Disclaimer: Slayers is the property of Kadokawa Shoten. I own only the story.





And I talk to you like children,

Though I don't know how I feel.

But I know I'll do the right thing,

If the right thing is revealed.



Staind

"Epiphany"



Dear Diary,

I can't believe I actually dragged you out again. You used to be just a place to write down new spells I didn't want to forget, but you became more than that. Especially in the times when I've been alone. I guess I'm feeling lonely again… even though I'm surrounded by friends. I can't talk to them. They're all trying to resolve the same feelings I am. The pain, the disbelief… Even Gourry's become preoccupied…As much as a jellyfish brain can, anyway…



Gourry Gabriev stood with his back against the marble wall of the dim hallway as he listened as the gentle footfalls of the woman he had been following faded around the corner. He listened carefully for another few moments and heard the sound of a door opening and then creaking as it shut again. Making a thoughtful noise audible only to himself, the blonde swordsman settled in to wait for the woman to emerge again…



Amelia is taking it particularly hard. She's still, in many ways, just a girl, and she had placed a great deal of trust, a great deal of faith in HIM. And in the blink of an eye, she saw that trust and faith betrayed by a man she honestly loved. It's one thing to be rejected by a man you're in love with; it's quite another to watch as that man reveals himself to be a truly horrific person, a monster of a man. I can only hope she's recovering…





The young princess of Seyruun cried out as she shot up in bed, panting for breath. Looking over at the clock on the wall, she sighed as she saw that she had only been asleep for an hour. Looking dejectedly down at her sheets, she took a deep breath and slowly let it out.

"He never really cared," she whispered, her eyes squeezed shut. "He never really cared. He never really cared…" Over and over, the mantra was repeated. It was the truth to her, what allowed her to continue on. She wanted to disbelieve it, yet knew she couldn't.

She had to accept it.

Zelgadis was gone.

And he never really cared about ANY of them.

Looking to her right, she saw the small music box he had given her, left to him by his mother, sitting on the nightstand. Amelia bit her lip…then grit her teeth…

Then finally reached out and slapped the instrument away!

The music box hit the floor and tumbled, the catch on the lid coming loose as a result. The box began to play its soft melody, a melody she at one time found comfort in… Now…

"Shut up," she begged quietly, pulling the blankets up over her head. "Just shut up…"





Sylphiel…Poor Sylphiel won't see anyone, not even me. She stays up in her room, refusing to come out except for short trips to the bathroom and the kitchen, and then only at night. I guess she doesn't want to see or speak to anyone. I've been giving her space; I figured she needed it, but now I'm REALLY beginning to worry. I understand that losing Zelgadis, especially like THAT, is hard, but if she doesn't reach out to someone soon, it's going to scar her forever.

It just seems that she doesn't WANT to reach out…





Sylphiel reached out with her hand through the bars of the over-sized birdcage and strained as far as she could. Her magic may not work INSIDE the cage, but perhaps outside…

"Flaaare….ARROW!"

It was about what she expected…

Absolutely nothing.

"Flaare…ARROW!" She tried again.

Her second attempt was about as successful as the first.

"FLARE ARROW!!!!" she screamed a third time, her hand outstretched so far she thought it would pop from its socket.

With a cry of frustration, the healer-priestess fell back onto the floor of the cage and put her face in her hands as she tried to think up a new idea.

Taking a deep breath, Sylphiel laced her fingers together and rested her chin on her hands, her green eyes staring into nothingness as her mind searched desperately for some way out of her plight.

So preoccupied was she that she didn't notice the small pinprick of light until it was right next to her and speaking.

"No," she sighed in response, "It didn't work."

The tiny bit of light dropped half a foot in the air dejectedly and spoke again.

"No! No! No!" Sylphiel replied quickly, waving her hands at it. "It was a good idea! It just didn't work out! You have nothing to be sorry for!"

The light rose half a foot and blinked a question at her.

"Yes, really," she assured it, mustering a smile.

The light returned to its original altitude and blinked again.

Sylphiel sighed. "I really don't know. I'm all out of ideas."

The light blinked another dejected response.

Sylphiel sighed and reached out, holding onto the bars of her cage as she looked out into the blackness of the dark lord's mind.

"Hang on, Zelgadis dear," she whispered. "We're coming."





And through it all, I'M feeling an intense sense of dread. It's almost as if some dark, evil, ANNOYING part of my past were about to emerge and cause problems for me…





The tail fin of the flying machine was the only recognizable part left, the crash having crushed most of the rest, leaving only a pile of rubble behind.

"Of all the times for you to get a Charlie horse!" the tall, busty brunette complained.

"It's not his fault!" a smaller, petite redhead came to the defense. "You made poor Lord Jeffrey pedal for more than six hours!"

Naga the White Serpent leveled a finger at the young swordsman, who was sitting on the ground, massaging his leg. "I WILL NOT HAVE NAMBY PAMBY BOYS IN MY BAND OF UNBEATABLE HEROES!!!"

"Fighting about it isn't going to solve anything!" Filia Ul Copt chastised the two women.

"Nonsense!" Xellos interjected from beside the blonde. "Fighting is the only solution that ever yields results!"

"YOU'RE NOT HELPING!" Filia screamed at him.

"Would anyone like some tea?" Amara asked hurriedly, trying to defuse the explosive situation.

It didn't work.

Three seconds later, the situation turned into a shouting match.

