Chapter Five: Anya

The world returned slowly to Gourry. The first thing he was aware of was the sound of birdsong, high and penetrating. He opened his eyes and felt the sunlight stab into his skull like a knife. Groaning softly, he sat up and took note of his surroundings.

It appeared that they had wound up in some forest, Gourry wasn't sure where. Lina lay sprawled on the grass a few feet from him, Zelgadis was about three yards distant, and Gourry could find no sign of the others. Gourry rose unsteadly to his feet and called out, "Hello?" He winced. Shouting was not really the best idea, considering the headache that was begining to form behind his eyes. He was also kind of dizzy, so he decided it would be best to sit back down.

Gourry knelt beside Lina's still form and gently shook the sorceress's shoulder. "Lina," he said softly. "Hey Lina, wake up." Lina only groaned softly, so Gourry ceased shaking her shoulder and began poking her arm. "Hey Lina. Come on, get up." he pleaded. "Zelgadis is still asleep, the others are missing, and I have no idea where we are or how we got here." His efforts at waking the sorceress were proving unfruitful. Gourry sighed and moved on to where Zelgadis lay prone. "Zel. Hey Zel," he said, and repeated the method of waking he had tried on Lina. After a few moments shaking, Zelgadis opened his eyes.

"Gourry, you can stop shaking me now." the chimera said dryly. "With this headache it's making me kind of dizzy."

"Oh, sorry." Gourry replied, standing and helping the other man up. "Do you know where we are?"

Zelgadis scanned their surroundings. After gazing up at the sky for a moment, he shook his head. "Not a clue." he answered. "It appears we are in a forest of some sort, but it could be any one in the world. From the light, I'd say it's about two hours past noon, but I don't know for sure because of the trees." Gourry looked at the chimera blankly. "These trees are too tall for me to see the sun's position in the sky." Zelgadis explained. He looked around a bit more, noticing Lina for the first time. "Where are the others?" he asked Gourry. The blonde man shrugged. "Well, they can't have gone too far. I would imagine that Val's teleportation affected them the same way it affected us. Shall we go look around for them?"

"Sure." Gourry replied. "I tried waking Lina, but she sleeps like a log. Maybe we should just let her sleep while we try to find Amelia, Filia, Val, and Xellos."

"She should be fine, we won't go too far into the woods."

Gourry nodded. "Well then, let's go."

Side by side, the chimera and the swordsman advanced into the forest. They walked for a while in companionable silence, and Gourry observed thier surroundings with intrest. The forest was quite lovely, with tall deciduous trees whose leaves were just begining to turn red and gold. The sun was shining brightly overhead, the birds were singing thier glorious melodies, and the smell of green growing things was heavy in the air. Walking through this arboreal paradise, Gourry found it hard to believe that there could ever be anything wrong in the world. He spied an apple tree, its boughs heavy with ripe fruit, and suddenly realized he was very hungry.

"Hey Zel, want a couple of apples?" Gourry asked as he began picking.

Zelgadis glanced at the apple tree and a frown touched his face. "Wait!" he cried. Gourry paused, about to take a big bite of the red fruit. "Look at the tree, Gourry," the chimera said, pointing. "It has flowers and fruit at the same time. It looks like the tree is enchanted. We don't know what would happen to you if you ate an enchanted apple."

"Hmm, I guess you have a point," Gourry said, and tossed the apples to the ground, where they abruptly shattered like glass. Gourry jumped back, startled. "Wow," he mused, kneeling to get a closer look at the apple shards littering the forest floor. "It almost looks like rubies, but rubies don't break like that when you drop them."

"I don't think we want to know." Zelgadis replied. "I don't think any of the others came this way. We should head back and see if Lina's awake yet."

Gourry stood up, the strange apple forgotten. "Maybe everyone else is back in the clearing, too. If they woke up before us and decided to explore, most likely they would have returned to the place that we all arrived at. Makes sense, doesn't it?"

His friend looked at him askance. "You sure you didn't take a bite from one of those apples?" he asked.

"I didn't. Why?"

"No reason," Zelgadis replied with a shake of his head.

