Disclaimer: I don't own Slayers.

Faces: Finale

Chapter 17

Sons and Daughters

"And you probably don't wanna hear 'tomorrow's another day,'

But I promise you, you'll see the sun again,

And you're asking me why pain's the only way to happiness,

And I promise you you'll see the sun again..."

Dido

"See the Sun"

The door stood before her, almost beckoning her to enter. To the side was a simple shelf with a few pairs of gardening gloves and a couple of small shovels. It was probably the least sinister scene in all of Castle WolfPack, and still Filia couldn't call up enough courage yet to enter.

She just stood there, staring at it, and trying not to cry.

For all of Callisto's promises, for all the deals she had made, she knew this would be the end. There were a thousand reasons for Xelas to kill her, and she couldn't think of one the Beastmaster would latch onto to let her live.

Her only hope now was that she might let Amara leave in exchange for her going quietly.

She took a deep breath.

"What would you do?" she whispered to the air, fingering the strand of purple in her hand.

She fingered the silky locks for a moment more, then let her hand fall to her side. Taking another breath, she raised her chin and pushed the door open.

AAAA

Zelgadis took another step toward the chimera as Scarrin raised his head and smiled.

"Mr. Zelgadis!" he said jovially. "Welcome back. We... missed... you..."

"I'm not running away from you anymore," Zelgadis told him, taking another step.

"Well," Scarrin said, raising his hand. "The fortunate son has spoken. BLAM BLAZER!"

The ground Zelgadis stood upon exploded, but the chimera was already in the air! Scarrin found him in the sky above his head and heard the chimera cast a fireball.

Scarrin took the shot head on and disappeared in a cloud of smoke. Zelgadis landed on the other side of him in a crouch and turned back just in time to see the tiger man walk from the cloud as if nothing had happened.

"You see, Zelgadis?" he asked. "My powers have grown stronger."

"Feh!" Zelgadis spat at him. "You're still nothing more than a third-rate Mazoku trapped in a freak's body." He smiled. "Not only that, you were Rezo's reject."

Scarrin's face contorted in rage.

Zelgadis' grin got bigger. "A mistake."

"You're the mistake!" Scarrin screamed. "I'm the perfected creation! DISLASH!"

Zelgadis used his chimera speed to dodge each of the wind blades. Rolling right, he brought his hands up and summoned all the power he had.

"RA TILT!"

A column of blue light stretched from the ceiling, engulfing Scarrin for several moments. When it dissipated, Scarrin was on his knees.

Zelgadis blinked. Scarrin looked up at him and smiled.

"XELAS BRID!"

AAAA

Amelia heard a crash and looked up. It looked like a part of the castle wall had exploded outward, raining stone and debris on the people below. A yellow bar of bright light zipped out and around, entering the castle with another crash.

Then another explosion as the bar came out again.

Naga and Amelia turned to each other.

"Does Lina know Xelas Brid?" they both asked at the same time.

Adara ducked a flare arrow and growled at the two of them. "What the hell difference does it make!"

"None, really," Gourry shouted back. "It's either her or someone else. Either way, it means there's something going on up there!"

"Should we go up there after them?" Amelia asked.

Naga bit her lip, but shook her head. "No, we're not going to be any good to any of them if we leave this door open for those berserkers."

Another explosion as the Xelas Brid circled the tower again.

"Hold on, Lina," Gourry whispered.

AAA

Zelgadis dodged the bar of light again and ducked as Scarrin came at him at the same time. Rolling onto his back, he kicked out with his legs and sent the chimera flying. Zelgadis was on his feet in no time, launching every spell he knew at the Mazoku turned chimera.

Scarrin hopped back until his back struck the wall. Trapped, he turned and slapped the stone. "DUG HAUT!"

Stone spires shot out of the side of the wall, shaking the entire tower. The spires were arranged one after the other, each higher than the last like a staircase. Scarrin jumped upward and landed halfway up.

"FLARE LANCE!"

Zelgadis skidded to a stop as the fire beam rushed toward him. "ICICLE LANCE!"

The two spells collided in an explosion of steam.

When the steam cleared, Scarrin was standing there again, sword in hand. "How much did Rodimus teach you?" he asked Zelgadis seriously.

Zelgadis drew the cheap Berserker sword and smiled. "Enough that YOU should worry."

"We shall see, won't we?" the tiger man replied. "ASTRAL VINE!"

AAAA

Filia's breath came quickly as she traversed the indoor jungle. She felt as if every plant and tree around her was watching her, waiting for her to come within range of some vine or branch so they could kill her.

The stench of their animosity nearly pushed her over when she first entered. Now she was getting used to the smell of being universally hated.

That's when she heard Amara scream.

"Amara!" Leaving the path, Filia pushed her way through the dense foliage, leaves and branches slapping her as she went, leaving welts and cuts on her face and arms. Finally, she broke through the edge of the forest into the light...

