Title: A Wintry Interlude
Summary: Colette and Lloyd discover just how much damage the Vanguard has caused the night before taking the plunge into Niflheim. Based off the skit before the affection scene in Flanoir.
Author's Note: This is a one-shot deleted scene from my larger work entitled excruXiation, set during Chapter 11. I couldn't bring myself to delete it and have always wanted to do a focus piece on the personal struggles of Lloyd and Colette through the latter half of Dawn of the New World, so here it is. Director's cut. Please trot on over to excruXiation, while you're at it. Wouldn't want anyone to think I'm limited to Lloyd/Colette fluff…
Although it was September, big, dry flakes of snow fell from the sky. It was just the sort of snow that was perfect for packing into a projectile and declaring war on one's best friends. In fact, many of the children in Flanoir were outside doing just that. It was the first time in months, almost years that it hadn't been raining like the harshest Aprils of Altamira, and the schools were so shocked at the development that they'd given the day off in honor of the first real snowfall.
The children carelessly danced upon regenerating banks of white. One little boy began to make an army of dwarf snowmen with twigged features jagging out of their sides. A woman in a strolling couple complained that she had put on too many layers, anticipating that the snow would be colder than it actually was. Finally, natural order was returning to things in the world.
So thought the residents of Flanoir. Ah, to be ignorant of the affairs of Ratatosk.
Colette couldn't wait to see snow again and decided it was what she wanted to do with her afternoon off. Knowing the other Chosen wouldn't be enthralled to celebrate his own country's first snow, she made sure to wave to every passerby. She even stopped to compliment the snowmen army's builder on his fine work, and quickly put together a small bunny made of snow to prove her clout as a snowman aficionada. For the eyes, she took the posts out of her pierced ears. It was a work of simple joy.
"Whoa… I didn't know Sylvarant's Chosen could make sculptures like that," the boy said in awe.
Colette shook her head. "Oh, it's nothing. I just wanted your snowmen to have a pet! They'll get lonely when you go home for dinner, you know."
"I didn't even think of that!" The boy brought his palms up to his cheeks.
"And now you don't have to." Colette brushed the fresh snow from the child's knit hat.
"Th-thanks Miss Chosen Lady," he mumbled.
"You can just call me Miss Colette," she corrected with a smile. "Don't forget to go on home! Your mother must be waiting for you."
"Yeah! I wanna show her your bunny-rabbit. Bye!"
Without ado, the boy bounded off through the knee-deep snow, careful not to disturb his creations. Colette could see the care he'd put into his work, although he may have only been five or six. How happy to be so young and free from care.
Colette swept her hair behind her ear with a gloved hand and looked behind her.
"Wasn't he something?" she asked.
"Yeah, something, all right." Lloyd stood beside a bench, arms crossed. He swept his vision from right to left. "Think we could get moving?"
"Oh! Sure. I just wanted to make sure he would get home okay. The sun sets sooner here, doesn't it?" She took arduous steps forward by lifting her knees over the rising snow.
"Don't forget your earrings," Lloyd warned.
Colette looked back to the bunny sitting by the first snowman as it stared with its red-dot eyes. How sad would it be to live as a small, cold creature and not even be able to see the world around you? "I think I'll leave them here. Besides, I have a lot more at home!"
"But we just left your house."
"I wasn't planning on going back," Colette said. "I couldn't ruin our special evening."
As the girl approached the cleared stone path, Lloyd reached out to her and steadied her steps. She alighted with just a slight wobble before resting happily with her shoulders under one of Lloyd's arms as they walked.
"This place sure has a lot of memories," Lloyd noted. They passed a decrepit chapel, the doors of which had been boarded up. There used to be a traveler who sat there, a man that Presea said made her feel ill. He was no longer there. Lloyd's throat suddenly felt tight; it was like when they'd seen a man taking a leisurely walk around Palmacosta square each time they visited, and one day, he was suddenly seized and hanged by some Cruxis-fronting group of Desians. Lloyd turned his head to the other side of the street.
"Remember that night before we made our attack, and Sheena was yelling at Regal for her spell cards getting messed up?" Colette mused.
"Heh. How could I forget that? Poor Regal. Just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"That was the first time I'd seen him act like anything other than a president or a duke," she continued.
Lloyd affectionately leaned his head toward Colette's. "When you made that bunny back there, it was the first time I'd seen you look totally relaxed since I met back up with you."
Colette flushed slightly. "What? I'm relaxed. There's a lot to be done tomorrow with Niflheim, but I haven't been stressed," she promised.
