To Live Another Day
Episode Forty-Five: Broken Denial
Filia had gone through a number of scary situations in life ever since she ventured out of the sheltered safety of the dragon temple and into the realities of the world. She had witnessed many battles and helped stop what could have been the end of the world. All those experiences were frightening indeed, but they were different from this. Back then, there came a point where she was so regretful for what her people had done to the ancient dragons that, though she tried to survive with all her strength, she didn't fear death. She wanted to live, but if she died, it would be retribution for her people. There was no such a situation now.
If Filia died now at the hands of Lord Beast Master who stared at her, through her, with angry eyes, it wouldn't serve any purpose. She would be painfully dispatched and Xellos would probably follow. She would never see her friends again, she wouldn't be able to raise Val, she would be gone and so would Xellos. With no consolation, not even the slightest hint of a microscopic silver lining, Filia feared death like she had never feared before.
The terrified golden dragon slowly tore her gaze away from Beast Master with no small effort. She glanced at Xellos, who was as still as a statue and as quiet as one. It was as if all his trains of thought had derailed and he couldn't process anything anymore. For him, there was always a possibility, always a strategy, always an option. Even when the situation was dire, there was always a plan B, but not this time. This time, no matter in how many mental circles he went, he couldn't think of what to do or say to repair the situation.
Filia tried to get him to snap out of it with her eyes. She couldn't find her voice, her throat painfully dry. Why wasn't he saying anything? If she was doomed anyway, he could at least ask, or better yet, beg, for Beast Master's forgiveness. He could at least save himself if she had been inevitably doomed by her own temper.
"Kill her," Zelas' order sounded cold, cruel and definite.
Xellos seemed to wake up from his desperate thinking, searching for a solution that wasn't there. "Kill?"
"Kill this golden dragon, just as you killed so many of her kind before," Zelas made her order clear beyond a doubt.
Xellos looked at Filia and nodded slightly. She no longer had any anger in her eyes, only quiet resignation. He realized that she wouldn't hold a grudge in the short remainder of her life. She wasn't full of the hatred one should have for one's own soon to be murderer. She was telling her with her silent expression to do it, to kill her and save himself.
So what if his cure was eradicated? What good was a cure if he was dead? Beast Master was certainly aware of the specifics of his curse, yet she gave him a direct order. Even if he was healed, even if he was at full power, he couldn't defy Zelas. What was he supposed to say? That he didn't currently possess the power to kill a weakened dragon? That would just get them both killed faster.
There was no choice, he couldn't do anything to change this, it wasn't his decision to make and Filia understood that. His energy was still dangerously low, using the Dragon Slave to end Filia in one swift painless blow might drain away his very life and leave him in a critical condition, but a multitude of Fireballs for a slower death wouldn't do. "Darkness beyond twilight... Crimson beyond blood that flows..."
Loud laughter interrupted Xellos' spell as Zelas fell back into her throne holding her sides in extreme amusement. To top it all up, her laugh was similar to Naga and Martina's with more of a roar to it, but right now it wasn't full force or else they might be left deaf. "Alright, alright, that's enough, stop before you ruin my hourglass figure," she joked. With a smile, she looked at the confused and shocked Xellos. "Of course, if you had argued back, I would have killed you both, but you already know that, don't you?" She sighed contently, very much like Lina after accomplishing the near impossible, filling her stomach. "Ah, what a satisfying meal, such delicious despair! You better be on your way now Xellos, before I'm tempted to keep you as you are."
At long last it sunk in that Zelas wasn't going to kill Filia. She was just feeding off her despair as well as Xellos'. Still in shock, Xellos managed to say, "yes, Lord Beast Master." His expression once again acted on its own, conveying his relief at the same time that Filia let out the breath she had been holding all along without realizing it. The golden dragon was certain she had been a small step away from a heart attack.
"One more thing," Zelas added casually. "Fang! Here boy!" The monster fox obediently appeared, teleporting to his master's side. "Fang needs to be walked. I will assign this task to you, Xellos."
"Yes, Lord Beast Master," Xellos didn't even have the energy to say anymore than that one phrase, but it was enough. He exited the throne room along with Filia and Fang.
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Once they were away from Zelas, Filia finally regained the ability to speak after her near death experience. "That was scary," she stated the obvious.
"Are you suicidal?" Xellos reproached with full seriousness in place of his accustomed sarcasm. "We got lucky that Lord Beast Master was feeling exceptionally merciful today!"
"I know; it was stupid of me to try to argue with her." Filia made no attempts to excuse her behavior. "I could have gotten us both killed after we were so close to being spared. I realize what I've done." She held back late frightened tears as it all sunk in. "I'm sorry."
"Don't do anything insane like that again," Xellos warned. They continued walking in silence until they exited the spa.
xoxox xox xoxox
Xellos and Filia had been walking along with Fang for a while when they reached a well. "Here it is, get yourself cured."
Filia stared at the well, taking a moment to process Xellos' words. "This is the well of recovery?"
"The flowing energy of the astral side is what gives it power. Drinking a little water from it should free you of your curse. I think I'll drink some too," Xellos decided.
