By Althea SaDiablo
Author's Note: This chapter was going to be about twice the length it is now, but I wanted to get it up before I went to Pennsic, so I decided to make it into two chapters. To clear up a few continuity issues: at some point after TRY, Filia and Xellos and fetal Valgaav (my name for Val-as-an-egg) and Gravos and Jillas all ended up being transported into the future- I never could resist the urge to fool around with time. I'm not entirely sure of everything that happened yet, though I've a couple of vague ideas running around my head. Fifty years passed for them, enough time for Val to hatch, Gravos and Jillas to die (or just depart, or whatever. Natural causes or non, I haven't quite figured that out yet. In any case, they're quite gone), and Filia and Xellos to become closer- I wouldn't go so far as to call them friends, but at least they made it to not-enemies. They had adventures, some of which had far-reaching results on them, and on various events throughout time, and then they came back to the present. To Lina and the others, it's been a few years. And I promise that I didn't split anyone up. So don't worry. g You'll see what I mean. Thanks goes to Majo-chan for being good enough to edit this and give me comments- go read her fics, they're awesome. Maybe if you help me pester her she'll write more. Let's give it a try, huh? ;-)
Filia was elbows-deep in a sink full of dirty dishes when a small, localized and highly destructive tornado broke down the door to her kitchen.
Or, to be more precise, it was knocked off its hinges by the irresistible energy of one small, redheaded sorceress with no patience for little things like the fact that the pottery and weapons shop was closed every seventh day, and no respect for wooden barriers meant to maintain personal privacy.
"Filia! I haven't seen you in forEVER! What have you been doing?"
The statement was a little closer to truth than Lina knew, but only by about fifty years or so.
Filia wasn't really thinking about that, though, as she rushed to hug the woman she still considered the best friend she'd ever had, shattering a plate and trailing soapsuds all over her nice, clean kitchen floor in the process. But she found that she didn't much care, as suddenly she realized how much she'd missed-
down-to-earth nature and volatile temper, with-
-the companion and conflicting compassionate nature that lurked just beneath the surface-
"Ow!" Filia couldn't help a reproachful look upwards from the floor where she'd landed after a painfully sharp elbow to the stomach.
"I needed to breathe, Filia," Lina said irritably, but was smiling the next moment. She'd grown, Filia noted, surprised as she updated old and cherished memories. She'd added some trim to her outfit, and magical runes lined the inside of her cloak. She'd gotten a new pair of boots somewhere, but she was the same Lina, dusty from the road, her long hair tangled by the wind, with the same warm red eyes that barely contained the fire of her spirit, that irresistible personality that charmed friends and enemies alike. Perhaps there was more maturity there in that worldly gaze than Filia remembered, perhaps her strength was just a little less overwhelming and more tempered, perhaps the battered sheath of her blade was a little more worn.
Her smile faltered, and she leaned over Filia and helped her to her feet, suddenly solicitous. "Gods, Filia, you look like hell! What have you been doing to yourself?"
Filia allowed herself to be guided to one of her kitchen chairs, but her voice caught when she tried to speak. "Lina, I . . . I . . ." she didn't know where to begin, what she could start with. The events that had led to fifty years beyond the reach of time, Val's hatching and growth, the past month living with-
-the clatter of wood on wood made them both jump and spin towards the doorway. Xellos stood half indoors and half out, his armful of fuel scattered on the floor at his feet. He had woodchips caught on his brown pants, and dirt smudged the simple linen shirt that hung loosely from his shoulders. His bangs tangled and hung ragged in his face, but they did not quite disguise the eerily blank eyes that had once hidden so much, and promised nothing at all. He was staring at Lina, but his _expression was one of mild surprise, not recognition.
Filia rushed to pick up the wood he had dropped, offering reassurances as he, too, knelt to help her, and they piled the wood back in his arms.
Filia turned from the floor to see Lina sheath the weapon she had drawn out of reflex when the noise had startled her. The sorceress' face contained no surprise, only that set and determined grimness with which she had faced both mazoku generals and her own death. Filia felt her eyes drop from that unflinching red stare to look at her own slim hands as they clutched at a piece of wood until Xellos silently took it from her.
"I think," Lina said, her voice grim, "that this is going to be a long story."
Filia finally sat back in her chair, her throat raw from talking, and fiddled with her untouched cup of tea. Val had long since come and gone, happy at the strange visitor who had examined him with an equal curiosity, but bored with the grown-up talk around the table. He had eventually left to entertain himself in an offended pout, since Filia had forbidden him to drag off Xellos for a playmate, and the newcomer was obviously more interested in the boring conversation than in having a good time. He had been all the more disappointed because he had recognized a kindred spark of mischief in his mamma's new friend, but had been unable to drag her from the table.
"Have you checked?"
Lina's question startled Filia into looking up. "What?"
