Lina’s face burned bright red with fury as she clenched her fists and forced herself to walk to the next house. It was all she could do to keep from blasting something. That was the sixth time she’d had the door practically slammed in her face. This last time, she hadn’t even had the chance to get past saying, “Excuse me, but do you remember Filia ul-“ before the woman got a horrified look on her face and quickly shut the door. Evidently, she did remember Filia…the other people had remembered, too, and had been just as unwilling to talk.
Filia’s death had been gruesome, to say the least, and it had obviously put the entire village into a panic. They were probably afraid that whoever had killed Filia would kill them next, and Lina didn’t blame them. However, she wasn’t going to find out anything at this rate. Perhaps she’d been foolish to wait an entire year before trying to ask the villagers about what had happened.
However, she had a feeling that it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. She also had a feeling that something strange was going on…or had been going on. A different method of persuasion was probably necessary.
But first, food was necessary, as well as a break from all this stress. A person could only take so much before they exploded, and Lina was nearing her limit. The place across the street called “Delilah’s Bar and Grill” would do just fine.
Lina took a seat at the bar, flipping her hair back and slamming her hand on the counter. “Bartender! Let’s have some service over here!”
The bartender glared at Lina, but came over to her. “Whaddya want?” he drawled.
Lina opened the menu and pointed. “I want three helpings of this chicken right here! And give me a glass of your best wine!”
“Three helpings?” the bartender asked. “A little thing like you?”
“Don’t make fun of my size, buddy, just give me my food!”
The bartender shrugged and gave her order to the cook, not really wanting to argue with this mouthy redhead. He set Lina’s glass of wine in front of her and started to go off to serve the other customers that had come in.
“Hey, I have a question for you,” Lina asked, stopping the bartender before he could walk away. “Do you remember a girl that used to live here? She had long, blonde hair, and was kinda tall. She used to run the antique shop. Do you know if she still lives around here?”
The bartender looked away, but not before Lina caught the nervous glint in his eyes. “No. She died last year.”
“Oh, really? That’s a shame. She had such nice antiques in her shop. Do you know what happened to her?”
The bartender shook his head. “Don’t have a clue. One night she was attacked. Don’t know who attacked her, but there’s a rumor it was the Mazoku.”
Lina leaned forward a little in her seat, her eyes wide with anticipation. She already knew that it was the Mazoku who had killed Filia…but hopefully this guy could give her a little more information…rumors or not.
“The Mazoku?” Lina questioned, trying to sound like she was shocked. “Why would they attack that poor, defenseless girl?”
The bartender leaned down and lowered his voice. “Well,” he said quietly. “There’s another rumor that she was seeing a man.”
Lina raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really?”
“No one knows, actually. No one ever saw him clearly. Her neighbors said that they saw someone go into her house every so often, but they never got a good look at him because it was always at night. He never came around any other time.”
“So, are there anymore rumors?” Lina asked, already bored with this part of the conversation.
He shook his head. “Nope. It’s a shame that no one was able to do anything about her death.”
The cook came over and placed Lina’s three plates of chicken in front of her, and she started chewing on one piece. “So, is it just me, or is everyone else afraid of talking about her death? I mean, I’ve asked several people about what happened to the antique store, because I noticed that it was closed down, and I keep getting these terrified looks and doors slammed in my face. What’s with that?”
“People are afraid that the Mazoku will come back and hurt the town if they talk. People are superstitious around here, and they think that this town will be cursed, or is already cursed, because of such a violent death. They think that the man who always came to call on her might have been Mazoku, as well.”
Lina nearly laughed in his face. Filia hated the Mazoku! “I somehow doubt that,” she said. But then again, it would make sense…sort of.
“That’s not all,” the bartender continued. “Strange sounds have also been coming from the house as of recently. Two nights ago, her neighbors reported the sound of someone crying. It’s as if the house is coming alive with the memory of that horrible deed that was done.”
Lina stared at the bartender, chewing on her third piece of chicken. “Sounds creepy. No one investigated the noises?”
“Would you want to go in there? That place has a bad feel to it.”
