Chapter 6 – New Beginnings
Lina Inverse awoke that morning from a nightmare about penguins to a splitting headache. Luna had always told her that she had a strange type of sixth sense for abnormal occurrences in the world; the type of sixth sense that usually was an indication that her day was not going to get better. Lina had to agree; it wasn’t like she could disagree with her sister, anyway.
She yawned and stretched, then yelped when she touched a body next to her in the bed. She was about to fireball someone’s ass, but she simply grinned when she saw that it was Val, curled up into a little ball with his worn-out teddy bear clutched in one arm, his thumb in his mouth. He must have crawled in bed with me during the night, she thought. He must have had another nightmare.
The kid had gone through hell the last year. Recurring nightmares, withdrawing from the rest of the world and the like had made Lina terrified that something would go wrong with him and the world would be in danger once again from his obsessive, aggressive demeanor. Of course he was just a child, but that didn’t stop her from worrying. However, with some help from Sylphiel, whom Val immediately became attached to, he came out of it and was a normal kid once again. Well, as normal as any reborn ancient dragon child could be. He still had horrible nightmares every now and then, and she wondered if he would ever be at peace again.
She couldn’t help but smile a little as she gazed at him, smoothing his wild aqua hair with one hand. Though she knew he would have been better off with Filia raising him, she could not help but love having him around. Nothing like he was in his old life after he became a Mazoku, he was a delightful child: always eager to help her, wanting so badly to please her, doing his best to stay out of her way when she was in a bad mood.
The few times she had seen him before Filia had…been killed, he had always seemed to be frightened of her, immediately hiding behind Filia when she walked into the house and refusing to talk to her. Lina couldn’t help but wonder if he remembered her from his past life, but Gourry had then joked, “All little kids are afraid of Lina,” after which Lina had thumped him over the head.
However, when Filia had been killed, he had immediately clung to her, frightened and simply wanting some familiarity.. She closed her eyes in sorrow as she remembered…
Lina stared silently at the still form of her friend. Gods, this was horrible. The blood. So much blood. No one could have survived this, not even someone as tough as Filia. Gently, carefully, Lina closed Filia’s eyes, not even noticing the tears falling from her own. It was then that she heard a sound from the other room.
Her heart racing with newfound terror, she got up slowly and listened. There it was again. A small, barely comprehensible sound, coming from one of the bedrooms. And then Lina remembered. Val!
She ran to the bedroom, and listened again. She could hear him sobbing quietly underneath the bed. Thank goodness he was still alive! In the darkened room, she couldn’t see very well as she knelt down to look under the bed, but she could make out the form of a small boy with two black wings curled around himself.
“Val,” she said. “Val, honey, come on out.”
He looked up at her through his wings, and she could see his gold eyes glowing in the darkness. Tears were streaming down his face, and he was shaking with terror. He shook his head ‘no’. She tried to smile her most reassuring smile, and held out a hand to him.
“It’s ok. Nothing is going to hurt you. It’s all over. You can come out.”
He shuddered. “Is…Mommy…?”
Lina choked back a sob. “Mommy is…asleep right now, Val. But those bad things might come back so you need to come out so I can take you somewhere safe.”
The little boy seemed to think about her words. Gingerly, he reached out and took her hand, crawling out from underneath the bed. He was still shaking uncontrollably, tears still streaming down his cheeks, his eyes wide and fearful.
Lina knelt down to bring herself eye-to-eye with him. “Listen, Val, I know this is a bad time for you, honey. But you’re going to have to come with me. Your mommy can’t…can’t take care you anymore. She wanted to, believe me she did. But you’ll be safe, ok?”
Val watched Lina’s face as she spoke, his eyes uncertain, his four-year-old mind trying to comprehend what she was saying to him. But he did understand, Lina realized, and almost immediately, his face scrunched up and he flung his arms around her, burying his face into her cloak and clinging to her tightly, sobbing wildly.
“I want my Mommy!” he cried. “Miss Lina I want my Mommy.”
Lina let her tears flow freely as she held the small child, stroking his hair and whispering soothing words to him. “Shhh…I know, Val, I know.”
“Promise me you’ll stay with me,” he whispered.
It was then that she knew she had to keep him with her. She didn’t even give it any thought. It wasn’t an option at that point; she knew that in a way, he had chosen her. Val was a much smarter kid than most people realized, due to his being an ancient dragon, and it was immediately apparent that he somehow understood that Filia was dead.
For several months after the funeral, Lina, Gourry, and Val decided to stay in Seyruune. Normally Lina hated staying in one place for a long time, but she was not about to drag Val with her on long trips after the ordeal he’d been through. Filia’s death had been hard for everyone to come to grips with, but Lina could not imagine actually being there when it happened. Val had heard everything, and most likely saw it happen.
Lina felt the dampness of tears on her cheeks and quickly wiped them away, doing her best to force those memories of those nights when Val would awake screaming at the top of his lungs in the middle of the night. It took hours to calm him down, with she and Sylphiel holding him. There were things she could do, such as fighting dark lords, killing bandits, saving the world. Hearing Val’s screams in the middle of the night, and then trying to calm him down, feeling so helpless to do anything to help him, was something that she never wanted to do again.
