Chapter 22. Incompatible.
Friday, May 11th.
Mt. Coronay. Temple of Marriage. Courtyard. 9:05 am.
Me and Xellos?! There must be some kind of colossal mistake here! This is not some minor error that can be sloughed off. This is the kind of thing that disgraces people, shatters sanity and destroys lives. I WANT IT CORRECTED IMMEDIATELY.
But there is no one here to correct it. Just that creepy golden statue with the elongated mouth that the orbs slid out of. I have half a mind to take it apart and see how it works. To prove it's faulty and that its pronouncement is null!
This is a temple, though. That's probably sacrilegious.
I wouldn't even have to consider dismantling a sacred artifact if only the others had bothered to stay and help me work this out. We could've gotten the guide to explain how the device worked and take everything back if we'd just kept on him and managed to prove him wrong! But nooooo! Suddenly they're all too gung-ho to find the Dark Star weapon to bother questioning the utterly questionable! Where was this can-do spirit yesterday when they were lazing on the beach? And to have Miss Lina lecturing me about following the prophecy… I've had to be on them about this every waking minute since we got together; I know how important the prophecy is. But fixing the allegation that I'm somehow destined to marry that arrogant, rude (not to mention dragon-murdering!) demon… well, I'm sorry, but that's just way more important than the prophecy right now!
But nobody understands that! Not even Xellos who is just as enchanted with this little pronouncement as I am (which is to say: not enchanted at all). They all just left me like this with no recourse to correct this horrendous wrong!
I… I'm crying again. Once you start it's just too easy to keep doing it again. My hands haven't stopped shaking either. I had hoped a cup of tea would calm me down, but I guess being doomed to matrimony with a monster is just too substantial a terror for a mere cup of tea to sooth.
You're probably wondering: how, Filia? How?! Under what circumstances could you, while minding your own business and not doing anything to offend anyone, have received the awful and needlessly cruel prediction that you and Xellos of all people are supposedly destined to wed? Well, I'll tell you, and I'm sure this won't surprise you one little bit: it was all Xellos's fault.
After all, he was the one that lined us up to go to this stupid temple and check out whatever mysterious power (which cannot possibly be worth all the emotional agony I've already gone through) it's supposed to have. If he hadn't reacted so incredibly negatively to everything that happened, I'd be tempted to believe he set things up with malice and forethought just to torment me.
But no, he had us all out mountain climbing following some local guide to a temple without apparently having any knowledge of the terrible fate that awaited us. It would be gratifying to show that he doesn't know everything after all if the result wasn't so unbearable.
The mountain I'm on right now, we didn't climb it. We climbed the smaller neighboring mountain of Mt. Bradal. All the while the guide was jabbering on about how Mt. Coronay is supposedly a great natural wonder. Well, if it's the site of a shrine that endorses and encourages dragon-demon marriages, then I'd be more inclined to say that it's an UN-natural wonder!
We crossed to Mt. Coronay (which Miss Lina kept getting upset about whenever Miss Amelia and I tried to talk about for some reason) via rope bridge, and when I say rope bring I mean a bridge that was 100% rope. Both hand rails? Rope. Foot path? Rope. Admittedly the one we had to walk across was a thicker cord, but nevertheless it was extremely treacherous crossing! Mister Gourry fell off and nearly pulled me down with us to both our deaths!
And you might be thinking I could've just transformed and flown us across, but no! We wouldn't have even bothered with that bridge at all if we could've used magic. Apparently there's some sort of sealing spell done on this place so magic doesn't work. That seems mighty inconvenient to me for a temple. What, do they have to climb down the mountain any time they want to perform magical rites? It doesn't make sense.
Oh, but, in the ultimate act of unfairness, apparently the sealing spell doesn't work on demonic powers. So, while we were shuffling across the barely-qualifies-as-a-bridge and hanging on for dear life, Mister The-Rules-Don't-Apply-To-Me just teleported to the other side like it was no big deal.
I hate him. I hate him and I will never ever marry him—no matter what some stupid yellow ball says!
Anyway, we all, one way or another, eventually got here all in one piece. This isn't the temple proper, just sort of a patio area to prepare people for the rest of the journey to the temple higher up atop the mountain. The man at that outdoors shop said this place had been abandoned for quite some time and I believe it. The columns that surround the platform are all dirty and chipped and the stone floor is buckled and broken in many places—particularly on the stairs leading up to it. All over there's piles of rocky rubble.
But, (unfortunately) relatively unscathed by the ravages of time, there stands a four-sided mahogany monument, decorated with gold and a crowned face whose lips stretch out toward a circular slot in the middle of a device with a spinning crank.
The guide told us that we all had to spin the crank because, according to him, in order to enter the temple we all had to be in boy-girl couplings and the device would divide us into pairs.