Lina nodded, deciding her next move. The bartender had at least talked to her, whether or not his information was purely rumor or not. The rest of the villagers wouldn’t be much help, so she would have to do a little investigation on her own.
A year ago, she had tried to tell herself that she hadn’t searched for clues in Filia’s house for a lot of reasons. There wouldn’t be any clues, she reasoned. She had had her hands tied up with taking care of Val, and also because that would draw unnecessary attention from Filia’s killers. Perhaps the latter might have been correct. However, as Lina stood in front of Filia’s house, with most of its windows boarded up, the door locked, and the knowledge of what had happened inside, she admitted to herself that she hadn’t wanted to come back. She still didn’t want to go in there…but she was tired of waiting on evidence to fall into her lap. So, she knew it was the Mazoku, and Filia had been seeing some man who ‘might’ have been a Mazoku. Maybe in disguise? These were the only clues she had to go on…and the only way she was going to find out anything else was if she looked for it.
Taking a deep breath, she turned the doorknob and opened the door.
Even though she had seen it a year ago, the sight of the destruction that met her eyes was still hard for her to bear as she looked around. The small living room was in shambles. There were brown stains all over the walls, probably dried blood. The memory, and the very sight of it made Lina’s stomach turn.
She stared at the broken pieces of pottery that lay scattered on the floor, amidst the overturned chairs and trash that cluttered the entire room. What was she hoping to find here? Clues to Filia’s death, of course, but how was she going to find it in all of this? Being in the house was unsettling. Even she could feel the bad vibes there; like the bartender at Delilah’s had said, the house seemed to be feeling the effects of the horrible deed that was done there.
Suppressing a shudder, she sighed and tried to ignore the creepy feeling she had that someone was watching her. The afternoon was slowly turning into evening, and the sky outside was turning dark with storm clouds. The house was filled with shadows, the only light coming through the broken windows, and she wanted to get out of there was fast as possible.
So she began looking around, having no idea what she was looking for, but hoping to find some small shred of evidence of who had killed Filia. Unfortunately, she was finding nothing. Broken pieces of pottery were everywhere, but that was to be expected even if Filia had still been living there. The living room where the attack had happened was demolished. The sofa was broken and overturned as if it had been tossed out of the way. The armchair was the same way. Pictures that had been hanging on the wall were smashed and hung pitifully crooked, if they were still hanging and not on the floor in a pile of glass.
After looking around for a while, she had a strange feeling that something wasn’t right. But she couldn’t figure out exactly what. Of course nothing looked right…the entire room had been destroyed a year ago. But something didn’t quite fit in with the scene there…
“There!” she said out loud to no one in particular.
She had vaguely noticed a smell when she walked in, like something was burning, but she hadn’t really paid attention until she saw the fireplace. It had been used very recently. Wisps of smoke swirled out of the smoldering embers, but the logs in the fireplace had not been burned very long. It was as if someone had put out the fire quickly and left.
Lina narrowed her eyes. Whoever it was could still be in the house. She wasn’t very thrilled about the idea of a surprise attack, but she wasn’t about to leave until she either found her clues or had searched through every last part of the house. She suddenly wished she had brought Gourry with her…but she couldn’t have brought Val. He didn’t need to see this.
She groaned as she heard thunder in the distance. Why did there have to be a thunderstorm at a time like this? Like she wasn’t spooked enough by the deserted house and its bad vibes, or the unshakable feeling that she was being watched. Looking at the mess she couldn't imagine anyone living here, but just who had lit the fire? A slight breeze blew through a cracked window, and she shivered. She continued searching, however, not willing to let herself be scared off.. Lina Inverse never gave in to fear.
She searched through the living room, turning over the sofa and chair, searching through the books, not really sure what she was looking for but not leaving anything untouched. It was when she was leaning down to examine one of the many pieces of broken pottery by the wall that she noticed a pile of black feathers. She picked one up, gazed at it for a moment and then tossed it back down with the others. Damn birds, she thought.
