Comedia: the Call
By Althea SaDiablo
Disclaimer: I don't own Slayers, nor did I create it. I merely obsess over it. That's all.
Inspirations, as of yet: Slayers, of course. Kingdom of the Grail, by Judith Tarr. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia A. McKillip. No storyteller works in a vacuum, after all. Those are two beautiful books, incidentally. I highly recommend that you read them. And if you're reading this, you've probably seen Slayers before, so I'm not going to worry about recommending that.
Author's Note: Despite the title, I'm afraid this thing contains no humor whatsoever- or at least, very little. I'm best at writing dark, angsty, pritty things. Maybe someday I'll try my hand at humor, but probably not for a while. The reasoning behind the title, well . . . it's a comedy in the sense of Dante. Meaning that I start the whole thing off by destroying Xellos utterly, and so it gets happier from there. Kinda sorta. We'll see how this works out.
It started late one night, as she sat down with the books to figure expenses. The slightest brush on her thoughts, the briefest intrusion, the whisper of her name in the deepest parts of her mind.
She jumped, and it was gone. Blinking, she searched through her mind, trying to find the source of the strangeness, the reason behind it, but she found nothing. Just her imagination?
She believed that until it came again.
Val noticed that something was wrong, of course, but the boy was abnormally perceptive. She held him late into the night, and he was quiet and let her, even though he didn't know what was going on. What could she tell him? That someone was reaching into her mind, into the most private parts of her being, and calling her to them?
She sat after he was in bed, trying to find the source of it, trying to isolate the call so that she could guard against it. But every time she reached for it, it would disappear, sliding from her mind like an insubstantial fog.
It came again as the fire was burning low, sending most of the room into deep shadow. It flickered off the face of the dragon, across empty blue eyes, and gave a red tinge to normally golden hair. The house was silent beyond the muted crackle of it, like a dead thing.
The fire masked the slight sound of displaced air and magic, but his booted feet were cat-silent in the stillness. The dim radiance of the fire lost itself in the folds of a dark cloak, in planes of his face, in the dark, orderly strands of hair that shone purple and black in the uncertain light.
She didn't react when he came to stand in front of her, her eyes staring unblinking into nothing. Nor did she react when he waved a hand before her face, or snapped gloved fingers no more than an inch from her nose. He reached out slowly and put a hand on her shoulder- then she started, jumped, came back to herself with a staggering abruptness.
"Xellos? Why are you-" the anger in her voice was habitual, and quickly gave way to convulsive shivers as she wrapped her arms around herself, her fear conquering all other urges.
"How very strange," his quiet voice seemed almost a natural part of the silence. "Are dragons often called like that?"
"Never." Her voice shook. "Never." She conquered herself enough to look up at him, into open, disconcerting purple eyes. "You're a demon. Have you ever been summoned?"
"Have I ever been summoned?" he seemed on the brink of making a joke, but then his face grew serious. "Not for a very, very long time."
"You've been summoned before . . ." The information brought on the briefest flaring of hope. "Then can you help me?"
"Tell me how to fight this. Please, you have to tell me . . ." she was desperate, more so than she had ever been before.
He considered it, in that almost-comical way he had, then met her eyes. "There are ways, of course. To track down the call, to follow it back to its source and destroy the mind of the caller from the inside, through the same means that they use to latch onto you. To overwhelm their will with your own, and thus break them. But it can only be done if you are stronger than they are, and able to isolate the call in the first place."
And she was not strong enough, she knew, as she looked into the glowing coals without seeing them. "What's it like?" she asked softly. "To be summoned?"
"It doesn't hurt."
She looked at him, sick at heart, with a smile that was one of pain, and one he well knew. He didn't look away.
"I suppose . . . I would call it a violation of the worst kind. Stripped of your will, controlled by that of another . . ."
"Isn't that true for you already?" she asked, almost bitterly.
"No." He shook his head. "I'm a servant, not a puppet. A summoning is different. A summoning pulls your self from you, and puts you entirely in the hands of another. You do not exist, except as an extension of that power. It was . . . the most awful thing that has ever happened to me. I made sure that it would not happen again, afterwards, but . . ."
She laughed, once, but it was weak and held little in the way of humor. "You can't help me?" She brushed, with caution, the link that existed between them unacknowledged, forged in desperation, and strong- for all that the two of them tried their best to ignore it. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his grip on his staff tighten.
"No," he said, finally. "If you are being called, then there is nothing I can do." He stood, and she watched him, numbly, as he walked towards the door. He hesitated there a moment, then reached out and leaned his staff against the wall behind it.
