Slayers: Alive

Chapter 7

Slayers: Alive

Episode 061: Closer! Breaking Barriers

"Xellos!" He knew Filia would come, though he made good time getting a considerable distance away from the estate.

Xellos only stopped running because he realized that even if he used ray wing, Filia would still somehow catch him, she was a speedy flier in dragon form. He was still determined to ignore her though. Who was she to question what-who he was? He focused on his own thoughts in an effort to tune out her emotions.

"Xellos..." Filia stopped a few feet away from Xellos. He didn't look like he was going anywhere. He was just standing there glaring at the full moon as if he found it terribly offensive.

He was ignoring her and he wasn't planning to stop. So she thought she ignored him before? He would show her what it's like to ignore someone. Then if she got too annoyingly persistent he would sarcastically suggest that she should go talk to her mace instead. It was a weapon too, just as unfeeling as him and it wasn't broken, so it was even better. But that remark would be saved for when she dried the last drop of his will to ignore her, for the time being he would act as if she was invisible... Except he found it to be really hard to pretend Filia was invisible when she was tackling him to the ground in a hug and kissing him as if her life depended on it.

"I'm sorry," kiss, "I didn't mean it," kiss, "please forget what I said," another kiss, "just forget about it." Filia paused to examine Xellos' puzzled expression. "Xellos?"

He blinked, as if being woken up from the focus of trying to figure out something particularly complex and pretended to struggle to get away from under her. "Getting vengeance is one thing, but must I die such a cruel death, being crushed by a fat dragon?"

"Idiot!" Filia punched him on the shoulder, hard enough to hurt, but not with enough force to actually break anything. "You're such a stupid sarcastic annoyance!" Despite her words, she sounded relieved. If Xellos was throwing sarcastic critiques at her, then that meant he didn't want to let go of what they had any more than she did. She settled comfortably on him, feeling more reassured when his arms were wrapped around her body.

"Why did you follow me?" Xellos broke the moment of still silence with a question that lacked his usual sarcasm. His will to ignore Filia had swiftly left him completely.

She looked at his face, without the silly cheerful mask, but she couldn't find any hints that could help her interpret the depth of his question. "What do you mean?"

"You know what I am, what I've done and you have an idea of what I might end up doing. You know there are things that can't be changed and believe it or not, for the most part, I'm actually okay with that," though he had not stopped to give it too much thought. There's no sense in going in circles thinking about the inevitable. "Plus it seems that you end up angry or sad more often than happy," except for that big wave of relief she felt just now. "You're an empath's worse nightmare. You're so moody you give me a headache."

Filia bit her lip as she felt dread bubbling up inside her, but it was kept at bay by a stubborn sense of hope and optimism. "I followed you because I want to be with you," Filia tried to explain. "I was mean and wanted to apologize. I didn't want you to leave thinking that I hate you and never return."

"I suppose it would be difficult to be trapped on your own in the past, with the Lord of Nightmares pushing you around like a chess piece," Xellos acknowledged.

"That's not it!" Filia emphasized, "You know as well as I do that I have a better chance of surviving in this time than you, or in any time and place as things stand now. I'm not here because I'm scared of the Lord of Nightmares, as strange as it sounds, I'm not afraid of her. That golden light... it was intense, but not evil. I'm here for you, because... because I love you."

Another long moment of silence passed. Filia's words were true, her feelings showed it in that overwhelming way she had to show her emotions. She didn't feel half way, she could feel two opposing emotions at times, but even then she felt them both with great intensity and without a warning. She really was an empath's worse nightmare and Xellos' most confusing puzzle. "Why?"

Filia opened her mouth to reply with something along the lines of 'I just do' or perhaps she would blurt out an ambiguous 'I don't know', but instead she closed her mouth again. How could she explain it in somewhat logical terms? "Okay... let's see... You're annoying that's for sure, but your sarcasm has its charms once one learns to read between the lines. You certainly know how to keep things interesting and you're amusing sometimes. Hmm... You know a lot of things and can come up with good ideas, you're interesting I guess."

"You're just stating facts," Xellos interrupted. "Isn't love supposed to be about delusions... I mean illusions?"

Filia pouted and rolled her eyes at the sarcasm, "delusions no, that's not real love. Illusions, maybe, but only if they're shared, if they're more like dreams than illusions, like goals I mean. I guess real love is more complex than fairy tale love. It's more than just having a strong liking for each other, there's a lot of things on the side to deal with. I'm learning that as I go along too. It's being able to deal with all those troublesome aspects and still thinking it's worth it. Enjoying each other's presence and..." his eyes were closed, his breathing even, "Xellos! Don't you dare fall asleep in the middle of my explanation!" Filia glared, just when she was all inspired in her love speech, Xellos stopped paying attention.

"Your speech was boring, cheesy, unpleasant and all around unnecessary," Xellos yawned in an exaggerated way.

"Would you stop making light of everything?" Filia screeched, "I know you're confused out of your mind and absolutely beyond terrified, but I'm trying to make it better! You don't have to keep everything bottled up, try to rely on me a little!"

"Excuse me?" Xellos raised an eyebrow as if he had not heard correctly. "Who ever said anything about being afraid?"

"Not afraid, terrified," Filia corrected mockingly.

"Stupid dragon, the only thing I'm afraid of is that my headache will be made worse if I keep listening to you. I was just wondering about your reasons, but maybe you're not reasoning at all." Xellos looked up at the starry skies leaving his gaze there. "I just don't see what's in it for you, I'm not the only smart and amusing being in the world, but I'm probably the most troublesome for a dragon."

Filia gasped in an overly dramatic way, "Do my ears deceive me? Did the lowly Xellos just admit that he's not good enough for the amazing Filia? Sounds like the Lord of Nightmares got bored and decided to return the world to chaos, because this unforeseen event completely lacking in sense is surely a sign of the end!"

"Filia, you're supposed to get mad and yell nonsensical remarks at the top of your lungs," Xellos reminded in a matter of fact tone. "I'm the one who's supposed to come up with the sarcastic replies that turn everything you say against you. Get it right, stupid dragon."

"I can see past your sarcasm, get it right, raw garbage!" Filia retorted. She let out a deep breath and mused over all the things she had realized. "There are things about the past that can't be changed, the facts are the facts, but people can and do change. There are things about the present and future that are outside of our control, but we can adapt and I think it's worth it. Let's face one day at a time. I'm not going to doubt myself anymore and wonder if I'm doing the right thing. What feels right, that's what's right for me and I won't second guess myself." Filia paused and positioned herself so that Xellos was looking at her face hovering over him instead of gazing at the skies above. "Stop assuming that at any given moment I'll grow a brain and abandon you, because I'm smarter than you give me credit for and I'm still here."

For a split second there was surprise and an expression that told of the sensation of being read like a book. Then Xellos' usual sarcastic grin resurfaced with a hint of something else in his eyes. "You really are a stupid dragon," he pulled Filia down closer and kissed her, until they were both breathless.

xoxox xox xoxox

With all the tensions and adventure, the night had gone by and the sun was starting to rise in the horizon. They sat together for a few more minutes, thinking about what their next move would be. Confusion and uncertainty aside, they weren't worried anymore. They had a certain kind of special confidence that they could take on the world. The energy that came from a strong heart, the same kind of power that even the most powerful being acknowledged, the same kind of power that saved Lina Inverse when she woke the Lord of Nightmares.

Approaching movement caught Filia and Xellos attention. They noticed that Faili was walking towards them. "Good morning, Miss Fluffy, Mr. Ice-cream," she greeted as if she had practiced the line in her head over and over until she could say it with a straight face. "I was taking my usual morning walk when I noticed the two of you here. I take it you also enjoy seeing the sunrise? This hill has a lovely view of it." She let out a soft breath as she gazed into the horizon.

"Yes, it's... very relaxing..." Filia tried to pretend that she wasn't still trying to catch her breath after a major make-out session. She kept her head turned slightly away from Faili with the excuse of admiring the sunrise, allowing her hair to shield her blush like a golden curtain.

"Why aren't you honest and simply tell her we were making-out?" Xellos inquired in his usual innocent yet mocking tone that he loved to use to embarrass Filia.

Filia froze, unable to turn her head and look at Faili. She feared the worse, a terrible expression of disapproval and disappointment. Faili didn't know who Xellos really was, but she still viewed him as a human and Filia was a dragon. Dragons and humans were not supposed to be together as more than friends.

"Making out?" Faili inquired with the innocent puzzlement of someone who holds no accusing suspicions. Then her tone changed to disappointment. "Making your way out of this area without saying goodbye?"

"That's not, we weren't... I mean..." Faili had missed the point and Filia didn't know if she should be thankful or upset that she had something else to deal with.

"My apologies, lady golden dragon, I should have known such a refined lady as yourself would not be familiar with that vulgar human phrase." Xellos' voice was dripping with sarcasm and it made Filia glare in annoyance.

"Ice-cream..." Filia growled in the most threatening tone one could put into such a word.

Not wanting to offend or belittle her new human friend, Faili was quick to excuse herself. "Forgive my ignorance; I would so appreciate it if you would explain what the term signifies in your culture."

"Gladly," Filia was looking distressed while Xellos grinned from ear to ear. "To make out essentially includes, but is not limited to, passionately kissing and cuddling."

Filia's jaw dropped as her face turned scarlet. "That's not... we're not..." she stuttered to excuse herself, but she wasn't getting anywhere fast.

Then suddenly, Faili surprised them both by bursting into a fit of laughter. Between giggles, she remarked, "you certainly have quite a sense of humor Mr. Ice-cream. Oh my, look at poor Miss Fluffy's face, it seems that you've embarrassed her."

"Oh yes, I'm simply too attractive," Xellos joked with a wink, which further served to amuse Faili.

"Oh dear, I have not laughed this much in far too long!" The very amused Faili managed to say between laughs.

"I'm only all too happy to make you smile, my lady." Following up on his act, Xellos kissed Faili's hand, making her giggle like a school girl while Filia's eye twitched.

"You're such a charmer!" Faili caressed Xellos' hair and Filia almost screamed. Gritting her teeth and clenching her fists, Filia counted to ten and reminded herself that this was her dear grandmother, who was petting Xellos on the head as one would pet a particularly cute animal. It was condescending, but Faili was doing all that she consciously could do to treat humans as equals. "I have decided! I must ask for your assistance, please say that you will help me free the town. I cannot bear to let things be for a second longer. Seeing what wonderful friends the two of you are has inspired me. Maybe one day all dragons and humans will have this much trust between them, enough trust to watch the sunrise together and make each other smile. I'll march into town with the two of you and demand that the situation be changed immediately!"

"I'm coming too!" The sudden booming voice that seemed to come out of nowhere, startled all those present, especially Filia and Faili. The two dragons revealed their respective maces and pointed them at the sneaky foe, stopping an inch away from actually hitting him. "Woah, ladies, there's no need to get rough!" Sakel pleaded. He was covered in grass and flower petals that served as camouflage as he became nearly invisible advancing in a low crawl through the grassy field full of flowers.

"Mr. Sakel!" Faili scolded, "why are you here again? I thought I told you to leave this dangerous place at once. It will only be so long before the guards determine that you're more trouble than you're worth and decide to kill you instead of returning you to me. They could easily cover it up and I would never know. Stop trying to throw away your life! Furthermore, why did you sneak up on us?"

"I thought that if I managed to give you a little startle, you'd recognize me as capable," Sakel explained, which only made Faili glare more intensely. "It was all well intended, I wasn't going to do anything bad, I was just going to jump out and say boo!"

"Mr. Sakel," Faili glared as she continued with the most reprimanding tone. It reminded Xellos of when he and Filia argued about which route to take to the Fire Temple and Filia claimed that she couldn't lower herself to agreeing with him. "Do you realize that I could have killed you?" Faili waved her mace around threateningly as she elaborated. "I could have cracked open your fragile skull, sending little splinters of cranium flying all over the place along with a big burst of blood. I could have smashed into your brain, ripping apart your neurons and turning your gray matter into fertilizer for these very lovely flowers. Then your corpse would crash lifelessly into the ground and be abandoned to rot without dignity for the vultures to desecrate. All of us here would be far too horrified by the grotesque sight of a crushed skull with smashed bits of brains dripping out to give you a proper burial. Is that what you were hoping to accomplish, Mr. Sakel?"

Sakel shook his head frantically and stuttered to reply with a terrified, "no, ma'am," he was pale everywhere but the face, where he was turning a vivid shade of green.

With a big happy smile Xellos whispered to the shocked Filia. "Lady Faili certainly has a way with words, she paints quite an in depth mental imagery."

Filia discretely placed her hand on Xellos' shoulder and gave him a warning little squeeze. It was her silent way of saying, 'shut up before I puke.'

"Well, I'm glad that has been clarified," Faili put away her mace and turned to Xellos and Filia with a bright smile as if she wasn't talking about crushed brains just a second ago. "Will you please consider assisting me with my noble mission? Please?" She took both of Xellos' hands in hers, "Mr. Ice-cream, this is your chance to help your fellow humans! Please, say you'll come with me!" Faili leaned close, her eyes shining as she pleaded."

"Of course, I'll go," Xellos had no choice but to agree.

"Thank you Mr. Ice-cream!" Faili cheered. "I shall return home and make ready at once! Please meet me in the outskirts of town so that we may march in together, arm in arm as equal comrades!" She hurried away, running back to her estate at top speed.

"I think she likes humans," Xellos commented, waiting for Filia to freak out in annoyance.

"Of course she likes humans," Filia agreed, missing the true meaning behind Xellos' observation.

"I mean she likes humans as in like-like, in a more than just friends kind of way," Xellos elaborated.

"What?" There was the freak out he expected from Filia. "It's not like that! Not that I have anything against dragons dating non-dragons, but that is simply not the case this time."

Unexpectedly, Sakel burst into tears. "Dragons are too different from humans, they're lives are too far apart. I've been in love with Faili since I was a child and look at me now. She's far older than me, but she looks the same as ever!" Just as suddenly as his crying started, it ceased. "It doesn't matter; having Lady Faili's friendship is more than enough for me!" In another mood swing, he glared at Xellos, "I must still warn you, boy, if you try to charm Lady Faili, I will be very upset!" Sakel shook his fist to signify that it was not a good idea to upset him.

"Oh no, that would be a terribly twisted time travel soap opera," Xellos immediately put Sakel's fears to rest in his own way. "What I mean to say is that I already have Fluffy and she's enough of a handful as it is."

"Then you two are?" Sakel looked back and forth between Xellos and Filia. "I see, good for you! Make sure you enjoy it while you can, because I doubt you'd be able to keep up with a dragon when you're sixty and she still looks twenty-something."

Filia shook her head, "don't be so negative, Mr. Sakel. Though I must say that any advances you make towards Faili will be useless, trust me, I know her better than you could imagine, that doesn't mean that other human and dragon couples can't work out. In fact, even more unusual couples than that can work out, like a dragon and a" monster, Filia stopped herself before she said too much. "Anyway, the point is that there's nothing wrong with dragons and humans being a couple. As long as there's love, they'll enjoy many centuries together... I mean many years."

"Unless you make a pact with a monster and link your life to his, then it's more like many millennia." Xellos innocently suggested, as if the matter didn't involve him at all. "In fact, I bet a dragon could do that too, not necessarily for a life extension, but maybe for power."

"Never! I've never heard of a dragon doing such a terrible thing. No one must ever make pacts with monsters!" Filia shouted horrified. She somehow completely missed the detail that Xellos was basically asking if she was willing to spend many, many, many years with him, though his twisted 'almost marriage' proposal flew well over her head.

Xellos rolled his eyes at the outburst. "I'll remember to ask you again when you're sneezing your head off, hoping that you had monster powers to make you immune to colds. I'm going to be very angry if you sneeze your icky lasers on me."

Sakel shook his head hopelessly. "Boy, if a dragon sneezes a laser on you point blank, not even your ashes will be left." Dusting himself off, Sakel decided it was time to leave. "Well, I better go on ahead, I need to get rid of this camouflage and make myself look presentable. Then maybe Lady Faili will let me tag along with her little group."

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 062: Showdown! Dragons and Magic

As Sakel ran off, Filia let out a breath of contemplation. "No matter how different dragons and humans may be, even if humans live such brief lives, I think there are more similarities than differences." She paused, noticing Xellos' studying stare. "What?"

"Hmm..." He brushed her hair away from her face. "I thought I saw a wrinkle, or was that a zit? Monsters don't get those."

Filia angrily slapped Xellos' hand away. "I'm not making a pact with you!" She stomped her foot stubbornly.

"That's too bad," Xellos grinned as if it wasn't bad at all, but Filia was used to him smiling at gloomy situations. "I bet Lina will be happy though, she'll say something like 'more food for me'." Filia only rolled her eyes and didn't bother to point out that Lina was human and would therefore live a lot less years than a golden dragon. She didn't like to think about stuff like that. "What, you think she won't stick around? Zelas is planning to give the whole crew a life extension if they keep on proving to be useful. Of course, as stubborn as some of them can be, they might not take it, it's still their choice in the end."

"Seriously? Beast Master is planning that far ahead? I guess she must have really liked your reports about Lina and the others," Filia observed. She shook her head and tried to focus on the present, or the past if she was going to get technical. "Let's not worry about that kind of thing right now. We have other business to take care of, hopefully in a way that doesn't mess up history. Let's catch up with Faili and Mr. Sakel before she chases him away with her mace in a well intended effort to stop him from getting into worse trouble in town."

xoxox xox xoxox

Xellos, Filia, Faili and Sakel met at the outskirts of town. Faili was wearing some peculiar armor. It was made of gold and it seemed to hug every curve far too well. It would make anyone wonder how in the world they could make such form fitting armor. Her white mini-skirt was far too short in Filia's opinion and unlike her, Faili seemed to have better control over her tail making an unwanted appearance, thus the appendage was nowhere in sight. Her golden armor had many diamonds crafted into it, covering it completely. Faili wore matching golden wrist bands also covered in fine diamonds. Her blond hair was up in a ponytail tied in a golden chain adorned with more diamonds. Her knee length, high heel boots were crafted from gold also covered in diamonds. They looked uncomfortable to walk in, but Faili didn't seem to mind as her long slender legs strode confidently in perfect balance.

As soon as Sakel, who was all cleaned up by then, laid eyes on Faili, he burst into tears, witnessing the amazing beauty of the woman he would never have. "Goodness, Mr. Sakel, are you having some form of emotional meltdown? Or are you ill? I told you time and again not to over excerpt yourself. You must get to safety at once; the situation might get a little rough around here. Oh and Miss Fluffy, please make sure to protect Mr. Ice-cream."

"I cannot leave, Lady Faili! Please allow me to stand by your side during this historical moment!" Sakel cried.

"Like I need protection when I have the Dragon Slave," Xellos grumbled under his breath so that only Filia, who was standing closest to him, heard him over the sound of Sakel's hysterical sobs. "By the way, Filia, how come you don't dress like that? I bet you'd look hot."

Filia looked angry for a moment, then a burst of cunning shone through, follow by an avalanche of love. She was focusing her feelings, using them against Xellos as a distraction. She smiled and batted her eye lashes, the seemingly random behavior confusing Xellos further, leaving him disarmed. She approached and wrapped her arms around him, even if Faili could see them. His confusion dominated his thoughts until Xellos heard a click and felt cold metal against his neck. "That's so you don't pick a fight with magic."