"Then, it's the first time I've heard you called 'Miss Chosen Lady,'" Lloyd retorted. "And I'm including the time you were in Toxicosis."
Colette scrunched up her nose and giggled. "That boy was so sweet but he just couldn't get it right—"
"Lloyd Irving! Stop right there!"
Hurtling toward the pair at an alarmingly aggressive pace was a figure in a tattered yellow coat. Reflexively, Lloyd took his arm from Colette's back and put it in front of her, not drawing his swords. The man, as far as he knew, could be unarmed. The last thing Lloyd would want to do in this town was cause a commotion while his weapon was drawn, intentionally or not.
The man stopped short in front of Lloyd by a couple meters. When it became clear that the man was both out of breath and shape, Lloyd stood a little taller. "Do I know you?" he said cautiously.
"You killed my sister! How dare you show your face in Flanoir after what you did!" the man shouted. He raised his fists in anger but clearly did not know how to aim them. Lloyd took a couple steps back just in case.
Colette's eyes spotted something in the distance. While the streets were clear around them, the snowy hills behind the inn had children still playing in them. It wouldn't be good if the kids could see this man's ire.
"Hold on! Lloyd isn't the one who attacked Flanoir," Colette told the attacker.
"Shut up! I saw it with my very own eyes! You… monster… cutting down my sister as she was trying to get away!" The man's arms trembled and he looked down toward his mud-encrusted boots.
"That's not what happened! There was an imposter, and he—" Colette tried to speak more clearly, but the man unexpectedly sprang forward.
SMACK. The whole of his hand whipped Lloyd across the cheek. But Lloyd still restrained himself from fighting back.
"I DON'T WANT YOUR EXCUSES!" the yellow-clad man yelped. Almost as suddenly as he had jumped to Lloyd, he backed away, seemingly shocked by the sound of his own voice.
"But Decus of the Vanguard had been masquerading as Lloyd the whole time! This Lloyd's the real Lloyd, and he didn't kill anyone!"
Bitingly, the man replied, "I don't need excuses from the Chosen of Sylvarant. You've done enough!" He hobbled backward then turned to run across the snow in the direction of the park bench Lloyd had been standing by.
Colette searched Lloyd for a response, but he was still.
"I guess that man just didn't want to hear anything we had to say," she consoled.
"I'm sorry to put you through this, especially on a day like today, but…" Lloyd began. He put his head in his hand. "If you don't mind, I'd like to be alone for a while."
Colette's hopeful eyes sank. "O-okay. Well. How about you go take a walk, and I'll meet you before dinner?" she suggested.
Lloyd nodded. "Thanks for understanding. I'll be back soon."
A shiver of cold air seemed to go right through Colette as Lloyd left her side and stalked forth on the cobblestone. Before she could reminisce about how she and Lloyd used to share everything, there was a punching cry just behind her.
Colette about-faced just in time to see a puff of snow explode and shimmer in the light of the lamppost. Oh no. The man in the yellow coat stood next to the army of snowmen, with one of its brave dwarven soldiers kicked to white dust.
"NO!" Colette howled, running so fast that her feet didn't have time to be clumsy. The man didn't look up, but instead slumped to his knees and dug his hands into the stump of the former snowman.
"Please! You have to stop!" she called. "My friend made those!"
The man looked up at her with swollen, red eyes. "Is your friend Lloyd Irving?" he enunciated. He didn't even wait for a response before raising his fist to the next dwarf soldier in line.
Colette's angel-quick reflexes brought her just far enough to put her arms in front of the hapless snowman.
"I said, please stop! They aren't Lloyd's!"
"Then they're yours—!"
"Shame on you!" Despite her best efforts, the man muscled his arm in a swing toward her. She saw the movement like the ticking of a clock and diverted his attack with gentle redirection. "They were made by a little boy. Can't you tell? Can't you see the effort he put into all these little friends?"
The man paused to survey the area. There were probably twelve of the snow statues sitting in a clump. Their eyes were not made of coal or finer things; just twigs, and a crusted leaf or two for beards. Their bodies were not even smoothed of the lumps from the building process.
"Feh. What do I care? I almost had a nephew," he muttered. "And what do you care, anyway? You're just like the Vanguard."
Colette leveled her height as she knelt in the snow. "You must have felt like your world was ending," she said.
"I… what? Why do you care, all of a sudden?" The man hunched over the pile of snow he had destroyed.
She smiled sadly. "Because I know what it's like to lose someone close to you. It shakes everything you ever knew."
