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Thread: Summer Nights (Slayers - Xellos/Filia - Oneshot Collection)

  1. #1
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    Default Summer Nights (Slayers - Xellos/Filia - Oneshot Collection)


    Rating: G-R
    Fandom: Slayers
    Genre: Romance/Comedy/Drama
    Status: On-going
    Pairing: Xellos/Filia

    My entries for Beloved Enemy's 100 Nights of Summer Challenge. Also posted up on my fanfiction.net account.

    Index
        Spoiler:- Index:


    PM List
    -AbsolXWolf


    First up, Theme #57: Exorcism.

    Exorcism. Rated PG.

    It was the first house call of young Reverend Verily Rinderpest’s career and he was terrified of screwing it up. He’d initially joined the clergy because he wanted a career in which he could avoid hard work and danger and stay indoors. His dull manner of speaking and social ineptitude made him useless on the pulpit and more trouble than he was worth in missionary work. So they’d transferred him to one of the temple’s darker divisions. The dark division, in fact. The one where holy water was your tea and you cut your teeth on silver bullets.

    And now he was standing in the threshold of the home of Miss Filia Ul Copt. Everyone in Achaea knew her. She was the dragon girl who ran that lovely shop on the main street. As far as Verily understood it, dragons were the servants of the gods. But selling instruments meant for bashing other people’s heads open hardly seemed holy to him. Although the vases were quite nice.

    Verily clutched his scriptures to his chest as he looked around the shop-room anxiously. “Where umm…” he began, “Where does it… haunt?”

    Filia gave him a questioning and somewhat sharp look. “He’s in the den,” she said, and began to lead him down a hallway.

    I’m not cut out for this, Verily thought as he followed her down the hall. I’m scared of the dark and still sleep with a square of the blanket I had when I was a baby. I’m the last person that should be standing against the forces of darkness. He consoled himself with the elder Reverend Masis’s admittance that most cases they’d be called for would end up as the product of overactive imagination. “Just go through the routine as writ, whatever the case. It’s there for a reason,” the old man had advised.

    But this case seemed… odd. Even though he had no prior experience to really compare it to. It certainly hadn’t been what he expected when he’d done the pre-interview with Miss Ul Copt. She’d gone into the temple one morning and, bold as brass, announced that she needed to see someone about getting an exorcism. So they’d carted her off to him.

    As has already been indicated, socializing was not his forte, but he made an attempt. He’d been told that many people seeking intervention from the temple were likely to be in delicate emotional states. And with the reasons they generally had for getting the church involved: who wouldn’t be? So he’d been very kind to her. He’d offered her a seat and given her a cup of tea in case her nerves needed to be calmed, and only then did he open his ledger and begin asking questions.

    They were all pre-written out in standard forms. Clearly an exorcism form was needed… either 1A or 1B…

    “Now, as I understand it, there’s a demon you need us to get rid of?” Verily had asked in what he hoped was a commanding, in-charge voice that would convince his client that he was totally in control of the situation.

    “Yes,” Filia had said, taking a drink of her tea.

    Right. Verily looked at the forms again. One was for expulsion from living beings and the other was for expulsion from physical locations. Of the two, the second tended to be difficult to permanently expel a spirit from, but the first tended to be the most dangerous for client and attending. He prayed it was the second.

    “Now, is this demon inside of you?” Verily asked in what he hoped was a very sensitive way.

    To his surprise, Filia spat out the gulp of tea she’d been drinking in one long spray, coughed and choked incessantly, and glared. After this display was over she finally turned to him and, in what he considered an oddly dark tone of voice, said: “He wishes.”

    “O-kay…” Verily said, not quite sure how to respond to this. “Then is the demon inside—”

    “He’s in my house!” Filia said impatiently, not wanting to hear the end of that question.

    Form 1B it is! Verily thought, feeling the relief wash over him as he tossed the other form aside.

    “Now… there’s just one demon, is there?” Verily asked, realizing as he read the first question that he’d gotten a little ahead of himself by assuming that.

    “One is enough,” Filia said firmly.

    Verily put a check in the appropriate box. “Have you noticed any poltergeist activity?”

    Filia gave him a bewildered look.

    “You know, things moving by themselves… things breaking,” Verily prompted.

    “I don’t really think it’s anything like that,” Filia had said. “Although, a lot of my vases have been breaking,” she added sourly.

    Verily didn’t see how that didn’t qualify as poltergeist activity, but didn’t argue. “Has the demon ever spoken in tongues?”

    “Not around me,” Filia had said.

    “Is your house by any chance built on the burial ground of some indigenous people?” Verily asked. Sometimes it’s the simple things that can make your life a living hell.

    She gave him a long, slow look. “I think,” she finally said, “that you’d better just come down and see for yourself.”

    So Verily had. As he walked through the hall of Filia’s house/shop he tried to steel himself by imagining all the possible horrors that could lurk in the shadows so that nothing would surprise him. He’d tried to think of clowns with claws; he’d tried to think of gurgling masses of flesh and teeth; he’d tried to think tentacled monstrosities; and for some reason he’d tried to think of a little girl turning her head around three-hundred-and-sixty degrees.

    In any case, when he walked into the den and all he saw was a purple haired young man playing with a green haired toddler he was a little shaken by the unexpected normalcy.

    “Oh,” the man said, standing up as he noticed the arrivals into the room. “Do we have guests?”

    “You shut up, Xellos!” Filia shouted, pointing a shaky finger at him. “Stop acting like you live here or something!”

    He that was designated Xellos raised a sardonic eyebrow and looked from Filia to the Reverend and back to Filia again. “Filia, you’re making a scene in front of company,” he informed her.

    “I’m not the one—” she began to explode, only to be cut off by Reverend Verily tugging at her sleeve. “What?” she snapped.

    “Umm… Miss Filia,” Verily began, looking around the room. “Where is the uh… the demon?”

    Filia gave Verily the same look that his teacher’s had given him when he confused scripture enough to think that the wages of sin was, in fact, eternal life. “He’s right there!” Filia said, waving her hand at the purple haired man.

    Verily turned his head and looked at the man, who simply smiled in an open and friendly manner. Then he turned back to Filia.

    Him?

    “Yes ‘him’!” Filia thundered. “What? Do you really think I’d make this all up? Now just get going with the exorcism,” she ordered.

    “Exorcism?” Xellos repeated, furrowing his brow in confusion.

    None of this seemed at all right to Verily. “You let a demon play with your child?” he asked incredulously.

    “Xelly!” the child gurgled happily.

    “I don’t let him!” Filia said, offended, as she picked up her son. “He’s a monster! What am I supposed to do about him?”

    “Exorcism?” Xellos repeated again, in case no one had heard him the first time.

    “Yes, exorcism!” Filia said, rounding on him. “What? Did you think I wouldn’t do anything when you just decide to camp out in my house? What are you planning, you monster?!

    Xellos shrugged. “Can’t an old friend drop by for a visit without you calling in the holy water brigade?”

    “Two weeks isn’t just a visit,” Filia countered.

    “It’s a long visit,” Xellos said simply.

    “You’d think you’d have better things to do with your time,” Filia retorted.

    “Better? Than seeing my favorite dragon?” Xellos asked, opening one eye in her direction in a kind of reverse wink. “Perish the thought.”

    Filia blushed, which Reverend Verily considered a little weird if the man in front of them was really a demon. “I-I’m not going to let you trick me,” she said, averting her eyes.

    Xellos laughed, and put a finger to his lips. “Yes you are,” he said.

    “Umm…” Verily said, feeling like he’d been forgotten. “Are we going to do the exorcism or not?” he asked.

    “Yes,” Filia said, at the same time Xellos said, “No”.

    They exchanged a look and then Xellos said, “Oh fine,” as he collapsed into one of the chairs. “If it gives you any pleasure, Filia, then go ahead.”

    Filia looked back at Reverend Verily and gave an impatient gesture of her head that was the universal sign for: ‘Get on with it!’

    Verily coughed and checked his notes. Ah, yes, first would be…

    …Umm… this could be awkward.


    Verily unrolled a scroll that had verses from scripture written all over it. He looked hesitantly at the man on the chair watching him like a cat. He shuffled forward and, all the while fearing that the man would suddenly sprout claws and disembowel him, he stuck the scroll to the man’s forehead and immediately backed away.

    The scrolls were infused with divine energy. They were supposed to purify everything they touched. But Xellos just looked up at the bit of paper in a cross-eyed sort of way. An optimist might say that maybe, possibly there was a thin wisp of smoke issuing from where the paper touched him, but that was the extent of the damage. He picked it off himself as though it was a minor nuisance.

    Umm… alright… he went back to his the written routine. When scrolls failed that meant it was time to go on to the litany. He turned to the appropriate page in his prayer book.

    He looked up awkwardly for a bit of sunshine coming through a window for whatever hope it might bring him. This wasn’t how he expected his first exorcism to go.

    He coughed and said in his clearest, most holy voice: “Deliver us, oh Ceifeed from all sin, from all your wrath, from sudden and unprovided death.”

    “It sounds more like Ceifeed is the problem than me,” Xellos commented idly.

    Verily swallowed and tried to ignore this obvious bit of blasphemy. “From all snares of the demons; from anger, hatred and all ill will; from all lewdness—”

    “Was that what you had in mind, Filia?” Xellos said, giving her a wicked look.

    “You—!” she began, too full of rage to take that sentence one step further.

    “I command you, unclean spirit, whoever you are,” Verily went on, talking over them as loud as he could.

    “Oh, it’s Xellos,” the man said brightly. “I don’t think we were properly introduced.” He extended a hand.

    “Stop interrupting!” Filia snapped at him, slapping his hand away.

    “By the mystery of the sacrifice of the great Ceifeed you shall leave this domicile and not return to harm any who dwell here. By all that is righteous I command you!” Verily asserted, his voice only breaking slightly in the process.

    “…No,” was all Xellos said. It wasn’t a harsh ‘no’, it was more like a ‘no thanks, I won’t have a second slice of pie’ type of ‘no’.

    Verily looked nervously from Xellos to Filia, who was tapping her foot impatiently, and then back down to his notes. Alright… one thing left and that’s holy water. Reverend Masis says it never fails.
    He flipped open the cap on the clear, crystal bottle and began swishing it back and forth in deeply religious patterns in Xellos’s direction. The demon blinked as the water hit him.

    “The power of Ceifeed compels you!” Reverend Verily declared. “The power of Ceifeed compels you! The power of Ceifeed compels you! The power of Ceifeed compels you!”

    Xellos yawned to show that it didn’t.

    Reverend Verily looked at his now very empty bottle of holy water. It seemed like all he had done was possibly damage one of Filia’s overstuffed chairs with the impromptu shower. What do I do now? he asked himself, fear gripping him.

    And then, he remembered Reverend Masis’s words: ‘Just go through the routine as writ, whatever the case. It’s there for a reason.’

    He took a deep breath and peered down at the end of the routine. “The, uh,” he began awkwardly. “The house is now free of demons,” he read.

    Filia and Verily looked at each other, and then slowly revolved to look at Xellos, who smiled at them; then dragon and reverend looked back at each other.

    “I’m not paying,” Filia said flatly.
    Last edited by Skiyomi; 30th January 2014 at 5:36 AM.

  2. #2
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    Theme #70: Tea Leaves.

    Tea Leaves. Rated G.

    Filia had known that life wouldn’t always be easy for a dragon living among humans. Hadn’t she encountered places in her journeys where dragons were feared or completely forbidden? And even most otherwise kind and fair humans could have a tendency to be a little nervous around a creature that could breathe lasers and level buildings.

    Thankfully, the thriving family community of Achaea had welcomed her with open arms. She had been treated with only the greatest courtesy since she arrived there with Jillas, Gravos, and Val in his little egg to set up shop. She had plenty of business and was surprised to find herself becoming a pillar of the community.

    And that was the thing really. Because even though no one in Achaea thought ill of her for being a dragon, it did mean that she was… well, someone ‘not quite like us’. The people of Achaea didn’t consider this a bad thing, in fact… there were times when hard up villagers needed people ‘not quite like us’.

    Most of the time this involved matters that humans really had no control over. Dragons had a stronger connection with the gods, and were known for their powers of prophecy. When the people of Achaea got uncertain, they knew that there was a dragon in town who might have the answers.

    Filia accepted this with patience. Almost always what her inquiring visitors needed was not a prophecy, but an understanding ear to share their problems with and a little friendly advice. It was worth it to earn their esteem and sooth some of their worries. Plus it ensured that her status as someone ‘not quite like us’ didn’t dip to the negative.

    But Mrs. Babbage was another story entirely.

    Mrs. Babbage was Achaea’s florist; a heavy-set, sunny sort of woman who would blush to admit that she had left middle-age in the dust. She was a sweet lady, and wouldn’t have normally been any trouble to anyone. But Mrs. Babbage had a hobby.

    Filia should’ve heeded the signs, but she didn’t. When she’d met Mrs. Babbage and the woman had gleefully informed her: “I’m a bit psychic, you know” Filia had just smiled to herself. An interest in divination was not at all uncommon and there were plenty of people like Mrs. Babbage that were under the impression that an overactive imagination was the same as a psychic gift. It was harmless.

    So she’d taken Mrs. Babbage up on her invitation to tea and sat patiently through her long story about how the inner eye ran in her family. About how her great grandmother had predicted the Rautfian Solar Eclipse. It hadn’t been her fault that she predicted it three days after it actually happened. The woman didn’t get out much and hadn’t been looking at the sky in any case. It was still uncanny.

