Disclaimer: Just incase you were wondering, this particularly warped fic came out of a conversation my mailing list had about disturbing fics. This is my way of coping. Dun hurt me! Okay, that being said, time for standard disclaimer. You know the drill. Didn't make 'em, didn't claim to have. This song is the ending theme to Bakeratsu Hunters sung by Masumi Okui. To break with my habit of doing Stevie Nicks songfics. There.

Feedback: Either that, or the Undead Ninjas with Laserblades come for you! ~ sailorN1@aol.com

Mask

by Crystal Dawn Phoenix

*~Oh my darling, I love you~*

*~And the kid who just stands tonight~*

Filia awoke to find that the sun had already set. She slowly picked her head up off of the soft grass she was lying in and blinked. Groggily, she pushed herself up and shook her head. One thing was blaringly clear: she was not where she had been when she fell asleep.

She had been working in her small pottery shop while Jillas and Grabos attended to dusting and other mundane housekeeping. It was midmorning and just barely beginning to get warm outside. Val's egg was sitting underneath a sunny window, shining in the morning sun.

Filia was about to start work on a small vase when the little bell over the door of her shop rung. Jillas and Grabos went to greet the customer, but the woman walked past them without saying a word and came to a stop in front of Filia. Filia looked up at her curiously.

"Can I help you, ma'am?", Filia asked, addressing the tall woman with the wavy, golden hair and dark sunglasses. There was something unsettling about her, almost like she remembered feeling when she was around Xellos, only stronger. The woman smiled at her from behind her opaque pair of glasses, a predatory kind of smile, making her perfect red lips look thin and dangerous.

The next thing Filia knew, she was waking up in this new place, wherever it was.

Mystery--the platinum radiance of the moon reveals deviltry;

The faint smile playing on her lips glistens brilliantly.

Filia looked around, trying to make sense of her new surroundings. She was outside, under a night sky. All around her were large privacy hedges, taller than her head. The smell and feel of the place told her senses it was a garden, but she could feel something more sinister under the surface. She stood up, trying to see if there was any way out of the hedge.

She didn't see anything but large, dark green bushes in all directions. Curious, and starting to feel a little afraid, she tried to levitate up to see over the hedges. No such luck. The spell wouldn't take effect. Curious, Filia tried to teleport. Nothing.

"I'm so sorry, dear," an airy female voice called from behind her, "It's no use trying to fly away. Your magic has been sealed here."

Filia turned around to face the speaker, pressing her back against one of the tall bushes. It was the same woman that came to see her in her shop. She was tall and shapely, with golden hair falling in waves down to her shoulders. She was no longer wearing the sunglasses, revealing her slanted, violet eyes. Her outfit was white and gold, consisting of a finely tailored jacket, blouse, and pair of trousers. She had a keen look to her as she appraised Filia. A faint smile turned the corners of her lips up as she studied the dragon.

Filia could feel the wrongness coming off of the woman in waves. Her distinct aura marked her clearly as Mazoku, and Filia could feel her strength accordingly. She bit her bottom lip and put up a brave front.

"What do you want?", Filia finally said quietly, "Where am I?" The woman laughed, seeming genuinely amused. Her laugh was almost like small glass bells tinkling together, full of grace and lilt.

"He was right!", the strange woman replied, "You are suspicious of everything!" Filia felt the urge to growl at the woman, but her common sense held it back. "You are on my property," the stranger replied, "This is my hedge maze, a labyrinth, if you will." Filia looked around again, finding that it did indeed appear to be a large garden maze. She refocused her gaze on the graceful Mazoku before her.

"Why am I here?", she asked, trying to sound calm. The woman wearing gold chuckled, looking at the same time amused and dangerous.

"To find your way out, of course," she replied, "What is a maze for, after all?" Filia was not at all amused by this.

Keep your eyes on me--don't take your eyes off me--

"I do so hope you find your way out by morning," the stranger said, continuing to grin, "Otherwise, I just don't know what might happen to you." Filia opened her mouth to say something, but the woman began backing away from her. "Oh, it seems that I must go now," she said politely, "Do be a good girl and make your way out of here. Good luck!" As the strange woman backed away she began to vanish from sight, waving.

