To Live Another Day
Episode Forty: Out Of Control
The clock had just struck midnight and all of Filia's emotions became suddenly imperceptible. Xellos thought he was close to breaking the curse that turned him into a human, but he was in truth in mortal danger. Filia's hands traveled to Xellos' neck where she grasped his throat tightly. He tried to get free but her grip was impossible to break. He tried to tell her to stop, but he couldn't breathe a word. Then he was able to sense Filia's emotions again, but only faintly.
There was a strong desperation making it's way to her once empty eyes. This wasn't love, Filia was being controlled, she had become nothing but a puppet without a say on what her body did. Yet her will was strong, it couldn't be suppressed completely and tried to make its way to the surface. She could see what she was doing. She could see Xellos' face becoming deadly pale, his eyes dangerously tired. She didn't want to do this. She tried to loosen her grip on his neck, if she didn't control herself, she would literally rip his head off before he could even choke.
'Please, stop,' she pleaded with her eyes. 'I don't want to hurt him... stop!' The force had a tight grip on her body, even when her mind forced itself to wake up. She could feel tears cascading from her eyes and running down her face. Who was controlling her? How were they doing it?
With the last of his strength, Xellos raised his hand towards the blurry image of Filia's glowing pink heart crystal on her necklace. He focused on a spell, though he could not even speak its name aloud, 'freeze arrow!' An arrow of ice collided at point blank with the glowing crystal, causing it to shatter. Filia immediately let go of Xellos and they both fell to the floor panting for breath.
Filia shivered as she cried. She took off the remains of her necklace, letting the chain fall to the floor along with the pink pieces of the crystal. She was very cold from having been hit with an ice spell at such a close range, but a dragon was able to withstand it. "Xellos..." She stared at him with worry as he finally caught his breath.
"I'm fine," He looked at the broken pieces of the crystal. "Who do you think was controlling you with that?"
Filia considered the question. "I don't know..." Then she remembered what Hanna had mentioned about the merchant. "The merchant?"
"I find it very suspicious that a merchant would just give something away." Xellos observed. "Hanna said it was probably to gain recommendations, but why would he need any? People can see the products and try them on, they can see for themselves if they are of good quality or not. Plus his business seemed to be doing just fine if it's the same merchant we saw on the way to Hanna's house. He looked like he was selling accessories with crystals like this."
"I don't know him, he probably just arrived in town," Filia stated as she tried to warm herself.
Xellos hugged her without thinking, she didn't resist, she didn't think about it, she was just cold. "A traveling merchant who happens to arrive in town not long after we do? That sounds very suspicious." Xellos concluded. "It's worth investigating." It was best to strike down the enemy before he had another chance to attack.
"Let's get this over with; I can't stand for there to be a dangerous person in this peaceful town." A terrible thought occurred to Filia. "He saw me with Hanna, what if he goes after her and takes her hostage to try to turn me against you? We have to stop him! He must be one of those who we were expecting to be after your life."
"It's possible," Xellos acknowledged both theories. "I'm certain the merchant was human, but it's not rare for monsters to use humans. He might be working for a monster under the command of another monster lord. Or maybe the minions of the Green Alchemist followed us here. Either way, something must be done." They both stood up, ready to put up a fight.
"Lina, Gourry, Amelia and Zelgadis are off in the mountains. Naga and Gravos are probably drunk," Filia observed. If the enemy was truly strong, going after him on their own might be dangerous.
"We need to strike fast, this is our best chance," Xellos insisted. "The enemy probably knows the others are away and expects us to be weaker without them." The thought of being catalogued as a weakling bothered Xellos. "I have a good amount of magic at my disposal now, I can take him."
"I'll be there too," Filia reminded. "But I don't want to risk Val. I'll leave his egg with Jillas; he can take care of protecting Val, Elena and Palou with that 'bazooka' invention he's been working on. Then we'll go hunt down the evil creature that did this and bring him to justice!"
"You sound like Amelia," Xellos knew that Filia was all fired up to hunt down the culprit. But why was she so eager? They had faced dangerous enemies before and though Filia was motivated to fight, it wasn't this intense.
"That horrible being almost made me kill you, I could never live with myself if I did that." Filia frowned, glaring at the walls. "There's no time to waste." She strode into Val's room and gently picked up the egg. "Don't worry, Val, you'll be safe with uncle Jillas until mommy takes care of business."
"And daddy will make sure she doesn't mess up," Xellos added with a mocking grin.
"This is no time for jokes," Filia growled. "Don't listen to him, Val. Xellos is just annoying."
"It's not like he can hear either of us," Xellos pointed out.
"Yes he can," Filia insisted as she headed out of the house and towards Elena's place. "It's a proven fact that baby dragons can hear what's being spoken around them before they hatch.
"Really?" Xellos gave the egg in Filia's arms a curious look.
