Modern Day I
(authors note: this is technically an AU in Mazokuness. I am using the titles "Beastmaster", "Greater Beastmaster" [High Beastmaster] and "Hellmaster" as titles of rank, not individual stations or names. [If these things bother you enough to cause mass hemorrhages, don't read, please. ;-)]
(It is also an AU if you accept Slayers Revolution/Evolution, which I do NOT.
(Also, a great, GREAT big thanks to my fiancée, CEP, for all the help he's given me in critiquing my work, interesting comedy scenes, and helping me to understand the deep inner workings of a man's brain, or lack thereof. Just kidding. ^o^
(Oh, and of course the characters of Slayers AND any crossover characters don't belong to me and I'm not making money off of it . . .)
Prologue . . .
Dallysbryre village, outskirts of New Sairaag—Middle Europa
Late Winter, 1345
The snow fell, and blanketed all within its empty white. Moonlight shone faintly through a cold glass window, into a room barely lit by a flickering fire.
Old and tired; worn out from ages and time, the old woman slept without moving. Natria watched the wrinkled slip, the pixie: frail beneath a mountain of covers, pale skin like paper and hair as flaxen silver, splayed around her like a veil.
"Mother . . ." The word was tired, and Natria leaned against the open doorway, weary mind trickling across the week prior. Her decline had been so fast . . . nobody could imagine, had believed . . . A flicker of fear for her own mortality made Natria shudder with guilt. She, too, was aging; wisps of gray tarnished her copper hair. Her flame had never burned as brightly as her mother's had.
Behind her, cloth rustled, and she bent her head further, seeing her younger brother in her peripheral vision. "What is it . . ." she heard her voice ask quietly, as empty as the hollowness within her. Just last week she was making plans for the spring planting . . .
"Natria." Gray put a hand on her shoulder and sighed. "Father is raving again. Melody and Zel are with him, but . . ." His amber eyes slid away from hers, and she nodded.
Standing slowly, she faced him. "I'll try talking to him again. Those two are too young to have to deal with this."
Frustration deepened the lines of his face as he frowned down at her. "They're almost eighteen, the both of them," he murmured as she turned away from him.
Releasing a deep breath, she fled the room, feeling the heavy weight of death clinging to her with every step. Perhaps we spoiled them too much. Perhaps Gray is right, and the children must learn about death, and pain, and the madness of loss. But why like this? Was it a gift of the new year to lose another grandmother to death, and their grandfather to madness?
At the top of the stairs, she heard her husband speak from below. "I'm glad you could come," he said as Natria descended. "We don't know how much longer she has. It happened so quickly . . ."
A familiar female voice replied, "I'm very sorry. I hope we aren't a bother," and Natria hurried down the stairs, practically ignoring her husband as a sad smile broke across her face.
"Filia!" The blonde woman raised her head to smile at her. "My Lady, how did you make it through all the snow?"
The ex-priestess embraced Natria and answered, "We teleported. It's not that far from New Sairaag."
"Sissie!" came a high voice, and Natria turned to find a little person clutching her leg and her husband's dark eyes twinkling at her.
"Hello!" Natria smiled sadly and picked up the toddler. "How have you been, Val?"
"Good," the turquoise-haired child said, but looked towards the closed door. "Down," he commanded, then rethought. "Please?"
With a low chuckle, Natria did as was requested and sighed as the little boy ran to the window and gazed out upon the snow. "Maybe you can ease her pain, Lady Filia."
"I'll try," she responded, voice soft and sapphire eyes weary. "Val," she said to her son, "play nicely with Lania."
Natria took her love's arm and looked into his eyes as the Golden Dragon began to climb the stairs. "Marcus . . . please promise you'll be with me for a long time."
He put his arms around her and held her tightly. "I'll do my very best."
Filia Ul Copt dreaded every step, but knew time would not wait for her.
Hesitantly, she opened a door and gazed into a fire-lit room, forcing herself to ignore the faint sound of rough sobbing from the other chamber. Goury . . . Gods, help me.