"Wait!", Filia screamed after her, "Come back here!" But the odd, blonde woman wasn't listening; she was already gone.

Your stare will relieve me,

Of the seal that binds me!

Filia had been in the maze at least half the night as far as she could tell. The moon had already vanished behind a clump of hedgemaze. She had always thought that the way to get out of a labyrinth was to pick a solid 'wall' and follow it without stopping until she found the exit. This was proving more difficult than she could've imagined. She was never any good at maze puzzles in the first place, and the wall she'd been following for most of the night was leading her nowhere.

Every now and then, she could make out a few pairs of eyes watching her from the shadows of the hedge. They didn't seem human, and maybe not even Mazoku. She figured they belonged to wolves or wild dogs since she heard some baying at the moon from time to time. It was an eerie sound, listening to their long, desolate howls echo through the empty night. She didn't know what the wolves were doing there, but she was sure she didn't like it one bit.

Growing weary and wanting desperately to take a rest, Filia leaned gently against the hedge she was following. The branches and twigs of the bush scraped against her skin as she sat down with her back against it. Leaning into it, Filia sighed, glad for a chance to sit down. Filia stretched out, staying wary, but enjoying the cool night air. It was at least a cool night, so there was no worry of heat making her exhausted or chill freezing her.

As she stretched her arms over her head, she felt them scrape against the flimsy branches of the hedge. Startled, she tried to pull away from the twigs, only to have them entwine around her wrists. Filia quickly tried to pull herself free, but to no avail. The bark of the twigs scratched her skin like sandpaper as the plant grew around her arms like vines. It seemed to be lifting her up as it grew, almost sucking her into the bush and wrapping other parts of her body as well as her arms. The twigs snagged around her waist and ankles, as well as a few around her neck. Filia struggled against them, but discovered that the harder she tried to get away, the tighter they held her.

In the distance, Filia spotted someone walking toward her through a row of hedges. She stopped struggling and peered at them, trying to make out their features. Not only was it dark, but it was foggy, too, so her view was especially obscured. "You there!", Filia yelled at the figure walking toward her through the mists, "Help! This wall's grabbed me!" The figure walked toward her at an unchanging pace, not bothering to speed up. Slowly, they stepped out of the mists and into the moonlight.

Filia could see the pale light gleaming off of a head of golden blonde hair as well as violet eyes and slick red lips. "Well, I see you're in a bit of a bind there," the by-now-familiar woman replied, "You should have been more careful. Didn't you know there are things in my labyrinth that could hurt you?" Filia glared at the woman as she laughed her musical laugh.

"Oh, you silly dragon," she continued, "I don't suppose you even noticed my pets watching you for me?" Filia's eyes widened, remembering the pairs of eyes she saw watching her.

"Pets?", she asked quietly, "Then those things…" The woman laughed again, a smaller laugh this time.

"Oh, these little fellows?" the stranger asked, snapping her fingers. Several large, grey wolves jumped out of the hedges with a rustle. The beasts gathered around the woman's legs, eyeing Filia as though she were something good to eat. She noticed that their eyes were the same eyes she saw peering out at her from the hedges earlier. Suddenly, the elegant woman stepped forward and placed one finely manicured hand on Filia's face.

"Don't touch me!", Filia spat, jerking her head away. She glared at the keenly smiling woman. "Why are you doing this to me?", she asked angrily.

The tall woman pouted. "You wound me!", she replied, "You don't like me at all, do you?" Filia gave her a look of general disbelief.

"Why should I?!", Filia asked angrily, "You've stuck me in a horrible maze with those flea-bitten wolves of yours and Cephied only knows what else! And you expect me to appreciate this?" The woman began smiling again, but Filia could easily tell it wasn't a genuine smile.

