Slayers: Alive

Chapter 4

Slayers: Alive

Episode 031: Bittersweet! Victory and Defeat

The peaceful slumber of those inhabiting the wooden clock tower was interrupted in the night by the violent shaking of the structure. The group was quick to assemble at the base of the tower and rush out to face the enemy that simply couldn't wait until morning. The many trees that surrounded the tower were shaking their roots unnaturally, threatening to bring down the entire structure. "Everyone fight back! Defend the home base!" Lina shouted her commands, playing her rehearsed par perfectly. It was time to put on a show.

"Terrible villain who uses innocent trees as helpless pawns for your evil ways!" Amelia shouted dramatically from the ground, since climbing a tree was too dangerous given the situation. "Feel my justice! Elmekia Lance!" Amelia's attack collided with a tree, causing substantial damage. Another tree extended its branches, trying to reach Amelia from behind, but Zelgadis swiftly cut the branches with his enchanted sword.

Gourry was doing some intensive gardening of his own, swinging his new sword around in every direction, which Celo had provided claiming it to be of top quality. It indeed was, even if it didn't measure up to the sword of light, but for a normal sword to match that sword was definitely too much to ask. Nonetheless, Gourry was making short work of the trees that dared to attack him.

"Fireball!" Lina set another tree on fire, albeit Celo wasn't too happy about sacrificing the dark forest, he accepted the necessity of putting up a show. Likewise, Celo and Xellos defended against the trees with their monster energy, while Filia, Tiffany and Phythan got them with their laser breath. "Let's draw out the puppet master controlling these trees, everyone advance!" At Lina's command, the group boldly rushed deeper into the forest. The time to put their strategy into play was near.

Phythan purposely got close to one of the trees, while pretending to lower his guard backing away from another attacking tree. As expected, the tree behind him grabbed him and tried to absorb him in an unusual type of forceful teleportation that would transport him to the location of the main tree that passed the magic to the others. Phythan immediately started trying to push out the monster with Filia, Tiffany and Amelia assisting him with exorcisms and white magic.

Lina focused on sensing the flow of energy around her. "Invisible links of the chain, which binds all in this plane, make the target's struggle vain, follow the inescapable lane, Pursuit!" The monster's energy was linked to the energy controlling the tree, but it wouldn't be long before the link was broken, so everything needed to be done before the puppet master had time to react. Xellos was already in position with a barrier of black energy around Phythan and the tree, with Filia, Tiffany and Amelia casting their healing magic that passed through the barrier and reached Phythan within. "Multiply my humble speed, let all my energy be freed, to quickly do as I please, accelerate all my deeds, Hastega!" Lina repeated the speed spell aimed at the area contained in the barrier.

The flow of energy within the barrier kept increasing with each fraction of a second. "Miss Filia, Miss Tiffany, we're losing him!" Amelia intensified her white magic, pushing herself to the limit.

"I won't allow this plan to fail!" Filia continuously healed Phythan, even if it felt like his energy was being consumed faster than they could replenish it.

"We can do it!" Tiffany assured. "The monster is being pushed out, Phythan's energy is being purified, we're making progress!"

All the while Gourry, Zelgadis and Celo kept the busy spell casters safe from the wrath of the Green Alchemist, though so far, they had not been able to spot the puppet master among the attacking trees, even if he couldn't be too far. At the same time, Xellos found that the barrier wasn't as easy to maintain as he thought. Keeping the spells in created a tremendous pressure. Add to that the strain of the separation of Phythan and the monster and the amount of energy released was colossal, fueled even more by the sparks of fusion magic that occasionally formed inside the barrier with the mixture of dragon and monster energy. He could feel traces of the Hastega spell trying to escape the barrier with Lina's constant casting. Trusting in his own strength in a moment of rushed actions and confident pride, Xellos gave the barrier everything he had, making it so that anything that escaped from it was redirected at himself and didn't affect the others.

After a short moment which felt like an eternity, all of the monster energy was extracted from Phythan. The strain of the separation was felt by all the trees that were linked together in the Green Alchemist's control and the entire forest dried up. The trees' once green leaves turned brown, their bark becoming brittle as if it were ancient. The spell finally faded away as the exhausted casters fell to their knees. Phythan opened his eyes for a moment, both the purest violet, then closed his eyes again with a serene and accomplished expression. Filia checked his vital signs just to be sure and nodded in relief. "It worked."

Amelia let out a breath of exhausted relief. She, Filia and Tiffany were all ready to collapse next to Phythan. Zelgadis, Gourry and Celo were also catching their breath after the battle, but the spell casters were definitely suffering from the most severe exhaustion. Lina fell down on one knee, struggling to push herself back to her feet. "Lina, are you okay?" Gourry helped her up, allowing her to lean on him.

"It's not over; the Green Alchemist still hasn't shown his face!" Lina cautioned.

The group remained on their guard, but nothing happened. "He must have fled," Zelgadis finally concluded. "He does strike me as the cowardly type hiding and using trees to fight. The forest is useless to him now; he must have realized trying to pick a fight with us is suicide."

"Even if we were unable to apprehend the Green Alchemist, at least Phythan has been cured," Celo pointed out. He glanced at Zelgadis with an apologetic expression that the chimera didn't quite believe but disregarded it anyway, since pointing out a monster's possible lack of sincerity felt too much like stating the obvious. "My apologies Mr. Zelgadis, but I very much doubt recreating this situation for you would have any effect. It would sooner tare you apart than cure you, as your chimera parts are so deeply integrated into your being, where as the monster in Phythan kept a limited separate identity as the union was never properly completed."

Zelgadis let out a dismissing huff, "I wasn't expecting much anyway."

"Well, since it doesn't look like the Green Alchemist will be showing up for round two of this fight any time soon, we should be heading back to the clock tower now. I'm starving!" Lina loudly declared. She had used up a lot of energy and needed a good meal to replenish it, or she wouldn't be able to get any extra sleep before morning. Just as Lina was musing on such thoughts, she saw the sun rising in the distance, its light more noticeable in the forest now that the trees had dropped all their leaves in a massive blanket of brown that crunched with every step. "It's already morning, time for a big breakfast!"

The group resolved to return to the clock tower and once again Zelgadis got stuck carrying the unconscious Phythan on his back. He had offered to carry Amelia, but ever the trooper, she sprang to her feet fueled by the power of positive thinking and justice, ready to proudly march back to the lopsided clock tower. The wooden structure appeared to be ready to collapse, but it held precious food and shelter and the extremely weary are not generally picky.

The unusual surprise came when Xellos appeared to be lagging behind the group. This caused Filia to glance back at him and give him a tired suspicious look. Strangely, he looked exhausted himself. She kept looking at him as he made his way forward several feet behind the group. He looked like he was struggling with every step until he collapsed. "Xellos!" Filia rushed to his side with a deep worry that she told herself over and over was pointless, even if it felt too real to be. "What are you doing? Get up!"

Xellos stayed still for an excruciating moment, then pushed himself to his feet with a tired grin. "Are you worried about me, Filia? You're such a stupid dragon."

Filia glared and hurried away in a huff, as fast as her tired state allowed her to move. "Stupid monster and his stupid tasteless jokes!" She muttered angrily with every step.

Xellos caught Celo giving him an inquisitive yet knowing look, which he returned with the most intense threatening glare that he could muster. Celo decided it was best not to say anything to Xellos, but his expression made it clear that he knew what was going on.

Once inside the clock tower, Phythan was taken to a room to rest, while Celo ordered some food to be delivered to the tower while Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Filia and Tiffany sat around the table ready to replenish their energy. No one seemed too concerned about Xellos' disappearance, because this was Xellos and he did this all the time. Even so, Filia had a bad feeling about it, but kept telling herself that Xellos' unusual behavior when she last saw him was only another trick to annoy her.

After the breakfast uproar had settled down and even the fierce appetites of Lina and Gourry had been satisfied, Celo brought an earlier business proposal to light. "Miss Lina, if you are still interested, the circumstances have made it so that I must offer you that job I spoke of earlier than I expected."

Glad to hear the imaginary sounds of coins jiggling in front of her, Lina gave Celo a wide grin, "I'm all ears."

"Excellent, but be warned that this job will be a difficult one and your life might be in danger." Celo knew that the warning would not deter Lina Inverse from her greedy ambitions, but he mentioned it anyway, if only to be able to say 'I told you so' if any future situations merited such a famous phrase.

"What else is new?" Lina laughed dismissively. "My life is always in danger for one reason or the other. At least this way I actually get paid for it."

"Very well," Celo considered his options, this was a very important matter, so he couldn't spare any resources in making sure the vital task was accomplished. "I will pay you one thousand gold coins every month for the duration of the year, assuming that it takes that long for you to complete the job." Though the time that the job could last was indefinite, Celo didn't want Lina to purposely prolong it, thus he added, "one year, that is the duration of our agreement. However, if you assist in the correction of the problem and it is solved before the end of the year, thus ending the necessity for your continued services, I will still reward you just the same. But rather than a monthly payment, I will hand over the remaining sum in full as your final payment."

Lina took in Celo's terms with full attention. "In other words, the worse case scenario is that I get one thousand golden coins for the next twelve months, adding up to a total of twelve thousand gold coins in the end. The best case scenario is that I set things right within the first month, be free of my duty and get the whole twelve thousand gold coins early on." Lina could feel her excitement grow, but tried to keep herself in check with a business woman's neutral expression. "I'll admit that's quite the generous offer, so I can only assume that it comes with a hefty catch. You still haven't told me what exactly this job is about."

"Ah yes, about the job... Before I reveal the particulars, allow me to make a small correction upon your interpretation. The worse case scenario is that you fail at your job, in which case I will immediately discontinue the payments." Celo made a pause before proceeding with the revelation of the mysterious job. He knew that he was about to shock his guests. An amused, yet at the same time troubled smile surfaced beyond his constant mask of respect. "Your job would be to guard Xellos' life."

There was a collective gasp from the audience. Though Gourry's attention was lost earlier when they started talking about numbers, as he was not very good with math, he seemed to tune into the conversation again when he heard something about Xellos' life being in danger. It made no sense and this time Gourry knew that he wasn't the only one who was deeply confused.

Filia automatically stood from her chair and demanded to know. "What do you mean by that?"

"The curse," Tiffany revealed, causing the group's collective attention to shift towards her. "This is supposed to be classified monster information. Xellos received a terrible curse with a top secret cure," which Tiffany was aware of but chose not to reveal so as to not ruin Xellos' chances by making things more awkward between him and Filia. "The effect of Hastaga must have seeped through Xellos' barrier and he ended up absorbing it himself. Phythan was okay because we gave him our energy, but at the pace Lina was casting Hastega again and again, the equivalent to a month must have passed. If Phythan wasn't a dragon descendant from a long line of strong warriors, with three capable healers at his side, he wouldn't have survived. I bet he'll be ready to devour as much food as Lina when he wakes up!" Which explained why he was eating so much during dinner the previous night, he was getting ready.

"Are you saying I eat a month's supply of food in a single meal?" Lina interrupted with a vexed expression.

"Oh, don't worry sweetie!" Tiffany laughed in good humor. "You're a growing girl, so you need your vitamins." Lina found herself wondering just how old Tiffany assumed she was. The redhead didn't say anything about it, but thought the dragon's guess was probably younger than her actual age.

"Continue," Filia commanded almost desperately.

Celo took a small moment to note the intensity in her eyes and wondered if Xellos had been closer to his cure than even the general himself knew. "Basically, what happened was that time was sped up for Xellos in a sense. Because of that, the effect of the curse happened sooner than expected."

Seeing Filia's distraught expression, Tiffany elaborated, "it's not so bad. Xellos isn't going to die or anything, well not unless someone goes and kills him. He can still break the curse upon him and regain his full power becoming just as he was before. Even if the curse has taken it's effect, it can still be broken. He'll just have to put up with being as fragile as a human until he finds a cure... because he is a human."

The room was filled with wide eyed, open mouthed, wordless, shocked expressions. Celo took the moment of silence to bring forth his business proposal again. "This is the reason why I wish to hire you Lina Inverse. The news of Xellos' curse must have already spread through the monster race. They are biding their time and hoping that Xellos will fail to find his cure on time. They don't know about the earlier arrival of his weakness, but they might find out. In order to gain power over Lord Beast Master, other monster lords might send their minions on the attack."

Filia regained the capacity of speech as she struggled to let the outrageous revelations sink in. They had reached a victory that day when they cured Phythan, but it had been at the cost of a sort of defeat for Xellos. "If his life will be constantly hunted, then he won't be able to live as a human. As much as I don't like the idea of Xellos being a monster, regaining his power is the only way he can survive."

"Not to mention that if Master Zelas grows tired of waiting for Xellos to recover, she might take him out herself for his disgrace." Celo added a valid point.

Filia felt her eyes water with worry. "He's in danger and we left him out there!" She hurried towards the door.

"No one knows yet!" Tiffany tried to comfort Filia as the group followed her out to search for Xellos.

"Risking my life playing body guard for an arrogant annoyance that everyone will be out to get as soon as they figure out he's exposed," Lina mused aloud. "Furthermore they expect him to be weakened in a month, so even if this inconvenience of timing remains a secret, it won't matter before long."

"Is the mission too much to ask?" Celo inquired with a hint of disappointment behind his respectful acceptance of her perceived refusal.

"Are you kidding me?" Lina's face went from serious and calculating to confident and cheerful. "I thought you were well aware of who I am when you decided to offer me this job. I'm Lina Inverse; I've fought against monster lords before. I'll take the job! Besides, it'll be priceless to see Xellos' expression when he finds out I'm his bodyguard."

"I might have some comments to make about his newfound humanity," Zelgadis agreed.

"Now that I think about it," Amelia voiced thoughtfully. "Having been such a strong monster his whole life, Xellos must be used to having power handed to him in a silver platter. He'll probably overexert himself and will be helpless to deal with the aches and pains of being human."

Lina and Zelgadis cheered in unison, surprising each other, "awesome!"

"You guys are so cruel!" Filia scolded, though her reprimand was made ineffective by her amused expression as if barely containing laughter. She was sincerely worried about Xellos' safety, but picturing him not knowing how to deal with a boo-boo was simply too hilarious for words. "Poor Xellos must be terrified by his new found humanity. His body has gone through a lot of changes that were sudden and unexpected. He's confused and in need of guidance to better understand his human body and how to keep it healthy."

There was a long communal silence among the group, until Lina finally came up with the courage to point out the peculiarity of Filia's chosen words. "You sound like you're teaching sex-ed."

Filia's face turned crimson, "dragons don't get educated that way, it is taboo!" She stammered in embarrassment.

"I'm sure there's a book on the basic principals of human anatomy back at the tower," Tiffany recalled. "Maybe we can give that to Xellos and wish him luck figuring things out. Unless you had something else in mind, sweet Filia."

Filia's face turned an even brighter shade of red as she caught what Tiffany was hinting at. She finally pushed her voice to work and with a tone that begged for this to be the end of the conversation she stated, "I'll just make sure he eats nutritious meals..."

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 032: Revenge! Bandits, Dragons and More

"Stay alert men!" Miss Medusa, the self proclaimed beauty of the jellyfish people, arrived at the area where the forest used to be. She found nothing but a vast wasteland of dead trees and fallen dried leaves. "This place used to be a forest, can you believe it? All of this is that witch's doing, no doubt. That terrible redhead is exposing my beloved to all sorts of evil dangers. I must save him! That is why I hired you mercenaries for this mission."

Following Miss Medusa, there was a troop of men. The small army consisted of scruffy bearded muscular humans, beastmen and trolls. Among the beastmen the majority seemed to be of the wolf-like variety with fur in varying shades of brown, gray and black. The trolls were mostly gray and green, following the commands of the beastmen and beastly humans that made little contrast to their beastmen allies. The entire group was at the command of Miss Medusa and the considerable sum of money that she paid them.

The jellyfish girl spotted a familiar sight. She had been spying on her beloved Gourry and the last time she saw him, he had headed into the forest, while the forest was actually still there, in the company of several others. "Over there!" She raised one of her tentacles to point at the man, who was walking out of the wasteland with some difficulty, minding his own business and trying not to draw attention to himself. However, being the only person walking around the wasteland he would inevitably draw attention to himself, especially since his bright purple hair was a sharp contrast to the dead shades of dull brown in the wasteland.

"Is that the guy you're trying to save?" It was hard to tell if the one who asked was a human or a beastman. By the amount of facial hair he possessed he could have been a wolfman, but his face lacked the snout-like shape of the beastmen, instead possessing a more rounded shape, akin to the shape of a human head.

"No, that's not him," Miss Medusa clarified. "He's one of my beloved's friends, I saw him with the group earlier. Quickly men, capture him! If the red haired witch gives us any trouble, we can use this strange man as a bargaining chip!"

Xellos noticed that there was a jellyfish woman and a group of hairy males of various species near by. He tried not to stare, he really didn't want to attract attention from bandits in his state and those men really looked a lot like bandits. He knew he should have followed the group back to the clock tower and gotten some rest, but his pride told him to run away as fast as his tired legs could carry him, which was not very fast. The suspicious group led by the jellyfish was too far away for Xellos' human ears to pick up their conversation, but he could see that the woman was pointing at him and the men were heading his way. Those were definitely bad signs. Xellos tried to hurry away to no avail, being quickly surrounded by the tall and muscular hairy males.

"Don't even think about running away!" A black wolfman with an eye patch over his left eye and a scar that was barely visible under his thick fur ordered.

Xellos looked around, he couldn't outrun the group in his exhausted state and he knew he couldn't possibly overpower them as he was. Yet he felt a strong determination to live that was far more impressive than any rush of survival instinct he had felt before. Maybe this is what they meant when they said humans were survivors. Humans are so fragile, yet so stubborn not to be erased. "Bandits," Xellos tried to keep his cool and put up his usual act, he really missed being able to teleport away from annoying situations, though if he had his monster powers, if he was still a monster, this situation would be nothing for him. He smiled to try to throw them off guard, "I have nothing of value for you to steal."

The wolfman with black fur looked hurt as his grey colored brother placed a comforting paw on his shoulder. "We're not bandits," the gray wolfman corrected. "We're mercenaries; we're making an honest living now. Please don't call us bandits, it brings back unpleasant memories!"

Sensitive bandits, er... mercenaries? Great, it was just Xellos' luck, maybe he could get out of this. "My apologies, Mr. Mercenary. Well then, since you're clearly not bandits, I'll be on my way."

"Not so fast!" The big brown bearded human stood in Xellos' way. "We're not bandits, but we're going to have to hold you hostage for a while anyway, since it is an order from our contractor. I hope you won't take it personally, we have nothing against you, little man."

"Little man?" Xellos questioned slightly annoyed. Then again, in comparison to that hairy beast of a man, even Gourry would be a little man. "Kidnapping is a very bandit thing to do."

"Oh no, it's not like that," the big man insisted. "We won't hurt you. In fact, you'll be part of a rescue mission. Think of this as it being for a good cause and take it easy."

