Slayers: Alive

Chapter 5

Slayers: Alive

Episode 041: Betrayal! A Bitter Battle

"Looks like the battle came to us," Gravos stepped out of the house prepared to fight.

Filia watched the scene with horror, "it really will take all of us to fight."

Xellos decided someone had to get things organized, and who better than himself? "Gravos, Naga, take out as many enemies as you can. Jillas, put your weapon arsenal to use, Vases and Maces is now the main fortress. I'm going to find the one in charge and give him a beating. Filia," he winked, "try not to get in the way."

"This is no time for jokes!" Filia screeched. "Gravos, Jillas, Naga, stay strong and protect the town; I'll find the one controlling these monstrous creatures and stop him." With that said, Filia charged forward with her mace in hand. She batted away any snake roots that got in her way and continued her dash towards the glowing mass of trees in the center of town.

"At least she made a good guess about where the boss could be," Xellos rushed forward towards the same location, shooting Fireball spells at all the enemies on his path.

That left Gravos to clobber the attacking plant-beasts with his custom-made huge mace that Filia designed just for him. Jillas set up the fire power around the shop and shot any creepy plant snakes that tried to get near it, keeping Elena, Palou and Val safe inside. All the while Naga looked like she was having fun, laughing at the top of her lungs as she shot one Freeze Arrow after another.

Filia and Xellos reached the tallest tree in the center of town, which was composed of a mass of long thin trees weaved together. The tree trunks parted to allow them entry. "Looks like someone is inviting us in," Xellos observed.

"Let's take the invitation!" Filia and Xellos charged forward courageously. The inside of the enemy base of operations was dark at first, but it wasn't long before a bright green light illuminated the space. "The snake tree isn't just a chimera of plant and animal, it has some monster in it too," Filia sensed.

"Hence why we ended up in the astral side," Xellos noted. The space in the chamber they were in was larger than the space in the middle of the mass of thin trees. The chamber was surrounded by tightly packed tree trunks all around with many vines all over the floors, covered in green leaves. Overhead there was a strange glowing sphere with a see-through leaf-like membrane around it and a bright green giant seed in the middle. "I bet that's the power source up there, Flare Arrow!"

In a swift movement, the mysterious traveling merchant, jumped from his hidden position above the glowing sphere and negated the attack, "Freeze Arrow!" He floated with the power of levitation, looking at his so called captives below.

The leaf covered vines sprung to life, trying to wrap themselves around Filia and Xellos, but with a few fireballs and laser breath, they both freed themselves and levitated above the vines. "Who are you? Why are you doing this?" Filia demanded.

The merchant gave no reply beyond the empty look on his face. "He has no feelings," Xellos realized, then he caught sight of the glow on the crystal he wore on an armlet. "Looks like the merchant wasn't the mastermind after all, he's only a puppet. Judging by the use of trees, this looks like the work of the Green Alchemist."

"Well done," a female voice was heard as a figure in a black cloak came out of hiding near the glowing sphere. "You are indeed a perceptive empath," she removed her cloak to reveal the beautiful face of a young woman with black ebony hair and sapphire blue eyes. "Yet you're not perceptive enough since I was able to trick you before."

"No way..." Filia stared at the woman in disbelief. "Your face... Why do you have that face? It's just like the painting of young Hanna!" The old woman had said she had no children, but Filia seriously doubted it now, "are you her daughter?"

The woman laughed cruelly, "you think I'm Hanna's daughter, dear Filia? Maybe you had too many sweet strawberry vanilla milkshakes for your own good. Or is your tiny brain filled with nothing but kittens and bunnies? Maybe the scent of pottery supplies shouldn't have been as pleasant to you as it was. Have you finally had a nervous breakdown wondering if you'll be a good mother to that little orphaned dragon you took in?"

Filia was in shock, "how do you know those things? My favorite things, my fears, those were things I confided to Hanna."

"That's because I am Hanna," the woman mocked.

"That murderous intent," Xellos recalled. "You managed to hide your feelings as soon as you knew I was an empath. You weren't trying to see if I was good enough for Filia, you were plotting to kill me all along!"

"No!" Filia argued in agony. "You can't be Hanna. She's a very kind person, you're not her!" Hanna was trustworthy and good in Filia's eyes. To be betrayed by her was devastating.

"I am the same person, a chimera, even if I'm purely human," Hanna assured. "I fused myself with the town girls to absorb their youth and I also absorbed their magic. I've absorbed the magic of many over time. I've been around for far longer than you could imagine, serving the great Green Alchemist! As for the young man, here he is."

The vines on the chamber's floor parted to reveal the corpse of a young man Filia knew from her home town. "Kyle! Then it's true..." the golden dragon cried. "You lied to me; you lied to the whole town! I loved you like a mother, how could you do this?"

"Dear Filia, there is no such a thing as love; it is nothing but a convenient construct of the imagination, quite useful for manipulation." The image of young Hanna mocked. "Since you're learning truths today, I might as well tell you my real name. Hanna is just one of many names I've had over the years, but my favorite identity is Venus, that's my favorite plant."

Many giant venus flytraps emerged from the plants surrounding them. Xellos and Filia couldn't get near the walls or the plants would bite. They were considerably more ferocious looking than a normal venus flytrap would be, with thorns all over and sharp jaws the size of a shark. "This is about more than just revenge because we freed Phythan and prevented you from taking Zelgadis. You really are after me."

"Yes," Venus admitted, "the followers of the Green Alchemist know exactly who you are, ex-general Xellos. Our great leader will deliver your corpse to the grand Beast Master and become her new general!"

"You idiot, it doesn't work that way!" Xellos argued. He not only had monsters to worry about, but also some stupid human cult of insane vegetation obsessed weirdoes.

"I will have no mercy! Attack!" Venus sent the plans on a rampage. The venus flytraps extended in snake-like movements, snapping at Xellos and Filia, who were quick to counter. Filia was stronger in her dragon form, but she knew she couldn't transform. Her larger size would make it more difficult to dodge in the space of the chamber, so she and Xellos both used levitation instead.

Sparks and ashes rained down as the pair burned the venus flytraps one after another, but they regenerated quickly. Xellos tried making his way through the endless plants with Fireball spells and attack Hanna, but there was always an obstacle, the brainwashed merchant being one of them. "Xellos! That poor man you just burned to a crisp was an innocent victim for all we know!" Filia scolded.

"In case you haven't noticed, I'm too busy trying to stay alive to worry about a little collateral damage right now!" Xellos retorted. "I'm going for that glowing seed, make yourself useful." Xellos levitated towards the sphere above as the venus flytraps continued on the attack. Surprisingly, Venus didn't seem to care, which was strange if that glowing giant seed was an important power source.

"What do you mean I should make myself useful? Don't rush in like that, you'll get yourself killed!" A barrage of lasers followed, taking out the plants that tried to attack Xellos as he approached the target.

Xellos had the target in sight. At such a close range, the venus flytraps wouldn't be able to effectively shield it. "Flare Lance!" The massive lance of fire was shot straight at the glowing green sphere. A few of the venus flytraps were caught by the attack, but certainly not enough to diminish it. The lance easily burned the leafy membrane that covered the seed, allowing its light to brighten the atmosphere even more. The chamber in the astral side was as clear as day, but the flames of the spell soon disappeared. The green glow was just as bright as ever, maybe even brighter. Maybe ice would work, "Freeze Bullet!" A torrent of icy bullets assaulted the glowing seed at Xellos' command, but like the flames before it, they too were without effect.

"Xellos, what's taking so long? Destroy that seed already!" Filia kept struggling to keep both Xellos and herself safe from the plants, exterminating them one after another, but they kept returning.

"Must you always be so impatient?" Xellos turned around for a moment and gave Filia his usual overly cheerful smile with a hint of real uneasiness. Then he turned away to glare at the stubborn oversized glowing green seed that refused to be destroyed.

"I can't keep this up forever!" Filia argued, then made a quick chant in her native tongue for a Flame Breath spell that reduced the majority of the venus flytraps to ashes. It would take a little while longer for them to regenerate fully after that.

Xellos turned his attention away from the seed and towards the confident woman in the black cloak. What was it with evil sorcerers and sorceresses and their black cloaks? Couldn't they have some originality? Besides, shouldn't the followers of the Green Alchemist wear green? Some things never made sense. "It doesn't look like you're concerned about this seed. I guess that means I should attack you instead! Flare Arrow!"

Venus was quick to dodge, "you have no power in your current state, mortal. Ra Tilt!"

The spell hit Xellos hard. His magic training with Lina only covered attacking, not defending. He thought the best defense was a good offence and assumed it would be enough, but apparently it wasn't. "Xellos!" Filia rushed over on the offensive and swung her mace at Venus.

An experience fighter of great endurance and agility, Venus was quick to respond with a "Bamu Rod!" The whip of fire wrapped itself around Filia's mace, quickly melting the material.

However, Filia could still use it as a blunt object, she threw it at Venus, who dodged as the abused mace flew over her head. "Do you really hope to defeat me with such weak tactics?"

The partially melted mace collided harshly with the glowing green seed, creating a crack on its outer shell, where it got stuck. "I see," Xellos grinned, he had a new plan all figure out. "The outer shell of the seed absorbs magic, but it can be physically broken." Xellos reluctantly touched the mace's handle with one finger and quickly drew it back. He cooled the scorching weapon with a quick ice spell and pulled out the mace. As soon as the weapon was loose, he was dragged down several feet by the weight, having to cast levitation again. Was that mace ever heavy for a human!

Venus glared at Xellos and tried to reach him with her whip of fire, but Filia was quick to stop her, "Ray Freeze!" Paralyzed by Filia's spell, Venus was unable to move a muscle or even twitch. She released the effects of Bamu Rod to conserve energy and concentrate her strength in freeing herself.

Simultaneously, Xellos was striking the seed over and over with Filia's mace to little effect. Sure, he had powerful magic, but the physical strength of a human being simply wasn't enough to make fast progress. Filia floated near him and opened her mouth to speak, but Xellos cut her off before she could produce any words. "I don't need your help, I can do this myself."

Filia placed her hands on her hips and glared, "this is no time to be stubborn! Besides, it's my mace, give it back!" She snatched away the heavy weapon with ease, as it didn't feel heavy to a dragon. She took a hit at the seed's outer shell and continued elaborating upon the cracks Xellos had helped grow.

"You're not doing any better," he accused.

"It worked just fine before!" Filia continued hitting the seed with little progress.

The initial hit was far stronger, but why? Magic alone couldn't destroy the seed's outer shell. It was obvious that a strong physical attack was needed, but that wasn't enough. "Fire," Xellos realized. "When you first hit the seed, the mace was still hot from being half melted."

"Then both heat and strength are needed," Filia realized. "Alright, let's get rid of this creepy seed together. Give me some fire power," Filia held out her mace. It was ruined anyway and she could always get a new one, plus this was an emergency.

"Gladly," Xellos casted a fire spell on the mace until it was almost red from the heat. He wished he had learned Astral Vine, but this would just have to do.

"Here goes!" Filia mercilessly hit the seed with her hot mace until the outer shell fell off completely.

"Scatter Bleed!" A blinding brightness invaded the chamber as a sea of energy balls assaulted Xellos and Filia by surprise. They were not expecting Venus to be able to free herself from Filia's spell, let alone so soon. The magic also hit the exposed glowing core of the seed, but it didn't damage it. "Don't you see? That power seed is indestructible! It will absorb any magic you throw at it and not even a dragon has enough strength to damage it physically!" She laughed in the same annoying fashion that Martina and Naga did.

"The seed also absorbed her spell," Xellos observed.

"It was good for us this time," Filia realized. The surprise attack would have hit them a lot harder if they weren't so close to the seed.

"That must be why the seed was protected," Xellos asserted. "Not because it was weak, but because it absorbs magic and would interfere with any spells casted here."

"That must also be why my binding spell suddenly wore off," Filia added.

Filia and Xellos took in their surroundings; it looked like the venus flytraps were ready for battle again. "The seed powers the plants, so even if Venus' spells are diminished along with ours, the power goes to her," Xellos bitterly concluded.

"Have you realized that this is a hopeless battle? You wasted your chance to kill me, dear Filia. It was all because no doubt you still have a soft spot for little old Hanna. To think that anyone could get so attached to a lie, it's pathetic!" Venus laughed cruelly at Filia's heartbroken look.

"Filia, this is no time to cry, snap out of it." Xellos insisted with urgency, shaking her shoulders to get her to react. "That seed gives power to all the trees, including the snake chimera trees outside of the astral space." This should get her attention, since Filia was always worrying about others. "If we don't destroy the power source, the enemies attacking the town will constantly regenerate. Gravos, Jillas and Naga are fighting a battle they can't win. All they can do is defend the town until we defeat the enemy. If we don't destroy this seed, the whole town, including Val, is doomed."

Filia could clearly picture it. Lina, Gourry, Amelia and Zelgadis returning from their spice hunt to find the town in ruins. A pile of deadly trees littered with corpses, not a single resident of the town left alive. Gravos, Jillas, Val, Elena, Palou, Naga. Maybe even Lina, Gourry, Amelia and Zelgadis would be drawn into a trap if they attempted to make justice. Xellos... Xellos would be killed too. Xellos... he was... he was kissing her again. Filia snapped out of her daze and gave Xellos a sharp look as they parted. "I'm not giving up and I'll get back at you for stealing that kiss."

"What kind of a weird freak are you?" Venus mocked. "Monsters have no room in their lives for romance. It's no wonder you ended up in such a pitiful state. Beast Master Zelas must be happy to throw you away!"

"Silence!" Filia snapped enraged. "You tricked us all, you pretended to be a caring person. You earned the love and trust of the townspeople, all just so you could use them."

"Just like the Venus flytrap, luring in her insignificant victims with a sweet scent, pretending to be a harmless flower." Venus' cruel laughter echoed alongside the sound of the ferocious plants snapping their jaws. "I don't know why your friends abandoned you, but not even they would be able to save you!"

"Our friends didn't abandon us, they'll be back!" Filia argued. It was true that Lina and the others were expected to return, but she knew she couldn't count on them to make it back on time for this fight. They were off in the mountains on a wild goose chase for some rare herbs. They were completely unaware of what was happening in town. Gravos, Jillas and Naga were in the town, outside of the astral space, probably struggling to keep the residents safe. Xellos was right, it was up to them to win this bitter battle and save everyone. But how could they do that?

"Filia," Xellos whispered in her ear. "I have an idea. Can you buy me some time?"

"Yes," Filia nodded with determination. She didn't know what Xellos was planning to do, but she would make it work.

"Are you whispering one last sweet nothing, you pathetic excuse for a monster?" Venus mocked, "or maybe you're saying goodbye. It's appropriate since you're both about to die!" Venus went in an all out attack.

In a desperate final effort, Filia went on the offensive as well. She charged forward, throwing everything she had at Venus. The evil sorceress had no choice but to allow her deadly plants to focus on Filia or else the enraged golden dragon would break through her defenses. As a result, Xellos had a small window of time to focus on his spell casting. His plan was to overwhelm the seed with power, but he had to hit it swiftly, as stopping it from consuming the spell's energy before he was done casting it was extremely difficult.

It looked like Venus and Filia's fight was more physical than magical with Filia defending herself with the remains of her mace and Venus using her ferocious plants. Even maintaining a simple levitation spell was extremely draining. Xellos pushed himself to the limit. He saw Filia being assaulted by an overwhelming number of mutant venus flytraps. He saw her struggle and felt her pain. He could picture what would happen if his plan failed and somehow, it all fueled his spell, making it stronger than what he thought he would be able to cast in his current form.

There was that strong survival instinct again, an unstoppable force that pushed him past his limits just so he could live another day. He had been chanting the spell all along, the words flowing out, lost in the sound of the battle, Filia's battle. Then he finally had it ready. With the spell complete, Xellos released its massive impressive force into the glowing seed, in a desperate attempt to overwhelm it and destroy it. "Dragon Slave!"

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 042: Consequences! Feeling The Aftershock

In the mountainous region a relatively short distance away from the town, Lina and company were scouring the ground, looking for the spicy herbs they needed. They had left a trail of knocked out bandits and monsters in their path and obtained some loot because of that. Even so, it wasn't enough, Lina wouldn't give up and she wouldn't let anyone give up, until she found what she was looking for.

"Miss Lina, the sun just set, we won't be able to find anything in the darkness." Amelia pointed out tiredly. She was all up for bringing justice to the evil in their own hideout, but she was tired from doing so continuously without rest.

"Light!" Lina's reply to Amelia's plea was to light up the atmosphere with a spell. "That should make things easier. Let's keep looking, the spicy herbs have to be around here somewhere!"

"There they are!" A new band of monsters arrived. They looked like sharks with spider legs and bat wings and they came in a variety of shades of gray and red.

"More of them?" Zelgadis was becoming very annoyed with the constant interruptions.

"We know you're hiding him. Beast Master Zelas has monsters positioned all around this mountain, blocking the path. That's because her weakened general is here. We managed to sneak past the guards and what do we find? Many fallen allies and Lina Inverse. Rumor has it that you've become Xellos' slave, so he must be near by!" The leader of the monsters, a dark red specimen of the strange species claimed.

"For the millionth time, I'm not Xellos' slave, I'm his bodyguard!" Lina yelled exasperated.

"I still don't get it, why are the monsters so sure that Xellos is here? They even threatened the bandits into going after us." Gourry expressed his perpetual confusion.

"I told you stubborn idiots that Xellos is at Celo's resort. You should know that Celo is one of Beast Master's monsters. It's only logical that Xellos would find refuge in a place like that!" Lina lied. She wasn't about to put Xellos in danger and jeopardize her bodyguard wages by revealing his real location. In truth, Lina was as confused as Gourry. It seemed that word had gotten around that Xellos was in a vulnerable human state and there were more than a few monsters out to get him.

"Lies!" The monsters argued as they continued their stubborn attack. The way things played out it almost looked as if Zelas was leading the monsters away from Xellos and towards Lina for their extermination. She concluded that it was more hard work for her to be away from her client than it was to actually guard him. That also explained why it was taking a while for the monsters to come avalanching in, Zelas must have been secretly doing her part. Strangely, Lina got the impression that Xellos wasn't counting on any of that. Yet perhaps Lord Beast Master wasn't about to throw away a competent general so easily just because he was having a time of weakness.

"That's it, I'm getting pissed off!" Lina loudly declared in a dangerously threatening tone. "Darkness beyond twilight, crimson beyond blood that flows, buried in the stream of time is where your power grows."

"What about the spicy herbs?" Gourry urged. if Lina blew up the mountain they were on, she would destroy the spicy herbs that were apparently hidden there along with it.

Lina didn't listen and continued chanting her spell. "I pledge myself to conquer all the foes who stand, before the mighty gift bestowed in my unworthy hands."

"There's no reasoning with her!" Zelgadis concluded. Lina was beyond the end of her patience and no one could stop her now.

