Lina left Filia’s old house shortly thereafter, having realized that she wasn’t going to find anymore ‘-solid’ evidence. It was getting late, as well, and she was feeling drained, exhausted, and hungry again. But she wouldn’t leave the village until she’d visited Filia’s grave. It didn’t seem right not to.
So she went straight to the graveyard, which was little more than a cleared section of a cornfield on the outskirts of the town. It was actually a beautiful place, with flowers spread out all over and the fresh scent of the oak and apple trees filling the air. Perhaps it was that way so as to forget the fact that dead people were buried there; people who were loved and missed by those who loved them. It didn’t work, at least not for Lina.
She fought back a new onslaught of tears as she approached the small grave towards the back, nestled beneath a large oak tree and surrounded by dozens of white flowers. Had it really been a year? It seemed more like ten years.
Suddenly she stopped. Her eyes widened in confusion as she saw a man shrouded in black standing over Filia’s grave. His back was towards her, his face hidden by the shade of the tree. She opened her mouth to speak, but stopped when the dark figure suddenly reached out his hand and touched the golden cross that served as Filia’s tombstone. Long, slender fingers caressed the carved image of a dragon on the front of the cross, almost lovingly.
Who is this? Lina thought. She stared at the figure in question, and as she took in his profile, she felt a cold chill snake up her spine. He wore a long black cape, and violet hair was pulled back at the nape of his neck. He stood silently, the cape rustling in the breeze, and then he moved his hand back down to his side. She felt her heart race as it dawned on her who it was. No…
He then sensed her presence there and stiffened, turning around slowly, and faced her.
“Xelloss…” she hissed.
He smiled; a bitter, chilling smile, but a smile nonetheless. “Lina.” His voice was soft, and so emotionless that Lina had to cringe. “Fancy meeting you here.”
She started to say something else, but then something dawned on her. Oh gods, his face…he looked like death incarnate, with black, tear-like lines down his face, which was much, much paler than she remembered. Instead of his usual straight hairstyle, long stringy strands of hair fell over his eyes, giving him an unusually chaotic look. The wild, predatory glint in his normally calm amethyst eyes made Lina shudder. He had changed…quite drastically.
But all that aside…
“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” Lina snarled.
His smile remained unchanged as he replied calmly, “Why, I suppose the same thing you came here to do. To pay your respects to dear Filia, am I right?”
“You have a lot of nerve coming here after what you did to her!” Lina shouted. ”No, I take that back, you’re pathetically stupid if you think that I’m going to fall for that stupid ‘mourning’ act.”
Lina knew she was treading on dangerous ground with him as she flung her words at him unmercifully. Here, he could kill her without a second thought and no one would know. Because of how crazy he looked, she half-expected him to turn on her suddenly and kill her. But she was furious at this blatant insult on Filia. He had used her; just as Lina had suspected…he was alive and Filia was dead, and how he was standing here pretending to mourn for her. It was wrong…so wrong.
However, instead of attacking her, he frowned slightly and turned away, his back facing her.
“I see…I understand now,” he said slowly.
“Understand what?” Lina snapped, not wanting to give him a chance to explain himself. “There’s no use acting like you don’t know what I’m talking about, Xelloss. I saw what you did to her. How dare you stand there and pretend to grieve over her death! We all thought you were dead, too, but knew I shouldn’t have been so stupid to believe that damned master of yours when she said you were dead. And now here you are.”
He sighed deeply, and after a moment replied. “Yes, I was involved with Filia’s death,” he said, a slight tremor in his voice. “And I was responsible. But it’s not how you think.”
Lina clenched her teeth together. “What the hell am I supposed to think?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you. It’s…rather complicated.”
“I don’t want to hear your damn excuses, Xelloss!” Lina exclaimed. “I remember how you are. Don’t think that you can lie yourself out of this! I saw what happened to Filia…I never thought you would ever sink that low, but you’ve gone to a whole other level with this.”
“Lina, please. Won’t you just listen to what I have to say?” Xelloss asked, clearly trying not to lose his temper. She would eat her words when she found out the truth.
Tears stung Lina’s eyes as she shook her head and cried, “No! I’m not listening to you, you bastard!” She closed her eyes then, her fists clenched as if fighting back her anger. But in a few seconds, Xelloss noticed the glowing red light that appeared in one hand. “Lina, stop!” he cried, his voice strained. He could feel he was losing the battle with his anger.
“Did Filia ask the same of you as you beat her to death?” Lina asked, raising her hand to cast the Dragon Slave.