"Oh, I'm sure you can trust Mr. Ice-cream without such forceful restraints," Faili frowned at the magic repressing collar.

Xellos glared in annoyance, "give me the key, now," he emphasized each word with a threatening tone.

"No!" Filia considered hiding the key in a similar way to how Amelia had protected the map before, but she knew Xellos would be all too happy to retrieve it, so she kept it in her hand instead.

"Give it to me!" Xellos went on the attack, tackling Filia and tickling her mercilessly.

"Hahaha! Not Fair! Hahaha! Stop!" Filia tried to get away, but she simply couldn't. Xellos had discovered her weakness, she was ticklish. "Hahaha! I give up! Hahaha!"

Xellos gave Filia a victorious grin, taking his time getting off of her so she could get to her feet. "The key?" He extended his hand to receive the small item.

"I dropped it when you tackled me," Filia looked around the ground for the key, but couldn't see it.

"Um... it seems..." Faili began in a nervous voice as she kept her eyes on Sakel, whose face was turning a distinctive shade of blue. "It seems that Sakel accidentally caught the key in his mouth and it appears to be stuck in his throat." Faili gave Sakel a pat on the back which threw him face first to the ground harshly, though that had not been her intention.

Unfortunately, instead of making him spit out the key, the impact made Sakel swallow it. Finally able to breathe once the obstacle was dislodged from his throat, Sakel patted his stomach, "it's too late."

"I'm going to cut you open!" Xellos threatened, preparing to attack Sakel.

"Sit!" Filia shouted, and Xellos was sent crashing against the ground by an invisible force.

Xellos painfully pried his face away from the ground and stumbled to his feet. "What was that?"

"The word of subjugation," Filia explained. There's a magical contract that serves as a purchase form for that collar. It is linked to the collar making it so that it only reacts to the voice of the owner. The word I need to say to trigger that effect is... A three letter word that starts with an S."

"You mean sit?" Sakel dumbly inquired.

"Yes, but it only works if I say it," Filia confirmed. "Sorry about that, Ice-cream. I just didn't want you to attack Sakel. I also didn't mean for him to swallow the key, then again, that was your fault for attacking me in such a despicable way!"

"So this is all my fault now?" Xellos argued. "Stupid dragon, if you haven't put this collar on me I wouldn't be stuck with it!"

"If you would behave like anything other than a piece of raw garbage I wouldn't have to take contingency measures!" Filia retorted.

"Enough!" Faili's voice pierced the sound waves as a beam of laser flew out of her mouth towards the skies above. "I don't want to see such good friends fighting. Kiss and make up immediately!" She commanded with authority.

Filia's expression showed her surprise at Faili's request, or more so at her order. "You want me to kiss him?"

"On the cheek," Faili clarified.

"Oh... Okay, I guess..." still a bit unsure, Filia proceeded to play along with Faili's request, only to have Xellos turn his face over at the last second so she kissed him on the lips. Horrified that she would offend Faili with the display, Filia slowly turned her head towards her younger grandmother.

Far from being offended, Faili was giggling in amusement. "You're such a mischievous boy, Ice-cream!" She pinched his cheek in a way that vastly annoyed Xellos and somewhat amused Filia. "Well, we really should be on our way now, let us march into town together!"

"What about this?" Xellos pointed at the collar around his neck.

"Don't worry, dear Ice-cream," Faili petted his hair soothingly. "Leave the fighting to us dragons, you just stay close to Fluffy and look adorable."

"Actually, I think I can pick the lock," Sakel offered.

"Why didn't you say so before? Get this thing off me!" Xellos demanded impatiently.

xoxox xox xoxox

Several minutes later, the four brave allies marched into town free of any magical restraint devices. Strangely, there were very few dragons around even if it was daytime. They went into the police station where Narez was standing in a corner sleeping on his feet, while Cleo slept with her arms crossed atop her desk and her head resting on them. "Excuse me..." Faili tried to get their attention, but her soft voice didn't wake them. "Excuse me!" She yelled, without the laser effects this time, since that would be inconvenient indoors.

Narez woke up and nearly lost his balance; while Cleo yawned loudly, opening her mouth much larger than one would guess she could. "Good morning, Lady Faili," Narez greeted her.

Cleo, who was still more so asleep than awake, mumbled a sleepy, "morning."

"Good morning, Narez, Cleo, I'm surprised that you're still here. I would have guessed your shift to have ended hours ago," Faili observed.

"It was supposed to, but the day shift dragons are late in returning from last night's summit. Apparently they spent the whole night discussing things before they could reach a conclusion, but at least it's been decided," Narez pushed away his remaining tiredness and tried to look alert. "The fate of this town will be determined in a battle. Even if the law to ban human slavery was passed, this town will have a special exception if those who wish for its freedom lose. Both dragons and humans are welcome to participate. Honestly, I don't think many dragons will stick around for the battle. The ones representing the side that wish for the town to be excluded from the law have strong warriors on their side. Most dragons don't wish to be caught in the battle, so they left. I doubt anyone will show up for the day shift until the battle has passed. The battle should begin soon."

"So that is the latest news on the matter," Faili had a serious look on her face. "Why was I not informed immediately?"

"Lady Faili... I..." Narez looked at the floor to avoid Faili's critical gaze.

With another big yawn and half closed eyes, Cleo elaborated. "It's because he was worried about you, but by the looks of your armor you came prepared to fight anyway. Narez and I have also decided to fight alongside the humans."

"Excellent!" Faili exclaimed, "join me, my comrades, together we shall free this town!" Her determined cheer was interrupted by a series of loud thuds outside as the ground vibrated with the force of the landing of several fully transformed dragons. "They're here, we must face them!" Ready for battle, Faili, Filia, Xellos, Sakel, Narez and Cleo marched out of the police station into the wide main street.

xoxox xox xoxox

Faili and her troops stood face to face with a dozen fully transformed dragons that towered over the buildings. The few dragon residents of the town had retreated, taking any humans in their custody along, leaving only the two opposing forces to have their showdown. A tumbleweed rolled by across the street and the heavy tense silence was broken. "Charge!" Faili roared as she transformed into her dragon shape, not caring that there were witnesses, this was an important battle after all. Narez and Cleo followed her example.

Filia was the last one to transform, not pleased to have to do so in public. "What about the negotiations? Are we just going to fight?"

"This is how the golden dragons do things," Xellos teased.

"Shut up, raw garbage! Who said you could ride on me?" Filia argued.

"My role in all of this is to stay close to you and look adorable, remember?" Xellos pointed out.

Filia huffed, "good luck with looking adorable, you'll need it."

"Why? Because I'm more sexy than adorable? That doesn't stop you from adoring me," was Xellos annoying reply.

Filia growled in vexation, "we are not having this argument now." By the time the exchange had reached that point, Faili, Narez and Cleo were already battling it out with the dragon warriors. Sakel tried to find an opportunity to strike, but instead ended up running around like a crazy little ant, trying not to get stomped on. Filia charged in, tackling a dragon that was attempting to sneak up on Faili, while the fierce dragon woman sunk her sharp fangs into the neck of one of the warriors.

Narez, a dragon of average size was locked in combat with two others, clawing at each other savagely. Cleo, the petite girl who was huge in her dragon form was the largest creature there, a good ten feet taller than the biggest of the warriors. She swung her massive tail at them, making several of the warriors lose their balance. Narez, Faili and Filia took the opportunity to advance in their attack.

With four of their comrades already knocked out and bleeding on the ground, the remaining eight dragons stood together for a laser breath attack. Realizing what was going on, Faili and her allies adopted a similar stance, combining their own laser breath against the massive beam of the combined attacks of the eight dragon warriors. The two beams of laser collided, sending sparks everywhere that further damaged the already ruined buildings around them. If the battle continued, the town would be destroyed completely.

"I got one! I got one!" Sakel held on to the tail of one of the dragon warriors, who tried to shake him off in annoyance. The dragon finally flung the human off his tail and sent Sakel flying into the sky, heading towards a fall he would not survive.

"I knew you would be trouble!" Faili flew to catch Sakel in her large dragon paws. "For the millionth time, stop being so suicidal!"

"I'm sorry, I just wanted to help," Sakel whined.

"If you must participate you can cheer me on or something." Faili placed the human on her shoulder, where he would hopefully stay safe for the remainder of the fight.

"I'll cheer with all my heart! Go Faili, you're the best!" Sakel shouted with energy.

Narez's sharp claws and speedy slashes took down another of their opponents, while Cleo's raw strength made steady progress as well. "Lady Faili, there's only five of them left!" Narez encouraged.

"Clear the way!" Xellos announced, which caused Narez, Cleo and Faili to scramble to the skies. That left Filia's path clear to unleash her powerful Flame Breath on the five remaining dragons. All five were severely wounded, with two of them falling over in defeat and the other three left barely standing.

"Well done Fluffy, your spells are quite powerful. These three barely have any will left to fight anymore," Faili victoriously commended. It all made Filia wish that she had a better nickname. "Surrender now, you are out-numbered and over powered. Most of your comrades have been defeated and it is obvious that you can barely stand!"

"We will fight to the bitter end if we must and we will be avenged!" One of the remaining dragon warriors exclaimed with difficulty.

"Resurrection!" A powerful roar echoed as the shadow of another dragon was casted on the battle field. The dragon's powerful healing magic rained upon the twelve warriors, healing their wounds and making them ready for combat once more. The dragon landed in front of the twelve warriors, much to Faili and Filia's shock.

"Bazard, my son, you were supposed to be studying at the Fire Dragon temple. Why are you here? Why are you healing my foes?" Faili demanded to know.

"I am sorry mother, although I share your views about humans and hold a certain appreciation for them, I have been ordered to do this by a dragon of a rank far superior to mine," Faili's son, Filia's father explained. "The battle for humans must be decided by a human, that is my mission. Once again I offer you my apologies, mother, but I must fulfill my duty. If there is a human brave enough to face me, let that human come forward!"

"I'll face you, dragon!" Sakel immediately volunteered.

"No you won't, a fragile creature like you won't stand a chance!" Faili argued. "My son has a duty to fulfill and I respect that, he cannot go easy on his opponent."

"I guess it's up to me," Xellos volunteered, someone had to end this stubborn dragon randomness. Couldn't they make up their minds about what they wanted to do already? Couldn't he and Filia stop being involved in things that he thought were none of their business? If the Lord of Nightmares wanted a show that badly, he would give her a show. Then maybe she would quit messing with their lives.

"Ice-cream!" Faili exclaimed in agony, "I cannot watch such an adorable creature be destroyed."

"Adorable? Ice-cream?" Bazard Ul Copt shook his head. "Really mother, no matter how cute you may find a human to be, I'm quite certain they don't appreciate you putting pink bows on them and giving them cute names, especially the men."

"I don't do that anymore!" Faili argued.

Xellos was not happy to be partially ignored, though he was glad he was spared from the horror of pink bows. "Let's just get this over with!"

"I don't want you two to fight!" Filia complained, stomping her feet in a frustrated hissy fit.

Filia's father, who of course didn't know he would be her father, dramatically declared, "there is no choice! En guard Ice-cream!"

"Ray wing!" Xellos was quick to get himself out of the way of his opponent's attack. Filia continued her complaining about not wanting them to fight, while Faili was content to cheer for both sides of the battle. If Ice-cream won, which she thought was unlikely; the human town would be free. If her dear son won, which she thought was very likely, then it was a victory for her child so it was good too.

Bazard took to the skies, shooting many laser beams at Xellos, who was barely dodging with some fast flying. He didn't look like he would get a clear shot to attack. The chase went on for several suspenseful minutes, while the audience, consisting of Faili, Filia, Sakel, Narez, Cleo and the twelve warriors watched. The spectators followed the action, turning their heads from one side to the other as if witnessing a brass rackets match.

Finally, after maneuvering in the air for a while, Xellos floated still, releasing his Ray Wing in favor of a less power consuming and considerably slower Levitation. His opponent took the opportunity to charge him head on and was met with a sudden burst of energy, "Dragon Slave!" Xellos had been powering up the Dragon Slave at the same time that he used Ray Wing, slowly building it up with vast difficulty. He had felt as if he was draining his very life to maintain the Ray Wing to dodge the incoming attacks and somehow spare energy to power up the Dragon Slave. Xellos was so exhausted that his senses had faded, succumbing to the pain. He heard nothing and saw only a golden blur coming towards him when he released the Dragon Slave.

The blast of energy hit the golden dragon straight on in mid air. When the bright light cleared, Faili's son lay on the ground knocked out, but still very much alive. Next to him on the ground just a few feet away his opponent had fallen. Xellos was motionless, his hair had turned completely white and he was on the verge of death.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 063: Time! What Happens, Happened

Several suspenseful seconds passed and the golden dragon, who would be Filia's father, recovered his consciousness. With some difficulty, he stood up and casted a healing spell on himself. He was healed, but terribly exhausted, still out of breath. However, his opponent had not yet woken up and could easily be killed by being stepped on by the large dragon. He lifted his massive golden scaly foot, hovering over Xellos' motionless form, then put his foot down again, leaving Xellos without any further injuries.

Bazard casted a powerful healing spell with the last bit of energy he could spare, "Resurrection!" That woke Xellos, though his hair would take a while to change back to black. "For a human you certainly possess considerable power. That spell at point blank could have killed me. I realize that the fact that it didn't wasn't simply because you overexerted yourself. For some reason you didn't want to kill me. I'll return the favor and spare your life, but you must tell me, why?"

Xellos stood tiredly, he was not in danger of dying anymore, but he was absolutely exhausted. "I thought there might still be things you need to do in life." Such as for example fathering Filia.

"Indeed, there are many things," Mr. Ul Copt agreed. "My mission has ended, this town will be freed. The humans possess not only power, but also judgment to use it. It is alright to let them grow and discover their own magic and technology." He changed back into his elf form, wearing fancier armor than the twelve dragon warriors who changed back as well.

Faili, Narez and Cleo also shrunk to their elf forms, making the wide space of the wreckage of flattened ruins look even larger by comparison. Too relieved to care about who was watching, Filia transformed as well. "I'm glad that's over," she breathed.

"So am I," Faili agreed. "This town is free and it can no longer serve as a shield for those who keep humans against their will. All humans will have to be freed. After the town is rebuilt, humans will be able to populate it without worries. I think that after my job here is done, I will return to the Fire Dragon temple and leave the estate in the care of a human, who will serve to continue guiding this town peacefully. It will stand to represent the bond of friendship between golden dragons and humans."

Filia couldn't help it but to cry, though she wasn't nearly as loud as Sakel and his river of happy tears. She was witnessing history in the making. "Yes, everything will be much better now." The question still stood as to what she and Xellos should do next.

"Miss Fluffy, Mr. Ice-cream, will you remain here to oversee the process?" Faili invited.

Filia remained in unsure silence, glancing at Xellos for ideas. "We really should continue our journey," he reminded, though he had no idea where exactly they would go.

"I understand," Faili accepted.

"I wish you both well on your journey," Bazard voiced sincerely. "And Mr. Ice-cream, the way I see it, the differences between humans and dragons are not a true obstacle if we do not let them become so. You have my respect." He extended his hand to shake Xellos'.

Needless to say, Xellos never thought he would be shaking hands with Filia's father like this after being given his respect, life was ironic. With his signature mischievous smirk, Xellos couldn't help it but to ask, "so... Mr. Ul Copt, does this mean you approve of me? Enough to say... let me date your daughter?"

Filia gasped and watched in worry as her father's face turned serious. She was about to try to say something to diffuse the situation when Bazard started laughing in good humor. "Sure, if I have a daughter and she develops affection for you, you have my blessing." Of course, there was no way a human could stay alive that long. The powerful and mysterious Mr. Ice-cream would be gone in less than a century and Mr. Ul Copt would be free of his promise, or so he thought. Surely Ice-cream understood that and was only making a joke, so it was harmless to play along.

Filia's jaw dropped, that tricky monster just got her own father's blessing and her dear dad didn't even know it. It was all done by trickery so she didn't think it officially counted, but she couldn't help it but to twitch when she looked at Xellos' smug expression.

xoxox xox xoxox

After a peaceful farewell, Xellos and Filia left the town and walked off into the horizon. They were a short distance away from the town when Celestina, or rather the Lord of Nightmares, appeared before them for a split second, fading into existence from the astral side. Her golden light invaded their senses, forcing them to look away. Then when they once again gazed at the place where she once stood, she was no longer there.

"The land..." Xellos observed.

Filia looked at the landscape around them. "It's barren; there are no flowers or grass like before. It's just like... just like our time." She glanced back in the direction of the town, it was far away, but the buildings could still be seen, it wasn't the pile of ruins that was yet to be rebuilt over nine hundred years ago. She then looked towards the direction that the estate should be in. "Everyone..." She needed to make sure that everyone was alright; she needed to see her friends and confirm that they had made it back to the era where they belonged. "Ray Wing!" Filia transported both herself and Xellos in a hurry, landing in the courtyard in front of the estate.

"Look who's back," Lina acknowledge their arrival from her position laying on a chair enjoying the mid morning breeze while she digested her breakfast with a tall glass of juice in her hand. Gourry was sitting next to her waving a fan at the redhead like the personal servant of a queen. "I happened to notice that you two didn't come back last night," Lina teased, before pausing to realize that Xellos' hair was white. "Sheesh, what did you do that required that much energy? No, wait, don't tell me, I really don't want to know!"

"Okay, then I won't tell you," Xellos agreed more easily than anyone expected, but that was just because he was tired. "If anyone has anything of importance to report, I'll be inside." He glanced at Filia, whose face was filled with relief upon their safe arrival in their own time. She nodded at him in indication that he should go ahead and get some rest, she would catch up in a little while.

Xellos might not feel the need to share their little adventure and honestly, neither did Filia, mostly because she didn't want to be assaulted by a multitude of inquiries about her grandmother. Nor did she want Xellos to make a mockery out of having obtained her father's blessing in a very tricky sort of way. However, Filia did think it was important for the whole team to be on their guard. "Has anything unusual happened while I was gone?"

"Not really," Lina stretched in her chair, signaling to Gourry that he could rest. "It's a hot morning, I guess it's because of global warming or something, or maybe this place is becoming a desert. It was certainly cold later last night."

"Can I go polish my sword now?" Gourry inquired hopefully.

"Go ahead, I think I've cooled off enough," Lina agreed with the hint of a loving smile, hidden by a thick curtain of casual behavior.

As Gourry ran off inside the estate, Lina continued. "Arcius left on business a while ago. Apparently he was informed first thing in the morning that last night one of the businesses he owns in town suffered some damage, the golden Dragon Cafe, I think it was called. He left to have a look in person and told us to make ourselves at home. He said he would be back as soon as he could."

Filia bit her lip nervously. She was the one who caused the most noticeable damage to the Golden Dragon Cafe, leaving it without a ceiling. It was only a matter of time before an angry Arcius came back to demand an explanation and possibly repairs. Furthermore, Xellos had a considerable debt that Arcius' employees would surely inform him about. "I don't think it's a good idea for us to be here. Xellos and I might have accidentally damaged Arcius' property last night."

Lina frowned in disapproval, not because of the random property damage, she did that often enough herself, but because her earlier request was not being fulfilled. "I said I don't want to know about what happened last night."