    But what Filia really had objected to was after the tea had been drunk and Mrs. Babbage insisted on a tea leaf reading. Filia didn’t particularly care for those. The future she liked to see in a cup of tea was one that guaranteed a delicious, warm beverage. But she wasn’t really in a position to refuse so she ventured her best guesses which Mrs. Babbage lapped up.

    And then it had been Mrs. Babbage’s turn to read Filia’s. Mrs. Babbage had apparently just heard of tea leaf reading and was much worse than a novice. She’d mostly predicted brown blobs in Filia’s future.

    And ever since that day it had been impossible to shake Mrs. Babbage’s attention. The woman had thrown herself into what she now referred to as tasseomancy. She’d researched and practiced in the cups of family, friends, and people who had just left their drink out in cafes. And she was raring to show Filia how much she’d improved.

    Which was why Filia wasn’t exactly thrilled when she opened the door to see the florist’s eager looking face. “Mrs. Babbage?” she said helplessly.

    “Afternoon, Miss Filia,” Mrs. Babbage chirped brightly. “I said I’d be by for tea.”

    “Oh, right,” Filia said wearily, setting down the large vase she’d been hefting. “It’s Tuesday.”

    If Mrs. Babbage noted the not-so-thrilled tone in Filia’s voice then she did a good job of hiding it. Filia sighed to herself. She felt obliged to indulge Mrs. Babbage. The woman clearly just needed a friend. And anyway, spending a half-an-hour pretending she was a fortune teller was probably a nice vacation from her day job.

    “Come in, Mrs. Babbage,” she said.

    *****

    The conversation over tea was largely focused on one subject: Mrs. Babbage’s ever growing collection. Apparently the woman had bought a beaded curtain for her tea room and a golden star chart that her husband had given her some trouble about buying. She’d also picked up another deck of tarot cards. That must make twenty by now.

    She despaired at where to find an affordable crystal ball. There were pretty ones you could mail-order from magic shops all over the country, but they tended to be on the ridiculously expensive side. Abner wouldn’t let her get one.

    Filia wasn’t a complete stranger to scrying. It was something that she had learned in the temple although dragons do not use it much, the reason being it’s too easy for the monsters to tap into something like that to spy.

    But she knew enough to say: “You know, you can actually get the same effect as a crystal ball in a basin of water with ink in it. That’s much cheaper.”

    Mrs. Babbage had looked at her blankly. “Yes, but,” she said, “without the crystal ball, then what’s the point?”

    Well, Filia couldn’t argue with that logic. Mrs. Babbage hadn’t started dabbling in fortune telling to do things without flair.

    They finished their tea and the part of the meeting Filia had been dreading had arrived. She tried to minimize some of the trouble as the woman traded their cups by saying: “If you’re trying to practice then why don’t you just read both our fortunes?”

    “Oh, but I can’t,” Mrs. Babbage said, looking aghast. “It’s very dangerous to read your own fortune. It says so in Elder Rafu’s Beginner’s Guide to Tasseomancy,” she said, holding up the book that she proudly told Filia that she’d sent away for from New Sairaag. Her brow furrowed. “Don’t you know that?”

    “Of course,” Filia said quickly, deciding it was probably better not to challenge the woman’s perception and keep her status as the inner eye of Achaea. “I was just testing you,” she said, hoping the woman would buy this.

    Mrs. Babbage beamed proudly, so it clearly worked.

    Filia sighed and looked down at Mrs. Babbage’s cup. Why tea leaves? she wondered. It might as well be clouds. She tilted the cup and adjusted her features into a look of concentration.

    “Good news,” she said, with a smile. “It looks like within the next year heaven will be blessing you with a new addition to your family.”
    Mrs. Babbage’s face glowed. “Really?” she said happily. “What symbol tells you that?”

    Filia didn’t need tea leaves to make that prediction. There were advantages to having the entire town lay their troubles before you. And that was that you tended to know everything that was going on without messing around with any inner eye. And she was well aware that Mrs. Babbage’s daughter Melinda was stepping out with the barber’s son. It was really only a matter of time. The girl couldn’t count.

    “It’s sort of looking at all the signs together,” Filia hedged. “You know, like the big picture.”

    “Wow!” Mrs. Babbage said, impressed. “I can see I’ve got a lot of practice to do.”

    “Oh, no,” Filia said. The last thing she needed was more tea dates with Mrs. Babbage. “There are a lot of different ways to do this. I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

    Mrs. Babbage nodded and uncertainly took up Filia’s cup. Then she remembered her role and said, in what she thought was a mysterious and ethereal kind of voice: “Now we will part back the mists of time and seek out your destiny.”

    Filia resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Instead she gave the woman an encouraging nod.

    “The first thing I see,” Mrs. Babbage said, peering in the cup, “Kind of looks like an animal… I think a wolf?” she turned a few pages in her book. “That stands for jealousy.”

    “What about jealousy?” Filia asked politely.

    “What?” Mrs. Babbage said, turning uncomprehending eyes up to Filia.

    “Well… will I be jealous of someone or will someone be jealous of me?”

    Mrs. Babbage looked down at the book and then back at Filia. “It doesn’t say. I suppose it just stands for… you know, general jealousy.”

    “Oh.”

    Mrs. Babbage looked back at the cup. “And… you’ve got an umbrella here,” she looked down again, “that represents annoyance.”

    I wonder, Filia thought dully, what it would be like to have an annoying life.

    “But wait,” Mrs. Babbage said, frowning. She flipped a few pages and then looked up. “What’s the difference between an umbrella and a parasol?”

    Filia hadn’t been expecting an impromptu vocabulary quiz. “Uh… is there a difference?” she asked.

    Mrs. Babbage bit her lip. “It’s just that… well, an umbrella does stand for annoyances, but a parasol represents a new lover. I’m just not sure which is which. So you’re either going to have annoyances in your future or a new lover.”

    “Or an annoying new lover,” Mrs. Babbage added as the thought struck her.

    This was looking to be a dismal cup. Filia might have worried if she thought Mrs. Babbage had even a shred of psychic power.

    “Does a triangle shape mean anything?” Mrs. Babbage asked, half to herself as she flipped pages. “Ah yes,” she said, pointing at the relevant passage. “It means something unexpected is going to happen.”

    Perhaps her annoying new lover would show up and be jealous of something. Considering Mrs. Babbage’s dearth of clairvoyance that would be what Filia would expect least.

    “And there’s a wiggly line,” Mrs. Babbage said, adjusting her new shawl. On the basis that ‘wiggly line’ probably wasn’t an omen in any book she browsed through looking for a suitable substitute. “That’s probably the snake,” she said finally. “That means an enemy… but also wisdom?” She looked questioningly at the book.

    “Well,” Filia said with a fixed smile. “Forewarned is forearmed. Thanks for the reading, it’s been lovely to see you but—”

    “Wait,” Mrs. Babbage said. “There’s one more sign in the bottom of the cup.” She flipped to the end of her book and frowned again.

    “Well, it’s not in the book,” she said uncertainly. “But there’s definitely like… an X at the bottom of the cup.”

    “I’m sure that’s just—” Filia began, and then snapped her neck to look at the other woman, suddenly completely alert. “What?!”

    “Yes,” Mrs. Babbage said. “It’s very clearly an X.” She looked a little uncomfortable. “Usually I have to squint and close one eye to see anything much,” she admitted reluctantly, “but this is a very clear cup.”

    Filia snatched her cup back from Mrs. Babbage, ignoring the woman’s protests of disturbing the fabric of space-time. She stared into it disbelievingly. Then set it down with some force away from her.

    She looked up at the now slightly disconcerted Mrs. Babbage with determined anger in her eyes. “I’m making another pot.

    *****

    Five pots of tea later – all of different kinds as if that would somehow help – and Mrs. Babbage was getting very edgy. She wanted to leave. The normally sweet and patient Miss Filia was starting to worry her. Plus she’d drunk much more tea than she ever wanted to.

    Filia stared into yet another one of her own cups, ignoring the advice of Mrs. Babbage and Elder Rafu altogether. No matter what she did, it was always the same signs in the same arrangements, dangerously clear. Drawing together to create more specific meanings. Mocking her.

    “Umm… Miss Filia are you alright?” Mrs. Babbage tried.

    But Filia didn’t seem to be occupying the same realm as her guest anymore. And it was at that point that Rosemarie Babbage saw Miss Filia scowl darkly at her cup; hurl it against the wall in a shower of porcelain; and scream to the universe, Mrs. Babbage, and destiny in general:

    “The tea leaves are WRONG!

  3. #3
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    Theme #72.

    First Kiss. Rated PG.

    It was shaping up to be another interesting journey for Lina Inverse and her band of friends, acquaintances, and sometimes-enemies. With Zelgadis tagging along to search for his cure, Amelia following to punish villains, Gourry following because he was epoxied to Lina at the hip, Filia joining in for a chance to find a lost tome about ancient dragons, and Xellos stalking them for his own unspecified purposes… well… there had already been a lot going on. And then they’d picked up Sylphiel along the way just to make things more complicated.

    As it was, they were way over their shrine-maiden quota. Not only that, they were over their budget quota. Stretching a food budget to eight people (some of which had very large appetites) on misappropriated bandit booty was tough. Lina said that Xellos should help them out by not eating since, being a creature of darkness, he didn’t need to eat human food. Xellos responded by saying that he liked eating human food, so there. Then someone had called someone selfish and the result of the ensuing fight was that Filia was left to try to yank her mace out of the trunk of a tree it had somehow gotten lodged in.

    But they were making the food thing work, mostly by cutting down to six courses per meal. It was a sad state of affairs. Near starving, practically. But they were getting by. The real problem had been rooms. Rooms in most inns were very expensive. Xellos always got his own room, but then again, he paid for it. So with him out of the equation they needed at least two for propriety’s sake. Gourry and Zelgadis didn’t have such a raw deal in sharing a room. But for the girls… well, four people in one small room is pushing it a little.

    It had been Amelia who had suggested in her optimistic sort of way that they treat it like a slumber party. It was a nice way to completely turn around the situation. After all, they were girls and half of them would be sleeping on the floor. They might as well pretend it was a party instead of a giant inconvenience.

    So they’d busted out the nail polish and the hair things and made ready to have the best darn shot at a sleepover that they could manage. Lina had even scrounged up a cheap local snack. It was called… ‘snapped corn’ or something. It didn’t really taste like anything so they’d melted butter over it reasoning that this couldn’t possibly hurt. Lina was currently hogging the bowl while Sylphiel painted her toenails and Amelia begged the others to let her braid their hair.

    There are certain… male ideas of what a gaggle of girls such as this might discuss. The subject matter largely includes boys and bra sizes. This is a negative stereotype. Groups of young women are just as likely to talk about sharecropping, corporate finance, and art history as they are to talk about romance and comparative physical development.

    Nevertheless, they were talking about boys in this case. But this is just a coincidence and shouldn’t be taken for the norm.

    “First kiss?” Filia repeated when the subject came up. “I haven’t had one,” she answered haughtily.

    “What?” Amelia said in surprise.

    “Why is that so hard to believe?” Filia sniffed.

    “I don’t think it’s hard to believe at all,” Lina said through a mouthful of puffy corn kernels. Filia ignored her.

    “It’s just that,” Amelia began uncertainly. “Well, haven’t you been alive for like… hundreds of years?”

    “Yes. And?” Filia asked, starting to feel a little under attack.

    “And in all that time you never—”

    “The dragon race,” Filia cut her off, “is chaste and virtuous. I’m not about to kiss the first person I see!”

    “I don’t think she’s saying that,” Sylphiel said in her calm, dreamy sort of way. “Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with kissing.” She looked off into the distance and accidentally painted Lina’s pinky-toe blue while she was distracted. “I remember my first kiss. I was eight and my friends and I were playing tag. Out of nowhere Murdo Vieben ran up and kissed me.”

    “What happened then?” Amelia asked.

    “He ran away again,” Sylphiel said simply.

    After a pause, Filia asked: “Isn’t that sexual harassment?” because she just had to take all the magic out of moments.

    Sylphiel just shrugged. “How about you, Miss Amelia?”

    “Oh,” Amelia looked down. “Well I… that is… I never actually—”

    “Waiting for a certain someone?” Lina asked archly.

    Amelia blushed and didn’t answer.

    You were giving me trouble for not kissing someone when you haven’t kissed anyone either?” Filia exclaimed. It stank of hypocrisy.

    “Well, you’re a lot older than me, Miss Filia,” Amelia said. “And you’re… well, I was just a little surprised is all. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

    “There’s no need to get defensive about it,” Lina said.

    “I’m not being defensive—” Filia began to shout back.

    “What about you, Miss Lina?” Sylphiel asked with what Filia thought was altogether too much eagerness.

    “What about what?” Lina said warily. You could tell she knew exactly what, but wasn’t exactly keen on answering.

    “You know. Your first kiss,” Sylphiel prompted.

    Lina looked away with an embarrassed and irritated expression. This wasn’t surprising considering this wasn’t a subject she was at all at home with talking about. But Filia thought something in her expression went beyond miffed and uncomfortable and into the territory of teeth-grindingly pissed off.

    “Oh fine,” she said, slamming down the metal snack bowl on the floor with a giiiooong sound. “If you must know, it was Xellos.”

