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Diary of a Dragon (Slayers - Xellos/Filia)

Discussion in 'Shipping Fics' started by Skiyomi, Nov 6, 2011.

  1. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Rating: PG-13
    Fandom: Slayers
    Genre: Adventure/Comedy/Romance
    Status: On-going
    Pairing: Xellos/Filia

    Summary: Filia chronicles her experiences traveling with Lina and company, attempting to save the world, and squabbling with that fascinatingly annoying monster. Set during Try.

    *****

    I'm back! This has been a long time coming, mostly because of school keeping me busy (and it will continue to keep me busy. Week after next is dead week) but I'm sorry for keeping you all waiting. This is a project I've been considering taking up for awhile and it's a bit different in format from my other stuff. Here are a couple of notes on this:

    1. This fanfictions owes a tremendous debt to my favorite fanfiction of all time "Lamentations of a Starry-Eyed Twit" by She's a Star (a Harry Potter, Snape/Sinistra fic) which is also a diary set up. It inspired this and it is excellent.
    2. Dates are there moreso to get a feel for the passage of time then anything since we don't know (or at least *I* don't know) what kind of calendar they operate on in the Slayers Universe. I considered making up my own calendar, but decided to go with the familiar. As such, don't assume that weather or holidays that exist in our world will match up with the dates here. Also the first day mentioned is my birthday. I'm the writer so I can do that :p
    3. Unfortunately Xellos's appearance is probalby several chapters off in the distance (it make me sad too). So there will have to be a wait for Filia to start scrawling X + F in little hearts in the margins (that's what's going to happen, right?)

    With that said, I hope you enjoy this first installment and continue on with me. Thanks for reading!

    Also posted on my fanfiction.net account.

    PM List
    -AbsolXWolf

    [img139]http://i1018.photobucket.com/albums/af308/prettypennylaw/bestauthor.png[/img139] [img139]http://i1018.photobucket.com/albums/af308/prettypennylaw/moststories.png[/img139]

    *****

    Diary of a Dragon

    Chapter 1. Into the Unknown.

    Sunday, February 19th.

    Bountameer Inn. Dining Hall. 4:16 pm.

    …I’m not sure what to write. I’ve never really done this before.

    Well, I guess that’s not really true. I’ve probably started a diary at least half a dozen times. It just always seemed like such a good idea to me ever since I’d read the suggestion in a conduct novel growing up. I mean, it would be nice to be able to go over the events of my day to be able to better puzzle over them—and of course to look back on and remember years down the line. And diary-keeping is supposed to be excellent for guiding the spiritual journeys of young ladies and keep them accountable for their behavior. But… I don’t think I’ve ever stuck with one journal for more than a week. I always meant to keep it up but it’s so much harder to do than it sounds. Some days it would seem like nothing would happen that was worth writing down and other days it seemed like so much had happened that I didn’t know where to begin to write it all down. And well… after awhile I’d found I’d let the diary lapse so long between entries that it didn’t seem worth it to continue from the same journal. So I’d start a new one. And… well, let’s just say that Sister Vesma always said that between the diaries and the origami that I was a gigantic waste of paper.

    Which I never thought was entirely fair, to be honest. After all, I’d always use the spare sheets from the diary eventually. It’s not like I just let those empty pages sit there. But I suppose she never felt a folded paper armadillo was their best use anyway.

    But I’m getting off topic. The point is that I must not let this journal lapse like the other ones. This time it’s not just about personal or spiritual reflection or even about the art of folding paper. This is for the Supreme Elder and the fate of the world. I must record everything that happens and I must stay focused.

    Oooh! There are so many different teas on the menu here! I wonder if they have Blue Archard tea or if they can’t get that in the barrier countries…?

    4:23 pm.

    I have my tea (Lemon Zinger. Blue Archard was absent from the menu) and I’m ready to be focused now. I think I’ve realized why it’s so hard to properly start this diary. The thing is that so much has already happened that it’s impossible to get everything straight in my mind if I just dive in right in the middle of things. No! I have to start at the beginning—lay out the framework of everything that’s led me away from the temple and to this inn in Elmekia; and everything that will lead me to my destination.

    It began last week on a day that started out pretty ordinary. I’d been asked to take some of the children from the dormitories out on a flying lesson—a difficult proposition all on its own since all the boys already think they’re expert fliers and won’t listen to any dragon without a beard. They were a more difficult bunch than usual because they couldn’t help but talk to one another about the pillar of light, which was not-so-conveniently-for-the-sake-of-class-attention-span framed against the distant mountains. I couldn’t really blame them though; it worried me too. All anyone really knew at that point was that the highest class of seers was devoting all of their attention toward finding out its cause. We all placed our trust in the elders to navigate us through whatever might be looming over the horizon, of course, but it was still so foreboding.

    I’d been about to take the children on a circular course around the temple when a dragon I recognized as one of the Supreme Elder’s clerks flew up to us. He told me that the Supreme Elder wanted to see me immediately, which was reason enough to hurry but not terribly unusual. What he said next was. He told me that the Supreme Elder had asked specifically that I meet him in my human form.

    It seemed rather peculiar to me. I mean, I’ve used my human form many times—anyone who can do it really has to just because it saves space in certain rooms like the dormitories. I take it more than a lot of dragons because smaller hands make handcrafts easier, but I’m by no means perfect at it. When I get well… frustrated my tail tends to pop out and sometimes my fangs even show. At least I haven’t bursts through any roofs which, just so you know, is not something every dragon can say. Still, I couldn’t imagine why he’d want to see me in my human form since he’d asked to meet me in the Great Cathedral, which is in no way a human-sized room.

    In any case, I went to the Great Cathedral, feeling rather small, swallowed up by the vaulted ceiling and the crushingly large statue of the Fire Dragon King in the center. When I got there I saw not only the Supreme Elder sitting behind the conference table, but all the rest of the elders lined up alongside him. It was then that I realized that this had to be something far more serious then the Supreme Elder simply advising me to work on my human form or quizzing me on the five holy spells of exorcism.

    The Supreme Elder greeted me pleasantly and asked me to please sit down in the chair in the center of the room. When I sat down it struck me that because of the rounded shape of the table I couldn’t see all the elders very well, but they could all see me—or glare at me, more like. They all looked so very grim except for the Supreme Elder. …Well, I suppose he did look a little grim too, but he manages to look grim in a kindly way.

    He asked me how I was doing and how my training was coming along. I answered him as best I could, but I knew this couldn’t be the reason he’d called me.

    “Sir,” I said tentatively, “could you please tell me what this is all about?”

    He looked at me very seriously and what he said next I have repeated to myself so many times over the past week that I will probably never forget it even if I don’t write it down.

    There shall come a controller of a dark star who shall call forth the light and the world shall be flooded with darkness. Dragon’s blood shall spread and, following the struggle between light and darkness, a single star shall be awakened. Around that star shall spin five lights. And the power will be a darkness beyond twilight, a brilliance beyond the dawn. When the power is unleashed we shall yield to an arrow-like force which will split the heavens apart.

    He gave me a very serious look as the echoes of his strange chant reverberated through the chamber. “Filia,” he said, “what can you make of this?”

    I didn’t bother to ask for more information. The Supreme Elder had tested me many times on scripture and prophecy interpretation and I knew he would only tell me more after I had given him my answer. Still… this couldn’t be a simple test. Not with the rest of the elders there.

    I stopped trying to figure out what his angle was and simply tried to focus on finding an interpretation. “Well,” I had tried hesitantly, “I think to start off with it sounds like the world is being threatened by some kind of destructive force.”

    “That much is obvious,” sneered Elder Balius. He spoke not to me, but to the Supreme Elder. “If this is all we can expect from her then I don’t know why you bothered calling her.”

    “Give her time,” the Supreme Elder answered, not taking his eyes off me. “Go on Filia. What sort of destructive force?”

    I tried to focus entirely on the passage and batten back the flush that I was sure had risen in my face. “Classically darkness refers to black magic,” I thought aloud, “or the monsters.” I thought about that some more and it stopped making sense. “But wait a minute,” I added, “Light by contrast represents holy magic and the Gods.” I looked up at them, unsure what to think of this riddle. “How can a dark force bring light that floods the world with darkness?”

    “It is a problem worth thinking about,” the Supreme Elder answered cryptically. “Yet, you are right to recognize both the servants of the Dark Lord and ourselves, the servants of the Gods, within that passage. ‘Darkness beyond twilight’ is, as you know…”

    “The Dark Lord’s spell,” I murmured, preferring to say that over its true name.

    “And ‘Brilliance beyond the dawn?’” the Supreme Elder asked.

    “That’s…” I began in a hushed voice, “the spell of…”

    “Of Ceifeed, yes,” The Supreme Elder finished.

    That had just made matters more confusing. “How could one power have the force of monsters and of the dragons?” I asked.

    “Impossible,” one of the elders insisted in a tone that made it clear that it had better be impossible or someone would be in a great deal of trouble.

    “Think of it a different way,” the Supreme Elder suggested. “A single star—a single vessel—shall arise to answer this grave and mysterious threat to our people and to the peace of the world itself. The passage says that this star follows the struggle between light and darkness. Think, Filia. What is neither wholly sacred nor irredeemably profane? What beings strive between the two poles, never quite able to become one thing or the other?”

    I tried to think of all he’d taught me about the world. ‘Not one thing or the other…’ It reminded me of something he’d said to me long ago about… about…

    “Do you mean… humans?” I ventured.

    I could hear a great exhale from the council of elders. For some it was a sigh; for others a groan. I felt as though I’d finally given them what they were so desperate to hear from me.

    “Yes,” the Supreme Elder had said, with a somewhat triumphant expression. “Humans are indeed what we believe that passage refers to. Well done, Filia.”

    I couldn’t help letting out my own sigh of relief. I hadn’t wanted to embarrass the Supreme Elder by getting the answer wrong.

    The Supreme Elder folded his hands in front of him and went on: “That passage is a prophecy that we received from our top scryer two nights ago. He was consulting the Gods about the reason behind the pillar of light that stands in the far distance over the sea and about what should be done concerning it.”

    “So it’s true?” I asked. I knew it couldn’t have been just a test, but I didn’t want to believe that such a frightful thing would really happen.

    “Yes,” the Supreme Elder said, nodding his aged head. “A time of great trial is ahead of us. The fate of our people and the peace of the world are both in check and if our interpretation of the prophecy is correct, then a human being is the only thing that stands between us and destruction.” He looked at me gravely. “Filia, we must find this human who can stand against the destruction and guide him to the pillar of light in order to face whatever resides there. That is the only way that we can protect the peace of this world.”

    The weight of this revelation was heavy on me, but I found it difficult to believe that if we could do nothing against this force that there could possibly be a human strong enough to overcome it, and I said so.

    “That is where you come in, Filia,” the Supreme Elder said.

    “Miss Ul Copt,” one of the other elders said in clipped tones. “Your part in this is to scour our records for a candidate possessing enough power to be the human race—and the world’s—champion.”

    “But why me?” I asked. It was out before I had time to think any better of it.

    “Duty before questions, Miss Ul Copt,” the same elder answered severely.

    “I have every confidence that you will find an appropriate option for us to consider, Filia,” the Supreme Elder said. “We will reconvene in three days’ time to hear your findings.”

    I wasn’t sure if I was dismissed or not, shaken as I was by this monumentally important task being dropped on my shoulders. I got up slowly and was about to leave when the Supreme Elder said one more thing.

    “With an eye to the future,” he said, “maintain your human form for the next three days. It will be good practice.”

    4:41 pm.

    It was good practice. It’s only thanks to being able to take human form that I can hang around in this crowded inn and kill time before dinner without causing a panic. It’s a very strange feeling to be outside the temple like this… before I’d barely ever even seen a human and now all of a sudden they’re everywhere. It’s gone from all dragons and no humans to all humans and no dragons. It’s very… isolating. Which is I suppose one of the reasons for this diary. The Supreme Elder said that it would help me maintain my devotion to the dragon race even while I’m out of the temple—so I won’t fall into the evil ways of the world. Plus it will aid in my report once I return.

    But I haven’t gotten there yet, I suppose. After I met with the elders I dutifully researched human heroes… or at least what humans call heroes. Most of them seemed like muscle-bound bullies to me. Shouldn’t a hero represent an ideal?

    After much searching I finally found someone that seemed like she’d be a good fit. She’s a Knight of Ceifeed, so she must possess quite a lot of power and be virtuous to be chosen to have the power of a God. As soon as I read about her I knew I’d found my winner.

    I reported my findings to the Council of Elders and they seemed reasonably pleased by my choice. The Supreme Elder congratulated me on my work and then told me that the next step was to approach the Knight and ask for her assistance. “Filia,” he asked, “will you be the one to make that journey?”

    I gulped. I’d had a feeling this question was coming and had prepared myself in advance. I was scared of leaving the temple and what I might face out there (or here, now) on my own—In fact, I’m still scared. But this was important and I was burning to help however I could—to do my part to save the world from destruction.

    “Yes, sir,” I said.

    “Are we to trust this entire mission to some hapless neophyte who’s hardly even stepped beyond the temple grounds?” another one of the elders cut in.

    I have to admit I… bristled at that comment. I know it’s not my place to disagree with the council of elders. They are our wisest and their guidance is what holds us together and gives us the strength to act in trying times. And it wasn’t as though I didn’t have my doubts too. Still, I am a priestess of the first holy order. A hapless neophyte I am most certainly not.

    “Yes, Filia has never been out of the temple on her own,” the Supreme Elder allowed, “but she’s well studied in terms of geography and culture, her magical and physical combat skills are exemplary, and her nature is suitable for interacting with humans. I’m sure she will not disappoint us.”

    Even though the rest of the council didn’t seem as sure as the Supreme Elder, it really bolstered my sense of self worth to know that he thought I could do this and that all my hard work had been noticed.

    So they gave me instructions to find the Knight of Ceifeed, persuade her to help us, and bring her back to the temple so the council could see her in person to be sure that she is the one the prophecy spoke of. They even gave me a reward to offer her to make sure she agrees! Imagine that—a reward for saving the world! Isn’t saving the world its own reward? I’m sure the Knight of Ceifeed will laugh over that and say that no reward in necessary for such a noble task.

    Still, it seems like the elders don’t want to take any chances. The Supreme Elder told me that if by some chance I’m unable to persuade the Knight of Ceifeed that he leaves it in my hands to find someone to replace her. I hope it doesn’t come to that. Ordinary humans only have so much power, after all. That’s why the Knight of Ceifeed is really our best and only option.

    It was after that that he told me to start keeping this diary on my journey and I’m going to do my very best to follow his advice. Maybe this will finally get me in the habit of keeping a journal after all!

    He also advised me to travel as efficiently as I could—but not to fly the entire way, since it’s important that I soak up the human culture so I can better blend into it. And anyway, I prefer walking to flying, to be perfectly honest. Flying just takes so much energy—if I walk I can travel for longer periods of time without needing rest.

    Still… I probably packed too much to take with me, so there’s a lot to lug around. Maybe I didn’t need to bring my own tea set but… well, you never know when you’re going to be out in the middle of nowhere and just dying for a cup of tea. And of course cat’s cradle and other craft equipment are a must in case I get bored. Clothes, cooking equipment, toiletries, camping gear, assorted knickknacks, a few guide books and language dictionaries… Well, when I started packing it was hard to stop. It was like I had the strange feeling that I’d never be able to come back to my room, so I had to snatch up everything that would be useful or was important to me. Which is crazy, of course. I’m just guiding the Knight back to the temple—after that the rest will probably be up to one of the higher ranking dragons. Or even if I do guide the Knight to the pillar of light, she’ll be the one doing most of the work and I’ll be right back at the temple in no time. ...Hopefully.

    Of course, the item that’s the most cumbersome to carry around is my mace. A girl on her own can’t be too careful, after all, so of course I had to bring it. But it wouldn’t fit in my pack and I get a lot of weird looks from people carrying it around. I think it makes them uncomfortable and they don’t see how someone with my frame could lift it. I don’t exactly want to start alerting people to the fact that I’m a dragon (hence the headdress to cover my ears) so I’m going to have to figure out some more inconspicuous way of carrying my mace…

    Oh well! I’m sure something will occur to me on the road. At least I’m well prepared if something bad does happen. And it’s best to keep positive about this. I will make it to Zephilia and I will persuade Luna Inverse to save the world and she will triumph against the destructive forces threatening the world.

    That’s right!

    4:56 pm.

    …Probably.
     
  2. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 2. Unexpected Obstacles.

    Sunday, February 27st.

    Park Bench. 1:24 pm.


    It’s a trial is what it is!

    I was told before I left the temple that the outside world was full of temptations that could pull even the most virtuous dragon from the path of right, but I suppose I never paid too much attention… I just thought… how bad could it really be?

    It turns out quite bad.

    …I guess that makes it sound worse than it actually is. The outside world isn’t really tempting in a blatantly sinful, debaucheries on every corner kind of way. That would have been easy to resist. It’s tempting in a more down to earth, subtle, paradoxically harder to resist kind of way.

    Human culture is just… so full of distractions!

    I mean, really! Parkways, theatres, music, sporting events, restaurants that sell every kind of food imaginable (and unimaginable), and everywhere it’s stores, stores, stores! How do humans ever manage to get anything important done with so many distractions all around?

    I have to admit that I’m practically dying to check these things out just because, well, there isn’t anything like this back at the temple. But I just… can’t. I mean, okay, I probably have time for a little recreation. I’ve covered a lot of ground by flying all morning and I should be in Zephilia very soon—plenty of time to rest up before hitting the road again, and therefore plenty of time to poke my head in a few shops, but… on my salary, I don’t think I can really justify it. I mean, my stipend is enough to feed me and pay for lodging all the way to Zephilia, and I’m sure that stipend will be increased when I take Miss Luna on the journey back, but I’m really not supposed to be spending that money on anything else.

    Can you just picture the look the rest of the elders would give me if I threw all my money away in… in an antique shop or something like that? They’d probably call it “predictably foolish feminine behavior” or something like that.

    …Which is really unfair. I’ve been sitting here for the last fifteen minutes and I’ve seen plenty of men going in and out of shops. It’s not as though consumerism is an exclusively female thing or anything.

    And they all have to wear clothes. …That’s one of the things I think humans really have right. There are so many different statements you can make with the right clothes. You put something on and it’s like you mark yourself apart from everyone else. And ever since traveling outside the temple I’ve seen so many different varieties of clothes, and some of the styles are just absolutely beautiful.

    It’s not the same in dragon form, you know. I mean, I try. I’m never without my pink bow. Some of the other dragons sneer at it, but I like it. It’s nice to be a little bit different.

    …You just can’t do too much more than that in full dragon form, though. First off, it takes so much more fabric, and secondly, it just doesn’t look as good. Clothes are designed with the human form in mind, and that transfer just doesn’t work very well to dragon form. I suppose it’s because with humans it’s so much more necessary to… well, cover up.

    But I’m in my human form now and I’ll have plenty of chance to enjoy clothes while I’m on this trip.

    …Except for the fact that I just have several pairs of the same old dress and priestess robes.

    Sigh.

    1:52 pm.

    There’s a clothing store just across the street from here.

    It’s staring at me.

    1:55 pm.

    I’m hoping that writing in here will keep me from succumbing to unauthorized spending. After all, this journal is the closest thing I have to a dragon confidant to keep me on the straight and narrow. My seat-mate certainly isn’t helping me resist, but that’s probably because it’s my mace.

    It’s amazing how people don’t want to sit next to you when a spiky, iron weapon is saving the spot.

    The weird looks it’s getting me are really starting to get annoying, and it’s just kind of cumbersome to carry around all day even if it’s no problem for me to lift. I thought about making some kind of hip holster for it out of leather—like you might see with swords. But that won’t stop people from raising their eyebrows and wondering why a girl my size is able to lift something like that. It’s a necessary evil, though. Sadly, a mace just isn’t meant to be a concealed weapon.

    2:02 pm.

    I just thought of something. I may not want to actually spend money on clothes I don’t need, but there shouldn’t be any harm in just… browsing, right? I mean, I don’t have to actually buy anything and I’m just resting here anyway, so I might as well entertain myself before I get back on my way.

    In fact… hanging around a human store would probably help me a great deal. I could observe human fashion, so I can blend in better while I’m out here. I mean, you never know when something innocuous like clothing conventions could come up in conversation and I’d look very out of place if I didn’t know such baseline things about the culture. After all, I wouldn’t want to blow my cover by not knowing all about covers! Ha! Ahaha! …Eh…

    Anyway, this wouldn’t be a shopping expedition; when you get right down to it, it’s research. And I’m supposed to be doing that on this trip, right? Right.

    …I wonder if they let you try things on without buying them?

    Patrelga’s Apparel. 2:35 pm.

    They do!

    Oooh, this was a bad idea. It’s easy to say you’re just going to browse when you’re outside a shop, but when you’re actually inside, looking at what you want, when the dress is actually on you and it fits so well and it looks so nice… well, that isn’t so easy.

    I’m trying very hard to remember everything I wrote before I came in here about what a bad idea it would be to start buying things now, because now that I’m in the store I know that it could be a very slippery slope, but…

    …don’t I deserve a little something nice?



    …That kind of thinking isn’t helping.

    2:41 pm.

    I’ve retreated to the intimates section (it’s what they call women’s underwear. For some reason they just call men’s underwear ‘men’s underwear.’ I suppose this is just another aspect of human culture that I do not yet fully understand) in the hopes that my purchasing temptations would die down here. After all, surely unlike the other sections of the store with their bright, colorful, beruffled merchandise, the underwear section had to be more subdued and plain.

    I was wrong. Even here, everything comes in every color of the rainbow with ribbons and ruffles and even sequins! In fact, most of the stuff here is more attention grabbing than the outerwear, and I don’t see how that makes sense in the least. The delicates here were obviously crafted with a great deal of skill and must’ve taken a long time to make—as is reflected in the gigantic price tag. Why would humans spend that much money and put that much thought into the design of clothing that won’t even be seen by anyone but the person wearing it?

    It’s yet another mystery of human thought and, even if I haven’t solved it yet, discovering it surely justifies this window shopping expedition, however surprisingly challenging it may have turned out to be on the spending front.

    …Perhaps the humans just want to wear something pretty for the sake of it? I mean, even if no one else knows that they’re wearing very expensive and elaborately designed underwear, that doesn’t change the fact that the person wearing them knows, and might feel a self-esteem boost because of it.

    …It still seems overkill for such a small reward though.

    2:53 pm.

    …I hear groaning. Either this store is haunted, or someone’s trying to pick up my mace.

    The nice thing about my mace is that I can leave it pretty much anywhere and be guaranteed that no one will steal it. Hardly anyone can even lift it, and those who can aren’t going to make a fast getaway. Still, I wish I had a better way of dealing with it then just tossing it around. It would be nice to have it on hand all the time in case trouble pops up—that’s what I brought it for, after all.

    I better go get it before whoever’s trying to lift it sprains something. I should probably get going anyway… it’s not like I can spend all day staring at garter belts.

    …Hmm…

    Junewell Lodge. 5:00 pm.

    Alright, so I bought something. But really, it’s completely justifiable and I couldn’t be happier with the decision, so I’m not about to languish guiltily about it. As soon as I saw those garter belts and thought of my mace something just clicked in my mind. With a little ingenuity and perhaps an attachment from a belt it would make the perfect holster for my mace. Not only would it be out of my hands, yet within reach whenever I needed it, but it would be hidden from view!

    I’ve already sewn up the completed product and I’m proud to say that it’s just about the cutest, frilliest weapon holster a girl could hope for. Well worth the money.

    …And yes, okay, perhaps the garter belt and the regular belt were the only items that I need to buy, but the garter belt came in a set that was really a good price for what I was getting. And it matches! It’s always nice to have things match. And perhaps I’ll find out firsthand why humans put such pageantry into things that no one else will see. The material is certainly quite fine, and the clerk who rung me up agreed that I’d made a very good choice.

    ...Though she also asked me if I had plans with a special someone tonight; which struck me as strange… I wonder what she meant by that?

    5:16 pm.

    …Oh. Oh.

    Oh no! She didn’t think…? Oh dear… oh dear, dear, dear!

    These… these kinds of clothes aren’t meant for just the person wearing them to enjoy are they?

    Oh my gosh. How could I have been so stupid?! She must’ve thought I was some kind of… some kind woman of easy virtue or something!

    No, no no. This is not my fault! The world of human fashion is treacherous! This was not the statement I was trying to make!

    5:22 pm.

    I don’t care—I’m keeping the garter belt!

    Wednesday, February 29th.

    Zephilia. Mimi’s Diner. 10:15 am.


    I’ve finally made it to Zephilia and I’m trying my very best to locate Miss Luna Inverse (and, you know, leave the unfortunate lingerie misunderstanding behind me). I asked around to see if anyone knew where she was and everyone said that she works at this diner. …Doesn’t that seem kind of… odd?

    I mean, what kind of job is waitressing for a Knight of Ceifeed? I suppose I could see a knight deciding to stay in a town like this instead of being part of a royal guard or traveling—it’s very admirable, after all, to want to protect one’s hometown, but… weren’t there any other options? I suppose something has to pay the bills between fighting off bandits, beasts, and demons but… waitressing? Really? And they have to wear such undignified uniforms here too… though I suppose the hat is rather cute.

    At least this probably means that the Knight will be easy enough to persuade to come along. After all, if she’s bored enough to take a job like this, that probably means she’s just about dying to get a chance to use her powers on something worthwhile.

    …But first I have to find her. The waitress who served me said Miss Luna wasn’t in today, so I suppose I can either come back tomorrow or see if I can find her address.

    At least the trip here wasn’t a total loss. This is the first place I’ve found since I crossed the barrier line where they serve blue archard tea. I mean, it’s not that hard to make, but I guess it’s pretty much an exclusively Outer World flavor and most people out here haven’t even heard of it.

    Mmmm. It smells heavenly.

    10:28 am.

    …Wait a minute. I… I didn’t even order this. How did she know I was from the…?

    Where did that waitress go?

    Thursday, March 1st.

    Porch of Inverse Family Home. 12:59 pm.


    There’s no doubt about it—yesterday’s disappearing mystery waitress was Miss Luna. The descriptions the townspeople gave me all matched. She must’ve realized I was from the Outer World… why else would she give me the tea? Did she figure out that I’m a golden dragon? …Why didn’t she tell me who she was? Why did she disappear?

    I don’t know, but I’m going to find out. I’ve tracked down the shop her father owns, which is attached to their home. If she’s not at the diner then she’s probably here, and if she’s not here now, she’ll probably come back. All I have to do is wait.

    …I’m just a little bit unsure about all of this now, though… there’s got to be something wrong. Why else would she avoid me? We’ve never even met!

    And… well, the townsfolk had a lot to say about her, though most of it wasn’t very helpful. One man I talked to asked me if I knew what ‘danger quotient’ meant, and when I asked what he was talking about he just laughed this really bitter, dark laugh. And everyone everyone wanted to tell me about how she supposedly killed a Plasma Dragon with a kitchen knife.

    Which, and I’m quoting a villager here, “was actually quite good with ketchup.”

    …I’m not at all comfortable with this.

    1:10 pm.

    But that doesn’t matter right now! I’m going through with this anyway. I’m sure that if I can just talk to Miss Luna we can sort everything out and once she realizes what’s at stake here, she’ll be more than happy to lend her powers in the fight against destruction.

    I’m going to go in right now and talk to her!

    Next to Mailbox of Inverse Family Home. 1:36 pm.

    …Well, that could’ve gone better.

    First of all, Miss Luna wasn’t there—or at least that’s what her father claimed. I told him that I had some business to discuss with his daughter and he said she was working. I asked him if it was alright if I waited for her to come home, since I really did need to talk to her. Mister Inverse told me that the floor was for customers and suggested that if I wasn’t one that I should get off of it.

    I have no idea what I’ve done to earn such unnecessarily rude treatment from these people. Can’t any of them appreciate that this is all to save the world? What’s a little minor inconvenience compared to that?

    Well, I’m torn. I guess I could go down to the diner and try to talk to her, but she’s already dodged me there before. …I guess I should just wait here until her shift ends and she comes home. If she wants to go inside then she’ll have to get past me and then I’ll finally be able to say my piece to her.

    So it’s settled. I’ll just wait for her to come back.

    4:30 pm.

    From here I can make out the backyard of the house, surrounded by a chain-link fence. What I thought was just a huge pile of grass in front of the dog house appears to have woken up.

    Why does Miss Luna own a giant green dog?

    5:51 pm.

    …Is that even a dog?

    6:27 pm.

    …It’s sitting up in a very un-doglike way. Like, with its legs crossed and everything. There’s no way a dog could do that.

    8:11 pm.

    It’s getting so cold out and there’s nothing to do but play cat’s cradle. I’m glad I brought my bag with preserved food or I’d have missed dinner.

    9:07 pm.

    …I suppose I could always go and check out the creepy not-a-dog, but…

    9:20 pm.

    No-ooo, I think I’ll stay right here, thank you.

    Friday, March 2nd.

    Next to Mailbox of Inverse Family Home. 2:15 am.


    It’s over.

    I don’t know why the Supreme Elder trusted me with this. The other elders were right; I’m just… how can I be of any help at all when I can’t even convince someone that the world is worth saving?

    What’s left now? I… I guess I could scrape together some mercenaries, but how could they possibly stand up against the threat the prophecy mentioned? Miss Luna was my best bet and that…

    Why? Why can’t I do anything at all to stop this? …And how will I tell the Supreme Elder that I failed?

    2:28 am.

    No. I won’t accept this! I said I’d stay and stay I will! She won’t get rid of me that easily. It’s her duty to represent the human race and it’s my duty to make her understand how important that is.

    I won’t be beaten. Not by this. Not after coming this far and with so many people counting on me!

    2:43 am.

    I’m tired, I’m sore from standing here all day, and I’m disappointed, but I’ve stopped crying and before I go to sleep I’m going to record what happened.

    I knew Miss Luna had finally come home when the green dog-thing started barking (Or… actually it was just going “Woof! Woof! Yip!” …There’s something very wrong there that I just don’t have time to examine. It’s probably better that way) and sure enough I looked down the road and saw the same waitress that had ditched me approaching. She stopped when she saw me.

    And then she just… walked past me and greeted the dog. Saying, “Did you miss me, Spot?” and such.

    Well, I hadn’t waited all that time just to be ignored. I said in my most authoritative voice: “Miss Luna, I have something very important to discuss with you!”

    She didn’t even turn around to look at me, but she did say: “The golden dragon from before? You don’t give up easily.”

    I stuck out my chin and walked up to her, trying to achieve some eye-contact. This was difficult because of her long bangs. But I looked her straight in the approximately-where-I-thought-her-eyes-were and said: “Miss Luna, I come to you with grave news. A prophecy has been uncovered which foretells terrible destruction, and a human savior—with a power born of the struggle between light and darkness—is the only thing that can save the world from the darkness that will flood it.”

    I was hoping for an “Oh, well, that’s different. I thought you were asking for a donation for the temple or something. Well, in that case I’d be happy to help!” but Miss Luna said nothing.

    “Miss Luna,” I said, trying to give her a little nudge in the right direction, “I believe that you are that human savior. Won’t you lend your mighty power as a Knight of Ceifeed in the fight against the darkness?”

    She tilted her head to the side like she was thinking about it. Then, after a torturously long amount of time she replied: “Sorry, I’m busy.”

    Needless to say, my jaw was nearly on the floor. “Busy?” I managed to choke out. “What could be more important than saving the world?”

    “My schedule is fixed through May,” she explained. “I could negotiate for a change in schedule after that, but I still won’t have enough time for your apocalypse even if I used up my sick day.”

    “I…” I was barely coherent at this point. It still makes no sense even looking back over the conversation. “You’re saying you won’t save the world… because you’re going to be too busy waiting tables?”

    She nodded at me as though there was nothing ridiculous at all in that statement.

    I clutched my head, trying to inject logic into the logic-less scenario. “Couldn’t you just… leave?” I asked. “Is your part-time job really worth more to you then the entire world?”

    “If I leave, I’ll lose my job,” she said curtly, ignoring my second question, “and my paycheck.”

    I grappled around desperately for a way around this. “There is a reward,” I told her hopefully.

    She gave a smile that seemed to indicate her doubts about the worth of the reward. What she said was: “Yes, but that’s a one time thing. Can you guarantee me job security?”

    I couldn’t think of what to say. I somehow doubt we need a permanent human hero on call, and even still I don’t think I’m authorized to make a long-term decision like that.

    “No?” Luna said when I didn’t answer. “What about health insurance? Dental? No, you wouldn’t provide that,” she answered herself. “Dragons grow a new set of teeth every fifty years, don’t they? If only it was that easy for the rest of us.”

    “Are,” I began, possibly-maybe tearing up a little at this point, “are you saying you won’t save countless innocent lives because you’ve got a job with better benefits?”

    She patted my shoulder. “Don’t take it too personally, Miss uh…”

    “Filia,” I spat, too miserable to be properly furious.

    “Filia,” she repeated, backing away toward the house. “I’m sure you’ll find someone else to fill the position.”

    I was too stunned to move for a minute. She was at the door before I said: “Wait!”

    She waited, and as a result I was forced to think of something to say. “I’m not leaving,” I said, voice wobbling only slightly, “until you agree to do this.”

    She seemed completely unaffected by my determined declaration. The last thing I heard before the door closed was: “Don’t bother Spot—he needs his beauty rest.”

    And that was it!

    This is absolutely insane and I don’t buy for one minute that she really won’t agree to save the world because of a petty scheduling conflict. That’s so obviously just an excuse to get out of it. How can a Knight of Ceifeed behave this way when people need her?

    I’m not giving up though. I meant what I said and I’m not leaving this spot until she does her duty and gives in!

    …Though… this is probably going to be a terrible place to sleep.

    7:30 am.

    There are dirt-clumps in my hair and I feel miserable all over. I woke up when someone (I think Miss Luna’s mother?) took out the trash. She gave me a look but didn’t say anything.

    4:09 pm.

    She’s walking that Spot-thing. I swear, it must be nearly twice as tall as Miss Luna, yet she’s walking it like it’s a dog.

    Nothing is right here!

    Saturday, March 3rd.

    3:35 pm.


    This isn’t working! She just walks right past me and no matter what I tell her it doesn’t seem to make a difference. I’ve told her the whole prophecy and about how it somehow relates to the pillar of light (which is easy to see from here and should be taken as evidence that I’m not lying). I’ve told her how the Supreme Elder is counting on me, but nothing moves her.

    She seems to spend all her time either working at the diner, helping out at the family business, and taking care of… the Spot-thing.

    Maybe this is really about needing someone around to take care of her family and her “dog?” If so, then why couldn’t she just say that?

    Sunday, March 4th.

    7:52 pm.


    Oh for heaven’s sake! How much longer is she going to hold out? I only have so much preserved food with me and before too long the elders back at the temple will be wondering what the hold up is!

    Neighborhood kids keep poking me with sticks…

    8:04 pm.

    But this is all for the peace of the world! I can’t walk away even in the face of adversity.

    Monday, March 5th.

    Zephiline Inn. 10:43 pm.


    …I’m not sure if I lost… or if I got a lucky reprieve.

    10:50 pm.

    Miss Luna came back from work this evening and, well, let me tell you, after camping out on her lawn for days in a row, I was in no mood to be polite. I was about to tell her just how selfish she was being by refusing her duty when… she handed me a letter.

    “Have you ever heard of a Lina Inverse?” she asked.

    I just kind of blinked for a moment before muttering that I thought I had—I think she had a page in Miss Luna’s file.

    “My little sister,” she explained. “She can fill in as the chosen one.”

    I sputtered. “B-but what about you? You can’t just pick any random person to do this job! It’s going to take someone unusually powerful!”

    “Check up on her,” Luna said. “Test her if you want. It’s not just her—she’s known for picking up traveling companions. Together they might just be enough.”

    It seemed like a lot to risk to me. The prophecy didn’t say what the destructive force was, and there’s a very real possibility that it could pick off weaker humans even if there were more of them. “Couldn’t you just—” I tried again.

    “There’s something you should know,” she cut across me. “The power between light and darkness… the power your prophecy talks about… is not the same as the power of Ceifeed. Even if I wasn’t… busy, I couldn’t help you.”

    My heart sank. I guess… I guess that’s the real reason why she wouldn’t do it. I chose wrong.

    “My sister’s the one you want,” Luna said, shrugging her shoulders so her neatly cropped maroon hair billowed slightly. “Her and her friends. You should know that they did beat the Hellmaster.”

    That did ring a bell. Yes… I did read about a Lina Inverse doing that, though according to the file it wasn’t on her own power. It was… that power. That didn’t sit right with me. Even if she was strong, someone who’d use a spell to destroy the world… well, how well could they protect it from destruction?

    Still… beating Hellmaster is something major. The most major thing that’s happened in awhile.

    ‘The power between light and darkness...’ Well, maybe it’s more darkness then I wanted, but maybe it’ll do…

    “What if she says no?” I asked. Call me crazy, but I’d already experienced enough of the Inverse clan’s stubbornness. I didn’t want to go through this again.

    “She won’t,” Miss Luna said confidently, nodding to the letter she’d past me. “Give her that and she’ll agree. If she doesn’t…” The moonlight caught a glint of her eyes behind the hair that covered them, “…then I’m afraid I’ll have to punish her.”

    I stared at her. “…Really?”

    “Oh, yes,” she answered. “After all, it’s an older sister’s job to keep her younger sister in line.”

    …And that… was pretty much that. I’ve been refused but… well, I do have another candidate now. I suppose Luna was more or less a lost cause from our first meeting, and it’s really no wonder she said no if her power isn’t the one mentioned in the prophecy (though, uh, she really could’ve told me that from the start). She even secured a replacement, which honestly is my job and not hers. Also she gave me a muffin before sending me on my way. So perhaps she’s not so bad. Just… eccentric? …Or insane?

    …Or maybe I look like the insane one for camping out on her lawn.

    Anyway, I’ll have to research Lina Inverse and her companions tomorrow. Who knows? Maybe this really is the better choice.

    …But that’s for tomorrow. Tonight I’m going to sleep in a real bed again!
     
  3. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 3. First Impressions are Very Important.

    Tuesday, March 6th.

    Zephiline Inn. 10:45 am.


    Ah…

    There’s really nothing better after camping out several nights in a row than finally being able to sleep in a real bed. I feel about ten times better now!

    …Of course, a person can only get away with snuggling under the warm covers of her bed for so long before the time comes to get up and get some work done—even if the person in question has had a rough few days and more than deserves to sleep in longer than she ordinarily might.

    But there’s so much to do and I’ve got to get started on it. Since Miss Luna’s no longer an option, I now have to focus my efforts on Miss Lina Inverse. But I can’t just take Miss Luna’s word that Miss Lina is the one—I’d really look like a fool if I went back to the temple with someone I hadn’t even checked up on.

    So… I’ve got to research her. But before that, I’ve got to figure out what I already know and what I still need to find out… that’ll help me decide what I need to do next.

    Let’s see… what do I remember from Miss Lina’s section in Miss Luna’s file? …Well, it’s undeniable that Miss Lina beat Hellmaster Phibrizzo, which is a stunning feat of power in and of itself. Though… she used the forbidden spell to do it… That’s what kept her off my radar in the first place—not just because it’s a terrible spell that easily could’ve destroyed the world (which is what I’m trying to prevent here), but because I don’t really know how powerful she is besides that. There is absolutely no way a human could’ve defeated Hellmaster Phibrizzo without the aid of that spell… so… what other tricks does she have? Is she strong without the spell or was that the only thing that gave her an edge? I would suppose she’d have to be powerful to wield it at all, but I don’t really know just how powerful that is.

    I also don’t really know what kind of person she is. Someone who would know that spell at all… well… I’m not really sure... Then again, I believe the file mentioned she was trapped into performing the spell—that Hellmaster Phibrizzo took hostages (perhaps the companions that Miss Luna mentioned?). So I can’t really cast aspersions on her for using it.

    …And her companions. Miss Luna had mentioned traveling companions, but I don’t even know their names, let alone how strong they are. A big part of this is their combined power standing in as a replacement for Miss Luna, so I’ll have to check up on them too.

    …I also have no idea where Miss Lina is right now.

    …That could be a problem…

    …But it’s not the first problem I have to deal with. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

    Thursday, March 8th.

    Seyruun City. Sorcery Guild. 3:32 pm.


    I’m in luck! I figured sorcery guilds would be the best place to go to dig up some information on Miss Lina, but this is even better—the head librarian actually remembers Miss Lina and her friends doing some research here last summer. I asked him if he could tell me about them and he seemed to have a lot to say. …Though most of it wasn’t nice.

    “I remember her,” he said, sniffing irritably. “Everyone remembers her. Traipsing into my library with her crew, leaving books everywhere and having the gall to threaten anyone who asked her to so much as keep her voice down.”

    “Well, she must have been researching something very important,” I said, trying to give my new savior candidate the fairest chance possible. “What do you know about Miss Lina Inverse?” I asked.

    “You’re not from around here, are you?” he asked with an unpleasant gleam in his eye. “They call her the bandit-killer, you know. Always blowing things up and causing trouble!”

    The way he was talking about her was starting to dampen my spirits. “Going after bandits isn’t so bad,” I tried. “After all, they are committing crimes.”

    “Yes, but from what I understand,” the librarian said, adjusting his turban furtively, “she keeps all the stolen goods for herself.”

    So… less of a ‘rob from the rich and give to the poor’ and more of a ‘rob from the rich and give to the ME.’ It didn’t exactly sound good to me, but if this was all just a rumor then maybe…

    “She’s in with the royal family,” the librarian continued despairingly. “Ever since they got acquainted things have been a lot less quiet around here if you catch my drift.” His furrowed eyebrows said in no uncertain terms that silence was his most cherished virtue… at least in others.

    “Oh, so is one of her friends a member of the Seyruun royal family?” I asked, hoping for a chance to delve more into Miss Lina’s companions’ histories.

    The librarian sighed. “Unfortunately Princess Amelia has fallen in with her lot.” He shook his head. “I don’t see why her father, His Royal Highness, allows it.”

    Since the palace isn’t that far from the guild, this naturally caught my attention. “Do you suppose if I asked the princess, she’d know where Miss Lina is right now?” I asked.

    The librarian tugged at his curly beard. “Perhaps,” he said, “but you won’t find her in the castle right now. Both she and Crown Prince Philionel have gone off to the coast to put together that naval expedition to the Outer World.”

    “Oh, well, that’s too bad—” I began, before completely processing this. Then my eyes flew open in shock. “Naval expedition?!” I repeated.

    “For the peace delegation,” the man continued, narrowing his eyes at me. “I’m surprised you haven’t already heard about it.”

    I calmed down after hearing ‘peace delegation.’ With the barrier continents and the Outer World meeting for the first time… well, peace is unfortunately not the only option available to them.

    “So,” I said, breathing deeper now, “Princess Amelia is one of Miss Lina’s companions. Do you remember anything about her other friends? Like their names?”

    He looked thoughtful for a moment and then excused himself. When he came back he was carrying a large book in his hands.

    “The sign-in book,” he explained, sitting down across from me and thumbing through it. After flipping several pages and mumbling as he went, he finally found the page he was looking for. “There,” he said, pointing at a collection of signatures. “There’s Lina Inverse and Princess Amelia… now who were the other…” He pushed his glasses up his nose. “‘Gourry Gabriev,’” he read, “and ‘Zelgadis Greywords.’”

    I wrote down the names and asked him what he remembered about them.

    “Well,” he said, taking off his glasses and rubbing at his eyes, “I think the one called Gourry Gabriev was the tall blonde swordsman. I believe I recall Lina Inverse shouting at him repeatedly and she used that name. He mostly napped and asked the others questions. He didn’t do any reading as far as I remember,” he added with a little sneer.

    “And the other one?” I asked. “Mister…” I looked at my notes again, “Zelgadis Greywords?”

    “Oh, I remember him,” the man said in a tone of distaste. “He bullied the whole staff into showing him our rarest books. A thoroughly rude individual—as though it wasn’t bad enough that he was freaking out our other customers.”

    “Freaking out?” I asked.

    “Some kind of chimera or something,” the man said with a wince. “Definitely something with golem, and probably some kind of goblin as well. He had no concern for how his appearance might be upsetting to the rest of us.”

    All that seemed rather… harsh to me. It’s not as though he can really help how he looks, right? Even though I’d gotten a lot of information out of the librarian, I was also starting to think that he didn’t have a nice word to say about anyone, so I began trying to draw the interview to a close.

    “So those are her friends,” I said. “Is there anything else you remember about Miss Lina herself?”

    The man gave it a great deal of thought before coming out with something that could not have taken a great deal of thought. “She has a flat chest.”

    I probably just stared at him in shock for the next minute or so before I could even begin to glare at him. Just how exactly is that in any way relevant?

    I kept my temper. “Thank you,” I said icily. “I was looking for something more like… how could I find her?”

    The librarian shrugged his shoulders. “Follow the explosions,” he offered.

    4:50 pm.

    Well, I’ve made up my mind and I’m inclined to keep seeking out Miss Lina and her group despite that unpleasant man’s negative opinion of them. After all, he seemed to hold leaving out his books against them more than anything else, and that’s not exactly a capital offense!

    I don’t know everything that I need to know about them before I can actually bring them in on this—but if I can find them then I can test out their powers and see the truth with my own eyes.

    Finding them will be the tricky thing—and no, I don’t find the librarian’s suggestion particularly helpful. Since everything I’ve heard about Miss Lina’s group seems to indicate that they travel a lot, even if I get a hint, it’ll be hard to catch up with them before they move on to somewhere else.

    …And that’s why I’ve decided to appeal to a higher power. I’m a little nervous, though. I’ve done prophecy exercises many times before, but that was all… just practice. This is actually important.

    Okay. I can do this. …What I’m going to do first is pray to the Fire Dragon King, opening up my mind to his spirit and influence, and shedding away my own preconceived notions of what I should do next so I can just… trust. Then I’m going to close my eyes and…

    …point to a space in an atlas I found. And that’ll be where Miss Lina is!

    …What? Not everything can be as romantic as crystal gazing. I have to work with what I’ve got!

    5:05 pm.

    Alright, here it goes… the prophesied location of Lina Inverse as ordained by the Fire Dragon King is…

    …The middle of the Demon Sea…

    …That can’t be right.

    5:08 pm.

    I’m going to try that again. Perhaps I just wasn’t concentrating hard enough.

    5:12 pm.

    Okay. The prophesied location of Lina Inverse as ordained by the Fire Dragon King (for real this time) is…

    Atlas City.

    5:17 pm.

    Hmmm… didn’t that mean librarian say something about Princess Amelia going off to lead a delegation to the Outer World? …And Miss Amelia is Miss Lina’s friend…

    …And Atlas City has the biggest harbor on the whole peninsula.

    I think things are finally starting to look up! Thank you, Fire Dragon King! Thank you for your wonderful guidance!

    Saturday, March 10th.

    Atlas City—Port Town. Bell Tower. 7:30 pm.


    It has been a long day (a long couple of days actually) but a very satisfying one. I flew all the way here because, well, I didn’t want to leave anything to chance and have to worry about them leaving before I got here. Between that and all the searching I’ve had to do today, I am absolutely exhausted. But it really is gorgeous here, and I’ve found such an excellent view of the town and the sea here. It’s amazing how comforting the sound of the tides is, and even the squawk of the seagulls is nice in its way. Perhaps I should’ve bought some breadcrumbs or something to feed them?

    Technically I’m still in Atlas City, but Atlas City is a big place and the harbor is right on the edge, so this area is much more suburban and peaceful. Though things are a bit more raucous than I think they’d usually be—what with the peace delegation being set up here (score one for my prophetic abilities!)

    Anyway, I’ve been asking all around town if anyone’s seen Lina Inverse and I finally found the answer I was looking for in one of the inns—she just checked in today! (Score two for my prophetic abilities!)

    I was all set to knock on the door of her room and spill everything about the prophecy of destruction and how I need her help and all that when I started to think… maybe it’s better not to rush at it like that. After all, it didn’t work on Miss Luna, and I certainly don’t need Miss Lina bolting away before I can even so much as give her the letter Miss Luna gave me.

    So… another letter might be a good way to draw her out. I don’t have to mention the prophecy of destruction (which might set her off like it did Miss Luna) from the start. I mean, until I test them there’s not even really any reason they should know about it.

    Maybe I could just say it’s for a… job? I mean, that’s certainly accurate and there’s a reward and everything. Anyone that makes their living traveling around isn’t about to sneeze at a chance to make some money. Okay, so maybe it’s not quite as… simple as just a ‘job’ sounds, but I can explain that to them after I’ve tested their powers.

    …That’s another thing—the testing. Oh, I know how I want to test them; I figured it out on the way here and it’s ridiculously simple. Any humans that can go toe-to-talon against a golden dragon would have to be quite powerful indeed. But how can we fight here without destroying the town?

    7:51 pm.

    The ocean?

    7:53 pm.

    Yes, that’s perfect! There are plenty of boats here so we can fight over water and leave the town and residents completely safe!

    I’ll get going on that letter right away!

    7:56 pm.

    Oooh! And I’ll have a chance to use my official Fire Dragon King stamp to seal the letter—I’ve been dying for a chance to use it.

    …Okay, so it’s not official. I carved it out of a potato.

    …But it’s still very nice!

    Sunday, March 11th.

    Harbor Inn. 6:04 am.


    I just slipped the letter under Miss Lina’s door. Hopefully she’ll agree to meet up with me later this afternoon, but it’s in fate’s hands now.

    Bell Tower. 3:00 pm.

    They’re here!

    …I should probably go out and greet them instead of hiding by the stairway, but… I’ve just got to sort of… collect myself a bit. I don’t want to put them off by being nervous or jumpy or anything like that.

    Calm, cool, collected. That’s the way.

    There are only three of them here—it looks like Miss Amelia is the one that’s absent, but that’s to be expected considering she’s supposed to be part of the christening for the peace delegation. Miss Lina doesn’t bear much resemblance at all to her sister. She and the man I’m assuming is Zelgadis Greywords are talking about something to do with a cure and the Outer World (it’s hard to catch anything from this distance because it’s very windy up here).

    I must say I’m kind of… I don’t know if I’d use the word disappointed, but I guess that’s close enough, in Mister Zelgadis. I mean, it’s not like I wanted that or anything, but the way the librarian was talking and making disgusted faces and everything, I was expecting something more… extreme. I mean, yes his skin is kind of bluish and rocky and his hair looks like it might actually be quite sharp, but it’s actually sort of striking. I don’t see why anyone would find that especially freaky.

    I suppose that just goes to show that the librarian was exaggerating about them and they can’t be as bad as he made them out to be. I take that as a good sign.

    The other one, who must me Mister Gourry, seems to have fallen asleep on the steps. I can only see the back of his head.

    …Oh, Miss Lina pulled out the letter. I suppose I’d better stop stalling and go to greet them.

    It’s going to work out this time—calm, cool, and collected. That’s how it’s going to be.

    Harbor Inn. 3:40 pm.

    I HAVE NEVER BEEN TREATED SO DISGRACEFULLY IN MY ENTIRE LIFE!

    I can hardly believe that he—that anyone would—well, I ask you, is that any way for a person to behave?!

    At first it seemed like everything is going great; we’re having a nice conversation and then BAM! It’s all ruined! Well, I’ll tell you one thing: he got what he deserved! I was trying to stay calm, cool, collected, and all that other stuff, but I have my limits! And to do that is just… just beyond ungentlemanly.

    And Miss Luna suggested these people? She has to be out of her mind! How can Miss Lina be the representative of the human race if one of her traveling companions is such a… such a… pervert!

    No! They can’t be right! I don’t care if it’s back to the drawing board—these people cannot be the ones the prophecy mentioned!

    “It’s not what you think.” HA! What else could it possibly be?!

    3:51 pm.

    And as if I needed something else to go wrong, I tripped on my tail on the way back here and fell on the stone stairs. All this day needed was a bruise on my elbow to make everything just pitch perfect!

    3:56 pm.

    …Wait a minute… my tail was out?

    3:58 pm.

    …Then that means maybe he wasn’t…

    Oh.

    4:15 pm.

    Okay well… now I just feel phenomenally stupid. I mean… it was certainly a reasonable conclusion for me to jump to under the circumstances, but… I suppose it turns out that it really wasn’t what I thought.

    …And I sent him flying so hard that it knocked the bell out of the tower… that wouldn’t have been right even if it was what I thought since it’s not like the tower owner did anything to earn my anger. And then both Mister Gourry and the bell ended up in the sea…

    …pretty far out too.

    Well, okay, this is not entirely my fault. He could’ve asked about the tail! Looking up my skirt was not the only option available to him!

    4:22 pm.

    …I still feel bad about it, though. And I’m not sure how I’m ever going to face them again.

    4:24 pm.

    Anyway, what actually happened (with the benefit of hindsight) is this:

    I rang the bell to announce my arrival (the last time the poor thing was rung too, before it was consigned to involuntary swimming lessons…) and revealed myself. I told them that I was the one that sent the letter to them and, if I may say so, I was exemplifying calm, cool, and collected. …At least at that point.

    I was able to identify them and that seemed to annoy Mister Zelgadis. He probably didn’t like being checked up on, but I really wanted to show them that I’d done my homework before approaching them.

    Uh… in retrospect, he also probably wasn’t thrilled by the “judging by your appearance” remark I made when I identified him. Considering he did cover up his face with a scarf as soon as he saw me coming, I’d say he’s probably sensitive about his appearance. I’ll have to remember to be more diplomatic about that in the future.

    …If they’re even willing to talk to me again after…

    Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Anyway, Miss Lina seemed intrigued when I revealed my knowledge of their defeat of Hellmaster and she asked what kind of job I had for them. Like I said before, I wasn’t about to tell them everything about the prophecy right away, so I told them that first I’d have to test how powerful they are.

    And that’s… when all my poise abandoned me.

    Well! Tell me what you’d think if you looked around and some guy had lifted up your skirt?! Would you think he was just innocently checking to see if you had a tail? Of course not!

    So uh… having drawn my obvious, but apparently wrong, conclusion, I reached down, grabbed my mace and sent Mister Gourry rocketing in whatever direction away was—in the process detaching the bell from the tower and launching both it and Mister Gourry into the ocean.

    …At which point I may or may not have run off crying.

    4:38 pm.

    Ugh… I only hope they’re still willing to deal with me, after that. Obviously both parties were at fault. Mister Gourry shouldn’t have lifted my skirt, and I shouldn’t have slammed him into a building so hard that it nearly shattered and thrown him into the sea.

    …That makes me sound more like the guiltier party, doesn’t it? Well… that’s what my mace is for! It’s for protection and I shouldn’t be blamed for using it to… protect myself.

    I just pray they understand that… Oh, it’s going to be so awkward trying to talk to them again.

    4:46 pm.

    Come to think of it… where is my mace?

    4:50 pm.

    It’s not in its holster… did I put it somewhere in the room when I stormed back in?

    Or did I…?

    4:53 pm.

    No, no, no, no, no, no, NO! It has to be here! I can’t have…

    NO!
     
  4. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 4. Collateral Damage.

    5:15 pm.


    I’ve lost my mace.

    I’ve lost my mace!

    5:18 pm.

    Of all the things I could possibly lose, why did it have to be that?! I could’ve lost my tea set—kind of a shame, it’s a nice one, but I could always get another one (…and I enjoy tea set shopping anyway); I could’ve lost my guide books, which would be annoying and confusing and probably get me lost; I could’ve lost all my money and have to scrounge and beg just to get by; I could’ve lost my headdress and be exposed to all the world as a non-human, and be on the receiving end of all kinds of fear and speciesism… and I’d still be better off than losing my mace!

    For heaven’s sake! It’s more than just about the mace itself! My father gave me that mace when I was just a little girl. I couldn’t even lift it back then but he told me that one day I’d be strong enough to wield it all on my own—and that it would protect me when he was no longer able to.

    5:25 pm.

    Sorry, just… got a little teary-eyed there for a moment. But can you blame me? I’ve lost something precious and irreplaceable!

    5:27 pm.

    Okay, okay. Just gotta calm down and think this through…

    The last time I knew for sure that I had it was at the bell tower when I um… knocked Mister Gourry into the ocean. I was really upset, so I probably just accidently dropped it when I ran off. …And it’s probably still there because average humans can’t lift it.

    Yes! So I just have to go back to the bell tower and it’ll be right there!

    Bell Tower. 6:02 pm.

    …It’s not here.

    Why is it not here?!

    6:06 pm.

    I followed the exact same route coming here as I did when I left, so I know I didn’t drop it along the way. It has to be here… unless…

    Well, I wasn’t actually meeting with average humans, was I? Could one of them have picked it up?

    6:10 pm.

    Ughhh… that’s… I don’t know if that’s better or worse than not knowing where it is at all. On the one hand, if they have it then I can just track them down and get it back—it’s not like it’s hidden somewhere I can’t find it. On the other hand, given how our last meeting turned out, they’re probably not all that positively inclined toward me.

    But… but… they were at fault too! Yes, they’d certainly have to give back my mace—it’s the only honorable thing to do after the treatment I received! And I’ll be willing to let bygones be bygones on that whole incident as long as they give me back my mace.

    …And, of course, save the world, and all that. Don’t think I had forgotten.

    I was just a bit preoccupied, that’s all.

    6:16 pm.

    So, I guess that’s settled. I’ll have to meet with them again. I mean, I would’ve even if I hadn’t lost my mace, but now it just seems more… inevitable. I’ll find them again, I’ll get my mace back, I’ll apologize for yesterday’s misunderstanding (I should probably do that before I ask for my mace back. A little politeness to grease the wheels never hurts), and then I will finally test them to see if they’re up to the task of saving the world.

