Slayers Fan Fiction ❯ Slayers: Alive ❯ Chapter 18

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Slayers: Alive - Episode 052: Quarrels! Show Me How To Care

Lina's not so merry band of travelers was fully aware of the lovers', or perhaps ex-lovers', spat between Xellos and Filia. The same fact applied to the majority of the inn's current guests, yet the shouting had been so fierce that they dared not complain. At least the quarreling couple had quieted by now. While Filia enjoyed her stolen ice-cream on a rooftop somewhere in town, Xellos proceeded with his investigation. Sure, why not? He had already dragged his stubborn pride through the mud and danced a stupid little dance on top of it. So why shouldn't he ask all sorts of mortifying questions for the sake of survival?

Besides, he was Xellos; it took a lot to embarrass him. The part that really bothered him was how exposed he had been lately. It wasn't like back when they infiltrated that all female kingdom. He didn't have a big problem with parading around in a pretty dress, because back then he was still the trickster who was somewhat in control of the situation behind the scenes.

Okay, no more hesitation, Xellos knocked on Gourry's door. The sleepy blond opened it and blinked in surprised confusion. After a few more seconds of trying to figure out why Xellos was visiting him so late and failing miserably to do so, Gourry finally settled for voicing a simple, "hi."

"Hi," Xellos replied with a painted cheerful smile that was only all too fake. "Can I talk to you?"

"You already are," Gourry pointed out. He did have times when he came up with smart observations. They were very rare times that came once upon a blue moon.

"True," Xellos agreed without losing his grin. "I mean that I want to ask you something, not out in the hall."

"Okay, come in then." Gourry stepped aside, allowing Xellos passage into his room. "So what did you want to ask?" He curiously inquired.

Xellos figured that he might as well be direct. "How does one go about falling in love?"

Gourry tilted his head to the side in confusion. "Don't you already know that from experience with Filia?"

"Apparently not," Xellos admitted, "and I'm afraid I've heard nothing but bad things about the guidebooks they have available in libraries and cheesy bookshops." He was back into trickster mode with his usual abundant cheer and sarcastic remarks. He needed some familiarity in his own behavior if he was going to keep his sanity while facing all these insane hardships.

"Oh well, let's see," Gourry looked like he was thinking really hard, his tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth in deep concentration. "You're in love when you want to be with someone, a lot. The one you love is like a part of your life that you would miss too much to let go of."

Did Xellos miss Filia? It was a bit soon to tell, he had seen her not too long ago. He did occasionally get a whim to visit her for no reason other than to annoy her in the past, but that certainly couldn't have been akin to love, not back then anyway, it was more like entertainment. As for something more recent, he had come up with a plan to continue seeing Filia even after he obtained his cure. Maybe that counted for something. "I see," it had taken Gourry a lot of effort just to come up with that reply, so Xellos decided not to push the poor guy into working too hard, least his single lonely brain cell die out on him. "Thanks for the information," Xellos smiled cheerfully like he used to do as a monster and let himself out of the room.

xoxox xox xoxox

Xellos then proceeded to knock on Lina's door and wait. He knocked again until the door was finally opened by a furious redhead. "This better be important!" She growled dangerously.

"Hello to you too, Lina," Xellos smiled, though he knew he better stop pushing his luck. "I wanted to ask for your insight about something."

"Something that couldn't wait until morning?" Lina demanded angrily.

Xellos ignored the complaint and continued. "How does one go about falling in love?"

"Excuse me? Why are you asking me such a thing?" Lina blushed, her face becoming as red as her hair.

"You're in love with your boyfriend, aren't you?" Xellos teased. "Oh, sorry, I meant to say that you're in love with your fiance. Lina Inverse loves Gourry Gabriev," Xellos couldn't help it, Lina was too much fun to tease sometimes.

"Go take out your heartbreak on someone else!" Lina shouted loudly, then slammed the door closed and locked it. Xellos was left standing in the hallway amused by her reaction, but knowing he just wasted his opportunity to get more information.

xoxox xox xoxox

Next in the agenda was visiting Zelgadis for more information on the same subject. Xellos knew that Zelgadis wouldn't be eager to talk to him, let alone in the middle of the night, but he would try anyway. Thus Xellos knocked on Zelgadis' door. Zelgadis opened the door with a noticeable red tint on his face, "Ame... Xellos?" The red color in Zelgadis' face went from representing infatuation to representing anger. "What are you doing here?"

Xellos found that maintaining his cheerful expression had become a little easier for the time in which he could witness Zelgadis' embarrassment with mocking eyes. "Why were you expecting Amelia here in the middle of the night?"

Blushing even more deeply, Zelgadis growled threateningly, "none of your business!"

"I'm sure it's not," Xellos grinned teasingly. "I don't want to end up playing the third wheel if she does come, which I honestly doubt will happen in spite of all your mischievous wishful thinking, so-"

"It's not like that!" Zelgadis snapped.

"Temper, temper, I just wanted to ask you a quick question, then I'll leave you to your much needed rest. You're so very grouchy right now," Xellos shook his index finger at Zelgadis, who was quite tempted to rip it off.

The chimera glared in a no nonsense sort of way, "ask your question and leave."

Again, Xellos tried to seek more information about the same matter. "How does one go about falling in love?"

"What?" Zelgadis snapped in annoyance. "What kind of a question is that?" He soon came up with a theory fueled by his lingering discomfort in his appearance, which Amelia was slowly healing. "Are you trying to tell me that no one could love a hideous freak like me?"

Xellos had to wonder where did Zelgadis get all that. The chimera had issues. Then again, Xellos was a mocking trickster, except this time he wasn't even trying. "That's not what I said."

"But you were thinking it!" Zelgadis yelled.

"No, I wasn't," Xellos pointed out as a matter of fact.

"Yes you were and I don't care!" Zelgadis shouted at the top of his lungs. "I don't care what you say, Amelia said I was cool, she accepts me as I am and I... I love Amelia!"