Feeling her face overheat as her wild imagination came up with theories that were probably far more scandalous than any assumptions Lina would make, Filia tried to defend herself. "It's nothing bad!" She paused, giving the events some extra consideration. "Well, actually yes, you could say it was pretty bad, but not in an inappropriate sort of way." She paused again; she couldn't come up with a proper explanation. "It was kind of inappropriate too, but not in a way that you wouldn't want to know about." Giving up on sugar coating the story, Filia realized that if she was going to warn her companions about the dangers of the lurking Lord of Nightmares, she would have to reveal at least some parts of her past adventure. "We had a run in with the Lord of Nightmares."

Lina choked on the juice she was drinking in an effort to distract herself from Filia's ramblings. She spat out the orange liquid on the unfortunate golden dragon in front of her with an alarmed, "what?"

Flinching in disgust, Filia brushed off the juice and reminded herself that she needed a bath and a change of clothes anyway. "I'll explain the details once everyone is present."

"Okay," Lina's face turned serious and determined, as if she was ready for anything, but no one could be truly ready when it came to the Lord of Nightmares. "Amelia and Zelgadis are inside reading Arcius library, old habits die hard, I guess." Just because Zelgadis was okay with being a chimera these days, didn't mean he wouldn't like to find a cure if it just so happened to be on his way.

"Right, let's all meet up there, I'll join you as soon as I'm cleaned up," Filia replied, leaving no room for argument no matter how curious Lina obviously was.

xoxox xox xoxox

Amelia and Zelgadis were examining Arcius' many books, finding nothing particularly useful in them, not that Zelgadis had his hopes up anyway. Amelia flipped through a particularly old historical tome that retold a slightly sugar coated version of how the golden dragons came to be the protectors of the town. "The mysterious sorcerer codenamed Ice-cream..." Amelia voiced as she finished reading over some of the most prominent events of the past. "Apparently, it was he who showed the dragons that humans could be reliable, speaking with the example, as he had earned the trust of a dragon who became his traveling companion. Her codename was Fluffy."

Zelgadis put another book he was examining back in the shelf where it was before. "It looks like some authors found them to be inspiring. There's a whole collection of comics here, The Adventures of Ice-cream and Fluffy, volumes one to fifty."

"They must have been an amazing duo of justice!" Amelia cheered with starry eyes. "They traveled from one place to another, mysteriously disappearing without a trace after their missions had been fulfilled! The amazing Ice-cream and Fluffy, whose true identities remained unknown, but their great deeds were recognized by many! I collected their comics too."

Zelgadis couldn't help it but to roll his eyes, not at Amelia whose speeches he was used to and had began to find endearing, but rather at the mysterious duo of justice. "They could have picked more heroic sounding nicknames."

"Maybe they were trying to say that cuteness can be heroic too?" Amelia theorized.

Their discussion was interrupted by a loud voice calling out "Stop! Stop! STOP!" From a different area of the estate. Amelia and Zelgadis recognized the voice as being Xellos and rushed to see what kind of trouble he had gotten himself into.

xoxox xox xoxox

Xellos' echoing voice drew the attention of Filia, who dashed down the hall half hopping on one foot. She had just gotten herself cleaned up and didn't have time to finish putting on her shoes. His loud desperate cries also got the attention of Lina, Gourry, Amelia and Zelgadis. They caught up to Filia, following the source of the sounds and running into one of the manor's guest room.

That particular room was adorned in every shade of purple the eyes could see, except they couldn't see much of it beyond the white that faded to gray, that faded to black, that was attached to... something that lay beyond the sea of hair. "Xellos!" Filia spotted a hand sticking out of the massive amount of hair that was all over the room. She levitated over it and grabbed the hand, pulling Xellos out. Xellos took in a big breath of precious oxygen; he almost suffocated under his own hair. "What happened? Why is your hair this long?"

"I wanted to fix it after those guys at the restaurant cut it on one side," Xellos revealed. After catching his breath, he casted his own levitation so that Filia didn't have to hold him in mid air above the flood of hair.

"You mean you weren't just going for an asymmetrical cut? I thought it was on purpose," Lina commented as she curiously examined the hair. "I bet I could sell this hair to a wig maker for a good price. It's shiny and pretty, I bet nobles from across the world would pay a lot of money for a wig of this hair."

"Leave my hair alone," Xellos defended, "if anyone is going to sell it, it will be me."

"Why do you need the money? Don't you have some endless fake credit account?" Lina greedily argued.

"That's none of your business!" Xellos retorted, not wanting to get into the subject.

Yet Filia got into it anyway, "Zelas cut his allowance, so he's broke. We got into trouble for it last night at dinner."

"It's not an allowance, it's a spying budget!" Xellos argued, because to call the money spy funds was so much cooler than to say it was an allowance. What man well over a thousand years old still received allowance from his mother?

Lina rolled her eyes, "call it what you will, but I'm still keeping the hair. Think of it as a bodyguard tip, you haven't given me any tips at all!" She stomped her foot to emphasize her demand.

"You were the one who spend most of my money at Amor Resort," Xellos retorted.

Filia thought the argument had gone on long enough, especially because they had important things to discuss. She went off to find a pair of scissors while Lina defended her tip and Xellos argued against it. Filia returned with the scissors and cut Xellos' hair in his usual style, now once again black, as the white and gray had grown out. Immediately, Lina greedily tried to braid the hair so she could carry it away more easily. "Just let her have it, you know she's not going to give up on this argument," Filia suggested.

"Fine, but next time there's a battle, she better earn this tip." Xellos pouted, knowing that when it came to Lina's greed, there was no argument that could stand against it.

While Lina continued to braid the hair, she brought up an important subject. "Filia, about what you were going to tell us..."

"Yes..." Filia breathed, with Xellos giving her a curious glance. "The Lord of Nightmares is... awake, out and about. She sent Xellos and me to the past, where we got caught in a battle and brought us back to the present shortly after the battle was over." She gave Xellos a warning glare not to tease her about the events of the past concerning her relatives, especially since she had managed to paint a concise yet ambiguous picture that served as a warning without setting her up for teasing. "We don't know what the Lord of Nightmares wants. I just wanted you all to be on your guard."

A heavy silence fell upon the atmosphere around them. Amelia and Zelgadis exchanged puzzled looks, with no clue as to what plans the Lord of Nightmares could have. Lina had an alert and determined look on her face, as if becoming mentally prepared for anything, though she didn't pause her task of braiding the hair. Gourry wasn't sure what was going on, but there was nothing new in that fact.

The contemplative quietude was interrupted by James, Arcius butler, who gave the large amount of hair an odd look before nodding politely at the group. "Excuse me, honored guests. I must request that you meet Master Arcius, he has expressed his wishes to speak with you right away."

Arcius was back and he was surely upset, Filia just knew it, but she couldn't bring herself to run away from the situation without at least apologizing. Seeing her uncertainty, Amelia tried to save the situation, "we'll be right there."

The attempt failed as James clearly wasn't going anywhere, refusing to give them some time alone to deliberate. "Please, walk this way."

Lina finished braiding the hair into a very long rope that she coiled in multiple circles and threw over her shoulder. She nodded to the rest of her band of travelers, indicating that they've been in these sort of situations before and gotten through them well enough, so it was nothing to worry about. Maybe if they all apologized, Arcius would forgive them and keep feeding them for a while longer. If not, then they could always make a hasty escape. Their attempt to bless the farm lands had failed and it was about time to move on and possibly report back to Seyruun, where they might not get a triple banquet as the situation stood, but they would at least get a good meal.

Thus Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Filia and Xellos, followed James, with Gourry marching in the same fashion as James with his back and arms straight, moving his arms and legs at a perfectly parallel rhythm. No one even tried to question Gourry, as they all guessed that he would take James' request literally. The group followed the butler down the long elegant, yet blindingly colorful halls of the estate until they reach a set of large redwood doors carved with detailed flowers of many kinds. James opened the door, revealing some peculiar looking stairs, which he began to descend in the same formal march. "This way," the butler invited the guests to continue following him.

The stairs were different from the fashion of the estate. They were made of simple grayish-brownish stone, lacking the plush carpets that covered every inch of flooring in the manor. The walls were made of stone as well, in what appeared to be a considerably deep dark tunnel. Lina's eyes lit up, this couldn't simply be any basement, maybe it was a magical laboratory. It was probably a bad idea to rush in, but she was curious about this sort of thing and followed James without complaint. Given that their impulsive courageous leader was going, the rest of the group resolved to go as well.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 064: Flowers! Garden of Evil

Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Filia and Xellos, followed James down the dark stone stairs into a deep basement below Arcius' estate. The bottom was pitch black, but not for long. The large underground dome was lit up by many fluorescent flowers growing out of the walls of the cave. The cave floor was covered in an endless rainbow of flowers of many colors and styles, "it's beautiful!" Amelia exclaimed.

"Indeed!" Several feet away from the group there was a large tree that somehow flourished underground. Both the top and the bottom had roots with branches filled with green leaves sticking out of the middle of the trunk. The tree's roots reached the cavern's walls, heading in every direction through the soil underground. "These flowers are almost as beautiful as me, the great Narcissus! You thought you could take me by surprise, did you? Here you are, pretending you have no idea who I am when in reality you know it all!"

Lina and company looked at each other in confusion, with Gourry inquiring, "we do?"

"Yes, you do!" Arcius, who was now calling himself Narcissus, laughed in a very villainous fashion. "You know all about me being a servant of the Green Alchemist, you know that I'm the one who drained the nutrients of this land to increase the power of the amazing Green Alchemist. You know that I was plotting to kill Xellos. That is why Filia became enraged last night and destroyed the Golden Dragon Cafe. As a golden dragon, she could no longer bear the lies that I subjected this town to, even though my family is supposed to be tasked with keeping the peace and symbolizing the bond of friendship between dragons and humans. You almost had me fooled, but Filia's loss of control made me realized your ignorance was just an act. So here I am, willing to strike before you have more time to plot. It is obvious you were planning to attack me, so let us not waste anymore time and prepare to fight!"

Filia stared at Narcissus in disbelief, "you were the bad guy all along, you tricked us!"

"As if you didn't know!" Narcissus retorted.

"Of course we knew, we knew all along," Xellos' sarcastic tone was clear to Lina's group, but it flew right over Narcissus' head, who assumed it was all part of his smug mockery.

Lina put down the hair she was still carrying and stretched her arms over her head casually. "The villain has revealed himself and uncovered the case of the famine, so we might as well take action." She stepped forward, taking on a challenging stance and pointing at Narcissus. "You horrible fiend, how dare you threaten the very sustenance of the world? Disabling the means for people to produce food is a terrible crime! Your acts of injustice will be punished!"

Amelia was all too happy to jump in and join Lina. Usually, she was the one giving the justice speeches, but with food as a casualty, this was too personal to Lina. "Prepare yourself, evil doer, we will deliver swift justice for your despicable deeds!"

Lina and Amelia posed together pointing at Narcissus as they shouted heroically in unison, "in the name of all that is delicious, we'll punish you!"

"If you're quite done, I'd like to get this done and over with," Narcissus impatiently complained. "Jaws, attack!"

"Right away, sir," the seemingly harmless butler morphed into his true form. His skin turned green as his limbs changed into vines. The vines covered in thorns tore apart the uniform he was wearing to reveal that he was a big piranha plant without any human aspects left in him. His body was in the shape of an X where his arms and legs used to be. Another vine protruded from the torso, holding up a large red head with white spots. The round head opened up to reveal a multitude of sharp teeth in its large mouth. In the middle of the torso vine, there was a glowing seed, covered by a large leaf that protected its front like a shield. Around the neck area of the vine, there was a sort of amulet with a small glowing gem that previously served to hide the true identity of the creature, making his energy feel as that of a normal human.

"You will fall in battle to my mighty beast!" Narcissus laughed evilly, while posing, extending his cape left and right with his hands. The new outfit was overall ridiculous, he was better off wearing the classic black cloaks that most villains preferred to use. But no, this one just had to be original and wear a lime green shirt, a pink cape, impossibly tight glittery red pants and cyan high heel boots. He definitely had to be color blind, it was the only explanation.

"Roar!" James, who was now being referred to as Jaws, let out a war cry as he dashed towards his opponents. The grouped jumped away, running in opposite directions to surround the monster. Lina tried to save the braids of hair and got tangled up in them, bumping into Amelia, who got caught as well. The two tried to get untangled and ended up in a worse mess with Jaws quickly approaching. Zelgadis and Gourry rushed in, left an right, synchronizing their sword swings perfectly to cut off the head of the monster plant like a giant pair of scissors.

"Dragging that hair around is too dangerous," Zelgadis scolded as he cut the girls free from the ropes of hair.

"You ruined it!" Lina cried out in horror, that was perfectly good money that Zelgadis just destroyed.

"It could have been your head that was ruined if that thing bit it off," Zelgadis argued in his defense.

"He's right, Miss Lina," Amelia agreed.

"Fine, forget the hair!" Lina jumped to her feet, enraged. "This whole thing is Arcius', or Narcissus' fault, or whatever that freak calls himself. I'm going to make him pay!"

Filia and Xellos had already gone on the attack against Narcissus, throwing lasers and fire at him, which he swiftly avoided. For a freak, he was sure fast. "You'll never hit me. My speed knows no equal!"

"Darkness beyond twilight, crimson beyond blood that grows..." Lina began her chant.

Hearing it, Xellos decided it was the right idea, "I guess that means we'll have to blow up this whole place." Though he didn't have his monster powers and he had to relearn magic as a human until he could properly channel his human energy, Xellos had gone through all that and he was ready for some massive destruction, exhaustion aside. There would be time to rest later. "Darkness beyond twilight, crimson beyond blood that flows..."

The two halves of Jaws that had been cut by Gourry and Zelgadis each came to life, sprouting a new head and body respectively, though only the original body had the glowing seed with the leaf shield on it. "They're back for another round," Gourry readied his sword.

"Buried in the stream of time is where your power flows..." Lina and Xellos matched the progress of their spells for one massive double hit.

"Amelia, go help Filia keep Narcissus busy, Gourry and I will take care of these weeds." Zelgadis joined the fight, casting an Astral Vine spell on his sword and Gourry's.

"I pledge myself to conquer all the foes who stand..." Xellos and Lina continued, in perfect sync.

"Right!" Amelia levitated over to Filia's side, once again adding fire to her laser attacks to keep Narcissus busy dodging, preventing him from attacking.

"Before the mighty gift bestowed in my unworthy hands." Lina and Xellos were temporarily out of combat for the purpose of powering up their spells, thus leaving the battle and their safety in the hands of the others.

Gourry and Zelgadis slashed away at their respective opponents. The two Jaws attacked by stretching their thorny vine limbs into whips. Gourry and Zelgadis backed away; exchanging quick glances as they tried to speed up their sword slashes enough to cut the speedy vine whips. They were back to back just as the pair of ferocious monster piranha plants threw their whips forward harshly, thinking that the two warriors were cornered. "Levitation!" Zelgadis speedily floated up, taking Gourry along with him.

"Let the fools who stand before me be destroyed..." The Dragon Slaves were almost ready to release their power.

The whips of the two monster plants hit each other, becoming tangled together. Zelgadis and Gourry didn't waste time in attacking, but unexpectedly, the main Jaws, which had the seed on its torso, broke off the limbs of the other plant and threw the screeching creature at Lina. "Lina!" Gourry knew he wouldn't get to her fast enough, so he threw his sword with great force, sending it to collide with the plant's head in mid air. The momentum of the throw pushed the monster off its intended course and pinned its head to the ground a few feet away from Lina. Gourry rushed over and pulled his sword out, finishing the job of hacking and slashing at the monster plant until it was in tiny pieces.

"By the power you and I possess..." Lina and Xellos continued.

Zelgadis was making progress as well, slashing away pieces off the main Jaws. However, the cut off limps soon morphed into new monsters, sprouting the missing parts to outnumber Zelgadis. "I see through you, it's that seed that needs to be destroyed, Ra Tilt!" Unfortunately, the force of Zelgadis' spell, despite being astral, was thrown back at him as the leaf that covered the seed glowed. Assaulted by his own power, Zelgadis was thrown to the ground in pain.

"Zel!" Amelia cried out with concern.

Xellos exchanged glances across the battle field with Lina, then nodded at Filia. "Let's go Amelia, we have to get Zelgadis and take cover!" Filia and Amelia rushed to get out of the way, get Zelgadis away from the numerous monsters that Gourry was trying to keep busy and find shelter. They were soon joined by a retreating Gourry, because even he knew better than to stand around when Lina was about to unleash the Dragon Slave.

"Dragon Slave!" The ground shook harshly as Xellos and Lina released the combined power of their spells. The entire cavern was invaded by bright light.

When the light finally cleared they were no longer underground. The estate that once stood in the ground above them had been completely disintegrated along with the flower garden. The large tree was left in ruins, its bark severely damaged. The land around them looked worse than before as soil was reduced to sand. The strange tree with roots above and below had lost all its branches in the middle, but it drained away more nutrients from the land to prevent itself from being destroyed.

Amelia was casting a healing spell on Zelgadis, while Lina and Xellos tried to recover. Lina had been well rested, thus her hair was still red, but Xellos had recently come out of a battle and had basically no rest in-between. His hair was once again white, his energy completely drained. Filia was at his side in seconds, healing him. Though injuries were not really his problem as much as exhaustion, she hoped that receiving some extra energy would at least help.

Suddenly, the main Jaws, the only one of the monster piranha plants that survived, jumped from beneath the sand that the soil of the crater had become. The leaf shield was completely gone; the glowing seed that powered it was now exposed. Amelia screamed in a startle as the being came out close to her and Zelgadis. She threw a massive fireball at the creature as Zelgadis simultaneously swung his sword at it. The hits of fire and metal were together effective against the weakened seed and the creature was finally defeated for good. The seed shattered, the rest of the piranha's body becoming brown, dry and brittle.

Amelia observed that the two thorny vine limbs of the creature that served as legs were buried in the ground. "That tree must have given Jaws enough energy to survive the blast," she correctly concluded.

"Yes, but it was still not enough." Now healed, Zelgadis glared at the defeated Jaws, before turning his gaze towards the tree, which was the magical device used to drain the nutrients out of the soil.

"The land was left weakened, but if we finish destroying that tree, it shouldn't be in danger of getting worse," Lina stated.

"I can't allow that!" A voice very much like that of Narcissus suddenly echoed. A yellow mist as if it was made of pollen carried by a strange wind appeared before forming a see through silhouette. The ghost like being, albeit lacking its previous assortment of bright colors, was distinctly in the shape of Narcissus. "This tree will continue to provide nutrients for the wonderful Green Alchemist! I am invincible, I will defeat you all and gain favor in my master's eyes. When the Green Alchemist becomes Lord Beast Master's general, all his followers will also receive power. I will rule over this portion of land in the name of the Green Alchemist and Lord Beast Master with my beautiful Xexe by my side!"

"Xexe?" Filia questioned in disbelief.

"Yes, Xexe!" The pollen Narcissus laughed in his creepy echoing voice. "Even if she is an acquaintance of yours, I'm sure that once she sees how amazing the followers of the Green Alchemist are, she'll join us too. A woman such as her, who possesses both beauty and strength, is the only one worthy of standing by my side in my magnificent garden!"

Lina looked thoughtful, then glanced at Xellos with a mischievous smirk. "Maybe we can use this to our favor."

Before Xellos could protest, Filia did so for him. "We are not sending Xellos to seduce Narcissus!"