The sorceress impatiently shoved her own cup aside, empty. "I mean, have you checked? Looked into his mind, set a trace on him- there's got to be something there. Some scrap of power, some glimmer of thought in that head of his."
Filia looked over at where Xellos sat at the table on her left, watching both women without so much as a sound or movement. She would have been impressed with his patience, if she had been able to recognize it as patience instead of just a blank, mindless waiting. "There's nothing. Nothing at all. He can do simple tasks, things I've taught him how to do. He plays with Val, but that's mostly just Val telling him what to do, or showing him . . . He can understand spoken orders, if they're simple and combined with demonstration. He responds to his name, now, but I don't think he knows what it means . . . Sometimes I think there's something else, sometimes I think I see an awareness, a flash of personality, a sense of humor . . . Sometimes when he's sitting there, just watching me when I'm not looking, I feel as if he's aware, and I turn around . . . But- there's nothing. Always, it's just my imagination, and there's nothing behind his eyes at all." She hated the way her voice sounded, tired and hopeless.
"But have you checked inside?"
"Yes!" The word tore its way out of the dragon's throat, and it astonished her to silence because it sounded more like a cry of pain than an answer. She met Lina's compassionate gaze with one of hopeless desolation. "I looked. Even when I knew he was gone, I kept looking, kept groping my way through emptiness. They destroyed him! If they had missed any part of him, I would have known, I might even have been able to bring him back- if there was anything left inside him I would know!" Her voice was rising, and she knew it; she lowered it with an effort. "They only managed to destroy him because they destroyed him through me, and I knew him." She laughed, short and bitter. "I was afraid, too afraid to face him with it- but I knew him."
"I want to look."
Filia was shocked into meeting Lina's eyes. "What?"
"I said I want to look." The redhead had a set, determined look on her face. "Right now. Show me how the dragons got into him, and show me what's there now." Her tone said that Filia's agreement was already expected, and that a negative response was not permitted. Filia swallowed, and nodded as Lina removed her gloves and brushed aside Xellos' bangs to rest her fingers against his forehead, then reached for Filia's-
The sudden rush of power into her mind made Filia gasp, but Lina's will easily held the maelstrom of force in check. It's all right, Lina thought, and it was. Show me.
Filia opened the way through her mental barriers to the bridge that had once linked her being to that of a demon, and swayed as Lina jumped to examine it.
Stop that, Lina sounded annoyed, and a part of Filia quailed that someone with that much raw magical power was angry at her. For Ceipheed's sake, it's just me. Pull yourself together.
The dragon did as she was told. This was Lina, after all, and just because she'd never quite been faced with the exact extent of the small sorceress' power on such a personal level didn't change anything. Lina was Lina, a package entire- temper, irresistible charm, violence, compassion, small-
-stature that belayed an overwhelming and caring personality within. Her friend.
Enough already! Filia felt the jolt of warmth from the sorceress, followed by the quick leap of curiosity as she examined the bridge. This is amazing. How did this get here, anyway?
No, wait! Nevermind! I don't want to know! Lina cut off the sudden flow of Filia's memories. Waaay too much information. Tell me sometime when I'm not in your head, or I'm going to have an overload headache when I get out of this. I'll probably have one when you tell me, anyway . . .
Then she turned her attention to the emptiness at the end of the bridge, where Xellos' mind ought to have been. You're right, there's nothing here. Nothing at all- not a memory, not even a glimmer of residual power to show who created the physical shell . . . Lina paused. But that's not right. A monster's body fades when it dies- even Shabrinigdo crumbled to dust, and that dust to nothing . . . As if it had never been. They don't leave anything behind, just an energy signature on the astral plane that lingers after they're gone.
They had not killed him, not the way one killed monsters, Filia recalled. They had gone through him, all of him, through all the patterns and structures and energies that had made Xellos, and they had gone down to the very root of him and burned it away.
That doesn't make sense. Filia could feel Lina batting the thought around, trying to make sense of it, referencing her store of arcane knowledge. There's no reason that- suddenly her mind lit on something, and her surprise blew through Filia's mind like a wind. Filia. Why are there pieces of you in here?
That couldn't be right. She had to be mistaken.
No, I'm not. The bridge that once connected you ends, but- where Xellos ought to be- it's not entirely empty. Don't you feel this? Filia felt herself shiver as Lina's mental touch brushed against something. An image came to mind-
~~cold stone floor under her feet it was winter she knew as she watched the first snowflake drift from the night sky one two three more beautiful it was going to be mounds of feathers and coldness and play in the snow if she was good if no one caught her out of bed awake watching the snow with a cold stone floor under her feet it was winter she knew~~
That ought to be firmly lodged in you, in your mind and being, linked to your body. It's your memory, after all. But it's not. It's over here. There's other parts of you, too. Not just memories, either.
But that was ridiculous. Impossible. How could essential bits of her be in a totally different body?
"That's what I'd like to know," Lina said, as she pulled herself out of Filia's mind.