Xellos remained silent for several seconds as the men waited for his reply. He debated on his next action and finally made a desperate choice. He took in as much oxygen as his lungs could carry and shouted with everything he had, "bandits! Bandits! Bandits!"

The big man jumped back in fright as if being accused of being a bandit was a very scary thing. "No! No! We're not bandits! Please stop yelling!"

"Oh for crying out loud!" Medusa snatched away a club from one of the trolls and smacked Xellos on the head with it, effectively silencing him with a big bump on his head. "I don't get it, a bunch of big tough mercenaries so terrified of getting accused of being bandits. What's wrong with you guys?"

"You don't understand!" The black wolfman dramatized. "We're not bandits, we have left our bandit ways in the past forever!" He insisted desperately.

"Hold it right there you bandits!" A new voice joined the conversation as the group followed the sound to the source. It was a young woman wearing white, making her way towards them through the wasteland. "I will not tolerate your injustice!" She loudly declared.

"We're not bandits!" The gray wolfman snapped, then took a moment to draw something from his memories. "That girl... she kind of looks familiar."

As if on cue, the young woman introduced herself, "I am Amelia Wil Tesla Seyruun, defender of justice!"

"Did you find him, Amelia?" Another voice entered the conversation as a blond woman made her way past a group of dried up trees and spotted her companion.

"I sure did!" Amelia happily declared. "Mr. Xellos is being held hostage by these bandits. Poor Mr. Xellos was desperately calling for help."

"I was not!" Xellos yelled, still rubbing the sore spot on his head where Medusa hit him.

"We're not bandits!" The gray wolfman insistently corrected.

It wasn't long before the commotion and Amelia's yelling, "over here!" drew the attention of the whole search party that assembled on the spot.

Zelgadis, Gourry, Lina, Tiffany and Celo arrived on the scene, with Lina stepping forward menacingly. "So Xellos got caught by a bunch of bandits?"

The black wolf adamantly yelled in frustration, "we're not bandits!" Then he realized just who he was talking to. This is why the girl in white looked familiar, she was one of the traveling companions of Lina Inverse, the merciless bandit killer, dragon spooker, who terrified the band of ex-bandits into becoming mercenaries instead. "It's her! It's Lina Inverse!"

"Oh No!" The bearded man yelled in fright. "Please Miss Lina, don't hurt us, we're not bandits anymore! We promise!"

"Is that so?" Lina took a menacing step forward. "you sure still look like bandits to me," she observed.

"We're not bandits!" The men pleaded.

"What do you think, Xellos? Are they bandits?" Lina inquired knowing all too well what his answer would be.

Xellos held up the suspense to get back at the mercenaries and pretended to consider the situation. The men looked at him with expectant pleading expressions until he finally replied, "yes, they're definitely bandits."

The men panicked as Lina grinned and Xellos ran for cover. "Fireball!" Several fireballs later, the so called super strong mercenaries were all charred and defeated.

"No!" Miss Medusa dramatized in agony.

"Hi, Miss Medusa," Gourry greeted her as if nothing had even gone wrong between them. "Don't worry, Lina saved you from these bandits, you're okay now. Let's all be friends." He paused as if trying hard to remember something. "Oh, that's right, I haven't told you yet, Lina is my fiance," he spoke naturally as if catching up with an old acquaintance.

Medusa was horrified. "Fiance!" She loudly exclaimed. "This carrot top flat-chested little girl is your fiance?"

Knowing of the terrible danger that had been summoned, Lina's companions were quick to run for cover as the infamous bandit killer was surrounded by a red hot aura of rage. "Darkness beyond twilight, flat-chested she says... Crimson beyond blood that flows, she's a jellyfish it's not like she has a chest herself! Buried in the stream of time, I won't stand for this offense, is where your power grows! Like it or not, you'll have to deal with it, I pledge myself to conquer all the foes who stand... Gourry is my fiance, before the mighty gift bestowed in my unworthy hands, he'll never be yours! Dragon Slave!"

An explosion of colossal magnitude enveloped the area. The charred bandits were blown away, becoming distant specs that landed all over the resort, while Miss Medusa was thrown straight up into the air by the force of the blast. The wasteland of trees was no more; instead a large crater on the ground took its place. The lopsided clock tower was obliterated along with the dried up forest in a brilliant show of Lina's destructive powers.

A moment of silence passed after the loud blast of the Dragon Slave, which was shattered by Xellos' complaining voice. "You can put me down now, Filia." In the mad dash to get to safety, Filia had picked up Xellos bridal style and ran away with him in her arms. She set him down gently on his feet as if he were made of the most fragile glass. She knew the truth and it was painfully apparent to him that she did. He directed an angry glare at Celo, whom he concluded must have opened his big mouth about the situation.

Before Xellos could throw out any sort of excuse or accusation, very much less attempt to come up with a plan to pretend everything was normal, Filia's shrill scream right next to him made him jump. "You're hurt!" Xellos cringed as his ears rang from the intensity of the shriek, as if his headache wasn't bad enough already. Filia reached to the area on Xellos' head where he had been clubbed before. A patch of dried blood clung to his purple hair. "Let me heal you."

Xellos had no time to protest before Filia immediately started healing him. He would never admit that the recovery spell was a great relief. Instead of resisting, he limited himself to pointing out an obvious lie, "I don't need any help."

Just as the group was settling down, a loud roar echoed through the sound waves as a very angry looking Phythan stomped his way over to the posse. His dragon robes were stained and charred in several places and his tail was sticking out from under them. He was a fully purified dragon, but he looked more enraged than a full breed monster. "Who interrupted my meal?" He demanded to know. "I woke up a little while ago and found myself alone in the clock tower. I was raiding the kitchen to recover my energy and then everything blew up! Who is responsible for this?"

Lina gulped, even if the Dragon Slave earned it's original name of Dragon Slay due to a dragon being slain by the spell, this was one very angry dragon. Besides, she couldn't help it but to feel identified with Phythan's tragic dilemma. Lina knew that she would be royally pissed off if someone blew up her food. There were rumors going around that some less civilized dragons still ate humans...

Miss Medusa was finally brought back to the ground by the force of gravity after having been thrown straight up into the skies by the force of Lina's Dragon Slave. She landed right in Phythan's arms, who was so surprised that he was distracted from his deadly rage. "Where did you come from, miss?" He gently set her on her feet, looking over her many burns. "You're injured, I don't have a lot of energy to spare, but allow me to heal you."

After receiving Phythan's healing magic, Medusa was as good as new. "You saved me!" She exclaimed with a dreamy expression.

"There's no need to thank me, miss." Phythan smiled. "This is all part of my duty as a crusader of justice!"

"My heart was broken before, but it has been healed by a new love!" Medusa loudly declared as she tried to wrap all her tentacles around Phythan. "My love, let us marry at once!"

"What?" Phythan looked very much terrified at the prospect. "You got the wrong idea, lady. Like I said, I'm just doing my duty as a crusader of justice. There's no need to jump to conclusions!" Phythan tried to get untangled from Medusa, but she had quite a grip.

"Should we help him?" Amelia inquired unsure.

"This is a personal matter, it's best if we don't interfere," Zelgadis advised.

"Aw, my sweet cousin is such a fine prize; it was only a matter of time before someone noticed." Tiffany clapped her hands together in adoration.

"Let go!" Phythan suddenly transformed from human to dragon form, the aftershock of magic freeing him from the vice-like grip of most of Medusa's tentacles. She still held on to his tail with one tentacle though.

"Oops..." Amelia softly voiced with a rosy face.

Lina blushed and laughed awkwardly, "I didn't see anything..." she whispered to herself.

"I told you to stop doing that!" Zelgadis yelled in annoyance.

Filia join in the reprimand, "have you no modesty?"

"I didn't know what to do to get away!" Phythan took off, flying a few feet above the ground, but Medusa still had one of her tentacles wrapped around the end of his tail.

"My eyes have never before witnessed such perfection!" The jellyfish girl's eyes transformed into metaphorical hearts. "My beloved! We must get married at once, and go on a very long honeymoon together!"

Phythan's golden scales adopted an odd shade of blue as his expression grew in horror. "I don't want to marry you!" He spun around rapidly in the air until Medusa's tentacle slipped off his tail.

The infatuated jellyfish was sent flying across the resort calling out, "I will return for you my love!"

Phythan shuddered in dismay, "I hope she doesn't keep her word on that." He changed back into his human form, causing Filia to gasp and look away.

"Oops..." Amelia softly voiced once more with her face becoming red.

Gourry eyed the blush that adorned Lina's face once more. She laughed awkwardly and assured, though it was obviously not true, "I didn't see anything."

"Stop it!" Zelgadis insisted harshly, but it was Xellos who walked up to Phythan and smacked him on the head.

"Ow! What did you do that for?" Phythan complained.

Xellos discreetly rubbed his pained knuckles. Even in human form, dragons were certainly hard-headed creatures. "Because no one wants to see that, right?"

"Right!" Gourry and Zelgadis immediately piped in, while Celo didn't really care, given the fact that Phythan and Tiffany were relatives.

Since there had been nothing but silence coming from Lina, Amelia and Filia, who wore matching unsure guilty expressions, Gourry, Zelgadis and Xellos prompted them again in unison. "Right?"

Feeling like they were put on the spot, Lina, Amelia and Filia nodded frantically. "Yes, right, of course, absolutely," they were quick to mutter their agreements.

"I'm a hideous creature?" Phythan looked sad. "Do I really repulse you that much?"

"That's not it!" Amelia tried to clarify. "It's just that... How do I put it?"

"You're too hot and it's getting on the guys nerves," Lina blurted out, then immediately slapped both hands over her mouth. She couldn't believe she just said that. Furthermore, Gourry was giving her an adorable confused look, "but not as hot as my fience?" She added in a barely audible whisper that was just enough for Gourry to hear and respond with a satisfied grin.

"I'm a golden dragon," Phythan tried to explain in a matter of fact tone, missing Lina's comment about Gourry. "My body temperature is supposed to be a bit warmer than that of a human."

"I think that what they're trying to say is that modesty is important. That means you have to cover up when you transform," Filia tried to explain. "It's a... rule of etiquette, so to speak."

"I guess so..." Phythan accepted the explanation, though he would probably forget it and publicly transform again in the rush of the moment sometime in the near future.

"I think it's time to think about where you'll go from here," Celo spoke up after his long silence. "Miss Lina, I must ask you to do your job elsewhere, as it would be too destructive for the resort if any large battles were to occur here."

"Oh right, the job," Lina recalled. "I suppose it would be best to stay on the move. If we travel around constantly, we'll be harder to find. But where shall we go?"

"I want to stop by my shop if you don't mind," Filia suggested. "I want to see how Jillas and Gravos are managing things without me and I haven't held little Val's egg in so long."

"Alright," Lina agreed, "than we'll head on over to Filia's shop. We can leave on the next ship, unless Filia's willing to give us a ride?"

"I'm not a horse!" Filia paused, realizing that a horse wouldn't really be useful in this situation, since they had a large stretch of water to cross. "I'm not a pegasus either!" She added adamantly.

"Phythan?" Lina inquired hopefully, "would you mind giving us a ride?"

"No problem, Miss Lina, I don't mind at all," Phythan smiled in an innocent friendly way.

"He's staying," Zelgadis and Xellos declared simultaneously. They glared at each other soon after, silently throwing out copycat accusations with their eyes.

"I guess maybe it is best if I remain here," Phythan agreed. "I have only recently been reunited with Tifa and I haven't gotten to know cousin Celo very well yet. Plus it might be helpful to have an extra dragon around the resort, just in case more bandits show up. I wish you all the best of luck on your journey, come visit sometime!"

"Alright," Lina conceded, "Celo, make preparations for us to leave on the next ship, VIP accommodations of course."

"Certainly," Celo presented no arguments as he whistled and a purple parrot with long white fangs sticking out of its yellow beak landed on his arm. "Let the finest ferry be prepared for the departure of our honored guests, Lina Inverse and company." The monster parrot squawked and repeated Celo's message before flying off again.

"It was nice seeing you again, Filia, and it was lots of fun to meet you all," Tiffany bid them farewell. After a few more exchanged goodbyes, Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Filia and Xellos were on the move again.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 033: Harsh! Being Human Is Not Easy

Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Filia and Xellos headed for the docks. Xellos followed the group automatically, without pointing out his condition directly, though he was sure everyone already knew. Yet what made it sink in fully was when Lina spoke up about her secret job. "Try not to run off on your own, Xellos. I'm supposed to be your bodyguard after all."

"What?" Xellos felt his eye twitch madly. There was a long harsh road ahead of him and he needed to gain his cure more desperately than ever.

"You heard me and I'm getting good money out of this deal, so I'll be really angry if you mess it up for me!" Lina emphasized.

When the group arrived at the docks, a ship was already waiting for them. They boarded and left swiftly; sailing away from the resort and towards the road they intended to follow to Filia's home. It looked as if the trip by sea would be uneventful. Gourry and Lina were eating every last dish on the vessel, while Amelia and Zelgadis enjoyed the refreshing sea breeze on deck in the front of the ship. Xellos on the other hand, was not enjoying the trip. After his human transformation, he experienced hunger as a human would, but as soon as he got on the ship, he was thankful for his empty stomach.

Leaning on the railing of the side of the ship, Xellos contemplated the ocean and mused about how much he loathed it. His face was looking rather green with a sickly expression as he shrugged his shoulders harshly. Filia, who had been standing beside him with her hand tracing comforting circles on his upper back, pouted and glared as Xellos growled, "stop that!"

Placing her hands on her hips, Filia maintained a firm glare, "I'm only trying to help!"

"You're not helping," Xellos looked away from her, tempted to throw himself into the ocean where he would surely drown, just to get away from the humiliation of the situation. "Everything's already going in enough circles as it is," he grumbled under his breath.

"Oh," Filia blinked in realization, "I was making you dizzier? Sorry about that. It can't be easy being sea sick. I heard Zelgadis used to get sea sick." She glanced towards the front of the ship where the chimera and the princess were cuddled close to each other. "He certainly doesn't look sick now. Love must be a wonderful medicine."

Filia's words reminded Xellos of his cure. He knew this wouldn't work, but he still had to try. "So love cures sea sickness? I suppose it won't kill me in my current state. Give me a dose of that." If anything, teasing Filia and watching her blush might make him feel a little better.

The golden dragon did indeed blush, just as the ex-monster expected. "It's not so simple," she struggled to explain. "If you were nicer to me I could at least..." her face turned a deeper shade of crimson, "be your friend?" She offered unsure.

"Funny, I thought you already were. I recall a time when you admitted to such a blasphemous thing," Xellos teased, referring to the time when they were researching the profiles in the secret golden dragon archives. "Of course you might have changed your mind, golden dragons have no loyalty." Filia sighed, which threw Xellos off guard, "what? No retorts? Are you giving up and admitting that everything I say is true?"

"No," Filia shook her head gently. It was obvious he was uncomfortable, more than uncomfortable. Xellos was suffering and it was a new experience for him, which made it much more difficult to tolerate, no matter how strong his will might be. Of course, giving him compassion would only hurt his already broken pride and make things worse for him, Filia knew that. She took a deep breath and tried to act natural for Xellos' sake. "You're nothing but an annoying, lying, trickster piece of raw garbage!" She turned around and started to storm off, maybe Xellos would feel better below deck. "I'm going below deck," she declared. "Don't you dare follow me!" It secretly was an invitation for him to follow.

Xellos watched Filia walk off for a few seconds and focused on fading into the astral side to teleport into her room. If she really wanted some time away from him, she would be annoyed if she opened her door to find him there. A few more seconds passed and nothing happened. Of course it didn't, Xellos was a human now, he couldn't fade into the astral side and reappear somewhere else. Humans didn't do that, monsters did. Even if he knew he was human, the habit came without much conscious thought. Seeing that he wasn't going anywhere unless he actually made a physical effort to move, Xellos resigned himself to walk after Filia.

Filia had by then arrived at her assigned room below deck. She left the door unlocked and waited until predictably, Xellos arrived. "I was getting bored of the view, so I think I'll hang out down here for a while."

"Go away!" Filia snapped, which meant 'stay.' "I don't want to deal with you now; I want to take a nap!" Perhaps sleeping through the voyage by sea would be best for Xellos.

"A nap? It's still the middle of the day! Dragon sure are lazy!" Xellos followed Filia's gaze towards the bed. There was nothing particularly unusual about it, which was a good thing because given the heart themes that were common on the resort one would expect such a thing to be on the sheets. Fortunately, the sheets were a nice shade of cerulean with a fluffy white pillow. Xellos lay down on the bed, "yeah, this does feel like a good place for a nap."

"Get off! That's my bed!" Filia reproached, knowing full well that it would make Xellos stay put. "I'm going to give you to the count of ten to get up! One... two... three... four... five... six... seven... eight... nine... ten..." Filia lowered her voice with every number, until the number ten was barely audible. When the count was over, Xellos was out like a light. He fell for it, just like counting sheep. Now he could get some rest despite his stubbornness. Filia gently placed the covers over Xellos, then quietly pulled over a chair and sat beside the bed. She didn't even know why she felt compelled to do this. Lina was his bodyguard; she should be the one taking care of him. But since Lina wasn't properly taking care of her responsibilities, someone had to.

xoxox xox xoxox

Several hours later, Xellos woke up to a particularly sweet voice calling his name. "Xellos... Xellos, wake up, it's time to get off the ship. Xellos..." A soft hand was brushing his hair away from his face when he opened his amethyst eyes and was greeted by the visual of Filia leaning over him. "Get up, we already arrived at port. You slept through the whole trip, it's already well into the evening. Lina and the others have gone ahead to one of the seaside restaurants to get a late dinner, since Lina and Gourry ate all the food on the ship."

Xellos' only reply was an ever eloquent "hmm" then he closed his eyes and turned over on his side, snuggling the fluffy white pillow. He knew humans sometimes had trouble waking up, but he didn't know it was this hard. Then his stomach growled loudly. The ship was much more still as it was parked at the docks, thus there were no continuous rocking motions from the passing waves to make him seasick. As a result, his appetite was back full force, which created enough of a motivation for Xellos to stumble out of bed and walk past Filia, pretending he wasn't suffering from post-nap sleep-drunkenness.

Xellos took a short moment to observe the darkened environment outside. It really was well into the evening as the sun had almost completely sunk out of sight in the horizon. He headed for the board that served as a bridge between the ship and the dock and managed to get safely to the other side, only to trip on a loose board once he was actually on the dock. He was saved from falling into the water between the ship and the dock, by Filia's sudden firm grip on his arm, which didn't let go until it was evident that he had fully regained his balance.

"Watch your step," she advised in a motherly tone. It was true that humans could cast levitation spells, but their natural way of walking without magic felt clumsy for someone with enough power to float with every step he took and fly without the need to focus his energy on it.

Being human was definitely something to get used to, but Xellos wasn't going to let Filia pity him. "Yes, mother," he sarcastically replied with every ounce of mocking dread he could muster.

