Disclaimer: Ever have random guys hit on you over the net? Well, I do. Usually, I just convince them I'm a lesbian. And they go away. That being said, I don't own any of these marvelous characters. Some Japanese underworld figure who secretly controls us all probably does. I sure hope he doesn't sue me.

Feedback: Please pet my ego! ~ sailorN1@aol.com

Arrangement

Chapter One: Something old...

by Crystal Dawn Phoenix

It was midday in the small desert town's only tavern. Under normal circumstances, there would be few customers, or interesting goings on. On this particular day, however, something out of the ordinary was catching the eyes of passers by as well as the frequent customers of the tavern. Unlike other days, today there were strangers in town. That by itself wasn't enough to draw this sort of attention, though. What was attracting the attention of the bewildered onlookers was the ruckus the newcomers were causing from their table at the tavern. Dishes clattered to the floor, chairs were upset, and several muffled protests were heard throughout the establishment as the visitors ate. It was quite a spectacle.

There were six of them altogether. The red-haired girl in the black cape seemed the most vicious. Among her companions were a tall man with long blonde hair, who she seemed to delight in fighting over the food with. Joining them in the scuffle was another girl, only a little smaller than the first, with black hair and large blue eyes. The three of them were the source of all the commotion, gaining stares from the other patrons of the tavern and not bothering to acknowledge them.

"This is so undignified," a woman with long blonde hair remarked. She was sitting at a small table beside the ruckus, sipping at a small cup of tea. Beside her sat a man with glinting metallic hair and rocks in his skin. He snorted and brought a cup of coffee up to his mouth.

"It's nothing out of the ordinary, Filia," he replied over his cup, deliberately ignoring the spectacle unfolding beside him. Across the table from him sat a man in a black cloak, with shoulder-length purple hair. He said nothing and looked more like he was a part of the crowd at large than party to the strangers sitting with him.

"Hey, that's my chicken, Gourry!", came the red-head's cry as she thumped her blonde companion on the head soundly.

"I saw it first!", he replied in a half-whine, trying to defend the piece of poultry from the red-head's grasp.

"Miss Lina, that's not fair," the black-haired girl chided, grabbing more food from the center of the table. Lina ignored the shorter girl and snatched the chicken out of Gourry's hands, taking a bite before he could protest.

"Fair or not, it's mine now, Amelia!", she crowed, "My germs! My germs!"

"I don't care!", Gourry said, trying to get it back, "I still want it!"

The struggle continued, drawing the attention of the patrons of the tavern. On the other side of the room, a cloaked figure walked though the open door of the tavern. The figure drew little attention to herself , dwarfed in comparison to the side show taking place across the room from her. Silently, the cloaked figure made her way through the room, weaving in and out from between tables, her white robes brushing the floor. She could clearly see who she had come for sitting with the stone man and... was that a Mazoku? Impossible! But no, the other figure seated at that table was clearly a Mazoku. At least it was clear to the one wearing the cloak.

Filia sighed again. This was getting them nowhere, and was certainly not helping their search for the fifth DarkStar weapon. And worst of all, the Mazoku was looking at her. Again. What was he even still following them for, anyway? Some nefarious scheme to kill all of them, no doubt, Filia thought to herself. She was about to tell him to stop looking at her when she felt a light tap on her shoulder. Filia looked up to see a woman wearing a white cloak, with a hood pulled up over her hair.

"You are Filia ul Copt," the newcomer said, less of a question and more of a statement. Filia blinked at her as the other occupants of her table looked at the newcomer strangely.

"Y-yes, I am," she said, "How do you know my name?" The stranger smiled and produced a letter sealed with a wax crest from the folds of her cloak.

"I've come from the Sanctuary to deliver this to you," she replied, "It's an urgent message." Filia took the letter and examined it, studying the crest. It was sure enough the personal crest of Saichuro, the leader of the elder dragons that worshiped the Fire Dragon King. Filia looked up to ask the messenger what it was about, but found that she had already disappeared. Filia slid her thumb underneath the side of the envelope, unfastening the paper from underneath the crest. She removed the letter enclosed and sat the envelope down. She read it, then folded it again and stood up.

