To Live Another Day
Episode Thirty-Six: No Rest For The Wicked
Naga loudly laughed once more, just as she had been doing since she ran into Lina's group. "Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha ha! Don't worry, Filia, I'm not going to try to steal your lover. You two make such a cute couple!" She had completely misunderstood Filia's relationship with Xellos and it was making Filia too embarrassed to even be angry.
"He's not my lover..." The golden dragon argued in a defeated tone. Some people were just impossible.
Naga placed a comforting hand on Filia's shoulder, "don't worry, you're quite pretty, I'm sure you'll capture his heart. Just try to keep your temper in check and smile a little more. You should get a new outfit too, something like what I'm wearing." Filia could only growl and shoot a laser to the sky in response.
This was priceless; Xellos decided that Naga wasn't an unpleasant person at all, because anyone who was his ally in teasing Filia was okay by him. "That's right Filia, try to be a little more charming, show some skin, smile, and I might fall for you."
"Grrr!" Filia looked like she would go on the attack. It wasn't unusual in the past for her to go on the physical offensive alongside the verbal assaults directed at Xellos. "You piece of raw garbage!" She began to charge her laser breath.
"No!" Lina jumped in front of Filia in a defensive stance.
The angry golden dragon stopped herself just in time with a perplexed look. "What are you doing?" Filia forcefully withheld her laser, coughing a little as a result. "I could have blasted you and at point blank a human would be..." Filia's eyes grew wide in realization. She lost her temper and forgot that Xellos was no longer a powerful monster general who could take anything she could dish out. He was a human, a fragile human still becoming accustomed to his new body.
"Killed," Lina finished unnecessarily. "Which means my bodyguard job will go down the drain." She reminded with emphasis. "This goes for everyone, if any of you kill Xellos, I expect you to pay up the full value of the coins you'll make me lose!"
Xellos frowned, deeply annoyed, while Filia appeared to be shaken. "I'm sorry," Filia softly voiced, vexing Xellos further. He hated being weak more than anything.
Naga shook her head, "you have to be gentle with men, they're such breakable creatures." Her advice sounded as if it was based on experience. Honestly, no one wanted to know about that, so they all just pretended they didn't hear her.
"Don't ignore me!" The black spider bull monster demanded angrily. His patience had been tested more than ever on that day.
"I thought you wanted me to stop paying attention to you," Naga pointed out as a matter of fact. "Well fine, now my attention is back on that treasure!" She pointed at the crystal skull necklace on the golden chain around the monster's neck. "Give it to me or face the wrath of my golems!"
"Enough!" The monster screamed angrily. "I can't stand having you trying to steal my treasure anymore, but I have some important business to take care of first." He turned his attention from Naga to the pissed off frustrated Xellos. "Xellos, you have no idea what you did to me that day!"
"Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!" Naga's laughter interrupted the monster's frustrated speech of vengeance. "I have heard your laugh, monster! You are no match for me with such a weak laugh! Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!"
"Shut up and let me finish!" The monster snapped in absolute frustration.
"Man, I'm actually starting to feel sorry for this guy, having to put up with Naga." Lina commented sincerely. With a mischievous grin, she began to power up a spell, "I'll be doing him a favor by putting him out of his misery."
"Stop interrupting me!" The monster stomped around, throwing a hissy fit because no one would listen to him. He was determined to finish his speech of dramatic vengeance. "Ever since you took my title I've been trying to get my revenge. I even went on a treasure hunt for this as a good luck charm," the monster signaled to the skull necklace. "I finally found it and felt ready to take you on again, but you never entered the tournament. Even if I won, they still considered you the champion; they wouldn't accept my victory unless I defeated you. I will kill you for what you took from me Xellos, then I will show everyone your dead human face and they'll know the truth. They'll know I'm the ultimate mysterious expression champion, I am the face of mystery, not you!"
"Wait a minute!" Lina spoke up, "what's this about being the face of mystery? I thought you were talking about some kind of fighting tournament between monsters, but now it sounds like you were modeling in a beauty pageant."