Filia pouted and placed her hands on her hips as she corrected, "I'm not Zelas."

Xellos was going to say something, but soon realized that Lord Beast Master was in fact his mother, all things considered and felt that his sarcastic remark was out of place. It's not that Filia didn't deserve all the sarcastic remarks in the world, but rather, this was human and perhaps dragon mother sarcasm, not monster mother sarcasm. Resolving that the only way to save the remnants of his dignity was to give Filia the cold shoulder, Xellos did so, and walked away with as much of a firm pace as he could muster in his hungry state.

It didn't take long for Filia and Xellos to find the rest of their traveling companions. Lina and Gourry had their own table at one of the seaside restaurants, where they could eat wildly. Amelia and Zelgadis were at the table next to theirs, eating at a much more civilized pace. Leaving the lovebirds to their meal, Filia and Xellos took up another near by table, where Xellos proceeded to order everything on the menu that looked appetizing.

"You're going to get sick if you eat like Lina," Filia warned, but Xellos ignored her. He remembered having visited this town before during an incident involving people losing their ability to speak normally, instead speaking an odd language known as octopese. The local specialty was octopus, though these days it was limited to serving only tentacles, which the octopus could regenerate, leading to an era of peace between the octopi and the townspeople.

Just as he was preparing to savor his meal, which was served ironically by an octopus waiter, Xellos noticed that his traveling companions were staring at him, along with other people in the restaurant. Even Lina and Gourry had ceased their ferocious eating to look at Xellos. "What? It's not like you've never seen me eating before." Lina, Gourry, Amelia and Zelgadis burst out laughing, much to Xellos' annoyance, "what?" He demanded to know. "What's so funny?"

Filia sighed patiently and stood from her chair, producing a hairbrush from the pocket of her cloak. She rounded the table where they sat face to face and standing behind Xellos, she brushed his hair. "You kept snuggling your head on the pillow while you slept and it messed up your hair. It looks like the sea breeze made it extra frizzy too."

"My... hair..." Xellos uttered in horror as he ran his fingers through it. When he was a monster he didn't need to worry about having a single hair out of place, but now his hair was sticking out in every direction like a purple kitten that had been accidentally thrown in an electric dryer, if either of those actually existed.

"Calm down," Filia slapped Xellos' hands away. "You're just making it worse; I'll fix it for you." A few excruciatingly long and horrible minutes later, Xellos had learned the pain of undoing hair knots and the humiliation that came with having someone do so in public. "There," Filia finally announced. "You're hair is actually pretty fine, you'll have to use a gentle shampoo if you don't want it to lose its shine, it's already starting to dull." She gently ran her hand through his hair again, curiously parting the top layer to look at the strands of hair under it. "Or maybe it's all part of the process..." she mused, observing that the hair under the top layer was noticeably different from what was seen at first glance.

Humiliation aside, there was a possibility that seriously bothered Xellos. "Don't tell me I'm..." did he even dare to ask? "Going bald?" He inquired in a terrified whisper that was just loud enough for Filia and their traveling companions in the neighboring tables to hear.

Lina, Gourry, Amelia and Zelgadis burst into a fit of laughter again. "Yes, you're definitely going bald." Zelgadis replied with a cruelly amused smile.

"Oh yeah, I can see a bald spot the size of the moon from here!" Lina contributed between giggles.

"Really?" Gourry looked confused. "It's the size of the moon? I just don't see it." Lina elbowed him under the table and he quickly amended, "there it is; I see it now!" It was a miracle he actually understood that she was trying to get him to play along. Or maybe he didn't understand and thought Lina simply didn't want to be contradicted in any way.

"Filia..." Xellos almost whimpered, his face a mixture of horror and fright.

"Stop it, all of you!" Filia scolded, though she did so between giggles. "It's okay, Xellos, you're not going bald, your hair is simply turning black. It's only natural when you think about it. Some humans have eyes so blue that they appear to be purple, so I don't think that will change. But who has ever heard of a human with natural purple hair? I'm sure that if you take proper care of it, it will be just as shiny as ever. I can help; I know how to take good care of hair." Filia proudly offered.

Xellos felt relieved that he still had a head full of hair. He didn't care what color it was as long as he didn't go bald... Then again, pink hair would have been a humiliating disaster, it would be annoying if he turned into one of those red-heads with such a strange shade of red that their hair looked pink. Black was at least an acceptable color, not a bad color at all. Thus he decided that this wasn't such a big disaster after all, he could live with black hair.

After Xellos' stomach was full, he expected to feel better, but he didn't. Though he appeared to disregard Filia's advice, he did actually make sure not to over eat in his rush of hunger. It wasn't that he felt overly full, he felt as if he had consumed enough food to be pleasantly satisfied, but he wasn't. His stomach hurt like never before, his head was spinning more than it had while he was on the ship and he was itchy all over.

"Are you okay?" Filia asked with visible concern.

"Yes, I'm perfectly fine," Xellos replied with heavy sarcasm, but an undertone that almost begged for Filia to drop the subject.

Filia, as expected, refused to drop it. "No, you're not."

"If you're going to draw your own conclusions, why did you bother asking?" Xellos snapped with little enthusiasm as he scratched his face, his arms... the itch was everywhere and it was driving him crazy. "What is this?" He demanded to know with great urgency. Forget his pride, he needed information and that stubbornly persistent human survival instinct was starting to kick in again. "Don't just sit there staring at me," he threw his last shred of dignity out the metaphorical window; the itch was too much to bear. "Tell me what you humans do to get rid of itches!"

Filia continued to stare at Xellos along with everyone else. "Did you get sick somehow?" Filia theorized unsure. "I don't understand; you were fine a while ago. The breeze feels pleasant; I don't think it's enough to make anyone catch pneumonia."

"I don't think pneumonia looks like that," Lina pointed out. She had never heard of a red rash being a symptom of pneumonia.

"Oh, oh..." Everyone turned their attention expectantly at Amelia. "I've seen this before," she revealed, pausing for several suspenseful seconds before she stated what she knew. "A friend of mine, who is a shrine maiden at Seyruun, once got an itchy red rash just like that after eating octopus for the first time. It turned out that she was highly allergic to it and had to be hospitalized."

Everyone's expressions grew in shock at the revelation. "This can't be!" Lina dramatized in agony, "if he dies now, Celo won't pay me!"

"Have some consideration!" Filia scolded in indignation.

"That can't be true; this has to be something else!" Xellos insisted as he scratched madly. He didn't have enough arms to scratch every itch and to top it all up, scratching only made him itch more. "I've eaten octopus before and nothing happened!" He paused as the realization hit him. When he was a monster, he could drink poison as if it was juice and remain unaffected. He could drink a gallon of gasoline, swallow a lit match and still, nothing would happen. All of that was possible because he was a monster before, but he was a human now. He was a fragile human with a fragile immune system, a fragile digestive system and his very own personalized set of hidden allergies just waiting to be discovered. "I... really am allergic... aren't I?" The truth sunk in like a ton of bricks falling on his head, which would have killed him in his delicate state if it wasn't just a metaphor. "Humans are so pathetic!" Xellos yelled at the top of his lungs in absolute frustration.

"Wow, you really did draw the short end of the stick in this humanity business," Lina observed. Then again, rather than bad luck maybe it was karma. Maybe the movement of chance around Xellos' fate had slingshot back at him to push his fate into a miserable destiny.

Xellos was still in the middle of his frustrated hissy fit when he was literally swept off his feet by Filia. She once again had him in her arms, carrying him bridal style. "Where's the nearest hospital?" She urgently yelled. Catching wind of the situation, the octopus waiter gave Filia some directions and she hurried away, carrying the complaining, red and itchy Xellos.

"We have to go with them!" Lina picked up her big dessert bowl containing large portions of cake and ice-cream, then bolted after Filia. Gourry mirrored the action and hurried away after Lina.

"We're coming too!" Amelia dashed after the group.

"This I can't miss," Zelgadis left as well.

The octopus waiter stood watching the group rush away to give their friend some much needed first aid. He felt sad for them until he realized that in the commotion, they left without paying.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 034: Fan Service! Kindness Shall Be Rewarded

Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis and Filia were piled into Xellos' small hospital room. The local doctor had given him medicine, ordered him not to scratch his rash, which was all over his body, and left him overnight at the hospital for observation. Xellos of course couldn't help it but to scratch, while Filia tried to stop him. "If you want to get better you have to listen to the doctor!" Filia had enough of trying to wrestle Xellos into staying still, especially when he resorted to hair pulling after he realized that no human could possibly physically overpower a dragon. "That's it! I'll make you stay still; this is for your own good!" Filia stormed off, leaving a heavy feeling of foreboding in the air.

"Stupid dragon," Xellos growled, then decided to seek out more information about his pitiful human condition. The doctor was in his opinion very unhelpful. He claimed to need Xellos to stay for overnight observation at the hospital before the intensity of his allergies could be determined. Apparently, if he was lucky, the medicine should have him fully healed by morning. Xellos wasn't getting his hopes up for the idea of being cured by the next day, because his luck had been anything but good as of late. "Amelia, what do you know about this... disease?" He finally swallowed his pride enough to ask, the suspense was killing him.

"It's an allergy, not a disease," Amelia pointed out. Xellos gave her an impatient look, silently indicating that it was just a figure of speech and he knew the difference well enough, so she could skip that explanation and move on to the more important information. "My friend, Kally, got a red rash all over her body just like what you have, but that was only on the first day. She got medicine and stayed at the hospital overnight."

"Then she was fine the next day?" Xellos inquired with a thin thread of hope clinging to his voice.

"Oh no, the next day she was far worse!" Amelia grimaced. "Her skin was only red and dry at first, just like yours, but on the second day it started cracking and bleeding, it was... rather unpleasant. They had to wrap every inch of poor Kally in bandages. She was like that for about two weeks and she said it hurt as if she was constantly being burned alive. The poor dear kept crying in agony day and night and not even the best healers could help her. Only herbal medicine was able to cure her, then at the end of the fifty days of treatment, she was as good as new, though a little traumatized by the experience. She can't even see a picture of an octopus without screaming, crying or fainting."

Fear, this was fear, Xellos recognized it. As a monster he enjoyed it very much, but as a human it was terrible. "Sounds like you're in trouble, I do hope you recover," Zelgadis grinned and Amelia failed to see the enjoyment in his remark. It wasn't that she wanted to be mean; she was just stating the facts as they were with the story about Kally. Lina and Gourry were quick to add in their condolences as well, though only Gourry's seemed to have a shred of sincerity.

"I'm back," Filia returned to the room with a bundle of ropes in her arms. "This should keep you still."

"No!" Xellos attempted to run away, but Filia dragged him back and tied him to the bed forcefully. "Stop it! Let me go!"

"Yell all you want, that's just going to give you a sore throat, it won't convince me to let you go. This is all for your own good." Filia took up the chair closest to Xellos' hospital bed, guarding him.

Lina, Gourry, Amelia and Zelgadis looked at each other and unanimously decided it was time to leave. Thus they left the miserable ex-monster in the capable care of the temperamental golden dragon.

xoxox xox xoxox

It was the most unpleasant night of Xellos' life, spent at the hospital like a fragile human, which he hated to remember he was. He woke up feeling terribly stiff and painfully turned his head to the side to see Filia leaning on his bed in an odd position, the rest of her body on a chair beside it. "Filia, wake up, you stupid lazy dragon!"

Filia woke up startled and looked around in every direction until it sunk in where she was and why she was there. "Xellos, are you in pain?"

"Yes," he snapped from his position, immobile on the bed. "But it's not because of some octopus allergy; I'm stiff from laying still."

Filia gently caressed his face, which only further annoyed him. "Your temperature is normal and the rash is gone. It looks like your allergy wasn't as bad as what Amelia's friend had."

Xellos was worried he would end up wrapped in bandages like a mummy too. How was he supposed to break his curse then? Who falls in love with a mummy? Okay, so maybe he kind of figured Filia would take care of him either way, but that would just make things worse.

"Yes, I'm cured, the medicine was a success, I have no reason to scratch anymore, untie me!" Xellos yelled in humiliated frustration. In an attempt to get back at Filia, he gave her a suspicious look and winked. "Unless it was your plan all along to take this opportunity to fulfill your bondage fantasies. Are you going to try to take advantage of me?"

"No!" Filia's face turned crimson and she fumbled with the knocks to untie Xellos as quickly as she could. She stumbled back as soon as he was untied and watched him stretch from the corner of her eyes as she rummaged through the bag the doctor had dropped off that morning while Xellos was still sleeping. She yawned, "you know, I just recently fell asleep." She tried to change the subject.

"Then you spent the whole night watching me?" Xellos made a fake exaggerated shuddering motion. "Creepy!"

"Stop it! You know I wasn't watching you with bad intentions!" Filia insisted still red-faced. She handed the doctor's bag over to Xellos. "There's some spare medicine in there, just in case, and some herbal soap. I suggest you use it now since it will probably be a long walk to the next inn." She handed him his clothes as well, since the doctor had made him change into baby blue hospital pajamas the previous day. "I also washed your clothes."

"I'm glad you finally learned your place, slave. Are you going to give your master a sponge bath too?" Xellos teased.

Trying to avoid a long argument, Filia growled in response, "just go and try to hurry, everyone is already prepared to go, we're just waiting for you."

"Have a good time waiting then," Xellos walked away towards the bathroom at a luxurious pace, which he knew would annoy Filia. Just as he closed the door he heard her let out a stream of angry mutters that were most certainly directed at him. He slightly opened the door again and poked his head out, "no peeking." The simple phrase was enough to anger Filia further as she denounced that she ever would. Xellos shut the door once more, locking it with more force than needed, so that the click of the lock was annoyingly obvious to Filia. It's not like she would actually try to open the door, but making her think he thought she would was amusing.

The bathroom was particularly small and just as white as the hospital room. The tub had been filled with water. Xellos set his clothes aside and tested the temperature, finding that it was pleasantly warm. Filia must have gotten the bath ready for him too before she dozed off for a few short minutes. A quick curious peek at the mirror confirmed that his skin was completely back to normal. His hair was also darker then the day before, almost completely black with only a few strands of purple left. His eyes had remained the same amethyst color, as it was pointed out before, some humans have eyes so blue that they looked purple, though his pupils were rounder. He glared at his reflection, not out of distaste, but just to see what he looked like with a different expression. His face was the same as ever, except that constantly wearing a squinting smile got tiring. Humans were truly pathetic, even their tiny facial muscles needed rest.

Glaring at the mirror, Xellos ironically realized that he looked more so like a monster now than before. Perhaps not really a monster, but more like an evil wizard. The black hair did give him a certain sinister quality, especially when he had his eyes open. Upon further observation, he realized that he must have unknowingly run a fever at some point in the night because he was a little sweaty. He wondered if those instances when he half woke up to find Filia cleaning his face with a cool towel in the middle of the night were real or just a product of his tortured mind.

In any case, he would much rather leave the terrible octopus calamity behind for good. He tossed the pajamas on the floor and hopped into the tub. The warm water felt like a great relief on his stiff body. He didn't care if the others were waiting; he wasn't getting out of the tub any time soon. After a while, before the water cooled off completely, he rummaged through the bag Filia had given him for the medicinal soap he was supposed to use. The stuff smelled like something that belonged in some old granny's stew and he didn't like it, but thinking that the rash of itchy doom could return, Xellos decided not to take any chances and used the soap just as he was told.

He noticed that there were several bottles inside the bag. Aside from the medicine, there was a small traveling size bottle of shampoo with nothing particularly medicinal about it. There was also another bottle of... cologne? Why would they give that away at the hospital? It was appropriate, since it would get rid of the smell of the weird herbal soap, but it and the shampoo looked store bought. A small note at the bottom of the bag listed the two items. This had to be Filia's hand writing; she looked like the type to dot her i's with little hearts.

Filia did say something about helping Xellos take care of his hair the previous evening. She must have also smelled the medicinal soap and decided something had to be done about it. The note proved that she did indeed stay by his side the whole night, having sent someone else to get the items for her. Stupid dragon thinking of every detail and annoyingly going out of her way for him...

A knock on the door interrupted Xellos' peaceful soaking in the bathtub. "Xellos, you've been in there for an hour!" There was no reply. "Xellos?" Filia repeated. "Are you okay in there?" A few more seconds passed, slowly turning into minutes as Filia's mind went crazy with tragic theories. Was it that Xellos had not fully recovered and fainted? Or maybe he slipped on the tub, fell and hit his head. Maybe he was unconscious under water in the tub. Maybe he could still be saved. "Xellos, answer me!" Filia's voice turned desperate and frightened, which further amused Xellos. He felt the tickle of a laugh wanting to come out, but managed to keep it in check.

He remained perfectly quiet and waited for Filia to break down crying in desperation. What was her problem anyway? He was only taking a bath; there was nothing that could possibly hurt him during the process. He would have to remember to ask her if she was afraid he would go down the drain or something. With Filia's melodious desperate shouts in the background, Xellos decided it was time to get out of the tub; the water had cooled off by then anyway. He stood up and just as he was about to reach for one of the white towels that was almost invisible against the white wall, the door burst open. The door knob had been shattered, lock and all, as Filia barged in with a panicked expression.

Time seemed to stand still. There was Xellos standing against a pure white backdrop, dripping wet and with absolutely nothing in the way to obstruct the view. There was Filia in a panicked state caused by her baseless worries, with a rush of adrenaline coursing through her body that heightened her senses, allowing her to better take in every detail before her. A single second passed and the frozen state was broken as Filia's face turned a glowing shade of scarlet and she screamed at the top of her lungs. She made a hasty retreat, slamming the ruined bathroom door so hard that it fell off one of its hinges and hung lopsided from the doorframe.

xoxox xox xoxox

Fifteen minutes later, Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Xellos and Filia were on the road again. Thankfully they managed to elude the octopi waiters and upset human chefs that wanted them to pay for the previous evening's meal. Thus once again, Lina Inverse and company skipped another town without paying their food bills. Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis and Xellos were walking at a normal pace, while Filia lagged behind, staring at the ground in embarrassment, her face still flustered.

"Are you alright, Miss Filia? Your face is all red; did you catch a fever somehow?" Amelia inquired with all the good intentions in the world.

"I'm alright," Filia snapped awkwardly. She tried to put on a happy smile and hope that Amelia would keep any further questions to herself. "I mean, I'm perfectly fine, really! It's a lovely day and life is wonderful!" She laughed awkwardly. "It's just a little warm out today, that's all."

"If you say so," realizing that she wasn't going to get any more information out of Filia, Amelia mercifully dropped the subject.

A short moment of blissful silence passed by, being filled only by the soft sound of their foot steps on the dirt road. "Seriously, Xellos," Lina broke the silence holding her nose with the index and thumb of one hand, while fanning the air in front of her face with the other hand. "That cologne smells nice and all, but you didn't have to bathe in it!"

"I had to use it," Xellos innocently replied. "It was a gift from Filia." He drew closer to his bodyguard as if to whisper a secret to her, though it was just loud enough for the whole group to hear. "I think she wants me."