Of course, Xellos couldn't let an opportunity to tease Filia escape regardless of the dangerous situation they were in. "Are you jealous?"

"I'm not jealous; it's just a ridiculous plan!" Filia growled, taking a deep exasperated breath, which tickled her nose.

"Enough of your senseless rambles!" Narcissus was growing impatient.

"Achoo!" Filia sneezed loudly, a beam of laser flying from her mouth and heading straight towards Narcissus. The pollen dissipated on impact, though the particles were still faintly visible in the air around them.

"Is it over?" Gourry asked in confusion.

"Die!" Narcissus' voice echoed from all around, answering the question.

"If he's some kind of ghost, then maybe I can exorcise him." Amelia attempted to use her white magic, but it was ineffective. Furthermore, after the pollen dissipated, she wasn't sure what to aim at.

Amelia coughed, the action being mimicked by Zelgadis. Gourry and Lina followed suit along with Xellos and Filia. "He's trying to suffocate us!" Zelgadis attempted to defend against the attack with a Windy Shield, but it wasn't working. The pollen was so small it went right through.

"He's... not a ghost," Xellos finally concluded, speaking with difficulty, breathing was a very straining task when the atmosphere was cluttered with evil magical pollen. Xellos felt anger, pride and vanity coming from the tree, it was the same feeling he got from Narcissus. His emotions came from the tree rather than the pollen, he had been so close to the tree when they arrived underground that it was hard to notice at first. Arcius had been human before, but Xellos had a feeling that his new name of Narcissus was due to more than just vanity. He had changed, he wasn't a human anymore. The human body that was destroyed and released the pollen inside it was nothing but a puppet to Narcissus's new form. "I can sense him, he's in the tree!" Xellos made his way near the tree with Filia close by.

"Get away from there!" Narcissus' pollen focused on Xellos.

Taking the opportunity, Lina began to chant a spell, now that there was less pollen to assault her and the others, as the yellow cloud was over Xellos. "Darkness beyond twilight..."

"No!" Narcissus attacked Lina, trying to choke her.

"Crimson beyond..." Lina couldn't continue the spell, but the distraction had worked. Filia attacked the tree with her mace, making a hole in the already weakened bark. Inside the tree there was a section of astral space, temporarily opened by Filia's hit, which she and Xellos jumped into.

xoxox xox xoxox

The astral space was a spherical cavity surrounded by many colors melting into each other like rainbow paint spilled on water. The hole that Xellos and Filia used to enter the space sealed itself shut in colorful swirls. In the middle of the sphere there was a narcissus flower with pure ivory petals and a yellow center from which a stream of pollen reached into the sphere's astral walls and phased through it. A semi-translucent shield was around the floating flower, which Filia took note of. She shot a laser breath at the flower, but it was not fully charged, a caution that she was thankful for seconds later. The laser bounced off the shield, barely missing Filia, who half-expected this and was quick to dodge.

"That's him," Xellos affirmed, "he's worried, still hopeful for success, but he knows he's in trouble."

"And he's about to find out in how much trouble!" Filia wielded her mace against the flower, poking the shield gently at first as a test. She felt electricity coursing through her body, but the shield opposed no solid resistance beyond the retaliation. "This shield only deflects magic, I can smash that flower; I just have to endure the shock!" The angry golden dragon raised her weapon over her head and brought it down on the evil flower with all her strength. The shock of electricity was terribly painful, but Filia forced herself to keep hitting that vicious plant until it was dead. The last electric retaliation was strong enough to send Filia crashing against the colorful astral wall of the spherical cavity, the electrocution affecting her significantly.

"Filia!" Xellos lifted her motionless form into his arms. That last shock was too strong; a human would have surely died. Golden Dragons had more endurance, but even for Filia, it was still too damaging.

Filia felt her senses fade, she couldn't see, couldn't hear, couldn't breathe. Her life was fading and in that split second between life and death everything moved at light speed and a thousand thoughts ran through her thoughts. She had thoughts of her traveling companions, who were her friends, who were her family... and thoughts of Xellos. Then she felt her energy being restored, her life no longer fading. She opened her eyes once more, waiting for her vision to clear up and for her breaths to become even. "Xellos... you can use healing magic?" She finally voiced. His power was dangerously drained, but he forced the restore spell to function with the last of his energy. "Is it over?"

"Yes," Xellos could no longer sense any emotion coming from the flower, it was dead. The evil Narcissus had finally been defeated. Yet the danger wasn't over yet. Without Narcissus to keep the astral space stable, it was shrinking around them and they had no way out. The walls of swirling colors were giving off sparks of energy, though they weren't strong enough to be fatal, it was a sure indicative of a painful death should they be crushed by the astral walls.

"We need to escape from here..." Filia stated the obvious, looking for ideas about how to do so. If they didn't get out of there, they would only have seconds left to live.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 065: Hostages! Moving the Bargaining Chips

Filia and Xellos were trapped in an unstable area of astral space and knew that escaping would not be an easy task. "Constricting astral space is difficult to break through," Xellos stated. This was a death trap; it was all arranged so that Narcissus' destroyer would fall along with him if it came to that. Regardless of if the others became aware of their predicament, there was little they could do to get them out. Even for a monster, it would be extremely difficult to escape such a situation, but for a very strong monster, it wouldn't be impossible. Xellos still had the card Filia gave him, the card that would make her an official golden dragon and set her up to fulfill all the annoying technicalities of his curse. "I can get us out of this," there was no room for doubt anymore, he gave her the card.

Filia stared at the card for a split second before the realization hit her. This was the only thing that could save them. If Xellos regained his original monster powers, he would be strong enough to break out of the unstable astral space. She didn't have a pen and she didn't think Xellos was carrying one either, but something as simple as that would not be their doom. She ripped off her right glove and bit her finger, letting her partially transformed fang pierce her skin just enough to draw blood. She pressed her injured finger against the card. Though magical contracts could be signed with ink, they were originally signed in blood in the past. The red liquid was absorbed by the magically infused card, the name of 'Filia Ul Copt' appearing on it as if written in red ink. Then she kissed Xellos.

They waited, but no surge of power came to him. They parted momentarily and tried again, yet there was nothing. Disappointment invaded his features along with an air of frustration. Then he forced his face to take on his usual overly cheerful squinting eyes look, his mask. "It looks like I couldn't give you enough after all. It shouldn't come as a surprise, who could love such a stupid dragon?"

Filia wasn't sure what to say at first, a million thoughts ran through her head, then finally she smiled warmly. It was something that Xellos didn't expect. "Only a piece of raw garbage," she answered his question, fueling his confusion. "Haven't you changed your interpretation of your cure enough to conclude that it's very tricky? I don't think the problem is you, we're just missing some other technicality, I'm certain of it!"

"What more is there? How else can the 'willing kiss of a golden dragon' be interpreted?" It was all too much to deal with. Just when he thought he understood, it turned out that he didn't. Just when he thought he loved Filia enough, it wasn't enough. Maybe it was enough for her, but not enough for the curse, not enough to save his life... it was not enough to save her life.

"Say it," Filia voiced, almost like an order. She had stopped doubting Xellos and she wished he would stop doubting himself. That he would stop thinking that truth she saw was an impossibility.

"What?" He gave her a confused look, she was always such a moody puzzle.

Feeling the pressure of the electrifying astral walls crushing her; Filia gritted her teeth and forced the words out for one last request. "Just say it!"

Then he realized what she wanted. According to the curse it was a lie, but he could humor her with this much before they died. "I..." why was he pausing, the pain of being crushed alive was immense, but that wasn't what was holding him back. "I love you," strangely the words felt much heavier when he wasn't saying it as a joke.

"I believe you," Filia assured, "and I love you too." She had decided to trust him and she would trust him more than some curse. She kissed him again as if it was the last time, and it looked as if it would be.

xoxox xox xoxox

"Why aren't Filia and Xellos coming back?" Gourry inquired in his eternal confusion. There was always something around him that puzzled him. He was used to the feeling, but sometimes, especially when it concerned someone's safety, he simply couldn't overlook it.

The air around them was normal and there were no freaky monster plants leaping out to attack them. "I don't know," Lina admitted as she approached the dried up tree. "The tree looks dead." She peeked inside the hole in the bark, to see that it was hollow. She casted a light spell. "There's something here!"

Gourry, Zelgadis and Amelia hurried after Lina, joining her inside the massive hollow tree trunk. "What is that?" Amelia looked at the glowing sphere of swirling colors that seemed to be getting smaller.

"It might be some kind of pocket of astral space," Zelgadis theorized.

"Then that means that Miss Filia and Mr. Xellos might be in there!" Amelia concluded.

Lina tentatively reached over to the orb, retreating her hand when she got a shock of electricity. "I don't like the way that ball of astral space is shrinking. It's so unstable that attacking it might make things worse." She was at a loss for what to do to free Xellos and Filia. "At times like this having a monster on the team would be useful. If they're good for anything that's hopping in and out of astral space."

"I'm really worried!" Amelia frowned, her eyes showing vast concern.

"It looks like the situation is hopeless," a voice from behind the gathered group was heard.

"It can't be!" Amelia cried out before realizing that though the voice was female, it wasn't Lina or Filia's voice.

The group turned around to find a woman standing behind them. She was wearing a dress in a similar style to what Xellos wore as Miss Xexe, though it was white, which accentuated her bronze skin. "We'll see," the woman approached the sphere of astral space and pushed her golden bangles up to her elbow, the ornaments making multiple cling-clang sounds as they bumped into each other. She then reached her hand into the sphere, phasing through it. Sparks of electricity flew from the unstable astral area, but she seemed unaffected by it.

One second, Xellos was reflecting on how short his life felt even though he had lived for so long and regretting he had to drag Filia to death with him. The next, he was distracted by a sharp pain to his ear and found himself worrying that it would be ripped off. "Ow, ow, ow!" The pain ceased and Xellos instinctively rubbed the affected area, though he shouldn't have enough space inside the shrinking astral space to move his arm so freely. Then he realized he was no longer being crushed to death by electrifying astral walls, though his entire body still ached profusely from the near death experience.

Filia, who had been tightly embracing Xellos, was pulled out along with him, wondering how they managed to make it out of there. His hair was still white; he didn't have his monster powers back. Everyone's gazes were focused on them for a few seconds before they turned to look in a different nearby angle. Filia and Xellos followed the looks to... "Lord Beast Master?" The golden dragon stuttered in disbelief.

"It looks like you ran into some trouble with this fight. The Green Alchemist turned out to present quite a challenge, it would seem," Zelas chuckled in a tone much more mocking and superior than even Xellos' best attempt. She gave Xellos a critical look, "I see you're still cursed, what a pity, your time has run out."

"Wait a minute!" Lina protested, "I thought he had a year! It hasn't been a year yet!"

"A year was the duration of your bodyguard contract as offered by Celo," Zelas reminded. "That does not concern me. The fact of the matter is that I have grown impatient. It is time..." Zelas wore a golden chain around her neck, at the end of which there was a black cone-shaped gem that glowed in a shadowy light. "Xellos, will you face your end with even a shred of dignity?"

It was over, he was about to die anyway and Lord Beast Master saved him only so she could finish him off herself. He wasn't going to beg for his life, it was useless anyway. "Yes, Lord Beast Master." Xellos pushed Filia away, giving her a silent warning with his eyes not to say anything. At least this way she would be left alive, or so he hoped. He stepped forward, vowing before the monster lord from whom he originated.

The entire group was paralyzed in shock. They knew they were in no conditions to get into another fight when they barely made it out of that last one. Filia was almost dead on her feet and they were all terribly tired. Lina knew that if she kept on fighting, her hair turning white would be the least of her worries. She would probably breathe her last breath before that even happened.

"This... this is..." Amelia choked out a few syllables before Zelgadis wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him.

"Shh... I know it's not fair, but there's nothing we can do," the chimera tried to console his love. Zelgadis never liked Xellos, but for a short moment he could almost feel identified. He could see it, despite the circumstances of being a monster, Xellos respected Zelas, not only because he had to, but because he looked up to her. Being sacrificed by someone he admired, that was something that Zelgadis had experienced.

Zelas held her hand over Xellos' lowered head. The black glow in her palm matched the rhythm of the glow of the black cone shaped jewel on her necklace. "Goodbye Xellos..." An expression of inevitable pain edged itself across Xellos' face as he faded away, becoming an orb of black light that was absorbed into the black jewel. Zelas grinned evilly, waiting for some sort of reaction from the group that appeared to be too surprise at the twist of events to even form a full sentence.

"Bring him back..." Filia's voice was so low that it was inaudible at first, "bring him back..." The second whisper was just barely heard. "Please Lord Beast Master, bring him back!" Filia cried loudly as she fell to her knees with abundant tears rolling down her face like a river. "I beg of you, bring Xellos back. I'll try harder to cure him of his curse, I'll somehow guide him to being able to achieve his cure. Please give us more time!"

"Xellos' curse... the curse that made him human," Zelas paused with suspense. She quoted a certain key part of the incantation, "this curse shall only be broken by..." she paused and emphasized each word slowly, "the willing kiss of a golden dragon." Another moment of silence paused as the whole group mused over Zelas words. They knew that Filia and Xellos had done plenty of kissing and she was certainly willing. "Strangely, the cure doesn't seem to be working. Of course, I'm not expecting a stupid dragon to know why. A brain is necessary to figure out this puzzle. There are times when deception is all around and nothing is what it appears to be."

Zelas' words hit Filia hard. The fact that the cure wasn't working wasn't Xellos' fault. He loved her, she knew it and maybe in the end he knew it too. The problem had to be something else, something that they had not figured out. Yet no matter how hard Filia thought about the cure, phrased exactly as Zelas spoke it, she couldn't see beyond the obvious. What was the answer to the puzzle? Maybe there was a secret place and time where the cure had to be set in motion. Maybe there was a hidden metaphor. Filia didn't know, but for it to matter Xellos had to be brought back anyway. Then she realized something else, Zelas sounded well informed. "You know the answer," Filia realized.

"Indeed," Zelas confirmed. "However, it is of vital importance that Xellos should find that answer on his own. I have given him far too much help already."

"Then it was you!" Lina realized. "The reason why there have been few monsters attacking Xellos in the name of other monster lords. The reason why a lot of monsters attacked us when Xellos wasn't with us in the mountains. You were reducing the amount of danger he was exposed to down to a level that he, we, could handle. You allowed this, you tricked the Green Alchemist and his followers into thinking they could replace Xellos. Was this some kind of test for him?"

"The Green Alchemist is a hater of monsters who thinks he's deceiving the deceiver. Nonetheless, he represents a danger to the people of this world." Zelas changed the subject, as if it was far too early in her opinion to reveal much else beyond that. "Lina Inverse, you always held a prominent spot in Xellos reports and with a good reason, I'm sure. Allow me to offer you a place in my ranks. Would you agree to a pact in exchange for Xellos life? If not, I could always sacrifice his essence to make myself a new minion. It would be someone entirely different who will have Xellos' power but will not be Xellos; a replacement that will completely erase him."

"Using your own monster as a hostage against the enemy?" Lina chuckled, getting back some of her edge. "Do you really think that's going to work?" It at least made her a little confident to know that Zelas wanted her as a pawn; she wasn't completely dispensable in the monster lord's eyes.

"I'll do it," Filia offered without thinking.

"I'm not talking to you, dragon," Zelas waved her hand dismissively at Filia and once again turned her attention towards Lina. "There is the option of simply killing you, but to answer your question, no, I didn't really think it would work."

"That would be a waste," Lina pointed out almost challengingly. She paused as an idea sparked in her mind. Her brain had been working as fast as it could to come up with something before she found herself unable to stretch her conversation with Zelas any further. "I can offer you something else."

Zelas raised an eyebrow, curious about the source of Lina's confidence. "If not your allegiance or your life, what could you possibly offer me?" Xellos was right; Lina Inverse was a peculiar being.

"Join us," Lina stated simply.

While the group gasped at the audacity of their leader, Zelas chuckled in amusement. "Why would I join you?" She played along.

"Because it's worth it," Lina assured in her confident leader voice. "Travel with us for a while and you'll see exactly what I mean. I guarantee that the true meaning of my offer will shine through clearly before your patience runs out."

"I'm a little short on patience," Zelas warned.

"Lies," Lina boldly declared. "You're a good strategist, you think ahead, you plot and plan, you make sure to stay well informed. Someone who can do all that has a fair amount of patience. Someone of that level of cunning and intellect will see the benefits of my negotiations. When we renegotiate once you've had enough of traveling with us, I will present a suggestion, but when I do, it will be something that you would have already decided for yourself. You have my word on that."

"Such confidence," Zelas chuckled. "Very well, Lina Inverse, you've caught my curiosity. I perceive that you're not desperately buying time; you have a real strategy going on here. You truly believe that your word will be fulfilled. I should still warn you that I am no easy opponent to face in battle, but I'm sure the warning is unnecessary."

"That's right," Lina agreed, "I can keep my word, no use of force will be needed." Taking a deep breath, she tried to get things moving along again. "Alright everyone, we're going to continue with our business as planned. We'll search this land for any remnant allies of the Green Alchemist until there are none left."

"You can skip that step, I assure you, there's no one else left to find in this area who is an ally of the Green Alchemist," Zelas informed.

"Very well, then our job here is done," Lina conceded, though the others were giving her unsure looks as if she shouldn't take Zelas' word for it. However, the leader's choice had been made. "The locals can take care of restoring the town with the help of Seyruun. I'm sure the supplies must have been gathered and prepared. The Seyruun transports should be well on their way by now. On that note, we'll send a report about all that's happened to Phil via courier bird. As for our next move, we're going to keep traveling, but not only to face the Green Alchemist. It's been a while since I've done some good old treasure hunting. For the time being, let's head to town and rest at the inn. We have a long way to travel." Lina wasn't planning to ask for any clues from Zelas or any traveling assistance. If this was going to work, she had to prove that her band of adventurers were capable on their own.

xoxox xox xoxox

Though they still exchanged unsure glances now and then, the group followed Lina back to town along with Zelas. They rested for a while and later set out on their quest once again. Aside from the occasional mockingly sarcastic comments from Zelas, the travels were passing by relatively well, albeit unusually quiet in terms of casual conversation. "Do you mind?" Zelas broke the silence.

"Me?" Filia questioned, trying to keep her voice even. She knew it was a bad idea to anger Zelas. "I thought you didn't want to grant me the undo honor of addressing me directly."

Though Filia was sarcastic without noticing it herself, Zelas certainly did. "Funny, Xellos always said that you were direct and temperamental, but you seem to have a fair amount of sarcasm in you."

Pouting despite her better judgment, Filia truthfully replied, "I picked it up from him."

"And he picked it up from me," Zelas grinned annoyingly.

Filia gritted her teeth and swallowed an insulting reply. She did not want to be compared to Zelas. She didn't really want to compare Xellos to Zelas either, but that much was inevitable. It was impossible to ignore the obvious link between them. "What was it that you wanted?" Hoping to return to the previous silence as soon as possible, Filia steered the conversation back to Zelas' initiative.

"I was going to ask if it was possible for you to stop staring at my necklace." Zelas casually stated, with the same tone one would use to inquire the time from a random person. "It gives the impression that you want to steal it," she commented as an after thought.

