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by Crystal Dawn Phoenix
Chapter 2: Gold Dust Woman
"Rock on, gold dust woman, take your silver spoon, and dig your grave." ~ Stevie Nicks, "Gold Dust Woman"
Filia woke up feeling a small chill. Even though it was pitch black dark with nothing but moonlight to light the room, she could tell that she wasn't in the same place as when... when... She grabbed at her chest, making certain that it was still in one piece. It was. Had the whole thing been a nightmare? She looked at her arms, noting they were now free of bruises. She looked at her hands, thinking how odd it was that her nails had seemingly grown since she went to sleep. She lay there in silence for another moment, thinking how nice the cold felt after being so hot in her fever. The window beside the bed she lay in was open, bringing with it a breeze from the sea. She could smell the salt air and the watery smell of the shore. Off in the distance, she thought she could make out a wolf baying at the moon.
Filia ran her hands over the blankets in the bed. They were made out of fine silk, and if the moonlight wasn't deceiving, as it was known to be sometimes, they were a rich black, or deep violet color. She sat up in the unfamiliar bed and looked out the window. Sure enough, she could see the sea from there, the waves gently lapping at the shore. Apparently she was in some sort of large castle, judging from the large drop from the window to the ground. She looked around the room, her eyes adjusting to the darkness. She could see the moonlight reflecting off the glass of a lamp on a nearby night stand. She leaned over and lit it, casting illumination across the room. The room was large, with a high vaulted ceiling and expensive looking furniture. She could see a vanity against a nearby wall with a black cloak flung over the stool that went with it. On the vanity, she could also see the lamp light shining off her bright gold and green earrings and tiara. She slipped from underneath the covers on the cool bed and padded along the cold stone floors barefoot until she reached the dresser. She put her earrings back on, along with her headpiece, and then surveyed her nightgown. It wasn't the same one she'd gone to sleep in. The other one was a light pink, and shorter. This one was floor-length and dark, blood red. She puzzled at this, and also at the talons she'd apparently grown in her sleep, which were also blood red. Her tail swished back and forth as she thought intently about it.
From a nearby room, Filia thought she could hear voices, one belonging to a woman, and the other to a man. The woman didn't sound terribly happy, but she recognized the man's voice as belonging to Xellos. 'What's going on here?', Filia thought, looking around the shadowy room, 'Did Xellos bring me to his... home?' She padded softly to the large door of the room, then slowly cracked it open to better able hear their conversation. An angry female voice was echoing down the large hallway. Filia noticed a few wolves laying asleep under some of the torches that lit the passageway. The voices came floating to her past the large guard dogs.
"That was very irresponsible of you, Xellos," the woman's voice trailed down the corridor, "Not so much that you brought her here, but just the fact that you turned one like her." Filia was curious about that. What did she mean 'turn one like her'? The smell of cigarette smoke wafted down the hallway to her nose.
"But, my lord," she heard Xellos reply cordially, "Think of how much power she can... will use for us now." There was a moment of silence settling over the room.
"You have done something you cannot undo," the woman replied, "You do realize that she will never fit in anywhere ever again, don't you? Our kind will never fully accept her, and her own will not take her back. I am holding you accountable for this. If this ends badly, I will punish you severely." While Filia would under normal circumstances be thrilled that the Mazoku was going to get what was coming to him, she couldn't help but wonder what they were talking about. It was beginning to frighten her, actually.
"Yes, my lord," Xellos answered politely. Filia heard footsteps coming her way. She stepped back inside the bedroom and shut the door behind herself.
"Oh, and Xellos?", the woman remarked, bringing her wine glass up to her lips and making her bangle bracelets jingle ever-so-slightly, "It seems like your pretty new charge just woke up."