"I do not!" Filia immediately screeched. "You're delusional, you monster!" this time she was using the word monster in a metaphorical sense.

"Really?" Xellos grinned evilly. "So the whole thing with you ripping off the bathroom door, which I had locked, and rushing in when I was innocently taking a bath was all part of my imagination? That ruined door back at the hospital looked pretty real to me. Besides, I'm sure that everyone heard you scream."

All eyes landed on Filia as her face glowed crimson again. She seemed unwilling to communicate and eager to leave town when she caught up to the group. "I didn't mean to and you know it!"

"I know dragons are brutes," Xellos continued in his usual super annoying tone, at least that had not changed about him. "But you can't expect me to believe that you accidentally broke the door. I've seen you use doors before without breaking them."

"I thought you were hurt!" Filia defended.

"Did you think I would go down the drain?" Xellos teased with the remark he had thought of earlier.

"I once got my thumb stuck in a tub's drain at an inn," Gourry randomly shared. "Lina had to help me get it out."

The collective stare of the group shifted from Filia to Lina, giving Filia a small much needed break from the analytical visual attention. Lina's face instantly matched the color of her hair as she tried to make up an excuse. "Headband!" She pointed at the black headband she usually wore around her forehead. "I was wearing my headband over my eyes the whole time!" Of course that was after she rushed in to answer Gourry's plea for help, saw everything, screamed her head off and finally calmed down enough to actually help him. That was also after hurling every blunt object she could get her hands on at his head. "Anyway, getting back on topic, we were talking about Xellos and Filia," Lina reminded, sinking poor Filia to save herself.

Filia gave Lina a sarcastic 'thanks a lot' look as she continued in her defense. "I thought Xellos fainted as a side-effect of his allergy, or slipped in the tub and hit his head. I thought he was drowning and honestly needed help!"

"Just because I've been turned into this doesn't mean I'm completely pathetic." Xellos argued with a certain edge to his voice upon being reminded of his fragile mortality.

"I kept calling out for you and you didn't answer!" Filia's tone evolved from defensive to accusing. "What else was I supposed to think if not that you were unconscious?"

Amelia, the self proclaimed just judge of the argument nodded in acknowledgement. "Miss Filia states a valid point."

To answer Filia's rhetorical question, Xellos offered, "you were supposed to think I was ignoring you. It's the most logical conclusion."

"That's a valid point too," Amelia admitted. She silently deliberated for a few seconds with a classic thoughtful expression with one hand on her chin, then finally reached a conclusion. "However, the fact still stands that you did not answer to Miss Filia's calls and purposely worried her. That was a very mean thing to do, Mr. Xellos, especially after Miss Filia showed you such kindness. She stayed by your side the whole night while you recovered and even asked me to run to the store to get a few things, so she could remain with you every second. In life, evil deeds are punished and kindness is rewarded!" Amelia's view of the world wasn't exactly perfectly accurate, but no one pointed it out. There was no destroying Amelia's fantasies of absolute justice.

Instead of trying to point out that the world wasn't always that balance, and that it rarely was, Xellos mused over Amelia's words until he reached a conclusion of his own. "So evil deeds are punished and kindness is rewarded... By that logic that must mean that my evil deeds of the past are being punished by having my very own peeping she-tom stalker."

"What?!" Filia snapped in mortified anger.

Not quite done with his conclusion, Xellos finished stating his observations with a mischievous grin and a conceited tone. "Following the same train of logic, we can also conclude that Filia's kindness was rewarded with some excellent fan service." Unable to respond, Filia could only hide her red face with her hands, while in the privacy of her mind, she wondered if Xellos' statement was somehow true.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 035: You Again?! Relatively Strange Relatives

Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Xellos and Filia were well on their way to Filia's home town. The rest of the trip had gone relatively well, with no further allergic reactions from Xellos or accidental fan service being received by Filia, or anyone for that matter. "If we keep going at this rate, we should be getting there tonight," Filia stated with a hint of homesickness in her voice. She would be glad to feel the comforting familiarity of her shop, make sure that Gravos and Jillas were doing alright in her absence and gently hold little Val's egg in her arms once more.

After Filia's statement, the group made small talk about what they would do when they reached the town. Lina and Gourry were, as expected, looking forward to getting some food. They talked about times past and their adventure during the battle against Darkstar, until the chat was interrupted. Straight ahead in the middle of the road there was a strange being, obviously a monster by the looks of him.

The creature had the lower body of a horse with eight spider limbs sticking out from his back. A muscular troll-like torso emerged from the horse with a pair of thick arms ending in hoofs. The being was completely covered in black fur and had a face that looked like a combination of a spider and a bull. Three glowing red eyes glared at the approaching pedestrians with a pair of long fangs sticking out of the bull's spider-style snout.

"Will you look at that," Lina returned the creature's menacing glare with a confident glare of her own. "It's the welcoming committee!"

"Quite the ugly welcoming committee I would say," Xellos commented as if this was none of his business.

The monster's three red eyes landed on him as he spoke the name in a gruff yet screeching voice that was very unpleasant to the ears. "Xellos! I see it's true, the curse took you out earlier than expected. It goes to show that you weren't as strong as they said you were." The being laughed obnoxiously, vibrating as he did. A small crystal skull that hung from a golden chain bounced around his throat with the vibrations.

Just as Xellos was getting ready to retaliate to the insult and sent his bodyguard on a physical offense alongside his verbal assault, another voice pierced the air. "Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!" The annoyance level of the voice matched that of the monster. "Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!" The voice insistently repeated in the distance, but as of yet its owner remained unseen. "Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!" Every time the laughter was heard, it was closer to the group's location. "Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!" Even the monster had to pause and wonder what in the world that was. "Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!" Finally, the voice sounded very close by. Harsh breathing was heard and one final bout of laughter came. "Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!"

The monster stepped aside to reveal the woman who had ran over from the opposite side of the path and was catching her breath. She had come up behind the large monster, thus was unseen by Lina and company until that moment. "You again?" The monster sounded very much exasperated. "Now listen here lady, I'm getting really tired of having you follow me around trying to steal this," he pointed at the glass skull necklace. "I don't know how you survived our last encounter, but this time I'll have to make extra sure you don't make it out alive!" The monster paused with an undignified expression, if expressions were even noticeable on such a strange face. "Hey lady, are you even listening to me?"

The woman in question was not listening to the monster whose treasure she was pursuing. She was instead staring straight ahead at the group of travelers, while the travelers stared at her. Lina and Amelia's faces were especially shocked. Gourry was confused, but there was nothing new there and Zelgadis looked like he was thinking 'where did this weirdo come from?' Xellos appeared to have some amount of recognition about who the scandalously clad woman was and waited for the revelation to be spoken.

"Naga!" If Lina was deeply surprise at that point, her shock was about to double.

Simultaneous to Lina's voice, Amelia also expressed her recognition of the woman in the black leather bikini. "Sister?"

Both Lina and Zelgadis stared at Amelia in shock, or in shock and dread in Zelgadis' case. "What?" They unanimously chorused with Zelgadis hoping and wishing with all his might that he heard Amelia wrong. Then again, her family was anything but normal.

"Amelia, Lina!" Naga ran past the vexed monster and towards the familiar people. "What a grand day it is to be reunited with my sister and my rival at the same time!" She wrapped one arm around each girl, pulling them into an excessively tight hug against her abundant chest.

When Lina and Amelia managed to get free of Naga's affectionate grip, explanations were swiftly demanded, though Lina and Amelia's questions came out as a jumble of stuttered syllables. Finally, Lina lost her temper and shouted, "what's going on around here?"

"Miss Lina... Everyone..." Amelia faced the group, signaling to Naga. "This is my older sister, Gracia Ul Naga Seyruun."

"Sister! She's really your sister!" Lina's brain was being forced to assimilate an idea that simply made no sense what so ever, no matter how she looked at it. She had seen her fair share of strange things during her travels, but this took the cake by far.

Filia eloquently summed up the situation with an expressive, "oh my!" She didn't know what to say. For one thing, she didn't approve of Miss Gracia's attire, or lack of attire rather. But she didn't want to sound offensive and this was only their first meeting. Needless to say she simply didn't see the resemblance between Amelia and Gracia, or Naga as Lina had referred to her.

"Yes, Miss Lina," Amelia confirmed, "Naga, as she prefers to be called, is my sister."

"That's Naga the White Serpent," the eldest Seyruun princess corrected. "But you can all just call me Naga since you're friends with both my little sister and my main rival."

"Sisters... They're sisters..." Lina muttered in disbelief, suffering from what a later more advance society where computers exist would call a mental blue screen. She took a deep breath and tried to get over the shock, concluding that there are things in life that simply cannot be explained with anything resembling sense or logic, or cannot be explained at all. Besides, Lina wouldn't call her own sister normal either.

"Hi!" Naga cheerfully waved with a big smile, "nice to meet everyone!"

"You already know Miss Lina," Amelia continued with the introductions, making the verbal annotation with a tone that hinted she would require further information about how they met. "Have you met Mr. Gourry Gabriev? He's Miss Lina's fiance."

Naga made an exaggerated gasp, "her fiance? Really?" She gave Gourry a critical look, leaning in close to his face with an analytical "hmm..." She placed her right index finger under his chin and further examined his face with another, "hmm..." her nose almost touching his.

"What's the big idea, Naga?" Lina was positively fuming at the invasion of personal space Gourry was too stupid to realize he was suffering.

"Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!" Naga laughed as she finally gave Gourry some breathing room. Her fit of loud laughter went on for several seconds until a full minute passed. Finally, Naga made a dramatic pause and declared, "I approve."

Gourry blinked in slight confusion. He wasn't sure how, but apparently this lady had just given him her approval. Approval was generally a good thing, so he concluded that he should thank her, thus he did. "Thank you," and he smiled.

"What are you thanking her for?" Lina screeched in exasperation. It was just like the old days; Naga could drive her insane in seconds. The difference was that this time the whole gang was along for the ride.

"Shall we continue the introductions?" Amelia prompted awkwardly, hoping to diffuse the situation. "This is Zelgadis Graywords, he's..." she blushed. She didn't think she would be introducing Zelgadis as her boyfriend to a member of her family so soon.

"He's blue," Naga stated with curiosity. She removed her right glove and took his face in her hand, once again invading someone's personal space.

Zelgadis wasn't sure if he should pull away or not. What if she didn't like chimeras? If this was anyone else, it wouldn't matter, but Naga was Amelia's big sister. Zelgadis didn't want to cause a discord between the siblings, even though before that day he had no idea Amelia had a sister like that. He did know that she had an older sister who was traveling around the world, but Amelia had not spoken too much about her and Zelgadis didn't press the matter. Needless to say, the picture of Amelia's sister in Zelgadis imagination was very different from Naga. With the limited information about her he possessed, he could only imagine an older Amelia. He remained still, quiet and uncomfortable, hoping that he could pass Naga's scrutiny like Gourry had and fearing that he would fail in her eyes.

Naga's bare hand traveled to Zelgadis' hair, which she carefully petted, then she lowered the hand to his face again, running her index finger down his cheek, to his neck. That's when Amelia had enough and decided to interfere with as much anger as Lina had before. "Sister!"

Just as Amelia was ready to Ra Tilt her own sibling, Naga was finally satisfied. She backed off and put her glove back on with a challenging serious look. "So you're my sister's lover," she bluntly stated critically.

"Her lover?" Zelgadis stuttered in disbelief, his face as red as Amelia's. "I'm not... we don't... we haven't..." He tried to explain the difference between lover and boyfriend but he was simply too embarrassed to do so.

"He's my boyfriend!" Amelia corrected, putting as much volume in her voice as her mortification allowed her to produce. It wasn't much, but it was just enough to be heard.

"A gentleman, is he?" Naga inquired with the same critical look that was making Zelgadis seriously nervous. If facing Amelia's sister was this nerve wrecking, how difficult would it be to face her father eventually?

"Very much so," Amelia assured, hoping that the detailed inspection would end. She was feeling terribly uncomfortable and her dear Zelgadis looked like he was being tortured.

"I see," Naga nodded and paused as if in deep contemplation. Her critical eyes landed on Zelgadis once again. "His skin is stony and cool to the touch," she stated judgmentally. "It is..." As Naga made a suspenseful pause, Zelgadis felt the whole world crumble around him. This was it, Amelia's sister would express her absolute disapproval of him and forbid her younger sibling from seeing him. He didn't think Amelia would just abandon him; she had a lot more loyalty than that. Yet he didn't want to be the cause of her fighting with her family. "It's..." By the time Naga finally found the word she was looking for, Zelgadis had braced himself for everything from grotesque to preposterous. "So cute!" Naga squealed in absolute joy.

Zelgadis' jaw hung open as everyone shared in the surprise. No one was expecting Naga to react like that, except maybe Amelia who muttered, "you did always like suspense."

Lina followed up with a comment of her own, "I should have known all that serious business stuff was fake!"

With another round of annoying laughter, "ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!" Naga reaffirmed her unmistakable consent, "I approve. It's good to meet you, dear brother. Please make me an aunt as soon as possible! I want to have lots of cute blue golem-like pointy eared nieces and nephews!"

Far from being happy, Zelgadis looked seriously worried. When he decided to date Amelia, he wasn't thinking about having kids. Naturally, it would be far too soon to be thinking of children, as he was still at the stage where he worried about meeting her family. "Mutant children..." he felt his countenance becoming deeply depressed, but he couldn't stop it. What if any future descendants of his inherited his looks? He wouldn't be able to give Amelia any normal children. Then again, sometimes chimeras had normal kids, didn't they? Or perhaps the child would be a mix of all their attributes, which brought a hopeful prospect at the thought of being more than half human.

"Yes!" Naga cheered happily, not realizing how she was traumatizing her future brother-in-law.

"I'm sure any kids we have will be perfectly fine, mutant or not, and everyone will love them." Amelia was trying to console Zelgadis, though she seemed to make him blush even more.

"Um... ah... yeah... you're right... no use worrying so soon..." Okay, so the chimera thing wasn't a big deal to Amelia. Naga already approved of him and Philionel had never appeared to be the superficial type. Besides, there were some who claimed that Philionel kind of looked like an ogre. Not to be mean or anything, but there was a certain resemblance, if only physical. He was thankfully, nothing like an ogre in terms of personality... as long as he wasn't angry. Given the fact that Amelia's family was so varied, so as to not say weird, the eventual addition of a chimera wouldn't really be much of a shock after Zelgadis took some time to think about it.

To save herself from further awkwardness, Amelia continued the introductions. "This is Miss Filia Ul Copt, she's a golden dragon."

"A dragon, really?" Naga was quite excited about the news. "I always wanted a pet dragon; let me borrow her Amelia, please! I want a ride! Transform Quicksilver and take to the skies!"

"I'm not a pet!" Filia yelled in indignation. Her first impression of Naga was not a pleasant one. Yet after seeing her express her support for Amelia and Zelgadis' relationship, Filia thought that maybe it was too soon to judge. Right now, she was back to her bad first impression.

"Why would you name a golden dragon Quicksilver?" Gourry inquired as if it was a very important detail. "Shouldn't it be Quickgolden?" He suggested.

"I suppose so," Naga mused. "You snagged yourself a smart one Lina!" The worse part about Naga's compliment was that it was not sarcastic at all, she was being completely sincere. "Either way, now that I think about it, I just remembered that Quicksilver is a boy name and this dragon is a girl. I think it was the name of some super fast running chimera guy, or was it a mutant? I forget. Anyway, Quickgolden doesn't have the right ring to it. What to name my ride..."

"How about Epona?" Gourry oh so helpfully suggested with a cheerful smile. At least his intentions were good. "One of the best swordsmen from my village who is also a good childhood friend of mine, named his horse that."

"Brilliant!" Naga joyfully declared. "I shall borrow the name for my dragon steed if you think your friend won't mind. You shall be known as Epona!"

"I'm not a horse!" Filia screamed at the top of her lungs as Naga attempted to jump on her back to try to get her to transform into dragon form.

"Naga, please stop!" Amelia pleaded in shame. "I thought you knew how to behave better than this!"

Naga ceased her antics and patted Amelia on the head. "Aw, don't worry little sister. I'm just kidding around; I'm not going to try to steal your friends... as long as you're kind enough to share them with me." She then turned to face the fuming Filia again and with the grace of a princess, she extended her cape in a light curtsy. "It is my pleasure to meet you, Filia Ul Copt is indeed a lovely name. What a coincidence that we both share a part of our names since I am called Gracia Ul Naga Seyruun. I hope that we can be good friends and I extend the same wish to all of you."

"That's much better," Amelia commended.

Lina was suffering from another huge shock. "Where did that come from?"

As he watched the scene unfold, Xellos felt that tickle again signifying that a fit of laughter was trying to come out against his will. He pushed it back; he didn't want to make any noise now. As mocking as he could be, he was only mocking when he had calculated that it was the right time. Laughter was a willing and controlled reaction, as were most, though he would mistakenly claim all, his reactions as a monster. Yet being human was different, his body didn't always do what he told it to.

Filia looked at Xellos curiously after she managed to tare her shocked expression away from Naga. Her reaction to Amelia's plea was behaving like a perfect lady. How in the world did she switch between the two personas so easily? That mystery would have to wait, because another more pressing matter was at hand. While the rest of the group was still focused on Naga, Filia noticed Xellos' discomfort. He had both hands over his mouth and was making muffled noises. "Are you choking?"

Choking on what, Filia couldn't possibly imagine. There was nothing but clear air to choke on around them, and people rarely choked on that. Xellos appeared to have mastered the art of breathing as a human easily enough, so what was his problem all of a sudden? Did he have asthma? Given his earlier unexpected octopus allergy, the possibility of being asthmatic could not be carelessly discarded.

Then Filia's theory went out the window when the source of Xellos' discomfort was revealed to be accumulated laughter that needed to be released from his throat. He couldn't help it, the laughter simply exploded and forced its way out in the sound waves around him uncontrollably. Everyone was staring at him in a instant, but even with their puzzled gazes on him, Xellos simply couldn't get himself to stop for several minutes. Finally taking a deep breath, he got all the laughs out of his system and calmed down.

Naga smiled blissfully, "you're quite a cheerful one, aren't you? Let's finish our introductions, Amelia?"

Still confused over the sudden laugh attack displayed by Xellos, Amelia woke up from her puzzled daze and completed the introductions. "This is Xellos, he's..." The younger princess was at a loss for words on how to describe one of their most unusual traveling companions, though they were all a little unusual in their own right.

"If I didn't know not to judge by appearances, I would say you're some kind of evil wizard," Naga interrupted in a joking tone. "Or maybe you're a monster in disguise!" She took his face in both hands, examining his eyes. "You have such amazing eyes and your hair looks so silky and soft," she rubbed her face against his hair.

"Stop it! Don't you know anything about personal space or modesty?" Filia blew up before she could stop herself or even think about the consequences of her outburst.

"Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!" Naga laughed loudly, it was really getting on Filia's nerves. "You get stressed out too easily, Miss Epona."