"Don't get any ideas," the protective mother warned, to which her companion only grinned.
xoxox xox xoxox
They finally reached Elena's house and Filia knocked on the door urgently. In a matter of seconds, Elena and Jillas were at the door wondering what in the world this was about. Palou was so fast asleep that the noise didn't wake him. "I'm sorry to come by so late, but I need you to protect Val while Xellos and I go take care of an enemy before he causes more trouble around town. You should keep the bazooka on hand just in case." Filia had seen the cannon-like weapon at work during a test just outside of town. For a non-magical device it certainly packed a lot of power.
"An enemy, boss?" Jillas questioned, as Elena held the small egg protectively with fascination.
"Don't worry, we can handle this, I'll explain the rest later. We need to go while the element of surprise is on our side. He won't expect us to retaliate so soon." Filia insisted.
Jillas nodded and trusted her judgment. "Most of my weapons are stored in the basement," he noted.
Elena nodded in understanding, "then it would be easier if we go to Filia's house. I'll go wake Palou so we can leave right away."
xoxox xox xoxox
Xellos and Filia spent the rest of the night searching the town and its surrounding areas for any sign of the merchant. No further disturbances occurred in the peaceful little town and there was no sign of the enemy. They returned at dawn, exhausted and with no progress to show for it. Lina, Gourry, Amelia and Zelgadis were still away. For a moment Filia worried about them, but then realized there was no need to. They were probably just taking a little while to find the proper spicy herbs. They were all skilled in battle and could certainly take care of themselves.
Jillas took the guard duty upon himself while Xellos and Filia got some much needed rest. Gravos and Naga returned from the bar late that night and were not informed of the happenings until the next day when Gravos was drinking coffee to get over his hangover and Naga was merrily making little golem figurines with Filia's vase making supplies. The eldest Seyruun princess appeared to have enough experience with alcohol not to be bothered by anything resembling a hangover.
Gravos was upset that he wasn't there to help and drank cup after cup of black coffee until he felt ready for battle. Naga gladly offered her help and though no one was sure if that was good or bad, they accepted it nonetheless. The day rolled by with the group at Filia's house. When Xellos and Filia had rested, they went off to gather clues around town. Since they were only out on an investigation, not off to battle, Filia suggested that the others should stay at the shop. If too many people were running around town asking questions, it might cause a panic.
On the previous night before returning home from their rounds, Filia had checked on Hanna's house and confirmed that there were no signs of anyone breaking in, thus she left the old lady to get her rest. As it was now the afternoon, Filia decided to drop by and actually talk to Hanna to inquire if she had noticed anything suspicious. Strangely, the old lady didn't answer when Filia knocked on her door. Assuming she had gone to the market, Filia headed there as well, with Xellos accompanying her in the investigation.
The marketplace was buzzing with activity not due to the products themselves, but due to gossip. The harvest had been bad and there was not much to buy, but people visited the marketplace as a way of social entertainment. "Did you see it?" A blond woman in her late thirties pretended to whisper to another similar woman, except her voice was so loud that everyone around them could hear their conversation. She did it on purpose to give her speech the feel of secrecy that would make people want to listen, while at the same time making it easy for any passer-bys to hear and become motivated to add something. "Did you see the fight?"
The black haired gossiper nodded energetically, "I saw it, I saw it all! Aya and Kyle's families got along just fine and had no problems with their son and daughter dating each other, until she decided to run away."
"That's what they say at least," the blond pointed out. "Her boyfriend ran off to find her with little explanation. The girl's parents blame him for her having left, but I don't think he broke her heart."
"I don't think so either," the dark haired woman agreed. "It wouldn't make any sense for him to break up with her then go out to find her. Besides, I didn't see them fight or anything. She just ran off this morning without listening to anyone who tried to stop her. I heard she was visiting Hanna for breakfast, but Hanna told me she never showed up."
"From then on no one could find her," the blond sighed. "I wonder what happened to the poor girl."
Filia and Xellos' eavesdropping on the conversation about the missing girl was interrupted by a little boy calling out, "Alys! Alys!" He stopped as he spotted Filia. "Miss Filia, have you seen my sister? She went to the market this morning and didn't come back for lunch. Mom said she must have gotten distracted talking to her friends, but I can't find her."
"Sorry, Chaz, I haven't seen her, but I'll be sure to tell her you're looking for her if I do." Filia tried to keep a straight face for the little boy. She gently ruffled his golden hair and sent him off with a reassuring smile.
After the little boy was gone, Xellos gave Filia a meaningful look, "you think it's suspicious too?"
"I do," Filia agreed. She wanted to find Hanna and make sure she was alright. She wanted even more so to find the culprit and make sure he wasn't alright. Two missing girls, one was around eighteen and the other close to fifteen. When young girls go missing it's always a bad sign, after all young women seem to be the preferred sacrifice for most evil villains.
Xellos and Filia continued looking into the matter, pretending to be curious and talking to the two gossiping women at the marketplace. As nice and talented in art as Hanna was, she too was also an avid gossiper. It was always the four of them at the marketplace discussing everything and everyone. Sasha with her blond hair and pointy little nose, she was always at the marketplace since she and her husband were some of the local merchants who sold imported crops. Anna, the wife of the local botanist, she had short black hair and a sharp look in her eyes.