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Filia looked around the dim room. There was no means of escape, except out the door or out the window. And even if she did manage to escape, she wasn't sure where she was, so she'd have trouble finding her way back to Lina and the others. She decided to stay, and if she were lucky, maybe Xellos would explain what happened to her since she fell asleep. She sat down on the soft, dark bed, hanging her legs over the side and waited. She began thinking that it was funny that the senses she'd trained as a priestess to detect Mazoku didn't seem to be working now. Normally, she'd have felt Xellos' dark presence right away. But now, he was less than another room away and she couldn't feel anything. Filia was snapped out of her reverie by a stir in the air as Xellos appeared in the room in a flash of black. Immediately, the torches on the walls lit up, illuminating the whole room. He smiled, if a little mockingly, and was met with Filia's glare. He sat down on the stool in front of the vanity and regarded her.
"I see you're finally awake, Filia," he said evenly, "You slept for quite a while. Getting over that little... bug you caught, I imagine." She continued to glare at him.
"Where am I?", she asked quietly, "How did I get here?" Xellos' grin didn't waver.
"Why, I brought you here, of course," he said simply, "This is your home now." She gave him a puzzled look.
"My home?", she asked, anger melting into confusion, "What are you talking about?" He simply continued smiling.
"Haven't you been wondering how you healed from that fatal disease?", he asked, "Haven't you noticed anything different about yourself since you woke up?" She blinked at him in confusion for a second before looking back down at her newly taloned hands.
"Come to think of it," she said slowly and deliberately. Her anger had become confusion, and now, a hollow dread. Her eyes widened in horror.
"You... You didn't...", Filia muttered, struggling for the right words and hoping that what she was thinking wasn't true, "Did you?" She could feel her throat closing when he didn't respond. His hair hung over his eyes, bathing them in shadow, making his grin seem all that more malevolent.
"Didn't what, Filia?", Xellos asked her, raising his head and smiling happily at her, "Turn you into a filthy Mazoku like me?" Filia's eyes began to fill with tears. So it was her that he and the woman had been talking about. Tears began to slip down her cheeks.
"I... I... don't believe you!", she said finally, furious, "You're just trying to upset me! There's no way I could ever become one of your kind!" Xellos didn't quit smiling at her. Instead, he reached over his shoulder and pulled a silver hand mirror off the vanity, then handed it to her.
"If you don't believe me," he said calmly, "Then see for yourself."
Filia brought the mirror into her view, hands trembling. The first thing she noticed were the red feral markings on her cheeks. They looked like some wild beast had slashed her in three places on each side of her face. The next thing she noticed was that her canine teeth had grown considerably. They were so large now that they almost protruded over her bottom lip. She brought a hand up to her face, to touch them and make sure they were real. It was then that she saw the most obvious change. Her eyes, which were once large and clear blue, had become drawn up at the edges making them sharp and slanted. The irises of her eyes had lost their round shape and had taken on a more angular, cat-like appearance. Her pupils were now slitted, as well, and instead of blue, her eyes were now violet. Her hands began shaking violently and she dropped the mirror into the floor, shattering it. She buried her face in her hands, sobbing heavily. "It's not true," she cried, "I'm not a Mazoku! I'm a dragon! A dragon!" Xellos reached over and took her hands away from her face.
"Stop it," he said firmly, looking her in the eye. Filia felt compelled to obey him, and she stopped sobbing.
"Undo it," she said quietly, "Change me back to my old self. I don't care if I die, I can't live like this." He shook his head at her.
"I can't do that," he replied simply, "Even if I wanted to, I couldn't change you back into a dragon. You are now, and ever will be, a Mazoku." Filia felt her throat close up as the hopelessness of her situation began to settle in on her mind. She visually wilted as she felt all the promise she'd had for her life being snatched away from her. She began sobbing again, only this time, more violently, as she tried to pull her arms out of Xellos' grasp.
"I said to stop it," he growled, tightening his grip on her wrists. Filia gasped in pain, and stopped squirming. As the pain shot through her wrists, she got the strangest feeling of pleasure from it, almost making her lightheaded. He loosened his grip on her wrists, allowing a sickening thought to come to her mind. She was actually drawing energy from her own pain. She looked down in disgust and shame.
