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