The Autumn of the Year
A Slayers One-Shot
By AmberPalette (Amber C.S.)
((Disclaimer: Xelloss, Filia, Rezo, Zelgadiss, Amelia, and all other characters of the Slayers franchise are © Hajime Kanzaka, Rui Araizumi, Software Sculptors, J.C. Staff, and Funimation. I haven't written a fanfiction for these two in over two years. My free time is now far more limited, and multiple-chaptered fanfictions are difficult for me to find the time to complete. So I hope this simple one-shot will suffice to re-establish my fandom devotion to a beloved old OTP. Timeframe is just before the finale of Slayers Evolution-R, and just after. Enjoy the psychological portraits. Pairings are ZA and XF. ))
Her hand was cold and moist; perhaps it was because of the damp air in Taforashia Palace's herbal closet, or perhaps it was because of the miserly time under which they healed a thousand human beings whom he had subjected to his reckless selfishness, or perhaps it was because she stood near the person who had broken the boy they both adored. Hearing her high, melodic trill, he had expected warm firm flesh, and this was more like touching a clammy peach. But even Rezo the Red Priest was not omniscient.
"Please," he breathed. His voice, a deep and sonorous baritone, capable both of thunderous curses and gentle lullabies, a burdened voice, weary with so much walking, knowing, and loss—quaked. "Please, princess. Heed my request. He will be back soon."
Gaping ultramarine eyes, framed by coaly waves of hair, stared at the lean and pale face, the face like a fragile antique, the face so often serene, that now was so twisted with private anguish. The specter of the soul that truly inhabited Posel's prepubescent body wavered over it in a smoldering red light with the urgency of his plea.
Amelia wil Tesla Seyruun realized she had become the confidante of a great sage.
"But I don't understand what you mean, Mr. Rezo," she bleated.
"I said, I want you to take care of him. You have inherited that purpose. My own actions have forfeit me that role and you must take it on."
"But why ME?"
"Your highness, surely you know one need not have eyes to sense…"
In the pregnant silence that ensued, Amelia's creamy cheeks darkened to a flustered carnation pink. Her throat was too dry to interject, before Rezo, in his measured manner, finished, "…deep, lasting personal attachments."
"I have tried for YEARS," the princess found the strength to retort. She winced at her own shrillness.
"You will succeed. Your soul burns like a torch in darkness. You are what he needs. Zelgadiss wraps himself around bright-burning comets, bears them up so they don't extinguish and fall. He needs someone to protect, and someone to gaze up towards. Sometimes he is burned in his insistence to expose himself to so many hazards, to preserve the dreams and ideals of others…yes, he is…burned by weak people like me, who are so prone to soaring and crashing….but your light is gentler than mine became. He needs you."
"How do you know?"
"Simple. I raised him. I changed his diapers, I changed his wet beds, I cleaned up his vomit, I healed his scraped knees, I nourished his mind, I lived and quarreled and ate with and prayed for him, I memorized the way his face feels and the nuances of his voice and emotions and little mental quirks, I memorized him, and I have never…" Rezo's lip trembled as he turned sharply away. "…NEVER stopped loving him. Had my soul been unviolated by the darkest being in this world…I could have gone blind forever as long as he was at my side. He is still my world."
Amelia thought on her mother's closed-casket funeral, because the body had been too ravaged by the assassin. She thought on the little jewelry box she kept on her bedside table filled with ivory hairclips that her older sister had given her, her older sister who ran away with blood on her hands, who was missing to this day. She thought on the tragedy of families fissured by things beyond their power. She spoke tentatively, her heart swelling with a desperate ache. "…We ARE alike that way. But…"
"Miss Amelia, are you really so adamant in objecting?"
"Never…! Never. I love him too. I mean…that is how you and I are alike. But I want to know how you are so sure of this."
"…My boy…is a hedgehog."
Amelia blinked, her plump curves straightening. She slapped her hands on her hips and assumed a contrappasto stance, lip jutting. Indignation formed in fists at her sides. "Mr. Rezo, I know you are given to colorful metaphors about fish gods, but that is NOT funny—"
"No, no. Do bear with me. It will make sense if you pay attention. Zelgadiss is a hedgehog. All bristle on the surface, all softness once you have bypassed his quills. You have tried and tried, and you shall have to try some more. He was born a cautious and quiet soul, and I have only worsened his natural proclivities. But you are the one who can burrow your fingers down into that softness and reach his bruised spirit. Please. I am BEGGING you. Take care of the thing most precious to me. I relinquish him willingly into your care."