They continued walking back to the clearing. About halfway back, Gourry saw a flash of red through the trees. "Hey, Lina!" he cried joyfully, breaking away from the path he and Zelgadis were taking. "You're awake!" He wove his way around several tree trunks and came upon a stream. The chimera had no choice but to follow him or become seperrated. There was indeed a red-headed young woman in the water, and she turned at the sound of Gourry's voice. Gourry realized belatedly that the girl in the water was quite naked; also, she was not Lina.

The lady shrieked, her green eyes wide and indignant. Gourry averted his gaze quickly and tried to apologize to her. "I'm sorry, I thought you were someone I knew."

The young woman hurridly splashed ashore and snatched up her clothing from the bank. She began to flee, pulling her dress on as she went. She paused once to give Gourry a full-handed slap, then she rushed away and was swallowed by the trees. Gourry stared after her, wondering why women always felt the need to slap a man everytime he makes a little mistake.

After a long silence, Zelgadis clapped Gourry on the shoulder. "It was an honest mistake," he said mildly. "For a moment I thought it was Lina also. Same hair color."

"And pretty much the same breast size." Gourry added, rubbing his stinging cheek.

Zelgadis chuckled. "You did get an eyefull. But when have you seen Lina naked?"

Gourry smiled his most innocent smile. "Wouldn't you like to know?" he bluffed. Zelgadis burst out laughing, and Gourry joined him. They headed back to the path and made their way toward the clearing, chuckling all the way.

When they reached the area were they had woken up, both men stopped in their tracks, their laughter dying in their throats. For the first time since awakening in this beautiful forest, Gourry began to feel uneasy.

Lina was gone.

In a portion of the Enchanted Forest that looked remarkabley like a rain forest, Filia slept on. She was oblivious to the world around her, paying mind only to the world of dreams in which she was immersed.

Filia stood on a high balconey overlooking most of the Forest. She knew with a strange, dream-like certainty that she was a stranger here. She was meant to observe, nothing more. Filia began to find herslf growing uneasy in her role as a watcher. Below her, the Enchanted Forest stretched on for miles and miles. The trees were bathed in that rare golden light that only comes just before sunset. The air was still; it seemed as if the world was holding its breath in anticipation.

From out of nowhere, a swath of crimson fire cut a path through the trees. There was no sound, just the explosive flare of the flames.

Filia sincerely wished she was elsewhere.

She was in a courtyard of some sort, with armed soldiers rushing past her toward the palace gates. A woman and a girl stood off to one side, comforting each other in their fear. A man approached them. He seemed to be talking to them, but Filia could hear no words. The man's mouth was moving though, and the young girl nodded in reply to what the man said.

The girl's father, that's who "the man" was.

The father whistled, but once more Filia heard no sound. A horse trotted up to the man, and he mounted easily. He waved once to his wife and daughter before galloping after a group of soldiers.

Filia found she was now wandering the streets of the city, lost and disoriented. She walked alone, surrounded by silently burning buildings. There was a shadow up ahead, a shadow vaguely shaped like a man. The woman and the girl

The Queen and the Princess

were in the shadow's path. Filia opened her mouth to warn them and found she herself could not break the almost suffocating silence of this dream.

This vision.

The queen saw the shadow first, and pulled her daughter close. She began to speak without sound, her green eyes filled with hate and contempt. The shadow reached out with long, slightly misshapen arms and laid a hand on each of the queen's cheeks. The queen continued to speak, but now there was fear in her eyes. The man-shaped shadow placed an almost gentle kiss on the queen's brow.

He snapped her neck.

It was the first sound that reached Filia, and it was deafening after so much unnatural quite. She squeezed her eyes shut and covered her ears to try and drown out that horrible crack. She opened her eyes and saw that the dream

The vision.

had paused while her eyes were closed. The shadow released the queen, and her body slid to the ground with impossible slowness. The princess stood still in horror, her gaze locked on her dead mother. The shadow-man turned to look directly at Filia.

"As long as they had been there before." he said with Xello's voice. The shadow dissolved to reveal the the face of the man beneath.

Filia's own scream woke her.