    *****

    Miles away, on the other side of town, the local craft union was having its semi-annual midnight house of cards contest. Prestige and a solid gold-painted trophy were on the line. These were serious men who prided themselves on their meticulousness, proficiency in their craft, and above all: steady hands. This was about more than building houses out of cards. This was about building destinies.

    The sound came from out of nowhere. Its waves decimated the neighborhood of cards with such ease that it buried an apprentice up to his knees in paper. It sounded like…

    “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!?”

    *****

    The room was in disarray. The windows had cracked and pictures had fallen off the wall. But no one was really paying attention to that. A towering dragon, shaking with rage is the focal point of any room.

    “Calm down!” Lina said, waving her hands at her. “Geez, do you want to wake up the whole town?”

    Filia’s nostrils flared as she took in hulking gulps of air. She had so many enraged questions she wanted to ask that she didn’t even know where to start, especially since most of them were just variations on her earlier ‘What’ outburst with different numbers of a’s, exclamation points, and question marks. So she settled for a shrill, and still too loud demand of: “When was this?!”

    “A couple years ago when we were going after the Claire Bible,” Lina answered.

    “Oh, that’s right. When he first traveled with us. I remember,” Amelia said lightly, as if this wasn’t some big, earth-shattering deal.

    Filia wasn’t sure at this point whether the best way to cope with this would be to punch a hole in the wall or just weep for the awfulness of the world.

    “Oh, Miss Lina!” Filia cried mournfully, on the edge of bursting into angry sobs. “How could you have let yourself be seduced by that—”

    “Whoa! Whoa! Hold up!” Lina said, sounding thoroughly insulted. “I didn’t let myself get seduced by anyone. You think I like that that creep kissed me? Are you kidding me?” She ran her hand irritably through her hair. “Trust me: no one is more upset about this than I am.”

    Looking at Filia’s expression… this was very hard to believe.

    “But to let that… that monster of all things—” Filia began in a horrified manner.

    “We didn’t know he was a monster at the time,” Lina said. “That’s why he did it. When I was getting close to figuring him out, he did it distract me.” It worked too. Slimy prick.

    “It was on the cheek if that makes you feel any better,” Amelia said in a comforting, I-sincerely-think-I’m-helping kind of way.

    “It doesn’t!” Filia shot back, although it did dampen down the images circulating through her head without permission.

    “Look,” Lina said, “can’t we just drop the subject?” She thought desperately for something to derail the current topic. “Hey Amelia, why don’t you braid my hair now?”

    “Umm… sure,” Amelia said, still looking at Filia like she might explode any minute.

    For her part, Filia was staring at the wall as though contemplating especially bloody murder. Then suddenly she slammed her fist down on the floor, stood up, and declared to the room at large: “He’s not going to get away with this!” before storming out of the room.

    The door crashed shut, its hinges moaning and nearly parting company with the wall.

    “Oh brother,” Lina said, letting her head fall into one of her hands.

    “So… umm… is Mister Xellos Miss Filia’s boyfriend?” Sylphiel asked as she’d just joined up with the group and was a little behind on developments.

    “Not… really,” Amelia answered.

    “What does she think she’s doing?” Lina asked, throwing up her hands.

    “I don’t think Miss Filia’s thinking at all,” Amelia said slowly.

    “Well, if she doesn’t come back then I get her pillow,” Lina said sullenly. It wasn’t that she didn’t care what happened to her friend. It was just that they’d only been able to get four pillows per room and she needed at least two to herself to be comfortable. She was being practical, not selfish.

    *****

    That evil, evil, EVIL piece of garbage! Filia thought wildly as she stomped through the halls of the inn, pumping her arms furiously. Stupid Xellos and his stupid haircut and his stupid staff and his stupid cloak and his stupid yellow turtleneck and his stupid gloves and his stupid smile and his stupid finger-wagging and his stupid STUPID… purpleness!

    Filia was a bit too far gone to realize she was getting incoherent at this point. All she knew was that there would be retribution. If Xellos thought he could just casually whisk Miss Lina over to the dark side then he had another thing coming!

    She reached his door and was barely able to keep herself in check enough to not knock with her mace. She didn’t want to have to pay the innkeeper for property damage, so she contented herself to a very sharp, very angry sounding, she thought: Knock! Knock!

    After awhile, a voice from within said: “Who’s there?”

    Filia grit her teeth. This wasn’t the start of a joke because she would so like to kill him. “It’s me, now get out here!”

    The door opened to reveal Xellos. Or, in Filia’s mind, opened up to reveal the stupid, evil bastard who called himself Xellos. He looked her up and down curiously. “Rude,” was all he said.

    “Oh, don’t even give me that!” Filia snapped. “I know what happened. I know you kissed Miss Lina and you’re not going to get away with it!”

    Xellos had the nerve to look upwards and to the side as though he was trying to remember something. “I did?”

    “Don’t play innocent!” Filia yelled. “You know that trick doesn’t work on me.”

    “Oooh, I think I remember now,” Xellos said, memory returning as if by magic. “A few years ago. Twice. On the cheek.” He gave her a questioning look. “Does that even really count?”

    Filia wasn’t in any position to have a debate about when a kiss counted as a kiss. Her world was entirely filled up with one word. TWICE?! Miss Lina hadn’t thought to mention that for some reason! And now Filia really needed to hit something. Unfortunately, Xellos would definitely dodge. So she settled for stamping her foot. It was childish, but necessary.

    “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing,” Filia said accusingly.

    Xellos raised an eyebrow. “What am I doing?”

    “You’re—” Filia struggled to put her suspicions into words. She rallied on a surge of anger. “You just think you can go around with your Mister Nice Guy routine and then act all evil like you really are all of the sudden and confuse everyone so that they think you’re… you’re… interesting or something!”

    Xellos was quiet for a moment. Then he said: “I think that, do I?”

    “Well, it won’t work!” Filia declared, ignoring his question. “You won’t seduce Miss Lina to the Monster race’s side as long as I’m around!”

    Xellos reached a gloved finger up to scratch at his hair, seemingly embarrassed to be in the presence of such misplaced exuberance. “If you ask me, it sounds like you’re jealous.”

    Filia made a sound that wasn’t a known word in either human or dragon. “You’ve got a lot of nerve,” Filia finally said dangerously, “to suggest I’d join the monster race’s side. I would sooner die.”

    Xellos’s eyes were still squinted shut, but Filia had been around him long enough to be able to tell when he was rolling his eyes under their lids. “Not that. You’re jealous of the kiss.”

    “I am not!” Filia shot back immediately. In some ways that suggestion was even worse.

    Xellos’s eyes opened and his grin broadened. “If you wanted me to kiss you, Filia, you just had to ask.”

    “I don’t! I’d rather—” but exactly what Filia would rather do was cut off as, to her horror, she realized he was moving closer toward her. “What are you—? Don’t you dare!” But she was already in his arms.

    The sentence ‘she was already in his arms’ should encompass a sultrier scene than this. He was holding her, dipped slightly so that her long blonde hair flowed away from her. All in all, that pose could grace the theatre poster of any epic romantic play (preferably one involving plantations and war), but it was somewhat marred by Filia stretching her arms out as far as they could go and pushing his face away from hers.

    “Filia, you’re really ruining the mood,” Xellos commented, sounding slightly muffled since her hand was pressed in an extremely unfriendly way against his cheek.

    “Let me go!” Filia demanded, perhaps unaware that if he complied then she would fall crashing to the floor. “It didn’t work on Miss Lina and it’s not going to work on me so just… leave me alone!”

    Xellos stared at her, looking for a moment slightly frustrated. “You’re really angry about me kissing Miss Lina, aren’t you?”

    Well, duh! “Of course I am!” Filia shouted. “How could I not be?”

    “But don’t you think you’re a little… disproportionately angry?” he asked.

    “What?”

    “I mean, I’ve done much worse things and you haven’t been as mad,” he pointed out.

    “Name one!” Filia retorted.

    “I can name at least twenty off the top of my head,” Xellos said. “Really, kissing a human girl on the cheek barely counts as a misdemeanor.”

    “You’re trying to charm one of the greatest sorceresses in the world into working for you! That’s not just a misdemeanor!” Filia declared. Not by a long shot!

    “Look,” Xellos said, frustration now definitely seeping into his voice. “I don’t know what sort of nonsense you have floating around in your overheated little dragon brain, but I’m going to say this as clear as I can: I have absolutely no designs on ‘charming’ Lina Inverse into the service of the monster race. It would be troublesome for me and most likely would not actually succeed. I kissed her because I didn’t want her to find out that I was a monster at the time. That was the best way to accomplish that because Miss Lina is easy to distract like that.”

    “Though,” he added ominously, “not nearly as easy as you.”

    “W-what are you talking about?” Filia asked, unable to break eye-contact.

    “Not where we started, are we?” Xellos pointed out laughingly.

    Filia whipped her head around. That sneak! They’d started out right in front of his door, but now they were nearly at the opposite wall on the other side of the hallway. He must have been creeping them forward slightly while she was focusing on the conversation.

    He pushed her against the wall, breaking down the distance between them that she’d tried so hard to maintain. Now he was much too near her. She’d complained about him invading her personal space in the past, but this was more than just an invasion. This was an… an… extended occupation or something! Her breath was only coming in short gasps because he was pressed in so close to her. If you wanted to find a space where there was an inch between them, it would be very hard to find a place to insert the measuring tape.

    “Why would you do this?” she breathed.

    His lips slightly grazed her forehead. “Because you’re practically begging me to.”

    “No,” Filia managed to get out. Even in the current… admittedly dizzying situation, she found his penchant for twisting reality to suit his own purposes aggravating. “I’m telling you not to. That’s the opposite.”

    “Your grand delusions speak for themselves,” Xellos said, lowering himself down to her eye level. “You’ll spin any lie to yourself to avoid your jealousy,” he said, lips moving in closer to hers.

    “You have no right,” Filia hissed.

    And for some reason, that stopped him in his tracks. Filia certainly hadn’t expected it to, but it did. “What?” he said.

    “A kiss is supposed to be an expression of affection and… love,” Filia said, unsure why she was suddenly whispering. “And you’re not capable of something like that. You have no right,” she said again.

    He hesitated for a minute, brows furrowing ‘til they met in the middle, then brushed his lips almost gently against hers. She shivered visibly and… audibly. He seemed to take that as a cue to continue and… kissed her.

    She was kissing Xellos. The monster. The bad guy. The one that had killed thousands of her people. The even-if-you-take-all-that-away-he’s-still-unpleasant guy. And she was kissing him.

    No. No, no, no, no, no. He was kissing her. That’s an important distinction to draw! She hadn’t wanted this! This hadn’t been on her agenda when she’s stormed down to his room in a rage… late at night… in her nightgown…

    Well, it hadn’t been a jealous rage, no matter what he said.

    …It just might have looked that way. Coincidentally.

    As for the kiss itself, how it felt and what it meant to her… that was a matter between Filia and her diary. All that’s clear was that, after the seconds had stretched to infinity, Xellos broke away, pulled back from her and said: “Well… now you don’t have to be jealous anymore.”

    And then Filia slid down the wall and crumpled gracelessly to the floor.

    *****

    Stupid Xellos, Filia thought not for the first time that night as she trudged down the hallway and back to her room. She’d fallen down because she hadn’t gotten her balance when he pinned her against the wall and when he suddenly pulled back and she’d had to stand on her own, she hadn’t been able to keep her footing. It was a perfectly reasonable explanation and should’ve been damn well good enough for Xellos.

    It didn’t have anything to do with her… swooning over him or anything so ridiculous.

    But try telling Xellos that. Try telling him anything.

    And now he seemed to have gotten this… crazy idea into his head about her. It was madness, it was anarchy, worst yet: it was blasphemy. Things were so bad that they’d gone on the far side of bad and all the way back around and out into…

    She paused to slap a little sense into her face. Don’t you dare start taking this seriously, she warned. You know he’s just messing around with you because he can. Don’t be the suggestion-prone, overemotional creature he thinks you are.

    And that means absolutely to dwelling on it, she decided. No replaying the events in your mind over and over again. No blushing and looking away when he looks at you. No dreaming. No imagining. And definitely no touching your lips and looking dramatically into the distance. If these rules are followed, then there’s nothing to worry about.

    She took a deep breath. I can do this! She opened the door to the room she was sharing with the others content that all could be well in the world again.

    Amelia had long since braided both Lina and Sylphiel’s hair. Sylphiel had curled up in her blanket and fallen asleep and Amelia and Lina had just been discussing whether to indulge in another sleepover favorite (such as Interrogation or Peer Pressure, the freezing of an unwary companion’s underwear, or raising the dead) or just give up and get some sleep. They looked up when she appeared in the doorway.

    Filia tried to look nonchalant and utterly failed. She coughed and kept her expression neutral as she made her way toward her makeshift sleeping bag on the floor and picked up her pillow which had somehow ended up on Lina’s bed. Please just let me get to sleep without anyone saying anything.

    “So,” Lina said slowly. “Your first kiss would be… with Xellos?”

    “Oh, shut up!” Filia said, hurling her recently relocated pillow at Lina.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
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    Theme #78: Guilty.

    Guilty. Rated PG-13.

