DISCLAIMER: I don't own the characters. Any of 'em. Some of 'em, I wish I had for my own personal harem, but that's an entirely different matter. ^_^ Be warned. This is not a happy-happy-joy-joy feel-good 'fic. BUT...it will have a sequel. Rated R for Adult Situations, Language, and Violence.
This little arc will have a Valgaav/Filia slant. Now, I'm definitely more of a Xellos/Filia supporter, but I can't deny there was chemistry between Valgaav and Filia in TRY either. This is just my little exploration of it. The premise is set immediately post-TRY; what if Valgaav had survived the attack on Darkstar? What if Darkstar's essence has acted as a buffer, absorbing the brunt of the onslaught? Feedback's appreciated. Flames get the Dragon Slave.
~ Zanne

The Illusion of Truth
by Zanne Chaos
Chapter One

She stood at the edge of the world, looking out over the ruins of her past, searching for the rest of her life, perhaps. Maybe the real world never ended, a continuous circle where life met death in harmony, and every ending was really just a new beginning.

But for Filia Ul Copt, the wasteland of destruction that seemed to stretch out before her as far as she could see, a bloody portrait of death, it was the edge of the world.

Her world.

She was alone now. The others had gone off on their own, quietly. For such a tremendous victory, the mood was unusually somber. It was a victory, but it was hard to celebrate when so many lay dead.

Or maybe, it was just her.

Maybe the others were merely tired, exhausted after the trying day. Why should it really affect them? Especially that Mazoku. Nothing made the slightest bit of difference to them, she supposed.

It wasn't the bodies of their people, everything they had ever known, stretched out before them, when the Overworlders tore them apart.

It was everyone she had ever known and loved.

Shivering, she hugged herself, looking at the fresh bodies strewn about amid the ruins of the death they themselves had once placed here. For a time, she wondered how she could possibly build pyres and cairns for them all. Filia decided against it. They died here, among the legacy they had built. This place was their cairn, as it was for the ones they had killed, the ones they had left in the sun to decay.

This was their memorial, a tribute to hate. She would leave it as it were, in hopes that anyone else who might ever come out to this desolate place which had only known sorrow for the last thousand years would see, and understand.

This was what hate left behind. Maybe now people would see that hate wasn't the way.

A soft sound behind her made Filia whirl about, reaching for her mace.

"It's just me!" the small fox-man cried, a few feet away from her, cringing a bit as she brought the mace up on reflex. Filia sighed and lowered her hand.

"Jillas. I thought you'd left with the others."

"I started to, but..."


"I don't know where to go now." He looked out in the direction where any of them had last seen Valgaav alive, before they defeated Darkstar. "I can't quite bring myself to leave."

She followed his gaze, feeling a fresh lump of grief forming in her throat. "I know what you mean."

"I just can't...I don't want to believe he's gone."

"I'm sorry, Jillas," she whispered, hanging her head. She hadn't wanted to fight him. She knew why he was the way he had been.

She understood.

"There wasn't any other way," the fox-man acknowledged, quietly moving to her side.

They stood together, just looking out across the land.

"I don't know where to go now either," Filia admitted. "Home is...gone."

"So's mine. Everyone, my family, they were killed. I guess that's why Lord Valgaav helped me."

"He wasn't a bad man," Filia whispered, feeling tears sting, then freeze her eyes. "Just a hurting one."

Jillas drew in a deep breath. "Come on," he said softly. "Let's find a town for the night. This cold air can't be good for you."

"I can't say good-bye," she protested. "Not to anyone here." She paused, hugging herself again. "I should be out there too."

"But you're not."

"No, I'm not."

"Why are you the only survivor of your kind? Why am I? I wonder that sometimes. But the fact remains, I am alive. It means, I think, that we still have a purpose somehow." He took her arm gently. "We'll just have to find out what those purposes are."

Filia nodded slowly, reluctantly, knowing he was right. As she began to turn away to follow him, something that was just a little out of place caught her eye, just for a moment.

"Jillas, wait."

Narrowing her eyes, she stared intently into the distance, trying to catch another glimpse of color that had stood out among the white, the red, and the gold.

A brief suggestion of aqua.

"What is it, Miss Filia?"

She didn't answer him, still staring. Another gust of wind came along, and this time, she was certain of what she saw.

"Oh, gods."

"What? What is it, Miss Filia?"

Ignoring Jillas, she hiked her skirts up a bit, jumping over limbs and snowdrifts, running past the bodies, not paying them heed. There was one body out there that she would build a pyre for, and a cairn.

Someone who deserved that much, at least. She wasn't going to leave him out there in the cold, to be forgotten. Her kind had done enough.

Her vision blurred from tears as she ran, hating how much her progress was impeded, and loathing the moment she would arrive. She didn't want to see him, lying there broken, but she didn't have a choice. He deserved the respect of as proper a funeral that she could give.

As she drew nearer, she saw a leg enclosed by pants, once white, now discolored with dirt and blood, unmoving. Behind her, she could hear Jillas shouting her name, running as well to catch up with her. Filia didn't stop.

Finally, she reached him, and moaned softly in pain, panting to catch her breath as she looked at the bloodied, scorched, and battered body laying in the snow.

"Miss Filia, what were--" Jillas stopped abruptly, and dropped to his knees with a low, mournful keening sound. "Lord Valgaav," he whispered.

