Disclaimer: Slayers, not mine. Never have been and never will be. I just like playing in Hajime Kanzaka's toybox, because they're such wonderfully three-dimensional and larger-than-life characters. Von, however, is my own creation.

Author's Notes: This is the final story to the arc which begun with "The Illusion of Truth". It takes place after "The Illusion of Truth" and "All Through the Night". It also takes place after the first songfic in the subplot trilogy, "Someone to Watch Over Me", and before the final two songfics, "I Love You, Good-Bye" and "I Have Nothing".



Then Came the Dawn

by Zanne Chaos




Prologue


The dreams were always the same.

Smoke. Screaming. Death. Long golden locks, soaked red by blood. Sometimes the Elders, standing with their dark robes and salt-and-peppered hair, were there.

Pointing. Accusing. Never him, but her. There was blood -- her blood, and the blood of his mother, family friends, his entire life.

The axe came down and fell. The screaming began with the darkness. His hands would reach for her, trying escape the smell of smoke and death, but instead they coiled around her hair. Ripping. Pulling her to her feet. Winding around her neck, cutting into her, choking.

Screaming. There was always the screaming.

And always, always darkness in the end.

But then they changed.

The screaming started before the axe fell, while the axe was still in flight, and the terrible, terrible sounds of something shattering.

The darkness came as always, but the screaming had already begun.

Heart pounding, pulse racing, chest heaving, Val jerked awake, the cave lit gray by the false glow of dawn. He hated it, hated the dreams. The old ones, the blood dreams, they were ordinary. He suffered them for years, centuries.

But something about the recent twistings and turnings to the dreams chilled his very nerves.

It was green. Sometimes it was gray. Sometimes he could see his hands, other times himself. It skewed, it slanted, it spun in a way that ripped vertigo out of his head and transported it to his stomach.

The axe, then the screaming. No, it was the screaming and the axe. Both. One. Same. But one was here and one was there. They weren't together.

An uncontrollable shudder ripped at him, and he slammed his talons into the rock, growling softly. Gods, what was he missing? There was a detail gone. He was missing a part of the dreams, forgetting it. Maybe if he could figure it out, they would quit haunting him.

The bloodless ones, the new ones, were far more disturbing. There was comfort in the old ones, like an old familiar enemy if not a friend.

He could see himself as he looked on in thought, lifting an axe. The blade traveled down -- wood. Firewood. The smoke was fire. Wood fire and coal. The odor snapped itself into crystalline clarity for a brief heartbeat, then faded past.

Nothing seemed changed.

Tangible and phantom mist both. Frustrating in its teasing clarity and elusiveness. Snarling, a sudden, brief bout of helpless fury, slamming his paw down, his talons in, breaking, splintering the rock...

...and gasped as the draft from his paw which suddenly slammed open a dozen locked doors breathed down his spine, chilling him.

It was the screaming.

The screaming started when the axe came down. While the axe came down. While he wasn't there. He wasn't there. The mist fell apart and drifted through his fingers as he tried to look past it, and he scrambled for it, trying in vain to recover that momentary respite, the teasing hint of memory.

But at least one thing now was certain.

He hadn't been in the house when she started screaming.



...six months later...




Chapter One


"Can I get ya anything else, sir?"

"That'll be fine."

The barmaid started to leave, and he reconsidered.

"Wait, maybe you can answer a question?"

"Sir?"

Val tugged the hood a little lower, making sure none of his aqua hair was visible. He didn't recognize the barmaid, and maybe she wouldn't recognize him. It had been three years, or more, since he last was seen in the village. Still, he wasn't willing to take any chances.

"I was told that a good place to find a sword around here was that shop," he said, gesturing out the window, across the street and down the road a ways to Vases and Maces.

"Oh, they don't sell those anymore."

"So the place has changed ownership?"

"No, Miss Ul Copt still runs the place, but the big fellow that ran the forge left. Him and the fox."

So that would account for why he hadn't seen hide nor hair of Jillas and Gravos for the last day. "Any idea where they went?"

"None in the slightest."

Valgaav sighed, looking back out the window. "Thanks. You're sure she still runs the place?"

