To see Alcamoth so ruined broke Melia's heart. The Telethia roamed aimlessly, heedless of the destruction they left in their wake, and Melia and Sharla tried to elude confrontation as they made their way to the Imperial Palace. Since rescuing Teelan and finding what remained of Lorithia's research, there was hope that the Telethia could be restored to their former selves, so both Melia and Sharla hoped to avoid any unnecessary fighting.
"This way, Sharla," Melia said quietly, ducking behind a pillar to avoid the gaze of a serpentine Telethia.
Sharla nodded silently as she followed Melia, and as they headed down a familiar corridor, Sharla took the rear and held her ether rifle steady, armed with tranquilizers. With those and Melia's hypnosis, they were determined not to harm any of the Telethia if possible.
As a transport device came into view, Melia's fingers tightened around her staff, the one her brother had given to her. The Telethia she had fought in Makna Forest - what had been their original identity? Had they been a member of the Bionite Order, willingly sacrificing themselves for Yumea's beliefs? What if the Telethia that had fought alongside Tyrea in the locked tomb? What kind of relationship had they had with Tyrea before their transformation? Such questions filled Melia's mind, and she doubted she would ever find the answers.
When Melia and Sharla reached the transport device, they entered without hesitation. As they reappeared, the villa Melia had shared with her mother came into view. "I'll never get used to this technology," Sharla muttered.
"Stay on your guard," Melia said. "We are almost to our destination."
Sharla and Melia stepped forward carefully, their weapons ready. As they came closer to the villa, parts of the glass dome encasing the area were broken, shards having fallen onto the flowerbeds lining the path. Melia swallowed dryly; that her mother couldn't see the home they had shared together in such a state was a cold comfort. Was this destruction truly the final fate of her people?
"Melia, watch out!"
At Sharla's warning, Melia quickly turned her head, and a winged Telethia charged toward her. She held out her staff to set up a reflective shield, but the Telethia's talon slashed her leg before being forced back. With the Telethia momentarily stunned, Sharla hoisted her ether rifle and fired a tranquilizer. It hit the Telethia true, and although the Telethia's body slammed onto the ground, it didn't wake.
"Lean on me," Sharla said as she put Melia's arm around her shoulders. Melia didn't protest, despite the pain in her leg, and Sharla helped her toward the entrance of the villa. She kicked open the door and dashed inside, and Melia tried not to wince at the trail of blood she had left as Sharla shut and barricaded the door.
"Okay, we should be safe for the moment." Sharla turned to face Melia, and her expression relaxed. "Melia, let me see your leg."
With a painful grunt, Melia sat on a nearby sofa, being careful not to get blood on the cushions. "I must apologize," she said softly. "I should not have been so foolish as to assume my villa would be safe from the Telethia."
"Don't apologize," Sharla replied as she knelt before Melia and examined her leg. "We're here to find something important, remember?" From the pouches on her boots to pulled out various medical supplies. "I'll need to remove your boot and stocking first. Is that all right with you?"
Melia nodded. "If you believe it to be necessary."
Sharla gave Melia a reassuring smile and then began removing Melia's boot and bloodied stocking. Once Melia's leg was bared, Sharla opened an alcohol wipe and pressed it against the wound, and Melia bit her lip to suppress a hiss of pain. This kind of wound was too small and specific for one of Sharla's ether bullets, which were better suited to covering a chaotic battlefield. After Sharla cleaned and disinfected the cut, she wrapped bandages around Melia's leg, securely but not too tightly. "Your aqua elements might be able to ease some of the swelling," she told Melia. "Otherwise it might hurt too much to put weight on it."
"That is a good idea, although it may take several minutes," Melia replied. She took her staff into her hands and closed her eyes to channel the ether within her. "Summon Aqua," she chanted, and cool droplets of water circled her injured leg, and already the pain began to ease. If anything, her leg felt too exposed, but although her boot had not been torn by the Telethia's talons and thus could be worn again, the ruined stocking was a lost cause.
Sharla sat beside Melia. "While we wait, could you tell me more about your mother?"
It was not an entirely unexpected question, Melia knew. After all, she had asked Sharla specifically to accompany her to retrieve a certain memento of her mother, and she wanted to do so before venturing into the Bionis' Interior and toward Prison Island. "What do you want to know?"
"Just… anything you want to tell me." Sharla wore that gentle, comforting smile of hers.