    If they really were able to lift my mace, then I at least already know that they’re stronger than normal humans. And oh, I do hope they have it, because I’m just not sure what I’m going to do if they don’t ha

    Harbor Inn. 6:48 pm.

    Whew! That was a close one!

    6:50 pm.

    Umm… while I was writing, this man came up to me, yelling: “Did you see the thief that stole my bell?”

    Naturally, I reacted with effortless nonchalance.

    …I mean, I let out a terrified squeak and took off running and didn’t slow down or look back until I got to my room.

    Considering I wasn’t even being directly accused, that probably made me look really guilty, right?

    6:56 pm.

    Well, technically speaking, I’m not guilty. I’m not a thief and I didn’t steal anything. I just happened to knock his bell into the sea.

    …And even more technically, I didn’t even do that. I knocked Mister Gourry into the sea. It was Mister Gourry who knocked the bell off!

    …That defense isn’t going to get me anywhere, is it?

    7:00 pm.

    That doesn’t matter right now—the fate of the world hangs in the balance! I can’t be worrying about misplaced bells!

    Tomorrow, I’ll find Miss Lina and her friends, get my mace back, and get us all on track to save the world—perhaps when all that’s over and done with I can make an effort to replace the bell, though, if you ask me, Mister Gourry should have to pitch in at least half.

    …I am a little concerned about tomorrow, though. Not just about meeting up with Miss Lina and her friends again, but…

    …what if I run into the bell-man again?

    Monday, March 12th.

    Dock. 9:35 am.


    Oh my goodness! There are so many people out and about today for the launch of the delegation ships. There’s a really festive feeling in the air—and it’s certainly cheering to see so many leaders of the barrier continent countries working together like this for such a peaceful endeavor. Seyruun definitely seems to be taking the lead, with Prince Philionel of Seyruun giving quite a stirring speech about the journey ahead. Seyruun has an oddly impressive navy for a landlocked nation.

    With the crowds so thick I’m going to have to be very lucky to find Miss Lina and her friends. I at least hope I’m lucky enough to avoid that man from the

    OH GODS, IS THAT HIM?!

    9:42 am.

    I managed to avoid being seen by him, but I’m going to have to play this much more carefully now. I can’t afford to be drawn into a dispute over a lost bell while the peace and safety of the world depends on me completing my mission.

    I’ve done the best I can to come up with a makeshift disguise to wear while I’m searching—basically just part of my cape pulled close against my face (I got the idea from Mister Zelgadis’s hood set up). Now I can look for Miss Lina and the others without being recognized by the bell tower owner.

    …I hope I find them soon, though. It’s too hot a day to be this wrapped up.

    10:10 am.

    Is that Miss Lina waving to someone on the stage? Yes! Yes it is! And I see Mister Gourry and Mister Zelgadis too!

    This is great. Now I can get my mace back, test them, and get us all on the road to the temple. Here I go!

    Pile of Rubble. 12:32 pm.



    …I know I need to record what happened, but honestly I’m… I’m just speechless. I think all that falls under the category of ‘unnecessary force.’

    So much for my plan to save the town by fighting at sea!

    12:40 pm.

    In retrospect, it turns out I am lucky that I lost my mace and not my headdress, because if the people here had any idea that I was the same dragon that attacked… well, I’d be in a great deal of trouble.

    …Not that I should be! This wasn’t my fault! I kept the kid gloves on! It was Miss Lina who caused the tsunami!

    12:45 pm.

    Well, I suppose at the very least I can say I’ve got my answer. Miss Lina and her friends are strong. Reckless, but strong. They’ve past my test, even though it was with significantly more collateral damage than I wanted (or was even necessary).

    Given that, overkill attack or not, I’ve decided that I will take them back to the Temple of the Fire Dragon King. Who knows? We might need that kind of no-holds-barred strength when we take on the force mentioned in the prophecy of destruction. And they withstood my attacks very well and didn’t lose their cool.

    So, I’ll talk to them again once they come back to shore. Of course, they’ll probably have a lot of apologizing to do to the townsfolk and they’ll have their work cut out for them pitching in to clean up the mess—but that will just give me plenty of time to fill them in on the details. Once that’s done, we can get a ship (though not from here… it looks like all the ships besides the one Miss Lina and her friends are on sunk during the… unfortunate incident. And even that one hardly looks sea-worthy) and cross to the Outer World together—then we can begin our journey to the temple.

    12:52 pm.

    …They are going to come back to shore, aren’t they?

    1:21 pm.

    Oh for heaven’s sake! Piracy? Really? Was massive property damage not enough for them? Did they really have to cap off the day by stealing a ship?

    Uhh… it seemed like it was taking a long time for them to turn around. At first I thought they were just having difficulties with the damaged equipment, but even still it seemed like it was taking too long.

    So I kind of… sidled up to the officials trying to manage this mess, since they were looking through a telescope and could probably see what was going on out there a lot better than me. That’s when I heard Prince Philionel and one of his mages talking.

    Prince Philionel sounded pretty upset, and I don’t blame him one bit. Not only was his peace delegation ruined, but everything from the ships to the town is in shambles. He was saying something along the lines of: “When that daughter of mine gets back here, she has a lot of explaining to do!”

    The mage, who was looking through his telescope out at the sea, had this kind of grim, but extremely level expression and tone—like someone beaten down to accept even the worst.

    “I think that’s what she’s intending to avoid,” the mage said drearily.

    “What are you talking about, man?” Prince Philionel barked at him.

    The mage wordlessly handed the prince his telescope. The prince arched a bushy eyebrow and peered through the scope. A beat passed before he finally said. “They’re going the wrong way.”

    “Yes, Your Highness,” the mage agreed.

    “…You don’t suppose they lost their bearings, do you?” Prince Philionel asked, without much hope.

    “Unlikely, Your Highness,” the mage answered. “They seem to be running away to the Outer World on their own.”

    Prince Philionel sighed, and collapsed the telescope. “If this is anything like the last time she and Miss Lina ran away after destroying something, then we won’t be seeing them for a long time.”

    For the first time, the mage’s face brightened. “Enough time to rebuild the fleet?” he asked hopefully.

    Despite all of Prince Philionel’s shouting, he couldn’t have been that mad at them, considering he turned toward the ocean horizon, and rumbled tenderly: “Be safe out there, Amelia.”

    Well, he might not have been that mad, but I was. Not only have Miss Lina and her friends destroyed the town, but they’ve completely failed to take responsibility for it! And now I have to go chasing after them. I tell you, it’s a long flight over the sea and I am not looking forward to it in the least! If they’d only come back and made amends then we could’ve gotten a nice boat and taken a comfortable trip across the ocean. But nooo. They had to flout maritime laws and make this a painful journey for everyone!

    1:39 pm.

    I’ve decided to give them a bit of a head start before I go flying after them. After all, I really don’t want to catch up with them and get blasted again in the middle of the ocean and cause another tsunami. It’ll probably be better to just let them get to the Outer World without seeing me, and then make contact with them there. So, since I’m killing time anyway, I can record the events that lead to me standing in a graveyard of mortar where a bell tower used to be.

    So, like I wrote before, I’d spotted them. As I approached them from behind, I actually heard Mister Zelgadis wondering about me, so I took this as an encouraging cue that my presence was still of interest and that I was not about to be shunned as the crazy-mace-lady.

    I unwound the part of my cape that I had bound around my head, so that they could see me better. And I must admit that was a relief after going around so wrapped up in this stifling humidity, even for a short time. I tried to be polite and focused, and not betray the fact that I was terribly worried about my mace. So I started off with “How are you?”

    No one seemed to have any intention of answering me. Miss Lina just looked surprised, and Mister Gourry let out a slightly fearful “…The tail woman?”

    …And, I just kinda forgave him for the mishap there. I mean, that pretty much confirmed that he’d only pulled up my skirt because my tail was showing, and not for any other reason. But more than that, the poor thing sounded legitimately horrified that I was going to smack him again. So I decided to clear the air on that without delay.

    “Look, about yesterday,” I said, “I’m really very sorry.”

    I was kind of hoping for a reciprocal, “and I’m sorry too” but, surprise of surprises, I did not receive one. Instead, Miss Lina and Mister Gourry huddled together and started whispering to each other (rather rude under the circumstance, I thought), all the while looking furtively around to see if there was a tail on the ground (there wasn’t. This time I had myself under control).

    Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore and interrupted their whispered conversation to ask about my mace. I tried to keep up my calm, professional tone, but I’m sure it slipped and I started wringing my hands and sounding desperate or something. I couldn’t help it! I was getting really nervous at that point because I didn’t actually see the mace on any of them.

    Luckily enough, Mister Zelgadis had it and I got it back. That’s the one happy part of this little story. …And I probably thanked him a little too enthusiastically, but I was genuinely so relieved to have it back (Still am. I’ll have to give it an extra shine tonight!)

    After that, I realized that I’d pretty much shattered my professionalism with, you know, the squealing and whatnot, and I tried to get my focus back. I asked if we could continue our talk from yesterday, in case they’d decided that they didn’t want to deal with me anymore after all the nonsense that had already past.

    “Sure,” Miss Lina said. “It was about a job that paid a lot of money, right?”

    …Apparently to Miss Lina, a certain amount of nonsense is acceptable as long as there is money at the end of it.

    Mister Zelgadis tried to ask again what my reason was for needing to know how powerful they are, but I wasn’t about to give that up before I’d seen what they could do with my own eyes. It must’ve thrown them for a loop when I teleported away, but this was all part of my plan, you see.

    I needed a place to transform—a place that was private enough so that no one could see me doing it, but open enough so there’d be room for me in my full dragon form. The bell tower was the best place I could think of for that (and thankfully there were no irate tower owners around).

    So I transformed, stretched my wings a little bit, and made ready to challenge my prospective champions.

    Of course, when I descended toward the crowd there was a huge panic. I had a difficult endeavor on my hands—I had to establish myself as a threat to get Miss Lina and company to take me on, but I also had to be wary about doing minimal damage to the town (not that any of my efforts had any lasting results). So I kept myself pretty well contained. Honestly, the little damage I did wasn’t from any direct attack, but from the rushing wind as I swooped low to the ground. I focused my attention on Miss Lina and her friends (now joined by, I assume, Miss Amelia). They got the message pretty quickly and climbed aboard one of the ships, cut its ties, and took it out to open waters. At the time, I found this very encouraging, thinking that they shared my attitude about not wanting to damage the town or put bystanders in harm’s way. Little did I know what would befall…

    I kept up a decent onslaught in order to get them more out to sea, but restrained myself mostly to high speed rushes of wind to give them a chance to get their act together on the boat. There seemed to be a dispute with the captain of the ship, since I later saw him and several other men in a lifeboat, but this confusion did not last very long. Apparently there was a troop of sorcerers still aboard the ship and they, along with the rest of the fleet, mobilized a fireball offensive strike against me.

    The fireballs didn’t do much, and I was a bit concerned that they might be taking this lightly. After all, dragon hide isn’t going to lose against some low level fire magic. So I decided to up the ante, and sent a blast of laser breath in their direction.

    …Okay, maybe that was a little extreme, but the prophecy of destruction probably has worse in store for them then laser breath. Seeing how they’d defend against that was an important part of my test!

    And they passed it well enough, I suppose. Mister Zelgadis and Miss Amelia sent out twin blasts of a spell that hit my laser breath. It absorbed most of the laser breath’s energy, but it still left enough to knock the ship around and give me an opportunity to disable the mast of the ship.

    Then it was Mister Gourry’s turn to strike. As I was coming toward him he held out this light sword he was carrying and shot out the beam at me. I, of course, dodged, and it hit a ship behind me… which exploded.

    …Okay, not the nicest moment, and all, but what was I supposed to do? Just sit there and let it hit me?

    I took advantage of their confusion and sent another blast of laser breath at them, because I’d yet to see any really impressive offense out of them and needed to keep the stakes high. This time it hit and really damaged the ship.

    If I wanted impressive offense, I got it… though I admittedly wasn’t so happy about it when it actually happened. Miss Lina sent a Rune Flare at me that really did some damage. It was impossible to avoid the missiles and my wings caught fire so that I had to fly low in order to put out the flames with the spray from the sea.

    …And I’m going to admit it… I probably should’ve just quit there. I’d seen that they could do some pretty amazing stuff, so I should’ve just… ended it. Then maybe Miss Lina wouldn’t have struck back so hard and the town wouldn’t have been destroyed. Maybe it would’ve anyway but… there’s a chance. But… I was mad!

    Well, that Rune Flare hurt! Even when I transformed back and my wings went away, my shoulder blades carried pretty hefty burns! I’ve healed the wounds, but I still feel a twinge.

    So, roaring angrily, I flew at the ship and took one more strike at it with my laser breath. Miss Lina did what the others hadn’t been able to do before—she fully deflected my attack with a wall of water. With that display of defensive strength, coupled with the offensive power I’d already seen, I decided that, however burnt and irritated I was, they’d passed all my tests and I should bring the battle to a close. So I withdrew with all the speed I could.

    …And it really should’ve ended there, but apparently they just couldn’t let it go. They started chasing after me and Miss Lina fired off one of the big guns—a Dragon Slave.

    A Dragon Slave! I’m lucky I teleported out of there! Talk about spite—I mean, she’d already won!

    Back at the bell tower, I heaved a sigh of relief. I’d escaped the blast and finished administering my test with little harm done. Imagine my surprise when I’d barely come out of my transformation back to human form, and a wall of water was descending on the town.

    Well, that’s what happens when you fire an explosion into the ocean!

    Gaaah… wet clothes and a burnt back already had me in a bad mood, and I didn’t even know they were going to run away then.

    But they have, and I have a long flight across the sea ahead of me. I suppose I’d better stock up on provisions before I head out.

    2:17 pm.

    …Provided I can find a store that’s still standing.
     
  5. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 5. Getting the Team Together.

    Lima Town. 4:30 pm.

    Ugh… predictably enough it’s been an absolute trial to get provisions. There weren’t any stores intact left around the port and since I wouldn’t dream of doing something as disgraceful as looting (sadly the same cannot be said for the residents of the town), I had to travel a bit down the coast to the next town over to purchase supplies. A lot of other people had the same idea, so it’s pretty crowded.

    …And now I suppose I have no excuse not to start my ocean journey after Miss Lina and her friends.

    4:41 pm.

    It’s just… it’s a long trip to fly! Flying is faster than walking, but it’s absolutely exhausting and it’s going to be even more difficult over the sea. If I was flying on land then I could just touch down and take a break whenever I needed one, but on the ocean? There’s no guarantee that there’s going to be anywhere for me to stop. –

    I suppose if I set out right now that I could overtake Miss Lina and get on her ship, but I don’t like my chances of not getting shot at. No, it’s better for them to make it to shore before I do.

    …And that’s the other difficult thing. I don’t want to lose them, but I don’t want to catch up with them too quickly. Who knows how fast they can go in that broken ship?

    …I don’t want to get stuck out in the middle of the ocean with no place to land and not enough energy to get to shore…

    The Village of Lutrelle. Inn. 9:25 pm.

    Okay, I’ve come up with a plan that I think should be a pretty good compromise. I’m going to fly—but for now it’s going to be along the coast. That way I’ll be guaranteed a place to land, at least for a longer period of time than I would be if I set straight out across the ocean. It’ll slow my journey, yes, but hopefully it’ll also give Miss Lina and her damaged ship time to reach the Outer World before I do.

    I won’t be able to avoid the sea completely—flying over the Desert of Destruction would be worse, after all. So after a few days over land, I’ll make the rest of the journey over the water. Hopefully I’ll be able to find islands to rest and restore my strength on. I don’t really know what I’ll do if I can’t.

    …But for now, I’m not going to think about the sea journey. I have enough miles to cover on land to keep me occupied for now without worrying about the second leg of the trip.

    …But at least at the end of long days of flying over land, I’ll have a comfy bed to sleep in!

    Tuesday, March 13th.

    Harper City Lodge. 8:52 pm.


    I’m so glad I decided on this plan. A solid day’s worth of flight is bad enough without having to worry about finding a place to rest. I’m having a much better time than I would have had, even if I’d been able to overtake Miss Lina’s ship and convince them to let me onboard. I mean, imagine being stuck on something like that? Those ships usually have a large crew to man the oars, but with just them they must be completely worn out keeping that thing going any distance at all. I know it took a lot of damage in the fight too, so who knows what difficulties they’re facing? It must be miserable onboard.

    I suppose it serves them right, though, for destroying the town and just running off like that.

    9:05 pm.

    I wonder… do they even have enough food with them? Surely the ship was stocked for a long voyage but… a lot of cargo got lost during the fight.

    Umm… I hope they’re okay…

    Wednesday, March 14th.

    Portus Hotel. 10:11 pm.


    …If there’s one thing you can say about having to fly the whole day, it’s that it gives you time to think. And I’ve been kind of thinking that… maybe I’m being a little too hard on Miss Lina and her friends.

    I mean, they did do wrong. Miss Lina’s Dragon Slave was way more than the situation called for and resulted in the ruin of the peace delegation, the destruction of the town, and this whole messy predicament with me having to chase after them. Not only that, but they just completely ran away from a mess that they caused.

    I suppose someone could say that I helped start it, so I should’ve taken responsibility too, but they’d be wrong! First of all, I wasn’t the one that cast the Dragon Slave. Secondly, I have a greater responsibility: helping to save the world! I can’t be stuck rebuilding a town when the peace of the world is in jeopardy! Swift action is absolutely necessary here.

    Now, technically speaking, that excuse also could apply to Miss Lina and the others. But here’s the thing: they don’t know that. I haven’t told them about them about the prophecy of destruction yet, so they’re not racing off to save the world, they’re just running away from their problems.

    But… that ‘they don’t know’ part is also where I start to feel… guilty about how everything happened. I really didn’t give them a lot of information before I tested them. I thought that was the best way to go—to keep them in the dark until I was sure they were the ones, but… I’ve just been looking at this from their perspective and… yikes.

    I didn’t really elaborate on how I was going to test them—to them it was just poof! A vengeful Golden Dragon appears! They didn’t know that I was going to try to spare the town and its people and focus my efforts on testing them; they didn’t know that I had no intention of causing them serious harm; that I was only trying to see what they could do in a fight. For all they knew, the city was under attack and their lives and the lives of the people were in danger. So they fought back hard, just like I wanted them to. And yes, Miss Lina should not have fired off that Dragon Slave. It was reckless and without it, none of this would’ve happened. I was retreating and she should’ve left it at that but… maybe she thought I was heading back to the port and that it was under threat? If they really mistook my intentions, then that’s very possible. She certainly couldn’t have wanted to cause that tsunami. It put them in a lot of danger too.

    Ugh… between this and the incident with Mister Gourry and my tail, it seems like we’ve had one misunderstanding after another. They probably won’t be at all happy to see me when we finally meet again, but this is about more than us. This is about the fate of the world.

    …Still, I should probably prepare for a not-so-warm welcome when we finally do meet again.

    Thursday, March 15th.

    7:05 am.


    Well, I can’t avoid it any longer. It’s off to sea for me!

    Sunday, March 17th.

    Small Island. 5:45 pm.


    Uuuughhhh… This was exactly what I didn’t want to happen!

    5:50 pm.

    I’ve just… just been having such a miserable time at it! I flew all Thursday and the only chance I ever got to rest was lighting on very small rock formation that was very uncomfortable to sleep on. I tried to recuperate there, but it wasn’t exactly ideal. I could hardly keep my balance on it and it was so loud there. There were always seagulls circling and making the most terrible squawking noises. …Seagulls seemed much more charming when I was at port.

    …And… I don’t really want to be indelicate, but the entire surface of the rock was covered in the seagull’s… leavings. I mean, covered. As in, unavoidable.

    The sad part is that was the good life. For the rest of Friday and Saturday I couldn’t find even the tiniest of rocks to rest on. The closest I’ve gotten to a break before now was treading water. I’m soaked and sleepy and my muscles are screaming at me.

    I got a little sleep this morning when I found this island, and I’m going to take a little more now, because I don’t know if I’ll get another chance. Hopefully I’m close to the mainland and I won’t have to do this for much longer—and yes, I will have to think about what I’m going to say to Miss Lina once I finally get there, but… I need more sleep now. I really do.

    Monday, March 18th.

    10:44 am.


    Okay. I feel slightly more alive now. Sleeping for about 16 hours and eating copious amounts of my provisions probably helped, but I can’t be blamed for that! I was completely out of fuel!

    Now that I’m awake enough, I’ve done some estimates and I think I must be quite close to shore. …Hopefully… unless I veered off course somewhere. My nightmare scenario is finding out that I’ve just been going in circles.

    But provided that isn’t the case, I should have both feet firmly on the mainland this afternoon!

    With that said, I’d better start figuring out how I’m going to handle things when I finally confront the others. Like I said before, they probably won’t be too happy with me, but I’ve just got to get them to listen to me—calm them if they’re angry so that they can hear what I have to say. Hopefully when they realize the importance of my mission they’ll sign on. If they’re too mad at me or worried about the dangers of the mission well… that’s what I have Miss Luna’s letter for. It’s my secret weapon.

    What I’ve got to do before that is make them see the connection between my human form and my dragon form, so they know that the woman who approached them for a job is the same as the dragon that tested their powers. After all, I don’t want them attacking my dragon form without them knowing I’m their, well, employer. And I don’t want them thinking I abandoned them either.

    I suppose I could just go to them in my human form and tell them I’m actually a dragon but… do humans even know that dragons can transform like that? I’m not sure if it’s common knowledge… hmm… will they even believe me, if I tell them? I’ve got to admit, it would sound pretty crazy if they’d never even heard of such a thing…

    11:05 am.

    …I suppose I could…

    No! It’s too embarrassing! Okay, yes, maybe showing them my transformation would be the quickest way to let them know that I’m a dragon and keep them from doubting me but… I don’t want them to see. I mean, I suppose it goes by rather quickly and all, but they’d still see me naked!

    …I guess it’s my fault. If I could pull off a quicker transformation and it didn’t take me so long to materialize my clothes then I wouldn’t even be having this problem. I should’ve practiced more. Goodness knows the elders can all pull it off without the nudity problem (Which is a very, very good thing.

    …Not that I’m meaning to be offensive to them or anything! Oh, that sentence sounds terrible now that I look back at it. I just meant that it would be embarrassing for all parties involved and that it’s better that they’re skilled enough to make their transformations so quick and preserve the sense of propriety that comes with their office. It wasn’t meant in any way to be an insult!)

    Isn’t there any other way I can show them…? I don’t want to do that.

    11:16 am.

    …I know I should. I owe them the knowledge of what and who they’re dealing with. The transformation goes by quickly and you can’t see much of anything with all the bright lights from the magic anyway… I’ll do this once. Sort of an “I trust you, you trust me” statement.

    But then I’m never ever transforming in front of anyone again. Ever.

    12:32 pm.

    I suppose I’ve rested long enough. Better set out to shore and face Miss Lina. I only hope I’m able to find her…

    Ocea City Outskirts. 4:20 pm.

    I’m… torn. On the one hand, I’ve succeeded—at least I think I succeeded. I’m pretty sure Miss Lina is going to take up this quest, and that’s something that I should be celebrating. We need a hero to keep the destruction the prophecy mentioned from coming to pass, so getting her to agree to the job is a major thing but… I don’t feel one hundred percent right about how I managed it.

    It’s just… well, it’s not a great sign of things to come when your epic quest to save the world starts with the chosen one running off crying, is it?

    I really didn’t expect that to happen, particularly with the self-assured attitude Miss Lina was pulling before that. I mean, it was going beyond confident and moving into arrogant territory, enough so that I couldn’t resist… well, puncturing her self-esteem just a little bit. With facts! Nothing but simple facts that she needed to know anyway! I didn’t expect her to react so strongly… makes me wonder about Miss Luna…

    Anyway, I’m glad, at least, that I didn’t have any trouble finding them—though that’s because they left a pretty big mess. I’m not sure what kind of trouble they ran into, or whose fault it was. Maybe the ship was too damaged to properly dock? That would explain the ship rubble far inland and the fissure that the ship must’ve left getting there. But it doesn’t explain the other debris. Whatever the case, I knew they were in the harbor town I flew into as soon as I saw it. What’s more, they spotted me too and started running after me on foot.

    I looked around and saw a likely place we could meet. Here on the outskirts of the town it’s practically empty, so there’s plenty of privacy to talk with them about the prophecy. I think part of the town must’ve been destroyed at some point and rebuilt closer to the water, because there’s a lot of old, broken down buildings here. Anyway, I landed and transformed.

    When I came out of the transformation they looked pretty shocked, so I tried to smile and show them that I meant them no harm. Goodness knows they probably expected another attack when they saw me coming in my dragon form.

    “It’s… you!” Miss Lina said, surprised. The rest didn’t speak and looked like they weren’t quite sure what to think. The girl who turned out to be Miss Amelia looked especially confused, but that’s quite reasonable considering we hadn’t been introduced yet.

    The shocked silence that followed that was pretty short lived. I was practically assaulted with questions—some of them fairly angry sounding—and with Miss Amelia just trying to catch up with what was going on (…Mister Gourry too, despite the fact that he was there…). It was all too chaotic to properly explain everything, so I told them to calm down and wait and that I would explain everything to them in just a moment.

    I thought that the perfect thing to do, to create a more peaceful atmosphere so I could tell them everything they needed to know and have them really take it seriously, would be to stop and have a bit of tea. Goodness knows I was dying for a cup after my long journey, and I’d bought some lovely tea leaves before I crossed the sea and hadn’t had a chance to try them yet (delicious, as it turned out). I thought that it would be hard for anyone to stay agitated with a soothing cup of tea.

    Well, Miss Lina proved me wrong on that account. I suppose the wait for the tea to brew might have increased her annoyance, but with one of my spare cloaks thrown over a table-shaped rock, my nice tea set laid out on it and with the final addition of the tea itself, I thought it was rather lovely. Like a picnic. I’d only taken my first drink and remarked that the only thing that could’ve improved the setting would’ve been cookies when she exploded.

    “Alright, that’s it!” she shouted, slamming her fist down on the makeshift table and disturbing the china, “What is going on here?! Who are you?! What are you after?! Start explaining!”

    I suppose part of the reason she maintained her agitation was that she hadn’t actually had any of her tea. I’m sure that’s the reason why her outburst didn’t really bother me. It was just so nice to a. be on the solid ground and b. have a steamy cup of tea in my hand. Anyway, she was in the dark, so I couldn’t really blame her for being impatient. So, I stalled no more (well… maybe one more little drink) and launched into an explanation.

    “Oh yes, of course,” I said, to assure her that she was going to get the answers she was after. “The reason that I’m here is that there is something I must ask of you all.”

    Miss Amelia couldn’t seem to bite back her curiosity any longer. “Uhh… is she a friend of yours?” I heard her whisper to Mister Zelgadis.

    “Well, sort of,” Mister Zelgadis answered sullenly. He’d be sullen since I set out the tea, crossing his arms and generally looking like he thought the whole thing was ridiculous.

    “About me,” I said, deciding to take a step back, not only on Amelia’s account, but for the rest of them because even though we’d met, I’d really never told them anything besides my name. “What you call the Outer World, the world we are in, in other words, is where I live and am a priestess at the temple of the Fire Dragon King.”

    “You’re a priestess?” Miss Lina responded—a little too surprised for my liking. Don’t I… act like a priestess? I’m sure I do.

    “Yes,” I answered, feeling that this wasn’t the time to interrogate her on what she meant by that (maybe later).

    “Then that tail I saw was real!” Mister Gourry said, pointing at me.

    I wish he hadn’t brought that up again. It’s embarrassing to think not only of how I lost control of my form, but how I reacted to what happened… “Yes, it was real,” I admitted, probably blushing like an idiot. “You see, I’m still not used to taking human form and occasionally my tail shows,” I told them apologetically. “I’m still working on it.”

    “Wow! You can go back and forth?” Gourry responded, sounding impressed. I was just glad that he didn’t have any hard feelings about me knocking him into the ocean. …Actually, it would be reasonable to have hard feelings about that.

    “I’ve heard it’s an easy thing for high-level dragons to perform,” Zelgadis commented.

    “That’s right,” Miss Amelia added. “Mister Milgazia who helped us in the Katahto Mountains could do it.”

    …And at that point I was just feeling kind of… deflated. Not only were they already aware of the fact that dragons can take human form, but they’d actually already met one who could do it. So that whole modesty-sacrificing transforming in front of them was a complete and utter waste. I can’t believe I let them see that! I just pray they were too blinded by the light of my transformation to actually see anything important.

    “Okay, whatever,” Miss Lina cut in over my skin crawling, as though my embarrassment was nothing at all. “So how about explaining why we got attacked by a dragon priestess?” she asked accusingly.

    I told her, completely politely, I might add, that I was just confirming their power—exactly like I told them I would.

    “So you attacked a town to do that?!” Miss Lina demanded. Pretty galling considering that ninety-five percent of the damage was done by her and not me.

    “Destroying the town was never my intention,” I informed her. “That was the result of your spell, Miss Lina.”

    That shut her up.

    “Besides,” I added, trying to segue into the reason I had to confirm their powers in the first place, “if you weren’t capable of defeating a golden dragon, how would you ever be able to survive what’s ahead of you?”

    “What’s ahead of us?” Mister Zelgadis asked.

    “You will be required to follow a prophecy,” I answered, “a prophecy which foretells destruction.”

    “A prophecy of… destruction?” Miss Lina repeated, now sounding more curious than angry.

    So I explained how this all began—with the prophecy of destruction being made and I recited it for them word for word.

    There shall come a controller of a Dark Star who shall call forth the light and the world shall be flooded with darkness. Dragons’ blood shall spread and following the struggle between light and darkness, a single star shall be awakened. Around the star shall spin five lights, and the power shall be a darkness beyond twilight, a brilliance beyond the dawn. When the power is unleashed we shall yield to an arrow-like force, which will split the heavens apart.

    I swear, no matter how many times I hear it or say it or write it, it still sends chills down my spine.

    The rest of them were mystified by it (though perhaps not to the point that they had chills). Mister Zelgadis asked what it meant which is… unfortunately not a question that either I, or the superior minds of my elders, can explain completely.

    “The first part, about darkness consuming the world,” I explained, “means that the world faces a grave danger.” I didn’t let up in case one of them commented with an ‘obviously.’ I didn’t need that response again. “The next part, the struggle between light and darkness, we think may refer to humans.”

    “Humans, huh?” Lina asked, sounding somewhat interested.

    “Yes,” I confirmed. “The eternal struggle between good and evil.”

    Miss Lina picked up her cup of tea. “That sounds like humans alright,” she said pensively. “The ones that are neither gods nor monsters.”

    I was cheered by this response on two levels. First because Miss Lina was following my logic and taking it seriously; and secondly because she’d finally picked up her tea. I was sure that she’d feel better once she finally took a sip of it. I was so enjoying mine.

    “The rest of it still doesn’t make any sense to us,” I confessed. “We’ve decided that a human is the key to avoiding this danger and so we set out to find someone with enough power to save the world from destruction.”

    “A human with enough power to save the world…” Miss Amelia repeated thoughtfully. “Miss Lina?”

    “Exactly,” I said, glad that they were getting where I was coming from.

    What happened next… well, I suppose there was one thing I’d been hoping for; the rest was just completely downhill. Admittedly Miss Lina did try the tea I’d laid out for her—which I’d been hoping she’d do because the tea was quite good and shouldn’t have been wasted and, anyway, it would’ve been the courteous thing to do. Of course, after she tried it, she immediately spit it out—spraying tea all over my spare cloak (it’ll stain, I know it!)—which is not remotely courteous.

    Oh, I don’t think it was because she didn’t like it. No, she was laughing. As if the world being in peril and needing someone to save it was just one big joke!

    “Oh, man, that’s hilarious!” Miss Lina said, not helping her case with me as she guffawed. “So, there’s a threat to the world, and suddenly I’m the representative… of the human race?” She burst out into more laughter, but thankfully did not feel the need to spray tea on us all again.

    And you could say that that’s where I had the desire to, oh, take her down a notch. Perhaps a few notches at that! She was clearly several notches too high up!

    I mean, I know ‘the chosen one’ title has the potential to give someone a swelled head, but really? Laughing off the task while basking in the glory of the title? That’s not how would-be saviors should act. And I felt she was getting the idea that she’d been the only name on my list—which, of course, is not the case.

    “…No, you’re not the representative,” I said, rightly annoyed after being spit upon and laughed at. “You’re the fill-in,” I informed her.

    That completely froze Miss Lina’s laughter. “What do you mean?!” she shouted, getting up. “Didn’t you say you had to choose the most powerful human of all?!”

    Well, it looks like someone didn’t need the ‘chosen one’ title to have a swelled head.

    “The truth is we tried to get somebody before we settled on you,” I told her. “But unfortunately they were too busy with their part time job to be bothered.” Might as well give that as the answer. I’m not sure that it’s the truth, but it’s the stated answer Miss Luna gave me. “So we were forced to fall back on you, Miss Lina.”

    Perhaps words liked ‘settled,’ ‘forced,’ and ‘fall back’ were a little bit harsh, but she should really know her place in all this (and also not to waste perfectly good tea or spit at people).

    “You ‘fell back’ on me?!” Miss Lina repeated, her teeth grinding together furiously.

    “Yes,” I said. “And after testing all of your power, I believe the four of you should be just enough to do this,” I assured them. I do hope that’s true.

    “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Miss Lina yelled. “Why should I risk my life on some nonsense prophecy after you go and call me a stand-in?!”

    I didn’t even need to argue that the prophecy was not, in fact, nonsense, or talk her down or tell her just why she should risk her life no matter what I call her. No—I knew none of that was necessary. Not with my trump card.

    “You mean you won’t accept this mission?” I asked, searching for a reason to use it.

    “Of course not,” Miss Lina spat, almost electrified with rage at this point. “Why don’t you have your first choice take a day off of work?”

    Well, I already did try to do that and we see how well that worked.

    “She did mention you might have a problem with it,” I said, taking out Miss Luna’s letter. “Our original choice gave us this letter to give to you,” I said, passing it to Miss Lina.

    …I don’t know what I really expected to happen. I didn’t read the letter myself (it’s rude to read other people’s mail) so I didn’t know what Miss Luna put into it. I guess I just figured that Miss Lina would read that her sister wanted her to do this and be… I don’t know, resigned to it. ‘Oh, well, if my sister says it’s important for me to do it, then I guess I’d better. Onward to adventure!’ …Or something like that.

    Instead she immediately paled. Sweat streamed down her face and she looked like she could be sick at any moment. “By any chance was your first choice’s part time job being a waitress?” she asked fearfully.

    “It was,” I answered.

    At which point Miss Lina… well… completely freaked out. She started screeching and running her hands through her wild hair. She bolted abruptly from the group and ran farther into the ruins of the old town, snatching old slabs of brick and piling them over her body—sobbing all the while.

    …I think she was making a tomb.

    We all ran up to try to calm this sudden and out of nowhere fit. Miss Amelia asked her what was wrong and was answered only with a blood-curdling scream from under the pile of rubble.

    Miss Luna’s letter was still drifting through the air and at that point I was starting to wonder what exactly was written on it that could’ve provoked such a terrified response. Blackmail? A death threat? Was the letter written in blood?

    Miss Amelia caught the letter. “What’s in this letter anyway?” she asked, reading the thing over. “Wow, it really doesn’t say much. ‘Shut up and do it. Signed, Sis.’”

    She neglected to mention if it was written in blood. At that point, that was the only reason I could see for those words causing such fear.

    “Lina’s big sister?!” Mister Gourry realized, sounding rather scared himself.

    All this fearful talk about Miss Luna had me kind of worried… I mean, yes, our meeting hadn’t been particularly pleasant. She didn’t make things that easy for me. But most of the hard time I had with her was because of my own persistence. It wasn’t about her actively antagonizing me, so I couldn’t really see what made Miss Luna so scary to Miss Lina. …Perhaps… was I closer to danger than I realized when I met Miss Luna?

    “She’s gonna kill me!” Miss Lina screamed.

    “She’s… gonna kill her?” Miss Amelia said, almost as though she was asking me.

    “Well, she did say she’d punish her badly if Miss Lina refused, but…” I trailed off.

    I don’t know… when Miss Luna said she’d punish Miss Lina if she didn’t do it I suppose I envisioned something along the lines of making her do extra chores or having her stand in the corner for a few hours. …No one screams like that because of time-out, do they?

    “I can’t believe that Lina has a sister that she’s that afraid of!” Mister Gourry exclaimed.

    “What is she like?” Mister Zelgadis asked.

    Before I could answer, Miss Lina shrieked again from her tomb of old bricks. “Okay! I’ll do it!” she screeched, the sound of weeping punctuating her tone. She broke out of the tomb like a tear-stained mummy, and then ran off toward the shore, covering her face.

    So um… mission accomplished?

    …Okay, I think it’s obvious why I don’t feel good about this.

    5:30 pm.

    The others are worried about Miss Lina too. I got the feeling that Miss Lina wasn’t the kind of person who cried a lot, and the others have only confirmed that.

    “She’s still gone,” Mister Gourry said a few moments ago, looking off in the direction Miss Lina had run off and sounding concerned. “Boy, Lina sure is upset about her sister…”

    “What do you know about her?” Mister Zelgadis asked.

    “Not much,” Gourry said with a shrug. “Lina doesn’t talk about her.”

    Gods, I wonder what’s going on with that family.

    “It has been awhile. Someone should really go talk to her,” Miss Amelia said, looking worried.

    “What’s the point?” Mister Zelgadis asked, leaning against a broken column. “She’ll just snap at anyone who comes near. Let her on her own.”

    “Mister Gourry should go,” Miss Amelia insisted, electing him for the dangerous task.

    “I’m with Zel on this,” Mister Gourry said, shuffling uncertainly. “Lina probably doesn’t want anyone to see her like that.”

    “I still think you should go,” Miss Amelia prodded.

    “Why don’t you go?” Mister Zelgadis asked, raising an eyebrow.

    “Oh um…” Miss Amelia trailed off, as though she hadn’t expected this whole thing to turn on her. “I… I don’t think I’m the right person to go.”

    …They’re looking at me now. And… you know what? They should. I didn’t know that I’d upset Miss Lina this much and I didn’t mean to, but I’m the one that should fix it. It’s hard for people who don’t show their vulnerabilities often to deal with it when they lose their composure, and I’m sure Miss Lina must be feeling awful right now. I have to make this right.

    Ocea City Inn. 7:00 pm.

    I’m so happy we’re a team now! It was a rocky start for sure, but I think all that is over and done with now and we can finally get going in earnest. Miss Lina’s agreed and we had a great big feast to celebrate the start of the new journey. …Honestly, that wasn’t my idea and it went far beyond what I was willing to spend on food, but I suppose it’s warranted. I mean, this is a pretty big deal. And it’s not like we’re going to eat like this every day.

    I was worried that even though Miss Lina felt pressured by her sister to agree to accept the mission, that we’d have difficulties working with each other because of the way it all happened. When I found her on the cliff looking out over the water, she was still crying.

    “…Are you crying, Miss Lina?” I asked. Kind of an obvious question, I suppose, but what do you expect in an awkward situation?

    “Well, if I am it’s all your fault!” Miss Lina shot back in half a yell and half a sob.

    “So… do you feel like accepting the job now?” I asked, disheartened that she blamed me.

    Miss Lina wiped her tears and got herself under control. “…Whether I do or not doesn’t matter,” she answered resignedly. “There’s no way I can disobey my sister.”

    “I take it your older sister is your weak spot?” I asked, trying to understand the relationship.

    “I’d rather face a Dark Lord with one hand tied behind my back, than my sister with all my powers,” Lina responded, completely seriously. I mean, that’s the kind of thing people usually say when they’re exaggerating but…

    “She’s really that bad?” I asked disbelievingly. …Maybe I really was closer to danger than I realized with Miss Luna. “Well… uh…” I said, trying to switch gears. “In any case, I’m relieved you’ve accepted the job.”

    “Besides that,” Miss Lina said, giving the matter some thought, “if sis is making me do it, it must mean something else. When someone as strong and crazy as my sister won’t do it alone… one thing’s pretty clear.”

    I wondered if Miss Lina thought the same thing that this whole mess with Miss Luna had made me think. “You mean the fact that she’s really scared of this?” I tried.

    Miss Lina devolved into laughter again, but very different from her earlier outburst. This laughter had absolutely no humor whatsoever. It was laughter born out of nervousness—gallows laughter. “Yeah,” she finally said.

    If Miss Luna is scared of the prophecy of destruction… and Miss Lina is that scared of Miss Luna… what does that say about Miss Lina’s chances? What does that say about the fearsomeness of the destruction coming our way? …That’s the kind of thing that’s going to keep me up nights, I know it. But… Miss Lina has proved herself. And Miss Luna thinks she’d the right person. …I hope the elders agree.

    “Anyway, I wonder what we should do now,” Miss Lina said speculatively.

    “First we go to the Temple of the Fire Dragon King which I serve,” I said, happy that there were at least some easy answers. “Our elder will be there anticipating our arrival.”

    Between all the traveling around and having to deal with Miss Luna’s rejection, I’ve probably kept the Supreme Elder waiting a lot longer than he intended… I only hope it isn’t too late…

    At least Miss Lina seemed to get her can-do spirit back. Even after all the trouble and misunderstandings and fighting and sibling-based dread, she stood up like she was ready to conquer the world (or save it in this case). “Okay,” she said. “Let’s get going!”

    Let’s get going indeed! I finally have my chosen one(s) at my side and now we can make all possible haste to the temple! At last, things are coming together!
     
  6. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 6. A Demon Among Demons.

    Tuesday, March 19th.

    Ocea City Inn. 8:00 am.


    I’m so excited! Today we’ll begin the first step of our journey to the Temple of the Fire Dragon King, and eventually, to save the world—and we’ll do it as a team. I better get the others up so we can get started—after all, there’s not a moment to lose when it comes to the fate of the world!

    Ocea City Inn—Dining Hall. 9:00 am.

    Oh, well, okay. I suppose before we start out on our long journey, it makes sense to have a good, hardy breakfast to keep us going the rest of the day. After all, depending on the time we make and what’s along the way, we may not find a place for lunch, so we should probably take advantage of what’s already in front of us.

    …Still, it seems to me that Miss Lina and the others are having a bit too hardy a breakfast. I suppose they travel more than I do and they know enough not to turn down an opportunity to eat but… well, to be honest, I’m still stuffed from last night. I don’t see how anyone can eat as much as they do.

    At least once they’ve finished, they should be fueled up and ready to go.

    Patio Restaurant. 11:24 am.

    Why are we still here?!

    This is just ridiculous! Every time I try to get them to get a move on they feed me some excuse: ‘We still haven’t packed,’ ‘my room’s a real mess,’ ‘I want to check out that food stand before we leave,’ and ‘We were stuck on a boat for a week without food—can’t you cut us a break?’ And, as soon as the clock struck eleven, it was ‘lunch time!’

    Lunch time?! It had barely been an hour since they’d stopped eating breakfast! But they wouldn’t be dissuaded and have been shoveling food in their mouths ever since. Well, Miss Lina, Mister Gourry, and Miss Amelia have (though she’s also been staring blankly at the harbor between bites); Mister Zelgadis doesn’t seem to have the insane appetite the others do, but he hasn’t stopped them either. He just sits there sipping his coffee with this self-satisfied ‘I am far superior to these gluttonous fools’ look on his face.

    The one silver lining (if you could call it that) on this giant meal is that at least I’m not paying for it. Apparently before I found them yesterday, Miss Lina and the others actually saved the town from some bandits. The restaurant owner was one of the people that were raided, so he was happy to give them a free meal (less happy, I think, when he heard their orders).

    And well, you know, I am glad to hear that my chosen ones are moral enough to save a town from an invading force but… let’s take that a step further and save the world like we’re supposed to!

    Ugh. This has gone on long enough. If they drag this out any further, I’m saying something. I’ve just got to make them understand what’s at stake here. The world is under threat! This isn’t the time to be stuffing our faces!

    11:41 am.

    I’ve lost them.

    I just… I just barely assembled my team and I’ve already lost them. It hasn’t even been a full day yet!

    Now, I might be able to round up Miss Lina, Mister Gourry and Miss Amelia again—they just kind of wandered off. They didn’t say they weren’t interested in helping me or anything. …Getting them focused enough to actually start traveling could be another thing entirely though (honestly, I don’t know where this flighty behavior is coming from). But as for Mister Zelgadis… I may have lost him for good.

    I think this is all because they just aren’t taking this prophecy seriously. Which is insane! When the Fire Dragon King reveals something like this to a seer it’s important! But they just kept saying it was too beautiful a day for the world to be facing a threat and berated me for not having any details beyond what the prophecy says. What do they expect of me?! Do they think I can just whip out a crystal ball and tell them exactly what’s going to happen?

    And when I couldn’t give specific details about the prophecy, Mister Zelgadis just up and left—saying that his goal was to turn his body back to normal and that he didn’t come here to get involved in ‘stupid trouble.’ Well, excuse me if I’m being insensitive, but I think the fate of the world is a little more important than Mister Zelgadis’s appearance!

    And the others didn’t even seem to be bothered by the fact that Mister Zelgadis left.. I mean, this is a serious thing. We don’t have Miss Luna’s tremendous power, so one of the things we’re banking on is the combined power of our team to thwart the destruction of the prophecy. Losing him could be a very, very big deal indeed. But instead, Miss Lina just shrugged it off, saying, “Oh, Zel always does this.”

    …And then, for just a moment, I thought I was at least going to get the rest of them on the road. Miss Lina said she was done with her meal and all—but then she wanted dessert! After all that! Before I could stop them, she and Mister Gourry had already run off, laughing and talking about finding an ice cream parlor.

    Ice cream and skin type. These are the things that the prophecy’s chosen heroes prioritize above saving the world.

    Well, that left me with Miss Amelia, so I wasn’t completely abandoned. But that didn’t last long. She started going on and on about going shopping and getting her nails done. Shopping and getting her nails done.

    Why am I the only one taking this seriously?!

    Town Square. 1:22 pm.

    I’ve been in and out of bars and restaurants and tourist attractions all day and I haven’t seen a trace of any of them anywhere. This town’s so big and there’s so many other people milling around that it’s no wonder I’ve lost track of them. After all that trouble to find them the first time, I can’t believe I’ve lost them so quickly… but how am I supposed to find them now?

    …is that smoke I smell?

    Patio Restaurant. 2:32 pm.

    YES! We’re finally going to leave now, so all is forgiven!

    …Though, just so you know, there is a great deal to forgive here, including, but not limited to: wasting precious saving-the-world time, spending too much of my money, freaking out residents with their magic (honestly, how could they not figure out that humans in the Outer World can’t use magic like them? All they’d have to do is pay attention!), impersonating a member of the celestial hosts, blowing a hole in fifteen—I repeat—FIFTEEN temples, and fighting with city guards.

    I mean, when I found them, Mister Zelgadis was standing just outside the smoking ruins of a sacred temple, with dozens of unconscious guards strewn around him and debris everywhere. I was completely and utterly in the right when I nearly knocked him into next Tuesday. And yes, this does mean that I have now mace-punished both Mister Gourry and Mister Zelgadis, and, you know what? I’m not going to even waste time guiltily agonizing over that fact. You should’ve seen the look on his face when I came at him with my mace raised! He just held out his hand with a calm expression like ‘Pfft. Whatever. I can handle this.’ before I nearly launched him into orbit. He deserved what he got!

    …But as I said before, all is forgiven now.

    But oooh, Miss Amelia was trying my patience after we found the crater where he landed. She was fawning over him and whining things like: “You didn’t have to go and hurt Mister Zelgadis.” And putting ice on his head and generally behaving like he was an adorable, defenseless puppy I’d just beat up and not a remorseless desecrater of temples.

    …But again, all forgiven! I’m a very forgiving person! Especially since Mister Zelgadis really wants to get out of town now. He doesn’t like the looks the townspeople have been giving him, as though he were some manner of demon (might I point out that they weren’t doing that before he started blowing up their sacred spaces?) So now the rest seem to be ready to go too. We’ve just got to get our stuff from the Inn and then we’ll be on our way!

    …For real this time.

    Nelvale Desert. Tent. 10:27 pm.

    Dear Diary, today I was buried alive.

    …Do I even need to say anything else?

    10:28 pm.

    Well, actually, yes I do. Because if I just told you that I was buried alive, it would give you only the tiniest peek into this afternoon’s horrors. …And that’s just sad. Because getting buried alive should be the worst thing that can happen to a person in an afternoon, but it wasn’t even close. …In fact, comparatively, it may have been the best thing that happened to me all afternoon.

    But there is no question whatsoever about what the worst thing that happened to me was. And it wasn’t the accidental tail-showing in public, or the battle, or the earthquakes, or the gigantic sand worm, or even the appearance of an enemy that most likely is the one the prophecy spoke of that will flood this world with darkness.

    It was him.

    Xellos.


    10:35 pm.

    Yes, that Xellos! I seriously doubt there could be more than one. Goodness knows no mother would name her child after such a vile, disgusting creature! This is the same… the same criminal, the same mass-murderer that nearly wiped out my people all by himself!

    Apparently he used to hang around with Miss Lina and the others.

    …What the—I mean, how did… HOW DOES SOMETHING LIKE THIS EVEN HAPPEN?!

    10:41 pm.

    The best explanation that I could get from Miss Lina on the subject after all was said and done was that he was using them on Hellmaster’s orders when they were searching for the Claire Bible last year. And wouldn’t you know it? That snake replied with, “Oh, I wouldn’t say ‘using.’ Let’s just say that our goals merged in mutually beneficial ways.”

    Miss Lina just stared, stony-faced, at the sand. “Let’s not,” she said flatly.

    I stated the obvious—that that monster clearly had some kind of sinister ulterior motive and that Miss Lina would be a fool to let him shadow us. Someone had to say it!

    That monster raised his loathsome eyebrows at me incredulously and said, “I think my ‘sinister ulterior motives’ are as clear as yours are in this case.”

    That piece of filth! As though my wanting to save the world and his using Miss Lina to bait out someone he wants to kill (and he probably has something else planned that’s even nastier than that—and you can count on it!) were anywhere close to being on the same level! He did that before too. A ‘pretext’ he said—the nerve! I can’t believe he would even try to argue that I—

    …But I’m getting way ahead of myself. There’s so much that happened before that demon even showed up—important things that I really must record here. And there’s such a lot to tell that I’m sure I’ll leave something out if I don’t start at the beginning and move on from there. I can talk about the absolutely indignity of having to endure that monster’s presence when I get to him and not a moment sooner.

    I just need to collect my thoughts first.

    10:53 pm.

    But just… even thinking about that grinning, two-faced, evil creature… it just makes me so furious!!

    I mean, this is someone whose name is synonymous with pure wickedness—with fearsome destruction and utter disregard for any that stand in the way of his dark goals. And yes, I’m sure all those things are true, and he’s the very definition of wickedness, but…

    ...he has the gall to act like he’s not! Accuse him of his obvious crimes and he’ll just pull a faux-innocent look (as if a creature with such a black soul could even pretend to be blameless!) and ask you if he’s really as bad as all that! It’s shameless!

    And he doesn’t even have the decency to look the way he should. I don’t really know what I imagined when I first heard his name spoken in hushed tones as “the detested Xellos” during lessons… but I can tell you one thing, it didn’t look like… that.

    He should’ve looked… well, like a monster! A lot of unnecessary eyes and feelers and claws and fangs dripping with venom and such! That would at least in some way be… honest. Xellos’s appearance is just… just a lie.

    Seriously! That constant goofy smiling is just a gigantic offense to the thousands of innocents that he’s killed! I mean, it’s creepy, but not in the way it’s supposed to be. And who, outside the circus, goes around with purple hair anyway?!

    11:02 pm.

    …But I’m not going to talk about Xellos right now anyway.

    Let’s see… where was I before… before everything happened? …Right! We were just about to leave town.

    So we were trying to make our way out of town as quickly and inconspicuously as possibly—Mister Zelgadis was doing so by shrouding his face behind his scarf and skulking around. Naturally we were already drawing a few looks when… I felt it.

    I can’t even begin to describe it to you… It was just the most invasively nasty presence I’d ever felt—and it was creeping around somewhere close. It was like a screeching sound that I couldn’t get out of my head no matter what I did. It was like my entire skeleton itched. It was like some unknowable terror was rolling in—depraved and guiltless and free and very close. It was like a ghostly fingertip running down my spine. It made me sick to my stomach, but mostly it just made me furious.

    …Somehow combine all that and maybe you’ll get a tenth of what I was experiencing. I was overwhelmed and I didn’t know why save that whatever I’d sensed was nameless and evil.

    …Of course, now I know what I was sensing was evil, but not nameless. Xellos! So that… that garbage wasn’t content just to follow us around and use Miss Lina to flush out Valgaav? He had to taunt us with his presence? That miserable little—

    But I’m not talking about Xellos right now. That comes later. I can control myself.

    Anyway, as you can probably understand, I was having difficulty dealing with that horrible sensation. It didn’t help that the rest of them were badgering me with questions about it—I didn’t know what was going on. All I knew was that I had the overpowering urge to transform and lay waste to the source of that presence!

    I was doing my best but… as I could feel the presence inching closer, I lost it a little and my tail popped out. I think Miss Lina and the others tried to cover me up, but I can’t really remember with much clarity what was going on. It was just me—trying to hold myself together… literally. I had my arms wrapped around my body and my teeth clenched and was trying to will myself not to get any bigger or scalier or fangier.

    Finally the presence started to diminish slightly—not vanish, but get far enough away that I got back enough self-control to hide my tail (and enough awareness to notice that everyone was staring at me). Miss Amelia was saying that Miss Lina had run off somewhere. I hadn’t even caught my breath from my horrible ordeal and we had to go chasing after her.

    When we caught up with her I didn’t totally catch everything that was going on. They were talking among themselves and not bothering to stop and explain anything to me. It was completely rude, but I was too shaken to comment on it. All I could gather at that point was that Miss Lina had seen someone that they knew. As we traveled on toward the desert, who that someone was became horrifyingly more clear. They got a monster involved in this. And worse! It was a monster that they all knew! World-saving heroes should not go around making the acquaintance of monsters! What’s more, they were acting like this in some way confirmed what I’d been saying all along about the prophecy. So, they won’t believe me, an honest and moral servant of the gods, but suddenly a demon comes along and they’re swayed?!

    Needless to say, I was livid—and I didn’t even know at that point that the demon they were talking about was none other than Xellos. I was about to lose it with them, but I’m sure you’ll agree it was justified. We were being shadowed by an agent of evil! I wasn’t going to allow that! That’s utterly unacceptable!

    So I screamed out in a voice that must have filled the whole desert—demanding that the fiend show himself at once and face me!

    And that’s… about all I remember before I got knocked out. I guess there was some sort of light and I got hit, but I was out too quickly to even really register it.

    I faded in and out of consciousness for awhile after that. I remember snatches of yelling and bright lights flashing and a feeling of suffocation… I’m not sure if those were dreams or real. Then I remember being shaken, and realizing that the darkness on the outside of my closed eyes had been replaced by light. I also remember that my mouth tasted like a sandbox. I heard voices…

    “Filia! Wake up!”

    “Is she really still unconscious?”

    “Well, she did take a direct hit from the attack, Mister Zelgadis. And being buried in the sand all that time probably didn’t help… I don’t suppose anyone has any smelling salts?”

    “That’s not the kind of thing I’d carry around with me.”

    “Well, maybe we could use a water spell? That might snap her out of it.”

    “Or we could just slap her.” (I think that was Miss Lina. Hmmph.)

    My eyes fluttered open. I winced against the brightness of the desert sky above me, and I squinted, nearly shutting them again. I could still make out Miss Lina sitting beside me and looking like she’d suddenly been put on the spot.

    “Filia!” she said in an obviously fake cheerful tone. “We were so worried about you! Welcome back to the world.”

    “What…” I murmured—I stopped to cough up a bunch of sand—“What happened to me?”

    “Valgaav’s attack knocked you out,” Miss Lina continued in the same tone. She scratched at her hair in a nervous gesture. “We… may have lost track of you in the battle.”

    I wasn’t yet awake enough to take note of the part where Miss Lina abandoned me. I was more confused by other things. “Valgaav? Battle?”

    “Yeah, he’s the last remaining servant of Gaav, the Demon Dragon King,” was the very flippant summary that I received. “He’s kind of got this vendetta against us.”

    This was a lot to take in and I wasn’t necessarily in a great state to do so. I’d missed so much. I tried to think back to the last thing I remembered to make sense of it all. “Demon?” I repeated. “Then was he… was he the source of the evil presence I sensed before?”

    There was an uncomfortable pause, and at that moment I should’ve known that something was very, very wrong. “Prob-ably not,” Miss Lina conceded.

    Suddenly it was like my senses perked up and I felt that same evil aura. I opened my eyes wide and stared at the epicenter of the presence… the figure kneeling down in the sand on Miss Lina’s right. He was peering at me with a slightly curious expression. Just sitting in the midst of our group like he belonged there! Instead of on the opposite side of a battlefield standing against us where he should’ve been!

    I scrambled backwards in a hurry and got to my feet, probably shrieking something along the lines of, “Monster?! A MONSTER?!”

    Miss Lina let her forehead fall into her hand. “Filia, this is Xellos. Xellos, Filia,” she said in a resigned sounding voice.

    “Hello,” the beast said in this… peppy, incredibly grating voice.

    I let out a scandalized gasp. Not only was Miss Lina allowing a monster to sit with our group, but it was that monster. And, well, I really shouldn’t have gotten ahead of myself about him before, because I hate to repeat myself but… but he just didn’t look the way he should’ve! It was almost… is disappointing even the right word to use in this circumstance? He should’ve had shadowy familiars or coarse, wolf-like fur, or… or a noxious black smoke surrounding him or something! Instead he just had this silly purple hair and this even sillier smile. This was a creature that slaughtered thousands of my race with barely a thought… and he looked more like a twit than a monster!