"Fine," Filia looked away, yet she couldn't help it but to give the gem imprisoning Xellos a few quick sideway glances every now and then.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 066: Fetch! A Troublesome Game

As the group continued down the path to the next town, Zelas glanced at Filia and grinned. The golden dragon knew that grin. She had the same expression Xellos got when he was about to do something especially annoying. Zelas took off the necklace and held it out to Filia, "do you want this?" Surprised beyond words, Filia could only nod, which only made Zelas' grin widen. "Go get it girl, fetch!" She threw the necklace into the air with such a force that it disappeared in the distance like a shooting star.

"Xellos!" Filia cried out in agony. Without thinking twice, she changed into her dragon form and took off full speed in the direction Zelas threw the necklace.

"I can't believe you just did that!" Lina voiced in shock.

Amelia gave Zelas a heartbroken look. "How could you do something like this to your own son?"

"My son?" Zelas questioned with the rise of an eyebrow. "General, priest, minion, lackey, pawn, soldier, servant, slave... I'll even go as far as accepting ally with the proper intonation, but the term son is reserved for situations of deception and or sarcasm only."

"Mr. Xellos is your son; you should love him, care for him, protect him, guide him, teach him, feed him, walk him and wash him regularly!" Amelia started off well, but then the list of chores reminded her of a puppy and she got a little distracted.

Zelgadis blinked and was surprisingly the one to defend Xellos, not even he could believe it. "Xellos is not a dog."

"Oh, right, disregard that last part," Amelia laughed, a bit embarrassed.

"Right, dogs are smart, loyal and generally good creatures," Zelgadis nodded, now sounding more like himself. Just because he identified with Xellos for a split second didn't mean he was fond of him, "Xellos is a tricky traitor and all around bad person," but Zelgadis didn't hate him either, not anymore.

"Who cares about dogs? If you were going to throw away the necklace why didn't you give it to me instead? I could have sold it!" Lina agonized over the lost profit.

"But wasn't that Xellos?" Gourry asked in confusion, maybe he missed something.

"That's not the point!" Lina adamantly argued. "What the customers don't know won't hurt them!"

"Miss Lina, you shouldn't be so quick to sell one of our friends," Amelia expressed her disapproval.

"Our friend?" Zelgadis questioned, as if trying to point out his desire not to be included in the generalization, though he didn't complain too adamantly.

"Yes!" Amelia raised her fist energetically, indicating that she was about to say something important. "Mr. Xellos has changed, he has evolved." Zelas chuckled at this point, as if laughing at a hidden irony, though Amelia didn't really notice, since she was focused on her speech. "Mr. Xellos has realized how wonderful life can be. He knows love and friendship now, so he is our precious friend, ally and comrade!" By the time Amelia woke up from her speech giving focus, Zelas was walking ahead of the group several feet away. The princess sighed hopelessly, "she's not even listening to me."

"Be glad that she hasn't attacked us yet," Lina looked at the distance in the direction Filia had disappeared in. "We better hurry and catch up with Filia. Ray Wing!"

xoxox xox xoxox

When the group finally caught up to Filia, she was back in elf form in the middle of a heated argument with a man none of them knew. "You stole that necklace!" She pointed at the necklace with the black cone gem, which sat on display in a treasure chest on a small platform on the side of a sports court that had a net in the middle.

"We did not steal it," the man insisted exasperated. He was wearing a tshirt with a drawing of a brass racket. "For the millionth time, this is how it works. The audience donates prizes rather than paying for a ticket. They usually only throw in a few coins of low value, but it adds up to a somewhat decent prize. That necklace was thrown into the prize chest by someone in the audience and it will belong to the winner of our competition. If you want it so badly, then feel free to enter, you might still make it on time before all the spots are filled."

A woman wearing a tshirt in the same design as the man's passed by loudly announcing, "gather around everyone! All the spots for the brass rackets one on one free style tournament have been filled!"

Hearing his co-worker's announcement, the man seemed glad that the call of duty meant he could stop arguing with the pretty, but insane, lady in pink. "I guess that's it, take a seat and enjoy the show. If you'll excuse me, I have a few things to take care of." He walked away, ignoring Filia's continued arguments.

"What's going on?" Lina inquired as she approached the fuming dragon.

"This is a brass rackets tournament, but not the classic style," Filia explained with frustration. "Instead of participating in male-female teams of two, people play one on one. They also seemed to have modified the rules, as that man explained while ignoring my argument. Knock downs mean points, rather than a victory. The only instant victory can be achieved by breaking the opponent's racket, if the opponent does not get up from a knock down before the count of ten, or if the opponent is knocked outside the boundaries of their side of the court. The prizes are donated by the audience and Xellos landed in the pile."

"Maybe the winner will be willing to give you the necklace if you explain the situation," Amelia encouraged.

"Or maybe I'll transform and ruin the brass rackets court with dragon foot prints all over it and possibly flattened athletes!" Filia roared.

"Golden dragons really are violent creatures," Zelas chuckled mockingly. "Have you ever thought of participating and winning back Xellos? Of course not, that would be too much for your lack of talent." Filia was furious; she had a lot to say to Zelas, but didn't want to doom herself. Besides, it probably would have been best to secure a spot in the tournament rather than waste time arguing with that guy. "Nothing to say?" Zelas ridiculed, "good. Here you are."

The monster lord tossed Filia a small wooden tablet with the number thirteen on it. The golden dragon just barely caught it before it hit her face and examined it in puzzlement. Then the voice of one of the tournament organizers reached her pointy ears. "The random drawing has chosen numbers ten and five. The contestants with these numbers are now being called to the court!"

Filia blinked then looked back and forth between her number and Zelas, "is this real?"

"Of course it's real," Zelas ascertained with her usual mocking sarcasm. "I know golden dragons are terrible creatures that are used to cheating at everything, but I assure you, I requested that spot in the tournament without breaking any rules. Your participation is legitimate... unless of course you lose your number. Look, there are brass rackets for sale in that booth over there."

Smelling the foul scent of a trap, Filia made sure to guard her number closely until she was called. She purchased a brass racket for herself and protected herself from Zelas taking away her number to crush her hopes after falsely making her think she had a chance to recover Xellos without having to resort to violence.

xoxox xox xoxox

One after another, the fourteen contestants of the tournament were reduced in numbers. Since the opponents were chosen at random, Filia's number had only come up once. She knocked out her opponent, who was supposed to be a professional brass racket player, in one hit. He did not get up until well after the count of ten had finalized.

Lina recognized Filia's victim as the son of the man she had teamed up with in the original version of the sport some time ago. From what she could see in his previous appearances before facing Filia, he had improved considerably since the time when he teamed up with Martina, albeit it wasn't enough to withstand Filia's fiery determination. That dragon certainly had guts.

Another prominent brass rackets player was a newbie whom no one seemed to know, but they would know her soon enough. The young woman seemed determined to make a name for herself in the brass rackets world. She had played flawlessly, not allowing her opponents to score a single point. She tired them out, made their most advanced plays look like nothing and all around proved her superior skill. Then when her opponents were about to throw in the towel, she finished them off with a hard hit that knocked them out past the count of ten or sent them flying out of the court with the force of the hit.

"It looks like Miss Yuna will be your toughest opponent, Miss Filia." Amelia commented, while cautiously edging away from the angry Filia on the bench next to her.

"I will win." Filia was feeling impatient and couldn't wait to get out on the court, wipe the floor with the competition and get Xellos back. She knew the hard part would come afterwards in the task of actually keeping Xellos safe from Zelas.

"Such determination," Zelas chuckled from the opposite end of the bench with Lina, Gourry, Zelgadis and Amelia sitting between her and Filia in an effort to keep the situation as peaceful as possible. Seeing as she wasn't getting any reactions from Filia aside from silently clenched teeth, Zelas entertained herself with the activity of twirling a lock of her long pale hair around her finger.

Zelas' golden eyes and long pupils gave her a definite non-human beastlike look that contrasted with her attractive human form. Her ears were pointy like an elf and she seemed to prefer to walk around barefoot with golden anklets to match her bangles. People, specifically men, often eyed her up and down as she seemed to stick out wherever they went, possibly because the slits of her dress' skirt were a bit too high. Nevertheless, her piercing eyes seemed to instill fear into the soul of any man who flashed her a smile and made a step towards her, causing all her possible wannabe dates to shudder and turn away before they could annoy her, and thus doom themselves.

"Lady Zelas, is that you?" An older gentleman, who was dressed far too well to be sitting on a makeshift bench, occupied the space next to Zelas that no other man was brave enough to take. "It is you! Good to see you! Have you also come here intrigued by the recreational activities of the poor? I must say, they come up with all sorts of things to do to busy themselves when they cannot afford the more conventional hobby of purchasing various goods." The man was immediately identified as a rich snob, whom must know Zelas as the business woman who supposedly made a pact with Beast Master.

"I am curious indeed," Zelas agreed in her authoritative and elegant tone of superiority.

The gentleman's graying hair was combed left and right over his head to try to cover up the rather obvious bald spot in the middle of his head. His hat sat beside him on the bench rather than on his head protecting his tender hairless scalp from the sun. He leaned forward to examine the people sitting next to Zelas and found a red haired woman, a blond man, a chimera, a dark haired woman and a blond woman. That dark haired girl looked familiar, "princess Amelia?"

Amelia stared at the gentleman trying to remember who he was. "Mr. Enterprise," she finally recalled. His business was related to mining jewels if memory served. Jewels that he liked to sell to royalty. She remembered him personally delivering a gift to Seyruun castle as a sample of his merchandise. Amelia wasn't into covering herself with jewelry, though she used it in moderation. She wasn't particularly interested in his wares, but she treated him politely anyway. "It's good to see that you are well."

"Very well indeed, I'm taking a break from my business ventures and enjoying a vacation in the countryside. It is quite a peculiar place, is it not?" He laughed as if the lives of peasants were an eternal mystery to him. "By the way, princess, if you ever decide you need some new jewelry, you know where to send the order." A businessman to the end, Mr. Enterprise couldn't help it but to cease the moment and try to influence Amelia into handing over Seyruun's budget. "I'm sure Lady Zelas can ascertain the quality of my products."

"Very good products," Zelas agreed, albeit as a powerful monster lord, she could take on any appearance, forming everything from her body to her clothes and accessories from her energy, creating any jewels that her imagination could come up with using her own power. Wearing natural jewels and getting spa treatments was something she did for the fun of it.

"I'll keep that in mind," Amelia politely commented. Mr. Enterprise had not acknowledged the presence of anyone other than Zelas and Amelia and the Seyruun princess knew that it could only end badly if she tried to introduce her friends. Though she tried to be polite and keep the peace, she knew that Mr. Enterprise was a social elite who believed in wealth and rank above all else. He wouldn't have anything nice to say to her friends anyway.

Turning his attention back to Zelas, the chubby old man moved on to his next business point. "Where might Xellos be today? Is he with you? You know my daughter has a lot of appreciation for him. She's traveling with me on vacation. She went to buy some souvenirs, I'm sure she'll catch up with me soon. My little Saramina is so fond of your little Xellos and dare I say, he seems to be quite fond of her too. They had such a grant time in each other's company at our last business convention."

Filia felt her eye twitch. Where did that man get off talking about Xellos as if he was a toddler on a play date?

The golden dragon wanted to say something, but Zelas beat her to it, producing the first set of words that Filia was glad to hear coming from Zelas since she join their group. "Oh yes, they were having a grand time, I'm sure. At least up until the part where Xellos emptied a bottle of champagne over Saramina's head."

Filia could clearly picture Xellos doing such a thing if anyone bothered him enough and the circumstances prevented total annihilation from being an option. She couldn't help it but to laugh quietly.

"Oh, that's nothing my dear," Mr. Enterprise disregarded the event. "Young men can be a little... difficult. I'm sure Xellos didn't mean any harm by that little display. I still think it would be lovely if you would agree to betroth him to my darling Saramina."

Filia almost choked on air. Her face turned red in anger and heat seemed to irradiate from her. Amelia, who was sitting next to Filia, was disturbed by the rage in the golden dragon's eyes and scooted closer to Zelgadis. Filia started to mutter something incomprehensible under her breath, her fists clenched and Amelia scooted away some more. Little growls escaped Filia, which made Amelia move away even more.

The next thing she knew, the Seyruun princess was sitting on the lap of the chimera who had been next to her. "Oops... Sorry..."

"It's okay..." Zelgadis blushed scarlet and shyly wrapped his arms around Amelia. Seeing that she was so warmly welcomed, Amelia nestled close to Zelgadis comfortably.

"Saramina is too good for my delinquent son, but I'll consider your suggestion." In reality Zelas had no intentions of inflicting such a cruel punishment on Xellos, such as forcing him to spend more time than absolutely necessary with the creature known as Saramina. Yes, she was a monster lord, but there were things that not even the most evil monster lord would do.

"Father! Look at all the things I bought!" An annoyingly high pitched voice was heard as a girl with light pink dyed hair approached carrying a large load of brass rackets. "I don't know what I'll do with so many souvenirs, but aren't they cute? Oh father, you simply must get me a new vacation home to keep them all!" She was very beautiful at first glance, in her yellow sleeveless sun dress with a multitude of fancy bracelets, necklaces and rings, showcasing a variety of precious gems. If one took a closer look, a few rather creepy peculiarities could be seen beyond her beauty, as the group was about to find out.

"Of course, my dear, anything for my darling daughter!" Mr. Enterprise immediately agreed. "By the way, look who's here, it's Lady Zelas."

Lina, who knew she was being overlooked and ignored and was trying to overlook and ignore that fact in favor of not causing unnecessary trouble while in Zelas' company, couldn't help it but to be reminded of Sirene.

"Lady Zelas!" Saramina squealed in an ear splitting voice, her pale blue eyes sparkling with excitement. As she jumped to stand directly in front of Zelas, the arm that was dragging the large sack full of brass rackets became detached from her shoulder and was left holding the bag, while the rest of Saramina bounced excitedly in front of Zelas. In the court, the player who was supposed to return the ball got hit by it in the face when he caught sight of the scary oddity. There was no blood, just clay-like flesh and grayish bones. "Oops!" As if it was nothing, Saramina retrieved the arm and attached it to her shoulder, flexing it to test if it had reattached itself well enough. Satisfied, she giggled stupidly, "there!"

The general public that was near their area moved away, though the tournament was soon called to continue by the official score keeper. "She's a zombie," Lina realized, "but the old man looks alive enough. It's probably the classic case of a rich man losing his only daughter and dealing with monsters to bring her back," she correctly guessed.

"Should I do something?" Amelia offered, she had some good spells that worked against the undead.

"I think we're better off staying out of this," Lina wisely suggested.

"Is Xellos here too?" Saramina turned her head around, making it spin in a full circle on her neck, the clay-like flesh twisting as it went. Then she spun her head back the full three hundred and sixty degrees, the flesh of her neck falling back into place. "I don't see him."

"I'm afraid he's not here. Xellos is off running some important business errands for me." Zelas grinned as if she was about to cause trouble. For one who was used to observing the signs it was easy to know it was coming. That look in her golden eyes, the mischievous smirk. Zelas gave the same warning signs that Xellos did when she was about to get on someone's nerves. "His fiance is here, I don't think the two of you have met before."

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 067: Sports! It's All About Attitude

Mr. Enterprise looked like he was going into cardiac arrest from the disappointed shock that access to Zelas' fortune, via the marriage of Xellos and Saramina, was set to slip from his fingers. Saramina's jaw dropped far lower than a human jaw should open, her waxy flesh stretched like a longer version of The Scream.

Savoring the tension she was about to unleash, Zelas glanced at Filia. "Filia dear, come over here and say hello, don't be shy."

Great, just great. When Filia thought her day couldn't get any worse, Zelas threw Xellos' crazy zombie fan girl at her. Fighting with herself to remain composed, Filia got up from the bench with as much dignity as she could. She replied with an overly sweet, "yes, mother." She could have sworn she saw Zelas' eye twitch a little.

Saramina gave Filia a critical look while her father fought to get some air into his starving lungs. "What are you? An elf?" She asked rudely.

"I'm a golden dragon, actually," Filia replied in a challenging tone.

Saramina threw her head back more than a humans head should go. It bounced on her neck for a moment, looking as if it would fall off, but it bounced right back into place. "So what? I'm a zombie and I'm prettier than you!"

Filia was tempted to reply with 'no you're not' but one, beauty was in the eye of the beholder, two, she was never a shallow girl regardless of how well she took care of her hair, and three, it would be a stupid argument anyway. "Well, that's too bad," Filia allowed some smugness to bubble up to the surface. "Because Xellos chose me."

"I have more riches than you!" Saramina argued defiantly.

"So?" Filia challenged.

"Grr! Lowly peasant! I will devour your brain on a golden platter!" Saramina loudly declared.

"I wouldn't suggest that," Zelas commented, though Saramina seemed too enraged to hear her. "Filia's brain is so tiny that it wouldn't offer any nutrition."

"Numbers thirteen and one will be participating in the next round!" One of the brass racket tournament managers called out from the court.

"That's me," Filia tried to look mature by walking away from the argument, picking up her brass racket on the way to the court.

"If you're number thirteen, then I'm number one, it fits!" Saramina rushed towards the opposite side of the court and shoved a bag of money into the stunned hands of the brass rackets player who previously held the number one. "Take this payment for your number along with your life." The brass rackets enthusiast didn't argue and quickly left the area. Though that was technically against the rules, no one dared to get into the middle of a fight between a zombie and a dragon, thus the match began with Saramina serving.

"This will be a short match!" Filia returned the service with great force. She didn't think a spoiled sheltered girl would have a strong enough attitude to counter.

"Yes, short for you!" Saramina returned the magical sphere to Filia's side of the court with amazing force.

Filia swung her brass racket, focusing her energy as hard as she could, roaring as she sent the ball back. She hated to admit it, but her opponent was surprisingly strong and might present a challenge.

"Ha!" Saramina returned the ball with her racket and arm flying along with it.

"Gross!" Filia hit the ball back, then batted away the detached limb as well.

Saramina caught the arm, which still had a firm grip on the racket. She bent it at the elbow and threw it like a boomerang towards the magical sphere. The hit sent the ball back towards Filia's side of the court, while the arm swung back towards Saramina. The zombie reattached the limb as if she was used to it. "You'll never win! Xellos is going to marry me!"

Filia's eyes glowed as her tail, claws and fangs made an appearance, giving her a fierce look, even if the rest of her body remained in elf form. With her anger reaching its peak, Filia swung her racket fiercely. "Xellos is mine!"

The ball hit Saramina head on, though the zombie tried to shield herself with her racket. Yet there was something off, it wasn't just the magical sphere, there was something else behind it, a sphere of energy, specifically white magic. Entangling itself with the brass rackets ball, the sphere of light carrying an exorcism spell collided with the undead target. Saramina let out an ear splitting wail that made all those present immediately cover their ears. Then she disappeared in a brilliant flash of light.

Filia clapped her hands together and gently voiced, "rest in peace," before strolling victoriously out of the court. A few more rules might have been broken, but again, no one wanted to argue with a dragon.

"Sa... Sa.... Sa... Saramina!" Mr. Enterprise finally seemed to have recovered his capacity of speech. "Dragon, you exorcised my only child and now she is no longer with me because of you!"

Filia's guilt was quick to catch up to her. No matter how much of a, literally and metaphorically, rotten brat that girl was, she was still this man's only daughter. What could she say to console him? How could she convince him that it was better for Saramina to rest in peace?

