*standard disclaimer: I hate disclaimers. Therefore, I'll hand over this boring chore to someone else. Today's special disclaimer host will be Jesse from Team Rocket, of Pokemon fame. Jesse?

Jesse: None of these characters belong to CD. She doesn't claim they do. Of course, if I were her, I would claim them. Do you know how much money you could make from that?! And by the way...

What?

Jesse: Are you ever going to finish the Team Rocket fics you were writing?! Dammit, CD! I've been waiting a whole YEAR!!! *stomps foot for emphasis and brings out da MALLET *

Errr, anyway. Let's start my first Slayers fic! ^_^;; *runs away from Jesse and her blunt object*

The Crucible

It was a little past midnight in the forest. The full moon cast its light into the treetops, causing it to filter down into various odd, beautiful, and frightening shadows along the floor of the forest. The sounds of frogs, crickets, and nightbirds permeated the air. In a clearing, a group of five weary travelers had started a campfire, and were now sound asleep in their bedrolls. One, a girl with fiery red hair, lay closest to the fire. A few feet away, off to her right, lay a young man with long blond hair, all curled up in his blankets. Across the fire from them, lay two others, also several feet apart. One had a face lined with stones - he was a chimera, part golem, part human. The other was a cute little girl that looked like she surely couldn't have been more than 15 or 16 years old. They were both curled up fast asleep in their respective bed rolls as well. A little way away from the others was another young woman. She had long golden hair, and was tightly tucked into her pallet, snuggling a very heavy mace in her sleep. She muttered something about a "blasted namagomi", and just as suddenly, went back to sleeping silently.

Meanwhile, just on the edge of the campers' little clearing, a lone soul sat among the branches of a willow tree. At first glance, he appeared to be an ordinary man. In actuality, however, he was quite the powerful Mazoku. His cheerful smile and purple hair could give a false perception of his true nature and power. Xellos looked over the five campers, his eyes finally resting on the sleeping form of the girl with the golden hair. He grinned as he stood up on a branch of the tree.

With a leap and a flash of his black cape, he was gone from the tree. In a few more seconds, he stood over the yellow haired girl, Filia. She got an odd look on her face for a second and rolled over. Xellos looked at her curiously, making sure she was still asleep. She'd never come with him if she were awake. In one smooth movement, he knelt down and scooped Filia into his arms, leaving her bedroll virtually untouched. He looked around to see if anyone else had been awakened; they were all still asleep. Xellos grinned to himself and disappeared with Filia into the night.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Xellos stopped over a clearing a few hundred meters away. This looked like a nice spot. He looked over the scenery, most notably a shallow stream cutting through the clearing. A mischievous grin crept over his face as he levitated above the stream. He looked at Filia sleeping in his arms... then at the water. Then back again. Grinning, he let go of her, dropping her in the water, and vanished.

Filia sputtered to the surface of the shallow stream, gasping for air and screaming. "What in the world!?!", she shrieked, splashing and trying to get out of the cold water, "How did I get here!?! Arrrghhh!"

Xellos reappeared high in the branches of a nearby tree, smiling. "Well," he thought to himself, "That completely voided the entire reason I brought her out here, but I think I can manage to salvage this."

Filia pulled herself onto a nearby river bank and out of the water. She shivered when the cold night air hit her soaking wet nightgown. "I bet that lousy namagomi Mazoku did this," she grumbled, "He's trying to kill me, I just know he is!" She sneezed, slinging the cold water everywhere. She wiped the cold, wet hair out of her face and looked around. The scenery was a little unfamiliar to her, especially since they were all just traveling through this place. Filia stood up and looked around to get a better view. No, nothing she'd seen before. She sneezed again as the chill night air stirred slightly behind her. Her eyes shot open as she felt the presence behind her, its darkness setting her nerves on fire. Filia jumped, her tail showing from underneath her soaking wet nightgown, and turned around.