Now, you CANNOT hold anything I'm about to say against me because I did not know at that point the full extent of what the guide meant. I didn't think he meant like… coupling couplings! I thought he meant just… you know, regular, platonic pairs.
…And so I thought at that moment that I was going to end up with Xellos.
Just… you know, understand for a minute! It made logical sense! And it wasn't like "Oh boy! I guess I'll end up with Xellos!" it was more of a numb "Oh no… I'm going to get stuck with Xellos, aren't I?" And he thought so too, I'm sure! He was giving me this semi-expectant look after what the guide said.
It was just because that seemed like the way it was going to shake out. When we've split up, Mister Gourry and Miss Lina are always together and Miss Amelia and Mister Zelgadis make up the other team. Last time we split up, what with the Alto and Baritone thing, I wound up tagging along with Miss Lina and Mister Gourry and Xellos ended up with the other two. But since we'd be separate into boy-girl duos… well, just by process of elimination, it stood to reason we'd end up getting paired together.
Of course, after the guide elaborated that Mt. Coronay is, in fact, the shrine to the god of marriage and that we'd be divided into "happy, loving" couples by matching colored balls that the device rolled out, I immediately readjusted my mindset and knew that it stood to absolutely no reason that we'd get paired together. As of then I fully expected to get paired up with…
Umm… Alright, I don't really know who I expected to get paired up with. Neither Mister Gourry nor Mister Zelgadis seem particularly sensible options. But I just know it shouldn't have been Xellos!
Which brings up the question of what exactly would happen if the person you're destined to end up with isn't among your group. Does it just give you a color that matches no one? Or does it just pair you up with whoever's left?
If it's the latter… Oh, that's such an appalling thing to do! Reputations could be ruined by such shortcuts of clairvoyance!
Without any real choice in the matter if we wanted to move forward, we all lined up to turn the crank and pick up the little glass balls that rolled out of the mouth of the relief statue as a result. When we were done, we circled around to see who everyone had gotten. A yellow ball in my hand, a twin in his. I couldn't even be angry yet, just struck dumb with horror. He, on the other hand, gave me this sour look, like he was somehow the one who had been wronged.
Miss Lina and Mister Zelgadis (who ended up paired together) were disgustingly blasé about this whole thing and not taking the prediction of the device the least bit seriously. Miss Amelia (who ended up with Mister Gourry) on the other hand, was more appropriately upset by it. But she was just ranting something about how she thought Miss Lina should've ended up with Mister Gourry. This was the last thing anyone should've been complaining about! I mean, alright, if I were making guesses I would've probably said the two would've been together, but if you're going to pitch a fit about something it should be about a priestess of the Fire Dragon King ending up with some loathsome, genocidal demon! That is wrong on every level ever in the history of levels!
While Miss Amelia was trying to argue against this mess and Mister Gourry was being completely oblivious to the fact that this is a huge deal, I was coming out of shock enough to register my umbrage. And register, I most certainly did!
"Just a minute here! I object!" I interjected furiously, pointing at the horrible creature that some glorified gumball machine had just told me would be my future groom. "I refuse to accept this coupling!"
"As do I," I heard Xellos say from behind me, his tone of voice oozing with nasally indignation. "This is completely absurd!"
Miss Amelia seemed to take heart in this, though not for the very legitimate reason that "if this method of spousal prediction places a monster and a dragon together then it must be very, very flawed" but because it gave her more cause to continue with her campaign to get Miss Lina with Mister Gourry. Honestly, I don't know why someone would be so concerned with someone else's pairing instead of their own troubles. Perhaps that was her way of saying she didn't want to be paired up with Mister Gourry? Well, you know what? She thinks she's got problems? I'm the only one that has a legitimate right to complain here!
In any case, she started grilling our guide about how these pairs are chosen in the first place, but he seemed completely unmoved by her skepticism. "All is according to the will o' the great heavens," he explained, pulling at the brim of his hat. He pointed accusingly at us. "If the chosen combination are broken, you can't get into Mt. Coronay!
"Well, this chosen combination is incompatible!" I cried out. It might've been treated as a viable argument if it hadn't been completely undercut by Xellos saying the exact same thing as me at the exact same time!
I turned to look at him, surprised. The look he was giving me mirrored mine. As our eyes locked, we both immediately turned away from each other, annoyed at being parroted.
"Well, you look pretty… compatible to me," Miss Lina said, uttering words so venomous and harsh that it is a wonder she delivered them in such an unthinkingly casual tone!
I don't know how she can say that when we're so totally different! We're water and oil! WE DO NOT MIX. Just because we might've umm… been thinking on the exact same wave length just at that moment should not be taken as any sort of sign of common ground! It's just that the idea being pushed on us is universally repulsive!