Standing off to the side, her back against a tree, Vanya Greysword sighed and asked herself for the fiftieth time if this was really a good idea.





What makes me wonder is why? Why would he do it? Zelgadis has always stuck with us through the hardest of times and the deadliest of enemies, so why leave now? Did having true responsibilities for the first time in your life drive you away? It's hard to believe, but I think I'm bothered more by the fact that I don't understand WHY he did it than the fact that he actually DID it! What were you thinking?! What was going through your mind?!





Lina Inverse slammed the book shut angrily and glared down at it as if it were responsible for everything that had happened to them.

"What the hell were you thinking, Zelgadis Greywords?" she bit out.





The ragged sound of their breath was all he could hear as they ran around the corner of the torch-lit dungeon, the labyrinth they had been trapped in and were so close to escaping. As fast as they were running, time seemed to have slowed down. Running hand in hand, clutching at one another like life preservers, they continued to run step after slow, agonizing step…

A breath in…

A breath out…

In…

Out…

Step…

Step…

Step…

They were almost free. They were almost out…

Then he heard it. The sound he had been dreading. Something had phased in behind them from the Astral Plane.

Don't look back! Don't look back! Don't look back!

And he didn't. He looked forward. To the end. To their freedom.

He felt more than saw the flare arrow fly over his shoulder. The fire dart struck the stone wall farther down the hallway. A near miss.

An agonizing second later, a second fire arrow overshot them, striking the other wall.

He actually FELT the next one. The flame dart struck him high in the back of his right leg, forcing him to fall to the floor and lose the grip on his companion's hand.

He hit the ground hard, the breath knocked from his lungs as if a mule had kicked him. Looking up he saw that his companion had stopped and was turning back to see what had happened to him. He opened his mouth to yell to her, to tell her to keep going.

The flare arrow whistled right over his head, through the air and right through his companion's chest.

He watched in horror as his companion's head whipped back and her body crumpled to the ground without a sound. There was no movement from her. The sound of her breath was gone. He looked at her and opened his mouth again.

"SYL…"





"…PHIEL!"

Zelgadis Greywords' head snapped straight up, suddenly awake from the sleep he hadn't realized he was taking. The chimera took a deep breath as reality began to return to him.

As his breathing began to return to normal, Zelgadis stared at his tiny campfire and threw a few more pieces of wood on top of it. Wrapping his cloak tightly around himself, he prepared for another sleepless night. He continued to stare at the fire as he contemplated his situation.

How was he going to free her?

He wasn't stupid. He knew Shabranigdo wouldn't let Sylphiel go, no matter what Zelgadis did for him. He needed a plan to…

CRACK!

In a heartbeat Zelgadis' sword was in his hand, the chimera on his feet and braced for battle. His eyes went to the east and peered into the darkness!

North out at the lake!

West into the forest!

Finally, his eyes rested on the south. Peering into the dark forest before him, he strained his senses as much as possible.

Nothing.

Finally, Zelgadis took a breath and began to relax. "Just some animal," he grunted. The chimera sat back down before the fire and began staring again, deep in thought.

So preoccupied with those thoughts was he, that he didn't notice the soft, blue eyes watching him from the trees…



Faces! Finale!

Chapter One!

Monsters and Men!



"And there it is," Naga announced, pointing at the city in the distance. Even from so far away, the five points of Seyruun could be seen.

"Great," Filia said. "Now what?"

"Why don't we just go up to the gate and say hi?" Shadow Lina asked.

"It's not as simple as that," Naga told her quietly, rubbing her chin in thought. She smiled a moment later. "Disguises."

"Can I go as a bunny?!" the shadow asked excitedly, raising her hand.

Naga turned on the goody-two-shoes and raised her hand as if to strike her, but stopped as she heard some commotion from down the road. Turning, she saw several people walking up the road toward them, deep in some argument of their own. The White Serpent smiled.

"Quick! Into the bushes!"

"Miss Naga? Why sh…" Filia began, but Xellos pulled her behind a nearby bush just in time.

The group was getting closer. Naga could make out six of them now, all wearing different colored outfits. "Sidekick," she prompted.

"Filia chan and I will take care of this one," Xellos said with a smile.

"Take care of what? What are you talking about?!" Filia hissed as Xellos grabbed her arm again and pulled her away.



"Ah! Seyruun!" a man wearing all red save for the white feather in his hat. "THE place to pick up some experience points and new items!"

"Not to mention pockets," another one pointed out. He wore a plain brown outfit that clashed with his blue hair.

"You know," a red haired man in all red began. "I bet they have s…"

A man in blue robes and a big yellowish brown hat turned on him, his eyes glowing fire and a ball of blue energy coalescing in his hands. "Finish it…I DARE you!"

"What?!" the red haired man asked. "I was just going to say that I bet they have sushi!"

"Oh…"

"And where there's sushi, there's SWORDS!!"

The blue robed man glared at him. "I hate you so very very much…You know that, right?"

Before the conversation could end with the red haired man's death, Xellos popped out of the bushes in front of them. The group stopped cold and blinked in surprise.

Finally, the man with the feather in his hat pointed at him. "HE HAS A MAGIC STAFF OF +2 EVIL! GET HIM!"

Xellos threw his hands out theatrically. "Just a moment!" He reached into the bushes. Someone within squeaked. "She's blonde! She's beautiful! And she's GONNA GET NAKED!!" With that, he gave a sharp tug and Filia stumbled out of the bushes in front of them. The group just stared in shock.

