To Live Another Day
Episode Fifty-Four: The Mysterious Lady
In another inn that happened to be in the way to the next town in the journey, Lina and company were sitting at a table surrounding the map that Amelia had kept safe from Xellos. The monster turned human, had run off somewhere in town, joining his companions a while later with his own map in hand. "Since Zelgadis is so terribly selfish and wouldn't let me borrow his map, I got my own," he placed the map on the table. "You're going here," he pointed out the farming village were they were traveling to. I'm going here," he pointed at a location near the village. "So I guess we'll be traveling down the same road for a while."
"What's there?" Lina curiously asked. It didn't look like Xellos was actually pointing at anything on the map, or maybe something was missing from the depiction.
"I'll tell you later. We might as well stop at the village next to our destination," Xellos replied ambiguously. "And Lina... you might have to earn your payment when we get there."
Filia didn't like where the conversation was going. Xellos must be planning to cause trouble if he needed Lina's power to back him up. She frowned, but refused to speak to him.
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The journey continued normally until eventually, Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Filia and Xellos reached the farming village they had been heading for. The place was indeed lacking in food, it was Lina's worse nightmare. There were no crops to be seen anywhere and the numerous healthy cattle that once roamed the land was few and sickly. "Lina," Xellos got the redhead out of her pitiful daze, "it's time to work."
"I'm not in the mood," Lina groaned. "This place is so depressing!"
"Come on, Lina, just think of all the money you're being paid for this," Xellos motivated. "If something goes wrong during my mission and I'm outnumbered and killed, you won't get paid anymore!" He reminded with more cheer than anyone should have when discussing their own death.
"Alright, alright, I'm coming," Lina noticed that Filia was giving her a meaningful look, as if trying to silently communicate that she should keep an eye on Xellos. "You guys can get started with blessing the land and what not. We'll catch up later."
Amelia nodded, all too eager to get really started with her mission, "good luck!" She wasn't sure what she was giving them well wishes to achieve, but she wished them success nonetheless.
Thus Lina and her inseparable companion, Gourry, followed Xellos to his room at the local inn, where they could privately discuss the plan Xellos had devised. In the mean time, Amelia and Filia went off to try to bless the land with their white and holy magic, with Zelgadis tagging along.
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In Xellos' room, he, Lina and Gourry sat around a small table listening to Xellos' explanation. "Though it's not on any map, there is a small villa in the plains south-east of here. That villa belongs to a golden dragon by the name of Celestina Ilumina. She is the only daughter of Orion Ilumina, a rich golden dragon, closely related to the dragon elders, who commands a vast portion of the golden dragons' market share. He also has participation in the councils of several dragon temples. In other words he's a note worthy politician and a wealthy business tycoon."
Neither Lina nor Gourry questioned Xellos' information. Lina knew that it was Xellos' business to know these things when he was spying for Beast Master and Gourry never got far questioning anything anyway. "Go on," Lina prompted, indicating with her eyes that she already knew what was coming. Xellos was going to pick a fight with the dragon, though she was yet to understand why it would benefit him to do so.
"My plan is to kidnap Celestina and hold her hostage to pressure Orion," Xellos revealed. "By those means, Orion will use his influence and bribery to return Filia's citizenship as a golden dragon."
"But Filia herself said she didn't need it," Lina reminded. "Besides, why would you want her to be a golden dragon? I don't get it. What are you trying to achieve with all this? I thought you might want to stay away from the golden dragons, given your current situation. If a large number of them come after us, I might not be able to effectively play my part as your bodyguard."
"We should have Celestina in our custody before the rest of the golden dragons even know what's going on," Xellos insisted.
"What's the point?" Lina demanded. "So what if Filia becomes a golden dragon citizen? Her race might try to take that citizenship away permanently by other methods, meaning by attacking her. Sure we can also use Celestina to protect her, but what would that accomplish? We can't keep her hostage forever, just as I don't intend to keep playing bodyguard for the rest of my life. Don't forget, my contract has a set expiration date."
