Author's Note: Having to be done with Legal Matter would've made me a little sad if it weren't for this story simmering on the planning stove and keeping a smile on my face. I'm really excited about it and I hope y'all will enjoy it too.
Chapter 1. Interesting Times.
Filia couldn't help but tremble slightly as she stood in front of the temple of the Fire Dragon King: a place she never thought she'd return to. It had been her home for many years, but after the events of the previous year, she no longer belonged there. It seemed to her that its grounds and halls should be filled with only… echoes — ghosts of a once bustling community of dragons. After all, they were massacred. She'd seen them die with her own eyes, just as the prophecy foretold.
But only a year later it was full of energetic activity once more. Around the grounds, dragons in their proper forms were busy with construction efforts to expand the size of the temple. Closer to the interior, dragons in their human forms strode through the halls carrying clipboards with palpable purpose. Everyone seemed to have a job to do.
After the loss of the entire population of the temple of the Fire Dragon King, the dragons of the other temples had been forced to take some kind of action to mitigate the damage. They couldn't very well leave the entire eastern zone of the world unprotected, as the monsters would surely take advantage of the breach. So they made the decision to cover the gap. Dragons were reassigned from the north, south, and west temples. A new Supreme Elder had been selected to preside over the once abandoned temple. Their numbers were stretched thinner now, but at least there was someone manning the doors in all the quadrants, so to speak.
She'd had no interest in seeing the newly run temple. It brought back too many painful memories of her kinsmen's deaths. She'd been content to leave the temple be – to manage her shop and get along with her new life. But then the letter arrived.
It was from the new Supreme Elder, and requested – 'urgently' requested – that she travel to the temple and meet with him. She couldn't fathom why and knew that she was, of course, under no duress to go there. She'd left the temple and left her responsibility to it.
She'd considered whether to go or not for awhile, but couldn't fight back her curiosity. She knew that if she didn't go, she'd always wonder about the odd, vague request. So she'd left Gravos in charge of the shop and Jillas in charge of the unhatched egg containing the reborn Val, and headed off to her former home.
Now, as she walked down the once familiar halls on her way to the new Supreme Elder's office, she wondered if she'd made the right decision. Ever since the events of last year her feelings for her own race had been tinged with ambivalence. They were her people, and her family, and she mourned for those that had passed; yet, whenever she looked at the egg containing her adopted son she couldn't help but think of the boy – the last of his race – who'd had everything taken away from him in the name of peace, and could only respond with revenge and despair.
She wondered what the new Supreme Elder would be like. She'd heard that there had been a bit of a quarrel over his appointment. The senior members of the election counsel put forth various wise and powerful dragons to take charge of the temple and put it to a vote. Apparently the two front-runners had canceled each other out allowing a lesser-known dragon to take the position. A recount was called for, but met with no approval. The decision had been made for better or for worse.
She'd heard very little about him except that he was somewhat younger than the others, though as far as dragons went he was still considered quite old. Many dragons were worried because they weren't sure exactly what he stood for.
Well, perhaps she'd find out. She knocked on the door.
"Come in," a voice said from the other side.
She slowly opened the door and walked into the cavernous stone room. The replacement elder looked up from behind his desk where a stack of papers rested in front of him.
"Ah, Filia is it?" he said. "Excuse my lack of formality. I know we haven't been introduced before."
"Not at all, sir," Filia said, still not sure what the conversation would entail.
"Please, sit down," he said indicating a chair, which Filia took.
The new elder seemed… smaller than the previous elder. He was shorter, scrawnier, and had the sweaty look of overworked and underpaid pencil-pushers everywhere. He was balding and had a few sad, lonely chin hairs in the place of a beard. In short, he seemed non-threatening and easy to push around. Not exactly the ideal choice for policing an entire quadrant against destruction.
"Thank you for coming," he said. "I know it can't be easy for you to be back here, but I assure you, what I have to ask is important."
He did have one point in his favor: he spoke like an orator. Filia could believe, with relief, that some intelligence and charisma lurked behind that sweaty forehead.
"It's no trouble," Filia said dutifully, looking at her hands in her lap. "What uh… what was it that you wanted to ask?"