"Where are you going?", Zelgadis asked, "What did the letter say?" Filia looked down, as if suddenly snapped out of a reverie by his voice.

"I have to go back to the Sanctuary," she said languidly, "I've been called back. The letter didn't say why, but I won't be able to continue my journey with the rest of you." Zelgadis sat his cup down on the table. Her words had apparently reached Lina, Gourry, and Amelia as well, as they had stopped eating mid-bite. Filia also noticed that the look on Xellos' face had changed as well. He was still wearing his poker face, but it had shifted somehow, making him look more serious.

"That is unfortunate," Zelgadis said. Gourry scratched his head.

"You're leaving?", he asked blankly, "Why?" Lina interrupted before Filia could answer.

"Don't tell me you're quitting on us now," she said, irritated, "I thought you were gonna stick it out with us! Weren't you the one who was so gung-ho about saving the world?" Filia averted her eyes from Lina's determined gaze.

"I really can't help this," Filia answered, "But the letter says that the rest of you will be given another guide, so you should come with me..." By this time, Lina was glaring at her.

"Not on your life!", Lina growled, startling Filia, "Not before I've finished my lunch!" And with that, the spectacle of lunch continued.

Filia sat back down, opening the letter again and looking at it forlornly. She didn't notice as Xellos leaned forward over the table, closer to her. The sound of his voice snapped her back into the here and now.

"So Filia the rebel is going back to the Shrine," he said, smirking, "I'm surprised you're going back so easily. I'd thought more of you." Filia glowered at him.

"It's none of your business, Namagomi," she snapped, turning away. Xellos leaned back in his chair with a 'hmph'.

"Well, at least you'll be out of my hair now," he remarked, crossing his arms over his chest. Filia didn't say anything, opting instead to attempt to ignore him. Of all the nerve... She studied the letter again, wondering why she was being called back. It had to be something important to make her come back from such an important mission. She turned the letter over and the words from it in her mind again and again, waiting on Lina to finish her lunch...

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Filia looked up at the tall spires of the Fire Dragon King's Sanctuary, golden set against the night sky. It had been her home for as long as she could remember. But now, she had a nagging sense of dread as she looked toward it. She didn't want to leave Lina and the others, that was true. She couldn't be sure why, but something told her that wasn't the only reason she didn't want to come back. The nature of that letter, the lack of explanation... Filia couldn't help but feel they wanted her to come all the way back so it'd be harder for her to leave once they told her why she was here. Filia felt a hand gently clasp onto her shoulder. She jumped a little and looked back. It was only Lina.

"So are you gonna stand here all day or what?", she asked, her tone softer than her words suggested. Filia blinked and turned to Lina.

"Yes, I just couldn't help thinking," she said, walking toward the great doors with Lina and the others, "I don't know why I'm back here at all. I don't have a good feeling about this." They entered the large doors, their steps echoing down the long halls. Filia looked back, noticing that Xellos had opted to stay outside. 'Makes sense,' she thought bitterly, 'I would be too ashamed to show my face to a temple full of dragons, too, if I were him.'

"I have a bad feeling about this, myself," Zelgadis remarked from behind them. Amelia pulled her fists up to her chin.

"Do you think so, Mr. Zelgadis?", she asked, looking around, "But whatever happens, we'll take up for you, Miss Filia!" Filia smiled a little, grateful for that knowledge. They had gone a good ways into the temple by now, having made several turns following Filia. At least she knew where they were going. It was late, and she doubted that Saichuro would be in the great hall now. Instead, she was headed toward his private study. It wasn't late enough for him to be in bed yet. No, it was only about eight o' clock. He would doubtless be in his study, planning tomorrow's duties and such other mundane necessities. Filia's mind wandered again back to why she had been called here. The only thing she could figure is that either something important that involved her was happening or they had a more important job for her to do.