When Lina awoke from the teleportation-induced blackout, she was surprised to see Xellos sitting up against an oak tree, reading a small leather-bound book. "Hey, there," she mumbled, rising a bit unsteadily.

Xellos looked up from his reading. "Good morning, Lina-san," he said pleasently. "Have a nice nap?"

"Not really." Lina replied, massaging her aching temples.

The priest shrugged. "The trip can be a little rough, if you're not used to it." He chuckled. "I myself have a bit of a headache, and I'm an old hand at teleportation."

Abandoning the relief of her throbbing skull, Lina scanned their surroundings. "Where is everybody?" she asked.

"Oh, I imagine they're around here somewhere." Xellos answered. "They probably woke up before us and wandered off. Even if they went far, they should run into us eventually, so long as we ourselves stay put."

"So you were out cold too, huh?"

Xellos looked slightly flustered. "Ah, yeah, actually. Although I would appriciate it if you wouldn't mention it to anyone. It wouldn't do my reputation any good if it got out that I couldn't handle simple teleportation backlash."

Lina rolled her eyes in a gesture meant to convey her immpatience with men and their delicate egos. "Deal," she said, plopping down next to the mazoku. She craned her neck, trying to see the title of the book Xellos was holding. "Whatcha reading?" she asked, not really expecting him to answer.

Apparently Xellos wasn't in his usual secretive mood today, for he tilted the book enough to allow Lina to see the title. The Histories and Myths of Fa'Sharn, it read in flaking gold leaf on its ancient cover.

"Fa'Sharn?" Lina said. "What's that?"

Xellos made a sweeping gesture with his arm. "This, I think." he replied. "Looks like the Enchanted Forest to me, and most of the lands of Fa'Sharn are covered by this strange place."

Lina looked around with more intrest. "This is the Enchanted Forest? I always thought it was a myth." They sat in silence for a moment, and Lina went over every legend she had ever heard regarding the Enchanted Forest in her mind. It was said that it was a very hard place to get into, and an even harder one to get out of. Places could move around in the Enchanted Forest, which could explain the fact that Xellos was the only one around when she woke up. Also, she had heard tales of fearsome beasts that roamed the Forest looking for those unlucky enough to be lost within it. "We could use a guide." Lina said.

"I agree," Xellos replied. "It says in this book that only those who are born in the Enchanted Forest can easily find their way around inside. Now, if I could just remember how to get to the Sacred Grounds...."

Lina held up a hand for silence. "Listen," she whispered. "Do you hear something?" Xellos cocked his head and listened carefully. Lina heard the noise again, something crashing through the undergrowth. She rose silently, preparing to launch a Fireball if anything remotely threatening burst into the clearing. The mazoku also rose to his feet, holding his pale wooden staff before him. The crashing noises were getting closer.

It was not a horrible creature ready to devour the lost that came running into the clearing, but a slightly damp red-haired girl tugging at the laces of her blue dress. The girl stopped dead in her tracks when she saw Lina and Xellos.

"Father above!" she swore. "Just how many people managed to get in today?" She straightened the neckline of her dress and stared at the sorceress and the priest. It looked to Lina that the girl had dressed in a hurry, right after a bath. Her hair was still dripping and darkening the blue of her dress to almost black. "You!" the girl gasped, staring at Xellos with wide green eyes. She dropped her gaze in the fashion of someone who has just realized that they were being very rude. The girl kissed the first two fingers of her right hand and touched them to her forehead, and then her heart. Lina watched, confused, as Xellos returned the gesture.

The strange girl turned to look at Lina for the first time. An expression of mild outrage touched her face and she turned back to Xellos. "Please forgive my bluntness, Prophet," she said, waving her hand in Lina's direction. "But what buisness do you have bringing that abomination to this place?"

"Abomination?!" Lina cried, angered by the Summoner's words. She stepped closer to the girl, meaning to intimidate her if she had to, and was surprised to find she could look the girl in the eye without craning her neck. Despite herself, she found it quite refreshing to encounter someone who was as short as herself. "Who are you calling an abomination?"