"Let the fools who stand before me be destroyed, by the power you and I possess..." Lina was ready to launch her powerful spell and level the mountain.

"Retreat!" Following Amelia's wise advice, she, Zelgadis and Gourry ran for their lives.

With a more pissed off tone than usual, Lina released the spell, "Dragon Slave!" The large amassment of monsters was immediately destroyed along with the mountain and all the vegetation in it in a brilliant flash of light and a big explosion.

xoxox xox xoxox

Meanwhile, at the astral space where Xellos, Filia and Venus were, the glowing seed that was the core of power for the enemy tree snake chimera overloaded with the power of Xellos' Dragon Slave, causing a massive chain reaction. Outside of the astral space in town, Gravos, Jillas and Naga had been struggling to keep the constantly regenerating enemies at bay when the trees suddenly dried up and were left motionless. In the astral space the atmosphere turned unbearably hot as the seed became unstable distorting the area.

Venus knew she wouldn't stand a chance to win the fight without her chimera. She recklessly threw herself at the unstable seed in an effort to contain its power. Her recent fusion was somehow undone as Alys and Aya's corpses were thrown out of her body, leaving Venus with her older appearance. It was the appearance that Filia knew as Hanna. "Xellos, you are no doubt still doomed, another will kill you where I could not. Curse you Filia! Curse you for protecting that useless monster!" A terrible malice emerged from Venus with her last breath as the astral space vanished and the aftershock threw Xellos and Filia into a different location.

xoxox xox xoxox

Lina, Gourry, Amelia and Zelgadis found themselves in the middle of a crater with no vegetation left. It once was a mountain covered in green, but it was gone now. "The herbs! The spicy herbs are gone!" Lina lamented a little too late.

"It's okay Miss Lina, maybe we'll still be able to find some," Amelia tried to console her even if her optimism was obviously not realistic. "I hope you learned your lesson, you need to think of the consequences before you blow up a mountain... or blow up anything."

"This is Lina," Zelgadis pointed out as a matter of fact while the group made their way out of the crater and reached the ground level. "She never thinks of the consequences."

"You should be thinking of the consequences of being so cruel!" Lina retorted, "can't you see I'm in the middle of mourning my spices?"

A bright flash of light in the distance caught the group's attention. "What was that?" Gourry pointed in the direction of the town. "Do you think it was some kind of falling star? We should make a wish!" He squinted at the distant location, noticing that something was off, "did there used to be that many big trees around town."

"I'm pretty sure those weren't there when we left," Amelia recalled with growing worry. Trees randomly popping out couldn't be a good sign.

"That light just now almost looked like the Dragon Slave," Zelgadis observed.

Lina's countenance changed, with an urgent look of alertness replacing her mourning gaze. "That really was the Dragon Slave," she concluded. The hasty redhead would recognize her favorite spell anywhere. "I taught Xellos how to cast it and warned him that he should only use it in cases of emergency. Given his situation and the possible dangers, I doubt he would waste energy on a Dragon Slave without a good reason."

"Oh no!" Amelia gasped, "the enemies must have learned of Xellos' real location!"

"I don't think this is the same enemy," Zelgadis pointed out. "Those are trees out there, who do we know that uses trees to attack?"

"A bird? A bear? A forest ranger?" Gourry guessed.

"No!" Lina explained, "the Green Alchemist! We never did finish our business and evil cults tend to keep coming back until the big boss is beaten. I guess that means we're in for a fight, let's go!" Thus the group rushed back to town, even if unknown to them, the fight was already over.

xoxox xox xoxox

"Xellos! Xellos!" When Xellos woke up, he had a very sharp pain on his head, which was noticeable even beyond the harsh aches and pains that assaulted his whole body. "You're alive, I'm so relieved."

Xellos noticed he was in Filia's arms and she was crying, but she wasn't healing his wounds. "You know, instead of crying you could use a recovery spell," he pointed out painfully.

Filia looked sad and worried, she too was covered in wounds, "I can't, it won't work. All my magic is gone."

Xellos stared at her and noticed that her hair was no longer blond, it was white. She was drained of all power and wouldn't recover for a few days, or worse. "Did she really curse you?"

"Yes, Venus used her terrible malice and hatred to drain away my power and seal it. When I came to, I was here, in this forest, but I don't know how I got here. I found you unconscious and it looks like you hit your head." She gently touched the affected area and Xellos cringed in pain. "I tried to heal you and noticed that I couldn't. That's not all..."

Xellos' blurry senses cleared out and he was able to feel the presences all around them. "This is no forest, not in the usual sense at least. We're still on the astral side; we were just thrown into a different part, a private space. There are monsters all around."

"What are we going to do?" Filia's fright became evident on her face.

"Don't get scared," Xellos urged, though he was having more trouble than he would ever admit with that himself. "Fear will only empower them. I wish I could have talked Lina into teaching me the Ragna Blade, but she insisted that it was too dangerous and that the Dragon Slave would be more than enough. I can't move in and out of the astral space freely as a human and I can't cut through. With your powers sealed, it looks like we're stuck here." Xellos got to his feet with some difficulty. He and Filia were both visibly in bad shape.

There was some rustling from the trees and a monstrous vulture with razor sharp metallic feathers dived towards the pair. They immediately dropped to the ground and dodged the attack just in time. Yet the assault was only getting started. The other monsters felt motivated to join in after the vulture took the first try. A strange creature similar to a bear with fur the color of flames, giant black claws and glowing yellow eyes emerged from the bushes with a hungry menacing growl. Several similar creatures, some more grotesquely composed than others, soon surrounded Xellos and Filia.

"I know you we shouldn't be afraid, but we're surrounded and helpless!" Filia saw her life flash before her eyes. She regretted her ignorance in younger days. She was glad that she was able to see the light. She regretted not knowing for certain that the town was safe, that her friends were safe, that her son was safe. If they did survive, she gladly gave her life for that, but she was still saddened that she wouldn't be able to see Val hatch. She looked at Xellos; she regretted not being able to fully figure him out, to understand his thoughts beyond his acting. She regretted more strongly than she could ever guess, that his life was about to end too.

"We can't outrun them." This was it, it was the end. He couldn't find a cure, he couldn't recover his power and now he was going to be devoured by monsters much lesser than himself. He didn't have the strength left to cast a single spell; he could barely stay on his feet. Filia would be killed, she would be torn apart by those creatures and the mere thought of that filled him with a deep frustrating rage. If he had his monster powers, none of those beasts would be able to touch her.

A loud howl was heard as another beast arrived on the scene. The creature was as tall as a large horse with a body that very much resembled a fox covered in black fur. It had the face of a fox with long fangs like a saber tooth tiger. Its ears were fox-like with a bit of white on the tips. Its massive clawed paws were also white, as were the tip of its tails contrasting with the rest of its black fur covered body. It had two tails, similar to fox tails, each half as wide as its body and about two thirds as long. The most stunning feature were its ferocious silver eyes, there were no pupils no irises, just a pair of glowing silver orbs mesmerizing the being's prey. The beast had a black collar with silver spikes on it, symbolizing that it belonged to someone, a very powerful someone to be able to keep such a pet.

The beast threatened the fire colored bear, who didn't appear to have any intentions of backing away. The bear lunged forward, but the fox monster was faster. It jumped straight up and landed on the bears back not even needing to use its claws. The bear's body produced a sickening cracking sound as its spine and ribs were fatally crushed. Mortally wounded, the bear monster crawled away as soon as the silver-eyed beast got off it dismissively.

Three vultures, led by the one who attacked before, swooped down on the beast. With amazing speed and power, the black predator produced blue flames from its mouth that reduced the bird monsters to ashes. The surrounding creatures took this as their cue to leave, running for their lives. No prey, however appetizing, was worth dying for. The ferocious beast kept its silver eyes on Xellos and Filia as it made its approach at a luxurious, almost mocking pace. It knew that there was no way the living creatures before it could manage to run away.

"Xellos..." Filia let out what she felt could be her last breath as she clung to him. This was it; they were both going to supper a painful gruesome death at the claws, teeth and raw strength of that terrifying creature! The beast looked as if it would pounce, making no effort to hide its intentions. Then it happened, the creature jumped and Xellos pushed Filia out of the way, being tackled into the ground. "Xellos!" Filia cried out in horror. Then she heard something peculiar...

"Haha, stop it, hahaha, c'mon, quit it, that tickles! Hahahaha!" Filia stared with wide eyes as the ferocious beast licked Xellos like some kind of puppy that was all too glad to see its master. "Get off Fang, you're crushing me!" The creature complied, sitting obediently by Xellos' side as the man sat up with a hand on his torso. "Ow, I think you messed up my ribs worse than they already were. Human bones are so terribly fragile." Xellos finally got to his feet, using the animal sitting on the ground beside him for support.

"What just happened?" Filia was dumbstruck beyond understanding. "You know this wolf?" She demanded.

"Fang is a fox, or a monster fox at least," Xellos explained as he gave the beast called Fang a pat on the back. "He's one of Lord Beast Master's pets."

"You idiot!" Filia screamed in enraged agony. "I thought we were going to die and it turned out one of your allies was here to save us all along? Why did you have to scare me like that?" She reproached harshly.

"How was I supposed to know Fang would come?" Xellos argued. "Besides, given my current form, he could have betrayed me and bitten my head off. I guess he's especially fond of me since I would play fetch with him when Lord Beast Master was too busy." He maintained a calm expression, it seemed that the tragedy had passed, at least for now. His cheerful face didn't have a single hint of the deadly fear he was unfortunate enough to experience before. Yet strangely, his senses felt heightened and precise beyond what his exhaustion should allow. He attributed it to a human's stubborn desire to survive even when the situation was apparently hopeless.

Filia was fuming with anger, "liar! You knew we were safe from the second you saw that, Fang monster thing!"

Fang growled at Filia and she let out an undignified little squeak. For a second she thought the beast would attack her. She needed to watch herself or that thing really would bite her head off. She needed to remember that Xellos was not Fang's master, Zelas was. Plus Xellos was not truly her general at the moment; he was a human who couldn't stop Fang if he decided to act out of line. Then the large beast let out a little whimper and lay down at Xellos' feet like an injured puppy.

"Look what you've done, you heartless dragon," Xellos petted Fang's head gently. "It's okay boy, I still appreciate you. I'm not a terrible ingrate who would be mean to the one who just save me from a painful death. Don't take it personally; golden dragons are just cruel by nature."

Filia felt a heavy wave of guilt fall upon her. "I'm sorry," she approached Fang cautiously. "I'm really sorry I was mean to you, Fang. I'm not angry with you, I was just worried that Xellos and I were going to die and the scare made me act and speak harshly." It didn't look like Fang was going to attack her, so Filia tried petting him. "Will you forgive me?" Before she could even blink, she found herself on the ground with the large animal on top of her, having tackled her in a similar way to Xellos earlier. The creature licked her face and wagged its two tails. The being looked like a wolf, Xellos claimed it was a fox, but it was acting just like a dog. "Okay, okay, I get it, hahaha, we can be friends, hehehe, that really does tickle." When Fang finally released her and Filia was on her feet again, she observed, "you two really are similar. Fang guilt tripped me just like you've done before."

"He's a smart fox," Xellos grinned. "Also a very powerful one, he's a high level monster. Only those at the level of the monster lords and generals would be safe if he ever got really mad. He doesn't usually go into combat though; he's more of a show pet than anything else. Nonetheless he's trained to fight if needed."

"A show pet..." Filia could almost picture the monster lords walking their pets in front of an audience of high level monsters, waiting to be judged. She pushed the silly thoughts away; they weren't completely safe just yet. "Can Fang get us out of the astral side?"

"Of course, well Fang, get us out of here. I still have some business to take care of on the other side." The beast held his right paw over his black nose and whimpered. "What? Are you trying to tell me I smell like a human? Quit covering your nose, I know the scent of humans doesn't actually bother you, you're just throwing my condition in my face, you ungrateful mutt."

Fang's next action left Filia staring in amazement, "did he just blow raspberries at you?"

"He can be a little too playful sometimes. C'mon Fang, I really need to go back," Xellos insisted with a growing worry in the back of his mind. Fang lowered himself to the ground next to Xellos, making a little growling noise. He looked at Xellos then looked forward. "I see, you want me to follow you and you'll even give me a ride?" Fang nodded. "I can walk on my own." Xellos crossed his arms and pouted.

"Quit being stubborn and just get on," Filia insisted. "You know we both can barely stand and Fang is our only hope of survival in this place."

Xellos looked at the monster fox then gave Filia a meaningful look. "Unless he's delivering us to our doom. If my lack of progress has truly disappointed Lord Beast Master, she might want to finish me off with her own hands..."

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 043: Monster Spa! Survival Is A Real Chore

Fear invaded Filia's face at the thought of Zelas losing her patience with Xellos and his curse. "No way," she desperately tried not to fall into hopelessness. "She sent Fang to save you. You should go report and I'm sure she'll forgive you."

"There's no point in questioning that," Xellos truthfully stated. If Lord Beast Master wanted him to report, even if he wasn't supposed to do so until his curse had been broken, then he should accommodate to her change of mind and go report... or else. If she wanted him dead, she could hunt him down to no escape, so running would do more harm than anything. "Let's go," they both rode on Fang's back and were taken towards a building in the astral side forest. Taking a golden dragon to see a monster lord sounded like a terrible idea, but Filia couldn't be left alone or she would be devoured by the monsters. Besides, surely Lord Beast Master was well aware of the specifics of the curse. If it was for the sake of something like that, perhaps she would excuse Xellos bringing his dragon companion along.

Fang stopped when they were sufficiently close to the building. It was an elegant structure surrounded by a crystalline water filled moat with a wide bridge leading towards its front entrance. The moat's water flowed in circular motions as if driven by a gentle magical current, making the soft sounds of a tame river constantly. The walls were a pure white and the ceiling sky blue. The details of the ceiling protuberated in a sort of blue skirt around the building at each floor in all seven. The architecture had a look similar to the buildings found on the eastern edge of the main continent. Pale green vines wrapped themselves around the walls with little pink flowers blossoming on them. The glass windows were perfectly clear and there were two lines of vases on the left and right edges of the bridge. "Those vases!" Filia pointed in disbelief. "They're the vases you bought!" What was up with her vases showing up in the most unexpected places?

"You mean the ones you made me buy," whenever he was bored and popped out of the astral side, teleporting to see Filia, for entertainment purposes only, she often made him buy a vase. She would protest that he couldn't be at her shop because he wasn't a customer and argue about it until he purchased something. She wouldn't sell him maces, so vases it was. "I put them away at HQ, but Lord Beast Master said they were taking up space and that she was putting them someplace else. This spa is run by a monster that works for her, so it's technically hers."

Filia pouted and placed her hands on her hips, "my vases are decorating monster property."

"I'm sure Zelas laughs at the golden dragon race every time she sees them," Xellos grinned.

"She's quite the business woman, isn't she?" Filia commented, trying to focus on not thinking about Zelas as a ferocious beast, which she certainly was when she felt like it.

"Not only of negative emotions does a monster live," Xellos asserted. Fang was getting impatient, hence without further ado, they went inside.

The elegant marble interiors possessing a collection of paintings were impressive to say the least. Monsters of all shapes and sizes walked around the large lobby, chatting and gossiping. Xellos and Filia received many stares of disapproval, but a warning growl from Fang was all it took for the variety of monsters to return to minding their own business, though the whispers still lingered. Filia approached one of the paintings on the walls. It was very large and it depicted a sort of wolf with wings, standing majestically beside a large tree. Very small, barely noticeable in the right bottom corner of the painting, there was something written on darker green on the depiction of the grass. It looked like the lines were part of the drawing of grass at first glance, but a closer inspection revealed a message. "To the great Beast Master Zelas Metallium, from her servant the Green Alchemist, a painting by Venus."

"It's a new one," Xellos observed. If he was surprised by the message, he didn't show it. "Zelas must have received this painting while I was away. Venus was sprouting some nonsense about the Green Alchemist taking my place, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that he would send a gift. It's a pretty accurate painting for Zelas' true form. There's quite the collection of art related gifts Lord Beast Master has received in this building as decorations."

"Somehow, I thought a spa owned by a monster lord would be far creepier, the building itself I mean," because the guests were certainly creepy.

"Xellos, I'm glad you're here, now all this stuff can be done. You brought a helper along, good, good, that makes things easier." The being that addressed them had the voice of a woman and was about as tall as Gourry. Her body from the waist down was that of a snake and she was covered in turquoise scales all over. She wore a golden bustier to cover her shapely torso and matching golden armlets. Her face was completely hidden behind a thick black veil that just barely touched her shoulders. In her hands she carried a rolled up scroll, which she gave to Xellos.

"What happened to welcome great general Xellos, how may I serve you?" Xellos teased, feeling more like his old self.

The snake woman rolled her yellow eyes, invisible behind her black veil, yet somehow Xellos knew the gesture was made. "I've never been a hypocrite with you and I'm not about to start now." She placed her hands on her hips, or where her hips would be, as she pointed that out.

"Same old Galathia," while Filia looked back and forth between the snake woman, who was apparently called Galathia, and Xellos, the monster turned human examined the scroll. "These are all spa chores," he pointed out with mounting dread.

"Well of course," Galathia laughed, "nothing too difficult since you're..." she searched for the right expression, "ill. Anyway, Lord Beast Master doesn't want you slacking off, so she asked me to compile a list of things for you to do. She looked over it, added a few items and approved it. In other words, I'm just the messenger in this situation, these are orders from above."

So much about being treated normally. "You heard the lady, get to work, dragon," Xellos shoved the scroll into Filia's annoyed hands.

"You're not throwing your chores on me!" Filia screeched. "Besides, you haven't even introduced me to..." now it was Filia's turn to search for the right word, "your acquaintance."

Again Galathia made another invisible roll of the eyes. "Who wants to meet a golden dragon? Only Xellos, he's the oddball of the family. In fact, there's this dragon girl I suspect he has a thing for." Never mind that Galathia not so secretly found dragon men attractive, she was just being annoying. "She's the one who made those vases decorating the bridge. She's..." Galathia paused and gave the situation some more thought, "she's you, isn't she?"

Ignoring the mocking tone in Galathia's voice, Filia firmly stated, "my name is Filia Ul Copt."

"Galathia Gorgon, spa manager," the snake woman replied in a similar tone. She was a gorgon, a snake with a head full of snakes. That would explain the veil which she probably had on for the benefit of the lower level monster clients, and also for Filia and Xellos. "Is it true that you're Xellos' lover?"

"That's not true!" Filia yelled much louder than needed. "We're just..." friends? Was it even okay to say that? He was an actor, a liar, his situation was no different from Hanna's. He was just tricking her into caring for his own benefit or worse yet, his own mocking amusement.

Seeing as Filia was taking a moment to elaborate upon her argument, Xellos finished it for her. "We're friends with benefits."