    It’s a bit hard to juggle the responsibilities of being a princess with life on the road. But Amelia was managing. The only way she’d been able to talk her father into letting her join in with Miss Lina, Mister Gourry, Mister Zelgadis, Miss Filia and Mister Xellos during the busy legislative session was to keep in contact. She’d send a carrier pigeon out with the addresses of every place they intended to stay at and for how long, updating with new information as she went along. This allowed her to still send and receive mail. In this way she was allowed to keep adventuring while signing treaties, corresponding with law-makers, and casting votes. Every night she’d dread the mail that would be plopped at her place at the table with piles of tedious paperwork. Then again, it also brought…

    A rectangular package was placed before her place that night at dinner with a familiar return stamp across it. She smiled. Not only was there no paperwork tonight, but this was an added bonus. Her smile faded as she looked around tentatively at her dining companions. She tried to slip the package furtively under her chair.

    “What’s that, Amelia?” Lina asked, looking up from her spaghetti.

    Amelia lamented her fate. Why couldn’t Miss Lina have just been totally focused on her food like usual? “It’s… nothing,” she said.

    But it was too late. Lina snatched the package out of her hand. “What’s the Jester Publishing Club?” she asked curiously, reading the label. “Some kind of book-club?”

    “Yes,” Amelia said quickly, deciding that this was both true and non-incriminating. “It’s just a book of the month club,” she said hurriedly, as she tried to take the parcel back.

    “What? Like a funny book club?” Lina asked, wondering at the publishing house’s name.

    Amelia hesitated here. She really didn’t want to tell a direct lie. On the other hand… on the other hand it’s none of Miss Lina’s business! “Yes,” she said.

    “It’s not,” Zelgadis said, and to Amelia’s horror he was rolling his eyes. “That’s a romance novel company.”

    “What, you mean like those… I don’t know,” Lina trailed off. “Those books where the top part of the lady’s dress is always torn?”

    “Bodice-rippers,” Zelgadis said gravely.

    Lina made an ugh face. Then she looked suspicious. “How would you know about that?”

    “I spend a lot of time in book shops,” Zelgadis said sharply. “You notice these things.”

    “So is it true?” Lina said, turning to Amelia. “You’re part of this bodice-ripper book of the month club?”

    Amelia had an agonized look as though she’d like to disappear and muttered noncommittally.

    “Huh,” Lina said. She really wouldn’t have expected it from Amelia. I mean, she thought, these are… girl books. Well, I guess that works out since Amelia is a girl. And so am I. Not that I’d actually read those things.

    “They’re awful books,” Filia said vehemently, taking a self-righteous swig of her tea. “We never allowed them in the temple because their full of lewd material, negative gender stereotypes, and malicious misuse of thesauruses.”

    “Malicious what?” Gourry repeated.

    “Oh, I don’t know,” Xellos stepped in, because he liked to take the point of view opposite Filia. “They might not be especially intelligent, but everyone has their guilty pleasures.”

    “I don’t,” Filia said automatically.

    “Really? Let’s take a vote.” Xellos looked around the table. “Whoever believes Filia: raise your hand.”

    Everyone was suddenly too engrossed in their meals to vote for anything. Filia seethed.

    “Well, I don’t,” she said sulkily.

    “Who cares?” Lina said. “Books are about escapism. People can read what they want,” she said.

    She looked down at the package speculatively. “You know, I used to make fun of these books a lot when I was younger,” she said wistfully. “They’re really funny if you just look at them right.”

    “Miss Lina, please!” Amelia said. She had already been embarrassed enough for one day. She didn’t need things rubbed in further.

    “Oh, come on. It’s harmless. Anyway,” Lina said, throwing in a wink, “you’re not part of any romance book of the month club, right? This came to you by accident.”

    “Umm… yeah,” Amelia said, thankful for this rather cheap lifeline.

    “I refuse to support smut,” Filia said, crossing her arms in a very definite manner.

    “Oh, come on,” Xellos nudged. “You don’t know it’s that bad until you open it.”

    “I’m with Filia on this. Some of these books can be pretty tasteless,” Zelgadis said, but he didn’t make eye-contact with Amelia as he said it.

    “I wanna at least look at it,” whined Lina. “Anyway, like Xellos said: you don’t know it’s bad.”

    “Oh, like we should take a monster’s advice on morality,” Filia commented acerbically. I believe that’s my area, she thought.

    “They just send random books so there’s no telling what it’ll be about,” Amelia said. Then she remembered her role and added: “I mean: I bet that’s what they do.”

    “Well, I don’t care what you guys say. I wanna see it,” Lina said. “These are always worth a laugh.”

    She unwrapped the packing and opened the box within. Amelia looked over her shoulder as Zelgadis made a great show of looking the other way, while keeping one eye nonchalantly on the box. Filia had actually turned her chair to face in the opposite direction from the sinful material. Unfortunately this meant she was facing Xellos. And he was even more sinful material. He smiled at her. So she looked off to the side with a “Hmmph!” And Gourry, perhaps making the wisest decision of all: concentrated on eating as many meatballs as he could.

    “What the—” Lina began in shocked surprise, looking at the cover.

    “Do they—” Amelia began disbelievingly.

    They exchanged a look and nodded. Then, as one, Lina, Amelia, and Zelgadis turned to look at Xellos.

    “What?” he asked.

    “Umm… it’s just that… well, the people on the cover look a little…” Amelia began, hemming and hawing.

    “They look just like you and Filia,” Lina blurted out in a completely non-diplomatic manner.

    “What?!” Filia shrieked, accompanied by the sound of her chair crashing to the floor as she stood up, elbowed Amelia aside and glared at the cover.

    It was… true. It was remarkably, horrifyingly, and infuriatingly true. A girl with long blonde hair in a style very similar to Filia’s was silhouetted against the illustrated moonlight. A revealing white dress clung to the woman’s body and, yes, was ripped in several highly convenient places. She was being suspended in the arms of a man that…

    She nearly choked in rage.

    Yes. A man in a black cloak with a smug looking smile and very familiar bone-structure. He was even wearing gloves.

    Of course, it wasn’t by any means perfect. There were certain… clear differences. The man’s hair was black and messier. And Filia’s breasts were not quite as big as the ones the woman on the cover was sporting. Plus she’d never wear a dress like that.

    And of course it couldn’t be them because they’d never in a millions years do anything like that. It was a book. A fiction. A cheap knock-off of real life with added moonlight and balcony scenes!

    “You look good in white,” Xellos commented, suddenly over her shoulder.

    Filia gritted her teeth. “That’s not me,” she said.

    “Well, obviously,” Zelgadis said. “It’s a book.”

    “But it’s a pretty weird coincidence,” Lina said, rubbing her chin in thought.

    Filia took another look at the dramatically-posed cover. She narrowed her eyes at it as if she could intimidate it. “It doesn’t even look that much like us,” she announced. Absolutely, she thought. My initial thought that it looked like us was all wrong. It doesn’t even… the faces are all… well, it’s wrong. That’s all.

    “What’s it called?” Gourry asked, abandoning his spaghetti just long enough to ask a pertinent question.

    Amelia looked up at the top of the book. “Forbidden Desires,” she said.

    “How very appropriate,” Xellos said cheerfully.

    Filia glowered. The only forbidden desire she felt was the one to connect her elbow in a painful manner with his jaw. “What kind of hack piece of garbage goes around calling itself Forbidden Desires?” she asked harshly.

    “Well, let’s see,” Lina said, flipping to the inside cover. “‘Forbidden Desires’,” she read. “‘The scorching love story of a young shrine-maiden-in-training named Millia whose world is forever changed when she meets the dark sorcerer Serros. The sorcerer promises to teach Millia the dark craft in order to raise her younger brother from the dead. But by the time she learns enough will she have already fallen too deeply into darkness to ever escape? Will she see the light in time, or will her heart, soul, and body be irredeemably corrupted?’.”

    Amelia was actually started to feel a little relieved that her book had been snatched away. The romance genre was always a crap-shoot. And this time it seemed that the shoot had turned out, well… crappy. And luckily it seemed that all the embarrassment was off her and squarely on Filia.

    “That’s,” Filia paused to take a deep breath. If she thought this would calm her down then she was mistaken. “That’s the worst piece of drivel I’ve ever heard!”

    “I’ve heard worse,” Xellos commented.

    “You want me to read some of it?” Lina asked Filia with an evil glint in her eye. Filia had prevented Lina from ordering a sixth pie last night. It was payback time.

    “No!” Filia shouted.

    “What do you think, Xellos?” Lina asked, knowing where her bread was buttered when it came to mischief.

    Xellos shrugged. “I don’t see why not,” he said.

    “I can give you about a million reasons why not!” Filia responded furiously.

    But Filia never got a chance to share any of those reasons. “‘She could feel Serros’s hot breath against her neck as she tried to focus on the ancient inscription in front of her’,” Lina read from somewhere near the middle of the book as Filia froze. “‘Don’t,’ she said. ‘Leave me alone you evil enchanter! I’m only going to use this magic to save my brother. I won’t fall prey to your dark ways!’ but it was a hollow threat. Already her body shivered and twitched against her will as he ran a hand down her side, resting it possessively against her waist’.”

    Filia was twitching. Well, her eye was at least. She was trying to get it together for long enough to avenge this act of evil, but she was almost too angry to do anything.

    “‘He turned her around and she peered helplessly into his amethyst eyes, lost in the eternal darkness of galaxies within’,” Lina went on theatrically. “‘Her body practically begged her mind to give in just this once. If not now, then when? To surrender everything she had to him in one never-ending, passionate—’”

    “Alright, that’s it!” Filia yelled, finally having had enough. She seized the book from Lina’s grip with all the formidable strength of a dragon. “We’re not going to indulge in any more of this putrid poison for the mind!” she announced. “It’s disgusting, totally unrealistic, and—”

    “I thought it sounded a bit like you,” Xellos commented mildly.

    “IT DID NOT!” Filia screeched back. She was barely able to restrain herself from literally throwing the book at him. But she didn’t particularly want him to have it. In fact no one should have it.

    She stomped over to the refuse bin and threw the book with more force than necessary at the pile of potato peelings and rancid lettuce. “There!” she declared. “Now it’s in the trash where it belongs. No pleasures should be that guilty!”

    Amelia frowned. She hadn’t paid membership to that book club to have her books thrown into the garbage by irate dragons.

    “Nobody is to mention that book ever again,” Filia said warningly.

    “What book?” Gourry asked, who hadn’t been totally following this.

    Forbidden Desires,” Xellos answered promptly.

    “Oh, yeah. I heard you guys talking about that,” Gourry said as Filia stewed in her anger. “What’s it about?”

    “Well, there’s this—” Xellos began.

    “Shut UP!” Filia snapped. “It’s about nothing! Now please everyone just finish your food and go to bed!” she ordered, her voice getting strained and on the edge of a tantrum. She exited for her room in a well-executed huff.

    “Killjoy,” Lina said succinctly.

    *****

    Later that night when all was dark and still in the dining room of the inn, a shape crept through the darkness. It was doing its best to be quiet and unobtrusive. As a result of the general malignancy of the universe, every floorboard in its path made a loud squeaking noise under its feet.

    It snuck over to the garbage can and carefully opened the lid as though the contents within might explode at any second. It reached inside and rummaged for something within in a raccoon-like manner. It seemed to have retrieved its prize as it tucked it under its arm. Then it made a mad, quiet dash for the stairs barely daring to breath.

    Only when the figure had completely vanished up the flight of stairs did a voice from the darkness say: “Well. Isn’t this an interesting development?”

    *****

    Filia had laid the rescued book out on her bed and was running her eyes rapidly across the text-laden pages. She’d delivered it from the squalor of the trashcan and squirreled it away. And that might seem… wrong. But it wasn’t.

    See, she had absolutely no desire (forbidden or otherwise) to read the thing. She wasn’t the least bit curious about what it contained. In fact, she was only a chapter or two in and it was terrible going. It was a real struggle to keep reading the flowery tripe that stank up the pages. But she had to, you see?

    Because the book was clearly utterly malignant and totally inane. Yet books like that had a strange power over some people. Guilty Pleasures, Xellos had said. Something like that couldn’t be allowed to just rot in the trash can. It was an important teaching tool! If she read it then she’d be so overcome with disgust over it, that she’d never even have the slightest interest in reading anything of its kind again. Plus, she could better understand the sway these things held over other weaker individuals and persuade them otherwise.

    But the others clearly wouldn’t see the sense in that. They’d get all sorts of ideas. Which was why she had to read it in secret.

    Millia had caught a glimpse of him that day; the man the elders had warned her to stay away from. He was tall with hair cropped just above his shoulders in a look that was both attractive and timeless. His cold eyes flashed into her very heart. She was afraid, and even angry that he would dare to step foot on the holy ground of temple. But yet… she couldn’t help but feel something else when she looked at him… something new…

    As Filia had found herself doing many times throughout the story, she flipped back to the cover where the man with the smoldering eyes held the woman in his arms. In the flickering candlelight it seemed his smile broadened.

    “Tch,” Filia said, and went back to the text.

    *****

    His lips pressed silkily against hers as she couldn’t help but feel her own lips part, ready to succumb in every way to his touch. She moaned shamelessly into his kiss as he reached down to fondle her breasts. She knew that it no longer mattered if the temple closed, or if she lost her status as a shrine maiden, or even if her brother remained in that cold, lifeless casket forever. Everything that really mattered was happening in the present. Not the past and not the future. His questing hand left her breasts, sliding down her stomach, past her bellybutton and…

    “Serros,” she breathed, desire thronging through every vocalization. “At least take the gloves off first.”