"Filia!" The enraged golden dragon screeched, "my name is Filia!"

"Please forgive her, she has no manners, golden dragons are such rude creatures." Xellos patted Filia's shoulder. It was easier to deal with his own unwilling reactions such as the intense laughter he went through, when Filia was blowing up right next to him. At least he could say he wasn't the only one who had lost control. Then again, Lina had her temper tantrums too and Amelia had her justice speeches. Maybe losing control wasn't so rare in their group after all.

All the while, the evil spider-bull monster stood around shocked and appalled that he had been forgotten so easily.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 036: Insomnia! No Rest For The Wicked

Naga loudly laughed once more, just as she had been doing since she ran into Lina's group. "Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha ha! Don't worry, Filia, I'm not going to try to steal your lover. You two make such a cute couple!" She had completely misunderstood Filia's relationship with Xellos and it was making Filia too embarrassed to even be angry.

"He's not my lover..." The golden dragon argued in a defeated tone. Some people were just impossible.

Naga placed a comforting hand on Filia's shoulder, "don't worry, you're quite pretty, I'm sure you'll capture his heart. Just try to keep your temper in check and smile a little more. You should get a new outfit too, something like what I'm wearing." Filia could only growl and shoot a laser to the sky in response.

This was priceless; Xellos decided that Naga wasn't an unpleasant person at all, because anyone who was his ally in teasing Filia was okay by him. "That's right Filia, try to be a little more charming, show some skin, smile, and I might fall for you."

"Grrr!" Filia looked like she would go on the attack. It wasn't unusual in the past for her to go on the physical offensive alongside the verbal assaults directed at Xellos. "You piece of raw garbage!" She began to charge her laser breath.

"No!" Lina jumped in front of Filia in a defensive stance.

The angry golden dragon stopped herself just in time with a perplexed look. "What are you doing?" Filia forcefully withheld her laser, coughing a little as a result. "I could have blasted you and at point blank a human would be..." Filia's eyes grew wide in realization. She lost her temper and forgot that Xellos was no longer a powerful monster general who could take anything she could dish out. He was a human, a fragile human still becoming accustomed to his new body.

"Killed," Lina finished unnecessarily. "Which means my bodyguard job will go down the drain." She reminded with emphasis. "This goes for everyone, if any of you kill Xellos, I expect you to pay up the full value of the coins you'll make me lose!"

Xellos frowned, deeply annoyed, while Filia appeared to be shaken. "I'm sorry," Filia softly voiced, vexing Xellos further. He hated being weak more than anything.

Naga shook her head, "you have to be gentle with men, they're such breakable creatures." Her advice sounded as if it was based on experience. Honestly, no one wanted to know about that, so they all just pretended they didn't hear her.

"Don't ignore me!" The black spider bull monster demanded angrily. His patience had been tested more than ever on that day.

"I thought you wanted me to stop paying attention to you," Naga pointed out as a matter of fact. "Well fine, now my attention is back on that treasure!" She pointed at the crystal skull necklace on the golden chain around the monster's neck. "Give it to me or face the wrath of my golems!"

"Enough!" The monster screamed angrily. "I can't stand having you trying to steal my treasure anymore, but I have some important business to take care of first." He turned his attention from Naga to the pissed off frustrated Xellos. "Xellos, you have no idea what you did to me that day!"

"Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!" Naga's laughter interrupted the monster's frustrated speech of vengeance. "I have heard your laugh, monster! You are no match for me with such a weak laugh! Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!"

"Shut up and let me finish!" The monster snapped in absolute frustration.

"Man, I'm actually starting to feel sorry for this guy, having to put up with Naga." Lina commented sincerely. With a mischievous grin, she began to power up a spell, "I'll be doing him a favor by putting him out of his misery."

"Stop interrupting me!" The monster stomped around, throwing a hissy fit because no one would listen to him. He was determined to finish his speech of dramatic vengeance. "Ever since you took my title I've been trying to get my revenge. I even went on a treasure hunt for this as a good luck charm," the monster signaled to the skull necklace. "I finally found it and felt ready to take you on again, but you never entered the tournament. Even if I won, they still considered you the champion; they wouldn't accept my victory unless I defeated you. I will kill you for what you took from me Xellos, then I will show everyone your dead human face and they'll know the truth. They'll know I'm the ultimate mysterious expression champion, I am the face of mystery, not you!"

"Wait a minute!" Lina spoke up, "what's this about being the face of mystery? I thought you were talking about some kind of fighting tournament between monsters, but now it sounds like you were modeling in a beauty pageant."

"It's the Wicked Cool Annual Competition," Naga explained, drawing the group's attention to her unexpected information. "There are a lot of categories such as best evil laugh, most alluring expression of mystery and others. The judges evaluate contestants based on stuff like how cruel and tempting they look and so on. This pathetic loser used to be the champion, but I took the title for best laugh and became the undisputed champ. I heard that someone else had taken the title for most mysterious look from him before."

"You took away no such title, only monsters can enter and when you were discovered to be human you were disqualified and the title of best evil laugh went back to me!" The monster argued insistently.

"Details, details," Naga waved her hand dismissively. "Who cares about the rules, the judges unanimously selected me and you know it. That medal is mine!"

"Medal?" Lina's confusion grew as she tried to keep up with what was happening. "You mean the crystal skull? Isn't that some ancient treasure?"

"The Wicked Cool Annual Competition wasn't always so varied," Xellos began the lesson in monster history and culture for the benefit of those who were not familiar with it. "It used to be only about evil laughs and the relic that Mr. Runner-up has around his neck was the symbol given to the winner to wear. One year, the winner did not return to defend the title. It was tradition that the medal should be returned if the past champion chose not to compete. However, the champion had suffered a minor inconvenience, meaning death," this was spoken in the classic Xellos cheer. "Thus the medal was forever lost... until now, it seems. Either way, after the categories of the competition were broadened, one prize was no longer enough. The judges decided to adopt a more conventional method of symbolizing the winners and give away gold, silver and bronze medals, which the winners could keep regardless of if they returned the next year or not."

Naga was nodding her head the entire time at Xellos' explanation. "Exactly, but since it's clear that I am the ultimate champion of laughs, I should keep the original relic medal for myself. Besides, it's a really cute necklace."

"Have I ever shown you the expression that won me first place? It was like this." Xellos smoothed out his hair with his hands, just to make sure it was in place and looked slightly to the side to create the appropriate angle. He had a grin that was just the right size, with exactly the proper amount of alluring mischief. His attractive eyes were open, but not entirely, his eyelids slightly lowered, enough to give his gaze an air of mystery while leaving his amethyst orbs clearly visible. Filia blushed, she couldn't help it, she just did.

"Ah! That face! You look even more mysterious with your darker hair making your eyes stand out, but I am the king of mystery. You cannot compete!" The monster, that the gang didn't think was important enough to ask his name and dubbed him Mr. Runner-up instead, made a grotesque expression. His fangs became twisted and his three red eyes narrow.

"Ew!" Amelia loudly declared, "that isn't mystery, it's evil! Elmekia Lance!" After Amelia's instinct of justice got things started, the rest of the group was quick to join, reducing the monster to ashes.

Naga triumphantly picked up the surprisingly resistant necklace, which other than being almost unbreakable didn't actually have any special powers at all, and put it on. "Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!" She modeled the necklace as she laughed until she was finally satisfied. "Well, now that my quest has been fulfilled, I think I'll hang around you guys for a little while. Were you heading to the next town? Let's go, we're almost there!" Naga began to march forward.

"I'm the leader!" Lina tried to march in front of Naga, which led Naga to quicken her pace. Lina started moving faster in response until they both broke into a run towards Filia's home town.

The golden dragon sighed hopelessly. "Here I was hoping to relax at least a little while I visited my home."

xoxox xox xoxox

The first thing the group did when they arrived at the town where Filia lived was to go to her shop. Once there, another bunch of introductions followed as Jillas and Gravos were presented to Naga's scrutiny. She seemed to develop an instant fascination with Gravos, but the group preferred not to read too deeply into it. They also decided to overlook the fact that she patted Jillas' head as if he was some kind of pet. Really, they were too tired to make a fuss about anything at the time.

The next event in the agenda after the introductions was to get some food, because that was the first thing Lina wanted to do in any town she arrived at. Thus they went to try the local cuisine, arguing about what restaurant was the best. It was an argument that Filia had to break up with her expert opinion, which in the end, Lina didn't listen to anyway and dragged everyone into the restaurant she liked best. With full stomachs, rather than registering at the local inn, they all returned to Filia's home for a massively cramped sleep over.

First the whole group piled around the living room to hear stories about Lina's travels with Naga, which consisted of Naga exaggerating her own accomplishments and taking all the credit and Lina adamantly claiming that the credit was her own. Stories about Lina's most prominent adventures with Amelia were shared, including the mention of a certain festival dance performance the two did thinking it was some kind of powerful protection spell. After the chaotic conversation finally reached a point of rest, the girls retired to Filia's room, while the guys went to room with Jillas and Gravos.

For Filia, it looked as if the long day was finally over after being stretched well into the night. The sun would be up long before anyone was in the mood to interrupt their slumber. Then suddenly her breath was knocked out of her by a foot to the stomach, it was Lina's foot. Filia was about to reprimand the red-head for the uncalled for attack, until she noticed that Lina was sleeping and remembered that this was her usual amount of tossing and turning. There was no space to get far enough from her in the tiny room and sleeping on a bed was like taboo during a sleeping bag sleep over. Either there were enough beds for everyone, or everyone slept on the floor.

Not really caring about breaking the rules, Filia got up, but she didn't occupy her bed. Instead she ventured into her living room, hoping to get some much needed rest on the couch. Upon arriving quietly at the living room, she found Xellos occupying the couch, sitting quietly, staring at the walls absentmindedly to pass the time. "What are you doing here?" She sat down beside him without a second thought.

"Nothing," Xellos replied simply and for the benefit of Filia's suspicious and insistent gaze, he added, "Gourry snores too loud and Jillas whistles in his sleep."

"Insomnia," Filia concluded.

"No," Xellos had enough of human troubles and didn't want to admit he additionally suffered from insomnia. "Just noise, besides, I don't feel like sleeping anyway. I hardly ever did, I had no reason to."

Filia noted the use of the past tense, which meant that Xellos was aware of the fact that he needed sleep as a human. She decided not to point that out, though she was tempted to make a comment about there being no rest for the wicked. However, she decided against voicing that as well. She could have pointed out that the noise of the snoring didn't make it past the door, through the hallway and all the way to the living room, so he could sleep there if he wanted. It was obvious the cause of his insomnia was not noise, but she didn't point that out. Instead she quietly mused that Xellos might miss having the ability to stay awake all night and still be full of energy during the day. Life had become more difficult for him than he would ever admit and Filia knew it.

"Will you stop that, it's annoying," Xellos snapped, his face automatically matching his words. It took more effort to control his expressions in his current state, more so adding the fact that he was tired.

Filia gave Xellos a perplexed look, "stop what? I'm not doing anything."

"Stop pitying me," he glared darkly with more of a monster look to him than when he actually was a monster.

Filia bit her lip, instantly being consumed by the guilt of her own kindness. She was hurting Xellos by trying to help him and she didn't understand why it bothered her so much. Would it be better for him if she just pointed and laughed? Did he expect that? He couldn't, not from her... "You can't read my emotions, you can't feed off my frustration," she pointed out.

"I may not be able to taste your guilt, but I know it's there," Xellos admitted. "It's strange, I can sense it and it sticks somehow. I have to remind myself that it's not mine, because it would make no sense for me to have such thoughts." His defenses were crumbling and he knew it. He had been invaded by other people's emotions the whole time he was a human, especially Filia's. So far he had been able to discern her reactions apart from his own, but it was becoming difficult. He supposed it was what humans called identifying with others, even if Filia was a dragon.

The golden dragon was giving Xellos a puzzled and disbelieving look. She shook her head as if her thoughts made no sense. "It couldn't be..."

"What couldn't be?" Xellos inquired. "Something unbelievable, surprising, yet confusing... It's blurry, what's the emotion?" He tried to remember what confusion tasted like and to link it to the feeling he was getting from Filia. "Denial?"

"Wait, just a minute," Filia swiftly stood. "I'll be right back with something to show you." She quickly but quietly left, off to rummage through the supply closet. Paints, brushes and cleaning products and utensils occupied most of the enclosed space. After pushing a box of detergent aside, she spotted what she was looking for. She took the box out of the closet and returned to the living room, thankful that she had not caused an avalanche of falling supplies while she was looking for it.

Xellos observed the box Filia had brought, which she set on the coffee table in front of the couch where they sat. It was a wooden box with spiraling abstract carvings and a mirror on the inside of the lid. Within the box there were many gems, though they were made of glass. It was not a particularly rare set of magically enhanced stones. She only purchased it because the box was cute, even if it ended up in a supply closet when she was cleaning one day. It could be used to play a guessing game of sorts, but those who had the ability it was made to measure would always win.

Filia set the lid aside and offered the box to Xellos' participation in the experiment. "Each of these crystals is infused with magic to represent something. Take any of the crystals and hold it, tell me what it represents."

Xellos gave her a look that indicated he wasn't sure what in the world she was trying to do, but it sounded like nonsense. He played along anyway and picked up a random crystal. The round clear gems were all identical in appearance, but when Xellos touched one, he immediately noticed something unusual. "Fear? Whose fear is this? Certainly not mine." Oh no, he kept anything resembling fear locked away as tightly as he could. Such a thing had no reason to pop out.

Filia extended her hand and received the gem from Xellos. She put the clear crystal on the mirror in the box's lid and placed her hand over it. "Yeah, that's fear alright." She removed her hand as if it had been metaphorically burned. "Try again."

"Is there a point to this?" Xellos picked up another crystal. "Happiness," it was odd, the gems were giving off emotions. Those must be the incantations placed into them. "Wait a minute, is this... it can't be." Filia's earlier disbelief became clear to Xellos. The golden dragon repeated the process with the next crystal on top of the mirror. She felt the happiness, another correct conclusion. They continued at the same pace until Xellos only had one crystal left. "This is... attachment? Protectiveness? Loyalty? Foolishness maybe? This is... strange. I can't feel any taste from it; this is different from how I sensed emotions before. I would know it if I could taste it."

"It's love," Filia pointed out, it was the last crystal left. "You got them all right," except for that last one, which seemed confusing to him, but that was expected given his previous nature. Xellos was all too eager to put the crystal down. "This is a test. Normally, people can't feel anything just from holding these crystals, but touching them while they are on top of the enchanted mirror makes it so that anyone can sense the incantations meant to simulate emotions. You can sense it either way."

"It doesn't mean anything," Xellos insisted with the smallest most well hidden hint of embarrassment. "As a monster I could taste emotions and feed off fear, anger and the like. I can sense these things because I'm truly a monster, even if I'm currently trapped as a human. That's the explanation."

Filia shook her head in disagreement. "I can sense your energy. Regardless of what you originally were, you're a human now. You shouldn't have this ability, even I don't have it. This is a rare and sometimes underrated unique ability. It's a little unbelievable and ironic I'll admit." Filia couldn't help it but to laugh at the strange twists and turns life sometimes presented. "I suppose your long life and many experiences as a monster have given you the ability to keep a cool head and discern your own emotions from those of others. That's why you are not to be easily swayed by your ability. Even so you are without a doubt..."

"Don't say it," Xellos really didn't want to hear it being confirmed as if thrown in his face.

Filia smiled, "you're an empath."

Xellos pouted stubbornly and crossed his arms over his chest, "I think we both know I'm not an empathic person."

"True," Filia admitted, "but you have the abilities of an empath. You can feel what others feel as if it came from you. You're smart enough to control your abilities and keep a good grip on logic, yet nonetheless you have the gift of empathy and it's nothing to be ashamed of."

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 037: Emotions! Beating Hearts

Xellos was quite displeased with the revelation of him being an empath. "This annoyance isn't just because I'm stuck as a human. It's because I'm an empathic human, meaning I have it worse than most. I wonder what other diseases I'll discover as time goes by."

"It's not a disease!" Filia insisted. "What you call an annoyance is a wonderful ability. You'll be able to understand so much!"

"Right now the only thing I want to understand is how to get cured," Xellos let the words flow out without thinking of them. Tired humans were certainly stupid; they had a great knack for saying what they didn't want to say. He missed having the well rested clear head of a monster who didn't have to worry about the effects of exhaustion like a human did.

"Do you have any clues?" Filia questioned with interest. It probably wouldn't be long before Lina started asking about it. But that would probably come when the battles started to bother her and the easy cash stopped being easy.

"Yes," Xellos admitted cautiously. He would sound stupid if he lied and said no, but admitting that he did have a clue also meant that Filia would want to hear it.

"Well?" Filia prompted after Xellos remained silent following his single syllable response.

"Well what?" He gave her an innocent look and grinned, much like he used to do before.

Filia was too tired to snap, thus she stretched her patience to conserve energy. "What clues about your cure have you found so far?"

"Only rumors," Xellos made another long pause, while Filia stared at him expectantly. He considered waiting for another verbal prompt from her, but instead got a more amusing idea. "One of the rumors is that I should eat the heart of a golden dragon." If it was taken as a metaphor, a very odd metaphor, then it was in a strange sense true.

"You're lying," Filia accused unsure. "You are lying, aren't you?"

"I might be inclined to test that theory if worse comes to worse," Xellos gave Filia a teasing grin, feeling a little more comfortable now that he was in the familiar territory of trying to get on her nerves.

Remembering that Xellos was currently lacking in the power department, Filia gave him a stubborn and triumphant look. "How would you manage? You can't kill me."

"That's what servants are for," Xellos retorted.

It took Filia a moment to realize who he meant. "Your bodyguard?" She paused and mused over it. "This is Lina Inverse we're talking about, she's greedy but... I don't think she would go as far as turning against me."

"I suppose I could just send her off to slay some other golden dragon," Xellos conceded. "That's where her favorite spell got its name after all. It would be good if she got to use it properly."

Filia didn't like where the conversation was going. Slaying some stranger for money, yeah, Lina would do that. At least Filia knew that she, Tiffany and Phythan were safe from Lina's rage, or at least she liked to think they were. Either way, she still didn't like the idea of Xellos eating a dragon's heart. "What other clues do you have?"

"Love," he stated boldly.

Filia couldn't help it but to gasp. "Love," she repeated. "A cure like in a fairy tale? Falling in love breaks the curse? Or maybe..."

Xellos knew that Filia was close to theorizing about a loving kiss and he didn't want that theory to reach her so soon. It might seriously mess things up in the long run. Instead he grinned seductively and clarified, "making love with a golden dragon, in human form that is."

Filia's face immediately turned crimson as the images of the accidental fan service she got from Xellos resurfaced in her mind without her consent. "Now I know you're lying! Those are not real clues!"

"And if it was true?" Xellos proposed the possibility, his eyes unblinking on Filia's.

"Ah... that's... impossible..." Filia stuttered, unable to look away. "I'm tired; I'm going to sleep... now."