Rezo raised Posel's hands high. They grasped the herb closet's shelves. "I used to love teaching him about all these, and he lapped it all up so eagerly, and then we'd go into the kitchen well after midnight every Sunday, when we were too tired of research to think anymore, and we made meatloaf, we mashed it with our bare hands and laughed, Zelgadiss and I…but."
The red specter above Posel's small body smiled so sadly. "It is my autumn with him, and it is your spring. Take him before every red rusting leaf has fallen and died."
Amelia squinted closely at the ghostly face hidden in the shadows, the forehead pressed against a shelf full of glass vials in surrender and despair. She saw a small bead of moisture trickling down one pallid cheek.
And then another.
And a third. Large guilty tears.
Her shock had nothing to do with Rezo weeping. Over the years Amelia had become far more adept at judging the goodness and wickedness of a fellow human being along a continuum of infinite shades. Rezo's contrition was not surprising, even given the knowledge of how far he had plummeted from his saintly origins. It was just that…there had been murmuring with Lina over beer-battered fish and chips, earlier that afternoon, about the old legend's continued blindness, and whether or not Shabranigdo had checked out of his lodgings in Rezo's soul, and….
How on earth did sealed-shut eyes weep? They could not. So since they weren't sealed shut, why didn't he just….?
But Rezo pressed his plea, interrupting her budding discovery. "And if the opportunity arises that you may speak to Zelgadiss about me, and exorcise him of the hurt I caused…please do that too."
"It's tasteless to mix metaphors," came a new voice from the door. The cordiality and understated snideness…
Only one person wielded paradox so skillfully.
Another purple-haired priest with closed eyes.
Princess and sage turned toward the disconcerting sound of a sweet sneer.
There blocking the light, stood a man of average height and weight, with perfectly cherubic features and an elusive, lupine smile. Perhaps the strangest thing of all was how nothing on his face matched, and yet how those clashing forces harmonized so well. His smile was a predator's smile, and yet a dimple finished the upward curve on each side of his mouth.
"I'd like a moment alone with Mr. Greywers, Miss Amelia."
Goosebumps broke out along Amelia's sweaty skin. She knew objection would be fruitless. She turned to Rezo. She tried to grasp one of his immaterial glowing hands, but her own fingers passed through them—and so she took one of Posel's hands.
There at last was the firmness and warmth Rezo had expected.
"He will have spring again, Mr. Rezo," the princess pledged.
"Ah…" Rezo's moist face broke into a radiant smile. "I thank you. You'll be his cure."
Amelia's face was just as incandescent. "You're welcome. I will."
"That's good. It means he won't be me."
The intruder cleared his throat.
Amelia squeaked, bobbed her head, and hastened out.
A gravelike silence fell.
And then the man with the wolf's smile tapped his wooden staff on the floor and purred, "Do you know who I am?"
Rezo let out a soft scoff. "I have ideas."
"You and I both know you can open your eyes."
"…I don't dare, and I think you must know why."
"Well, chum, take a peek. I must confirm something. Or I will walk into the other room and maim your 'hedgehog.' No skin off my nose, you understand, although I do so abhor violence."
The Red Priest's face tightened. "You are a terribly pretentious little beast."
The man, who was clearly not a man at all, laughed a high, cold, airy laugh. It was cruel detachment made audible. "Look who's talking, Your Infinite Wiseness." The dagger-sharp blackness roiling around his astral body expanded. His presence nearly smothered Rezo.
"But you aren't much of an outright liar, are you?" The great sage cocked his head, struggling not to let the strain show.
"Never, Mr. Greywers."
"Do you? I thought so. Now show me."
Rezo's heart thundered as he pried his eyes open. They were the enormous brown eyes of a newborn deer. Something about their purity was truly tragic. He braced himself against a broken levee of more tears, just at the painful beauty of textures, colors, lights, and shadows.