"It's the Wicked Cool Annual Competition," Naga explained, drawing the group's attention to her unexpected information. "There are a lot of categories such as best evil laugh, most alluring expression of mystery and others. The judges evaluate contestants based on stuff like how cruel and tempting they look and so on. This pathetic loser used to be the champion, but I took the title for best laugh and became the undisputed champ. I heard that someone else had taken the title for most mysterious look from him before."
"You took away no such title, only monsters can enter and when you were discovered to be human you were disqualified and the title of best evil laugh went back to me!" The monster argued insistently.
"Details, details," Naga waved her hand dismissively. "Who cares about the rules, the judges unanimously selected me and you know it. That medal is mine!"
"Medal?" Lina's confusion grew as she tried to keep up with what was happening. "You mean the crystal skull? Isn't that some ancient treasure?"
"The Wicked Cool Annual Competition wasn't always so varied," Xellos began the lesson in monster history and culture for the benefit of those who were not familiar with it. "It used to be only about evil laughs and the relic that Mr. Runner-up has around his neck was the symbol given to the winner to wear. One year, the winner did not return to defend the title. It was tradition that the medal should be returned if the past champion chose not to compete. However, the champion had suffered a minor inconvenience, meaning death," this was spoken in the classic Xellos cheer. "Thus the medal was forever lost... until now, it seems. Either way, after the categories of the competition were broadened, one prize was no longer enough. The judges decided to adopt a more conventional method of symbolizing the winners and give away gold, silver and bronze medals, which the winners could keep regardless of if they returned the next year or not."
Naga was nodding her head the entire time at Xellos' explanation. "Exactly, but since it's clear that I am the ultimate champion of laughs, I should keep the original relic medal for myself. Besides, it's a really cute necklace."
"Have I ever shown you the expression that won me first place? It was like this." Xellos smoothed out his hair with his hands, just to make sure it was in place and looked slightly to the side to create the appropriate angle. He had a grin that was just the right size, with exactly the proper amount of alluring mischief. His attractive eyes were open, but not entirely, his eyelids slightly lowered, enough to give his gaze an air of mystery while leaving his amethyst orbs clearly visible. Filia blushed, she couldn't help it, she just did.
"Ah! That face! You look even more mysterious with your darker hair making your eyes stand out, but I am the king of mystery. You cannot compete!" The monster, that the gang didn't think was important enough to ask his name and dubbed him Mr. Runner-up instead, made a grotesque expression. His fangs became twisted and his three red eyes narrow.
"Ew!" Amelia loudly declared, "that isn't mystery, it's evil! Elmekia Lance!" After Amelia's instinct of justice got things started, the rest of the group was quick to join, reducing the monster to ashes.
Naga triumphantly picked up the surprisingly resistant necklace, which other than being almost unbreakable didn't actually have any special powers at all, and put it on. "Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!" She modeled the necklace as she laughed until she was finally satisfied. "Well, now that my quest has been fulfilled, I think I'll hang around you guys for a little while. Were you heading to the next town? Let's go, we're almost there!" Naga began to march forward.
"I'm the leader!" Lina tried to march in front of Naga, which led Naga to quicken her pace. Lina started moving faster in response until they both broke into a run towards Filia's home town.
The golden dragon sighed hopelessly. "Here I was hoping to relax at least a little while I visited my home."
xoxox xox xoxox
The first thing the group did when they arrived at the town where Filia lived was to go to her shop. Once there, another bunch of introductions followed as Jillas and Gravos were presented to Naga's scrutiny. She seemed to develop an instant fascination with Gravos, but the group preferred not to read too deeply into it. They also decided to overlook the fact that she patted Jillas' head as if he was some kind of pet. Really, they were too tired to make a fuss about anything at the time.