"Running away?" He leaned forward and she leaned back.

"No," Filia further backed away on the couch as if being pushed back by an invisible force.

"It sure looks that way," Xellos kept on leaning forward until he saw Filia's head touch the soft surface of the couch. "Then you're staying?"

Filia tried to register her surroundings. She was on her couch, in her living room. That much made some sense, what didn't have a shred of logic in it was the fact that Xellos was on top of her. How did he get there anyway? It's not like he could teleport as things stood. "Sleep, just go to sleep and quit keeping me awake already! You're a terrible house guest!" Trying to argue with Xellos was the only method Filia could come up with to inject a tiny amount of logic into the situation.

"Okay," Xellos face was so close to Filia's she could feel his breathing. Then he surprisingly released her from the lock his eyes had on hers and laid his head down. "Good night, Filia."

"Night..." Filia pushed the words out, only managing the latter half of the phrase. She tried to take deep breaths and calm down, but the task of being calm was difficult since Xellos was still on top of her. Her hand slowly reached over and she ran her fingers through his hair while she fought with herself to react in a less welcoming way. Then finally she did, "get off you pervert!" Her voice came with less anger than she had hoped but the little shove she gave Xellos was enough to make him lift his head off her.

"Pervert?" He repeated the accusation in perplexity. "I wasn't the one who got a full view of fan service." He reminded, knowing it would embarrass her more than anything.

Again the images of the fan service she had received assaulted Filia. The pictures in her head were far too clear, too detailed. She didn't even know how she managed to take in everything in the short time it took her to react and get herself out of there. "You... touched my chest." She protested weakly, as if her will just wasn't in it.

"My hands are here," Xellos massaged Filia's shoulders to remind her in a rather tactile way of where his hands were currently positioned.

"With your head," Filia pointed out. "I never said you could do that."

"I see, how rude of me not to ask," Xellos mocked. "Body, it looks like your consent isn't enough to get you what you want, you'll have to convince Mind first. Good luck with that, I know that Mind is very stubborn and hardly ever agrees with you, Body."

"Stop talking to my mind and body as if they were too separate entities!" Filia snapped in annoyance. What really bothered her was probably the fact that he had a point, not that she would ever admit it.

"As much as I hate to admit it," and he really hated to admit it. "We both know that if you wanted me to get off you, you could have thrown me clear across the room, or even out the window and across town, without much effort."

Filia opened her mouth to protest then closed it again. He had her there, being a dragon, Filia was strong. The weight of a human man was nothing to her and she had picked up and carried Xellos before just as easily as she would carry a feather. She sat up, pushing Xellos to do the same. "I forgot," she was only half lying. She had not forgotten the fact that given the current circumstances, she held the greater power; she had just forgotten that she wanted to fight back, because maybe for a while she didn't want to.

Filia's opportunity to just get up and walk back to her room came and went quickly. Xellos wrapped his arms around her and pulled her down on the couch on the opposite side this time. "If you want to be on top that badly, I suppose I can humor you. Comfortable?"

Filia slightly pushed herself up and looked at Xellos, her golden hair cascading like a curtain around their faces. "It's too crowded in my room and you can't sleep with the noise of snoring in the guys' room." She tried to find some sort of excuse for the arrangement and realized that everything she came up with severely lacked in the logic department. It's not like she couldn't go sleep on the couch opposite to that one on the other side of the living room with the coffee table and some false conclusion repelling distance between them. Then again, this was her house, her living room, her couch, why should she move? Yet Xellos was too stubborn to move. The argument would end in nothing, so they might as well share, forget if it was reasonable or not, it was possible, it was happening.

Then the sound of a continuous rhythm cut into Filia's thoughts. It was strangely comforting. Xellos had somehow gotten her to lay her head down while she was lost in thought, one of his hands now caressing her hair, the other arm around her waist. She closed her eyes to curiously hear the sound that was somewhat fast, but not in an agitated way, it was calm and content, yet energetic. A heartbeat? Of course, it was a heartbeat, no human could live without one and that heartbeat's rhythm was not within Xellos' control in his current state. Filia was almost hypnotized by the continuous sound, focusing on it and allowing herself to relax until she drifted off to sleep.

xoxox xox xoxox

Filia was woken up the next day by the sound of someone tearing her kitchen apart. She stretched on what she thought was her bed and wondered why the atmosphere was so loud. She tried to get a few more precious seconds of sleep, but found it impossible as dreamland faded away to make her senses clear. Then she realized that she wasn't on her bed and she wasn't alone. She jumped several feet in the air, landing in a perfect standing position next to Xellos. He grinned in amusement, "nice jump," then got up in a much more normal way.

Mortified at the possibility that someone had seen her cuddling Xellos in her sleep, Filia rushed to the source of the sound coming from the kitchen. Her embarrassment faded into anger as she saw Lina tearing through her icebox and cabinets. As expected, everyone slept in and it was already mid day. In the middle of the war that was just getting started in the kitchen, Jillas popped his head into the war zone and insistently requested, "can you keep it down, I'm trying to talk to someone."

The person, or rather people, whom Jillas was attempting to converse with were revealed when a small fox boy curiously wondered into the kitchen. "Are they your friends, uncle?"

Jillas took a moment to study their wild behavior and recall their past encounter, but in the end he sighed hopelessly and replied with a simple, "something like that."

"I found pancake batter!" Gourry victoriously announced, before Lina snatched it away.

Realizing that she couldn't eat it as it was, Lina looked at Filia with pleading eyes. "I want pancakes!" She held out the ingredient. "Please Filia, I'm too hungry to make them myself, besides, I'm a guest here and this is your kitchen."

"Exactly!" Filia blew up, though thankfully it was only metaphorically, "it's my kitchen and you're tearing it apart!"

A fox woman with fur the same light blond color as the young boy now stood at the kitchen door along with her son and dear friend. She smiled sweetly and laughed cutely, "your friends are so energetic." She then proceeded to make an offer no one could refuse, "how would you like to come have a meal at my house?"

"Yes!" Lina immediately agreed, she glanced at Filia with a big grin, "now that's hospitality."

Jilla's jaw dropped as he looked back and forth between Lina and the fox woman. "Elena, are you sure? I thought you only made enough for Palou, you and me."

"I could always cook more," Elena assured.

"Elena and Palou," Lina moved forward, shaking Elena's hand. "It's nice to be formally introduced, I think I've seen you before, but I might have been in a rush at the time. Anyway, I appreciate your invitation, lead the way!"

"We're having a lot of friends over for lunch," Palou cheered, "this is great!"

"You got it kid," Lina patted the boy's head in a big sister fashion, "you can have us for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack time as often as you want!" Palou looked happy with Lina's statement, proving that he was an optimistic child too young to know what ultimate doom was, even if it was right in front of him.

xoxox xox xoxox

The entire group, consisting of Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Filia, Xellos, Naga, Gravos and Jillas went off to the new home of Elena and Palou. There they piled around the table as well as they could, elbow with elbow trying to fit. Elena served the food she had prepared and immediately got ready to make some more. Feeling guilty at the invasion, Filia and Amelia offered to help at the kitchen, while Gravos and Jillas were the waiters and took care of washing the pots, pans and kitchen utensils. Gourry tried to help too, but after his third broken dish, Elena politely insisted that he should just sit down and enjoy his meal, to which he gladly agreed.

While they cooked and ate, trying to stop Lina from chewing up the table cloth, they talked about the first time Elena came to town. She had left the countryside along with her son, after running into a bad harvest that forced her to sell the lands. "Palou and I were just passing through town, we didn't know if we would move here or not. We went into the Vases and Maces shop out of curiosity and were surprised to find Jillas there. After I told him the story, he helped me pick out a house in town and even went out of his way to help furnish it. Jillas and Gravos have been very kind to us, they've also spoken very highly of you, Filia. I couldn't wait to meet you."

"Wow, it looks like a lot has happened while I was away," Filia observed. "It's good to meet you too, Elena, I can tell Jillas is very fond of you and Palou. If you ever need anything, you can count on me too."

"Thank you," Elena smiled. Filia wasn't sure if it was her imagination or not, but she thought she saw a faint blush through Elena's pale fur when she mentioned Jillas was fond of her. The fox lady sighed in a motherly fashion as she glanced at her son, chatting animatedly with everyone at the table. There was only a counter between the dinning area and kitchen, thus the brunch guests were easy to see and hear from the small kitchen. "I'm so glad Palou was able to adapt to living in a new town. He was sad after we left the farm; it was the last thing we had left of his father. But when he saw Jillas he cheered up almost instantly."

"Palou's father..." Filia couldn't help it but to wonder about him. She immediately stiffened and wished she could take the words back. She didn't want to put Elena in an uncomfortable position.

Noticing Filia's reaction, Elena tried to reassure her with a smile. "He passed away many years ago when bandits attacked us. He managed to drive them away and kept Palou and me safe, but his injuries were grave. I mourned him for a long time as calmly as I could, so as to not make Palou sad. Many years have passed, Palou was just a baby when it happened. I think what's best is to go on with life and make the best of it."

"I agree," Filia voiced with admiration. "You must have a strong will to have managed the farm on your own, and even after you had to leave it, you stayed strong for your son." Filia smiled with some of Elena's contagious cheer. "Like I said, if you need anything, please let me know. As far as I'm concern, you and Palou are part of our little family." Filia had an unusual family, she mused, Gravos, Jillas, Val, none of them were everyday beings.

Amelia's eyes shone with admiration. "You're a truly amazing person, Elena, you can count on me too!"

"It's good to know I have someone to count on, thank you both." Elena set another dish on the counter, this time lasagna, which was swiftly taken to the table and devoured just like the barbecue ribs before it.

Filia sighed with grim discomfort, "I feel bad about how everyone is consuming a month's supply of food in just one meal that started out as breakfast and turned into lunch."

"Don't worry about it, I love to cook and have thought about starting a restaurant in this town. I always wanted to have my own restaurant," Elena confessed. "At least this way I could get some recommendations."

"I know I would definitely recommend your cooking!" Amelia happily exclaimed. Though she and Filia were helping cook, they did have time to eat a little too.

"I agree, you're cooking skills are amazing," Filia added. Thus the lunch went by pleasantly without any major incidents.

After everyone was full, or at least satisfied, Xellos approached Lina with a request, while the group was caught up in pleasant small talk. "I think it's time to discuss some business with you, if you don't mind accompanying me for a while."

"Business?" Lina's thoughts were occupied only with the sweet memories of the delicious recent meal so it took her a moment to realize what Xellos was talking about. Then the notion came to her, of course, she was his bodyguard. Where could Xellos be planning to go that he would need to be guarded? "Oh, that business, what about it?"

"There's just some matters I need to take care of in the outskirts of town. It won't take too long," at least Xellos hoped it wouldn't.

"Right, I guess it is sort of my job. You should at least tell me what I'm up against before it becomes obvious." Lina inquired, giving Xellos an urgent look that reminded him that if his bodyguard fell in combat, he would be virtually helpless.

"It's nothing difficult or dangerous," Xellos assured as he got up from his seat, thus getting a few glances from the group. "It's been a wonderful meal, but I must go tend to some business now."

"Aw, you're leaving so soon, Xellos?" Palou seemed to have taken a liking to Xellos. Then again, the fox boy took a liking to the entire group quite easily. Needless to say, he wasn't picky.

"I just have a few things to do, but I'll be in town for a while." Xellos ruffled the boy's headfur, with his usual cheery grin, which Palou returned.

"Time for me to get to work too," Lina stretched as she stood up. "That was an awesome meal, I can't say it enough. See you later guys!"

"I'm happy you both enjoyed your time here, drop by again soon." Hearing Elena's words, the group concluded that she was simply too nice and Jillas made a silent vow to protect her from any trouble that being too compliant with Lina Inverse could get her into.

"Do you need help with the business?" Gourry inquired curiously.

"Do we?" Lina gave Xellos another suspicious look.

"No further assistance is needed, but I have nothing against any additional presence," Xellos calmly replied. He didn't voice it, but the exception to that was Filia, he had his reasons for not wanting her along. For the same pride related reasons, Xellos would prefer to have as few witnesses as possible while he carried out his business, but saying that would just make the group curious. Thankfully, Filia was feeling too guilty about the remaining mountain of dishes and eating utensils that still needed to be washed to go anywhere.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 038: Enigma! The Unanswered Question

At Elena's house at Filia's home town, Lina and Xellos were just about to leave to tend to some business that she still wasn't fully certain about. Lina shrugged; maybe she was blowing this mysterious business out of proportion. Maybe Xellos just needed some fresh air, or he wanted to look around town or investigate something or other. Maybe he was just being careful by asking her to tag along. "You guys should stay here," she then gave Gourry an 'I know you' look. "That goes for you too Gourry, I'm sure you'll have fun playing soccer with Palou as soon as you're done digesting."

"Okay!" Gourry smiled happily with a similar reaction from Palou. Thus, Lina and Xellos left the group crowding at Elena's small home and exited to the town street.

Outside, Xellos led the way down the main street, towards the edge of town. "You said you needed to go to the outskirts of town. What's there, a clue for your cure maybe? We haven't really talked about that."

"You don't need to worry about it; I'm conducting my own investigation constantly. Leave the cure to me." Xellos assured with a hint in his voice that he wanted to stop discussing the topic. Before Lina could further comment about the cure and its apparent research that she had not noticed he was doing, Xellos went on to the next topic, the most immediate matter at hand. "The reason why I need you to come with me just outside of town is something that will make your job easier in the future." He could hardly believe he was actually asking for this, but it could really be a necessity for survival next time. He didn't want to fully depend on the protection of his bodyguard all the time.

"If it'll make my job easier, then I'm all up for it!" Not surprisingly, Lina was all too eager to make her reward even easier to obtain. "What exactly did you have in mind?"

"I need to train in the use of magic," Xellos revealed as Lina's face indicated she made the connection. If Xellos could defend himself, then he wouldn't need to play the bodyguard card quite as often in the future. "My monster magic is no longer with me, but I'm sure I'm able to cast spells, I just need a little training on how to focus my energy in this form."

"Alright!" Lina cheered as they reached a wide open area just outside of town. There was plenty of space to practice there. "You got yourself a magic teacher, but don't expect me to go easy on you. If you want a passing grade, you'll have to earn it!"

"I expect as much." Xellos had his cheerful grin that he often showed as a monster. He was starting to get better at controlling his expressions though his face still acted on its own now and then, especially around Filia.

xoxox xox xoxox

Later, Gravos returned to the Vases and Maces shop for a late opening. He assured Filia that nothing like this happened while she was away and that today had been an exception. Filia was inclined to believe it and let it pass. She was the official shop manager and she had not done anything to get it open on time that day either. Naga was eager to help play shop keeper, maybe too eager, but Filia let her be. If having beastmen around the shop didn't bother her customers, they wouldn't mind a scantily clad human.

Leaving Gravos in charge of the shop while Jillas got the day off to help Elena entertain her guests, Filia had gone to the market. She would need to have a lot of food available if she was going to survive being what Lina would define as a decent host, though she could never explain why she felt so compelled to try. She also still felt bad about Lina and company consuming Elena's food supplies, especially since she was planning to start a business in a town that she was still new at. Filia remember how difficult it was to first establish her shop and it would have made it harder if her raw materials were taken away before she could even truly start.

While shopping for herself and secretly shopping for Elena, Filia ran into one of her neighbors. "Filia, you're back in town," the old lady smiled fondly in a grandmotherly way.

Filia immediately felt guilty that she had not gone to Hanna's house upon her arrival in town. She had simply been so busy it slipped her mind. "Yes, I just got back..."

"Good to see you, child," Hanna didn't seem to have any intentions of bringing up Filia's quiet return. The old woman ran a hand through her gray hair, her bright blue eyes a testament of the beauty she once possessed in younger days. "It's a fine day here at the market in terms of weather, but not so great in terms of merchandise. It seems the crops were bad this year. I heard a lot of farmers got into trouble for it," Hanna sighed in pity. "I do hope the harvest somehow improves, or else I might not find the ingredients I need for your welcome back stew."

"Aw, you don't need to," Filia's guilt increased, even though Hanna was clearly trying to make her feel welcomed. She glanced at what was in the market place. Elena must have brought over what she managed to harvest at her farm to get her business started and now even that was gone. It was clear the market didn't have much in stock. Filia sighed sadly; the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in the market was depressing.

"I know what will cheer you up." Hanna may not have enough ingredients for her family recipe, but she could make something else. It was something simple, yet delicious and refreshing. "How about you come over for a milkshake later?"

Filia knew that Hanna would appreciate the company, which she was all too happy to provide. Talking to the old lady was always fun, she had many stories to share and delicious treats to go with them. Her home was flooded with a familiar atmosphere that would make people feel as if they were walking into their grandmother's house from their very first visit. "I would love to." Filia agreed, a nice relaxing time in the company of kind Hanna was just what Filia needed.

xoxox xox xoxox

At the edge of town, far enough not to disturb the residents, Lina threw a freeze arrow into the air. "Fireball!" Xellos hit the target perfectly.

Lina grinned, "good, looks like you got the hang of that, now, let's try it in rapid succession. Melt all the arrows. Freeze arrow! Freeze arrow!" Lina continued repeating the spell as fast as she could, making Xellos push himself to cast fireballs faster.

The fireballs had to be strong enough to melt the arrows of ice, fast enough to keep up with them and well aimed, since Lina was throwing the icy spells in every direction. The exercise continued for several minutes until Lina thought it was enough. Xellos felt his energy starting to run low, but he wasn't about to stop now, not when Lina was still in top form. Casting spells with a smaller supply of different energy to back them up was tricky, but he could manage. It was a challenge he would have to conquer the sooner the better. Xellos wasn't planning to bother training as a human at first, but since the process of obtaining the cure was taking so long, he might need to be better versed in combat in his current form, just in case something unexpected came up.

"Very good, you're a pretty clever student," Lina commended with a sadistic grin. "Now on to the advanced lessons and if you make a mistake I'm afraid there will be consequences..."

xoxox xox xoxox

Later that day, Filia was on her way to meet Hanna for milkshakes. As she walked down the street, she saw Lina and Xellos having returned from taking care of business. Xellos' black hair was standing up in every direction, he was covered in dirt and his clothes were singed. Filia felt her heart sink as she worried about the worse. "You were attacked out there!" She jumped to conclusions as she ran to meet them. "Look at him!" Filia tried to smooth out Xellos' hair, only to draw back her hand upon noticing the surge of static it carried. "You were supposed to be his bodyguard!" She scolded.

"I am," Lina feigned innocence, "but at Xellos' request, I was also his magic trainer. I'm sure the static will go away in a little while. The electric shock discipline made wonders for his progress." Lina still had the same look of innocence in her face, but her eyes were full of mischievous vengeful malice.

"Magic lessons..." Filia stared back and forth between Xellos and Lina.

Seeing that Filia had fallen into a silence of surprise during which she tried to picture the process and wished she had been there to see it, Xellos found it necessary to break the quietude. "I passed."