    He wore a… well, it was almost a black cloak. A black cloak would’ve been appropriately villainous, but this wasn’t even quite there. It wasn’t a starless-night black, it was more of… a dark grey—the type of color that people wear when they don’t want the dirt to show. He wore white gloves—like the kind that magicians wear. He had a staff on the ground next to him with a rounded gem in the middle of it—kind of like the one I wear on my robe except for the fact that while mine is a peaceful shade of blue, his was blood red. Smaller stones of the same color were on the clasp of his cloak. Perhaps the color of those gems was the only appropriate thing about his appearance.

    And that voice—good GOD. The less said there, the better.

    “X-Xellos?! The…”

    I was flabbergasted and my head still hurt from being knocked out. Lina’s extreme abridgment of the circumstances wasn’t helping. But I was more concerned with the fact that a monster had infiltrated my group.

    “What is he doing here?!” I demanded hoarsely.

    “Come on, Filia,” Lina said, patting the ground next to her and using the sort of voice you use when you’re trying to coax four-year-olds into behaving, “just sit down and we’ll talk this all out.”

    “I am not sitting with a monster!” I insisted.

    “Fine then, stand,” Miss Lina said in a mildly annoyed tone of voice. She sighed. “Okay, so this is what happened,” she said, “the guy who sent that blast of energy that knocked you out calls himself Valgaav. We’d never met him,” she added hurriedly as she saw me opening my mouth to ask why she hadn’t mentioned that they had someone after them before, “but he claims he’s the last servant of Gaav and that he’s been looking for us to get revenge for Gaav’s death. We got into a fight with him and things really weren’t going our way. Somewhere in the midst of it all, Gourry lost track of you.”

    “Hey, why am I the only one who—” Mister Gourry cut in.

    “Quiet!” Miss Lina snapped. “Anyway, like I said, things were looking bad. But then Xellos joined the fray and the tide turned. Apparently he’s been shadowing us since he’s after Valgaav and he could count on Valgaav going after us first.” Miss Lina shrugged helplessly. “But, even after all that, Valgaav got away.” She paused and suddenly looked nervous. “…And then we realized you were missing and dug you up.”

    I was absolutely indignant. I get knocked out one time and then everything goes to hell! “How cruel!” I exploded. “Not only do you abandon me, but now you bring this filthy monster into my presence!”

    And that creep was just sitting there! Listening to all this and smiling passively!

    “Miss Lina, how could you!” I cried.

    “Nobody’s more upset about this than I am,” Miss Lina said—a sentiment which I highly doubt. “But even though this was all just a pretext for luring Valgaav out…” Miss Lina sighed heavily and gave the demon a sideways glance. “…he did end up saving us.”

    He frowned at her (and thank gods he wiped that stupid smile off his face). “You don’t have to sound so sad about it,” he said.

    I leveled my gaze at him furiously. If he thought he could pull some innocent routine, then I was going to let him know that it wouldn’t work on me. I knew what he was! “Xellos. The dragon race’s enemy during the War of the Monster’s Fall. The one who nearly destroyed my people. A demon among demons,” I accused icily.

    And how did he respond to that eloquent and damning indictment? Was it with a guilt-ridden ‘Yes, those vile crimes you’ve mentioned were committed by me’? Or, more appropriately, a swish of his cloak and a ‘Mwahaha! Yes! I did it! It was all me!’?

    No. Of course not! He had the nerve to reply with a doubtful sounding: “Oh? Am I really that bad?”

    GAH! Do you see what I was dealing with?!

    “Look. I found Miss Lina first,” I declared, dragging her away from him and staking my claim in no uncertain terms. “I don’t know what you’re planning, but stop interfering! Stay out of our way!”

    “I’m not in your way,” he answered (LIE!). “Oh, I get it,” he said, cupping his fist in his other hand as though he’d just figured something out. He stood up, picking up his staff as he did so. “It’s okay for you to get Lina out here on a pretext”—he pointed upward with his index finger as though he was giving me a lecture. As if I’d listen to one from him!—“but it’s horrible if I did it first?”

    I relinquished my grip on Miss Lina and stood up so he couldn’t tower over me (…though even when I’m standing up, he’s still a bit taller than me. …But still! Standing up made him less towery!). “Even if I did use a pretext, I’m trying to save the world from a horrible threat,” I assured him. “It isn’t like the selfish pretext a monster would use.”

    He leaned in toward me (closer than any monster should get). “A pretext is a pretext,” he informed me, smiling.

    Ugh! What an obnoxious, smug—You know, I shouldn’t even have said I used a pretext. That was a mistake—and it’s no wonder that sneaky monster took advantage of my misstatement. His using Miss Lina to lure out Valgaav was a pretext, while my enlisting Miss Lina to save the world is a just cause! He was twisting my words!

    So we stayed like that for a moment, glaring at each other. Well, I was glaring at him. I’m not sure what he was doing. He was smiling and his eyes were squinted nearly shut in the same way they’d been since I first saw him—but his fists were clenched like he was as mad as I was. That’s when Miss Lina got between us and pushed us apart.

    “Look, look, anyway, can we all calm down here?” she said. “Let’s just sort out what we’ve learned so far.” She turned and looked Xellos square in the eye. “Xellos, for once I want you to tell us everything you know in detail.”

    Imagine, asking a monster for information. How could you possibly trust a source like that? Anyway, Xellos responded that as far as he knew the enemy had three objectives. 1. To kill Miss Lina in order to avenge the Demon Dragon King’s death, 2. To take Mister Gourry’s Sword of Light, and 3. To find a weapon like the Sword of Light, but even more powerful.

    …This… doesn’t really have anything to do with anything, but I thought I’d note it because… well, I noticed it. …I hadn’t really gotten a good look at Xellos’s eyes up until this point because they were always mostly closed. But I remember when he was saying all that, he opened one eye wide and it was… well, now at least I can say that the color of the gems he wears aren’t actually the only thing about his appearance that betrays the merciless, evil core within. His irises are lighter than his hair, but the same color. His pupils are… sharp… and wrong. In fact, the shape of the iris is wrong too. It’s all wrong. Like the eyes of a predator.

    Um… anyway, enough about Xellos’s eyes—it’s not like they matter or anything.

    It was upsetting to know that something more powerful than the Sword of Light was out there, and that the enemy that was so single-mindedly after Miss Lina was after it. And that was before we even saw him with…

    Miss Amelia piped up that the bandits they’d chased out of Ocea before I met them seemed like they were looking for something, and that perhaps they were teamed up with Valgaav.

    “You think they were involved in this too?” Miss Lina asked incredulously. “C’mon! That’s silly! Besides, if it was true and they had a weapon as strong as the Sword of Light, they wouldn’t have run away like that.”

    “True. But it is a fact that they’re in a frenzy to find the other weapon. Currently their eyes are on the holy sword held by the Sand People,” Xellos said.

    “The holy sword of the Sand People?” Miss Lina repeated. She turned to Xellos suspiciously. “Wait! How do you know that much?” she asked.

    “Before I ran into you all, I saw them attack a Sand People village,” he said casually. “I’ve seen how serious they are.” On the word ‘seen’ he opened one eye again, as though to demonstrate that, despite the fact that he usually squinted, he could still see… see with his strangely affecting eyes (I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to bring them up again. They just creep me out, I guess).

    We all gasped, as Miss Lina said what was on all our minds: “So, what’s happening in the village right now?”

    Xellos pointed out into the distance. “See for yourself,” he said.

    We followed him down the way he indicated (despite the fact that following a monster is probably a terrible idea in any circumstance) and eventually we came to some tracks and an abandoned Sompur (or, as Miss Lina insists on calling them ‘those big bird thingies’). In the distance we could see the village of the Sand People… and the flames that rose from their tiny homes… and we could hear the screams as they fled.

    I think we were all affected, but Miss Amelia was particularly. She clenched her fists and glared at Xellos (I was glad I wasn’t the only one who found him completely unacceptable in every way). “You mean you just let this village be attacked?!” she spat. “I don’t believe it…”

    I believed it, because what else could you expect out of an unfeeling beast? But I wasn’t any happier with him than Miss Amelia was.

    “…Well, if Valgaav himself isn’t here, it doesn’t concern me, does it?” the aforementioned unfeeling beast replied selfishly.

    “You know, you sure would make a great politician, Xellos,” Miss Lina said sourly, as she examined the tracks we found. They didn’t go to the village, but instead headed off somewhere else.

    “Well anyway,” Miss Lina said, getting up and looking off into the distance where the tracks led.

    “You’re going?” Mister Zelgadis asked.

    “Exactly!” Miss Lina confirmed.

    And with that, before I could do anything about it, Miss Lina, Mister Zelgadis, and Miss Amelia Ray Winged out of there, with Mister Gourry chasing after them on foot.

    That’s right. They left me alone with the monster! They abandoned me for the second time that day! And I daresay that this second time was the worst of it. The first time they left me alone and unconscious in the middle of a battlefield and the worst that happened to me is that I got temporarily buried alive. But this time they left me alone in the company of the most loathsome, detestable being on the entire planet!

    Some friends!

    12:57 pm.

    Oh my goodness, has it really gotten that late? Today (um… I mean yesterday) was so rotten that it’s literally spilled into tomorrow (er… today). I’m going to have to get some sleep because who knows what’ll happen in the coming day. I’ll have to fill in the rest later because it really is important.

    …And let me tell you, if a certain creep is still in our traveling party when I get up in the morning… there will be a reckoning.
     
  7. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 7. The One Who Will Fill the World with Darkness.

    Wednesday, March 20th.

    Nelvale Desert. By the Campfire. 8:36 am.


    There will be a reckoning!

    8:40 am.

    Ugh… just… just the idea of that monster hanging around here all night while we were all sleeping, it’s… it’s too skin-crawlingly repulsive for words! And now he’s just sitting around the fire waiting for Mister Gourry (who seems to be feeling much better this morning) to finish frying up the bacon (why a creature who feeds on the misery of others should have any share in our limited supply of food is completely beyond me), perfectly at home among the group.

    And why shouldn’t he be just perfectly at home? It’s not like the others are making any attempt to drive him out with torches and spells like they should be!

    Thank goodness I have my diary as an excuse to avoid him. I can just keep writing away in here and no one will bother me. Nevertheless, something has to be done about him. Who knows what kind of sneaky schemes he’s up to? Once we get going for the day, I’ll be sure to speak to Miss Lina about it.

    Tent. 9:20 pm.

    Well, that went well. …Or not.

    Miss Lina mostly just kept ignoring me when I told her she should get rid of Xellos, even though I was giving the obviously correct advice. Finally she just waved her hand tiredly at Xellos and said, “Hey, Xellos, Filia wants you to leave. So, you know… go on—get.”

    Needless to say, this wasn’t the emphatic demon banishing I had in mind. The monster just stared from her to me for awhile, before finally forming the words: “…Excuse me?”

    With that Miss Lina turned to me and said in a mocking dead-pan: “Well, what do you know? It didn’t work. Who could’ve seen that coming?”

    Why can’t I get them to take this seriously? I suppose I shouldn’t even be surprised at this point. They don’t even take saving the world seriously, so why should I expect them to take the presence of a vicious, conniving beast in our party seriously? The only thing these people take seriously is food!

    …And you know, that’s got to be part of the reason that Miss Lina especially is so cranky. Since we’ve been traveling in the desert all day, we’ve only been able to eat what we brought with us. Miss Lina and Mister Gourry were whining at lunch about wanting “restaurant food.”

    Hopefully their moods will be improved once we get out of the desert and back into civilization where they can have more to eat. I confess, I’ll probably feel better when we get out of here too. As far as I’m concerned, the desert has no good points. Well, I mean, okay, maybe one. It is very pretty here—with colorful rock formations and whatnot. But we’ve only been traveling through this desert a day and a half and I can’t seem to get all the sand out of my boots. Every time I think I’ve got it all, it refills. It’s very uncomfortable.

    And, while it may be absolutely freezing now that it’s nighttime, it was boiling during the day, which made covering any real distance a difficulty. I thought about taking my cloak off, but I was afraid it might be immodest. I’m not about to let my guard down with a demon in our midst. And anyway, since my cloak is white it might’ve helped after all. White is supposed to reflect heat, right?

    …I’d like to think that Xellos was frying in his black cloak, but his kind doesn’t have to worry about the elements, do they? He certainly didn’t seem bothered. He even whistled part of the way! Ugh! I thought my teeth were going to shatter from clenching them!

    Anyway, I can’t wait until we’re out of this desert. I think we should be through some time tomorrow, but I must admit I’ve lost my bearings a bit. I’m sure I’ll figure things out as we get closer to the edge.

    9:42 pm.

    Oh, I’ve just remembered. I never did get through explaining all the madness that went on yesterday, did I? Now, where was I?

    Oh yes, my so-called friends had just left me alone with an infamous dragon-slayer. Because they clearly care so much for my safety! And he just stood there grinning at me and… alright, maybe that doesn’t sound very threatening, but you’ve got to think about it in context! A monster such as Xellos smiling at a dragon has got to be something like a cat grinning at a mouse! …Not that I’d admit to being the mouse in this scenario. He’s the one that’s vermin.

    And as if the smiling wasn’t enough to set me cringing, he launched into this faux-friendly, “So, tell me, Filia, how’s the Fire Dragon King these days?” line.

    Can you believe that?! It’s gotta be blasphemy for him to even speak that name! And as if he should care, no, as if he even has the right to ask after the gods! What did he expect? That we were going to have a bit of pleasant small-talk while the others were gone? What, was I supposed to answer with, “Fine, and how’s your vile, whorish master? Keeping well, I trust?”

    Well, here’s a big shocker: I didn’t do that! Instead I screamed in his stupid, lying face!

    I looked desperately around for… I don’t know what—anything that I could put between him and me. I found a stick on the ground and drew a line in front of him. “Don’t you set one foot outside this line, you creep!” I ordered.

    He kept smiling, but it looked like it sort of… broke. “That hurts,” he muttered. Oh please, like I care about hurting some demon’s nonexistent feelings!

    I wasn’t satisfied with the line, and I knew that my willpower alone wouldn’t be enough to keep that horrible demon locked up, so I ran over to the sompur to see if its rider had left anything in the saddle bags. I hit the jackpot! There was a hammer and some posts, probably for setting up a tent, and a length of wire as well.

    So I set to work slamming the wooden posts into the ground in a circle around the stunned beast. “What… are you doing?” he asked, looking at me like I’d lost my mind.

    “What,” I began, huffing as I hammered another post in the ground, “does it look like,” huff, “I’m doing?” I shot back. “I’m building a fence to keep you from causing any more trouble!”

    I was crouched down, feeding the barbed wire around the posts, so I didn’t see his face, but his staff seemed to dig further into the ground when he said: “But I haven’t caused any trouble.”

    “Yet!” I said, racing to finish my fence before he got any wily ideas about preventing his incarceration. “Now, don’t try to follow us or you’ll be sorry!” I screeched, putting extreme emphasis into every word. I swept the sand off my hands and then raced back to the sompur, my fence completed. The bird didn’t seem that fussed about who rode it, so it let me get into the saddle without making any protestation. I held the reigns and steered the thing in the direction Miss Lina and the rest of them had gone.

    As I rode off, I turned my head and looked back at Xellos, standing stock still in the middle of his enclosure, apparently unable to believe that this was happening to him. “And I mean it!” I yelled after him for good measure, before I nudged the sompur into a gallop.

    Now, who wants to bet on whether he actually listened to me or not? Hmmph.

    Anyway, I raced across the desert trying to forget the nasty encounter with Xellos and focus on finding the others. I’d gone through so much trouble getting them together and on this journey that I wasn’t about to lose them again. They’d already shown a propensity for just forgetting me and jetting off somewhere else, not caring if I’m getting buried alive or menaced by a monster’s polite attempts at conversation.

    I kept my eyes on the sky, hoping that I’d catch up to them soon. But by the time I did catch up with them, they’d been knocked out of the sky by a falling rock. I mean, I nearly lost control of the sompur since the ground was shaking so much. Suddenly this… well, when we saw it then it was just a fissure traveling toward us, shooting up waves of sand as it sped through the desert. We didn’t know then that it was a sandworm since it was still underground. As it passed underneath us, the blasted off sand sent us all flying. That’s right! I hadn’t found them for two seconds before we got separated again!

    I landed painfully on my shoulder—though I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much after everything that Miss Amelia and Mister Gourry went through. I heard some panic-stricken cawing and turned to see that the sompur I’d been riding on had landed on its side and was having trouble getting up. I went over to it and pulled it up by its reigns. At just the moment I’d got the bird back on its talons, the thing that had caused the earthquake shot out of the ground some distance away and let out a roar. The sompur hightailed it out of there, leaving a flurry of sand in its wake. I didn’t make any attempt to stop it. After all, it’s sensible to run away from a gigantic, rampaging sandworm.

    I’m not sure just how huge that thing was because its coils seemed to be everywhere and probably extended far underground. It was brown like the desert floor and had multiple gemlike blue eyes. But the thing that stood out the most to me, beyond its size, was its circular mouth ringed with razor-sharp teeth.

    I took a deep breath, fished out my mace, and began steadily walking toward the thing. …Which, I suppose I’ve now established as the exact opposite of the sensible thing to do. I just knew that there was absolutely no way I was going to let the prophesied heroes, that I’d spent so much time and effort finding and recruiting, get eaten by an overgrown worm!

    I think I’d landed a bit of a distance away from the others, so it took a bit for me to trek through the sand. It didn’t help that I wasn’t sure at all if I was going in the right direction—I just figured if the sandworm was fighting that it had to be fighting someone, so I went toward it. I really couldn’t see much since such a great deal of sand had been disturbed, clouding the air.

    Suddenly, out of a cloud of sand, came two figures I’d never seen before running at me. One of them was a giant lizardman carrying a strange looking sword; the other was a much shorter fox man with an eye patch. …I guess it sounds a little… maybe a little presumptuous that I whacked them back where they came with my mace but… well! You know! I hadn’t seen them before, so I figured if they weren’t with my group then they had to be with the bad guy that I’d yet to see. I turned out to be right anyway, so that just goes to show that sometimes it’s better to mace first and ask questions later.

    I grabbed the sword from the lizardman before I knocked him back with crushing force, figuring that this had to be the holy sword of the Sand People that Xellos had mentioned before, and last time I checked lizardmen are not Sand People. When the smoke cleared (from the bodies of the aforementioned beastmen flying through it, I suppose) I saw Miss Amelia and Mister Zelgadis standing with the unconscious bodies of the beastmen at their feet.

    “Miss Filia?” Miss Amelia said in surprise.

    “You won’t be taking off on me this time,” I said, accusingly.

    Before I could go any further in berating them for leaving me, I noticed that it wasn’t just Miss Amelia and Mister Zelgadis there—that monster was standing right behind them, still with that glazed smile on his face!

    I pointed the holy sword of the Sand People at him. “I told you not to follow us, you cockroach!” I shouted. “How did you get out of your cage?!”

    “Cage?” Mister Zelgadis repeated, looking over at Xellos with his eyebrows raised.

    Xellos looked at me like he wasn’t actually a cockroach, but like he’d swallowed one. “Despite the, ah, efficiency of your little impromptu fortress, it doesn’t really mean much to one who can teleport,” he explained loftily.

    I winced. Why didn’t I think of that?

    “Well, you shouldn’t have left anyway,” I insisted, scowling at him. “I told you not to!”

    He arched a purple eyebrow at me. “You mean to tell me you were imprisoning me on the honor system?”

    “Demons have no honor, you—” I spat back, but was interrupted by Mister Zelgadis.

    “Enough,” Mister Zelgadis said forcefully. “We have more important things to deal with,” he said, nodding at the berserk sandworm. He turned to me. “Filia, that sword is some kind of key for keeping the sandworm at bay—these guys,” he said, glaring at the unconscious beastmen, “took it, and that’s why all this is happening.”

    I cringe to think of it now, but at the time I was really impressed. “That’s really smart, Mister Zelgadis,” I said. “How did you figure all that out?”

    Mister Zelgadis appeared to be stuck for a response, so Miss Amelia provided him with one. “Mister Xellos was the one who figured it out,” she piped up.

    I frowned instantly and turned to Xellos, whose constant smile had gone distastefully smug. “Hmmph,” I said, and turned away from him. “Anyway,” I said, choosing to ignore my misstep and passing the sword to Miss Amelia, “we have to get this sword back where it belongs, alright?”

    “Alright! Leave it to me!” Miss Amelia promised, full of determination. She somewhat undid this by suddenly looking uncertain and asking: “…So, where’s it belong?”

    “Inside that cave over there, I believe,” Xellos provided, pointing at a cave far away in the distance.

    It strikes me that Xellos was a little too quick with these answers! If Mister Zelgadis had supplied them then I’d think he’d just taken the time to observe and figure things out. With Xellos, I find this whole thing mighty suspicious!

    Miss Amelia was too concerned by the vision of sandworm-filled carnage between us and the cave to bother to be suspicious at all. “All the way over there?!” she said weakly.

    It looked pretty dangerous. I mean, I suppose she could’ve Ray Winged it toward the cave, but there’s no way she could’ve moved fast enough to avoid being caught by the sandworm. Luckily Mister Zelgadis stumbled upon a plan. …Though he could’ve introduced it in a more tactful way.

    “Amelia, how much do you weigh?” he asked in a seeming non sequitur.

    She… well, she smacked him over the head with the oversized sword. Yes, he probably should’ve been a bit more sensitive…

    “I was asking you seriously!” he insisted, sounding pained.

    After she’d stopped hitting him (oh, so when she whacks him it’s justified but when I do it I’m some kind of mean-spirited brute?) and decided to listen to his explanation, he launched into this… sort of crazy plan to use some of the tube-shaped debris that we’d found to build some kind of cannon. Then he’d use a wind spell to propel the lightest one of us (Miss Amelia) toward the cave—the wind spell and the pressure of the cannon would make sure that Miss Amelia would move so fast that the sandworm wouldn’t be able to catch her since she’d cover the distance in a snap. He needed to know her exact weight to make the correct adjustments to get her all the way across the stretch of desert. It all seemed kind of… iffy to me, but she decided to tell him (not out loud, of course, so that we could all hear her, but whispered in his ear). She must really trust him to go through with something that dangerous sounding.

    Of course, while Mister Zelgadis was working out the mathematics and Miss Amelia was gathering the tubes to make the cannon, that left me, once again, alone with Xellos—who was just standing there playing the spectator and not so much as lifting a finger to help, I might add!

    I crossed my arms. “If you’re smart enough to figure this out then why aren’t you helping?”

    “My intellect has nothing to do with my inclination to provide assistance,” he responded breezily. “I don’t see you volunteering yourself to be shot out of a cannon—and it is your job to thwart this prophesied destruction, isn’t it?”

    “They’re the ones that are supposed to follow the prophecy,” I shot back. Anyway, it wouldn’t have made sense for me to go into the cannon—humans are much lighter than dragons. …Was that what he was going for? Getting me to call myself too heavy? That jerk! “And who told you about the prophecy anyway?” I wondered, a little late since I’d mentioned the prophecy in passing before and he hadn’t questioned it. “Was it Miss Lina?”

    “Yes, she filled me in on it,” he said casually. “…The Fire Dragon King seems to have a flair for vagueness and melodrama if you don’t mind my saying,” he commented.

    “I do mind your saying that!” I retorted. “The prophecy was to help the Fire Dragon King’s followers… it wasn’t meant for the likes of you!”

    Xellos just shrugged. “Nevertheless, it’d be more helpful if he favored clarity. But,” he added, “dragons do seem to have an insistence on tradition.”

    I was about to respond back to him (there’s nothing wrong with tradition!) when I saw that Mister Zelgadis and Miss Amelia were all set up—with the makeshift cannon resting on a rock and Mister Zelgadis at the bottom of the cannon and Miss Amelia inside it, holding the sword.

    “Umm… Mister Zelgadis?” Miss Amelia said uncertainly.

    “Relax, Amelia,” Mister Zelgadis responded a little snappishly as he tried to get the firing angle right. I certainly wouldn’t relax if I was in her position—I couldn’t even relax while just watching her! I clasped my hands together and said a brief prayer to the Fire Dragon King for her safety.

    “Let’s get going!” Mister Zelgadis shouted, before Miss Amelia could change her mind. “Bomb di Wind!” he chanted, sending a blast of magical wind into the cannon.

    I don’t think I breathed for the longest time. She just shot out of that cannon so fast and we could hear her scream getting quieter and quieter as she flew across the desert. I mean, it went just like Mister Zelgadis planned since she went too fast for the sandworm to catch her, but I noticed that he looked somewhat nervous about it even though he’d been so confident before.

    I did what little I could. I prayed harder.

    “I hope it worked,” Mister Zelgadis said, staring out in the distance for some sign of progress.

    Thankfully, shortly after Miss Amelia disappeared from sight the sandworm let out one final roar and then seemed to sort of… calcify. It just froze in place, turning all white before it crumbled into little bits. Which signaled to the rest of us that Miss Amelia had gotten the sword back where it belonged.

    I was in the mood to celebrate when Xellos ruined the whole thing by pointing out that none of us were sure where Miss Lina had gotten to. …One problem at a time!

    So we all started looking around for some clue as to where she and Mister Gourry had gone—the gigantic swirling lights climbing all the way up to the sky some distance away seemed like a pretty good bet. We all raced over there to see what was going on and when we got there we saw Miss Lina watching as Mister Gourry was locked in combat with another person, who turned out to be the Valgaav that the others told me about.

    I didn’t even think of this then because everything was so chaotic and because I wasn’t even entirely sure that that was Valgaav but… this is just another example of a monster not looking the way he should. No feelers, no fangs—just another deceptively human looking monster, though this one had a horn coming out of his head, so that at least was a tip-off. He looked pretty young too, though I suppose I can’t take that as any kind of indication of reality. I mean, Xellos looks like he could be around my age and he has to be much, much, much, much, much older. So much!

    Mister Gourry was going up against Valgaav with the Sword of Light, and Valgaav was using a weapon that had the same type of glowing beam as the Sword of Light (which I guess goes to show that Xellos’s information was right) though the weapon itself was different looking—more like a double edged lance. They’d clashed the beams of the weapon together and something… very strange was happening. The blades of light were curled around each other and moving upward to the sky. It didn’t seem like Mister Gourry or Valgaav had any control over the weapons anymore.

    As if that wasn’t weird enough, this swirling void began to appear above them in the midst of the entwined blades of light. A single, much smaller beam of light shot out of the void and between Mister Gourry and Valgaav—neither of whom seemed to know what was going on either. That light was apparently powerful enough to break the connection between the two weapons, because Mister Gourry and Valgaav were sent flying away from each other.

    Mister Gourry landed much further away, but Valgaav seemed to recover himself more quickly. He looked up at the void and gasped at what he saw—the rest of us looked up and did the same.

    Out of the void came this… giant. I’ve never seen anything quite like him. His body was made up of purples and blacks and sickly pale greens and he was surrounded by this ghostly blue aura. He looked like he was well armored but… I can honestly say I’m not sure what was armor and what was actually a part of his body.

    “Almayce, I…” Valgaav began.

    “Retreat,” the giant called Almayce ordered in this… low, I want to say almost mechanical voice.

    Valgaav seemed enraged by this. “WHY?!” he demanded. “Why retreat when I’m so close to finishing them off?!”

    “I said,” Almayce said in a voice that wouldn’t be argued with, “retreat.”

    “Hmmph!” Valgaav responded.

    It was all so much to deal with, and still is for that matter since I don’t know much of anything more than I did then. I’d barely gotten used to the idea of this monster called Valgaav opposing us, when suddenly it turns out that Valgaav is acting under the orders of some boss that we know nothing about?

    Miss Lina and Mister Zelgadis weren’t keen on them running off and leaving us with no idea what was going on. “Oh no! You’re not getting off that easy!” Miss Lina shouted as she and Mister Zelgadis lunged toward the giant.

    Miss Lina shot an Elmekia Flame at him and it hit dead on… but it just went through him, leaving no damage. Mister Zelgadis tried a Ra Tilt, but the results were the same. That Almayce just laughed at them.

    “Their magic wasn’t strong enough…” I said in numb disbelief.

    “Not true,” Xellos said from behind me.

    I turned to look at him and there was absolutely no trace of the smiley ‘I’m really a nice guy’ act that he’d been pulling before. It was all gone and it was replaced with… his head was lowered and his hair was casting deep shadows all across his face, his eyes were open and glaring ahead. It was bizarre and off-putting to see him looking so totally and utterly serious.

    “It’s not that it isn’t strong enough,” he said, words tipped with acid. “It’s meaningless to even try to use magic on one of his kind.”

    I didn’t know how to respond—then as now. What sort of being is immune to even strong magic like the kind Miss Lina and Mister Zelgadis can wield?

    “What is he… anyway?” Miss Lina asked, thinking along the same lines as me.

    We didn’t get an answer—perhaps because Xellos wasn’t inclined to give on, perhaps because Almayce began to disappear, fading back into the void he’d come from.

    “Damn you, Lina Inverse,” Valgaav sword, seemingly livid at the idea of running away, but doing it anyway. “Mark my words: I will kill you.” And with that ominous threat… he disappeared after his master.

    “Man, who are these guys?” Miss Lina asked, staring after the spot where Valgaav had disappeared.

    “Well, it looks like another major battle is underway,” Xellos said chipperly. Chipperly! Can you believe that? And he still didn’t answer Miss Lina’s question!

    “Is that…” I began, fearing the answer, “Is he the one who will fill the world with darkness?”

    “Apparently so,” Xellos answered in a more appropriate tone. “It’s just as your prophecy warned,” he said, looking up at the spot where Almayce had vanished, “…the threat to the world…” he finished thoughtfully.

    11:26 pm.

    I suppose… that’s about it. I mean, we found Miss Amelia and Mister Gourry afterwards and they were both in pretty rough shape. Mister Gourry had gotten really banged up after Almayce’s attack and Miss Amelia was looking downright pitiful with a black eye and a lot of bruises after being fired out of the cannon. We were all pretty shaken and confused by what happened, but we couldn’t seem to make much sense of it. So we just got down to the business of filling Mister Gourry and Miss Amelia in on what they missed and healing up their injuries. Miss Lina took care of Mister Gourry and I healed Miss Amelia. …Though, perhaps I should’ve waited and let Mister Zelgadis volunteer. I think he might’ve if I hadn’t said so first since it was his plan that wound up getting her hurt like that. I think he’s got to feel a little guilty about that. How do I know? Because he’s specifically trying to act like he doesn’t feel guilty.

    In hindsight I probably shouldn’t have focused so much on Xellos. I mean, obviously his presence here is a huge problem, but Almayce and Valgaav are the main issue right now. …They’re the ones threatening the peace of the world…

    I wish I could say that since time has passed I’ve figured out more about what all that was but… I can’t say much for sure. I have no idea what this Almayce person even is, let alone what he’s up to. …Whatever the case, Valgaav obeyed his orders and retreated even though it obviously wasn’t what he wanted to do. So Almayce is the one that’s in charge… what brought these two together?

    The Sword of Light and the weapons like them… that’s another mysterious element. Before, when it was just Valgaav, I suppose I could’ve believed he was just collecting such weapons in order to defeat Miss Lina but… with this Almayce involved… it seems like there’s some other purpose to the weapons. But what could it be?

    …It all comes back to Xellos. What he said about Almayce, about “his kind”… he knows way more than he’s letting on. He knows what Almayce is, and maybe even what he’s after, but he’s not telling. If he’s keeping it a secret from us then he must have some nefarious reason for doing so.

    He’s up to something, that’s for sure… and I can’t let him threaten our quest…

    …It all comes back to him…
     
  8. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 8. A Bad Influence.

    Thursday, March 21st.

    Sinister Ted’s Family Style Eatery. 11:30 am.


    It should come as no surprise that I’m once again in a restaurant watching the supposed saviors of the world gorging themselves on as much food as they can possibly cram into their mouths at one time. I suppose I shouldn’t complain. I mean, I know I’m glad to be out of the desert and in a more comfortable environment. As Miss Lina herself said when we first arrived: “Good-bye desert; hello dessert!”

    Still… Miss Lina and the others seem to like this place a little too much. I mean, honestly the food’s okay but… well, the cook looks a little shady, and I’ve never been a huge fan of seafood… it’s not really the taste so much as I don’t like food that still has a face. There’s this… disturbing looking salmon on a tray in front of me and it’s… it’s just like it’s looking at me with these strange bugged out eyes! And it’s sticking its tongue out at me! …Miss Lina will probably bite its head off any minute now.

    And I just really don’t want this turning into another “the food’s so good here—let’s stay forever” kind of thing. If we have to do this in every town then it’s going to take forever to get to the temple of the Fire Dragon King. If they pull the same kind of behavior they did back in Ocea… well, I think I’m going to have to offer them an ultimatum. But they already agreed to the job right? And they can’t drag their feet too much with Valgaav and the others on their heels. I’m sure if I remind them of that they’ll get going a lot quicker. …Alright, I’m not sure. I’d like to think that, but I’m not sure.

    The one silver lining here is that Xellos isn’t around—he’s probably just mad that Miss Lina made the obviously right choice to follow my advice instead of the advice of a loathsome monster who’s probably trying to lure us into some nefarious trap. Imagine that!

    But oooh I’m so glad he’s gone and you really have no idea from what I’ve written before how much I mean that. I mean, clearly I wasn’t thrilled with him before—not by a long shot! He shrugged off every perfectly true accusation about what a horrible creature he is, spoke to me in a way that no monster should and generally stood around providing no help at all. But I guess when I was writing before… well… stuff was going on. There was that whole sandworm thing and Valgaav and that Almayce giant who I still don’t know what to make of. The point is, he was focusing his noxious self on other things. Now without those distractions… he’s just been being mean—to me!

    Now, I haven’t forgotten that he is a foul and evil beast—goodness knows I wouldn’t forget that, so I’d be out of my mind to expect good behavior. But he’s just so obstinate and nasty and rude that I just can’t take him!

    You have no idea. You have absolutely no idea what I’m dealing with.

    We were trudging through the desert again this morning and I think all of us were absolutely disenchanted with it by then and getting impatient. So Miss Lina turns to me and is all like, “Filia are you sure you know where we’re going?”

    “Of course,” I said, though at that point while I knew where we were going, I was a little sketchy on where we were right then. I guess it showed in my voice because they weren’t exactly buying it. I told them that I had everything in hand but… perhaps getting the lay of the land might help me a little bit? I mean, I could hardly be blamed; the landscape of the desert looks so similar after all. I figured that if I could get up high and get a good look at the pathways that I could figure out where we were and which way to take. I spied a large rock formation and thought it would be the perfect place to go and get my bearings, so I teleported up to the top of it.

    …And who do you suppose was there waiting for me at the top? Xellos. As if anyone had asked him what he thought about our travel plans! He should have no say because he’s not even technically part of our party—no one invited him!

    “Get out of the way,” I said, sweeping in front of him so that I could get a better view of the landscape in front of us. “I know where I’m going.”

    “Is that so?” he said, taking a deliberate step so that he was next to me. “It doesn’t seem that way.”

    I refrained from stepping out in front of him again because I didn’t want to fall off the rock-face. “Well it is.”

    “Hmm,” he hummed as though unconvinced. He held up his hand to his forehead to shield his eyes from the sun (they weren’t even open for goodness sakes!) and peered off into the distance. “I believe we should be going…”

    “…that way,” we both said at the same time.

    We both turned to look at each other with me pointing to the right and him pointing with his staff to the left.

    I glared at him. “No,” I said pointing more feverishly then ever toward the right path, “we simply must take the path to the right.”

    “Oh really?” he said doubtingly. “I think we should take the one to the left.” What about ‘simply must’ didn’t he understand?

    I gritted my teeth at him and tried to keep my cool. Honestly, what did he think he was trying to pull? Why should anyone listen to a monster’s direction to a temple for dragons over an actual dragon? And, alright, I may have been a little on the lost side and not entirely sure where I was going, but still! I’m sure my priestess senses were correct! And the fact that he wanted to go to the left made me all the more sure that the right had to be correct—after all, that monster was probably just trying to lead us astray. Doing the opposite of what he said had to be right.

    He gave me this irritated sort of look. It’s hard to tell with him because he still had that stupid smile, but I’m starting to see more subtle cues from him. His whole face had this strained look and one of his eyebrows was twitching like a wounded snake. His lips, still forming a smile, joined in the twitchy little dance with his eyes. He was probably just angry that I wasn’t going to fall for his deflection. He laughed as though to put me off the scent.

    I returned his laugh with a confident one of my own. “No monster,” I said in a self-assured tone, “is going to trick me that easily.”

    “Trick you?” he repeated, as though the idea was utterly ridiculous. “What makes you think I’m trying to trick you?”

    How about everything?

    I basically told him that—and that if he said it was left that the obvious answer was to go right. He didn’t really care for that and asked if I was really just going to dismiss him so easily. The answer is—yes. Yes I was going to dismiss him! I was going to dismiss him at every turn! And I told him why too!

    “Raw garbage has no sense of direction.”

    That seemed to throw him. He wanted to know where I was getting ‘raw garbage’ from (raised his voice at me too!)—I would’ve told him that I was getting it from his face if Miss Lina hadn’t interrupted us. Immature? Yes. Justified? That’s a big yes.

    “Is Xellos’s way the quickest to the Temple of the Fire Dragon King or what?” she called out impatiently from the ground.

    Miss Lina completely missed the point. As if this was about expedient directions!

    “I don’t know,” I admitted, barely dragging myself away from the direct glare I was giving to Xellos—who I’m pretty sure was mocking my posture of all things!

    “Huh?” she said.

    “Let me explain something,” I said as calmly and levelly as I could to her. “I’m a priestess of the Fire Dragon King. As such, I simply can’t lower myself to agreeing with some monster who follows the orders of some decrepit old dark lord who’s covered in ice in the mountains of the north.”

    Xellos’s eye twitched as though each of my words was stabbing into him—which was my intent! Stab! Stab! Stab!

    He turned outward toward Miss Lina and the rest and gave a theatrical shrug. “Oh my,” he said, “you’re really a selfish person aren’t you, Filia?”

    Selfish?! Can you believe that—coming from a monster?! Who is he to lecture me about morality?! No one, that’s who!

    I was too incoherent at this nonsense to respond before I realized he wasn’t even done! Oh no, he had to top himself! He turned to me and gave me this nasty one-eye-opened look (I certainly hope that’s not a wink because… shudder) and added triumphantly: “Oooh! I meant dragon not person. I guess you can’t help being what you are!” And then he just laughed—at his own miserable joke!

    As though dragons were inherently selfish creatures or something! Dragons teach selflessness, charity, and compassion—monsters on the other hand, are low and treacherous creatures who will do anything in their power to get what they want including, but not limited to, taking advantage of the weak. Which race sounds selfish to you?

    And, alright, I admit that nearly pushed me over the edge. My tail popped out and I was probably about an inch away from strangling him—which wouldn’t have been productive, but would’ve been satisfying. “Who are you calling selfish?!” I demanded, a little thickly because I was growing fangs.

    I managed to get a hold of myself before I completely lost control though. I realized that wasting time with all this nonsense was probably what Xellos was after in the first place and as a priestess of the Fire Dragon King I couldn’t let myself get caught up in his tricks—not with the world on the line!

    I tried to use a relaxation technique to calm myself down and keep from transforming. I closed my eyes and imagined myself surrounded by a comforting pink light. I imagined myself breathing in the comforting aroma of a hot cup of tea—spearmint. I imagined myself taking a drink and feeling the warmth and calm of it flow through me.

    Having achieved the inner peace I thought I needed to move on, I opened my eyes. The first thing I see? That monster making nasty faces at me! I don’t think even the Supreme Elder would believe me if I told him—but that’s what he was doing! How crude and immature can you get?

    Do you see what I’m dealing with now? Do you?!

    I barely held onto all that inner-peace and determination stuff in the face of… that face. I turned around and tried to ignore him, calling out to the others, “Come, Miss Lina! Let’s go! We have a duty to save the world!”

    I felt the need to remind myself of that fact again because oooh that monster nearly made me forget with his vile behavior!

    And Mister Gourry actually clapped and said, “Bravo!” as though we were putting on some kind of show for him! My annoyance is not for show! It is real annoyance caused by a really annoying monster!

    Miss Lina on the other hand just fell on the ground and said, “Oh enough already!” Because we all know that my having to deal with Xellos is really hard for her.

    I turned around before we headed down the road. I shouldn’t have, but I did. And he was still making faces at me! That jerk! I resolved not to look at him for the rest of the trip.

    I’m just reading back and… do you know it’s only been three days? Three days since this filthy monster forced himself into my presence. And already I don’t think I can stand a second more of it!

    Well, he’s not here now. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure when he slipped away on account of me not wanting to see he mocking me. Well, let’s just hope he’s realized that I’m not going to let him manipulate me or the others into doing his evil bidding and decided not to come back.

    Yes, I think I will need to cling to this hope. Desperately.

    Town Square. 1:22 pm.

    Please excuse the drops of water that fall on this paper as I write. It’s started to rain, but I’ve taken refuge next to a statue with a tarp over it that is thankfully shielding some of the downpour. Unfortunately, that will do nothing to protect the page from my tears.

    That’s right. Xellos came back.

    And… I just couldn’t stay and let him see me crying. Alright so he already saw me crying… but I couldn’t let him see me crying more! It’s absolutely intolerable for that monster to know he…

    He said that ‘the Dragon race loves to resort to violence.’ He actually went and said that when everyone knows that it’s the monsters who are violent! Dragons are always in pursuit of peace and work tirelessly to find nonaggressive solutions to problems. Far from loving violence! For the Dragon race, violence is always a last resort.

    Which I would’ve been able to say if… if it weren’t for the fact that I was resorting to violence. And that’s why it cut deep. That’s why it stopped me right in the midst of my transformation and that’s why I couldn’t help but cry.

    Part of it, no, most of it, wasn’t my fault. He drove me to it! But still… that doesn’t change the fact that I should’ve resisted—shouldn’t have given in to my baser instincts. I should’ve acted like a priestess of the Fire Dragon King.

    And dragon priestesses shouldn’t love to resort to violence—even when obnoxious monsters make violence seem like an unbelievably attractive option.

    He said I wasn’t ‘well trained’; as though I was an animal or something. But yet I was acting… I was really about to lose it and transform—let go of rationality and self-awareness like a…

    I need to do better. When I’m out here I’m a representative of all the golden dragons back at the temple… and right now I’m acting like an embarrassment. If the Supreme Elder knew how I behaved back there…

    But… but it’s unfair! That monster gets to goad me into a rage and then once he actually succeeds in making me furious he gets to wave his finger at me like I’m some kind of misbehaving schoolgirl he’s giving a lecture to. He shouldn’t get to shame me for things that are his doing!

    But that’s his intention. He’s trying to make me act out and distract me from my real mission. It’s my job to stay on point and behave in the best traditions of the dragon race. I must resist him with all my might.

    Even if I manage that, there’s a bigger problem and, again, it’s Xellos-related. Like I said before, I’d hoped everything was sorted out with Miss Lina and the others after they’d agreed to follow the prophecy and we’d started out journey. The fight against Valgaav and the mysterious Almayce pretty much cemented it for me. I thought, we’re all in at this point.

    But still they lounge around, stuffing their faces in restaurants and going after some local specialties with more energy than they’ve expounded on their roles as chosen heroes! I hardly think Dradora Surprise, whatever that is, is more important than saving the world!

    Miss Lina seems to have this completely reversed. She said that since Valgaav is after the Sword of Light that he’ll have to find them eventually, but that the restaurant we were at was the best place to get Dradora Surprise (so the cook claims—surely an unbiased source!). And who should come in to applaud this extreme twisting of the facts? None other than Xellos.

    He said that her logic was ‘impeccable’ and that her point was ‘well argued.’ Hmmph! He seems to make quite a big deal out of that kind of thing and he acts like it’s some kind of intellectual achievement that I’m incapable of. All he’s really doing, though, is manipulating things to make it look like the wrong thing is right and the right thing is wrong. If that’s what gets praise out of him then I can assure you that I have absolutely no interest at all in getting any compliments out of him! I happen to have scruples and priorities, thank you very much!

    But Miss Lina… oh, Miss Lina… she was doing just that! Arguing her way out of her responsibilities so that she could justify sitting around and eating all day. How could someone with the destiny to become a great hero behave in this way?

    The answer? Xellos.

    Think about it. He’s driving me out of my mind and I’ve only known him a few days. Miss Lina has traveled with him before and known him for much longer. Clearly she’s been corrupted by his monstrous influence and fallen to the ways of deception and sloth—not to mention gluttony! And Xellos is banking on this and actively using it to derail her from the path of right that I’ve been trying to set her on. Is it any wonder that I nearly transformed in the middle of that restaurant and blasted him into smithereens? He’s taken the world’s best and last hope for salvation and twisted her around his little finger!

    I’ve gone through all this… and I don’t even know if Miss Lina will really save the world. It could be that she has every intention of doing so and was only swayed away from her duty momentarily by that monster’s machinations. Heaven knows I can’t fault her for that after the scene I made on his provocation. But what if… what if this has all been a game for her from the start? What if her association with monsters has already stripped away her morality to the point where… to the point where the only reason she’s stringing me along is for a free lunch?

    If that’s true then that’s… even more depressing than being called violent by a war criminal.

    Oh, I badly need something to cheer me up.

    1:53 pm.

    Is that a puppy over there?

    1:54 pm.

    It is! It’s an adorable puppy out all by itself in the rain!

    Oh, it’s so cute… I’m sure petting it would make me feel at least a little better. After all, I could use a real friend right now.

    Here boy… here doggy…

    Jail Cell. 2:48 pm.

    WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS?!
     
  9. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 9. Disaster Area.

    Outskirts of Town. 6:23 pm.


    I’m such a disgrace…

    And really, I shouldn’t have to feel this way. This day had so many villains going about with the pure intent of making my life miserable: Valgaav’s two henchman, that mob of villagers, the jailer, that weird judge with the feather, and let’s not forget Xellos. I’ve been mistreated by all of them to the point where practically anything I could do in response would be completely justifiable after the terrible things they’ve put me through.

    …Anything besides exposing myself in public and demolishing an entire town. …Which was what I did.

    What a mess. And I was managing to hold myself back until he showed up too! …For the most part. I was at least showing the most restraint I could under the circumstances. But Xellos was the tipping point—I completely lost it and now…

    The ruins of the town are smoking. They still haven’t put all the fires out. …I’ll never be able to show my face in this town again. …Not that coming back would’ve been at the top of my list in any case.

    How was I to know that the town was forbidden for dragons? They should really have a sign up at the entrance or something! And it’s ridiculous to forbid dragons in any case. Dragons are peaceful creatures and won’t fight back unless they’re attacked first. There’s really no reason they should’ve worried that I would destro—

    Oh. …Well… they drove me to it! I wouldn’t have destroyed it if they hadn’t put me in such a situation!

    …I better get this all down from the beginning because as it is I look really bad… especially after everything I was saying before about resisting Xellos and representing the dragon race better. There’s no doubt that I failed but… understand that I was pushed into failure! I was trying so hard before everything went wrong…

    So… anyway… where to start? I suppose back at that statue where I was sheltering from the rain. If only that tarp hadn’t covered it up I might’ve known that this town wasn’t a good place to stop and then none of this would’ve happened.

    The puppy had just run away from me. I may have startled it away because I was thinking about Xellos and got a little… ragey for a minute there. But maybe it was just skittish? Who can say? But anyway, just after that this mob of men approached me with weapons. They all looked grim and rather fearful and they were holding their weapons as though they intended to use them.

    “Are you the dragon priestess?” one of the men asked.

    I barely stammered out that I was—surprised and frightened by their antagonistic posture and by the fact that they seemed to know who I was. I didn’t quite know what to think had happened then. Perhaps that Miss Lina and the others had kicked up some trouble and I was being asked to be accountable for it? Of course, the truth was to be revealed soon—and the party to blame for it all.

    “You have a lot of nerve coming to our peaceful town!” a man from the crowd shouted at me.

    I’d like to take a moment to question how peaceful that town was as an afterthought. They were very well armed and their intent didn’t seem very peaceful. They certainly could’ve explained their problem with me more peaceably!

    I was justifiably flummoxed by all of this, but the men in the crowd seemed to think that my confusion was for show. “Don’t play dumb with us, dragon priestess!” one yelled. “We know you’re here to destroy this town and we’re not gonna let you do it, see?”



    …Well, technically speaking he was wrong. I was not there to destroy the town—I was just passing through! It was because of a chain of events that they started that the town got destroyed. Really, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy!

    …That really doesn’t make me feel any better about it.

    “Exactly,” the man who seemed to be the leader of the group said, pointing a spear in my direction. “The fact that you would appear in a town forbidden to dragons is proof enough.”

    As I said before: there was no sign saying “No Dragons Allowed!” If there had been, I wouldn’t have gone into the town! …Of course, at that moment the tarp blew off the statue I’d been standing by, revealing the sculpted form of a dragon on the attack, with an archer poised to shoot it point blank. …If that had been in view, that would’ve certainly been a tip-off (though in my view, the human in the statue looks like he’s the one being most aggressive—but I think humans decide who the bully is by size differentials, which isn’t completely fair).

    “What’s that?” I asked, at the grisly sight of that monument.

    “I’ll tell you,” the leader said. “Long ago, this town was destroyed by an evil dragon, according to the legend. A lone hero killed the beast. Peace returned to the town again, but if you, a dragon priestess who serves those things is here then some calamity must be soon upon us.”

    I don’t believe that any such thing could’ve ever happened. Why would a dragon attack a town of humans? That’s not in the nature of dragons—and there’s no reason for such brutality. But legends are things with lives of their own, aren’t they? Perhaps someone made up a lie about facing a dragon, and then it got bigger and bigger until people were saying that the entire town had been under attack. Or perhaps some kind of monster attacked the town and the people mistook it for a dragon. Several generations later… who can say? It could’ve been anything. And they were making judgments against me based off of this highly questionable myth!

    “I can’t believe such a legend,” I said. “It must have been a misunderstanding.”

    But they wouldn’t see reason. “You think we’ll believe that? Do you take us for fools?” one man asked. And another man called out: “Yeah, let’s grab her!”

    Now, let me put it to you like this: which party is peaceful and which one is a threat? The (apparently) unarmed young woman or the mob of armed men ganging up on her?

    Having remembered that I was only apparently unarmed and having no desire whatsoever to be grabbed, I took out my mace and pointed it at them to keep them at bay. I was rapidly losing my cool at this point—shock was wearing off and turning into frustration. I just couldn’t get these people to listen to me! “Stop this nonsense at once!” I ordered. “I said it was a misunderstanding!”

    “I don’t buy it; I say we grab her!” reaffirmed the grabbing-enthusiast.

    Things were about to get serious. They weren’t backing down and I didn’t have any intention of doing so either. I had my mace out and was prepared to take them all on… after all, I didn’t ask for this fight, but if they were going to attack me then surely I had the right to fight back! …But then I remembered.

    “The dragon race loves to resort to violence,” that snide voice rang through my memory… that awful laugh tickling about in my ears… mocking me… judging me.

    I didn’t want to let Xellos be right—that was an intolerable thought. I wasn’t going to let that happen, particularly after I’d just vowed to behave as a priestess should. And I managed it. I threw down my mace and said, “Very well then. I will neither run nor hide. I am not like some monster. I am sure that we can come to some kind of understanding.”

    …Which is really the perfectly response and very much in the spirit of doing the dragon race proud as a representative of it. I’m sure if Xellos had heard that it would’ve wiped the despicable smile off his face. And if only I could’ve kept up that kind of response then I’m sure I would’ve deserved a pat on the back for it. …Unfortunately that’s not what happened. And the situation changed drastically more or less immediately… and for the worse.

    “Well, ain’t she an easy one,” a voice from beyond the crowd said.

    Stomping toward me came the giant lizardman and the little fox man I’d clobbered when they stole the sword of the Sand People. Valgaav’s henchmen.

    “Oh, you people!” I said in disgust.

    I later found out that the lizardman (the one who dared to call me ‘an easy one’) was named Gravos. At least I heard the fox man (whose name turned out to be Jillas) call him “Boss Gravos.” It was clear that Gravos was the one of the two of them that was in charge.

    Gravos laughed. “I was the helpful guy who told them there was a dragon priestess in town.”

    Well, look at that! It seems that Miss Lina’s notion of waiting for Valgaav and his followers come to us was a bad idea after all. Sure, they found us so we didn’t have to find them—but that also meant letting them ambush us! I’d point that out to her… but other incidences that require blame might come up.

    Jillas pulled out a bomb and was practically radiant with enthusiasm. “Oh, we really done it, boss!” he cheered. “You want me to kill her? ‘Cause if you want me to kill her, I’ll—”

    “What are you, some kind of idiot?!” Gravos roared, cutting off Jillas’s gleeful threats of murder. “Lord Valgaav ordered us to use our heads, remember?!”

    I didn’t like the sound of that. There was definitely some kind of plot brewing. And sure enough…

    “We’ll use her as a hostage to get the Sword of Light, see?” Gravos said, pointing at me. So we have to take good care of our little hostage, understand?”

    “Gotcha,” Jillas said, catching on. “Take good care of the ‘ostage!”

    At that point I scooped up my mace and made a run for it. I know I said before that I wouldn’t run or hide but… that was before Valgaav’s henchmen came into the picture. If they were going to use me to get the Sword of Light then I wasn’t going to let myself be captured so easily. Since I’d already resolved not to fight, running seemed like the best choice. Especially since I had no desire to be their ‘little hostage’ (or ‘ostage for that matter).

    Unfortunately they saw me and sicked a bunch of their lizardmen goons on me. I tried to get away from them, but there were just too many of them. They restrained me and dragged me off, with Gravos laughing and assuring the villagers in the mob that the “evil dragon” would be taken care of, and Jillas tagging along behind them. Which brings me to…

    Jail.

    And I’m just going to go ahead and answer the question that I scrawled desperately in this book from the musty enclosure of my cell (“my cell” …it hurts just to write it!). I did nothing to deserve being treated like a common criminal. I was the victim! And they just hauled me in there like I was scum!

    …Oh heavens… I just had a terrible thought. I’ve been in jail. I’ve been in jail! What if this comes up again some time? Like if I’m ever asked for whatever reason if I’d ever been in jail—I’d have to say yes! And, of course, no one would bother to ask about the extenuating circumstances and how ill-used I was. They’d just assume that I was some kind of thief or murderer or tax evader! Oh no… what if the elders ever find out?! They must never find out!

    As I’m sure you can guess, I was absolutely wretched—fell on my knees and said a prayer to the Fire Dragon King and I will admit to crying a little. Crying was the only sane reaction in the circumstance!

    But I quickly decided that what would make me feel even better than crying or praying would be getting out of that cell. So I held up my hands to the gem on my robe and began to go about the transformation process into my dragon form so I could leave my unfortunate incarceration far behind. But then I realized… I wasn’t alone.

    There was this man… the jailer sitting right in front of my cell. There was absolutely no way I could transform with him watching me!

    I approached him tentatively, peaking through the bars. “Umm… excuse me?” I said politely.

    “Yeah, what?” the jailer said, apparently irritated that I’d spoken to him.

    I didn’t quite know what to say, but I decided to go with honesty. “Well… I was thinking I’d just transform into a dragon and escape but…” I began, probably revealing too much. “You see, well, it involves me getting naked,” I continued blushingly, definitely revealing too much. “And with you standing guard there I’d be… terribly embarrassed. So could you please turn around for a moment?”

    Now, maybe that looks like a foolish request on the surface of it, because the jailer’s job is generally not to let prisoners (like me… Oh goodness…) escape but… I mean, when you just think about it for a moment… it’s such a minor request! Privacy was all I was really asking for! Even prisoners deserve privacy!

    And how did he react to such a minor request? By giving me this… leering sort of laugh and saying, “Are you crazy? Like anyone would do that for you! I wouldn’t miss seeing you naked. I’ll be keeping my eyes wide open.” And then he laughed again, giving me this nasty bulging-eyed look!

    How disgusting can one person be?! Ugh… I just… I feel ill just thinking about that!

    In case you’re keeping track, at that point I’d been: mocked and humiliated by an evil monster, stonewalled by the people who are supposed to be my allies, rejected by a puppy, ganged up on, accused of conspiracy to commit demolition, used as bait, imprisoned and now… sexually harassed! Because my day apparently needed some of that!

    I was understandably discouraged and… grossed out, so I sort of collapsed in my cell. All I wanted to do was save the world… and yet look what I’d stumbled into. I didn’t know at that point, what was to become of me.

    What I didn’t need was another scare. I heard footsteps approaching me and suddenly there was another leering, laughing face pressed against the bars of my cell. And considering the subject matter of the last conversation I’d had, I wasn’t about to tolerate being gawked at. I screamed, slapped the face repeatedly and finished with a punch. “I refuse to get naked for you!” I shouted, making my point very, very unambiguously clear.

    Of course, once I had decked the interloper, I realized that I had somewhat… misunderstood the situation. It was that fox man, Jillas, and I saw that he’d dropped some fresh fruit after I’d knocked him down—some apples and even a watermelon. I didn’t really know what to think at that point. “You mean you brought all this for me?” I asked, my fist aching guiltily from hitting him.

    “Well, yeah,” Jillas said, picking up the watermelon from where it had fallen. “Boss said we gots to take good care of the ‘ostage,” he said in his thick accent. He tried to fit the obviously too big watermelon through the bars. “‘ere, ‘ave some,” he offered. The watermelon predictably split open as he tried to force it through such a small space. “Ah! …Awww…” he lamented, as chunks of sweet melon plopped on to the floor.