The next event in the agenda after the introductions was to get some food, because that was the first thing Lina wanted to do in any town she arrived at. Thus they went to try the local cuisine, arguing about what restaurant was the best. It was an argument that Filia had to break up with her expert opinion, which in the end, Lina didn't listen to anyway and dragged everyone into the restaurant she liked best. With full stomachs, rather than registering at the local inn, they all returned to Filia's home for a massively cramped sleep over.
First the whole group piled around the living room to hear stories about Lina's travels with Naga, which consisted of Naga exaggerating her own accomplishments and taking all the credit and Lina adamantly claiming that the credit was her own. Stories about Lina's most prominent adventures with Amelia were shared, including the mention of a certain festival dance performance the two did thinking it was some kind of powerful protection spell. After the chaotic conversation finally reached a point of rest, the girls retired to Filia's room, while the guys went to room with Jillas and Gravos.
For Filia, it looked as if the long day was finally over after being stretched well into the night. The sun would be up long before anyone was in the mood to interrupt their slumber. Then suddenly her breath was knocked out of her by a foot to the stomach, it was Lina's foot. Filia was about to reprimand the red-head for the uncalled for attack, until she noticed that Lina was sleeping and remembered that this was her usual amount of tossing and turning. There was no space to get far enough from her in the tiny room and sleeping on a bed was like taboo during a sleeping bag sleep over. Either there were enough beds for everyone, or everyone slept on the floor.
Not really caring about breaking the rules, Filia got up, but she didn't occupy her bed. Instead she ventured into her living room, hoping to get some much needed rest on the couch. Upon arriving quietly at the living room, she found Xellos occupying the couch, sitting quietly, staring at the walls absentmindedly to pass the time. "What are you doing here?" She sat down beside him without a second thought.
"Nothing," Xellos replied simply and for the benefit of Filia's suspicious and insistent gaze, he added, "Gourry snores too loud and Jillas whistles in his sleep."
"Insomnia," Filia concluded.
"No," Xellos had enough of human troubles and didn't want to admit he additionally suffered from insomnia. "Just noise, besides, I don't feel like sleeping anyway. I hardly ever did, I had no reason to."
Filia noted the use of the past tense, which meant that Xellos was aware of the fact that he needed sleep as a human. She decided not to point that out, though she was tempted to make a comment about there being no rest for the wicked. However, she decided against voicing that as well. She could have pointed out that the noise of the snoring didn't make it past the door, through the hallway and all the way to the living room, so he could sleep there if he wanted. It was obvious the cause of his insomnia was not noise, but she didn't point that out. Instead she quietly mused that Xellos might miss having the ability to stay awake all night and still be full of energy during the day. Life had become more difficult for him than he would ever admit and Filia knew it.
"Will you stop that, it's annoying," Xellos snapped, his face automatically matching his words. It took more effort to control his expressions in his current state, more so adding the fact that he was tired.
Filia gave Xellos a perplexed look, "stop what? I'm not doing anything."
"Stop pitying me," he glared darkly with more of a monster look to him than when he actually was a monster.
Filia bit her lip, instantly being consumed by the guilt of her own kindness. She was hurting Xellos by trying to help him and she didn't understand why it bothered her so much. Would it be better for him if she just pointed and laughed? Did he expect that? He couldn't, not from her... "You can't read my emotions, you can't feed off my frustration," she pointed out.
"I may not be able to taste your guilt, but I know it's there," Xellos admitted. "It's strange, I can sense it and it sticks somehow. I have to remind myself that it's not mine, because it would make no sense for me to have such thoughts." His defenses were crumbling and he knew it. He had been invaded by other people's emotions the whole time he was a human, especially Filia's. So far he had been able to discern her reactions apart from his own, but it was becoming difficult. He supposed it was what humans called identifying with others, even if Filia was a dragon.
The golden dragon was giving Xellos a puzzled and disbelieving look. She shook her head as if her thoughts made no sense. "It couldn't be..."
"What couldn't be?" Xellos inquired. "Something unbelievable, surprising, yet confusing... It's blurry, what's the emotion?" He tried to remember what confusion tasted like and to link it to the feeling he was getting from Filia. "Denial?"