From Amelia's room, the princess loudly declared at the top of her lungs, "I love you too, Zelgadis!" The inn was feeling very much like a soap opera to those unfortunate enough to be stuck spending the night there. Zelgadis' blush deepened as he spaced out for a few seconds, then realized Xellos was staring at him and promptly closed the door on his face.

The randomness didn't end there, as Gourry suddenly called out from within his room, "I love you Lina!"

"What?" Lina exclaimed from her own room.

"I said I love you Lina!" Gourry repeated.

"Did you eat a poisonous octopus again? Why do I have to pay for the inn?" Lina argued loudly.

"I'm not speaking octopice, I really do love you!" Gourry replied, yelling to be heard from his room.

"Why are you yelling that out, you jellyfish brain?" Lina argued in the same shouting fashion that was keeping the whole inn awake.

"Because Zelgadis and Amelia did," Gourry explained. "Isn't that part of the game?"

"We're not playing any games! Those two were just being annoyingly random!" Lina yelled in exasperation. "Go to sleep, Gourry!" A few seconds of blissful silence passed before Lina added with a red face that the whole gang could clearly imagine, "I love you too!"

xoxox xox xoxox

The last person that Xellos had left to interrogate was Amelia, the ally of justice. Xellos knocked on her room's door and watched as she opened the door as if she was expecting him. "Come in, Mr. Xellos."

Xellos stepped inside wondering how Amelia had concluded that he would be coming by. "Was I expected?"

"Sort of," Amelia motioned towards the table where there was a large bowl of cookie dough and a pile of books. "Actually, I was expecting Filia. I picked out a few chick novels for us to read and got some cookie dough so that I could properly console her. I guess I'll console you instead. It must be hard going through difficulties in your love life while everyone else is so in love!"

"Maybe coming here was a bad idea," Xellos theorized.

"Poor Mr. Xellos!" Amelia dramatized with big shiny eyes. "I feel so sorry for you even if this whole painful break up was very likely all your fault!" She placed her hand on her forehead as she threw her head back dramatically.

"Coming here was definitely a bad idea," Xellos concluded.

"Don't be afraid to cry on a friend's shoulder! I'm here for you!" Amelia insisted.

"You know what?" Xellos tried to talk some sense into the imaginative hyper princess. "I feel better already just knowing I have the support of such a good friend. In fact I feel well enough to go get some sleep right now." Xellos picked up the cookie dough and took it with him. There was no sense in letting Amelia's kindness go to waste. "I'll see everyone in the morning and I'll be ready to face a brand new day and all that stuff."

"That's the spirit Mr. Xellos!" Amelia cheered with unnecessary loudness as Xellos made a hasty retreat. At least he got some cookie dough out of his otherwise unsuccessful venture. "Oh, wait Mr. Xellos!" She called out as he reached the door. "Before you leave there's something else I have to say." Taking a deep breath, Amelia dramatically confessed, "I lost the game."

"You did?" Well, that was random, but then again, Amelia was a very random girl. Even if Xellos knew it, her comment still felt like it came out of no where.

"Yes, when Mr. Gourry said 'the game', even if he wasn't talking about that game, it made me think of the game," the Seyruun princess explained.

"I see, that game." The game was something invented by humans. The goal of the game was to not think about the game itself. Ironically, trying to avoid thinking about something, often leads to thinking about it, hence the challenge. Some claim that everyone in the world is constantly playing the game, while others say that only those who know the rules of the game are playing the game. When one thinks about the game, that person must announce to someone else that they lost the game. The game would go on for all of eternity, for as long as a living creature still exists, some would say. Others claim that one day the Lord of Nightmares will publicly announce that the game is up and that will finally be the end of it. Then Xellos realized something, he was thinking about the game too. "I lost the game," he admitted before finally retreating, this time without any further interruptions.

xoxox xox xoxox

The next day, the group got up bright and early with a chorus of yawns. They checked out of the inn among the glares of other sleepless guests, had some breakfast and left town. Filia was still giving Xellos the silent treatment and refused to look at him, while Xellos had made little progress in devising a strategy to ensure his survival. It looked as if the trip would be quiet and tense, yet uneventful. That perception changed when two fully transformed golden dragons landed on the path in front of Lina and company.

"Filia Ul Copt," one of the dragons on the path spoke harshly, his voice full of bitter anger. They were both clearly warriors, more ferocious than most golden dragons. "When you left the golden dragons we cut all ties with you and left you for dead. However, the stain you have placed upon the golden dragon name is too great! How dare you spread the word that the priest of Beast Master is under our protection during his inexplicable time of weakness?"

"Yeah, how dare you?" The second dragon appeared to be even more ferocious than the first with bulging muscles well marked under his golden scales. Unfortunately, he didn't appear to have the brains to match his brawn.

"That's a lie!" Filia yelled bitterly. "I hate that piece of raw garbage! Besides, the whole misunderstanding started because he disguised himself as a golden dragon. I had nothing to do with it!"

"Silence traitor!" The leader of the two dragon warriors roared.

"Yeah, shut up you!" His muscular comrade added.

"We will clean the name of the golden dragons by destroying the beast priest!" The smarter of the two declared, though given his intended goal, one would have to question his intellect.

"We sure will, you just watch!" The other dragon emphasized.

Seeing that this argument would be pointless, Lina quickly devised a plan. She really didn't need the golden dragons making her bodyguard job more difficult than it was. Besides, what if they showed up while she was visiting her family? Luna wasn't supposed to know she was playing bodyguard for a monster! "Excuse me! Can I point something out?"

"Lina Inverse," the smarter dragon warrior recognized her with disdain. "If you wish to defend the traitor, don't bother wasting your breath!"

"Yeah, don't bother!" The muscle-head dragon echoed.