"Are you catching a cold, Filia?", Xellos asked, smiling at her. Filia glared at him, then sneezed again.

"No thanks to you, I'm sure," she said angrily, "You're the one that brought me out here and dumped me in that horrible river, aren't you?" He continued smiling as she sneezed again, glaring daggers at him. "You're trying to kill me, aren't you?", she said, glowering, "I just know you are! Because I'm a dragon!" The wind picked up a bit, cooling the already freezing water on her a bit more. Filia shuddered and sneezed again. She reached down to grab her mace... then realized that it wasn't with her. It must have been back in her blankets! Filia growled at Xellos. He reached up to the clasp that fastened his cape around his shoulders and undid it. Filia blinked at him and sniffled. "What are you doing?", she asked suspiciously. He took the cape off and put it around Filia's shoulders. She blinked in disbelief.

"I'm not trying to kill you," he said, smiling that infuriating smile, "You look cold." He fastened the cape on her shoulder as she stared at him in disbelief , blushing.

"Why are you being so nice?", she asked, "What do you want?" She sneezed again. Xellos put his hand behind his head.

"Well, actually, Filia," he said, "I wanted to tell you something. So I brought you out here." She shivered again, and wanted to huddle inside the cape. But she remembered who gave it to her and decided against it.

"Well, *achooo!* what is it?", Filia asked, rubbing her nose, "I'm tired and I want to go back to bed. I don't have time to waste out in the woods with some Mazoku." Xellos' expression didn't change. Instead, he cupped Filia's face in his hands and bent forward. He placed a small kiss on her forehead.

Filia didn't know what to do. This was an odd situation for her, to say the least. She stared blankly ahead of her, not saying anything. A second later, he was grinning at her as usual. Then, he disappeared. Filia blinked, sneezed, then blinked again. Typical. She shivered, then looked around to try and find her way back to camp. She could faintly see the light from the campfire off in the forest. She followed it through the woods and back to camp, wishing she had her mace the whole way.

When she arrived back at the campsite, no one had stirred. They were all still asleep in their respective pallets. Filia once again resisted the urge to huddle herself into the cloak and made a beeline for the fire. She dragged her blankets closer and sat on them to warm herself. As the warmth of the fire evaporated the water droplets that were still clinging to her, Filia reflected on what it was that had just happened. Xellos had taken her away while she slept, thrown her in a river, given her his cape and a kiss, and had vanished. What kind of game was he playing? This was too odd. On top of all that, he never did say what it was he wanted to tell her. Filia looked at the black cape that she was still wearing. Then something struck her.

"Was he trying to say... that he... likes me?", she asked herself, picking up the hem of the cape and looking at it. Filia sat in stunned and curious silence, allowing herself to dry.

Meanwhile, from the branches of a nearby willow tree, a lone Mazoku sat, smiling to himself.

**************************

"What do you have need of, Lord Beastmaster?", Xellos asked, bowing. He'd been summoned by his master shortly after his meeting with Filia in the woods.

"I have a task for you," she said, "One in addition to your current one." Xellos nodded to her.

"What would you have me do?", he asked. She smiled at him.

"Kill Filia ul Copt, the dragon priestess," she replied, "She is one of the Golden Dragons. Kill her, bring me her heart, for she is our enemy." Xellos tried to keep an expressionless face, but he was shocked.

"But... Filia's harmless, master," he said, "She's really not powerful at all. She's no threat to anyone." She didn't seem pleased.

"Do as I tell you, priest," she said, "Do not question me." Xellos was troubled, but didn't let it show.

"Yes, Lord Beastmaster," he said, vanishing.

***************************

"Filia! Wake up!", Lina said, shaking the blonde, "It's time for breakfast! Get up!" Filia rolled over, wrapped up in her blankets, and rubbed her eyes. She sat up and looked at Lina, blinking the sleep from her eyes. She noticed that the expression on Lina's face had changed into one of disbelief and mischief.