"That is an achievement not to be taken lightly," Lina assured with a severe look. Her serious expression morphed into a carefree face after the endorsement. "Is everyone still hanging out at Elena's place?"

"Mostly, yes," Filia finally found her voice to reply.

"I guess I'll head on over there, see you two later." Lina continued on her merry way down the street off to Elena's house.

Filia decided not to ask why she assumed that Xellos would want to be left alone with her instead of going off to meet up with everyone or taking off on his own around town. She tried not to think too much about it and assumed that some of her healing magic would come in handy. "C'mon, you can get cleaned at my house and I'll heal you. I have some anti-frizz shampoo that will fix your hair too."

"Filia being kind, the world is a truly strange and random place!" Xellos followed the golden dragon with no resistance.

Filia only rolled her eyes at his teasing. "You know that's not true. I won't let your teasing criticism get to me."

"Really?" Xellos grinned, he was exhausted from his brutal magic lesson, but being around Filia somehow filled him with energy. He leaned close to her and whispered something in her ear.

Filia gasped, her face turning red, "Xellos!"

"If teasing criticism won't work, how about a teasing compliment?" That certainly did the trick.

Filia pouted and glared. "That was... it took me by surprise that's all, and it was too forward." She quickened her pace, hoping that when they got to her place Xellos would stop teasing her in favor of getting cleaned up.

Filia entered her shop to find Naga putting up a few vases she didn't recognize. "You're back, what do you think, nice isn't it? Ah! ha ha ho ha ha!"

"You made those?" Filia hated to admitted, but Naga had real talent shaping the vases and decorating them. "They're good."

"Gravy thought so too," Naga smiled victoriously as she glanced at Gravos with a wink.

"Gravy?" Filia repeated in confusion. She glanced at Gravos who only shrugged with a slight pink tint on his cheeks. What in the world had this woman done to him.

Before Filia could further inquire about what was going on between those two, Xellos linked his arms with hers and took her away. "Good job managing the shop, keep at it, don't mind us," then he led her to the living area of the structure.

Once they were out of earshot, Filia frowned deeply. "There's something going on between those two and I don't like it. That scandalously clad woman is not right for Gravos, not to mention they're not even the same species!"

"I thought you had gotten over your racism," Xellos reminded critically.

"I'm not racist, if I was, I wouldn't have the family I do!" Filia argued. "I'm just worried about Gravos. I mean sure, Naga is Amelia's sister, but she's nothing like Amelia. Her morals seem rather loose." Filia paused upon realizing that Xellos seemed distracted. He had led her back to the bathroom, where he was sorting through her personal hygiene supplies. "Are you listening to me?"

"Which was that shampoo that you wanted to recommend?" Xellos continued examining the multitude of bottles; they all looked the same to him. "It better not smell like flowers or fruit."

"You can't just brush off my concerns!" Filia pointed her accusing finger at Xellos, her expression growing in anger.

Xellos shrugged, "Gravos can decide for himself what he wants to do. It's just like you golden dragons to try to control everyone and push them to your standards."

"I'm not pushing them; I haven't even said anything to them!" Filia argued adamantly.

"You're pushing me to back you up so I would help you push them." Xellos pointed out with an extremely annoying smile.

Filia opened her mouth with a comeback in mind, but before the words could roll off her tongue, she stopped herself and instead went for a simple, "I hate you."

Xellos maintained his cheerful smile and replied with a terribly vexing, "I love you too."

"Don't even joke about that," Filia scolded. She had quietly decided that Gravos was a big boy and could figure out what he should and shouldn't do on his own. She wouldn't interfere with him and would advise him only if he requested it.

Maybe getting cured was further away than Xellos thought. He was still curious to know about how far it really was though. "Is it really such a terrible catastrophe?"

"It is," Filia firmly stated with a hint of hurt in her eyes, "because you're lying. You shouldn't tell someone you love them as a joke. Do it only if you mean it. If you don't mean it, don't say it. Don't say it for pity, don't say it for influence and definitely don't say it as a joke."

Xellos raised an eyebrow in curiosity, "touchy," his empathic abilities allowed him to feel what Filia felt. Frustration? Pain? Longing? "Did someone break your heart in the past or something?"

Filia blinked, strangely enough, Xellos' question didn't sound teasing. His eyes revealed more curiosity than concern, but he wasn't mocking. True perplexity was projected by Filia, further confusing Xellos. "No," she finally answered after giving it some thought. "My feelings have been hurt and the list of those who hurt them certainly includes you. But I can't say I've been heart broken in the romantic sense."

"Really?" Xellos' curiosity increased. "Then why does it bother you so much if I say I love you?" He noticed that she almost cringed at the phrase and there was that deep longing again.

Filia didn't know how to properly answer. She didn't fully understand it herself. "It's because you don't mean it," she insisted. He could criticize her and it would bother her, but it wouldn't hurt this much. He could even criticize her in a truthful way if he wanted, no one was perfect and the golden dragons had their history. It would hurt to hear his reproach even if he said it in an impersonal and unconcerned way, but it wouldn't hurt as much as this.

"Do you want me to?" Xellos finally asked, "do you want me to love you?" He knew he was threading on dangerous ground. He could feel Filia walking along the edge of an emotional break down. One false step when she was so sensitive and he could ruin all his progress. He had to push away his curiosity and hold back his questions. For the sake of the greater good, he had to be gentle with Filia right now. Besides, he didn't particularly enjoy such emotions as the ones she was feeling pouring into him so uncontrollably. "Do you really think you have something here that can fix my hair?"

Filia seemed to be woken up from a dangerous daze. She held on to the cue for a normal conversation as if it were her only life line. "Yes!" All too eager to leave the unusual conversation behind and focus on hair products and their familiar logic, the golden dragon began to sort through her supplies, making recommendations.

The heavy question remained unanswered for the time being, but Filia couldn't help it but to hear it echo in the back of her mind every now and then in Xellos' curious and not mocking voice. 'Do you want me to love you?' Why would she want that? Why would she wish for the impossible?

xoxox xox xoxox

After Xellos was cleaned up and healed, with his hair looking as pretty as ever, Filia realized that she was running very late to meet Hanna. She should have just gone while Xellos was still in the bathroom, but she couldn't help it but to sit by the window stealing glances at the closed door in deep thought. "I was supposed to be meeting someone," Filia stated, trying to inject as much anger into her voice as she could. "It's your fault I'm late for distracting me!" She accused with little energy. "Poor Hanna is going to think I've forgotten all about her. She doesn't have any children to keep her company and her husband passed away years ago. I shouldn't have kept her waiting this long!"

As she spoke, Filia picked up a pink towel and placed it over Xellos' head to dry his hair. "So you waited for me to finish getting cleaned up to tell me all this instead of rushing over to meet that poor old lady who's all lonely waiting for you?" Xellos retorted from under the towel, he preferred purple towels. Although pink looked good on Filia, everything looked good on Filia. Wait a minute, where had those thoughts about everything looking good on Filia come from?

"I just remembered it now," Filia tossed the towel aside. She didn't feel like being tidy, which meant she wasn't in the best of moods. She picked up a brush and put it to use on Xellos' hair.

"Are you sure? It looks more like you stayed behind just to play with my hair," he teased.

Filia pouted, "someone has to take care of you."

"I'm not helpless," Xellos reminded for what felt like the millionth time.

"I know," satisfied with her work, Filia put the brush away and glanced at the pink towel she had tossed aside. She couldn't resist the urge and picked it up too, nothing good would come out of being a slob. Feeling that her response wasn't enough she added, "I just wanted to help," then she left it at that with nothing more to say.

"Well, let's go," Xellos prompted.

"Go where?" Filia's confusion was evident on her face.

"Are you suffering from memory problems?" Xellos mocked, "you said it just now. Some lonely old lady is waiting for you, so let's go meet her. If she's as lonely as you say, she won't mind if you bring an extra guest."

Filia pouted, narrowed her eyes suspiciously and placed her hands on her hips. "You're not coming, you'll just embarrass me!" An argument followed concerning the matter. The bickering went back and forth for several minutes until predictably, Filia gave in.

Xellos sported a victorious grin as he and Filia made their way down the street towards Hanna's house, while Filia fought with her face to stop pouting.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 039: Truth! The Unspoken Answer

"Hairclips! Headbands! Bracelets! Rings! Earrings! Necklaces! Accessories from far away!" Several townspeople surrounded the traveling merchant taking longer than needed to examine his wares, just because he happened to be in the path that Filia and the mystery man were on. The neighbors of Filia's home town were certainly gossipy people. They weren't malicious, just curious. She was peculiar enough, being a dragon and having beastmen shop keepers, but her band of visitors was even stranger. It was an open minded town that welcomed all species as long as they didn't cause trouble, but they still had the need to know more about what may not be any of their business.

Filia walked past the merchant, who was clearly from out of town as she didn't recognize him. There was nothing particularly special about the young man with short dirty blond hair and brown eyes, but his merchandise covered in shiny little crystals caught Filia's eyes. She would have stopped to examine the accessories he was selling, if not for the fact that she knew the neighbors were looking at her. Xellos must have surely noticed their curious glances. If she stopped, she would be setting herself up for embarrassment.

Someone might inquire about who Xellos was and what he meant to Filia. Then Xellos would open his big mouth and tell them something that was completely wrong, which would make the rumors spread across town and Filia would be mortified. Worse yet, he might unknowingly tell them something that was completely right, then Filia didn't know what she would do with herself, but her possible actions towards Xellos included beating him to a bloody pulp with her mace.

Away from the merchant and the neighbors who used him as a shield to spy on Filia, the dragon and the monster turned human reached their destination. Taking a deep breath, Filia knocked on the wooden door of the quaint little house and called out as cheerful as she could, "Hanna! It's Filia!"

The door was opened not a second later, which hinted to Filia that Hanna had been expectantly waiting for her. "Come in, dear," the old woman stepped aside to allow her visitors passage. "Oh, you've brought a guest, how nice!" She led them to the living room were they sat on a couch filled with cushions.

Filia thought the cushions were super cute, they had pictures of bunnies, kittens, flowers and other adorable things edged into them, plus they were extra fluffy. Hanna's home was filled with paintings as one would expect a classic grandmother house to be filled with pictures. None were of her children since she didn't have any, but she did have images of her and her husband in their younger days and visual representations of dear friends whom she saw as children or grandchildren. There were paintings of Filia, Jillas and Gravos too.

Xellos didn't really like the atmosphere. It was far too fluffy and homey, it made him feel uneasy, plus the old woman was plotting. He didn't know what she was plotting, but she was plotting something. "This is Xellos," Filia's voice bringing forward the obligatory introductions pushed Xellos out of his thoughts. "Xellos, this is Hanna, she's a very dear friend to me." The acknowledgement of their friendship came in the tone of an imperative warning towards Xellos.

"It's very good to meet you, Xellos," Hanna smiled sweetly.

A cold chill ran down Xellos' spine, "it's nice to meet you too." He gave her a critical look as if to say he knew she was plotting and he wouldn't fall for whatever she had in mind.

Hanna's smile never wavered as she headed to the kitchen, "I'll have the promised milkshakes ready in a second. Is your favorite still strawberry vanilla, Filia?"

"Yes please," Filia replied while giving Xellos a critical look. Her eyes were screaming 'behave!' louder than any words could.

"What about you, Xellos?" Hanna inquired with her sweet grandmotherly tone.

"Dark chocolate and grape," Xellos replied, being honest yet challenging.

Filia glared at him and discreetly elbowed him. She assumed he was being difficult on purpose, but Hanna didn't seem to mind. "That brings back memories; it was my husband's favorite too! He liked it with a hint of cinnamon."

"Sounds like he had good taste," Xellos observed, while Filia's worries grew. Now he was going to pretend to make friends with Hanna just so he could embarrass Filia. She was expecting it, but couldn't stop it. Why did she have to bring Xellos over?

"Here you go, dears," Hanna finished the cool drinks. Filia's had swirls of pink and white with extra sugar and Xellos' had swirls of black and purple with extra cinnamon. The old lady prepared a third shake for herself, it was lemon apple with swirls of green and yellow. Then the three sat down with their drinks and the host voiced the observation she had noticed a while ago. "Filia, honey, you're so tense, is everything okay?"

"Everything is fine!" Filia exclaimed louder than necessary. She gave Hanna a big smile then occupied herself with her drink as an excuse not to speak further.

"Xellos," Filia jumped in her seat as Hanna addressed the cause of her stress. "You seem rather jumpy yourself. Is there something to be nervous about?"

Grinning cunningly, Xellos challenged, "I don't know," he forced his face to remain confident despite the uncomfortable atmosphere, "you tell me. It seems the feeling of plotting is in the air with an almost murderous intent."

"Xellos!" Filia immediately scolded. Her sweet strawberry vanilla milkshake was delicious, but she was very tempted to throw it on Xellos' head even if it was a waste.

Hanna laughed in good humor. "I very much doubt you're in harms way in my home, unless your lactose intolerant."

It was only a joke, but Xellos' expression acted on its own losing the confident challenging look for a second. Filia gave him a worried glance as she bit her lip and wondered if it was best to advice Xellos to stop drinking his milkshake, though that might hurt Hanna's feelings. She could just say they forgot he was lactose intolerant, then again, he didn't have to be, but the octopus allergy had come without warning. "I don't think so," as if to recover his edge, Xellos drank a generous portion of his milkshake and appeared to be okay... mostly. His expression twisted as a hand instinctively rested on his stomach and Filia held her breath in worry. "I'm just hungry."

Filia almost fell off the couch at the anti-climatic revelation. "Why didn't you say so, dear? I have a treat that I was planning to give Filia to take home for her guests, but I suppose I could make another one for everyone later." Hanna retrieved a freshly baked chocolate cake covered in white frosting with cherries on top from her oven and set it on the coffee table in front of the couch, bringing over plates and spoons. "This is for you two to eat whole, enjoy."

"It's lovely!" Filia complimented and at the thought of food and recipes she remembered Elena. "By the way, have you met Elena? She's new in town."

"Ah yes, that very nice fox lady and her darling son." Hanna smiled fondly. "She mentioned wanting to open a restaurant in town and I gave her a book of recipes I've compiled over the years. She too gave me some recipes of her own. She's such a talented and hard working young lady!"

"I hope her business goes well." Filia picked up the plate set in front of her and began to eat a slice of cake. No doubt about it, Xellos was playing nice by serving it for her. He would soon be ready to embarrass her again. She glanced at Xellos and realized he was eating the whole remainder of the cake minus the slice he took out for Filia. "Xellos!"

"What? I shared with you, didn't I? Hanna said the cake was for us." Xellos attempted to give Filia an innocent look. She hated to admit it, but it was enhanced by the fact that he had frosting on his face like a little boy messily eating cake.

"For goodness sake, Xellos," Filia looked around for a napkin and found some at the small table next to the couch tugged in a decorative box covered in beads, which sat next to a soft brown teddy bear. "You're being rude," she proceeded to clean his face like a mother to her little boy.

"Not at all," Hanna laughed in real amusement. "He simply has a healthy appetite! You like cake, don't you? Not so fond of vegetables?"

"That's right," Xellos agreed, though he still wasn't about to trust Hanna, there was just something about her.

Filia was about to comment something about nutrition, but decided to hold her tongue. There was a heavy tension in the air that one did not need to be an empath to feel. "What's going on?" She vigorously asked Xellos.

"Ask her," Xellos kept his eyes trained on Hanna as if she was a dangerous foe.

"Very well, you've caught me," Hanna appeared to give up an act that Filia didn't even know she had been putting on. "The word around town is that Filia had gone off in a sort of triple date. People have concluded that you were her date. As such, I was quite curious to see what kind of man you were. Filia needs someone cheerful and dependable who can protect her, but also someone who doesn't mind being taken care of by her. You must be very observant to have picked up on my intentions of judging your behavior."

Filia's face turned scarlet and she was unable to form words. The situation began to make sense for Xellos as he revealed, "I'm an empath," without thinking of the consequences of that information.

"An empath!" Hanna clapped her hands together in glee. "How wonderful, you'll be able to understand Filia's emotions perfectly if you are able to feel them as clearly as your own." The assessment couldn't be further from the truth. Filia's emotions were very confusing.

The old lady's murderous intent faded away when she was reassured that her dear Filia was in good hands. "I guess this means you approve of me?" Xellos inquired with curiosity.

"Indeed I do," Hanna confirmed. Apparently she had too much faith in empaths. "I'm so happy for you both and you have my blessings."

Filia didn't know what to say. Xellos had led Hanna to believe something that was miles away from the truth. Actually, it all started because of the rumor mill, but Xellos, far from fixing it, made it worse. Sighing hopelessly and knowing that she would be the villain if she tried to correct things, Filia settled for a simple, "thank you."

From that point on, the conversation spiraled into something terribly bittersweet for Filia and amusing yet confusing for Xellos. Why was Filia feeling so complicated instead of just annoyed? His own question surfaced in his mind as he humored Hanna by claiming he cared about Filia very much. He didn't use the word love, since he knew it would set Filia on edge. He asked if she wanted him to love her and she didn't answer, instead sending out very strong emotions and getting dangerously close to a breakdown. Shouldn't she had yelled at him that the very thought of being loved by a monster, as he was originally that and intended to regain that status, was not only impossible but also repulsive?

Then again, if the unspoken answer happened to be a yes, that would mean Filia loved him. Cue another cold chill running down Xellos' spine; he attributed it to drinking his milkshake too fast this time to avoid choking on an oversize bite of cake. It all added up to him being very close to his cure. Who knows, maybe he was even already there; he just had to get Filia to admit her feelings. She didn't have to say anything; she simply had to acknowledge it to herself. It would not be an easy task, given her stubborn nature, but it wasn't impossible and he was finally making some real progress. If things continued like this, he would be a powerful monster again in no time.

Just as Filia and Xellos were about to leave, Hanna gave Filia one last parting gift. "This is for you," she handed her a pretty necklace with a pink heart shaped crystal. "A merchant came by earlier advertising his goods. He said I could get something for my daughter. Apparently he saw us in the market place earlier and assumed us to be related." There was a look of longing in her eyes. "Ah, if only... He gave me this necklace and said it was on the house. He was probably looking for a recommendation of his merchandise to the other townspeople, but I thought it was still sweet. It's a nice crystal, isn't it? It matches you perfectly." The old lady placed the heart necklace on Filia's hands.

"It's lovely!" Filia smiled sincerely, "thank you," she hugged the old woman. "You're very much like a mother to many of us here in town."

"That means a lot to me, dear Filia," Hanna smiled.

After the touching scene that was way too fluffy for Xellos' liking, he and Filia went on their way, with Filia wearing her new necklace.

xoxox xox xoxox

Filia and Xellos returned to Elena's house were the cooking resumed to feed Lina and her companions. Gravos and Naga closed the Vases and Maces shop and joined the others. They brought a nice set of dishes hand-made by Naga, who had used Filia's vase making materials without permission. The golden dragon wasn't in the mood to argue, so she just let it pass, realizing that though somewhat inconsiderate, Naga's intentions were good. She was just trying to be helpful and Elena would find a good use for the extra set of plates anyway.