"I haven't forgotten," Xellos kept his cheerful expression intact. "After Orion passes the bill to restore Filia's citizenship, we'll only need to keep Celestina for a short while longer. By then I should have accomplished what I need to do to recover my monster powers." That or Zelas would have lost her patience and killed him. "Once I'm a monster again, the golden dragons will not present a problem."
Lina gave Xellos a suspicious look, "Okay... Now you need to explain that in a way that actually makes sense. There's something you're failing to tell us."
"My cure..." Xellos half confessed. "Filia can cure me if she's an official golden dragon. There's another detail I need to take care of too, but it's..." complicated, confusing, impossible to explain. "It's nothing I can't handle," hopefully.
"All of this will be accomplished by some kind of magic, I take it?" Lina theorized. "Have you even told Filia that her participation is eventually expected?"
Xellos grinned with overconfident mockery, "she'll help out, she loves me."
"That's going a bit far," Lina couldn't help it but to shake her head. "None the less, Filia is pretty merciful, even if I doubt she still loves you after your harsh break up, she would still help. I guess that even if she's hurt, she doesn't need to be in love to want to save your life. She's helped out before your short relationship after all." Xellos was giving Lina a critical look which made her wonder what she could have said wrong. "What?"
"Nothing," Xellos pushed the thoughts away. Of course he could still count on Filia; he could always count on Filia... But that didn't mean she would always love him, she was merciful, not stupid, even though he called her a stupid dragon quite often. "This town used to be a place where human slaves were traded by dragons many years ago. In some kind of good will propaganda, it ended up as a town protected by dragons. Celestina trains maidens in magic in her villa, however, only women are allowed in."
Gourry's face paled as a cold chill went down his spine. "I don't understand what's going on, but I have a bad feeling about this."
"You're going to have to bear with it, Miss Lala," Lina warned Gourry.
"You call me Lala when you're about to make me dress as a girl," Gourry grimaced. "I don't want to!" He whined.
"Too bad, because you have to. If Xellos gets himself killed in this operation, my money's going down the drain!" Lina argued. "Besides, he'll have his monster powers back by the time we're ready to release Celestina." Xellos opened his mouth to suggest something rather Xellos-like, but Lina guessed what it was and shot down the suggestion before Xellos could even make it. "We're not getting rid of Celestina when we're done. I'm not going to pick a fight with the golden dragons for no reason. Besides, I'm pretty sure that would really make Filia reconsider helping you. And if you dare to ditch us after you get your powers back, I will find a way to survive, hunt you down and slay you, even if I have to call upon the power of the Lord of Nightmares and destroy the world along with you! Do I make myself clear?" Lina slammed her fist on the table with a fierce expression.
"Crystal clear, Miss Lili," Xellos calmly replied.
"Good to hear that, Miss Lulu." Lina nodded. "Okay, let's go get our disguises ready!" Lina exited Xellos' room, dragging a complaining Gourry along.
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Some time later, three beautiful women, out of which only one was an actual woman, left the town and headed for the villa. Gourry was wearing a pink dress, similar to the kind of dresses he was forced to wear in the past for similar situations. His hair was in pigtails and his face was adorned with bright pink lipstick and an expression of misery.
Lina had simpler attire, though she did change into a light blue skirt to enhance her feminine side, a white top and matching white boots. Her hair was up in a ponytail with a sky blue ribbon and her bangs styled to the side to make her face look somewhat different. To add to that effect, Lina wore some light makeup as well, with pale blue eye shadow and natural pink lipstick. "Seriously Xellos," Lina marbled as she stared at his feet. "How can you walk in those heels?"
Xellos, who was wearing a rather form fitting red dress with golden lining and a generous slit on the side of the skirt, grinned. "It's Lulu, remember?" He reminded in very girly voice, batting his long eye lashes, the amethyst color of his eyes standing out against the hint of gold around them. The whole perfect face look was completed with red lipstick.