He wished Zelgadiss were standing next to him still, so he could drink in his kinsman's face. Just once, before he died.
"Please do not make me do this for very long. I do not know how long I can control him inside me…"
"Just gauging your stamina." The newcomer perched on a vacant storage shelf. "You know I will try to stop you from doing what my superiors conjecture you will do. I acknowledge that you believe it would happen anyway. I realize that you hope getting it over with tonight will make it easier for Lina Inverse to thwart what still clutches on to your soul. Heh, very noble of you, Mr. Greywers, your foresight and repeated martyrdom are…to one of my kind, rather disgustingly altruistic."
Rezo's scowl was eerily like the one permanently affixed to Zelgadiss's stony face. "Thank you."
"Despite your good intentions, however, the risk is too great. Please understand, I must still stop you from unleashing a bastardized Shabranigdo on this world. And I shall."
"So you assume." The sage turned his back on his interrogator and occupied himself mixing dried herbs. He squeezed his eyes firmly shut.
"If you mean to spit on my polite warning, I will let you. But there will be no more warnings after this. Only interrogations, and…action."
That was enough to make Rezo turn around again, eyes flying back open. He cursed mentally, realizing now he had become the current favorite toy of his assailant.
The newcomer opened his own eyes simultaneously. They were so exquisite that Rezo couldn't help but feel privileged to be shown them. Like they were evidence of a god's most inspired creation.
There was something unnerving, beautiful, about them.
Then the boy smiled and his dimples dissolved the unguarded victim's suspicion.
And the arctic amethyst of those eyes suddenly seemed as natural, as desirable, as jeweled agates sticking out of an ugly rock. Something to grab at, to polish, to caress.
Rezo had the oddest notion that it would probably be too late once someone realized that the pupils of this boy's dazzling eyes were slit like a predator's—and that this was what his new companion truly was. A predator to the marrow, a handsome and efficient and very, very lethal thing, in no remote way human.
"Ah," he chuckled. "That's what I thought, from how you were talking…You're a demon, aren't you?"
The boy's cunning eyebrows lifted. "Not bad." He looked barely over twenty. But the smile that spread across his face like some constant, pensive decoration indicated a far older soul. "Rezo."
"You're the Lesser Beast, Priest-General Metallium."
The intruder's smile broadened. Those childlike dimples imprinted deeper in his olive face. Dimples on the face of a demon. "I am."
"Excellent. It's refreshing to shed pretense, Lesser Beast."
"Call me Xelloss," the mazoku flung back, precocious and alert.
"Oh? Ha. Accounts of your legendary charm are accurate, Xelloss."
"Well. As I said, Red Priest, I find persuasion a far more palatable technique than force."
Rezo took a single precisely aimed shot: "I am sure, Dragon Slayer."
A bodily jolt, as if the demon had scorched his hands on a stovetop. "Actually, that's not my favorite namesake." Mildest disdain caused the demon's small, straight nose to curl. It was as if the odor of waste had attacked his nostrils, but he was far too cordial to openly deride the human priest.
He opened one eye again; the violet hue of his iris was like a pretty poisonous bloom; "pluck me," it crooned.
Rezo knew better than to try and pluck anything from this person. "Then by all means, accept my apology. You are the monster that the Greater Beast infused with the power of two servants, yes? You are that very demon?"
"Why Mister Rezo, I come here to interview you and end up becoming he who is dissected." More vitriol in that smile? "But I accept your apology, of course." With the oily agility of an eel, the demon called Xelloss sauntered around Rezo, taking in every inch of every angle. "Care for some tea?"
"What do you want from me?"
"Oh, this and that. But I'm just what they call 'middle management,' so this interview could go on for…quite a while. You'll probably want a refreshment while you can get it." The demon gestured at a hollow space in the bleak and desolate closet. The only furnishing in that room was a table. A raiku-glazed black and white tea set appeared in the middle. The kettle was steaming.
Rezo forced himself not to laugh at the absurdity. "…Very well. Please."
Their voices crooned and purred and cooed, up and down a scale of sugary persuasion. The inflection, the word choice, all were so similar that it was like listening to a flawless musical harmony. The only discernable difference was the melancholy that always pervaded Rezo's tone.
That melancholy spread like a wide cool cloth, gray, quelling, over them both as he ventured, "You must despise dragons."