Drawing in a deep breath, she reached under her skirt, ripping off one of the layers of her petticoat, and walked over to his body, kneeling down in the snow. She shoved the material into the snow, trying to get it sufficiently wet to wipe away the blood on his face. He was dead, it didn't matter now to him, but it mattered to her. It was the only thing left she could possibly do for him. Somehow, it would have to be enough.

Choking on sobs, struggling to breathe, Filia reached out and began gently wiping the cold, damp material over his brow and down the side of his face. The horn that had protruded from his forehead, the legacy of his Mazoku blood, was gone. He looked calmer, perhaps even peaceful now. If there was any justice in all of creation, he was somewhere where he wouldn't be hurting anymore.

As the material brushed over a raw wound, his brows knitted together slightly and his lips parted. Filia froze, her eyes widening, tears running unchecked down her face. With a trembling hand, she reached out and touched his cheek.

The flesh was still warm, even feverishly so.

It felt like the wind was knocked out of her lungs, and she reached for his neck, struggling to breathe against the imaginary vise-like grip around her ribcage, feeling for a pulse.

It was there. Thin, weak, thready, but there.

"Jillas," she gasped, "he's still alive."

The fox-man fell silent. "What?"

"Valgaav's alive!" The stunned fog that had flooded her mind suddenly evaporated, leaving behind crystal clarity as her hands began to roam down his body, checking the damage, mentally cataloguing the wounds. His legs were both broken, and it felt like many of his ribs were as well, and there was likely internal damage. One of his black, feathered wings was crushed underneath him. Whether the majority of the damage was from the onslaught, or from the fall he had to have taken, she couldn't immediately tell.

She didn't know how he had even survived in the first place, but it didn't matter. He was alive, and that was all that really counted.

Jillas pulled his cloak off, laying it over Valgaav. "We've got to get him out of here."

"Yes, but I don't dare move him yet. We need to stabilize him."

"At least enough to get to the nearest town," he agreed.

"No, not the nearest town! The others will likely be heading there too." Suddenly paranoid with fear, she looked around, half-expecting to see Xellos appear at any moment, subconsciously leaning forward over Valgaav to shield him. "Jillas, can you build a bed of some sort, no legs, just a board, with straps we can use to secure him? His back might be damaged. I'll do as much healing on him as I can. I'll need you to hold him steady on my back. I'll go dragon and fly south until we find a city."

Jillas nodded, wiping at his eyes with his sleeve and got to his feet. "Do you want me to build a harness to strap the bed to, something that would fit you?"

"That's a good idea. Gather up whatever you can find that would work, and I'll change forms later and you can take measurements to rig up something."

He nodded and hurried off, finding the supplies they needed while Filia turned her attention back to Valgaav. Checking his weakened condition, she quickly dismissed the recovery spell. That was quicker, but it worked by using the target's own energy. The shape he was in, he could likely die from exhaustion long before she was finished.

That left the resurrection spell, but that also drew its power from nearby life. Aside from Jillas, she was the only other possible source for miles.

She sucked in a deep breath, holding it for a moment as she mentally began to prepare for the spell. At least a dragon's life-force was far greater and more potent than other lifeforms. Holding her hands over him, she began to chant.

Jillas crouched down by Valgaav, checking him and discreetly turning his attention away from Filia. She closed her eyes and began the transformation out of her dragon body, and once she was done, she looked to the city in the distance. It would take them another two hours of travel on foot to get there, by her estimation. It was as close as she dared to take them in her dragon form, lest any of the residents realized her true nature. No one could know she was a Golden dragon, because if word got back to anyone else, it might lead them to Valgaav.

"How did he fare?" she asked.

"He's still feverish. He hasn't really regained consciousness yet," Jillas replied. Filia crouched on Valgaav's other side, checking the progression of the wounds. "I thought at one point he was waking up, but, apparently not."

"His pulse is stronger, at least. We'll have to carry him the rest of the way. How're you feeling?"

"I can manage that," Jillas replied, looking down at their patient. "Anything for Lord Valgaav."

Gently, she brushed his aqua-toned hair out of his face. It was different than before, a softer, paler color, and it lacked its unruly, spiky appearance. Instead, it fell in smooth waves straight down past his shoulders now. "You walk in front, Jillas. I'll walk behind so I can monitor how he's doing."

"Good idea. I'll also keep watch for potential trouble ahead. I might just have the one eye left, but it's still sharp as a knife." He paused, then dug into a pocket. "I have some money, enough for a couple nights at an inn."

Filia nodded. "I too have some gold coins left from the expenses I was given for my mission. Together, we should be fine for a week, maybe two."

"What then?"

Filia frowned slightly, thinking. "I can sell my headdress, as well as a few other items of jewelry I own. They're pure gold, so they should fetch a tidy sum. With that, we can purchase a dwelling. The money would go further in the long run if we did not have to keep paying for a room." She refrained from mentioning that the jewelry was largely ceremonial, and it wasn't allowed for anyone other than a Golden to be in possession of them. It no longer mattered, and it was part of her past. They needed to survive for the future.

"Yes. I can also try to obtain work fixing things," Jillas suggested. "I'm good with my hands. Once we get there, the next day I'll go out and see about finding work."

She smiled warmly at him. "I don't know what I'd have done without your help, Jillas."

The fox-man positively glowed in a bashful sort of way. "Well, it's nothing I wouldn't do for anybody who's helping my lord."

"We're still a few hours away." Filia moved to the foot of the makeshift bed, preparing to lift it. "We better get started now if we want to reach the city before sundown."

to be continued...