Disclaimer: I hate stupid disclaimers, as some of you may already know. They're pointless! We all know I didn't make any of these characters up! ARGH! Well, just so you know, this is gonna be another ANGST piece. I think I'll retire from ANGST and go back to comedy. Ahhh, but I love my ANGST too much. *sigh* No such thing as a perfect world, huh?
Feedback: Do ya feel lucky? Pick one! SailorN1@aol.com or FiriaulCopt81@aol.com
by Crystal Dawn Phoenix
Chapter 1: The Sky Is Crying
"I have died a thousand tiny deaths... and every time I died... I thought of you." ~ "Dawn: Lucifer's Halo", Joseph Michael Linsner
The sky threatened rain. Lina's hair picked up in the heavy wind, wisping about her face, and resembling nothing more than flame licking at her cheeks. She looked into the sky, noting the large grey clouds that looked like they couldn't be hanging very far off the ground. Even the scent in the air bespoke rain. She turned to the tall man with long blond hair walking beside her.
"Gourry, do you think it'll rain?", Lina asked, looking up into the air again. The blond swordsman smiled down at her.
"I just hope we don't get caught in a downpour," he remarked, "I don't think we have to worry, though. There's a town just up ahead." A smaller, black-haired girl ran up from behind Lina and Gourry, smiling.
"Miss Lina," Amelia said, "We should hurry if we don't want to get stuck out in the rain! I'll bet there's a nice bed and breakfast inn in that town we could stay at in case it starts raining really hard!" Lina smiled at the younger girl.
"You're right, Amelia," she said, grabbing Gourry's hand, "We need to pick up the pace! Come on, slowpoke!" She took off at a trot, dragging Gourry behind her as he struggled to keep up.
From the back of the group, three more travelers looked on. Zelgadis watched as Amelia ran after Lina and Gourry, trying to catch up.
"Where do they get all that energy?", he asked, more to himself than anyone else. He himself picked up the pace a little to catch up with them.
"I suppose it comes from all the food they eat," the woman with the long blond hair and a tail remarked, looking out into the distance, "But we are very close to a large town over that way. If we hurry, we could be there by nightfall." Filia watched the other three running as well. She knew that it'd be an easy matter for her to transform into a dragon and fly to the town, but she despised people watching her change. Especially the one floating nonchalantly behind her. So she'd keep walking in her human form, no matter how long it took. She tried to maintain her composure as she heard a chuckle come from the purple-haired man behind her.
"Don't tell me you're afraid of the dark now, too, Filia," Xellos taunted, floating easily along behind the rest of the group, his black cloak hanging several inches off the ground. She spit out some rather distasteful words at him and kept walking.
* ~ * ~ * ~*
Dusk was falling right as they reached the town. Oddly enough, though, the first thing that Filia noticed was that there was no one in the streets. Off in the distance, perhaps on the other side of town, there was the distinct sound of a church bell knelling. It was a rather bleak scene, indeed.
"There's not a soul around," Amelia commented quietly, "Not anyone at all." Lina was peering into a darkend window, where she saw only furniture in the room, but no people.
"There aren't even any children playing in the street," Lina remarked, "Or people sitting on porches, or in the restaurants we've passed, or in the town square. This town looks completely deserted." They kept walking, hoping perhaps to see a restaurant or inn with a lit window, signifying that someone would be inside.
"But there has to be someone in this town," Zelgadis thought out loud, "I can hear a church bell being rung somewhere in this town. Someone has to be ringing it."
"Well, I don't want to go to a church," Lina remarked, "I want to go find something to eat and a place to stay before the rain starts!" Gourry nodded his head.
"I want to find something to eat, too," he agreed, "But if it starts raining, we may just have to go to that church instead." Lina was just about to lose hope.