"Actually, I have an interesting piece of information for you." Cue some exaggerated melodrama from Lina. "We're all this horrible monster's hostages! His lack of power is all a lie. Xellos is stronger than ever, he's just hiding his power. Oh please mighty golden dragons, save us from annihilation! Though you might get annihilated yourselves in the process of our rescue, I know you'll be willing to make that noble sacrifice."

Xellos tried to look as confident as he always was as a monster, hiding his frustration well. He began a quiet inaudible chant. "Darkness beyond twilight, crimson beyond blood that flows, buried in the stream of time is where your power grows."

Amelia realized what Lina's plan was as well. If the golden dragons thought Xellos was as powerful as ever, they wouldn't dare go after him. "It's terrible, Xellos is too strong for us, but you might stand a chance, with an army or two... maybe." She glanced at Zelgadis to play along.

Xellos continued his quiet chant while the others distracted the dragons. "I pledge myself to conquer all the foes who stand, before the mighty gift bestowed in my unworthy hands."

Though Zelgadis wasn't particularly fond of Xellos, since Amelia was asking him to play along, he did. "There was that incident in the War of the Monster's Fall, but I'm sure the dragon race has learned from it and has much better battle tactics now, please save us!"

Xellos was almost ready to cast the spell. "Let the fools who stand before me be destroyed, by the power you and I possess."

Gourry wasn't sure what was going on, but that was normal for him. "We're Xellos' hostages? I thought he-" Before Gourry could mess up the act, Lina and Amelia, who were standing in front of Xellos, jumped to the left and right of him, allowing him a clear path to his target. Amelia and Zelgadis Ray Winged themselves away, taking along the distraught Filia. In the opposite direction, Lina casted Ray Wing as well, taking Gourry to safety with her.

"Dragon Slave!" The massive explosion of Xellos' spell left a large crater on the ground, filled with the ashes of what once was a very buff golden dragon.

The other golden dragon just barely survived, since he wasn't the primary target. He would be the messenger who lived to warn the golden dragons that Xellos was too strong to pick a fight with. The charred injured golden dragon, got up with some difficulty and a look of horror. "Lina Inverse, you and your perverse companions are on your own. You got what you deserved for siding with that monster. Miss Ul Copt, it still stands that you are not recognized as a golden dragon and I'm sure you will never again be a citizen of our race. None of you are worthy of being rescued by the golden dragons!" With that final declaration, the injured dragon warrior flew away as fast as he could.

Once the danger of being caught in the blast from the Dragon Slave had passed, the group rejoined Xellos in the middle of the path. There was something that the cursed monster turned human thought was peculiar about what that so called golden dragon warrior had said. "Filia, why did he say you're not a golden dragon?"

"Because I'm not, but what's it to you?" Filia exploded in anger. "It's not like you care about me! Why would it matter to you that I got kicked out of my own race after the Darkstar incident? I don't need my golden dragon citizenship anyway." She had lost her health plan along with her golden dragon citizenship, but she no longer needed to fill up a yearly income tax form for the golden dragons, so it all worked out in the end. Golden dragon tax rates were killer, how else would they afford all those fancy temples after human slavery was outlawed? Filia knew that managing her shop would be a lot more difficult if she was still a golden dragon citizen.

"You're not a golden dragon," Xellos repeated. Sure, she was of the golden dragon species, but not officially recognized as one of their own by her race. There was the loophole. His cure was the willing kiss of a golden dragon and since Filia wasn't legally a golden dragon, she didn't count as a golden dragon for the curse. Stupid picky curse.

Filia decided that she wouldn't dignify Xellos with any more words and set out ahead of the group. Gourry was looking around confused. "Are we really hostages? Because I don't feel like a hostage."

"No, Gourry, we're not hostages, that was just an act, but it's over now," Lina explained.

"Really?" Gourry blinked in his usual clueless fashion. "That's too bad, if I knew we were supposed to be acting, I would have put up a really good hostage act!" Oh well, maybe next time he could participate.

Amelia looked at Filia as she wordlessly moved forward. One way or another she would help Xellos and Filia fix their problems and get together again. She didn't know how, but she would accomplish it. She would have to be sneaky about it, given how stubborn those two were. Perhaps she should let their anger cool off before making a move. The right moment to interfere would eventually present itself. Amelia was sure that she would know it when she saw it.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive - Episode 053: Visit! An Interesting Detour

Time passed and eventually, the journey towards Lina's village, Zephilia, was over. Filia was still avoiding Xellos, making a prominent point of ignoring him. In the last inn they stopped at before reaching the village, he had snuck into her room, sick and tired of being ignored and laid down next to her on the bed. Filia's only response was to rudely comment about the foul scent of the sheets wondering when was the last time they were washed and proceeding to sleep on a chair, not even directly looking at Xellos during the entire incident.

"Everyone better behave!" Lina warned as they entered the village. She eyed Xellos and Filia each individually for an extra long ten seconds. "I mean it!" The worried redhead emphasized. "If anyone asks, you're human and you've always been human," she warned Xellos.

"Understood," Xellos chirped in an overly cheerful voice, though he was actually feeling quite annoyed. Not only was Filia's stubborn choice to ignore him seriously getting on his nerves, but he was already weary of Luna. She was skilled in magic as the initial choice to take care of the Darkstar problem, though she ended up passing the task to Lina. She was the Knight of Ceifeed and thus wasn't supposed to like monsters. If she was as fearsome as Lina claimed her to be, then Xellos knew he better keep his mouth shut about his real identity or he wouldn't have a bodyguard to back him up if he got in over his head.

The group continued through the village until they came to a charming house with a charming dog house labeled as belonging to 'Spot' next to it and a charming... Wait a minute, that wasn't a charming dog! It was Dilgear in beast form, sleeping with half his body inside the dog house and half out. "Is that...?" Zelgadis couldn't even finish the question.

"Looks like him," Lina replied quietly. "I told you Luna's dangerous." The door to the house was opened and Lina jumped into Gourry's arms with a loud, "eek!"