I could only reel in horror at her implication. I certainly hope that's not what she or anyone else really thinks of us! Xellos, on the other hand, decided he wasn't going to stand for it. "Well, in that case, I'll be leaving," he announced, his eyebrows twitching and slamming together like a pair of furious purple caterpillars, butting heads. "You don't need me." With that he disappeared in a noisy black blur, letting his yellow ball drop to the floor and bounce down the stone steps.
Wish I could teleport out of here, but the only way I could've gotten away would've been if he took me with him and I most certainly don't want that.
"Hey! What's the big idea, Xellos?!" Lina called after the empty space where he'd once stood.
"If getting into the temple means pairing up with Filia," his disembodied voice said, pronouncing my name as though it was a dread, communicable disease, "then I'd rather sit this one out. You all do a good job in there," he finished in a light, but still obviously fuming, sing-song voice.
I let Miss Lina and the others argue amongst themselves and whine about Xellos cutting and running. I had more important needs: tea-based needs. You try holding onto your sanity when the universe pitches the idea of you being romantically linked to a monster! I needed all the help I could get just to keep it together, so I knelt down on the ground and went about preparing a pot of tea—which was more annoying than usual without the use of magic.
I tried to view the situation as ludicrous in order to not get myself more upset about it, but it didn't help. I let out a laugh as I poured tea into my cup. It was meant to sound confidently dismissively, but it probably just sounded borderline insane. "Xellos and I, compatible?" I scoffed, trying to keep my cup from jittering noisily against the saucer as I lifted it to my lips. "Me with that demon?" I tried again, hoping to sound more self-assured. "Never!"
"You too, Filia?" Lina asked, leaning toward me. "You mean you don't want us to get the Dark Star weapon? That's pretty irresponsible for a priestess of the Fire Dragon King."
I want to know who she thinks she is, guilting me like that! I have devoted so much time and energy to following the prophecy while she and the others have gotten distracted by every passing restaurant! I have a much more legitimate reason to sit this one out then they ever had for their time-wasting!
"The ones who have to follow the prophecy are you people," I reminded her, almost in tears by this point. "I can think of myself once and awhile, can't I?"
"Wha?" Miss Lina replied, taken aback that I'd actually asserted myself instead of letting her push me to do whatever she wanted. "Oh really?" she asked in a voice that was gearing up to deliver a bruiser of a comment. "Well, if that's all you have to say for yourself then you're no different than Xellos."
Can you believe she'd say something like that to me?! Asking me to consign myself to Xellos and then when I won't do it saying such a hurtful, hurtful thing?! WE ARE NOT AT ALL ALIKE. It's because we're not alike that we can't do this! I will not enter into a relationship with someone who is the very pinnacle of wickedness! I would never ask such a thing of her, so I don't see why it should be expected that I do it!
What's more, what could she even have expected me to do at that point? Xellos had already abandoned me! Even if I was willing to grit my teeth and accept it (which I was not), I couldn't have done anything without him. If she wants to blame someone: blame him!
Of course, I wasn't in any fit state to respond to her in such a well-thought out manner, so instead I just let my face fall, sobbing, into my hands and managed to get out through my tears: "With the tiny salary I have to live on, how can you say that?!"
After which, Miss Lina, with no viable argument to make me come with them, resorted to threatening to give me "something to cry about." What was worse than that was Mister Gourry coming in with the blissfully ignorant: "What's wrong with everyone? Peace is best, right?"
We all, every last one of us, threw our stupid coupling-choice balls at him. He deserved it.
And so my supposed comrades decided to strike out for the temple without me. "Sit there and cry all day if you want!" was Miss Lina's completely unsympathetic advice to me before they all went skipping off, arm-in-arm, for the temple on the summit (alright, they weren't skipping, but they were arm-in-arm. Can you imagine me and Xellos walking arm-in-arm up the mountain top? Us just… trotting along with me hugging his arm for support as he leads us through the fog. …And then I'd trip over a rock and stumble and kind of… fall into his chest. Ugh… just… "ugh" does not even begin to convey the depths of my revulsion!).
It just goes to show that apparently people who call themselves your friends will up and leave you crying in the middle of nowhere all for the dubious "crime" of not wanting to be the bride of a devil!
I'll show them. I'll make my own friends!
I'm not crazy.
I have every right to be crazy right now, but I'm not. I understand that it may seem that way, but piling a bunch of a bunch of rocks up into figures and drawing faces on them is not crazy; propping up sticks and putting my spare gloves on them so it looks like they have hands is not crazy; putting my extra hat on one is not crazy; wrapping one of my mace-cleaning cloths around one of them like it's a scarf is not crazy; and serving them tea and addressing them by name is definitely not crazy.
It is a perfectly sane response to how I've been treated.