After dinner, Naga decided to hit the local bars and dragged Gravos along with her. Filia thought about protesting, but she was too caught up in her own complicated emotions to say anything. She kept reminding herself that even if he was in human form, Xellos was still a monster by nature; he was still the same on the inside. He was tricky, he was an actor, he was a liar. The things he said and did were not always real. The things he told Hanna were most certainly false. He was just playing nice; he did that often to conceal his identity as a monster. It was all an act, Filia knew not to be tricked, yet a part of her wished that it was all real.

The small talk continued after dinner with the discussion of some legendary dish passed on through the generations among the foxpeople. Lina wanted to try it, but Elena didn't have the proper herbs that served as spices for it. She did possess a book with an illustration and basic description of what she needed and that was enough for the quest to begin. Apparently, the spicy herbs could be found in the mountains a relatively short distance away from the town. Elena had not gone out to get them herself due to the rumors about dangerous bandits and monsters living in that area.

"Bandits and monsters are not going to stop me!" Lina loudly declared, full of determination. She wanted to try that special dish and she offered to bring back plenty of spices, which would ultimately help Elena get her restaurant business started. With the leader having set her mind upon the quest, Lina intended to go off on the spicy herb hunt on that very night. Naturally, if Lina was going, Gourry would be there as well.

At first it looked as if Amelia and Zelgadis would remain in town, but the call of justice was too strong for the princess to ignore. Thus she was determined to join in and make the evil bandits and monsters hiding in the mountains get a taste of her justice. That in turn meant that Zelgadis would be tagging along with her. With the impatient redhead that couldn't wait until morning gone along with the blond swordsman, the justice obsessed princess and the chimera, that left Xellos and Filia to bid Elena and Palou good night and return to Filia's home at Jillas insistence.

"You must really like washing dishes," Xellos commented with a mischievous look when Jillas offered to be the only one to stay and help Elena with the dishes. Palou was just about ready to fall asleep on his feet when he saw them off, so it wouldn't be long before he went to bed and left the two foxpeople to enjoy some time alone.

xoxox xox xoxox

Filia's house felt quiet and empty when she and Xellos returned. She noticed that a lot of merchandise had been sold, possibly to young male customers persuaded by Naga. She also noticed the missing supplies which became raw materials to create dishes. Other than that and the fact that there were sleeping bags still all over the bedrooms, everything else was normal. "Lina, Gourry, Amelia and Zelgadis won't be back from the mountains for a while," Filia noted. "Poor Gravos will probably stay out late at the bar and have a hangover tomorrow," she frowned at the almost certainly factual theory. "At least Jillas is happy spending time with Elena and Palou."

"I guess that means it's just the two of us here for the night." Xellos' statement hung in the air with a million possible meanings that could be attached to it.

Filia bit her lip, her bittersweet confusion resurfacing and hitting her like a tidal wave. She looked at the clock on the living room wall. "It's late."

"It's only midnight," Xellos countered, "Eleven fifty-five if you want to be precise. I still have plenty of energy, don't you?" He tried to look like he wasn't plotting, though he obviously was. This could be his chance to obtain his cure; he was so close he could almost taste it. It was a dangerous move, but he had to try, he could always take it back if it became counterproductive, come up with a distraction and try again later. "You never did answer my question."

"Your question? What question?" Filia feigned ignorance. She knew exactly what he was referring to and she was hoping with all her might that he would just drop it.

Xellos wondered if repeating the question would be too much. It would be very bad if he pushed Filia over the edge and her emotions were running wild again. Why couldn't she keep those under control, she was vexing not only herself but him too. Determined, he pushed forward against all risks, phrasing the question even more daringly, "do you love me?"

The clock reached midnight and the feeling of flowing emotions from Filia was lost to Xellos. He had tried to turn his empathic abilities off before, but it simply didn't work. Suddenly, the signal was completely lost, even if Filia was standing right in front of him. The golden dragon stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him wordlessly. She was there, he could feel her presence just as clearly as he could feel her body pressed against his, but there was no emotion.

Xellos remembered that he was originally a monster and monsters were not supposed to feel love, regardless of what Celo might have to say about it. Maybe the reason why he couldn't sense Filia's emotions was because he did not possess an emotion that could echo hers. Maybe what she was feeling was love. Strangely, he felt dissatisfied, since he was secretly curious about that love thing that was so famous. This wasn't a simulation embedded in a crystal, this was real. He was a little disappointed that he could never know what it was, that he could never satisfy his curiosity. At the same time, he felt relief that he was safe from it, safe from falling in love and suffering the consequences of it... or so he thought.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 040: Trouble! Out Of Control

The clock had just struck midnight and all of Filia's emotions became suddenly imperceptible. Xellos thought he was close to breaking the curse that turned him into a human, but he was in truth in mortal danger. Filia's hands traveled to Xellos' neck where she grasped his throat tightly. He tried to get free but her grip was impossible to break. He tried to tell her to stop, but he couldn't breathe a word. Then he was able to sense Filia's emotions again, but only faintly.

There was a strong desperation making it's way to her once empty eyes. This wasn't love, Filia was being controlled, she had become nothing but a puppet without a say on what her body did. Yet her will was strong, it couldn't be suppressed completely and tried to make its way to the surface. She could see what she was doing. She could see Xellos' face becoming deadly pale, his eyes dangerously tired. She didn't want to do this. She tried to loosen her grip on his neck, if she didn't control herself, she would literally rip his head off before he could even choke.

'Please, stop,' she pleaded with her eyes. 'I don't want to hurt him... stop!' The force had a tight grip on her body, even when her mind forced itself to wake up. She could feel tears cascading from her eyes and running down her face. Who was controlling her? How were they doing it?

With the last of his strength, Xellos raised his hand towards the blurry image of Filia's glowing pink heart crystal on her necklace. He focused on a spell, though he could not even speak its name aloud, 'freeze arrow!' An arrow of ice collided at point blank with the glowing crystal, causing it to shatter. Filia immediately let go of Xellos and they both fell to the floor panting for breath.

Filia shivered as she cried. She took off the remains of her necklace, letting the chain fall to the floor along with the pink pieces of the crystal. She was very cold from having been hit with an ice spell at such a close range, but a dragon was able to withstand it. "Xellos..." She stared at him with worry as he finally caught his breath.

"I'm fine," He looked at the broken pieces of the crystal. "Who do you think was controlling you with that?"

Filia considered the question. "I don't know..." Then she remembered what Hanna had mentioned about the merchant. "The merchant?"

"I find it very suspicious that a merchant would just give something away." Xellos observed. "Hanna said it was probably to gain recommendations, but why would he need any? People can see the products and try them on, they can see for themselves if they are of good quality or not. Plus his business seemed to be doing just fine if it's the same merchant we saw on the way to Hanna's house. He looked like he was selling accessories with crystals like this."

"I don't know him, he probably just arrived in town," Filia stated as she tried to warm herself.

Xellos hugged her without thinking, she didn't resist, she didn't think about it, she was just cold. "A traveling merchant who happens to arrive in town not long after we do? That sounds very suspicious." Xellos concluded. "It's worth investigating." It was best to strike down the enemy before he had another chance to attack.

"Let's get this over with; I can't stand for there to be a dangerous person in this peaceful town." A terrible thought occurred to Filia. "He saw me with Hanna, what if he goes after her and takes her hostage to try to turn me against you? We have to stop him! He must be one of those who we were expecting to be after your life."

"It's possible," Xellos acknowledged both theories. "I'm certain the merchant was human, but it's not rare for monsters to use humans. He might be working for a monster under the command of another monster lord. Or maybe the minions of the Green Alchemist followed us here. Either way, something must be done." They both stood up, ready to put up a fight.

"Lina, Gourry, Amelia and Zelgadis are off in the mountains. Naga and Gravos are probably drunk," Filia observed. If the enemy was truly strong, going after him on their own might be dangerous.

"We need to strike fast, this is our best chance," Xellos insisted. "The enemy probably knows the others are away and expects us to be weaker without them." The thought of being catalogued as a weakling bothered Xellos. "I have a good amount of magic at my disposal now, I can take him."

"I'll be there too," Filia reminded. "But I don't want to risk Val. I'll leave his egg with Jillas; he can take care of protecting Val, Elena and Palou with that 'bazooka' invention he's been working on. Then we'll go hunt down the evil creature that did this and bring him to justice!"

"You sound like Amelia," Xellos knew that Filia was all fired up to hunt down the culprit. But why was she so eager? They had faced dangerous enemies before and though Filia was motivated to fight, it wasn't this intense.

"That horrible being almost made me kill you, I could never live with myself if I did that." Filia frowned, glaring at the walls. "There's no time to waste." She strode into Val's room and gently picked up the egg. "Don't worry, Val, you'll be safe with uncle Jillas until mommy takes care of business."

"And daddy will make sure she doesn't mess up," Xellos added with a mocking grin.

"This is no time for jokes," Filia growled. "Don't listen to him, Val. Xellos is just annoying."

"It's not like he can hear either of us," Xellos pointed out.

"Yes he can," Filia insisted as she headed out of the house and towards Elena's place. "It's a proven fact that baby dragons can hear what's being spoken around them before they hatch.

"Really?" Xellos gave the egg in Filia's arms a curious look.

"Don't get any ideas," the protective mother warned, to which her companion only grinned.

xoxox xox xoxox

They finally reached Elena's house and Filia knocked on the door urgently. In a matter of seconds, Elena and Jillas were at the door wondering what in the world this was about. Palou was so fast asleep that the noise didn't wake him. "I'm sorry to come by so late, but I need you to protect Val while Xellos and I go take care of an enemy before he causes more trouble around town. You should keep the bazooka on hand just in case." Filia had seen the cannon-like weapon at work during a test just outside of town. For a non-magical device it certainly packed a lot of power.

"An enemy, boss?" Jillas questioned, as Elena held the small egg protectively with fascination.

"Don't worry, we can handle this, I'll explain the rest later. We need to go while the element of surprise is on our side. He won't expect us to retaliate so soon." Filia insisted.

Jillas nodded and trusted her judgment. "Most of my weapons are stored in the basement," he noted.

Elena nodded in understanding, "then it would be easier if we go to Filia's house. I'll go wake Palou so we can leave right away."

xoxox xox xoxox

Xellos and Filia spent the rest of the night searching the town and its surrounding areas for any sign of the merchant. No further disturbances occurred in the peaceful little town and there was no sign of the enemy. They returned at dawn, exhausted and with no progress to show for it. Lina, Gourry, Amelia and Zelgadis were still away. For a moment Filia worried about them, but then realized there was no need to. They were probably just taking a little while to find the proper spicy herbs. They were all skilled in battle and could certainly take care of themselves.

Jillas took the guard duty upon himself while Xellos and Filia got some much needed rest. Gravos and Naga returned from the bar late that night and were not informed of the happenings until the next day when Gravos was drinking coffee to get over his hangover and Naga was merrily making little golem figurines with Filia's vase making supplies. The eldest Seyruun princess appeared to have enough experience with alcohol not to be bothered by anything resembling a hangover.

Gravos was upset that he wasn't there to help and drank cup after cup of black coffee until he felt ready for battle. Naga gladly offered her help and though no one was sure if that was good or bad, they accepted it nonetheless. The day rolled by with the group at Filia's house. When Xellos and Filia had rested, they went off to gather clues around town. Since they were only out on an investigation, not off to battle, Filia suggested that the others should stay at the shop. If too many people were running around town asking questions, it might cause a panic.

On the previous night before returning home from their rounds, Filia had checked on Hanna's house and confirmed that there were no signs of anyone breaking in, thus she left the old lady to get her rest. As it was now the afternoon, Filia decided to drop by and actually talk to Hanna to inquire if she had noticed anything suspicious. Strangely, the old lady didn't answer when Filia knocked on her door. Assuming she had gone to the market, Filia headed there as well, with Xellos accompanying her in the investigation.

The marketplace was buzzing with activity not due to the products themselves, but due to gossip. The harvest had been bad and there was not much to buy, but people visited the marketplace as a way of social entertainment. "Did you see it?" A blond woman in her late thirties pretended to whisper to another woman around her age, except her voice was so loud that everyone around them could hear their conversation. She did it on purpose to give her speech the feel of secrecy that would make people want to listen, while at the same time making it easy for any passer-bys to hear and become motivated to add something. "Did you see the fight?"

The black haired gossiper nodded energetically, "I saw it, I saw it all! Aya and Kyle's families got along just fine and had no problems with their son and daughter dating each other, until she decided to run away."

"That's what they say at least," the blond pointed out. "Her boyfriend ran off to find her with little explanation. The girl's parents blame him for her having left, but I don't think he broke her heart."

"I don't think so either," the dark haired woman agreed. "It wouldn't make any sense for him to break up with her then go out to find her. Besides, I didn't see them fight or anything. She just ran off this morning without listening to anyone who tried to stop her. I heard she was visiting Hanna for breakfast, but Hanna told me she never showed up."

"From then on no one could find her," the blond sighed. "I wonder what happened to the poor girl."

Filia and Xellos' eavesdropping on the conversation about the missing girl was interrupted by a little boy calling out, "Alys! Alys!" He stopped as he spotted Filia. "Miss Filia, have you seen my sister? She went to the market this morning and didn't come back for lunch. Mom said she must have gotten distracted talking to her friends, but I can't find her."

"Sorry, Chaz, I haven't seen her, but I'll be sure to tell her you're looking for her if I do." Filia tried to keep a straight face for the little boy. She gently ruffled his golden hair and sent him off with a reassuring smile.

After the little boy was gone, Xellos gave Filia a meaningful look, "you think it's suspicious too?"

"I do," Filia agreed. She wanted to find Hanna and make sure she was alright. She wanted even more so to find the culprit and make sure he wasn't alright. Two missing girls, one was around eighteen and the other close to fifteen. When young girls go missing it's always a bad sign, after all young women seem to be the preferred sacrifice for most evil villains.

Xellos and Filia continued looking into the matter, pretending to be curious and talking to the two gossiping women at the marketplace. As nice and talented in art as Hanna was, she too was also an avid gossiper. It was always the four of them at the marketplace discussing everything and everyone. Sasha with her blond hair and pointy little nose, she was always at the marketplace since she and her husband were some of the local merchants who sold imported crops. Anna, the wife of the local botanist, she had short black hair and a sharp look in her eyes.

There was also Manna, who seemed to be running late today, she was a woman with black hair slightly longer than Anna's, a contrasting relaxed, cheerful yet sleepy look permanently edged on her face. Her husband ran a winery which Gravos was rather fond of. Hanna was the oldest member of the gossiping quartet. Though her once raven hair was now gray, her bright blue eyes stood out like jewels. Sasha would always joke about changing her name to something that matched better, since her friends all had rhyming names, Anna, Manna and Hanna.

Manna arrived a little while later and joined Anna and Sasha in talking to Filia and Xellos. Though the golden dragon showed curious interest in hearing about the missing girls, the traveling merchant and any news that made its way to the local grapevine, Sasha, Anna and Manna had a different topic of conversation in mind. They kept bringing up Filia's relationship with Xellos and inquiring about it.

"Yesterday I saw the two of you go into Hanna's house together," Manna teased. "How sweet of you to visit her as a couple! By the way, isn't Hanna running terribly late to our meeting today? I thought for sure I would be the last to get here, where has my time gone today?"

"I haven't seen Hanna since early this morning," Anna noted. "What ever happened to her anyway? It's like she vanished into thin air."

"Oh Xellos, you better hold on to Filia nice and tight, it sounds like women are disappearing all over the place." Manna winked.

While Xellos humored the gossiping women by placing his arm around Filia's waist and assuring them that he would make sure to keep her close, Filia decided she had heard enough. It was obvious that the masters of the rumor mill only knew what happened, not how it happened. Though they did mention something about Aya leaving as opposed to being kidnapped, she was probably being controlled by one of those accessories from the merchant.

In the end, Filia had no doubts about it, Alys and Aya had to have been taken away for some evil purpose and Hanna was taken as a hostage. They had to be rescued! "It was nice talking to all of you," Filia suddenly interrupted Sasha, who was in the middle of a rather personal interrogation with Xellos. The color of his underwear was seriously none of her business. "We have to be on our way now, see you later!" With that said, Filia rushed away, dragging Xellos along since he still had a firm grip on her waist, which she was conveniently ignoring.

xoxox xox xoxox

Xellos and Filia regrouped at the Vases and Maces shop. Palou was taking a nap next to Val's egg, Elena was occupying herself in dusting the shelves, Jillas was polishing his bazooka, Gravos was looking every which way in the alertness of a caffeine high, and Naga was happily putting up the little golem figurines she made on the shop's display shelves. Filia had no time to defend the integrity of her store at the moment, so she just let her be and went straight to discussing the more imperative business.

"We found out that there are several people missing since this morning." Filia felt bad for assuming that Hanna was okay just because there were no signs of anyone breaking into her house. She might have been alright the previous night, but their guard was lowered in the morning. Before going off in their investigation around town, Filia had taken the time to describe the events concerning the necklace and her suspicions about the merchant, hence she brought it up. "I think that Hanna might have been taken hostage because that merchant saw me with her earlier." Her voice began to shake as she imagined the poor old lady being taken away forcefully.

Filia continued, "two young girls, Aya and Alys are also missing. It hasn't been a full day since they disappeared; they were all last seen this morning, so people are not in a panic yet, but it won't be long before things get worse. I don't want the townspeople to be dragged into this. After we have rescued everyone and put a stop to the merchant's plans, as soon as Lina and the others get back, we're leaving town. Jillas, Gravos, I will entrust the safety of Val and the town to you once more when I leave. It's best this way, at least until things settle down."

"What about the coming battle," Gravos inquired. He saw the stubborn look on Filia's face, as if she was planning to go fight without him.

"I can help," Naga offered. "I'm Lina Inverse's greatest rival, my magic is super powerful! Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!"

"I would like for all of you to protect the town," Filia requested. Before anyone could protest, she added, "it has to be this way. We've been looking for the enemy for a while and he has slipped away. He's after Xellos, so if he thinks he has a chance, he'll attack. If all of us are there, he'll lay low and who knows how many more people will be in terrible danger from now until we manage to catch him. Who knows if we'll even be able to rescue them."

"I'm the bait," Xellos realized.

"I'll be there to back you up," Filia assured. "Please, trust me; we need to face the enemy as soon as possible!"

"He doesn't have to know we're all there, boss, we could make an ambush!" Jillas suggested.

Gravos nodded and was about to express his agreement with the ambush plan, but just as he spoke, he was interrupted by an earthquake. A series of screams from the streets of town woke Palou and made the group rush out to see what was going on. What they saw was impressive to say the least.

Large trees could be seen in the distance surrounding the town, trees that were certainly not there a few minutes ago. The roots reached into the town coming out of the ground in the street with heads like snakes. Filia gasped "They're..." she could hardly believe it, "they're tree snake chimera!"

To be Continued

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