"It looks like that place over there is open," Xellos pointed out, motioning toward what looked to be a bed and breakfast establishment with a light in their window. There also appeared to be a few people inside the place. Satisfied with it, Lina led Gourry and the rest of the group toward the inn. Lina rushed through the doors, immediately seating herself at a table and calling a waitress over. Filia walked through the doors, trying to make sure they slammed hard behind her in order to hopefully hit Xellos on the way in. No such luck. He managed to make it safely through the doors, just before the sky began its deluge on the poor desolate town.
By the time everyone was seated, Lina had already ordered dinner and the waitress was on her way back to have the order filled. The only other people in the inn, it seemed, were the manager and the cook. Curious, the manager stuck his head out from around the front desk. After a few minutes of listening to their talk, he ventured out and pulled up a chair to their table.
"You're strangers in this town, aren't you?", he asked quietly, "It's not safe to be here, anymore." Everyone looked at him curiously.
"Why not?", Amelia asked, "It doesn't seem like there's anyone in this town at all." The manager nodded his head grimly.
"What do you mean it's not safe?", Lina asked, "If it's bandits or monsters they're all hiding from, we can take care of that... for a fee, of course!" The manager shook his head.
"It's nothing like that at all," he said, "We could fight bandits or monsters. But something has claimed our town that we can't fight." The entire table looked at him curiously.
"What is it?", Zelgadis asked, "I'm sure if you told us, we'd have a way to fight it."
"Disease," the manager said, "Our town's been hit with an epidemic. In the past week, almost everyone in this town has been stricken with it. It spreads fast and kills quickly, often within a few hours of having contracted it. If I were you, I wouldn't stay here too long. My wife and I are leaving tomorrow and going into the next town to our East to stay with some of her relatives." Everyone fell silent and looked at the manager.
"How horrible," Filia said quietly, "Miss Lina, we should move on first thing in the morning. I'd rather not take my chances here." Lina nodded in agreement.
"But, don't you have a cure for it, or anything?", Lina asked, "A vaccine, a remedy, a spell, anything?" The manager shook his head sadly.
"We have nothing to fight it with," he said, "And even if we did, there would be no doctors left in town to give medicine to you. Well, except this one person I heard of who lives in the hills, but the Medical Guild expelled him a while ago. He claims to have a cure, but apparently it doesn't work."
"What are the symptoms of this disease?", Zelgadis asked quietly, "Are the victims in much pain before they die?" The manager looked grim at this question.
"From what I've seen and heard," he replied, "They seem to be in incredible pain. It starts out just like a normal cold, with a fever and coughing or sneezing. Bruises appear on their bodies for no discernable reason, and they begin to sweat blood. They'll sometimes vomit blood, but that's not as common. There's a lot of pain all over, and a few hours later, they're dead." Everyone looked at him quietly for a few more seconds.
"Miss Lina," Amelia asked quietly, "Isn't there something we can do to help these people?" She looked at Lina with pleading eyes. Lina shook her head.
"There's nothing we can do, Amelia," she replied, "We're not doctors. And even if we were... I think this town's beyond help."
"The only thing that we can really do is to move on before any of you," Xellos said, suddenly noticing the manager looking at him strangely, "I mean, any of us get sick." Before anyone else could respond, however, the waitress finally arrived with their food. Lina and Gourry gave enthusiastic shouts before digging in, but Amelia looked like she'd lost her appetite. Zelgadis took a sip from the cup of coffee the waitress had just brought him.
The waitress set a bowl full of hot soup down in front of Filia. She looked almost like Amelia for several seconds before deciding to go ahead and try the soup. She took a hot spoonful in her mouth and deciding it was good, smiled up at the waitress. The waitress smiled back at her for a second before giving a delicate little sneeze.
"Oh, Gods bless you!", Filia said, looking up at the little woman, "Are you feeling well?" The waitress smiled and wiped her nose on a handkerchief.
"Oh, I'm fine," she responded, "It's been kinda cold out today, and I guess I have a runny nose from the weather." Filia smiled politely at her as she turned to go back into the kitchen.