The girl's leaf-colored eyes shifted back to Lina. Her expression changed from one closely resembling disgust to something almost like pity. "Oh. She doesn't know?" she asked Xellos. The priest shook his head.

This was too much for Lina. "She doesn't know what?" she asked. "Stop talking about me as if I wasn't here! Xellos, what is this girl talking about?"

The girl in blue turned back to Lina. "I'm sorry I called you an abomination," she said, and Lina could hear that she was sincere. "And I have forgotten my manners. I am Anya Fa'Sharn, First of Her Name, Queen of the Summoners of Fa'Sharn."

"Summoners?" Lina asked. "What is this, the land of legends? Am I still asleep, Xellos, dreaming of some crazy place where forests move around and people from extinct races come running out of nowhere?"

Anya Fa'Sharn rounded on Lina. "You of all people should know that the Koumazyatsu-zoku are not an extinct race," she said heatedly. "We just choose to stay safe in the Enchanted Forest and don't really have much contact with the outside world. By the way," Anya continued, her expression softening to one of polite intrest. "Where do you come from, and how should I call you?"

Lina blinked in surprise. This girl could change emotions at the drop of a hat. One minute the Summoner had been almost angry, and the next moment she was quite pleasent. "I am Lina Inverse," Lina answered. She waited for the inevitable reaction that came from people hearing her name. Much to her chagrin, no reply came from the "Summoner" girl. "I come from Zefilia."

This time Anya did react. "Zefilia?" she exclaimed. "That's across the ocean! Is Lina Inverse one of the ones you told me to wait for, Prophet?"

"Wait a minute," Lina drawled. She turned to give Xellos an intimidating glare. "What does she mean by that, Xellos? And why does she keep calling you 'Prophet'?"

Xellos looked slightly uncomfortable. "She's right, I did tell her to be expecting you and the others." he said.

"There are others with you?" Anya asked.

Lina nodded and gave Xellos a sharp stare, as if to say I'm not done with you yet. "Yes. A princess, about a few inches shorter than me, with black hair and a perchant for righteous speeches." she said, counting them off on her fingers. "A Golden Dragon with anger managment problems and a young Ancient Dragon boy that she adopted. A chronically depressed chimera. And a blonde swordsman who has more muscle than brains."

Anya flushed a deep scarlet. "Um....I think I just saw those last two that you mentioned," she said quietly. "Back the way I came."

"You did?" Lina asked. Anya nodded, still red to her roots. "Can you find them again, do you think?"

Anya opened her mouth to reply, indignation once again flashing in her eyes. Xellos placed a hand on the queen's arm, and she meekly subsided and replied politely to the question Lina had asked. "Yes, I can find them again. In fact, I may be able to find all of your companions; although don't expect them to be all in one place, or even as close as the chimera-man and the blonde."

Lina was still amazed at the effect Xellos had on this girl of uncertain temperment. Too bad he couldn't calm Filia with a touch on her arm, it would save so many headaches. Something was going on here, but Lina couldn't quite put her finger on it. It was quite obivious that Anya Fa'Sharn, First of Her Name, Holy Righteous Queen of Whatever knew Xellos in a deeper way than some stranger chance-met in the middle of an insane forest. What bothered her more was the fact that Anya had called her an abomination; to her face no less. Lina herself knew that due to her reputation a great many people feared her, perhaps even hated her, but none would have the courage to speak it so bluntly when she was around. Anya had apologized after, of course, and she seemed quite sincere, but not a bit frightened. And she knew Xellos.

"Lina Inverse of Zefilia?" Anya asked, pulling Lina away from her ponderings. "I'm sorry to disturb your thoughts, but if we are going to find your friends, I need you to focus on the task. The Enchanted Forest will find a mind that wanders, and it will make the feet belonging to that mind do the same." Anya smiled kindly. "I do not doubt that I will be able to find you again, but I would rather not take the chance of losing you in the first place. There are other things in this Forest far worse than Summoners, and far less friendly to strangers."

"Of course." Lina said. "Oh, and just call me Lina, if you would."

Anya nodded. "Prophet, are you ready as well?"

"Away from the Sacred Grounds, you may call me Xellos, Your Grace." Xellos replied smoothly.