To find Amara sitting on the floor, holding her finger and sniffling.

"It stung me again!" she sniffled. Nearby, a rose bush was waving back and forth like an angry cobra.

Filia sweatdropped. To her right, a figure in tan coveralls, a hat and gloves was digging in the soil. She shook her head and muttered. "Shabranigdo Herbert-Walker Ruby Eye," she swore. "I come here to relax, you know." The figure put the shovel down and clapped the dirt off her gloves.

"Amara?" Filia asked quietly.

"And you!" the figure called out before the dragon could answer. "What do I call you? Filia Ul Copt? Filia Metallium?" The figure turned, revealing blonde hair and cold, purple eyes. "Please tell me you're not one of those new-age bitches who feels she has to hyphenate her last name when she gets married, because if you are I'm going to be REALLY disappointed."

Filia swallowed fearfully, confronted with the gaze of Xelas Metallium.

AAA

Zelgadis raised the sword over his head and took an advanced fencing stance. "Astral Vine," he growled, and his sword glowed red with astral energy.

Scarrin approached, and the two men circled one another. As one, they stopped, regarding one another critically. At almost blinding speed, Zelgadis struck!

Looking up from his slash, he found Scarrin yards away. The tiger chimera laughed.

Zelgadis brought his sword up as Scarrin lunged at him. Before the stone man had a chance to blink, he had parried three slashes and had been pushed back three feet. Scarrin was simply that fast.

Their swords were just blurs and clangs. Zelgadis was forced back a few more feet. Fighting Gourry had been tough because of the swordsman's extreme skill. Scarrin, while not as skilled, was three times as fast and at least five times as strong as the blond man was.

Zelgadis blocked two more slashes and lunged at Scarrin's face. Before he knew it, the tiger man was behind him!

Scarrin grabbed the stone man's elbow at the end of his lunge and spun, sending Zelgadis flying across the room and into the wall!

Zelgadis hit the ground with a thud, and his eyes went wide as he watched rubble from the shattered wall fall on top of him. Coughing, he shoved a huge boulder out of the way and climbed out, resting his body on the thick piece of marble.

He sensed, rather than saw, Scarrin's slash. Rolling to the left, he saw the tiger man's sword slice into the marble where his torso had just been. Before he could raise his own sword, Scarrin had him by the throat and was throwing him across the room again!

Zelgadis hit the ground hard and rolled several yards before skidding to a stop. Lying on his back, he saw Scarrin pounce, landing on top of him. Before he could react, the other chimera's sword was buried through his mid-section and into the stone floor below.

He screamed, coughed blood and saw it splatter against Scarrin's hateful face. The tiger grinned down at him as he writhed in pain.

"You and your woman are the last pieces, Zelgadis!" Scarrin cried gleefully. "Once I'm whole again, I'll lead my army of Berserkers against humans, Ryuuzoku AND Mazoku!" He twisted the sword, and Zelgadis screamed again. "Then man will know its true purpose! To serve US!"

"Zelgadis dear!"

Scarrin looked up and saw Sylphiel standing near the door on the other side of the room. He grinned down at Zelgadis.

"And to think," he said. "I thought finding her would be hard."

AAAA

"So, what do I call you?" Xelas asked, rising to her full height.

Filia gathered her wits. "Your Majesty can call me whatever she likes," she replied regally.

"Very well," Xelas said. "So, Whore, what brings you here?" She folded her hands over her chest.

Filia bit back a retort, mindful of who the near-invincible being in the room actually was. "I've come for my sister," she said simply. "She was taken against her will, and I came to get her."

"And you needed an army of Mazoku for that?" Xelas asked. She smiled. "Why, you could have just walked up to the door and knocked."

"I wanted to live," Filia replied tartly. "Somehow, I didn't think you'd welcome me with open arms and a plate of cookies, daughter-in-law or not."

"Don't you dare call yourself that," Xelas hissed. "I never gave my blessing to this!"

Filia wanted to retort with an insult, but bit it down, remembering what Callisto had said. If there was any hope here, she had to play the loyal daughter to the very end. She lowered her eyes to the floor submissively. "I apologize, Your Majesty. I meant no offense."

Xelas seemed a bit taken aback by the response. She paused for a moment. "Well at least you're well-mannered." She smiled. "That should make your execution more pleasant."

Filia's blood went cold. She struggled to control her fear. Escape wasn't an option, and she knew it. Xelas could kill her with a thought and a wave of her hand. Fighting was futile, running even worse. She bit her lip. "Yes, Your Majesty. However, if that is so, I would beg of you to release my sister and my travelling companions."

"Filia!" Amara hissed fearfully.

"No," Xelas said with a snort.

"But why!" Filia asked, looking the Beastmaster in the eye.

"Because you wish it!" Xelas shot back. She turned her back on the dragon.

"I made a deal with Callisto," she argued.