Lina rolled her eyes, that model walk of Xellos was simply too convincing. "I'm left wondering if you're a really great actor or..."
"I'm sure Filia will be able to answer that," Xellos winked. As it was obvious what he was hinting at, and Lina definitely didn't want to talk about it, the redhead decided to drop the subject.
After a relatively short walk, the three so called girls reached the villa, where they proceeded to call out a greeting from the front gates until a young woman came by to see what they wanted. "How may I help you, visitors?" The girl was a brunette with shine maiden robes and a cheerful attitude.
"We're here to learn magic from Lady Celestina," Xellos, alias Lulu, innocently explained.
"Ah, more students for Lady Celestina's class, how nice." Taking a key from her pocket, the shrine maiden opened the gate. She was very easy to convince. Then again, few people were crazy enough to carry out ill intentions in the home of a dragon, especially in the outer world where magic wasn't as developed as in the lands previously inside the barrier. "Please follow me. My name is Catherine, or Cathy for short," she introduced herself as she led the three guests into the villa.
"Nice to meet you, I'm Lili," Lina cheerfully declared, as part of her act.
"I'm Lulu," Xellos added with a cute little giggle.
Gourry did his voice acting the best he could, albeit he knew it wouldn't be as good as Xellos'. "I'm Lala."
"Lili, Lulu and Lala, you have such cute names," Cathy commented with a cute giggle of her own. "Are you siblings perchance?"
"Yes, we are, that's why we look so similar to each other," Xellos, alias Lulu, was being sarcastic, but he didn't allow the sarcasm to become audible past his sweet feminine tone.
"I knew it!" Cathy dumbly exclaimed, she was a kind girl, but not too bright.
"Who are the guests, Cathy?" A girl with long blond hair inquired curiously.
"They're here to become Lady Celestina's students along with us. This is Lili, Lulu and Lala," Cathy introduced them.
"Nice to meet you, I'm Natalie, but you can call me Natie," it seemed that everyone except Lady Celestina had a nickname in the villa.
"Natie, could you keep our guests company while I informed Lady Celestina of their arrival?" Cathy requested.
"I would be happy to. In fact, I just finished baking some cinnamon bread." Natie's words immediately caught Lina's attention. "Would you like to come to the tea room for some tea and cinnamon bread?"
"We'd love to!" Lina and Gourry chorused, with Gourry's real voice being heard.
Gourry cleared his throat in the most girly fashion he could. "Oh my, I'm so thirsty my throat feels terribly dry."
"I'll make sure to add a few drops of medicine to your tea, Miss Lala. We wouldn't want you to lose your voice to a sore throat." Natie kindly offered.
"Thank you, I appreciate it," Gourry giggled, but really, his voice acting would never be as good as Xellos'.
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Lina, Gourry and Xellos, alias Lili, Lala and Lulu, were happily enjoying some tea and cinnamon bread, when Cathy returned to let them know that Lady Celestina was willing to interview them. The interviews would take place individually in the garden. "Why don't you go first, Lulu?" Lina suggested.
"If that's alright," Xellos agreed, exchanging a plotting look with his bodyguard. The tea room was conveniently located near the gardens that were visible from the tall glass window. In the garden, there was a woman in dragon robes with ankle length white hair, facing away from the window as she tended to the flowers. They concluded she was Celestina. Lina and Gourry would be able to watch Xellos from there and be ready to play their part in their get away.
"Actually," Cathy interrupted. "Lady Celestina has asked to see Lala first, then Lili and finally Lulu."
"Sounds like she wants to go by alphabetical order," Lina alias Lili, laughed with slight nervousness as she gave Gourry, alias Lala, a warning look. He better not blow their cover. "Go on ahead, Lala."
"Yes..." Gourry tried his best to keep up a good act. He could only hope that the questions Celestina asked in the interview were not too difficult.