"Then you must call me Anya, if it pleases you." the queen answered. "Perhaps the Enchanted Forest is not the safest place for titles anyway," she laughed. "The rebels have grown uneasy, Pro -- Xellos-sama."

Xellos raised a questioning eyebrow. "Have they now?" he asked. "Where is your guard then, Anya?"

To Lina's amazement, the queen ducked her head. Anya was a strong, stubborn noblewoman; a ruler of an entire kingdom, yet she treated Xellos as slightly superior than her self. It was as if the girl regarded him as greater among equals. It was very interesting indeed, and Lina made a mental note of it.

Recovering from her embarassmenr, Anya smiled winningly to Xellos. "You and Lina are my guards today!" she declared brightly. "I will find your friends, and in return all of you will guide me to the city, and be my guests at the manor. I insist that you all stay at least one night, and I will have my kitchens prepare a grand meal."

Lina's ears perked up. "Food?" she asked. "Well, if food's involved, you've found the right people for the job, Your Highness." Lina took the other woman by the hand and set off into the trees. "Let's go!" Lina thought the sooner she was reunited with her friends and given a decent meal, the better.

Amelia woke from a very pleasent dream to encounter a very unpleasent reality. First off, she had what was surely the worst headache she had ever had in her entire life; secondly, she appeared to be completely alone in a strange wooded area. The princess recalled some of the hasty conversation between Xellos and Filia when Xellos had said they might all end up at different corners of the world. Pushing that bleak thought aside, Amelia rose gingerly to her feet, squeezing her eyes shut as a wave of dizziness engulfed her. Once she felt that the world had stopped spinning, she opened her eyes to take in her surroundings.

Amelia was indeed alone, there was no one within eyeshot. If Amelia knew her friends, she was positive that they all wouldn't have gone off while she herself was sleeping. At least, they wouldn't go far. She sighed wearily. This was just like the time after Dark Star's first appearance when they had all been seperated. Amelia squared her shoulders and put on a confident face. That had turned out all right, and this time was no different. It would all be okay as long as she kept a positive attitude.

Just on the off chance that Lina was indeed around somewhere wanting to play a joke on the unsuspecting princess, Amelia cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted, "Hello! Lina-san, Zelgadis-san? Can you hear me?" She waited a few moments for a reply, but none came. Amelia allowed herself a single long-suffering sigh, then began walking around the stand of trees trying to find her bearings. First thing to do was to get out of this forest and find a town or village where she could get some information. Amelia began to pace in aimless circles until she could decide on a direction to take. At least, she was pretty sure she was walking in circles only five feet in diameter, but she didn't pass the same tree twice. Amelia paused, confused. After a few moments contemplation, she decided to head north. She glanced at the tree trunks surrounding her, recalling that her sister had once told her that moss grows thickest on the north-facing side of the bark. To her surprise, the trees near her were growing moss in equal proportions on all sides. Amelia bent for a closer look and discovered the moss had an almost irradescent quality to it. She traced a finger through the moss, and her finger came away dusted with sparkling white powder. Odd.

She traced her finger twice more through the strange moss, forming a crude arrow pointing to her left. Amelia set off in that direction, planning on marking every tree she passed to k eep track of her path. She realized vaguely that if Zelgadis or the others found it, she would have also left a very effective trail-marker for her friends to follow. Satisfied with her navigation abilities, she walked sedately through the trees for about five minutes. After a while Amelia noticed another tree sporting the same moss on its trunk just ahead of her. When she reached that particular tree, she stopped dead in her tracks with amazement.

There was an arrow traced in the moss. More importantly, it was the arrow she had drawn; Amelia recognized the slight dip in the longest line of the arrow that was the result of swiping her finger through the moss so quickly. Most importantly, the arrow was facing back the direction she had come from. She sighed again, feeling less and less postive by the minute. Her life-long good attitude won through though, and Amelia squared her shoulders and continued walking.

She had advanced three paces when she heard a rustle in the tree branches directly over her head. Amelia looked up, and a young man fell from the braches and hung there by his knees. The princess took an involuntary step backward. It was Valgaav, back from the dead and less than four feet in front of her; and she was all alone....