'What is she looking at so oddly?', Filia thought to herself, "Miss Lina, what's the matter?" Lina's eyes teared up with pent-up laughter for a moment before she finally let loose. She fell onto her back laughing hysterically. Filia glared at her for a second before she realized exactly what Lina was laughing at: she was still wearing Xellos' cloak. Filia blushed heavily and tried to hide the cloak under her blankets. Since it was around her shoulders, however, it was pretty difficult to disguise. And Lina was still laughing. How would she ever explain this and keep her reputation or her dignity, or either? "Miss Lina, please!", she said, trying to hush her laughter, "He only let me borrow it because I looked cold." But it was too late. Lina's laughter had attracted Amelia over.

"Miss Lina, what in the world has gotten into you?", Amelia asked, eyeing the red haired girl, who was still chuckling to herself. Amelia looked over to the fiercely blushing Filia and saw what was causing Lina hysterics. "M-m-miss Filia?", she asked, "Why are you wearing that?" Filia sighed.

"It doesn't matter," Filia said, still slightly blushing, and removing the cloak from her shoulders, "Let's get our breakfast and get moving. We've got a long day of walking ahead of us." She folded the black cloth up neatly and tucked it into her bedroll. She rolled the bedroll up and began packing her belongings up. Lina hopped up and snapped her fingers.

"Breakfast!", she said, "C'mon, Amelia, let's eat!" She grabbed the smaller, black haired girl by the wrist and ran over to where their food stores were being kept. Filia smiled, happy to be rid of their teasing.

************************

By the end of the day, the travelers had covered quite a distance. Finally, they'd come to a small, quiet town and found a cozy little inn to stay in with a hot spring in back. Lina had already ordered dinner from the inn's kitchen. Her order was so large that the cooks were taking quite a while to get it done. In the meantime, they told her, she and her companions should go out back and soak in the hot springs. Which is what they did. Amelia, Lina, and Filia occupied one portion of the spring, while Zelgadis and Gourry were in another part on the other side of a picket fence.

Lina was, of course, splashing and teasing Filia. "Please, Miss Lina," Filia said, exasperated, "Just drop it already." Lina laughed and splashed some more.

"But this is too funny, Filia!", she replied. Amelia got big, wet, puppy dog eyes.

"I think it's sweet!", Amelia said, clasping her hands to her breast, "How two bitter enemies like you and Mister Xellos could become such good friends! Awww, I think it's romantic!" Filia had finally had enough. She jumped out of the spring and grabbed her mace from the deck nearby. She crouched down to Amelia's eye level and pointed the mace straight at her face.

"Now," Filia said threateningly, "What did you say you think it is?" Amelia blinked, a terrified look in her eyes, then threw her hands up.

"Ah, I-I-I, that is, you know, uhmm," she stuttered, "Nothing." Amelia defeated, Filia turned her unhappy gaze to Lina.

"And what about you, Lina?", she asked in a low voice. Lina threw her hands up in surrender.

"I give up!", she said playfully, "Geez, Filia! You don't have to take everything so seriously!" Filia snorted and stood up, crossing her arms. Just then, they heard the sound of a bell ringing. "It's our food!", Lina yelled, jumping out of the spring, revealing her bright pink bathing suit, "Dinner's ready!"

From the other side of the springs, Gourry made a great deal of noise throwing all his clothes on as quick as he could. He came running by, trying to fit his pants on over his swimming trunks. The only problem with this was the fact that he already put his shoes on. So he came tumbling by just as Lina pulled on her outfit. From there on out, the two were in a dead sprint to get to the dinner table inside. A few seconds later, Amelia had pulled on her clothes, only she'd bothered to get dried off first. Zelgadis came around the corner of the picket fence a few moments after, fully clothed and in no particular hurry.

"Why don't you come in for dinner, Filia?", Zelgadis asked as he passed her. Filia smiled and put her mace down on a nearby table.