Xellos watched the waitress go, eating nothing and saying nothing. Then he watched as Filia turned back to her soup.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Filia couldn't get much sleep that night. The lightening and thunder wouldn't let up, and neither would the rain. And to make things worse, the roof of this inn was made of tin. She had a headache that wouldn't stop and felt hot the whole night through. She had been woken up more than once with the realization that she'd thrown her blankets in the floor. Eventually, she'd given up even sleeping underneath them and lay on top of them instead. Just when she thought she was going to be comfortable, she began to feel chill without the covers. And so went the whole night, full of fitful sleep without much comfort.
The next morning, Filia trudged downstairs, still rubbing her eyes. The headache hadn't resided and she still felt hot. She found the others, at the same table as the night before, talking quietly. She noticed, and thought it was incredibly odd that they didn't have any food or drink on the table. Curiously, Filia sat down. Lina looked at her, then began staring. "Wow," she said in awe, "Did you sleep badly, Filia?" Filia nodded, still trying to rub her eyes clean.
"Why aren't you having breakfast?", Filia asked, looking around. Gourry shrugged.
"We can't find anyone here," he said, "The waitress and the manager here are gone."
"We went looking for them and even knocked on the manager's door," Amelia went on, "But no one answered and it was locked. We've not seen anyone all morning." There was an uneasy silence settling in the room until Filia sneezed. Lina sat upright and Zelgadis began to watch her closely.
"Are you sick, Filia?", Zelgadis asked quietly, in a deadly serious tone.
"No, it's nothing," she said uncertainly, "I'm sure it's only a little sniffle caused by the rainstorm."
"Dragons don't often get sick," Xellos spoke up from his little corner of the table, where he sat away from the others. He, too had suddenly taken up a serious tone, which struck Filia as being odd. This only made her more irritated, and she pushed her chair away from the table in frustration.
"We need to get moving," Filia said, heading up the stairs, back to her room, "I'm going to pack my things. Let's get out of this town as soon as possible."
Amelia stood up from the table as well. "I'm going to see if I can't find the manager to settle our account," she said quietly.
A few minutes later, a scream shook the whole inn. It had come from the direction Amelia had walked, toward the manager's quarters. The rest of the group was there in a heartbeat. The sight that awaited them was entirely grisly.
Amelia was in front of the manager's door, a look of utter horror on her face. The door was slightly ajar, so that the rest of them could see inside. The manager and his wife, the waitress from the night before, were both laying in the middle of the floor, soaked in their own blood. There didn't appear to be any stab wounds at all, yet there were expressions of extreme pain on their faces. It almost looked as though the blood were coming straight out of their pores.
Lina brought a hand to her mouth. "Oh Gods," she said quietly. The air was still for another second before she spoke up again. "We've got to get out of here, NOW," Lina said, deadly serious. No one questioned her. In a matter of minutes, their things were packed and the group was gathered in front of the door of the inn.
"Do we have everything?", Zelgadis asked quietly, looking around. No one said anything. As a matter of fact, they'd mostly been silent since finding the bodies.
"Let's get out of here as fast as we can," Lina said softly. They picked up their packs and headed toward the end of town.
Filia still didn't feel any better. She'd thought that being out in the sunshine would help her a bit, but it was only hazy and grey outside, and that didn't seem to be helping her at all. As a matter of fact, it only seemed to be making things worse. She was becoming hotter by the second and the headache was getting worse. And worst of all, her pack seemed to be getting heavier on her back by the second. She thought she would fall over for a second before righting herself and following behind the others. She happened to notice that oddly enough, Xellos was following behind her. She sniffed at that, and tried to keep going. However, the pack got the better of her and she sank to her knees.