Having decided that the living room held no clues, she moved on to the kitchen. Nothing there either except dirty dishes and cobwebs. Lina sighed, getting more and more frustrated. What next? Filia’s bedroom, perhaps? She decided that maybe she should try it, even though she felt a little intrusive, like she was invading the privacy of someone even though Filia had been dead for a year.
Filia’s room was neat and tidy, minus the cobwebs in the corners and a years’ worth of dust on everything, causing Lina to sneeze. There was a small desk in the corner, and Lina decided to try that first. She sat down and began flipping through the clutter.
There were a lot of papers on Filia’s desk, several of them scrunched up and tossed away as though she’d been writing a novel and messed up. Lina picked a crumpled one up and read. It looked like a poem, written in Filia’s flawless handwriting.
She walks in twilight darkness with
The one who holds her heart in light
Though he is gone, she sees him there
In her restless dreams each night
Is it wrong for her to think of him?
She does not think it so
For in each other’s arms they find the peace
That neither one has ever known
Lina stuck out her tongue and wrinkled her nose. Sounded way too mushy for Filia, but it was obvious that she’d written it. Maybe that was why Filia had crumpled it up and tossed it on the floor.
The idea of Filia being romantically interested in anyone was almost enough to make Lina double over with laughter. But for some reason, Lina could almost picture it happening…and the face that came to her mind was just about enough to make her believe that she’d gone stark raving mad.
Xelloss? Surely not…
And yet as she digested this thought, she realized that there was something there…some unknown information that wanted to click within her mind to finally make her understand. She felt closer to the answer than she had in the last year…however absurd and downright whacked out it all was.
Lina opened another drawer and saw a black, leather-bound book. Opening it, she nearly squealed out loud. Filia’s diary! Of course!
Flipping through the pages quickly, she scanned through Filia’s graceful handwriting, looking for something that wasn’t rambling on about Val or the antique shop. She noticed the word "Namagomi" several times towards the middle of the book, but most of the entries were about how much Filia hated him and nothing else.
It did start to get interesting towards the end. Filia stopped mentioning “Namagomi” nearly altogether, and most everything was now, “Xelloss this...” or “Xelloss that…” In fact, the entries sounded almost reflective, such as one that immediately caught Lina’s eye:
“I wonder why Xelloss keeps coming around so much. He can’t take a hint! And yet…I hate to admit it, but he’s not as bothersome as he used to be. It’s strange. I would never admit it to him, or to anyone else, but I think I’m starting to enjoy his company. Is this wrong of me?”
Lina shook her head, chuckling as she skipped the other mushy stuff and flipped to the end of the journal to read the last entry. Fighting back sudden tears, she read:
It’s been almost three weeks now. He hasn’t been here once, which is odd for him. Before that, he’s been coming around quite often. I don’t know what to think. Could it be that she found out? Or one of the others? There is always someone watching him…he told me from the start. He warned me that there would be risks. I didn’t want to believe him, but now it looks like he might have been right.
I know I should be glad that he’s not coming around anymore, but I can’t be glad. I’ve tried so hard to tell myself that I’m happy that I no longer have that bothersome pest around me anymore. But…it’s so lonely here, even with Val. I do love my adopted son, but there are times I wish someone were here who I could talk to, who would understand me and listen to me. Odd, that Xelloss has done just that for me…
Even if I mostly just directed my anger towards him, he took it with no complaint. He had a way of bringing it out. Maybe he did it on purpose, but it felt good to release this pent-up frustration inside of me. And then…then…he left. Why?
Why do I even care? I’m supposed to hate him, aren’t I? Why do I want that filthy Namagomi to even be within 500 miles of here? I don’t! But I do…I really do..."
Lina softly closed the diary after reading the last entry, and placed the book in a pocket of her cape, for safekeeping. She sighed, feeling drained and exhausted. She’d wanted answers; well apparently she had them. However, this new information only left her with more questions than answers. Why had Xelloss been killed, if, in fact, he had been killed? Had Xelloss had some ulterior motive in being involved with Filia? And was it to eventually kill her? Lina felt her face grow red with fury at that thought. If that were how it had happened, Xelloss would be wise to never show his face again.
If she ever saw him again, she would kill him.
On to Chapter 9
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