"Lina, it's so nice of you to come! I calculated that you would arrive just about now," Luna greeted, ignoring her sister's obvious bout of fear. "It's a good thing I was right about your time of arrival. It would have been a shame if you kept your family waiting for too long. I even took the day off from my job today so we could all spend some time together. Let us go inside."

The group followed Lina inside the house, where a man old enough to be Lina's father was happily polishing a sword and a woman old enough to be Lina's mother was humming as she arranged flowers on a vase that Filia recognized. It was the vase she had mailed over to the Inverse household as thanks for their recommendation for Lina who, although she ate all of Filia's food budget in a very short time and ended up being rather unorthodox, eventually helped solve the Darkstar problem in the end. The man placed the sword on a display on the wall, which featured many other swords and bladed weapons that Gourry was eyeing with fascination. "Lina! How have you been doing, kiddo?" He patted her on the head like a father who thinks his daughter will forever be his little girl as most fathers do.

"I'm so glad you've come to visit, honey," Lina's mother gave her a gentle hug before taking a step back to get a good look at her daughter.

"Well, Lina? Aren't you going to introduce your friends?" Luna prompted with a carefree polite tone, yet despite her friendly smile, Lina's nerves were on edge.

"Of course!" Lina began the introductions as Luna would say is proper. "Father, this is Princess Amelia Wil Tesla Seyruun, Amelia, this is my honorable Father, Mr. Light Inverse. Mother, this is Princess Amelia Wil Tesla Seyruun, Amelia, this is my honorable mother, Mrs. Labyrinthine Inverse. Luna, this is Princess Amelia Wil Tesla Seyruun, Amelia, this is my honorable elder sister, Miss Luna Inverse." Proper titles needed to be included of course. Lina continued with the introductions without even stopping to catch her breath. "Father, this is-"

Light laughed in a very Philionel-like fashion, though his proportions were those of a normal, though well built, man. "I'm glad you remember the good manners your sister taught you, but you don't have to be so formal, not to mention so repetitive."

"Oh, right," Lina laughed, relieved that she wouldn't have to say such a mouthful of individual introductions and finished summarizing the rest. "This is Lady Filia Ul Copt, whom I think you already met." Filia was a golden dragon, in species at least, thus she should have an easier time getting on Luna's good side. Plus Filia had already survived an earlier encounter with Luna during the start of the whole Darkstar incident and was evidently not traumatized by it. Filia was certainly a very brave soul, Lina mentally noted.

"Oh yes, we had such a lovely time baking cookies when Filia was last here." Labyrinthine giggled like a school girl at the fond memory. "Dear Filia kept saying she had to hurry on her way, but I talked her into staying for some fireball baking. Nothing like magic to bring out the flavor in food!"

"I agree!" Filia decided that she wouldn't let her rotten mood concerning Xellos ruin her visit to the Inverse family. "Thank you so much for teaching me that super chunky chocolate chip cookie recipe."

"You're welcome; I do hope we all get the chance to bake something delicious again. Ah, but we can talk after we're done with the introductions." Lina's mother smiled as she prompted her youngest daughter to continue.

Lina went on with the introductions. "This is Sir Zelgadis Graywords of Seyruun." Never mind that Luna herself was often less formal than that. Lina didn't want to risk Luna criticizing her if she didn't stretch politeness to the extremes. Zelgadis took his turn to smile and nod as everyone had done during Lina's little role call.

Deciding that it was best to leave her fiance for last, Lina continued on with Xellos. "This is Xellos Me-" oh no! She almost called him Xellos Metallium.

It wouldn't do to introduce him just as Xellos, Luna would ask with a critical tone 'doesn't Mr. Xellos have a family name? How could you not know the full name of your traveling companion? That's so terribly irresponsible of you, Lina!' Then again, Lina's fearful mind might be exaggerating, but she didn't want to take any chances!

"Metalburger," Lina finished, which prompted a discrete raise of the eyebrow from Xellos. He understood why she couldn't use Metallium as his surname, but couldn't she think of something better than Metalburger?

"Xellos," Luna mused, why does that name sound familiar?

"I'm sure it's only a coincidence!" Lina frantically insisted.

"Ah, yes, I remember now, that little girl that lives down the street has a cat named Sollex," Luna concluded casually. The Knight of Ceifeed wasn't easily tricked, but decided to humor her sister just this once. Lina let out a breath of relief, which she thought came too soon, as Luna was still giving Xellos the critical eye. "By the way, Mr. Metalburger..."

Xellos could feel his eye twitch in annoyance at the silly surname, "just Xellos is fine, Miss Inverse."

"Likewise, you may call me Luna," she replied still studying him. The group collectively held their breath fearing Luna's conclusion. Then she finally said with a fond smile. "Your hair is very nice."

"Thank you," Xellos replied with cautious politeness.

Lina observed Xellos, then Luna, then Xellos, then Luna again. She couldn't help it but to blurt out, "of course you like his hair, it's almost exactly like yours!" Just as quickly as the outburst came, Lina slapped both hands over her own mouth. "I mean, your hair looks very pretty today, Luna."

"Why thank you, Lina," Luna smiled, "however," her expression morphed into a frown. "I'm afraid I see some split ends on your hair. You must take better care of it. Just look at this young man's hair," she looked towards Gourry, "it's shiny and I'm sure it's silky soft as well. You should follow his example. By the way, you haven't introduced him yet, could he be..." Luna gave Lina a look that told her that this better be her fiance because if he was too cowardly to go meet Lina's family, then Luna would surely hunt him down.

"Yes," Lina nodded, blushing scarlet. "This is my fiance, Gourry Gabriev."

The atmosphere stood heavily still as Lina's parents and sister stared at Gourry waiting for him to say something. Finally, he spoke, "Elsydeon, Espelancer, Masamune, Muramasa, Tessaiga."

'Oh no! All this pressure made Gourry go insane!' Lina thought in agony. 'Poor Gourry, this was too much for him.' A silent moment passed as Lina quietly mourned for Gourry's dearly departed sanity.

