"What is it?" Annelotte asked.
Leguna glanced at Marolyt silently.
"Ah, Ley has something he wants to say to Annie. Let's leave them to themselves!" Marolyt said, dragging the rest out with him.
Everyone was completely discomforted by the boy's actions, but they kept their feelings to themselves as the swordsaint yanked them out of the room one by one.
"Fine, say it and be done," the girl spat, folding her arms, lines creasing her beautiful forehead.
He took out an intricate box and handed it to Annelotte most carefully.
She took the box quietly, holding it her hand without any intention to open it.
"What's inside?" she asked suspiciously.
The one-time-use enchantment on the box had not escaped her notice, nor that the aspect that it was intended to contain. Leguna, for all his foxen sneakiness, definitely didn't have the means to get a container of this quality, much less whatever was inside.
"The crystal core of an emperor whale," Leguna answered controlledly, "You detoxified me by sacrificing your glacial essence; this should help you replenish it."
"Who gave it to you?" she asked, her voice equally cold and suspicious.
Leguna's gaze wavered.
"Just... take it and use it."
"You do not have the means, even if you worked at it for a hundred years, to get your hands on this--" she bobbed the box in front of his face, "Someone gave this to you. Who was it?"
Her voice, if anything, sounded unhappy at being given what she now knew was in the box.
"Yes, someone gave it to me and asked me to give it to you, but I swore I wouldn't tell you whom."
"You don't have to," her voice cooled even further, if that was even possible, "it was Marolyt, right?"
Her question was more a statement than a question, asking only for him to confirm which she already knew with absolutely certainty to be true.
"...Yes..." Leguna sighed, "But… Annie.... You shouldn't call your dad by his name."
"Dad? When has he ever acted like one? He's certainly never done so towards, much less in front of, me. He doesn't deserve that title."
"He's really worried about you!" Leguna countered, "He spent two months at see and fought an emperor whale to get you that, and he did it without hesitating, and without complaining. And--"
"--And whatever he chooses to do is his business, not mine!" Annelotte barked, fury coloring her voice for the first time in Leguna's memory as she shoved the box back into his hands, "Give it back to him and tell him to shove it. I want nothing to do with anything he" the word came out like bitter bile, "wants to give me!"
"Annie, don't be like this. Calm down. He really loves you. He's your dad!"
"Don't say that word!" she shouted, "Dad?" she spat the bitter bile again, "My first memories are of the guild's dark corridors. He knows nothing of the life I've lived, the live he made me live. If he thinks he can just march into my life, pretend to worry about me, and have me leap into his arms yelling 'Daddy, Daddy!' like some lovesick pet, then his brain is even less functional than I'd feared! Where is his love for me when he asks some random brat to give his--" there was the bile again, "--gift to me?"
"He has his reasons!" Leguna despaired.
"Reason?" the word was drawn out like taffy as it emerged from Annelotte's mouth, her eyes frozen solid, "What reason? He just wanted to be rid of an inconvenience like a little girl. Of course I'd only be in the way of his fornication! And who knew what my existence would do to his 'oh-so-grand' swordsaint reputation. Tell me, Leguna--" there was far less bile in his name than her father's, but he could taste it still, and its presence burned him like acid, "What reason could he have to through his daughter away?"
Leguna stared at her, his heart melting in the acid, and his eyes falling out of his skull at the shear amount of emotion he'd just seen her pour out. It was more than she'd ever let go over her lips, whether it be good emotions or bad, none had ever come even close. And he couldn't argue against her reasoning either. Saints were the highest ranked people under the heavens, and her father was a strong one even among them. What was there that could possibly interfere in his being a father? What could there be that could conceivably force him to abandon his daughter? He knew the answer all too well: nothing. Yet the man had dropped his little girl into what was for all intents and purposes an orphanage, on a different continent, no less, and just left her there. If nothing could force him to do it, then there was only one thing that could have made him do it. He didn't want to raise her. He saw her as too much of an inconvenience.
"I met him for the first time three years ago when you were poisoned. You go and ask him what had kept him so busy for all the intervening years that he could not at least even visit me once before that."