"Wait, just a minute," Filia swiftly stood. "I'll be right back with something to show you." She quickly but quietly left, off to rummage through the supply closet. Paints, brushes and cleaning products and utensils occupied most of the enclosed space. After pushing a box of detergent aside, she spotted what she was looking for. She took the box out of the closet and returned to the living room, thankful that she had not caused an avalanche of falling supplies while she was looking for it.
Xellos observed the box Filia had brought, which she set on the coffee table in front of the couch where they sat. It was a wooden box with spiraling abstract carvings and a mirror on the inside of the lid. Within the box there were many gems, though they were made of glass. It was not a particularly rare set of magically enhanced stones. She only purchased it because the box was cute, even if it ended up in a supply closet when she was cleaning one day. It could be used to play a guessing game of sorts, but those who had the ability it was made to measure would always win.
Filia set the lid aside and offered the box to Xellos' participation in the experiment. "Each of these crystals is infused with magic to represent something. Take any of the crystals and hold it, tell me what it represents."
Xellos gave her a look that indicated he wasn't sure what in the world she was trying to do, but it sounded like nonsense. He played along anyway and picked up a random crystal. The round clear gems were all identical in appearance, but when Xellos touched one, he immediately noticed something unusual. "Fear? Whose fear is this? Certainly not mine." Oh no, he kept anything resembling fear locked away as tightly as he could. Such a thing had no reason to pop out.
Filia extended her hand and received the gem from Xellos. She put the clear crystal on the mirror in the box's lid and placed her hand over it. "Yeah, that's fear alright." She removed her hand as if it had been metaphorically burned. "Try again."
"Is there a point to this?" Xellos picked up another crystal. "Happiness," it was odd, the gems were giving off emotions. Those must be the incantations placed into them. "Wait a minute, is this... it can't be." Filia's earlier disbelief became clear to Xellos. The golden dragon repeated the process with the next crystal on top of the mirror. She felt the happiness, another correct conclusion. They continued at the same pace until Xellos only had one crystal left. "This is... attachment? Protectiveness? Loyalty? Foolishness maybe? This is... strange. I can't feel any taste from it; this is different from how I sensed emotions before. I would know it if I could taste it."
"It's love," Filia pointed out, it was the last crystal left. "You got them all right," except for that last one, which seemed confusing to him, but that was expected given his previous nature. Xellos was all too eager to put the crystal down. "This is a test. Normally, people can't feel anything just from holding these crystals, but touching them while they are on top of the enchanted mirror makes it so that anyone can sense the incantations meant to simulate emotions. You can sense it either way."
"It doesn't mean anything," Xellos insisted with the smallest most well hidden hint of embarrassment. "As a monster I could taste emotions and feed off fear, anger and the like. I can sense these things because I'm truly a monster, even if I'm currently trapped as a human. That's the explanation."
Filia shook her head in disagreement. "I can sense your energy. Regardless of what you originally were, you're a human now. You shouldn't have this ability, even I don't have it. This is a rare and sometimes underrated unique ability. It's a little unbelievable and ironic I'll admit." Filia couldn't help it but to laugh at the strange twists and turns life sometimes presented. "I suppose your long life and many experiences as a monster have given you the ability to keep a cool head and discern your own emotions from those of others. That's why you are not to be easily swayed by your ability. Even so you are without a doubt..."
"Don't say it," Xellos really didn't want to hear it being confirmed as if thrown in his face.
Filia smiled, "you're an empath."
Xellos pouted stubbornly and crossed his arms over his chest, "I think we both know I'm not an empathic person."
"True," Filia admitted, "but you have the abilities of an empath. You can feel what others feel as if it came from you. You're smart enough to control your abilities and keep a good grip on logic, yet nonetheless you have the gift of empathy and it's nothing to be ashamed of."
To be Continued
Disclaimer, I don't own Slayers. I'm having a grand time torturing Xellos, I hope you are too.