Suddenly, Light loudly exclaimed, "exactly!" In a very cheerful voice and Lina had to wonder if her father had gone crazy during her absence, though neither her mother nor her sister appeared to be alarmed. "You have a good eye, my son. You recognized my best swords right from the start. I have lots more in the basement. I used to be a mercenary before becoming a merchant. I've amassed quite the collection of swords and other bladed weapons over the years. A swordsman who knows his swords this well must be skilled. What do you say we have ourselves a little spar for old time's sake, my boy? I still got some skill left in me. You might learn a thing or two."

"I would be honored, sir," Gourry politely replied with a friendly smile, while Lina and the rest of her traveling companions stared in awe.

"Oh, such a smart young man!" Labyrinthine exclaimed.

"Thank you,..." The name of Lina's mother was too long and Gourry couldn't remember it. He was sure it was impolite to forget the name of one's mother in law, thus he tried to fix his shortcoming as best he could by calling her "Lady Inverse."

"Aw, and he's so polite too," Labyrinthine giggled. "It's no wonder you've charmed my little Lina. "Please call me mom!"

"And you must call me dad!" Light added.

Gourry smiled, glad that things appeared to be going so well. "If it is alright with you both." He was being polite just like his grandmother taught him; she taught him a lot of things that she assured him would be useful to him later in life and this was one of those times. "I appreciate your kindness."

Lina's jaw was nearly touching the floor, metaphorically of course, though her mouth was literally wide open. She didn't even know Gourry could act this civilized or manage to make himself sound smart by sprouting random sword related facts. She supposed that everyone had to have some subject they were good at, even Gourry.

"Let's allow the boys some time to talk about swords. Goodness knows that men are always thinking with, I mean about, their swords." Lina assumed that her mother meant to point out that, generally speaking, men were faster to pick fights then women. Although that wasn't really the case in the Inverse family, where the females were considerably more temperamental than the males. "Meanwhile, I can share some recipes with all of you."

A chorus of agreements followed from the girls who would be all too happy to personally investigate the sources of the appetizing scents drifting into the living room from the kitchen. Meanwhile, the men journeyed to the basement, where Light kept most of his sword collection, though the only one truly enjoying Light's lectures about each individual sword was Gourry. As for Xellos and Zelgadis, they just smiled and nodded politely as they assumed it would be best to do.

xoxox xox xoxox

The short visit to the Inverse household was much more pleasant to Lina than she imagined it would be. Though Luna did scold her for trying to eat the ingredients when they were cooking, Lina wisely ceased her gluttonous behavior and no real incidents occurred during the cooking process. Several hours later, the whole group consisting of Lina's traveling companions and family, gathered around the table to feast. Lina's table manners were surprisingly perfect. Thankfully, Gourry's survival instinct was strong enough to make him follow the example and behave well on the table too.

Though Lina was ready to leave right after dinner, her parents insisted that she should stay the night. Honestly, the thought of a delicious home cooked breakfast was very pleasant, thus she stayed. While the guys were given the little house' only guest room to share, the girls roomed with Luna in what Amelia happily declared to be a slumber party. Hair was braided, stories were told, snacks were eaten, teasing was done and there was much giggling. The whole experience helped Filia's mood improve considerably and by the following morning she didn't hold the same amount of bitter anger towards Xellos anymore.

After a delicious breakfast prepared by Labyrinthine's magical cooking techniques, Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Xellos and Filia were ready to hit the road again. According to the plan, not wanting to push her luck with Luna, Lina used their noble mission to investigate the famine affecting the outer world farm lands in the name of Seyruun as their excuse to leave without any further delays. As goodbyes were exchanged and the charming little house was left behind, Dilgear was content with pretending he didn't know Lina and company, though judging by his expression, he clearly did. The travelers returned the favor by pretending they only saw him as Luna's pet, Spot.

xoxox xox xoxox

The gang was on the road again, going further away from Lina's home village, back on their way to the farm lands where Elena and Palou used to live. In fact, Zephilia was no longer visible in the distance, proving that they were making steady progress, though a long journey still lay ahead. The trip was made more pleasant thanks to the large load of grapes the travelers were given to consume on the trip. Grapes were Zephilia's signature product after all. The group walked on quietly for the most part, munching on grapes as they went along, trying to protect their portions from Lina's voracious appetite and discussing how delicious Labyrinthine's grape pie was.

Further along the way they stopped at inns in each town they passed and continued making steady progress day by day. It seemed that neither the golden dragons nor the monsters were in the mood to attack Xellos lately. Lina had brought up the incident that occurred during their herb hunt at the mountains, now plains, near the town where Filia's shop was located. Yet Xellos was quick to assure that it must have all been some kind of misunderstanding and that there was no way Zelas could be secretly guarding him from the shadows. Maybe she even wanted to get rid of him, but if she did, she could have done so easily already. Also, if she wanted to keep him safe, there was no reason why she would have to be sneaky about it. Except maybe for the part about having a weak underling that needed protection being rather embarrassing.

Yet, if Zelas didn't want Xellos gone, why did she put him in such a risky situation in the first place? Why did he have to choose a dare and get cursed? He couldn't think of any piece of information that was vital enough to be worth his life to protect. What could he possibly know that not even he was aware he knew? He had been so focused on breaking his curse; he had not had time to think about that aspect. What could Zelas' plan be? Whatever it was, Xellos knew it was his role to follow it, but he still wanted to know. After stopping to think about it, the question plagued him constantly.

Xellos tried to focus on the present. Whatever Zelas wanted from him, she would get it. All he had to do was stay alive and he would eventually become aware of her plans. Assuming he could stay alive. He had been plotting about that too and had a plan in mind. He caught up with Zelgadis, who was holding the map and examined it.

Zelgadis glared in annoyance at Xellos purposely getting his head in the way, though he was certain that he could see the map just fine without having to lean over it like that. "Do you mind?" The chimera growled.