    I don’t really know what to make of him now, but at that moment I was… touched. I’d had such a hard day and this small act of kindness was really a light in all the darkness. Sure, he was working for the bad guys, but he seems rather more… vulnerable than those higher up from him. That act made me forget his enthusiastic threats from before, if only for a moment. And I couldn’t help but giggle a little when the melon burst.

    “I see monsters traffic with all sorts of people, don’t they?” I observed, cheerful for a moment from laughter. But my thoughts soon returned to that… other monster. He traffics with all sorts, it seems, too. Which perhaps means there’s hope that Miss Lina hasn’t been irredeemably corrupted by his company after all. “The monster I know is an obnoxious ego-maniac who’s also a complete smart-aleck,” I explained (and very truthfully I might add), wiping a tear from my eyes. “All he does is tease and manipulate people.”

    And then I couldn’t help thinking of all those nasty assumptions he’s made about me and what a smarmy, slimy, treacherous know-it-all BASTARD he is. I’m not at all the kind of person who uses profanity, but I think I’m going to have to use it after being continuously subjected to Xellos’s awfulness—if only for the sake of accuracy. I think profanity was designed for referring to Xellos.

    (Also, spelling out ‘BASTARD’ in all caps is strangely satisfying. I can’t imagine why and I only hope it doesn’t mean that I’ve picked up any vulgar sensibilities from my time in jail. If this is the case then I’ll have to keep an eye on it.)

    Anyway, because I was thinking about Xellos I rapidly began to lose it and I’m sure even people outside could hear me shout: “I GET FURIOUS JUST THINKING ABOUT THAT JERK!”

    Jillas, at least, seemed to be moved by my plight. “You get picked on by your own gang? You poor thing!” Which was, of course, appropriate because I was a poor thing. Things started to get a little inappropriate when he took my hands though. “Well, don’t you worry,” he assured me. “I’m gonna do what the boss said and take good care of the ‘ostage.”

    And then things got more inappropriate. “Big hug!” He cried and threw his arms around me.

    I’d already been sexually harassed once that day, and once was more than enough! I shrieked and pounded away at him with my mace—which I really should’ve remembered that I had earlier. The impact of the mace against the bars shattered them from their supports and sent them crashing on top of the beastman. Served him right for trying to take advantage of me!

    Of course, I would’ve run off then, leaving Jillas pinned under the bars, and made my escape, but luck was not with me. At that very moment, Gravos came in to announce that my trial was about to begin (for the dubious crime of being a dragon, I might add!) and completely cut off my path to freedom.

    I was dragged out of the jailhouse and down to a courtroom that was more like a theatre than anything; a theatre full of crowds of people playing audience to the spectacle—the supposed “criminal” on the stage. They were all watching me.

    I was surrounded by wall-to-wall people on all sides. And I wasn’t even allowed the common courtesy of getting to sit in a witness’s box or chair to defend myself as would be the case in any practical, civilized court. Instead I was forced onto the ground where a sealing magic circle had been drawn into the floor. It stung me as soon as I touched it. And there were shackles. They chained me up at each wrist, with the chains attached to posts buried deep into the ground. They were treating me like some dangerous and unpredictable beast!

    The crowd was a jumbled noise of talk—some voices sounded fearful, some excited, some angry. The judge banged his gavel to silence the mass of people. “This public trial is now in session,” he announced, before I could even properly get my bearings. “We shall determine whether or not the girl is actually a dragon.”

    So… there I was… imprisoned, chained up, and gawked at like some kind of zoo animal… and for what crime? The charge was “being a dragon!” How insane is that? It’s basically like saying “you’re under arrest for being you.” I can’t believe that any law enforcement agency would level such a ridiculous charge!

    “Your honor, I object!” I called out. “I am a priestess of the Fire Dragon King, but that doesn’t mean—”

    “Silence!” the judge cut across me. “Your defense will only be allowed after the dragon judgment has been presented!”

    They wouldn’t even allow me to make it easier for them—I admitted to being a dragon, so there was no need to perform any kind of judgment. But if you think that’s silly, then you’re unprepared for what came next.

    The dragon judgment? This ultimate way of finding out if someone is a dragon or not (even if they’ve already confessed that they are)? …It was a feather. Apparently they think dragons are especially ticklish. I am not making this up. I could not possibly make this up.

    So… they started jabbing at me with the feather and I was just… too stunned to even respond. This was starting to feel like an elaborately choreographed way to make fun of me. Like, perhaps Xellos paid all these people off just to get a sick laugh out of torturing me. I get the feeling that his twisted mind would concoct something like this.

    But my annoyance wasn’t actually Xellos related… at least not then. I was more annoyed by them ramming a feather up my nose until I sneezed. Which apparently is ample proof that I’m a dragon. Because… human noses don’t react to foreign substances like that? I don’t know. The whole thing went far beyond nonsense.

    So I was declared to be a dragon on the amazingly solid evidence that I sneeze. I don’t know what would’ve happened if the cavalry hadn’t arrived, so to speak. A fireball shot through the wall just then, sending debris flying everywhere.

    “Miss… Miss Lina?” I said, hopefulness oozing from my words. I was practically about to faint with gratitude that they’d come to save me. I so needed saving… and it went to show that they really did care about me and about the mission that we were all on.

    At least that’s what I thought then.

    “Why are you hanging around here, Filia?” Miss Lina asked, completely oblivious to the entire situation as she appeared in the hole in the wall that she’d created. “The Dradora Surprise is probably cold by now! Geez! Come on, let’s get going.”

    That’s… right… she was… still… thinking about… FOOD!

    And it gets worse! One of the people in the crowd was the cook at the restaurant we’d been at earlier and he started shouting things at Miss Lina and the others like: “You’re the weasels that stiffed me!” and “If I ever get my hands on you I’ll chop you into little pieces!”

    I left them for such a short time and they pulled a dine-and-dash while I was gone! Does responsibility mean nothing to them? And when I called Miss Lina on this, she had the nerve to say that it was my fault.

    Before I could even respond to such a ludicrous claim, Gravos and Jillas stepped in.

    “Oh great. You guys,” Lina said, more or less encapsulating my view on the whole situation.

    “It’s clear who the real heroes are here,” Gravos said, playing to the already on-edge crowd. “Those people are friends of the dragon!”

    “What makes you the real heroes?!” Miss Amelia cut in, sounding very offended by this. And then she said: “Dragons and lizards are both reptiles! They’re the same, aren’t they?!”

    WHAT? What are they teaching humans in schools these days that she actually thinks she can draw an equal sign between dragons and lizards?! Well, to answer your question, Miss Amelia, no they are not the same!

    Miss Lina was really annoyed at this point and she and Miss Amelia launched into an attack—an attack doomed for failure. Jillas threw bombs at them that knocked them out of the air before they could even land a hit. “Gotta take care of the ‘ostage!” he cheered as they went down. I really don’t consider that to be “taking care” of me.

    Things got worse from there. The mob from before came back, with their weapons drawn. They looked frightened—more frightened of Miss Lina and the others than they’d been of me—but that seemed to make them more, not less, determined to fight.

    Gravos let out a cheaply villainous laugh. “I’ll let dem finish you off. Then I can just take the Sword of Light for myself!”

    I struggled against my chains—knowing that the others were in danger. They certainly wouldn’t want to use magic against ordinary citizens but… if they stuck to hand-to-hand and regular weapons then there was no way that they could’ve won against that number of people. Added to that, with Jillas on hand to throw those bombs at them, they’d have been sitting ducks, surrounded as they were.

    It hit me. They were in very real trouble—life-threatening trouble… because they’d come for me. It had worked out just as Gravos planned… I was the hostage, and because I was unable to escape they were in a life or death struggle and the Sword of Light was in jeopardy. If Gravos got it… if he gave it to Valgaav… who knows what could happen?

    I fought, but my chains held fast. They were designed to hold back even a dragon, after all. “It’s all my fault,” I cried, tears welling up in my eyes. “It’s all my fault that Miss Lina and the others are in danger!”

    And that’s… when he showed up again.

    Xellos just popped into existence in front of me, floating mid-air and responded, as though he’d been there the whole time, “You got it, sister.”

    Needless to say, I didn’t appreciate his flippant attitude or his familiarity. Added to that, he was the last person I wanted to see! Everything was going wrong and he just showed up to rub it in!

    “What are you doing here?!” I demanded, wishing I had a free hand to wipe the tears from my eyes so he wouldn’t see me crying (again).

    He gave an exaggerated shrug. “I really have to laugh at this,” he commented cheerfully. “Things are this bad and you’re useless!

    Useless! He called me useless! You know, he was probably watching that whole horrible calamity unfold from a safe distance—how else could he just pop in and know what was going on? Yet he just floated around doing nothing about it. And he had the nerve to call me useless!

    Oh, but he went further. He leaned back in the air, lounging comfortably with no regard for gravity. Honestly, even recalling that contemptibly lazy posture of his makes me furious! “So this is the best you can do?” he taunted. “I guess the dragon race isn’t so tough after all.”

    “Whaaaaat did you say?!” I demanded, shoulders shaking with fury. I raged against the chains, since the only way to slap his stupid face in was to get free, but the magic of the seal activated, glowing and sending sparks upward that canceled my efforts, power for power. My strength gave out quickly as the seal ate up all my energy, and I collapsed once more.

    And that just tickled Xellos pink (or purple, I guess). “Oh my,” he said gleefully. “So that’s all a golden dragon is really capable of? No match for the monster race!” And then he just floated off like I’d ceased to be worth paying attention to. “Oh, how dull…” he commented as he flew away.

    And I was well and truly enraged. It was bad enough that he was daring to besmirch the pride and strength of my people and claim that his vile ilk was superior. That alone made my blood boil and acid rise in my stomach like a harbinger to a burst of laser breath. But I think it was how he just brushed me off as… as “dull” …as inconsequential that made me snap.

    And I did snap. I don’t remember really in detail what happened after that—simply that I screamed and suddenly found myself unchained and in my dragon form with only one goal etched into my mind: GET. XELLOS.

    I chased him—through a haze of red, I chased him. He was the only thing I bothered to focus on as I punched and swiped and head-butted my way forward. All I really remember is his laughter as he dodged—malicious, but also strangely childlike.

    I swear to the Fire Dragon King that I thought I saw him holding a cup of tea as he effortlessly avoided my attacks—but perhaps that was just something my fury-roasted brain cooked up.

    I… well, I suppose the technical word for it is ‘rampaged,’ through the town; searching wildly for him and shooting laser breath wherever I saw him flash into existence on his plane.

    See! I wasn’t trying to destroy the town (an exceptionally ignoble goal); I was trying to destroy Xellos (an exceptionally noble goal!). Of course… the result was more or less the same. And that’s probably what Xellos had in mind!

    I’d like to say that I eventually came to my senses—that I realized what I was doing and that throwing a highly destructive fit only made my case worse—but that didn’t happen. I’d even like to say that the others came out to me and calmed me down, but that didn’t happen either. I don’t blame them for not doing so, though. I was… out of control. I went and did what I said I wouldn’t do—I let that monster drive me to truly shameful behavior. …And what’s more I must have transformed sometime in the midst of my rage—which means that everyone saw me naked! I’m such an embarrassment…

    I did stop eventually. But the fact of the matter is that I stopped for two reasons: Xellos had disappeared and I’d run out of things to break. It was only then that I could stop smashing things in my search for him and take several deep breaths. Then the others appeared, tentatively in case I went back to my smashing ways, and were able to get me focused enough to get out of town (or what was left of it) before the residents got enough of their archers together to start shooting at me.

    We escaped, but… oh, I feel so horribly about how it all happened. If only Xellos hadn’t shown up it wouldn’t have ended like this. I’d been through so much and I was worried about the danger and I was so high-strung that I just… he took advantage of that fact and teased me until I snapped. I should’ve been more resilient—I’m a priestess of the Fire Dragon King, after all—but I just… he pushed me too far.

    I can’t believe that the others aren’t giving me a hard time about this. They’re awfully blasé about one of their traveling companions destroying a whole town if you ask me.

    Perhaps they understand what I went through and what made me do it?

    …On the other hand… didn’t that librarian back in Seyruun say something about following explosions to find them… maybe this is… routine for them.

    Desert. 8:06 pm.

    I HATE THIS!!

    Urgh! It just… it just serves me right for even thinking for a second that there might be some intention in his ruined, malignant soul that wasn’t pure evil! I won’t make that mistake again in a hurry, I can tell you that right now!

    “Amusing.” Can you believe it?!

    …Of course you can’t—not because it’s so mind-numbingly infuriating that it defies rational acceptance, but because I haven’t bothered to explain it yet.

    So, I had finished writing about today’s disasters and was just sitting around with the others feeling absolutely wretched about everything that happened and what I did. Miss Lina attempted to cheer me up—which was most definitely appreciated, even though it didn’t do much to improve my mood.

    “But if that obnoxious monster hadn’t started teasing me when you were all in trouble…” I lamented.

    “Hey, come on,” Miss Lina responded, making it sound like I was being too hard on him. “He was probably doing it on purpose to draw out your full power.”

    And that… threw me. It really did. Miss Lina was making it sound like Xellos had been… helping me. By driving me completely up the wall! Of course, that makes no sense when you just put it like that but… I couldn’t help but thinking that… well, what would’ve happened if he hadn’t come along? I only was able to break through the magic circle and the chains because he made me so very angry at him. And if I hadn’t gotten free… what would’ve happened to all of us? Would Miss Lina and the others have been captured, just as I had been? Would the bad guys have taken the Sword of Light? …That all seems… very likely… if Xellos hadn’t stepped in.

    But that’s such a worrying line of thinking! The idea that he might have been behaving badly… but with good intentions... Do monsters even have good intentions? I didn’t want to think so… but it seemed like…

    Anyway, I was foolish for thinking that, obviously. But I was sort of lost in thought mulling over this… incomprehensible idea that Xellos had been acting in my best interest all along. Miss Lina and Mister Gourry were talking on and on about that stupid Dradora surprise and wondering what was in it.

    And that’s when Xellos popped back into our party—with a guide book in hand and ready to share the recipe.

    I was very caught off-guard by his casual re-entry. Especially since he’d caught me thinking… almost-nice things about him. I couldn’t very well let him know what I’d been thinking. He was more focused on Miss Lina and Mister Gourry, though, who crowded around behind him to get a look at the book, so he probably didn’t notice me blushing or anything stupid like that.

    Of course, Miss Lina and Mister Gourry were less than thrilled by the ingredients of what they’d nearly eaten. By less than thrilled, I mean they became physically ill. As well they should! Miss Amelia and I got a look at the book after they finished with it and… well, we both nearly fainted dead away. I’m in a bad enough mood without recalling the entire sordid ingredient list, but suffice it to say that a cavalcade of certain parts of animals that should not be eaten were heavily favored.

    That’s when Mister Zelgadis came down from surveying the area to point out something that I really should’ve thought of the moment I saw Xellos with that book. “If you had a guidebook you must’ve known that dragons are taboo in that town.”

    “Yeah…” Miss Amelia said weakly, still green from the Dradora recipe. “Why couldn’t you have told us that in the first place?”

    And what was his answer to this damning line of inquiry?

    “Well, why do you think I didn’t say anything?” he asked, and then held up a finger. “It was much more amusing this way!”

    Amusing. AMUSING! This entire disaster—we could’ve avoided it all if only he’d bothered to warn us. But no! This has all been for his entertainment! That selfish, evil, immature BEAST!

    You know what? I bet he planned this whole thing from back when we were on that rock formation figuring out which way to go! He probably pointed to the left because he knew I’d disagree with him and say to go right and that I’d end up at the anti-dragon town and be miserable as a result! Maybe it’s paranoid—but I wouldn’t put it past him!

    Help me? Actually help me?! Fat chance! He was tormenting me for sport! It only got us out of a bad situation by coincidence!

    And while I was… stewing wrathfully, he was just… gushing. “Didn’t she cause a mess there?” he cooed appreciatively. “Oh, I have newfound respect for her.”

    I’d had enough of him and his string-pulling and his precious amusement! So I transformed (yes, again. The nudity was justifiable!) and went after him.

    He floated out of striking distance and said, as though I had utterly misunderstood him: “Oh dear. I was only trying to compliment you!”

    Compliment?! I have absolutely no desire to receive compliments from him!

    I… I have no energy left. I chased him all over the place, shooting lasers at him wherever I could, but the sneaky little thing slipped away from me every time. Now I really can’t find him. He’s probably off somewhere laughing at me!

    But I suppose I have more pressing concerns… I was just sort of flying blindly after him and now… it’s getting dark and I’m not sure where I am… or where I left Miss Lina and the others…

    Umm… they’ll come after me, right?

    Right?
     
  10. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 10. Therapeutic Tea.

    Friday, March 22nd.

    Tent. 7:22 am.


    I was too exhausted to finish writing last night. I hoped I’d be in a better mood this morning… well, I suppose I do feel better, but only compared to yesterday. So, I suppose you could say I merely feel bad instead of terrible. At least I’ve slept now.

    I’m sure it goes without saying, but I did manage to find Miss Lina and the others again. They’d been wandering forward looking for me and I wandered back looking for them, so we met midway. My happiness at finding them was relatively short-lived. The whole reason I’d left them was to chase after Xellos and, wouldn’t you know it? He was right back with the group when I found them! He’d just led me off on a wild goose chase and got me lost for no good reason!

    “Oh, so it seems you’ve recovered from you tantrum,” was the greeting I got from that beast. He clucked his tongue in mild disappointment. “How like a dragon to be so bad-tempered.”

    “I’m only bad-tempered because of you!” I countered, marching toward him and the rest of the group with my arms locked furiously at my side. “Where do you get the right to insult me for getting mad after deliberately provoking me?”

    He raised an eyebrow. “Why, I’m only trying to adjust to your volatile personality, Filia,” he said with a little nod of mocking deference. “The last time I complimented you, you transformed into a giant lizard and chased me all across the sky. Therefore, I reasoned you might appreciate insults more.”

    I gritted my teeth, shoulders bobbing up and down in furious twitching motions. “I’d appreciate it if you’d shut your—”

    “Alright, come on guys,” Miss Lina said, stepping in between us with her hands out. “Let’s just leave it there.”

    “Yeah,” Mister Gourry added on. “We’re all hungry, and since we found Filia, that means we can stop for dinner now, right?”

    Speaking of appreciation, I’m coming to appreciate the little things in life; like the fact that they actually searched for me instead of stopping for dinner first. I’m starting to get the feeling that that means a lot coming from this group.

    Miss Lina squinted over the darkening horizon. “It’s getting late, so we really should camp out anyway,” she said. “And I think we’re far enough away from town that nobody’s gonna come searching for us looking for revenge.”

    “Awww,” Miss Amelia bemoaned. “I was looking forward to sleeping in a real bed tonight.”

    For that matter, I had been too—especially after having to travel that long stretch from before. But I wasn’t about to grumble about it because… well…

    “If you want to complain to anyone about that,” Mister Zelgadis put in, arms crossed in his general stance of judgment, “then complain to the person who destroyed the town we could’ve stayed in.”

    Before I could even open my mouth to respond to that, Miss Lina waved him off. “Hey, leave her alone, Zel,” she said mildly. “Sometimes stuff just happens and towns get destroyed—it’s a fact of life.”

    While I appreciated her coming to my defense, I couldn’t help but squirm at the fact that “stuff happening” and “towns getting destroyed” had never been a fact of my life up until now.

    As we were getting everything out from our packs, setting up for the night, and building a fire for dinner, Xellos couldn’t help but pass one more comment—a comment which I couldn’t even manage a coherent response too. I think I just sort of went white and mouthed wordlessly.

    “I’m sure your dragon elders will be happy to hear about your return to the proud dragon tradition of city-wide rampages,” he commented gleefully.

    Then… as now, actually, that comment makes me more scared than angry. I mean, of course, it’s infuriating and all and he has absolutely no right to imply that destruction is in any way a dragon trait. It’s completely contrary to the dragon race’s ideals and completely consistent with his own warped ideals. But I couldn’t snap at him because… what if the council of elders does find out about what happened?

    If they do… oh, I’ll be in such trouble. And it’s mostly not even me I’m worried about—it’s the Supreme Elder. After all, he went out on a limb by choosing me for this job. None of the other elders seemed particularly happy with me as a choice, so the Supreme Elder must’ve been staking his reputation on me doing a good job. …And here I am, getting thrown into jail, exposing myself in public and destroying towns. If anyone finds out then this will be a huge embarrassment to him. …And such a sorry way to thank him for putting so much faith in me.

    Oh that’s just… so depressing. And it’s not unthinkable that they’d find out either. Maybe some of the villagers will spread the word and it’ll eventually get back to them? Maybe they’ve been watching my progress all this time? Oh dear… they would already know if that’s the case.

    …I’ve got to shake myself out of this. There’s nothing I can do by worrying about it. The best I can do for now is just do the job I’ve been given and get Miss Lina and the others to the temple. I can’t start worrying about what-ifs now.

    But still…

    Ooooh, I’m sure I’ll feel better and be able to leave this whole mess behind me once I get some food into me. I think I smell someone cooking breakfast outside already. It’s probably Mister Gourry or Miss Lina. The rest of us can cook, but they always get hungry first, so they’re usually the ones that do the cooking.

    Saturday, March 23rd.

    Oasis. 3:20 pm.


    It seems like a brief patch of grass and water is the best we can hope for in a rest spot on our way through the desert. I’d hoped that there would be more towns going through here, but it turns out I just had to…well, break the only bit of civilization in the midst of this wasteland. I’m sure it’ll get better once we’re through, but I’m just so sick of trudging through sand right now.

    At least it’s nice that I’ve gotten to stop for tea. I don’t care how hot it is out, tea still does wonders for my disposition every time. It’s just so… comforting and soothing.

    …Of course, there is one mild annoyance associated with it. Whenever I go to brew a pot of tea, it always seems like Xellos is already enjoying a cup before I’ve even gotten the water to finish boiling. He just… I don’t know, has it already. Goodness knows where he gets it. I was unaware that tea-conjuring was a power that the monster race possessed.

    And even despite his (admittedly somewhat enviable) tea-based powers, he usually ends up having a second cup from my batch of tea. Don’t look at me! It’s not like I give him permission or anything. Heaven knows, I wouldn’t willingly share with a monster. In fact, it horrifies me to no end that he often uses my set. It’s likely that no amount of washing will ever remove the taint of monster lips on my china! Don’t think that doesn’t prey on my mind whenever I take out a cup. I tried to keep track of which ones he touched, but I think I may have mixed them up and… ugh… it’s better not even to think about that.

    On the other hand, it’s not like I don’t have tea to spare. Without Xellos pinching my tea I’d probably end up having to pour a lot out. It might not be morally in the right to share (even unwillingly) with monsters, but it’s downright sinful to waste good tea. The others just aren’t as interested in a cup as he is. Sometimes Mister Zelgadis will have a cup, but he’ll usually grumbles about preferring coffee whenever he does so.

    …You know, I have to wonder if Xellos is actually a tea enthusiast or if he’s just doing all this to get under my skin. After all, surely something as pure and good as tea couldn’t be appreciated by something as low and wicked as him.

    Wednesday, March 27th.

    Bronfman Family Inn. City of Lecille. 9:06 pm.


    It is so nice to be back in civilization and in a nice, cozy bed. After camping out for several nights in a row it’s practically heavenly, even if we are a little bit cramped in here—being that there are only two beds between the three of us and all, and they’re rather small. Miss Lina tried to call dibs on getting a bed of her own, but I told her that wasn’t fair—especially since it was my money that went into purchasing the room. So we ended up drawing straws for the single bed. It was a pointless endeavor, though, since Miss Lina won.

    Miss Amelia actually looked pretty relieved even though she didn’t win. When I asked her why, she commented in a whisper that Miss Lina really tosses and turns in her sleep or something.

    I wish we had enough money to get our own rooms. A little bit of privacy is, I think, essential in maintaining camaraderie amongst the group. It’s nice to have a little… space from each other for awhile. Especially since we have to travel together all day.

    It’s just way too expensive, though. In fact, I’m worried about how much we’re going to be spending now that we’re out of the desert and we actually have places to stay. Rooms for rent aren’t cheap and we need to pay for two of them (it would be absolutely improper, not to mention unlivable, for us all to share a room). Added to that, we’re probably going to have to stock up on food soon. And with Miss Lina and Mister Gourry bleeding away my money every time they go into a restaurant… well, we could be in a great deal of trouble.

    Of course, one of our party doesn’t have to worry about that—the only one, I might add, who gets his own room. I mean, I suppose that technically I can’t complain because Xellos used his own money (how he got it, I’m not sure—but I assume that it was ill-gotten) but… it’s still irritating, especially since we’re all crowded in here. I’m sure it’s not as bad for Mister Zelgadis and Mister Gourry since there’s only the two of them.

    Miss Lina just asked what I’ve been writing in here all the time anyway. I told her it’s a record of my journey for my report to the Supreme Elder. Miss Amelia asked if there’s anything about them in here and I answered yes. Miss Lina just asked if there’s anything bad about them in there.

    …I told them, of course there isn’t. It’s probably best not to mention some of the things I wrote about them early on when I was frustrated.

    “Well, I’m sure there’s bad stuff about Xellos in there,” Miss Lina just commented.

    “Xellos deserves anything bad I could write about him in here,” I answered.

    “That’s probably true,” Miss Amelia was forced to agree.

    …I think I’m probably going to turn the lights out and try to get some sleep. We still have such a long way to go to get to the Temple of the Fire Dragon King and we should try to get an early start tomorrow.

    Thursday, March 28th.

    Dining Hall. 8:00 am.


    Alright, I know I said we’d get an early start to the Temple of the Fire Dragon King today but… well, Miss Lina and the others have talked me into staying here for one more day. Don’t start thinking that I’ve relented and am letting them goof off and eat all day or anything! Oh, no. It’s not going to be like that at all.

    When I woke up this morning, everyone had already gone down to breakfast. I got dressed and ran down to the dining hall as fast as I could since I was worried that they’d run up a gigantic tab without my supervision. I’m not actually sure how much they ate since by the time I came down there they were just drinking coffee. I hope it’s not a nasty surprise once I get the bill…

    Anyway, they pretty seriously asked me what I thought about staying in town for another day and at first I was totally against it. We’ve already dragged our feet on this journey and it’s a long way to go until we get to the temple.

    “Exactly,” Mister Zelgadis said. “And we don’t want to run out of money before we get there.”

    That was… a good point. Not having enough money to pay for rooms or food would delay us a lot as well.

    “That’s why we thought we’d try to make some money while we’re in town,” Miss Amelia piped up. “If we’re going to have to go through more areas without many people around then we should do this here while we have the chance.”

    “Since nobody else around here can use magic, we should probably be able to get some jobs,” Miss Lina pointed out.

    I frowned, a little bit worried by the idea. “I don’t want you to draw a lot of attention to that. We got in trouble for that before.” I gave Mister Zelgadis a rather sharp, sidelong glance.

    “It’ll be fine,” Miss Lina said, waving me off. “We’ll probably just see if there are any bandits we could go after or something.”

    “What? You mean like you’ll help the police or something?” I asked.

    Miss Lina looked surprised, as though this was a way of earning money off of bandits that she’d never thought of. “I guess we could do that,” she said, a little doubtfully.

    “I think that’s a great idea!” Miss Amelia beamed. “If we work with police then we can both make money and, more importantly, aid the people of this town in the enforcement of justice!”

    “Great,” Miss Lina said, sounding like she had a migraine headache coming on. She turned to me. “So, what do you think, Filia?”

    I was still a little uncertain. I hadn’t forgotten the mess they made when they were loose in Ocea. Then again, I made a bigger mess in the last town, so I suppose I’m not one to talk.

    “You wouldn’t even have to lift a finger, Miss Filia,” Miss Amelia added.

    “Yeah,” Mister Gourry went on. “You could just let us do everything.”

    “Well…” I hesitated. I wasn’t at all swayed by the prospect of a day off from traveling or anything, I’ll have you know. I was just weighing the cost-benefits of taking the extra time to stop here. “…Alright,” I eventually agreed.

    …I just hope they’re not just using this as an excuse to spend money and waste time here. If I’d seen Xellos lurking amongst the group then I might have been more suspicious about that, but he hasn’t come down yet. He’s probably enjoying having a room of his own. Hmph.

    Still, at least I’ll get some space and privacy for the day while the others are (ostensibly) working hard. I wonder what I’ll do with my time?

    Lobby. 9:57 am.

    Oh! This sounds just perfect!

    I was browsing through the brochures of things to do in town that were laid out on the coffee table in the lobby and I found one for this lovely sounding relaxation/spirituality therapy session… that involves tea! It’s put on by one of the local churches. Apparently they have this special vine tea that promotes good digestive health and decreases stress. It’s amazing what a good herbal tea can do, really!

    They’re doing a session this afternoon. Perhaps I’ll attend? After all, I haven’t got anything better to do, I love tea, and goodness knows I have some stress I’d like to get rid of.

    Church of the Vine. 2:55 pm.

    Oh no. He’s here. I guess apparently someone as low and wicked as he is can be an appreciator of tea. Either that or he’s stalking me… and somehow managed to get here first.

    He asked what stress I could possibly want to rid myself of. Ha. My main cause of stress is sitting right next to me.

    I hope they bring out the tea soon and maybe start saying a few prayers. Perhaps the combined powers of herbal tea and the divine intervention of the Fire Dragon King will somehow negate the extremely annoying fact that I have to sit with Xellos.

    Bronfman Family Inn. 8:04 pm.

    My head hurts and my mouth tastes like rancid pineapples. At least I’ve stopped throwing up.

    What is it with this trip? I keep checking stuff off my “Things I Thought I’d Never Do” list. And not on purpose either! No matter what Xellos might say, I’m not actively seeking out horizon-broadening experiences. Nor, may I emphatically add, am I seeking out mind-altering experiences. I like my mind just the way it is. Or at least the way it was. I’m not entirely sure if I still like it after what happened.

    And yes, this is just one more instance where Xellos could’ve saved me from a world of embarrassment and strife with the prior knowledge he had hidden away, but chose not to because his brand of humor involves other people being in discomfort and danger.

    At least he held my hair back.

    …You know what? I don’t even want to talk about this. Suffice it to say that Banister Vine Tea is a giant crock. It doesn’t promote stress relief; it promotes stress. And it will be making up the majority of my nightmares for the rest of the week, if not the rest of my life.

    8:18 pm.

    Fine. I’ll explain what happened.

    Anyway, the service basically began as it would in any normal temple or church—with the leader stepping up to talk about creating community and giving thanks. I was whispering to Xellos that however much he may like tea (which is why he said he was there) that a monster like him didn’t belong in such a holy place. He replied that the room we were in was only a church on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the rest of the week it was a community theatre, so he was pretty sure that it didn’t count as holy ground. He also claimed that a holy gathering might not be the best place for an ex-con with a habit of destroying property. Excuse me, but I was never convicted and it’s not a habit!

    Before I could contemplate a really mature response like kicking him in the shins, the leader began offering a prayer up to the Fire Dragon King. At that moment it was… nice. I mean, I’ve been saying prayers to myself before my meals (and getting rewarded for my faith by having to deal with Miss Lina stealing sausages off my plate while my eyes are closed) and before I go to bed but… it’s not the same when you’re just saying them by yourself. I mean, that’s good and all, and it’s nice to have private moments of prayer. But it’s nice to have public moments of prayer too. I’d been missing that.

    After the prayer, they passed around the cups of tea—explaining that the leaves of the Banister Vine were healthy and provided powerful relief from any number of illnesses. They’d tied it all back to the Fire Dragon King and seemed to think that the tea from the vine helped them get closer to them.

    I’m going to be honest. I do not think the Fire Dragon King would approve of this tea. At all.

    I drank it—foolishly, unknowingly! At first nothing happened. The leader had instructed us to relax our muscles after we’d taken our drinks, to think about the things that were causing us stress or pain and to deny them power in our lives. I didn’t really have to do much visualizing concerning my stressor. I just turned my head and looked at him.

    And that’s when things got… bad.

    I was looking at Xellos when it happened. It felt like the lights changed and at first I thought a skylight had opened up. Everything I could see was awash in a blinding light. But while light flooded my eyes, shadow did too. Everything that was dark in the room seemed to get darker. Xellos’s skin was enough to blind me, but shadows had appeared deep in the hollows of his eyes. Then he shimmered like smoke and his skin started melting.

    Which was… odd.

    I tore my gaze away from him, suddenly dizzy. Every sound in the room echoed painfully and every chair was filled with black, swirling forms that were vaguely human. They twisted and moaned in pain, their black limbs stretching to the ground until they rooted, their black skin solidifying into burnt looking bark.

    “Filia?” The voice was not one I wanted to hear in the state my head was in. It was shrill and it reverberated around my skull. “Are you having some kind of problem?”

    I turned back to Xellos blearily. My lunch was rising in my stomach and I felt as though if I was jostled too much I’d lose it. When I looked back at Xellos he’d suddenly sprouted the Supreme Elder’s beard.

    …I’m sure it’s clear right now that nothing I saw was real. In which case, I’m very worried by the things my psyche managed to cook up.

    “Having a little trouble with the tea?” he asked in a gloating voice that seemed higher pitched in my mind.

    “What’s… happening?” I barely managed to choke out.

    “Oh, nothing that’s not supposed to,” he announced, his melting skin running into his newly acquired beard. “As I understand it, hallucinations are part of the cleansing process.”

    “H-hallucinations?” I mumbled in confusion as a giant, many-legged creature shuffled along behind him.

    “Yes,” Xellos nodded, his head flopping to one side and becoming detached from his body. “It’s a way of embodying oh… I suppose you could say impurities—evils and anxieties and torments—so that they can be purged.”

    I clung to the chair in front of me for support. “You’re… you’re saying the tea is doing this?” I asked weakly.

    “Of course,” he said, as though it were obvious. “Didn’t you know?”

    “How would I know?!” I demanded, abruptly taking my hand off the chair after it turned into a giant cockroach and tried to climb up on me. “You didn’t tell me!”

    “Didn’t you read the brochure?” he asked, his severed head looking doubtfully at me.

    “Of course I did!” I snapped, whacking away the giant insect that had been born of a perfectly stationary chair.

    “Did you read the back of it?”

    I paused. There was a back?

    “Ooh, dear,” he said, his disembodied head floating directly in front of me, Supreme Elder-beard and all. “It seems that you’ve come to this ceremony woefully unprepared.”

    “Sh-shut up,” I said, swatting at the flying head. My hand went straight through it and it disappeared—probably because it wasn’t there in the first place. My stomach jolted and suddenly I remembered something he’d said earlier. “Wait, did you say something about purging?”

    “Ah, yes,” he said, his headless body reaching around the chairs that hadn’t inexplicably turned into cockroaches. “I’m sure they have bags prepared around here somewhere…”

    I shouldn’t have taken the bag. I should’ve thrown up all over him!

    But I didn’t. I took the bag and proceeded to be sick into it. Shortly thereafter I started… well, coming down. The dark, tree-like creatures around me began to look more like people—people who were doing the same thing I was doing. Throwing up was apparently the “in” thing to do at the moment.

    “From what I understand, the principle is that in an act of… shall we say, digestive cleansing, the body is purged of addictions, sins and emotional maladies. So, Filia, do you feel unburdened?”

    I responded by vomiting. During a brief respite from this act, I noticed that he had his head back, was clean-shaven and his skin had stopped melting. He was also holding my hair back, which was unauthorized, but I wasn’t in a position to complain. His voice was still echoey and weird, though, and it gave me a headache.

    The day wasn’t done with me either. That’s right. Xellos let me drink poisoned tea and I still had more to deal with after that!

    The leader from earlier was saying supposedly encouraging and quasi-spiritual things to us about purging us of our demons (there’s a certain demon I’d like to be purged from my sight!) when suddenly the door to the church broke open and a voice started shouting:

    “Have you no shame! Abusing dangerous chemicals just for a brief high? Sacrificing your loved ones, your jobs, and your health… all to the beast of addiction?! What must your parents think of your behavior?! …And what kind of people would traffic in this business of death?! …Those are the people that I call unjust!”

    I looked up from my sick bag, a little shakily. My mind was mostly clearing up but everything still had a strange, wavy, underwater feel to it. But I could see in the front of the room…

    “…Miss Amelia…?” I murmured weakly.

    Miss Amelia wasn’t the only one there. Lurking somewhat behind her rather melodramatic pose were Miss Lina, Mister Gourry and Mister Zelgadis. They all looked rather embarrassed. Suddenly Miss Amelia caught sight of Xellos and I and she too looked embarrassed.

    “M-miss Filia?!” she squeaked. “Don’t tell me you’re a part of this too!” she cried out, all too eager to believe the worst of me. She looked as though a thought occurred to her. “Did Mister Xellos talk you into doing something illegal?”

    “No!” I shouted, still gripping my barf bag in case it was needed. “This is all just a—”

    “A misunderstanding!” the leader of the church group finished before me. “You can’t just tromp in here and start accusing people of crimes!”

    Miss Amelia seemed strengthened by this opposition after the initial surprise of seeing me. “Of course I can! Banister Vine Tea is a controlled substance and possession of it is a serious crime! In the name of justice and as a temporary deputy of the Lecille Police Force, I’m placing you all under arrest!”

    Just in case you think you know where this is going, no, I did not end up in jail again. But Miss Amelia, wired as she was on criminal justice, did end up dragging the whole congregation down to the police station. It wasn’t until we got there that the leader of the congregation and the police chief could actually convince here that, yes, Banister Vine Tea is illegal, but there’s an exception for religious use of it and the Church of the Vine had filed their paperwork on that subject years ago.

    So not only did I go on an unexpected and unwanted hallucinogenic trip, expel my entire lunch, and nearly get arrested for it… but Miss Lina and the others didn’t even make any money since there’s no bounty on people using the tea legally. Miss Lina’s not at all pleased either. She says they should’ve just shaken down some bandits like they usually do instead of working with the police. Hmmm.

    …I’m just going to try to put this whole mess behind me. At least I’m not sick anymore and tomorrow we can leave this town and its illicit teas. This is just one more thing that I’m going to have to hope and pray that the council of elders never finds out about. I just don’t know how I keep stumbling into things like this. I’m not a bad person, really! I think, I think I’ve convinced the others that the only reason I was there was a misunderstanding, but who knows. If Xellos keeps bringing it up (and you know he will) then I don’t know what I’m going to do!

    Ooooh… I feel more stressed and burdened then before I drank that stupid tea! I’ll stick to my own store of non-hallucinogenic herbal tea from now on, thank-you-very-much!
     
  11. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 11. Xellos’s Magical Bag of Tricks.

    Thursday, March 29th.

    Campfire. 11:49 am.


    Not even pancakes could improve my mood right now.

    …Then again, it’s not like pancakes can ease my sore throat which got burnt during the extensive vomiting I was doing yesterday or make my head stop pounding from the aftereffects of whatever chemicals were in that tainted tea. Pancakes might get Xellos to shut up for two minutes and stop saying that I’m “hungover” but that is the extent of their powers. Pancakes can’t turn back time and wipe out that whole nasty event from my past. That is far too much to ask of mere pancakes.

    …Pancakes with maple syrup on the other hand might fare better or at least cheer me up. Unfortunately there is no maple syrup. In our rush to pack up and leave Lecille and its psychedelic brewed beverages, someone forgot to pack the maple syrup. I’d be more irritated about this if it weren’t for the fact that Miss Lina is completely overreacting about it. I thought she was going to either demand we go half a day out of our way just to go back and see if it’s still in our rooms or strangle whichever scapegoat she thinks is responsible. …Maybe both. She got even angrier when she found out we were out of butter. Mister Gourry ate all of it last night as a midnight snack.

    Butter is not a snack!

    Ugh… all these packing problems aren’t improving my mood. Between the five of us (six if you insist on counting Xellos as a person) we’ve got a lot of supplies to carry—food, tents, blankets, clothes, and so on. I mean, it’s not like it’s heavy at least for me and Mister Zelgadis and Mister Gourry, but it is cumbersome to have to carry everything. I mean, I’ve already got my mace strapped to my leg; I don’t need to end up with a tea kettle strapped to the other! But I’m worried that’ll happen eventually with everything I brought. I guess I really didn’t know what I was in for when I initially packed but… I don’t want to get rid of anything. Out here it just seems so essential. It’s just that it’s a burden too. I probably wouldn’t mind it so much if I wasn’t already feeling run down from everything that happened yesterday, but…

    Well, on the bright side, if Miss Lina keeps spending my money like I have an endless amount of it then we’ll eventually run out and not be able to buy supplies. We’ll starve, but we won’t have as much to carry.

    …That’s not the bright side.

    Friday, March 30th.

    Tent. 9:45 pm.


    All of yesterday’s talk about supplies and baggage and whatnot kinda made me notice something today. Xellos carries a bag around.

    I mean, I guess I saw it before, but I didn’t really think about it. And yes, I know that’s not exactly a strange or shocking revelation on the face of it, but… think about it. Why would he carry a bag around? What could he possibly need? I need things like food and blankets and a tent for a journey like this, not to mention other assorted items; I wouldn’t carry them around if I didn’t need them. I mean, it’s no fun to lug them around so much, even if the weight is well within my capabilities to lift. But… Xellos? He doesn’t need food—his kind feeds on negativity, don’t they? I mean, he eats our food anyway, but it’s not like he needs to carry any of his own. He shouldn’t need a blanket to keep from cold either and I doubt he sleeps.

    I suppose he carries around that stupid guidebook with him. You know, the one from before which could’ve saved me from getting put in jail and rampaging across an entire town. Even still, that doesn’t really seem like a necessity. And I doubt he’d carry around a bag that size if that particular book was the only thing in it. But what else would he need to carry around? Goodness knows he probably doesn’t even need to carry around so much as a toothbrush! He can probably make his breath smell minty fresh automatically—the bastard!

    9:51 pm.

    Not that I ever intend on getting close enough to him to find that out one way or another.

    9:54 pm.

    Ew.

    Monday, April 2nd.

    Campfire. 6:38 pm.


    As if he needed a… a catchphrase of all things to make him even more annoying!

    Ugh. If I’m going to have to hear “that is a secret” to every question I ask—and from what Miss Amelia and the others were saying, I probably will—then I’m going to go crazy! He might as well just say, “I’m not going to answer you because I’m a sneaky, know-it-all jerk!” That would be more accurate. …Though admittedly less pithy.

    It’s not like what I asked was anything you’d think would be “top secret” anyway. I just thought that after wondering for awhile what he carries around in that bag that I might as well just ask him pointblank. It was either that or listen to Miss Lina tell the same story about the time she got locked in a fried chicken emporium overnight that she’s told us about five times already. The experience seems to have made quite an impression on her. She talks about gravy with an almost religious sense of awe.

    “Hey,” I said, giving Xellos a sidelong glance and hopefully communicating that I was putting myself through a great deal of annoyance to even pay the slightest bit of attention to him. “What do you carry around in that bag anyway?”

    He looked from me to the bag slung across his chest and back to me again with a perplexed expression, which I suppose is reasonable since the question was a bit out of the blue. His surprise didn’t last long, though. “Well, as a matter of fact that…” he began, raising his index finger up to his face until it nestled against one of his obnoxious little dimples. “…Is a secret,” Xellos finished with what he probably thought was a sly look.

    I stared at him, still frozen in his pose of resolute secrecy. “It’s a wh—?” I began.

    “Don’t bother,” Mister Zelgadis said, with a sharp look at Xellos. “You’re not going to get an answer any more specific than that.”

    “But why?” I asked.

    Because,” Xellos reaffirmed, “it’s a se—”

    “Mister Xellos always says that,” Miss Amelia said, thankfully cutting him off.

    I was getting annoyed… or at least more annoyed. “I don’t know what could be so secret about what’s in your bag. It’s a pretty simple question if you ask me!”

    “I didn’t ask you,” Xellos pointed out. “You asked me. But if I were going to ask questions,” he continued, an amused sort of half-smile on his face, “then I’d wonder when exactly you developed such a minute interest in me.”

    “I despise every inch of you,” I informed him coldly. “Is that minute enough for you?”

    His eyebrows drew together in mild puzzlement. “But you haven’t even seen every inch of me,” he pointed out by way of defense.

    “Ha!” I crossed my arms and turned my nose up in the air. “I am fully satisfied that I’d find every inch of you just as despicable as the inches I can see!” I declared. “All of your inches fill me with hate!”

    “Oh really?” Xellos asked me. There was a nasty little laugh in his voice.

    “Yes really!”

    “This went in a weird direction,” Miss Lina noted, probably just annoyed that she wasn’t getting to monopolize the conversation with talk of mashed potatoes and eleven herbs and spices.

    “Ah, well,” Xellos went on, leaning on his staff toward me, “however much disdain your minute interest may have been born of, you still won’t get the answer to your question.” He grinned. “So I suggest not being so nosy.”

    I opened my mouth and shut it, a little stuck for a response at first because of two things: 1. I’d nearly forgotten by this point that I had begun declaring my extensive hatred of him in the first place because of the bag thing. 2. I am not nosy! I’m just… inquisitive and detail-oriented! I have a right to be, after all. If he’s just going to traipse his way into our group and insist on being a party member then he should at least share with us whatever he’s smuggling in! That’s not prying; that’s just asking for basic information!

    “Fine! Keep your secrets,” I snapped once I’d recovered from his completely unfair accusation. “It’s not like I care what kind of trash you keep in that stupid garbage bag of yours anyway!”

    I bit my lip and realized I’d pretty much set myself up for a comeback considered that this whole thing began because I asked what kind of trash he kept in his stupid garbage bag, so it was hard to justify my “not caring” line. No comeback came, though. Instead he just frowned and looked put-out.

    It’s not like I did care that much before anyway. It was just… idle curiosity—a way of passing the long traveling hours. It was only that it was an oddity that I didn’t really have an explanation for. It’s not like the answer really mattered that much… then. Now, however, I’m really suspicious. He refused to answer the question, so that definitely means he’s hiding something. After all, if it was just innocuous stuff in there like that guide book he had before then he could’ve just told me, right?

    Maybe he has… like, incriminating evidence about whatever he’s scheming right now. He definitely at least knows more about that Almayce then he’s letting on. Maybe he has some kind of hard copy of that information in his bag. Or it could be about Valgaav… or something else that’s going on that we don’t even know about yet! …And he doesn’t want us to find out about it…

    Or maybe it could be some kind of… dangerous magical object or something. With someone like him, who knows?

    Ugh! The answers to everything we want to know—about the prophecy, about the destruction, and about our enemies… it could all be right in our midst in that bag; but he’s withholding it—just like he did back in that (former) town that didn’t allow dragons!

    And you know that if he’s not even willing to tell us what’s in his luggage then that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Who knows what else he’s hiding from us? If I had to guess then probably a lot.

    And you know, I almost find it worse that he doesn’t just… you know, lie to us or something—because he could. I mean, he always could’ve answered my question with “Oh, just a few extra pairs of gloves, staff polish, and some purple hair dye” and not shown me anything at all. Instead he’s just rubbing it in our faces that he’s withholding information. I think I’d rather have to bear deceit from a monster than smug honesty. At least that would be less obnoxious.

    Hmmph. Secrets! You know, when I was a child at the Temple of the Fire Dragon King the priestesses always told us this little rhyme whenever we tried to keep secrets: secrets, secrets are no fun; secrets, secrets hurt someone!

    But I won’t tell that to Xellos. First of all, he’d probably just laugh at me. Secondly, he’s perfectly alright with hurting people. In fact, that’s his goal!

    Well, I need to discover his secrets before they do wind up hurting someone. But that’s not going to be an easy feat if his policy is “deny everything.”

    Wednesday, April 4th.

    Tent. 11:18 pm.


    I should’ve known that was too good to be true! Why am I such an idiot?!

    Tent. 11:23 pm.

    …But maybe he won’t find out? I mean… that’s at least a possibility, right?

    Though not a probability.

    Tent. 11:25 pm.

    It’s not my fault, though. I had to look. I mean, it was the only way to find out. I asked nicely and received nothing but sly non-answers in return. With all the possibilities of what he could be hiding there was no way I could not look. It was for the good of the party!

    Just… just put yourself in my place. You go out to take your turn keeping watch for the night, annoyed because you’ll probably have to be around Xellos all that time since he’s naturally not going to be sleeping but no one trusts him to keep watch. You pass Mr. Zelgadis who’s headed back to his tent after the end of his watch. You reach the campfire and see no Xellos there.

    But you see Xellos’s bag. Just sitting there with no one around.

    What do you do?

    Well, if you’re stupid, stupid, STUPID like me then you look inside.

    Tent. 11:38 pm.

    And even after all that, the contents were either underwhelming or weird. I didn’t find anything incriminating or illuminating at all.

    What did I find? Well, mostly books with a few other oddities thrown in. There was that World Guide Book I saw him with before—that was on the top of the pile. Since I found that right at the beginning of the search, I still held out a lot of hope that I’d find something that would give me some answers. When I picked up the book I noticed that there was a bookmark in one of the pages. I thought, maybe this will be the clue I’m looking for. Maybe the section he’s marked will be about some location of something related to the prophecy of destruction or maybe wherever Valgaav’s operating out of.

    I flipped to the page he’d marked with my heart pounding and found…

    A list of the top fifty ice cream parlors in the world.

    What on earth could ice cream have to do with whatever nefarious scheme he’s concocting?

    The other documents didn’t provide any shocking finds either. There was The Top 100 Facts of World History, a book on folklore and a bunch of maps without any added markings on them. It was all just general information—nothing specific enough to give any real clues.

    …And for someone who legitimately doesn’t need to eat he had a surprising number of food related items packed away. There was the same plain white tea cup and saucer that I’d seen him pull out of thin air before (I almost expected it to be full of tea that magically didn’t spill or cool). There was a set of little cakes wrapped in a handkerchief the same color as his shirt. There was even a bag of unpopped popcorn.

    That’s the mundane stuff… or at least, it would be mundane if Xellos was a mundane person. Since he’s not, they’re kind of odd. But there were some other items in there that… I just don’t know. Like the very feminine-looking feathery, purple fan or the frilly pink apron with a chick on it.

    …I don’t think I want to know.

    But the thing that nearly stopped my rapidly beating heart lay beneath all that. It was a black, leather ledger with a quill strapped across it with a piece of string.

    It was quite unmistakably for writing in—a journal, a log, a report—but definitely for notes of some kind. I wondered, barely daring to breathe, if this was like mine; a memory aid for reporting to superiors. Or maybe it contained his instructions? His plan? His observations? All the pointless objects I’d sifted through—the books, the snacks, and the inappropriate accessories—that would all be worth it, if that was truly what I had in hand.

    I steeled myself for the discovery ahead and slowly, carefully, opened the notebook.

    What greeted me was a line of flowing, but legible cursive which read:

    Do priestesses of the Fire Dragon King often snoop through other people’s possessions?

    11:57 pm.

    It just makes me so mad! Mad at him for tricking me, mad at myself for falling for it, and mad at the universe because I can’t yell at him for the first thing without admitting to the second thing.

    Not that he won’t find out anyway, I suppose. I put everything back in the bag just the way I’d found it, but… it’d be pretty stupid of him to set a trap like that and not be able to tell whether it got sprung or not.

    He was probably just sitting up in the trees giggling quietly to himself as I read his little note. That jerk! I’m surprised he didn’t come out with a, “find anything interesting?” just after I slammed the book shut. He’s probably saving it for tomorrow, knowing him.

    Thursday, April 5th.

    Roadside. 1:31 pm.


    I knew it! Not only did he wait to say something about it until today, but he did it in front of everyone else just to humiliate me more!

    We were just walked along the road after an early breakfast. I was tired from not being able to sleep most of the night and frazzled waiting for him to ambush me with what I did. But he just let me stew for hours and hours—left me half listening to Miss Amelia and Mister Zelgadis have a conversation about maps and half waiting for him to STRIKE.

    Finally he did deign to strike, in his apparently preferred manner of striking—snide, casual, and with the pretense of civility.

    “Incidentally, Filia,” he said in a voice quiet enough to be quasi-conversational and yet loud enough that the others could hear, “I took my wallet out of my bag before leaving it unattended. After all, any priestess immoral enough to snoop through another person’s things might well be a pickpocket too.”

    I fumed, knowing full well that the others had turned to look at us curiously. “You have no right to lecture me about morality!” How dare he imply that I’m a thief!

    One of his eyebrows slid upward. “Considering that I haven’t rooted through any of your baggage, I think I do.”

    “That shouldn’t even count!” I exploded. “Because that was…” I searched around for the right word and came back triumphantly with: “entrapment!”

    He nodded unabashedly. “Right. And you entrapped yourself.”

    “You mean to say that you actually stole Xellos’s bag and searched it?” Mister Zelgadis asked, giving me an incredulous look.

    “I didn’t steal anything!” I insisted, furious that that monster’s accusations were besmirching my good name. “He left it out on purpose—he tricked me!”

    “So… what was in it anyway?” Miss Lina asked, sounding slightly curious.

    “Junk!” I shouted, a little past rational at this point. “Nothing but junk!”

    Xellos shrugged. “You know what they say about one man’s junk. In any case, I don’t like to casually throw things away if I don’t need to. You never know when something might turn out to be useful.”

    “But that’s beside the point,” he went on, addressing the rest of our party, “if I were you all, I’d be more concerned that the next article of luggage Filia decides to illegally search could be yours.”

    Can you believe that?! There can be no doubt that he’s trying to sabotage the mission now—he’s actually attempting to turn my own party against me!

    “W-what? She wouldn’t really do that, would she?” Miss Amelia sputtered nervously, actually falling for it.

    “What’ve you got that you’re trying to hide?” Miss Lina asked, eyeing her.

    “Uh… nothing,” Miss Amelia insisted in a way that convinced no one.

    “Well, whatever it is, it won’t remain secret for long,” Xellos announced with a smile that I badly wanted to punch.

    “Yeah, well, shouldn’t that bother you the most?” Miss Lina asked him. “You’ve got the most secrets.”

    He waved a finger at her. “Ah, well, Filia hasn’t exactly proven herself to be a super sleuth. I’m not concerned.”

    Unbelievable! First he calls me a sneak—because of an incident in which he baited me to snoop, may I add—and then he goes on to say that I’m not even good at it? Well, I suppose he would know, wouldn’t he? It—it shouldn’t even count against me that I invaded someone’s privacy, though. After all, he’s a monster! He doesn’t deserve the basic respect that others get. He only deserves disrespect!

    I’m so sick of him. Sick of his secrets, sick of his tricks, sick of his smug grin, sick of him thinking he knows exactly what I’ll do, and most of all of him being right about it.

    I honestly wish I never had to see him again!
     
  12. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 12. Absence Makes the Heart Grow Odder.

    Friday, April 6th.

    Camp. 7:32 am.


    He’s gone!

    He’s GONE!

    Camp. 8:45 am.

    It’s just… he… I looked everywhere and he’s nowhere to be found! What’s worse is that the others are all just acting completely blasé about it. As though Xellos up and disappearing is nothing at all to be worried about!

    “Oh yeah,” Miss Lina said, looking around the campfire idly when I informed her that he was missing. “I didn’t notice.”

    “I thought it seemed quieter around here,” Mister Gourry observed, taking a swig of coffee.

    “At least until Filia woke up and started shouting,” Mister Zelgadis added lightly.

    “Well, can you blame me?” I asked, maybe a little frantically. “I mean, where do you think he could’ve gone?”

    Mister Zelgadis shrugged. “Who knows?” he said, in a way that seemed more to ask ‘who cares?’

    “Geez, Filia,” Miss Lina said, reaching out to flip the nearly burnt toast over the fire, “I thought you’d be the one that’d be happy when he was gone.”

    I froze, a little stuck for a response at first. “Well, of course I don’t want him around here,” I insisted—which isn’t even something I should have to bother saying it’s so obvious. I mean, I take back absolutely nothing I said yesterday. I still wish I never had to see him again. But…

    Well, first of all, it’s completely rude of him just to drop out on us without saying anything. First he forces his way into our party uninvited and then he doesn’t even have the decency to inform us when he’s going to leave? I suppose I shouldn’t expect a monster to possess common decency, but still! There’s being evil and then there’s just being impolite!

    And… “Are you saying you’re not worried at all about what that monster might be up to, Miss Lina?” I demanded. “He could be setting a trap for us—or selling us out to Valgaav and Almayce right now! If he’s not following us then there must be some nefarious reason for it!”

    …Of course, there are also nefarious reasons for him to actually be following us. There are nefarious reasons for everything that monster does!

    Miss Lina shrugged. “Maybe, but even if you’re right then it’s not like there’s a heck of a lot that we can do about that, is there?”

    “And Mister Xellos does that all the time,” Miss Amelia said, carefully taking a piece of burnt toast off of the frying pan and dipping it into her egg yolk. “He just pops in and out whenever he feels like it.”

    “He’ll probably be back when he wants something,” Lina said sourly, taking her own slice of toast and nearly burning her fingertips.

    I frowned. It’s just… not even being able to rely on whether he’s going to be around or not just makes him even more of an annoyance. And nobody’s at all willing to do anything about him!

    “What do you think he does when he’s not with us?” Mister Gourry asked speculatively.

    “Meeting with his bosses, making shady backroom deals, high-stakes international conning,” Miss Lina guessed half-heartedly, “…eating cake.”

    “Cake?” Miss Amelia repeated, giving Miss Lina a curious look.

    Miss Lina closed her eyes and nodded. “Cake,” she confirmed.

    “Who knows?” Mister Zelgadis asked, giving me a somewhat wry smile. “Maybe he’s just sulking because you looked through his stuff.”

    “It was justified!” I insisted. “…And anyway,” I added with a sniff. “He tricked me into doing it in the first place. If he was going to sulk at all, he would’ve done it if I didn’t look through his stuff.”