“That’s enough!” he roared, something snapping inside of him, and Lina found herself being flung back by some invisible force. Time seemed to slow down as she fell, hitting the ground with a loud *THUD*. The force of the impact knocked the wind out of her, and she groaned, too stunned to actually scream. The last thing she saw before she blacked out was Xelloss standing there…
And he looked as though he were glowing…
Xelloss breathed heavily, his head feeling light and his vision blurred, as this darkness in his mind threatened to take his entire being over as he fought the anger inside of him. He had wanted to kill Lina right then. How dare she accuse him when she did not know the truth! Some part of his stricken, exhausted mind reasoned that she might have had just cause for believing he had in fact killed Filia, but she had angered him like nothing else. Those cutting words… ‘I saw what you did to her’… ‘Did she ask the same of you as you beat her to death?’…had driven deep inside of him. He wanted revenge…he wanted revenge against something, and he hadn’t cared at that point what it was.
He had felt darkness overtake him, something that he’d never felt before…but recognized, somehow. It was as if his entire existence had been threatened to be consumed…he had felt himself slipping away, overcome by the hatred but also this darkness. That was the only way he could describe it…darkness.
But it was slowly fading as he regained his full composure once more. Still breathing heavily, his vision swam back into focus and he blinked rapidly. He saw his hand outstretched, shaking violently, and he held it to his chest, trying to quell the intense nervousness as the rest of his body began to shiver uncontrollably. It was then that he noticed Lina lying unconscious on the ground.
What the hell had just happened? Without warning, he had almost blacked out and nearly killed Lina Inverse. While he had once thought of killing her, he realized that he truly didn’t want to. He simply did not want her involved. This was his war, and he would fight it himself. Besides, it appeared that he still had his powers…
Which were strangely more powerful than he remembered. What had happened to him? Something inside of him had changed…he realized that he felt it from the beginning. It was not so much his astral body as it was something else…but he couldn’t place it. His astral body still existed, but he knew that his powers did not come from it. His astral body had been utterly destroyed when he had been killed. It still existed, but on a completely different plane that he was not allowed to reach in this physical form.
In short, it was where he had been in death…
Confused and shaken, he stared at Lina’s unconscious form in disbelief. Where did this power come from? Was it the crow?
No. It is not I that gives you your power.
Xelloss nearly jumped at the sensation of the crow’s voice inside of his head, and he glared at the large black bird that was now perched atop Filia’s gravestone. He sighed…that bird was unnerving sometimes.
“So if you’re not the source of my power, then where does it come from?” Xelloss asked.
The crow seemed to chuckle. You’ll find out soon enough.
“Damn bird,” Xelloss grumbled under his breath. He sighed again, then turned back to stare at Filia’s grave. His eyes softened and appeared to fill with tears as he gently laid another hand on her grave marker. Rather than saying a tearful, heartfelt goodbye, he simply closed his eyes and bowed silently. There were no words he could say.
And then, realizing it wasn’t a good idea to be there when Lina awoke, he faded out of sight.
Lina awoke to raindrops in her face and a splitting headache. She opened her eyes, squinting against the rain, and brought one hand weakly up to her head, clutching it as if that would make her head stop hurting. Groaning, she sat up and tried to remain sitting up, her vision swimming in and out of focus.
“What the hell…?” she said aloud, to no one in particular. It took only a second to realize that Xelloss was no longer there, and she was glad. He’d almost killed her, and if she ever saw him again, she’d have to repay the ‘favor’.
Lina wondered about his behavior, completely confused by the act that he put on, if it was, in fact, an act. She believed that he killed Filia, because there was just no other explanation, and she was less inclined to believe him, but something was nagging at the back of her head. Something that wanted to insist that he was innocent of this particular crime. Xelloss was, by no means, innocent at all, but what if he hadn’t killed Filia? What then?
Lina shook her head again, trying to clear her head of all those confusing thoughts. Nothing was making sense. Xelloss had seemed so…grievous over Filia’s death, mourning over her grave and despite the fact that he most likely killed Filia, Lina could not help but wonder now. She knew that Xelloss was an actor by nature…given to lying and deceit and all that. But Lina had always been able to tell that he’d been a man on a mission…all of his actions had one way or another been a part of his assignment, or simply because he wanted to cause mayhem. But this…mourning over Filia’s grave, what was his purpose? Was it to confuse her into believing him, so that she would go along with something else he had in mind?
Perhaps it was because she was too close to this situation to really judge his actions carefully. Either way, she didn’t trust him and had no reason to trust him. Innocent until proven guilty, she reasoned.
She wobbled as she stood to her feet, still feeling woozy. That fall must have knocked her senses out for awhile; she’d have to be careful on the way back to the other village. Now she really wished she’d brought Gourry with her…Val or no Val.
On to Chapter 10!