Impassively, Xelloss poured two cups of tea. "Not at all, good sir. I neither despise, nor love, anything."
Out of the rim of his eye, Rezo caught the formidable demon flinching sharply when uttering the word "love." The great taboo to the mazoku race. In his secretest heart, Rezo pitied the monsters and demons for having such a harness against spiritual growth. A pity that rendered him separate from the maoh sleeping in his vessel, and always would. Remembering that parasite, he closed his eyes again and for the last time in that interview. "Then…why the revulsion against the nickname? Your own actions earned it."
Xelloss spun delicately on his heel. He sat, cocked his head like a bird of prey, and then stood again. He billowed into the air effortlessly, swimming backward in it, the picture of playful nonchalance. "It's only that I did a sloppy job of it," he purred as he backstroked around Rezo's head.
"It was my first duty out of my mother's womb."
"Your mother being the Greater Beast."
"Correct, Red Priest. And it was the overly-zealous job of an infant mazoku. Infant not in body, for I came fully grown and fully equipped. But infant in psyche. I was undisciplined and it seemed that any means of destruction would do. That flock of golden dragons was my first firecracker on the New Year. It didn't matter what I blew up in its wake. No strategy, no skill of execution. Just raw, wasteful carnage."
"Ah. Is that remorse?"
The demon's eyes snapped closed, as if to cut off communication between them. "Hardly. It is only that it was embarrassing. The melodramatic shenanigans of a pup. And it's the thing for which I've garnered most infamy, that ridiculous showboating. Darn my luck, eh?" The mazoku's teacup shook slightly as he took a sip.
A sympathetic single line cut across Rezo's snowy brow. "Would you be offended if I told you I'm not convinced?"
"Demons don't have consciences. It is anathema to our very existence. To have one would rend one of us asunder."
"How do you know?"
"THAT'S a SECRET!" The gleeful gusto with which the demon chirped this phrase made Rezo feel even sorrier for him.
"Obviously you think saying that will cover the fact that you really have no idea, Mister Xelloss. Since you don't lie, and won't just say, 'Oh, I know!'"
"I beg your pardon?" Xelloss's head cocked the other way. Curiosity. And, involuntarily, an admission of ignorance.
"Demons have consciences if they want to. Angels have hatred if they want to. We humans, elves, dragons, all the mortal or semi-mortal races are even more mixed up than the rest, discovering new potentials and new failures by the day, even by the minute. There is no way of knowing you'll be destroyed for having a conscience unless you explore the possibility. Self-determinism, my friend."
"Oh, 'Green Eggs and Ham,' ne?" Xelloss laughed again. Now it was a high, cold, frantic noise, unforgiving and a little insane. The shimmering sound of the Sea of Chaos itself washing up to its dark shore. "Ah, and, Mister Rezo, we are not friends."
Rezo was unfazed. He knew madness, and he knew desperation. Even when concealed by a brilliant charlatan such as the demon before him. "I suppose you'll say now that you have none of those, either? No friends?"
The demon's lip twitched. "Afraid not. Though I keep my enemies and useful allies close enough."
Rezo did not hesitate to respond, shaking his head. "So much older than I, yet you really are as young as you look." Now it was his turn to laugh: deep, rich, gutteral, and melodious.
The smile-mask twitched again. Cracked. "A thousand and twelve years is 'young'…?"
"I believe you've forgotten that there is always something else to learn, Lesser Beast. I believe that one day you might find yourself in a peculiar situation indeed. That the universe self-corrects, and decides to reobtain the equilibrium that one of its creations has offset. Your violence will win you a golden dragon as a lover one day." Rezo steepled his fingers together.
He did not need to see the demon's face switch from derisive amusement to blank horror to know it had.
"Yes. It seems only fitting that the killer of half of an entire race would find himself hopelessly smitten with a member of that same race. Tied to her by the red threads of fate, for eternity. Yes. Yes…Find yourself a pretty golden dragon maiden, Xelloss Metallium. Cherish her. Find yourself, and her, healed."
Xelloss was speechless. A vaguely wary expression crossed his face, like he thought the Red Priest was dangerously helter-skelter and didn't dare make a sudden move—like, at the same time, he was so offended by Rezo's remark that he was stunned. Rezo had the distinct impression that this was not a common state for the precocious demon. He laughed again, gently, into the astonished silence.