Xelas laughed at her. "And what makes you think for a second that he would make a deal like that in good faith?"

"Because my mate trusted him," Filia told her point-blank.

Xelas was silent. Finally, she said, "Well it doesn't matter what he said, because I make my own deals." She turned thoughtful. "Quite frankly, I can't think of a good reason NOT to kill you." She looked down at the dragon, her face turning to one of contempt. "You... took my son away from me, turned him against me. ME!" she screamed. The entire castle shook from the force of it. The queen turned and started to walk away, her tail swishing back and forth in agitation.

Filia had run out of things to say, arguments to make, cards to play. She shut her eyes. "Oh, Xellos," she thought. "Help me! What would you do? What would you SAY to her!"

She opened her eyes and knew.

Xellos would play her.

"You disappoint me," Filia said suddenly. Xelas stopped in her tracks.

"Filia," Amara whispered. "Perhaps this isn't the best time to piss off Mom."

Xelas didn't face her. "What did you just say to me?"

"Xellos," Filia began, "Always talked about how creative you were. How Gaav and Phibrizzo couldn't think three steps ahead and died because you could. How you weren't like the other Dark Lords! How you could actually see the forest for the trees!"

Xelas said nothing.

"And now here you stand," Filia continued, her arms folded over her chest. "Taking out your own anger and bitterness on your son's widow because for once you couldn't make Xellos play to your tune." Xelas was shaking in rage now. "How small you've become."

A monster with a wolf's head turned and growled at her, its eyes glowing red. Filia gasped and took a step back.

The wolf's head slowly reformed back to a human form. Xelas glared at her. "My ego," she hissed. "Isn't going to save you." She took a step toward the dragon. "Xellos... isn't going to save you. CALLISTO... ISN'T GOING TO SAVE YOU! NO ONE IS GOING TO SAVE YOU!"

Filia bit her lip and felt a tear run down her cheek. "No, I think someone can."

Xelas waited for her to continue.

"I think, Your Majesty," she whispered. "That your granddaughter could."

The Beastmaster took a step backward.

"It's true," Filia heard behind her. She turned and saw Callisto, back in his cat form, walking up to them. "Filia carries a shard of Xellos."

"Callisto," Filia whispered.

For the first time, Filia saw reluctance pass through the monarch's eyes. Xelas marched up to Filia and grabbed her hand, nearly crushing the dragon's wrist. Wincing, Filia watched Xelas bring her hand to her face and sniff it. The Dark Lord looked up at her in astonishment. "It makes no difference," Xelas said.

"Your Majesty," Callisto said in his patented, oily politician voice. "I think we've all failed to grasp certain things here. One of those was a true understanding of the role Xellos has played in the lives of the Mazoku. His widow, not even a Mazoku, was able to lead an army to the castle and overthrow a sitting general-priest."

Xelas turned away from them.

"Imagine what his daughter might do," he called after her.

The queen stopped. "It's dangerous," she said, but didn't sound convinced.

"Your Majesty," Callisto began again. His tone softened. "Mother," he amended. "For the first time in our history, a Mazoku has mated with a Ryuuzoku SUCCESSFULLY. The possibilities of such a creation are endless! This is more than Xellos turning his back on his roots. This is the next step in the evolution of our entire race! Whether you approve or not, to simply throw it away would be a waste. Xellos' death... would be a waste."

Xelas turned to Filia, but addressed Callisto. "What kind of deal?"

"Safe passage," Callisto told her. "A promise not to interfere with her children's development. In exchange, Lady Metallium acts the part of a proper Mazoku lady in retirement."

Xelas hissed.

"Also, Your Majesty," Callisto continued. "I would ask you to let this go as a personal favor to me. This political mess will take awhile to clean up, and will be much easier if other Mazoku, Deep Sea Dolphin and Lord Dynast included, could trust my word."

The Beastmaster looked at the floor. "Get out," she whispered.

Callisto turned to Filia and Amara. "She means run away...right now!"

Filia was too stunned to move. It was Amara who had to take her hand and lead her out of the garden. Turning back, she saw that Xelas hadn't moved. She was still staring at the floor. The doors closed behind them.

Xelas took a breath and raised her head. "I'm going to be a grandma," she told Callisto.

"Yes, Your Majesty."

She bent over and picked up her gloves. Pulling them on, she remarked to the cat, "Somehow, that doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would."

Callisto smiled.

"I want recommendations for the next General Priest," she told him, getting back to business as she pruned another rose. "And recommendations for a couple of minders to watch over my granddaughter's safety."

"Yes, Your Majesty."

AAA

Scarrin stood up, leaving Zelgadis pinned to the marble floor by his sword like a butterfly in a glass case. The chimera grasped the sword blade with bloody hands, but couldn't budge it.

"SYLPHIEL!" he cried to her. "RUN!"

Sylphiel didn't run, however. She stood and watched the tiger chimera saunter over to her.