    …And goodness knows I wish I didn’t live up to his expectations. But since that’s certainly not the reason he’s disappeared… what could it possibly be? And when will he come back? Don’t get me wrong, I hope he never comes back. But he’s a cockroach, and cockroaches are persistent. If he’s going to come back anyway, then I’d rather just avoid the unpleasant surprise of it all.

    But no—maybe I should just… try thinking on the bright side. I might as well enjoy the time I have without that slimy nuisance around. And who knows? Maybe he won’t come back. Maybe he’s found someone else to bother. Happy thoughts! Gotta keep thinking happy thoughts!

    Camp. 9:04 am.

    …This isn’t making me happy.

    Monday, April 9th.

    Tilly’s Inn. 5:03 pm.


    Hmm. So… I feel like I’ve learned a little bit more about my traveling party. Well, first off I found out what Miss Amelia brought with her that she was worried about the others finding.

    No, I did not snoop!

    It was just that it’d been awhile since we’d been able to stop at a town, so we quit a little early. Mister Zelgadis wanted to take a look at some of the libraries in town and Miss Lina and Mister Gourry decided to tag along with him and check out some of the eateries along the way. I figured that would be okay since it would hopefully at least keep Mister Zelgadis from causing any havoc looking for his cure. Miss Amelia said she was feeling tired and just wanted to hang around the room, so she declined to join them.

    I made my way down to the lobby for a nice cup of tea. However, once I finally got the tea it was not nice at all. I suppose I can’t say it was the worst cup of tea I’ve ever had, since the incident with the psychedelic tea speaks for itself, but this tea didn’t even seem worth the mid-afternoon caffeine buzz, so I didn’t bother with it. I just decided I’d head back to the room and maybe take a nap. After all, if I lose out drawing straws tonight then I might end up sleeping on the floor… or worse, in the same bed as Miss Lina. I figured I’d take the opportunity for actual restful sleep while it was given.

    I opened the door and saw Miss Amelia sitting on a chair in the connected area between the two rooms we’d rented. She seemed to be engrossed in a novel. All I could make out of the book from where I was standing was that it was fairly short and cheap looking with two people on the cover. When Miss Amelia looked up and saw that I’d entered the room, she let out an audible squeak and quickly tried to stuff the book in between the cushions of the chair. When she realized there was no way of hiding the book, she looked up at me with a desperate expression.

    “Please don’t tell the others, Miss Filia!” she pleaded.

    “Tell them what?” I asked, mystified as I drew closer.

    She looked miserably torn for a moment before passing the book to me instead of answering.

    I took the book gingerly and got a closer look at the cover illustration. There was a man and a woman standing on the grounds of a large, old-style mansion in the dead of night. Between the way the woman was practically hiding in the man’s arms and the torn and ragged state of their clothing, it looked as though they’d been through some kind of major ordeal. I couldn’t imagine what kind of trouble could’ve led to the woman’s clothes being damaged in that way, but I felt very sorry and embarrassed for her. It would’ve been nice if the man in the picture had given her a cloak or something to cover herself up with, but he seemed to have been through similar clothing-damaging trouble as he had lost his shirt, so I suppose I can’t really blame him for that. The title of the piece (in text over a drawing of the moon) was Passion’s Choice.

    “If Miss Lina and Mister Zelgadis found out I was reading romance novels they’d make fun of me for sure,” Miss Amelia explained. “Well,” she added, after a moment’s thought, “Miss Lina would make fun of me; Mister Zelgadis would just shake his head sadly, and that would be even worse.”

    “Why would they make fun of you?” I asked, somewhat distracted by the dead, dead eyes of the characters on the cover.

    Miss Amelia gave me a sidelong look. “You’ve never… have you ever read a romance novel before, Miss Filia?”

    “Well, I’ve always loved fairytales,” I said. It was a sentence that I swear sounded less juvenile in my head than when I heard it out loud. I should’ve known better, though. When I was little I made a crown out of pipe cleaners, but nobody ever wanted to play princess with me.

    I passed the book back to her, maybe a little more briskly than I’d meant to, and sat down on the other chair. “They can’t be that different, anyway. Princes marrying princesses and that kind of thing.”

    “Well… I suppose they’re kinda similar,” Miss Amelia admitted. “And some of them do have royalty in them.” She looked down at her hands. “Not that they’re anywhere even close to reality,” she said quietly.

    I peered over at her. “Really? You’ve never been rescued by a handsome prince?” Being a princess is apparently not as glamorous and exciting as advertized.

    She rested one hand on the back of her neck and gave a little laugh. “Not unless you count my daddy… but most people don’t think of him as… well…” she trailed off.

    “So, what kind of stories do these things have if they’re different from fairytales?” I asked, curious about the books she’d been so keen to hide.

    “Well, there are a whole bunch of stories,” Miss Amelia said, lifting up her book. “This one has a pretty common set-up, though. There’s this girl named Felicity in it. Her father’s very sick and when he dies, her family will lose their fortune since it’ll all go to their cousins. So she has to find a rich husband before time runs out.”

    My reaction was probably not what she hoped for. “…That sounds terrible,” I said. “So she’s just tricking these men to get their money? Wasn’t there any other option? Couldn’t she have found a job?”

    “Oh, but she can’t,” Miss Amelia protested. “She needs the money to pay for her ailing little sister’s medication. She couldn’t support her on her own.”

    I narrowed my eyes. “…How many people are ailing in this story?” I asked suspiciously.

    “Just those two,” Miss Amelia said. “Anyway,” she went on, as one delivering juicy, fictional gossip, “there are these two men that are interested in her. There’s Maxwell, who owns a successful printing business and is a pillar of the community. And then there’s Allister who has a large inheritance that he spends mostly on gambling and drinking and…” She shifted uncomfortably here. “…Other stuff.”

    I frowned. “Well… is that even a choice?” But suddenly I had a thought. “Oh, I see. It is like in fairytales, then. Sometimes there will be two princes pursuing the princess. One is good and true and the other is wicked. But the bad prince is putting pressure on the kingdom by, like, threatening to declare war on them if he can’t have the princess’s hand in marriage. Is it like that?” I asked. “Is Allister threatening her family if she doesn’t marry him?”

    “Not really…” Miss Amelia said slowly. “I don’t think Allister wants to marry her. He said he’s ‘not the marrying kind.’”

    This threw me for a minute. “But I thought you said he was interested in h—Oh. Oh.

    Don’t blame me for taking a minute to get on the same page on that! I haven’t been corrupted by the wicked ways of the world. Don’t think for a second that I’d trade my naiveté for being able to understand the seedy motives of some people!

    “Well, then I don’t see why you’d even bother reading that,” I said, crossing my arms. “The ending is completely predictable. She’s going to pick the other guy instead of the one who won’t even help her reach her goal and is a slimy jerk.”

    “It is pretty predictable,” Miss Amelia admitted. “But not the way you think. She’s almost definitely going to end up with Allister.”

    “What?” I demanded, sitting up in my chair and shouting louder than I’d intended to. “But he sounds awful!”

    “But she likes him,” Miss Amelia pointed out. “And anyway, his character type pops up a lot and that’s usually how it turns out.”

    I listened to her as she talked about this recurring character type. There are different kinds, she said, some are refined and capable of restraint; some are cruel and insatiable. But usually this kind of character is worldly, witty, charming, devastatingly handsome and 100% vice-ridden. If a girl ends up with a character like that, she’ll either end up reforming him or pregnant or dead of heartache (I didn’t think you could die of that, but Miss Amelia says it happens all the time). I didn’t really know what to do with all that since I’d always been under the impression that a rake was just a gardening implement.

    “How can you stand books like that where the girls ends up with someone so terrible?” I asked, nose wrinkled. “I mean… I would’ve thought you’d want her to end up with the nice guy.”

    “Well… sometimes it turns out that the nice guy really isn’t as nice as he seemed,” Miss Amelia commented, sounding slightly concerned. “…It’s really not fair when bad guys wear white,” she said, as though it threw off the balance of her personal universe. “And, well, I hate to admit it, but sometimes the nice guy is just… boring. Or at least he’s written that way.”

    I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Of all my party members, Miss Amelia is the last one I’d expect to be spouting moral ambiguities. She nicknamed her fists Truth and Justice for goodness sake!

    “But shouldn’t you want her to end up with the hero? Not someone who’s such a… a villain,” I demanded.

    My word choice seemed to set her off. “Well, you can’t always tell from appearances! Sometimes someone seems like a villain when you first meet him, but it turns out that he only acts that way because he’s been used and people have hurt him and because of his tragic past it makes it hard for him to trust people so that’s why he lashes out because he’s just afraid of really, you know, opening up to someone and actually trusting again but he really isn’t a bad person and that’d come out if only he had someone who really, really loved him!”

    She delivered that entire thing without stopping for even a moment. After she’d taken a deep breath she coughed sheepishly and added: “…But that’s a whole ‘nother character type.”

    I don’t want to… umm… pry where I’m not wanted, but it seemed like she might have someone specific in mind.

    “A-anyway,” I said, trying to pivot the conversation, “I still don’t see how the heroines in these books could be attracted to such dishonorable men.”

    “I think it just makes for a more dramatic story,” Miss Amelia answered, not sounding like she had much non-fictionalized experience in the world of courtship, “but who knows? Maybe some girls just like that type.”

    That type. You know I… Alright, I’m going to have to say something that sounds utterly, utterly ridiculous. I mean, it’s so unbelievable that, well, trust me, you will laugh when you hear it. Or, you know, maybe not even laugh because it’s kind of horrifying and wrong. But whatever reaction, it’s just completely absurd but… when Miss Amelia was talking about that type of guy… for some reason the picture in my head started to look sort of like… Xellos.

    See? Horribly, laughably ridiculous! Just imagine Xellos as some kind of master seducer. Ha! It’s so funny I might throw up.

    No, he certainly doesn’t fit the bill. He may be devastating, but he’s not devastatingly handsome—certainly not with that haircut. Okay, so maybe he has, I don’t know, very defined facial features that could be described by some as striking but…

    Wait. Let me back up here. He looks like a clown and always has a ditzy look on his face. There. That’s what I meant to say. There’s nothing even remotely close to smoldering and suave about him. Nothing!

    And he probably thinks he’s witty and charming, but he’s not. He’s just unpleasant and demeaning and thinks he’s all superior because he can put other people down. I’ll give him worldly. He probably is worldly—certainly compared to me. But then again, everyone is worldly compared to me. Worldliness is overrated.

    I’m sure I only thought of him at all because, well, the kind of man who’d throw away his life and money on gambling, alcohol and… sexual immorality, the kind of man who’d ruin the reputation of a young woman and then leave her ruined… that kind of man is downright evil. And I suppose there’s no one more evil I can think of right now than Xellos. So that’s why I thought of him. Even though he definitely doesn’t fit with most of the details.

    Pfft. Imagine someone considering Xellos attractive. Ludicrous!

    “Umm… Miss Amelia?” I began.

    “Yes?” she asked.

    And… I honestly don’t know what made me ask, but I went on: “Why would Xellos have a woman’s fan?”

    She gave me an odd look and I immediately felt uncomfortable.

    “I mean, It’s just that when I was looking through his stuff I found this purple fan and it didn’t look like it was his. I just was, well, wondering who it belonged to and why… why he has it,” I finished, mouth running off where my brain had completely checked out.

    She looked curiously at me for a moment and then suddenly clapped her fist into the palm of her other hand. “Oh!” she exclaimed finally. “I remember now!”

    She couldn’t finish what she was going to say right away because there was a noise from the hall that signaled the return of Miss Lina, Mister Gourry and Mister Zelgadis. They were muttering something about “librarian” and “sword point” but I’m honestly not even going to ask. Miss Amelia was quicker on the uptake this time and hid the romance novel under her cloak right as the others opened the door to the room.

    The others stopped talking when they entered the room and saw us sitting together. Miss Lina put her hands on her hips and leaned forward. “What is this, a tea party?” she asked.

    “No,” I said slowly, still wondering why the fan thing was even bothering me. “But we could have one, if you like,” I said, brightening in the midst of my confusion. “Only I should probably brew a pot myself, since the tea at the café downstairs is just not very—”

    “…I was kidding,” Miss Lina cut in, raising her eyebrows. I should’ve known it was too good to be true. Why is the only fellow tea enthusiast in this party a monster of all things?

    “Miss Filia was just asking me about Femille,” Miss Amelia chirped.

    “I was?” I asked, not following.

    “We’re not talking about Femille,” Mister Zelgadis said flatly.

    “What about Femille?” Miss Lina asked, completely ignoring Mister Zelgadis’s objections.

    “I guess Mister Xellos still has that purple fan he had when all the guys had to dress up like girls,” Miss Amelia explained. “Miss Filia found it in his bag.”

    “Huh, that’s weird,” Miss Lina commented. “Wonder if he’s expecting to have to use it again?”

    “It does seem like we end up doing that a lot,” Mister Gourry whined, radiating low-spirits and repressed memories.

    “It’s never happening again, and did I mention we’re not talking about it?” Mister Zelgadis asserted once again. Nobody paid him any mind.

    “Wait a minute,” I cut in. “You’re saying you had to dress all the boys as girls?” I asked, flabbergasted, but rather relieved at the explanation for the fan. “Why on earth would you have to do that?”

    “We needed to go into the Kingdom of Femille to look for the Claire Bible,” Miss Amelia explained. “And the Kingdom only had women in it.”

    “Ostensibly,” Mister Zelgadis cut in bitterly.

    “And they were a bunch of crazy people too,” Miss Lina added, raking her hand through her long hair irritably. “Can you believe they actually thought that I was a guy in disguise?!”

    “Well…” Miss Amelia began gently, “I still say you didn’t do yourself any favors with that outfit. You were the only one of us who didn’t wear a skirt, and that cloak you had over your chest just made it look like… you know, you were hiding something.”

    Miss Lina fixed Miss Amelia with a death glare. “Well EX-CUSE ME, Amelia,” she shouted. “Not all of us have a biological sign on chests that screams ‘FEMALE!’”

    Miss Amelia cringed as Mister Gourry started to unwisely cut in. “You could’ve just stuffed like the rest of us did,” he pointed out. “It’s not like you were any better off than us guys were. Well…” He trailed off and gave her a rudely close look. “…Maybe I have like, half a cup on you or something,” he reevaluated.

    She punch him hard in the stomach so that he keeled over, yelping in pain.

    I was shocked to hear that they’d had such an adventure. Nobody from the Temple of the Fire Dragon King would ever cross-dress. Well… I suppose there are some historically relevant cases that ended in burning at the stake. I don’t think they do that anymore, but it’s still rather frowned upon.

    “Where did we get that fan for Mister Xellos again?” Miss Amelia asked, choosing to breeze past the trigger that had set Miss Lina off.

    “Probably at that thrift store,” Miss Lina answered, shaking out her fist. “That’s where we got that dress for Gourry.” She sighed. “It was such a pain to find something in his size.”

    Mister Gourry wheezed as he got up, but seemed remarkably undeterred by his clobbering, as though it was not at all unusual. “You made me pierce my ears too,” he complained. “It hurt and it took forever for the holes to fill in.”

    “Quit whining,” Miss Lina ordered. “My sister pierced my ears and it was way worse than what I put you through with a clean needle and half a lemon.”

    “Wait, what actually happened when you went undercover in this kingdom?” I asked, knowing I wasn’t going to get a linear story if they kept being distracted by complaints.

    Miss Lina shrugged. “The Claire Bible lead turned out to be a dud, a demon attacked us, the guys got found out as… well, guys, and Zel saved a princess who turned out to be a prince.”

    “We’re definitely not talking about that,” Mister Zelgadis insisted, but he seemed to know he was fighting a losing battle.

    “So, what did you do?” I asked breathlessly.

    “Beat the demon—but we were still in trouble, you know, because the guys’ disguises were blown and the penalty for men being in Femille is death. But then it turned out that a bunch of the ‘girls’ that lived there were really guys in disguise, so we made it out okay,” Miss Lina summarized.

    “Wow,” I said. “That sounds like such a… bizarre adventure.”

    “Oh, that’s nothing,” Miss Lina dismissed with a wave of her hand. “I mean, there was that one time nearly everyone was turned into dolls and Zel had to dress up like a rabbit—”

    Mister Zelgadis didn’t even say anything this time. He just sighed and lower his head into his hands.

    “—that was a bizarre adventure,” Miss Lina finished.

    “Or the time we had to play Brass Rackets to find a clue to the Claire Bible,” Miss Amelia added.

    “Or the time we found that magical songbook and Lina and Amelia had to wear—” Mister Zelgadis started vindictively.

    “I think she gets the point,” Miss Lina cut him off hurriedly.

    “I…” I began. “I mean, I knew you all had been on a lot of adventures before, but I had no idea how odd they were,” I commented.

    “Yeah, we’re always getting into weird scrapes,” Miss Lina admitted sheepishly. “But we always manage to get out of them one way or another, right guys?” she asked with a strange sense of pride.

    “Right!” Miss Amelia and Mister Gourry said.

    “So far,” Mister Zelgadis drawled.

    I guess at the end of it all I’m just… kind of glad that everyone in the group has had so many weird and dangerous experiences, but always got through okay. I’m not sure if they’re unlucky to get in those situations in the first place or lucky to get out of them but… no matter what it at least seems to work for them. And maybe that means they really can stand up to whatever the prophecy has in store for them.

    7:46 pm.

    Also, I’m trying very, very, very, very, very hard not to imagine Xellos in drag.

    …But it’s just too easy.
     
  13. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 13. Derailed.

    Tuesday, April 17th.

    Crossroads. 11:35 pm.


    It was just a few moments ago, as I was sinking my teeth into the last bologna sandwich, that I realized that it has been over a week since I last wrote here. That’s… not good. I mean, I’m supposed to be keeping records here for when I report in at the temple… and that’s going to be quite soon! We should be able to see its tallest spires in the distance before too long, if the fog clears up. And that means we’ll only be about three full days of travel away from the temple… though more like a week if the others insist on stopping for trivial things like all-you-can-eat buffets and soft beds.

    All that means that I’ve got to keep myself focused on writing here in the little time I have left before I have to make my report to the council of elders. I was doing so well there for awhile—in fact, writing more per day than I originally thought I would. But those were such… such full days. I guess in the more than a week since I last wrote here, not much has really happened. It’s probably just because you-know-who has been gone. Without him around, things are rather uneventful.

    Which is… good, of course. Because when he was around things were uneventful in a very, very bad way. Now that he’s not around, well, I’d say it’s been smooth sailing, but our arid surroundings make that figure of speech somewhat inappropriate. Things have been quiet around here—some might even say dull. Well, I say dull gets a bad rap! If dull means “without Xellos” then I’ll take dull any day!

    …In any case, I shouldn’t use his absence and the corresponding lack of catastrophes as an excuse not to keep up my observations in here. I’m sure I can find plenty of interesting things to point out even without him around.

    Like… the weather. It’s… well, I suppose it’s pretty nice.

    For, you know, a desert and all.

    11:46 pm.

    The rail trail! I could talk about the rail trail!

    I suppose it follows that we’ve arrived at the rail trail since I already said we were getting close to the temple, but still, it’s worth reporting. I mean, it’s going to be much easier to avoid getting lost now that we’ve reached it. There’s nothing like high-walled roads to keep a person from meandering off the path.

    I mean, I hate to admit it, but before we reached this wonderful network of easy-to-navigate roads there was a bit of… circling. Yes, I do know the way to the temple, but you can’t blame me for getting turned around when there’s so much desert on all sides. Everything looks the same!

    I had to honestly rely on Mister Zelgadis a lot to keep us going in the right direction, which really isn’t fair to him since he’s never even been here before. Still, he helped a lot. He’s really very good with maps. In fact, he’s making his own of the Outer World as we journey forward. It’s… well, he keeps referring to the area we’re traveling in as “unmapped wilderness,” which is… not true. Just because the people in the barrier continent don’t have maps of it, doesn’t mean the people who live here haven’t already mapped it hundreds of years ago.

    I’ve thought of gently suggesting that to him, but he seems to be enjoying mapping so much that I don’t want to ruin it for him. Anyway, he’s been quite helpful and everyone needs a hobby after all.

    But I won’t need his help to stay on the path now that we’ve reached the rail trail. And we shouldn’t have any trouble finding places to stay along the way since so many towns have taken advantage of the trail’s usefulness for trade and built alongside it.

    Isn’t it wonderful to think that a system that the dragon race built more than a thousand years ago and doesn’t even use anymore is still helpful to people? I mean, it makes a wonderful road system even now that the tracks have become walls. I think it goes to show just how much of an impact the legacy of the dragon race has had on the communities that have taken root near the temple. I’m sure they must be very thankful for it.

    Explaina. Lucidity Grill. 9:03 pm.

    Ah, well. I suppose it was too much to hope that the others would be willing to walk day and night for a solid three days. I just got so excited when I could finally see the temple in the distance! It’ll be nice to be home soon. I mean, it’s been really interesting to be out traveling, but I’m sure I’ll feel much more comfortable when I’m back where I belong.

    …Of course, I’ll have to make my report to the elders, and that probably won’t be very comforting. Nevertheless, it’ll likely help just to be back in surroundings I’m used to. And anyway, no matter how nerve-wracking it ends up being, it’s all necessary to save the world. So I can deal with discomfort.

    Right now, despite being far from home, I must admit to feeling rather cozy. It’s nice to have a cup of tea and a beautiful view of the ruins outside my window. I’m endeavoring to tune out the gluttonous crunching and slurping from inside the room—the only real hitch in an otherwise lovely evening. I swear, Miss Lina and Mister Gourry just enjoy food too much. I mean, they’re behaving like animals!

    I’ve chosen to sit at a table farther away from them. It probably won’t fool the poor, overworked cook who seems to just want to close up for the night, into thinking that I’m not with Miss Lina and Mister Gourry—I mean, after all, he saw us come in as a group. But at least from this distance I won’t get splattered with food or elbowed in the gut or stabbed with a fork.

    …I don’t really want to start a fight about this, but they need to tone it down. Badly. I know it’s not far to the temple, but that’s no excuse to drain the tiny, tiny sum of money I have left for living expenses. I wonder if they eat this much when they’re paying for their own food or if they’re just using the fact that they’re eating on my dime to overindulge?

    I probably should’ve said something to them earlier, but they have to be finishing up now, so it’s really too late to bring it up with them. If they do it again, though…

    Still, food really does seem to be a powerful motivator for them. It’s actually sort of impressive in a completely warped way. When we were still on the road they were absolutely exhausted and wanted to make camp there without even going one step further. But then Miss Amelia spotted this town and they ran for it at breakneck speed, chanting “Food! Food! Food!” all the while. The only one who doesn’t seem to possess this nutritional madness is Mister Zelgadis. Though, to be fair, at least Miss Amelia generally contains herself better than Miss Lina and Mister Gourry.

    …I’m starting to think it might be a good idea to tell them that there’s… I don’t know, a fantastic barbeque restaurant right next to the temple or something. I’m sure we’d get there much faster that way.

    But, no. It wouldn’t be right to lie.

    9:27 pm.

    There’s… something else on my mind. I was thinking that I wouldn’t even mention it because I really feel like I’m overreacting to it. I mean, human society is just different from dragon society, that’s all. I know it was a casual gesture and he didn’t mean anything untoward by it. But I guess that’s why I’m thinking about it—because it really demonstrates that difference.

    I suppose I should be more clear about it. It was right after Miss Lina, Miss Amelia and Mister Gourry had raced off toward Explaina shouting about food. I was watching them leave when Mister Zelgadis put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Shall we join them?”

    Like I said—a little thing, probably a normal gesture for a human. But honestly it surprised me because… well… a dragon wouldn’t do that. A male dragon wouldn’t just casually place his hands on a female dragon. It would be considered inappropriate and odd.

    It’s not like that for humans, of course. Friendly touches seem to be the norm—a hand on the shoulder, a high-five, a hug, a punch delivered directly to the gut (okay, that’s mostly Miss Lina and probably shouldn’t be classified as ‘friendly’). And, I guess now that I think about it, that’s kind of… okay. Maybe even better because… you can show that you care about someone just through an everyday action. At the temple we’re a little more formal, I suppose.

    It’s only that I’m not used to it yet—that’s all.

    I mean, you can’t blame me for being a little jumpy. My experiences with men outside the temple haven’t been entirely above suspicion. Remember that seedy prison guard from back in the anti-dragon town? I wish I didn’t. And even in my own party it’s been uneven. Mister Gourry and Mister Zelgadis are great—don’t get me wrong. But let’s not forget my very first introduction to Mister Gourry, and now this, admittedly minor, touching thing from Mister Zelgadis. I mean—good grief! The only male member of our party I haven’t felt in some way sexually harassed by is…

    No. No! NO! I don’t want to even think about that!

    Wednesday, April 18th.

    On a runaway ruin charging through the desert. 3:20 am.


    If we all die out here, taking the Temple with us, and this notebook is the only thing that survives the crash, then I just want whoever finds this notebook to know one thing…

    IT WASN’T MY FAULT! I TRIED TO STOP THEM BUT IT WAS TOO LATE!

    Temple of the Fire Dragon King. West Kitchen. 12:03 pm.

    I… I am suffering from extremely conflicted feelings and agenda at this point. On the one hand, I really have to talk up Miss Lina and the others as the chosen ones from the prophecy. I can tell that the elders have their doubts—and that’s completely understandable, particularly considering how we arrived here. But I need to convince them it’s true because, even despite all that’s happened, I still believe Miss Lina and the others are our best hope for combating the destruction the prophecy spoke of—even though they have a regrettable flair for wanton destruction themselves.

    On the other hand… I just want to scream how angry I am at them to the rooftops! At least, I want to scream it to the rooftops we still have left after what they did to the temple!

    It doesn’t help that I don’t think Miss Lina and the others have the slightest idea as to what a misstep they’ve made. Just because people are being polite to them doesn’t mean anyone’s forgotten what a serious offense this is! But Miss Lina and the others are so easily willing to shrug the whole thing off after the Supreme Elder told them not to worry themselves over it. And I think by the time the banquet came up, they’d completely forgotten about the matter. If they treat this whole thing so flippantly in front of the council… well, the elders aren’t likely to be persuaded that they’re the chosen ones. I can only do so much, after all! Part of this is up to them!

    Ugghhh… this is a nightmare. A complete and utter nightmare. And I can’t even acknowledge that to anyone right now or else they’ll have even more second thoughts.

    …But I can acknowledge it in here. And for my mental health, that is clearly what I must do.

    I should also eat for my health. I didn’t have breakfast what with having to meet with the elders and all, and I need something. Sister Abelinda brought me a hearty, if rather austere looking, lunch of bread and broth. I’m surprised they even had anything left in the kitchen after the spread they put out for Miss Lina and the others. I think they’re still in there eating breakfast. Or… does the meal still count as breakfast if you’re still eating it when lunchtime rolls around?

    In any case, I hope I don’t pass out after eating this time. That part still doesn’t make sense to me. I mean… I’ve gotten a bit dozy after big meals in the past but nothing quite like that. I just… fainted. In fact, I did a lot of fainting over the course of last night and this morning. Given the circumstances, I think that’s quite understandable.

    But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here. I want to start at the beginning. But before I do, know that it is nearly impossible to convey the nervous-breakdown inducing catastrophe that last night was. The closest I can get to conveying the degree of disaster it was, is to say this: last night I was sexually harassed by Xellos. And it was not even approaching the worst part of my evening.

    Let that sink in for a moment.

    Appropriately horrified? Good.

    The whole event began with a horrible precursor that something terrible and ruin-related was going to happen. I had just finished writing here and was enjoying my cup of tea, when Mister Zelgadis came back to my table with a fresh cup of coffee.

    “Say, Filia,” he said, sitting down, “About those ruins. The style seems to suggest that the dragon race built them.”

    “That’s right,” I said, initially pleased both that my people’s architectural acumen is well-recognized and that I might have a chance to talk a little more about the ruins. I’d begun to before as we were entering the town, but Miss Lina cut me off because she thought food was more important. “But the ruins are sealed now and no one is allowed inside them.”

    Mister Zelgadis looked down at his coffee, intrigued. I might even go so far as to say he was malevolently intrigued—and not by coffee! “Sealed ruins, huh?” he said quietly to himself.

    I flashed back almost immediately to all the trouble we had in Ocea City when he decided to ‘investigate’ temples in order to find a cure for his chimeraism by blowing gaping holes in them. I wasn’t going to allow him to go explosively poking around in an ancient, valuable, and not to mention dangerous relic!

    “Don’t you dare!” I shouted at him, standing up. “Saving the world from the prophesized destruction comes first!” I wanted to keep him focused on the task at hand so he wouldn’t get any crazy ideas. After all, I thought, between sea-faring, fire fights with demons and mysterious giants, massive property damage, drugged beverages, and more eating than is healthy or respectful in a world where there are people who starve to death, that we’d done enough messing around. But no! Apparently not! I guess there’s always room for more massive property damage!

    “Please go to sleep soon so you can regain your strength!” I ordered him. “We’ll be starting out early tomorrow!”

    “And Miss Lina,” I said, turning to her and not quite done venting. “Are you going to eat all night?!”

    Unsurprisingly, her mouth was full when she turned to notice me. “…But we still haven’t gotten the extra stuff we ordered,” she said.

    “You ordered more?!” I exploded. I’d already thought they’d gone way overboard and I’d assumed they must’ve been winding down—but again, apparently not! Even a bear preparing for a long winter hibernation wouldn’t eat as much as these people!

    It was then that the cook came out and put an absolutely giant pot of stew on the table. It was the kind of meal that would’ve satisfied any normal group of people all by itself, without, say, several hours of solid eating beforehand. The poor man looked an inch away from a breakdown. I swear, there were tears running into his beard.

    Even if his tears hadn’t made his feelings clear, his words did. “This is the specialty of the house,” he announced in a tired, beaten tone. “Please enjoy it and leave already.”

    Miss Lina and Mister Gourry were not at all deterred by the man’s obvious reluctance to keep serving them, both plunging toward the stew, ready to chow down. However, I was quicker. I snatched up the pot of stew, leaving them to smack their heads against the empty table.

    You may say “cruel!” but with the way they were behaving, they deserved it. In fact, after everything that happened later, I can safely say that they deserved it even more retroactively.

    “Enough already!” I insisted, as the table toppled over, sending Miss Lina and Mister Gourry falling to the floor. “First of all, who do you think is paying this bill? Me! That’s who!”

    I’d intended on going on with a second-of-all and possibly a third-of-all. You know, give them a thorough dressing down for their gluttony and complete lack of priorities. But a sudden idea struck me, so I left it at “first.” It seemed like a good idea at the time. Now… not so much.

    “Two can play at this game!” I declared, lifting the stew up and giving it a look as though it was a hated opponent. Which, in a sense, it was. I and my quest to save the world were having to compete with mere food for Miss Lina’s attention.

    I downed the savory stew in one prolonged gulp. I wasn’t even hungry—but it was a sure way of stopping Miss Lina and Mister Gourry from spooling out our dining experience for even a minute longer. And, in any case, it was my food since I paid for it—so I figured I might as well eat it myself.

    I finished triumphantly and turned to them—unaffected by their crestfallen expressions. “Alright everyone, tomorrow’s an early day for us so please go to sleep… now…”

    And that was it. My vision began clouding around the word “sleep” and suddenly… blackness. Utter blackness.

    ...You know, it must’ve been a drug of some kind in the stew. I mean, there’s really no other natural explanation for me to just pass out like that. But… who would do such a thing? Could it have been the cook? I mean, he did seem like he was on the ragged edge of a breakdown. Maybe he put something in it to stop Miss Lina and Mister Gourry from eating his entire stock of food and it just got to me by accident?

    Or… and, ooooh now that I think of it, this makes more sense: maybe those beastmen from before were involved! Both Jillas and Gravos did show up later on the ruin. That can’t be a coincidence!

    So… for I don’t even know how long I was completely unconscious and can’t really tell you the details of what happened. I did dream vividly, though. In my dream I was back at the Temple of the Fire Dragon King and in a meeting with the elders. I was asking the Supreme Elder if he could please raise my salary so that I’d be able to cover Miss Lina’s outrageous eating habits. As one voice, the elders all turned me down, pointing their fingers at me and saying that I had to work to pay off Miss Lina’s debts. They even repossessed my tea set! I was left crying outside the temple grounds, because I thought I’d never be able to come up with the money. A figure tapped me on the shoulder and when I turned, I saw that it was Xellos. Even dream-Xellos looked like he was positively lapping up my misery. “Cheer up,” he said. “At least it can’t get worse.” …As of that exact moment, I was struck by a bolt of lightning.

    Real life is bad enough! I should at least be treated more gently by my own subconscious!

    After the dream-lightning (which felt awfully real, actually) I woke up. I was understandably disoriented at finding myself no longer in a well light diner, but in an enclosed, rocky space covered with carvings. The others were standing over me looking concerned, but let out sighs of relief when I got up.

    “What’s going on? Where am I?” I asked, trying to rub the sleep out of my eyes and come to grips with what had happened. It hit me a second later where I was, though. The ruins. The sealed ruins. The ruins none of us should have been in under any circumstances!

    “What am I doing here?!” I screamed.

    Then, before anyone could even open their mouths to explain why they were there and why they’d dragged me along, the gem on my bracelet began glowing.

    “What’s up with Filia’s bracelet?” Miss Lina asked, unaware of the doom that was about to befall us.

    The runes on the sealed doors in front of us sparked, white hot. The whole ruin was coming back to life—reactivated by the magic in my gem. Miss Lina seemed to think this was a good thing. It wasn’t.

    “We have to get out of here at once!” I yelled, realizing that if the doors started opening and the thing could start absorbing our magic that we were all sunk.

    …But I was too late. The doors screeched open, revealing the ancient terminal. A large dragon statue stared down at us.

    “Please stand clear of the closing doors,” a prerecorded voice from ancient history droned.

    We could feel the ruin shifting—rising and settling onto the tracks of the rail trail, long in use as human roads. There was a crash as the expanding device probably took out any nearby settlement.

    “Thank you for riding this train,” the voice continued, utterly insensible to my panic. “Next stop, Temple of the Fire Dragon King. Please stand clear of the closing doors.”

    “What is… happening?” Miss Lina asked, staring around.

    I fell to my knees, practically pulling my hair out—unsure of what else to do. “It’s a disaster!” I moaned.

    “All aboard!” the voice called as steam whistled from out of the top of the shrine, and the train shot into the night, beginning its death-hurdle toward my temple.

    “What?” Miss Lina asked again, as the room was lit via the power of our own dwindling magic supply.

    “Hey! We’re moving!” Mister Gourry called out, sounding appropriately worried.

    I clasped the gem on my wrist as though I could somehow dampen the signal it was putting out. Even if I could’ve, it had already done its job. “Without a dragon’s gem or magic it was just a harmless ruin…” I lamented.

    “I see,” the voice of someone I hadn’t even realized was there commented. I turned to see Xellos sitting on a slightly raised platform, as nonchalant as can be. “This was a transportation system used by the dragon race,” he observed. “Well,” he said, sounding thoroughly pleased, “we’ll get to the Temple of the Fire Dragon King immediately, won’t we?”

    That monster! Did he come back just to get us to the temple more quickly?! Why did he even want us here? And how callous do you have to be to choose a mode of transportation that is going to destroy thousands of people’s homes?!

    “How can you be so calm?!” I demanded, nowhere near calm myself. “There are countless towns built in the path of this thing! This is going to be a disaster!” I felt as though I was going to collapse again, but anger at Xellos kept me upright—at least for the moment.

    “Take responsibility, you!” I yelled, lunging toward him with my fists clenched.

    Of course, he disappeared before I could get him, which is the opposite of taking responsibility. On the other hand, I understand how Miss Lina and Mister Gourry must’ve felt earlier when their food disappeared and they face-planted into the table. Falling face-first into a stone floor certain wasn’t fun, I can tell you that right now.

    Less fun? Xellos reappearing. And just where do you suppose he decided to reappear? No, not beside me, not in front of me, but on top of me. More specifically, he was standing on… on… on my rear end. Of all the places he could’ve chosen to reappear, he just had to

    You know what. Why am I even surprised? It was the most obnoxious, inappropriate, shameless and rude thing he could’ve possibly done. So of course he did it! He’s Xellos!

    “Well, see you later!” he said cheerily from his perch, before he vanished once more.

    I got up from my fall after he disappeared, slamming my fists on the floor in powerless rage. “I’ll get you for this!” I vowed. And I will. Somehow…

    But who am I kidding? We might as well call that thoroughly unpleasant moment the evening’s high point! Because it all goes downhill from there!

    It shouldn’t even be possible to go downhill from rock bottom.
     
  14. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 14. Crash Course.

    Temple of the Fire Dragon King. West Kitchen. 1:01 pm.


    You know… it’s odd, but… well, I was just taking a break from writing to have a few bites of food when Sister Parmula, a younger priestess who works in the kitchen, passed this comment to me: “You must be glad to finally be home for good after traveling around with the humans all this time, Lady Filia.”

    I was stuck for a response for a second, before muttering a polite affirmative. It was just… just a bit of small talk, but it’d been only a moment before that I was thinking about how quiet things are here. And it feels… odd. It’s true that I was looking forward to coming home but… right now it doesn’t feel very homelike.

    A lot of this is probably because there’s this sort of nasty atmosphere of uncertainty and distrust right now, because everyone’s still feeling out Miss Lina’s group and nobody’s very happy about how we got here. Another part is probably just to do with my getting used to things with Miss Lina’s group, so that now that I’m back in my own element… I’ve just gotten out of the habit of living my own life, I guess. I’m sure if I stayed for a few days or weeks I’d get used to the… well, the quiet and the routine again. I think it’ll just take awhile to really feel like I’m home again.

    But… time is the part that concerns me. “For good?” I’ve never been totally clear on that. I suppose my current orders were just to find the heroes the prophecy spoke of and bring them to the temple. Anything beyond that is unknown. And maybe that’s all the elders want me to do. Maybe they’d think I’d get in the way if I stayed on the journey through and through.

    …But it doesn’t feel right not to go with them. Not after everything that’s happened. Not after I’ve staked my reputation on Miss Lina and the others being the prophesized heroes. It wouldn’t be right to just stay here while they were risking their lives to save the world.

    Plus they need someone around to keep them on-task.

    But what if they don’t want me along either? If both the elders and Miss Lina don’t think I should come along then…

    Ooh, I really don’t need to be worrying about this now. The elders haven’t even accepted Miss Lina and the others as the chosen ones (I shudder to think what we’ll do if they don’t), so jumping ahead to thinking about whether they’ll want me along or not is pointless right now. I’m just going to wait until I have more information. I mean, who knows? The elders (after finally coming to the conclusion that I’m right) might specifically ask me to go along with them, and then everything will be fine.

    I’d better just focus on recording the rest of what happened for now. I’ll leave my “what-ifs” until later.

    So anyway, after Xellos left us all to die on a runaway train (and did it in the rudest way possible, may I add), Miss Lina decided to take some initiative in the situation. Unfortunately, her initiative was not to fix the situation that she caused, but to follow Xellos’s cowardly example and abandon the ruin.

    “First off, we have to get off this thing!” Miss Lina declared.

    “Are you sure we should?” Miss Amelia asked, not quite knowing what to do. I suppose I should appreciate the fact that she at least hesitated at Miss Lina’s negligent suggestion, but that doesn’t really mean much considering that she followed Miss Lina’s lead running out of the room anyway.

    “How can you be so irresponsible?!” I bemoaned, running after them.

    We chased after Miss Lina, who I’m sure didn’t have a clue where she was going, and eventually ended up on a balcony. Back in ancient times when the train was in frequent use, it must’ve been a thrill to go out on the balconies and see the horizon zooming by. As it was, though, it just sent a chill down my spine to see those massive, dragon-head emblazoned wheels grinding away below us with town-crushing torque.

    It more than sent a chill down my spine to see Miss Lina stupidly get a leg up on the ledge and announce: “We’re jumping off!”

    “Wait! Please! Listen to me!” I shouted after her. Not only was it completely unacceptable for her to have started the ruin and then just bail out leaving it running, but since our magic was being drained away to run the train, it would’ve been downright suicidal to jump off without being able to use levitation.

    It is, in retrospect, a very good thing that we were interrupted at this point because Miss Lina probably wouldn’t have bothered listening to me and would’ve dived to her death. An explosion, however, got her attention. Explosions generally have that effect.

    When the smoke from the blast cleared, we looked wildly around to find the source of it. Let me tell you, we did not need any more complications to this situation. More complications, however, were what we got. Jillas, Gravos, and their lizard foot soldiers confronted us triumphantly from the balcony across the way.

    Jillas let out a high-pitched little laugh, hefting a lit bomb in one hand. “Got ‘em now, boss!” he boasted.

    Gravos answered with a raucous laugh of his own. “Thought you could escape by making the ruins move, is that it?” he asked, as though we were engaged in some game of cat-and-mouse that he’d managed to gain the upper hand in.

    Lina raked her hands furiously through her hair, as glad to see them as the rest of us were. “Who’d be stupid enough to think that?!” she shouted back.

    “Now stop these ruins and give us the Sword of Light… or else,” Jillas ordered, his threat completely undercut by the fact that the live bomb he’d been holding in his hand for this entire conversation took this moment to explode.

    That’s right! These are our enemies and they blew themselves up! I am highly embarrassed that I was ever captured by them.

    Gravos didn’t seem pleased with this turn of events either. When the smoke cleared once again, he was shaking a charred and shell-shocked Jillas by the lapels, yelling: “Jillas! You idiot!”

    For some reason that is entirely unclear to me, Miss Lina seemed to take this incompetence as an incentive to actually engage these buffoons seriously. “Alright, alright,” she relented. “I guess we can fight you for a little while.” She held out her arms, ready to make or block an attack. Mister Gourry took this as a cue to draw his sword.

    “Yeah!” he said, eager for a fight.

    I was about ready to completely lose it. My heart was pounding away in what felt like a sea of acid, I was so close to utter panic. “We don’t have time for that!” I yelped.

    But do they listen? NEVER.

    Miss Lina and Miss Amelia cast a double fireball at our opponents… or at least tried to. Of course, nothing happened at all. Just what exactly did they think these ruins were running on, anyway?

    “Ha! What did you expect?” I asked, as they looked at their hands in confusion. “All your magic is being absorbed by the ruins. It gets converted into energy to make the ruins move!” And because their recklessness in dealing with the situation was way over the top, I added: “Why am I the only one who knows anything about anything?!”

    Which, you know, is something I shouldn’t even have to be saying because, contrary to everything this little episode displays, I know for a fact that I’m not the only member of this team with a working brain. They just don’t think sometimes.

    “Why didn’t you say so before?!” Miss Lina demanded. Which is rich, because I’d been trying to from the start!

    Before I could answer, we heard Mister Gourry letting out a scream. When we turned to look at him, he was staring in embarrassed horror at his Sword of Light, the blade of which was wobbling back and forth impotently. “My Sword of Light!” he cried out.

    “Anything putting out energy will just get absorbed by the ruins!” I reiterated.

    Gravos seemed to think this deserved another bout of laughter, perhaps because it distracted from the fact that one of his subordinates was foolish enough to blow himself up. “Without your magic or that sword, you guys are nothing but a bunch of wimps!” he declared. “We’ll finish you off without breaking a sweat!”

    With that, he and Jillas leapt from their balcony toward ours, ready to make an attack. It wasn’t really a successful ploy considering that Miss Lina punched them so hard that the force of the wind sent them flying toward the back of the train. Because nothing says “credible villain” like being physically overpowered by a seventeen-year-old human girl.

    “How do you like me now?” Miss Lina taunted (they were long gone by this point and couldn’t hear her), her fist clenched.

    “Miss Lina, this is no time to be gloating!” I reminded her. “We have to find a way to stop this!”

    “How can we do that?” Miss Amelia asked.

    I can’t exactly say that I had a quick answer, for all my hurrying them along. “…The control room,” I finally said. “Maybe if we can find the control room, there’ll be an emergency break there or something.”

    “Great,” Miss Lina said sarcastically. “And where is that?”

    “How should I know?” I asked. I was getting a little sick of her attitude, considering that I wasn’t the one at fault here.

    “Well, this is a dragon ruin, right?” Miss Lina retorted. “Shouldn’t you know?”

    “If you found yourself on the ruin of a human civilization that you’d never been on before, would you automatically know where everything is?” I asked her.

    “Well, you could at least—” Miss Lina began, but whatever she was going to say was cut off by Mister Zelgadis.

    “If there is a control room,” he said, talking loudly to shut Miss Lina up, “then it would probably be toward the top of the ruin—so that the conductor could see the whole train.”

    That seemed like sound logic, so we went up as many stairs as we could find until we finally reached the roof of the ruin. I swear, there were a few times as we were running across the top where Miss Amelia and Miss Lina were nearly picked up off their feet by the rushing wind—a sure sign that the train was not modulating its speed properly. Not a surprise for such an old device, but very bad news for us.

    We finally found the control room—a room with panels, stacks of ledgers, and tall windows that looked out toward the front of the train (not to mention the rapidly approaching horizon). The technology was not familiar to me—no surprise, since the dragon race does not use this model anymore. But any idiot could figure out that the giant red button meant “stop.” I slammed my fist against it over and over again… but it didn’t do a thing. The train was already beyond manual control.

    …And I knew that if the train was beyond manual control, more than the towns along the tracks were in danger. I grabbed a stone ledger that contained the map of the train lines and my worst fear was confirmed. There was only one line to the temple and we were on it. No stops, no turnouts—just a straight shot forward. The train we were on had basically become a missile aimed at the temple.

    After screeching this, I momentarily fainted. You can see why.

    “So?” Miss Lina said, as I was coming out of my stupor. “It’ll just take us straight to the temple. There’ll be some casualties, but…”

    I had no time or patience at that moment to rebuke her for her callous disregard for human life. We had bigger problems to deal with then. But… “some casualties?!” I’m inclined to say that she was sounding like Xellos! We don’t need two of him! One is more than enough.

    “You must be joking!” I said. If she was, it was a pretty terrible joke. I crossed over to the tall windows where the night sky was flowing past us at top speed. “We’re going much faster than we should!” I informed them.

    “So… you mean…?” Miss Amelia began.

    “This is a runaway ruin,” I informed them gravely.

    And, the gravity of the situation brought home to them, my group finally started to panic. Or at least three quarters of the group started to panic. Aside from chiming in with some logic in regards to the location of the control room, Mister Zelgadis had been rather quiet.

    “Probably because it was built so long ago,” Mister Gourry said, cupping his chin in his hand.

    “Well, that’s great!” Miss Lina said sardonically. “But I’m out of here,” she continued, walking off.

    “You’re going to run away?” I asked. I’d hoped that after she’d seen that the temple was in danger, that she’d see running away wasn’t an option. But no. “What about the Temple of the Fire Dragon King?!”

    “What are you talking about?” Miss Lina said, whipping around. “Our lives come first!”

    I knew panicking wouldn’t do anything to convince her if she really thought we were more important than one of the holiest places in the world. I just stayed calm and played my final card. I hadn’t intended on pulling this again, but you can’t say that she didn’t drive me to it. “If you insist on acting like this…” I began, “I’ll tell your big sister on you.”

    The desired effect of this statement was achieved immediately as Miss Lina recoiled in terror. After she’d finished shuddering, she raced back up to me, her fists clenched. “That’s a low blow!” she yelled.

    It’s not like I pull out that threat every time I want her to do something. All those times when Miss Lina was devouring entire restaurants, I never said, “Miss Lina, if you don’t stop being such a glutton, I’ll tell your sister.” I only used it because this was a matter of life or death—she can’t say that was unfair. Or, well, actually she did. But she’s wrong.

    “If you don’t want me to, then stop this thing right—” I said, but before I could finish my ultimatum, I caught a glimpse out the window. “Ahh! The town!” I cried, as we rammed our way toward a human settlement.

    “We’re gonna crash!” Miss Amelia cried out.

    Miss Lina grabbed me by the lapels. “So?” she demanded, glaring fiercely into my eyes. “What do we do now?! What do we do?!”

    With impact more or less imminent and the breaks completely out of our control, I made what I felt at the time was the most viable suggestion. “…Let us pray,” I said.

    “Huh?” Miss Lina said, releasing me.

    “Maybe it’ll stop if we do that,” I said, gesturing to the heavens in hopes of divine intervention.

    “…You want to die even sooner?!” Miss Lina exclaimed. She really needs to have more faith. I mean, I know it didn’t actually work, but it could’ve. In fact, it probably would’ve if she hadn’t soured it with her disbelief.

    “Please accept us as sacrifices to protect the sacred temple,” I said unto the gods, folding my hands in supplication.

    “Speak for yourself! I don’t want to be sacrificed!” Miss Lina shouted, ruining my prayer with her lack of cooperation.

    I ignored her. I was giving the matter a little thought and I decided that, if I was going to be a sacrifice, that I wanted one last cup of tea before I gave my life for the holy temple. So I hurriedly boiled some water, hoping that it would be ready before we were martyred.

    “Miss Filia… what are you doing?” Miss Amelia asked, mystified.

    “Making tea,” I said, at peace with my decision.

    “…Oh,” she said, giving me an odd look. I don’t really see what there was to not understand. After all, a person deserves tea before they give their life. Particularly if the whole mess wasn’t their fault in the first place.

    I took a sip, and the last thing that I experienced before the train collided with the town in a juddering BOOM was the flavor explosion of orange spice. As far as near terminal impacts go… tea improves the process. But then again, there is very little that tea cannot improve.

    The crash destroyed the room we were in and sent rubble falling down on top of us. A beam or a rock or something hit me, and I passed out. I thought at the time that this was the embrace of death, marking the gods’ acceptance of us as offerings to save the temple. I was wrong. Apparently the gods did not have any interest in a sacrifice that involved Miss Lina.

    I’m not sure how long I was out for, but I don’t think it was that long. When I realized that I hadn’t died, I’d merely been knocked out and buried under rubble, I dug myself out as quick as I could—still hoping that the crash had stopped the ruin in its tracks. My hopes were in vain.

    “Ahhh! We’re still moving!” I screeched. Worse yet, we were nearing our final destination. “The temple!” I cried miserably. “We’re almost there! We’re going to crash!”

    “Hey, you’re right,” Mister Gourry said, shading his eyes and looking off into the distance. “This is really something,” he said, sounding impressed. This really wasn’t the time for appreciation of the technological feat.

    “Oh well,” Miss Lina said with a shrug. “We gotta stop those ruins somehow; I guess that should do it.”

    I was far too caught up in the nightmare world of my home being demolished to pass comment on her nonchalant attitude.

    “Isn’t there some other way, Filia?” she asked me.

    I thought for a minute, during which Mister Zelgadis and Miss Amelia jumped down and joined our group. I hadn’t noticed that they must’ve been blown farther off than us until then.

    The pressure was mounting on me to find an answer. Luckily a flash of inspiration had hit me. We’d tried to slam on the breaks, and that hadn’t worked. But we could still try to cut the gas line.

    “…We’ll break it,” I said.

    “Huh?” Miss Lina asked.

    I turned to her, still half thinking out loud. “If we break the device which absorbs magical energy…”

    “And where is that?!” Miss Lina asked, frustrated.

    I was too emotionally wrecked over the threat of my home’s destruction to snap at her again about me not having been on the ruin before. Instead I just put my face in my hands. “I don’t know,” I confessed, nearly in tears.

    And, because Miss Lina has a… shall we say limited approach to problem solving. Her plan was “We’ll destroy everything that looks like it!” To which Miss Amelia and Mister Gourry gave a cheer. Mister Zelgadis put his head in his hands, no doubt unimpressed. But he wasn’t piping up with any better plans.

    What followed was a montage of desecration that I am sure I’ll have to answer for one day when I stand before the pearly gates. But we were sort of out of options at this point. Much of the ruins had already been destroyed by crashes along the way so I figured a little more damage couldn’t have hurt much at that point. Half of me was revolted to see them hammering away with girders at technology and art more valuable than the treasures of all the kingdoms. The other half of me wanted them to smash the sacred relics faster because we were nearly at the temple.

    I was at my wits end before too long. They’d already broken pretty much everything—all precious treasures from ancient times, now lost forever—and we still hadn’t found the magic absorption device. I took this moment to make what I thought would be my final journal entry.

    “The only thing left is… hmm…” Miss Lina said, looking around the room. “There it is!” she said, pointing to a statue in the center of the room.

    Not just any statue—a statue of High Priest Calixto Voz Trahere, the great founder and architect of the Temple of the Fire Dragon King and inventor of the very train we were on! I want to be absolutely clear about this: Miss Lina and the others were set on smashing a statue of an actual saint!

    And not just any saint! No! Let us not forget the High Priest Calixto, who led our people through the desert to found the great temple, is the patron of travelers! If there was anyone our group needed the protection and blessing of, it was him!

    I tried to stop them, but they were deaf to my pleas. Mister Gourry (after taking a brief moment to be quite upset about his sword and then switching out the blade) slashed the holy statue to pieces, no doubt getting a curse placed on all of us in the process.

    The curse began more or less immediately, as I was hit full on in the face by one of the pieces of the statue. I don’t know why the curse chose me first, considering I was the one fighting the hardest to keep the others from destroying the High Priest’s likeness. I suppose it was because, as the golden dragon, I should’ve kept the others in line. Still, a bit unfair.

    I mean, I’m pretty sure I broke my nose and everything on that. I fixed it shortly after I got my powers back, but still, I was a bloody mess for awhile there.

    But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Breaking the statue did not instantly give us our powers back. But at least all that desecration wasn’t for nothing—it did reveal a crackling orb of energy toward the ceiling of the room, which was, indeed, the device we were searching for.

    I let the rest of them go for destroying it while I bandaged up my nose. Unfortunately, Mister Gourry couldn’t reach it with his sword no matter how high he jumped. Really bad news for us, because he was the one who could probably jump the highest without magic. The rest of us could’ve gotten it, if we could’ve flown or cast a spell at it, but obviously we couldn’t do that. We were in a situation where we would’ve needed to use our magic to get our magic back. A no go.

    Miss Lina appeared to be thinking along the same lines. “If I could just hit it with one good fireball!” she lamented.

    On that note, we were hit with an explosion not unlike a fireball. When the smoke cleared, Gravos and Jillas appeared in the doorway. I’d say they had terrible timing, if it weren’t for the fact that they actually ended up being really useful.

    Gravos, like me, had spent some time bandaging wounds. He had a cast on his arm, bandages around his head, and was leaning on a crutch. Honestly, you’d think he’d quit after sustaining injuries like that. Isn’t there a point where a person should just say, “You know what? This really isn’t working out. Let’s just go home.”

    Apparently Gravos hadn’t reached that point, because he said to us: “I have an idea. Why not give us the Sword of Light and we’ll do it?”

    As if it would’ve worked any better for them.

    Miss Lina was particularly upset after being knocked down by the blast. “Would you shut up?!” she yelled at them. “We really don’t have time for you guys right now!”

    “This isn’t going to be like last time,” Gravos said, against all evidence. “Get her!” he ordered Jillas.

    “Sure thing!” Jillas said, jumping up and lobbing bombs all over the room. It was like a rain of explosives. I’m not sure how much gunpowder that little fox has on him, but I’d be afraid to so much as light a match anywhere near him.

    Somewhere amidst all the tap-dancing around explosions, Miss Lina must’ve gotten a brain wave. I’d been blown back by another blast and was lifting myself up with a stick for support just in time to see her put her plan into action. She was kneeling behind Mister Gourry, looking out between his legs toward Jillas and making faces at him. At the time I thought it was a little immature and untimely to be taunting him like that, but as soon as Jillas lost it and threw the bomb at her, I could see the plan come together.

    Mister Gourry was holding a torn off bit of metal piping like a bat, and when the bomb flew toward him he hit it smack back in the direction is came from. It whacked Jillas in the face and bounced off him and up toward the magical device, at which point it exploded. It was a once in a lifetime shot—but Mister Gourry made it!

    I could literally feel the magic flowing back into my body—a welcome relief from the constant feeling of powerlessness I’d been having before then. But all was not well. A quick look out the window was all it took to confirm my unease.

    “We’re still moving!” I cried out in dismay. Cutting the gas hadn’t worked.

    “That’s because of the size of this thing,” Mister Zelgadis put in. “We may have cut the power, but it’ll keep moving on inertia for awhile longer.”

    Why does science hate me? I ask you, what have I ever done to earn the ire of the laws of physics?

    “Okay everyone, we’ve got to get out of here right away,” Miss Lina said, taking charge.

    “Get out of here?!” I repeated, thinking that she still intended on leaving the Temple of the Fire Dragon King to its fate. “We—we still haven’t stopped the ruins!”

    She turned to me seriously, not addressing my complaint. “Filia, you need to transform into a dragon,” she ordered.

    It was all just too much. Being stuck on a runaway train, crashing into towns, having bombs thrown at me, being cursed by a venerable saint, getting stepped on by Xellos… and now she wanted to add public nudity to the catastrophe casserole? I wasn’t keen on the idea!

    “I can’t do that in front of people!” I yelped, holding my hands in front of my body.

    “Do it!” Miss Lina insisted, in a difficult to argue with tone.

    “Ooh, okay,” I relented grudgingly. After all, there was no time to debate this. “…Could you all at least turn around?” I tried.

    “Fine,” Miss Lina said, turning to the others. “You heard her! Turn around! And when we fly off, I want you all to Ray Wing out of the way of the ruin as fast as you can. Understand?”

    “Right,” Mister Zelgadis said, as Miss Amelia nodded.

    “But how am I supposed to—?” Mister Gourry began.

    “Good! Now turn around!” Miss Lina repeated, ignoring Gourry.

    With the others turned around, I let myself go and transformed. After all the stress of the evening, I’m sure that lack of access to my powers was the only thing that kept me from partially transforming at some point during the earlier events. So it was actually kind of a relief to be in my dragon form.