"Why?", she said quietly, "Why did you do this to me? How much sick pleasure are you getting from watching me suffer like this?" Xellos smiled at her cheerfully.
"I have quite a few reasons for turning you," he said, smiling, "Mainly, though, I was jealous of you." Filia looked up at him, misery momentarily replaced by curiosity.
"Jealous?", she repeated as he let go of her wrists and backed away, "Of what?" He didn't stop smiling.
"Of your beauty," he said, cocking his head to one side and looking at her, "And your light, and innocence, and purity. It was something that was so entrancing, but I could never have for myself. I hated you for it. I wanted to take it from you, crush it in my hands, taint you somehow. And since I could never have that light in my soul, I destroyed yours. You were such a proud girl, always ready to strike out at me for living in darkness, and now... You're only a filthy, raw garbage Mazoku... Just like me." He continued smiling at Filia, the hurt evident in her eyes.
"That's all?", she asked, choking on her own words, "That's why you did this? Just to spite me? Just to hurt me?" Xellos shrugged and kept smiling infuriatingly at her.
"It's not my only reason," he said, "But it's the biggest one." Filia's eyes filled with tears again.
"Then what are the other reasons?", she begged, "Why else did you do this!?" Xellos simply kept smiling at her, bringing a finger to the side of his face and wagging it at her.
"Now, that," he said, "Is a secret." Filia sat there, motionless, tears running down her cheeks.
"You really are a horrible demon," she said quietly, in a trembling voice, "A terrible, evil devil." He stood, continuing to smile, and looked down at her.
"I think I'll leave you alone now," he said quietly, "Try to rest. You're still weak." He gently put a cold hand on her cheek, before vanishing. When he left, so did the flames in the torches on the walls. The only light that stayed lit in the room was the one Filia herself had lit on the night stand. She allowed herself to slump down into the soft, black bed, tears flowing down her face like water. She felt everything in her life slipping away, like sand through her fingers. She could never be a dragon again. She was doomed to an eternity as the thing she'd been taught to hate the most. A huge sob racked her tiny frame, causing her to shake violently before collapsing in tears onto the large bed.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Filia awoke well into the night that night, after having cried herself to sleep. She could still hear the wolves howling outside, and could still smell the salt air. She sat up in bed and forlornly looked out the window into the beautiful night. 'What should I do?', she thought to herself, 'I can't stay here with... him. Maybe he was lying to me, and didn't want to tell me how to change back. Maybe if I go back to my temple, they could find some way to reverse this... If anyone could, the High Elder could. And if not, then perhaps they'd take me in, at least until we find a way to reverse this.' She slid out of the bed, causing the sheets to rustle slightly as she did so. Her feet hit the cold stone floor and she padded over to the black cloak she'd seen draped across the vanity before. She inspected it. It didn't seem to be the one that Xellos wore, so she tried it on. It had a hood on it, which could cover her more... demonic features now, which Filia thought would be incredibly convenient. She clasped it in the front with a red jewel she found laying among the other odd, various things scattered on the vanity. She tugged the hood over her head and hoped that she would still be able to teleport to the temple. She huddled into the cloak and tried to teleport out onto the beach. She closed her eyes, struggling, and then finally vanished from the room in a flash of black.
Filia reappeared outside, on the shore, just inches away from the waters' edge. That teleport felt a little different than any other she'd tried before, sort of like slipping out of consciousness and back again. She looked across the sea, directing her thoughts back to the temple where she'd become a priestess. She closed her eyes and concentrated hard, struggling, until finally, she disappeared in another flash of black.
In a high window in the castle overlooking the sea, Xellos sat, looking out at the ocean and watching his new charge disappear into the night. 'That silly girl,' he thought to himself, 'I suppose the best way for her to learn anything is to see for herself. Ah, well.'