"Of course. I see her when I go in there to buy tea or pottery."

"Ah, all right. I was wondering, since I realized I haven't seen anybody matching the description I was given around the place."

"She doesn't come out and do very much. That purple-haired gentleman handles everything."

A chill ran down his spine. "What do you mean? Is she sick?"

"I guess so. She hasn't set foot outside the shop in ages. But when I see her, she seems okay. She just doesn't talk very much."

"I see. Thanks."

"Anything else I can help you with, sir?"

Valgaav shook his head. "Maybe my bill?"

"Certainly."

He sipped his drink, looking out the window at the shop in the distance, his eyes narrowed. He wanted to know what was going on behind those doors, but there was no logical way to get in there. Not with Xellos present. If his servants had still been around, they would have been ideal to pump for details, but ifs never got anyone anywhere.

But without knowing what was going on, he had no real way of knowing what to do. There was the temptation of getting closer to the place, looking in a window, maybe even breaking in; but while he might have been able to pull it off and slip away unnoticed if it were just Filia, he didn't think he could do it with Xellos there.

Briefly, he considered enlisting the aid of someone to go in and do a bit of reconnaissance work, but he had no faith in anyone in the village being able to do so without making a right balls-up of everything. Val tried to convince himself that he was overreacting, that Filia wasn't in trouble, but couldn't come up with a decent argument.

Two things worried him: the absence of his servants, and the fact she apparently never left her home anymore.

He knew he hadn't done a thing. He still couldn't remember what happened; everything remained blank in his mind's eye after the point of turning to face the house. But that was enough. Something made him stop in his chores, something made him go inside.

And he remembered enough to know what that something was: Filia's screaming, and beyond that, the sound of things breaking.

Besides, he thought sourly, glaring into the tankard in his hands, it's not as though I can take on Xellos alone. Not anymore.

As much as it galled him to admit, he needed help. There were only a few people left who stood a chance at being able to help him. The question was, would they help him, if only for Filia's sake?

It was time to find out. There was one person which he knew might be found in a reasonable span of time, and someone who might actually listen to him without trying to attack. He'd start there.

Val dropped some change on the table and, after making sure Xellos was nowhere in sight, slipped out of the tavern, and headed away from Filia's shop, out of town.



Fly by night, walk by day. Val knew where he wanted to go, he just wasn't sure how to get there. But once he crossed the sea to the other shore and started asking questions, he was fairly optimistic he'd know the city when he saw it.

A gust of wind pushed him higher into the rapidly dimming twilight sky. Normally he waited until it was truly dark, to avoid being seen, but impatience overtook him. He was in Seyruun, that much he knew. A bright glow beyond a hill gave him an indication where to look, and he was rewarded by the sight of city streets lit up by lamps, and highlighting the famous white magic circle of the city even at night.

He found the place; the next trick was figuring out how to get in. While he didn't doubt he could easy gain admittance into the White Magic Capital city itself, finding the crown princess was likely to be a more troublesome task.

Especially if she wasn't there.

There was the trick of getting past the peons, the guards who wouldn't know him from any other Tom, Dick, or Harry who passed through. Just telling them that he wanted an audience with the princess wouldn't get him very far, he suspected. There was the usual method of simply fireballing anyone in his way, but that created two problems he didn't want to deal with at the moment. It wouldn't be conductive to a cooperative mood on anyone's part, and it might draw the attention of Mazoku, even here. If nothing else, it would certain generate some stories, and stories would spread.

The palace was in the very center, and Val studied the area as he glided overhead. It seemed extraordinarily bright, even more so than he would have thought. Light seemed to pour from nearly every window, and on his second pass, he dipped lower. Coach after coach crowded the roads past the walls leading up to the keep, and torches were ablaze everywhere.

A slow smirk curled Val's lips, revealing his fangs as a plan formed. Perhaps getting in would be easier than he thought.



Hopefully that had been the most difficult part. It was certainly looking good for holding the title of the most annoying. They were hard to find, and Val had almost given up on locating a shop that offered ready-made clothes which met his requirements after searching for one for almost two hours.