The man huffed a few breaths into the chilled air. "You can't bring her back. You can't do anything for me, now. She was the only family I had." He sniffled his nose onto the back of a sleeve.
"There, there," Colette said gently, finally lowering her defensive arms.
"—No, you stay the HELL away from me!" the man gasped, crawling away from her and closer to her beloved bunny sculpture.
"Enough! You had no right to destroy that little boy's art," she shouted firmly.
"And YOU had no right to destroy Flanoir in the first place!"
"You have to understand—"
"That's why she was there, to begin with! She never would have died if she weren't at the Church of Martel, praying for snow so that she could freeze her wares!" The man sat back on his bottom and covered his face with the crook of his elbow.
So that's what it was, then, Colette thought. Sooner or later, when it came down to the destruction of the Regeneration, it came down to the Church of Martel. She'd be the one to answer for the condemnation; partially because the responsibility naturally fell on her shoulders for being more involved than Zelos, but mostly because she felt something gnawing deep inside of her about her personal meeting with Martel.
That's who her biggest loss was. Martel had always been the guiding hope for her during the Regeneration. Even if I must sacrifice my life, it will be so that the Goddess may live, she would believe. But as the journey continued, and the lies devolved the entire Church, she had to wonder if trusting a being so blindly had been the right way to live her life. She'd been bound by law to attend ceremonies and even the oracle one day simply because people claimed she was born with a Cruxis Crystal. There was no other option but to love Martel.
When Martel separated from Colette's body, she left a gaping hole. Someone who was supposed to have been a goddess was suddenly intensely accessible. She was a half-elf, just like Genis; she had a brother, just like Raine; she had all the ambition in the world, just like Lloyd. But she was kept barely alive for thousands of years on a whim and a hope despite the fact that she could never have returned to the life she once lived. It wasn't that she fell ill in honor of the sins of the people; she'd had no choice. So now where did Colette's sins go?
"The Church of Martel has let a lot of people down, hasn't it?" Colette asked the man.
"I… I never believed in it. My parents died in a freak construction accident when I was fifteen, and that's when my sister started going to the Church of Martel," the man explained through ragged breaths. "Even though her husband left her with child, even though she lost almost all of her savings to the bad weather, she kept going. She… she always believed in the grace of the Goddess, and I knew it would hurt her in the end."
Colette had curled up to sit on her shins in the snow, which grew wet underneath her radiantly warm body. "That's a big story. Do you want to know something? I used to turn to the Church of Martel, too, when I felt bad about the world."
"Of course you did. You're the Chosen," the man accused.
"Yes, but I was taught all my life that all my worries would go away if I believed in the power of the Goddess. And one day, the oracle came to take me through my trials. The power of the Goddess wasn't powerful enough. I ended up losing the ability to feel, the ability to speak… I almost lost my life," Colette admitted. "Then I realized, the Goddess isn't only in church. The Goddess is in our hearts. That's what made me strong, to think that I had her power on my side instead of me always having to ask for help."
"I guess I… never thought about Martel being anything other than some stupid figurehead…"
"Even though your sister passed away, it's not your fault. For not believing in Martel, that is. And it's not her fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although, I am deeply sorry that you had to feel such pain. Please believe that I will do everything in my power to make sure that terrorists never attack this city again, no matter if it's not in Sylvarant," Colette declared.
The man had settled down and stared at her with a blank face. "What could you possibly do for me? You can't turn back time for Lydea."
The angel shook her head softly. "You're right. I can't bring her back. But I can do my best to eliminate the kind of prejudice it took for someone from the Vanguard to take her life away. When I finish my mission tomorrow, I'm gonna travel the world destroying all the Exspheres, including the ones in the Vanguard's possession. Even if such ruthless evil still exists, I'm gonna do my best to take away every weapon it has. After all," she flashed a smile, "I wouldn't have regenerated the world if I didn't care about the well-being of its people."
"You're… getting rid of the Exspheres?"
"Sure am! And you know what? I bet it'll make taking over your sister's business easier."
The man, as he looked up at her, did not return her grin. But he did seem to be subdued. In the distance, a shuffling of short legs made its way down a slope across the street.
"You'd better go," Colette suggested. "I think someone's coming back to show off his work."
The man all but leapt to his feet. "I—I'm…! Yeah, that sounds like a good idea."
As he began to leave, Colette called after him, "What was your name?"
"Tristram," he said, not bothering to turn. He fled down a nearby alleyway.