'But what could be more important than this?', she thought, 'The world is at stake here! How could something else be more important?!' She shook her head silently, inwardly angry at her first real journey away from the temple having been interrupted. She should've just kept going with Lina and the others, regardless. But at the same time Filia didn't want to make the Elders angry and realized that they'd eventually track her down if she didn't come back on her own, anyway. Saichuro's study wasn't much farther now, she reminded herself. She swore inwardly. How could she leave this unfinished? There were still answers to questions that Valgaav had posed that she wanted answered, and more importantly, the fate of the world! This was absurd.

Filia stopped, looking at the large oak door with apprehension. The others behind her came to their respective stops, looking in the same direction as her. "So this is it, huh?", Lina asked, "You want us to come in with you?" Filia shook her head, causing her long blonde bangs to shift over her face.

"It's okay, Miss Lina," she replied, "I'll be right back out. I'll let you all know what happens." Filia knocked on the door, looking rather unsure of herself.

"Enter," a commanding voice from the other side of the room said. Filia turned the brass knob and pushed open the heavy door. She entered the room, then quickly shut the door behind her, closing it with a soft 'thud'.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Fifteen minutes. It had already been fifteen minutes, and Lina was getting impatient. What the bloody hell could they have that was so damned important to talk about that it was taking this long? They had spent all day riding Filia in her dragon form to get here, and she was hungry! If she didn't get some food soon, something would be demolished. Lina looked around. Zelgadis was staring out a nearby window, Amelia was looking at her feet, and Gourry was humming to himself. This was terribly frustrating. Suddenly, the door of the study cracked open. Filia stepped out, looking pale and languid, a little like a watered-down glass of tea. Everyone's attention snapped over to the open door and the obviously disturbed dragon stepping out of it.

"Well," Lina growled impatiently, "What is it? Why are we here?" Filia didn't respond. She only blinked at Lina, her eyes looking wide and frightened.

"Is everyone alright here?", Zelgadis asked, "No one in your family is sick, are they?" Filia gathered enough of her bearings to shake her head.

"No," she finally answered, her mouth feeling like it was full of cotton, "It's nothing like that..." Amelia stepped up to her, her eyes big and pleading.

"What is it, then, Miss Filia?", she begged, "You look so upset!" Filia looked over at her, tears beginning to gather in her large eyes.

"Let's go back outside," Filia said half-heartedly, "I need air. I'll tell you out there." Filia walked back the way they came, not bothering to see if anyone else followed her.

"Miss Filia looks so unhappy!", Amelia said quietly, hoping Filia didn't hear her.

"I don't think it's as much unhappy as it is disturbed," Zelgadis replied. Gourry rubbed his chin.

"Maybe she's just unhappy because she has to stay here now?", Gourry asked, obviously missing the point. Not much longer and they'd be back outside. Filia made sure to stay ahead of the others, not wanting them to catch up to her. If they caught up, they might see her face and how pale it had become. At last she made it to the great wooden doors of the temple and pushed them open, stepping into the chilly night air. Much like she expected, Xellos was sitting outside on a large rock, looking rather smug with himself, as usual. She couldn't tell if he noticed the look on her face, but she knew he'd pick up on the negative emotions practically radiating from her, and she didn't really care. Not now. The others caught up to her momentarily, noticing the death glares she was unwittingly sending toward Xellos.

"Okay, Filia," Lina said, asserting her authority, "What is it?" Filia turned back to look at them, startled. Xellos teleported beside her, obviously interested in her unraveled state.

"Awww, it looks like little Filia is unhappy because she has to stay here," he remarked, a somewhat patronizing overtone inherent, "I can't blame you, you know. I'd be unhappy if I had to stay cooped up here with those dreadfully dull old dragons, too." She ignored the indignant smirk plastered all over his face and began to grind her teeth together. Filia took a deep breath.

"I was called back here," she said haltingly, trying to hold back tears, "Because I've been betrothed to another dragon from the Sanctuary of the Air Dragon King." Amelia's face brightened, and Filia noticed that Xellos' had suddenly taken on that same strange look from earlier in the tavern.

"That's wonderful, Miss Filia!", Amelia chirped, drawing a wary glance from Zelgadis and a confused look from Lina, "You're going to be married! Oh, but why aren't you excited? Weddings are so much fun!" Filia bit her bottom lip and shook her head, tears falling down her cheeks from her screwed-shut eyes. Lina's eyes got a more compassionate look to them.