"Thank you!" Mr. Enterprise suddenly burst into tears of relief. "Thank you so much, Lady Filia! Saramina was a terrible expense for me and because of her zombie state, I was afraid to put a stop to her spending or refuse anything she asked for. I was sure she would devour my brain if I did! Bringing her back from the dead was a mistake, but now I'm finally free! I'm free at last and I didn't even have to hire an exorcist. I'm free for free, life is wonderful!" Jumping with joy, Mr. Enterprise ran off to celebrate.

Filia stood there in shock. "How could he be so happy to be rid of his daughter? He's so mean!" The golden dragon pouted indignantly.

"That was... interesting," Zelas calmly commented. She gave Filia an almost friendly smile that made the dragon do a double take. Then the monster lord's expression morphed into something deadly, her fangs peeking out of her mouth, golden eyes glowing. "If you ever call me mother, mom, mommy, mama or any other variation again, I will kill you." She especially emphasized the last four words of her threat.

Filia shuddered under Zelas' intense glare and nodded like a bubblehead toy. "Yes, Lord Beast Master."

Zelas grinned, her eyes closed, an expression that was Xellos' rather than hers. She knew it annoyed Filia to find similarities between them. "I'm glad that we're finally starting to see eye to eye." The remark was full of sarcasm, with a message buried between the lines that reaffirmed Zelas' sense of superiority. The monster lord got up from her bench and stretched. "I'm getting bored, I'm going to take a walk, maybe I'll see someone else around here I recognize. I'll be back in a little while." With those words of parting, Zelas walked away, disappearing among the gathered crowd.

Filia let out a breath she didn't even know she was holding and nearly collapsed into the bench where Zelas had been sitting before. Her rest was short lived, as the brass rackets tournament had to continue. She didn't even have time to let out her tensions by complaining to her friends, though she thought she heard Gourry telling Lina about how glad he was that his mother in law was nice. With number seven and number thirteen, the last remaining contestants, being called to the court, Filia went off to face her hopefully final obstacle in recovering Xellos.

Filia strode to her side of the court, while a young woman who went by the name of Yuna walked to the opposite side. Yuna looked normal enough with her energetic eyes and short orange hair. A classic sports girl with real skill. "You can serve if you want." She offered sweetly.

Filia knew not to lower her guard. Yuna was a very good brass rackets player and even after witnessing Filia's latest match, she didn't seem worried. "If you don't mind..." Filia served the magical ball, sending it to the side of the court opposite to the corner where Yuna stood.

With an amused look, Yuna was fast on her feet, rushing to meet the ball and send it back, also as far away from Filia on her side of the court as possible. Filia ran to return the ball, feeling the weight of the magic as she hit it back.

Both competitors resolved to stay in the middle of their respective sides of the court so that they could be ready to return the shots wherever they came from. The magical sphere was returned back and forth in an intense game, with both sides running and diving to save the ball. No points had been accumulated so far and the crowd was getting riled up. The brass rackets fans cheered energetically, waiting with baited breath to see who would score the first point.

"Time to up the game a bit," Yuna hit the ball back, a hint of black energy wrapping around it.

Filia had trouble hitting it back, but managed to sneak in a hint of holy energy around the sphere. "I know who you are!"

Yuna, who was actually Zelas in disguise, returned the ball, adding more of her own dark energy to it, which caused it to grow in size. "What are you going to do about it?"

Filia batted away the ball with her racket, bits of Zelas dark energy sparking off it and striking her as she tried to pour her own holy magic into it. Zelas could overpower her and Filia knew it, but she was prolonging their sports duel by limiting the amount of dark energy she added around the sphere. "I'm going to win!" Filia roared determinately, sounding very much like a ferocious dragon.

"Let's see you try!" Zelas added more of her dark energy to the ball as she sent it back straight at Filia.

Filia hit it back, trying to charge her own holy magic into it, in an attempt to cleanse it of Zelas' energy. Black and purple sparks of electricity stroke Filia as if she were a lightning rod when the ball came in contact with her racket. Though she couldn't help it but to scream in pain, Filia pushed against the ball, which seemed to be spinning in place in contact with her racket. She had to return that ball, she had to put up the best fight she could. Against all odds, she had to win, not only for Xellos, but also for herself. Filia gave it everything she had, a white and golden glow surrounded her as she poured her last drop of energy into the ball, coating it in holy magic and sending it back at Zelas.

Zelas covered her own racket in black magic and prepared for the hit. As soon as her racket came into contact with the holy magic ball, a chain reaction was initiated and the brass racket's court was surrounded in beams of golden and black light. The two opposing forces merged together in a massive blast of fusion magic that sent all those present in the premises running for their lives, if not flying away to a painful fall by the force of the powerful energy.

When everything finally cleared, there was a huge crater on the ground where the brass rackets court used to be. Filia was breathing heavily, looking terribly battered, just barely standing on one side of the crater. On the other side of the crater, Zelas was poking at her broken brass racket. The fusion blast was closest to her and in contact with her sports equipment, thus her racket broke, while Filia's only cracked.

"It's broken," Zelas tossed the useless racket handle over her shoulder and disappeared into the astral side, reappearing next to Filia. "Your racket is cracked, it'll break soon, but it seems mine broke first."

"Does that mean I won?" Filia was trembling in exhaustion and pain. She was covered in cuts and bruises as a result of being so close to the blast. She tried to protect herself, but she had already given all that she could give and couldn't spare any energy to heal herself even a little.

Zelas laughed in mocking amusement. "You've got an interesting attitude, zero instinct of self preservation. It's a wonder you're not dead given how often you expose yourself to getting the wrong people angry. Yet it's all oddly amusing, I suppose that's why Xellos was so fond of you."

"Was?" Filia questioned. From the corner of her eyes, that were still mainly focused on Zelas, Filia spotted Lina, Gourry, Zelgadis and Amelia approaching. They must have wisely retreated to find some cover right before the fusion blast. "What do you mean was?"

"Take a look around," Zelas smirked cruelly. "Everything was destroyed, including the chest that contained the tournament prizes. Xellos was disintegrated, such a pity. Oh well, I suppose I can always make myself a new minion..."

The group gasped, in disbelief that Xellos was gone. "Poor Mr. Xellos," Amelia grimaced.

Filia felt a few tears roll down her face as her heart sank. Xellos was gone, he wasn't coming back. He was dead and it was partially her fault. She fell to her knees keeping her eyes on the ground for several eternal seconds before she finally looked up to see Zelas' cruel and confident smirk. The golden dragon pulled herself to her feet with difficulty and dried her tears.

Zelas raised a curious eyebrow, "you're done crying already? I thought you would be mourning your lover for longer than this. Such a cruel dragon."

Filia mirrored Zelas' confident expression. "There's nothing to mourn because Xellos is still safe. You're just trying to trick me, it's written all over your face!" Realizing that she was being a little too direct, Filia was quick to clear her throat and add in a serious tone, "with all due respect, Lord Beast Master."

Zelas laughed, it was a strong and imposing laugh, yet somehow it was as obnoxious as the laughs of Naga and Martina. "You're really giving that lonely brain cell of yours a good work out, aren't you? You're more observant than expected, but not observant enough." Zelas pulled out the necklace from the pocket of her sports mini skirt. The black cone shaped gem that imprisoned Xellos was still intact. "The necklace I threw was a fake; I switched it when you weren't looking. The real Xellos was with me the whole time. Which means this little detour was... not vital, yet nonetheless amusing."

Filia collapsed in exhaustion, with Amelia immediately rushing over to heal her. "I guess it's next to impossible not to be tricked by the lord of all tricksters," Filia breathed before passing out, being left to the mercy of the healing spells, that Lina and Zelgadis soon joined in helping with.

xoxox xox xoxox

After Filia was back on her feet, the group continued their journey to the next town, reaching it well after nightfall. Tired from the day's events, they checked into an inn and retreated to their respective rooms. Zelas of course got her own room.

Curious to discuss a few peculiar details she had noticed with the monster lord, Lina Inverse, the red haired heroine who was more intuitive and observant than anyone would guess, set out to knock on Zelas' door. When the monster lord didn't reply, the sorceress bravely opened the door a few inches, taking a peek inside.

Zelas was back to her flashier appearance with the dress, the jewelry, the tan and the long hair. She was sleeping on the inn's bed, not caring to throw the blanket over herself, it's not like she would get cold anyway. She slept on her side, one arm folded under her head atop the pillow, the other hand touching the bed, slightly stretched as if inviting someone to sit. Her legs were slightly bent at the knees, her dress framing them perfectly. Her face was serene; eyes peacefully closed accentuating her long lashes.

Zelas looked like the sculpture of a goddess and Lina's survival instinct told her it was better not to disturb her. That and the fact that Fang, Zelas' loyal pet monster fox was sitting next to the bed showing his sharp teeth as he glared. Lina knew that Zelas didn't need to sleep and didn't know why she suddenly decided she wanted to. The redhead also knew that even if she allowed herself to sleep, Zelas didn't need a guard and didn't know why she decided to have one anyway. Maybe she was being extra careful to make sure Filia didn't try to steal the necklace containing Xellos, not that she would. Another thing Lina knew, or thought she knew, was that Filia, although dangerously daring, was not a suicidal fool. Gently closing the door, Lina left.

xoxox xox xoxox

Rather than going to her room to get some rest, Lina called for a group meeting. Gourry tagged along with her as usual. Amelia and Zelgadis were there, but Filia was absent, with Amelia explaining, "I saw Miss Filia heading up to the roof."

"That's okay, we can excuse her from the meeting," the leader decided. The princess and the chimera were puzzled as to why Lina would call them and assumed it had something to do with Beast Master. However, Lina's topic of discussion was something else. "You've gone through a lot of temples looking for a cure, haven't you Zel? And you've been conducting research to help, haven't you Amelia? Even if you've toned it down lately, the information you've gathered in the past should be enough to get started. To summarize, I have called this meeting so that we can decide what treasure we'll be hunting for." Before her companions could protest, Lina raised her hand in a sign of silence and assured, "trust me, this is all a part of my plan."

xoxox xox xoxox

Meanwhile, Filia found herself unable to sleep despite being terribly tired. She stood at a balcony at the inn's rooftop gazing at the stars. She wasn't sure what to think about the recent events. Why did Zelas agree to follow Lina, instead of forcing Lina to become her pawn? Why was Lina so confident that things would work out? Beast Master's behavior was very puzzling to Filia and so was Lina's, albeit everyone in the group had silently agreed to trust their leader.

"Filia?" The voice was distant, almost like an otherworldly echo, but it was still distinctly familiar.

"Oh great, now I'm hearing Xellos' voice in my head, I must be going crazy," Filia massaged her temples worriedly.

"I thought you were already crazy," the same familiar distant echoing voice was heard again. Filia turned around and there he was. Xellos, his hair still white, surrounded by a silvery glow as if he were a ghost. Yet his presence didn't feel like a ghost, he was more like a spirit that had been detached from its still living body.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 068: Divergence! Treasure Hunting

"Xellos..." Filia approached the ghostly Xellos, who was floating a few inches above the surface of the inn's roof where she stood. She reached out to touch him, but her hand went through him. "I see... Your spirit wandered out, but your body is still imprisoned. You'd best be careful," her voice felt shaky, "don't go too far from your body or you might become a lost spirit. Humans need physical forms after all; you can't exist as a purely astral being in your current state."

"Crying again?" Xellos noted, "I thought you'd be happy to see me, stupid dragon."

"I'm crying because I'm happy to see you, raw garbage!" Filia retorted. She took a deep breath and calmed herself. "You look really angelic glowing like that."

Xellos crossed his arms in a huff, "I did not come out here to be insulted!"

Filia laughed for the first time in what felt like forever. The last few days had been terribly straining for her. "How did you manage to get out of the crystal?"

"I don't know," Xellos admitted. "When I came to, I was floating in Zelas's room while she slept. My guess is that I only managed to come out of the crystal because she's sleeping." Although he was unconscious while he was in the crystal, Xellos' last memory of being painfully trapped in it made him think that he would sleep eternally. He didn't know how long it had been when he woke up and was relieved to find Filia, confirming that not too much time passed after all. "Who knows why Zelas decided to get some sleep? It's not like she actually needs it, you do."

Filia couldn't argue with that. "I'm terribly tired, but judging by what you said, you'll go back to the crystal when Zelas wakes up. I'm not going to sleep through your visit just so you can tell me how rude I am."

"Fine, but don't blame me if you look like a zombie in the morning," Xellos teased.

Filia groaned in vexation. "Don't even talk to me about zombies. I had to exorcise your crazy zombie fan girl, Saramina."

"Saramina's gone?" A smile spread across Xellos' features as he jumped into the air, though he was already floating to begin with. "She's finally gone!" He quickly composed himself and in an overly serious tone commented, "it's about time you made yourself useful, stupid dragon."

Filia couldn't help it but to be amused by his reaction. "I take it Beast Master told you not to get rid of her?"

"Exactly," Xellos confirmed. "Saramina was a source of annoyance for all those who ever met her. She was in a sense, a good chef for negative emotions. I'm surprised you're still alive after getting rid of her. Lord Beast Master must have been feeling especially merciful."

"Considering all I went through, I really don't want to know what she's like when she's feeling merciless," Filia yawned.

"Get some sleep, stupid dragon, my guess is that your chances for real rest will be scarce," Xellos insisted.

Now that Filia had gotten to see Xellos again, even if he was only a spirit, she felt reassured enough for her tiredness to catch up to her and defeat her previous insomnia. "You're probably right..." but that still didn't change the fact that she would rather stay awake and talk to Xellos for a while longer. She had a lot to get off her chest.

"I heard spirits can enter dreams rather easily," Xellos hinted.

Filia smiled, that would solve the situation. She could get some sleep and still be with Xellos. "I guess I should get some sleep then. I'll see you in my dreams."

"That sounded terribly cheesy," Xellos teased. His amused expression turned into a serious one as he warned. "If you overload your dream with pink, frill and cute fuzzy creatures I'm calling an emergency retreat and getting out of there immediately."

"Alright, alright, I'll keep it toned down," Filia agreed with a little pout.

Filia returned to her room where she settled into bed and fell asleep almost instantly. Xellos attempted to enter her dreams, but felt as if he was chained in a metaphorical way and the chain didn't extend far enough for him to enter someone's dreams. He could try to break free, but it would probably be bad if he completely detached his spirit from his body in the black cone crystal. "Now Filia's going to complain about being stood up in dream land." Xellos said to no one in particular. He floated next to Filia, unable to do much else at the moment. Well, at least she was getting some rest, she needed it.

xoxox xox xoxox

When the morning came, Filia felt as if she didn't get enough sleep and had to drag herself out of bed to the sound of Amelia rushing her downstairs before Lina ate all the food. Xellos never showed up in her dreams, well he did, but those were just images created by her own memories, not the real Xellos. She was angry at him for a while, actually considering asking Beast Master for permission to insult her necklace, but decided against the silliness of it all. Xellos wouldn't be able to hear her if he was back in the necklace anyway. On the other hand, Filia didn't know when Xellos had been called back, as she correctly assumed he had been. Maybe it happened shortly after she fell asleep. Or maybe, even if he was there for a while, for unknown circumstances, he was unable to enter her dreams after all. If that was the case then it wasn't his fault he technically stood her up.

Debating if she should complain about it or not the next time she saw Xellos, Filia tried to have some breakfast and finish waking up. Deep down she knew she would just forget about him being a no show in her dreams and just be happy to see him again whenever that happened. Breakfast went by as any breakfast with Lina Inverse's traveling group would go.

When they were finally done, Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Filia and Zelas, left the inn and were on the road again. The first four had an air of purpose around them, as if they knew exactly where they were going. Or rather Lina, Amelia and Zelgadis knew of their intended destination and Gourry simply knew where he was going because the answer was as simple as 'wherever Lina's going.' Zelas followed along with her usual annoying little comments and critiques that no one dared to voice a well deserved snide reply to.

"Where are we going?" Filia finally inquired, not content with following along without a clue.

"We're going treasure hunting!" Lina happily announced. She stopped in the middle of the path and looked back at the town. "This is far enough, no one from town will see us here." She pointed at a collection of bushes that was on the road side. "We came all this way so you wouldn't have any modesty related excuses and look, there's some cover over there."

Filia already dreaded where this was going. She narrowed her eyes, stomped her feet and pouted, producing a firm, "no!"

"C'mon Filia, we need you to do this. Zelas is going to get impatient if we don't get to our destination soon and it's a far walk!" Lina argued; she was the one who was getting impatient. If Zelas made one more comment about her bodily proportions, Lina would surely snap and Dragon Slave the monster lord, never mind the consequences. The only reason she lasted that long was because Gourry kept telling her to calm down, giving her a hug each time he did, thus sufficiently distracting her from her rage.

"Why can't Zelas teleport us?" Filia didn't want to carry the group, but most of all she didn't want to carry Zelas. She would much rather get the worse case of teleportation sickness she ever got.

"We can do this on our own power," Lina insisted with a meaningful look that told Filia she wasn't exactly contributing to the fulfillment of her plan.

"C'mon, Filia, make yourself useful," Zelas teased. "Just go hide your hideous self behind those bushes and transform into an even uglier creature. Relax, no one is going to look at your chest while you're changing, us girls will make sure the boys don't peek. Of course, if it were Lina she wouldn't have that problem, since she's so flat-chested."

Lina's anger reached its limit, Zelas was purposely saying what Lina considered to be terribly cruel things to get on her nerves and she was accomplishing it. So what if she was a powerful monster lord? So what if Lina knew she couldn't count on using the power of the Lord of Nightmares in this fight? So what if using black magic on a monster lord wasn't the most effective way to go? Forget logic, forget reason, forget sanity! "Darkness beyond twilight, crimson beyond-!"

Lina's words were silenced by Gourry's lips on hers. Her face was practically glowing red and it took her a second, but she wrapped his arms around him and returned the kiss, momentarily forgetting where they were and who was watching. When they finally parted, it didn't look like Lina had any intentions of picking a suicidal fight anymore. "Are you going to be okay, Lina?" Gourry asked gently.

Lina smiled with a loving expression. "Yeah, I'm fine now..." Then she realized she had an audience and her face turned scarlet again. "Stop looking at me! Gourry, don't do stuff like that in front of people!"

"Why not?" Gourry innocently asked. "I thought we've been engaged for long enough for it to be okay to kiss you."

Lina's head was almost producing steam out of the ears as she blushed brighter than anyone would guess is possible. "That's not the point, it's just that people are looking and... and... and..."

"I understand, you're shy," Gourry smiled, apparently too dense to know how to be embarrassed. "It's okay; from now on I'll remember to only kiss you in private."

Gritting her teeth and hiding her face with her hands in mortification, Lina muttered, "thanks a lot Gourry."

"You're welcome," Gourry cheerfully replied.

Lina cleared her throat and directed disapproving looks at Zelgadis and Amelia "stop snickering you two!" When they didn't stop, Lina resorted to what she thought would be a vengeful reaction. "Don't think I didn't see you Zel. You were kissing Amelia goodnight yesterday in the hallway at the inn!"

Zelgadis blushed in a similar way to Lina, though Lina's blush was still brighter by comparison. "I.... have no intentions of denying that." He pushed the words out with some difficulty.

Amelia gave Zelgadis an adoring look and happily declared, "Life is wonderful and love is wonderful!"