Filia paled, even more than she already was from exhaustion and Galathia nodded in understanding. "I see, it looks like a lot has been going on in your life recently. A lot has been going on around here too. Did you know that Lord Beast Master has a new intern? Don't worry, he's not trying to steal your place, he says he's serving the internship as Zelas' minion to better understand monsters and how they think for the sake of the greater good, something or other. He's a strange one that one, but very handsome. Ah, but enough talk. I won't steal away your time anymore, I'm sure your anxious to work on your... mission." With an obnoxious laughter like that of Martina and Naga, Galathia walked away.

"What's up with people, and monsters, laughing like that? It's so annoying!" Filia grumbled. She then looked at the scroll Xellos had given her. "These are your chores, don't expect me to do all the work for you."

"Fine," Xellos greedily snatched away the scroll. "I'll do all the chores all by myself, so I'll be the only one who's being useful to Lord Beast Master. That means I'll be the only one she'll keep alive!"

With a look of wide eyed realization, Filia snatched away the scroll. "We'll split it fifty-fifty. We're both exhausted anyway, so we might as well help each other!" Thus a new ordeal began for Filia and Xellos.

xoxox xox xoxox

Filia never knew that the art of folding towels was such a tedious one. She felt silly doing chores in her purple spa employee outfit, which was really a pretty purple yukata with a black waist bow and the letters BMS on the top left encased in a round logo with Beast Master's true form silhouette in the background. The logo aside, the outfit itself was beautiful and that's what made it feel so out of place given the task at hand. She supposed that in a high scale monster spa, even the employees of the lower rank who didn't get paid with anything other than the opportunity to keep their lives, needed to look decent on the job, even if said job took place mostly behind the scenes.

Xellos was wearing a similar attire to Filia's while making a mess of the simple task of folding the towels. With a prominent frown, Filia shook her head, "you're doing it wrong and let me tell you, I'll be very upset if Beast Master kills us because of your poor towel folding skills." She picked up one of the tiny squares with a decorative pattern that looked like a tribal sign version of Zelas true form, barely perceptible in the few lines. "Look, it's just like the moth-wolf lady said; you have to fold this way." Filia demonstrated the proper folding technique that was explained by the strange anthropomorphic black wolf with the moth face, red bug eyes and lavender moth wings, when they showed up following the list of chores. She handed them they're uniforms and pointed them towards the locker room, commenting that Galathia had mentioned them. Once they were changed, the moth-wolf monster folded a towel as an example and left them to their task.

Xellos observed the towel Filia had folded. He attributed the fact that the puzzle escaped him to his exhaustion. "I don't get it," he admitted with a frustrated frown. "These little towels that people love to steal as souvenirs are square. How do you turn them into triangles when you fold them?"

Filia almost growled in exasperation. "You just saw me fold one. Weren't you paying attention?" She groaned and continued folding at full speed. "Why do they have these little towels here anyway? You said it yourself, people steal them as souvenirs. Who would try to dry themselves with a towel this tiny? They're like handkerchiefs made of towel material. They're too small."

Xellos picked up another mini-towel and attempted to fold it like Filia did. This mission made all his past missions as a monster seem too easy. By the time he turned the little square into a lopsided diamond and was close to achieving a triangle, Filia had already finished folding the rest of the little towels. At long last triumphant, Xellos placed his triangular folded towel on top of the pile in the little cart.

"Delivering this to the proper place like the moth-wolf lady said is going to take some time," Filia observed. Carrying the towels in a pile in their arms was out of the question, as that would not help them stay neatly folded. "These carts are too small." Nonetheless, Filia wasn't about to complain to her superiors and Xellos was smart enough not to get cocky about Lord Beast Master's lenient punishment for his delay. Thus the unfortunate pair pushed the carts full of tiny towels away to the proper storage, finishing the delivery after a few trips back and forth.

xoxox xox xoxox

Once the towel folding and storing chores were done, Xellos and Filia moved on to the next task, which involved cleaning the spa's hot tubs. The cleaning supplies came in cute little sample sizes which looked absolutely adorable sitting on the cleaning supply cart, but were ultimately an annoyance to use. This time it was a spider-like being who spoke in earsplitting whistles that appointed them the task. Filia wasn't sure if it was a he or a she, all that mattered was that he she it left them alone to their work and after a while the painful ringing in her ears should cease.

With a frown on her face that she secretly feared would become permanent, Filia glared at the cleaning supplies. "The cleaning products are too small. Sure, there are many of them, but they're so small, why not put it all in a big container?"

Xellos shrugged, "for decorative purposes, I would assume. Of course, golden dragons are known for their lack of taste, so I can't expect you to understand."

"That's obviously a lie," Filia countered. Golden dragons loved to decorate their temples in elaborate ways. "I run a successful business, I'll have you know, and my vases are very decorative."

"If you're such an expert, then why not make this messy tub more decorative looking," Xellos picked up a cleaning brush that was on the cart and handed it to Filia.

Filia glared at the brush as if it had personally offended her. "This brush is too small. They're probably doing this on purpose to make the cleaning process terribly difficult."

"Shh, keep your voice down," as much as Xellos wanted to keep teasing Filia and continue amusing himself with their argument, he felt that he was being watched. "They're watching us; we better start cleaning before they decide to make us clean with a toothbrush."

Filia did not like the idea of having to clean hot tubs with a tooth brush. She quickly started cleaning without further complaints. Xellos wanted to stand there watching, but he knew it was in his best interest to help, he didn't want to anger Lord Beast Master any further. Thus the pair cleaned and cleaned, until there were no tubs left to clean.

xoxox xox xoxox

The next few hours transpired at the same pace with Xellos and Filia following a very Cinderella-like routine. Filia, unlike Xellos, was experienced in performing household chores, since she had her own house and shop to manage. Xellos on the other hand, never had to worry about clean-up duty before; there were low ranking monster servants to take care of that. There was even a specific servant whose job was to clean up the ashes of Lord Beast Master's cigarette. His lack of expertise shone through in every chore and his exhaustion didn't make it any better. However, with a lot of help from Filia, they managed to get through.

The last task on the list after the dish washing activities were completed, was folding napkins behind the kitchen of the spa's restaurant. A chef that looked like a green troll with a brown bull's head and three tails was cooking busily, the heat of the stoves and ovens making Xellos and Filia feel like they would be cooked alive in the backroom. "Xellos, you're not supposed to fold these like the towels. These napkins are super tiny so it's difficult to fold them, but not impossible. If I was a customer I would excuse the napkins' lack of functional size because they're so cute, but they're so difficult to fold, I might never look at mini-napkins the same way again. You're supposed to make it so that they can stand up on the table, like this." Filia showed him her mini-napkin tower perfectly balanced on the palm of her hand.

"Your hands are burned," Xellos observed. Sure they had gotten cleaned up before they changed into their uniforms, but other than washing off the blood and sweat they couldn't do much else. There was no first aid kit to be found in monster territory. Who would fear a monster with a band-aid anyway? Thus their cuts remained without bandages and their bruises visibly continued the process of going from red to purple to black.

Xellos didn't know recovery magic, plus he was too tired anyway, and Filia's magic was still sealed, her hair still white. Filia put down the mini-napkin she was showing Xellos and picked up the next one to be folded. "I got it from the mace."

Xellos remembered the event that Filia reference as he tried with futile effort to fold a mini-napkin like she did. With the skin of her hands so burned and exposed, even the lightest brush of fabric would hurt, he could tell just by looking. Yet there was Filia, speedily folding napkins as if it was nothing. Her face was blank, but upon close inspection, there was a look of pain in her eyes that escaped Xellos' notice before. She got that back when she used the hot mace to hit the seed. He had heated it too much to the point where it hurt her, but she focused on the battle and didn't complain. When it came down to it, Filia was very strong in many ways. Xellos knew that before, he just didn't dwell on it.

Time passed in silence until the final task on the chore list was finished. The tired pair reported to the tall chef and he sent them on their way to report to Galathia.

xoxox xox xoxox

After a quick search, Xellos and Filia located Galathia, who seemed surprised that they finished their assigned tasks so soon. "I guess I underestimated you, Xellos."

"Indeed," Xellos grinned, yet the look Filia was giving him spoke volumes.

Galathia grinned behind her veil. "You really trained your dragon pet very well to have her do the majority of the work." When the meaning of her initial statement was revealed, Filia pouted in indignation and glared daggers at Xellos, who made no effort to voice any corrections. Ignoring the dragon's obvious anger, the gorgon continued, "you two can rest now, I'll show you to some quarters you can use. Lord Beast Master will see you later."

Knowing that they had no choice, Xellos and Filia followed Galathia to their quarters, which was more like a dungeon-like walk-in closet. At least they were given the chance to get cleaned up again, since their uniforms were full of grime and sweat from all the chores. They changed into new purple yukata uniforms with the same BMS logos. Their original clothes were too full of tears and blood to be worn again. At last, they lay down on the thin mattress of their so called room, certainly ready to finally get some rest.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 044: Confusion! Perspectives and Perceptions

"This bed, if we can even call it a bed, is too small." Filia complained as she tried to shift her position to get more comfortable. No matter how subtle her movements were, she always ended up brushing against some part of Xellos, who was next to her. "I think I'll sleep on the floor, the bed, or rather the mattress, is simply too small for both of us." Honestly, she wasn't in the mood to argue about who would get the so called bed. Besides, the mattress was so thin, it barely made a difference anyway, plus she was so tired she would fall asleep anywhere, it was Xellos' closeness that was keeping her awake.

"What an ungrateful dragon." Xellos teased. "The towels were too small, the carts were too small, the cleaning supplies were too small, the brushes were too small, the soap was too small, the sponge was too small, the napkins were too small, the mattress is too small. Is there anything at all in this building that's not too small for your liking?" There was a quiet pause and some blushing from Filia, who didn't answer. "You have your mind in the gutter, don't you?"

"What? No!" Filia immediately argued. "I'm just... feeling like an ingrate, that's all. We're alive, so what if we're in a harsh situation? At least we're alive and... and... I'm going to sleep now."

Xellos got closer to Filia, if it was even possible to get closer to each other than they already were. "Are you sure you're that tired?"

"Yes!" Filia squirmed a little, but didn't push Xellos away, her face still scarlet.

"What are you thinking of?" He inquired in a rather seductive tone.

"A bunny rabbit!" Filia exclaimed in a squeak.

"A rabbit?" Xellos questioned with the raise of an eyebrow. "What does this rabbit look like?"

"It's a cute pink bunny," Filia tried to picture the adorable fuzzy animal in her mind to distract her thoughts from the still clear image of Xellos fan service that would probably never fade from her memories. "She has a cute outfit with little bows on her ears."

Filia's imagination was a scary world of fuzzy creatures, Xellos already knew that. Two could play that game, maybe if he ruined Filia's mental image she would stop thinking of animals and think of... well, him. "I'm thinking of a skunk," there, something stinky to get Filia out of an animal thinking mood.

Unfortunately for Xellos, Filia was often unpredictable. Instead of criticizing his choice of animal, she curiously inquired, "what does it look like?"

"It's purple," Xellos replied with a hint of amusement just to see Filia's reaction.

"With a pink bow on her hair," Filia added, immediately making Xellos' imaginary animal to be cute.

"Never mind the skunk, I'm thinking of a..." Xellos needed to come up with another animal, something that Filia's cutesy mind couldn't ruin. "A tasmanian devil," that should do it, something ferocious. "And it's purple," okay so maybe making it purple would take away from the terrifying image of a dangerous beast, but Xellos liked purple.

"He has a cute yellow hat and despite having a big appetite, he's a total sweetie," Filia elaborated.

"Your ability to ruin my imaginary animals is uncanny." Xellos mocked.

"I'm making them better!" Filia insisted. She didn't know how the conversation went from a forbidden path to a cute path, but she was going to keep walking down that cute path full of adorable fuzzy animals for as long as she could.

"Fine, now I'm thinking of a mouse," Xellos stated, "it's not purple," he added mainly because he couldn't take anymore creatures of his favorite color being desecrated.

"It's-" Filia was suddenly interrupted.

"Not pink," Xellos put more of a warning tone in his voice that one would think the description of an imaginary animal should merit.

"Fine," Filia conceded, "it's yellow then, with adorable rosy cheeks."

"Are you basing this animal on yourself by any chance?" Xellos teased and other than the usual joking mockery, Filia could perceive nothing else in his voice. Was he calling her a mouse or saying she looked cute when she blushed? This was Xellos; it had to be the former, rather than the latter.

"No," Filia decided to continue with the description before the fantasy petting zoo imagery lost its effect. "It has an adorable zig-zag tail and it's super cute."

"It's powerful too," Xellos grinned. "He's a beast of war summoned by its master to battle. He has electrical powers that could destroy anything and-"

"Don't ruin my cute and fuzzy imaginary animal," Filia pouted. "He's powerful, but he's good. He only fights to defend his friends or spars for the sport of it."

"Now you're ruining him and he was my imaginary animal to begin with," Xellos argued.

"Let's just say they belong to both of us," Filia settled. She had relaxed sufficiently to finally fall asleep. "Now let's get some rest. We can talk about colorful imaginary animals later."

"Not happening," Xellos assured with his usual overly cheerful grin. "The imaginary animal conversation I mean," he clarified. "Getting some rest is not a bad idea."

Yes, getting some rest was a very good idea. Unfortunately, getting a decent amount of rest in the immediate future was not something that was about to happen. The door to the walk-in closet sized dungeon-like room was suddenly opened and there stood Galathia with an amused smirk that none could see behind her usual veil. "Xellos!" She shouted as if he was far away, though she knew he was right there. How she could see beyond the thick veil was anyone's guess, yet somehow she could. "Lord Beast Master will see you now. She said to bring your pet along." After having passed on the piece of information, Galathia began making her way towards the monster lord's location, correctly assuming that her temporary employees would be swift to follow.

Xellos and Filia were indeed exhausted, but not tired enough to let themselves be killed over being late to see the one in charge. With growing nervousness, Filia walked alongside Xellos as Galathia led them to the seventh floor of the building.

xoxox xox xoxox

The gorgon-like monster spa manager stood aside in front of a pair of golden double doors. She nodded and left, indicating that her job escorting them was done. Xellos then stepped forward to open the doors and found that they were far heavier than he remembered. Seeing his difficulty, without a word, Filia joined Xellos in pushing one of the massive doors of solid gold open just enough for both of them to squeeze in.

The black marble room behind the golden doors was an elegant throne. A scarlet carpet reached from the door to the elaborately carved large golden throne at the opposite end of the room. The throne was big enough to fit three humans comfortably, thus one would think that it would look a little empty with just Beast Master sitting on it, as her human form was the size of an average woman. However, her imposing presence made the large room feel almost crowded. Crimson curtains fell from the ceiling around the throne, opening in the middle and cascading down the seven stairs of the throne's platform.

Lord Beast Master gave Xellos a curious look, conveying with her eyes the question of what was taking him so long to recover his power. Her eyes paused on the dragon beside him, who stood there staring curious yet petrified, not literally, thankfully. "Working on it, I see..."

"Yes, Lord Beast Master," Xellos respectfully replied, not saying more than he was prompted to speak.

"Come here, I have a task for you both." There was a malicious smile upon her face that almost made Filia's heart stop. The golden dragon pushed herself to walk as she and Xellos approached one of the most powerful monsters in existence. Perhaps even the most powerful one, given Shabranigdu's broken state. "Nails," Zelas finally stated when the pair was standing closer to her throne.

The word interrupted Filia's debate if she should bow as if in the presence of royalty or not. Zelas was a monster, but maybe swallowing her pride was a wise idea least she kill Xellos over her disrespectful disregard. Ironically, though Filia was well aware of the fact that her life was perhaps in more danger than Xellos', her thoughts automatically gravitated towards him.

A long silent pause passed until Xellos finally concluded that it would be okay to voice a confused, "Lord Beast Master?" That encompassed his puzzlement over the general situation and her unusual and seemingly incomplete request.

"Come here and do my nails," Zelas repeated in slow motion, pausing after every word as if addressing someone particularly stupid.

Xellos and Filia blinked in confusion before Xellos finally reacted with a well practiced, "yes, Lord Beast Master," and made his way up the stairs followed by a stunned silent Filia. Behind the red curtains that surrounded the throne, Xellos was able to spot a little cart with several manicure related supplies. Zelas was obviously just amusing herself; if she wanted different nails she could simply change her appearance. However, he wasn't about to try to argue with her. He didn't argue when he was a powerful monster, though certainly less powerful than Beast Master, and he wouldn't argue when he was a fragile human.

"Manicure," Zelas waved a hand at Xellos. "Pedicure," she crossed her tan legs, lifting one bare foot in Filia's general direction.

Xellos gave Filia a mischievous mocking grin. He got to do the manicure while she was stuck with the pedicure. Never mind that he didn't know the first thing about caring for a woman's nails and Filia had plenty of experience caring for her own nails.

Without further ado, Xellos and Filia set out to accomplish the task at hand, and foot. Time passed slowly and silently until Filia announced with quiet satisfaction, "finished." So what if it would be seen as degrading for a golden dragon to care for a monster lord's feet? At least Zelas' toenails turned out cute.

Zelas examined her toenails, they were neatly filed, painted white with little pink hearts on all of them. She then took away the hand that Xellos was still working on. The purple nail polish was not only on her nails, but also on her fingers. "Xellos, your cosmetic skills leave much to be desired." She criticized.

"My apologies, lord Beast Master," Xellos automatically voiced, in disbelief that Filia could actually be beating him as a servant of Lord Beast Master.

"Never mind, I didn't expect you to be any good at this. Take the nail polish remover and clean up this mess." Zelas pointed at the proper bottle.

Xellos obediently picked up the bottle of nail polish remover and took off the cap, immediately being assaulted by the scent of pure acetone. Filia didn't appear to be bothered by it at all, she was a dragon, but still a feminine woman, thus such products were not alien to her.

"As for you," Zelas gave her verdict on Filia's job while Xellos cleaned up his messy manicure. "What monster lord goes around with little hearts on her toenails? Do it over, all twenty and made them sharper."

Filia simply didn't feel right repeating Xellos' line of 'yes, Lord Beast Master.' Thus she settled for quietly nodding and getting to work.

"What should I do when I'm done cleaning off the purple?" Xellos inquired, annoyed that Filia was doing a better job than him.

Zelas chuckled, from her perspective, Xellos was like a jealous child who craved attention right now. "Shoulder massage."

Never mind that it was uncomfortable to try to give such a massage taking into consideration the size of the golden throne's backrest, Xellos wasn't about to protest that second chance of sorts. "Yes, Lord Beast Master."

Once again, time passed in silence until Filia's task was completed. "Not bad," Zelas examined her matching manicure and pedicure. Her nails were filed to a sharp point, painted in a shimmering gold that went well with her bronze skin. "Have you ever heard of the well of recovery?"

Realizing that Zelas was directly addressing her, Filia spoke for the first time since she had arrived in the monster lord's presence, "yes." She voiced only a single syllable, exactly what was needed and no more.

"What have you heard?" Zelas pressed for more information.