"Well, well, well," he said happily. "Everyone's here." He reached down and caressed the shrine maiden's chin. Sylphiel looked away and shut her eyes. "Sylphiel, is it?" he asked. "I am so happy to see you."

"LEAVE HER ALONE!" Zelgadis screamed.

Scarrin turned his head to him and grinned. "Be nice, Zelgadis. At least you get to die together." He turned back to Sylphiel, who still wouldn't face him. "Look at me, lovely," he taunted. "Come on."

Sylphiel's head turned suddenly toward him.

Her eyes glowed white.

Scarrin blinked in shock. "Wha...?"

He couldn't get more out because Sylphiel had grabbed his throat...

And was lifting him off the ground.

It was then that Scarrin realized what was happening. "No," he choked out. "This isn't the way it's supposed to be!"

The shrine maiden released him, but held her palm out in front of him. The chimera continued to float before her. She gave a quick wave of her hand, and the Mazoku went flying across the room, striking the far wall. He hit the ground, leaving a dent in the wall where he had struck it.

He spat blood and rose to his knees only to find Sylphiel already there, her eyes glowing down at him.

"Who are you?" he whispered.

When the woman finally spoke, her voice was deeper than normal. "Eruk Greywords," she announced. She raised her hand, and the Mazoku rose into the air again. Scarrin began to panic. "And you will never harm..."

Power began to coalesce around her hand. Scarrin began to cry out in fright.

"Another human being..."

Blue light reached out from the floor.

"Ever again!" she finished. "My promise to my mother!"

Scarrin's eyes went wide.

"RA TILT!"

Blue light washed over him, and he screamed. It was so bright, Zelgadis had to turn away. The screaming became a gurgle, and the chimera forced himself to watch.

Scarrin was literally melting inside the light.

A few seconds later, and the light dissipated. All that remained of Scarrin was a puddle of orange slime on the floor.

Sylphiel fell to the floor unconscious.

"Sylphiel!" Zelgadis cried. Grasping the blade of Scarrin's sword, he grabbed the hilt and bent it until it snapped off. Tossing it aside, he lifted his body off the floor in a reverse push-up until the blade passed completely through him. Gasping in pain, he crawled to the shrine maiden, leaving a trail of blood behind him.

"Sylphiel," he whispered again.

His eyes closed.

His face fell on her chest.

His breath stopped.

AAA

Filia handed the package, a small, soft square wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, to Callisto, once again in his human form. "Thank you for this," she said. "But I don't think it will ever fit right."

Callisto regarded her, once again in her priestess robes minus the hat. "On the contrary, Lady Metallium," he said. "They fit you rather well." He handed them back to her. "Just in case you should ever need to come back."

The dragon nodded. "Thank you," she whispered. "For everything."

Callisto nodded, but said nothing. Filia turned to the other dragons.

"Well," she began with a slight smile. "Callisto says we can leave any time we like. They're going to escort us out of their territory, but they say they'll turn back once we pass Dralladan."

"Thank Cepheid," Will whispered to himself.

"Filia."

The dragon priestess turned to the voice as Amara approached. Taking her younger sister's hand, the Amalgamationist led her away from the group. She bit her lip in worry and began.

"I want to stay."

Filia was silent as her sister continued.

"I... I know how much you gave up to come and rescue me," Amara said as tears fell on her cheeks. "I can't tell you how sorry I am about Lord Xellos."

Filia choked back tears of her own.

"But there's still a chance to do tremendous good here," Amara went on. "Lord Callisto said I could stay... as an ambassador... but..." She paused as more tears began to form. "But I don't want to hurt you. I want to stay, but if you tell me to go, I will."

The dragon priestess took her hands. "Amara, stay."

Amara blinked at the comment. "Wha...?"

Filia took her sister's face in her hands. "I was wrong," she whispered. "You said they could change. Xellos said he could change, and I didn't believe either of you." She had to stop a moment to choke back fresh tears. "It never even occurred to me to take Xellos at his word. He had to die before I could truly see it."

"Filia..."

"I don't know what kind of future our people and Mazoku might have together," she went on. "But I do know that future will be nothing but misery and death unless someone, anyone, takes a first step. I think it can be you."

Amara smiled and latched onto her sister. "Thank you, Filia!"

Filia hugged her in return. She laughed through her tears and remarked, "Callisto said you could stay?"

"Yes! Said something about a devastating shortage of tea..."

The priestess smiled. "So," she thought to herself. "That's why he's in human form."

"Filia? Are you okay?" Amara asked her worriedly.

"Yes," Filia replied. "I think I am."

AAA

Lina opened her eyes and yawned as she sat up. "Wha... Whe...HUH!" Looking from side to side, all she could see was the castle roof and the stars above her.

No Diol.

