us?"
"Then we defend ourselves, or if necessary, run. But I won't let Fiora be hurt."
"Even if she's the enemy?" The words were horribly cruel, Melia realized. Yet she could not deny a certain satisfaction in contemplating the possibility they suggested.
"She'll never be the enemy. You must have friends, don't you, that you know you'll always be friends with, no matter what?"
"Fiora's like that. I'll stand by her, no matter how hard it is, and I know she'd do the same for me."
"That's... a very admirable stance to take, Shulk."
"Admirable" wasn't really the right word for it. Melia could feel her breath quickening, and she was glad that Shulk was paying little attention to her, for otherwise he was likely to have noticed the blush suffusing her cheeks.
There could be no good reason for feeling this way; she'd barely exchanged a word with Shulk since they met in Makna Forest. And what little Melia knew of him was unfavorable: he was intelligent, but weak-willed, stubborn, and often rude. Hardly the sort for the hope of the High Entia people to want as a consort. His friend Dunban had far more attractive qualities. Yet there it was: she was drawn to Shulk. Possibly it was simply that he was the first male Homs she'd encountered, and therefore wielded the lure of the exotic. Dunban fit that same bill, but was perhaps too aged for her to feel that way towards him.
But Melia could not but acknowledge that her feelings for Shulk had started when she had been told about Fiora. Before then, she had barely spared a thought for him. As much as she hated to admit it, this made it more than probable that there was a connection, that it was only knowing that Shulk's love had been signed away to another woman that made him attractive. The same thing worked with Reyn; it seemed clear to her that he was taken with Sharla. Her cruel heart always pulled her towards men she could not have.
She wished now that she had said something against Sharla's plan. If something unexpected were to happen on their quest, Sharla might act in a way that would damage Shulk's relationship with Fiora, under the mistaken assumptions that he had feelings for Melia and that Melia could bring fulfillment to those feelings. But she had been too flabbergasted to respond as she should have.
Or... Perhaps... She shivered. Just perhaps, I'm hoping that sundering Shulk and Fiora's relationship is just what she'll end up doing.
She shook her head. "Thank you, Riki. I am fine." The evening was a tad chilly, but Melia had dressed for it. Her noble dress was layered, shielding from the breeze. After all, they were en route to the Valak Mountains; she had taken the precaution of packing a winter coat and hat among their gear for when they got there.
"Mmm... But Melly shiver," he said, one hand raised to his cheek, as though in deep contemplation. "Maybe Melly afraid of getting lost in mountains? Heropon Riki will guide the way!"
"Are you saying that you know the way, Riki?" she smiled. "Then we should tell Alvis that he may return to Alcamoth, since he has no more reason to journey with us."
"No, no! Riki will let Alvis be guide! Not send home in disgrace."
Melia permitted herself a soft giggle, then sighed. "Riki... What would you say if I harbored ill will against the woman we're looking for?"
Riki turned and scrutinized her. "Hmm... Melly have jealous feelings?"
"It seems likely, yes. I'm not quite sure how I feel, though..."
"Has Melly ever been in love before?"
"Well, no, not really, and that may well be why I don't know if I'm in love now, but..." She sighed again, this time in frustration, and placed five steadying fingers on her forehead. "Oh Riki, you're missing the point. It doesn't matter why I feel that nothing would make me happier than for Fiora to attack Shulk and then come to a violent end. If I should act on those feelings..."
"Riki understand!" the heropon gushed, doing a little hop. "Riki trust Melly!"
"How can you say that, when I don't even trust myself?" she said, feeling still more cloudy and despondent.
"Riki know how Melly is," he answered. "Melly always control her feelings. Always do what she think she should, never do what she feel like doing. Riki watch Melly give big long mighty speech from high tower. Do better than Nopon chief! Words make Bird People feel happy happy, very safe, feel much love for Melly! But words not Melly's words at all. Only words saying what Melly think she should do, not what she feel like doing."
"You mean... lies? My speech... was lies?"
"Melly never lie!" Riki growled. "Melly always do what she think she should do. Not lying when she tell Bird People she do that! That why Riki trust Melly."