After Gourry was gone, Lina casually voiced, "those flowers out there are very pretty. It's too bad flowers won't grow anywhere else around here."
"Oh yes, Lady Celestina tends to the gardens herself," Natie explained. "It is because of her power that those flowers are able to grow."
There was a moment of silence in which Lina and Xellos both debated how to carefully inquire about how suspicious that was without directly accusing Celestina and alarming the maidens. "You're wondering why Lady Celestina has not cured the famine of this land, aren't you?" Cathy suggested. "The question is written all over your faces and you wouldn't be the first to ask it. Lady Celestina has told us she is an observer and that should she interfere, all will be lost. I think she means that people need to learn to overcome hardship on their own, rather than relying on the power of the golden dragons for everything."
Natie nodded in agreement. "It's a valuable lesson."
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Gourry had gone out to the garden, occasionally glancing towards the window from which he knew that Lina and Xellos were discretely watching him. The garden was full of beautiful flowers in every color imaginable, making a deep contrast with the lack of vegetation that was all over the rest of the land. "Lady Celestina?" He asked quietly in the most feminine voice he could manage.
"You are a peculiar being. It was your voice calling her name which gave her the strength to cling to life. Stay strong and pure." Celestina didn't move from her position on her knees tending to the flowers, her back to Gourry, "go."
Gourry felt strange, as if he was in the presence of a very powerful being. He had this feeling before, but he couldn't remember when. He dared not say any more and simply returned to the tea room.
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Gourry quietly returned to the tea room and sat down looking kind of pale. Lina wondered if he had somehow managed to mess up in the short time he was out there, but no one was yelling or freaking out. Next up it was her turn, thus she went out.
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Lina approached Celestina, "Lady Celestina?"
Once again, Celestina did not move or look at her visitor. "I once allowed you to live even after you gave up everything and caused me to awaken from my slumber. Do not expect it to happen again... go."
This feeling, this sensation of power, she had felt it before, but didn't know when. Lina couldn't talk, she simply didn't have the strength to say anything. Celestina was definitely not an ordinary golden dragon. She probably wasn't even a golden dragon at all, but not a monster either. Lina somehow knew that she should heed the warning and quietly retreated back to the tea room.
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When Lina returned to the tea room she had the same pale complexion Gourry displayed. She discreetly shook her head at Xellos, warning him with her eyes. He gave her a hidden look of puzzlement before venturing out to see what had shocked them so much about such a short meeting.
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Xellos approached Celestina just as Gourry and Lina had done before him. His empathy appeared to get a clear signal of Natalie and Catherine's innocent cheer, but even when he was only a few feet away from Celestina, he couldn't sense anything at all. There was no emotion coming from her what so ever, but she still held a very strong presence, stronger than anything Xellos had ever felt. He doubted the maidens and townspeople were aware of this, it was as if Celestina was allowing her three special visitors to see her in a different way than everyone else.
Celestina slowly moved her head to glance at Xellos. Her eyes were a stunning golden color, as if they contained an endless galaxy of golden stars. Then he saw it, a vast blackness with no logic or harmony. In the mist of the chaos there was a single golden light shining brighter than anything he had ever seen. Xellos blinked and the vision was gone, he was in the garden once more and Celestina was once again looking at the flowers.
"The creatures of this world complicate things far beyond the simple truth." A silent pause passed until Celestina spoke again. "Even so, my dream will continue for the time being. This is all a part of it as well."
"You're..." Xellos couldn't finish, he simply dared not voice it.
"Go," Celestina bid him farewell in the same way as the others. Without another word, Xellos retreated to the tea room, where Lina and Gourry were waiting.
To be Continued
Disclaimer, I don't own Slayers. You know a season of Slayers wouldn't be complete without Gourry being forced to wear a dress. XD Congratulations if you figured out Celestina's real identity. It will be confirmed soon.