"Perhaps you don't like this appearance," she replied, "I suppose you would look better if I looked like... this…?" The woman's features began to change as Filia watched, wide eyed. Her hair straightened and became darker. Her clothes turned black and draped off her shoulders to form a cloak. Filia gasped.

"No!", she shouted, "That's not true!"

Shy Venus, cast aside your mask;

Please be gentle in your cruelty...

What had been a stately, beautiful woman only moments before, now appeared to be Xellos. He stood calmly in front of Filia, smiling at her, eyes open. He gently placed on hand on the side of her face and ran his thumb over her cheek.

"Perhaps you like me better now?", he asked. Filia stared mutely in shock. His voice, his mannerisms, everything was exactly the same as she remembered it from the last time she'd seen him when they'd fought Darkstar. "What's the matter, Filia?", he asked, grinning wickedly, "Cat got your tongue?" She blinked and continued to stare in disbelief.

"No, you're not," she said quietly, "You're not him. It's not true…" Xellos kept grinning at her.

"Oh, I'm not, am I?", he asked, only an inch or so from her face, "Then explain how I know everything I do about you? Like how you like to keep a mace on a black leather garter under your skirt? Or what about the time we were in that town that hated dragons? All I had to do was insult you enough times and you destroyed the whole town. Or how much you love to drink tea? What about the way it felt when we joined our power together to kill Darkstar?" Filia could feel ice run through her stomach.

Whoever this person was, she was certain they weren't Xellos and they had been doing quite a bit of homework on the both of them.

"No," she protested weakly. Xellos' eyes stared back at her, grinning and piercing.

"I remember how it felt to join with you," he said softly, giving her an incredibly mischievous look, "Almost as if I were holding you in my arms. Like you were a part of me. Like we were one." Filia's eyes widened. She remembered feeling exactly the same way. Before she could say so, he drew closer to kiss her, covering her mouth and preventing any protests.

Filia's mind was racing. This did feel almost like combining her powers with Xellos, but there was definitely something different. This creature, whatever it was, was most certainly not the person it was claiming to be. Then a thought struck Filia. What if this thing had done something with the real Xellos? An odd feeling started to well up inside her, almost like nervousness, but a little more nagging. She tried to shove the feeling back, but failed. She tried to deny that she felt a little worried for him, but wasn't succeeding at convincing herself. Finally, she couldn't fight it anymore and snapped a few of the twigs around her legs, breaking them free and kicking the imposter square in the stomach. He flew back until he hit the facing wall of hedges making up the maze.

I want to see your uncovered face,

I have a secret that's only for you!

Filia broke the vines around her arms, pulling them free as well. She dropped off the wall and to her feet, facing the imposter. He stood against the wall, glaring at her and holding his stomach. Filia froze, realizing that even his glare was exactly the same as Xellos'. Suddenly, the disguise melted away to reveal the same woman that had put Filia into the maze.

"I can't see what he sees in you," the woman said bitterly, "You have to be one of the rudest, most ungrateful dragons I've ever met. " Filia ignored her words and reached under her skirt for her mace. She stepped forward with it in hand, causing some of the wolves to growl at her and step back in surprise.

"What have you done with Xellos?", she asked forcefully, "You'd better tell me!" In truth, she didn't believe her own threatening words. She knew the woman was much more powerful than she was, or Xellos was, for that matter. The woman looked surprised for a few seconds before grinning cruelly at her.

"Oh, nothing at all, dear," she replied, "He's perfectly safe… for the moment. But if I were you, I'd make it out of this maze before sunrise. If you don't, I don't know what might happen to him." Filia froze, feeling the ice in her stomach again. The woman vanished and her wolves ran off into the maze, disappearing quickly. Filia blinked, disbelieving she'd just gotten angry over wondering where Xellos was at. Perhaps the woman was trying to goad her by pretending that he was really in some kind of danger. Or perhaps she was trying to use him as bait? Filia really wasn't sure, but she wasn't happy about any of it.