Of course, by then, it had been long since closed. A few near-misses at discovery, and attempting to piece together an outfit in the dark hadn't been exactly high entertainment.

He still had to do a few more things before he could walk up to the doors. With the stolen garments bundled up under his arm, he levitated past the castle walls, shrouded by the dark and the foliage, and stashed them under a bush. All this skulking about was making him impatient. Val had never enjoyed subterfuge, preferring to meet situations head on and destroy everything in sight.

But he knew that would fall under the 'bad idea' category, and he needed more information.

"Now that's a fine-looking team," he announced, emerging from the bushes and walking down the cobbled road toward a coach.

The groom, standing by the lead horse of the perfectly matched four, looked over at him and grinned. "That they are. Raised them myself, I did."

"You don't say?" Val moved close enough to feign interest, but kept watch on the ears and eyes. When the horses started to show the whites, and flick their ears nervously in his direction, he stopped. He could fool humans into thinking he was one of them, but not the horses. "That's one of the best-matched teams I've seen, and I've seen a few."

"They're all brothers and sisters," the groom explained. "Shared the same sire and dam, they did, just a little over a year apart for each. Soran here" -- the groom patted the neck of the bay beside him -- "he's the oldest. He keeps the others in line, don't you, boy?" The gelding snorted in reply. "Sara's the youngest, and the only mare of the lot. She works just as hard as her brothers. We were hoping for a team of geldings, but you know how that goes."

Val forced a chuckle and nodded. "My employer's probably in there now, trying to find out who owns these horse so he can buy them. He's been wanting a set like this for a while now."

"Sorry," the groom replied, grinning. "The Earl won't part with these, not for love or money."

"I don't blame him." Val studied the horses, scowling inwardly. Damn. Just a title. I could probably make it fly, but give me a name, damnit! He risked stepping closer and held out his hand. "I'm Val, I'm the coachman for the Marquess of Agares."

"Rory." The man shook his hand. "I work for the Earl of Themba. Have all my life." He looked at Val curiously. "I've never heard of the Marquess of Agares."

"We're from a long ways off. Over the sea, actually," Val said, keeping a straight face.

"Beyond the barrier, eh? Yeah, I've heard the princess has been sent out a few times in the spirit of, what do they call it? Fostering diplomatic relations?"

"She's been by, yes. So is she still out doing that?"

"Tonight? Man, are you nuts? She's here, of course. Now that the king's kicked the bucket, Philionel's taken the throne."

"So that's why we're here? I haven't heard much, being out on top of the coach and all."

"Yep. He's been coronated, and the ball's celebrating that. I'd wager myself that half of the people and most of the men are here for the princess, though."

"Really, now?" This was interesting.

"She's not married yet, and she's the last heir. So far, she hasn't really given any indication, from what I've heard, that she's trying too hard to snag herself a husband like a proper princess ought to."

Val smirked. "I'm sure she will, sooner or later. Women are supposed to produce heirs, after all."

"No kidding. His Highness is a good leader, but he's a bit too soft with that girl, if you ask me."

"Maybe that'll change." Val looked around. "I should head back and check on my team..."

"I understand. Nice meetin' ya."

"Same to you." Val ducked away out of sight, and recovered the bundle of clothes. Quickly, he changed, and raked his fingers through his hair, making himself more presentable. Grimacing in disdain, he tied the long aqua locks back with a ribbon, and straightened his waistcoat.

Taking care to avoid the groom he hit up for information, Val made his way up to the front door, and, head held high, strode toward the entrance as though he owned the place.

"Halt!" a guard called out, moving to intercept him. "Who are you?"

"Me?" Val looked at the guard as if he were something to be scraped off the bottom of a boot. "You dare ask who I am?"

"Err..." The guard looked a bit more nervous. "It's just that I haven't seen you..."

"Of course you have, man! Can't a body step outside for a walk to escape the stuffy heat in there without being grilled?"

"Well, er, of course, sir, but I don't remember you coming in in the first place."

"Think, man, think! I arrived with the Earl of Themba! Does that ring a bell?"

The guard scratched his head. "Well, I guess you do look familiar, now that you mention it."