In the bed, the familiar white-haired woman lay without moving. Sighing, Filia considered her options. According to the letter she'd received, the other healers had tried to heal her when she'd collapsed, a fortnight ago. But the magic had simply flickered across her and faded out: it was the final sign that death was imminent. The body would no longer accept magical healing. "Oh, Lina," she whispered sadly.
The form shifted, head turning towards the door. "Who's there? I can't very well see you when you're so far away."
Nearing the bed, Filia smiled slightly and reached out to take her tiny, wrinkled hand. "It's me, Lina. It's me."
"Filia?" Lina Inverse blinked her bloodshot scarlet eyes and frowned. "Damn, if you're here then it's really shot, isn't it?"
Blinking at the casual acceptance of death, Filia opened her mouth, startled. "Lina?"
"I'm dying, Filia, not stupid." Lina smiled and winked at her, but it seemed forced. "Natria is taking it bad, but . . . Goury . . ." The bravery left the old woman, and she looked past Filia.
Filia nodded. "I'll try to help him, too. But right now I'm here for you, to take away the pain. Perhaps my healing might work where the others could not-"
"No," Lina sighed and let herself sink deeper into the bed. "It's time. You can try if you like, but I'm sure it will be of no use." She licked her cracked lips, and Filia hurried to pour her some water from a jug nearby. Lina drank slowly with Filia's help, shivering at the frigid water. "It's good to see you, Filia. Nice to see someone who still cares."
Beginning the spell, Filia smiled slightly. "Now, Lina. Your family cares very much."
"I know. But I wonder how the others are. Zelgadis, Sylphiel, Naga . . . I mean Gracia. The last I heard of any of them was years ago." She didn't mention the now Crown Princess Amelia, who had stopped replying to letters over ten years past, and neither did Filia. It hurt enough thinking about the unexplained silences and Amelia's refusal to hold audience with them.
"I wish I could answer your queries, Lina," the dragoness said. "But I know that, wherever they are, they'll be with Cepheid too."
Lina rolled her eyes. "Is that where I'm going?"
Squeezing her hand gently and giving her a frank gaze, Filia nodded once. "Yes, Lina. I know there is another realm, and you will find eternal happiness there."
A little tear escaped the old woman's eye, and fear flickered in the depths. "I hope so."
Lina struggled to keep her eyes open as Filia shut the door behind her, leaving Lina alone in her bed. Her weary body craved sleep constantly, and it was a struggle to fight the urge to succumb. But at any moment, she might . . .
Don't think about that, she told herself.
But she still did.
Lina had been right in the end: even Filia's holy magic couldn't heal old age. The dragoness had bit back a sob, then cast the spell to ease discomfort, tears silently spilling from her eyes. There was nothing Lina could say; she knew it was time, and she was ready. Filia had fled the room in the uncomfortable silence remaining.
A strange sensation touched her wrinkled skin as she mused: a sensation almost as if the very air vibrated silently. She smiled. "I feel too old," she declared.
She didn't have to wait long.
As she'd hoped, Xellos appeared, eyes closed but expression withdrawn. "I know."
Lina relaxed in the bed. "I figured it was you. I'm glad it's you . . . and not some stupid lesser demon out to give themselves a name."
He nodded, face just as beautiful as ever, then opened his eyes. Lina could almost believe there was sadness in the violet depths. "I never wanted to see this happen, Lina." The Mazoku priest leaned his staff against the wall, then sat down on the bed next to her, black robes softly shifting.
"I know," she heard her own cracking voice utter. "Neither did I. But it was nice having so many years to spend with my family."
Xellos smiled down at her, not unkindly. "I understand." A pause silenced the room. "I want to give you . . . a gift. Something no other human will ever have – or ever has had."
Blinking, Lina tried to keep him in focus. "What is it, first. Then I might accept it."
"Always so intelligent," he clapped his hands once, yet the happiness in his voice seemed forced. "It's . . . a part of me. I wanted you to have proof that you stopped being just my 'assignment' . . . a long time ago."
Lina gave him the glimpse of a smile before closing her eyes again. "How does it work?"
His smooth voice was lulling. "I use a little of my power. You'll be able to hear my thoughts and sense my emotions. The same with me."