With an innocent smile, Zelas voiced, "you know what else is wonderful?" Her expression changed drastically, her fangs once again visible, narrowed eyes glowing. "Bloody murder is wonderful, like the one I'll give you if you don't tone down your positive speeches."

Amelia gulped and backed away, "yes, Lord Beast Master."

Filia sighed, "will the insanity ever end?" She went behind the bushes and transformed, lowering her body so that the others could climb aboard. She wasn't happy with the fact that Zelas insisted on riding first and kept tugging at her hair like a horse's reins.

xoxox xox xoxox

Following Lina's instructions, Filia landed at the foot of a mountain which had a cave on its side, its entrance adorned with once elegant ivory pillars, which were now showing the punishment of time and lack of maintenance. The group got off Filia, who took cover behind a rock formation beside the mountain and changed back to her elf form, emerging to join the group. They were about to enter the cave temple when a sudden appearance by Fang caught their attention.

The monster fox materialized out of the astral side with Phythan being dragged along as Fang ran. The young golden dragon was clinging to one of Fang's tails pleading, "don't leave me alone with her!"

Fang shook him off at last, causing Phythan to land by Zelas' feet. The monster fox dusted off his tails indignantly, threw his head back and strolled away, fading into the astral side as he did. Sure, he was generally well behaved, but there had to be a situation that got on his nerves. Zelas knew something was going on, Fang was used to being poked due to his frequent participation in pet shows, he wouldn't react like this unless he was really annoyed. She looked at the golden dragon on the ground. "I hope you're not trying to look up my skirt. Get it right, the easy one who has a thing for golden dragons is Xellos, not me."

Phythan scrambled to his feet, immediately excusing himself, "I wasn't doing anything wrong!" He got up with as much dignity as he could muster after his peculiar arrival and dusted off his dragon robes.

"Xellos is not easy," Filia felt the need to point out. "He's very, very, very, very difficult." She had to silently admit to herself that Xellos' sarcasm had indeed rubbed off on her.

Phythan puckered his lower lip, his violet eyes seemingly growing to twice their size. Beast Master had Phythan as her intern long enough to know this meant he was going into whining mode. "Lord Beast Master, Miss Galathia is trying to kill me! I know you told me to follow her orders and I figured you would be mad if I disintegrated her with my laser breath, but I can't just stand around and get killed! What should I do?" He paused in his complaining to flash the rest of the group a charming smile, "hi everyone!"

Filia slapped her own forehead in disbelief. At least no one could say she was the biggest disgrace to the golden dragon race. Oh no, she was sure Phythan had her beat in that category. With no warning, Galathia Gorgon faded into existence from the astral side. "There you are! Why have you come to bother Lord Beast Master during her special mission? Don't forget I was left in charge of your internship duties while she was gone."

"He says you want to kill him, golden dragons are so dramatic," Zelas mocked. "They're the living representation of a cheesy soap opera."

"I never said I would kill you," Galathia argued.

"You did too!" Phythan insisted. "You said you'd do the naughtiest thing I could imagine and the worse thing one can do to a person is murder."

Filia, who actually caught the hidden meaning of the threat, blushed in embarrassment and anger. "You indecent monster, you're not laying a finger on him!" She threatened Galathia fiercely, then patted Phythan on the head like one would pet a kitten. "It's okay, your big sister Filia will make sure these perverted monsters don't corrupt you."

"That's funny, I thought Xellos already corrupted you," Zelas innocently observed with a detached tone.

"How... do... you..." Filia stuttered mortified.

"How do I know?" Zelas offered. She grinned with smug superiority, "because you told me just now." Filia bit her lip and held her tongue, to avoid inserting her foot in her mouth again.

"Excuse me," Lina interfered. "I think it's time for us to be on our way with our treasure hunting business. Plus I don't like the way this conversation is going."

"I'm getting bored," Zelas yawned in an exaggerated way.

"Don't worry, the renegotiation stage is at hand," Lina confidently assured. "Although, I think you might already have a pretty good idea of what my main argument will be. Nonetheless, I might as well finish my presentation. Shall we go?"

"Very well," Zelas agreed. She glanced at the gorgon, whose face was still covered, before approaching the entrance of the temple cave. "Galathia, try not to traumatize the intern, if he gets all horrified and depressed he won't be amusing anymore."

Galathia frowned behind her thick veil. Zelas' order, which was mockingly intoned as a friendly suggestion, basically meant that Phythan was off limits, at least until he got on Zelas' bad side. Given how dutiful he was as an intern, it didn't look like that would happen any time soon. "Yes, Lord Beast Master," the snake-like woman sighed in disappointment. She faded to the astral side to continue her duties in the monster spa.

"Alright everyone, onward!" Lina led the way through the entrance of the temple cave. Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Filia, Zelas and Phythan followed her in.

Ivory tiles with bits of grass growing between them were abundant at first. The tiles became scarce the deeper they went into the cave, which had a slight downward slope. Ragged fragments of a red carpet could be seen on the soil ground, with more bits of grass that became less abundant the further they went. The walls of the cave were nicely polished at first, becoming rougher as they went deeper in. Finally, the cave temple ended up looking like any other cave with plain rocky grounds and rough walls. Stalagmites and stalactites were all around with drops of water occasionally falling on their heads.

The explorers finally reached a large set of double doors, which had already been forced open as the bottom of half of one of the giant stone doors had a hole on it. "It looks like this place has already been raided," Zelas commented in boredom.

"Yes, I raided it," Zelgadis admitted. Noting Zelas' questioning look, he elaborated, "there's only one thing that was left behind, something that's too large to be moved." The group made their way into the room behind the broken stone doors as Zelgadis announced, "that is the mountain itself."

"What would I want with a mountain?" Zelas inquired.

"It's a holy mountain, or that's what people say, at least," Lina specified.

"I can figure that for myself," Zelas voiced impatiently.

"Then you must also know the information isn't entirely true," Amelia pointed out. "Zelgadis came here looking for a cure for his chimera condition. I had also researched this place from texts that were delivered to Seyruun and gathered information. There is supposed to be a powerful artifact here, but it's not."

"Yet the mountain still holds a considerable amount of energy in it. A normal monster would not be able to enter here," Zelgadis continued.

"Indeed," Zelas agreed, "yet a monster lord would be strong enough to fight here," she warned.

"True," Lina acknowledged, "but we're not here for a fight, we're here for the artifact, for the golden pyramid! If it was truly gone, then the mountain would hold no power, the only explanation is that it's buried and we're going to dig it out. Darkness beyond twilight, crimson beyond blood that flows, buried in the stream of time is where your power grows!"

"You didn't say you would dig it out with the Dragon Slave!" Zelgadis reproached.

"I suppose it is faster than shovels, besides, we don't have shovels anyway," Amelia reasoned. "Maybe we should wait outside." Amelia went on the retreat with Zelgadis, Gourry, Filia and Phythan following.

"I pledge myself to conquer all the foes who stand, before the mighty gift bestowed in my unworthy hands!" Lina continued her signature spell, while Zelas observed. "Let the fools... er mountain, that stands before me be destroyed by the power you and I possess!" Zelas faded into the astral side and swiftly moved away from the vicinity of the attack. "Dragon Slave!" Lina released her energy, reducing the mountain to dust.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 069: Unclear! Disarranged Puzzle Pieces

Lina stood in the middle of a large crater with small pieces of gold falling around her, which she gathered. "The golden pyramid is a powerful artifact capable of enslaving high level monsters that can be ordered into battle by the holder of this device. It doesn't hold enough power to work on a monster lord, general or priest, and one would have to be skilled in sorcery to activate it. The pyramid itself is a three dimensional puzzle about the size of a fist when put together. It is made of gold pieces with magic sealed in them. When it is broken as it is now, it cannot be used to enslave monsters. Nonetheless each individual piece works as an amulet to guard against middle rank monsters."

Lina continued her explanation. "Overall, it's a fairly useful device that can turn the tides in a battle, even if perhaps not in a war." The redhead finished gathering the pieces of the golden pyramid as her friends approached and Zelas returned via the astral side. Lina held the golden pieces in her hands towards Zelas, "for you."

Zelas accepted the pieces of the golden pyramid puzzle, nonetheless pointing out, "this is hardly a sufficient bribe." Even if she spoke those words, Zelas had a peculiar grin on her face, as if a hidden purpose had been accomplished.

"It's not a bribe," Lina mirrored Zelas' expression. "It's only something that you wouldn't have if you had not come along with us. Something that you wouldn't have even heard we obtained."

"So it would seem," Zelas agreed, so far it appeared that the monster lord and the sorceress had reached a silent understanding that remained partially hidden to the rest of the group.

"About those renegotiations," Lina brought up the subject, "or rather, about the point I was trying to prove..."

"You've done a fine job as a bodyguard, even when all was seemingly lost, you provided a valid argument," Zelas acknowledged. "However," she warned, "my choice had been made from the start, thus you have no real influence on me."

"I noticed that," Lina accepted, "I think it was still worth proving the point though. I wouldn't want anyone to say I'm a lousy bodyguard who gives up on her clients, that's bad for business."

"Of course," Zelas grinned, "you truly are a peculiar being, Lina Inverse. Pact or not, I might still call upon you in the future, my amusing pawn."

Lina huffed, "I'm no one's pawn," she insisted, though she had been used as such in the past, thus she clarified, "but I'm a sorceress for hire on occasion. I accept payment in gold and don't forget to include a courtesy meal!"

"I'll remember that," Zelas ran a perfectly manicured fingernail over the smooth surface of the black cone jewel on her necklace. "I will release Xellos in a few days. You may carry on with your journey; I'll catch up to you when the time comes." With her final choice made, Zelas gave one last quick glance to Phythan, "your next assignment is to travel with Lina's group and report what you witness to me." Then she faded away to the astral side.

Phythan made a little salute, though Zelas had already disappeared, "yes, Lord Beast Master!"

Lina stretched her arms over her head, "that takes care of that. Let's find a good place to eat."

"Wait a minute!" Filia protested. "What just happened? What made Zelas want to release Xellos and why is she waiting a few days?"

"That I don't know," Lina admitted, but she at least could explain the rest. "Throughout our travels we come across a lot of places, people, things and situations. Zelas might want to be informed of all that for various reasons. I wanted to prove that it was worth keeping an eye on us and who better to do that than Zelas' most trusted minion? If she sends someone different who is not a monster, it wouldn't be the same to her and if she makes a new general priest, it wouldn't be the same to us, thus affecting our actions."

Filia's eyes widened in realization. "I understand; you were trying to prove to Zelas that Xellos is still useful to her. That's what this whole trip was about. But what if your theory about the mountain was mistaken?"

"I would have to figure out something to do," Lina grinned, disregarding the risk. "Don't I always?" She paused, with her face taking on a more thoughtful expression. "Nonetheless, Zelas' choice had already been made. She never intended to destroy Xellos. Galathia mentioned a secret mission; I believe this is all the same thing. The reason why we haven't been getting a whole lot of trouble from monsters, though we did have to face the Green Alchemist, the reason why Zelas reduced the amount of danger Xellos was exposed to... she must have had plans for him. Whatever those plans are, they must have involved trapping him in that crystal for a while. Zelas' plans have not yet been fulfilled though; it is probably something that takes time."

"That's why she won't release Xellos for a few days," Filia agreed. Her face was filled with horror as she considered the possibilities. "What if this is all part of some kind of plot to launch a full scale attack? What if she's trying to doom the world?" She rushed over to Phythan, shaking him by the shoulders. "Do you know something? Speak!"

"I don't know anything!" Phythan insisted. "This is my most exciting mission yet. All I ever do as an intern is groom Fang, clean Lord Beast Master's lair and carry her gigantic purse when she goes somewhere."

"This could mean trouble, but we know so little it's hard to think of what to do," Amelia worried. Attempting to break into Lord Beast Master's lair was out of the question. Not only would that be a suicide mission that was doomed to fail, but they had no idea where exactly the lair was located anyway and Phythan probably got teleported there by monsters, rather than being informed of the location.

"Then we'll just have to wing it!" Lina concluded with more optimism than the situation probably deserved.

xoxox xox xoxox

The group continued their journey, locating the nearest restaurant from the sky, riding on Phythan. Unlike Filia, he didn't mind carrying the group and still had no problems with transforming in front of people. After they had a good meal, the journey continued with occasional stops at inns and restaurants for sleep and food respectively. They were heading back to Seyruun; they weren't sure what to do next, so they resolved it was best to regroup there.

After a particularly long day of traveling, they stopped to camp out, as the next town was still a considerable distance away. Nothing appeared to be out of place as they sat around a campfire roasting marshmallows, until an unknown being materialized before them. He was obviously a monster, judging by how he moved through the astral side, albeit he resembled a human chimera in appearance. He had black hair and silver eyes; he was wearing black clothes in the style of a classic evil wizard, with silver armlets, belts and boots. Filia could perceive that he had plentiful monster powers at his disposal. Another noticeable trait was the spiky collar he wore around his neck, which was something one would expect a pet to wear.

The main differences that gave him away as a non-human to those who couldn't sense his energy, were his fox ears and tail, which were covered in black fur. Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis and Filia jumped to their feet, taking on fighting stances, ready to combat the monster if he attacked. The fox creature appeared to ignore the aggressive atmosphere, instead keeping his eyes on Amelia and taking a step towards her. "Amelia... Would you scratch me behind the ears? I really like it when you do that!"

The group nearly fell over in shock. "Just who do you think you are?" Zelgadis angrily demanded.

"I'm Fang and you're Zelgadis!" The fox creature pointed out in a carefree tone.

"Fang?!" Lina, Amelia, Zelgadis and Filia chorused the surprised exclamation.

"Who's Fang?" Predictably, Gourry didn't remember.

"This is Fang's human form... or rather, his human chimera form," Phythan calmly explain. He had seen Fang's alternate form so it did not come as a surprise to him. "You know how it is, monsters can take on human disguises, but since Fang is a monster fox chimera, his human disguise is a fox chimera too." Fang was a chimera created much more recently than Celo, with improved methods that prevented his power from noticeably decreasing.

"I guess Zelas wanted to send a monster along with us." Lina sat down again. At least when Xellos returned, things should go back to normal. Or rather, things should be restored to their usual level of insanity.

The group settled down and went back to enjoying their roasted marshmallows, albeit Zelgadis wasn't pleased with Fang trying to lay his head on Amelia's lap. That wasn't so bad when he was just a fox, but now he was different. In an attempt to make them get along, Amelia pulled out a hairbrush from her cape and offered it to Zelgadis, "why don't you brush Fang's hair?"

"Brush his hair? But he's-" Zelgadis' argument was interrupted when Fang half laid on his lap.

Unlike in his fox chimera form, when in human chimera form, Fang had one tail instead of two, which wasn't as huge as his two tails in his alternate form. None the less, he could certainly wag that tail. "Brush my hair Zelgadis, I like having my hair brushed!"

Zelgadis felt his eye twitch and gave Amelia a desperate look. The princess smile encouragingly and nodded, while Lina snickered in amusement and Filia shook her head hopelessly. Gourry was as confused as usual, so he had nothing to offer Zelgadis beyond a blank look. "I can't believe this," shocked with himself, Zelgadis began to brush Fang's hair.

Other than that, it seemed that the camping trip would be relatively uneventful as the marshmallows were consumed and sleeping arrangements were made. Then in the middle of the night, Fang woke up. "I taste it, it's strong!" He exclaimed loud enough to wake the others. "I want it, I want it! Can I go? Can I have a snack now?"

"We already ate all the food, shut up and go to sleep!" Lina scolded, not pointing out that she had consumed the largest portion of their supplies herself.

Fang whimpered, "no snack?" He pouted cutely, his silver eyes looking similar to Phythan's when he was complaining.

"I don't think he wants normal food," Phythan commented sleepily. He yawned and allowed himself a moment to become fully alert. Then he leapt to his feet in determination. "Monsters feed off negative emotions, Fang must be able to taste the feelings of someone who is in peril! I cannot overlook this injustice!"

"Oh no..." Zelgadis muttered under his breath. Phythan was giving a justice speech; that would be sure to get Amelia riled up.

"Neither can I!" Amelia energetically jumped to her feet. "Fang, lead us to the source of the taste you perceive, we must find the person who is in need of assistance. We must defend justice!"

"Snack!" Fang took off in an all out dash, followed by Phythan and Amelia.

Since Amelia was going, Zelgadis ran after her as well, "wait for me!"

"Yes, Zelgadis, let us defend justice together!" Amelia took his hand, pulling him along to go faster. She was an amazingly speedy runner when it came to rushing to defend justice.

"Can't we defend justice in the morning?" Lina begrudgingly followed them.

"I guess that's a no?" Gourry hurried after Lina, not understanding the significance of the sarcastic rhetorical question.

"I might as well go," Filia joined the mad chase as well.

xoxox xox xoxox

Fang led the group towards a patch of vegetation. Not too far away, the crunching of the first few fallen leaves of autumn could be heard. The footsteps were unsure and unsteady, not following a firm rhythm. They were not too fast, yet there was a feeling of despair to the ragged breaths that accompanied them. The forested area was dark, the trees blocking the light of the moon and stars, but up ahead there was a bright unnatural golden glow. It was the gold that shined upon the sea of chaos.

Fang stopped his tracks several feet away from the Lord of Nightmares. "I smell power, I smell a lot of power," his black fox ears twitched as he lowered himself to hide behind some bushes, keeping his voice in a whisper. "That person knows we're here," he realized, "so much power, is this the one master calls Lord of Nightmares?"

Amelia, Zelgadis, Lina, Gourry, Filia and Phythan took cover along with Fang. "It's a warning," Lina guessed. "She wants us to hang back," albeit her voice was only a quiet whisper; she knew the Lord of Nightmares could hear her. The golden glow faded and everything was left in darkness once more.

"Who's there?" A weak voice called from the darkness. "Is anyone there?" It was the tired voice of a young woman.

Gourry was about to open his mouth to reply, but even if she couldn't see it in the darkness, Lina knew it. She simply knew him that well. The redhead reached out blindly and felt his shoulder, from there on finding his face and holding her hand over his mouth was easy.

"Answer me!" The female voice called out again.

Zelgadis could feel Amelia tensing up next to him. A seemingly defenseless person was in need of help and it was difficult for her to hold back the need to provide assistance.

"I'm not going back! I'm not going back!" The unsteady steps continued in the darkness. "I'm not going back, I'm never going back, there's nothing for me there. I'll seek my own happiness, they who give me nothing will not get anything from me. I can start over, I'm not going back," desperate sobs mixed into the words. "I'm not going back-ah!" There was the sound of someone falling on the ground and Amelia tensed further.

Then the brightness returned as the Lord of Nightmares once more showed her light. "You are weak."

On the ground in front of her there was a human woman. She seemed to be in bad shape with stained and ripped clothing, dirt and mud clinging to her, a few visible cuts and bruises and long tangled up black hair. "Who are you?" She looked at the being before her with curiosity, yet oddly there was no fear."

"You fear entrapment, you fear suffering and yet you do not fear me?" The Lord of Nightmares spoke. "You who despises the tranquil struggle, you who wishes to live outside the cycle of the masses, your weakness prevents you."

"No..." The girl looked as if the words spoken to her struck a chord. "I'm here now, I left, I started over, I'm not going to be weak anymore."

"You do not fear the embrace of death for it will spare you the pain," the Lord of Nightmares raised her hand. "Is your spirit as weak as your body?"