She didn't look at him as he walked back, or as he took a seat beside her on the bench, his back to the fire. She didn't look at him as he slid his arms around her waist.
She let her head drop onto his shoulder as the call came again, and the tears began to flow.
Filia lay awake as the call came again, as it whispered through the deep places in her mind. Paralyzed, she lay as the will behind it reached the very bottom of her being, as it fathomed the secrets she hadn't even known about, as it sorted through memories and thoughts that had never even touched her conscious mind. And then there was nothing else left except the call, nothing of herself that had not been consumed by it.
She rose, through no will of her own, and walked from the room. The hallway looked unfamiliar, the normal shadows gone strange and alien. She made her way down the stairs, into the common room, towards the door . . .
Someone stood there, still in the darkness. A shadowed figure who filled her with dread, and yet she felt nothing at all. He stood half in and half out of the shadows cast by the moonlight, as if he were their natural extension, barring the door with his presence. The silvered light caught in one open, soulless eye. Without thought she teleported, far beyond, and felt him follow her. Again, again- he didn't attempt to stop her, merely stayed with her, and eventually she began to walk, knowing where she was going without having knowledge of it. He was following, she knew, a silent presence a mere step behind her.
She didn't know how long she walked, nor was she conscious of walking or her surroundings. They entered a cave, eventually, and moved down a natural tunnel. There was no light, but her step never faltered- she heard no sound from the one who followed her, either. The passage opened suddenly on a cave, and she could and could not feel its size with the echoing of her own breath in the darkness.
And suddenly everything was blinding brilliance, and she knew her eyes hurt but couldn't close them, and she couldn't look at the glowing diagrams that spread across the smooth floor of the cavern, and she couldn't scan the ranks of people who stood along the walls.
"Well, well," she knew his voice, and did not. "You put an awful lot of trouble into constructing this particular trap, didn't you?"
"Yes." With that one word, Filia came back to herself, and staggered backwards into ready arms that supported her for a moment, then set her back on her feet. The dragon who had spoken didn't even look at her. "A great deal of trouble."
"I'm waiting," the demon said, and the amassed strength of the dragons sprang- not for him, but for Filia. She screamed as pure, raw mental power streamed through her unprotected being, and then across the new-forged and unexplored bridge to stab into the mind of the demon. They used his innate empathic sense as their door, and stormed past his mental barriers, into the consciousness beyond.
Thought came first, and scattered before them. Random as fish, darting everywhere only to suddenly flash and join in complex, unknowable patterns. Filia could see the beauty in it, almost, as they rushed through, dragging her along- a chaotic, unstructured genius capable of insane mental leaps and the most delicate manipulation.
She saw him jerk where he had fallen with her body's eyes even as she felt the conglomerate of draconic purpose blaze through the surface of his thoughts and dig deeper.
Emotion followed like a storm, violent and buffeting. Gusts of anger/fear, hatred/despair, surprise/shock, pain/betrayal (she winced), somehow always touched with . . . amusement? The only constant, and a natural part of the insanity surrounding it. A single strand that managed touched every other feeling, lending humanity to emotions that felt almost like a human's, and yet were not.
It was less than nothing to them. They rooted it all out, and kept going.
They went through centuries of memory in a mere moment, ignoring the flashes of darkness and light, mental records of civilizations that had long since fallen and crumbled into dust. Heedlessly smashed memories of people long-dead, of events long-forgotten, a chronicle of a thousand thousand stories that had never been told.
Below it all lay the most primal wiring, but that was like nothing she'd ever seen before. The normally straightforward lines of basic instinct and action were an impossible tangle, and the pain and pleasure centers were switched- no, entirely intertwined- no, they were the same thing- she couldn't tell what, or make the least sense of the contorted, grotesque structures that were the most elementary of any mind. There was no order to it, no sensible links between stimulus and response, only a bizarre union that transcended rationality with a feral sort of joy at the shear insanity of it all.
But that was not what they wanted, either. They tore through the whole of it, carelessly, and brought her along, as both tool and vehicle.
Finally, below it all, was the center of existence, a single, glittering, shifting mass of purpose, the root of everything else. Only here was there a sense of reason, a meaning, and end and a beginning. A single directive that ran below everything else, that governed the entirety of his existence. She knew what it was immediately, even as she recoiled from the intense cloak of darkness and mystery, the unknowable depths of-
He had been silent as they tore apart his mind, but now he screamed- she heard him scream, and heard herself scream- as they reached his darkness, his essence, his link to his master and creator- and lit it on fire.