"WHAT THE…"

The blue robed man sniffled and wiped a tear away. "I'm so happy…" A white robed woman behind him frowned and raised a mallet over his head.

Before she could bring it down, however, Naga and the other Flaming heroes jumped from the surrounding bushes, striking the group in the back of their heads with the butt of their weapons.

The man in the blue robe faced off with Xellos, energy collecting in his hands. "On one hand, you beat the crap out of Fighter, so I technically owe you one. On the other, you also knocked out White Mage…and for that there SHALL BE PAIN!!!" He posed theatrically, the yellow, glowing eyes visible beneath the hat and cowl were squeezed shut in rage. "I SHALL CALL DOWN THE NAME OF THE ULTIMATE EVIL!!"

Xellos blinked and shrugged. "David Moo?"

The man growled and held his hands out before when suddenly…

CLANG!

The mage's eyes went wide, and he fell forward with a grunt. Standing over him now was Amara, a dented teakettle in her hand. "I GOT HIM!" she cried triumphantly.

The last of them fell to the floor unconscious. Naga stood over him and clapped her hands off. "Well, that oughtta do it! Now we have disguises!"



Zelgadis ducked under a spider's web and watched as the arachnid to which it belonged scurried higher for safety from the chimera that appeared before it. Not caring much whether or not the spider feared him, he continued down the overgrown path that led west.

He was still trying to think of some plan that could help Sylphiel, but had run into so many brick walls he was close to giving up for a few hours. Mental and emotional fatigue was beginning to set in despite how energetic his body was. He looked up as a crack of thunder made itself known overhead. It would be raining soon.

Sighing he stopped and set about setting up camp. It would be dark soon, and he wasn't about to try crossing this forest in the rain with no light. He'd just have to wait until morning.

For once, fate seemed to be on his side. He was just sitting down inside his small tent when the rain began. Biting into a hard biscuit he took out his journal and began jotting a few notes. What was once merely a record of his journeys had become a weapon. Any thoughts on how to kill Shabranigdo were written down. Any leads, any ideas, anything no matter how far-fetched were written down.

Any hope at all.

He only wished there was more to write. Slamming the book shut, he tossed the biscuit aside. He didn't feel like eating.

Suddenly, his eyes narrowed.

There it was again. Splashing sounds from outside his tent. His face expressionless, his hand traveled down to his dagger. He didn't have enough space to draw his sword in his tiny tent.

The splashing got closer. It was nearing the tent flap. Zelgadis raised his other hand and prepared a spell, astral energy coalescing in his palm.

There was one last splash, then nothing. He waited.

Suddenly, the tent flap opened. Instead of the berserker, bandit, or Mazoku Zelgadis had expected, a woman with long brown hair stood there. She wore a green outfit with a white diaphanous cape that split off with the ends connecting to buttons on her wrists. A crown of brown and green twigs sat atop her head, and her eyes were almost closed as if she were asleep.

Before he could get a word out, she spoke.

"Ano…"

Then fell and landed face down in the middle of his tent.

Zelgadis stared down at her and blinked. Couldn't anything be easy?

Just once?



Amelia sighed as she walked through the park near the center of Seyruun. She didn't really care where she was going, she just needed to be out of the palace for a little while. She needed to think.

And she really didn't want to think surrounded by people who would see her and try to make her feel better. She wasn't GOING to feel better, regardless.

What changed him? What could have possibly happened to turn him into that kind of … thing?

Suddenly, she felt cold.

Without thinking she stopped and adopted a defensive posture. Standing before her was a young girl with dark hair and a steel staff. Her pale skin was almost ethereal, and the smile on her face did nothing to comfort the princess.

"Hi there!" the girl greeted with a wave.

"Um…Hello," Amelia replied, unsure of the young woman.

"You're Princess Amelia, aren't you?" she asked.

Amelia waited a heartbeat before saying, "Yes, that's right."

The girl nodded and cleared her throat. Posing, she pointed at the princess. "Do you know the penalty for interfering in the plans of the Greater Beast Metallium?! DEAAAATH!!" The girl threw her arms wide. "You shall reap the great punishment of…"

Amelia blinked.

The girl just stood there in mid-rant, a puzzled look on her face. Suddenly, she turned to the side and started to hurriedly leaf through a small notebook. "Hold on! I have it right here!" She stopped at one page and read. "YES!" Turning back to Amelia, she posed again. "'FOR HE WHO SHEDS BLOOD WITH ME SHALL BE MY BROTHER!'" She stopped, and her eyes went wide again. "Wait, that didn't sound right…"

"Um…You REALLY could've used another rehearsal," Amelia told her gently.

Iffy sighed. "I know."

"So…Is it my turn?"

"Huh?" Iffy asked. "Oh!" she said with a smile. "Sure! Please! Go ahead!"

Amelia cleared her throat and posed, pointing at Iffy. "THREATS AGAINST ONE'S LIFE HAVE NO PLACE IN A JUST SOCIETY! IF YOUR INTENTION IS NOT ONE OF PEACE AND JUSTICE, THEN LET THE HAMMER OF JUSTICE SMITE YOU DOWN!"

Iffy clapped. "That was pretty good!" She raised her staff and grinned. "So…shall we?"

Amelia clenched her fists and growled. It was wrong to use this encounter as an excuse to work out her frustrations about Zelgadis…but since she was here anyway…

She screamed and leapt into the air. Iffy blinked in shock. The Mazoku hadn't expected the girl to attack first.