"Hi, Auntie Amelia!" Valgaav said. Amelia blinked, then realized she was staring at Val as if she had seen a ghost. In a way I have, she thought. A dead man reflected in the living one. It was true; Val had aged remarkably since Amelia had seen him last, and he bore a very strong resemblence to his former self. He was hanging upside down from a tree limb, which gave his long hair the appearence that it was standing on end.

Amelia recovered her composure quickly, feeling slightly embarassed at herself. "Val-chan," she said brightly. "It's good to see you!"

Val nimbly climbed down the tree he had been occupying and stood in front of Amelia. Much to her chagrin, she had to tilt her chin up to look him in the eye. Val smiled winningly. "Yeah, now neither of us are totaly lost anymore." he said. "Because I know where you are and you know where I am."

Amelia grinned in spite of her momentary fear that still left her slightly shaken. "Yeah, now we're just lost together." she replied. She waved a hand at him. "Maybe we should find you some new clothes, those you're wearing don't look too comfortable."

Val looked down at his pants, which now fell just past his knees, and shrugged. "It's not too bad," he replied. "Just cutting off my circulation a little, but otherwise comfortable."

The two of them began to laugh, and Amelia's unease was forgotten. "Val-chan," she asked, trying to catch her breath. "Do you have any idea where we are?"

The Ancient Dragon looked around with mild intrest. "I would hazard a guess that we are somewhere in the Enchanted Forest."

Amelia burst out laughing again. Val had such an earnest look on his face, but he was clearly pulling her leg. As far as she knew, the Enchanted Forest only existed in the fairy-tales and bedtime stories her mother had told Amelia and Gracia when they were small. Pretty soon she thought Val would start trying to convince her that unicorns and the Koumazyatsu-zoku really existed. Getting to know Val over the last few days had shown Amelia what an imaginative boy he was. Then again, he wasn't really a boy any longer.

A frown touched Val's handsome, scarred face. "Why are you laughing, Auntie Amelia?" he asked. "I'm serious."

The princess tried to stop laughing with only partial sucess. "I'm sorry, Val-chan," she gasped between giggles. "But the Enchanted Forest is just a legend. No one has ever actually seen it."

He raised an eyebrow at her. "Tell me then, oh wise Princess of Seyruun," he drawled, sketching a slight bow in Amelia's direction. "You believe in Ceipheed, do you not?"

"Yes, of course." Amelia replied, puzzled. "What sort of question is that?"

"Ah-ha!" Val said with a slight air of smugness. "But you have not actually seen Ceipheed, have you?"

He had her there. Amelia frowned slightly. "I see your point." she stated. "Just because we don't know for sure if something exists, we shouldn't just assume it doesn't."

Val clapped once. "By George, I think she's got it!" he cried.

Amelia found her self laughing once more at the young man's silliness. "You're in a hyper mood," she said, not unkindly. "Any particular reason?"

He shrugged. "Just energetic." he replied absently. "I guess that nap did me good."

"Really? You didn't have a headache?"

Val shook his head. "Nope. I was just really tired so I had some weird dreams, but I'm fine."

Amelia felt a slight stab of jealousy. She would rather have had weird dreams then the current ache behind her eyes. Seemed to her that Val got the better end of the deal. "So Val," she said. "How do you think we should go about trying to find our way around this place?"

"Hmm," the Ancient Dragon mused. "Think back to anything you've ever heard in the stories told about the Enchanted Forest. I know going straight is hopeless, because the path will only double back on itself without you even knowing."

"Going around in circles gets you somewhere." Amelia supplied.

Val considered this bit of information for a moment. "But I don't think it would work if we were deliberately going in circles," he said. "This place works on unconscious thoughts."

"Like in the story!" Amelia cried. "When the hero Arslain gets lost in the Forest, he goes to sleep and is able to find his way to the Sacred Grounds in his dream!"

"The Legend of Baradoth, right!" Val replied. "I love that story!"

Amelia nodded. "Especially the part where Arslain has to face the Troll King." she said.

