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!
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.
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.
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…