"Not at all," Xellos grinned and didn't get out of the way.

"I know how to get to where we're going," Zelgadis insisted.

"Can I borrow the map?" Xellos asked, still smiling obnoxiously.

"No," Zelgadis rolled up the map and put it in his cloak.

"C'mon, let me borrow it," Xellos tried to steal the map from Zelgadis' cloak.

The attempt caused Zelgadis to take the map out of his cloak and hand it to Amelia. "Please keep the map safe from Xellos; I'm sure he only wants to tare it apart."

"Why would you make such a cruel assumption?" Xellos made a dramatic sad face. "You're so mean!"

"You're so annoying!" Zelgadis mimicked the dramatic tone. "You've also been known to rip apart important documents in the past and you know that's our only map."

"It wouldn't do me any good for us to get lost," Xellos logically pointed out. He extended his hand towards the map that Amelia was holding. "Let me borrow it, just for a little while."

"No!" Taking her map protection mission seriously, Amelia tugged it into her shirt in the old trick many women used throughout the ages to keep small items away from men.

Xellos frowned, "that's not fair."

"Let's just trust Zelgadis' sense of direction, he's really good at navigating," Amelia encouraged, with Zelgadis clearly appreciating the compliment.

A few minutes passed in silence until Xellos asked. "Isn't the map kind of heavy, Amelia?"

"It's made of paper," Amelia pointed out as a matter of fact.

"If you don't trust me with it, why don't you let Filia help you carry it for a while? It's about time that lazy dragon did something to help out," Xellos slyly suggested.

"No way!" Amelia refused, "you'll try to steal it from her!"

"And she'd probably let me," Xellos winked at Filia, who was red with anger. At least she wasn't ignoring him completely. She was making furious faces at him again, that was some progress, even if she still wasn't at the point of words just yet. He could still sense her hurt frustration; she was not ready to excuse his past secrecy and ulterior motives, but she was considering it.

"I'm keeping the map," Amelia stated emphatically, hoping to stop another fight between Xellos and Filia before it truly began.

"Fine, be selfish," Xellos pouted with a sad face, hoping that would soften Amelia's determination, but it didn't. He decided to drop the subject for the time being. There would be plenty of time to get a map and elaborate on the plan he had in mind when they reached the next town.

To be Continued

Slayers: Alive - Episode 054: Kidnapping! The Mysterious Lady

In another inn that happened to be in the way to the next town in the journey, Lina and company were sitting at a table surrounding the map that Amelia had kept safe from Xellos. The monster turned human, had run off somewhere in town, joining his companions a while later with his own map in hand. "Since Zelgadis is so terribly selfish and wouldn't let me borrow his map, I got my own," he placed the map on the table. "You're going here," he pointed out the farming village were they were traveling to. I'm going here," he pointed at a location near the village. "So I guess we'll be traveling down the same road for a while."

"What's there?" Lina curiously asked. It didn't look like Xellos was actually pointing at anything on the map, or maybe something was missing from the depiction.

"I'll tell you later. We might as well stop at the village next to our destination," Xellos replied ambiguously. "And Lina... you might have to earn your payment when we get there."

Filia didn't like where the conversation was going. Xellos must be planning to cause trouble if he needed Lina's power to back him up. She frowned, but refused to speak to him.

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The journey continued normally until eventually, Lina, Gourry, Amelia, Zelgadis, Filia and Xellos reached the farming village they had been heading for. The place was indeed lacking in food, it was Lina's worse nightmare. There were no crops to be seen anywhere and the numerous healthy cattle that once roamed the land were few and sickly. "Lina," Xellos got the redhead out of her pitiful daze, "it's time to work."

"I'm not in the mood," Lina groaned. "This place is so depressing!"

"Come on, Lina, just think of all the money you're being paid for this," Xellos motivated. "If something goes wrong during my mission and I'm outnumbered and killed, you won't get paid anymore!" He reminded with more cheer than anyone should have when discussing their own death.

"Alright, alright, I'm coming," Lina noticed that Filia was giving her a meaningful look, as if trying to silently communicate that she should keep an eye on Xellos. "You guys can get started with blessing the land and what not. We'll catch up later."

Amelia nodded, all too eager to get really started with her mission, "good luck!" She wasn't sure what she was giving them well wishes to achieve, but she wished them success nonetheless.

Thus Lina and her inseparable companion, Gourry, followed Xellos to his room at the local inn, where they could privately discuss the plan Xellos had devised. In the mean time, Amelia and Filia went off to try to bless the land with their white and holy magic, with Zelgadis tagging along.

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In Xellos' room, he, Lina and Gourry sat around a small table listening to Xellos' explanation. "Though it's not on any map, there is a small villa in the plains south-east of here. That villa belongs to a golden dragon by the name of Celestina Ilumina. She is the only daughter of Orion Ilumina, a rich golden dragon, closely related to the dragon elders, who commands a vast portion of the golden dragons' market share. He also has participation in the councils of several dragon temples. In other words he's a note worthy politician and a wealthy business tycoon."

Neither Lina nor Gourry questioned Xellos' information. Lina knew that it was Xellos' business to know these things when he was spying for Beast Master and Gourry never got far questioning anything anyway. "Go on," Lina prompted, indicating with her eyes that she already knew what was coming. Xellos was going to pick a fight with the dragon, though she was yet to understand why it would benefit him to do so.

"My plan is to kidnap Celestina and hold her hostage to pressure Orion," Xellos revealed. "By those means, Orion will use his influence and bribery to return Filia's citizenship as a golden dragon."

"But Filia herself said she didn't need it," Lina reminded. "Besides, why would you want her to be a golden dragon? I don't get it. What are you trying to achieve with all this? I thought you might want to stay away from the golden dragons, given your current situation. If a large number of them come after us, I might not be able to effectively play my part as your bodyguard."