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Filia reappeared in a hall of the great temple. There was no one else around, being such a large temple with so few staff, and late at night. Filia walked silently down the halls, not coming across any of her former colleagues. She quickly found her way to the High Elder's study, noticing a light underneath it, which would indicate that the elderly dragon was still awake. She thanked the Gods she'd been brought up to worship and knocked gently at the door.
"Enter," a firm, elderly voice commanded from the inside of the room. Filia did as the voice told her and opened the door slowly. She shut the door behind herself and looked up at the Elder. He was staring at her with critical eyes. "Filia," he said in disbelief, "What's wrong with you?" Filia huddled further into her dark cloak, trying to hide her face from a man she respected so much.
"I'm... I'm in trouble, sir," she said quietly, "I need your help. If anyone would know how to help me, it'd be you." The white-haired, old dragon man stood up behind his desk and walked around it to get a better look at Filia.
"You seem ill," he remarked, regarding her, "But there seems to be something worse wrong with you. There's a sickness in your spirit... A blackness, like a Mazoku." Filia turned pale and shuddered. He came closer to her, studying her trembling form. "No...", he said thoughtfully, "Not a sickness...." He reached up with one hand and tried to push her hooded cloak back.
"No, please," Filia said, turning away, "Don't look at me." The High Elder looked at her, growing impatient. "Please," she repeated, "I'm ashamed." The Elder began looking more and more critical of her every second.
"What crisis of faith has brought this darkness upon your soul?", the older dragon asked in a harsher tone, "This is what comes of traveling with Mazoku, Filia." She hung her head.
"It's not my fault," Filia replied meekly, "I became deathly ill and he set upon me while I was helpless." The Elder looked down at her, glaring.
"Deathly ill?", he asked, looking at her in horror, "Filia.... child.... What happened to you?" He looked down at her hands, which were clutching her cloak tightly around her body. He noticed the newly grown red talons. "Of course," he said slowly, "Why didn't I see it sooner?" Glaring, he reached up and pushed back her hood.
"No, don't!", she gasped, talking a step back as the hood fell around her shoulders. The Elder stepped back, taking in a deep breath, eyes widening.
"Just as I thought," he said quietly. He took in the sight of Filia's face, her violet, cat-like eyes widening, the bright red slashes on her cheeks, the demonically long canine teeth. The elder was silent for a long while, looking sternly at her. Finally, after an uneasy silence, he spoke up. "So, Beast Master did this to you?", he said quietly.
"I didn't want him to!", she pleaded, looking for sympathy from the Elder, "I couldn't do anything against him! I was on my deathbed!" Tears were slipping down her face, not for the first time that night. The Elder's stern look didn't waver. "Won't... won't you help me?", she asked quietly, "You can undo this, can't you? You can make me a normal dragon again, can't you? Can't you!?" He closed his eyes slowly, making movements with his hands and muttering under his breath, as if to ward off an evil spirit.
"There are no spells or potions to return one who has been made a Mazoku to their proper state," the old man replied, reopening his eyes, "And even if there were, we would do nothing for you." Filia looked at him in shock.
"What are you saying?", she asked, feeling her heart break within her chest, "You won't help me? You won't at least try to find a way to make me normal again? Why!?" The Elder walked back over to his desk and took his seat, never taking his eyes off Filia as he did so.
"To do so could anger Xellos, or even Zelas," he replied, "I could not, would not, endanger this temple like that. And there's also the fact that you're a Mazoku now, too, Filia. That simple fact makes you untrustworthy, and it could also cause unrest within our temple. Just by your being here, we could already be looking at strife among the other priests and priestesses, not to mention an attack by other Mazoku as well. You cannot stay here." Filia felt her hopes fading away, for the second time that night.