    When I’d finished transforming, Miss Lina climbed up onto my back. “Up and out, Filia!” she shouted.

    I followed her order, flying upward and punching through the already weakened roof of the ruin. It was up to her to hold on tight—there wasn’t time for a gentle flight.

    As we rose up into the pink and orange sky, I could see a golden glow around the horizon line. We’d been on the ruin all night. The sight of the dawn was enough to remind me how tired I was.

    But seeing the train rocketing toward the temple snapped me out of my exhaustion and convinced my aching muscles to keep striving forward. I’m sure I was crying at this point. It all seemed so inevitable and doomed.

    Miss Lina didn’t seem to think so. “Don’t worry,” she assured me from my back. “I’ll stop it with one shot.”

    The wind was so loud that I could just barely hear the low muttering of a spell incantation. But I did hear her shout “Dragon Slave!” and launch a massive plume of magical energy straight at the train.

    In a day that had been filled with collisions and explosions—this one was without a doubt the biggest and most flamboyant one of the day. It makes me wonder now if Gravos and Jillas got off the train before it hit. It makes me wonder how Gourry managed to get off it without using magic.

    At the time, it seemed like it had worked. The blast had completely engulfed the ruins. “Alright!” Miss Lina cheered. “Just in time!”

    “Oh, thank goodness!” I rejoiced. Too early, it would seem.

    Miss Lina noticed it first and let out a gasp. A dark shadow was moving out of the blast radius—a fragment of the ruin, still barreling forward with enough force to escape the Dragon Slave. It drove uninterrupted on its course toward the temple, taking down the gorgeous window-dotted towers of ivory as it smashed into it.

    That was the last thing I saw before I fainted for… what would that be? The fourth time that day? And this time from midair.

    I know I regained consciousness on the ground and transformed back into my human form. I know Miss Lina and the others were saying things around me. But… it all just seemed like I’d shifted from one nightmare to another. There I was, staring at the bits and pieces of my home—my place of work and worship. It was nothing but a wasteland of marble slabs. And I knew that I would go down in history as Filia Ul Copt, priestess of the first holy order, courier of heroes, and, most notably, destroyer of temples.

    “…Know what I mean, Filia?” Miss Lina’s voice drifted in, as I felt her hand on my back.

    It was all too much. I fell over in a dead faint again, just minutes after regaining consciousness. I believe that brings the grand totally of times I lost consciousness during this escapade to five. I really and truly hope that I never break that record.

    At some point while I was unconscious, Xellos showed up again. Why did he come back? The answer is simple: because he is the garbage cherry on the garbage sundae that is my life.

    He didn’t even bother to stay for long. It seemed like he only showed up to look over the damage and side with the others in their ridiculous assertions that 1. What they did to my temple is part of the destruction of the prophecy, 2. I shouldn’t “worry so much” and 3. This was all just “fate.”

    All that is basically just another way of saying that they don’t care at all about what they did! They are very lucky that only a part of the temple ended up getting damaged and they are even luckier that I didn’t smack them upside the head for their behavior. The second thought certainly occurred to me.

    I informed them all that I was going to make sure they’d take responsibility for what they did. And I still intend on doing so, though I’m not sure how at this point.

    At the word “responsibility,” Xellos jumped off the rock he’d been standing on and said, “Well, I think that’s my cue to get out of here.” He might as well have said, “Take responsibility? No thanks!”

    I was far too tired to even yell at him at this point and Miss Lina beat me to it anyway. So instead I just concentrated on giving him the most intense death glare I could manage. It seemed to have little effect.

    “Hey! You can’t bail out now, Xellos!” Miss Lina shouted after him.

    Xellos seemed to think he could, considering he took that moment to levitate into the air. “Oh, no, not at all,” he said. “But this is the Temple of the Fire Dragon King. A monster like me can’t hang around here for very long, you know.” At which point he put his hand on his head, said, “O-kay!” very hurriedly, and hightailed it into the astral side.

    On the one hand, he really shouldn’t have left. I’m not entirely sure what he did because I was unconscious at the time, but I’m certain he’s part of the reason all that happened. And since he was part of the problem, he should’ve stayed to help us fix it. Generally speaking, I’d be more than glad to see him leave, of course, but not that time.

    On the other hand… well, he had an annoyingly valid point. Imagine if he did do the honorable thing for once in his life and stayed to pitch in? Ugh… that would be terrible. The elders wouldn’t stand for it… everyone would completely freak out to see him on temple grounds! He really shouldn’t have even been here in the first place. This is holy ground! Shouldn’t stepping on it make his feet catch on fire or something? Something as evil as he is shouldn’t be able to set foot on this sacred place!

    So I can simultaneously be mad at him for leaving and glad he’s gone. There’s no logical contradiction there, as you can see.

    By the time I’d broken by gaze with the spot of sky that Xellos’s had exited through, the elders had flown in on the wind. There was a horrible moment of uncertainty where I thought we might be treated as attackers. But the elders treated Miss Lina and the others with admirable restraint. Much more kindly than they deserved, I might add, as is evidenced by the fantastic feast they’ve been enjoying. I hope they take this as evidence of what a merciful people the dragon race are, and take this mission seriously from now on.

    …That is, if we’re even allowed to take on this mission. It’s hard to say from the meeting I had with the elders. I feel like I’m getting mixed signals.

    2:36 pm.

    Oooh! The Supreme Elder’s calling for me and I didn’t even finish eating all of my lunch. Oh well, my soup’s gone cold anyway. I guess I should’ve spent less time writing and more time eating.
     
  15. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 15. Schmoozing and Choosing.

    Temple of the Fire Dragon King. Bedroom. 10:31 pm.


    This is weird.

    After all those nights of sleeping on the cold, hard ground or in strange beds at inns or, in one case, on a seagull-excrement covered rock in the middle of the ocean… I’m finally back in my own bed.

    And I still feel utterly, utterly uncomfortable with my surroundings.

    But I suppose that’s reasonable under the circumstances. I already wasn’t feeling at home, what with the uncertainty of the elders accepting Miss Lina and the others. And then there was that whole thing with Almayce and the Sword of Light and what Valgaav said.

    …I don’t even know if I want to think about what Valgaav said right now. I mean… there’s no possible way I could conceive of it being true. Nothing in the philosophy or attitudes of the people I’ve lived with all my life could possibly be reconciled with such an act. But the way the Supreme Elder behaved… and how he acted toward Almayce…

    What is going on here?

    You know, I should just… stop, just right there. An important thing to realize in this situation is that Valgaav is our enemy. He’s already tried to kill Miss Lina and take the Sword of Light. Nothing about that says he’s trustworthy—in fact, it says the opposite. I can’t take what he said at face value.

    …Even though it didn’t seem like he was lying. Or, rather, it certainly didn’t seem like he thought he was lying.

    Hmm.

    10:45 pm.

    I almost feel like going down to the spare dormitory where Miss Lina and the others are staying for the night—like some of this unease would go away if we were all together. But I shouldn’t. I mean, we’ll be back on the road tomorrow and if I don’t take this opportunity to stay in my own room now, then I’ll be kicking myself for it later.

    It says something that Miss Lina and the others were reticent about staying at the temple at all. By the time the madness from earlier in the day concluded, it was already getting dark, so it makes the most sense to stay here. After all, it’s not like there are any really close towns (that weren’t destroyed by the runaway ruin, that is) and we can stay for free here.

    But still, it seemed like they were giving some thought to striking out even though it was late, so they wouldn’t have to stay here a minute longer. And I understand why. They know they’re not wanted here, and, for the chosen saviors of the world to feel that way about the very people who asked them to save the world—that’s not right.

    It’s a difficult position for me to be in because I’m stuck between these two groups. On the one hand, I understand the council of elders being unsure about Miss Lina after the entrance we made (and because of her attitude in general), and I know they want to make sure they pick the right people for this important task.

    On the other hand, there are many things I absolutely don’t understand about how they’re acting. It’s been so back and forth—one minute it seems like there’s progress, like they’re coming to see why Miss Lina is a good choice, and the next minute they’re walking that back. No wonder the others are frustrated. It took so long just to get a clear answer on where we stood and that was before everything with Almayce and Valgaav.

    I guess I should’ve written about my first meeting with the elders earlier, but I was too busy raging about the ruins incident. …Which I can’t even manage to get upset about anymore. With all that’s happened, I don’t think I have the brain-space left to be angry about it. And anyway, it’s not like Miss Lina and the others meant for it to happen.

    …Oh good heavens, I can’t believe I’m actually excusing them for that.

    Anyway, the trust problems were extremely evident at my first meeting with the elders (and even before the meeting started), but the problems were at least one-sided. The others were diving into the banquet that my people had provided for them, and therefore probably considered the Supreme Elder their new best friend. That effect would later be shattered but… one thing at a time.

    In private, on the way to the meeting, the Supreme Elder asked me if Miss Lina and the others were really the ones I’d selected. I think he was trying to give me an out. It was more like, “are you sure you really want to bank on the people who just smashed into our temple?” Maybe he wanted me to whimper a “no” and say I’d try again, but I had to answer how I really felt.

    He said that he trusted my judgment, but… that wasn’t the last time he asked me that question. In fact, he asked me just a few minutes later at the meeting with the elders. To be fair, though, that was probably for the benefit of the rest of the people in the room.

    My response of, “Yes …I think so,” probably could’ve been more forceful and decisive.

    “Well, we certainly can’t depend on that,” Elder Danus complained.

    This attitude didn’t really surprise me, though it did make me wish I could shrink into my chair. The other elders hadn’t seemed too keen on the idea of putting me in charge of this decision in the first place. It had only been the Supreme Elder who thought it was a good idea—who felt he could depend on my judgment.

    They wanted to know about Miss Luna and why she hadn’t been chosen. I decided it was probably better not to mention her complaints about our employment package and the lack of dental insurance and just leave it at the fact that she refused.

    They weren’t at all pleased and didn’t seem to think the fact that choice number one fell through should be reason enough to, quote: “entrust saving the world to a bunch of people who have already wrecked part of our temple.”

    Hard words to argue with and the whole thing looked grim. But the Supreme Elder gave me a chance to state my case—to confirm for the third time that I believe Miss Lina and the others are the ones we’ve been looking for, and more importantly to say why.

    And I think my words sunk in… at least, I certainly thought that at the time. It comes down to the fact that Miss Lina and the others… I guess you could say they have luck on their side. Not good luck, mind you, but luck. They will, without fail, get into bad situations where everything that can go wrong does go wrong—and yet somehow they’ll still make it through in one piece. That’s why the ruin event happened, but it’s also why we survived and why the damage wasn’t as catastrophic as it could’ve been. These are strong, talented and charismatic people, but they have a quality about them beyond their skills that allow them to succeed.

    The Supreme Elder in particular seemed to latch onto this idea. “Something that lets them succeed beyond mere skill, you say?” he repeated.

    “They were able to destroy both Hellmaster Phibrizzo and Gaav the Demon Dragon King,” Elder Balius put forth.

    “With all due respect, elders,” I said as forcefully yet politely as I could, “that is something we could never do.”

    “There is a great difference between those who can accomplish something and those who cannot,” the Supreme Elder replied thoughtfully.

    “Besides,” I went on, hoping to deliver the final, decisive stroke in my argument, “the Knight of Ceifeed said something to me from the start. The power between light and darkness mentioned in the prophecy didn’t refer to the power of Ceifeed that she controls. That’s why she sent me to Miss Lina.”

    “The power between light and darkness. Something that lets you succeed beyond mere skill…” the Supreme Elder mused.

    “The recommendation of the Knight of Ceifeed is one that we should take very seriously,” Elder Numquam said, leaning forward and lacing his fingers together.

    “But she recommended her own sister,” the elder next to him replied doubtfully. “You always have to consider nepotism in cases like this.” For some reason he gave me a sharp look when he said that.

    “Whether they are or are not the ones the prophecy spoke of, they still must answer for the crime they committed against our temple,” Elder Ignitus cut in smoothly.

    “Yes, I want them to be held responsible!” Elder Lentulus agreed, pounding a fist on the table.

    “The welfare of our temple pales in comparison to the importance of the task of saving the world from destruction,” the Supreme Elder corrected them in steady tones. “…But I do agree that something must be done about this before we are able to move forward with our decision.”

    He nodded at me, and for a moment there was a trace of a concerned smile. At least, I think there was. “Filia, you must be tired from your journey. You may take lunch in the kitchens while we discuss this matter further.”

    I almost didn’t want to go. I was going to say that I cared more about resolving this than filling my belly. But I knew this was more a polite way to dismiss me than it was about my own actual hunger. So I stood up and left the problem to them.

    And just how exactly did they decide to deal with the problem? Why, have Miss Lina and the others fix what they broke, of course.

    I must admit that I had mixed feelings about this idea from the get go. I mean, it was certainly the most direct way that they could take responsibility for the damage they’d done. And I was hopeful that if they fixed it that we could finally put this temple-destroying mess behind us and really start talking about what to do about the prophecy.

    At the same time… Miss Lina and the others were pretty annoyed by it. I suppose they didn’t have much of a right to be since, like the Supreme Elder said, those who cause trouble must take responsibility for it. But… well, forced labor directly following a lovely banquet certainly feels like a bait-and-switch.

    And, I’m not about to question the wisdom of my elders, but I would not have given Miss Lina a pickaxe considering the mood she was in. It’s just… dangerous. Mister Gourry seemed to be having fun, though.

    They were left completely unsupervised too, which worried me. The Supreme Elder told me at tea that this was purposeful. He wanted to see how they would handle the problem without him or one of the elders looking over their shoulders to make sure they did it right—to see if they slacked off or outright refused or cut corners… or if they actually took responsibility.

    Ugh. Responsibility. Miss Lina gave me an earful about that. She seemed to think it was my responsibility to help rebuild the part of the temple with them—and of course I would’ve, but I had other duties to attend to. Granted, if I told her that those duties were taking tea with the Supreme Elder and senior priestess Mother Ulpia, she probably wouldn’t consider those very worthwhile duties. But she’d be wrong! Schmoozing is an important duty, especially right now. Mother Ulpia’s study was in the part of the temple they destroyed, so she’s not a huge fan of them to say the least (she probably wouldn’t have been anyway, to be honest), so I had to be there to counter her complaints to the Supreme Elder and try to change her mind about them.

    …Though, admittedly, my arguments didn’t make the slightest bit of difference to her. She hasn’t been too fond of me ever since I made a few personal changes to my official priestess robes. You know… I thought they were such small things at the time… wearing a pink dress under my robes instead of a white one, cutting off the hood and turning it into a hat. I mean, my head is still covered, I just don’t have to deal with shoving all of my hair inside of that hood anymore. Practical, right? Mother Ulpia and the other older priestesses didn’t think so.

    But she wasn’t really the point. The point was to make sure the Supreme Elder wasn’t poisoned against my chosen ones.

    From the Supreme Elder’s office, we could clearly see them constructing the new building where the other part had fallen. It was a bit chilling to think that if the ruin had gone just a little bit further, it would’ve destroyed his office. Then we would’ve been in even worse trouble then we already were.

    But despite that worrying what-if… signs were actually pretty good as construction began. Miss Lina was clearly thinking on her feet—getting tasks done quickly by using magic to clear away the debris and to cut material for the new building. She was even actually getting the other dragons to listen to her and help out. I never would’ve expected them to do that for an outsider, let alone a human girl. I mean, they were calling her “ma’am” for goodness sakes! She’s several hundred years younger than them!

    What’s more they seemed to be having… dare I say it? A little bit of fun?

    I mean… everyone seemed kind of happily active—hopping around in time to Miss Amelia’s whistle and in general just showing off a little for their human visitors. I don’t know when the last time I saw them engaged in such… unscheduled business, I guess you could say.

    And the result of all this exuberant effort? Well… let me describe it to you:

    Where once towers of polished white marble stood, there is now a sort of molten, waxy mess—mostly orange, but speckled with yellows, greens, blues and reds. It has the sort of look you might get if you left several crayons out in the sun to melt. Strange tentacle-arms, which I think are supposed to be towers, jut out on it from all sides. It is decked out with oversized, gaudy statues—one a flower, one a snake, and one a smiling sun (which I think is supposed to be some kind of warped tribute to the Fire Dragon King). Multicolored swirls top it like frosting on a cake baked by a madman. The way it’s constructed, hallways winnow out into nothing, doors lead to nowhere or simply open up to the outside of the building, several stories up.

    It is an appalling, candy-coated abomination from a place of architectural lunacy.

    And I can never tell anyone at the temple that my first response to seeing it was to choke back a laugh.

    Although, I don’t know, maybe I can? When the Supreme Elder looked at the finished product through his window. I couldn’t see his face since he was turned away from me… but I like to think that there was the ghost of an amused smile on his face when he saw it. Wishful thinking? Maybe. But he did say this:

    “I see what you mean. They’re as lively a bunch as you claimed they were.”

    “Yes, sir,” I responded, in a little better spirits after the display I’d just seen. “They’re quite unique.”

    “It’s been a long time since our people had such wild spirits,” he observed, which is something I can attest to as well.

    “Well, humans live much shorter lives than our kind,” I mused. “Perhaps they feel they are forced to make up for that by living their lives much more fully.”

    I must admit… there’s something to that philosophy. There really is. It’s the kind of thing you don’t really see when you’re living inside the temple, because you don’t properly realize there’s any other way of life.

    “And they change the minds of everyone here,” the Supreme Elder commented, almost to himself. “Filia,” he said, “I understand your reasoning in selecting these people. Good work.”

    I’m sure I beamed. It sounded like such a ringing endorsement then. He wasn’t just taking my word on it anymore—he understood.

    My celebration was a little premature, however. I thought, with that statement, we’d decided. We were done with these problems of trust between our two groups. But I was wrong.

    The cold silence as I entered the cathedral should’ve tipped me off that the rest of the elders hadn’t found Miss Lina’s building project as cute or as heartwarming as I’d hoped. They didn’t seem mad… but they were very serious. I told myself that it was just because, well, there was a serious mission at hand, and that it wasn’t because they still had doubts.

    Miss Lina had to actually be dragged into the meeting. For some reason she thought she wasn’t done with the new temple piece. I shudder to think what she intended on adding next. Perhaps tacky lawn decorations?

    When she and the others were brought into the room, they seemed pretty impressed with the cathedral—as well they should. It’s a beautiful domed building with gold carvings all around—and of course the masterpiece statue of the Fire Dragon King as a centerpiece.

    “Quite an enormous room, isn’t it?” Mister Zelgadis commented, looking up into the dome—the biggest one on the continent.

    “This is the Great Cathedral of the Dragon Race,” I explained.

    “Could you have made the thing any bigger?” Miss Lina asked. I think she’d pretty much forgotten that we were all in our human forms largely for their benefit. Most of the time we need more space.

    After that bit of chitchat ended, the meeting began in earnest. The first sign was good—too bad it wasn’t an omen for how the rest would go.

    “You’ve done well,” the Supreme Elder addressed them, standing in front of his seat.

    “We have?” Miss Lina asked, her voice filled with disbelief. That sentiment might have been echoed amongst the rest of the council. Most of them kept their faces straight, but I did see one elder roll his eyes.

    “We were testing you to see if you were the ones spoken of in the prophecy of destruction,” the Supreme Elder explained.

    …It almost sounds a bit silly to put it that way. Like the prophecy mentioned something about construction expertise. But I suppose it was just another way of finding out what kind of people they are.

    Miss Lina crossed her arms. “So were we?” she asked, without any sort of inhibition.

    The Supreme Elder didn’t seem keen on answering the question straight off. “…Well,” he began, sitting down and therefore signaling to the rest of the elders that they too could sit, “let’s just say… you’ve completed the task.”

    “That’s your answer?” Miss Lina asked, sounding thoroughly unimpressed.

    “Miss Lina, please!” I chided in a hushed voice, waving my hands to try to settle her down. After all the effort to get the elders to see why I chose Miss Lina’s group in the first place, I didn’t need her to ruin the whole thing by mouthing off.

    But if Miss Lina’s sass didn’t get the message across that they weren’t exactly pleased with how they’d been treated at the temple, Mister Zelgadis snarling at them probably did. “I’m sick of this!” he exclaimed. “I understand that you might not know what the prophecy of destruction means, but do you have to be so evasive? And why not take care of this yourselves?”

    “Hey, that’s a good point,” Miss Amelia said, cupping her chin in her hands. “I wonder why the dragon race doesn’t just take care of this prophecy of destruction itself?”

    “Why don’t you just ask the Fire Dragon King you worship to handle it?” Mister Zelgadis finished, still sounding a little heated, but having wound down from his original outburst.

    It’s kind of the response you expect from the type of person who thinks you can treat divinity like a vending machine, where praying is like popping a coin in to get whatever you want. But it doesn’t work like that. If the Fire Dragon King intended on handling this destructive force himself, then he wouldn’t have given us the prophecy. We have the prophecy, which means the only way to deal with this situation is to work with it—not try to find a way to work around it.

    “To do that would go against the prophecy,” the Supreme Elder stated.

    “…And of course there’s the simple reason that we cannot do it,” Elder Danus added, sounding somewhat bitter.

    “What’s that?” Miss Lina asked—pretty much echoing my thoughts. I’d never heard of this ‘simple’ reason before. If they’d discussed it, then they didn’t bother to share it with me.

    “Yes!” Elder Balius exclaimed. “We must keep this from the monster race’s watchmen, who lurk in the darkness!”

    “The monster race’s watchmen?” Mister Zelgadis repeated.

    That moment was like an anchor dropping into my stomach. I remember looking around the room for the shadow cast by some column, half expecting to see Xellos sitting crisscross with a cup of tea—not necessarily lurking, but certainly not announcing his presence. He wasn’t there, but it still would’ve been like him.

    “Thanks to you destroying both Gaav and Phibrizzo, the monster race has grown impatient,” the Supreme Elder explained. His voice sounded far away through the veil of my Xellos-induced dread.

    “The truth is, their power is greatly diminished. The danger is, they’ll be on guard for any chance to diminish the powers of the gods,” Elder Balius elaborated.

    “For that reason, neither the Fire Dragon King nor we who serve him can risk using our power,” Elder Danus finished. It sounds like they’d spent a lot of time thinking about this, but…

    “Sounds like a pretty poor reason to me,” Miss Lina commented succinctly.

    …Particularly since Xellos already knows about the prophecy. Which isn’t my fault—Miss Lina was the one that told him.

    The elders didn’t have anything more to say in response to Miss Lina’s complaint… which was good, because I really needed us to get off this ‘monster race’s watchmen’ topic. I did not want to mention Xellos to the elders and this conversational line had me sweating so much that I was sure someone would ask me what was wrong if it kept going. I’d already almost mentioned Xellos to the Supreme Elder by accident when he asked me during tea to describe all of my traveling companions to him. “And then there’s Xel—” was as far as I got before I bit my tongue. Good thing I could cover by moving on to talk about Zelgadis. I don’t know how I would’ve gotten out of that otherwise.

    Not that trying to cover up for Xellos’s involvement in this worked in anyway. Guh…

    “And the prophecy arrived with the appearance of that disturbing light,” the Supreme Elder said, moving on. “It lies too far away for even we who possess wings. And the prophecy indicates something is behind its appearance. For that reason we must be very careful when selecting who goes there.”

    “…Right, gotcha,” Miss Lina said, nodding. “So… after getting all of us all the way out here, what have you decided?”

    “To be honest, I still don’t know if we should be entrusting the fate of the world to you people. After all, we’ve seen your handiwork,” the Supreme Elder answered.

    Miss Lina nearly fell over at that. I didn’t move, but my heart certainly sank. I’d hoped we’d convinced them, but all we’d managed was to make them a little less doubtful.

    “However, there’s no clear evidence that you shouldn’t do it,” the Supreme Elder continued. “For that reason, we’ve decided to gamble on you.”

    Miss Lina scrambled to find her balance after her near collapse, placing her hands on her hips. “Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence,” she commented, voice dripping with sarcasm.

    “You disapprove?” the Supreme Elder asked.

    “Well, we really don’t know exactly what you dragons are up to. And you haven’t even given us a reason to go along with this,” Miss Lina reasoned.

    “Lina does have a very good point,” Mister Zelgadis agreed sharply.

    …At that time, it hurt me to think that Miss Lina might suspect my people of having ulterior motives for what they were asking. And it hurts me even more now to think about it because… I’m not sure they’ve told me everything. I can’t believe they’d have something harmful in mind, but I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m in the dark.

    But Miss Lina was definitely wrong about one thing. There is a very good reason for them to go along with this, and Miss Amelia picked up on it.

    “But! But!” she interrupted, fists clenched desperately. “If nobody does anything about this, there’s no telling what might happen!”

    Miss Lina ran a hand through her bangs, tiredly. “Yeah, that’s a good point too,” she admitted.

    “Miss Lina please!” I tried, hoping that after all this trouble to get the go-ahead from the elders (which we did get, however shaky and hesitant) that Miss Lina wouldn’t lose her will to take on the quest. “You’ve come this far! You simply must—”

    But I was cut off by an intruder who somehow managed to teleport right into the holiest of holy places in the temple. No, it wasn’t Xellos. I’m sad to say he does show up later. But to be honest, he probably ranked number four behind, sadly and strangely enough, the Supreme Elder in terms of people we needed to worry about.

    No, the person who materialized in the cathedral, in a haze of purple and black energy that crackled all around him… was Almayce.
     
  16. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 16. Et tu, Filia?

    Thursday, April 19th.

    Temple of the Fire Dragon King. Bedroom. 2:03 am.


    …Oh you must be kidding me!

    2:05 am.

    So, let me get this straight… at the end of a long, long, long and exhausting day, I’m rendered completely unable to sleep in my own bed—a bed I have been pining for all throughout my uncomfortable journey with Miss Lina and the others—but even though I can’t sleep in a comfy bed with toasty covers and a mound of extra pillows… I can fall asleep on a stiff wooden chair with my face laying in my journal.

    My body and its standards for sleep environments make no sense.

    2:11 am.

    My writing on this page is smeared. Did I get ink on my face?

    2:13 am.

    A quick mirror-inspection confirms that I do, in fact, have ink on my face.

    Argh!

    2:34 am.

    Okay, back from dashing out to the bathroom and I think I got most of it off. It’s a bit hard to tell by lighting spell but I didn’t really want to dally out of my room for very long. I don’t want to have to come across anyone right now.

    I mean, alright, it’s very early. It was doubtful that I’d come across anyone roaming the halls at this hour but… it’s not impossible! Someone else could’ve had to take a late night trip to the bathroom… or maybe they wanted to go stargazing! Or perhaps there might still be patrols around here making sure that the temple is secure. After everything that happened today, that would make sense.

    The point is I just don’t want to deal with another scene like at dinner. People are a little… wary about me now. I suppose that’s understandable but… not nice. Not nice at all. I sat with the rest of the priestesses and that was a mistake. I probably would’ve fared better fighting Miss Lina off for scraps of food.

    Nobody wanted to sit near me and when so many seats were taken that people were forced to, they scooched their chairs as far away from me as possible. And the whispering. There was a lot of whispering. I’m pretty sure I heard the words “the detested Xellos.” I suppose it’s possible that they could’ve been saying “the requested spell dose” and I merely misheard but… that doesn’t seem very likely.

    Ugh… I really don’t need people here harboring under the mistaken delusion that I’ve actually teamed up with him or any such thing. Why oh why did all that business with Xellos have to happen in front of literally everyone? Knowing Xellos he almost certainly did it on purpose. After all, it’s not like he’s been exactly keen on “giving me a hand” in the past. The fact that “helping” me involved my utter humiliation was probably his true motivation. …Oh, and of course that Valgaav thing. Because Xellos sometimes does do things for other reasons besides infuriating/humiliating me. It just usually doesn’t seem like it.

    …Wait, did I ever get around to writing about that here? It’s hard for me to remember… I think I may have been dreaming about writing in here long after I fell asleep. Let me check.

    2:46 am.

    Right, I stopped when Almayce appeared. So I didn’t even get to Xellos yet.

    2:48 am.

    Well… I don’t think I’m going to get anymore sleep (unless I fall face-first into my journal again) so I might as well finish recording what happened.

    So, Almayce appeared. Here. In the temple. Not just the temple, but in the Great Cathedral of the Dragon Race—the holiest place in the entire temple, which is itself the holiest place in the eastern zone. He just popped right in like it was no big deal to enter this place where evil should not step. Considering that Valgaav and Xellos followed him, I think we may need to reapply holy water to our grounds.

    The Supreme Elder seemed to share my concern about temple security, as he ordered the rest of the somewhat panicked council of elders off to rally their regiments. At first I thought that Almayce might try to stop them from filing out, but he didn’t. He wasn’t even looking at them. He was looking at Mister Gourry.

    Mister Gourry drew his Sword of Light, which hummed menacingly in tune with the glowing weapon that Almayce carried. I held my breath, wondering which one of them would strike first.

    “Who are you?” the Supreme Elder demanded of the interloper, hoping to get some information before it came to actual fighting.

    “My name is Almayce. I have come from the Overworld,” he answered, his filtered-sounding voice resonating strangely with the weapons of light.

    This was, of course, news to all of us… though if Xellos had been there I’m sure it wouldn’t have been news to him. “It’s meaningless to even try to use magic on one of his kind,” he said… Xellos knew more than he was letting on. Who’s surprised?

    No one’s surprised!

    Anyway, Mister Gourry had the audacity (from Miss Lina’s perspective) to be somewhat confused by the concept of the Overworld. Miss Lina’s reaction to this was no entirely fair. I mean, alright, “Overworld” is not a very difficult word to parse. You’ve got the world… and then a world over it. I agree with Miss Lina that it’s pretty self-evident. On the other hand, most everyday people don’t go around thinking about alternate planes of existence. …Well, maybe Xellos does. But he’s hardly “everyday people.”

    In any case, she really didn’t need to kick him in the face just for not understanding.

    “So, you’ve come from the Overworld,” Mister Zelgadis said, not earning a kick in the face, I noticed, for repeating the already-established.

    “And why have you come to this world?” the Supreme Elder asked, cutting past the “how.” “Why have you entered this sacred temple?”

    “We seek five weapons of power for our world,” the giant Almayce said, being oddly straight-forward with us for a villain. “I have come for one of them. The sword Gorun Nova which this man possesses.”

    “Like hell!” Mister Gourry swore, waving a sword that, as far as he was concerned, he didn’t just “possess” but “own.” “The Sword of Light is mine!”

    The confusion over the sword’s ownership escalated as Miss Lina kicked Mister Gourry for the second time in the past three minutes, claiming that the sword belonged to her and that she was just letting Mister Gourry borrow it. I’ll admit that I’m not exactly in the loop on this little argument. I’d always thought it was Mister Gourry’s. He seemed quite insistent that he was, but Miss Lina says he’s lying. I’m inclined to believe that Miss Lina is just being greedy in this case—like how she considers my tea cakes to be hers when she runs out of other snacks.

    The Supreme Elder walked past them and toward Almayce, ignoring their squabble. “And if you get the Sword of Light, Overworlder, what do you wish to do with it?”

    “Why do you ask me that?” Almayce answered.

    At the time, I thought the answer was obvious. We simply had to know what scheme he and Valgaav had concocted. We needed to know why he and Valgaav were after the weapons so that we could combat him better. So we could protect the Sword of Light from their grasp.

    But unfortunately, that’s not why the Supreme Elder asked that question.

    “If we give you the Sword of Light and you leave at once, then there is no problem, Overworlder,” the Supreme Elder stated calmly.

    Miss Lina had a problem with it. “Now wait just one darn minute here! You can’t just offer to give my Sword of Light away!” she shouted. Insert complaining from Mister Gourry about how the sword is his here.

    “That’s enough!” the Supreme Elder shouted, keeping them from going off on a tangent. “What we desire is to protect this world. For that, we will even sacrifice the Sword of Light. Now, Overworlder, what will you do with the Sword of Light?”

    I don’t really know what to say about this. To be willing to just give up and hand over the Sword of Light to our enemy (something that really isn’t even in the dragon race’s purview to give, as Miss Lina and Mister Gourry were quick to note)… I know his heart was in the right place. Peace is a noble goal. But… giving in is something else. I think perhaps the Supreme Elder under-valued the sword.

    “Very well, I shall tell you,” Almayce agreed, a rather out of place smile on his face. “What I desire is to summon the dark lord Dark Star to this world.”

    A pall went over the room upon those words—those senseless, destructive words. When the dread lifted enough for us to speak, Miss Lina came out with a to-the-point: “You’ve got to be kidding! We’re not going to give you the Sword of Light so you can summon a guy like that to our world!”

    Dark Star. I exchanged a look with the Supreme Elder and he nodded, following my train of thought. How could we have missed it? There shall come a controller of a dark star who shall call forth the light and the world will be flooded with darkness. Not our world’s dark lord, but equal in strength… but we weren’t even thinking about the Overworld! We were so focused on our own world that others weren’t even on our radar.

    “Your objective is probably to take over this world using Dark Star’s power!” Amelia declared, saying what we all were thinking (though I don’t know why she felt the need to stand on one foot and point in order to say it). “In the name of justice I, Amelia, shall never allow it!”

    “My objective is not world domination,” Almayce scoffed, taking some of the wind out of her sails. “Hardly.”

    Which is… rather odd. Why else would a person want to summon a dark lord—the very fount of annihilation—if it wasn’t for world domination? The choices here are basically domination and destruction… and if we use the prophecy as a guide, the later seems much more likely. Both are profoundly bad for us.

    “Overworlder, I don’t know what you seek to gain by summoning Dark Star,” the Supreme Elder said, hand-waving a question I would’ve liked to have answered, “but I must insist that you do it in a world outside of the one in which we live.”

    As you can imagine, this prompted a series of scandalized gasps and general disbelief. I can hardly believe it myself. I want to try to defend him—to say that this must all just be the result of the tremendous pressure that he’s under to safeguard this world. I can’t imagine the Supreme Elder letting a whole other world full of innocent lives be threatened. This is the same man who looked after me and was so kind after Father died; the same man who has seen this land through plenty and famine and he never let his people go hungry; he has shown tremendous compassion to me even when it wasn’t popular to do so; and I don’t know anyone who is more committed to preserving the peace of this world.

    Of… this world.

    But surely that compassion must extend to other worlds, right?

    I’d love to say I saw even a shred of evidence of that over the last twenty-four hours. But I can’t.

    “If you are speaking the truth and this world is not your objective, then we will give you the Sword of Light, if you then leave this world,” the Supreme Elder continued, reiterating that terrible position which he stuck to through the entire confrontation despite our protests.

    “Is he out of his mind?” Miss Lina asked, mouth hanging open.

    “I don’t know…” I answered candidly. It’s not the right thing to say about an elder, I know, but it was how I felt. To say that he snapped in the face of this situation is perhaps the kindest defense I can give right now.

    “If we engage in battle here, then both sides will surely suffer,” the Supreme Elder reasoned. “If we should lose and the Sword of Light is stolen then Dark Star will be summoned to this world and that must never happen”

    “Wait just one minute!” Miss Amelia shouted back, her hair practically puffing out in righteous indignation. “Are you saying you don’t care about him summoning Dark Star as long as he does it in another world?”

    “Supreme Elder, you can’t mean that!” I cried out, hoping to make him see reason.

    Far from see reason, he shouted at me: “Silence, Filia!”

    I recoiled, just sort of… shut down by that. I can’t remember a time before that when he’s ever yelled at me. Usually he’s so calm. Even when I’ve disappointed him it’s never been like that.

    “That wouldn’t be just!” Miss Amelia insisted, clenching her fists. Unlike it had with me, the fight hadn’t been knocked out of her even for a moment. “Is this how servants of the gods negotiate? Well, is it?”

    I wanted to say no! This all went so wrong. And we were letting the humans down too. Miss Amelia is a shrine maiden. She shouldn’t have to see Golden Dragons acting in this way. We should be a standard for them.

    “What do you say, Overworlder?” the Supreme Elder asked, addressing Almayce directly and ignoring Miss Amelia’s very pertinent (despite being impertinent) question.

    “I see that you of this world are not so different from us, are you?” Almayce commented. Looking back, I wonder if there was a sort of sense of… I don’t know, irony in his voice.

    “What does that mean?” the Supreme Elder asked, possibly sensing the same thing.

    “I too do not desire to engage in a useless struggle,” was Almayce’s only explanation. “I’ll accept your proposal.”

    “Are you sure of what you are saying?” the Supreme Elder asked.

    “Once I possess Gorun Nova and one other weapon, I shall have no further need for this place. I promise not to summon Dark Star to this world,” Almayce explained.

    As though we should trust a promise from him! He was working with Valgaav (though I don’t think they’re on anymore after what happened)! Valgaav who tried to kill us! And yet the Supreme Elder…

    “Understood,” the Supreme Elder said. “And we will assist you in finding the other weapon. Once you have it, you must leave this world at once.”

    He offered to help him… to help this person who wants to do something as calamitous as summon Dark Star! In any location, that’s not right! If we helped gather the weapons and he somehow used them to summon Dark Star to another world and then used Dark Star’s power to destroy or dominate it… we would be culpable for it! We… that is, golden dragons, would have blood on our hands! That’s inexcusable!

    Though… Valgaav said… No. I’ll wait until it comes. I can’t think about it right now.

    “Now hold on a sec! What makes you think you can just give away our Sword of Light without asking?” Miss Lina cut in. I was still on her side, but I think she was sort of missing the real horrifying point of this.

    “We must prevent any disaster from coming to this world,” was all the Supreme Elder would say. It seemed he’d made up his mind that disaster couldn’t be stopped. That it would have to happen somewhere but he wouldn’t let it happen here. “Now give him the Sword of Light,” he ordered Mister Gourry gravely.

    If the Supreme Elder expected that command to hold any weight then he was sorely mistaken. My chosen ones are many things… but obedient is not one of them.

    “No chance!” Mister Gourry answered.

    “Yeah, I don’t care how sad his story is, there’s no way we’re just going to give that away for free,” Miss Lina chimed in. Then she took out an abacus that she was carrying with her for reasons I can’t quite fathom. “The merchant in me would never allow me to just give it away.”

    The Supreme Elder wasn’t at all swayed by her economic argument. “If you refuse, then you leave us no choice,” he said, turning toward them. For all his talk about wanting to avoid a battle, I knew at that moment that there would be one after all. But it wasn’t going to be us against Almayce… it was going to be the Supreme Elder and Almayce teamed up against us.

    “Wait, please!” I cried out, standing between him and the others. “No, you can’t!”

    I’d hoped I could stop him, remind him that at the very least if he was going to have to fight someone, he should be fighting alongside the champions we picked out to aid us… not against them. That I was part of the group he was set on attacking.

    I’d prayed that would mean something, but it didn’t stop him. “Filia, stand aside!” he commanded.

    He pushed past me, and maybe I should’ve tried harder to shield them, but I was shaken by his refusal to even stop and listen to what I had to say. After all that effort to choose our champions, after entrusting that to my judgment… suddenly my judgment about whether or not to do something so drastic as to strike against them was… irrelevant to him.

    “This is our only choice for saving this world,” he resolved. I don’t know if he was affirming that to us or to himself, but whatever the case, he began to chant a spell.

    I recognized the rhythm as he chanted and at least I can say it wasn’t an offensive spell. It was not to harm the humans, but to restrain them.

    “What kind of language is that?” Miss Lina asked. For all her knowledge of magic, this must’ve been completely beyond her.

    “A holy spell!” Miss Amelia exclaimed, on slightly more familiar ground due to her experience as a shrine maiden no doubt. “He wouldn’t!”

    But he would and he did. “Ray Freeze,” he shouted, a golden light extending from his palms and surrounding Miss Lina, Mister Gourry, Miss Amelia and Mister Zelgadis. As the particles of light clung to them, the spell stopped them from moving and loosened Mister Gourry’s grip on his sword which fell to the floor.

    “My body…” Mister Zelgadis barely managed to get out through gritted teeth as the others struggled to move. The Supreme Elder had targeted his paralysis so that they could still breathe, which also meant that they could speak.

    “Please, stop this!” I begged, as the Supreme Elder made his way toward my helpless friends.

    It was no use. I was barely an afterthought. “Now then, I shall take the Sword of Light,” the Supreme Elder declared.

    “You son of a—” Mister Zelgadis began, struggling against the spell’s grip. “Is this how the dragon race does things?” he asked, echoing Miss Amelia’s question from earlier.

    “This, my friend, is what we do in order to save our world,” the Supreme Elder answered—all resolve, no remorse—as he picked up the sword from the ground.

    “Wait!” Gourry tried, his form shuddering fractionally as he fought the spell.

    The Supreme Elder ignored him, walking toward Almayce with the sword out. “Here. Take it.”

    Almayce smiled, the key to the wretched summoning of a dark lord nearly in his grasp. But the exchange, so close to completion, was interrupted. I’d like to say some savior busted in to save the day, but no. It was Valgaav. He dive-bombed the cathedral, crashing in through the ceiling and scattering debris as he cratered. In the midst of the blast of mortar and dust, the Supreme Elder was knocked back, dropping the sword as he fell.

    What’s the saying? Out of the frying pan and into the fire?

    “Oh, this guy!” Miss Lina exclaimed sourly as the cloud of dust cleared and revealed Valgaav, who was giving a not-so-friendly look to his erstwhile ally, Almayce.

    “Almayce,” Valgaav said, composed and uninjured after his crash-landing into the temple, “you’re betraying me?” he asked.

    “Forgive me,” Almayce said, not sounding particularly apologetic. “But I have no time to compromise. My time grows short.”

    Another enemy joining the fray was bad for us, of course. But it provided us the time we needed. Almayce and Valgaav were fighting amongst themselves and the Supreme Elder was distracted by this new development. That’s when I took my moment to step forward and undo the spell the Supreme Elder had cast on Miss Lina and the others.

    I saw much of the fight as I chanted my counter spell. Valgaav was sending sinister looking blasts of purple energy at Almayce, who was more intent on shielding himself and getting the dropped sword than fighting back.

    “Gods! Monsters! Humans! If you insist on standing in my way then I shall strike all of you down!” Valgaav bellowed, almost on the edge of madness.

    At the time it seemed like just a generic “anyone who stands in my way must die” villain-type line, but… there’s more behind this. Valgaav’s grudge against the humans and the monsters stems from Miss Lina and Xellos’s involvement in Gaav’s death. But the gods… we would soon learn the reason for his resentment of my people and the gods we serve.

    Almayce dodged the blast that Valgaav sent his way, turning toward where the sword had fallen. “Give me Gorun Nova!” he shouted.

    But he was too late. I’d broken the spell on the others and Miss Lina had wasted no time in rushing toward the sword. “Sorry handsome,” she quipped, picking up the extinguished hilt. “There’s no way in the world you’re getting this thing.”

    I hope Miss Lina was just being glib with that “handsome” comment. Otherwise I will have to start seriously questioning her taste.

    In any case, she tossed the sword at Mister Gourry, who caught it gratefully and drew out the light blade. The throwing of the sword was a bit of unnecessary dramatics since she just ran up to the rest of us after that display and could’ve handed it to him, but I suppose it was better than letting Almayce or the Supreme Elder cut her off. “Let’s get out of here,” Miss Lina suggested.

    “Huh? Right,” Gourry agreed.

    We all tore out of the cathedral, through the halls and out onto the grounds, hoping to avoid getting cornered. The air was still thick with sediment from the recent construction, but at least we were out in the open.

    Almayce didn’t appear keen on letting us escape. He was the first to catch up with us, but he still seemed to harbor hopes of getting the Sword of Light without having to take it from us.

    “Give me the sword!” he cried, appearing behind us. “If you do, I promise I won’t summon Dark Star to this world,” he vowed, as though he could really sway us in the same way he did the Supreme Elder.

    “Fat chance, big boy!” Miss Lina said, turning around.

    “What?!” Almayce asked, shocked perhaps at her refusal or perhaps at the weirdly flirtatious tone her last two comments addressed to him had taken.

    “Sorry, but when it comes to selling out other people to save yourself, my policy is to prevent it,” she explained. “And that applies both to this world and the Overworld.”

    As she was speaking, I could see the Supreme Elder walking out from the temple. He stood at the edge of a high balcony, looking down on us. He wasn’t alone. The sky was filled with a swarm of gold as regiments of dragons hovered in the sky, shifting their golden tri-pointed spears warily and waiting for the command to strike.

    Miss Lina looked around to see them, seeming not at all troubled at being surrounded by an army. “Did I make myself clear?” she asked, to drive her point home.

    The last to catch up was Valgaav, who flashed into existence balanced on a broken column, a remnant from the ruin-crash that hadn’t been caught in the clean-up.

    “That is my policy,” Lina repeated for his benefit.

    With all the dark dealing going down that day and the disappointment and uncertainty I’d been feeling, I needed to be inspired. Who’d have thought that, surrounded by holy men, Miss Lina would be the one to inspire me. Despite all her talk about not wanting to get rid of the sword because of how much financial worth it had, her heart really is in the right place. I choose her well… and I don’t need the elders to confirm that for me.

    The others seemed similarly happy with her statement. “Sheeeeee’s right!” Miss Amelia declared, drawing out her words as she performed a rather unnecessary mid-air flip. She stuck her landing and pointed directly at the Supreme Elder as she said: “Even though we may not come from a perfect world, at least we believe in justice, which apparently you do not!”

    “I agree,” Mister Zelgadis added, though he refrained from aerial acrobatics. “If you insist on doing this then you’re now our enemies.”

    “Couldn’t have said it better myself!” Miss Lina cheered.

    “Enough!” the Supreme Elder interrupted, his bushy eyebrows furrowed and his teeth gritted. I can’t recall ever seeing him so angry. “Don’t any of you care what happens to this world?!”

    I care. I’m sure Miss Lina and the others care too. But that doesn’t mean we were willing to accept this wrong in its name. I’d tried to reason with the Supreme Elder, I’d undone the spell when he struck against the others, and I followed them out when they retreated from the fight. As insane as it would’ve seemed yesterday, I had taken a side against my own people. …And what’s more insane was that I was proud of the side I’d chosen. I knew it was time to make that clear to everyone present.

    I slipped my mace out from under my skirt and held it in my hands. “Miss Lina,” I began seriously. The others turned to me, surprised as I stepped forward. “I’m with you all the way.”

    “Filia?” Miss Lina blurted out, surprised.

    “Filia, you to?” the Supreme Elder asked from the balcony, that tone of disappointment pulling shame levers placed way back in my childhood, but I didn’t let it weaken my resolve.

    “Forgive me, Lord Elder,” I said, turning my gaze up to him. “But, in this case, I believe Lina and the others are correct.”

    Yes. That was my big moment of personal responsibility—my drawing a line in the sand and standing up for what I felt was right, despite the Supreme Elder’s disapproval, despite the frowns my own people were raining down on me. That was my moment.

    My moment was quickly hijacked.

    It started with… a sound—an echoed sort of tapping sound that seemed to come from far above us. We all looked around to locate its source, only to see to focus on the section of the temple that Miss Lina and the others had rebuilt (it kinda catches the eye). Sitting on a garish swoop of red decoration, dotted with yellow and green striped spikes, was a figure. A certain purple-haired, staff-toting, highly recognizable figure.

    It was Xellos. And he was applauding.

    The dragons hanging in the air recoiled slightly, having not noticed his presence on the building. I could already feel flame rising in my throat before he even spoke.

    “Xellos?” Miss Lina asked, mystified as she caught sight of him.

    Xellos stood up on the edge of the let’s-not-even-call-it-a-temple, his eyes on yours truly. “Oooh,” he cooed appreciatively, as though enjoying a scene in a particularly dramatic play. “Filia the straight-arrow turning against the Supreme Elder. Ha! I never saw that one coming.”

    “Xellos! The detested Xellos?” the Supreme Elder exclaimed, craning his neck to see from his balcony. He turned back to me, an utterly aghast look on his face. “Filia, have you teamed up with him?”

    Okay, let me just stop right there and ask why would anyone immediately come to that conclusion?! Alright, yes, I was taking a stand against the Supreme Elders wishes. I get that that’s sort of... extreme. And then Xellos comes along and he’s like, “Ohohoh! What an interesting development!” That really doesn’t imply any sort of coordination! Just because he appreciates rebellion is no reason to believe I’ve actually joined forces with him or anything. In fact, I’d hardly call my stand an actual rebellion… more like… civil disobedience… with my weapon drawn. I hadn’t used it yet, so it still counts!

    For the Supreme Elder to actually think I’d join up with Xellos… well, he must either think that I have some kind of secret evil core that I’ve been hiding all these years or that I’m just stupid. I can’t believe he’d honestly buy the former, so it must be the latter and that’s just… extremely insulting! To think that Xellos actually swayed poor, stupid old me to the dark side… what must the elders think of me? I’m not that naïve and he’s not that charming! Or charming at all for that matter! What, was I supposed to be so distracted by the shininess of his hair that it completely slipped my mind that he’s EVIL?!

    Well, I wanted to set the record straight right away that we were not, I repeat not, allies. I stepped forward, fist clenched. “No!” I shouted, in answer to the Supreme Elder’s ridiculous assumption. “I can’t stand him!”

    And what, you ask, did Xellos do in response to this? Did he help me clarify things? Did he say, “Neither of us can stand each other and we’re certainly not on each other’s side, but circumstance has made us both your enemies for the time being?” Did he say, “I’m pursuing my own agenda that’s different from Filia’s and Miss Lina’s?” Did he reject the claim the Supreme Elder was making?

    No! He affirmed it! He swooped in so that he was standing right at my side and said, “Allow me to give you a hand, Filia.”

    He knows we’re not on the same side, but he acted like we were on purpose just to make me look bad in front of everyone! I’m not buying this as a magnanimous gesture. Coming from him, endorsement and support is tantamount to vicious character-assassination!

    “Are you trying to ruin my reputation?!” I shrieked at him, grasping at my hair with one hand in frustration.

    He didn’t deny it, so I’m almost certain that was his intention! …Or well, one of his intentions. It was pretty clear he had other business there too.

    “Well, at the very least,” he said, still looking at me and addressing me in a light conversational tone, but as he turned and looked up at Valgaav, that attitude changed. He opened one eye and his voice lowered an octave as he added, “my duty is to finish off Valgaav.”

    Valgaav radiated energy from his perch. He was spoiling for a fight, but it was clear that he had no intention of being finished off.

    “So be it,” Almayce said, shifting so that his black armor clanked menacingly. He seemed to have accepted that he could no longer talk us into anything. Even if he’d trusted in his persuasive skills, Valgaav and Xellos presented a complication that made negotiation impossible. There was nothing left but to fight—nothing left but to take up that struggle he’d described as pointless, but had a very definite point to the rest of us.

    Mister Gourry stood with his sword out in front of him, wary and ready to strike at the first sign of movement. “Who’s the enemy here?” he whispered to Miss Lina.

    “It looks like just about everyone except us,” Miss Lina answered with weighty practicality.

    While this was true, our fight became much more focused early on. Almayce pretty much had eyes only for us, since we had the Sword of Light. The Supreme Elder quickly took himself out of the equation.

    “My people, hold back!” I heard him warn the flying squad. “Make no move against Xellos. If you do,” he began, and as I looked up I could see his face shining with sweat even from the distance, “Xellos will think nothing of destroying us all.”

    The palpable sense of fear in the air from my people after Xellos appeared… it’s strange to say now how much that surprised me. It shouldn’t have. Their fear makes perfect sense. After all, it was the Supreme Elder himself who first told me about this beast who nearly wiped our race out completely. There has been no figure in history who has inspired more terror and disgust than him.

    …And yet their fear caught me off guard. It suddenly seemed incongruous that someone should be terrified of Xellos. Annoyed? Certainly. But scared?

    I guess it’s just because in the… wow, has it really been nearly a whole month? since he started traveling on and off with our group… some of his shock-value has worn off. The fact that the others treat him so casually probably has something to do with it too.

    And, alright, maybe fear is really the more appropriate response to Xellos, given his history, but… I don’t like it! Showing you’re afraid of him is in some ways showing respect to him, and he doesn’t deserve that.

    “You are wise, old man,” Xellos commented, sounding pleased, perhaps, that dragons beside me would at least show him a negative sort of deference. After that little comment he looked up and abruptly teleported away, reappearing up in the air next to Valgaav. He blocked an attack that had been aimed for us before the rest of us had even seen it. “Oh, no you don’t,” he chided. “I’m going to be your opponent this time, Valgaav.”

    So the free-for-all was split. The Supreme Elder and his army were sitting this one out, and Valgaav had his hands full dealing with Xellos. Almayce was our main focus.

    “Take care of things over there!” Miss Lina shouted up toward Xellos. And take care of things he did. I couldn’t even keep track of Valgaav and Xellos’s fighting—it all moved so quickly. There were clashing sounds and smoky dispersals of energy, but you could only see their silhouettes momentarily as they jumped from plane to plane.

    Mister Zelgadis didn’t seem at all distracted by their battling, slamming an earth spell into the ground that sent a wave of black energy toward Almayce. That strike didn’t amount to anything, though. Almayce simply sliced the energy in half using the regular blade on his weapon.

    “Damn,” Mister Zelgadis swore. “Spells really won’t work on him.”

    “What do we do?” Miss Amelia asked, at a loss.

    “Is this all we have left?” Mister Gourry asked, hefting his sword.

    “Wait, look,” Miss Lina said sharply, cutting him off. “You see his sword?” she asked, keen-eyed as ever as she pointed at Almayce’s weapon. “It isn’t putting out its light blade. He must be afraid of the effect it had last time. Anyway, Gourry, don’t use the Sword of Light.”

    “Well? What am I supposed to do?!” Mister Gourry asked, panicked that he seemed to have been written out of the fight.

    “Alright then, we have a chance,” Mister Zelgadis decided as he and Miss Amelia flew off.

    I really admire the ability the others have in battle. It’s not just their skills as warriors, it’s the fact that they’ve fought together for so long that they don’t need to stop and strategize with each other for the most part. They follow each other’s lead and seemed to know exactly what everyone else is planning. It’s like a type of mind-reading.

    …Though, as someone who hasn’t been in these situations as much, taking the time to get me up to speed would be appreciated. But I think I adapted well enough.

    So what happened was, Miss Amelia blinded Almayce with a lighting spell, then Mister Zelgadis sent a lot of earth spells directly at Almayce, who was struggling to fight them off with his vision compromised. Mister Gourry was having trouble fitting the normal blade back onto his Sword of Light, so Mister Zelgadis tossed him his broadsword. Mister Gourry was quickly able to lock swords with Almayce and there was a struggle.

    “What do any of you know of my people’s suffering?” Almayce grunted, as he pushed Mister Gourry off and sent him crashing into the wall.

    It’s a peculiar comment. How could summoning a dark lord possibly ease his people’s suffering? That sounds downright insane. Insanity, however, would explain all the things our enemies have been doing that just don’t add up.

    After Mister Gourry failed, Miss Amelia tried her luck, lunging for Almayce, but she got thrown off as well. With Miss Lina, Mister Gourry, Miss Amelia, Mister Zelgadis and even Xellos doing their part in this battle, I knew it was time I stepped up and contributed. …Not that it amounted to much. My Flame Bless certainly engulfed Almayce in flames, and it should’ve brought down a normal enemy but… Almayce isn’t normal. He sliced through my attack, same as he did with the others, and shot a magical blade out of his weapon and straight toward us. Thankfully, Mister Zelgadis and Miss Amelia blocked the attack.

    Miss Lina took up the reigns, chanting some spine-tinglingly powerful chaos words. Just the sound of them made me nervous, and I wasn’t the only one.

    “What’s she doing?!” the Supreme Elder demanded.

    Black energy, tinged with flashes of light around the edges, shook and swayed like a mad thing in Miss Lina’s hands, but the form… the form was like a massive sword. “Ragna Blade!” she called, lunging toward Almayce.

    That forced Almayce to do what he’d been avoiding. “Light come forth!” he called, sending out the magical blade on his weapon. The blades clashed together with an awful clang and an ear-hacking buzz. “Ah! This—this power?!” Almayce roared in disbelief.

    “Source of all creation, sword of darkness with the power of the Lord of Nightmares,” Miss Lina intoned, cool, calm and collected despite the situation.

    Yikes. I… I feel I should be able to say more to the use of that spell but… it worked. At least a little.

    Miss Lina thrust back Almayce weapon and sliced at his armor with the dark sword. The sword didn’t penetrate beyond that point… not that you could tell from Almayce’s reaction.

    He cried out as though his body had been cut. He was treating it like a serious wound while Miss Lina, winded and drained from her already-disappearing spell, bemoaned she had only “cracked his armor a little bit.”

    There was a hiss from Almayce, as though pressurized air was seeping out the fissure Miss Lina had cut. He covered it up with his hand and sunk to one knee as the blade on his sword went out. “How can this be?” he asked, voice weakened. “There’s… no time left. I was so close to getting it!”

    A sound I’d been hearing all through the battle disappeared and its absence was so jarring that I had to look up. All through the fight it had been slash! BOOM! Buzz! Crash! from above every few seconds, but that ended. In place of the noise of conflict, was an unpleasant little laugh.

    Xellos had stopped fighting to watch Almayce’s collapse. “Looks like your friend’s at the end of his rope,” I heard him comment to Valgaav.

    “Damn!” Valgaav swore from above. At least, I think that’s what he said. His voice didn’t carry quite as shrilly as Xellos’s did.

    “Are you ready to accept your defeat as well?” Xellos asked him.

    Valgaav didn’t look very accepting. He said something that I could quite hear as his fist glowed purple. Then he shouted: “I shall have my revenge!”

    What followed was a strange transformation accompanied by a high pitched noise. The glow grew and engulfed his entire body. He screamed and folded his arms close to himself. Black, feathering wings sprouted painfully from his back and his arms bulged as his skin blackened. Claws sprouted from his fingertips and an armored row of spikes shot out from his shoulders.