The Supreme Elder looked down at the paper in front of him and thumbed the corner thoughtfully. "These are interesting times we're living in, Filia. The fall of the Hellmaster is still sending its ripple across the monster race. We ourselves have suffered losses that I know you are no stranger to. After an initial rocky start, the human kingdoms from within and without the barrier have made the first steps toward political ties. There have been shake-ups all around, and things are changing."
"And despite what some say, we must change as well," the old man said, frowning at the paper in front of him as though it troubled him.
"I apologize, I didn't mean to dally there," the Supreme Elder said. "The main point is that within the barrier countries every year a… summit is held where representatives from all the kingdoms, dukedoms, states, fiefdoms, and miscellaneous special groups are gathered for the purposes of strengthening political ties. Matters of policy and trade are discussed and negotiated, and efforts are made to maintain peace between the lands."
"This year," the Supreme Elder went on. "Will be the first year that the organizers have decided to invite representatives from what they refer to as the 'Outer World', our world, as well as their own. Several previously unrepresented groups are finally being recognized this year for participation on the world stage. It's meant to be the first real World Council, and we dragons have decided to send a delegation in attendance for the first time in history. I would like you to lead that delegation."
Filia couldn't help but be surprised. It seemed like the old dragon had thought this through quite clearly, but it just didn't make sense to her. "With all due respect, sir," she said. "Why me? I'm not a priestess of the Fire Dragon King anymore, and I'm not important enough for this kind of mission. Anyway, why would the dragon race want to involve themselves in human government?"
The Supreme Elder drummed his fingers on the table. "I mentioned that both our race and the monsters have suffered substantial losses lately, yet, look at the humans. They thrive. Too often our race has discounted the humans, but those like your companion Lina Inverse have accomplished things bigger than we have ever imagined."
"Well, Miss Lina and her friends are rather special cases," Filia said somewhat fondly.
"So I gather," The Supreme Elder said with a twitch of his lips that might have been a smile. "My point is that often when I think of the future, I wonder if there may come a time when there are no dragons, nor monsters, but only humans. Perhaps that day will never come, and for our own sakes I hope it doesn't. But the humans have certainly come into their own over the years. They may often do wrong and make foolish mistakes, but nevertheless I have high hopes for them. I think it is time that the dragon race recognized their potential and increased our connections with them."
"Filia, you have had frequent contact with humans. Therefore you should be a good fit to socialize with them in a manner that will not make them uncomfortable."
"So," Filia said, trying to come to grips with what a role as diplomat required, but not at all willing to agree to the task right away. "It would mostly be shaking hands and saying 'hello'? Just letting them know that we're friendly?"
The Supreme Elder coughed. "Not entirely, no. I actually have plans to open up trade relations with the humans."
Filia gasped because that was an extremely gasp-worthy statement. "But the former Supreme Elder was always against that!"
"I know," The new Supreme Elder said with just an edge of harshness in his voice. "We have hoarded our technology jealously over the years, afraid that the humans would use it to evil intentions. As a result, those in our world distrust us as they struggle to invent in our shadow, and those within the barrier were forced to rely heavily on magic in the place of mechanisms. But these two worlds will soon collide and an interest in non-magical ways of doing things will surely spread to the countries that once lay within the barrier."
"If we were to part with a few of our secrets to deserving individuals, then we could encourage this trend. There is always the possibility that the technology we impart could be misused, but I do not believe that the progress of the human race should be held back any longer. If they change their focus, they might even lose their dependence on magic; which would be very bad news for those creatures who acquire strength by trading favors with humans for black magical power."
It was true. If humans stopped pledging themselves to darkness every other minute for the benefit of exploding things, it could be a blow to the monster race. But Filia was still uncomfortable with this notion. Some humans are good and some humans are bad, but all humans tend to get carried away with new ideas and make mistakes.
The Supreme Elder coughed again, which seemed to be his signaling device that he was about to drop a verbal bomb. "That actually brings us to the most important point: the monster race is sending a delegate to the conference as well."
"What?!" Filia said, sitting upright suddenly, her shout ringing through the large room. "What are they doing that for?"
"We don't know," the Supreme Elder said seriously. "It's likely they are going to spy on the proceedings at least, and also attempt to manipulate the human governments. This is what we can extrapolate from past behavior, but we're not really sure. All we do know is that if they have a presence at the conference, we must be there to do our part in counteracting it."