"We should have Celestina in our custody before the rest of the golden dragons even know what's going on," Xellos insisted.

"What's the point?" Lina demanded. "So what if Filia becomes a golden dragon citizen? Her race might try to take that citizenship away permanently by other methods, meaning by attacking her. Sure we can also use Celestina to protect her, but what would that accomplish? We can't keep her hostage forever, just as I don't intend to keep playing bodyguard for the rest of my life. Don't forget, my contract has a set expiration date."

"I haven't forgotten," Xellos kept his cheerful expression intact. "After Orion passes the bill to restore Filia's citizenship, we'll only need to keep Celestina for a short while longer. By then I should have accomplished what I need to do to recover my monster powers." That or Zelas would have lost her patience and killed him. "Once I'm a monster again, the golden dragons will not present a problem."

Lina gave Xellos a suspicious look, "Okay... Now you need to explain that in a way that actually makes sense. There's something you're failing to tell us."

"My cure..." Xellos half confessed. "Filia can cure me if she's an official golden dragon. There's another detail I need to take care of too, but it's..." complicated, confusing, impossible to explain. "It's nothing I can't handle," hopefully.

"All of this will be accomplished by some kind of magic, I take it?" Lina theorized. "Have you even told Filia that her participation is eventually expected?"

Xellos grinned with overconfident mockery, "she'll help out, she loves me."

"That's going a bit far," Lina couldn't help it but to shake her head. "None the less, Filia is pretty merciful, even if I doubt she still loves you after your harsh break up, she would still help. I guess that even if she's hurt, she doesn't need to be in love to want to save your life. She's helped out before your short relationship after all." Xellos was giving Lina a critical look which made her wonder what she could have said wrong. "What?"

"Nothing," Xellos pushed the thoughts away. Of course he could still count on Filia; he could always count on Filia... But that didn't mean she would always love him, she was merciful, not stupid, even though he called her a stupid dragon quite often. "This town used to be a place where human slaves were traded by dragons many years ago. In some kind of good will propaganda, it ended up as a town protected by dragons. Celestina trains maidens in magic in her villa, however, only women are allowed in."

Gourry's face paled as a cold chill went down his spine. "I don't understand what's going on, but I have a bad feeling about this."

"You're going to have to bear with it, Miss Lala," Lina warned Gourry.

"You call me Lala when you're about to make me dress as a girl," Gourry grimaced. "I don't want to!" He whined.

"Too bad, because you have to. If Xellos gets himself killed in this operation, my money's going down the drain!" Lina argued. "Besides, he'll have his monster powers back by the time we're ready to release Celestina." Xellos opened his mouth to suggest something rather Xellos-like, but Lina guessed what it was and shot down the suggestion before Xellos could even make it. "We're not getting rid of Celestina when we're done. I'm not going to pick a fight with the golden dragons for no reason. Besides, I'm pretty sure that would really make Filia reconsider helping you. And if you dare to ditch us after you get your powers back, I will find a way to survive, hunt you down and slay you, even if I have to call upon the power of the Lord of Nightmares and destroy the world along with you! Do I make myself clear?" Lina slammed her fist on the table with a fierce expression.

"Crystal clear, Miss Lili," Xellos calmly replied.

"Good to hear that, Miss Lulu." Lina nodded. "Okay, let's go get our disguises ready!" Lina exited Xellos' room, dragging a complaining Gourry along.

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Some time later, three beautiful women, out of which only one was an actual woman, left the town and headed for the villa. Gourry was wearing a pink dress, similar to the kind of dresses he was forced to wear in the past for similar situations. His hair was in pigtails and his face was adorned with bright pink lipstick and an expression of misery.

Lina had simpler attire, though she did change into a light blue skirt to enhance her feminine side, a white top and matching white boots. Her hair was up in a ponytail with a sky blue ribbon and her bangs styled to the side to make her face look somewhat different. To add to that effect, Lina wore some light makeup as well, with pale blue eye shadow and natural pink lipstick. "Seriously Xellos," Lina marbled as she stared at his feet. "How can you walk in those heels?"

Xellos, who was wearing a rather form fitting red dress with golden lining and a generous slit on the side of the skirt, grinned. "It's Lulu, remember?" He reminded in a very girly voice, batting his long eye lashes, the amethyst color of his eyes standing out against the hint of gold around them. The whole perfect face look was completed with red lipstick.

Lina rolled her eyes, that model walk of Xellos was simply too convincing. "I'm left wondering if you're a really great actor or..."

"I'm sure Filia will be able to answer that," Xellos winked. As it was obvious what he was hinting at, and Lina definitely didn't want to talk about it, the redhead decided to drop the subject.

After a relatively short walk, the three so called girls reached the villa, where they proceeded to call out a greeting from the front gates until a young woman came by to see what they wanted. "How may I help you, visitors?" The girl was a brunette with shrine maiden robes and a cheerful attitude.

"We're here to learn magic from Lady Celestina," Xellos, alias Lulu, innocently explained.

"Ah, more students for Lady Celestina's class, how nice." Taking a key from her pocket, the shrine maiden opened the gate. She was very easy to convince. Then again, few people were crazy enough to carry out ill intentions in the home of a dragon, especially in the outer world where magic wasn't as developed as in the lands previously inside the barrier. "Please follow me. My name is Catherine, or Cathy for short," she introduced herself as she led the three guests into the villa.

"Nice to meet you, I'm Lili," Lina cheerfully declared, as part of her act.

"I'm Lulu," Xellos added with a cute little giggle.

Gourry did his voice acting the best he could, albeit he knew it wouldn't be as good as Xellos'. "I'm Lala."

"Lili, Lulu and Lala, you have such cute names," Cathy commented with a cute giggle of her own. "Are you siblings perchance?"

"Yes, we are, that's why we look so similar to each other," Xellos, alias Lulu, was being sarcastic, but he didn't allow the sarcasm to become audible past his sweet feminine tone.