"The well of recovery was a source of magical water with powerful healing properties. It was also the cause of a terrible war between neighboring kingdoms as they fought for the well, which was located between their borders." Filia recalled the history lessons from her education at the dragon temple, carefully editing out anything that might offend Zelas. "Amidst the war between the two kingdoms, the well mysteriously disappeared, leaving the warring countries with many injured people and no magical water to help them." Then a peculiar detail surfaced in Filia's mind and she couldn't help it but to voice it. "It is said that the water from that well can not only heal illnesses and injuries of the physical sort, but also of the magical sort, that it can break curses."

Xellos' full attention had been captivated as he paused in his task of massaging Zelas' shoulders. The well of recovery, he knew about the war and the truths behind it, he had even participated in the conspiracy, but it all happened so long ago he didn't even remember it anymore. It had been at least a thousand years, probably more, since he last thought of the well of recovery. What if his cure was right in front of him all along?

"Not exactly," Zelas corrected and Xellos' hope plummeted to rock bottom. Zelas smiled as if sensing Xellos' despair, tasting it like a delicious delicacy, she was a monster after all. "It cannot break curses, but it can cleanse them. That is to say, if a valid curse with a specific process to break it, is placed on someone and it is particularly powerful, it will not be broken. However, if it is a curse meant to last through time and fade away slowly with no specific process established in the casting that could break it, then that situation is different. Such a type of curse as the one upon you is similar to a magical illness that can fade in time or be healed. It is different from the curse upon Xellos that requires a specific process to be broken."

Zelas continued elaborating. "There are cons and pros to both types of curses. Curses that require a specific process to be broken are easier to figure out and generally involve having the victim accomplish something that might not be pleasant to them or go against their priorities. However, even if they are easily understood, they are very difficult to break by alternate means. On the other hand, curses that don't have specific cures may seem difficult to break, for lack of antidote to aim for, yet they are more vulnerable to being broken by alternate means."

"In other words," Zelas finished, "specific curses have a glaring weakness, even if it is difficult to aim for it, while the non-specific curses are weaker overall, but distressful to those who may not have the intellect or resources to come up with alternative curse breaking methods. Those none-specific curses are also easier to cast and require less power from the caster. As such, they can be overwhelmed more easily."

Filia nodded in realization, "then what you're saying is that the well of recovery's water could cure me but not Xellos."

Zelas feigned shock, "oh my, would you look at that, a golden dragon with a brain! This is quite a rare find indeed! I've only seen about three of them counting this one. Then again, I did considerably reduce their numbers in the past, so three might be a good percentage overall." Technically, it was Xellos who did the deed, but it was on Zelas' order and he was her general, thus his power was hers, though she had plenty more power of her own.

Filia had an absolutely furious and frustrated look in her face. She was pouting deeply while trying to restrain her words from pouring out in a very dangerous flood. From behind Zelas, Xellos shook his head frantically at Filia, hoping that she could manage to keep her temper under control and not say something that they would both regret.

Without even turning to look at him, Zelas mockingly inquired, "what's wrong, Xellos? Did a bug crawl into your hair?"

Xellos immediately stopped his frantic negative head signals and remained as still as a statue, "no, Lord Beast Master."

"Good," Zelas lightly turned in her throne, ignoring Filia's barely contained rage. "It would be a pity if that were the case. Even against all odds in such a pitiful weak form, you've managed to keep your hair pretty enough." She ruffled his hair, which took both Xellos and Filia by surprise. By the time Zelas retired her hand from Xellos' head, his hair was a big disheveled mess, which was clearly getting on his nerves. Filia had caught him smoothing out his hair with his hands countless times while they went about their chores before. Thus Filia concluded that Zelas was annoying Xellos on purpose, no real surprise there.

Zelas then turned her gaze back at Filia. "About the well of recovery, its true location is right here in my private space in the astral side. I simply made it appear as if it was located between the two kingdoms by opening a portal to a limited area of astral space. Humans walked in and out without realizing it. After the well had served its purpose, I shut off the portal to the astral space."

Filia's expression went from angry, to surprised, to angrier. "You caused the war that ultimately destroyed those two kingdoms." She clenched her teeth and fists in rage. She had a thing or two to tell Zelas about her actions, but Xellos' constant almost pleading look was holding her back.

"Correct," Zelas smiled cheerfully in a way that reminded Filia of Xellos.

The golden dragon told herself that Beast Master could kill her for her insolence if she dared to express her strong disapproval for her evil actions. Then again, Xellos could have killed her in the past too and that didn't stop her from calling him raw garbage every now and then and threatening him with her mace. "You're terrible! I see where Xellos gets his obnoxious personality; it's from his malicious mother! Except you're a million times worse, a despicable monster!" Filia snapped venomously.

Xellos' jaw dropped, his face undergoing another of those occasions when his expression changed on its own outside of his control. His eyes were wide and worried, his entire body tense. "She... didn't... she's..." he stuttered to find the words that would hopefully save Filia's life. "Don't listen to her, Lord Beast Master. She's just a stupid dragon, too stupid to even be worth killing!"

Zelas looked enraged, in a matter of seconds her face went from overly cheerful to cruel beyond words. Her eyes were suddenly glowing with an evil light they didn't have a few seconds ago. She pulled Xellos away by the arm, causing him to stand next to Filia in front of her as she stood from her throne and glared down at the two. "Are you defending her, Xellos? Are you willing to risk your own life to plead for hers?"

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 045: Stubborness! Broken Denial

Filia had gone through a number of scary situations in life ever since she ventured out of the sheltered safety of the dragon temple and into the realities of the world. She had witnessed many battles and helped stop what could have been the end of the world. All those experiences were frightening indeed, but they were different from this. Back then, there came a point where she was so regretful for what her people had done to the ancient dragons that, though she tried to survive with all her strength, she didn't fear death. She wanted to live, but if she died, it would be retribution for her people. There was no such a situation now.

If Filia died now at the hands of Lord Beast Master who stared at her, through her, with angry eyes, it wouldn't serve any purpose. She would be painfully dispatched and Xellos would probably follow. She would never see her friends again, she wouldn't be able to raise Val, she would be gone and so would Xellos. With no consolation, not even the slightest hint of a microscopic silver lining, Filia feared death like she had never feared before.

The terrified golden dragon slowly tore her gaze away from Beast Master with no small effort. She glanced at Xellos, who was as still as a statue and as quiet as one. It was as if all his trains of thought had derailed and he couldn't process anything anymore. For him, there was always a possibility, always a strategy, always an option. Even when the situation was dire, there was always a plan B, but not this time. This time, no matter in how many mental circles he went, he couldn't think of what to do or say to repair the situation.

Filia tried to get him to snap out of it with her eyes. She couldn't find her voice, her throat painfully dry. Why wasn't he saying anything? If she was doomed anyway, he could at least ask, or better yet, beg, for Beast Master's forgiveness. He could at least save himself if she had been inevitably doomed by her own temper.

"Kill her," Zelas' order sounded cold, cruel and definite.

Xellos seemed to wake up from his desperate thinking, searching for a solution that wasn't there. "Kill?"

"Kill this golden dragon, just as you killed so many of her kind before," Zelas made her order clear beyond a doubt.

Xellos looked at Filia and she nodded slightly. She no longer had any anger in her eyes, only quiet resignation. He realized that she wouldn't hold a grudge in the short remainder of her life. She wasn't full of the hatred one should have for one's own soon to be murderer. She was telling her with her silent expression to do it, to kill her and save himself.

So what if his cure was eradicated? What good was a cure if he was dead? Beast Master was certainly aware of the specifics of his curse, yet she gave him a direct order. Even if he was healed, even if he was at full power, he couldn't defy Zelas. What was he supposed to say? That he didn't currently possess the power to kill a weakened dragon? That would just get them both killed faster.

There was no choice, he couldn't do anything to change this, it wasn't his decision to make and Filia understood that. His energy was still dangerously low, using the Dragon Slave to end Filia in one swift painless blow might drain away his very life and leave him in a critical condition, but a multitude of Fireballs for a slower death wouldn't do. "Darkness beyond twilight... Crimson beyond blood that flows..."

Loud laughter interrupted Xellos' spell as Zelas fell back into her throne holding her sides in extreme amusement. To top it all up, her laugh was similar to Naga and Martina's with more of a roar to it, but right now it wasn't full force or else they might be left deaf. "Alright, alright, that's enough, stop before you ruin my hourglass figure," she joked. With a smile, she looked at the confused and shocked Xellos. "Of course, if you had argued back, I would have killed you both, but you already know that, don't you?" She sighed contently, very much like Lina after accomplishing the near impossible, filling her stomach. "Ah, what a satisfying meal, such delicious despair! You better be on your way now Xellos, before I'm tempted to keep you as you are."

At long last it sunk in that Zelas wasn't going to kill Filia. She was just feeding off her despair as well as Xellos'. Still in shock, Xellos managed to say, "yes, Lord Beast Master." His expression once again acted on its own, conveying his relief at the same time that Filia let out the breath she had been holding all along without realizing it. The golden dragon was certain she had been a small step away from a heart attack.

"One more thing," Zelas added casually. "Fang! Here boy!" The monster fox obediently appeared, teleporting to his master's side. "Fang needs to be walked. I will assign this task to you, Xellos."

"Yes, Lord Beast Master," Xellos didn't even have the energy to say anymore than that one phrase, but it was enough. He exited the throne room along with Filia and Fang.

xoxox xox xoxox

Once they were away from Zelas, Filia finally regained the ability to speak after her near death experience. "That was scary," she stated the obvious.

"Are you suicidal?" Xellos reproached with full seriousness in place of his accustomed sarcasm. "We got lucky that Lord Beast Master was feeling exceptionally merciful today!"

"I know; it was stupid of me to try to argue with her." Filia made no attempts to excuse her behavior. "I could have gotten us both killed after we were so close to being spared. I realize what I've done." She held back late frightened tears as it all sunk in. "I'm sorry."

"Don't do anything insane like that again," Xellos warned. They continued walking in silence until they exited the spa.

xoxox xox xoxox

Xellos and Filia had been walking along with Fang for a while when they reached a well. "Here it is, get yourself cured."

Filia stared at the well, taking a moment to process Xellos' words. "This is the well of recovery?"

"The flowing energy of the astral side is what gives it power. Drinking a little water from it should free you of your curse. I think I'll drink some too," Xellos decided.

"Zelas said it wouldn't break your curse," Filia reminded.

"I know that," Xellos was not pleased to have the fact thrown at him again. "I'm just thirsty."

"We shouldn't drink from this well without permission," Filia warned. Her near death experience was still fresh in her mind. Regardless of how much time passed, she had a feeling that the event would still be eerily clear in her memories. There were some things that were simply too impressive to forget. "What if Zelas gets angry?"

"She gave us permission," Xellos assured as he let down the bucket attached to a rope on top of the well. He brought it up filled with water and set it on the well's edge. Cupping his hands together he took some water to drink. The water was very good, better than any other drink he had before. It was water, thus flavorless, yet it was refreshing beyond words. "Drink, like I said, we have permission," Xellos assured. "Zelas wouldn't have brought up the well if she didn't intend for it to be used. She also said she was sending me on my way and gave me Fang. He can take us out of the astral side. Our job here is done, we can return to town."

"The town..." Filia stepped forward wordlessly and drank some of the water from the well of recovery. She immediately felt the results as her magic was unlocked, but she was deadly quiet. Her hair went from white to blond almost instantly, with the true power of a golden dragon once again eradiating from her, but not strongly yet, she was still tired. The water cured her curse, but it didn't do much in terms of restoring her energy. "I'll heal you now," she offered, looking over the signs of their past battle still present on Xellos.

The entire process of Xellos being healed with Filia's recovery spells went by in silence. It was obvious she was still tired; Xellos could feel her pushing herself to the limit. When she was finished, she merely nodded, not bothering to heal herself, she had no energy left for that. She would just have to heal herself after she had some time to rest.

"Stupid dragon," it was a wonder Filia had managed to live as long as she had. She had a dangerous temper that made her pick fights with deadly foes, such as himself when they first met and more recently Zelas. Plus she was always putting others before herself and carrying the consequences of her foolish selflessness.

Filia made no reply towards Xellos' words as if she didn't hear him. Ever since he mentioned returning to town, her mind was thrown to a different place, a tragic place. The tears that had been slowly escaping little by little barely perceptibly, suddenly started to flow out like rivers.

"What are you crying about now?" Xellos inquired with a clear hint of exasperation. "Stupid dragon, the worse is over, we survived reporting to Lord Beast Master, be grateful for that."

"Shut up, you piece of raw garbage!" Filia retorted in sobs. "It's not over. I trust that Gravos and Jillas have protected Val, Elena and Palou. Naga must have been of help too. I trust that Lina, Gourry, Amelia and Zelgadis are alright, they'll be ready to complain about missing the action when they get back from their spicy herb hunt. But I'm not alright. Hanna tricked me, I cared for her like a mother, I loved her like a child to a parent and she betrayed me. I've been too busy trying to survive to even begin to mourn her. She was a liar, an actor, just like... just like you."

The comparison was less than flattering; it made Xellos glare and growl the inquiry, "how so?"

"She tricked me into caring for her, she tricked the whole town. You don't even make an effort. I know you lie, I know you deceive, I know you're only using me for your own benefit, to rid yourself of any annoying foes that might come your way seeking to kill you. Then you can conserve your energy for an emergency. I know you wouldn't even look at me if you didn't want something from me. A meal and amusement back when you were a monster, a disposable pawn to fight for you now. I know it all too well, but I keep falling for it like an idiot!" Filia sobbed uncontrollably, letting out her sorrows and insecurities full force.

So she was afraid of being used and betrayed even if she fully expected it? "Stupid dragon," Xellos hugged her, to which Filia surprisingly didn't resist. "If I'm so horrible and you know it, why don't you just cast me aside? Why do you stay by my side when no one is forcing you to?"

"Because I'm an idiot," Filia bitterly stated, her words somewhat muffled as her face was buried on Xellos' shoulder. She was an idiot, she realized, only an idiot could care for a monster. She couldn't deny it anymore. She was focusing on blissful possibilities that she kept well hidden in the back of her mind, subconsciously tricking herself into believing that the impossible was possible. She thought it was harmless to care for Xellos just a little, because she was in denial about caring a lot. She was simply being open-minded by giving him just a miniscule hint of appreciation and fondness in the privacy of her mind.

There was nothing wrong with a little attraction, it was purely platonic and could never be anything else. Filia was aware of that fact and wouldn't allow her feelings to grow out of control. Yet they proved to be too strong. She feared for his life more than her own. She would forgive him if he was ordered to kill her, if she was doomed anyway, she could only wish for his safety. When he had begun chanting the Dragon Slave she no longer feared the pain of death, she just kept wishing with all her might that this would be enough for Zelas to spare Xellos' life.

Filia's denial was broken, shattered into a million pieces. She was falling in love and she knew it. It was the stupidest thing she had ever done. Loving a monster, it was both wrong and ridiculous. It was made worse by the fact that she was certain he didn't care in return. He was a deceiving liar, yet the look on his face when he thought he had no choice but to end her life, or else Beast Master would, spoke of more than simply the resignation of knowing his place, it held sorrow. She couldn't get that expression out of her head.

When Filia felt Xellos' kissing her, she only tightened her embrace. She knew it would hurt her more if she didn't fight back, but she didn't want to. If she was going to be heart broken anyway, she might as well allow herself this bittersweet pleasure. Her denial was indeed broken, but it wasn't lost. She clung to every shattered piece of denial, every single one. She believed her actions to be nonsensical and fought to crush her own hope. She might have been falling in love, but love is not true love until it is embraced and accepted; admitted. She would draw the line there; she would acknowledge the facts, but not accept them.

xoxox xox xoxox

"I can't believe you two!" Lina's upset voice made Xellos and Filia cease their passionate kissing.

They were no longer in the astral side near the well of recovery. They were in the ruins of a large dried tree made from many thinner trees wrapped together. A large stone golem was cleaning up the remnants of trees around town with Naga riding on its shoulder and directing it. They looked at Fang who gave them a large toothed grin and wagged his two tails playfully. He must have taken them back to the town while they were distracted with each other.

"Unbelievable!" Lina continued to dramatize. She did take notice of the monster fox, but it looked harmless enough anyway. "Not only do you fight without me, but then you go on a date and leave the clean up duty to everyone else!"

"What happened?" Filia inquired with a red face, her need to know overpowering her embarrassment.

"Maybe if you weren't so busy sucking face you would have noticed!" Lina was clearly in a bad mood after missing the fight. She was the star of the show, she should be the one Dragon Slaving the villains into oblivion, yet she had barely made any appearances lately. "Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis and I fought a bunch of monsters that were after Xellos. Apparently Zelas was the one who arranged it for them to believe that Xellos was with us. After that fight was over, we saw a flash of light coming from the direction of the town, so we came to investigate. By the time we got here, the battle was over and there were nothing but dead chimera trees all over the place. We regrouped with Jillas, Gravos and Naga. Val, Elena and Palou are safe. They couldn't find you two so we were searching. It's been almost an hour since the battle ended. Where did you disappear to and what's with the purple yukatas? What does BMS stand for? If it's bondage-maso-sado, I don't want to hear it!"

"What?" Filia's face turned a deeper shade of red. "That's not what it stands for! And what do you mean an hour? It's been longer than that."

"BMS stands for Beast Master Spa," Xellos calmly explained with his usual overly cheerful expression once again invading his features. "Time passes differently in certain parts of the astral side, so the time that transpired here was shorter."

Lina felt her eye twitch in annoyance. She couldn't find the spicy herbs Elena needed for her special dish, she ended up destroying said herbs if they were even in the mountain to begin with. She had been absent from the main action for a while and her so called friends went off to a monster lord spa without her. It was probably a high end luxury spa too. They probably had really good snacks and delicious little mint filling gourmet chocolates in pretty wrappers! With an indignant growl, Lina turned around and walked away off to vent before she Dragon Slaved the whole town into nothingness.

xoxox xox xoxox

Aya, Kyle, Alys and the traveling merchant were all dead. The one to blame was Hanna, alias Venus, who had also perished in the end. Filia didn't have the heart to tell the townspeople the truth. The bodies were recovered from the ruble and given proper graves. The townspeople mourned them all, blaming the mysterious Green Alchemist for their sorrow. Filia promised to make justice, to seek out the master mind behind the tragedy and deliver a well deserved punishment. Amelia was all too quick to agree and offer her full support. Hanna's good name was preserved for mercy to those who cared for her and because few to none would believe the truth even if they knew.

It was time for Lina's group to move on again, their destination was Seyruun. It was the place where they always went for answers. Those targeting Xellos were expected to follow them there, to a place with much better defenses than any other, thus significantly reducing civilian casualties. The Green Alchemist had to be stopped. Naga decided to stay in Filia's town and help rebuild with her golems. Val would remain in the care and protection of Jillas and Gravos until Filia had returned. Elena and Palou would be there to support Jillas and Gravos too and help the townspeople assimilate their loss.

xoxox xox xoxox

Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Xellos and Filia set out early the next morning. Filia had taken a moment to say a few words of comfort to Val's egg and reassure him. "Mommy will be back soon. Uncle Jillas and uncle Gravos will be here with you. I'll miss you sweetie, have pleasant dreams. Mommy will make sure you hatch into a peaceful world."