    “Disgusting,” was all Filia said. Then she licked her thumb and turned the page.

    *****

    The whole thing. She’d read the whole thing from start to finish. She’d stayed up for hours and she’d be exhausted in the morning, but she’d read it all.

    And it had been lewd. There had been negative gender stereotypes. And it certainly used words like ‘Heaving’, ‘Pulsating’, and ‘Tumescent’ significantly more often than Filia was comfortable with.

    And the characters had just been… ugh. By all accounts Millia was a selfish, childish, hypocrite who thought about sex way more than she should and way more than she’d admit. As for Serros, well, he was just a vessel for sardonic one-liners who spent most of his time sexually-harassing the main character. Filia wasn’t sure which one of them she hated more.

    And now Filia was sure of it: she couldn’t throw this book away.

    She’d planned to just put it back in the trash can after properly appreciating its revoltingness. But now she knew she couldn’t. It was… well, she needed to keep it. It was just the right thing to do. It would be a… a reminder that she could keep with her always of how easy it is to let oneself fall to guilty pleasures.

    But the others wouldn’t understand her completely morally sound reasoning for keeping the book. They’d totally misinterpret it. So she’d have to make some sort of cover to go over it, since removing its current cover was out of the question.

    She looked back down at the cover for about the hundredth time that night. It was beginning to be etched in her head.

    “Doesn’t even look like us,” she said out loud and somewhat doubtfully.

    And then, in a louder more confident voice she rhetorically asked: “What kind of hack even writes crap like this?”

    Hey, that’s a good question actually, she thought, and looked down at the cover again. She’d mostly focused on the picture and hadn’t really looked at…

    Forbidden Desires: A Novel By Lex Sol

    Lex Sol? What an appropriately ridiculously made-up sounding pen-name for such a stupid piece of….

    …What a minute…

    Lex Sol. Lex Sol. Xel…


    Filia took a deep breath, her face red and furious. She threw her head back angrily into the night and screamed: “XELLOS!!”

  5. #5
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    Theme #93: Dwelling on it.

    Dwelling On It. (Or: Filia’s Really Gone Crackers This Time). Rated PG.

    Oh gods, I want to touch his hair.

    The thought burst through Filia’s mind like an illegal firework. She glowered at the back of Xellos’s head as they walked along. Now the pretty lights of the thought were done and the crackle of guilt was sounding as the sparks of compulsion descended and went out.

    As an extended metaphor it wasn’t all Filia had hoped it would be. But the fact was, she wasn’t entirely sure how it had come to this point. Really, how do you go from ‘Filthy monster; I hate him!’ to ‘Oh gods, I want to touch his hair’?

    By the way, she didn’t take back any of that first impression. He was a filthy monster. And she did hate him. She just really wanted to touch that filthy, hateable monster’s hair. That made sense, right?

    No. Not even a little.

    It wasn’t even that she liked his hair! She didn’t! Really! Actually, the fact that she loathed it so much was probably to blame for this whole thing. Indeed it had been one of her first impressions of him. She couldn’t help wondering at the time, in a sort of muted, horrified way, if the creature that embarked on a solo-genocide of her people could really go around with a haircut that stupid.

    I mean, she thought, can’t he decide how he looks? He’s got some pretty weird tastes if that’s the case.

    And purple? Don’t even get Filia started on purple. She used to like purple. Now purple was the enemy.

    And do you know, this was probably where the problem started. Yes, she had disliked his hairstyle (along with every other aspect of him thank-you-very-much), but she’d… she’d dwelt on it. She shouldn’t have done that. She’d just kept thinking about how ridiculous it was and how he couldn’t possibly think it looked good or inspired any sort of respect at all and…

    …And somewhere along the line she’d started thinking how she’d like to touch it. Just once.

    Filia would’ve pointed out at this time, though she’d think this so obvious as to be a bit unnecessary, that there was absolutely nothing, in any way, shape, or form, sexual about this desire. Because just… ugh. It was Xellos. That’s all the evidence she really needed against that claim.

    Anyway, a person could have completely non-sexual reasons to want to touch someone’s hair. Filia was sure it happened all the time. …Like… hairdressers.

    Or, and Filia was much happier with this example, little boys! Yes! It was very much like that. Little boys often got the urge to pull of pigtails of little girls that they certainly didn’t like at all. And every knew there was nothing at all sexual about—

    …Filia didn’t like this example so much anymore.

    Anyway, it didn’t matter that she couldn’t come up with an equivalent example for her situation. She knew that there was nothing untoward at all about it and that was all that really counted.

    She’d felt this way back in the Dark Star days, but then she’d split off from the group to carve out a living in the mace and vase making business and all was well. Now she was back with Lina Inverse’s traveling side-kick brigade again at least for a short time and she was having to face him again. And she clearly wasn’t dealing well.

    She glared again at the figure walking in front of her. Stupid monster… leading innocent women to their doom with his ridiculous, yet strangely attractive hairstyle…

    The sun shone through the trees and his hair seemed to shimmer slightly in a way that you wouldn’t notice unless you were maniacally focused on it. Which Filia was.

    She grit her teeth. Her palms itched. She knew that if she really lost her marbles and reached for his hair there would be no way to explain her actions to the others. She couldn’t even explain it to herself that well.

    She took a deep breath. When all else fails: bluster. She reached out a hand and…

    …Navigated past him and to the line walking in front containing Lina and Gourry. “Out of my way, you monster!” Ha. This plan is foolproof.

    “Well excuse me,” Xellos answered dryly from behind her. “What’s your rush?”

    Filia cursed the fact that her foolproof ‘out of sight, out of mind’ plan rather depended on Xellos not talking back. “I’m just,” she began. “I’m just tired of looking at the back of your stupid head, that’s all.”

    “Oh? Is that so?” Xellos shot back in an eye-twitching sort of tone. She didn’t need to see him to know his eye was twitching.

    “Will you two cut it out?” Zelgadis asked from where he and Amelia were taking up the rear of the procession. “You’re acting like children.”

    “Just leave ‘em alone, Zel,” Lina said in a resigned sort of way. “You know they’re not going to stop anyway.”

    “So I guess now I’m stuck looking at the back of your stupid head, then?” Xellos asked as if this interruption hadn’t occurred.

    This was too much for Filia to take. She looked back and glared sharply at him. “No one’s ‘stuck looking at the back of my stupid head’ because it’s no stupid.”

    “Oh really?”

    “Really,” Filia affirmed. “I won best hair four years in a row in temple training school.”

    Of course, she might not have won that last year if Adelfa Vios hadn’t had that unfortunate accident. But that’s why long hair and rotary blades don’t mix.

    “So I suppose that makes you an expert then,” Xellos said in his mocking sort of way.

    “More than you at least,” Filia shot back.

    “Oh?” Xellos began with an edge in his voice that probably didn’t belong in a discussion about hair. “So you don’t think I’m quite your equal in the coiffure department, then?”

    “I know you’re not,” Filia answered. It wasn’t much. He was stronger than her, smarter than her, and knew more synonyms for ‘hairstyle’ then her, but damn it: she had better hair.

    “You don’t like my hair,” Xellos said. “Is that what you’re saying?”

    “No,” Filia said.

    “Oh?”

    “I can’t stand your hair,” Filia specified with feeling.

    “Don’t you think that’s a little over the top?” Xellos asked in a ‘you’re being ridiculous again’ kind of tone he excelled at.

    “It’s not,” Filia snapped. She knew there was a rant waiting to leak out so she just let the pressure off. “It’s like you started out with a dorky bowl-cut and let it get overgrown. I don’t know why you’d possibly want to wear it like that. Unless you wanted to put everyone off their guard enough to think that no one who wears their hair in such a silly way could possibly be dangerous. And knowing you, that’s probably why. Because if you honestly think it looks good then you’re more deluded than you accuse me of being. Everyone thinks it’s stupid looking!” She threw up her hands dramatically and looked around for help. “Right, guys?”

    There was a long silence. Then Amelia piped up with: “Umm… to be honest, Miss Filia, we really don’t think about Mister Xellos’s hair that much.”

    “I don’t either,” Filia responded a little too quickly. “It’s just stupid, that’s all,” she muttered quietly to herself, making eye-contact only with the ground.

    For awhile there was no sound aside from the clomping of turf under six sets of feet. Then Xellos made a very ominous sound. It went like this: “Hmmm.”

    *****

    Early that evening after the all-you-can-eat massacre known simply as ‘dinner’, Filia was enjoying some quiet time with a cup of tea at her own table by the window while Lina and the others negotiated for free dessert. The waiter wasn’t buying that it was all their birthdays. More the sorrow for him.

    “So, is there some sort of prize for getting the ‘best hair’ award?” Xellos asked, sitting down at her table uninvited, unwelcomed, and unwanted.

    “You get your portrait in the end of the year student flier,” Filia said through gritted teeth. “Now go away if you’re just here to make fun of me.”

    “On the contrary, I was wondering if you might consider lending me your talents,” he said.

    Filia nearly choked on her tea. There was no way he was asking what it sounded like he was asking. “What?”

    “You know,” he prompted. “Change my hair.”

    She stared at him, mouth agape.

    “I’d expect you to jump at the chance,” he said in the face of her stunned silence. “Especially since it bothers you so much.”

    This didn’t make sense, she thought wildly. Why would Xellos want to change his hair? As far as she was aware he’d had that dumb hairstyle as long as he’d been taking human form. That had to be thousands and thousands of years. In fact, the last things said at the War of the Monsters Fall before he massacred her people were probably: “Who’s that guy with the stupid haircut?” “I don’t know, but he looks like a momma’s boy”. And now he was going to change it just because it bothered her? Since when did he care what bothered her? Generally things bothering her was a point in their favor as far as he was concerned!

    “If you want to change it, can’t you change it yourself?” she asked, stalling while her brain reeled.

    “I could,” he allowed. “But I’d be changing it to my tastes, which you clearly disapprove of.”

    He had a point, but that only increased the feeling that she was being backed into a corner. “Why should I help you?” she asked sullenly.

    “Wouldn’t you be helping yourself?” he asked, exercising his tendency to answer questions with questions. “Considering that you hate it so much that it drives you to distraction.”

    “I’m not distracted,” she grumbled in what was an outright lie.

    “If you say so, Filia,” Xellos said with a ‘yeah, right’ kind of smile. “But will you do it?”

    Inside Filia’s mind a schizophrenic battle was being waged over her next course of action. Voice A said: Do it. If you change his hair to a different style then it won’t be as distracting to you, and boom presto: we get our sanity back.

    Voice B said: Don’t listen to Voice A, it just wants to touch his hair. This is clearly a trap.

    Both good points. Perhaps she should tread lightly here. Perhaps she should think about this before she made a decision. Perhaps she should—

    “Alright,” she said.

    *****

    Filia had left the door to her room wide open, which probably betrayed more of her feelings about having Xellos in her room than she would’ve been comfortable with. Xellos was sitting at the desk with the mirror, tapping his fingers unconcernedly against the tabletop while Filia tried to get herself together as quickly and inconspicuously as possible.

    She was going to get to touch his hair.

    …I mean, she was going to get to change his hair to some less ridiculous style and therefore break whatever obsessive hold he had on her.

    Right.

    She wanted to take a deep breath to prepare herself, but there was no way that she could let him know what a big frickin’ deal this was. So she just… reached out a hand (which was not shaking at all, no matter what it might have seemed like) and touched it.

    FINALLY.

    She ran her fingers through it and then raked her other hand down it. It was silky and smooth and slightly cool feeling just like she’d imagined it would be.

    “Filia,” he said after waiting several beats. “What are you doing?”

    Don’t panic. You’re not doing anything wrong. There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for everything.

    “What does it look like I’m doing?” she snapped. “I’m styling your hair.”

    “…I just thought you might use a brush,” he commented.

    It— uh…

    Huh.


    “I don’t have a brush on hand,” she deflected.

    “Yes, but you must have one somewhere in here,” he pointed out. “It might have things easier.”

    She glared at him as though he was being difficult just for the sake of being difficult. Then she turned away to find her bag.

    “Just a minute,” she said grouchily.

    Stupid Xellos and his completely reasonable expectations.

    *****

    She was brushing his hair with one hand and smoothing it down with her other hand. Not that she really needed to do this. Xellos’s hair seemed to be magically tangle-free; which is very irritating to anyone with long hair who’s ever been sick for a week and had to practically rip out their own hair to remove the knots. But she needed to buy some time. Even if this meant causing a freak-out some time in the future when she found his purple hairs amongst her blonde ones on her brush.

    She’d gathered her various hair care items and laid them out on the table since Xellos didn’t seem to think that her running her fingers longingly through his hair qualified as ‘styling’. Pfft. What did he know! Wasn’t she the expert here?

    It felt like the scissors were staring at her. She really didn’t want to have to use them yet.

    But the scissors were the whole point, right? She was going to give him a new hairstyle. A less attention-grabbing one. Then she wouldn’t have to dwell on his hair anymore. That was the reason she’d agreed to this. It wasn’t just some cheap excuse to paw his hair.

    But now she was having second thoughts… did she really want to do this?

    Yes. Yes. She had to. Look, she’d cut it shorter and maybe angle the bangs or something. It’d look less weird. Maybe he’d even let her bleach it or something so it wouldn’t be that eye-catching shade of purple color. Then everything would be okay. He’d look… normal. He wouldn’t attract her attention. He…

    He wouldn’t be Xellos.

