Author's Note: I hadn't planned on starting this until I was a bit further along with Oracle's Wish, but I've been more productive lately that usual and hopefully can stay that way. Besides, Xellos and Filia won't stop bugging me until I give them their own story. Hope you enjoy it...
"It's a legal matter, baby,
Marryin's no fun.
It's a legal matter, baby,
A legal matter from now on."
~ "Legal Matter" by The Who
Chapter 1. Whoops.
"Is this all really necessary?" Filia asked, as she held her mace protectively, as one might hold a child… a child that might be used to bash skulls in at any moment.
"I'm afraid so, ma'am," the guard said, not at all unnerved by the sight of a young woman carrying a heavy weapon. While it was true that Gruddi Temple was open to the public all year round, the most sought after section, the rare magical books collection, only opened for visitors once every ten years. A hype that big was enough to send plenty of diverse (read: weird) people on a pilgrimage to the source of wisdom. This particular guard remembered well what it was like the last time they'd opened up their collection (he wasn't the most upwardly mobile man in the world). What seemed at first glance to be a little old lady, but in fact turned out to be some kind of fiend from the great void, had devoured three books on necromancy before they'd caught her. He knew he'd never hear the end of it if something like that happened again. "Now, do you intend to eat any of the books on display?" he asked as casually as he could, just to be super safe.
"For the fifth time: no!" Filia answered irritably. She looked mournfully down at the mace. Well, if this was the only way… "Here," she said, dropping the weapon into the guard's arms.
He sank to the ground like an anvil onto a cartoon character and nearly cracked his chin against the cement floor, but rallied magnificently. He huffed, puffed, and cursed and was finally able to lift the surprisingly heavy bludgeoning implement into a crate with the other confiscated items (completely crushing an elderberry pie that another guard had considered too, "delicious… I mean dangerous!" to be allowed in). He handed her a ticket and assured her that she could pick it up, preferably herself, after she'd finished with the books.
She snatched the ticket and put it in her pocket, walking briskly across the grounds, beyond the gardens filled with exotic species of plant and moldering statues from all across the continent, and for that matter, across time. She walked by the stages that would soon feature the highest orders of the somewhat eccentric, but well regarded Gruddian priests as they lectured and preformed miracles. The Gruddi temple was one part museum and one part tourist attraction and would be a great place to wander aimlessly through all day. But today she had a mission. There was a certain book she wanted to see and it was said that the Gruddian priests had one of the few surviving copies.
She entered the building that housed the famed collection, shouldering her way passed serious looking sorcerers and jumpy looking alchemists. Books that only survived as a few tissue-thin pages were kept under glass, but most of the collection was on the shelves that lined the walls of the tower, ready to be leafed through. It was only a matter of finding the right one…
She eased the nearest book off the shelf and opened it. She was greeted with the tell-tale aroma that indicated well-fed bookworms and read the front page. It said, "Thee Efficks of Magick vol. 9: A Compendyum of Essayes on thee Subgeckt of Nonconfensual Alkemy by Norfrum Millidy" in ancient handwriting. She shut the book carefully, as to not send of cloud of dust flying into her face, and put it back on the shelf, reflecting sadly on the terrible spelling skills of most of the ancient mages.
It hit her just then how many books there were in this tower. It must've gone up four floors, and it looked like there was at least one basement. Each one of these rooms was packed to bursting with books, most of which could not be readily discerned from one another as the titles had faded off the spines hundreds of years ago. What's more, she thought as she picked up, "1001 Ancient Uses for the Radish by Wig Spuridian" from right next to Norfrum Millidy's book, they didn't appear to be arranged in any particular order.
She slumped against the shelf. How was she ever going to find the book she wanted among all of these before they closed for the evening? She wasn't even sure of its exact title or author, only the subject matter.
"Having trouble finding something?" asked an annoyingly familiar voice from her left.
She tensed up. Just when you think a day can't get worse… She turned and, of course, there was Xellos. Who else would it be? After all, fate obviously hated her and considered the best way to make her suffer was to force her into the company of her least favorite person in the world. When Filia had been younger, she'd thought of fate bring people together as something romantic, now she knew better.
"What are you doing here?" she asked in the traditional greeting of Xellos practiced by everyone who knew him.
"Oh, just looking for a book," he said nonchalantly. She noticed he was without his usual staff. They'd probably taken it away before they let him in. Filia found herself bitterly hoping that they'd ask him if he was planning on eating any books as well. "In fact," he went on, "I have a sneaking suspicion that we're looking for the same book."
The temperature in the room seemed to lower by a few degrees. "No," she said almost inaudibly.
"Oh yes," Xellos went on. "After all, who wouldn't be interested in a book about ancient dragons? This temple may well contain the only surviving work on the subject," he paused and looked thoughtful. "Of course, some might consider it an obsolete topic, but then again," his eyes opened malevolently, "I've heard that there's one ancient dragon left."
Filia shook her head slowly and clenched her fists at her side. "You stay away from him," she threatened.