"And daddy will be there to make sure she doesn't mess up." Filia jumped several feet into the air at the sudden voice from behind her. Even in human form, Xellos was getting the hang of sneaking up on her.

The golden dragon gave the monster turned human a sharp glare. She had warned him before that dragons could hear what was spoken around them before hatching. She knew he was just being annoying as usual, but she didn't want him to be a pest around Val. After a good night's sleep, Filia was more determined to rid herself of her feelings for Xellos, yet she knew it would be a difficult decision to carry out. Even when she was angry at him because he was such an annoying pest, she still found his vexation somewhat charming. It was official, Filia had lost her mind, and if by any chance she managed to find it, she was sure Xellos would swiftly make her lose it again.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 046: Virus! No One Is Immune

Time passed and Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Xellos, Filia and Fang journeyed all the way to Seyruun, making steady progress. They fought a few monsters on the way, but it was nothing particularly note worthy. When they finally reached the territories in the outskirts of Seyruun, the group found themselves running as fast as their legs could carry them. It wasn't due to being pursued by dangerous foes, but rather because of the massive downpour that caught them on the road. They ran and ran, longing for the shelter of Amelia's nice warm castle home.

When they finally arrived at the castle gates after rushing through the streets, a pair of guards in bright yellow rain coats let them through. Albeit the guards eyed Fang suspiciously for a second, they soon disregarded any mental alarms and assumed the being was another of the princess' unusual friends. Once the group was indoors, they squeezed the water out of their capes and shuffled towards their usual frequent visitor guest rooms, leaving little puddles of water in their path with every step. They already had dry clothes identical to their usual traveling outfits waiting for them. It was all thanks to their repeated visits to Seyruun, which had become expected, and Philionel's generosity.

Once the group was dry and changed, they went to see Philionel, who was all too happy with their arrival. "Welcome, welcome!" His loud voice echoed across the banquet hall where the castle cooks were busily bringing over dish after dish to satisfy, or attempt to satisfy, Lina's and Gourry's nearly insatiable appetites. "Amelia, I'm so happy that you've returned, my dear daughter!"

"Daddy, I'm happy to see you too and I have news!" Father and daughter shared a loving hug, while Amelia cheerfully threw a hint at Zelgadis that completely flew over his head.

Zelgadis and Amelia were already used to being in each other's company and very much enjoyed it. Other than the occasional blushing, everything flowed very naturally between them. With all that had been going on and after spending some more time together as an official couple, Zelgadis had relaxed to the point where he forgot his fears about facing Phil.

"What's this news you've brought me?" The Seyruun prince curiously asked with an overjoyed tone. If his dear daughter was so happy, then it had to be good news.

Amelia glanced at Zelgadis, who seemed to be merrily enjoying the chocolate covered strawberry that sat atop his chocolate chip vanilla cake, oblivious to the rest of the world. Of course, his table matters were proper, unlike the lack of table manners displayed by Lina and Gourry. Seeing that Zelgadis wasn't exactly in attention, Amelia decided to deliver her news last and first shared a different set of events. "Actually it's more than one news. When we were at Filia's home town, we ran into Naga."

"You did?" Contrary to what some believed, Naga did occasionally write letters to her father. She made it clear she wished to continue traveling and had no intentions of claiming the throne. Phil respected that and they remained in communication. "How is she? What did she say?"

"She's as well as ever. She hasn't changed at all," Amelia smiled. "She mentioned staying at the town for a little while. I think she was having a lot of fun helping out at Filia's shop with Gravos and Jillas." Naga was especially fond of Gravos, but like a good sister, Amelia kept her mouth shut about that to their father, until Naga decided to mention it.

"That's good to hear," Philionel had a bittersweet expression, that was finally filled with accepting joy. "As long as she's happy, I am happy for her."

Amelia gave her father an understanding look before moving on to the next piece of information. "This other news will come as a surprise," she paused to glance at Zelgadis to see if he was getting the hint. He gave her a fond smile when he noticed her gaze, then took a sip of tea, with too much calm to be aware of the situation. "Miss Lina and Mr. Gourry are engaged."

Lina paused in her eating, her face turning bright scarlet. "They are?" Philionel was surprised in a happy way. "Congratulations!"

Lina chuckled a little nervously, "thanks." Then in true Lina fashion she ceased the opportunity, "is there any chance of a congratulatory dinner?"

"Of course!" Philionel laughed heartily, while the cooks that were delivering additional food cringed. "I never would have guessed I would receive such wonderful news. Today is a happy day!"

"That's not all," Amelia continued, "there is one more thing I wanted to tell you about." She blushed and looked at Zelgadis just as his fork caught another portion of cake and his expression showed how delicious it was. "It's more like Zelgadis and I both want to tell you."

Upon hearing Amelia's words, Zelgadis put his fork down and looked at her curiously. Then the realization hit him like a ton of bricks. They fit in so naturally together, it was as if they were meant to be since forever. In truth it had been a long process of getting to know each other and developing a growing admiration and appreciation that eventually turned into love. Then it dawned on him that Amelia's father was still unaware of their status as a dating couple. The scarlet glow on his face and the sudden fit of nervous fidgeting were clear hints that Zelgadis was no longer unaware of the coming revelation.

Amelia took Zelgadis' hand under the table to help put him at ease as she revealed, "Zelgadis and I are now a couple."

"A couple!?" Philionel jumped from his seat, his chair falling to the floor behind him at the sudden motion.

The sight of the crown prince towering before him at the head of the table, made Zelgadis automatically jump to his feet blabbering incoherently. "A-amelia... lo-love... ve-very much... yes... sir... p-please..."

Philionel approached Zelgadis in a way that made him fear his head would soon end up laying by his feet completely detached from his neck. Then the tall gruff prince wrapped his massive arms around the chimera, nearly crushing his bones in the process. "Welcome to the family, my son!"

Zelgadis once again found himself in one of those special occasions when he was glad to be a chimera, because a fragile human would have surely been crushed to death by Phil's mighty hug. "Thank you," Zelgadis managed to choke out with what small traces of air he managed to keep in his compressed lungs.

"My little Amelia is all grown up," Phil sniffled a little before all out crying tears of joy. "I'm so happy! We must have a party to celebrate all these joyous occasions tonight. We'll have a double banquet for the royal engagement of my Amelia and Zelgadis and for the engagement of our dear friends Lina and Gourry!"

"A double banquet?" Gourry's eyes shone dreamily along with Lina's.

"Phil, you rock!" The redhead cheered.

Zelgadis noticed that Philionel immediately assumed that he and Amelia were engaged, not just dating, but neither half of the royal couple made an effort to correct him. Zelgadis thought that maybe this was the way it worked for a princess. She could be married, engaged, or not involved at all. Royals did tend to marry off quickly, thus perhaps their dating stage was particularly short, or they skipped it altogether.

The table overall was filled with joy, except for Xellos. The events and the happiness they caused didn't bother him. It was his human body which was bringing him misery. He had his head resting on his arms on the table face down in despair. His snack remained ignored; he wasn't in the mood to eat. His head hurt, his throat burned, his whole body ached and his brain felt slow as if he was in a constant daze. His eyes were watering and he had used up all the napkins on the table trying to keep his nose under control. He produced a pitiful groan while Filia, who had scooted her chair close to his, continued tracing circular patterns on his back in a futile effort to console him.

"Excuse me," Filia finally spoke. "I think Xellos and I must retire. It looks like he's sick with a cold, so I'll go tend to him."

Philionel gave the agonizing man on the table a curious look. He had learned from Amelia's stories that Xellos was a high level monster, thus strong enough to enter Seyruun without a problem. His nature aside, he was in more or less acceptable terms with the group most of the time. He seemed similar enough to a human, he smiled, told the occasional sarcastic joke and apparently was even interested in the very human activity of caring for his appearance, as he had dyed his hair, Phil assumed. Thus the kind prince ultimately accepted Xellos with the same hospitality he had for his daughter's other traveling companions.

"Monsters can catch colds?" Without waiting for a reply to the rhetorical question, Philionel continued, "you know what they say; no one is safe from falling in love or catching a cold. I'll send for Kally, she's been studying to become a doctor and is very good at mixing remedies. Just make sure you do not say the word octopus around her. The poor girl is terribly allergic to them and suffers from a bit of a trauma."

"I understand," Filia spoke for herself as she led Xellos away. He would probably shout out 'octopus' the second he saw the girl. Or if he was smart, he would wait until after she was done preparing a remedy for his cold and then shout out the O word. It would be ungrateful and cruel. At least he wasn't protesting to having Filia help him, humiliation or not, he was too sick to care.

After Filia and Xellos left, Lina and Gourry continued pigging out. Fang also had a place on the table, because pets were people too, according to Phil. The monster fox was enjoying a nice juicy steak, which he closely guarded from Lina. After informing one of the castle attendants to send Kally to tend to the ill guest, Philionel continued the cheerful conversation. "Looking forward to the crusade?"

"Oh yes! I mean eventually," was Amelia's blushing reply.

"Ah, you have more plans right now?" The crown prince asked, not really needing an answer. "Maybe you could even count it as part of the crusade, even if it is early."

Zelgadis gave his future father-in-law a curious look. "Crusade?"

"Oh yes, it's tradition," Philionel looked like he was taking a quick detour down memory lane, before becoming once again focused on the present. "When a Seyruun royal is married, he or she must venture in a crusade around the world to learn about Seyruun's position in it, experience different cultures and witness varying points of view. That would help when it comes to the eventual ruling of the kingdom, especially now that the barrier is gone and the outer world is open to us." Seeing Amelia's worried face, Phil quickly added, "don't worry, you can take your time with the crusade, I'll hold the fort here until you're ready. Of course that's after you're married, but the tradition can be bent a little. You could go on an engagement crusade instead of a marriage one. "

"Or both," Amelia cheerfully suggested.

"Or both," Philionel agreed.

So even if he married Amelia, the thought of which made Zelgadis blush bright red, he didn't have to stick around the castle right away? He could continue traveling around the world with Amelia and still be somehow fulfilling his new royal duties by doing so? Oh yes, life was good, all the trouble he had endured in his existence was well worth it for what was to come and for what was transpiring in the present.

xoxox xox xoxox

It didn't take long for Kally to arrive at Xellos' room, where Filia was taking care of him. She wasn't wearing her cloak, which had been tossed in a corner of the room in disgust. Xellos had caught her off guard when she was helping him to his room and blew his nose on it. Even so, constantly watching over Xellos wasn't going to make it easier for Filia to eradicate any possible feelings she knew she had for him, but she couldn't help it if she was a merciful creature. Maybe she could hammer it, metaphorically, into her own skull that Xellos was an annoying problem and that she was better off without him in her life. She thought that he reminded her of that constantly with his words and actions, yet it refused to sink in.

Some quick introductions were exchanged with Kally. The shrine maiden, now an apprentice doctor, had mid-back lenght reddish-brown hair, big green eyes and a freckled face. She chattered away about the biological aspects of the common cold and why it was so common. While she was giving her lecture, which no one had requested in the first place, she also occupied herself in laying out her tools and supplies on the table and mixing herbs. Once the mixture was done, she handed Xellos a most unappetizing green goop in an oddly shaped cup.

Xellos gave the medicine a disgusted look, then gave Filia a mischievous glance. "Octagon..." Filia was ready to pounce on the unsuspecting Kally and cover her ears, but she stopped last minute in an odd position behind the girl with her hands left and right of her head.

Kally blinked as Filia pretended to stretch and scooted away. She then addressed Xellos' comment. "It's a superstition really, there's nothing scientific about serving medicine in an octagon shaped cup rather than a circular one. The herb mixture is a product of research though, but I thought, even if the octagon might not help, it certainly won't hurt."

"I see," Xellos sniffed the odd concoction and even more disgust invaded his features as he wrinkled his nose and stuck out his tongue in a facial sign that anyone would understand.

"It's as bitter as it smells, but it works wonders against the common cold, even if it'll make you a bit sleepy at first," Kally insisted. "These herbs grow exclusively in the fall. It's summer now, so last year's supply is running low. It's okay though, we should have just enough to last until this fall."

"October," at the well pronounced beginning of the word Filia almost tackled Xellos to cover his mouth, once again stopping at the last moment, frozen in a peculiar posture. "Is one of my favorite months of the year," Xellos finished with a smirk, while Filia continued to pretend she was stretching.

"Mine too!" Kally cheerfully agreed. "By the way, Miss Filia, you seem to be rather stiff. I could brew you a remedy that will help your muscles relax."

"Don't worry about me, I'm just fine," Filia laughed awkwardly. She knew Xellos was throwing false alarms around on purpose to embarrass her.

"If you say so..." Kally noticed that Xellos still had not consumed his medicine. "Come now Mr. Xellos, you don't even need to drink it all. Just one or two drinks will make you feel all better. Make an effort for your health."

A long moment passed, during which Xellos didn't do anything. "Oh for crying out loud!" Losing her patience, Filia snatched away the octagon shaped cup from Xellos. "It's not so bad, watch." She took a swig of the green goop and her face soon turned the same color, but she swallowed it anyway. "See? I'm braver than you!"

Feeling challenged, even if he knew it was obviously a trick, Xellos snatched the octagon shaped cup back and drank. He needed the medicine anyway to help heal his current body, so it was in his best interest to endure the foul taste. Just as Kally was looking rather pleased that her patient drank his medicine as he should, Xellos voiced a peculiar word, "pulpo." The word caused Filia's eyes to open as wide as moons as Kally let out an earsplitting shriek and ran out of the room in a frantic panic.

Filia twitched in frustration as she noted, "you're bilingual."

Xellos grinned in amusement and added, "apparently so is Kally."

Filia frowned deeply, "you cruel piece of raw garbage!"

"Sweet dreams to you too, Filia," Xellos shifted positions on his bed and got comfortable. Those herbs were making him more than just a little sleepy. He better be cured by the time he woke up or he would chase Kally all over Seyruun singing Amelia's octopus song. 'Octopus, oh my, oh my, when you got two it's an octopi!' He patted the empty space on the bed next to him in an obvious invitation for Filia to join him. "My evil plot to give you my cold was foiled when you greedily drank some of my much needed medicine. That's okay; I'll forgive your terrible lack of consideration for my health and still kindly offer you a place on my bed."

"I have a bed of my own to sleep on." The golden dragon responded with a glare and tried to firmly maintain it no matter how strangely amusing Xellos' overly cheerful grin was. She used to hate that painted grin. When did she stop hating it? She gritted her teeth to stop herself from stupidly grinning back and initiating a pillow fight that she knew she would win. She was feeling a little sleepy because of the herbs, but it was evident that Xellos' human body would succumb to the side effects first; he could barely keep his eyes open.

Filia's assumption was proven to be true as Xellos helplessly fell into a deep slumber, while Filia was still glaring at him. She could leave him to his rest and retreat to her own room. Yet she did take that nasty remedy, so she should be protected against the possibility of catching his cold. She could take a nap next to him and it wouldn't be harmful to her health, only to her sanity, but hadn't she already lost that anyway? She grumbled a few incoherent insults directed at Xellos' sleeping form and finally gave in. She wasn't accepting her feelings, not by a long shot.

She was just taking a nap and guarding Xellos at the same time because he was evil and needed to be guarded. If she left him alone he might miraculously recover from the remedy's sleepy side effects, find himself completely cured of his cold and go on a Dragon Slave rampage through Seyruun. Filia was bravely guarding a horrible criminal for the sake of protecting the fair kingdom. She was making a noble sacrifice by sleeping next to Xellos.

Filia repeated the notion in her head a few times until she realized that it was futile to try to trick herself. It was a pity because she used to be so good at it, but not anymore. Maybe Xellos cunning rubbed off on her and she became harder to trick, even by herself. Then in a very uncharacteristic burst she thought, 'forget excuses' and laid down next to Xellos just because she felt like it. She even allowed herself to wrap her arms around him and cuddle close. The only thing she didn't allow herself to do was accept that her feelings were more than just a passing phase of extreme idiocy.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 047: Good and Bad! Rain and Sunshine

The rain that fell over Seyruun had stopped and the skies became sunny and clear. It was as if the weather was mocking the travelers it soaked by turning nice shortly after they finally reached shelter. Weather sarcasm aside, Zelgadis and Amelia were in a good mood as they took to the streets of the fair kingdom with Fang by their side. The monster fox had curiously followed them out and Amelia, who was rather fond of animals, took it upon herself to show him around. Zelgadis didn't like the idea as this was Zelas' pet that Xellos was supposed to walk. Yet not even the chore could ruin his overall good mood as he walked through town next to Amelia.

"Can we stop here a moment? I need to get something." Zelgadis pointed at a large warehouse. It was mostly a place where merchants left their goods, though it could also be used as a storage room for personal property. "I'll be right back."

"Sure," it didn't look like Zelgadis wanted Amelia to tag along inside, so she waited for him on the street, rocking back and forth on her feet. A few noises were heard from inside the storage as if an avalanche of things fell over. Fortunately, Zelgadis emerged unharmed soon after. "This is where you keep the things you've picked up on the road, right?"

"Yeah, I sometimes did a little treasure hunting on the side while looking for a cure," Zelgadis revealed.

"What did you need to get?" Amelia curiously inquired.

"This," Zelgadis showed her a map. "It's only a standard map of the continent, but it's good to have it on hand, just in case."

"You've always been a great navigator," Amelia recalled how Zelgadis would study their surroundings when they journeyed outside of the barrier for the first time.

The pair happily continued on their way until they reached the Seyruun main park. Zelgadis was a bit uneasy, but Amelia seemed to trust Fang to behave well enough. The kingdom's children recognized the princess and immediately surrounded her in hopes of hearing another of her adventure stories and more so hoping they could play with the big animal that accompanied her. The near by parents were a little anxious, but trusted Amelia's judgment.

It turned out that Fang was rather easily amused. He seemed to be pleased enough playing fetch with the kids and was seemingly strong enough not to be too bothered by their constant squeals of joy, despite being a monster fox. Who knows, maybe he wasn't even pure monster, but some kind of monster and fox chimera or something. Amelia and Zelgadis were too focused on each other to question Fang's nature as long as he didn't attack anyone.

xoxox xox xoxox

Amelia and Zelgadis spent a nice afternoon at the park while Lina and Gourry continued pigging out. As for Xellos and Filia, the side effects of the medicinal herb remedy they drank were already wearing off. Xellos has felt irresistibly sleepy, but his need for rest was satisfied after a short time. He was feeling much better when he woke up, his cold was gone. Unfortunately, that didn't mean he wasn't in pain, for it was precisely a jolt of pain which had woken him up. "Filia, wake up, lover..."