She growled. "Son of a BITCH!" She screamed. Her hands curled into fists as she shook with rage. "I am...so...pissed off...RIGHT NOW!" She growled. How that little scumbag managed to hit her with a sleeping spell that would work on her was beyond comprehension, but guaranteed she'd save all that rage for their next meeting.

In the meantime...

She marched up the edge of the roof and looked down at the fighting below.

"Darkness beyond twilight..."

AAA

Naga and Amelia rested against the wall of the guard shack. It appeared that both sides had decided on a mutual break. Panting, Amelia offered Naga her canteen.

"Thanks," Naga huffed back. Upending the canteen, she dumped the contents on her head.

Amelia sweatdropped. "Um... That was the last of my water."

Naga looked over at her and tossed the canteen back at her. "Then you better get some more. I'm thirsty."

Amelia looked more puzzled than angry. "How can you possibly be...?" Naga waited for her to finish, but the second princess just shook her head. "Forget it. What do we..."

"DRAGON SLAVE!"

A section of the wall to the north evaporated in a fiery explosion.

"Holy SHIT!" Adara screamed as Gourry grabbed her and pulled her into the guard shack.

A mushroom cloud rose into the air as the shockwave of the blast hit the shack. Dust and debris fell on their heads, but the wall was far enough away that the full force of the spell missed them.

"I think Ms. Lina's okay," Amelia announced.

"DRAGON SLAVE!"

The east wall was consumed in fire a second later.

"And pissed," Naga agreed.

Gourry grabbed them by the shoulders. "Come on!" he cried. "While she's got things tied up here, we can get inside and help!"

"DRAGON SLAVE!"

AAAA

Shadow Lina strained under the weight of Vanya's body as she and Jeffrey helped the Kunoichi up the stairs. Once the shadow had healed Jeffrey's wounds, the two made their way up the stairs after Sylphiel, Vanya and Lina. When they had found Vanya lying on the floor with a decapitated statue lying on her, they thought she was dead.

But the ninja wasn't done yet.

The sorceress healed her as much as she could in the shortest time possible, and the three continued up the stairs together, Vanya helped along with Jeffrey and Shadow Lina on either side.

"Miss Vanya, we should really stop," Shadow Lina said. "You're not fully healed."

"We'll stop when we find Sylphiel," she growled.

She stumbled up one more stair and found a door to their left. "This way," she ordered.

As they entered the tunnel, the entire castle rumbled.

"What was that?" Jeffrey asked.

"Something big," Shadow Lina whispered.

"Come on," the ninja prompted. "We're close."

The three continued forward until they came to a huge empty room. At the other end of that room were two bodies.

"Sylphiel!" Vanya cried. She fell as her two human crutches took off to help them. The ninja limped along behind them.

A chimera was resting his head on Sylphiel's chest. Shadow Lina grabbed his arm and started to pull, but couldn't lift him until Jeffrey lent his strength. The monster rolled over, revealing a bleeding wound in his midsection.

"Mr. Zelgadis!" Shadow Lina cried. By this time Vanya had caught up to them.

"Is he..." Vanya asked.

Shadow Lina put her ear to the chimera's nose. "He's not breathing!"

Vanya knelt carefully next to Sylphiel and felt her neck for a pulse. Satisfied, she started slapping the shrine maiden.

"Come on!" she cried. "Wake up! You're the only one here who can cast Resurrection!" She slapped her a few more times. "COME ON! You've come so far! Don't blow it now!"

Sylphiel's eyes fluttered open as Vanya slapped her again. "ITAI!" She cried. "Ms. Vanya!"

Before the shrine maiden could say another word, the ninja grabbed her by the front of her outfit and hoisted her up so that she was facing Zelgadis.

"Zelgadis Dear!" she cried. "What happened!"

Vanya didn't waste time with unnecessary words. "That wound is less than ten minutes old!"

Sylphiel went straight to business, rolling up her sleeves. "Everyone gather close," she said quickly. "I'll need you close by for this."

Taking a deep breath, she clasped her hands together and began to pray silently. A soft white light filled the entire room. The others blinked as they felt pins and needles on their skin and the hair on the backs of their necks stand on end.

Vanya watched and saw her sister began to glow like she did when she cast the same spell on her next to the river. She felt the spell draw on the life energy of everything around them, themselves included, and coalesce into a ball in Sylphiel's hands.

Sylphiel's prayer became loud enough so they could hear the last words of it. "Please come back to me, Zelgadis Dear. RESURRECTION!"

The ball of light disappeared into the chimera's body and suffused it from head to toe. Shadow Lina bit her lip and bounced in nervous anticipation. Suddenly, Zelgadis took a breath.

Sylphiel closed her eyes and said a prayer of thanks, wiping tears from her eyes. Vanya shut her eyes and quietly did the same. The shrine maiden leaned over Zelgadis.

"Zelgadis Dear," she whispered. "It's time to wake up."

The chimera responded by rolling over. "Do'n wanna," he mumbled. Sylphiel sweat dropped.