"Guys," she called out weakly, "Everyone... please wait. Let's stop and rest." Everyone turned to look at her. Lina's face went white and Amelia's eyes welled up with tears. Filia really couldn't understand what was happening by that point, or why they were looking at her so oddly. All she knew was that she was unbearably hot and that her head was splitting. Frustrated, she reached up with the back of her gloved hand to wipe away some sweat that had gathered at her brow. She brought her hand in front of her face, only to find that her gloves, which were once white, were now stained red with a thin, watery film of blood. The realization didn't quite register with her like it did with everyone else. Her mind was almost lost in a haze of fever now.
"Oh God," Lina said, stepping back.
"What are we going to do?", Amelia asked, tears falling down her cheeks.
Xellos stepped toward Filia, taking the pack off her back and placing it on the ground beside her. He stood her up, much to her dismay and weak protest, then regarded the others.
"The way I see it," Xellos said, "You have three options." Zelgadis and Lina looked him over with a suspicious eye.
"Which are?", Gourry asked softly.
"Well, first of all," Xellos said calmly, "You could just leave her here. She won't last much longer, anyway." Lina shook her head firmly.
"I won't do that," she said quietly. Amelia nodded in agreement.
"What are our other options?", Zelgadis asked warily.
"You could go find that doctor that lives in the hills that the old man mentioned last night," Xellos continued.
"But we don't know where he's at exactly," Zelgadis reasoned, "And even if we find him, we don't know that his cure will work." Lina crossed her arms and looked down.
"What's our last option?", Lina asked. Xellos smiled slightly, perhaps imperceptibly to the others.
"You can leave her with me," he said, "And I can make her a Mazoku so she can keep living."
The air seemed to stand still. Filia pulled herself from her stupor when he said those words.
"I'd rather die," she said, half-awake, "Than to be one of your kind." Xellos shot her a glare.
"You should be more grateful," he said quietly.
"We can't do that to Miss Filia," Amelia said softly.
"She'd go mad," Zelgadis commented. Lina nodded.
"So I guess there aren't any other options, are there?", she commented, "Then we're going to find that doctor. Come on, we should hurry before anymore of us get sick." Lina took off toward the hills at the edge of town, followed by Zelgadis, Amelia, and Gourry.
"I'll stay with Filia," Xellos said after them. He walked her back to the inn, almost entirely supporting her whole weight. She seemed to be getting weaker and more feverish by the second.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Filia woke up, the late afternoon sunlight pouring onto her face. She squinted, trying to filter out the blinding rays of light. She sat up, noting that she was laying in her bed at the inn in a slip. Her headache seemed to be dispersing now, to be replaced with aching throughout her entire body. She looked down onto the bed, noticing that it was stained red in some spots.
"So you're finally awake again," a familiar voice said from beside her bed. Filia looked over to see Xellos, calmly sipping a cup of tea, in a chair beside her bed.
"What's wrong with me?", Filia asked, groggily, "Why do I hurt all over?" She looked at her hand as she was brushing hair out of her face and saw it was covered in bruises.
"It appears that you've contracted the disease that this town's been infected with," he said, "The others will return shortly with what might be an antidote. You should just rest now." She lay back against her pillows, feeling like she'd been beaten with something. She started slightly at the pain, but only let out a startled gasp. "Oh, I'm sorry about the bruises," Xellos remarked, smiling sheepishly, "When I was helping you in, anytime I touched you in the slightest, you'd bruise." Filia shot him a half-cognizant glare.
"You probably meant to," she mumbled groggily. Xellos stood up and put his tea cup on a nearby table.
"It'll be nightfall soon," he said, "They should be back anytime soon." He walked to the corner that he'd placed his staff in and took it in his hand.
* ~ *~ * ~*
"So you're the doctor we've been hearing about," Lina said, "We hear you have a cure to the disease that's been going around." The old gray haired, bespectacled man looked over his bifocals at her. He picked up a vial from his desk, containing a green mixture that looked like it'd been made from leaves. "Oh, is that it?", Lina asked happily.