"Anyway," the Supreme Elder said, sitting back in his chair. "This actually presents us with a unique opportunity. Both our race and their race are in somewhat weakened states at this point and, as such, are willing to…" He made ready to drop the word delicately: "negotiate."
"Negotiate?!" Filia nearly exploded. "But dragons don't negotiate with monsters! We never have!"
"Things have changed," the Supreme Elder said, impassive in the face of Filia's distress. "We need to learn to be pragmatic or we will not survive. Obviously, we and the monsters will always and ever be enemies; but we are more willing to pick our battles now. Especially," he said, his face suddenly darkening with worry, "with the appearance of the Daius Seed."
"The Daius Seed?" Filia repeated questioningly, still shaken from the world being turned upside down.
"You haven't heard about it?" The elder questioned. He sighed deeply. "The Daius Seed is a powerful distortion spark that was created in the reality slip that occurred when Darkstar entered this world. Its terrible energy has the potential to theoretically destroy the chain of causality in this world."
"Obviously we want the device locked away in order to protect the peace of this world," the Elder said.
Filia frowned. Protect the peace of this world. That was the old Supreme Elder's phrase. Nothing seemed wrong with the sentiment until you saw what he had done in order to achieve it.
"As such exists," the Elder finished with some irony.
Filia's frown disappeared. This dragon was… different from the old management. Who could say? Perhaps his strategies would work. The world was… changing.
"And the monster race wants to use the Daius Seed?" Filia asked.
The Supreme Elder shook his head. "No. The device does not destroy the world; it merely destroys the chain of cause and effect. You could even go so far as to say that the device creates randomized existence. And they are so very against existence," he mumbled the ending comment – the ironic almost-smile returning to his face.
"Since both our races would like to see the Daius Seed shut away, it only makes sense to work together on this, and perhaps even work out a few territorial issues while we're on the subject."
"I suppose that makes sense," Filia said somewhat reluctantly. She still wasn't on board with the idea of dragons and monsters negotiating.
"There's… something else as well." The Supreme Elder coughed ominously. "The representative that the monster race is sending is… Xellos."
"What?!" Filia shouted for the second time during the course of that meeting, standing up suddenly enough to send her chair toppling to the floor.
"Yes," the Supreme Elder said, apparently having been prepared enough for her reaction not to even flinch when the chair hit the floor. "That's actually the main reason we're sending you."
That one hit Filia for a loop. "Why? Why me?" she asked in distress. That should be the reason not to send her!
"Well," the Elder said impassively. "You've had prolonged contact with him; you did travel with him for an extended period of time during the events leading up to the Darkstar incident. And, in order to defeat the dreaded Darkstar, you even joined forces with him: a move practically unprecedented in history."
"But that's not even—" Filia began before her words ran out. It was all technically true, but it didn't change the fact that having any more 'prolonged contact' or whatever with Xellos was a nightmare beyond imagining. Actually it was worse. It was a very easy to imagine nightmare.
He was just so… mean! Not surprising for monsters, of course, but even just thinking about that arrogant, insensitive, rude, and… and… downright twerpy monster was making her blood boil. What was worse, the Supreme Elder was responding to her obvious distaste for the task with a serene expression. It was as though he believed that it was a sure thing that she'd agree to this venture and not just a possibility.
"No," she said firmly in an attempt to quash this presumption. "I'm sorry, but I just can't go."
The Supreme Elder blinked. "Why?" he said. It was almost more of a statement than a question.
Filia nearly imploded. There were a lot of reasons! Too many reasons to go into. But the one that jumped out of her throat was the not so practical and utterly childish: "Because I can't stand him!"
The Supreme Elder raised a sparse eyebrow. "He's a monster, Filia. I would be concerned if you felt otherwise," he said. "But you must understand that this summit is more important than the feelings of any one individual. You are the ideal candidate for this task, Filia. Therefore you must go. It is your duty, not just to our people, but to all the people of this world."
Filia could feel him twisting the knife of guilt into her gut and knew she wouldn't wriggle out of this by arguing through emotion. She had to show him what a bad idea this was. She seized on logic to get her out of the corner.