"FLARE BIT!!"

Iffy cried out and dodged the tiny fireballs as they landed all around her, surrounding her in smoke. Amelia landed nearby and smiled, readying a pose. Suddenly, a beam of dark light lashed out from the smoke cloud, and the princess had to dive to her right to avoid being hit.

Amelia landed hard on her right side, causing her to cry out and hold her right shoulder. Looking up, she saw the girl standing over her, pointing her staff down at Amelia's face. The princess tensed and tried to come up with a new plan, but alone, without Lina to back her up, against a Mazoku…

It was a fight with only one outcome.

The Mazoku stood over her and smiled warmly. "I'm really sorry about this," she said, almost sounding as if she meant it. She pointed her staff down at the princess.

Amelia saw her opening and took it. Hand to hand had only worked on one higher being that she knew of, Erulogos, but it was worth a try now…

As the tip of Iffy's staff began to glow, Amelia's hand shot out and knocked the tip upward. The Mazoku cried out in shock as an energy blast shot out over the princess' head and into a nearby tree, crisping it immediately. She cried out again as Amelia's leg swung around and swept Iffy off her feet.

The Mazoku sat on the ground, rubbing her rump with her hands as Amelia shot to her feet and picked up Iffy's fallen staff. Iffy shrieked as the princess swung the head of the staff around and bashed the Mazoku in the side of the head with it, sending her flying into a nearby fountain with a splash.

Amelia threw the staff down and dusted off her hands before posing theatrically and announcing, "JUSTICE: ONE! EVIL: ZERO!"

"Hey! No fair!" Iffy cried as she rose to her feet, soaked from head to toe.

"JUSTICE WILL NEVER BE QUELLED!" Amelia continued with her rant.

"Why does this have to happen to ME?!" Iffy cried in despair. With a final sigh, she vanished. A second later, the staff at Amelia's feet disappeared as well.

The princess looked down at where the fallen Mazoku weapon had been and smiled.

That…had felt GOOD!





Zelgadis nearly dropped his travel biscuit when, after six hours of being asleep, the strange woman suddenly sat up, staring blankly off into space.

"Ano," she began. She turned her head and allowed her heavy-lidded gaze to fall on Zelgadis. "How do you do?" she asked in greeting.

The chimera rested his hand on his sheathed dagger. Until he new more about this woman, he had to treat her as a threat. "Who are you?" he asked straight out.

Standing up, the woman's head bumped the celing of the tent. She threw her hands out wide, nearly knocking over two tent poles. Zelgadis had to leap fast in order to keep the tent from falling over. Through it all, the woman seemed oblivious.

"I AM MUTSUMI!" she cried. "TURTLE QUEEN OF THE FOREST!"

Zelgadis was still steadying the tent poles, and so didn't give much more of a reaction than a grunt. "Turtle Queen, huh?"

She nodded happily.

"And this is your forest, I guess?"

Another nod.

Zelgadis "heh"d and sat back down.

"Ano," the turtle queen began, sitting down across from him.

"What?" he asked.

"Could you help me find my way through my forest?"

Zelgadis nearly spat up the bite of biscuit he was chewing. Coughing loudly, he was finally able to put a sentence together. "I thought this was YOUR forest!"

"Oh! It is!" she assured him. "But…I'm lost."

"Lost?"

She nodded. "I went out yesterday to gather some firewood and got turned around in the rain. I saw your tent and went to see if you would help me, but I fainted…I do that sometimes," she said sheepishly.

"Hmm." Zelgadis took another bite and thought on it. On one hand, he really didn't need some ditz slowing him down. On the other, if she were to suddenly remember something about the forest, she might be able to guide HIM.

And besides, Sylphiel would kill him if he turned down someone who needed help.

He sighed. "I suppose," he answered.

Mutsumi's eyes lit up. "Oh, thank you, Mister Zelgadis!" She leaned forward and planted a quick kiss on his stone cheek.

So surprised was he by her actions, he didn't even notice that she somehow knew his name…



He found Iffy sitting on the floor of his chambers, blowing on her knee. Before she even knew he was there, he was railing at her.

"YOU BUMBLING, STUPID, NO-GOOD, INCOMPETENT IDIOT!" he screamed. "I SHOULD…"

"JUST BACK THE FUCK UP!!" Iffy screamed suddenly. Jinnar was stunned into silence. "I'VE BEEN DOING TWO JOBS FOR THE LAST SEVERAL WEEKS, GOT DEFEATED BY A MORTAL, AND I *SKINNED MY FREAKING KNEE!!!*"

Jinnar just stared as Iffy took a few breaths and stood up.

She faced him again and smiled. "Okay, I'm done!"

"Um…Okay…" Jinnar thought for a moment, hesitant to speak, then he remembered who and what he was and straightened again. "Well, our spies have just found Xellos and his companions, and you and I are going to go take care of him once and for all!"

Iffy sighed. "But I have a boo boo on my knee…" she whimpered.

Jinnar took a breath. Iffy flinched in expectation.

"I DON'T CARE!"

"Yes, Master!"

"It's obvious to me that you need help getting this task accomplished. Which is why I'm going with you this time."

"Oh yeah," Iffy replied, deadpan. "That'll make it MUCH easier…"



Shabranigdo gazed out the window of the bedroom Prince Phil had granted Sylphiel before the demon had possessed her body. The Mazoku king had a wonderful view of Seyruun from this room; a view of every white tower, home and temple.