Colette noticed that the child approaching the park was still a little way in the distance, so she tried to flatten and disguise the damage from the angered man. There wasn't time for her to reconstruct the dwarf-snowman, but she did jump behind a nearby building and cast a spell so that bright pink and purple feathers would be falling around the display when the boy arrived. Perhaps that would make up for the accident.
As much as she wanted to pursue Tristram and ask if there was anything more she could do, she remembered the pull she felt as he told her his story. It had been a while, hadn't it, since Colette had visited a proper Church of Martel. Even when she happened to be in town while looking for Lloyd a while back, she hadn't taken the time to sit in the Church and sort out her thoughts. It wasn't something she felt she needed to do on a schedule. It was more like Summon Spirits, or like what Sheena had said about them: you don't need to be at their altar to feel their presence, but it is strongest there.
Colette always felt the spirit of Martel stronger when she was in a building dedicated to her. It would be sad someday to see people changing their ways about Martel as a goddess. If people knew that she was only a Summon Spirit now, one with whom they couldn't truly communicate, would they forego all holidays in her name? Would they be lost in their search for faith? Someday, Colette promised herself, she'd travel to all the chapels and churches in the world and teach them about the magnificent oneness Martel had with the spirit of the World Tree as she watched over them. There might be resentment or even confusion, but sooner or later there would be a greater peace without the meddling of Cruxis in the ways of true spiritual devotion.
She decided to follow her heart now, since Lloyd was probably still out wandering to clear his head. The Church of Martel in Flanoir had stained-glass windows so tall and bursting with light that they served as a beacon for all who came to the city. Colette thought it felt warmer as she got closer, but it was probably just the street lamps offering some optimism.
Just as Colette rounded the last set of stoned stairs, she was met with a familiar figure in red and white. Lloyd was propping his elbows on the balcony that overlooked the city's northern district, hunching over and staring into the distance. It wasn't like him to wander to a place like the Church of Martel to think.
"Lloyd, are you all right?" she asked, quietly approaching him.
Upon recognizing her voice, Lloyd turned to greet her. "Oh—Colette. I'm fine."
"Liar." Just look at the way he was standing. Even though that man, Tristram, learned that it wasn't Lloyd's fault, Lloyd was going to find a way to make it his fault. It wasn't healthy to carry that guilt.
"You always say you're all right. But it's not really true," Colette urged. Lloyd pressed his lips tight and looked away. "You're feeling hurt, aren't you?"
"Colette..." He looked more like he was addressing the snow beneath his feet than the expectant girl in front of him.
"I know you're strong. But that strength, it's made from a big ball of kindness, and so…" Colette found herself fidgeting with her hands. Of course she could talk to a stranger without ungainliness, but when it came to Lloyd she was always afraid she wouldn't get through. Well, not always; perhaps just since he'd run away so unexpectedly. There was a part of her that worried her words wouldn't be enough to bastion the resolve of the world's number one hero. "What I mean is—you're really, really kind. A-and kind people get hurt very easily."
Finally, Lloyd adjusted his gaze to Colette.
"What are you trying to do, make me cry?" His arms crossed and he raised his shoulders tensely.
"Is that what you need? It's okay to cry. Sometimes tears are the best medicine," Colette offered. She reached out and touched his shoulder firmly.
"You're the only one worth crying over," he said.
Lloyd launched forward in an embrace with Colette, possibly the first she hadn't initiated between them since his return. She was calmed by being held in his arms once more. Whatever was bothering him didn't matter as much as his being here, wrapped around her. This was the way things were meant to be, and this was the Lloyd that she was hoping would emerge after all these weeks of concealment.
His voice tremulous, Lloyd mumbled. "Thank you. It was so hard being without you."
"For me, too. But I understand," Colette replied with a smile. "And if you ever find yourself in a spot like that, where you feel like you can't trust me…"
"I've made up my mind. I'm not leaving you again, Colette," he vowed. "I felt more alone than I'd ever been."
She had, too. She remembered the frigid morning when she woke up to find herself completely alone in the cabin they'd shared on the edge of a farm. Not even a note. He didn't even feel like he could leave a note, and he was gone just like that. Colette dropped every task she'd had in mind for the next week and went straight to Iselia, where there was no news of Lloyd. Nothing from Dirk, nothing from Genis or Raine, certainly nothing from the Mayor. What about Luin? Triet? Surely he couldn't have gone too far in either direction. Before she knew it, months had passed. The Tethe'alla Mizuho Information Network had tried to track Lloyd down, but there were no trails. Absolutely nothing.