"Did you ever read Lament of Arslain?" Val asked quietly. Amelia shook her head. "Not surprising," the young man continued. "It's almost as old as the Legend of Baradoth, and there are very few copies around today. I only got to read it because my great-father was the man who translated it into our language. That copy was destroyed long ago, though...." He shook his head as if to clear it. Amelia frowned at him, puzzled by what he had said. After a short silence, Val cleared his throat and continued. "It tells the story of what happens to Arslain after The Legend of Baradoth. How he accused Baradoth of being a false Prophet and was subsequently cast out by the Koumazyatsu-zoku."

"The Summoners, right." Amelia said.

Val nodded. "They were right to exile him, though." he went on. "Arslain went on to do great amounts of evil just before he disappeared."

"Wow," Amelia said quietly.

The Ancient Dragon grinned merrily. "Yeah, makes you wonder what happened to other heros when they retired from being heroic." he said wryly.

Amelia clenched her fists slightly. "Other heros are real heros!" she cried truimphanty. "Sir Delecon of Twin Pass, Serenela the Fair, Florian de'Lancy..."

"Those people are saints, not heros." Val scoffed. "Saints and martyrs are the only heros that should count, if you ask me."

Amelia shrugged, signafying that she would let it go. For the first time she noticed that they had been walking aimlessly around during their conversation. Amelia stopped in her tracks and grabbed the Ryuzoku's arm. "Hey, Val-chan, look!" She pointed down, where a path was now under their feet. "It's working!" As they watched, the path faded away and was replaced by grassy dirt scattered with forest debris. "If we keep on walking without thinking about it, the path will find us!"

Val held up his palm for Amelia to slap it, then returned the gesture. "Alright," he said. "Now we need a topic of discussion to take our minds off of walking."

Amelia thought for a moment. "What about The Tin Knight?" she asked. "Have you read that one?"

"Oh, yes." he replied enthusiasticly. He began to discuss the finer points of this particular piece of literature, and they fell into an easy conversation. Amelia discovered that Val was remarkably well-read, he knew all of the stories Amelia mentioned, and he mentioned quite a few that she had never heard of.

Unknown to Amelia, the dirt path was with them the whole time, right beneth their feet, guiding and setting their course. Neither she nor Val noticed that the path was now strewn with black feathers.

Filia glared all about her, furious and frustrated and throwing murderous glances at a bush. The forest was kind of creepy and dark, almost swamp-like. She had been completely alone when she woke from that strange dream that had left her with a massive migraine. Somehow, Filia was sure that her present state was Xellos's doing. She lashed her tail violently and paced about the clearing. Now matter how hard she tried, she couldn't get away from said clearing.

The first time was no big deal: she had followed a small stream into the trees for about forty yards. There had been a break in the trees, and Filia rushed through it. She found her self back in the clearing. Everything was right, the rocks, the strange gnarled tree, and the stream, which faded away while she sat there looking at it stupidly. Filia had started following the stream south, but when she re-entered that baffling glen she was on the north edge.

The second time she tried to leave had been a bit more nerve-wracking. Filia had gotten at least a hundred paces away from that damnable clearing when she came to a steep drop. She began to climb carefully down, until a foothold fell away beneath her, causing her to slide the last ten feet. Right back into the blasted clearing. For the seventh time in her life, Filia swore. Loudly. Without apologizing.

Her third and final escape attempt was the worst of all. She was sitting there, fuming silently, when all about her she hear a rumbling noise. Right before her very eyes a large, thorny hedge burst through the ground, surrounding the stupid clearing. "Hey!" she had shouted, running to the bush. "Don't do that! I need to get out!" She was slightly panicked at the time, and she had tried to crawl under the hedge. The bush seemed to fight back and hinder her progress as much as it could, seeming to take great pride in scratching her up with it's cruel thorns. Finally, she managed to push through to the other side. The bloody clearing was staring back at her.

Now she paced like a caged thing, her torn pink dress fluttering about her knees in ragged strips. With a great sigh, she plopped down on the ground and shouted to no one in particular, "Fine! I'm just going to stay here, then!"

To Filia's extreme annoyance, the forest seemed not to care.

Chapter 6   |   Fanfiction