Filia opened her eyes and the first thing she saw was Xellos' face very close to hers. "Lo-lover? Liar!" She jumped out of the bed, no such terrible things had transpired, she had to reassure herself of it.

"It looks like I'm cured from my cold, but I need to ask a small favor of you." Xellos had the same tone of voice he used when he was pretending to be somewhat nice right before embarrassing Filia.

The golden dragon knew it was coming, Xellos was surely about to say something that would make her blood boil. "What?" She snapped angrily.

"Could you take care of this?" Lacking a proper explanation from Filia's point of view, Xellos began to take off his shirt.

"Take care of what? What are you doing?" Filia frantically questioned in a panic.

"This," Xellos pointed to his back where there were several fresh cuts.

"Oh," Filia examined the cuts in perplexity. "How did you get those? They almost look like claw marks." She reached out to gently touch the affected area and froze when she saw her hands. Her gloves were torn at the fingers. She must have slipped her hands into his shirt when she was hugging him in her sleep. Then she must have undergone a partial transformation, which was further emphasized by the fact that her tail was still out, though her dragon claws and fangs had shrunk into human nails and teeth. Filia felt her face turned even redder than it already was. She felt like all her blood had rushed to her cheeks.

"I think you know how this happened," Xellos teased. "Don't worry, when I recover my monster powers you won't have to hold back. Look forward to it," he winked.

With gritted teeth and a growing amount of mortification, Filia considered running away and finding a deep hole to hide in for the next decade or so. Yet she didn't, instead she forced herself to remain rooted to the spot and heal Xellos.

xoxox xox xoxox

"Where are you going, Filia?" Xellos inquired as he followed her like a second shadow.

Fed up with him and in desperate need of some breathing room, Filia quickened her pace across the Seyruun gardens until she came to stand in the shade next to a storage room. "Stop following me! Go away raw garbage, you're so annoying!"

"I know you don't mean that," Xellos gave her an infuriatingly flirty look, which made Filia growl loudly. "C'mon Filia, you know you want me."

A murderous glare with clenched teeth and fists was Filia's reply accompanying her threatening growl. Some time ago in the era of her grandparents' youth, some of the golden dragons made a movement that eventually banned human cuisine. Filia herself had never tried the delicacy, but she was sure some dragons were skilled in preparing it in secret. Right now, she was tempted to try. Since Xellos was fully human at the moment, she wouldn't even have to worry about him being a poisonous monster if she devoured him.

"You must really have a lot of bottled up passion," Xellos curiously observed. "You look like you want to literally bite my head off and your fangs are showing." He winked again, then kept his eyes open afterwards in an unblinking direct amethyst gaze that seemed to draw her in. "If you've truly fallen desperately in love with me, I might be willing to do you the honor of accepting your affections."

"I wish I knew exactly what you're feeling when you lie like that, you cold hearted trickster." Filia snapped, near the point of frustrated tears of anger. A pulsation of energy filled the air, ignored by both halves of the argument.

Filia was making even less sense than usual as of late and it was getting to Xellos. Her emotions were ever changing, a wild roller coaster that he couldn't keep up with. His empathy was making him dizzy. "I wish I knew what it's like to be a golden dragon, because then I might actually understand your nonsensical randomness. I'm offering to give you what you want, so why don't you just take it? Are you so obsessed with your golden dragon ideals that you can't even realize your own lust, even if it's so obvious." Another pulsation of energy occurred, making the storage room next to them tremble.

"It's not lust!" Filia yelled, lust was impure and unworthy of a dragon. Then again, to say she lusted for a used to be monster, might be less horrible than to say she felt an unacceptable love towards a used to be monster. Especially when sooner or later the human would become a monster again, and a high ranking one at that, with a long list of crimes against the dragon race. Both possibilities were terribly wrong by themselves, thus both possibilities occurring simultaneously were certainly too much to bear.

"Are you in love with me then?" Xellos argued back. His careful tone was gone as he got into the heat of the disagreement. Another pulsation of energy occurred, followed by a bright light coming from the windows of the storage room next to them. The light invaded their senses along with a strange kind of resonance that made them lose consciousness.

xoxox xox xoxox

"C'mon Xellos, if you die now, I won't get paid!" The upset greedy voice of Lina Inverse brought Xellos back from his short coma.

Xellos' eyes focused on the redhead hovering over his still form. "I'm alive," he stated the obvious.

"What happened? Did the bleach fumes make you pass out or something?" Lina curiously inquired, her question making no real sense to Xellos. "Filia was out like a light too."

"Where am I?" Filia started waking up, feeling rather disoriented. She was arguing with Xellos, the atmosphere felt heavy, there was a bright light from the storage room and that's all she remembered. The next thing she knew, she was waking up and Lina and Gourry were already there.

"Lina and I saw a light, so we came to see what it was," Gourry explained. "Was the light from a spell? I didn't know there was a bleach spell."

"Bleach spell?" Filia blinked in confusion.

"What's all this about bleach?" Xellos inquired, he couldn't find a way to link something like bleach to the current situation.

Filia stared at him, "your hair," she reached over to pet his hair with her gloveless hands. "You're blond now."

"Blond?" Xellos allowed a strand of hair to fall over his face, looking a little cross-eyed as he attempted to examine it. Now the bleach comments made sense, except he held no memories about bleaching his hair. "I don't know how this happened. Filia?"

"Don't look at me, I was unconscious too ever since that light came from the storage," Filia reminded. Her confusion had a companion in the shape of more confusion. She blinked, that was odd; aside from her own feelings it was as if she felt someone else's. It was as she imagined empathy to be, except there was only one extra set of feelings, even though there were three people in the immediate area next to Filia.

"Maybe the light had something to do with it," Lina theorized. "Let's go ask Phil what he's keeping in the storage."

Xellos and Filia got to their feet and walked off with Lina and Gourry, off to find Philionel. They had only taken a few steps when a ripping sound was heard like torn fabric. All eyes landed on Xellos who shook his head, though he was well aware of the fact that the sound came from behind him. Everyone was staring with slacked jaws and wide eyes. He could barely find a way to discretely confirm if his pants had a hole in them or not, though at that point he was pretty sure they did. It wouldn't make any sense; the pants fit him just fine a few minutes ago. Even if Filia turned out to be right in her warning about the eventual consequences of his growing sweet tooth and recent pie addiction, his pants were baggy to begin with, so there was no reason for them to stop fitting all of a sudden.

"Tail?" Xellos grabbed the appendage, feeling his own grasp, confirming that it was indeed a real tail attached to him in the area where tails are usually attached. The tail was long enough to touch the ground if he let it down. It was a dragon tail very similar to Filia's tail covered in golden scales, minus the pink bow of course. "Why in the world do I have a tail?" Xellos looked rather comical running in circles trying to get a better view of the tail's origin. "Where did it come from?"

"Your behind, apparently," Lina pointed out the obvious with a very Gourry-like tone of voice.

"I know that," Xellos snapped, "but why is it there?"

Filia placed her hand on Xellos' shoulder, her expression still frozen in shock. She took a deep breath and looked into his eyes. "Listen carefully," he nodded; she sounded serious, as if she had a theory about what was going on after all. "Take a deep breath, like this," she demonstrated the breathing exercise which Xellos copied. Filia then placed a hand on his chest. "Do you feel that warmth in your diaphragm?" Again Xellos nodded. "Focus your energy there, then look straight up to the sky and exhale strongly."

Xellos followed the instructions exactly as he was told, with Lina and Gourry watching the scene unfold with curiosity. A beam of laser was shot straight up into the sky from Xellos' mouth. "Was that a laser breath?" Now it was Filia's turn to nod silently. This couldn't be happening. Being turned into a human was one thing, but this was too much. If Lord Beast Master heard about it, she might be angry, probably, most likely furious. "I'm a..." Did he even dare to say it? "I'm a golden dragon? How is this even possible?" The curse was supposed to turn him into a human. He could still feel the curse, but it was being suppressed by another magical force. It was a powerful force that kept him as a member of the golden dragon race.

"Wow, can you give us rides like Filia?" Gourry's well intended question was met with a piercing glare from Xellos and not further dignified with a verbal response.

"This is some twist," Lina observed. "We better hurry up and find Phil. He should be able to tell us what's in that storage that could have caused this, assuming the timing of the light wasn't just a coincidence... Nah, it would be too convenient to be just that." The group hurried away to pull the monarch away from his duties and seek a much needed explanation to this new development.

xoxox xox xoxox

"In conclusion, it is Seyruun's duty to help the outer world towns that are suffering as a result of this year's spring and summer harvest, or lack thereof." Philionel was just finishing off an inspiring speech to his royal council, at the head of a long meeting table.

"You can't go in there!" The voice of the guard at the door was heard.

"It's an emergency!" Xellos pushed past the guard with ease, literally pushing him into the opposite wall of the hallway.

"Control your strength!" Filia scolded, as she, Lina and Gourry followed Xellos into the meeting room.

"Believe it or not, that wasn't on purpose," Xellos had become used to needing to put extra effort into everything to get his human body to respond and the additional strength of a dragon came too suddenly for him to be immediately adjusted to it. He didn't even want to think about what it would be like during his first few days as a monster again, because he was still determined to return to his original species.

Would he go around clumsily breaking things until he relearned to control his massive monster power? If he broke one of Zelas' favorite bases she would have his head... Then again, if that happened, maybe he could teleport over to Filia's shop, as he would once again have easy access to the astral side, and get her to fix the vase or make a replica. Then he could replace it before Zelas even noticed... Albeit she would probably notice anyway, but maybe she would forgive him since it was already fixed. Okay, now he was getting way ahead of himself.

The meeting room was filled with urgent and alarmed murmurs as all those present wondered about the emergency. "What happened?" Philionel urgently asked. He blinked as he did a double take on just who had arrived. "You're Xellos, aren't you? I almost didn't recognize you with your new hair color; I wasn't even completely used to picturing you with black instead of purple yet. You have a tail too, is that the latest fashion among monsters lately?" The crown prince spoke very casually for someone who was addressing a monster general, whom he thought was still a monster. He seemed to realize he was getting off topic and quickly returned to the discussion of the apparently urgent matter on hand. "You said there was an emergency?"

"Yes," Xellos replied with emphasis, "I'm a golden dragon."

Philionel blinked in confusion, mimicking Gourry's expression. "You're not Xellos? You look just like him, except for the hair and tail."

"I am Xellos!" His fangs and claws started peeking out as he became exasperated.

"Calm down or you'll transform!" Filia warned. She had a feeling that Philionel might want to keep the ceiling of his meeting room exactly where it was. The royal council members didn't look too eager to become close witnesses of a fully transformed golden dragon throwing a hissy fit over his current species.

Xellos took a deep breath and paused before exhaling. Maybe it was too much of a deep breath. He could feel the same warmth as before crawling up his throat. He raised his hand in a sign of 'just a moment' and approached the nearest window. He opened it, released an accidentally charged laser breath into the sky and returned to his previous position addressing Phil. "I suspect a light that came from the storage room near the garden is responsible for turning me into a golden dragon," Xellos half growled and half spoke. He tried to force himself to appear cool, calm and collected but something was bothering him. It was Filia; she had a rather peculiar scent to her that he had not noticed before. It invaded his senses and was driving him crazy. "I would appreciate it if you could explain what's in there that could have caused this." Xellos finished with forced politeness.

"What about the emergency?" Philionel questioned with fading alarm.

"That's the emergency," Xellos confirmed.

"I see," Philionel looked at one of the guards, who was standing around idly in a corner. "Kalio, please fetch me the key to the storage in the garden and bring it to me there."

Kalio, a young man with light brown hair, blue eyes and a rather silent personality, nodded quietly. Unlike his sister, Kally, he wasn't allergic to octopus or afraid of them. He did have a deep hatred for the sea creatures because of the pain his dear sister had to endure. The mere mention of an octopus made him feel angry and on edge. He became a vicious berserk swordsman if he ever saw an octopus and would stop at nothing to slay it. He ran off to accomplish his assigned task swiftly.

"Let's go, I'll show you what's in the storage," Philionel offered.

"Your majesty, what about the meeting?" One of the royal council members seated near Phil's place on the table inquired.

"We will continue it once I return, I won't be gone long. Let's take a fifteen minute break everyone!" Once the crown prince announced the break, the royal council members were all too eager to shuffle out of the meeting room and get themselves some coffee refills for their cups and perhaps donuts.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 048: Dragon! A Golden Opportunity

Xellos kept annoyingly wagging his dragon tail with every step he took alongside Filia, Lina, Gourry and Philionel. The group was almost to the storage at the Seyruun royal garden when Filia finally stopped and grabbed Xellos' tail. "Would you stop that already? Why are you so fidgety? Even if this is unexpected, I can't imagine the," cue heavy sarcasm, "great Xellos getting nervous."

Xellos cringed at the sudden contact and gave Filia a rather predatory look that instantly made her let go of his tail. As soon as he was free from her grip, he went over to the opposite side of the group, which put Lina and Gourry between him and Filia, while Phil continued to lead the way. He stopped the wild tail movements, but the appendage still twitched now and then.

Filia couldn't help it but to stare. She felt as if he was fighting against something he kept well hidden. Why she had such a feeling, she didn't know. It couldn't be simply because Xellos was a golden dragon, Filia had been around plenty of golden dragons before and they didn't give off such a clear aura that resonated with her own.

"Here we are," Philionel announced as he stopped in front of the storage. Kalio was already there, ready to hand the monarch the requested item, the storage key. "Thank you Kalio, that will be all for now." Kalio nodded and went on his way to do his castle guarding rounds. Phil held the small key to the lock on the storage door. Though the keyhole was appropriately small, the lock itself was rather large, making the lock and key seem mismatched. His large hands grasped the key too strongly and it snapped in half. "Oops..." Phil examined the smaller half which belonged inside the lock. He wouldn't be able to push that end of the key far enough into the lock to make it work now that it was broken. It would probably make things worse if a piece of key got stuck in the lock.

"Forget the key, I'll break down the door!" Xellos snapped, stepping forward to do the offered deed.

"Stop it!" Filia slipped his arms under Xellos' from behind, holding him back. "You're giving golden dragons a bad name!"

"The golden dragons have done enough of a good job giving themselves a bad name!" Xellos retorted. Filia's closeness bothered him for some reason. It was a sensation that was not alien to him, but felt amplified and out of control. Then there was that scent, was it some kind of perfume he never noticed? It was all over Filia and it was pushing him to the edge of insanity. It's not that it was unpleasant. The problem was that it was too pleasant, too attractive. He was supposed to make Filia go to him, he wasn't supposed to... Wait a minute, was that lust? Well it wasn't a virtue, not that a monster would care, but Xellos was collected enough to keep such things under absolute control. He simply had no time for distractions in his line of work. This was different, it was instinct, he realized. His face turned scarlet against his will.

"What's wrong with you?" Filia released Xellos as she realized he had stopped struggling against her grip. "Do you have a fever?" She touched his forehead with one hand and her own with the other to compare the temperatures. "You're warm, but that's normal for a dragon. Are you in any pain?"

Yes, not that Xellos would ever admit to it, plus it wasn't pain in the usual sense. "Hands off," Xellos growled.

"Hmp!" Filia made an exasperated sound and threw her head back in indignation, hands on her hips.

This dragon instinct or whatever it was, it was terribly annoying. Sure, Xellos was a monster. Who cares about being proper? But that wasn't the point. A conscious decision to throw all restraint out the window, while retaining the ability to summon it back at a moment's notice was one thing. Giving into some wild uncontrollable animal instinct was a very different thing. It was... it was... degrading. 'No wonder golden dragons are so repressed,' Xellos mused. 'It's their means to retain some dignity and be civil. Who wouldn't be temperamental like this?'

"Hi, what's everyone doing?" Amelia approached with a friendly smile, Zelgadis and Fang next to her. After letting Fang play for a while, they returned to the castle. Her eyes landed on the blond Xellos with the dragon tail and she blinked in confusion. "Mr. Xellos?"

"I'll have an explanation just as soon as your father decides to share it." Xellos gave Philionel an impatient look.

"I would, but the key is broken," Philionel showed the tiny remains of the small broken key in his massive hands.

"That's no problem," Amelia removed a hairclip that was unnoticeable on her hair and began to work on picking the lock. She twisted the clip this way and that, until a click was heard and the lock was open. "There," the princess happily announced.

"That was unexpected," Lina commented.

"Just like you sharing your cheesecake." Gourry added something to the list of unexpected events.

"What's this I hear about Lina sharing?" Zelgadis made a surprised expression. "You're joking, right?"

Lina pouted, "what's that supposed to mean? I'll have you know I'm a very generous person!"

Gourry nodded in agreement, "she's usually very selfish, but today she improved. She let me have a slice of cheesecake. It was a small slice and she ate the rest, but that's more than she would normally share with anyone."

"He kept giving me the most pitiful look!" Lina pointed at Gourry while reenacting his expression with big sad eyes.

"The greedy Lina shared food, the justice obsessed Amelia picked a lock, the gloomy Zelgadis is cheerful, the virtuous Filia is bursting with lustful desires." At that point Filia interrupted Xellos' speech to protest, but he ignored her and continued. "And Lord Beast Master's general is a golden dragon. The world has been turned upside-down and it makes no sense what so ever. What can I say? Gourry, you're a genius!"

As expected, the obvious sarcasm flew over Gourry's head, at least that much still made sense. Gourry didn't know why Xellos was giving him a compliment, but like a polite person would do, he said "thanks," with a smile.

"How did you learn to pick locks, Amelia?" Philionel curiously asked.

"Zelgadis taught me," the princess smiled and blushed.

Zelgadis wondered if he should start coming up with an excuse for teaching Phil's daughter skills that were usually associated with thieves, but it didn't look like it would be needed as Phil laughed in good humor. "You must teach me that trick one day, my son. It would be quite useful since I'm always accidentally breaking these fragile little keys or losing them and I wish I didn't have to trouble the local locksmith so often." Not that it was any trouble at all for the locksmith to get hired for a relatively simple job and earn some extra coins ever so often.

"Sure," the world was definitely smiling on Zelgadis at long last.

After the, in Xellos' opinion, unnecessary suspense, Philionel finally opened the door to the storage to reveal a world of crates and dust. "Amelia, do you happen to remember where that glowing pearl-like jewel was?"

"The fickle wish granter?" Amelia inquired, wondering why her father needed such a thing. She soon connected the dots when she took into consideration Xellos' appearance. "It's way in the back. Did something happen with it?"

"Maybe," Philionel began to move large crates around with impressive strength. "The story goes that there was a light coming from the storage when Mr. Xellos over there got his makeover. I thought it might be related to the jewel. To think it would still perceive the wishes of people outside the storage room even if it's buried under all these crates. Maybe we should move it to the deepest castle basement and put it under a magical barrier."

"If it's still causing trouble, I think that would be best," Amelia agreed.