"Oh, sure," she said, "I was just about to come in. I'll be dressed in a minute, then I'll be in there. Make sure they leave me something to eat, okay?" Zelgadis nodded, then went inside.

Filia took a towel and began to dry her hair out. It was so long that it took forever to dry out on its own. As she rubbed her hair with the towel, she looked at her surroundings. The springs were surrounded by a hedge of trees and other assorted shrubbery. As it was dusk, the extinguished sun threw strange and fascinating shadows into the thickets and brush. Some of them obscured bushes and plants, and some just made them look mysterious. Filia looked over at the doors to the inn. They were heavy and wooden, without windows to make sure that no one invaded the customers' privacy while they were bathing. Filia went from looking at that back to looking at the beautiful plants, trees, and shrubs that surrounded the spring. She failed to notice that something in the shadows was looking back at her.

Xellos watched her carefully, making sure he wasn't noticed from his particularly shady hiding spot. For probably the first time in his existence, he had qualms about killing someone. He watched as she finished drying her hair and began to brush it out, her pink ribboned tail wagging behind her. He watched her sadly. How could Lord Beastmaster want him to kill someone so... innocent? She began to hum softly as she brushed her hair out. Her humming was almost hypnotizing. Xellos forced his eyes shut. He told himself that he had to do it, no matter what he felt. If not, he'd be punished badly, or worse. But maybe if he could talk her out of it?

Filia laid the brush down on the table beside her mace. It was also where she'd laid her head ornaments before getting in the hot springs. She picked them up and began adjusting them onto her head. As soon as she was done, she felt a cold darkness behind her. It sent a chill up her back. Filia turned around to see Xellos standing behind her, staff in hand. She noticed that he had his cloak on, and thought that perhaps he'd already retrieved it. She also noticed that he didn't have his usual infuriatingly cheerful look about him. He seemed rather gloomy, actually. His eyes were hidden underneath his bangs, and it seemed almost as if his whole face were in shadow. It was starting to unsettle Filia.

"What do you want, Xellos?", she asked, sounding perhaps a bit more short-tempered than she'd meant to. He said nothing, which unsettled her even more. "Xellos?", she asked, growing increasingly more nervous. He remained silent, but moved his mouth, apparently reciting something. "What are you... do... ing?", Filia said, trailing off. His sleep spell had taken affect on her.

Filia slumped down, losing consciousness. Xellos extended an arm, catching her before she hit the ground. He looked her over sadly, then took one of the bathrobes that were laying on the table and covered her with it. A few seconds later, he disappeared, Filia in his arms.

***************************

Xellos reappeared in the lair of his master. Filia was sound asleep in his arms.

"She's not dead," Lord Beastmaster's voice echoed across the black room. She didn't seem pleased in the least.

"No, Lord Beastmaster," Xellos said quietly, "I offer my most sincere apologies." He bowed down onto one knee in respect, laying Filia on the ground.

"Why did you bring her here?", she asked impatiently. Xellos looked up to her. He chose his words carefully.

"I've come to ask you spare her life, my lord," he said. There was a moment of pause.

"No." Xellos hung his head. He had no choice. He stood up, a deathly gloomy look on his face. He raised his staff high over his head, the pointed end aimed directly at Filia's breast.

A tear slid down his face. "Forgive me," he said softly, bringing the staff down.

***********************

Lina woke up early. She'd stayed in the same room with Amelia and Filia. Well, she would've stayed with Filia, except she never came in for dinner the night before. Lina looked around the room. There was still no sign of her. She'd bundled up her robes and dress and laid them on the night stand, and they were still untouched. Lina hadn't been worried before, but at this point, she was beginning to get a little bit nervous. She reached over, grabbed one of her house shoes, and flung it at Amelia, who was still sleeping. The shoe bounced off Amelia's forehead waking her up. She sat up, rubbing her eyes and yawning.

"What is it?", Amelia asked, stretching her mouth with a big yawn.