"Zelas said it wouldn't break your curse," Filia reminded.
"I know that," Xellos was not pleased to have the fact thrown at him again. "I'm just thirsty."
"We shouldn't drink from this well without permission," Filia warned. Her near death experience was still fresh in her mind. Regardless of how much time passed, she had a feeling that the event would still be eerily clear in her memories. There were some things that were simply too impressive to forget. "What if Zelas gets angry?"
"She gave us permission," Xellos assured as he let down the bucket attacked to a rope on top of the well. He brought it up filled with water and set it on the well's edge. Cupping his hands together he took some water to drink. The water was very good, better than any other drink he had before. It was water, thus flavorless, yet it was refreshing beyond words. "Drink, like I said, we have permission," Xellos assured. "Zelas wouldn't have brought up the well if she didn't intend for it to be used. She also said she was sending me on my way and gave me Fang. He can take us out of the astral side. Our job here is done, we can return to town."
"The town..." Filia stepped forward wordlessly and drank some of the water from the well of recovery. She immediately felt the results as her magic was unlocked, but she was deadly quiet. Her hair went from white to blond almost instantly, with the true power of a golden dragon once again eradiating from her, but not strongly yet, she was still tired. The water cured her curse, but it didn't do much in terms of restoring her energy. "I'll heal you now," she offered, looking over the signs of their past battle still present on Xellos.
The entire process of Xellos being healed with Filia's recovery spells went by in silence. It was obvious she was still tired; Xellos could feel her pushing herself to the limit. When she was finished, she merely nodded, not bothering to heal herself, she had no energy left for that. She would just have to heal herself after she had some time to rest.
"Stupid dragon," it was a wonder Filia had managed to live as long as she had. She had a dangerous temper that made her pick fights with deadly foes, such as himself when they first met and more recently Zelas. Plus she was always putting others before herself and carrying the consequences of her foolish selflessness.
Filia made no reply towards Xellos' words as if she didn't hear him. Ever since he mentioned returning to town, her mind was thrown to a different place, a tragic place. The tears that had been slowly escaping little by little barely perceptibly, suddenly started to flow out like rivers.
"What are you crying about now?" Xellos inquired with a clear hint of exasperation. "Stupid dragon, the worse is over, we survived reporting to Lord Beast Master, be grateful for that."
"Shut up, you piece of raw garbage!" Filia retorted in sobs. "It's not over. I trust that Gravos and Jillas have protected Val, Elena and Palou. Naga must have been of help too. I trust that Lina, Gourry, Amelia and Zelgadis are alright, they'll be ready to complain about missing the action when they get back from their spicy herb hunt. But I'm not alright. Hanna tricked me, I cared for her like a mother, I loved her like a child to a parent and she betrayed me. I've been too busy trying to survive to even begin to mourn her. She was a liar, an actor, just like... just like you."
The comparison was less than flattering; it made Xellos glare and growl the inquiry, "how so?"
"She tricked me into caring for her, she tricked the whole town. You don't even make an effort. I know you lie, I know you deceive, I know you're only using me for your own benefit, to rid yourself of any annoying foes that might come your way seeking to kill you. Then you can conserve your energy for an emergency. I know you wouldn't even look at me if you didn't want something from me. A meal and amusement back when you were a monster, a disposable pawn to fight for you now. I know it all too well, but I keep falling for it like an idiot!" Filia sobbed uncontrollably, letting out her sorrows and insecurities full force.
So she was afraid of being used and betrayed even if she fully expected it? "Stupid dragon," Xellos hugged her, to which Filia surprisingly didn't resist. "If I'm so horrible and you know it, why don't you just cast me aside? Why do you stay by my side when no one is forcing you to?"
"Because I'm an idiot," Filia bitterly stated, her words somewhat muffled as her face was buried on Xellos' shoulder. She was an idiot, she realized, only an idiot could care for a monster. She couldn't deny it anymore. She was focusing on blissful possibilities that she kept well hidden in the back of her mind, subconsciously tricking herself into believing that the impossible was possible. She thought it was harmless to care for Xellos just a little, because she was in denial about caring a lot. She was simply being open-minded by giving him just a miniscule hint of appreciation and fondness in the privacy of her mind.
There was nothing wrong with a little attraction, it was purely platonic and could never be anything else. Filia was aware of that fact and wouldn't allow her feelings to grow out of control. Yet they proved to be too strong. She feared for his life more than her own. She would forgive him if he was ordered to kill her, if she was doomed anyway, she could only wish for his safety. When he had begun chanting the Dragon Slave she no longer feared the pain of death, she just kept wishing with all her might that this would be enough for Zelas to spare Xellos' life.
Filia's denial was broken, shattered into a million pieces. She was falling in love and she knew it. It was the stupidest thing she had ever done. Loving a monster, it was both wrong and ridiculous. It was made worse by the fact that she was certain he didn't care in return. He was a deceiving liar, yet the look on his face when he thought he had no choice but to end her life, or else Beast Master would, spoke of more than simply the resignation of knowing his place, it held sorrow. She couldn't get that expression out of her head.