Vanya sighed. "Wow, this takes me back." With a quick kick to her brother's stomach, she cried. "WAKE UP, YOU BIG STUPID HEAD!"

Zelgadis was up like a shot. "WHA? WHERE!" Looking around, he winced. "What's going on?"

Sylphiel reached out and caressed his face. "Zelgadis Dear," she said quietly.

His eyes found her, and painful disbelief crossed over them. He didn't want to believe it, didn't want to fall for another mental hallucination or emotional episode. He reached up and touched her fingers. "Are you a dream?" he asked softly.

"No," she whispered in return. "We're both done dreaming."

"Sylphiel," he cracked out.

She smiled as she corrected him. "Syl chan!"

AAAA

Seyruun had definitely changed since her last visit. To be honest, the state she found the city in frightened her. She wasn't sure if war had broken out or if a natural disaster had struck the kingdom.

The idea that Lina Inverse might be in town popped into her head.

That frightened Filia more than anything else.

The dragons had gone their separate ways at Dralladan. Sethra had followed her as far as the Seyruunian border, but then turned to make her way to Kataart. Filia was alone again.

Walking through the city gates, one of the few Seyruunian historical sites still standing, she gaped at the damage around her and the massive effort to repair it all. Men and women of every job and station were working together to clean up rubble and rebuild houses.

The northern part of the city was still in recognizable shape, so she went off in that direction. She figured that Naga, if still in town, would be someplace that sold food and booze.

She climbed a grassy hill and walked along the fence of an enclosed park. The grass and trees here were still green, untouched by whatever calamity had fallen on the city. As she passed the entrance to the park, the sound of humming fell on her ears.

Turning without really knowing why, Filia searched for the source of the sound. Not far inside the park gate was Mr. Zelgadis and a woman she had never seen before. Zelgadis was lying supine on a blanket while the woman sat with his head in her lap. His eyes were closed. It was the woman humming a soft melody as she carefully stroked the metallic bristles of his hair.

The woman stopped humming and looked up, noticing Filia there. The dragon flushed with embarrassment at having interrupted a nice scene.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, careful not to wake the chimera. "I didn't mean to interrupt."

The woman smiled at her. "You don't have to worry," she said in a normal speaking voice. "He won't wake up for awhile yet." She looked down at his face. "I have him in a sleep spell. He was badly hurt a week ago, and I know if I don't insist he rest it'll take him forever to fully recover."

"Oh," Filia replied, regarding the woman more closely. With purple hair and green eyes, she was quite lovely, out of Zelgadis' league, in her opinion. "You must be Sylphiel," she concluded. At this, Sylphiel looked up at her questioningly. "Naga told me all about your and Mr. Zelgadis' relationship," she explained.

Sylphiel smiled. "Then you must be Filia." He smile faltered. "Naga... told us about Mr. Xellos. I'm very sorry."

The dragon managed to muster a slight smile. "Thank you," she said."I'm glad to see everything..." She looked outside at the destruction of the city. "...turned out all right," she finished weakly.

The shrine maiden looked away guiltily for a moment. "We've had a few setbacks," she admitted. Looking into Filia's eyes, she said, "Thank you." At Filia's puzzled look, she went on. "For coming after us."

"You should thank Ms. Naga," Filia told her, sitting down next to the purple-haired woman. "She was determined to find you."

Sylphiel smiled. "I have." She began stroking Zelgadis' face again, and Filia noticed for the first time the bulge in the shrine maiden's belly.

"When are you due?" Filia asked.

The shrine maiden's smile illuminated her face. "Not for a few more months."

Filia nodded.

"And you?"

The dragon blinked in surprise. "How did you...?"

"It's...odd," Sylphiel got out. "I can almost sense Mazoku."

Filia smiled. "I have no idea, to be honest," she admitted. "Days, months, years... My situation is a little different." She looked at the woman. "It's odd, isn't it?" she asked. "Everything having happened to us in the past year, and we're only now meeting for the first time."

"Your... um... husband...," Sylphiel began, "Was a good friend of mine. He saved us at Zarak Tor." She looked down at Zelgadis again. "He saved us all."

"And your... fiance?" At Sylphiel's nod, she continued, "...helped us save the world from Dark Star." She sighed. "Perhaps it's only fair," she said.

"What?"

"I was just thinking," the dragon continued. "As the mates of two such men, perhaps it's only fair that Cepheid test us harder than other women."

The shrine maiden in Sylphiel digested this. "Perhaps," she allowed. "Or perhaps it just means that the price of a blessing is equal to its greatness."

With that, Filia stood up. "Do you know where I might find Ms. Naga?" she asked.

Sylphiel nodded "Down the road, at the Smelly Oxen Pub."

"Thank you. It was nice meeting you."

"And you," Sylphiel returned. Filia turned to go. "I hope we can be friends," Sylphiel said. At Filia's pause, she continued. "Zelgadis Dear and Mr. Xellos didn't get along, but I hope we can."