Philionel managed to reach the proper crate containing the jewel. It was easy to tell apart from the other wooden brown crates due to the word 'danger' being written all over the crate in red paint. "Ah, here it is," though the crate was nailed shut, Phil easily opened it. Inside there were ribbons of paper and a massive amount of cotton.

"Be careful, daddy," Amelia cautioned.

Philionel took a deep breath, rolled up his sleeve and reached into the box. He retrieved a glowing pearl-like jewel about the size of a marble.

"That's it?" Lina frowned in disappointment at the anti-climatic device. Sure, it was glowing and it looked pretty, but bigger more valuable jewels could be made to glow like that by embedding a light spell into them. Jewels made excellent containers for spells.

"This is it," Philionel announced ominously. "Amelia, would you like to tell the story?"

"Of course," Amelia cleared her throat and began the legendary tale. "As you might already know, pearls are formed by clams as a defense mechanism against an irritation. There is a legend that a mermaid once cried a bitter tear and it fell into a clam. The clam defended itself against it, but the mermaid tear was so pure despite its sorrow that instead of a white pearl, a crystal clear pearl was produced. The mermaid wished that no one had to suffer as she did, that tear, was the last tear she cried before she died of broken hearted sadness. The tear carried her will and her spirit before she banished in the bottom of the ocean. The tear became a wish granting pearl. However, the pearl which held the mermaid's spirit would only grant the wishes that she believed were necessary. The legendary clam holding the magical pearl had been sought out after for a long time, until one of Seyruun's fishing boats finally found it."

Filia sighed deeply, she was reminded of the mermaid story that she read back at the aquarium. "What a tragic story."

"What a stupid story," Xellos just had to ruin the moment for Filia, who gave him an intense glare. "So the mermaid cried, her tear fell inside a clam and somehow this all happened under water? If the mermaid was under water, what difference would it make if she cried or not? She would already be wet. Besides, wouldn't the tear dissolve as it mixed with the sea water around her? Plus tears are just salty water anyway, why would it irritate the clam?"

"It's magical!" Filia argued. "It's hard to explain, that's why it's a legend, but the pearl jewel is real enough if it did this. It granted your wish when you said you wanted to know what it's like to be a golden dragon."

"That was sarcasm!" Xellos almost yelled. "Stupid mermaid spirit, I wish I was a monster again!" The pearl maintained its relatively dim glow and ignored Xellos' wish.

"It doesn't work that way Mr. Xellos, the mermaid spirit will only grant the wishes she feels like granting," Amelia pointed out.

"I want to try it," Zelgadis saw it as an opportunity to be cured of his chimera condition and wondered why Amelia had not mentioned this to him before. "I wish I was human! I wish I wasn't a chimera! I wish you would grant my wish!" It figured, the pearl completely ignored him.

Amelia sighed and soon revealed the reason why she had not bothered telling Zelgadis about the fickle magical artifact. "I already tried that. I thought it would make you happy if I could cure you with a wish and spent a whole week wishing day and night, but the pearl ignored me."

"I see," Zelgadis let out a breath of resignation. "It's okay, I appreciate that you were trying to help."

"Does this mean I'm stuck like this?" Xellos complained.

"Being a golden dragon isn't a bad thing. You might get to like it," Filia teased.

"Lord Beast Master would not agree," Xellos reminded. It was the main reason why it was necessary for him to return to his monster form as soon as possible. He wasn't just in danger of being killed by other monsters, but also by Zelas herself when her patience ran out. Xellos knew that she didn't have much of that left.

"Right, she might kill you for this," Filia realized, feeling Xellos' frustration pour into her. She decided not to point it out aloud, but her wish was apparently granted as well. It wasn't granted to the whole specifics of her words, but it was more or less granted in the fickle style of the mermaid spirit. She was a Xellos exclusive empath. This would be both interesting and insightful. Maybe if she saw how much he didn't care, how he was cruelly using her, then she would successfully rid herself of her unacceptable feelings for him.

"You shouldn't worry too much," Philionel assured, "the effects are only temporary, or at least they have been so far."

"That's right, when I was sitting in the garden with the pearl in my hand, wishing and wishing, a few people came by," Amelia recalled. "I remember Kalio passing by, saying he wished he had a bigger sword and his sword turned huge. He couldn't even lift it. Then just as suddenly it turned back to normal. Then Kally wished that a tree near by would grow plums and it grew a lot of plums for the next four days, which is odd, since it was actually a young oak tree. In other words, the effect of the granted wish can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days."

"Then I just have to wait it out," Xellos concluded. He could live with that... hopefully. "This was a most informative chat. I guess I'll be on my way now." With those parting words, Xellos walked away from the group.

"I'm coming with you!" Filia was quick to follow. "I know what you're planning to do." There was a certain edge to the way Xellos felt. Maybe he was plotting something. Once that theory formed, a theory about what he was plotting was easy to come up with. "You're going to use this change of species as a disguise to cause all sorts of mischief and give the golden dragons a bad name. I will not allow that!"

Xellos felt his eye twitch in annoyance, his dragon tail swishing from side to side. "No, really, I just want to be alone right now, as in away from smelly dragons like you."

"I don't smell!" Filia glared. "And I won't be tricked," she added adamantly. "Like it or not, I'm sticking to you like glue." With her determination firm in place, Filia followed Xellos as he walked away.

Xellos quickened his pace across the Seyruun garden and Filia matched it. He moved faster and so did she. He finally broke into a run, as did Filia, and they stubbornly ran out the castle gates and into the city.

xoxox xox xoxox

After Xellos and Filia were gone, Philionel went to see to it that the pearl jewel aka the fickle wish granter, was locked away as planned. He had a meeting to go back to after that, as it had been more than fifteen minutes already. Lina and Gourry went their own way, off to pester the castle kitchen staff into giving them more food. Fang found a comfortable spot under the shade of the young oak tree that once produced plums and lay down for a nap.

Zelgadis and Amelia took a walk around the Seyruun royal gardens and hung out together for a while. She noticed that he was kind of uneasy and nervous, even if she had thought he was over that. "Are you feeling okay?"

"Yes, I'm fine," Zelgadis blushed. "Your father thinks we're engaged," he brought up a subject that he knew they would have to discuss eventually.

"He does..." Amelia asserted with a blush of her own. "Is that okay?"

"Yes," Zelgadis immediately nodded, his blush deepening. "I mean, if it's okay with you, to be engaged to me."

"Of course it is!" Amelia exclaimed all too eager. "Um... but... you know... it's not like I'm trying to rush you or anything. I mean, I'm happy with dating, and daddy isn't going to rush us into getting married. We could go on the crusade anyway and get... you know, engaged for real later down the line."

"Or sooner..." Zelgadis' hint was barely audible.

"Yes..." Amelia nodded lightly, "sooner or later or sooner..." Zelgadis said something that Amelia didn't quite understand. "Excuse me?"

"Right now?" Though his tone was still barely audible, Zelgadis' words reached Amelia that time.

"Really?" Amelia gasped in joyous surprise.

"If you want to," Zelgadis offered, finally gaining the courage to stop staring at his feet and look at Amelia's loving eyes.

"I do," Amelia smiled, her eyes never leaving his.

"Then I should do this properly," Zelgadis went down on one knee, taking Amelia's hand in his and slipping a beautiful diamond and sapphire ring into her finger. He had that ring for a while, secretly fantasizing about giving it to Amelia one day. When he left it along with a few other belongings at the Seyruun storage he didn't think the thought would ever be anything other than a distant fantasy. "Amelia Wil Tesla Seyruun, will you marry me?"

Amelia let out a happy squeal of absolute joy, "I will!" As Zelgadis stood, she tackled him in a hug with such a force that they both fell down. Deciding that they were comfortable enough, they stayed there, laying on the ground at the royal gardens in each other's arms.

xoxox xox xoxox

Meanwhile, Xellos and Filia had prolonged their stubborn race to the edge of the city and beyond. Xellos exited Seyruun territory with Filia still chasing after him. The citizens would speak of the speedy golden tailed blurs that passed through the streets without stopping for anything until they had left the city.

There was a group of monsters waiting in the outskirts of the city. Xellos came to a full stop when he saw them, which caused Filia to stumble as she tried to halt her own advance. She collided harshly with his back, causing them both to fall in a heap on the path. They got to their feet as quickly as possible, with Xellos looking especially irritated and somewhat twitchy.

A considerable amount of frustration was emerging from Xellos, there was something he was strongly holding back, something that he wanted to hide even from himself. Filia was determined to find out what it was, she just had to get the hang of her newly granted emphatic abilities, learn to interpret them and read between the lines. A lot of reading between the lines was needed with Xellos. However, for the time being, it looked like they had some more murderous monsters to deal with.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 049: Lust! The Scent Of Passion

The monsters ahead of Xellos and Filia in the outskirts of Seyruun were varied in size, similar to minotaurs. They came mostly in dark colors such as black, gray and brown, except for the fuchsia one, who appeared to be their leader. Seriously, who would listen to a fuchsia minotaur? The brightly colored monster pointed an accusing troll-like finger at Filia. "There she is! She's the golden dragon who's been protecting Xellos. Look, she's got another dragon with her. That must mean it's true! Xellos somehow obtained the protection of the golden dragons, that disgusting traitor!"

"Xellos doesn't need any protection from the golden dragons, I mean, us, he doesn't need any protection from us." Xellos was at least grateful that the stupid monster didn't recognize him. What he couldn't' accept was their accusations. Maybe Filia had protected him, but she was an exception, the golden dragons, as in the stubborn ones who were the monster race's enemies, were a whole other story. Xellos was sure he would never seek or accept their help, not that they would ever offer it.

"Lies!" The fuchsia minotaur accused. "Attack, destroy the golden dragons that protect Xellos!"

That was it, Xellos was pissed off. There were about a dozen of those monsters, but he didn't care. He would Dragon Slave them into nothingness... and hopefully not slay himself in the process. Then again, maybe the Dragon Slave was over kill, after all, the monsters were so small. They were in fact a lot smaller than they were a second ago and so was Filia.

"For goodness' sake Xellos! Don't transform like that without a warning, I didn't need to see that again!" Filia yelled with a scarlet face.

Great, just great, now he was really a golden dragon, a fully transformed nemesis of the monsters. He might as well play the part and start getting rid of the minotaur monsters. He stomped on some, batted others away with his tail and fried quite a few with his laser breath. He wasn't thinking, he was just angry and decided to take his frustrations out on those monsters. By the time he was done with his hissy fit, the monsters were long gone from the world of the living.

"It's about time you calmed down!" The relatively small Filia levitated in front of Xellos with an angry expression and her hands resting on her hips. "That was very uncivilized."

"You're right; it was just like the temper tantrums you throw. How terrible of me to follow your wild example," Xellos retorted.

Filia growled, her temper was always lost with Xellos. No matter how prepared she thought she was, he always managed to find new ways to frustrate her. "Just stay here and don't cause any trouble while I go get you some clothes. Unlike me, you weren't carrying a jewel that stores your clothes when you transformed," she pointed at the torn shreds of fabrics that were the unwearable remains of Xellos' clothes.

"Fine," Xellos sat on the ground, crossing his clawed scaly golden arms in indignation.

xoxox xox xoxox

It didn't take long for Filia to return to Xellos' location on the path just outside of Seyruun with some clothes for him. He took the garments which looked quite small held by his large golden paw, then focused on changing back. It was a slower process to change back into a human-like form, or rather elf-like given the pointy ears, but he managed.

"Couldn't you have gone behind those bushes on the side of the road?" Filia complained. "What if someone was coming?"

"I checked, no one was coming," Xellos assured as he got dressed. He still couldn't get his tail to go away and thus ended up with a hole in his pants to accommodate his anatomy.

"I'm here!" Filia emphasized.

"So?" Xellos tried to get back into the habit of playfully teasing Filia and embarrassing her, but it just wasn't working. Her scent was too distracting. "It's your fault for stalking me. Now I'm going back to my room in the castle and sleeping until this," how could he describe being a golden dragon? "Horrible illness wares off."

"I'll see to that," Filia warned and the pair returned to the Seyruun castle.

xoxox xox xoxox

Once at the Seyruun castle, Xellos headed straight for his room with Filia still following him. In the room they found Fang and Phythan sleeping on the large purple sheet covered bed. "What are you two doing here?" Xellos inquired in annoyance, his patience was already all used up for the day.

Phythan woke up with a big yawn. "Hi, Xellos, Filia." He blinked away the remaining sleep from his eyes. "Xellos, that really is you, isn't it? You're a... a golden dragon?"

"Really? I hadn't noticed," Xellos replied sarcastically. "Did you come all this way just to point that out?"

"Actually, I'm here to pick up Fang, I just didn't want to leave without telling you, in case you needed Fang around for some reason. Lord Beast Master needs him for a pet show and I'm her assistant." Which meant that he got to follow Zelas around carrying her oversized purse and making a fool out of the dragon race, but he didn't see it that way.

"Assistant?" Xellos and Filia questioned in unison.

"Yeah, it's all part of the internship I'm doing. I hope to better understand monsters so that I may be a better defender of justice in the future!" Phythan cheered. Apparently, by some twisted logic, serving a monster lord was somehow a loop hole shortcut to justice.

"You're her intern?" Xellos couldn't believe it. He recalled Galathia's description of Zelas' intern; he was a strange one alright.

"Do you have any idea what this could be doing to the reputation of the dragon race?" Filia dramatized.

"Showing that the golden dragons are open minded beings willing to look beyond the superficial differences of race and ready to learn about a different culture." Phythan recited as if he was repeating something that someone else told him.

"It's good to know that the golden dragons are improving themselves. This is an example to follow, don't you think so Filia?" Xellos teased while Filia's face fell into distress and Phythan, who thought he was being sincerely complimented, smiled proudly.

"Well, I won't intrude anymore. C'mon Fang, Zelas is waiting for us to return." Before leaving, Phythan grinned cheerfully and voiced a happy, "congratulations, Filia."

Filia blinked in confusion, "congratulations for what?"

Ignoring the seemingly random congratulation, Xellos interrupted. "Before you leave, I need to have a word with you." He glanced at Filia, then looked back at Phythan, "out in the hall."

Filia crossed her arms and pouted, "what are you plotting Xellos?"

"Don't meddle this is a man to man, or dragon man to dragon man conversation." With that ambiguous excuse hanging in the air, Xellos was about to exit the room when Filia interrupted.

The female golden dragon pouted deeply and sharply declared, "you can talk here. Fang and I are going to my room. C'mon Fang, only dragon men are allowed to stay here." Throwing her head back in indignation, Filia marched out of the room, followed by Fang.

Once Filia was gone, Xellos asked the question that had been bothering him since he saw Phythan. "Do you, by any chance, perceive that peculiar scent coming from Filia?"

"Yes, that's why I congratulated her," Phythan answered as if that alone was enough to explain everything.

"What is that smell? Doesn't it bother you?" Xellos insisted. Phythan was a male golden dragon, so if this was some crazy mating season scent, shouldn't it drive him crazy too?

"Why would it?" Phythan looked confused. "It's the scent of a woman in love, it's a happy scent. It smells nice." There was a long pause during which Xellos tried to come up with another way to phrase his interrogations that wasn't mortifyingly embarrassing, but specific enough to get some useful information out of Phythan. Before such an idea came, Phythan realized something. "Oh, I get it, no wonder you're so twitchy, it's you. Don't hold back, go to her! Although you weren't a golden dragon before, so I guess you're not used to being one."

"I won't be a golden dragon forever, just for... a few more hours, or days." Xellos didn't know and the uncertainty bothered him more with each passing second. "Either way, what did you mean to say just now?" Xellos was visibly annoyed and not happy with having to have this conversation. Yet the need to understand what was happening plagued him.

Phythan paused as if to gather his thoughts, then began the explanation. "When a boy dragon and a girl dragon like each other and the girl dragon falls in love, her scent changes. All the dragons can notice the change, so they know the girl dragon is in love, but only the boy dragon that she fell in love with can perceive the scent of her love to its full potential and that's only if he returns her feelings. The two dragons in love are in a sense linked to each other you could say, they share a special connection, it's like magic. Anyway, when the boy dragon notices the scent of love that means that the girl dragon is ready to become his bride. The boy dragon should go to the girl dragon and declare his feelings for her. Then they can get married and live happily ever after. That's how it works, it's just like with birds and bees and other species."

Xellos could almost feel himself twitch. He could not believe that Phythan had just given him the dragon version of the birds and bees talk. "To summarize, it's an overload of bottled up lust." Mutual lust, but he didn't need to point that out aloud.

Phythan frowned in indignation, "golden dragons do not feel lust. Golden dragons fall in love and it's nice and pure and good," he emphasized.

"Right," Xellos decided not to dwell on the story too much. He would never understand golden dragons and their extreme obsession with pretending to be the purest creatures in the world, even if they were in the end, living beings with their own, often repressed due to their peculiar culture, needs, wants and desires. "That's all I needed to know." The conversation was over and Xellos wouldn't have it any other way.

"I'm glad to be of help," Phythan smiled with the smallest hint of teasing in his eyes.

Xellos and Phythan went to Filia's room, where she and Fang were. Upon entering the room, the monster turned dragon and the innocent dragon were left in shock. Fang whimpered and bolted towards the new arrivals, hiding behind them. "Filia, what have you done, you cruel dragon?" Xellos was half teasing and half sincerely horrified.

"Don't you think Fang looks cute like this?" Filia smiled proud of her work. A pink bow sat atop Fang's head, tied around a tuff of fur. His once white claws were a metallic silver color and each of his two tails had a big pink bow on it. "If he's getting ready for a pet show, I thought I could help. Zelas liked her manicure and pedicure when I painted her nails golden, so she might like Fang with silver claws. They match his pretty, expressive eyes. I thought the bows were a nice touch too."

"If you're trying to get on Lord Beast Master's good side, you're doing a fine job of sabotaging yourself," Xellos commented. He wasn't supposed to feel compassion, but how could he not feel sorry for Fang?

"Men don't understand fashion," Filia stubbornly held her ground. "I'm sure Zelas will appreciate my help."

"I guess we'll see..." Phythan patted Fang on the back with the silent promise that he could take off the pink bows as soon as they were away from Filia. Though he could be ferocious, Fang was mostly a spoiled show pet and was trained not to put up a fight when he was being groomed. The golden dragon intern and the monster fox faded to the astral side and were gone.

Xellos and Filia stood in silence for a few eternal seconds until Xellos determinedly announced, "I'm going to take a nap now." He left Filia's room and headed for his own. As expected, Filia followed him suspiciously.

In his room, Xellos kicked off his shoes and laid down on the bed. Maybe if Filia saw him fall asleep she would go away. Except sleeping with her around would prove to be very difficult. He closed his eyes and remained as still as a statue, wishing that sleep would come.

Filia watched Xellos with an unblinking expression. He was laying there with his eyes closed, but he didn't look or feel relaxed. He was too tense; he couldn't be actually trying to fall asleep for real. She stared at him some more, which seemed to put him more on edge. She was right; he had to be plotting something. No doubt about it, the second she left him alone, he would run off to cause trouble in the name of the golden dragons. She remained in the same position, glaring at Xellos for a while, until she got tired of it and shifted. More minutes ticked away and Filia shifted some more. It looked like stubborn Xellos was still not sleeping.