"But I'm not the ideal candidate!" she insisted. "Even as far as dragons go, he doesn't like me." She remembered the time back at Alto and Baritone when it had been suggested that she and Xellos fuse magic to take on the Darkstar weapons. He'd said that even if he was going to do something like that with a dragon, it wouldn't be a 'selfish' one like her. Well, the feeling was more than mutual! Some hatred just goes beyond species. No… this wasn't speciesism: this was personal.
"He doesn't even give me the kind of grudging respect you'd give to an enemy," she went on, gripping her skirts angrily. "He's never taken me seriously. All he does is make fun of me!" She resisted the urge to kick the chair on the floor like a petulant child. Such behavior was just not fitting in the presence of the Supreme Elder… but he just made her so mad! (Xellos, not the Supreme Elder)
"Even if I did agree to talk with him, he'd probably just shoot down any proposal out of sheer spite. Just because it's me," she explained bitterly.
The Supreme Elder laced his fingers together nonchalantly and said, "Oh, I very much doubt that." He leaned forward. "Have you seen him since the Darkstar incident?"
Filia was caught off-guard by this seemingly innocent out-of-the-blue question. "Well, yes," she admitted, her rage quieting as she wondered about the dragon elder's information network. "He did come by my shop once."
"What did he do?" the Supreme Elder asked, idly playing with a pen on his desk.
"He…," Filia bit her lip. "He broke a vase," she finally said. This was technically true. He broke it with his face when she threw it at him. No need to tell the elder that, though.
"But he wasn't hostile?" the Supreme Elder asked seriously, ceasing toying with the pen. "He didn't try to hurt you?"
"…No," Filia was forced to admit. He'd been a jerk of course, but she didn't think she could parlay hurt feelings into being equivocal to actual violence.
"Hmm," the Supreme Elder said. There was a long silence in which he appeared to be thinking quite hard. Just when Filia was considering making some sort of coughing noise to remind him that she was still there, he stood up and strode over to the window, looking out at the busy flow of dragons both in their true and human forms hard at work.
He took a deep breath. "Filia, I understand that what I'm asking of you is difficult. I don't believe that any of us would relish such a job. But," he turned away from the window and looked directly at her, "it is absolutely necessary that this summit be a success to further the cause of peace. No, more than peace… to keep things going… to make the world work. That is the greater good that this summit can bring about."
"It is essential that we choose the right person to deal with this situation," he said seriously. "I know that to you, Xellos is… a nuisance. But if you have any familiarity with his history you know that a nuisance is better than wholesale carnage any day. I stand by my original statement: you are the best person for this job. At least you have some kind of past rapport with him to draw from."
Filia felt the sincerity behind the elder's words, but couldn't help but doubt. In order to get something that he wanted, Xellos had once said that he'd gladly kill her. That sounded like a little more than a nuisance to her.
The elder walked toward her and gave a short bow of supplication, unheard of at his rank. "Please," he said. "I know you have your doubts, but I ask you to trust me. I have not made this decision lightly. I have thought long and hard about it, and this is the conclusion that I've come to. Won't you help us?"
Filia was extremely shaken by the bow. Maybe he was right, but… "I," she began uncertainly. "I can't just pack up and leave. I have… responsibilities." She couldn't tell him she had to stay with Val. Who knew what the golden dragons would do if they found out he was alive and vulnerable?
The elder nodded. "I know about your… responsibilities," he said. He held up a reassuring hand as her eyes widened in horror. "I assure you, I have no intention of causing harm to him. But… your race sorely needs you now. Could you not make arrangements for one of your employees to take care of your… responsibilities while you're away?"
Relief suffused Filia's features. He knew about Val. He knew about Val and he wasn't going to hurt him.
This elder made peace without blood actually seem like a possibility. The world might really turn a corner after all. And this summit was the place it would all start. Races working together, despite their differences, for the greater good… it was a beautiful idea.
How could she turn her back on all that when they were counting on her?
She swallowed, feeling as though she was about to jump into a chasm. "Alright," she croaked.
"You'll do it?" the Supreme elder asked, his face radiating pure hope.
She'd do it, damn it; for hope and grace and the future.
…Even if it did mean she'd have to talk to that stupid Xellos along the way.