One day, he was going to have a great deal of fun burning each and every one to the ground.

But that was for another time. Right now, he had to plan. That Zelgadis Greywords would eventually reach Metallium, he had little doubt. The chimera had proven himself more than capable of staving off any threat that might make itself known during his journey. No, he was confident that his imprisonment here was only temporary.

Afterwards, however, was a different story.

There was much to do, and if he acted quickly and maintained his disguise until the very last instant, there was a good chance of being able to destroy several of his enemies in one fell swoop before they were even aware of his existence.

He smiled with Sylphiel's lips as he felt the shrine maiden make another attempt to retake control of her form. Let her hammer away at the inside of her skull. It was futile, and they both knew it.

The smile slipped as he noticed something in the street.

Someone was looking right at her through a telescope.

He smiled.

"Gourry dear," he noted with a chuckle.



"Hey!"

This angry hail was accompanied by a slap to the arm, from which Gourry Gabriev recoiled slightly, lowering the telescope.

"Just what the hell are you doing, Gourry?" Lina asked irritably.

"Oh! Lina! I was just…" She saw the telescope in his hands, and since it wasn't night yet…

"YOU PEEPING PERVERT HENTAI!" she screamed. Before the swordsman could blink, Lina's slipper was in her hand. "SLIPPER SLASH!"

CRACK!

A red mark in the shape of a woman's shoe sole was prominent on the left side of Gourry's face. "I…Itai…"

"Serves you right!" Lina chastised him, replacing the shoe in her bag. "So what were you looking at anyway?" she growled.

"Sylphiel…"

CRACK!

"OW!" Gourry cried, rubbing the right side of his face, where a matching red mark was quickly forming.

Lina was growling as she put the shoe back.

"It's not like that!" the mercenary cried, holding his hands up to ward off another attack. "It's just…"

"Just what?" Lina asked, this time quizzically. She remembered the last time she thought she had caught him performing a perverted act, when he had flipped Filia's skirt. If she hadn't believed his story about her having a tail, she might have been even more shocked about what happened the next day.

"Haven't you noticed anything…odd…about her lately?" Gourry whispered, as if the shoppers around them were listening.

Lina blinked and took a sad breath. "Gourry, the man who fathered her child just ran out on her. How is she SUPPOSED to act?"

"I don't mean about that!" Gourry defended. "Well, I mean…yeah, of course she'd feel bad about that…I mean other things…"

"Look, Gourry," she sighed. "Sylphiel's in a bad place right now. We all are. It's going to be a long time before she's anything like her old self again."

"And what about Zelgadis?" Gourry asked. "I thought you'd have us after him by now, but we're still here…"

"FUCK ZELGADIS!"

The cry was so loud and hateful that, this time, people in the street DID stop and stare.

Gourry was no less shocked. "But Lina…"

"The hell with him, Gourry!" Lina growled at him. "If this is the way he wants to act, then he had BETTER stay away. The next time I see him will be the LAST time ANYONE sees him. Got it?"

The mercenary stared down at her, and she thought she actually saw disappointment in his eyes. "You're not being very fair," he whispered.

"'Fair?' 'FAIR?!'" she screamed. "He…He…" The sorceress was so enraged she couldn't form words. "What about him?!" she cried at last. "How was what HE did to Sylphiel fair?! Huh?!"

Gourry adopted one of his pensive looks, his arms folded over his chest and his eyes closed. "All I know is this: I didn't see Zelgadis leave, but I KNOW Sylphiel is acting strange." He looked down at her. "And there was a time when I was trying to kill YOU, remember?"

She blinked, taken aback. "It's not the same," she hissed back. "You were under Phibrizzo's control. You had no choice."

Gourry stared down at her again, the disappointment still marring his features. "So how do you know Zelgadis DID?" Before she could answer, he turned and walked off down the street.

Lina just stared after him, blinking. After a moment, she growled and pulled at her fiery red hair in consternation. "PUDDING FOR BRAINS!" she shouted after him. He only gave her a little wave without turning to her. "Moron," she breathed a moment later.

Frowning, she turned to look at the window Gourry was staring at.

Then again…



Filia marched down the road, arrayed in the white robes she had "borrowed" from the luggage of the White Mage from the group they had waylaid a few hours before. Dressed in an almost identical robe, Amara walked beside her. She looked around at the group around her. Jeffrey had taken the red outfit from the Fighter, who had been so dense that even the young swordsman had been able to sneak up on him. Shadow Lina wore the red cape and hat filched from the Red Mage, a white feather sticking out of the brim, which hung low over her head. It was obviously a size too big for her.

Stevanya wore an outfit taken from a Karate Man she had knocked out early in the fight, using his bandana to tie her brown hair back. Naga had SOMEHOW fit into the Thief's tunic, though her chest was threatening to pop out of it. Xellos wore the blue robe and yellow hat he had taken from the Black Mage, wearing both with a jaunty air as they walked.

All in all, they were a pretty pathetic sight.

"So this is what I'm reduced to," she muttered. "Sneaking into towns after stealing the clothes off the backs of innocent people…I'm becoming more and more like Xellos every day."

At that second, Xellos appeared next to her. "My ears are burning, Filia chan!" he said with an unctuous smile.

"If only they would!" she cried haughtily.