I want to kiss you, surrender to your heart;

I am a beast that has nowhere to run,

Filia wondered around for a little while longer, mace in hand, just in case. She could tell it was getting close to dawn. The eastern sky was turning paler and the moon had dropped below the horizon long ago. Filia didn't want to acknowledge the gnawing, persistent worry that kept scratching at the back of her mind. What would happen if she didn't make it out by dawn? Was that woman just using Xellos as an empty threat? And why did she care so much that she would? It couldn't be because she was actually fond of the creep, she knew that for sure. No, it had to be the woman's pretension in assuming that she WOULD worry about him. She was certain that was the cause.

Until the day that I pass away, trapped in the labyrinth of love!

Filia had been walking in the same corridor for over half an hour now, she was sure. The light falling over the maze was getting brighter and closer to daylight than night. It was a dim greyish-blue, telling her that she didn't have much time left. She eyed the mace in her hand, wondering what she should do. Even if she ran as fast as she could, she still had no idea which way she was going. She was just now able to see the roof of what looked like an elaborate estate, but what she could see wasn't impressive. She at least knew she was going the right way toward the woman's estate. But if she took a wrong turn, she could be lost for hours more. Sighing, she sat down cross-legged, trying to think of what to do. Suddenly, as she eyed her mace, an idea struck her.

Sadistic--I want to give you a passionate, shameless dance;

I want to be completely controlled, like a puppet on a string!

'Of course!', she thought, 'Why didn't I think of it before?' Standing and putting her hand on one of the hedges, she felt it for firmness. Even though she was unable to cast magic in this maze, she was sure she still had the abilities that dragons were naturally born with. And if all else failed, she still had her mace. And she knew that maces and laser breath could take out something as simple as a hedge, without doubt. Grinning, Filia looked up to make sure she was still facing the manor.

Filia stood back from the wall of hedge that was her intended target. Taking a deep breath, she prepared to use a laser breath against it. Nearly roaring, she unleashed a beam of concussive, white light at the offending bushes. The bushes gave way, burning as they did so. Filia ran through the first row of bushes to get a better look at just how effective her shot had been. She could still see the roof of the large estate, but it was getting closer now, she could tell. Her shot had taken out about four rows of hedge directly in front of her. Smiling, she shot another laser breath at the bushes.

When I hear your fluttering voice cry out "I love you,"

My heart is filled with another of your wounds,

After clearing out about sixteen more rows of hedge, Filia finally saw a way out. She ran, hoping she would be fast enough. It was almost completely bright enough to be considered early morning outside, and she hoped she could make it to the edge of the maze before the sun peeked up over the Eastern horizon. Finally, Filia ran through the last hole she'd burned through the branches of the hedges. It smelled horrible, like a forest burning, but it didn't stop her. She ran out onto a large, well-manicured lawn leading to the back of an incredibly large and ornate white house. Filia slowed down and tossed her mace aside onto the ground, nearly out of breath from using so much of her energy.

On the backside of the house, there was a large, covered patio. It held all sorts of cast iron furniture, tastefully arranged for each piece to compliment the others. Filia could see someone sitting on one of the patio chairs, reading something that looked like a newspaper. On the table beside them, there was a large glass of something she couldn't quite make out. She picked up her pace so she could see whoever it was quicker.

Filia drew closer, still unable to make out the figure through the fog. They seemed to lift their head and look at her as she got even closer. Panting, Filia's eyes widened as they focused on the figure through the mist.

"Xellos?!", she yelled, watching the figure rise to their feet.

Don't ignore the proof!

"Filia?", she heard his voice come back to her. Filia kept running until she could see him clearly. Yes, that indeed looked like Xellos. Really not caring to argue with herself anymore, she ran right up to him and threw her arms around him, burying her face in his chest. She could feel the tears coming from her eyes as she clutched his shirt. His arms slid around her back and held her tight.

"Is it really you?", she asked quietly, "Why am I here? Who was that blonde woman?" She stopped asking questions and realized that he was holding her so tight that she couldn't move. Filia looked up wide eyed, realizing that she'd made a grave mistake.

Sly Venus, cast aside your mask;

Please be gentle in your cruelty...