Okay… now I'm starting to actually think I might have been driven crazy.
It wasn't the tea party with the rock people. I still stand by that. It's the Xellos-rock that's the problem.
I found, amongst the debris scattered all over the place, a rock that kind of looked a little like Xellos. Like, it has his hair and everything (I'm aware that rocks don't have hair, thank you very much. I'm just saying it's shaped like his). I had my marker out from drawing on the other rocks so, out of spite, I drew a crying face on it.
The likeness is uncanny.
The problem is: now I keep feeling like it's looking at me.
I'm just… gonna turn it away from me now. Maybe graffiti it a little more first for good measure, but then just… turn it away… so it can't look at me anymore…
I feel the need to make a confession.
I… picked up the yellow balls. Or, you know, what's left of them. One of them split into three pieces, but I think with a little glue I could manage to put it back together. They're sitting in my bag right now.
I found them when I was looking for more rocks for my tea party. They were both right over where we tossed them at Mister Gourry, weirdly enough. I thought that Xellos dropped his down the stairs after he ran off? Could he have possibly stuck around after he disappeared from sight and then threw his ball at Mister Gourry with the rest of us?
Now… that's a creepy thought. He did say things to the rest of us after he'd vanished, so I guess he can maintain some presence through the astral side. He just better not be watching right now—that's all I have to say about that!
But about the balls… I know it probably seems a little odd that I picked them up. After all, it's not like I'd want a souvenir of some crazy shrine prediction that me and Xellos will get married someday. That's the last thing I want!
I just thought, you know, they're nice little ornaments. I could probably make something out of them.
And the yellow ones are much prettier than the red and blue ones. That's all.
…What if it really is true? What the guide said about the god's chosen couplings?
I mean, I know it can't be. There's no way anyone should be able to buy something like that. But this is a pronouncement from an artifact at a temple.
…Should I be treating this like a prophecy?
No… there's no way it could possibly be true. I mean, I would just… I would never. And he… just no.
Do monsters even… can they even…?
No, I just… I don't want to even finish that thought. It doesn't matter because regardless, the idea of the two of us being together is simply unimaginable.
…The fact that I can actually imagine it should not be taken as evidence to the contrary. I have a very overactive imagination! All the priestesses at the temple said it when I was little! I'd love to turn off my imagination, I really would, but I just can't!
You don't want to know what it's like to be in my head right now. Really, you don't.
Because… well, I wouldn't say I've devoted a lot of thought to my soul-mate, but I guess I had a vague idea of… you know, being sweet and sweeping me off my feet and general romantic overtures: rescuing, dancing, hand-kissing and whatnot. Perhaps not quite as detailed as the plot-lines of those books Miss Amelia likes to read, but I do have some idea of it. Pasting Xellos on top of it all is… very, very wrong.
Not to mention embarrassing.
…I need to stop thinking like this. Right now. I mean, for heaven's sake! He's not even really a man! He's just a man-shaped amalgamation of cosmic EVIL!
He's an it.
…Yes! It! I should've been calling him an it all along! Then I wouldn't even be considering him in that kind of role. All these strange thoughts about him are just the result of a simple misuse of pronouns!
…I don't think the "it" plan is going to work. I mean, I slipped three times just in that last paragraph alone.
But I need to do something. This line of thinking is just… not good and will not lead to good things.
I keep hearing rumbles in the distance, like thunder. One of my teachers at the temple from back when I was younger used to say thunder was the sound the gods make when they're angry.
A priestess of the Fire Dragon King considering a monster (and not just any monster—that monster) in a romantic role in even the most unserious and uncomfortable of ways is something that could no doubt give the gods cause to get upset.
…On the other hand, I wouldn't have even thought about any of this if it weren't for a pronouncement supposedly from the gods in the first place! Now it's out there and suddenly I'm giving some thought to wedding dresses and what the children would look like (Bad. That bowl-cut should never be reproduced. Thankfully I am 97% sure that Xellos could not actually have children. What's more, I'm 100% sure I'll never personally be proven wrong on that count). I do not want to think these things! They do not give me any joy! But they're coming up in my mind because it's been suggested!
This reminds me of that old story… Something about a man who received a prophecy that he'd be his country's next king; so he killed the current king. But he wouldn't have killed the current king and become king himself if he hadn't heard the prediction in the first place.
Well, I'm certainly not going to let this prophecy become self-fulfilling. I won't wind up with Xellos just because some colorful ball says I will. Gods' chosen couple or not, this will never happen.
Prophecy? No, this is more like a curse. But I won't succumb to it!
The thunder keeps getting louder… It makes me feel like I'm about to be on the receiving end of some sort of divine punishment. But for thinking about Xellos in a way I really shouldn't or for acting against a holy prophecy?
…I seem to be stuck in a catch-22.