There was also Manna, who seemed to be running late today, she was a woman with black hair slightly longer than Anna's, a contrasting relaxed, cheerful yet sleepy look permanently edged on her face. Her husband ran a winery which Gravos was rather fond of. Hanna was the oldest member of the gossiping quartet. Though her once raven hair was now gray, her bright blue eyes stood out like jewels. Sasha would always joke about changing her name to something that matched better, since her friends all had rhyming names, Anna, Manna and Hanna.
Manna arrived a little while later and joined Anna and Sasha in talking to Filia and Xellos. Though the golden dragon showed curious interest in hearing about the missing girls, the traveling merchant and any news that made its way to the local grapevine, Sasha, Anna and Manna had a different topic of conversation in mind. They kept bringing up Filia's relationship with Xellos and inquiring about it.
"Yesterday I saw the two of you go into Hanna's house together," Manna teased. "How sweet of you to visit her as a couple! By the way, isn't Hanna running terribly late to our meeting today? I thought for sure I would be the last to get here, where has my time gone today?"
"I haven't seen Hanna since early this morning," Anna noted. "What ever happened to her anyway? It's like she vanished into thin air."
"Oh Xellos, you better hold on to Filia nice and tight, it sounds like women are disappearing all over the place." Manna winked.
While Xellos humored the gossiping women by placing his arm around Filia's waist and assuring them that he would make sure to keep her close, Filia decided she had heard enough. It was obvious that the masters of the rumor mill only knew what happened, not how it happened. Though they did mention something about Aya leaving as opposed to being kidnapped, she was probably being controlled by one of those accessories from the merchant.
In the end, Filia had no doubts about it, Alys and Aya had to have been taken away for some evil purpose and Hanna was taken as a hostage. They had to be rescued! "It was nice talking to all of you," Filia suddenly interrupted Sasha, who was in the middle of a rather personal interrogation with Xellos. The color of his underwear was seriously none of her business. "We have to be on our way now, see you later!" With that said, Filia rushed away, dragging Xellos along since he still had a firm grip on her waist, which she was conveniently ignoring.
xoxox xox xoxox
Xellos and Filia regrouped at the Vases and Maces shop. Palou was taking a nap next to Val's egg, Elena was occupying herself in dusting the shelves, Jillas was polishing his bazooka, Gravos was looking every which way in the alertness of a caffeine high, and Naga was happily putting up the little golem figurines she made on the shop's display shelves. Filia had no time to defend the integrity of her store at the moment, so she just let her be and went straight to discussing the more imperative business.
"We found out that there are several people missing since this morning." Filia felt bad for assuming that Hanna was okay just because there were no signs of anyone breaking into her house. She might have been alright the previous night, but their guard was lowered in the morning. Before going off in their investigation around town, Filia had taken the time to describe the events concerning the necklace and her suspicions about the merchant, hence she brought it up. "I think that Hanna might have been taken hostage because that merchant saw me with her earlier." Her voice began to shake as she imagined the poor old lady being taken away forcefully.
Filia continued, "two young girls, Aya and Alys are also missing. It hasn't been a full day since they disappeared; they were all last seen this morning, so people are not in a panic yet, but it won't be long before things get worse. I don't want the townspeople to be dragged into this. After we have rescued everyone and put a stop to the merchant's plans, as soon as Lina and the others get back, we're leaving town. Jillas, Gravos, I will entrust the safety of Val and the town to you once more when I leave. It's best this way, at least until things settle down."
"What about the coming battle," Gravos inquired. He saw the stubborn look on Filia's face, as if she was planning to go fight without him.
"I can help," Naga offered. "I'm Lina Inverse' greatest rival, my magic is super powerful! Ah! Ha ha ho ha ha!"
"I would like for all of you to protect the town," Filia requested. Before anyone could protest, she added, "it has to be this way. We've been looking for the enemy for a while and he has slipped away. He's after Xellos, so if he thinks he has a chance, he'll attack. If all of us are there, he'll lay low and who knows how many more people will be in terrible danger from now until we manage to catch him. Who knows if we'll even be able to rescue them."
"I'm the bait," Xellos realized.
"I'll be there to back you up," Filia assured. "Please, trust me; we need to face the enemy as soon as possible!"
"He doesn't have to know we're all there, boss, we could make an ambush!" Jillas suggested.
Gravos nodded and was about to express his agreement with the ambush plan, but just as he spoke, he was interrupted by an earthquake. A series of screams from the streets of town woke Palou and made the group rush out to see what was going on. What they saw was impressive to say the least.
Large trees could be seen in the distance surrounding the town, trees that were certainly not there a few minutes ago. The roots reached into the town coming out of the ground in the street with heads like snakes. Filia gasped "They're..." she could hardly believe it, "they're tree snake chimera!"
To be Continued
Disclaimer, I don't own Slayers. There's a small reference to Parasite Eve in the names of Aya and Kyle for the background characters. A similar reference goes to Phantasy Star IV in the names of Alys and Chaz. Those are just the same names, not the same characters. Harvest Moon's Sasha, Anna and Manna are the same characters.