Xellos eyed her with critical amusement, as a cat might view a particularly feisty rat. He'd heard that you should never get between a mother bear and her cub, but he considered this piece of advice was only for people who couldn't handle the claws. Nevertheless…
"All I'm interested in right now is information, I assure you."
"Oh, I'm really sure," Filia snapped, about as willing to start trusting monsters as to shave her head and paint it green. "Good luck finding it," she said, gesturing to the expanse of shelves.
Xellos peered around at the shelves and, clearly deciding he didn't have the time to expend on them, walked away. Filia hesitated for a moment, and then followed him. After all, she admitted bitterly to herself, Xellos was much more likely to find the book than she was.
"Excuse me," Xellos was saying, politely as you please, to a mustachioed man in the garb of a Gruddian priest, when she caught up with him. "I'm," he noticed Filia a few steps behind him trying not to be noticed and corrected himself. "We are looking for the book on the ancient dragons that you're supposed to have here."
"Oh, that one," the man said, taking a book that had been left out and putting it back on the shelf. "I'm afraid it's not here."
Filia's heart sank. Nobody knew much of anything about the ancient dragons anymore, and since she was currently raising one she'd wanted to know as much as she could. This had been her last hope.
"We can't keep it out with the rest because it's such a high risk for theft," the man went on. "Awhile back some vandals destroyed every copy they could get their hands on, and because this is the last one in existence we have to make sure visitors only view it under our supervision."
"So where is it now?" Filia asked.
The man scratched his chin. "I think old Warbler's got it up in the Communal Building," he said. "It's just out the door, to your right and through the wind chime garden. I'd take you there myself, but it's a mad house here."
They thanked the man and left the building, heading in the direction he mentioned. The garden was full of wind chimes of all sizes, giving off a wide variety of tones. They had been blessed by the priests and priestesses of the temple, and the sounds they gave off were supposed to foster inner peace. It was a breezy day and the ringing of the chimes filled the air with the light, pleasant sounds. It was certainly better than listening to…
"So, it seems that most of the other books have been destroyed," Xellos commented, breaking through Filia's ingenious "pretend he isn't there" defense.
"Was it you?" Filia asked leadenly. She'd had a feeling.
Xellos stopped and had the nerve to look surprised and slightly affronted. "What makes you think that?"
"Mister Zelgadis told me about how you burned all those Claire Bible manuscripts," she said.
"Oh, that." Xellos's shoulders relaxed. Of course, Zelgadis would remember that, and probably complain to anyone who would listen too. "That was a different matter. No, Filia, if you want to know who destroyed all those books you'd be better off blaming yourself."
"Me? What did I do?"
"Your race," Xellos explained. "The golden dragons destroyed every single ancient dragon, save one. When that act was done they wanted to wipe away all knowledge that the ancient dragons every existed, as if that could make what they did go away," he added snidely.
Filia stared at the ground. Even after all she'd found out it was still a terrible thing to think about of those who are meant to be servants of the gods.
"In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they've sent someone to deal with the manuscript themselves," Xellos commented airily as they reached what must have been the Communal Building. It was a small, disused looking building and when they entered it the only staff member they saw there was a little old man who looked like he could tell some great stories about the Konan wars from when he was a youngin'.
"Eserve vert?" the old priest asked, with a smile so full of yellow teeth you'd swear their owner had to have been some kind of cheese-eating rodent.
Xellos looked at Filia who said, "He must be from the old country."
"Which old country?" Xellos asked. Humans had so many that it tended to get confusing.
Filia's eyebrows knitted in thought. "I think the Gruddian homeland is on one of the outer islands."
"Fair enough," Xellos said. "What's he saying?"
"I don't have the faintest idea," Filia said with a disdainful sniff.
"I thought golden dragons were supposed to be good with languages," Xellos said as insultingly as he could manage.
"Not all dragons study languages," Filia shot back defensively. "I studied prophecy, history, and practical geography with an elective study of macramé."
"Well, you've obviously made the best out of your education," Xellos said nastily. "But it doesn't exactly help us now."
"Maybe he'll understand anyway," Filia suggested hopefully. "A lot of languages have the same words for things," she added with the optimism of one who, when confronted with a person who speaks a language other than their own, will speak loudly and slowly and consider this a substitute for finding an interpreter.
Xellos gave her an unkind look and then turned to the little old man, who had been smiling at each of them throughout the conversation. In fact, the man's entire face seemed to be built around that smile. His dimples had dimples.
"Do you have the book on ancient dragons?" Xellos asked slowly and carefully.
The man's smile retracted for a fifth of a second as he looked thoughtfully at the two of them, and then the smile was back, brighter and rottener than ever. He held up a hand, as if to say "one moment," and disappeared into the back room.
"See," Filia said. "He knew exactly what we were talking about."
The old man hobbled back into the room and placed a document covered in the foreign language on the desk. He pushed it slightly forward and gestured to the quills on either side of it saying, "Besin raye."
"…Or maybe not," Filia said, hopes dashed.