"Hey, Amelia," Lina asked, "Did you see Filia come in last night at all? Did you hear her or anything?"

"No, I didn't," Amelia said, laying back down, "I'm going back to sleep." In another second, she was back on her pillow, slipping back off to dreamland. Lina still wasn't satisfied.

"But what if she's gotten lost or kidnaped?", Lina asked, "She's our dear friend! And besides, we'd never be able to get around here without her currency! Come on! We need to go find her!" Lina hopped out of bed and threw some clothes on. In a few more seconds, she had rousted Amelia from her comfy, warm bed, and was pushing her into her own clothing. As soon as Amelia was dressed, Lina herded her to Zelgadis and Gourry's room, where she almost broke the door down by knocking on it so hard. "Get up! Get up! Get up!", Lina yelled, adding more noise to her banging. Zelgadis eventually answered the door, looking more disgruntled than usual.

"What is your problem?", Zelgadis asked. He was already dressed. Lina noted, however, that Gourry was still asleep in bed, cuddled up with a stuffed jellyfish. Lina ignored Zelgadis and ran over to Gourry, trying to wake him up.

"GourrygetyoursorrytailoutofbedrightthissecondWe'vegotaproblemandyoucan'tsleeprightnooooooow!", Lina yelled at the top of her lungs, shaking Gourry fiercely. He was of course awakened by the screaming and shaking, and in a matter of seconds, his frightened yelling added to the cacophony. During the commotion, Amelia had wandered in. She stopped beside Zelgadis.

"What is she doing?", Zelgadis asked, looking at Lina and Gourry with some mixture of disbelief and frustration.

"Miss Filia's still not come back," Amelia replied, "She's been gone all night long, and Miss Lina's worried, because she has our money."

"I see," he said. A few minutes passed, and eventually, everyone was settled down, and at least partially awake. They made their way out onto the grounds of the inn, which was surrounded by a large field full of sheep. Amelia looked through the hot springs, while Zelgadis took to the roof of the inn. Gourry had taken to inspecting the privacy hedges and trees surrounding the hot springs for no apparent reason, while Lina was searching the field.

Gourry was poking the shrubbery and coming up with nothing, save for the occasional rabid squirrel. Amelia was also coming up empty handed. Finally, after about twenty minutes of searching, Lina gave a victorious shout. The others ran or Ray Winged their way over to see what Lina had turned up.

There, in the middle of a large tuft of grass in the pasture, lay Filia, sound asleep. Her long blond hair was strewn out all about her, and she was wrapped in Xellos' cloak. The group looked at her with expressions ranging from the mildly confused to complete disbelief. And not far away, hidden safely in early morning shadow, one man had an expression of satisfaction on his face.

**********************

"Enough," Lord Beastmaster had said. The staff came down, and stopped, only an inch or so above Filia's heart. A few beads of sweat trickled down Xellos' forehead. "You've done well," she had said. Xellos looked up at his master, not wanting to question her again, but not understanding her, either.

"But, Lord," he had said, "She's not..." She put a hand up to silence him.

"My objective was not to kill that dragon," she had said, "But to test your allegiance to me. You made a wise decision." Xellos looked at her, and for one of the few times in his long life, was speechless. "Had you decided to disobey me," she had continued, "I would have had the dragon killed, and you would've been punished severely." He nodded and knelt down over Filia's sleeping form. "Good work, Xellos," she had said, dismissing him with a wave of her hand. Xellos undid the clasp on his cloak and took it off. He wrapped it around Filia, making sure she'd stay warm, then lifted her off the ground, vanishing from sight.

He reappeared in the meadow just behind the inn, cradling the sleeping woman in his arms. He found a large spot of soft grass and lay her down in it, taking a hiding place amongst some nearby shadow to keep watch over her. A smile spread across his face. "To keep you safe," he thought.


Feedback: C'mon, you know you wanna. All your friends are doin' it! SailorN1@aol.com or FiriaulCopt81@aol.com whichever one you like better.