    What a ridiculous thing to think, she chided herself. Of course he’d still be Xellos. Hairstyles don’t make a person who they are. And anyway, that’s not even his real form. His real form is as impersonal as things get. This is just… a costume he wears. His hair might as well be a hat that he can wear and discard at his leisure. He just looks how he wants to look.

    …But maybe that makes it even more important. Because… because it’s how he chooses to look so it reflects something about him. Because it’s what he wants people to see. It’s all part of a carefully crafted persona that might be completely fake but… well, it’s someone he actually likes to be.

    Maybe I don’t want to take that away.

    Stop it, she ordered herself. Look, even if cutting his hair somehow makes him… ‘less Xellos’, that’s not a bad thing. Xellos is bad. Xellos could stand to be less… Xellosy.

    She picked up her scissors with trembling fingers, which is always a bad sign from anyone cutting your hair. Xellos, however, seemed unconcerned. This was because he’d never learned one of the better, yet somehow less widely taught lessons from the Old Testament: Beware of women with scissors.

    She opened the scissors with a scrape of metal on metal and brought them up to his hair about the level she planned to cut. Then she stopped; frozen; trying to level the expression on her face so he wouldn’t see it in the mirror.

    “What’s the hold up?” he asked.

    She grit her teeth so hard it hurt and tried to will herself to make the first cut. Once she’d started then she’d be able to finish. She tried to squeeze the handle on the scissors, but she couldn’t seem to get her hand to move.

    “I can’t do it!” she shouted suddenly.

    She threw the scissors point first with considerable force into the wall, where they lodged about two-and-a-half-inches into the plaster.

    He turned around in his chair and raised an eyebrow at her in an expression that clearly said: ‘Oh boy, Filia’s really gone crackers this time’ which she really didn’t need at the moment. She was about to burst into frustrated, angry tears as it was.

    “You want me to say it?” she demanded. “FINE! I like your stupid hair! I don’t know why, and along with the schizophrenic conversations with myself it’s probably just a sign that I need counseling. There’s no sense in it, but there you go! I don’t want you to change it! So just,” she hesitated here, having reached the point where she still wanted to yell at him but was running out of things to yell, “Just take your stupid, distracting hair and GET LOST!”

    Xellos surveyed her post-tantrum stance with the eye of a connoisseur. Then he slowly arranged his expression into a smug little smile that made Filia want to claw his face off.

    “I knew I looked good,” he said.

  6. #6
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    Theme #65: Unoriginal Sin.

    Unoriginal Sin. Rated PG.

    Edie’s Garden and Orchard was a beautiful place to visit at any time of year, but Filia especially liked it in the fall. Every year she’d close up shop and fly herself, Val, Gravos, and Jillas down to Millspring County to visit. And it was a lot of fun. It wasn’t exactly flower season, though a few late lasting species hung around in the autumn, but it was the prime time to watch the trees change color.

    Val picked out his pumpkin there every year. They’d always try to get big ones so they’d have more seeds to cook. And there were plenty of activities geared at kids his age including face painting, story-telling circles, and hayrides. Not to mention all the apple pie. Filia’s mouth watered when she thought about the apple pie. You couldn’t get apple pie like that anywhere else in the world but Edie’s.

    The autumn weather was at its absolute best that day. Of course, Filia would’ve taken them down to Edie’s no matter what the weather. They’d braved wind storms and surprise blizzards to get there in the past and it was always worth it. But today it was as though the gods had given Filia the gift of the perfect fall weather for her family outing.

    She was getting a little time to herself after helping Val roll a pumpkin almost as big as him over to the cart that held the other purchases from the to-die-for farmer’s market. Val had decided to try out the corn maze and Jillas and Gravos had gone with him. Knowing their sense of direction, it was likely Filia wouldn’t be seeing them again for awhile. But they’d promised to meet up later for apple pie and cider.

    And while she loved being with Val, and Gravos, and Jillas she was glad to get a little alone time. It was peaceful to just walk through the trees after all the hecticness of the shop and of traveling. The leaves were red, almost the color of blood. It was odd though; in that context it was soothing.

    Her path was suddenly cut off as an arm descended from the foliage above her, an apple held out in its gloved hand.

    “Hungry?” it asked.

    Filia glared sharply at the familiar figure of Xellos, lounging comfortably in the trees as only someone with no fear of gravity can. “Why do you have to ruin everything nice?” she demanded.

    “Ruin? I thought I was helping,” he said with faux-innocence, as he offered the produce once more.

    “You’re not supposed to pick those,” Filia said brushing away his hand as she went around it and continued walking down the path.

    There was the sound of someone hitting the ground behind her. She willed herself not to turn around, decided she was going to turn around anyway, and did so. “Is that so?” Xellos asked.

    “Oh, don’t pretend you don’t know!” Filia said, frustrated as always with how he pretended he wasn’t the most malignant thing to ever walk the earth. “There are signs everywhere!”

    Indeed there were. ‘No Picking’ signs dotted the entire landscape, with language variations underneath. They were the cause of paranoia in a lot of six-year-olds that weren’t very well-versed in how to behave in public.

    Xellos threw the apple up in the air and idly caught it. “Would an apple orchard really forbid people from picking apples? That doesn’t make any sense.”

    “It does since they’re selling them,” Filia pointed out. “They don’t want people just walking off with them without paying.”

    “I wouldn’t expect capitalism to be so alive and well in a humble farmer’s market,” Xellos commented.

    Filia hated when Xellos did this. She’d make a completely reasonable comment and somehow he’d suck her into a pointless argument. She could see a looming fight about economics around the corner and she wasn’t going to have any of that. So instead she just sat down on a stone bench and asked point-blank: “What are you doing here anyway?”

    Xellos shrugged. “Oh, just taking in the color and spectacle of the season; offering you fresh fruit. I know these probably seem like dastardly actions to you, but what can I say? I’m a monster.”

    Ha!” Filia said, crossing her arms. She didn’t believe any of it for a minute.

    “You sure you don’t want it?” Xellos asked, holding out the apple once again.

    Admittedly, Filia was hungry. It was getting late and she was longing for that apple pie she’d promised to wait to eat with Val. And Edie’s apples were the most delicious in the world. They clearly grew, not on water, but on some kind of nectar of the gods. But she wasn’t about to accept one from Xellos. She had principles after all.

    “Knowing you, there’s probably a worm in it,” she said sourly.

    “Not unless one’s teleported in there,” Xellos said, examining the skin of the fruit through his closed eyes. “But you can check yourself if you want,” he said, tossing the apple her way.

    She caught it, mostly on impulse and glared down at the red an
    d noticeably shiny thing in her hand. It didn’t appear to have any worm holes in it. “I’m not going to eat it anyway,” she sniped. “It’s against the rules.”

    “No it’s not,” Xellos said, in clear defiance of reality.

    “Of course it is!” Filia snarled, irritated by both Xellos and the fact that her hunger pangs were getting worse now that the apple was actually in her hands. “Can’t you read the signs?”

    “I can,” Xellos said calmly. “But maybe you can’t. They say you’re not allowed to pick the apples. There’s nothing against eating them.”

    Filia scowled at him. “Xellos, have you ever heard that saying ‘you’re following the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law’?”

    “No. Why?” Xellos asked, taking the seat on the bench next to her completely uninvited.

    Filia scooched slightly away from him. “I’m not going to eat it,” she said bluntly. “It’s stealing.”

    “I didn’t know dragons were so wasteful,” Xellos commented craftily. “It’s already been picked so you might as well eat it.”

    Filia was a small-business owner supporting four people. She was the queen of leftovers. She didn’t need Xellos lecturing her about frugality. “I’m not going to be a party to your immoral activity,” she said haughtily.

    “Immoral activity?” Xellos repeated. “So do you think the fruit will turn to ash in your mouth just because it’s an ill-gotten gain?”

    “It might,” Filia said, slightly sulkily.

    “Actually, I’ve found that the opposite is true,” Xellos said. “Practically anything will become better if you break the rules to get it. You’ve risked more for it, so you add extra value in your mind. The harder something is to get, the more someone will naturally want it. Plus there’s an added thrill of danger.”

    “Why,” Filia asked leadenly, “would I want danger in the produce department?”

    Xellos tapped his cheek with his gloved index finger. “Because danger is exciting.”

    Filia looked doubtfully at the apple and then back at Xellos. “Exciting’s not really what I look for in fruit,” she said.

    “You might be missing out,” Xellos said hintingly.

    “Oh come on,” Filia said. “You really think this apple will taste better than one I could buy with my hard earned money just because it’s stolen?”

    Xellos raised an eyebrow. “Do you really think one you buy would taste better just because it was acquired honestly?”

    “I do,” Filia said firmly. “And we don’t have to just talk about this. I can prove it. I’ll eat your nasty, rotten stolen apple and then I’ll buy one in the shop and we’ll see which one is better.”

    “That’ll really show me,” Xellos agreed emphatically.

    Filia held the apple up and couldn’t help but look around. She knew Xellos was probably laughing at her on the inside for being paranoid. But what could she say? She’d grown up in the temple! Doing bad things was supposed to automatically earn punishment and she was half-expecting an irate gardener to pop up any second waving a rake in a violent manner.

    Filia got herself together and took a bite. Her teeth sank in past the skin and into the flesh of the fruit. Xellos was watching her closely as she did so, which was a very weird feeling. But despite her expectations, the forbidden fruit did not turn to ash in her mouth.

    Well, she couldn’t have really expected that, could she? It was still an Edie’s apple even if it was tainted with sin. It was delicious: as it was made to be. It was light and its fleshed cleaved easily as though it had no other desire than to be eaten. It was perfectly ripe: neither too hard nor too soft. It had a mouthwatering, slightly honeyed flavor that made not taking a second bite out of the question. And it was juicy; very juicy.

    “So…” Xellos began. “It would seem its status as stolen property has diminished none of its flavor.”

    Filia looked up from her half-skeletonized apple and narrowed her eyes at him. “You just wait,” she said. “This won’t even compare to an apple bought as the result of rewarding hard work instead of petty thievery.”

    But Xellos didn’t appear to be paying much attention to her rather dubious claim. He wasn’t even polite enough to look her in the eyes while she was talking, which irritated Filia when she noticed it. When she realized where he was looking, her irritation turned to panic.

    He was staring at her lips.

    He reached out his hand toward her, leaning forward as she leaned slightly back. He rested a fingertip gently against her chin and dragged it slowly upwards to the corner of her mouth where the juice from the apple had dripped. He brought his hand back and thoughtfully licked the finger.

    “Honey crisp, am I right?” he asked.

    “Y-yes,” Filia said, a little too shocked to appreciate the fact that she sounded like an awkward middle-schooler.

    He smiled and moved closer to her as she gripped the apple like a chastity belt. His lips closed around hers almost lazily as his hand snaked around her and pressed steadily against her lower back. This was probably a good thing in retrospect or she would’ve fallen off the bench. Her head was already beginning to tilt to one side before she woke up enough to push him off of her.

    “What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded breathlessly. And angrily. In fact, the anger was the cause of the breathlessness!

    Xellos smirked. “I just thought you might have acquired a taste for forbidden fruit,” he said. He waved a finger at her. “I don’t think I was wrong.”

    She stared at him. Then she looked down at the apple. Then she glared up at him. She wanted to think of something to say back to him. Maybe some witty insult punning on fruit. Unfortunately she couldn’t think of one.

    So she threw the apple at his head, screamed: “Well you are wrong!” and stalked away.

    Xellos rubbed his head where the cider-projectile had hit him as he watched her stomp off in a haze of randomized guilt and sexual frustration. Perhaps, he thought to himself, I need to work a little on my tempting skills.

    …Oh well. Practice makes perfect.

  7. #7
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    Theme #15: Game.

    Game. PG.

    Xellos sat on the light brown sofa (with coral pink decorative pillows at either end) in the middle of Filia’s living room and watched her flurry of activity with an expression buffeting between amusement, puzzlement, and slight annoyance. She was currently grunting as she heaved a hutch with pears painted on the side of it from one wall to the opposite wall and doing her best to ignore him all the while.

    He sipped his tea in mild irritation. He’d had to get it himself too. Filia had never been a very good hostess. Informing her of that had done nothing to improve her manners. Apparently she was much more content to move display cabinets from one perfectly reasonable position to another than she was to pay the slightest bit of attention to her guest.

    Filia wiped the sweat from her brow as she brought the hutch to a rest. Then she abruptly turned to face Xellos with a determined glare and her hands on her hips.

    “Move,” was all she said.

    He looked upward as though he was weighing the matter. “No,” he said. “I’m quite comfortable here if it’s all the same to you.”

    “It’s not all the same to me!” Filia thundered. “I’m trying to rearrange the furniture in here and you’re just getting in the way.”

    “I don’t see why you bother,” Xellos said calmly, taking another sip from his tea cup. “There was nothing wrong with the way the room looked before.”

    “Oh please,” Filia said scornfully. “What would a monster know about interior decorating?”

    Xellos raised an eyebrow and wondered what a dragon would know about it.

    “It really doesn’t look any better to me,” Xellos commented, looking around the partially rearranged room.

    Filia looked around the room speculatively, the dreams of home improvement plans churning away in her mind. “It will when it’s done,” she said.