"It's like alchemy, Xelloss," he explained in a still kinder tone, to his fellow priest. "The Law of Equivalent Exchange. Your hesitation to gloat over your act is merely proof that you are destined to restore balance where you have caused great anguish. We all of us are meant to maintain that balance. It is L-Sama's greatest secret desire, beyond ever Her loneliness, beyond even her desire to return all to Chaos."
Xelloss landed, with a gentle tap of his slender boots. Like an arctic breeze, he moved deeper into the darkness of their meeting place. "Even middle management has better things to do than discuss impossibilities," he crooned—and the syllables were laced with acid. "Like me in love with a sanctimonious yellow lizard. Like you ever getting back your eyesight, with or without the aid of Lord Shabranigdo. Good day, sir." And with an iridescent magenta flash, a violent crackling of molecules dissolving into a purely astral state, he disappeared.
Rezo sat at the tea table in solitude for a long moment, before gathering his cloaks and standing. "We shall see," he quipped at the darkness. "We shall see whether that is even what matters most anymore."
A handful of years later, a decade at most, Xelloss Metallium walks with Filia Ul Copt in late October and kisses her for the first time.
"Autumn…It's my favorite season," Xelloss comments.
Filia is taken utterly, and so, without thinking, she asks, "Why's that?"
His eyes are almost apologetic as the long lashes hood them. "Because it's when things die beautifully, Filia. It's full of relinquishment and melancholy. Delicious."
When the numbness becomes disgust, the dragoness contemplates slapping the demon across the cruelly exquisite cheek.
But then disgust becomes contemplation, and finally, acceptance. "It IS beautiful, isn't it?" She considers the scenery as they stroll together outside her cottage, the scenery set aflame in hues of gold, amber, yellow, and rust. "Like you. You know. I once thought…when we first met…I think I was so angry because you were beautiful. All through my childhood, the contemplation of the one being who slaughtered a third of my race….it was of an ugly thing, repulsive and deformed, harsh and violent, stinking…garbage…pure garbage…And then you showed up…"
"And you were the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen…and it made me so mad…so, so mad…because it was like your beauty was an insult to all the lives you'd taken. You were so wonderful and it seemed like a mockery."
His hand in hers is loose now. "I don't want you to fall for what you feel is perverse."
"It's not that." She shakes her head. "Rather…those leaves have to die…or they'll choke the buds in the spring. I'm not comparing the death of my ancestors to mere leaves…no, I'm talking about something broader, about…about the whole cycle of life and death itself, Xelloss. There has to be a cycle and a balance. I understand why you have to be this way, Xelloss. I understand."
He's stunned. His throat constricts but demons don't cry, don't have tear ducts, and so it sounds like he's got a strange-sounding cough for a minute. And then he says, with a child's wonder, "Oh hells…damn!….heh."
"What? What's the matter?" Faint irritation crosses her maiden's features. "Don't swear, you unethical HOODLUM."
"I prefer rakish knave."
"...Well, alright. I can work with that."
"You're so indulgent, Filly." Softer, eyes losing focus as she nestles against him, Xelloss explains, "It's nothing. Don't go on a rampage. Heh. It's just that…he was right."
Xelloss nibbles on a pointed ear, causing it a thrill and a pain, and then kisses it.
Rezo was right…
"No one. Well actually he was pretty famous. Just a really smart old human who was in his own autumn."
"…And what was he right about?" Filia aims a suspicious cornflower gaze up at Xelloss. Her blond eyelashes tickle his jaw.
The demon shivers at the sensation and grins. He breaks away from the dragoness and paws down the path.
He stoops and carefully picked up the most radiant leaves that have fallen.
"Here. From me."
Some leaves he kisses, some he tears up, before sticking them in the pockets of Filia's pink skirt.
She smiles wanly, but her eyes twinkle. "Thank you. Amelia and Zelgadiss are visiting today, by the way. She's expecting the baby any day, you know, and I don't want to be responsible for the miscarriage of a PRINCE, so please be atrocious to him only. If you MUST at ALL," she adds dramatically, tossing her mane of yellow hair and huffing like a willful mare.