"Sidekick!" Naga called out from the front. "Tell me your plan on getting into the palace. It won't be long until we're there…and make sure I have a prominent role in it! I don't want certain redheads to upstage me in this heroic endeavour!"

"Of course not, Miss Naga!" Xellos agreed with a smile. This smile turned evil a second later. "Your role will be the most important…"

"Excellent!" Naga declared, clapping her hands together. "You may proceed."

"The plan is this," Xellos began as the other Flaming Heroes walked a little closer to listen in. "Young Jeffrey and Lina chan will go to the main gate and cause a distraction. Meanwhile, Miss Stevanya will sneak in through the servants' entrance, while Filia chan and I remain in a hotel room, locked in the rapturous embrace of passion's…"

WHAM!

"Edit that last part, Namagomi," Filia growled, her mace an inch deep in Xellos' skull.

"Eh…Yes…Quite…" Xellos replied as he recovered.

"And MY part, Sidekick?" Naga asked expectantly.

"Ah! As I said, your part is the most important!" He smiled. "While the others are engaged in their plans, Miss Amara will fly you up high above the palace and hover there. Then you will leap from her back, dive down through the massive cook chimney in the kitchen, and engage the enemy from within!"

The others looked at him in shocked disbelief. Naga merely folded her arms over her chest and nodded. "Excellent! OOOOOOHOHOHOHOHOHOHOHO!!!"

"You call…THAT…a plan?" Filia asked, her eyebrow twitching.

"I doubt she'd settle for anything LESS flashy," Xellos told her with a shrug. Suddenly, his eyes went wide. He reached out and grabbed Filia, pulling her to him.

"NAMAGOMI! WHAT ARE YOU…"

Before she could finish, they vanished together!

"…DOING?!" she finished when they reappeared high in the air directly above the others.

She gasped in shock a second later when the ground below them exploded in a tremendous fireball.

"Wha…" she gasped. "AMARA!"

They floated downward together, landing in the crater the explosion had created. Filia looked about fearfully and saw a white-gloved hand and a golden tail with a purple bow on it sticking out of the ground a few meters away.

"Amara!" She rushed over to the mound of dirt and quickly dug her sister out. The others were moaning in pain as they dug themselves out and shakily stood up. "Xellos! Wh…" Looking at him, Filia broke off. He was holding his staff out in front of him, searching the smoke-filled sky for something. "Xellos?" she asked.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHA!!!"

"Miss Naga, this is hardly the time," Shadow Lina moaned as she stood up.

"That wasn't me!" Naga complained, rubbing her head. "My laugh is more cultured! More sophisticated! OOOOOOHOHOHOHOHOHO!!!"

"Then who…"

Xellos grimaced and held his staff tighter. A figure appeared through the smoke, holding a staff of his own.

"Ah, Xellos! My old teacher!" Jinnar grinned at him and lazily combed his oily hair.

Xellos, not one to be outmatched, grinned back. "'Teacher?' You do me too much insult. As I recall, I told Beastmaster I'd rather be sent to teach at a preschool before trying to teach YOU anything."

A vein in Jinnar's forehead nearly popped. He recovered a moment later and laughed. "But you HAVE taught me something, Xellos No Name," he taunted. "If I've learned anything from your mistakes, one thing stands out."

Xellos waved lazily. "And what would that be?"

Jinnar grinned. "How to delegate responsibility. IFFY! DESTROY THEM!" To Xellos' surprise, another Mazoku was suddenly leaping out from behind Jinnar's back, swinging a similar looking staff in a wide arc, fire spraying from the end!

Xellos dematerialized just in time to avoid being barbecued, but the other Flaming Heroes were a bit singed as they rushed to get out of the way.

Iffy stood up and looked for a target. She didn't have to look far. Naga was rushing toward her, a ball of darkness in her hand. "DARK…" Iffy turned and waved her staff. Suddenly, the White Serpent was thrown back.

"FIREBALL!" The ball of flame struck Iffy's shield, dematerializing. She turned and smiled at the redhead.

Shadow Lina just blinked at her.

"That won't work," Iffy told her with a smile. A moment later she swung her staff around and hooked the back of Shadow Lina's foot. With a frightened cry, the shadow was pulled off her feet, landing on her back. Iffy swung the staff up over her head and brought it downward…

Only to be blocked by Jeffrey's Razor Blade.

"Lord Jeffrey!" Shadow Lina gasped as the boy stood over her, grunting in effort to keep the Mazoku's staff from coming down on her. Jeffrey began to sweat, his arms and legs shaking from the effort while Iffy just smiled. Suddenly, the pressure was gone as Iffy spun around. No longer straining against the staff, Jeffrey toppled forward!

The Mazoku finished her spin by arcing the staff downward, hooking the boy's ankles and knocking him to the floor. She spun again and swung the staff downward, but again it was blocked, and this time by someone who pressed the attack.

Vanya knocked the staff upward with her katana and continued swinging, forcing Iffy to the defensive. The Mazoku woman felt something grab her ankle and spared a look down.

A black leather bullwhip was coiled around her leg.

"Huh?!"

At that second, Amara gave Whip Chan a hard tug, and Iffy fell to the floor. Swinging the staff behind her, the edged head cut through the whip and freed her. She rolled to her right just as Vanya's sword struck the ground where her head had been.



Jinnar floated above the battle and growled.

"Your lackey doesn't appear to be doing that well," Xellos commented, appearing in the air behind him. He smiled darkly. "Then again, Iffy has always done better on the administrative side of the job."