When Filia felt Xellos' kissing her, she only tightened her embrace. She knew it would hurt her more if she didn't fight back, but she didn't want to. If she was going to be heart broken anyway, she might as well allow herself this bittersweet pleasure. Her denial was indeed broken, but it wasn't lost. She clung to every shattered piece of denial, every single one. She believed her actions to be nonsensical and fought to crush her own hope. She might have been falling in love, but love is not true love until it is embraced and accepted; admitted. She would draw the line there; she would acknowledge the facts, but not accept them.
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"I can't believe you two!" Lina's upset voice made Xellos and Filia cease their passionate kissing.
They were no longer in the astral side near the well of recovery. They were in the ruins of a large dried tree made from many thinner trees wrapped together. A large stone golem was cleaning up the remnants of trees around town with Naga riding on its shoulder and directing it. They looked at Fang who gave them a large toothed grin and wagged his two tails playfully. He must have taken them back to the town while they were distracted with each other.
"Unbelievable!" Lina continued to dramatize. She did take notice of the monster fox, but it looked harmless enough anyway. "Not only do you fight without me, but then you go on a date and leave the clean up duty to everyone else!"
"What happened?" Filia inquired with a red face, her need to know overpowering her embarrassment.
"Maybe if you weren't so busy sucking face you would have noticed!" Lina was clearly in a bad mood after missing the fight. She was the star of the show, she should be the one Dragon Slaving the villains into oblivion, yet she had barely made any appearances lately. "Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis and I fought a bunch of monsters that were after Xellos. Apparently Zelas was the one who arranged it for them to believe that Xellos was with us. After that fight was over, we saw a flash of light coming from the direction of the town, so we came to investigate. By the time we got here, the battle was over and there were nothing but dead chimera trees all over the place. We regrouped with Jillas, Gravos and Naga. Val, Elena and Palou are safe. They couldn't find you two so we were searching. It's been almost an hour since the battle ended. Where did you disappear to and what's with the purple yukatas? What does BMS stand for? If it's bondage-maso-sado, I don't want to hear it!"
"What?" Filia's face turned a deeper shade of red. "That's not what it stands for! And what do you mean an hour? It's been longer than that."
"BMS stands for Beast Master Spa," Xellos calmly explained with his usual overly cheerful expression once again invading his features. "Time passes differently in certain parts of the astral side, so the time that transpired here was shorter."
Lina felt her eye twitch in annoyance. She couldn't find the spicy herbs Elena needed for her special dish, she ended up destroying said herbs if they were even in the mountain to begin with. She had been absent from the main action for a while and her so called friends went off to a monster lord spa without her. It was probably a high end luxury spa too. They probably had really good snacks and delicious little mint filling gourmet chocolates in pretty wrappers! With an indignant growl, Lina turned around and walked away off to vent before she Dragon Slaved the whole town into nothingness.
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Aya, Kyle, Alys and the traveling merchant were all dead. The one to blame was Hanna, alias Venus, who had also perished in the end. Filia didn't have the heart to tell the townspeople the truth. The bodies were recovered from the ruble and given proper graves. The townspeople mourned them all, blaming the mysterious Green Alchemist for their sorrow. Filia promised to make justice, to seek out the master mind behind the tragedy and deliver a well deserved punishment. Amelia was all too quick to agree and offer her full support. Hanna's good name was preserved for mercy to those who cared for her and because few to none would believe the truth even if they knew.
It was time for Lina's group to move on again, their destination was Seyruun. It was the place where they always went for answers. Those targeting Xellos were expected to follow them there, to a place with much better defenses than any other, thus significantly reducing civilian casualties. The Green Alchemist had to be stopped. Naga decided to stay in Filia's town and help rebuild with her golems. Val would remain in the care and protection of Jillas and Gravos until Filia had returned. Elena and Palou would be there to support Jillas and Gravos too and help the townspeople assimilate their loss.
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Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Xellos and Filia set out early the next morning. Filia had taken a moment to say a few words of comfort to Val's egg and reassure him. "Mommy will be back soon. Uncle Jillas and uncle Gravos will be here with you. I'll miss you sweetie, have pleasant dreams. Mommy will make sure you hatch into a peaceful world."
"And daddy will be there to make sure she doesn't mess up." Filia jumped several feet into the air at the sudden voice from behind her. Even in human form, Xellos was getting the hang of sneaking up on her.
The golden dragon gave the monster turned human a sharp glare. She had warned him before that dragons could hear what was spoken around them before hatching. She knew he was just being annoying as usual, but she didn't want him to be a pest around Val. After a good night's sleep, Filia was more determined to rid herself of her feelings for Xellos, yet she knew it would be a difficult decision to carry out. Even when she was angry at him because he was such an annoying pest, she still found his vexation somewhat charming. It was official, Filia had lost her mind, and if by any chance she managed to find it, she was sure Xellos would swiftly make her lose it again.
To be Continued
Disclaimer, I don't own Slayers. What did you think of the suspenseful beginning of this chapter? XD Filia has made a lot of progress so far and so has Xellos, but he's still partially unaware of it.