She sat down next to him and he tensed further. She waited until he moved, until he admitted that he had no intentions of falling asleep, but he didn't. Filia was getting impatient; she laid down next to Xellos, wrapped her arms around him and closed her eyes. "What are you doing?" He asked in a low tense whisper.

"Taking a nap," Filia replied as if it was the most natural thing. Taking a nap might have been natural, but taking a nap hugging a monster, even if he was currently a golden dragon, shouldn't be. "I'm tired of waiting for you to try to sneak away. This way if you move, I'll notice. I'm guarding you for the sake of the golden dragons!"

"How noble," Xellos grumbled sarcastically. He wondered for how long a golden dragon could go without oxygen. If he held his breath until his face turned blue, than maybe he wouldn't have to breathe in that vexing scent that was too close for comfort.

A few more minutes passed and Filia was getting a little two comfortable, yet she could still feel Xellos on edge. What was it that had him like that? Suddenly, she found herself pinned to the bed with Xellos giving her a peculiar look of... desire? "What are you doing?"

"Didn't I tell you?" Xellos half growled. "You smell, your scent is... is... it's driving me crazy!"

Filia opened her mouth to speak and promptly closed it again. She was given Xellos exclusive empathy, but not understanding, not the power to interpret what she sensed. Furthermore, she had no previous experience in tasting emotions like Xellos did, thus she was having trouble discerning Xellos' feelings from her own. Maybe that unbearably strong attraction wasn't only hers, maybe it was his too. Yet he didn't have as much control over the strong instincts of a dragon because he wasn't used to being a dragon. She blushed scarlet. She couldn't deny that she was attracted to him when, due to his current form, he could perceive her telltale natural scent. She couldn't blame it all on him when she felt the same way.

"Just calm down." Filia's heart was pounding fast. A male golden dragon shouldn't be able to perceive a female's scent so strongly unless he returned her feelings. After she realized that the golden dragons were not as noble as they claimed to be, Filia questioned all their teachings one by one. She wondered if that story about the scent of love was nothing but a sugar coated version of the natural processes of life. Yet she had recently spoken to Phythan and he was just fine, he even congratulated her. He must have been able to notice her scent, but it didn't bother him. Xellos on the other hand had been all twitchy and tense from the start. That couldn't be only a coincidence, could it? Maybe there was some truth to that story about dragons and love after all. But then that would mean that Xellos had feelings for her, feelings that maybe he wasn't fully aware of himself.

"Easier said than done," Xellos admitted.

Filia could feel Xellos' warmth breath on her lips. She wanted to kiss him, but she couldn't. Xellos had told her before that monsters were not meant to resist temptations, he made it clear that he had no intentions of resisting. She had to be the one to keep a cool head and diffuse the situation, even if she didn't really want to, she simply had to. "Hold your breath, close your eyes and don't move." Slowly, excruciatingly slowly, Filia manage to slip away. "I... I'll leave you alone now. Just try to sleep it off," she advised with a crimson face, then swiftly exited Xellos' room, closing the door behind her.

The second Filia was out of sight, Xellos felt the irresistible need to go after her, but he resisted it anyway. Why was he resisting again? She was just about to give in and both of them knew it! There was a reason why nothing had happened and he needed to make sure he didn't push things. What was that reason? The reason he was in this whole situation to begin with. Oh yes, the curse, how could he forget about that? Once his temporary dragon form was gone, he would be a human again. He needed to earn Filia's love, as in not just her lust, in order to be a powerful monster again or he would surely be killed, probably sooner rather than later. He couldn't make her angry, or rather angrier.

Filia would harbor regrets, blame the whole incident on him and hate him with a passion, but passionate or not, hate was still a step away from love and it was evident that it wouldn't be enough to break his curse. Xellos buried his face on his purple pillow in frustration, screaming into it. The pillow smelled like Filia, it was most vexing. Then he felt something odd. Unlike before, he wasn't knocked out this time, but he felt himself change. His golden scaly dragon tail was gone, though the hole in his pants where it used to be still remained. He examined his hair and it was black, he was a human again!

Xellos knew he shouldn't be able to perceive that infuriating scent of Filia's anymore. He smelled his pillow. The acute scent of a female dragon in love was gone, but Filia's sweet scent was still there. It was okay, this was a normal scent, it was how she had always smelled to him. Then why wasn't he calming down already? Maybe it took time. He would take a nap and feel better when he woke up. He closed his eyes and stayed still, hoping for sleep to overtake him, but it refused to come.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 050: Love! Undeniable Emotions

At the moment, according to Filia, everything that went wrong in the world was Xellos fault. Xellos, the most infuriating living creature in the universe, the one who turned her world upside-down and made her throw all logic out the window. The golden dragons had to be wrong about their naive theories of love, they simply had to be. It made a lot more sense for the ancient traditions to be a bunch of lies than for her to be loved by Xellos, consciously or not. It was just lust and Filia was a golden dragon, she couldn't be influenced with only that, she refused to be.

The door to her room was quietly opened, though it wasn't silent enough to be constituted as sneaking. The person invading her Seyruun quarters was purposely making his arrival known as he joined her by the window. "What are you staring at out there?" Xellos casually inquired.

"Nothing," Filia truthfully answered and moved on to more important observations. "Your hair is black and your tail is gone. You're human again," she concluded.

"Yes," Xellos never did manage to get any sleep, but he did calm down in time. By then dinner had passed. Not the double banquet, that had been set up for the next day, though Filia observed that Philionel looked nervous upon the announcement and he did emphasize the word maybe. Xellos had been absent from the dinner table, instead taking a detour to the kitchen before going over to see Filia. He needed a full stomach to have the energy to argue with her. Lina would probably be angry if she found out he ate the last pie, but she didn't need to know.

Filia remained silent. She was simply too confused to get into an argument with Xellos at the moment. At least he was sane again... mostly... if randomly kissing her out of nowhere could be counted as sane. "Xellos!" Filia fixed him in a firm glare. She could tell the difference though, this wasn't the crazy Xellos from when his dragon form was troubling him, this was the cool, calm and collected Xellos who was always in control of every situation. He was the Xellos that knew exactly what to do to push her over the edge. The Xellos who made her hate him with a passion one second and kiss him passionately the next. This was her Xellos... Wait, where did such a terrible thought come from? He wasn't her anything!

Filia needed to focus. She needed to find the malicious cruel intent that she knew was lurking in Xellos. She needed to get a good feel for it and convince herself beyond a doubt that he was pure evil and that nothing but the most painful of heartbreaks awaited her if she didn't kill her feelings for him soon. "Could you..." How could she properly phrase it? Could you quit pretending you like me and show me all the horrible thoughts about how terrible you're planning to be to me? No, that was too specific. Yet she had no patience left to be anything other than direct. "Focus on being evil."

"What?" Of all of Filia's random strange requests, this one was definitely the most unexpected. She was so full of surprises; it made her unpredictable and strangely addictive.

"Humor me," she insisted. "Just focus on being evil. Think of something traitorous. Imagine that Zelas ordered you to exterminate all the remaining golden dragons in the world. Picture that."

"Okay..." Xellos gave Filia a look that clearly communicated he thought she was insane, but humored her none the less. He remembered his previous mission involving the destruction of many golden dragons several years ago and used that as a reference to imagine this new mission that Filia proposed.

Filia shuddered; there was cruelty and an absolute lack of mercy. Then the initial reaction wore off and she felt no fear. "You're not doing it right, you're murderous and I'm not scared."

"Maybe because this is only an imaginary mission?" Xellos suggested. "Besides, why do you want to be scared?"

"I don't, I just want the truth," Filia argued nonsensically. "Now do what I say and focus on killing me, in your imagination that is."

The strange suggestion triggered memories from when Lord Beast Master ordered Xellos to kill Filia. Those were unpleasant memories. He was completely at Zelas command; Xellos knew it and he accepted it. It didn't really bother him most of the time, except for those rare occasions when he was stuck doing something he didn't want to do.

"Don't get sad, you're supposed to be a vicious monster!" Filia scolded.

Xellos ran a hand through his hair in exasperation, "I really don't know where you're going with any of this, Filia. Yes, I killed a lot of golden dragons in the past, and yes, I might have to do something like that again in the future, though I can't imagine why Lord Beast Master would give me such an order any time soon. If this is some strange tactic you're using to try to guilt trip me, then it's not going to work. I know you're a wimp who seems to care about every living creature under the sun, but I'm not. Those dragons were nothing to me."

"Just like I'm nothing to you..." Filia whispered, though she was still not convinced. Her logic was telling her one thing while her empathy sang a whole different melody.

A theory to explain Filia's random behavior emerged in Xellos' mind. "I see, so that's it. You're angry at me because I was going to Dragon Slave you back at the Beast Master Spa. I didn't have a choice! Zelas ordered me to kill you and if I didn't she would have killed us both, very painfully. Giving you a swift painless death was all I could do for you back then. If you would put that one and only brain cell of yours to work, you would understand that! Idiot dragon, what did you want me to do? Say let's be tortured and die slowly, agonizing together? You were the one who told me to do it! I thought you understood the situation!"

Filia stared at Xellos through his entire outburst until he fell silent giving her a frustrated glare. The sorrow she had seen in his eyes when he began to cast the Dragon Slave resurfaced. She could feel it now, as it was recorded in his memories, it was as if he was reliving the moment. He was right and she knew it, back then he was giving her the only mercy he could possibly give her. She wouldn't have wanted him to fall with her; that had been her biggest fear. She felt cruel for making him remember that frustrating helplessness. "What would you have done after I was gone?"

"I don't know," frankly Xellos was sick and tired of this topic. "Continue looking for a cure I suppose, a disposable cure I could use and throw away." She didn't understand the meaning behind those words or the contrast they presented. "Maybe I wouldn't even find it, a cure such as the one I need is... extremely rare, more so than I initially thought. Maybe it's even impossible to obtain." He thought Filia would be an easy shortcut, but she wasn't. "Then again, maybe I'm just as stubborn as you are for taking this route, for all I know; there could be far easier possibilities out there."

He knew much more about his cure than he hinted at. Maybe he knew enough to find it on his own, or perhaps it was something that he had to do alone. He hadn't really revealed the specifics about his mysterious cure in all this time since his curse was revealed to the group. "Why don't you take an easier route then? I think you've made it clear that you really want your monster powers back. Furthermore, you need to be a monster or Zelas will kill you. What are you waiting for? Get your cure and get out of my life!"

Xellos gave Filia an interesting look, the way she said that last part almost made it sound as if she knew. How could she? "Do you know what my cure is?"

"I don't," Filia replied truthfully. "You've always kept it a secret. Why won't you tell me?" He kissed her in a silent reply. She considered pushing him away, but she simply didn't have the will to do it. They parted several minutes later. Though her thoughts were not as focused anymore, Filia wasn't going to let things go. "Don't try to change the subject. Why won't you tell me what your cure is?"

"It's not something I have to look for, it's something I have to... achieve, figure out. I think it will only count if I do it myself, it's the only way it would be... genuine," Xellos vaguely explained.

"I see," Filia accepted the answer, "then I won't ask you to tell me anymore, for now at least. I suppose I'll know it when I see it happening. What are you going to do after you're cured?"

"I'm sure Lord Beast Master has a huge pile of assignments waiting for me." Xellos grimaced just thinking about how busy he would be. Some missions were fun, most of them amused him, actually, but not when he had a dragon pet to play with. Zelas kept dragons as pets, sort of. Rather than an intern, Phythan was no doubt a pet from Zelas' perspective and Tiffany was kind of a pet too. Maybe he could say the same about Filia, then it wouldn't be odd if he popped up for a visit far more often than ever before. "When I'm done with work, I'll be sure to get back at you for being so random and annoying. You better be ready for some frequent visits and don't try to hide because you know I'll find you." He joked trying to add some of his usual sarcastic mockery to a situation that was too serious for his liking.

"Why don't I feel disregarded, used or betrayed?" Filia thought aloud.

"Maybe because no one in the immediate time and place is disregarding, using or betraying you?" Xellos suggested. Then again, wasn't he using her as a cure? Well, yes, technically he was. Yet accepting some survival assistance from Filia without her knowing she was assisting him, given the fact that she did want him to live, didn't seem like something particularly traitorous. It's not like it was counterproductive to her purposes. As for being disregarded, haven't they been spending a lot of time together lately?

"I see..." Filia allowed everything to sink in. She had hit a wall trying to get her way with her heart a long time ago. Then when she finally tore that wall of impossibilities down, she found that the other side of it was exactly the same as the side where she stood. The so called lies, the truth, the perceptions, the possibilities, the hope, the plan, it was all too similar. He couldn't care less about the dragon race as a whole, but she was different. He would keep her safe if it was within his power to do so and it would deeply hurt him if it wasn't. She couldn't explain it, yet if she had changed so much, then maybe so had he. "I give up on being stubborn. I'll trust what I feel... what you feel."

"What do you... mean? ...Filia?" Something changed in her and it was too sudden, too powerful. His empathic abilities were overwhelmed. What was this deep affection that was unleashed? Where did it come from? Was she hiding it all along? "What did you do just now?" It was so strong it was almost frightening, yet trilling and irresistible.

"That's right, you're an empath. You can sense what I feel. All my stubborn confusion must have been stressing," Filia admitted. She loved Xellos and she wasn't trying to change that anymore. Instead, she embraced it. "I'm not running away anymore, I love you." She kissed him before he could voice any reaction to the revelation and from that point on, they didn't hold back.

xoxox xox xoxox

A loud insistent knocking on the door woke Xellos and Filia from their comfortable sleep the next morning. The knocking was followed by the insistent voice of Lina Inverse. "Filia, Xellos, hurry and get up! Phil doesn't want us to start eating breakfast until everyone is at the table. He said he had to tell us something and won't let us start eating until he does! Get over here, I'm hungry!" More knocking followed, a little more and she would tare down the door. She probably already would have if it was a flimsy inn door rather than a sturdy Seyruun castle door.

"We're coming!" Filia called out, then covered her mouth in realization. She didn't mean to use a plural.

"Hurry up!" Lina insisted one last time, before her footsteps echoed down the hall as she marched away in a stomping fashion.

"You just messed up your chance to keep it all a secret," Xellos teased.

Filia, who honestly wasn't in the mood to get up yet, laid her head back down on his chest and closed her eyes for a few more seconds. Her tail had come out at some point during last night and she never bothered making it disappear, it was currently wrapped around Xellos. "It doesn't matter. It couldn't have been a secret forever anyway. Besides, if I said, let's keep this a secret, you would just blackmail me."

"Maybe you know me better than I imagine," Xellos grinned.

Filia's empathy was gone; it had worn off at some point after she fell asleep. At least she got to keep it for most of the previous night, that certainly made things interesting and insightful. The ability that Filia had once thought was flawed, because she didn't sense what she expected, had become a source of security for her after she completely let go of the broken pieces of her denial. It was okay though, maybe she didn't need that ability anymore. Maybe she should just keep practicing reading between the lines and figuring out the difference between what Xellos said and what he meant. To look beyond what he appeared to be doing and catch a glimpse of what he actually intended to do.

"Let's join the others for breakfast before Lina breaks down the door and drags us to the table." Filia suggested, finally making herself get untangled from Xellos and out of bed. She was tempted to take the sheet with her, but Xellos ripped it out of her hands, "Xellos!" She instinctively tried to cover herself with her hands and tail.

"What?" He feigned innocence as if he had no idea what he did to provoke the annoyed tone in Filia's voice.

"Nothing," Filia decided it was best to just get dressed and not mind Xellos too much. There was nothing new to see anyway. She still dressed in record breaking time, even if she felt a little silly for rushing so much. She glanced at Xellos, who was still only half dressed. "I clawed you again, didn't I?" She admitted, more so than inquired, with a certain amount of embarrassment in her apparent lack of control. Her face was flustered at the memories from the previous night.

"It's okay, I caused it," Xellos seductively admitted, which made Filia blush deeper.

"Either way, let me heal you," said and done, Filia casted a recovery spell on Xellos.

Something was off, something was definitely very out of place, something made no sense what so ever. His hair was still black, his body still human. Distractions aside, the realization hit Xellos like a ton of bricks. Why wasn't he a monster? Why wasn't the curse broken? Filia claimed to love him and kissed him immediately after. That was basically the best example of a willing kiss and there was a lot more than just kissing afterwards. He decided not to let things get to him yet. No one ever said the curse would be broken immediately. Maybe it took a little more time or maybe there was some kind of loophole that he still remained unaware of. Whatever it was, he had a feeling that Zelas' patience was at its end, so he better turn back into a monster soon.

xoxox xox xoxox

Xellos and Filia joined Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis and Philionel at the breakfast table. "Finally!" Lina loudly exclaimed and immediately picked up her silverware.

"Miss Lina!" Philionel scolded, making the redhead freeze. "I must insist that you listen to what I have to say before you begin eating."

Lina frowned and put down the silverware, she didn't want to upset Phil into canceling the double banquet. That would be horrible. She just kept focusing on the banquet being tonight. "I'm listening," she prompted impatiently.

"Thank you," Philionel nodded formally and cleared his throat. "I'll keep this short and to the point."

"Please do," Lina muttered in a barely audible tone.

Philionel continued as if he had not heard Lina. "As I'm sure you are all aware, helping each other is a vital part of building a better world. As the crown prince of Seyruun, it is my duty to teach such a lesson to my people with the example." Amelia's eyes shone in admiration as she listened to her father's speech. "Our neighbors from the outer world are suffering the effects of a bad harvest. The spring crops were scarce and the summer crops almost non-existent. As a result of the dying vegetation, the livestock has also been severely affected. Their land is being hit by a terrible famine and one farmer after another has been forced to sell or even abandon their land to try to earn sustenance for their family elsewhere. We who have the privilege of sitting at the table with all this delicious food before us must give thanks for our blessing."

"Amen!" Lina exclaimed and once again attempted to begin eating.

"I'm not done yet!" Philionel insisted and once again Lina paused. "It is my duty not only as the acting monarch of Seyruun, but also as a living being," because to say human being was considered politically incorrect these days, "to give help to those who are in need. In light of the situation, I have made the choice to postpone the promised double banquet until further notice, so that Seyruun will have more food to share with those who are in need of it."

Amelia wiped an inspired tear from her eye, "that was such a moving speech, daddy, I'm with you all the way!"

"What?" Lina's furious voice echoed all over Seyruun castle and beyond. "You're giving away my double banquet to a bunch of strangers? Unacceptable! Isn't celebrating the engagement of your own daughter and dear friends, to whom you owe your life may I remind you, more important? You made a promise as the ruler of Seyruun to give me a double banquet and you must keep that promise!" Lina was now standing on her chair in absolute fury.

To be Continued

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