Filia smiled. "I'd like that." With that, she turned again.

Sylphiel returned to stroking her fiance's hair. "I wonder what you'd think of that."

AAAA

Zelgadis was dreaming, yet wasn't. He recognized the feeling from the last time. He also knew that, given his present company, there was nothing he could really do about it.

Truth be told, however, he was okay with it.

"So," Xellos said, "You managed it. Yay you."

Zelgadis chuckled. "For all the good I was able to do," he admitted. "If it weren't for Sylphiel..."

"You wouldn't have gone in the first place," Xellos told him.

The two were walking along the seashore, of all places. Zelgadis didn't recognize it until Xellos pointed out some wreckage nearby.

"The Mariposa," Zelgadis muttered. "Zarak Tor."

"As it exists in our minds, yes," Xellos told him. "That's the beauty of being a noncorporeal entity, Mr. Zelgadis. You're limited only by your own mind."

"Naga said you were dead," Zelgadis told him.

"Ms. Naga would be correct," Xellos told him. "In a provincial, three-dimensional kind of way. Let's just say I answer to a higher power now."

"So what do you do as a 'noncorporeal entity?'" the chimera asked him.

Xellos shrugged. "This and that. Do what I can within my limitations. Working for the Lord of Nightmares herself is an honor, one Mazoku don't even know they should hope for. And," he continued, "It gives me a chance to make a few things right."

Zelgadis leaned against the mast of the Mariposa. "It's going to be hard making up for everything you've done as a Mazoku."

Xellos shrugged and grinned. "Perhaps. But as the Lord of Nightmares is fond of saying, 'Pimp'n ain't easy!' "

"So what's next for you?" Zelgadis asked.

Xellos grinned again. "Why so curious? Why, Mr. Zelgadis! If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were concerned for me!"

"Che!" was the chimera's response. His face softened a moment later, however."Maybe," he finally said. "You've earned that much, at least."

"And you said it would be hard," Xellos chuckled. He turned serious a second later. "I'll keep working with Her Glorious. Do me a favor?" he asked. At Zelgadis' nod, he continued. "Check in on Filia for me every so often?"

The chimera nodded solemnly. "Of course."

Before Zelgadis could say more, one of the stars in the sky behind Xellos' back grew brighter, growing in size and intensity until the chimera had to shield his eyes from it.

"That's my ride," Xellos told him, not even having to turn to the light.

Still shielding his eyes, Zelgadis squinted and looked at Xellos, nearly gasping at what he saw. Bathed in the light of the Lord of Nightmares, Xellos' black robes were silvery white, and there was a... "shape"... in the air just behind his back that took him a second to make out. Though not physically there, the way the light hit them made it look like the outlines of wings.

"Perhaps we'll speak again sometime," Xellos told him. "I'll be seeing you." He turned toward the light.

"Xellos," Zelgadis whispered.

The Mazoku-turned-dream turned back to him and grinned. "Soon," he promised.

With a flash, he was gone. Zelgadis turned to look out at the ocean and smiled as he contemplated Xellos' words.

AAA

It was billed as the grandest wedding of all time.

Invitations went out to the four corners of the globe, and royalty, wizards and dragons came from the highest peaks and the strongest castles. The bill to decorate the palace was measured in the hundreds of thousands of goldpieces, and the guest list numbered near ten thousand.

It had been a long road for the two of them, filled with trials and doubts, but the day finally came.

Gracia and Huey were married.

AAA

The fireworks were still going off on the other side of the city as Sylphiel stepped out from under the small foot-bridge and onto the shore of the stream. She clutched the small bouquet tightly and quickly adjusted the veil over her eyes, the only two parts of a wedding ensemble she had chosen to keep.

Standing near a dim torch, Zelgadis, Vanya and a local magistrate waited. Taking a deep breath, she walked toward them. As she approached, she heard a racket on the bridge behind her and turned.

Lina and the others stood there, huffing and puffing laboriously.

"We broke away...(pant pant)...As soon as we could!" Amelia explained.

"Of course," Lina added. "It would have helped if someone had told us." She eyed the two of them menacingly.

Sylphiel wiped away tears through her veil. "We kind of wanted to just slip away," she explained. "But I'm glad you all came."

"Well, if we're going to do this, we might as well do it right!" Naga interjected, stepping to the front. "I, of course, will be the maid of honor."

"Get bent," Lina retorted. "Spot's taken. You get to be an usher."

Zelgadis sighed and turned to the magistrate. "Quick, while they're fighting."

Sylphiel giggled and ran up to join him.

AAA

Lina filled the last glass and held hers up. "Ladies and gentlemen," she said grandly. "To Mister and Misses Zelgadis Greywords."

"Hear hear!" they replied.

"So what will you do now, Mr. Zelgadis?" Amelia asked.

The chimera paused. "We're going to Atlas."