"Hey! I know you!" another guard called out, approaching them. Val tensed. "That hair, you can't hide from us!"

Should he make a run for it and hope to find the princess before they caught up, or just blow them to smithereens? Decisions, decisions.

"You're related to Queen Martina, aren't you?"

Huh? Val looked at the second guard blankly for all of one second. "Well, of course I am," he said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "I'm her second cousin, twice removed on her father's side." Who the hell is Queen Martina? Amelia's mother? No, wait, she said her mother was dead. Did Philionel remarry?

"Our apologies, milord, it's just that there's been attempts on Philionel in the past, and we can't be too careful."

"Yes, yes," he snapped impatiently. "See to it that your friend thinks before talks in the future. If he's capable of thinking at all." Val shot them another haughty look, and strode past them, keeping an eye on the crowd to find his way to the ballroom.



"Haven't you heard a word I've said?"

Amelia looked to the green-haired woman beside her and blinked. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't catch that last part."

Martina rolled her eyes. "And that's why I'm going to have Zoana back to its former glory probably before you have a single heir, if you ever do!"

Amelia smiled thinly, visualizing her hands wrapping around Martina's neck. Tightly.

"Anyway!" Martina tossed her green sausage curls back, causing them to bounce. "I offered to beseech Lord Zoamelgustar on your behalf and ask him to find you a nice, spineless, virile husband for you to control and get some heirs from."

Somehow, Amelia kept from twitching. She just stared at Martina, that thin smile frozen to her lips, and visualized stress relief in the form of telling Miss Lina that Martina insulted her breast size.

"You should be thankful that I'd be willing to do all that for you," Martina continued. "After all, you did destroy Zoana, but I'm willing to let bygones be bygones."

Can't you just say bye and be gone? Amelia drew a deep breath to keep from screaming. "That's very generous of you, Martina, but hardly necessary."

"But us princesses have to stick together, don't you agree?" Martina laughed, and the sound grated on her nerves. "But you're right! I'm not a princess anymore. I'm the queen. Which means I'm better than you."

Amelia looked down at the glass of punch in her hand, and wished it had something with a bit more kick than mere champagne. She downed what was left, and made a show of studying her glass. "Of course you are, Martina. You know what? My glass is empty. I'm going to get a refill."

She started to walk away before Martina could protest, then stopped dead in her tracks, staring across the room. "Oh, blessed light..."



Val walked around the edges of the room, trying not to attract too much attention or look too out of place as he constantly scanned the crowd for Amelia. It didn't help that everyone was decked out to the nines, and his best memory of her had her in white traveling clothes, and usually a bit on the scuffed side.

He was about to start making a few hopefully discreet inquiries about her whereabouts when he saw a graceful, dark-haired woman staring at him as if she'd seen a ghost. He narrowed his eyes, trying to decide if that was Amelia, when he saw her mouth his name.

That was enough of a clue for him. He gave her a slight nod of acknowledgment, waiting to see what she would do. A green-haired woman was standing beside her, talking away, but Amelia ignored her and approached Val.

"Your highness," he said, giving her a slight bow, rather aware that they were attracting some attention and keeping up the pretense.

"Valgaav," she said quietly, staring at him, her blue eyes wary but not hostile. He could still see traces of the girl he knew, but this was a woman. She was taller now, maybe as tall as Filia, and her dark hair was swept upward in an elaborate twist rather than falling around her shoulders in a short, slightly unruly bob. She had clearly grown into herself, and moved with a casual elegance that he did not recognize.

"It's just Val now," he corrected her in equally low tones. "Not much point in keeping the 'gaav' part anymore."

Amelia nodded, and was about to say more when the other woman caught up with them.

"Ha! It worked!" she announced triumphantly. "Now you must acknowledge the greatness and sovereignty of Lord Zoamelgustar!"

Amelia covered her face with her hand. Val merely stared at the woman.

"The hell..?"

"And how do you come by that figure?" Amelia asked.

"I sought his aid in finding you a husband, Miss Amelia!"

"Who the hell's Zoamelgustar?"