"Filia, do you even know this dragon?", Lina asked seriously. Filia opened her eyes.

"No," she said finally, the anger in her voice apparent, "I've never heard of him before." Zelgadis folded his arms across his chest.

"Is this sort of thing common in your temple?", he asked, "Arranged marriages and the like, I mean." Filia shook her head again, her fists balled up and shaking.

"No, it's not," she said, sounding angrier, "I don't want to go through with this." Gourry scratched his head.

"Why don't you just run away with us, then?", he asked simply. Xellos fixed him with a hateful look.

"Don't be absurd," he said coldly, "They'd only chase her down and punish her. And she'd have to go through with the wedding anyway." Everyone stopped for a brief moment and looked over at Xellos, wondering what had prompted the sudden burst of protectiveness. An uneasy silence hung in the air for a few more moments. And then...

"So how is this going to happen?", Lina asked, "Are you getting married here?" Filia wiped her eyes and shook her head.

"I have to travel North and East, into the mountains, to their Sanctuary to meet him," she replied, "The ceremony will be there, and that's where I'll live afterwards." Zelgadis shook his head and Amelia's wide eyes filled with big, shiny tears.

"A marriage without love," Amelia sighed, batting back tears, "How unjust... How cruel!" Xellos stepped closer to Filia, making her uneasy.

"I have a question," he said, sounding calm, but close to dangerous, "Why? Why you of all the dragons at this temple, and why do they want you married so badly?" The tone of his voice suggested that he'd already drawn his own conclusion. Filia glanced over at him, trying to force a glare but finding she had little will or need to be angry with him now.

"He said it was because the elders want to strengthen their relationship with the Air Dragon King's followers," she replied half-heartedly, "And since I'm the most skilled priestess my age here, they decided I would make the best bride. I just... Miss Lina, would all of you mind going there with me? I wouldn't feel comfortable going alone, and I wouldn't want strangers being my bridal party." Lina nodded.

"I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say I'd be happy to go with you," Lina said quietly, "We'll think of something, Filia." Filia's face finally took on something that resembled relief after she heard Lina's words.

"Thank you," she said quietly, "We'll head out in the morning. Right now, we can keep rooms in the Sanctuary." There were nods all around.

"That's a pretty good idea," Zelgadis said, "We all need to get some rest if we're going on a long journey tomorrow." There were sounds of tired assent as the others made their way toward the doors of the temple, waiting for Filia to show them to their rooms for the night.

Xellos watched them go, climbing back onto his rock. He didn't believe that lame excuse Saichuro had given Filia for one second. He glared at the closing doors. The elder was making him angry to say the least, as he was sure that there was an ulterior motive in all of this. He suspected he knew what it was, but didn't want to make an idle speculation. Not just yet. But there was another feeling there, too. 'Could it possibly be that I'm jealous?", he asked himself, scoffing at the possibility, 'Not just jealous, but jealous of an overbearing, violent, noisy dragon?' He dismissed the thought, simply content to be aggravated by the guile of the elder.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Once inside her old room for the night, Filia surveyed the belongings she'd left there when she'd set out to find Luna Inverse, Knight of Cephied. Everything was as it had been left. Smiling softly, she made her way to her vanity, sitting down and rummaging through her jewelry boxes until she found what she was looking for. She held it up in the light, studying it's intricacies. It was an ornately carved locket, embossed with golden dragons and vines. She looked carefully for any scratches or imperfections. No, none. It was just as perfect and new as the day her mother had given it to her. She opened it up to look at the insides. On one side, there was a portrait of herself. The other side was blank.

'One day,' her mother had told her when she'd given her the locket, 'When you're old enough, you will wear this on your wedding day.' She crossly fastened it around her neck, unhappy at the circumstances. A precious family heirloom, used for such a sad end.

Filia commenced getting undressed and went about it quickly, soon in her nightclothes. She took one last look in the vanity mirror, noticing the sad locket laying against her skin. She sighed heavily, crawling into bed and preparing to sleep.


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