    I had no idea what to make of this, but apparently the Supreme Elder did. “An ancient dragon!” I heard him exclaim. “Is it possible?”

    Golden dragons, black dragons, plasma dragons, lake dragons… there are many different kinds of dragons with varying relationships to each other. But I had never, in all my days at the temple nor in all the education I received, heard of ancient dragons before that moment.

    “What do you mean?” I asked him with a gasp.

    “Only one of the ancient dragons had the power of thousands of our kind,” the Supreme Elder explained gravely. “And because their violent nature was so detestable to us, the dragon race hunted them down and exterminated them.”

    “Violent nature” certainly seemed to describe how Valgaav looked at that moment. He was on the edge of murder. Even Xellos could feel it. He shifted, holding his staff out protectively in front of him. That Xellos was wary of a dragon! The Supreme Elder must’ve been right about the powers the ancient dragons possessed for Xellos to take that revelation so seriously.

    Valgaav let all the elastic rage he’d built up twang in a single burst. He knocked Xellos away and swooped past Miss Lina toward Almayce, where he hit the already injured man so hard that he fully collapsed to the ground. Valgaav took the weapon from his former team mate and then turned to the Supreme Elder, his golden eyes sparking with fury.

    “Hear me, Golden Dragon,” he spat. “That is not the reason you hunted us down. You’re a liar! The truth is you golden dragons feared our power. Feared we would knock you from the top of the dragon race!”

    My reaction to this claim then was pretty much the same as it is now. It can’t be true. I just… I don’t think Valgaav was lying, because his anger was so real. But… couldn’t it have been just like the Supreme Elder said? Couldn’t the ancients have been so violent and unstable that even creatures as committed to peace as my people had to declare war on them, if only to protect the other inhabitants of this world? And then couldn’t the last of the ancient dragons have rationalized to themselves that this wasn’t their fault, but that my people were simply jealous? Couldn’t this propaganda have reached Valgaav and fueled his hatred of my people? That seems so much more believable than his accusation that my people… that they behaved as Xellos did during the War of the Monster’s Fall. I can’t believe that we who were wounded so much by Xellos’s crime, who hate him so much for that… would actually commit the same crime against fellow dragons. I can’t…

    But… why I haven’t I heard of ancient dragons before? Why isn’t this in our history books? If there was a war and it was done for legitimate reasons… wouldn’t it have been taught? Wouldn’t it have been a cautionary tale for the rest of us? …Why did someone hide this if we’re really not to blame?

    I don’t know… I won’t know for awhile. But I must find out what really happened.

    As Valgaav began to thrash and rage against the Supreme Elder, it was as though I could see the aura of multiple dragon heads appearing above him, phantoms from the astral side. Xellos reappeared, joining our group at Miss Lina’s side.

    “I never imagined that he was that powerful,” he said in a slightly hushed voice. “I see I’ve been careless.”

    “You mean to say Valgaav has the power of a monster and a dragon?” Mister Zelgadis asked, floating a rather horrifying concept.

    “Is… that possible?” Miss Amelia asked.

    It shouldn’t be. It’s like mixing water and vinegar. But yet, he is an ancient dragon. The Supreme Elder confirmed that. And he’s also Gaav’s former subordinate—a monster. How did he…?

    “This hateful and detestable dragon’s power will destroy you all!” Valgaav vowed, making his way toward us. But as he stepped closer and closer it was clear that his transformation had taken its toll on him. He stopped in his tracks, screeched and dropped to his knees. Veins in his oversized arms pulsed and squirmed like worms slithering under his skin. Perhaps… perhaps I was right about the power of dragons and monsters mixing like water and vinegar. Maybe they were fighting it out inside his body.

    “What’s happening?” Miss Lina asked.

    Xellos either knew exactly what was happening or didn’t care what it was so long as it kept Valgaav down. He walked toward Valgaav, collecting an orb of green energy in his hand. “Heh. Sorry about this,” he said, smiling as he prepared to finish off the wounded man.

    “I won’t let it end like this,” Valgaav promised desperately, clasping at his ruined arms. “Not like this!”

    And with that proclamation, he vanished from the scene. I couldn’t see Xellos’s reaction. He was turned away from me. But I thought I heard something that sounded almost like… a little laugh.

    In the sudden quiet, I looked around for something that should’ve been there, but wasn’t. “Where’s Almayce?” I asked. The place where he’d fallen was completely empty.

    “He’s vanished,” Miss Lina said.

    “Commander Vendus,” the Supreme Elder said in a commanding voice to the dragon closest to him. “Search the grounds for the Overworlder.”

    “But he can’t have—” the Commander began, looking at the spot where Almayce should’ve been.

    “And keep a patrol going into the night,” the Supreme Elder added, eyes flicking toward Xellos ever so briefly before he turned back to Vendus. “We clearly have a security problem.”

    Mister Security-Problem himself turned back to face the group and beamed at us, a rather odd response from someone who’d underestimated his enemy and failed to complete his objective. Perhaps the mere fact that he was being a nuisance cheered him up. “I suppose I should take that as my cue to leave,” he decided.

    “H-hold on a minute,” I cut in, still rather shaken from the fight. You have to remember what the dialogue had been like with the Supreme Elder before. I had no idea if he was going to continue to try to fight us and take the Sword of Light even after Almayce was gone. I didn’t want Xellos bailing out on us if the battle wasn’t really over. “You can’t just—”

    Xellos lifted himself into the air and shook his index finger at me with a little tut-tut-tut. “I doubt you’ll win any points here by inviting me to dinner, Filia,” he taunted in what I’m going to describe as a supernaturally obnoxious manner. “And anyway, my business here is concluded for now.”

    “I was never going to invite you anywhere!” I yelled, as he vanished into the cloud-speckled sky. I turned to look at the dragons still hanging out in the air as they awaited orders from their bosses. They were all staring at me. “I hate him, you know,” I felt compelled to explain, trying to untangle the mess of Xellos purposefully giving everyone the wrong idea. “It’s true!” I insisted. I turned to Miss Lina. “Tell them!” I demanded.

    Miss Lina didn’t seem to be at all interested in repairing my bruised reputation. She was massaging her temples wearily and said: “I think we have more important things to be worrying about right now, Filia.”

    She just said that because she doesn’t live here and therefore won’t have to endure dirty looks over this incident for the rest of her natural life. I will.

    So… anyway, that’s when things calmed down for a bit. It seemed like whatever clashing there had been between the Supreme Elder and my human friends had been put to an uneasy truce now that Almayce, and his claim on the sword, was gone. The other dragons were busy—assessing the damage the fight had caused to the temple, searching pointlessly for Almayce, and casting protective spells to patch over our obviously weakened warding system. We wandering around, ostensibly helping to search, but we all doubted we’d find Almayce. It was just something to do while we figured out what happened next. It was a horrible couple of hours too… I didn’t know what would happen to me or Miss Lina and the others. Would they quit now, after the treatment they received from my people? Or would my people even want them to continue in their quest to fulfill the prophecy? Would I be allowed to accompany them, or would I be shuttled away.

    After an afternoon of no doubt giving out a lot of orders and overseeing operations, the Supreme Elder himself finally came down to speak with us. There was a scant patrol making its way around the perimeter of the temple, but most of the activity had subsided.

    I don’t know if the others expected an apology, but we didn’t get anything of that kind. I wish there had been an apology. I could only stare down at the ground as he approached, praying he’d say something to restore the person he’d been to me before everything that had happened that day.

    He didn’t. He simply said, “So, you’re as powerful as this, are you?” As though the entire debacle had been some sort of awful test of their magical proficiency and battling skills. “Filia may have judged you well.”

    I held my breath and wondered what they’d answer. I couldn’t bear to hear them say that it didn’t matter how well I’d judged them, that they weren’t going to bother with this prophecy business now. But thankfully Miss Lina seemed to understand the gravity of the situation. I don’t think she can avoid Valgaav or Almayce even if she bails out now and she knows that too.

    “We’ll see about that,” she answered. “Anyway, we’ve come this far on this mission. We can’t just let a bunch of strangers take over the job. We’ll fight them. For now at least.”

    “I see,” the Supreme Elder said. “I’m pleased.”

    “I have a feeling they’ll be back to steal the Sword of Light,” Mister Zelgadis commented sharply, more concerned with dealing with the future than with the Supreme Elder.

    “Let’s not go looking for a fight, okay?” Mister Gourry said, shuffling in his seated position on a large rock. “I’m tired of this!” he added, pretty much speaking for all of us.

    “Unfortunately, it’s not just the Sword of Light they’re after,” Miss Lina reminded us. “They’re after the other weapons Dark Star created as well.”

    With all this talk about what we had to worry about in the future… strategizing over what moves our enemies would make next and what we had to do to combat them, and finally the fact that they had decided to stick with the prophecy after all… well, I knew I had to make my move then.

    “Miss Lina,” I said, rising up from my seating position, “please let me come with you.”

    “Huh?” Miss Lina asked. I’m not sure if she was surprised because she hadn’t expected me to ask… or because she thought I’d be coming along with them from the start.

    “I’ve got to find out for myself it he prophecy is true,” I explained. I turned to look the Supreme Elder in the eye for the first time he approached us. “And whether or not what Valgaav said was true as well.”

    His response didn’t create any sense of optimism in me for this journey. “Oh, Filia,” he said somberly, “the journey ahead of you will be hard indeed.”

    I… I think I knew that, even as I asked to come along. If I just let this go now then it’ll haunt me forever. I’ve got to know.

    …And… I guess that’s it. I mean, like I said, we had dinner with my people and that was quite awkward. But there’s little to report from that.

    Except one thing, I suppose. The Supreme Elder told me to keep writing in here even now that I’ve reported to him and the other elders on Miss Lina and everyone. He said that there is much that is unknown about the Overworld and about the ancients and said he thought it was best that I wrote things down—at least for now. He said he hopes that I will be able to use it to report to him at the end of this… but that he is not confident that will happen.

    I’d write in here anyway, even if he hadn’t asked. I think it’s just become a habit at this point. But still… it’s useful for puzzling things out. I have a feeling that before this journey is done there will be much, much more to puzzle out.
     
  17. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 17. So Special.

    Tent. 9:03 pm.


    You know, I thought for sure that I’d rue wasting the opportunity to sleep in my old bed as soon as I got back to bedding down on the cold, hard earth. Well, it’s back to sleeping on the road and admittedly… I’m not doing very much ruing. Maybe give it a few nights and my back will be sufficiently sore to properly start regretting not taking advantage of the brief stopover at the temple, but until then, I think it’s safe to say that an uncomfortable atmosphere is much worse than uncomfortable accommodations. At least now that we’re out of the temple things aren’t awkward anymore.

    …Or at least, they’re less awkward.

    I’m sure the others feel that way too. It was obvious by the way they rushed through breakfast and ate such a small amount (for them, at least. For anyone else it would’ve been a nap-inducing, gut-busting feast) that they couldn’t wait to leave the temple behind. I was glad of it too. Having Miss Lina and the others hurrying me on gave me an excuse not to linger too much in conversation with the Supreme Elder. In a way, I do feel bad about that because it’s a loose end and I really wish I could’ve left that better. But I just couldn’t think of what to say. I just hope that going on this journey to follow the prophecy will sort of… restore things, I guess. Though of course there’s that looming threat that it will make the distance between us even more extreme.

    Speaking of distance, we were all quite eager to put plenty of it between us and the temple. And I certainly wouldn’t put this down to any sort of can-do work ethic on the part of my chosen heroes who, despite their good intentions, tend to wind up getting distracted by things like food and… well, mostly food. But food is more than enough to get them way off task. No, they didn’t want to stick around if the tide was going to turn against them again—if circumstances would change to put them on the opposite side of my people once more.

    We’ll still be able to see the temple behind us for several days—maybe a solid week if we really get hung up somewhere, but we at least waited until its towers loomed less large before one of us actually got around to asking what we were going to do now.

    “I mean, I know we’re going to try to follow the prophecy,” Miss Amelia went on, elaborating on her question as we trudged across the dusty road—the section of the rail trail beyond the temple that had escaped our destructive ruin ride unscathed, “but what are we going to do right now? Look for Valgaav or go to the Pillar of Light?”

    “We don’t know where Valgaav is,” Mister Zelgadis pointed out, “and we don’t know how to get to the Pillar of Light.”

    “We may not know where Valgaav is,” Miss Lina pointed out, stopping in her tracks and turning around to face us, “but we know what he’s looking for. So that’s the first step—find the other weapon that Dark Star created. We’ll bag that and find Valgaav. Two birds,” she said, punching her right fist into her left hand, “one stone.”

    “But couldn’t we just wait for him to find us?” Mister Gourry asked, his eyebrows drawing together as he placed his hand on the hilt of his sword. “He’s looking for this too, right Lina?”

    “Sure, we could,” she said, waving off his argument, “but we’ve gotta take all the chances we have to get these things out of their hands. And anyway,” she added, giving him a pointed look, “we should have an insurance policy in case you lose my Sword of Light.”

    “I won’t lose it and it’s mine,” Mister Gourry retorted, his grip tightening on the hilt.

    “I’m not saying that isn’t our best option right now,” Mister Zelgadis cut in, ignoring Mister Gourry’s emphatic claim on the sword, “but we don’t know where the Dark Star weapon is any more than we know where Valgaav is.”

    “Yeah? Well, that’s where a little research comes in,” Lina answered with a shrug. “It shouldn’t be that hard to find it. It’s not like back home where there are enchanted weapons in every dungeon, bazaar and tomb.”

    “But at the same time, it’s not as though there are any sorcery guilds to give us specialized information on magical items. This isn’t the kind of thing we’re likely to find out about in a normal library,” Mister Zelgadis pointed out. He seemed rather grimly aware of this fact, which I hope means that at least the libraries of the Outer World will be immune from his violent attempts to find a cure for his chimerism.

    “Perhaps we should’ve stayed back at the temple and looked through the records there,” I suggested, but without any hope that they’d take up the offer or really any desire on my part for them to do so.

    They all turned to me at the same time, their expressions heavy. “No,” Mister Zelgadis said simply. He seemed to be speaking for all of them.

    I couldn’t help but let a sigh escape. “I know,” I said.

    When I looked up from my despondent glance at the ground, Miss Lina was shifting her weight awkwardly with an expression of one trying only very slightly not to give offense. “So, did you have any clue they were going to be like that back there, Filia?” she asked. “I mean… I guess I thought just from knowing you that they might be a bit, I don’t know, uptight, but that…” She trailed off and shook her head, unable to fully give words to the situation.

    If I may take one moment to go off-topic here, I’d just want to say that I am not uptight. She only says that because I disapprove of her decimating the pantries of every restaurant we step foot in and allowing a servant of darkness to be in our traveling party. These are not little things that I should be expected to let slide! No reasonable person would tolerate the things she and the others put me through.

    Uptight? Ha! They could stand to be more uptight. Uptighter! …Or perhaps they should simply be less downloose!

    …But at the time I didn’t say that. Establishing that this is not the take-away picture of my people that they should keep in their minds seemed more important. “I don’t know why they wouldn’t see our side of it,” I said. “I think they must’ve been very worried about the prophecy and of Dark Star—so they just… were too hasty.” It’s not a great excuse, I know.

    Miss Amelia snapped into a righteous pose like an elastic band twanging back. “No matter how worried they were, siding with the bad guys and trying to steal from the good guys all under the pretense of justice is definitely wrong! We gave them absolutely no reason to turn on us like that!”

    “Well, we did kind of wreck their stuff,” Mister Gourry pointed out with a shrug. “But that was an accident.”

    “Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised,” Mister Zelgadis put in bitterly, crossing his arms. “The dragons may have a goal that is diametrically opposed to the monsters, but they take just as hard a line about it and care just as little about the collateral damage it takes to achieve it.”

    That was too much for me to take. It’s uncomfortable for me to bear this criticism of my people, but I will because the way we represented ourselves yesterday was really really criticizable. But that remark was grossly unfair! “We are not like the monsters,” I snapped back. “Yes, I’ll admit that I don’t really know what the council of elders was thinking with that deal they tried to strike with Almayce, but—but I’m sure their intentions were good! And no harm that the monsters do can even qualify as collateral damage when you think about it,” I added, as a thought struck me. “Because they have no unintended targets! They want to destroy everything! My people are not like that. Not…” I trailed off, some of the power leeching out of my voice. “…Not usually,” I finished weakly.

    “I don’t think you can really lump all the dragons together on this, Zel” Miss Lina said giving me what might be considered a charitable look—at least charitable for her.

    “Yeah, don’t forget that Mister Milgazia wasn’t like that,” Miss Amelia pointed out.

    Miss Lina let out a snort. “And he had a better reason than the Supreme Elder not to help us. It was pretty damn clear to everyone involved that Hellmaster was using us as pawns.”

    “He didn’t really have a choice in the matter,” Zelgadis countered, slightly annoyed that he was now on the wrong side of this argument. He gave me a little nod. “I’m not trying to drag you into this or anything, Filia—you took our side. I’m just saying that if Xellos hadn’t been there both yesterday and back in the Katahto Mountains, both our encounters with golden dragons might’ve turned out very differently.”

    Miss Lina shook her head. “Nah, I don’t think so. I mean, sure he had to show us the Claire Bible because of Xellos, but he didn’t, like, shame us for going along with it or anything. And he helped us out.” She looked slyly at him. “Or have you forgotten how he healed Amelia from her near-fatal wounds?”

    He flinched slightly. “No,” he said. “I haven’t forgotten.”

    “So yeah,” Miss Lina summed up. “Milgazia. A good guy, even though he had a terrible sense of humor.”

    “I guess it just goes to show that there are good golden dragons, right?” Mister Gourry asked, sounding like he was commenting on events he hadn’t been there for. “Like Malgizia and Filia.”

    “Milgazia,” Miss Lina enunciated irritably.

    “Right,” Mister Gourry said, smiling. “Him.”

    “Thanks, I suppose,” I said, not managing much of a grateful tone. And really, I was glad that they’d had a positive experience with the servants of the Water Dragon King. And of course that they still supported me. But… “But most all golden dragons are good, not just a select few. It’s just…” I clasped my hands together awkwardly in front of me. “It’s just hard to tell when they’re not acting that way…”

    “Hey,” Miss Lina said, giving a friendly wink, “there’s not much point in sitting around talking about who’s good and who’s bad and who’s right and who’s wrong. We’ve got a job to do and when we do it right our way, we can prove that their way was wrong.”

    I hope she’s right. I hope we can do this without making the sacrifices that the Supreme Elder seemed to think were so necessary. And I hope that when we do, the elders can see that there’s another way…

    We’re not that far from a town and with any luck it’ll have a well-stocked library. So in a few days we will really begin that process of hunting down the Dark Star weapon—not to give it to Almayce as the Supreme Elder thought was best, but to keep it from him and from Valgaav. We’ve got to try it—and we’ve got to succeed.

    “It’ll be tough to find the Dark Star weapon just relying on town libraries,” Miss Amelia said, but in a tone that implied she was ready to rise to the challenge.

    “No big deal,” Miss Lina replied confidently. “That’s what we’ve got Zel for. He’s used to heavy book-lifting.”

    “Oh, thanks a lot,” Mister Zelgadis said with a groan that implied that he foresaw a future of trudging through very boring volumes of books while the rest of the group went off to eat foot long sandwiches and ice cream sundaes.

    “What? You think we can count on Gourry in the speed-reading department?” Miss Lina jibed, nodding her head in his direction.

    “I’d rather be sleep-reading,” Mister Gourry admitted unselfconsciously.

    “And before too long, Xellos will probably show up again with some unexplained book with a lead that sounds much better than it actually turns out to be and we’ll be on our way again!” Miss Lina declared optimistically.

    “…That is how it works a weird amount of the time,” Amelia said, pressing her index finger to her chin thoughtfully.

    Xellos. I almost complained about him being gone, but I’m not going to this time. I’m not going to run through a million questions or wonder where he could possibly be or ask myself why he didn’t return to the group once we left the temple or ponder what he could be doing that’s so all-fired important that he’s doing that instead of finding Valgaav with us which I thought was supposed to be his goal too. I’m not going to ask any of these questions or grumble about this nasty, stuck-up attitude he has that makes him think he can just casually abandon us and come back whenever he, Xellos, feels like it. I’m not going to waste time with any of that. I’m just going to enjoy his absence for the brief time it lasts.

    And it will be brief. He’ll be back soon.

    10:44 pm.

    I’m sure of it.

    Monday, April 23rd.

    Taran Library. 10:22 pm.


    I told you so.

    10:26 pm.

    Okay, first I suppose I should explain where I am before I even mention the unfortunate re-edition to our traveling party (too late, but let’s move on).

    You know, it used to be that spending the night camped out by the side of the road or even in a room at an inn was odd to me—simply because anywhere that wasn’t the temple was odd. Now all those things are finally becoming normal to me. …But spending the night in a library is a new one, I can say that.

    It’s obviously not new for the others. Mister Gourry’s the only one still in this room—the others went off to investigate the stacks—and he is sleep-reading to his heart’s content, obviously not at all uncomfortable using a book for a pillow.

    But comfort isn’t an issue here. We’re not meant to sleep. We’re meant to be pulling an all-nighter, extracting as much information from this library as we possibly can before we move on. And, honestly, we’re lucky to be in a city like Taran that’s big enough and wealthy enough to have a facility like this. In other towns there might have only been some outdated encyclopedias and farming almanacs.

    …But no matter how many books this place has, it’s no substitute for a sorcerer’s guild. There’s a dearth of books on legendary magical items. Or, I suppose I should say that there are some. But they’re filed under fiction. We’ll have to try to search them out anyway if nothing more legitimate-sounding comes up, but I’d really rather not waste our time chasing after fairy tales—especially with so much hanging in the balance.

    I’m also really desperate to get a better lead because the last time I saw Miss Lina she was muttering something about how we should be looking for oral legends instead of ones written in books. I’m not saying that’s wrong or anything, but Mister Zelgadis pretty much summed up my worry when he came back at her with, “did you mean eating your way through every diner you can find as an excuse to ‘talk to the locals’ or just beating the information out of bandits?” Miss Lina’s response for the record? A murmured, “both.” No thank you. We do not need to be wasting time on either of those things.

    It doesn’t help that we couldn’t really get help from the staff—even when they were here. At first They greeted us with dewy smiles and seemed perfectly willing to assist us. They were even kind enough to warn us, “because you look like strangers around here,” that they’d been hearing some “troubling rumors” about a “band of maniacs” that are traveling around the country, who are “dangerous” and “can use magic.”

    I wonder who they were talking about.

    They even said that these supposed “weirdoes” had enchanted a shrine to crash into a bunch of towns around here! We are getting a terrible reputation and it’s not my fault!

    The librarians got pretty suspicious of us when they found out what we were looking for and tried to subtly get us to leave all the while the library was open. Not that it worked. They’re gone and we’re still here. There was a lot of “well, it’s closing time” and “I’m sure you all have places you’d like to be” from them, but Miss Lina wouldn’t budge. The last effort one of the librarians tried was to nervously say, “We have to put out the candles now—can’t waste the tallow, you know!” Miss Lina snarled back, “Fine. We don’t need them” (she was a bit frustrated with our lack of progress at this point).

    And she was right. We don’t need the candles. The place is better lit now with the array of lighting spells we put up.

    The staff gave up after that and went home. I think they were too scared of Miss Lina to make any real attempts to kick us out or to call for the guard or anything. They just locked the doors behind them when they left—hence the fact that we are spending the night in the library.

    And when they locked the doors behind them, there were five of us here: me, Miss Lina, Mister Gourry, Mister Zelgadis and Miss Amelia. Now there are six.

    “Hmm. That’s interesting.”

    I jolted up in my seat. All I’d heard for the last hour was Mister Gourry snoring softly from an armchair and, well, admittedly I was on the edge of dozing off by that point too.

    I looked up from my book (a very non-scholarly sounding epic poem about the quest for a sword that can supposedly only be wielded by one of royal blood. Doesn’t sound worth our time) to see Xellos striding past one of the three bookshelves that enclosed the area around my table. He was holding a book in front of him with an air of mild curiosity.

    Because I was half asleep, I replied with “What?” when the response of “You have a lot of nerve even speaking to me after purposefully making me look bad back at the temple, you conceited, no-account jerk!” would’ve been infinitely more appropriate.

    He walked over and perched himself on the table—even though there were plenty of chairs available. I’m sure that’s against the rules of the library, but then again, I don’t think I’m in a position to judge right now.

    “Have you ever considered the peace-time applications of cannons?” he asked me, as though this was a completely normal question to just put to someone out of the blue.

    Obviously, I’m sure you can see why I didn’t really understand what he was getting at. “What are you—” I began before he interrupted me by holding out a hand.

    “I’m not referring to salutes or fireworks displays or anything like that,” he added, rubbing the finger of his other hand against the spine of the book.

    I blinked, still feeling drowsy and baffled by this impromptu quiz about artillery being given to me by my (im)mortal enemy.

    He seemed satisfied that I wasn’t going to come up with an answer. “Avalanches,” he said simply.

    At that moment, I was picturing someone trying to fire a cannonball into an avalanche as a means of stopping it, which seemed kind of… stupid.

    “It’s safe triggering,” Xellos went on, probably noting the extremely confused look on my face. “Instead of waiting for an avalanche to happen unexpectedly and when there may be casualties, cannon fire can trigger a smaller avalanche when the area is prepared to take the hit.”

    It made a sort of weird amount of sense, but I still didn’t understand why he brought it up until he closed the book with a smile on his face. “It’s a funny little idea,” he said. “Purposefully create a catastrophe to avoid one that might be even bigger and more costly.”

    And then I knew immediately what he was getting at, even before he set the book down next to him on the table and said, “Though I suppose there’s a very appreciable difference between triggering an avalanche on your own land that you’re prepared to handle, and triggering a wall of snow to fall down the other side of the mountain so that it’s someone else’s problem …wouldn’t you say?”

    I wouldn’t say. I just glared up at him. “What are you doing here?” I asked him—coldly, directly.

    “Researching, of course,” he answered brightly. “Just the same as all of you.”

    At that moment Mister Gourry let out an impressive snort from his chair, smacked his lips together a few times, and then quieted into a milder series of snores, his nose whistling slightly as he breathed.

    “It’s in my interest to find Valgaav as well—don’t forget,” Xellos reminded me.

    “By reading up on cannons and avalanches?” I retorted, arms crossed.

    He shrugged his shoulders. I really didn’t care for the fact that he’d chosen to sit on the table instead of the chair across from me. He’s already a little taller than me, but by sitting on the table he got to look down on me—which isn’t at all okay. Oh well. At least I always have the moral high ground if not the actual high ground.

    “I was looking into their manuscripts of weaponry,” he explained. “However,” he went on, reaching a hand down to rap against the cover of A History of Cannons, “I somehow don’t think I’ll find the legendary Dark Star howitzer mentioned in here.”

    I refused to laugh at his joke—on general principle, of course, but also because he didn’t really answer my initial question. He explained why he was in the library, but not why he specifically chose to bother me—aside from the fact that he’s a mean-spirited bully. “And so you decided to take a break to annoy me with pointless cannon trivia?” I asked pointedly.

    “Well, not really. Actually,” he said, regarding me critically, “I have a question for you.”

    “What is it?” I hissed.

    He tucked his legs up onto the table and crisscrossed them—more behavior that the library staff would’ve frowned upon if they’d been there to see him tracking dirt onto the table, except… except that his boots were completely clean. I’m not just talking about well taken care of or brushed off, I’m talking new, out of the package clean. I’m talking impossibly clean for any boots worn by anyone walking on any surface. I can tell you this with certainty because I’ve learned on this trip that wearing white boots was probably a mistake. But Xellos is rather… creepily clean—particularly for absolute garbage.

    “It’s something I’ve been wondering about, oh… I’d say since we first met,” he went on, not spitting out his question. “And now, after seeing you in your, ah, ‘element’ back at the temple, I’m even more curious.”

    “If you’re going to ask something then just ask it,” I said through gritted teeth.

    His closed eyes twitched slightly, as though annoyed that I’d interrupted him from delivering some grand monologue before he managed to get to his point. “Fine,” he said. His tone was not angry or even particularly snide, but every word seemed to have a little extra force behind it. “Then why don’t you tell me what exactly is so special about you?”

    My initial reaction was shock. …Okay, perhaps shock is overkill. But if I’d thought that the quiz about cannons had been unusual and off-putting it didn’t prepared me at all to be interrogated about my… specialness.

    My secondary response was to be furious. You don’t have to be a master communicator to read the “I don’t think you’re special at all, so why don’t you tell me why you think you’re special so I can disagree” subtext behind that line. And when did I ever claim to be special?

    Excuse me?” I possibly-maybe shrieked. “Just where does trash like you get off saying I’m not special?”

    He opened one eye and peered at me judgmentally. “I suppose I should rephrase that as: for what special qualities were you chosen by your elders to be in charge of this all-important, fate-of-the-world prophecy your people have received?”

    My blood ceased its boiling. I unclenched my fists and tried to craft an answer. “I guess I—”

    “Because you’d think a more senior dragon would’ve been selected for something this dire,” he mused, cutting me off.

    “Priestess of the First Holy Order is pretty senior,” I commented, perhaps a bit sullen.

    He waved a hand at me like this achievement meant nothing to him. “And it’s not as though you’re particularly even-tempered or diplomatic or, well…” he trailed off with a nasty smile on his face, “competent.”

    I slammed my hands down on the table and stood up so that I could scowl at him face to face instead of just looking up. “I don’t think I should have to take comments about my peace-keeping ability from some pitiless fiend who solves his problems by blowing them up!”

    He shook his head. “By failing to keep your cool and resorting to yelling and name-calling, you’re really just proving my point,” he informed me, all high and mighty.

    I froze for a moment. Admittedly I had lost my temper a bit—the fact that I could feel my tail brushing against the carpeted floor was all the proof I needed of that. And, yes, I hadn’t spoken in a manner that was at all diplomatic. On the other hand, I hadn’t intended to. “But it was competent yelling and name-calling,” I asserted.

    He opened up his mouth and made an exasperated little sound. After a moment he swallowed and grudgingly muttered, “Perhaps halfway.”

    I sat back down, satisfied that I’d raged in a capable manner. “Well, there you go,” I said.

    “But I doubt being able to construct grade-school level taunts was really something your elders were looking for in an envoy,” Xellos commented, his tone acidic and his smile gone.

    “No,” he went on, tapping his fingertips against his knee. “At first I thought perhaps that the Supreme Elder chose you because he must’ve had some misguided trust in your judgment, but that’s clearly not the case.”

    “He does trust my judgment,” I responded stiffly. “He said so himself.”

    “He did not, however, say so with his actions,” Xellos reminded me, “and that’s what really matters.”

    I don’t think Xellos came here at all to find out why the Supreme Elder chose me. I think it was just a convenient excuse to rub salt in my wounds, no matter what he says.

    “I’d also thought that perhaps you were chosen simply because you were loyal to him,” Xellos went on. “That would make sense by dragon standards—give the job to someone who’s blindly loyal instead of someone who can actually manage it.”

    I opened my mouth to hiss something scathing at him, but he continued talking before I’d managed to string anything together. “But,” he went on, a sense of renewed enjoyment in his tone, “you went and proved that you’re not completely blind… and not completely loyal.”

    “I—I am too loyal,” I struggled to come back with. I had difficulty switching gears because I’d been intended to respond to that fact that I wasn’t chosen just for loyalty as his previous comment had asserted.

    “Oh?” he asked. “Then how do you explain your traitorous little turn back at the temple?”

    “It’s not traitorous,” I disagreed. Putting it that way just made it sound so… so awful. “I couldn’t stand by and let my people make such a mistake. It would’ve been traitorous to just stand by and let them give the sword to Almayce!”

    He grinned and shook his head. “Nice try, Filia,” he said. “But I don’t think you’ll get very far with the betrayal-in-your-best-interest argument.”

    “I’m not trying anything,” I said, annoyed that he thinks everyone is as manipulative as he is. “It’s the truth.”

    “I know,” he answered quietly. “And it makes me wonder if…” he trailed off and shook his head. “No, no,” he decided about whatever he’d been thinking. “That would be giving the dragons far too much tactical credit.”

    “What are you talking about?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at him.

    “Let’s just say for now, Filia, that your people play checkers, while the monsters tend to favor chess,” he said with a grin. “Assuming that we’re playing the same game would be a mistake on my part—it’d be overthinking to assign a strategy that isn’t there to your side’s movements.”

    “This isn’t a game,” I reminded him crossly. “And are you calling us stupid?” I demanded. “Because it sounds to me like you’re just trying to spin ‘cheating’ as ‘playing a more complicated game!’”

    He smiled weakly. “Oh, I’m sure I didn’t mean ‘stupid’ as such. I think the implication was more… ‘simple.’”

    “That comes down to the same thing!” I answered, unwilling to let him spin words to get out of this.

    “Not precisely,” he said. “Would you like me to get a dictionary for you? There must be one around here. Although, I’m sure that a smart dragon such as yourself can make the distinction between ‘stupid’ and ‘simple’ on your own.” He did not, for the record, sound sure of any such thing. In fact, he sounded twerpishly certain that I was not smart enough to do so.

    “I don’t care where you go or what book you get—just as long as you leave,” I informed him.

    “Hmm, perhaps I will then,” he said, getting up. “After all, I don’t think I’ll get any more of an answer to my question from you. I’ll just have to…” He held up his index finger as he began to fade from the scene. “…Watch and wait.”

    Hmmph! “Watch and wait.” Well, I can add Xellos along with the elders of people to the list of people I’m going to prove wrong by succeeding on the quest. They both expect not-so-great-things from me. Well, he can watch and wait as much as he likes. It will work out. It must.

    …At least it will if I can find information on where the Dark Star weapon is; which is looking unfortunately doubtful right now.

    …Oh forget this. None of these books have any reliable information in them. I might as well read Xellos’s stupid book on cannons. It’s not like it’s going to be any less useless then what’s already in front of me.

    11:38 pm.

    Magical vessels?!
     
  18. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 18. All War, No Peace.

    Tuesday, April 24th.

    Flapjack and Flapjill’s House of Pancakes. 10:34 am.


    We have a destination! …or I suppose I should say we have two destinations. Three if you want to count finding a harbor with a boat that will take us to those destinations—but let’s just say two final destinations and leave it at that.

    You’ll recall researching at the library in Taran yesterday was going so poorly that I actually resorted to reading that book on cannons that Xellos left behind? Well… it actually yielded a lead. Though I’m sure he didn’t mean to help. Goodness knows he’d probably be annoyed if he found out he had accidentally added something of value to the group. I’d tell him just for that… but I don’t want him thinking we owe him or anything. It was probably just luck that he picked up the right book anyway. The devil’s luck!

    It’s really strange to think that I found a possible lead to the location of the Dark Star weapons in a book on the history of cannons, of all things, but it’s certainly better than anything else we managed to discover from our research. See, I was reading the book and admittedly it was rather boring, but something caught my eye when the text began going on about the escalation of warfare resulting in the building of much more massive cannons than had previously been built. The book singled out the neighboring island kingdoms of Alto and Baritone as leaders in the race to build the biggest and best cannon. What motivation did the text give for their haste to build powerful cannons? To protect the magical vessel that each kingdom possesses.

    Nowhere in the text was any scoffing of this notion! There was no “but these are based on an old and likely untrue legend” or “this is probably just a story to attract tourist.” The existence of magical vessels was stated as fact in this book.

    So, yes, I’m aware that a magical vessel could mean anything and that there isn’t anything specifically about Dark Star mentioned in relation to the vessels. But, then again, Mister Gourry didn’t know that his Sword of Light was associated with Dark Star, even after it being in his family for a long time.

    This lead is good for us because, not only did we get it out of something that at least claims to be nonfiction, but it also has a concrete location that I can find on a map. It’s not “The Lost Kingdom of Legendaria” or any such thing you could read about in mythical accounts. This is a place we can find and go to right now.

    …And as so as we can find a ship to take us there, that’s what we’ll be doing!

    Saturday, April 28th.

    The Lucille-Marie. 8:30 am.


    After a great deal of haggling and spending more money than I wanted to, we’ve finally booked passage to Baritone and Alto. I could complain about the price here, but the fact of the matter is that we would’ve been paying a lot more if Miss Lina hadn’t basically sold Mister Gourry into slavery. Temporary slavery, but slavery none the less! I’ve seen what it’s like below deck and it’s not pretty; the giant man who keeps beating a drum isn’t making the setting any less grim.

    “I don’t know about this, Lina,” Mister Gourry said, eyeing the skeleton thin men sitting on the rowing benches.

    “You’ll be fine,” Miss Lina said, turning her face away to avoid the scent of man-sweat and possibly-maybe blood. “You’ve got strong arms.”

    …And that was the end of that discussion. I hope she at least bothers to check on him periodically.

    Well, for the rest of us it should be a nice trip. The weather has been clear since we set sail a few hours ago and the sailors are too scared Miss Lina will turn them into frogs to bother us too much. I don’t know why Miss Lina specifically threatened to turn them into frogs, because I’m pretty sure that she can’t actually do that. Lobbing fireballs at them is something she can do, and that seems much more terrifying than being a frog—I mean, you’d be an amphibian, but at least you’d be alive.

    I’m wondering if Xellos will come back while we’re on the ship… He disappeared shortly after we left Taran (without even bothering to let us know why he was leaving or when he’d be back), and it just occurs to me what bad shape we’ll be in if he does come back while we’re on the ship. The captain would probably think we snuck him onboard or something and then make me pay for the extra passenger. Well, I refuse to pay his way! If he tries that on me then he can swim to shore for all I care!

    …Granted, he’d probably just teleport to shore… or pay his own way. I mean, he has money. I’m not sure where he gets it, but it’s probably ill-gotten.

    Ugh. He better not show his face here and cause trouble. The captain’s already not a fan of us because of Miss Lina scaring his crew and scoffing at his larder (“That’s really all the food you brought?!”). He keeps glaring at us with his one good eye. You’d think it would be hard to glare with one eye, but somehow the eye patch actually adds instead of detracting from the threatening effect. In any case, we don’t need Xellos around to make us less popular.

    Monday, April 30th.

    The Lucille-Marie. Hammock. 3:08 pm.


    …You know, in retrospect, a sensitive personal question such as “Do you think I’m competent?” would’ve probably been better addressed to someone besides Mister Zelgadis. I mean, Miss Amelia probably would’ve gasped and said something like, “Of course you are! Why would you think you’re not?” Miss Lina probably would’ve muttered, “What? Sure. Whatever,” and then continued biting the heads off of fish, and Mister Gourry probably would’ve said anything I wanted to hear as long as I brought him food.

    But I asked Mister Zelgadis… and considering that I asked Mister Zelgadis, it really went okay. He doesn’t sugar-coat things, so it really could’ve gotten worse. I hadn’t planned to ask him, though. It just kind of happened.

    I’d gone out onto the deck after lunch as was enjoying the sea air—yesterday it had been far too windy to spend much time on deck unless I wanted to lose my hat, but it’s been relatively calm today. I saw Mister Zelgadis surveying the area around us with a telescope and jotting down some notes, so I walked over to greet him—and that’s when I noticed something.

    “You can’t see it anymore,” I mumbled.

    “What?” Mister Zelgadis asked, lowering his telescope and turning around to look at me.

    “The temple,” I clarified, pointing out toward the now-invisible shore. “We could see the highest tower for such a long time, but now it’s too far away.”

    He looked at me carefully, collapsing his telescope. He closed his eyes for a moment as if he had a headache. “You didn’t have to come along with us, you know,” he said. “You could’ve stayed if you wanted to.”

    “Oh, no,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m not homesick or anything,” I explained, giving him the benefit of the doubt that his comment was out of difficult-to-express sympathy and not an attempt to ditch me. “In fact,” I went on, feeling a little guilty even saying it, “I’m sort of relieved it’s out of sight. I felt like it was watching me.”

    Not a nice sort of guardian-angel watching, mind you—a judgmental sort of watching.

    And thinking about that sense of being watched—of being looked on with disappointment by the council of elders who never wanted me to take this job in the first place and the Supreme Elder who may be rethinking his decision—made me think of what Xellos said back at the library. That’s why I had to ask it.

    “Do you think I’m competent?”

    He fumbled a bit with his telescope and gave me a surprised look. “What?” he asked.

    “I just… wanted to know what you thought,” I said, cringing slightly at my thoughtless question, but not willing to take it back once it had been said, “about me being the one the elders chose.”

    He stared at me for a moment as though unsure why I was there and why I was addressing this question to him. Then he looked out at the sea, towards the direction where the temple was, somewhere beyond the sea and land and clouds. “Considering how the other golden dragons treated us,” he began, shaking his head, “I don’t think we even would’ve agreed to come along if they’d sent anyone else.”

    Looking back at the incidents at the temple, this seemed true enough, but it wasn’t a very satisfying answer. “But even without comparing me to them, do you think I’m competent?”

    He grimaced slightly, trying to figure out how to put it. “…I suppose you could look at it this way,” he finally said, turning to me, “do you think we’re competent?”

    At first I didn’t know what to say—and it seemed unfairly evasive for him to turn the question around on me like that.

    “Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Filia, but you actually fit in surprisingly well with our group,” he went on. “Maybe a little too well,” he added in a low mutter.

    …And I think I kind of get what he was saying. He, Miss Lina, Mister Gourry and Miss Amelia aren’t always what you’d call 100% task oriented, and sometimes they mess up or get distracted, but nevertheless, they get things done. Am I… like that too? I suppose I’ve had my… less than perfect moments. A town may have burned to the ground due to my (completely justifiable) rage and I may have been unable to stop them from sending a shrine careening into the temple but… well, I got them there, didn’t I?

    Massive property damage may not seem particularly competent but… they’re capable of a lot. And I think he was trying to say that I am too.

    It’s nice to be included, I suppose. Even if it’s in the town-destroying, buffet-inhaling, justice-preaching brigade. I suppose it’s not so bad, really, if I’m as competent as they are.

    …Umm… but perhaps I’d like to be just a bit more competent than them. I’m not asking for much just… a little more competence…

    “What made you think you weren’t anyway?” Mister Zelgadis asked, eyeing me suspiciously.

    “Oh,” I said, snapping back to reality. “He asked me why the Supreme Elder chose me and was acting like I was a terrible choice because he doesn’t think I’m ‘competent,’” I said bitterly. After a moment, I realized that Mister Zelgadis couldn’t automatically know who I was talking about. “Xellos, I mean.”

    Mister Zelgadis looked away, mildly disgusted by the turn the conversation had taken. “Since when do you listen to him?” he asked.

    “I don’t!” I answered, perhaps a little too emphatically.

    He didn’t seem entirely convinced. He cupped his stony chin in his hand. “I wonder what he was after…”

    It was my turn to say: “What?”

    He gave me an impatient sort of look. “You shouldn’t take what he says at face value,” he warned. “He probably has multiple motives for anything he does or says. It’s wrong to assume he was just asking you something out of curiosity.”

    “Oh, I don’t think he was curious at all!” I declared, sticking my nose up in the air. “I think he was just trying to be annoying.”

    He tilted his head as though admitting that was a fair point. “I’m sure that’s part of it,” he said, “but I doubt it’s all.”

    He leaned against the side of the ship, crossed his arms and glowered. “I’d rather just fight a monster any day than deal with this. At least that would be straightforward.” He shook his head. “Lina’s pragmatic about his treating us like pawns, and I suppose that’s really the only way to handle this.” He rolled his shoulders back and looked off to the side. “But I can’t say I share her attitude about it.”

    It makes me think… Xellos is different from other monsters. Different in a worse way, of course. Spreading pain and panic and destruction is bad no matter how you slice it, but at least there’s something... straightforward, as Mister Zelgadis said, about the beasts that howl and slather and growl. Xellos said something about the monsters favoring chess? Well, he certainly does. And we don’t know yet if we’re just pawns to be sacrificed or important pieces to be held onto. He’s manipulative and nasty and cruel and acts like he isn’t half the time. And he comes back like a bad penny. Miss Lina and the others have faced more powerful monsters, sure, like Gaav and Hellmaster. But those two are gone and Xellos is still around. He’s a cockroach.

    Different… he’s different from other monsters.

    My goodness… what did Miss Lina and the others think before they found out what he is? What would I have thought if I couldn’t tell by his sickening aura?

    I’ve gotten used to it now… sort of. I mean, I don’t have to fight off transforming just because he’s around (unless he opens his big mouth), but I do get a little nauseous sometimes. I’m not sure if that’s residual effects from the aura or just the result of his revolting personality.

    But what if I couldn’t sense that? What if I didn’t know? What if I hadn’t given him reason to abandon the nice guy act on me because it worked?

    Ugh… the idea just makes my skin crawl. The thought of me just… going along with it in blissful ignorance…

    Good thing I know better.

    Saturday, May 1st.

    The Lucille-Marie. Deck. 9.55 am.


    The ship just made its stop in Baritone and Miss Amelia and Mister Zelgadis got off. We decided to split up into two groups to search the islands for the magical vessels. I had the choice of going either with Miss Amelia and Mister Zelgadis or Miss Lina and Mister Gourry (who keeps moving his arms back and forth like he’s still rowing), so I chose the latter. After all, Miss Amelia and Mister Zelgadis tend to require less supervision to stay on task than Miss Lina and Mister Gourry. If those two had their way, they’d probably be checking out every restaurant in the Kingdom before any serious magical vessel-hunting was attempted.

    We should be heading for Alto next but… it’s strange. We don’t seem to be taking the direct route there. Instead, the Captain has steered the boat back toward open waters. I asked him why—terrified that we’d somehow misunderstood him and that he wouldn’t be going to Alto after all. He wouldn’t answer me. Instead he just switched his eye patch to the other eye. …Why would someone wear an eye patch if both their eyes are perfectly healthy?

    Wait… what are they doing to the name on the side of the ship? What is going on here?

    The Marie-Lucille? Deck. 10:18 am.

    Okay, so, apparently the story is this: Baritone and Alto, despite being very closely neighboring kingdoms, don’t want to do something sensible like split the cost of importing and exporting goods. They insist on being serviced by completely different ships. The operator of the shipping company that owns this boat, however, would prefer to save money by only sending one ship (and pocket the extra from Alto and Baritone), so… what do they do? Why, they go out to sea just far enough away that Alto can think the Baritone ship has left and theirs has just arrived, the captain pretends to be an entirely different captain and they change the name of the ship!

    …This is madness. But I suppose there’s probably just some hard feelings between the kingdoms concerning whatever old war that book mentioned them being involved in. I guess that’s not unreasonable to expect.

    Whatever the case, we’ll be in Alto before too long and then whatever petty past disagreements these two countries have won’t matter anymore.

    Alto. Patio Café. 11:39 am.

    Well, we’ve picked up a map. Now all I have to do is feed Miss Lina and Mister Gourry (a modest meal) so they’re not so distracted by hunger that they can’t focus on our objective and then we can finally go searching for Alto’s magical vessel!

    I must say, Alto’s nice enough but strangely… fortified. I mean, it looked pretty austere when we first got here. I expected more of… I don’t know, nautical designs from a seaside kingdom. But these thick, stone city walls must be traces of whatever disagreement Alto had with its neighboring kingdom in the distant past.

    But… I noticed before we gave the waiter our order that every door and window I can see from here has a metal covering or shutter over it that seems ready to snap in place to protect the building’s vulnerable points at a moment’s notice. I can only assume that this is for storm prevention. Hurricanes must be a problem out here.

    I certainly hope they’re not heading into a stormy season. It would be just our luck if we walked in at a time like that.

    Palace Dungeon. 4:33 pm.

    Shot at and then thrown in prison! These are not the kinds of things that happen to good people! This is the kind of treatment that evil-doers and criminals are meant to receive!

    …Oh my goodness… what kind of life have I fallen into? What am I becoming?!

    4:46 pm.

    And now we’ll never get out because the King thinks we’re here to steal the magical vessel and Miss Lina and Mister Gourry didn’t exactly do a whole lot to change his mind.

    …The beginning? It’ll be some time before we can sort out this misunderstanding and get out of here so I suppose I should record everything that happened. It’s better than spending my time listening to Miss Lina complain about how hungry she is.

    Okay, I want to emphasize the fact that we were minding our own business. We were just sitting around in the café, waiting for our food, making small talk about whether or not the magical vessel might turn out to be one of the Dark Star weapons, when suddenly a bell, situated in a high, mortar tower started to ring.

    At that sound, the people, a moment before so absorbed in the bustling of their trades, dropped their items with panicked cries and raced into the nearest building, shuttering the reinforced door and window coverings once they were inside. In the town square below us, a guard wearing a disc-shaped metal helmet opened up a trapdoor in the floor and began leading the remaining townsfolk down into a secret cellar. Once everyone was inside, he jumped down after them, closing the door behind him.

    We were, to say the least, a little confused.

    “What’s up?” Miss Lina asked, looking over the balcony at this display. “Is everyone taking a siesta?”

    That was when our waiter approached us, wearing the same helmet as the guard. “I beg your pardon, but it’s time for us to close,” he said.

    “Why? I haven’t even gotten my order yet,” Miss Lina asked, focused, as ever, on food.

    The waiter bowed to her, all the while backing away toward another trap door that I’d only just noticed had been opened up. “Forgive me,” he said. “We look forward to serving you… later.” And, with that, he hopped backwards into the hole in the ground, letting the door close and lock behind him.

    You know, looking back at this, I have to wonder, if everybody knew what was about to happen, why no one took the time to say to us something like, “Hey, you three look new around here, so you probably don’t know that this place is about to turn into a warzone. You’d better get underground with the rest of us.” If only someone had bothered to warn us then we wouldn’t have wound up locked in this cell like the thieves we most certainly aren’t!

    But nobody bothered to do that. So instead, the only brief warning we got that something terrible was about to happen was a distant blast and a whistle as something big approached us at high speed. We all stared—too shocked to move quite yet—as a red ball, so big it could’ve easily crushed all three of us, flew in from across the sea and slammed into the wall above us with enough force to knock us to the floor. The ball then crashed down, right in front of us. It just barely missed clipping Mister Gourry’s foot.

    “What is going on?” I asked, but we had barely a minute to process things before we heard another blast from across the ocean.

    In that moment, I spied a helmet on the ground—the same kind that I’d seen the guard and waiter wearing earlier. Someone must’ve dropped it in their haste to get clear of the blast zone. Without stopping to think, I picked it up and put it on over my own hat.

    The moment I’d put it on, another metal ball smacked into the wall above us with a sickening crack.

    Miss Lina was gaping at it, open-mouthed. She could find no words.

    “It’s a cannon,” I explained to her, clinging to my helmet and wishing fervently that I hadn’t assumed that Alto and Baritone’s use of cannons was something that had only happened in the past, “and it uses gunpowder to launch a giant ball at a target.”

    “I can see that!” Miss Lina shouted, pointing angrily at the cannonball. “But what I want to know is—”

    She didn’t get to finish her statement as the cannonball dislodged itself from the wall above and fell straight for us. Mister Gourry leapt into action, drawing his Sword of Light and slashing the projectile in half. …It would’ve been the perfect save if it weren’t for the fact that half of the shell landed right on top of him.

    Luckily the cannonballs are hollow inside, so Mister Gourry was only trapped, not crushed. Miss Lina and I grabbed whatever we could find and tried to level the heavy shell off of him. All the while he was shouting muffled things like, “What gives?!” and “It’s dark in here!” and “Help me!”

    After not being able to lift the cannonball off of him, Miss Lina turned around and addressed the empty space around us in frustrated tones. “Xellos, I know you’re around here somewhere!” she shouted. “Come out and give us a hand!”

    And you know what’s actually kind of worrying? He appeared! He just flashed into existence sitting on top of a column looking down at us. …Does that mean he was following us the whole time and just not making his presence known? That’s just… creepy! If he’s going to be around he should let people know so they don’t wind up talking about him like he’s not there! Oooh, if he was watching on the boat when I...

    Never mind. It… it could always be just that he’s sort of… keeping an ear out for his name from the astral side, that’s all. I mean, he did say he was “busy” right? That would imply that he’s tied up with things so he’s probably not just invisibly following us. …Then again, that could be just an excuse not to help.

    I choose to believe the explanation that fills me with the least disquiet. So let’s just assume that he hasn’t been constantly spying on us from the shadows.

    Either way, he didn’t provide us any help. He just vanished the moment after showing up. I think he only revealed himself to rub the fact that he wasn’t going to help us out in our faces.

    “You useless—” Miss Lina began, not even scratching the surface of Xellos’s awfulness.

    Before she could add appropriate descriptions such as “obnoxious,” “wicked,” and “badly dressed” to her sentence, another set of bells rang from the same tower from before. I prayed that it was an “all clear” signal, but it was most certainly not. Instead, this massive magenta cannon rose upward and locked itself into position against the wall just by where we were standing.

    Mister Gourry finally got himself out from under the shell as the Alto cannon let off a blast of its own. Baritone, across the sea, returned fire much more rapidly and suddenly this wasn’t just about a few stray shots—Alto was under siege.

    It was at that moment that we finally got the good sense to run away. And run we did! We ran for the next couple of hours in a mad dash to find somewhere safe from the death raining from the sky.

    When running didn’t seem like it was doing any good (we always seemed to run directly into more artillery fire), Miss Lina actually resorted to yelling across the ocean for people to stop firing. Needless to say, that didn’t work so well—and that’s where our incarceration troubles began.

    Another cannonball flew straight for us and it didn’t seem like we’d be able to dodge in time. So Miss Lina, panicked, cast a wind spell at it to deflect it.

    That’s all well and good and I’m glad we didn’t wind up getting squashed by an oversized projectile. But she sent the ball careening into the palace. This did not make us popular.

    Suddenly there were guards everywhere! The city had been abandoned while we were looking for someone to help us, but as soon as Miss Lina lobbed that cannonball away, a bunch of angry men holding spears surrounded us and then dragged us into a cell.

    And here we are.

    Well, I suppose that’s not all. We can boast an audience with the King—not that that helped. In fact, it made everything far, far worse.

    Oh yes, the visit from royalty happened in the midst of Miss Lina raging at the guards and me admittedly feeling very sorry for myself and the predicament I’d landed myself in. A trumpet sounded, a red carpet was rolled out, and a short, pudgy man with grey curls and a gold crown walked toward us, flanked by guards in chain mail.

    “Are these the ones?” he asked in a much higher voice than I’d expected. “The people who knocked that cannonball into my palace?”

    “That is correct, Your Highness,” a guard answered.

    “Look, I didn’t mean to do it!” Miss Lina yelped, launching into damage-control mode. “It was… bad luck, really! An accident!”

    At that moment I noticed a little girl in a pink dress wearing a tiara made of round cut aventurine gemstones. Perhaps a princess? What kind of King brings his daughter along to interrogate prisoners?

    “Then I will ask you,” the King went on, “for what reason did you people come to the Kingdom of Alto?”

    Miss Lina was not very well prepared to answer this question. She both hemmed and hawed and unfortunately was not allowed to be the one to ultimately answer the question.

    “What’s wrong, Lina?” Mister Gourry asked, surveying Miss Lina as she tried to explain that we were looking for their magical vessel in a way that didn’t make us sound like crooks. He rested his chin in his hands and gave her a savvy look. “Oooh. Did she forget what we came here for?” he asked, sounding empathetic. After all, we’d had to explain to him what we’d come to Alto for just a few hours earlier when we were hanging out at the restaurant, blissfully unaware of the war we’d stumbled into the middle of. “I didn’t.” He held up a finger, looking proud. “It was to get the magical vessels, right?”

    King Alto’s heavily lidded eye twitched. “What?

    Meanwhile, Miss Lina was freaking out, but Mister Gourry still didn’t have to slightest clue how he’d made us sound. “Wasn’t it, Lina?” he asked.

    Miss Lina lunged at him with bone-cracking strength and wrestled him to the ground. “Shut up!” she shrieked. “You idiot! Saying it like that makes us sound like we’re a bunch of criminals or something!”

    “What did I say wrong?” Mister Gourry choked out through Miss Lina’s strangling attempt.

    “Very well then,” King Alto decided. “You people can stay locked up in here for now.”

    His leaving provided a reprieve for Mister Gourry as Miss Lina had to stop choking him to run over to the bars and yell after the king. “Wait a sec! It’s not what you think! When we said we were here to get them he meant we were just here to talk to you about them! Can’t we discuss this?” she pleaded of the king’s retreating back. “We weren’t here to steal them! Although, I wouldn’t rule that out,” she added in a much quieter voice. “Anyway, I’m begging you here—listen to me! Please! Come oooon!” The door closed behind the king’s entourage. “C’mon, give us a break…”

    Suffice it to say, no one is giving us a break. Our only hope is to make nice until they eventually let us go (which means keeping Miss Lina from doing anything stupid like threatening the guards or trying to melt the bars on our cell) or wait until Miss Amelia and Mister Zelgadis realize something must’ve happened to us and have them bail us out. Either way, our mission to find (and not actually steal, really) the Kingdom of Alto’s magical vessel has been, perhaps irrevocably, stalled.

    …Ooh! I heard one of the guards say they’re going to bring us out dinner. That, at least, is good news. We didn’t even get to have lunch so we’re all starving (some more vocally than others). I’m sure, even in the midst of this dire situation, we’ll all feel much better with some food in our bellies.

    5:52 pm.

    Something is swimming my stew.

    I’m not eating this.
     
  19. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 19. Fuse is a Four Letter Word Starting With F.

    Sunday, May 2nd.

    Baritone. Tenor Inn. 9:02 am.


    Back when I was a novice at the temple, I used to see a lot of sunrises. I’d have to wake up very early to do my chores and make sure everything was ready in the sanctuary before the earliest services would begin and I’d see the world make its transition from dark to light. But back then I’d at least be able to snatch some sleep between the night and pre-dawn hours. Since setting out on this journey, I haven’t been waking up to sunrises—I’ve been staying up through them.