She opened her eyes and studied him. "How does everyone know that I'm dying right now, Xellos."
The sudden question, off topic, seemed to startle him slightly. "I . . . I'm not sure. In my own case, I felt . . . just the knowledge. That it was time."
She nodded a tad. "It IS time. Like I said . . . I'm too old. Magic has kept Goury and I alive for a sight longer than most. We've seen our great-grandchildren born. Most people never get to see their children marry."
His violet eyes tightened with understanding. "So. It's come, then."
"Yes. And I will accept your gift."
Nodding, Xellos reached out a hand and gently caressed her face. Lina closed her eyes and felt the black magic swell from behind his warm touch.
—Are you afraid?— his voice asked gently in her mind.
—Of course. And it seems like there is a slight fear in you, too,— she replied dryly. Somehow, it was as if she just knew what he was feeling. No sense of it inside of her, just the knowledge: like you know your name, or that it is night instead of day.
—I think I am. I think perhaps I'm afraid of what I will do without you around. Silly, isn't it? I'm a monster, one of the most powerful. A demon, evil and corrupt, like a rotting fruit. You dislike that description?— he chuckled out aloud, and in her mind as her irritation grew.
—Yes, I 'dislike' it!— she fumed. —I never thought everything was black and white. No creature is, either. You have feelings, Xellos. You know this, and you wanted . . . no . . . probably NEEDED someone to share them with.—
—Are they feelings? I wonder at them, sometimes. They're so faint, and seem to evaporate when I try to decipher the meaning.—
Lina could see what he meant. Puzzlement and worry faintly touched upon her, then were gone, leaving behind calm and a feeling of overall violence . . . just the desire to do something destructive. —That just means that you're starting to face emotions that you haven't felt before.—
—Maybe!— his mind-voice became decidedly happy for a second. —I just wanted you to know that I . . . I guess I care, sort of.—
What might pass as slight concern and distant sentiment for anyone else was strong affection in Xellos, and Lina understood his inability to feel more. —Thank you, Xellos. Good luck with your life. Come visit me if you ever find a way to the spirit realm.—
—I will, I promise.—
She looked up into his fire-lit eyes, just as a knock came on the door.
Xellos winked, and disappeared as the door opened. Lina looked over, and saw that his staff remained. A second later, it too vanished.
"Mom?" Her daughter Natria tried to smile, hand clutching her gray-streaked golden hair.
"It's time," Lina replied. She knew the next passage into slumber would begin her last adventure. "Please bring your father and the family."
My love . . . my poor Goury. Will you follow me swiftly, or linger? Will I see you on the other side? If not, then this would be their last goodbye.
Filia quietly left the house a few hours later, gently closing the door on the warm firelight. Turning to survey the moonlit snow-banks, she shuffled away from the Inverse home, emotions bubbling up inside of her, threatening to overwhelm her control.
Gods, this shouldn't be this difficult, she chastised herself, I should have expected this, been prepared . . . I thought I was . . .
Lina Inverse was gone. Filia just couldn't believe it. Somehow, I thought she would live forever . . .
The tears felt very cold on her cheeks in the frigid air. Numbly, Filia lowered herself to the ground, pulling the thick cloak around her, and began to sob.
Her cries echoed slightly in the calm midnight stillness, and the solitude only made her more sorrowful. In the end, will I just be alone this way? At least I have Val, but . . .
The dragoness sensed the familiar type of darkness before she saw him, but she was so upset she didn't really care. "What do you want, Xellos," she choked out between sobs.
The Mazoku crouched down in front of her. "Nothing." His eyes were shrouded.
Filia calmed slightly and wiped her tears, shivering in the icy stillness. "Then why are you here?"
One corner of his mouth lifted slightly. "You miss her."
"Lina? You know she's dead, then." Filia began to cry again. "I don't think Goury will last long without . . ." Her sorrow wouldn't allow more, and she returned to weeping.
He ran his gloved hands through the powdery snow, letting the sparkling flakes fall from his fingers like dust. "I know. Why do you feel so alone, Filia."