    Xellos leaned forward. “Filia,” he said, “every time I come here the furniture is in a different configuration.”

    Filia got this sort of look in her eye, like a recovering alcoholic caught with a bottle. “It’s— I just…” she began weakly.

    “Don’t people trip over things with you constantly rearranging them?” Xellos wondered out loud.

    “Not if they’re cognizant of their surroundings they don’t!” Filia answered in such a shrill, excuse-laden voice that Xellos was fairly certain he’d described an event that took place on a regular basis.

    “Look,” Filia said, as though she was loathe to admit something but was being forced to, “I just… well, when I’ve had a stressful day I just… like to rearrange the furniture, okay? Don’t ask me why, but it makes me feel better.”

    Xellos thought he could see the pathetic little philosophy that brought this about. It went something like: ‘I may not be able to control my life, but damn it I can still control my living room!’

    “You clearly have way too much physical energy to expound,” he said. “You need a hobby.”

    “There’s nothing wrong with moving furniture,” Filia said huffily as a crash from the other room signaled Jillas tripping over a footstool that hadn’t been there a few hours ago. She steadfastly ignored it. “It’s not like I’m in any danger of crushing myself with a wardrobe. I’m strong enough to handle it.”

    “Oh yes,” Xellos said with a nasty little curl of his lip. “You dragons do tend to have a misplaced pride in your strength, don’t you?”

    “It’s not misplaced!” Filia shot back. “I’m very strong! I’ve won the county arm wrestling competition for all three years that I’ve lived here.”

    “How impressive,” Xellos commented in a tone that was snickering behind the bleachers. “What an interesting image that brings to mind,” he added thoughtfully. “You, drunk in a bar at midnight, swindling ham-fisted sailors out of their hard earned money.”

    “It wasn’t like that at all!” Filia snapped. “It was at the county fair, it was broad daylight, I was completely sober, and no money changed hands.” She paused, thought for a moment, and then conceded: “There were ham-fisted sailors, though.”

    “And what did you win for this great accomplishment?” Xellos inquired.

    “All-you-can-eat steaks from Tiberius’s T-bone House in the village square,” Filia said.

    Xellos looked around her openly to her gluteus maximus. “I imagine that was quite a lot,” he said.

    She threw the first thing she could lay her hands on at him, which turned out to be a porcelain pony. Xellos saw her wince as it broke pointlessly on the wall behind him. That was not something she’d wanted to break.

    He watched her as she got out the dust-pan and gathered up the remnants of the erstwhile pretty pony and shoveled them into the garbage, muttering angrily all the while. Unlike her, he knew that strength wasn’t the most important thing. It was really about how you leveraged it.

    He could see the pieces lining up…

    “Of course,” he commented carefully, “I can’t really be sure you won honestly, can I?”

    She straightened up immediately, turned around and scowled at him. “Are you daring to imply that I cheated?”

    “No, no,” Xellos said, waving away this accusation. “I just meant that it’s not hard to imagine a bunch of muscle-heads deciding to be sports and let the girl win.”

    “They didn’t let me win!” Filia exclaimed. “They might have said that afterwards, but that’s just because they were embarrassed. I can beat anyone in this town easily!”

    Xellos shrugged nonchalantly. “You couldn’t beat me,” he said certainly.

    Filia’s scowl gained new intensity. If she was being cool-headed, which was a rare but not entirely unheard of state to find Filia in, then she might have reluctantly accepted this as true. But she wouldn’t now. Her pride was on the line and she was blinded by anger.

    And sure enough she walked purposefully over to the table (previously on the left wall, but now neatly tucked in a niche by the window), sat down, leaned her elbow on the table, and held out her hand. It was like a bear claw, waiting to strike down a salmon, deer, or unwary hiker. She gave him a challenging look.

    Xellos just smiled. “I don’t think so, Filia,” he said.

    “Why?” she barked. “Scared you might lose?”

    “No,” Xellos said. “I’m so certain that I’ll win that honestly it’s too boring to be worth bothering.”

    “You were the one who said I couldn’t beat you,” Filia reminded. “You have to defend that.”

    “I don’t have to defend anything,” Xellos said unconcernedly. “But if you’re really going to insist on this then it might work as long as we made it more interesting.”

    “Interesting?” Filia repeated guardedly.

    “A game is always more fun with a wager,” Xellos said, looking into his tea as he swished it from side to side as if he wasn’t paying much mind to the conversation.

    Filia glowered at him as though trying to figure out what he was up to. After coming up with fairly little she finally said: “What could you possibly want out of me?”

    Xellos noted with interest that this wasn’t merely a scornful statement. Oh, there was plenty of scorn in it. But it was definitely a question. As in, she really wanted to know what he wanted out of her.

    “Nothing really,” he said.

    Filia gave a derisive snort.

    Xellos broke his eye-contact with the tea, to peer at her. “Well, it’s not as though there’s any use in you.”

    Filia finally quit her pre-arm wrestling pose in order to cross her arms. “If I’m so useless,” she shot back, “then why are you always hanging around here?”

    Xellos grinned. “Because if I didn’t show up, you’d have no healthy way to relieve all that frustration you’re so good at accumulating and eventually rearranging furniture wouldn’t be enough for you to deal with it so you’d snap and end up as a performer in some sort of underground mud wrestling competition.”

    Filia made a face at him. “You have a disgusting mind!” she declared. “And anyway, you’re the cause of my frustration!”

    “Well, we all know that,” Xellos said cheerfully.

    Filia’s brow furrowed as though she wasn’t entirely sure what he meant by that. But she didn’t appear to be willing to spend much time dwelling on it, as she rolled her eyes and said: “What kind of wager did you have in mind anyway?”

    Xellos could practically hear the gears clicking into place. “Oh, I didn’t really have anything in mind,” he said unconcernedly. “I can’t really think of anything I want from you right now. What about you, Filia?” He looked up at her. “Was there something you wanted from me?”

    Even from across the room, Xellos could see the giant, jittering shudder work its way up from Filia’s toes. “No!” she yelled. “Why would I want anything from you?”

    Xellos wagged an admonishing finger at her. “It was only a question, Filia. No need to get so excited.”

    He took a long drink out of his tea while Filia stewed in her anger at the table. “How about this,” he finally said. “Let’s make the bet be that the loser owes the winner a favor. That way it doesn’t matter that neither of us can think of anything right now.”

    “A favor?” Filia repeated, suspicion-level sky-rocketing.

    “Oh, nothing too extreme,” Xellos assured her. “I wouldn’t have you kill a baby or blow up a temple or anything. Nothing you’d never be able to bring yourself to do. Just… a favor when the time comes that it might be needed.”

    Xellos watched Filia’s face as the flickers in her expression revealed her thought process. She was still suspicious. She didn’t believe for a moment that he hadn’t already lined up what he wanted her to do in his mind. And she was certain that she wouldn’t approve of whatever it was. On the other hand, she realized the possible potential that having Xellos owe her a favor could have. She would do anything now to protect her adopted son, and in a world where dragons and monsters might one day decide to knock off the fledgling survivor of his race… well, having a chance for a favor from Xellos seemed like something to good to pass up.

    And then there was the most important part. She’d issued the challenge. If she said no now then she’d be a coward.

    “Fine!” she said, removing her glove, rolling up her sleeve, and once again getting into arm-wrestling position.

    Showing absolutely no respect for her determination or getting into the spirit of the thing at all, Xellos strode lazily over to the table with his teacup in hand, set it down on the table, and only then did he put his gloved hand around hers.

    “Count of three?” he asked. Filia nodded.

    “One, two, three!” they said together.

    Filia’s arm quivered as she drew on the massive force of her dragon form, locked away beneath her human appearance, and slammed it against Xellos’s arm.

    Which. Didn’t. Move. A. Centimeter.

    She ground her teeth together and continued to push, hammering against her muscles to make them give out something more. As Xellos watched her with a faint smile that he knew was positively killing her, he saw that the thing that bothered her most was that he wasn’t even trying.

    To add insult to injury, he reached over with his other hand, picked up his tea cup, and took a drink as she continued in her tireless, but futile effort to topple his arm.

    After a moment he saw her tentatively reach up her other hand and then pull it away.

    “That’s fine,” he said. “Try it. I really don’t mind.”

    She hesitated and then swallowed her pride and added her other hand. But even pushing with both hands she still couldn’t beat him.

    Xellos wondered vaguely how long she’d go before something got dislocated. But he was going to wait until her strength ran out before he made the winning strike. She had to learn that she couldn’t win against him.

    He watched as she winced, one eye closed in concentration while she continued to push. She wouldn’t give up as long as there was strength left in her. She was breathing heavily and vocalizing her pained efforts. Her forehead was shiny with sweat, and her hands slippery against his gloved one.

    She didn’t even notice as he leaned forward, tilted his head, and put his lips against hers.

    Shock poured off of her as her eyes flew open and the grip on his hand instantly weakened. It increased immediately when he pressed onward, as though she needed to hold onto him. As he raised the hand that wasn’t holding hers to caress her cheek, she instantly let her face fall into it, as though too tired to resist.

    They remained like that for awhile, kissing in the sunlight that filtered in from the curtain windows and onto the table (which really did look much better in the niche), their arms still frozen in positions of combat. Something like this probably wasn’t mentioned in the World Arm-Wrestling Federation’s playbook, but Xellos thought he had a pretty good argument that it counted as an improvisational distraction technique.

    Xellos watched her intently as they pulled apart. She was breathless, weary, and unsure what to do next. Her eyes sparked with that captivating combination of guilt and lust. It was… a powerful thing to be able to put her in that state.

    A thlunk sound drew Xellos’s eyes down to the table. Both her hands lay over his, pinned to the table. He looked back up at her.

    “I…” she began, barely able to get the words out. “I win.”

  8. #8
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    Continuation of the last challenge. Theme #37: Terms and Conditions.

    ---

    Terms & Conditions. Rated R.

    “She beat you,” Beastmaster Zelas summed up after her singular servant finished relating the unfortunate results of his arm-wrestling match with the ex-dragon priestess he insisted on spending so much time with.

    “That appears to be the case,” Xellos admitted in a tone with a chipper candy-coating and a nervous chocolate-center. “It seems I underestimated her focus.”

    Zelas took a pull of her pipe and watched as the smoke billowed upwards. Losing a contest of strength against someone who is legitimately weaker than you generally indicates that they have some mental leverage against you. Xellos was supposed to be good at mental leverage. Which made this… interesting… but nevertheless troublesome.

    “So you now owe a golden dragon – a former priestess, no less – a favor,” she said, letting this unpleasant fact and all its implications sink to the floor.

    “That is true,” Xellos confessed. “She can’t ask me for anything. We agreed that it couldn’t be anything too extreme,” he said, holding up a finger. “However,” he admitted, “the terms and conditions of the arrangement are rather vague.”

    “You made them vague on purpose so you could exploit them later,” Zelas pointed out.

    “Well, of course,” Xellos admitted unabashedly.

    “And what would your dragon girl ask of you?” Zelas asked, giving the matter some thought.

    “I don’t think she knows,” Xellos said. “Her strategy is most likely to save the favor for a time when her or her son’s life is in danger.”

    “And who knows, when that time comes, what operations that would interfere with,” Zelas said, narrowing her eyes. “Can’t you just go back on the bargain?” she asked, leaning over to take a sip from a martini glass containing a highly toxic, sweet blue liquid with a chemical make-up very similar to antifreeze.

    “I could,” Xellos said.

    “But you don’t want to?” Zelas said, raising an eyebrow.

    “I thoroughly intended on Filia being the one owing me a favor,” Xellos explained. “Her holy magic could be useful for breaking seals. And of course, there’s the magical fusion element to think of.”

    “And if you try to bet with her again after going back on your first deal, she’ll feel no responsibility to keep up her end of the bargain,” Zelas deduced wearily. Certainly there would be some use in a golden dragon being in Xellos’s debt. But Lord Beastmaster tended to think he was rather stuck on the idea. Probably some kind of psychology going on there.

    “But I have a plan to dissipate the favor I owe her harmlessly so it won’t be an unknown to worry about in the future,” Xellos announced.

    “Oh?” Zelas asked, taking a drink. This should be good.

    “I’ll just seduce her,” Xellos said.

    Yes, definitely some kind of psychology, Zelas decided.

    “I think the events of the contest have proven this to be a strategy she’ll be susceptible to,” he added, realizing on that stare that his grand scheme needed some explaining.

    Zelas was not above letting her subordinate run into brick walls of his own making. At least when it was of no harm to her. She liked to think it taught valuable lessons.

    She blew a smoke tesseract because smoke rings are for chumps. “Knock yourself out,” she said.

    *****

    It was when Filia started carrying the sofa upstairs that Jillas and Gravos decided it might be best to take Val to the park and give Filia some alone time. Filia had a history of rearranging furniture when she was upset, but lately it bordered on the maniacal. To walk in the house in darkness was to invite death. Something must have really gotten her upset to get her like this.

    She’d brought all the paintings from downstairs and swapped them with the ones upstairs, which was fine because it’s always nice to change one’s surroundings. She had to admit that moving the guest wardrobe down to the living room was a mistake. It definitely blocked out the light coming through the window. But she’d felt fresh all over after she moved it.

    …For about two minutes. Now she was looking for something else to move.