Melia laid her staff across her lap, and her summoned aqua elements continued to heal her leg. It had been a long time since anyone had asked about her birth mother. "For a long time, my mother was all that I knew. This villa was our entire world. She especially loved flowers, and together we took care of these gardens, just the two of us."
"Even now, it's clear how much love there is in these gardens," Sharla said, her voice warm.
"My mother would appreciate those words." A quiet sigh fell from Melia's lips as she stared up at one of the high windows. "Some nights we would sit outside and watch the shooting stars over Eryth Sea." She let out a faint chuckle. "From here, it always looked like a rainbow jewel."
Sharla's expression grew clouded. "You were never allowed to leave the villa with your mother, right?" she asked carefully.
Melia shook her head. "No, we were not. The title of Second Consort has always been… controversial, to say the least. However, we were content."
That gentle smile returned to Sharla's lips. "It's clear you and your mother truly loved each other."
Mulling over Sharla's words, Melia glanced around her familiar villa. Fiora had once said it felt lonely, and Melia could only agree, as without her mother, it no longer held the warmth of her childhood. Now, she could scarcely imagine this space being large enough for two people, not after seeing the vastness of the outside world. She bit her lip; after the final battle with Zanza, what would become of Alcamoth and the surviving High Entia?
Sharla touched Melia's shoulder. "Melia, what's wrong?"
"Forgive me, I was simply lost in thought," Melia replied quickly, and she dispersed the aqua droplets around her leg. "My injury no longer pains me, so let us retrieve what we came for."
"All right, then," Sharla said with a nod.
They both stood, and Melia was careful not to put too much pressure on her newly-healed leg. She led Sharla to the rear of the villa, where her mother's bedchambers were located. Once in front of the doors, she gripped the handles and inhaled a deep breath. After her mother had passed away, she had spent many nights in these chambers, wishing for her mother's return and not yet understanding the differences between the lifespan of a Homs and that of a High Entia. As the years passed, however, she began to avoid her mother's bedchambers, and she could no longer remember the last time she had been inside. Again Sharla touched her shoulder and gave her a reassuring smile, and together they opened the stiff doors.
The bedchambers were as Melia remembered, unchanged in the decades since her mother's passing. Although Telethia lurked outside the villa, none had managed to break inside, and for that Melia was grateful. She wanted to linger, to bask in memories of the tranquil days she had shared with her mother, but she couldn't be so selfish, she knew. She had already wasted enough precious time by needing Sharla to treat her wounds, so she headed straight to her mother's vanity, searching the jewelry boxes.
"What exactly are you looking for?" Sharla asked as she came beside Melia.
"This," Melia answered as she held up a star-shaped silver locket. She opened it, revealing a small photograph of herself as a child and her mother as an elderly woman. "It is one of the few pictures I have left of my mother."
"Melia, she's beautiful." Carefully Sharla touched the locket, her eyes wide in admiration. "I'm glad you were able to find this."
"Thank you, Sharla." Melia shut the locket and tucked it away. "Now, we should leave this place."
She and Sharla returned to the entrance of the villa, pulling the overturned table out of the way of the door, and they ensured that the coast was clear of Telethia before stepping outside. The sun had fallen below the horizon, and while Melia was hesitant to transverse the city in the dark, she hoped that even Telethia needed sleep.
Weapons in hand, they retraced their steps to the transport device and then to the main hall of the palace, and much to their relief, there were fewer Telethia now than earlier. Even so, they moved carefully as they left the palace and headed into the lower level of Alcamoth, never once letting down their guard. Someday, Melia hoped, Teelan's research would prove fruitful and the Telethia could be returned to their former selves. She also found herself praying for Tyrea to find peace now that Yumea had also passed on.
After what felt like an eternity, Melia and Sharla reached the main entrance of Alcamoth, and they stepped into the transport device without hesitation. When they reappeared, the stars of Eryth Sea greeted them, and, much to Melia's surprise, so did a meteor shower.
"What a coincidence," Sharla said with a grin. "You just told me how you and your mother loved watching the shooting stars."
"Yes, indeed." Again Melia opened the locket, revealing that precious image of herself with her mother. "Sharla, I cannot thank you enough for your help. I only wish that my mother could have met all of you."
Sharla put her hand on her hip as her smile grew wider. "When this is all over, you'll have to tell me even more about her."
A smile tugged at Melia's lips. "You have my word." She took Sharla's hand, and together they headed to rejoin their companions and toward a new future of their own making.