    And it happened again last night, of course. It was bad enough when I was in jail and that was before the explosions. At least we can take some time to rest now. Even if we wanted to leave, the fleets of ships from both these kingdoms was pretty much smashed to scraps, so there’s not an easy way back to the mainland until an outside ship comes.

    We’re staying in Baritone right now and I have to say that it seems a bit… shadier than Alto. Though perhaps that’s just the area we’re staying in. We wanted to lay low and out of the open in case the palace guards are still looking for us. Granted, the King and Queen seemed much more preoccupied engaging in a splash-fight with each other than capturing us but… who knows when that’ll change? And one thing’s absolutely certain: we don’t want them finding out Miss Amelia and Mister Zelgadis smashed the magical vessels. That would not go over well.

    Ugh… once again I find myself overwhelmed with the task of somehow recording everything that happened since I last got a chance to write here. It’s enough to make me want to whip out my notebook in the midst of battles just so I have less to catch up on later. …But that seems downright dangerous.

    In any case, it’s a long story. It involves naval battles, gun fights, pre-teen romance, magical sacrilege, and a really, really silly reason for starting a war. I may need a nap part way through telling it. In fact, I would be napping right now if it weren’t for the fact that there’s only one bed in this room and Miss Lina called dibs on it.

    We didn’t stay in jail for too much longer after I last wrote. I mean, we were probably going to get out one way or another. Miss Lina, having already been denied a lunch, was not going to put up with a sub-par prison dinner (Mister Gourry didn’t seem to have a problem with it), so I was barely able to keep her from breaking out and getting us into even more trouble than we were already in. Do you know what she said to me? “Why don’t you just go back to your temple!” Can you believe that! After all I’ve gone through and sacrificed to come along. I was only trying to keep her from making our situation worse! She doesn’t have to act like I’m ruining everything just because I try to stop her worse nature from getting the better of her. What? Does she think Xellos is the better friend to her because he encourages her to do the wrong thing whenever she wants? I certainly hope not!

    …It hurts, though. I was really feeling like we were all part of the same team and then she has to remind me that I’m just an outsider.

    Umm… anyway, enough dwelling on that. She was probably just cranky because she was hungry. She didn’t mean it. I hope…

    We didn’t have to worry about whether or not we’d break ourselves out or not for long, though. The same little girl who’d come along with the King—Princess Sera—came unexpectedly into the prison. She was carrying the key to the cell and opened the gate, asking us to please help her.

    Lina’s reaction was pretty much mine: “that’s what we should be asking you.” But apparently Sera was under the impression, probably from Mister Gourry and Miss Lina’s comments to her father from earlier, that we were thieves. Miss Lina tried to convince her that we weren’t, but I don’t think it ever got through. …The fact that we actually sort-of, kind-of did steal the magical vessel later on probably didn’t do much to change her mind, but… that was a special circumstance.

    She was the one who was asking us to steal anyway, so her moral judgments are hardly relevant in this situation. Though I thought her reasons at the time were pretty worthy. She wanted us to steal Alto’s own magical vessel (which she must, as princess of the land, hold some claim on, after all) for the sake of her love for a boy name Marco who we would meet later. We didn’t know it at the time, but he turned out to be the prince of Baritone. Now, back then, this all sounded impossibly sweet and romantic. I mean, here you’ve got two star-crossed young lovers from families who hate each other, trying to make a better future for themselves and their people so that they can be together in peace. How much more perfect can you get? …This premise unfortunately… soured as we went on, and it was all very disappointing, but I’m not there yet.

    So we agreed to help her. I get the feeling Miss Lina would’ve argued against it if it had just been for the sake of Sera and Marco and their kingdoms, but thankfully, what Sera was asking lined up pretty well with our own goals, so there was no reason not to go ahead with it.

    Alto guarded its vessel pretty well. There was an alarm-trapped hallway we had to get past, but that was easy enough. Miss Lina Ray-winged over it, I teleported with Sera, and Mister Gourry made it across with a jump (pretty impressive work-around for someone with no magical powers, if you ask me).

    The main challenge came when we got to the room where the vessel was being held. It was in a large box—turquois with golden embellishments and held shut with a purple lock. It sat in the center of a veritable spider web of chains, knotted in intricate patterns and strewn around the room.

    “Oh brother,” Miss Lina complained, looking at them all. “Where do you even start?”

    “If we loosen them one by one, we’ll be here ‘til morning,” Mister Gourry added as I walked over to a tangle of chains and ran my hand over it, trying to find the loose point in the knot.

    “You can’t!” Sera warned them. “If you don’t do it carefully, an alarm will go off!”

    They seemed to think we were pretty much at an impasse, but I knew we’d make it through easily. Sure, something like that looks intimidating, but all it takes to untangle a puzzle like that is logic and patience. …Admittedly our group was a little short on both at the moment, but I was confident in my ability to manage the task on my own.

    “Oh, this’ll be no problem,” I assured them. “I’m an expert at cat’s cradle.” I fished a red loop of string out of my cloak and showed them some of the figures I could make to demonstrate my skill (butterfly, broom, boat, onion). They were not impressed. They really should’ve been.

    I mean, alright, I know that “onion” isn’t a hard one to do. It was just a cute way of finishing. The others were perfectly solid, though! I shouldn’t have brought up onions in the first place, though, because none of us had eaten very much that day and the first thing Mister Gourry did after that was say: “I could go for an onion right now.”

    And, you know what? I bet he would’ve just eaten a whole, raw onion if he had the opportunity. Miss Lina too. They are like wild animals when they’re hungry!

    I didn’t reply, instead I climbed onto the chest that held the magical vessel, standing up so I could survey the whole room from the highest point. I took my whistle out of my pocket and blew it, pointing to the bundle of chains nearest to the door. “Mister Lina, hold onto that chain while Mister Gourry pulls the one on top of it to the left.”

    Neither of them moved. Miss Lina just looked at me wearily. “Why do you have a whistle?” she asked.

    I ignored that comment because it wasn’t relevant. “We don’t have time for this. We need to get through this before the guards realize we’ve escaped from our cell.”

    Miss Lina ran her fingers through her hair irritably. “Alright, but I still don’t see why we have to do all the work.”

    “I’m doing the work of figuring this out,” I answered sweetly. “If you think you could do it, then be my guest.” After all, it only makes sense if I’m going to be the brains, they should be the brawn.

    There was a great deal of grumbling before they finally got on with it. But eventually we managed to remove all the chains from the chest and were able to open it and get the vessel inside without a problem. I wish I’d gotten a chance to examine it more closely, but we had to make a run for it pretty quickly and it was difficult to get a very good look at the details in the darkness. I know that it was black and studded with sapphires and that it had a triangular shape with wing-like appendages at the top, but I can’t say much more about it besides the fact that it was pretty clear to us all even then that this was not the Dark Star weapon we’d been looking for.

    In any case, we realized we had to get moving before we were found out and followed Sera, who obviously had a plan (that is, after I went back for Miss Lina and Mister Gourry who had somehow managed to tie themselves up in the chains). By the time we got out of the palace, sirens were already wailing and searchlights were roving across the grounds. We ran until we reached the sea where Sera directed us to go to a little deserted island between the two kingdoms. Miss Lina carried Miss Sera and Ray Winged her across the channel while I teleported and Mister Gourry jumped between rocks.

    “Okay, we’re here,” Miss Lina said, once she’d touched down on the island and we’d caught up. “Now what are we supposed to do?” I’m sure she was worried about blindly following the plan of a child, and wondering if Sera even knew what we were meant to do next.

    But just at that moment a voice called out: “Sera!” A young boy approached us, holding a bulbous, green ornament that turned out to be Baritone’s magical vessel.

    “Marco!” Sera cried, catching sight of him and running to meet him. When the two met, they embraced. Honestly, even after the bitter disappointments of the day, I must say that the moment was amply adorable.

    “Marco, you finally did it!” Sera gushed as the two broke apart.

    Marco nodded. “How ‘bout you?”

    “I had these thieves help me,” Sera explained (incorrectly, I might add), beaming. “They were wonderful!”

    By this time the rest of the group, who had evidently been helping Marco just as we had been helping Sera, had come up from behind him. “By thieves, does she mean you stole it, Miss Lina?” Miss Amelia asked sharply.

    “Oh, come on, Amelia,” Miss Lina said, leaning forward and wagging a finger at her. “What about you guys?”

    Miss Amelia didn’t particularly seem to enjoy her accusation being turned back around at her. “We are not thieves! Right, Master Marco?” she said, turning to the boy for confirmation.

    “Don’t you understand?” Marco began, holding up the vessel as though it was much more important than any petty allegation of thievery. “It’s because of these that Alto and Baritone are at war with each other.”

    “So we believe in the legend,” Sera continued where he left off, holding her vessel up closer to his. “We’re going to make a new future for ourselves here. And then Marco and I”—she appeared to be unable to contain herself here and did a little pirouette—“Can realize our love!”

    It all seemed so… sweet and ambitious at the time. That these two young children would have the heart and the willpower to rebel against the war-mongering rule of their parents, take the controversy-causing vessels away, and come out to that abandoned, ruin-filled island to make a new, peaceful life for themselves together. It would all have been so beautiful… if it weren’t for the fact that they’re just like their parents after all.

    …But there’s nothing I can do about that but sigh and move on.

    “Realize your love?” Miss Lina repeated, sounding dubious. “You’re just little kids…”

    I think perhaps she underestimates young love. Maybe she’s just not mature enough on the subject to give credence to their feelings. She assumes if she, older than them as she is, doesn’t understand and fully appreciate love, that they can’t either. It’s sad, really.

    But there was little time to contemplate the nature of love. Pretty soon we were surrounded by enemies on all sides. The Baritone and Alto fleets, led by their Queen and King, circled the island demanding their magical vessels/children back. That would’ve been enough to deal with, but then Gravos showed up on the island itself kitted up with the Dark Star weapon previously in Almayce’s possession and he demanded both the vessels and the Sword of Light with a threatening “or else” if we didn’t comply.

    Miss Lina didn’t exactly seem intimidated by this. She insulted the blade on his weapon, which was probably a bad idea considering how he used it later, but I can hardly blame her since the magical blade was rather… puny and wobbling looking. She also, quite shrewdly if mercilessly, tried to sic the Alto and Baritone navies on him by loudly claiming he was the cause of all their problems. It might’ve worked too if the King and Queen weren’t too busy engaging in a shouting match to pay us any attention. Pretty soon the shouting match transformed into a shooting match, with the two of them lobbing cannon fire at one another and filling the channel with streaks of smoke and kabooms.

    Xellos summed up the situation from his perch on top of a rock formation (where he could most easily survey all the misery, I assume) by saying: “They’re so wrapped up in their fight, they won’t listen.” I noticed he was also holding his hand up to his forehead in the same gesture a person might use when trying to shade sun from their eyes in order to see into the distance. Of course, being that it was, you know, nighttime, that gesture was absolutely pointless. It’s moments like that which I think reveal what a… what an act this all is for him.

    Anyway, Miss Lina tried to see if Sera and Marco could talk to the Queen and King to somehow make them stop, but was abruptly cut off from this request when she realized the two of them were trying to smash the vessels we’d risked life and limb to steal into smithereens. After everything that happened, it almost seems like it would’ve been better if the two of them had succeeded. The whole mess might’ve ended more quickly with the objects that everyone was trying to get out of the equation and, considering the vessels ended up wrecked anyway, we wouldn’t have really lost anything. It all just would’ve ended a lot more quickly.

    …Though, actually, if that had happened we’d never have found out about that whole… fusion magic thing. I might wish we hadn’t, I might hope that we never, ever have to use it again, but it’s probably worth knowing everything we can about how to stop the power of the Dark Star weapons. What’s more, Gravos would’ve still been after the Sword of Light even with the vessels smashed and he probably still would’ve let his weapon run out of control. Without the vessels to neutralize that Overworldly energy, the only option we’d have had to fight against him would’ve been…

    …Absolutely unacceptable!

    But more on that later. In any case, the vessels were not broken then. Marco and Sera accidentally slammed them into something much softer than the rock they’d been aiming at (Miss Lina’s head) and were unable to destroy them.

    Miss Lina was… understandably a little miffed. Not only were they trying to destroy the vessels we’d been trying to get, but cracking them against her skull could not have improved her mood. “Hey you guys!” she growled. “What are you trying to do?! Are you nuts?!”

    And that’s when Marco launched into a speech that at the time moved me to tears. “Don’t you see?” he asked Miss Lina. “Everyone’s fighting over these vessels, aren’t they? My mom and Sera’s dad and… everyone just fights over each other’s vessel.” He closed his eyes, tears, more angry than sad, forming in the corners of his eyes. “It’d be better…” he began, before launching into an anguished shout to the heavens themselves, “It’d be better if they didn’t exist at all, these stupid things! THESE STUPID THINGS!”

    I honestly thought that the whole fight had to end right there. How could anyone listening to that not be moved by these kids’ ability to relinquish the rare and powerful items they were holding, willingly, knowingly, to put an end to the conflict once and for all? I was sure that the greed of their parents would’ve melted away at that heartfelt cry and that, then and there, they would’ve given up their squabbling and concentrated one what really matters—the happiness of their children.

    “Did you hear that everyone?” I cried out to the expanse of ships. “What a gallant and beautiful heart he has. Just look!”

    Maybe if that moment had been allowed to stretch on a little longer, they really would’ve gotten it. But as it was, we had another enemy in our midst who wasn’t about to let the situation be resolved through diplomacy.

    I saw the bomb roll into our midst and new immediately who was behind it. Barely taking the time to think, I rushed in front of Marco and Sera, shielding them from the bomb with my body. The blast knocked me a bit away, though, like the others. Nobody appeared seriously hurt from it—though I’d gotten a few bruises from the fall. I’d managed to protect Marco and Sera from even that, but after being cast aside in the explosion, they were undefended in front of Gravos and his pyromaniac fox friend.

    “Would you people all shut up?” Jillas ordered shrilly. “I hate it when talk turns complicated!”

    …Presumably because it all went over his furry head.

    Behind him stood Gravos, who approached Marco and Sera with paroxysms of triumphant laughter. “If you’re just going to break them, why not give them to me?” he asked, his face illuminated by the brightening blade of his weapon. “Okay?”

    Marco and Sera cowered before him, huddling close together in their fright. It is very lucky they stayed so close to one another because… my goodness. As scattered as we all were from the blast, there was no way any of us could make it to them in time to stop Gravos (though we all tried our hardest). If they hadn’t accidentally used the vessels… well, I shudder to think what would’ve happened.

    But they did use the vessels. As Gravos hefted his blade in the air, preparing to strike against them, they held the two vessels up above them, clinked together. I’m sure it was just survival instincts—they were just using what they had on hand to protect themselves from the blow. Yet, when the two vessels were brought together a strange energy crackled out of them. It slithered around Gravos’s blade and ate away at it until the glowing light of his weapon was completely gone.

    “It’s vanishing! It’s vanishing!” Gravos shouted out in complete panic. Clearly he hadn’t expected the Dark Star weapon, his ace in the hole, to fail him.

    After the blade vanished, a blast of purifying light shot out, covering the entire island in a blindingly white explosion which blew back Jillas and Gravos a significant distance, but didn’t seem to affect us. When the light faded, Marco and Sera separated the vessels, looking just as shocked as the rest of us.

    “What the…?” Miss Lina began, basically speaking for all of us. “W-what just happened? What did you guys do?!”

    “I… I don’t know…” Marco admitted, mystified. “I didn’t do anything.”

    Sera seemed to have other ideas. “It was the power of love!” she announced, her eyes shining with wonder.

    “‘The power of love?’” Miss Lina repeated, not buying this explanation for a moment.

    “Yes, that’s right!” Sera affirmed, holding out her hand dramatically. “The pure love Marco and I share made a miracle happen!” She punctuated her sentence with a giggle.

    “Uh… is that really true?” I heard Miss Amelia ask Mister Zelgadis of all people. Why she thought he’d know, I can’t say.

    “I have no idea,” he answered.

    Someone with even less an idea about the power of love teleported down to us with that unpleasant, bone-rattling shkkk! noise he makes whenever he takes a shortcut through the astral side. Without so much as a word to the rest of us, Xellos walked slowly and deliberately up to Sera and Marco (who rightly flinched at this strange attention from him). He was turned away from me, but he seemed to be examining the vessels.

    “Oh, well, look at these rare things,” he commented, much of the usual faux-chipperness drained from his voice. “Artifacts from the War of the Gods and Monsters.”

    “Gods and Monsters?” Miss Lina repeated.

    “That’s right, Lina,” Xellos confirmed, “the war which was fought in the forgotten ancient times. The war of the Gods and Monsters, in which Shabranigdu fought with Ceifeed. Someone apparently made these vessels at the time. Through some unknown means a great deal of power has been sealed into them.”

    “Power of the Gods…” Miss Lina began.

    “…And the Monsters?” I finished uncertainly.

    “Yes,” Xellos said, straightening up. “Dark power and godly power.”

    We haven’t even gotten to the complicated point and that just raises all kinds of questions. Who made these vessels and for what purpose? If they contain both black magic and holy magic… I just can’t conceive of how that would even happen! A dragon and a monster could not have gotten together to make them so... humans? Would they even have the skill to pull off magic this strange? In any case, how did they ever end up in the possession of these two kingdoms? What connection does this have to the hidden bridge that showed up later on?

    …I doubt there’s anyone who could answer my questions. This is before even Xellos’s time.

    Miss Amelia seemed to be the one in the group with the most familiarity with holy magic, which makes sense since she’s a shrine maiden and all. But for the countries within the barrier, access to godly power is a distant memory. They lost the ability a thousand years ago when the barrier was erected.

    Xellos prepared to continue his comments on the vessels, turning around so we could see him. And, let me tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him quite so… Well, he had his eyes open and had this look of malevolent interest on his face. I’d seen that look before, but briefly and not quite like this. I don’t know how to explain it other than there was something about this situation that obviously intrigued him… to a criminal level. Given that, I should’ve known he was about to drop some disturbing information.

    “And with the two vessels you apparently generate some kind of power when the holy magic and the black magic are fused together.”

    I just… I have stared at this page for a solid five minutes trying to find the words to communicate how despicable a notion that is, but there are no words. We’re talking about holy magic here! The nurturing, healing, sustaining, purifying power of righteousness! You can’t taint that with the poison that is black magic! All to create some kind of… mutant hybrid of the two? No! I don’t even understand how energy like that could be stable. The two of them, opposite as they are, should by all logic tear each other apart.

    And how did Miss Lina react to this suggestion? She nearly squealed with joy. “Do you mean magical fusion?!” she asked, not even bothering to hide her gleeful excitement.

    I wasn’t about to encourage any more of this dreadful fusion talk, so I stepped out in front of her, addressing Xellos directly. “You must be joking!” I cried, my voice nearly breaking with fury. “You can’t fuse black magic with our holy magic! Nooo! I get ill just thinking about it!”

    And I do! Even now… just… no. There are lines that are never meant to be crossed!

    Miss Lina shoved me aside, completely failing to heed my appeal for common decency. “Hey! This is no time to be close-minded!” she said, unfairly. I’ll tolerate a lot from them, but blending godly energy with demonic energy? That has heresy written all over it! “We may not know exactly what this magic is, but we do know it affects their weapons.”

    Xellos was looking off into the distance speculatively. “…Yes,” he said after a moment. “It can neutralize other powers.”

    Got that? It’s an abomination, but let’s use it! Ugh… I’m making myself sick again thinking about it…

    Well, Mister Gourry was the only one not wrapped up in the horror (me) and fascination (everyone else) of fusion magic and therefore was able to warn us when Gravos and Jillas went back on the offensive. Gravos seemed to have taken Miss Lina’s critique of his blade to heart considering that when he showed up again he was toting what looked like a column of land-bound lightening.

    Xellos quickly teleported away because he is unhelpfulness personified. I tried to protect Marco and Sera from the next onslaught but… you have to understand the scale of the energy on this weapon Gravos was carrying. He stabbed the blade into the ground and the energy split in multiple directions. With one movement he had literally managed to cut the island into six or seven pieces. Slabs of land and rubble began drifting away from one another and Sera and Marco ended up on a piece separate from the rest of us.

    I was out of there pretty quickly. Gravos ordered Jillas after the children and there was no way I was going to let him get to them, even if Miss Lina only asked Miss Amelia and Mister Zelgadis to go after them. As a side note, it’s a bit of a struggle keeping up with them in my human form. They can use Levitation and Ray Wing, but in order to fly I need to transform into my dragon form. Somehow I didn’t think a dragon materializing in the middle of the warzone would improve things, so I took a cue from Mister Gourry and jumped from rock to rock until I reached the island where Sera and Marco were.

    “I hope those two are alright,” Mister Zelgadis said, as he landed in the shallow water that had washed over the little island piece.

    “For them to be so worried about their own kingdoms…” Miss Amelia said, looking back on the cannonball-filled air we’d had to navigate through. “Now that’s royalty for you!” she yelled vehemently, holding up a fist. I think she momentarily forgot that she’s a princess.

    We found the children shortly after, lying on the ground, and there was this gut-churning moment where we didn’t know whether they were okay or not. Thankfully, they stirred after Mister Zelgadis entreated them to wake up. It was a huge relief.

    …Someone who was more relieved than us was actually Sera, who threw her arms around Marco just as soon as he began waking up and made all kinds of grand declarations of love. She was saying how she didn’t know what she’d have done without him and that she couldn’t have gone on if he had died and that he was everything in the world to her. It was really just… so incredibly sweet. Miss Amelia evidently agreed (though Mister Zelgadis didn’t seem particularly moved by it).

    And how exactly did the young prince respond to this expression of devotion? He told her to “just shut up!” So much for his beautiful and gallant heart! You know, I really can’t imagine what makes some boys so rude…

    Sera was reduced to tears by this sudden and out-of-nowhere rejection and, really, who can blame the poor thing? But we were quickly under fire by Jillas and a gang of lizardmen carrying rifles. Luckily, Mister Zelgadis was able to take care of them all pretty handily and without using any magic at all (I honestly think he was showing off a bit more than necessary, but he got the job done so I can’t complain).

    Jillas got pretty frustrated about being outgunned, so he tried to use smoke bombs to get around Mister Zelgadis all together and go straight for us to get the magical vessels. A smack from my mace and Miss Amelia’s fist no doubt taught him what a terrible idea this was. I must say, I was happy to get into the fray for at least a little bit of the time. It’s a nice… outlet I suppose. For frustration.

    We were given some unexpected support against Jillas and the lizardmen from the King and Queen’s fleet who began raining hellfire down upon them for daring to attack the children. It would’ve been such a nice turn for the two of them if it weren’t for the fact that they fired on us too!

    Meanwhile, whatever was happening with Miss Lina , Mister Gourry and Mister Gravos was going completely out of control. Looking out back towards the piece of the island we’d originally been on, a blast of white-hot energy shot into the sky, pushing the storm clouds aside and exploding in a rising bloom of power. Streaks of light fell from the sky like rain, sending dirt flying and setting the sea spinning where it fell. Something had gone seriously wrong with the Dark Star weapon and the fallout from whatever it was managed to shatter the royal navies into splinters of timber.

    That same fallout was coming toward us in the form of a huge wave, swirling with black, smoky energy all around. I crouched down, holding the children close and bracing them for the attack so they wouldn’t get washed away to goodness knows where when…

    Shkkk!

    I just looked up and there he was, standing in front of us, facing off toward the mass of energy oozing our way. He lifted his staff which made a chiming sound as the red gem on it glowed gold. He must’ve put up some kind of barrier, because the energy did not touch us. It flowed harmlessly around us. Nothing but the whipping winds hit us under that protection.

    I didn’t know why he did it then. “Xellos!” I shouted, utterly befuddled. “Where did you come from?!”

    He just turned back to look and me and gave a little smile. It wasn’t his usual smile—broad and generically cheery—no, this one was just a small turning up of the corners of his lips accompanied by a “Heh.”

    That smug snake! I know why he did it now, or at least partially why! He just wanted to lord it over me that I’d been helpless and he had to come to my rescue! Well, if he expects me to be thankful for that then he has another thing coming!

    Just… I can still hear it, you know? In my head. Heh. Heh. Heh. WHO DOES HE THINK HE IS?!

    10:34 am.

    I have taken a few deep breaths and I think I’m ready to continue. I can’t stress myself too much over this. No, I’m going to need every shred of sanity I have left to get through this next part. Magical fusion was bad enough by itself; Xellos is always bad enough by itself; fate found a way to put them together.

    Once the smoke had cleared from that last onslaught, we could see the full scale of the catastrophe being played out on the island where Miss Lina and Mister Gourry were. Gravos’s sword beam rose high up in the night sky, too far for any of us to see where it stopped. It was swaying and swirling drunkenly, as though the beastman was struggling to keep ahold of it. The energy sizzled and juddered around like thickened lightening and… there were black shapes in it, flashing in and out and constantly moving so you couldn’t even make out what they were. But sometimes I could swear I caught sight of a face. The magic was twisted and it was calling forth something beyond terror.

    “It would seem in this situation all we can do is active the vessels again,” Xellos commented breezily, undisturbed by the fact that the air around us was literally crackling with alien energy. “Magic power seems to be the key here. So I guess it’s up to you two.”

    At first I thought he was suggesting sending Marco and Sera (who hardly seemed like a unified force anymore) back against the Dark Star weapon which is completely irresponsible as they’re only children. But apparently he was talking to Miss Amelia and Mister Zelgadis who exchanged looks uncertainly.

    “You mean us?” Miss Amelia asked.

    “Hold it,” Mister Zelgadis said. “If we fuse magic here, can’t a monster like Xellos and a dragon like Filia do it?”

    Can’t a… no, no, no, NO! A monster like Xellos and a dragon like Filia CANNOT do it! Did Mister Zelgadis have the slightest clue in his mind what he was asking of us? I mean just… just look at it this way: we’re talking about our magic here! The flickering, outpouring of our souls’ energy. And he would just casually suggest that we blend that energy together! That we let our powers glide towards one another on the astral side, against a backdrop of stars and constellations, and mingle them seamlessly into each other until the border between his energy and my energy completely dissolves! To let all that is him flow into all that is me as we surrender at long last and forever into one white-hot, sizzling embr

    10:48 am.

    Sorry. I seem to have been pressing a little bit too hard with my pencil and the thing snapped into pieces. I had to borrow a spare from Miss Amelia (who asked me if I was feeling alright. I can’t imagine why).

    Ummm… where was I?

    Ah, yes! A white-hot, sizzling embrace of our essences.

    How disgusting!

    I told them (in a loud, clear voice, I might add) that there was absolutely no way I could do that. “And even if I could,” I added sharply in Xellos’s direction, “I wouldn’t do it with Xellos! I couldn’t do it as a priestess of the dragon race, and not as a living thing either!” I turned my face purposefully away from him as I added: “You piece of filth!”

    Just out of the corner of my eye I could see that he was not too fond of my tone. “Oooh?” he said, his slightly puffed-up face leaking air like a deflating balloon on that elongated syllable. “Well, isn’t that a coincidence?” he said, holding up his index finger like he was about to make an astonishingly clever point (which he did not). “I was just thinking to myself that I’d never do that with any dragon let alone,” he went on, with a nasty little laugh in his voice as he waved the idea off, “a selfish one like you!”

    There’s so much to get into in that that I… ugh! Okay, first of all, I guess at least you could say that we we’re in agreement about whether us fusing magic was going to happen, which is… well, I didn’t want him agreeing with Mister Zelgadis or anything, so there’s that. Though, honestly, it’s rather insulting. I mean, for him, fusing magic with me would’ve been a step up, whereas for me it would’ve been several flights of stairs down, but he seems to think the opposite is true, which only shows how deeply, deeply delusional he is.

    Secondly, selfish? So I’m selfish? The person who’s fighting to save the entire world and all its living creatures? Whereas he wants to destroy it! He only cares about what he wants! He has no right to call me selfish!

    Thirdly, so I’m the last dragon he’d go to if he had to fuse magic with someone? Come on! I know he may hate me (though not even approaching as much as I hate him) but he actually knows me, at the very least. What dragon would he go to before me? Here’s a newsflash: they all hate his guts! I do too, but at least I’ve learned to somewhat tolerate his awfulness after being forced to travel with him. If he really had to do it you can make a solid bet that I’d be the first person he’d ask (and the first person to reject him, of course).

    …Though I suppose that “at least you know me” logic could be applied to my claim that even if I had to fuse magic with a monster (a ghastly notion) that I wouldn’t do it with him. One might argue that other monsters are not really… you know, fusion material in the first place.

    But no! I stand by it! If I absolutely had to and there was no other way, I’d rather fuse magic with some snaggletooth fiend covered in feelers than Xellos!

    …Probably. Either one is a gross thought. I’m glad I won’t have to make decision because it’ll never, ever happen.

    And lastly, I’m just gonna go ahead and call it: Xellos’s whole “Me? Interested in fusing my black magic with holy magic? No way!” business is a complete and utter pack of lies. You didn’t see the look on his face when he was talking about magical fusion earlier. His eyes were absolutely shining with greed at the possibilities! It was revolting to see, and now he’s going to go and pretend that he was never interested in the first place? What a crock! I’m certain that the only reason he didn’t suggest that the two of us fuse magic was because I shot down the idea before he could even float it, so he just had to go and cover for it by acting like he never wanted it in the first place either. Well, I don’t buy it for a minute, Xellos!

    We both hmmphed at pretty much the same time and wheeled around to face opposite directions.

    “Well that’s… settled,” Mister Zelgadis said sourly from outside my eyeline.

    “We can still use the vessels, though,” Miss Amelia reminded him, putting a heavy emphasis on “we.”

    I was a bit… out of the moment then. The pressing need to neutralize the Dark Star energy and the chaos around me was all kind of… turned down. I was too rigid with fury to really pay much attention! It even took me a moment, as Miss Amelia and Mister Zelgadis were getting the vessels together, to realize that the tide was starting to wash up onto the island and soaking into my boots.

    Since I didn’t want to add “cold, wet socks” to the long list of reasons why the day was horrible, I took a couple of steps backwards, away from the water until I hit…

    “Get out of the way,” I ordered, realizing with a sense of dread who it was.

    “Excuse me, Filia, but I think you’ll find you walked into me,” he responded in a rudely polite tone.

    “Hmmph!” I admittedly-not-so-cleverly responded again because technically what he was saying was true. Nevertheless, I wasn’t about to be the one to move out of the way. Let him move!

    He wouldn’t, of course. How stubborn can you get? So we were just sort of… stuck there, standing back to back with the perfectly trimmed edges of his hair slightly tickling the back of my neck. Honestly he generally has such a lazy disposition that I would’ve expected him to slouch, but no, he stood up perfectly straight. Perhaps he too, like me, was rigid with fury. I was so tired after a long day and night with no rest that it was a struggle to keep my head from falling back a bit, but I didn’t want to lean it against him.

    A crackle of energy from the cliff where Mister Zelgadis and Miss Amelia were standing with the vessels drew my attention away from the minutia of details related to Xellos’s back. Both he and I turned to see it at the same time and, because of how close we were standing together and my range of motion, our cheeks accidentally sort of… bumped together as we looked. I can still feel that unpleasant, phantom sense of it on my face. Of course, I moved away instantly and he just sort of… looked at me like he was surprised I was there, before we both tried to ignore each other again and turned to look at the spectacle of magical fusion taking place.

    Black energy from the vessels spilled out into the sky like ink. Every so often, red sparks arced across the blackened tendrils. The energy rushed toward the column of light from the Dark Star weapon and curled around it, as if choking the otherworldly force with its strength. The massive light blade was stifled by the fused magic, and, as the strange, unstable energy gripped itself to the weapon, the light snuffed out like a candle.

    As soon as the light-blade was gone, the energy snapped straight back to the vessels like an amorphous genie banished to its lamp. The force of its return was so strong, that it knocked Mister Zelgadis and Miss Amelia to their feet.

    …I …fell down too, actually. Xellos chose that moment to teleport away and I suppose I was leaning a bit on him after all.

    The fireworks weren’t quite over yet. There was another blast that seemed like Miss Lina setting off a Dragon Slave. Not sure that was completely necessary considering Gravos should not have been much of a problem with the Dark Star weapon taken out, but it’s not like the whole area wasn’t destroyed already, so I suppose no harm done.

    The bridge was a surprise, though. It just… rose up from under the water, somewhat greened and old looking, but still quite solid. It connected the two islands together from road to road. You’d think that would have been a huge convenience for two such close, yet separated, kingdoms, but no… they’d burned (or, in this case, submerged) their bridges long ago…

    …And for what no doubt good reason, you ask?

    We didn’t find out until we’d all managed to regroup, with Sera and Marco sullenly trailing behind us, and managed to fly/teleport/be carried onto the bridge itself. By this time, that sunrise I was mentioning earlier had finally happened so there was no need for any lighting spells to read the inscription we found on the bridge.

    “When the two vessels are brought together, a new road shall be opened,” it read.

    Fairly standard and neatly prophetic, sure. And it certainly was what happened. But do you want to know what else the ancient founders of Alto and Baritone felt worth inscribing in that commemorating plaque?

    “Baritones are big stupid heads!” and “Altos are dopes!”

    Seriously.

    As if on cue, we turned to see Marco and Sera, standing across from each other in wary and aggressive stances. “Sera, you big stupid-head!” Marco called in a sing-songy taunting voice.

    “Marco, you big dope!” Sera answered, clenching her fists. “I’m never going to play with you again! Ever!” she vowed.

    “Same goes for me!” Marco agreed, at which point they both stuck their tongues out at each other.

    …I suppose it was all too much to hope that those kids were as mature and sweet-natured as they seemed at first. I don’t really blame Sera, though. Who wouldn’t get mad in the face of such uncalled for rudeness and cruelty?

    Anyway, they’re kids. They’ve earned being immature. It’s their parents that haven’t. We heard some splashing noises below the bridge and looked down to see the King and Queen, still dressed up in their full, if rather drenched, regalia, engaging in a splashing fight with the driftwood left from their boats and exchanging insults not unlike the ones their children had been using.

    …I have no idea what would make two grown people act so childishly around each other. There’s no excuse for it, I tell you.

    “It’s a really long-running kids’ fight?” Miss Lina summed up, peering over the edge of the bridge. “Oh man, gimme a break.” She massaged away a headache and then attempted to look on the bright side. “Oh well. At least we were able to find those magical vessels, right?”

    That’s where Miss Amelia let it slip that the vessels were broken. Apparently she and Mister Zelgadis had brought them together a bit too enthusiastically. Not sure how that happened. I was too distracted by Xellos-related matters to notice.

    Miss Amelia and Mister Zelgadis would’ve been in big, BIG trouble with Miss Lina for this were it not for the fact that she didn’t even bother to grab the Dark Star weapon from Gravos when she beat him. Seriously, how do you forget that? It’s one of the things we’re looking for!

    So… all we really got out of this mess was that rancid clue about magical fusion and an extended stay in Baritone until we can get a ship back to the mainland.

    ...Coming here was a huge mistake…
     
  20. Skiyomi

    Skiyomi Only Mostly Dead

    Chapter 20. Differentiate.

    Sunday, May 6th.

    Baritone. Tenor Inn. 1:30 pm.

    You know, it’s been bad enough being cooped up here for the last several days with nothing left to do in this kingdom but wait for transport out of here to be made available—compounded in awfulness by the fact that we had to basically hide out in case somebody recognized us and started bandying about accusations of magical vessel thievery. Now that I’ve had some brief time out of this room and in the town square it feels even worse to be back here in this room again. The fact that none of the others have made it back yet probably isn’t helping. I just hope Mister Zelgadis and Miss Amelia are able to get one of the foreign ships coming into port today to agree to take us back to the mainland. I don’t want to waste any more time and money in Baritone.

    As for Miss Lina and Mister Gourry… they really should be back by now. It shouldn’t take this long to pick up supplies. I’m starting to worry that they might’ve become… distracted. In retrospect, perhaps letting them be the ones to buy food is a bit like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. I probably should’ve supervised them… but I had an errand of my own. Maybe it was just idle curiosity, but I wanted to tie up some loose ends.

    It didn’t pan out anyway. I was just thinking that maybe, amidst the catastrophe of events that I last wrote about, we might’ve done some lasting good. I mean… think about it: the magical vessels are gone. The King of Alto and Queen of Baritone have to address this. Will they conclude that the vessels have been destroyed or will they accuse the other of stealing it? If they go for the latter, they’ll soon find out that there are no more vessels and then they’ll have to admit to the fact that they’re really gone for good. Marco and Sera were right about one thing: without the vessels, there’s no need for a war.

    Now, granted, the last time we saw the King and Queen they were engaged in a splashy fight which does not bode well diplomatically, but they can’t just stay at war because they don’t like each other. Without a concrete reason to fight, I’m sure the people will demand peace. And if we helped bring about peace… well, that makes all that nonsense worth it in the end.

    So I went out to see if there was any news from the King and Queen about what had happened and about the fate of the vessels. They really should’ve said something by now. I mean, most of the clean-up has been completed from all the magical mayhem that went on. But still… no announcement.

    1:37 pm.

    Oh, I’m sick of waiting for the others to come back. Now that we’ve shown our faces in town and nobody has ordered guards to seize us (I assume since nobody called me out), I see no reason for me to spend any more time in this cheap, dank room.

    I’m sure there must be a good place for tea around here.

    Bass Café. 2:22 pm.

    Oh, so I’m not even worth finishing conversations with? Not that it’s ever pleasant to converse with him, but he could at the very least not teleport away mid-train-of-thought! It’s like he just got bored talking to me and decided to go somewhere else. Well, you know, it’s not like I even wanted to have tea with him in the first place. It’s just that he found this place before me and… well, I was mad when I saw him at one of the patio tables! We’ve been hiding out in that cramped hotel room for days and he’s probably been gallivanting around town having a grand old time all the while! It’s not fair.

    It’s just… ughh… you know, sometimes he makes me so mad that the worst part is… I just don’t know what to do with it all. I mean, I could yell at him or throw things in his direction, but that wouldn’t fully express it. It’s very frustrating.

    I shouldn’t have even sat down with him, but I wanted to let him know that I was well aware that he was playing tourist while he could’ve been helpful. Also I wanted tea.

    The monster had the gall to accuse me of doing the same thing just for stopping by the cafe! Well, excuse me, but I actually did work this morning and am therefore entitled to a tea break. Which is exactly what I told him.

    “I fail to see how that’s actually helping,” Xellos commented after I told him that I’d been out all morning looking for news of an Alto/Baritone statement regarding the magical vessels and the war. “It’s not as though it’s any of your business.”

    “Only someone as heartless as you would consider a war none of your business,” I informed him coldly. Though, now that I think about it, war is his business, precisely because he is heartless!

    “And what exactly have you achieved by making someone else’s war your business?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at the “heartless” part.

    “Well, you remember what Marco and Sera said,” I reminded him, “the magical vessels were the reason for the war. We destroyed the vessels—even though it was unintentional—so that should put a stop to the war.”

    He shook his head at me with this “Oh, aren’t you just precious?” look of condescension. “If you think human pre-teens are a viable source for diplomatic advice… well, that explains a great deal about the dragon race’s political savvy, or lack thereof.”

    “Well, why would the war continue?” I demanded. He shouldn’t get to make fun of my arguments without putting forth his own. “There’s no other reason for these two kingdoms to keep fighting!”

    He opened one eye quizzically. “Aside from the fact that they obviously can’t stand one another?”

    “That’s no reason for a war!”

    “Are you sure?” he asked, taking an overly dainty sip of his tea. “Something else to consider in all of this is that this war has run so long that both these kingdoms have likely built their economies around it. Armed forces, artillery, building repair… if the war were to end then a lot of people would lose their jobs.”

    I’ve never heard of something so ridiculous. War damages both sides! You can’t argue that just because someone’s making money off of something it’s a good thing. In fact, usually a large amount of money changing hands is a sign that something shady is going on!

    “Merchants of death have mouths to feed too, Filia,” he told me, evidently in response to the look on my face.

    “Well, they can feed those mouths with honest, productive work once the war’s over,” I answered, leaning forward. “And it will end,” I told him with certainty. “Once the people realize there aren’t any more vessels to fight over they’re not going to tolerate such weak reasons to continue fighting. They’ll demand an end to it.”

    “I see no particular reason why they would find out the vessels are gone,” he countered in this smug, faux-innocent voice. “It would mean an embarrassment for either side to admit they’d lost their vessel. Better to save face with the public and just keep doing what they seem to have been doing for hundreds of years. …Which is, I’m sure, what they’ll be doing as soon as they’ve patched up their weakened forces. You can’t really expect more from kingdoms who’d burn their bridges because someone called someone a dope.”

    I’d like to know where Xellos gets his information. He wasn’t even around when we read the inscription about how it all began.

    …And it’s very, very depressing, but I think he might be right. No announcement? Still? It doesn’t seem like they intend on changing anything at all.

    I felt my hand closing into a fist. “It’s a wonder these two kingdoms fight so much,” I said bitterly, “they’re exactly the same—just as pig-headed and stubborn and petty and careless as the other.”

    He actually seemed somewhat interested in my all-too-accurate assessment. “It’s funny you should say they’re the same because, if you asked them, they have completely opposite philosophies. Alto,” he said, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the island across the channel, “prides themselves on their adherence to high ideals, whereas Baritone,” he said, gesturing around us, “tends to focus more on results.”

    “I don’t see any evidence of high ideals in waging a war,” I hissed, “and the only result of all this was to cause pointless damage to their kingdoms and put their citizens’ lives in danger.”

    Xellos shrugged and curled his fingers comfortably around his cup of tea. “The greater the risk, the greater the rewards. They gambled and lost. As for Alto…” he trailed into an unpleasant little laugh, “well, they are certainly not the only kingdom or people to believe they had justifiably holy reason to wage war.”

    He looked at me with this smug grin—a confirmation that he was trying to unsettle me with his little… implication. “Don’t you want to know what I know?” he asked in an almost sing-song voice.

    “No,” I said firmly. “You’re an unreliable source.”

    “Oh? And who would you call a reliable source?” he asked, a nasty smile on his face. “Elders at your temple who have already told you their version of events? You wouldn’t be on this journey in the first place if you found their answers remotely satisfying.”

    Just because I… maybe have some questions about sources of information I’ve always thought were trustworthy, that doesn’t mean I’m going to start putting my full faith behind cruel rumors gleefully spread by liars like Xellos.

    “More reliable than you at least,” I grumbled.

    “And so, I suppose, your journey for truth must continue until you can discover someone you find sufficiently reliable,” Xellos said, gesturing so widely with his cup of tea that I nearly thought he’d spill it. “It could be quite a long and difficult one, considering your ability to judge credibility leaves so very much to be desired.”

    Ha! I’d say I’m a pretty darn good judge of character considering I knew he was no good right from the word go!

    I sighed. “It would’ve at least been a shorter journey if we’d found the Dark Star weapon… or at least if Miss Amelia and Mister Zelgadis hadn’t broken the magical vessels.”

    Xellos shrugged. “The seal on the bridge was removed because the power within the vessels was combined and released. It’s not clear whether they would be of any use to us even if they were still intact. And anyway,” he said, giving me malevolent look—shades of that night when we’d first taken the vessels, I’d say—“I thought you objected to magical fusion on moral grounds?”

    “Of course I do!” I barked. Just because I’d rather we actually had a resource to fight against the Dark Star weapons than have it broken doesn’t mean I’m happy with that resource in the first place. “Don’t you?”

    “Mmm… I’d say it’s more of a matter of my having certain standards than anything,” he answered, because heaven forbid he actually have morals. And this “standards” nonsense? It’s like a cockroach claiming to have the high ground! How dare he act like I’m beneath him! It’s quite the other way around!

    “I’m the one with standards here,” I reminded him, crossing my arms. “No dragon would ever debase themselves by agreeing to fuse magic with a demon!”

    He gave this really very basic truth an unusual amount of thought. “…You are, most probably correct,” he finally said, “though recent circumstances have begun to suggest what could very well be the hint of a…” He trailed off, drained his cup of tea, set it down on the table and then abruptly disappeared.

    I mean, really. Is that what you do? Just randomly decide not to finish your sentence and then abandon the scene? Am I worthy of not even the most grudging bit of politeness? I’ll tell you one thing: I’m not paying for his tea!

    …He’s probably off somewhere eating ice cream without a care in the world.

    3:02 pm.

    Wait a minute. Is that him over by that temple across the square? What could he possibly be doing there?

    3:03 pm.

    Wait! What?

    Tenor Inn. 4:45 pm.

    Alright, to explain: after I’d finished writing about Xellos’s latest offenses against me, I looked up to see him hanging around the entrance of what looked like your basic, ordinary, everyday temple. That, by itself, was enough to get me concerned. Someone as unholy as he is should not be anywhere near a holy site. And it didn’t look like he was just passing by it or anything! No, it looked like that temple was exactly the place he’d meant to end up at. And that’s… well, whenever Xellos is interested in anything, that seems like the time to start worrying. When a place of worship is the subject of his interest, even more so.

    In just a moment, the situation got even more disturbing. Surrounding the temple exterior had been several old men. Judging by their cloaks, beards and proximity to the building, I assumed them to be priests and monks of that temple. These men, having seen Xellos, abruptly threw themselves down on the cobbles of the street, bowing to him.

    Ostensibly holy men… bowing to Xellos.

    I could waste absolutely no time on shocked questioning of just what kind of bizarre, alternate universe I’d landed myself in to make a scene like that possible. I just knew something very, very bad was up, threw some change down on the table, and raced over to the temple as fast as my feet could carry me.

    By the time I’d got there, he, and a few other members of the clergy, had already gone inside, so I followed. When I found him, he was being directed to a moldering collection of books held within an abstractly decorated container at the front of the church. He looked up at me, as he saw me walking briskly toward him, in this sort of exasperated way.

    “I think this might be considered stalking, Filia,” he said in distaste as he pulled a book from the meager collection and began looking through it as the clergy, having shown him what he’d asked for, dispersed to other parts of the church.

    Now that is very rich coming from someone who has been trailing, uninvited, after our group like an ever-grinning shadow!

    “What do you think you’re doing here?” I demanded, clenching my fists at my sides, ready to defend the sanctuary by force if need be. “I won’t let you do anything to a house of worship if that’s what you’re thinking of trying!”

    He looked up at me, his eyebrows quirking together in puzzlement. “You needn’t act like I make it a habit of knocking over temple. And besides that,” he said, turning back to the book he was holding, “I don’t think this is exactly a Ceifeed-sanctioned shrine, if you know what I mean. It’s not really your place to guard it.”

    I was about to argue that even if a temple isn’t directly affiliated with my own, it should still be my business to see that no monster can do any harm to it, but that line about it not being Ceifeed-approved struck me as peculiar. Suddenly I realized that, while the temple seemed perfectly ordinary in every other way—altarpiece, pews, hymnals beneath the seats, incense and candles—it was completely absent of statuary paying homage to any of the gods or their earthly servants. There were a few strange statues of serene-looking male faces, but other than that…

    “What do you mean?” I asked, feeling with some trepidation that I might not be as home as I’d thought I was in this religious setting.

    Xellos cocked his head to the side. “Did you visit any of Alto’s temples while you were there? No? Well, I assume them to be of a kind you’re more used to. Their kingdom’s vessel covered more that end of the spectrum. Baritone’s vessel, however, held black magic, and there’s where you find the birthplace of a cultural difference between the kingdoms.”

    I looked around the sanctuary, aghast that I’d mistaken it for a holy site and half-expecting to see torture-devices and blood-stains hidden in the shadows. “Are… are you saying Baritone’s state religion is some kind of demonic cult?” I practically squeaked.

    “I’m not entirely sure of the specifics, but I doubt they’d use quite those terms,” Xellos said with a shrug.

    “Is that why they were bowing to you?” I asked with growing horror. “They realized you’re a monster so they were…” my voice grew weak and hoarse “…worshipping you.”

    “…Possible, I suppose,” Xellos said, his expression almost squirmy. “I didn’t actually ask them. It could’ve just been a show of respect. After enduring your company, I’ve begun to forget what those look like.”

    “That’s because you don’t deserve respect and you certainly don’t deserve worship!” I shrieked, throwing a betrayed look at one of the monks. They’d just looked so venerable and benevolent that I’d been completely tricked into thinking they were servants of good!

    Xellos’s eyebrow twitched. “I doubt they have much of a clue who I am,” he finally said. “They’re just rather impressed because on Tuesday when I was here, I accidentally activated their statues with my magical power.”

    He walked over to a column at the edge of a chancel with one of those heads I mentioned before at the top. He placed his hand against it and as soon as he touched it the black and empty eyes of the statue began to glow gold. Every man in the church dropped what he was doing to look at the sight and they whispered to each other excitedly.

    “See?” Xellos said, taking his hand off the post, provoking a sigh of disappointment from the clergy.

    I folded my arms protectively over my body. Perhaps it was the discharge of black magic or just the full knowledge that I had blundered into a profane site thinking it was sacred, but my soul crackled angrily at the indignity of the company it was having to keep. “All I see is that you’ve lured me into a den of sin and iniquity!”

    “I did absolutely no luring,” he maintained, opening his book again and flicking to the index. “You followed me—uninvited.” After a moment of running his finger across the contents of the page, he flashed me another careful look. “Incidentally, if you do plan on transforming and destroying this place, could you wait until I’ve finished reading? I’d at least like to satisfy my curiosity.”

    “I’m not going to transform!” I snapped, trying to keep it together even as my mind couldn’t help but turn to the dark and immoral rituals that must’ve taken place in the site I was standing in. “I don’t solve my problems that way!”

    “But your tail is already out,” he pointed out carelessly as he turned to a page toward the end of the book.

    I looked down and sure enough, there it was, lifting up my skirt slightly as it pointed out indignantly. I pulled hurriedly at the back of my cape to smooth it down and tried to nudge it nonchalantly behind my boots. It seemed imprudent to let a bunch of evil clergymen know that there was a servant of the gods in their midst.

    For a moment, Xellos actually seemed distracted from what he was trying to find in the book. “Why do you have that anyway?” he asked, gesturing down toward my tail.

    “I’m a dragon,” I snapped, because it was obvious. “Dragons have tails.”

    “Not that,” he said with a frown, “the bow.”

    I looked down at the pink bow tied securely to my tail. It was one of my better knots; loose enough to be comfortable and tight enough not to slip away. I didn’t know then, and still don’t know now, why this little fashion choice should’ve been of any interest to Xellos.

    “I picked up a ribbon from my grandmother’s sewing kit as a child,” I explained on automatic before remembering to add: “Not that it’s any of your business.”

    “And you’ve worn a bow on your tail ever since?” he asked.

    “Yes!” I responded impatiently.

    He tapped his cheek with his finger. His too-clean gloves presented quite a contrast with the dusty, stained interior of the church. “The fact that you consider something you’d take part in as a child to remain appropriate as an adult is actually pretty consistent with what I’ve seen from you, I’ll grant it,” he finally said.

    “There’s nothing childish about wearing a bow!” I shot back, attempting to keep my voice down so the monks lighting the candles wouldn’t take very much interest in us—however “impressed” they were with Xellos, they’d certainly have a few questions if there was too much of a commotion by the altar. “It’s just pleasant! And it’s… just a special thing to do,” I continued, trying and failing to really explain it. “I mean, nobody else wears one.”

    I thought he’d counter that there was a reason why no one else would wear one, but, instead of snarking, he seemed to feel that he’d come to a realization. “Ah, so you wear it to differentiate yourself from your fellow dragons then?”

    I took a step back. “I… I don’t know if I’d say it like that,” I answered. I mean, when you get right down to it, I suppose that part of the reason I like wearing it is because it’s unique. But… saying it like Xellos did would make it sound like I was trying to actively distance myself from the other dragons. It doesn’t sound… nice.

    Xellos, apparently dissatisfied with the book he’d been going through, put it back in the box and picked up another. “Is that also why you don’t wear a hood?”

    “What?” I asked.

    Xellos shrugged. “Aren’t priestesses of the Fire Dragon King usually supposed to wear hoods?” He looked forward thoughtfully. “I thought that was the case. Though gender is a bit difficult to discern in that kind of get up.” He smiled. “…Which I suppose is the point.”

    “It’s not a rule,” I answered, probably sounding a little too defensive, but, look, I’ve had the hood conversation before. “It’s just a common practice.”

    “And you’re not considered hopelessly immodest for forgoing one? I assumed that little wardrobe choice was a measure to discourage your clergymen from any sort of inappropriate temptation” he commented, enjoying this a little—scratch that, a lot—too much. “I mean, people can see your hair and everything,” he pointed out in mockingly aghast tones. “How scandalous!”

    I’m not about to take criticism of my modesty from a monster! I am so modest. He doesn’t know anything.

    “Shows what you know,” I said, tilting my head up proudly. “Hair is perfectly fine. It’s the ears that female dragons have to cover up and mine, as you’ll notice, are quite modestly hidden!”

    “Oh and it is a very, very good thing that they are, Filia,” Xellos said sardonically, looking at the page of the book he was holding, “for I’m sure that if I were to catch even the slightest glimpse of them I would find myself instantly consumed with uncontrollable lust.”

    There are some comments that are—however obviously overflowing with sarcasm and insincerity—too shocking, rude and wrong to respond to in mere words. I can’t even begin to transliterate the sound I made in response to statement.

    He, on the other hand, showed absolutely no sign that he felt he’d crossed the line. Instead, he just turned to a page with a slightly disappointed, “Oh.” He flipped the book around to face me so that I could see that the last chapter of it had been charred to the point of being unreadable. “Well, I don’t think this will help me much, do you?”

    “What are you looking for anyway?” I asked impatiently, eager to shift to a subject that didn’t involve my ears or Xellos’s uncontrollable lust.

    He picked up the last ancient tome in the collection. “Just a little digging pursuant to our previous conversation in which you claimed no dragon would ever participate in fusion magic-based activities,” he said lightly. “It got me wondering about who created the vessels in the first place.”

    “Well, obviously they were ancient residents of Alto and Baritone who wanted to seal up the bridge,” I answered.

    He held up a finger. “Or, alternatively, to allow for the bridge to be unsealed at a time of unification.”

    “Fine,” I said, “but what does that have to do with—”

    “These vessels were created during the forgotten ancient times in which the War of the Gods and Monsters was fought,” Xellos went on. “I can’t help but be a little skeptical that such sophisticated magical devices could’ve been made by human hands. You have to remember that these were chaotic times for early mankind, when war tore across the land in a way that threatened to tear the entire world into pieces. Just maintaining civilization was difficult, let alone high level magic of a kind that modern sorcerers might have trouble grappling with.” He turned to me. “We mustn’t forget that this was a time before the Dragon Slave even existed. Magic then was not what it is now.”

    This was difficult to argue with. But, on the other hand, ruling out humans would mean…

    Xellos opened his eyes, giving a sidelong glance to the monks lighting candles. “You thought this place was your kind of temple—a monument to Ceifeed—but it’s not. Your confusion, however, is understandable. This place is not brimming with the mischievous, excitable energy of a newly established cabal of followers of the dark arts. This is not renegade or romantic. This is standard, boring, everyday. If this is demon worship, it’s ‘pass the collection plate’ demon worship. The kind that is difficult to distinguish from its opposite religion.”

    I opened my mouth, too offended to respond at first. “How dare you!” I finally spat. “Any faith that would celebrate your kind has absolutely nothing in common with my—”

    “What I’m trying to communicate, Filia, is that this particularly church is long-established,” he cut through me evenly, “which would place the originating event of their decision to focus their worship on black magical forces in the distant past.”

    “…You think the monsters were somehow involved in Baritone?” I concluded. And then, getting a peek at where he was going with this, “And that…”

    Xellos shrugged. “The gods and their servants do tend to see themselves as a countering force to the monster race.”

    “There’s no way,” I said certainly. “Those vessels were made in a way so they’re compatible to each other! If a monster made the black magic one and a dragon made the holy magic one, it would have to be with the understanding that they were meant to come together.” I shook my head. “I can’t speak for the monster race—you people will do practically anything if you have a twisted enough motive for it. But no dragon would involve themselves in such a thing! It would be downright undragonlike!”

    Xellos shrugged. “So you have said.”

    “And think about this,” I added, a bolt of inspiration striking me, “why would the monsters or the dragon race involve themselves in some petty dispute in Baritone and Alto? I can’t see what they could possibly gain from concerning themselves in making the vessels or sealing the bridge.”

    “That is a good point,” Xellos admitted. He seemed to have come to his end of the book he was skimming. He sighed. “And if there is an answer, it seems to have been lost to time.” He bent over to set the book down. “Without a motive, it’s just one incomplete explanation. And we can’t rule out the possibility that humans were actually able to make these vessels through the use of some magical art that hasn’t survived.”

    “That’s right,” I agreed, having decided that this was the only plausible explanation. “You can’t say for sure humans didn’t make them and that would make much more sense.”

    “Ah well,” Xellos said, straightening up. “It was just a bit of idle curiosity anyway. The answer doesn’t really change anything.”

    I happen to disagree. It matters a heck of a lot that there’s no precedent for dragons and monsters involving themselves in activity meant to lead to their magic being fused. I don’t know about him, but I don’t want to live in a world where that’s happened!

    He seemed to have concluded his business. He began to grow slightly transparent, as though he was about to fade away. Before he’d quite finished, though, he stopped and rematerialized. “Actually, I suppose I can think of one, albeit weak, reason why a dragon might get involved in something so undragonlike.”

    “What?” I asked.

    And do you know what that smug snake said to me right before he vanished, leaving me all alone in a house of the unholy?

    “To differentiate herself.”
     

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