Xelloss rubs his hands together hungrily. "Hee, heh, it's always funny tormenting Zelgadiss about his latest harebrained scheme to drop rocks off his body."
As if she has been expecting this bit of schadenfreude, Filia smirks triumphantly.
Xelloss backs away, still clutching a few remnants of his bouquet of beautiful death. "Er…?"
"Allow ME to DAMPEN your MEAN SPIRITS!" the dragoness declares. "He has been cured since before their son was conceived! Thanks to the joint efforts of Amelia and his only living relative! HA."
"Oh…" Xelloss blinks. "The seasons really ARE moving along, aren't they?" He quirks his lip and nods. "Only living relative….I thought Mr. Zelgadiss was all alone."
"Well sorry to disappoint but he's NOT. And YOU get to vacuum the guest rooms."
Xelloss scowls. Now THAT is a personal affront. "Who SAYS?"
"ME. So HUSH."
"You never buffer your arguments with logic, Filia." Xelloss glances at his lover wryly. "Should I hold my breath for that time to come, or will I fall over and pass out from lack of oxygen?"
"I said QUIET. You don't even NEED air. ANYway. They're coming because Zelgadiss's father—well, technically his great-grandfather—has been wanting to visit the world outside the former barrier. It's a crazy story, really."
Filia stomps past Xelloss, who has gone suspiciously pale and rigid, crunching leaves under her boots with relish.
"Apparently he DIED TWO TIMES before they could resurrect him for good. Poor thing's blind as a bat. Something about Shabranigdo making him go crazy: see, Xelloss. SEE? Your filthy boss is ALWAYS causing nice people problems."
The insult to the mazoku's master flies over his grape-hued head. "…Uh..huh…"
"The poor old thing used to have his eyes SEALED CLOSED but now I guess they're just 'normal-blind,' something about paying a price for mistakes or…well, you know what I'm trying to say. At any rate, he's something like three hundred years old and he's always wearing red—that's his namesake you know!"
"And Zelgadiss told him about us, and I guess he just laughed and laughed and said he had to come investigate Zelgadiss and Amelia's 'interesting friends.' It's a bit of an honor: he used to be some manner of great sage."
Xelloss's cheeks expand like a pufferfish's.
Filia's palm smacks to her forehead. "Oh DEAR. What's the matter NOW?"
The Lesser Beast turns a baleful gaze on the dragoness. "…I don't want to have tea with that old geezer."
"Xelloss! Don't be RUDE—"
"LOOK Filia, it's a PILE OF ME! Let's CRUSH IT and give Jillas a CONNIPTION!"
The dragoness pauses, tail lashing behind her. Poor Jillas, always the leaf-raker. It's a good observation, though, really. The prospects…are quite fun.
It's dismaying, really, how little she cares about how Xelloss has corrupted her.
Sometimes, because of him, she even squashes ants and doesn't hold the elevator door.
And pardons demons for carrying out orders to harm her ancestors.
Nobody told her that her demon would be analogous to the autumn of the year.
Filia follows Xelloss on his heels in a running dive, into cascades of red and orange and gold, laughing and landing with him, and she kisses his lips as autumn falls upward all around them.
Three human forms dot the hill overlooking the fiery forest and its cottage adorned with a sign advertising maces and vaces.
Two men and one woman, whose hand caresses her swelling belly. "That wasn't such a bad boat ride," the girl chirps.
"It's because Lina and Gourry didn't come with us," her husband snorts.
She tsks but doesn't contradict that statement.
"Who's making all that noise?" asks the tallest of the three, as his unseeing brown eyes gaze dreamily ahead. Each of his hands rests on a shoulder of his two companions, trustingly led by their sight.
"THAT would be Xelloss and Filia," supplies the taciturn younger man with the lavender hair. "The ones I mentioned…What's that look for, Gramps? It's like you already knew…"
The old man throws back his head and laughs at the crisp living air. "I cannot WAIT for tea," he drawls.
The girl joins in a soft laugh as he husband stares in comical confusion at his great-grandfather, as her unborn child kicks, as autumn leaves continue to fly up from a leafpile inhabited by a fated demon and dragon.
The season is new: spring in autumn.