"No, this is not a cure," the doctor said, "There is no cure. I tried to tell those in the town that, but they wouldn't listen to me." A pall settled over the room as what he just said sank in.
"So you're saying that there's no way to cure our friend, or keep us from dying as well?", Zelgadis asked softly. The doctor shook his head.
"Now, I didn't say that," the doctor answered, "I only said there's no way to cure it. I have a vaccine that will prevent you from contracting the disease. But once you have caught it, there's no way to help you."
"So what you're saying is...", Gourry said, puzzling it out.
"There's no way to help Miss Filia now," Amelia finished for him, sadly. A dark shadow passed over Lina's face for a moment as a troublesome thought occurred to her.
"Here, just give us the vaccine," Lina said, "We need to go now, before it's too late." The doctor complied with her, curiously.
"I'll give it to you free of charge," he said, "The disease is such a gruesome thing. If I can help anyone, I'm willing to do it. Good luck to you." Lina smiled and gave him a wave as she ran out the door, expecting the others to follow.
"Goodbye!", she yelled over her shoulder, "And thank you!" The other three ran out the door after her.
"Lina!", Zelgadis asked, catching up to her, "What was that all about? What are you in such a hurry for? You heard him, Filia's a lost cause. Hurrying won't change anything." Lina didn't slow down any.
"She's going to die, that's true," Lina said, looking over her shoulder, "The only thing is, if we don't get there soon, I've got a sneaking suspicion that Xellos intends to go ahead and make her a Mazoku." Lina uncorked the vial and drank a part of the green mixture. She stuck the cork back in the vial and wiped her mouth. "Bleh!", she said, sticking her tongue out and tossing the vial back to Zelgadis, "Here, Zel, you're next!"
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Filia sat up in bed, propped up against pillows, watching the sun set. The last of its rays sunk behind some clouds, casting shadows and other tricks of light against the walls of her room. She barely noticed Xellos standing above her bed. The pain was getting worse, and she kept feeling like she could pass out at any moment. Her chest was constricting, and the sweating was getting worse. Her bed was already stained red from her blood, as was her slip. She put a hand to her forehead as a wave of dizziness overtook her. She looked up to see Xellos standing over her bed.
"Here," he said softly, "Lay back." Xellos placed a hand on her chest, pushing her backwards against her pillows. Being in no condition to object, Filia did as she was told quietly. She winced at the pain that his touch caused, the simple pressure of which caused her skin to bruise and break in certain small spots. "That pain will be over in a moment," he said quietly, watching her watching him with huge blue doe eyes.
"What're you doing?", Filia choked out, looking up at him. He didn't say a word. Instead, he raised his staff above her chest and placed the tip firmly in the middle of her breast. Her little hands wrapped around it, trying to stop him. "Please, don't do it," she said quietly. In another second, he gave the staff a thrust, cracking her breastbone and sending it straight into her heart. Filia clutched the staff as blood spilled out of her mouth.
Xellos bent down over her, black energy building around him. The blackness flowed through the staff and into Filia's chest. She could feel the cold pain coming into her body as he drew closer. He lay a hand on her cheek, looking at her closely and smiling mischievously. Blood tears flowed down Filia's cheeks, staining the pillow underneath her head. He bent down, then and kissed her deeply. His lips were so cold that Filia could have sworn they were burning as she felt more blackness flowing into her body. Her heart slowed, then stopped, and darkness overtook her.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Lina was the first one through the front door of the inn. She only stopped to light a candle, as the sun had gone down a few minutes ago and it was now dark. She ran up the stairs to Filia's room as fast as she could.
"Hey, Lina!", Gourry called from behind her, "Wait up!" Lina wasn't listening. She threw open the door to Filia's room, to find...
"Nothing," she said quietly. The others joined her as she surveyed the room. The only sign that they'd been here was the blood soaked bed. Lina guessed that was where Filia had been laying, but now...
"They're not here," Zelgadis said grimly.
"We're too late," Lina concurred.