"I... I see." She could do naught but acknowledge that he was right. However strong her feelings for Shulk, she would never let them come between him and Fiora. While she had failed to speak against Sharla's proposal, that could only have been out of her shock - or perhaps, out of faith that a woman as responsible as Sharla would only encourage Shulk's feelings for her, not discourage his feelings for Fiora. Realizing this about herself, she felt relieved. "Thank you, Riki."
"Ohhh... but Riki sad for Melly," he groaned. "Must hurt Melly heart very much to say no to feelings all the time! If Riki say no to his feelings all the time, Riki would get veeeeeeeery hungry."
Melia giggled, half in embarrassment, half in genuine mirth. "Hungry, Riki? Is food the only thing you have feelings for?"
"No no no! Riki have other feelings, but not think he should say no to them. Hunger different. Look! See there, nice ripe fruit that Riki would like to take big bitey out of."
"Um, yes..." The fruit had a light brown skin with a thin layer of fuzz, bore an attractive purple crown, and was about half his size. The trouble was, it was being grasped by a creature about twice his size. Though they were not in the Valak Mountains yet, the climate was colder than any Melia had visited before, and she did not recognize the creature. Its most curious trait was its very sizable cheeks.
"Riki think he should say no to this feeling. But look! Unlike Melly, Riki no can help himself!"
"Riki, wait!" she cried, but the heropon was already soaring through the air in a heroic hop, with a trajectory that would inevitably bring him to the object of his desire. An instant later, he had snatched the succulent fruit from the creature's paws and landed on the ground, ready to take a big bite.
As soon as he had done this, the creature began making an unpleasant screeching and howling. Replies sounded throughout the surrounding woods, and within seconds, other members of the creature's species were converging on the spot by the dozen.
Riki yelped in alarm, but the rest of the party was already rushing to his side. "Whadjya do now, fuzzball?"
"Riki was hungry!"
"Riki, you idiot!" Sharla snapped at him as she readied her rifle. "We have food in our packs!"
"Hold on a minute, Sharla," Dunban said. "They don't look as though they're going to attack. Let's not provoke them, at least not until they've made their move."
"If you say so, Dunban," Reyn growled. "But if one o' them blinks wrong, I'll knock his noisy block off."
The pack of creatures were still and silent for a moment, glaring at Riki. The Nopon hero watched them, wide unblinking eyes testifying to his unease.
Then, with one accord, the creatures began scarfing up handfuls of dirt, sifting them around in their mouths to mix with their saliva, and spitting out the resulting mudballs at Riki. They splatted against his furry lining, soaking him in filth within seconds. The rest of the party, realizing now that Riki was in no real danger, stood back and chuckled.
"Ahh! No! Riki just have bath! You making heropon angry! Beware - ah! - beware wrath of heropon!"
Melia giggled along with the rest, but her thoughts were still occupied with Riki's moving words: "Riki trust Melly!" "Melly always do what she think she should do." "...Riki sad for Melly." They were based more on his faith than on substantial observations, but they felt true. And they were enough to give her confidence in herself, to convince her that she could do the right thing and survive the heartache that would follow.
"Sensitive, brave, insightful, compassionate... and he knows how to make me smile," Melia sighed happily. "Ah, Riki, if only you were a Hom or High Entia, and a bachelor."
This is much more slight than my usual writings, but for two reasons I felt I had to write it. One was the alluded conversation between Sharla and Melia. I dare say it's one of the most bizarre scenes I've ever seen in a video game. My usual reaction to such nonsensical story elements is to write a fanfic providing an explanation which fits with the canon, but this one had me stumped for a while. It doesn't help that Sharla's first heart-to-heart with Fiora is nearly as bizarre; she basically says "I just wanted to let you know that I don't care which of you gets the guy." Though I have since worked out an explanation, for the moment I just wanted to give Melia's reaction to Sharla's weird spiel.
The other reason is to give some context for Lorithea kissing Kallian, and Melia's conspicuous reaction. The obvious explanation is that Melia's regal upbringing made the apparently open-mouthed kiss especially taboo, but the explanation I used happened to pop into my head, and I saw how well it would fit with Melia's internal conflicts over Shulk and (most especially) her regal responsibilities.
That's all, finally. Rest assured that I intend to write some more substantial Xenoblade fanfic before long.