"Lloyd… You left me feeling alone, too," she admitted.
"I… I know. I'm sorry, Colette, I'm..." he stammered. "If only I hadn't left you, if we could have gotten through it together…" His face strained with that look of hurt that Colette just hated.
"You don't have to worry. I'm not going anywhere now, as long as the World Tree is okay with it."
Lloyd moved his hands to her shoulders, backing away to see her face. "I love you, Colette. I never stopped loving you."
"I know that. I love you, too, Lloyd," she affirmed. She nuzzled her nose to his before kissing him lightly, just once.
"Will you… come with me to destroy the last of the Exspheres?"
Colette glanced down, then back up into Lloyd's eyes. "Of course! We still have some important ones to get rid of, and I want to be there when you take yours off for the last time."
"Good. I'm glad. Thank you," Lloyd said, and pecked her on the forehead. "We should go, though, if we're going to make our reservations for the Flanoir Inn."
"I guess it's getting colder out here," Colette noted. She leaned her head in toward Lloyd's chest and stared at the Church just before them. If there was any hope in praying, now would be her last chance to give it a shot.
Please, Martel, I need your strength to get through tomorrow. Please let Emil be okay, and Marta, too. And don't let Lloyd feel like he can't talk to anyone. In the name of the angel, the hero, and your holy spirit, amen. (She always added that last part even though it was officially taken out of masses.)
Arm in arm, Lloyd guided Colette back down the stairs and past the jewelry and accessories shop they'd visited on their last journey. Colette had to wonder if its owner, Mr. Penguin, decided to build his shop next to the Church of Martel for any particular reason, or just lived there because it was his only choice. Maybe Mr. Penguin had a wild past and was hoping to atone for his wrongdoings by working next to the church—or maybe, she thought again, he was just trying to catch a penny from the crowd after mass on a Sunday.
It didn't matter; she was with Lloyd, and they were finally going to get the romantic evening they'd been waiting for the whole journey.
The pair was seated at an ornately carved booth at the Flanoir Inn's restaurant reading the fancy-sounding menu when the server returned to their table prematurely.
"Excuse me, Miss Brunel," the server said, bowing.
"Yes?" Colette asked, putting her hand in Lloyd's across the table.
"This urgent parcel arrived for you just now from a grateful citizen."
The server produced a small, oddly-shaped envelope sealed with wax and placed it on the table before her, then bowed again and left the table momentarily.
"Who could that be from?" Lloyd wondered.
Colette smiled. "Oh, well, while you were on your walk, I caught up with that man from before. I'll bet he's trying to apologize. He really didn't have to, though!"
"Are you gonna open it?" Lloyd prompted.
Colette shook her head. "No, it can wait. Remember, I'm spending my time with you tonight!"
She pocketed the envelope and forgot about it until it poked her as she was changing into her pajamas, all the way back in the Altamira resort hotel. What a curious thing it was, this envelope from a stranger. While Lloyd was showering, Colette chanced to open it; first, she peeled the corners away, then, popped off the seal in one piece.
Inside, on the envelope itself, was a scribble that she couldn't discern, but the gift itself was quite clear. It was red and glassy, in the shape of a four-cornered diamond—one that would just about fit into the key crest on her neck. Protectively, as though to catch someone spying on her, Colette looked up. But there was nobody, of course.
How could anybody have known about the proportions of her Cruxis Crystal? Was it some sort of a joke? It became clear that the man Tristram had not sent this, for he'd not had the opportunity to see Colette's Cruxis Crystal until that evening. And not a single other soul had known about her secret plan to give Emil the Crystal to lend him strength as he guarded the door to Niflheim.
Not a soul knew, except for Zelos, of course.
But Zelos was rooms away in Altamira, nowhere near Flanoir. He couldn't have made the fake himself, nor would he have had time to send anybody from Meltokio. She squinted harder at the envelope paper and tried to make out a symbol, any symbol.
"P…" she read aloud. That was all she could tell. What in the world did it mean? Not Presea, surely. Not the Professor, either. Not Palmacosta; and Zelos wouldn't sign things like that. Who sent this thing that would allow her to make the switch clandestinely?
She folded the envelope squarely and put it back in the pocket of her traveling clothes, along with the glass effigy. And in the moments before she slept all safe and cuddled next to her beloved swordsman, she thought about that Flanoir church and how eerie it was that every time she'd gone near there, situations always righted themselves the next day.
Or perhaps, she thought, it was all Cruxis superstition.