Grinning cruelly, Xellos bent down next to her ear. Filia shivered as he began to speak.

"So, then, Filia dear," 'Xellos' said, "I see you finally made it out of there. What a careless girl you are, falling for the same trick twice…"

She knew now that this wasn't him, but the woman from before instead. She'd been too exhausted and careless to try and check any deeper than the surface when she saw him. She pushed against him, but found she was too weak to get away from him.

"Don't insult me," the imposter said quietly, "You don't think that will have any effect on me, do you? Do you know what we are? What Mazoku are made from?" Filia stared at the changeling as he pulled away from the side of her face.

"Yes," she replied hoarsely, "You're made from pure evil…" She received a malicious looking grin and a squeeze that took most of her breath away.

Oh, show me, your uncovered face,

No one knows the time of the carnival!

The imposter continued to smile at her. "No," he replied, "Not evil. Negative emotion. There's a difference. We're made from fear. Pain. We are nightmares made flesh. Now, let me ask you something else…" Filia's heart froze as the creature bent down next to her ear again, bringing a hand up to stroke her hair. The breath on her ear made her tremble with something very close to fear.

"What?", she asked, trying to sound brave. She could feel the imposter smiling against the part of her ear that met her neck.

"Do you think a nightmare could ever truly love something as pure and white as you?", he asked, sounding almost disgusted, "Do you think they could love at all? It's not a Mazoku's place to love anything. We are here for one purpose. To bring destruction…" Filia's eyes were filled with tears. Whoever this was, they'd just managed to strike deep into her heart. A searing pain traveled through her as she resigned herself to the truth of their words. They'd realized something she wouldn't even admit to herself, and crushed all her secret hope for it.

I want to hold you, surrender in my heart;

I am a beast that's fully drowned in love,

Filia felt as though she were choking on her own tears. She could hear the creature chuckling into the side of her neck just below her ear. She suddenly felt weak in the knees, slumping against her captor. Her exhaustion began to take its toll as she felt most of the energy leave her body. Seemingly resigning herself to her fate, she buried her face in the imposter's chest.

"You lied," she said quietly, "I made it out before dawn… You promised you'd let me go…" A cruel smirk crossed the Mazoku's face.

"Sleep, little one," he said, laying a hand on her head. Filia suddenly felt the rest of the energy leave her body as she closed her eyes. She was almost thankful for the oblivion sleep would bring.

Truly amused, the imposter began to laugh. Then, taking the unconscious dragon with him, he disappeared.

Until the day that I pass away, dreaming of this feeling!

"Oh, I see you're back, darling," the blonde woman's voice echoed down the hallways, "So, how did it go?"

"Everything went according to plan, Lord Beastmaster." Several footsteps reverberated off the stone walls of the large abode, "There is nothing to worry about. Everything you asked has been done."

"Good, good," the Lord's voice rang back, calling through several rooms to her subject, "That being said, why don't you come back here? I have a surprise for you."

Puzzled, her servent obeyed. The black clad, violet haired demon appeared before her holding his customary crooked, jeweled staff. The blonde was sitting in a large, high ceilinged bedroom. The walls were made of cold stone with only an unlit brick fireplace alongside one wall to offset the chill. There were several sparse pieces of black laquer furniture placed strategically around the room. A large bed sat with its headboard against one of the walls, billowing white satin sheets falling in layers over the sides and around the canopies. Several curtains covered the bed, draping it in silky white fabric.

The only light in the room came from the large glass doors that sat facing the left side of the bed. Across from the foot of the bed sat the elegant blonde woman, clad in a long, white dress. She sat in a black, high-backed, intricately carved chair with her feet resting on a matching ottoman in front of her. The smoke from her cigarette wafted up to the ceiling before disappearing. The Lord crossed her legs, waiting for her servent to say something.

"You called me, Lord?", he asked politely, bowing his head in reverence. She smiled, almost an affectionate smile, and gave a small wave of her hand. He stood back up straight, eyes still shut.