"What should I do?", she asked miserably, "I can't go back to him! I can't stay there! Please!" She could tell from the look on the Elder's face that her pleas were going to fall on deaf ears. She covered her mouth with her hands, sobbing softly. "Okay, then," she finally managed to choke out, "I'll go." Saying that, she wrapped her cloak tighter around her body and left the room, not really knowing where she would go from there.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Eventually, Filia found her way to a nearby town, hoping against hope that she could meet someone with either a cure, or who was willing to take her in, at least for a little while. It was by then early morning, and she was feeling incredibly tired, even with the rest she'd received earlier. 'Maybe it's only because I've just become... Just become...', she thought, unable to finish. She hated to think of herself as a Mazoku, but it appeared to be true. She found an alley to hide away from prying human eyes as the sun got brighter and higher in the sky. She tucked herself away as far in shadow as she could manage before leaning against the wall of a shop and sitting on the cold ground. She hugged her knees close to her chest, trying to huddle down into her cloak. 'How could this happen?', she kept asking herself, 'How could he do this to me?' She wanted to cry, but it seemed as though her eyes were out of tears now. She held herself tighter, feeling her eyelids growing heavier by the second. 'My own people,' she thought sleepily, 'They won't take me in. They don't want me. I'm too dangerous. No one will take me in, if they won't.' She let herself slip further and further into unconsciousness, until at last, she was asleep.
'Filia,' she heard a voice calling in the back of her mind, 'Where did you go, Filia?' It was Xellos. She could feel him in her mind. It was as though he was right there with her, wrapping his arms around her from behind. She could feel him close to her now, right behind her it almost seemed. 'Why did you run away from me, Filia?', he asked, almost whispering into her ear, 'I can find you wherever you go, you know.' This sent a chill through Filia's soul, and she wasn't entirely sure that she didn't enjoy it. 'Did you really think you could keep a secret from me?', he asked quietly. Filia didn't say anything, but merely brought a hand up to grasp at the arms he'd wrapped around her shoulders. 'Why don't you come back and stay with me, little one?', he said, brushing his lips against her ear. Filia felt that chill again, and this time, she wanted to go back to him. She couldn't quite explain why, but she felt like she couldn't disobey him now.
'I... I...', she heard herself saying haltingly, 'I don't... I... But...' She could no longer protest. She could feel his grip on her tightening, almost to the point of strangling her.
'Don't fight me anymore, little one,' she could hear him say, 'Because now... heart, body, and soul... you are mine.' Filia felt another chill run through her as his cold blackness reached into her soul, filling it. She could feel herself becoming colder, as well, darkness spreading out within her.
Filia awoke with a start, gasping. It was now night, and the cold black sky was filled with stars. Filia realized that she felt cold, and wondered if it was from the night falling over the town or from her dream. She wrapped herself in the cloak, huddling further into it, and shivered. It was time for her to get a move on, hopefully finding someone to help her. She emerged from the alley, looking up and down the streets. There was no one out at this time of night, except the public servant who lit the street lights at night. Filia felt a little better about that. At least she could move about freely now, with no fear of being ogled by curious humans, or worse, persecuted by fearful ones. Maybe she could have better luck in the next town? Hoping that she would, and that no one would look to closely at her face, she made her way to the edge of town. At the edge of town stood an imposing forest. It looked to be full of dead trees, wild animals, and other scary things. Filia looked at it and strangely enough, didn't feel afraid. She began her journey into the silent wood, darkness obscuring almost everything in sight. She saw something fly from a dead tree in front of her and let out a hoot. Nothing but a hoot owl, and definitely nothing to be worried about.
But there were other things in the wood to be worried about. Some of them had inhuman eyes, and watched the seemingly innocent girl run along the trail. Others had human eyes full of greed and cruelty, waiting for the perfect moment to set upon their apparently helpless prey. They were sure that this girl would provide them some money, as she looked like a traveling priestess. And if not money, then they could at least have some 'fun' with her. Their eyes followed Filia, but so did another pair. These eyes had questionably better intentions for her, even if they didn't intend to show their self to her... Not just yet, anyway....