Annelotte's voice was much calmer, but still frigid, and it frightened Leguna even more than her furious voice.
"Do you still remember Balor?"
"Why bring him up?" she frowned.
"I wanted to come see you immediately after you left, but Balor challenged me to a duel--"
"You know what Sis Vera did before the fight?"
Annelotte didn't answer him, which was itself his answer.
"She… begged me -- on her knees -- to spare her brother's life."
Nothing changed in Annelotte's expression, not even a single muscle twitched anywhere.
"Balor, for everything he'd done, even after he'd killed her father, was still her brother, and her last blood relative at that. She begged me on her knees to spare his life even when he'd been prepared to kill her, and after he'd threatened to kill the most important person in my life, and she knew it when she begged"
Annelotte still stared at him, her face still cold as it was before, but something glinted in her eyes, and he noticed it.
"No matter what he's done, or not done, Mister Marolyt is still your dad. Nothing either of you say or do, or don't say or do, can change that. And you, both of you, are the last blood relative either of you have left. Don't try to tell me you really hate him, because I know you'd be lying."
Her cold eyes continued to stare at him.
"I understand you feel what he's done is unforgivable, and I know he knows that too," Leguna took an opportunistic step closer to her, "But no matter what he's done, he's still your dad. He's never expected you to forgive him, he only want you to acknowledge him as your dad and let him into your life."
He handed her the box again.
"You're not forgiving him by accepting this, he just wants a chance to begin proving he does love you."
Annelotte stared at the box, but she made no move to stow it away, nor did she say anything, or look like she was going to.
"I understand how you feel. He's abandoned you once before, so you despise him. But I also know you're not the kind of person that can ever truly hate someone., at least not so much you're not even willing to give them a chance to try and make their mistakes up to you. But I know you're afraid of giving him that chance because you're terrified--"
"I'm not afraid, and I'm not terrified!" Annelotte barked suddenly with more power than either of them expected.
"No, you are!" Leguna shot back with equally surprising force, "You don't want to be abandoned again, so you're abandoning him first. You and I both know that's what you're doing. And denying it won't convince anyone that's not exactly what you're doing."
"I'm not denying anything!" she hissed with more venom than had ever crossed her lips.
"Then good! Take it! If you're really not afraid, take it. Or do you really hate him and everything about him? You and I both know that's impossible for you! That's not who you are, Annie! And if that really were you, I would be very disappointed!"
Annelotte's eyes shot daggers at him, but she said nothing. Her eyes, however, said what her lips wouldn't, 'You are the last person to talk about being disappointed about someone else's behaviour', and Leguna's heart burned again.
She held that gaze, repeating its meaning over and over again, for several eternal seconds, before hesitantly lifted her hand.
"Give him a chance. Give yourself a chance, too. And..." Leguna paused, "and give me a chance. I will never forgive myself for as long as I am the reason you're potential is unrealized."
Annelotte's eyes glanced in his direction for a moment, staring those same daggers at him, but the box vanished into her dimensional pocket.
Leguna sigh the weight of the world off his shoulders when the pocket closed and the box was not back in his hands yet.
How troublesome... My woman really is troublesome… Father-in-law has his work cut out for him...
The hardest, he know, however, was the first step. Now it was just a case of building up momentum on that first step. Barring any catastrophes, it was now only a matter of time, and work, until she finally accepted the old fart as her father. That said, he'd better change the subject now, strike while the iron is hot, and all that.
"It shouldn't be long until you break through now, yes?"
Annelotte rolled her eyes, then closed them. A blue ring hovered halfway into hazy existence around her a moment later.
"T-t-t-this... a magic ring?!" he stammered.
"Yes," her words still dripped frozen droplets, though it was a far cry from what it had been just a minute earlier.
Underneath his contempt, however, hid a burning joy at having made the little brat act like a fool again.
"When did you break through?"
"More than a month ago. The bureau's research on my gifts gave me a lot of time to practice."
"Heh! Arikos is capable after all!" Leguna cracked a smile.
"I have a question," Annelotte said, and what little thawing had happened to her voice was completely undone.
"What?" Leguna asked, his heart sinking.
"Why, even after Sis begged you so much, did you kill Balor?"
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