"Xellos, do you know exactly what today is?", she asked. He was a little puzzled by this question. Surely he hadn't forgotten some day that was in particular special to Lord Beastmaster. He knew she became particularly displeased if he should forget the day she'd arbitrarily decided her birthday was. Smiling sheepishly, he decided that he might as well answer honestly and deal with whatever she did to him.

"Well, I'm sure it's Thursday," Xellos replied slowly, "Why? What difference is it?" Lord Beastmaster gave him a predatory sort of smile. He wasn't sure if it was meant to frighten him for his forgetfulness, or if it were just a ploy to hide her amusement. She did have a habit of misleading people like that.

"Surely, you of all people should remember," she replied slowly and somewhat dangerously, "Your own birthday, of all days." Xellos raised his eyebrows. He recalled that indeed it was his birthday. He was relatively sure that this date at least was not arbitrary as Lord Beastmaster's had been, but was actually the day she'd created him. Not that it was anything truly special; Lord Beastmaster would, every few years, get into a motherly mood and do some small thing or another for him. He knew it was a whim of hers, but didn't mind it.

"Oh, so it is," he replied, smiling. She took a drag off the cigarette, smirking at him all the while.

"So, aren't you curious as to what I've gotten you?", she asked, "I went to a lot of trouble this year. Why, I'll have to replace a good third of my hedgemaze. Rather destructive little thing she is, that's for sure." Curiously, he opened his eyes and looked around the room.

"She?", he asked, more than a little apprehensive. The thought crossed his mind that she might have kidnaped Lina Inverse and brought her here. He couldn't imagine what in the world would possess her to do something so suicidal, but then reasoned that if Lina were here, she'd have blown up a lot more than a third of the hedgemaze. That left one person she could have meant.

"Oh, yes," Lord Beastmaster replied, "I brought her here last night. I must admit I had a little bit of fun with her, but I'm sure she's rested now. Oh, don't look at me like that, Xellos. There are no scars. Not that I know of, anyway. It was just a good jostling, that's all." Finally, Xellos turned around and looked at the bed. Sure enough, there was someone in it.

*~Oh my darling, I love you~*

*~And the kid who just stands tonight~*

"It's not..", he said, paling a little. If Lord Beastmaster had brought that dragon here, then she surely knew.

"Oh, don't worry so," she said curtly, rising from her seat, "Do whatever you want with her. It's not as if I care. I swear, you act just like a little human child with his hand caught in a cookie jar. Don't you think I could tell you were fond of her by the way you talked about her when you reported to me that Darkstar had been destroyed?" Lord Beastmaster put her hands on her hips and gave him a crooked smirk. Xellos stood by the bed, looking past the soft white drapes to see the sleeping dragon inside. He found himself feeling something he'd not felt in a long time: uncertainty.

"Well, I'll take my leave now," Lord Beastmaster said to him at last, "She's not going to particularly want to see me when she wakes up, and I'm sure you two have catching up to do or something of the sort. Oh, and one more thing..." Xellos looked over at her, as if startled awake. "You might want to tell her some of the things you told me about her," she said with just a hint of false sweetness, "Just a small piece of advice." With that, she winked at him and blinked out of the room.

Xellos sat on the edge of the bed, drawing back the drapes and looking at Filia. She was still sleeping peacefully. The sheets on the bed covered her to her shoulders, but he could tell that whatever she'd been wearing was no longer there. Slowly, as though he were afraid she'd break, he reached out and shook her shoulders. Her eyes opened just a tiny crack before shooting fully open and staring at him. She sat up and backed away from him as best she could.

"You look as if you've seen a ghost," he said quietly, smiling. Filia took a deep breath and exhaled loudly.

"Then it's really you?", she asked uncertainly. The look on her face told him that she was definitely uncertain about that. Lord Beastmaster must have been playing pranks on her, he figured.

"Yes, it's me," he replied, "Am I to understand we have some catching up to do?"

*~Oh my darling, I love you~*

*~And the kid who just stands tonight~*


Feedback: Don't worry, next time it'll be Stevie Nicks, I SWEAR! ~ sailorN1@aol.com