"Hmm hmm hmm…" Jinnar chuckled, turning to his quarry. "And so here it is. The final battle between us to determine who will rule the Mazoku…"

Xellos arched an eyebrow. "Yareyare…Not even Gaav was THIS deluded…"

Jinnar leveled his staff and grinned at him.



Filia looked up at the sky and saw the flashes of light that indicated an airborne battle. "Xellos," she breathed.

She cried out a second later as Amara crashed into her. The older dragon was panting for breath, and Whip Chan was about half its usual length.

"I've never fought a Mazoku before," she panted. "What they say about their strength is true."

"Told you so," Filia muttered, removing Mace Chan from her garter. Not far away, Jeffrey and Vanya were double-teaming the Mazoku woman, trying to get on either side of her, but Iffy was having none of it. She swung her staff in a wide arc, sending a blast of lightning from the head of the instrument. Vanya leapt away, but Jeffrey got caught in it and was electrocuted.

"Lord Jeffrey!" Shadow Lina cried. She turned an angry glare at the Mazoku and raised her hands. "BOMB DE WIND!"

Iffy looked up just as the blast of air struck her full in the chest, knocking her backward. She hit the ground and rolled, sitting up on her knees.

"FREEZE ARROW! FREEZE ARROW!"

Iffy suddenly rolled to her right as two ice lances struck the ground where she had been sitting. Naga adjusted her aim…

The Mazoku grunted and threw her staff! The metal rod flew to Naga's right and lashed out with an arc of electricity that struck the sorceress. She cried out in pain as the staff began to circle her, keeping a constant flow of lightning pouring into the woman.

"Miss Naga! I'll save you!" Jeffrey called out, rushing forward. True to his word, Jeffrey leapt out into the staff's path and stopped it with his face…

"Idiot," Vanya, Filia, and Amara commented.

The staff flew back to Iffy's outstretched hand. She pointed it at the Flaming Heroes and waited for the next attack.



Jinnar dodged another energy blast and rematerialized a few meters away. He was beginning to tire. He hadn't planned on Iffy not being here to help him, and Xellos was turning out to be quite an opponent.

He needed an edge.

Sparing a look down at the battle below, he saw Iffy launch a ball of energy at the two blondes.

"FILIA CHAN!" Xellos suddenly disappeared and reappeared between the dragons and the energy blast, absorbing it with his shield.

Jinnar smiled. "Perfect…BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!" Xellos appeared nearby a moment later. His laugh broke off as he raised his staff to block a swing from Xellos' own. The General-Priest disappeared and reappeared nearby, firing off a pair of green energy blasts at his opponent, who deftly dodged them both. Before Xellos could counterattack, he pointed his staff downward.

Xellos tensed.

A blast of darkness shot from Jinnar's staff and struck the ground below, but instead of detonating in an explosion, the ground erupted in a pitch-black fog. Xellos looked at Jinnar, saw his grin, and suddenly knew what he was planning. Both Mazoku disappeared at the same time.



Filia looked around quickly, trying to find her way in the dark fog around her. "Miss Naga!? Miss Vanya?!" she called out.



Xellos appeared in the middle of the fog, searching desperately for his mate. He heard her not far away and vanished again.



Jinnar used his staff to cut through the fog in front of him. Suddenly, she was there in front of him. The blonde turned quickly toward him and blinked…



"AIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!"

Xellos turned quickly, his eyes going wide as the shrill, female scream cut through the fog. "FILIA CHAN!"

"HELP ME!"

The Trickster Priest started to rush forward through the smoke.

"BWAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!" Jinnar laughed from the same direction. "NOW YOU HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO FACE ME ON MY OWN TURF! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!"

He continued forward and could just make out a flash of gold hair and the tip of Jinnar's staff as it glowed. On reflex, Xellos dematerialized and reappeared above the scene…

Just as the ground exploded beneath him again.

His eyes went wide. Disappearing again, he appeared in the crater and looked around. Naga, Vanya, Jeffrey, and Shadow Lina were lying nearby, unconscious, but groaning in pain. Of Iffy, Jinnar, and Filia, there was no sign.

"Filia chan?" he said softly. "FILIA CHAN!" He looked around desperately, then stopped dead as what had happened sunk in. "Oh, Ruby Eye," he whispered. "I let her be taken from me."

Behind him, out of sight, a pink-bowed tail popped out of the ash like a periscope…

"I let him take her," he whispered in grief. "Oh, Ruby Eye, what kind of Mazoku am I?"

Just behind his back, Filia was crawling out of the pile of ash that had buried her and dusting herself off. Seeing Xellos there, she pulled Mace Chan from her thigh and stalked towards him…

"I…I never even bedded her," he whispered. Suddenly, he was on the ground, Filia standing over him with her mace in her hands.

"Na…ma…GOMI!" she screamed at his prone form. She reached down and rolled him over. She wanted him to SEE the mace coming down on his face. Then, for some reason, she paused.

Xellos was looking up at her, and she thought she could see tears in his eyes.

"Filia chan! You're here!"

"Of course I'm here, idiot namagomi!" she shouted at him. "And just what were you doing, leaving us down here to get blown up!?"

He didn't care. She was here. She was alive. That was all that mattered to him at the moment.

Filia blinked and looked around her in puzzlement. "Um…Where's Amara Oneechan?"