"Then what?" Naga asked.

Zelgadis shook his head. "Then nothing."

"But what about your cure?" Amelia put in.

Even Sylphiel was looking at him in puzzlement. "I'm done looking, Amelia," he said. "I can't go off looking for a cure that may or may not exist now. I won't leave Sylphiel and the baby, and I can't take them with me."

"Mister Zelgadis..." Amelia whispered.

"Oh, Cepheid," Vanya muttered. She turned to Zelgadis. "You never did know how to just ask for help."

Zelgadis blinked and narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean by that?"

"Well," Vanya began again. "As it turns out, I have a little spare time now that I'm unemployed again." She looked at her brother and his wife. "I'll search for your cure." Sylphiel beamed. "For five years," Vanya clarified. "By five, your kid will be old enough to miss his dad every so often."

"Thank you, Vanya!" Sylphiel cried, hugging her tightly.

"Well that's not very fair."

The crowd turned to Amelia.

"Miss Amelia?" Sylphiel asked in confusion.

Amelia just stared at her feet. "I mean, it's not fair to ask Vanya to go searching all by herself. It's dangerous out there."

"So what are you saying?" the younger Greywords asked.

Amelia looked up at her. "I'm saying, if you don't mind someone tagging along, I'd like to help."

AAA

Gourry lifted the trunk up over his head and placed it on top of the carriage as Zelgadis led his sister off to the side.

"Vanya," he said quietly. "In all the confusion, I never got a chance to give you this." He held up a yellowed envelope.

The kunoichi took it and blinked. "What is it?"

"It's from Mother," he said simply.

She clutched it tighter. "What does it say?" she choked.

He took her hand. "If it's anything like mine, it's what you want to hear."

With that, he turned and walked away.

Sylphiel met him near the carriage. "Ready, Zelgadis dear?"

He smiled, truly smiled, and nodded. "Let's go."

"We're going to travel with you for awhile," Lina told them. "Just to make sure the two of you don't get into any trouble." She winked.

"Thank you, Miss Lina," Sylphiel told her. "We'd like that."

Lina went to yell at Gourry for something, and Sylphiel turned back to Zelgadis. "So what was that about?"

The chimera smiled. "I just had to give my sister something."

"Ah."

He helped his wife into the carriage and looked back at Vanya.

My love,

Gourry joined him a second later, carrying some more of their luggage.

You're stronger than you know yourself to be...Day by day I pray to the gods that happiness finds you as it found me...

"All set!" Gourry announced with a thumbs up.

Zelgadis shook his hand and embraced him.

For you, I hope the gods have blessed you in your absence. I hope only happiness finds you, a nice girl, friends, children...

The chimera hopped into the carriage and squeezed his wife's hand.

If you have been blessed with the last of these, grant me one last request...

"Ready?" Zelgadis asked.

Hug them...

Sylphiel nodded. "All set."

Kiss them goodnight...

"Then let's go."

And tell them their grandmother loves them.

Slowly, the carriage and its entourage started down the road...

To the next adventure.

AAA

Epilogue:

Filia entered the dark teahouse and made her way to the kitchen. Jiras and Gravos had looked as if they had seen a ghost when she walked in, but were soon running to fetch her a cup of tea.

Sitting down at the kitchen table, she placed her chin in her hands and sighed.

"I'm home," she muttered.

No more adventures. It was a vow rather than an observation. She was done with it all. Especially given that every time she went on an adventure, she came back with a child.

Jiras finished making her tea and offered it to her. She took it with thanks, and the fox man left the room.

She put her spoon in the cup and stirred silently.

The spoon stopped.

The dragon sat stock still and listened. Sylphiel had said something about being able to detect the presence of Mazoku. At the time, Filia had dismissed it, but now...

She let her instincts take over, and her head turned slowly to the left.

Nothing. She saw nothing.

But that wasn't right...

She could barely make it out on the edge of reality, just peeking through from the astral plane.

There was a Mazoku in her kitchen.

If it didn't know she had seen it, she still had a chance. Filia could hit it point-blank with a laser breath or a chaotic disintegrate. It would be over before it really began.

"I don't know what kind of future our people and Mazoku might have together," she heard her own words whisper to her in her mind. "But I do know that future will be nothing but misery and death unless someone, anyone, takes a first step. I think it can be you."

She relaxed. What she said to Amara was the truth, and her sister couldn't be the only person to make an effort.

"Would you like some tea?" she asked the empty space.

There was the barest flicker of light as whatever it was moved. Filia imagined it was inclining its head in thought.

"You can come out if you like," Filia assured it, trying on a small smile.

The Mazoku in the corner moved quietly toward her. Filia held her ground, determined to do nothing that would jeopardize her sister's... her own... dream.

The chair opposite the dragon pulled out as if of its own accord. The flicker of light sat down.

Filia poured another cup and offered it to the demon.

The End