Lina placed a soft kiss on the boy’s forehead and smoothed his hair away from his face. She couldn’t deny the motherly feelings she had for that little ancient dragon. Though no one, including herself, ever thought she would ever be a mother, or even have ‘motherly feelings’ about anything. However, she was twenty-one years old, and she already felt like a mother towards Val.
Sighing, she pushed back the covers and slid her feet off of the bed, wincing as they touched the cold hardwood floor. She shuffled over to the vanity by the bed and began pulling the knots out of her hair, gazing into nothingness as her mind began to wander again to why she, Gourry, and Val were traveling in the first place.
Her stay in Seyruune had not been unpleasant to say the least, and she didn’t mind seeing her friends every day as she had during their travels. However, the adventurer in her wouldn’t allow her to stay in one place for too long. She craved wide-open spaces; breathing room, if one could call it that.
To her surprise, Val didn’t mind traveling. He rather enjoyed it, and now kept saying that he wanted to travel the rest of his life. However, Lina had noticed that he liked to dictate where they went to a certain extent. He had learned to manipulate her, though she would not admit it to anyone. Only a small amount of begging on his part was what it took for her to give in. He had begged to visit Sylphiel, and so they had just come from there.
Lina hadn’t spoken this aloud to Gourry or to the rest of her friends, but a separate reason why she had wanted to start traveling again was to head to the village where Filia had lived. She had a feeling that Gourry knew the reason, because of the direction she’d been traveling in, but he hadn’t mentioned it. She’d come to realize that Gourry wasn’t as dumb as most people thought, despite the dumb things he said. And despite her giving in to Val wanting to visit Sylphiel, it had not been a major inconvenience because it was on the way to Filia’s old village.
She wanted to search Filia’s old house, as hard as it would be to go there again, but she had to see if she could find out anything. She doubted the townspeople would talk about it; not even Filia’s neighbors, who had been relatively close to her, would talk to Lina about the incident. They were afraid of something, and Lina was determined to find out what if she had to fireball the entire town to get her answer.
Lina winced as she realized she was pulling on her hair too hard with the brush. Another thought which had been bothering her was the question of what Xelloss had to do with Filia’s death. The Beastmaster had told her that Xelloss had been killed as well, but why? Zelas had not been specific as to whether Xelloss had been there at Filia’s death, or if he had been killed before Filia. Lina still couldn’t exactly figure out what the dark lord had meant, but she assumed that it meant that the same killer had attacked both Xelloss and Filia.
Why? Who could have been strong enough to kill Xelloss? Filia had not been a weakling, either. She’d been a powerful golden dragon, able to defend herself. The only ones that could have killed either of them were the dark lords, the only ones higher than Xelloss in rank, and Lina could not see them killing Xelloss. He had been worth a lot to them.
Lina couldn’t figure it out. What was the connection there? There had to be meaning, an unknown reason he was killed, but how was she going to find that out?
A low groan from the bed jerked Lina out of her thoughts. She turned to see Val sitting up in bed, rubbing his eyes and staring at Lina through sleep-filled eyes.
“Goo-mornin Lina-san,” he mumbled, smiling.
Lina grinned at the little ancient dragon, suppressing a giggle at the sight of his tousled aquamarine hair that was sticking out everywhere and his half-open golden eyes that squinted against the morning light. He was not a morning child.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” she said, going over to ruffle his hair and tickle him. It had become a normal morning ritual for them when his nightmares had been worse and he would always crawl in bed with her during the night. He laughed until tears were streaming down his face, begging for her to stop until she finally did, unable to keep from laughing herself.
“Did you have another nightmare?” she asked.
He nodded. “It wasn’t as bad as the other ones, though. But I still didn’t want to sleep by myself.”
“I don’t mind, you know that.”
He hugged his stuffed bear and looked down at his feet. “Where are going today?” he asked.
Lina bit her lip. She hadn’t wanted to tell him about where they were going just yet. She had also planned on having Gourry keep him in the village they were in at the moment while she went to the other village to look around. She also wanted to visit Filia’s grave…and she couldn’t take Val there yet. It just was not a good idea to her.
“Well, you and Gourry are going to look around this village for the best place to eat. I have to go to another town that’s not far from here.”
“Why can’t we come with you?”
“Because, I have to visit someone. It’s very important. I want you and Gourry to find the best place to eat, that way we don’t have to look when I get back.”
“But that’s not going to take us very long,” he argued. “What if Gourry gets us lost or in trouble?”
Lina chuckled, then put on a stern look. “I’m counting on you not to let him get lost or get in any trouble. This is an important mission, Valteria. Do you accept it?”
He grinned and saluted. “Yes, ma’am!”
“Good. Go wake up Gourry. I’ve got to get ready.”
He nodded and hugged her. “Bye, Lina-mamma,” he chirped, and ran out the door.
Lina sighed. Now to get ready. She wasn’t looking forward to this, but she knew she just couldn’t let what happened to Filia slide by as if it were nothing. She would get to the bottom of it if it took her the rest of her life.
On to Chapter 7
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