Amelia started to get up, but Zelgadis stopped her. She tried to move nonetheless, yet he held her in place. She stopped struggling and didn't say anything. What good could it do?

"Farewell," A silver orb of light floated on the Lord of Nightmares' hand. She held the orb in her hand, watching as the girl's black eyes stared at it, the darkness of her eyes and hair contrasting with her pale face. Then the Lord of Nightmares released the orb and it collided with the girl, trapping her in silver flames that electrified her.

"Stop!" Amelia cried out, but the sound was only a distant echo.

"Can't... move..." Phythan tried to jump into action but could not, none of them could.

Paralyzed and unable to even speak loud enough to be heard, Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Filia, Phythan and Fang watched on until the silver light faded and the girl fell unconscious. The Lord of Nightmares disappeared and Lina's group was released, once again able to move around and be heard normally.

"I'm telling... I'm telling master!" Fang loudly declared, fading to the astral side instantly.

"Fang, no!" Lina reached out to the space where Fang was, but was unable to grab hold of him before he was gone. "Great, now Zelas is coming."

"Then we need to hurry!" Amelia rushed towards the unconscious young woman.

Phythan and Filia joined her, attempted to use healing magic on the girl, but soon Filia stopped them. "Don't!"

"Why not? She needs to be healed!" Amelia didn't understand.

"Look at her, her face is getting flushed, her breathing is uneven, her heartbeats are wild, our healing is making her worse" Filia explained. "Her energy waves are definitely human but they're different. I've heard about this, it's a rare condition that sometimes occurs in the lands that were outside the barrier. She will always react adversely to magic and is unable to cast it herself. It's a sort of genetic disease that can be inherited."

"Then we'll have to heal her the old fashioned way," Amelia concluded.

"It looks like there's no choice," Filia agreed.

Before anything could be done about the unknown girl, Fang reappeared with Zelas. "There she is," Fang pointed. "That's the girl with the yummy desperate emotions, but she's not yummy anymore. Now she's empty, she has no taste at all. She's alive, how come she has no taste? How come?"

"So the Lord of Nightmares threw a sort of spell into this girl?" Zelas curiously approached. "Are you glad Lina? Your point has been further proven. It is worth it to keep an eye on your group." She looked at the unconscious girl commenting with distaste, "she's filthy, it is as if she has been wandering around for a while, possibly lost. Perhaps no one cares for her, or perhaps she has been trying not to be found. Nonetheless, there is something there; the Lord of Nightmares sealed something in this girl, I wonder what that something is? I suppose I'll find out soon enough. Fang, be a dear and fetch the girl. Try not to get too messy handling the filthy creature."

"Yes master, right away!" Fang cheerfully agreed, wagging his fox tail.

Fang approached the girl, but Amelia stood in his way. "You can't just take her away!"

"It's okay, Amelia," Phythan encouraged. "Lord Beast Master wants to know what is sealed in her, right? She won't risk losing it if she dies. That's why I know she will be healed. Besides, she has a negative reaction to magic anyway, we can't heal her."

"I know, but..." that didn't make it any less frustrating for Amelia. She was a kind person who didn't like seeing others suffer.

"But you don't get a say in it," Zelas smiled smugly. "Fang, take the girl to Tiffany, tell her I said to keep her alive. Stay with her and come get me as soon as it looks like she's about to wake up."

"Yes master!" Fang carefully picked up the unconscious girl and disappeared into the astral side.

"Intern, you may continue to travel with Lina and the others for a while and assist Xellos in compiling his reports," Zelas ordered.

Filia gasped, catching a very important detail, "Xellos?"

"I was going to wait until morning, but it's been long enough." Zelas took off her black cone jewel necklace as it began to glow. Black light emerged from it, forming into a shadow that took the shape of Xellos. In seconds he materialized completely, still in the form of a human, albeit he had recovered enough for his hair to be black again. He was unconscious when he fully emerged and fell forward, though Filia was quick to catch him. "He is alright, only sleeping," Zelas stated. "Well then, I leave Xellos in your care for the time being. However, make no mistake, my patience is not infinite. I have obtained what I wanted, so this time we play for keeps. If Xellos is unable to break his curse and recover his monster powers in a reasonable amount of time, I will destroy him." Leaving a heavy feeling of foreboding in the air, Zelas disappeared.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive

Episode 070: Doubts! Go On A Journey

Once again like many other times, Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Filia and Xellos, found themselves on the road to Seyruun, simply because they were not sure of where to go next. Seyruun seemed like the obvious choice since it always had food waiting for Lina, or so she hoped, in spite of the kingdom's generous efforts against the famine. It would take time, but the land was set to recover as far as they knew, so maybe Phil would still be willing to generously feed them.

Unlike in other past occasions, this time around, the group had an additional companion, a golden dragon by the name of Phythan who was ironically Beast Master's intern. There was also a lot more uncertainty in the air, due to the unanswered questions in regards to Zelas' plans, which even Xellos himself was unaware of and even more uncertainty related to the Lord of Nightmares.

Uncertainty or not, however, Lina was still Lina and she still had a monstrous appetite to feed, metaphorically speaking, since an actual monster would be easier to feed than Lina Inverse. Given that circumstance, the travelers found themselves stopping at another restaurant where their discussions went in circles to the background sound of Lina and Gourry's loud and fast chewing noises.

"What I can't understand is why, if Zelas knows the answer to the curse, she can't just say it." Filia was feeling frustrated. "She wants to have her general priest back, but she's making things awfully difficult and throwing threats around. She already got what she wanted, whatever that is, so why all of this?"

"A test I would assume," Xellos theorized, though Beast Master had never tested him in such a way before. He had always done well on his assigned missions, so she had no need to provide him with a test. He glanced around the restaurant as if looking for something, though it was something invisible. He then stared at Filia, who was still muttering under her breath in frustration, possibly fearing for his life. She appeared to be debating how truly valid Lina's point was about Xellos still being useful in the long wrong as seen from Zelas' perspective. "Filia..."

"What is it? Can't you see I'm trying to vent my frustrations?" Filia growled threateningly.

"You're as moody as ever, stupid dragon," Xellos observed. This was a big difference from waking up to be hugged, cuddled, kissed and overloaded with affection before he even got the beginning of an explanation about how and why he was back. Yet there was something different, "I thought I was just tired, but if it's not back by now, it might not come back at all. It was annoying, but insightful. It's like losing a sense I was accustomed to having, albeit in a different form than what I originally had."

Filia gave him a curious look, "what are you talking about?"

"Empathy," Xellos simply voiced. "I can't tell how anyone is feeling right now. At least not beyond visual conclusions, but that can be misleading."

Filia huffed, "it's not like you were considerate to other's emotions anyway, raw garbage!"

"I was very considerate... in properly manipulating people, stupid dragon!" Xellos argued smugly.

"Quite an interesting conversation to be sure," the sudden voice at the sudden arrival of Beast Master made the occupants of the table jump in their seats. "Yet I must interrupt." No one seemed to be screaming among the other clients of the establishment; hence they concluded that she teleported out of sight and quietly, very quietly and sneakily, walked over to their table. She raised her perfectly manicured right index finger, slightly pointing towards the front entrance of the restaurant. "Xellos, a word."

"Yes, Lord Beast Master," Xellos got up from the table among the curious stares of his companions and followed Zelas outside.

The minutes ticked away as Filia drummed her fingers against the table in an increasingly faster rhythm. The action was getting on everyone's nerves, but they dared not complain to an upset Filia. "What's taking him so long?"

"Relax," Lina tried to diffuse Filia's growing anger, though she was far less effective as she paused to stuff her mouth with more food after each word. "He's just having a word with his mommy, he'll be back."

"Zelas said not to call her that!" Filia reminded.

"She told you not to call her that," Lina clarified and ended the argument in favor of focusing on her eating.

Filia pouted and sunk into her chair. If Xellos was a monster she wouldn't worry as much. Surely Zelas could see his usefulness more clearly if he recovered his powers. Then the danger of not being able to constantly keep an eye on him would be less. Not that Filia could do anything to defend him against Zelas anyway. The golden dragon sighed hopelessly. She actually liked Xellos as a human and a part of her was afraid that all the... development, he had accomplished would be lost when he became a monster; after all, he would be a full monster, not a chimera like Celo. Yet, she knew it was necessary for him to go back to the way he was and that was what he wanted.

The minutes dragged on until Xellos finally returned, followed by an unknown yet somehow familiar girl. "I'm back and I have another traveling companion for our little group. Tell them who you are and why you're hear."

The girl had black hair and eyes with a distinctly blank look upon an expressionless face. Her bangs and hair length were similar to Xellos', although the hair that reached to her shoulders was noticeably wavy. "I am Onyx, a monster human chimera created by Lord Beast Master. I am here to train so that I may learn to properly serve Lord Beast Master."

The group stared at the girl, blinking in confusion at the unexpected twist. "She kind of looks like..." Amelia left her observation hanging, though it became apparent that the others understood her message.

"Huddle!" Lina declared loudly and urgently like some kind of football captain trying to come up with a strategy to win a decisive game. The group moved from the table to the corner as Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Filia, Xellos and Phythan formed a tight circle. "That girl is the same one that had the run in with the Lord of Nightmares, isn't she?"

"What did Zelas do to her?" Amelia asked with worry. "She seems almost brainwashed."

"Believe it or not, that wasn't Zelas' doing. When she woke up she had amnesia," Xellos explained. "Zelas only had Tiffany take care of her wounds and give her a little makeover. It seems that whatever magic the Lord of Nightmares placed in her, it was sealed in her memories."

"Kind of like how a piece of Shabranigdu was sealed in Rezo's eyes," Lina recalled. It was a foreboding theory.

"It's a similar concept, but I don't think Shabranigdu has anything to do with this." Xellos smiled cheerfully, "it might be something much, much worse. My mission is to keep an eye on her and figure out what that something is. In other words, I'm back on the job curse and all, at least I have my spying budget back."

Lina's face became a predatory grin, "does that mean you're treating your amazing bodyguard to a meal?"

"That means I'm not going to let you dry up my account ever again," Xellos assured with his usual squinty eyes grin.

"I don't think it's right for us to lie to that girl," Filia frowned in disapproval. "She's a human, even the part about her being partially a monster is a lie. What if she tries to use her monster powers and finds out too late she has none?"

"She thinks she was just created and that the process of uniting her with a human part left her weak. She's not expecting to have any monster power now; she's hoping that it'll awaken soon. Besides, Zelas provided her with an amulet that can simulate magic without being harmful to her so she'll have a means of defense, but I'm sure that won't be necessary." Xellos pulled an envelope out of his cloak and handed it to Lina.

"A letter for me?" Lina opened it and read. "Dear pawn: Since it looks like the moody dragon is doing a good enough job of guarding Xellos' body, probably in more ways than we want to know, I'm assigning you to be the bodyguard of this girl for the time being. Good luck, Zelas Metallium - Lord Beast Master. PS: I'm sure the two of you will be great friends, since you're both just as flat-chested." Lina let out a loud ferocious growl and tore the letter apart into tiny confetti pieces, throwing them on the floor and stomping on them in rage.

"I guess that's the whole story, Onyx, as Zelas has called her, will be traveling with us for a while. Let's be on our guard for random strange occurrences, though there's no guarantee that anything will actually happen," Xellos cheerfully concluded.

Filia pouted as she gave Xellos a sharp look. "You're actually happy; you're not just acting cheerful, you're really glad."

Xellos' replied with a cheerful yet confused look. "Happy to play big brother to an amnesiac girl who could be a time bomb waiting to explode for all we know? I suppose that could be entertaining."

"Not that," Filia clarified, "it's not about the mission, it's about the fact that you have a mission. You're glad to be working for Beast Master again." Deep down, Filia was glad about it too. She wasn't fond of Beast Master, but Xellos working for her carried a sense of comforting familiarity. It was as if things were slowly going back to normal and Xellos' life was in less danger.

"I think I said it before that I actually like my job most of the time," Xellos reminded. It was reassuring to have been assigned a mission. It confirmed that Zelas did see his usefulness, which made the test theory seem further off. If she was testing him, why would she entrust him with a mission before the test was completed? If this mission was really that important, why not end the test and return his powers? What kind of strategic gamble was Zelas getting herself into? Furthermore, what was that secret that exposed him to choose dare and be cursed in the first place? The willing kiss of a golden dragon... What did it all mean? What was the hidden secret?

"Let's be positive, if there's something going on with that girl, isn't it better to keep her near by, so we can help her if needed?" Phythan tried to brighten the situation by looking at the good side.

"I suppose so," Amelia agreed, "she does have amnesia, so I guess it might be okay to treat her as Mr. Xellos sister for the time being. This way she can feel the security and comfort of having a family, even if it is a rather unusual adoptive family." Not that Amelia should be talking about unusual families.

"That girl is Xellos' sister?" Gourry caught up a little too late, sort of.

"Something like that," Lina decided it was best to keep things simple and not try to explain the whole situation to Gourry. He wouldn't understand it anyway.

"So that's why she's dressed like that," Gourry concluded.

"Dressed like what?" Xellos inquired. "Zelas said something about her probably tripping one too many times as a kid and her scratched knees not looking good with her dresses. So she gave her that sorceress outfit."

"It's like your clothes," Gourry observed, displaying a power of perception far beyond his usual attention span. "Does that mean you're identical twins?" Then again, maybe he had not surpassed his limitations after all. "Don't mothers dress their kids alike when they're twins?"

Xellos' eye twitched and Lina rolled her eyes while Filia attempted to explain, "she's a she, he's a he, they can't be identical twins. Besides, twins don't just dress alike, they look alike. The only thing Xellos and Onyx have in common is the hair color, they don't even look similar."

"If they're not twins, how come they dress like twins?" Gourry cluelessly inquired. "It's confusing."

"We're not dressing like twins," Xellos argued. "Our clothes are completely different."

"Yeah, real different," Lina laughed, "her shoes are black, her shirt is light blue and her cloak has sapphires instead of rubies with an added hood. Other than the colors and the hood, you two are dressed exactly the same. Oh yeah, and there's that wolf head amulet with the wings that looks like that seal you have. I take it that's her power amulet?"

"Yes, you are correct about the amulet, but wrong about everything else. How can we be dressed the same if you just listed all the differences?" Xellos argued in his 'I'm smarter than you' voice.

"They're only small differences!" Lina insisted.

"She even has the same purse as Mr. Xellos," Amelia pointed out, soon realizing her mistake and trying to repair it, "I mean the same bag in a different color."

"It's not a purse," Xellos emphasized, despite Amelia's correction.

"It sure looks like one," Zelgadis pointed out with a... mocking grin?

"You were much less unpleasant when you were gloomy," Xellos glared.

"Forget about Xellos' purse," Filia tried to get the derailed conversation back on track, causing Xellos' to twitch at the mention of his 'purse'. "We're getting weird looks from everyone because we're huddled up in this corner. Let's go back to the table."

Said and done, the group moved back to the table. Onyx had stood motionless the entire time with the same blank expression, seemingly not caring about the oddities of the group she would be traveling with. After joining the table, she ate with them, thinking that it was for the sake of feeding her human part, not realizing that she was completely human. The meal finally came to an end with the group debating on what to do next.

"Rather than rushing to Seyruun, I think we should gather information as we go along. Who knows when and where the Green Alchemist will strike again," Lina stated. "Let's spread out through town and have a look around," she yawned. "I'll join you right after I'm done with my nap; they say people shouldn't be running around right after a big meal."

"Really? Then I should take a nap too," Gourry concluded.

"I don't mind getting started on the investigation," Amelia kindly offered.

"I'll go too, someone has to get things done." It was obvious Zelgadis' comment was directed at Lina, who was clearly throwing the work at everyone else.

"Onyx, you can hang around with Phythan, he'll show you around the town," Xellos suggested, giving Phythan a meaningful look that warned him to notify him of any peculiar happenings immediately.

"Huh? Me? Um... okay," Phythan looked at Onyx, who said nothing to him.

Instead she voiced a monotonous, "yes, brother," at Xellos.

With the group taking their separate ways, that only left Filia and Xellos at the table with a grim apprehension. "Lina dumped the bill on us, didn't she?" Xellos realized.

Filia shook her head in disapproval, "we should have seen it coming."

"I'm so used to getting a warning in the form of sensing the sneaky plotting feeling Lina gives off when she's about to do something like this that I missed it." Xellos never thought he'd see the day when he actually missed his empathy this much.

"I guess you're stuck interpreting the world with as little information as the rest of us," Filia concluded. "I think I'll go take a nap too. It's a pity that you're putting a dent on your allowance so soon." Her tone was far from pitying and suspiciously close to amused. She got up from the table, glancing towards the door.

"Mission funds! It's not an allowance, they're mission funds," Xellos corrected before signing the bill and leaving the restaurant with Filia.

xoxox xox xoxox

Back at the inn, Xellos followed Filia to her room, an action that she did not try to prevent. "Filia... be honest," there was that serious look with his eyes open. Filia could clearly imagine what was to come. Xellos would switch his expression to his squinty eyes, smug grin as he completed his sentence with a confident 'you want me'. It would make her pout, glare and call him raw garbage, but she had no intentions of refusing him this time. Then he took her by surprise by holding out his bag for her to have a clear look at it. "Does this really look like a purse?"

Filia opened her mouth but no sound came out, as her planned response did not fit the occasion. She closed her mouth again and tilted her head, observing the bag from different angles. "It looks like a normal unisex bag to me. It could be a pretty purse if I tied a few pink bows on it."

"Not happening," Xellos immediately warned. He gave her his smug, mocking squinty eyes grin. "I appreciate your honest opinion, have a nice nap." Then he turned around and walked out the door, closing it behind him.

Filia stood in her inn room blinking in confusion. That was random. Maybe Xellos decided to stop being so annoying and give her some time to rest and relax. Maybe his lack of empathy prevented him from realizing he just missed his opportunity to... enjoy her company. She shrugged, it was alright, she could use a nice relaxing nap anyway. She laid down on her bed and stared at the ceiling for several minutes. Her expression turned into a pout, that stupid piece of raw garbage, being so randomly unpredictable. She got up, knowing that she would not be able to fall asleep. She was going to give Xellos a piece of her mind. She marched towards the door determinately, planning all the insults she would throw at him in her head.

As soon as Filia opened the door to her room, she saw Xellos leaning against the wall in front of it in the hallway. He had a very familiar smug look on his face. "It took you long enough, stupid dragon." He couldn't read her emotions as he did before, but if he was observant enough, he found that he could still predict her behavior.

Filia's face turned red in anger and she clenched her teeth and fists, "you piece of raw garbage!" She punched the wall next to his head, leaving a hole in the shape of her fist. Of course, for those who didn't know she was a dragon, they would never guess that the pretty blond in the pink dress was the one to damage the wall in such a brutal way.

Xellos didn't move an inch, his expression frozen in his usual smug grin. He knew that she would miss on purpose and was entertained by her temper tantrum. After amusing himself with Filia's absolutely murderous expression for a few more seconds, he kissed her, just as she appeared to be preparing to throw out her next argument.

The next thing Filia knew, she was walking backwards. She was retreating back into her inn room. She was unable to say anything because Xellos had her mouth occupied in activities that did not include the formation of words. Then there was the sound of a door being closed. It was followed by the click of a lock being secured. After that, Filia stopped paying attention to the world around her, instead focusing only on Xellos.

To be Continued

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