Some realization broke past her pain, and Filia looked up, wondering at what seemed to be an almost perverse curiosity on his part. "I just do, you piece of trash. Is this all some interesting study in pain for you?"
Xellos stood smoothly, cape whipping as he rose. "No. Take care of Valgaav, Filia dear. Wouldn't want him to set himself on fire or anything."
Glaring at him, she growled, "Filthy monster . . ."
He crossed his arms and smiled. "Go inside, stupid dragon, you'll freeze to death out here. Or do I have to carry you in myself?"
"See you when you get back to New Sairaag!" He grinned and disappeared.
Filia stomped back to the house, so angry at his words that she didn't realize she was doing exactly as he had ordered.
Kenda, NY - Amerika
May 26th 2002 - 657 years into the future
. . .
"So," the blonde glared across the table as she gulped her tea, "you're trying to tell me that a Monster is attempting to resurrect all of Shabranigdo into his OWN BODY? Does he actually think he can control the Dark Lord?"
Xellos smiled, knowing the glare was mostly pretense. "Yes, my dear. He does." He sipped his own tea more calmly; the homey kitchen was always soothing, as was, of course, the delicious company. "Your tea is wonderful, as always," he added, anticipating the morsels awaiting him.
Filia slammed her tea cup down hard enough to splash the tea across the table. "Dammit, this is no time for pleasantries! If you're telling the truth, which," she added snidely, eyes scornful, "I doubt – then the whole world's in danger!"
"Now, now!" he chuckled, leaning back in his chair to study her and lap up the wash of emotions. "You've done a good job of getting your anger under control over the years, but swearing? Is that any way for a priestess to behave?" She flushed in rage and opened her mouth, but he quipped, "Of course, you did absolve your involvement with that particular religion, didn't you?"
Xellos ducked a barbell with a grin, and didn't blink as it broke the back of his chair. "Tisk, tisk, but, you are right," he nodded with a smile, eyes closing for a few moments. "If Telgaln finds the rest of the philosopher stone and binds the pieces, no one may be able to stop him, and Shabranigdo will never truly be reborn, only manipulated."
With a snarl, she smacked her hands down on the kitchen table and leaned over to glare into his violet eyes. "Damn it, you bastard! Why should I even believe your ludicrous story?" she cried. "You're nothing but a liar!"
"What . . . ?" He broke his eyes away from the bikini-clad area of her body swaying below her shoulders and looked at her with faux confusion. "What were you saying? You're rather distracting sometimes, you know. Are you really planning on going out in public like that?"
She flushed the length of her body and glanced down at the pink bikini she wore. "Why you!" With a roar, she jumped to attack him, knocking the chair to the floor when he suddenly wasn't there.
A hand tapped her shoulder, and she spun, azure eyes blazing. "XELLOS!"
"Yes?" he asked, smiling. "You aren't going to ruin my suit again, are you?"
Filia Ul Copt grabbed his shirt and tie in her hands and said, "We'll finish this elsewhere, Mazoku scum!"
The surroundings shifted into green sunlight and Xellos grinned, then grabbed Filia around the waist. "Such harsh words, dragoness," he smiled suavely.
"Let go!" She struggled, but her arms were trapped.
"You know," he smiled at Filia as she phased out and popped back a few trees away, "this isn't exactly the beach."
"It would be," she snarled from across the clearing, arms crossed, "if you hadn't shown up!"
Xellos shook his amethyst head and sighed. "I apologize. It would be horrible to waste that lovely body on just me, wouldn't it?"
"Pervert! Don't you have anyone else to torment?"
He leaned his back against a tree and pretended to think, crossing his arms. "Hm . . . not really. Though, you ask that almost every time I visit."
"Because you visit every week!" she yelled piercingly.
With a sigh, Xellos looked at her frankly. "You really have gotten calmer, you know."
Clenching her fists, Filia growled, "Is that an insult?"
Xellos shook his head again, feeling a sudden dourness settling over him like a shroud. "No, Filia," he said softly, studying the grass. He raised his gaze to meet her own cerulean one. "You're right, I shouldn't be joking when something so grave is occurring. But I admit that at this point, there's little we can do."