Xellos' eyebrows arched. "Uh…oh…"



"I don't get it, Lord God General Priest Jinnar Sir," Iffy commented as she followed Jinnar up the stares of the palace of Wolfpack Island. "I mean, weren't we winning? Why do all this?"

Jinnar grunted as he hefted the heavy sack over his shoulder for a better grip. The woman inside the sack continued kicking and screaming to be let out. "It's simple, idiot," he told her. "By taking his mate, I can force Xellos to come here to get her back. Since he's been forbidden from returning here by Her Majesty, the second he sets foot on Wolfpack Island, I can kill him any way I want, and it'll be perfectly LEGAL! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!"

"That's brilliant, Sir!" Iffy cried happily.

"Yes, I know," Jinnar replied lazily. They reached the top of the stairs, and Jinnar opened the cast-iron door that led to his personal chambers. Walking inside, he unceremoniously dumped the sack onto the floor. A golden tail adorned with a purple bow was the only part of the dragon woman sticking out of the sack.

He watched as the blonde fought her way out of the sack. Iffy covered her with her staff, just in case. The dragon woman looked about fearfully for a moment before her eyes locked on Jinnar.

"Hmm hmm hmm…" Jinnar chuckled quietly. "Now, my dear, you are all mine…"

Amara blinked at him…Then her eyes went wide as she smiled broadly.

"YOU MEAN IT?!" she cried happily.

Jinnar was taken aback. "Er…Yes, of course! You're mine now, so I suggest you…"

Amara didn't let him finish. Instead, she leapt forward and embraced him. "OH, THAT'S WONDERFUL!!" she cried.

Jinnar cried out in surprise as he toppled backward. Amara continued to gush as she lay atop him. Certain buzzwords registered in Jinnar's mind as bad. Words like, "love," "wedding," and "forever."

The Mazoku General-Priest screamed.

Standing nearby, Iffy smiled. "Isn't young love grand?"



Filia threw one last article into her bag and buttoned it closed before rising to her feet, a look of pure determination on her face. The others were looking at her from not far away.

"You're being foolish," Naga told her. "One, especially a Golden Dragon, does not simply waltz into Wolfpack Island and say hello."

"Do what you want," Filia told her. "You said I could leave whenever I like, well I'm leaving now." She looked up at them, hoping that at least one of them would step forward to say they were coming with her…

But not one of them did.

She couldn't really blame them. Wolfpack Island was the fortress of the Greater Beast Metallium, one of the three remaining Dark Lords, and one that had been on the rise ever since the death of Hellmaster Phibrizzo and Demon Dragon Gaav.

"Miss Dragon Lady, please reconsider," Shadow Lina begged quietly. "It's not that we don't care, but…what can WE do against Beastmaster? We need help."

Naga nodded in agreement. "Exactly. Once we get to Seyruun, perhaps we can fin…"

"Amara Oneechan could be dead by then!" Filia cried. "Look, it's all right. Really, I understand. But I have to do this." She hoisted the bag over her shoulder and started down the road to the south.

"Filia chan! Wait!" She paused and sighed as Xellos appeared next to her. "You'll need a guide," he told her gently.

She blinked at him. "I thought you were forbidden from going back to Wolfpack Island," she said surprised. "What will Beastmaster do if she catches you there?"

He smiled gamely. "That…is a secret."

She frowned. "You just don't know."

The Mazoku arched an eyebrow. "My, you ARE getting better at this game, aren't you? Either way, you still need someone to get you there."

Filia smiled wanly. "Thank you, Xellos," she whispered.

Together, the two started down the road.



Zelgadis looked out over the cliff at the forest below. The sun was starting to go down, and he had just finished making camp. The sunset had caught his eye, and he paused to watch it. It reminded him so much of another sunset. The one he and Sylphiel had watched together at New Zarak after the destruction of the island. He sat down and watched as the orange disk of the sun began to sink below the trees.

Behind him, he heard Mutsumi began to sing.

"Once, as my heart remembers,

all the stars were fallen embers.

Once, when night seemed forever

I was with you."



Sylphiel stared out of her own mind's eye at the sunset. Shabranigdo happened to be facing the window, and she watched as the sun started its descent. Her lips moved, barely whispering.

"Once, in the care of morning

in the air was all belonging.

Once, when that day was dawning

I was with you."



Amelia rested her elbows on the windowsill and watched as the sun sank beneath the western horizon. Zelgadis' music box was sitting on the nightstand, playing softly. Quietly, she mouthed words to the tune.

"How far we are from morning,

how far we are

and the stars shining through the darkness,

falling in the air."



Xellos looked up from the campfire at Filia as he heard the golden dragon softly sing. She was facing west, watching as the sun continued to sink downward below the mountains.

"Once, as the night was leaving

into us our dreams were weaving.

Once, all dreams were worth keeping.

I was with you."



"Once when our hearts were singing,

I was with you."

Gourry looked down at her and blinked as Lina's soft, whispered song ended. "Lina?"

She snuggled closer to him and held him.

"It's nothing."

Lina held him tighter and fought the sense of dread threatening to overwhelm her.

"It's just nothing."





To Be Continued…



Author's Notes:

I'm pretty rusty, huh? ^_^;;; Well, I'm doing my best to get writing done on a regular basis, so with any luck, this chapter will be followed by others soon.

The Light Warriors are the property of Square Soft, and their participation in this chapter was inspired by the webcomic, 8-Bit Theater, located at www.nuklearpower.com/comic.

The song sung at the end is "Fallen Embers," by Enya.