"My patron monster! See?" The woman thrust her generous chest toward him and pointed to a rather hideous brooch on her dress.

"Your..." Val blinked. "I've never heard of him."

"Of course you haven't. Martina made him up," Amelia explained through gritted teeth.

"Wait, that's Martina?" Val interrupted, feeling a curious mixture of horror and revulsion. "Queen Martina?"

"I see introductions are not necessary for me, for the reputation of my greatness precedes me!" Martina crowed, taking on a victorious stance.

"Oh, by all the gods," Val muttered, squeezing his eyes shut and pinching the bridge of his nose.

"Why?" Amelia asked.

"Never you mind," he muttered, cheeks flaming. He was sorely tempted to go and beat up the guards for even thinking for a moment that he could be related to her.

Amelia studied him a moment longer, then turned to Martina. "After the great and mighty Lord Zoamelgustar did all that work in finding me a potential husband, maybe you should leave us so I can find out if he's suitable."

Val stared at Amelia, wondering if Martina's apparent insanity was contagious.

"Of course!" Martina winked lewdly. "I'll leave you two alone to...heehee! Talk." She elbowed Amelia, giving her another wink, then scurried off.

Amelia remained motionless, her expression unchanging.

Val waited a few moments, and she still didn't move. "Amelia?"

That seemed to snap her out of it, and snap she did, twitching. "That woman's enough to drive a teetotaler into a bottle just to get away from her," Amelia muttered. "Come on, let's get out of here before she comes back."

Amelia led him to a nearby set of doors, and out into a corridor. She exchanged polite greetings with people they passed, the number getting fewer the deeper into the castle they ventured. "Here." She opened another set of doors, walking into a library. She looked around to make sure they were alone, then locked the doors behind them. "Why are you here?"

"Right to the point, I see," Val said, crossing his arms and leaning back against a desk. "Very well. I need help."

"I'm listening."

"I didn't hurt Filia." He sighed, and ripped the annoying ribbon out of his hair, tossing it behind him on the desk. "I can't remember what happened, but I remember enough. I know it wasn't me."

Amelia didn't say anything at first, then she gave him a slight nod. "Let's sit down. Brandy?"

"It might go well with the story." He moved over to the chairs by the fireplace, and watched her pour two glasses from a decanter.

"What's happening?" Amelia asked once she joined him, getting comfortable.

"I'm not exactly sure." He downed half of his glass and set it aside, leaning forward and resting his head in his hands. "I'm starting to remember that day, but a lot of it's foggy. I was out back, chopping wood. The one thing I'm sure of is that I went in there because I heard her screaming."

"Which means someone else was attacking her."

"Right." Val shook his head and sat back, glaring at the fire. "I think it was Xellos. It's the only thing that makes any sense at all."

"Mister Xellos?" Amelia asked quietly, uncertainly. "Why?"

"I went back before coming here. I never saw Filia; I didn't want to get too close. I can't take on Xellos again, not like this." He looked over to Amelia. "I talked to a barmaid; Filia's not been out of the house, possibly in a few years now. Xellos does everything."

"I see."

"He wanted me gone, so he could have her, that much is obvious." Val clenched his fist, trying to keep the murderous feelings of dragonrage in check. The last thing he needed was to scare the princess straight over to Xellos' side. "Jillas and Gravos are gone too. Nobody knows what happened to them."

Amelia was silent for so long that he wondered if he'd failed.

"And you came here because..?" she queried softly.

"Because I need help. If nothing else, then somebody who can go into that shop without endangering everyone, and give me some information about what's going on in there." He hesitated. "Besides, I was hoping that maybe you might know where Inverse is."

"Miss Lina?" Amelia blinked. "Why?"

"Because if anyone could help me protect Filia from that damned Mazoku, it's her. She almost took me down. She can handle Xellos. Maybe not alone, but it's a start."

Amelia just watched the flames, sipping her brandy slowly.

"You don't believe a word I've said, do you?" he asked bitterly.

She still didn't answer, and finished off her glass. "Come with me," she said suddenly, standing.

"Where?"

"To my chambers. There's something else you need to know."

to be continued...