"No, this looks like a contract," Xellos said. "The priest from before mentioned what a security risk the book is. We probably just have to sign to agree that we won't harm the book or steal from it or copy it."
"I think you might be right," Filia said grudgingly, since it was Xellos and all. Technically she had a rule about agreeing with monsters. "Look, he's already got the book," she said, pointing to a book tucked under the old man's arm that had ancient tome written all over it.
The man noticed her gaze and nodded saying, "Besin raye dun ie ert ip rite." He nudged the inkwells forward as if they needed a hint.
"Alright, alright," Filia said, snatching up a quill and signing her name on the line. She handed the quill to Xellos and was barely able to keep herself from sticking her tongue out at him before saying, "I get to look at it first."
Xellos, in turn, was barely able to keep himself from rolling his eyes as he signed the form.
When he had finished, the old priest carefully separated the document, putting the original on his desk, and rolled up the two imprints and fastened them shut, handing one to Xellos and Filia respectively. They each held their scrolls dumbly, wondering when they'd get to see the book.
The old man fished around in his pocket for his reading glasses, and once they were perched on the bridge of his nose, he opened the worn book and began to read aloud. "Melavre melawea," he began, looking up at an invisible audience standing behind the two. They looked around, wondering what the old man was going on about. "I rea collet raye noaw vi univive bea dozza ie ip commus de sacrist wervest."
"What's he doing?" Filia asked, staring curiously at the old man, and wondering with traces of pity whether he was going senile.
The old man got out from his desk and stood in front of them. Before either could protest, he snatched up their hands a placed them on top of one another holding his own blue-veined hand-shaped mass over them. He said, "Frey ip authos rifer ie os frey ip Gruddi, os noaw authos marus dun farus." For some reason he had tears in his eyes.
"This… isn't right," Filia said, filled with a nameless dread as the strange little man let go of their hands and allowed her to take hers back.
The old man hummed his way back to his desk and took out the original document they had signed and gave it a thorough stamping.
"What was that?" Filia demanded.
"I'm… not sure," Xellos said, as a million tiny instinctual voices in the back of his head screamed at him in warning.
At that moment, the door to the building slid open as a younger man dressed as a clerk shuffled in carrying a sack lunch and muttering to himself about how hard it was to find Gouda in this town. He nodded absentmindedly to Xellos and Filia, dropping the lunch on the old man's desk, before saying something in Gruddi to the old man, who responded at length.
The clerk smiled to himself. "Ah," he said, turning to Xellos and Filia. "I see congratulations are in order."
"Congratulations for what?" Xellos inquired flatly.
The clerk's smile transformed from cheerful to nervous, put off my Xellos's tone. "Well, the ceremony and all?"
"What ceremony?" Filia asked, unease rising as her nameless dread sought a name that she couldn't bear to think.
The clerk's smile was very uncomfortable at that point, as he realized that a passing nicety was about to turn into a gigantic headache. But he persevered. "You know," he said helpfully, hoping that they really did. "The marriage."
For a moment there was a horrible silence. Screaming would've been preferable to the strangling silence pouring off of Filia like the airless vacuum of space. She open and closed her mouth like a fish trying to breathe out of water, unable to bring words to the enraged thoughts crashing through her psyche, queuing up for a run at the vocal chords and occasionally pushing each other over. Xellos, in a rare moment, was struck completely dumb.
"You mean you didn't want to get married?" the clerk asked meekly.
And then the screaming started.
"Well of course we didn't want to get married!" thundered Filia. "What possible reason could anyone have to think that I would ever ever want to marry that loathsome, disgusting—"
"We asked for a book on ancient dragons," Xellos interrupted her, and it was just as well because Filia liked to think of herself as the kind of person who didn't use profanity.
The clerk looked hopelessly at the piece of paper on the desk and said, "Then why'd you sign the marriage contract?"
Filia rounded on Xellos. "You said it was a security contract!"
"Need I remind you that you agreed with me?" Xellos shot back as his farsighted mind took him to a very unhappy, though likely very brief, future.
Filia turned the mass of her anger back at the cowering clerk. "He didn't even ask us if we wanted to get married," she said, jutting out her arm in reference to the old priest. "He just went and got the papers."
"Well, miss," the clerk paused to correct himself, "I mean, Mrs., the Gruddi Temple is sort of known for not asking questions when it comes to weddings. That's why people get married here, if you catch my meaning."
At this, the old priest muttered something to himself in a huff.
"What did he say?" Xellos asked the clerk with a somewhat threatening stare. He hadn't liked the old man's tone.
The clerk gulped. He didn't deserve any of this. "Old Warbler was saying that you two had no right to complain just because you got cold-feet," He winced and then added, "He also asked what else he was supposed to think when a cute couple steps into his office."
Filia's face once again passed anger and went into the realms of shock and appall. If she didn't stop abusing that expression birds would start building their nests in her mouth. She clamped her mouth shut, glared at the poor clerk, and simply said, in a voice that brooked no argument, "Undo this."