"Of course there are things we can do!" Filia exclaimed, forgetting her embarrassment for the time being. "We could try to find the philosopher stone pieces, for one!"
Good, Filia. You've managed to not only curb your anger enough to consider the problem at hand, you also lit upon a decent idea. Of course it was the idea he wanted her to have. His eyebrows rose to taunt her. "And how would we find them, what with both our busy lives?"
"I . . ." she paused and stepped closer. "I don't know. We'll find a way. And what about the other monsters, can't they help? This is their problem, too!"
"I'm afraid not," he shook his head with a wry grin. "I informed the highest Mazoku in this area of the universe, and I have to admit that most of them . . . no, all of them, want nothing to do with him." He closed his eyes with a smile. "Not that they believe he can really find the remaining philosopher stones, or that he could survive Lord Ruby Eyes' rebirth, let alone control him. Lord Zelas has decided to give me a vacation so I can try this out on my own."
Filia glared, untrusting; golden hair skittering in the wind. "So, why do you care so much if they don't?"
He shrugged. "I know this Telgaln, and he already has a fragment of the stone. If anyone could stand a chance at taking over, it's a monster with ambition and a piece. Not to mention, I like this planet the way it is; it's very enjoyable torturing the populous," he said, only obfuscating a little.
"Cruelty I should expect from a Mazoku," Filia spat in response, icy cerulean eyes stabbing him with intensity. "You couldn't possibly care about any creature but yourself."
Ouch. Xellos forced a smile and said, "Come now, Filia, you're one of my oldest acquaintances. Mazoku ARE capable of caring, it's just rather different from what you're used to."
"I doubt that," the blonde dragon announced haughtily. "Now, I'm going to relax at the beach. Please don't follow me."
Xellos raised his palms submissively and watched her disappear, then checked both planes for the presence of life.
Sighing, Xellos leaned back against the tree. He was alone.
"Shit." He hit the tree with a fist—firmly, but with only a fraction of his strength. No need to kill it, after all. "I should have been more serious with her. I should never have teased her so much after such a shock. But," he sighed, "she'll get over it."
He smiled at the memories of Filia's expressions and the delicious feelings of anger that had rolled off of her in response to him. "It was fun, but now she's really mad. Going to have to work on her more."
He turned away from her empty spot and stopped, hearing a melodic voice echoing through his mind.
"You couldn't possibly care about any creature but yourself."
Xellos crushed the voice swiftly. She's just stressed out from this new information, that's all, he told himself as he walked into the astral plane. She doesn't mean it.
Filia relaxed on the towel and tried to allow the sound of the ocean to calm her nerves. But try as she might, her thoughts continued to return to Xellos.
I shouldn't have gotten so upset, she chided herself. It was just another joke of his, no big deal.
Her eyes narrowed as another thought surfaced. But this time he went too far! He knows what would scare me, that definitely did! He should know better than to play a joke that would frighten me so much.
She closed her eyes to the blinding sun and sighed heavily. "This time he went too far. I won't apologize for the things I said."
Who said you had to apologize? a snide part of her replied. Unless deep down you think you should . . .
Filia banished the thought from her mind by sitting up and gazing out onto the ocean, her long hair down and spilling across her back. "Maybe a swim will clear my mind," she mused, pulling herself to her feet.
She padded through the sand and entered the clear water, senses tingling from the nearby filtering plant's magic.
Why don't you trust him? a part of her asked for the millionth time.
Because he's Mazoku. Every week, every day, the answer seemed more inane.
Ridiculous, her logical side continued. Xellos has never harmed you, never lied to you. He's helped you and supported you. Does it really matter WHAT he is?
The cool liquid surrounded her as she dived, open eyes unaffected by the salt water. Yes! He is evil by nature . . . Corrupt! No one can trust him. A slight fear rose in her as she awaited her own intelligent response . . .
Dogma, the mature part of her scoffed. How can you still believe it?
I don't know. Her mind blanked as she floated further into the depths. But what if it IS true? What then? Better to hide then risk being betrayed.
Some part of her knew she had already taken the risk and proven it invalid . . . but fear won the day.