"I knew it!" Cathy dumbly exclaimed, she was a kind girl, but not too bright.

"Who are the guests, Cathy?" A girl with long blond hair inquired curiously.

"They're here to become Lady Celestina's students along with us. This is Lili, Lulu and Lala," Cathy introduced them.

"Nice to meet you, I'm Natalie, but you can call me Natie," it seemed that everyone except Lady Celestina had a nickname in the villa.

"Natie, could you keep our guests company while I informed Lady Celestina of their arrival?" Cathy requested.

"I would be happy to. In fact, I just finished baking some cinnamon bread." Natie's words immediately caught Lina's attention. "Would you like to come to the tea room for some tea and cinnamon bread?"

"We'd love to!" Lina and Gourry chorused, with Gourry's real voice being heard.

Gourry cleared his throat in the most girly fashion he could. "Oh my, I'm so thirsty my throat feels terribly dry."

"I'll make sure to add a few drops of medicine to your tea, Miss Lala. We wouldn't want you to lose your voice to a sore throat." Natie kindly offered.

"Thank you, I appreciate it," Gourry giggled, but really, his voice acting would never be as good as Xellos'.

xoxox xox xoxox

Lina, Gourry and Xellos, alias Lili, Lala and Lulu, were happily enjoying some tea and cinnamon bread, when Cathy returned to let them know that Lady Celestina was willing to interview them. The interviews would take place individually in the garden. "Why don't you go first, Lulu?" Lina suggested.

"If that's alright," Xellos agreed, exchanging a plotting look with his bodyguard. The tea room was conveniently located near the gardens that were visible from the tall glass window. In the garden, there was a woman in dragon robes with ankle length white hair, facing away from the window as she tended to the flowers. They concluded she was Celestina. Lina and Gourry would be able to watch Xellos from there and be ready to play their part in their get away.

"Actually," Cathy interrupted. "Lady Celestina has asked to see Lala first, then Lili and finally Lulu."

"Sounds like she wants to go by alphabetical order," Lina alias Lili, laughed with slight nervousness as she gave Gourry, alias Lala, a warning look. He better not blow their cover. "Go on ahead, Lala."

"Yes..." Gourry tried his best to keep up a good act. He could only hope that the questions Celestina asked in the interview were not too difficult.

After Gourry was gone, Lina casually voiced, "those flowers out there are very pretty. It's too bad flowers won't grow anywhere else around here."

"Oh yes, Lady Celestina tends to the gardens herself," Natie explained. "It is because of her power that those flowers are able to grow."

There was a moment of silence in which Lina and Xellos both debated how to carefully inquire about how suspicious that was without directly accusing Celestina and alarming the maidens. "You're wondering why Lady Celestina has not cured the famine of this land, aren't you?" Cathy suggested. "The question is written all over your faces and you wouldn't be the first to ask it. Lady Celestina has told us she is an observer and that should she interfere, all will be lost. I think she means that people need to learn to overcome hardship on their own, rather than relying on the power of the golden dragons for everything."

Natie nodded in agreement. "It's a valuable lesson."

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Gourry had gone out to the garden, occasionally glancing towards the window from which he knew that Lina and Xellos were discretely watching him. The garden was full of beautiful flowers in every color imaginable, making a deep contrast with the lack of vegetation that was all over the rest of the land. "Lady Celestina?" He asked quietly in the most feminine voice he could manage.

"You are a peculiar being. It was your voice calling her name which gave her the strength to cling to life. Stay strong and pure." Celestina didn't move from her position on her knees tending to the flowers, her back to Gourry, "go."

Gourry felt strange, as if he was in the presence of a very powerful being. He had this feeling before, but he couldn't remember when. He dared not say any more and simply returned to the tea room.

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Gourry quietly returned to the tea room and sat down looking kind of pale. Lina wondered if he had somehow managed to mess up in the short time he was out there, but no one was yelling or freaking out. Next up it was her turn, thus she went out.

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Lina approached Celestina, "Lady Celestina?"

Once again, Celestina did not move or look at her visitor. "You caused me to awaken from my partial slumber. I allowed you to live even after you gave up everything, do not expect it to happen again... go."

This feeling, this sensation of power, Lina had felt it before, but didn't know when. The redhead sorceress couldn't talk, she simply didn't have the strength to say anything. Celestina was definitely not an ordinary golden dragon. She probably wasn't even a golden dragon at all, but not a monster either. Lina somehow knew that she should heed the warning and quietly retreated back to the tea room.

xoxox xox xoxox

When Lina returned to the tea room she had the same pale complexion Gourry displayed. She discreetly shook her head at Xellos, warning him with her eyes. He gave her a hidden look of puzzlement before venturing out to see what had shocked them so much about such a short meeting.

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Xellos approached Celestina just as Gourry and Lina had done before him. His empathy appeared to get a clear signal of Natalie and Catherine's innocent cheer, but even when he was only a few feet away from Celestina, he couldn't sense anything at all. There was no emotion coming from her what so ever, but she still held a very strong presence, stronger than anything Xellos had ever felt. He doubted the maidens and townspeople were aware of this, it was as if Celestina was allowing her three special visitors to see her in a different way than everyone else.

Celestina slowly moved her head to glance at Xellos. Her eyes were a stunning golden color, as if they contained an endless galaxy of golden stars. Then he saw it, a vast blackness with no logic or harmony. In the mist of the chaos there was a single golden light shining brighter than anything he had ever seen. Xellos blinked and the vision was gone, he was in the garden once more and Celestina was once again looking at the flowers.

"The creatures of this world complicate things far beyond the simple truth." A silent pause passed until Celestina spoke again. "Even so, my dream will continue for the time being. This is all a part of it as well."

"You're..." Xellos couldn't finish, he simply dared not voice it.

"Go," Celestina bid him farewell in the same way as the others. Without another word, Xellos retreated to the tea room, where Lina and Gourry were waiting.

To be Continued