    Oh! The suede easy chair! She thought, moving towards the dining room where the chair in question had been temporarily located. With a little weather-proofing that would be perfect out on the second floor balcony. She just had to find her tool box and maybe some shower curtains and—

    Oh, son of a bi*tch! Filia thought, her anger overpowering the swear filter in her mind, as she entered the dining room to find an unwelcomed guest on her suede easy chair.

    “Good afternoon, Filia,” Xellos said from his perch. “It seems that your irrational redecorating attempts have accelerated in my absence.” He tilted his head to the side. “I wonder what could have caused you such stress since I left.”

    You know exactly what it is, you jerk! her mind screamed at him. It was all his fault for kissing her. And he’d only done it to be a jerk too. Just to rub in her face how weak she was compared to him.

    Much as she hated to admit it, it had been all she could do not to melt into a little puddle on the floor when that happened. She put all of her strength against him as her only way of fighting against the sensations caused by the force invading her.

    She hadn’t actually expected it to work.

    “Get out of here, you monster!” she demanded, ignoring his opening line. “I’m not in the mood to deal with you right now!”

    Xellos raised an eyebrow. “Should I come back when you’re more in the mood?”

    “That would be: never!” she shouted back. “Now go away! I’m too busy to play anymore of your stupid games.”

    “Busy doing pointless manual labor so you don’t have to think about your real problems,” Xellos summed up coolly. “How dare I interrupt?”

    “Yes,” Filia said, agreeing emphatically with his sarcasm. “How dare you?”

    “How can I leave, Filia,” he asked, “when I still owe you a favor?”

    Filia was tempted to tell him to do her a favor and get lost, but that would be a waste of a good favor. Besides, it might be impossible; Xellos always seemed to know where he was.

    “I don’t want anything from you right now,” she said, her arms crossed. “There’s no rule that says I have to use the favor now.”

    “Yes,” Xellos conceded. “But you could use it now.”

    “I could,” Filia said through gritted teeth, starting to get really frustrated at this point. “But I! Don’t! Want to!”

    Xellos surveyed her shuddering rage. “Oh, that’s right, I forgot,” he said. “Your life is completely perfect.”

    And it was at this moment that Filia became painfully aware that she was sweating, her hair was frizzing madly in the humidity, the dining room table was taking up the entire upstairs bathroom, and her son’s crib was in the kitchen.

    She ran a hand through her messy hair and tried to recover from this unpleasant dose of reality. “Anything you could do,” she gulped, “would only make my life worse.”

    He stared at her for a moment, then held out his gloved hand. “Care to test that?”

    Filia stared at his hand knowing all too well that good and sensible people do not take monsters up on their dubious offers of happiness. There was a pull, a horrified curiosity that wasn’t nearly as horrified as she thought it ought to be. But she couldn’t help but feel that this was more than just a deal with the devil.

    What is he… offering?

    She blushed and automatically turned away. “No!” she shouted. “No I wouldn’t.”

    She heard him get up and stand behind her but couldn’t bring herself to face him.

    “So,” she heard him say, “when I was kissing you and you were nuzzling your face into my hand, did that mean you didn’t like it?”

    She whipped around to look at him, her face awash with anger and retorted: “You’re the one who was kissing me! I think it’s pretty clear that you’re the one who liked it!”

    Xellos shrugged. “Of course I did.”

    Filia was taken aback. She’d honestly expected him to deny it and shift the focus back on her again. It would’ve been so like him to say that her reasoning of ‘he kissed me because he likes kissing me’ was utterly illogical and simply proved her to be the stupid, conclusion-jumping-to dragon that she was.

    “What?” she practically whispered.

    “Well, it was a pleasurable experience,” he said simply, causing something to go twang under Filia’s ribcage. “If I denied something so clearly true then that could only mean that I was hiding something important from myself,” he added in a holier-than-thou tone that was rather ironic on a demon.

    “I don’t love you, if that’s what you mean!” Filia shouted. Then she realized she might have responded to quickly.

    Xellos arched an eyebrow. “I never said you did.”

    “Well you were implying it!” she shot back. “You’re always implying things,” she growled darkly.

    Xellos gave her a ‘you are ridiculous’ look. “Filia, if you want me to kiss you again then you just have to ask.”

    Filia opened her mouth and drew in a breath, the look on her face clearly screaming: ‘there are no words to describe the line you just crossed’.

    “What?” he said. “That wasn’t an implication. It was a fairly direct accusation.”

    “I don’t want you to kiss me!” she finally exploded out. “I don’t know how you can even say something so awful like it’s no big deal!”

    “And anyway,” she snapped, “why is it always on me? You just keep going on with your ‘Oh, Filia, you want this. It’s all you.’ when you’re the one that admitted to liking the kiss in the first place. Why don’t you just try honesty for once in your life, if only for the novelty of it, and say ‘Can I kiss you because I want to?’ It’s at least a less obnoxious strategy!”

    “…Can I kiss you because I want to?” he tried cautiously.

    “No!” Filia yelled.

    “But you said—”

    “I said it was a less obnoxious strategy. I didn’t say I’d say yes,” Filia said, cutting across him.

    “I don’t even know why you’re bothering with this,” Filia said, mostly to herself. “I mean, it’s not like you felt the need to debate me about it last time. You just went ahead anyway and I was too shocked to…” She looked up into Xellos’s open eyes.

    Oh crap. That was out loud.

    He reached a hand slowly over to her. She flinched, but didn’t move away when it ran through her hair. He moved her closer to him and kissed her.

    And this time there wasn’t a table between them or a contest of strength on hold. This time he pulled her down with him onto the nice suede chair that she’d only recently been considering covering with a shower curtain and putting outside, and running his hand up her leg.

    “Xellos,” she breathed out in a panic as his lips left hers and ran across her neck.

    “What?” he answered, sounding irritated at this interruption.

    “The,” she began – she couldn’t believe she was saying this, “the bedroom is upstairs.” Thank the gods she hadn’t moved the bed. Only because she couldn’t fit it out the door (which raised questions about how it got in there in the first place).

    He looked up into her half-closed eyes for about ten seconds. “That’s interesting,” he said, and then continued doing the work of the decades by raising her hemline.

    Xellos!

    “Oh, alright,” he relented, scooping her into his arms and carrying her upstairs.

    *****

    Filia lay in bed some time later plagued with guilt, absolutely sure that she’d made a decision she would regret intensely later. On the other hand, she no longer felt any desire to move furniture.

    “It’s almost a shame I only owed you one favor,” Xellos said pensively, watching her from the other side of the bed.

    “What do you mean ‘owed’?” Filia asked, barely getting back her sharpness after what had transpired between them. “You don’t honestly think this counts as the favor, do you?”

    “Well, of course it does,” Xellos said, but he sounded just a little unsure.

    “I never said anything about a favor,” Filia said. “You were the one going on and on about it after I said no.”

    Xellos looked like he was thinking fast. “Are you sure you didn’t say anything about a favor?”

    “Yes!” Filia insisted. Like she’d actually sacrifice a possible get-out-of-death-free card to satisfy her own obviously insane and morally reprehensible desires!

    “Perhaps you might have moaned something about it while we were—”

    Storm clouds rolled across Filia’s expression. “No.”

    “—something along the lines of ‘Oh, Xellos! Oh yes! This definitely counts as a favor!’?” he tried.

    Thunder rumbled from the metaphorical mass of cumulonimbus. “I think you should leave now,” she said threateningly.

    “…So that’s a ‘no’?”

    “GET OUT!”

    *****

    “It didn’t work,” Zelas said leadenly. “How shocking.”

    “I’m afraid so, Lord Beastmaster,” Xellos answered contritely. “I confess there were some matters I didn’t take into account.

    Like the entire plan, Zelas thought as she picked up a mug containing her new favorite drink. It was something she’d borrowed from the deepest dungeon of the Atlas City Sorcerer’s Guild where the sorcerers would be horrified to find it missing. It wasn’t in a pretty container because it was only an inch thick layer of an alloy of orihalcon and magnetized iron that was keeping the radioactive sludge inside from eating through its container and dissolving through the world until it came out the other side. She’d placed an orange wedge rather jauntily on the rim of the mug.

    “But I have another plan that should fix everything,” Xellos announced.

    “Does it involve having sex with her again?” Zelas asked almost boredly, taking a swig of the radioactive slurry.

    “…Sort of,” Xellos admitted.

    “Do tell.”

    “Well,” Xellos said, determined to explain his plan but nevertheless now slightly less confident in it, “now that Filia and I have already had sex she’ll be much more likely to want it in the future. I simply have to withhold it until the time that she asks for it as part of our deal.”

    Zelas stared at him. A catastrophic meltdown was narrowly avoided as a spark from her pipe just barely missed her drink.

    “Xellos,” she finally said, because it didn’t seem like he’d figure this out any time soon, “I think that the events of the past few days have spelled out in the clearest of terms that you just don’t have the willpower.”

  9. #9
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    How to Impress a Woman. Rated PG.

    Filia watched with the proud eyes of a mother as Val ran through the playground with his arms out, playing tag with the other kids and generally having the time of his life. She’d been determined to give him the childhood he’d never had, but she’d been so worried. He’d only started school a few weeks ago and it was as if she’d been holding her breath for something to go wrong. She kept thinking that he might… oh say, accidentally transform and burn a hole in the wall or something. You know, the little things moms worry about.

    But things seemed to be going well. Val was adapting and making friends, no one was giving him any trouble there, and he had a home and a family now.

    Well, sort of.

    She broke her gaze away from Val to give a sidelong glance to the person on the bench next to her. This probably looked normal. Sure, they didn’t seem too different from any of the other parents watching their kids play. But a dragon and a monster sitting peacefully on a park bench is anything but normal.

    It looked normal. By this point it even felt normal. That was the scary part.

    “He’s got all the strength necessary to terrorize this playground,” Xellos observed, pointing idly at Val with one of his hands draped over the back of the bench, “but he follows the bigger kids around. Have you noticed that?”

    “I don’t want him to be a schoolyard bully!” Filia answered, incensed.

    “Really?” Xellos said. “Don’t you want him to live up to his potential?”

    “Not that kind of potential!” Filia retorted.

    “You’ve always been so closed-minded,” Xellos commented with a little disapproving click of his tongue.

    Filia privately thought that this was an unfair accusation. Letting the creature that murdered thousands of your race share your house, your meals, and your bed didn’t sound closed-minded to her. In fact, it sounded dangerously and stupidly open-minded.

    And none of this really should have happened. She was not the type of person who would’ve let something like this happen to her. And yet, here they were. Whenever she tried to put in to words how they’d gotten there it never made much sense.

    And she didn’t know why Xellos bothered with it all. Not just… well, the two of them. There was kind of a silent understanding about that. But he’d seemed oddly willing to insinuate himself into her entire life. You’d think that a monster would have better things to do then play with a dragon child in his off hours.

    Perhaps he’s just in it for the mayhem, Filia thought sourly. Honestly, between the two of them she wasn’t sure which was more trouble.

    “You know, the florist down the street thinks we’re married,” Xellos said quietly.

    Filia turned mortified eyes on him. “You told her we’re not, right?” she demanded.

    “Of course,” Xellos said comfortingly. “I assured her that we’re just sleeping together.”

    Filia’s mortification deepened. “You did what—”

    “Seems like Val’s run into a bit of trouble,” Xellos cut her off with a nod to the playground.

    Filia’s head whipped back towards the playground. Her son was approaching her looking troubled indeed.

    Filia leaned down to child-height. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?” she asked.

    “I—” the five-year-old began, “I wanna play in the fort,” he said awkwardly.

    “Well then, why don’t you?” Filia said encouragingly.

    “I can’t,” Val said, rubbing his arm ruefully.

    “Why not?” Filia asked.

    “‘Cause Ginny’s there,” Val answered, as though the girl’s name had dark, hidden meaning.

    Both Filia and Xellos looked up at the fort where a single little pig-tailed girl with a rhinestone tiara on her head was talking with a dolly. She hardly cut a threatening figure.

    “I’m sure if you ask Ginny nicely she’d be happy to share the fort with you,” Filia said using her special talking-to-children voice.

    “Nuh-uh!” Val insisted. “She doesn’t like me!”

    “Everyone likes you,” Filia said in a voice that believed what it was saying 110%.

    “Not her.”

    “Does she not like you,” Xellos asked carefully, “or does she just not like you as much as you like her?”

    Val’s face told a story, and it was an easy to read story with cardboard pages and big letters. Filia gave Xellos a fleeting look of amazement. Val’s first crush. And she hadn’t been the first one to notice it! Damn that observant bastard!

    “What do I gotta do to make her like me?” Val asked, and to Filia’s horror she found that he was asking Xellos.

    Sure, it probably made some sense to Val. Xellos might have pretty purple hair, but he was still the male role model in Val’s life (unfortunately) so that probably made him the go-to person for advice on girls. But still! You do not ask a monster for dating advice! Someone ought to write that down…

    “Just be nice to her,” Filia cut in before Xellos could respond. “Maybe compliment her tiara,” she suggested brightly.

    Val looked at his mom’s fixed smile for a moment, and then turned his gaze back to Xellos who shook his head. Filia’s smile dropped so quickly she might have cracked a tooth.

    “If you really want to impress her then do not be nice to her and definitely don’t compliment her,” Xellos said. Then he paused, gave the matter some thought, and added: “Unless you insult her before or after you compliment her. That actually works twice as well.”

    “What— How can you—?!” Filia began, flabbergasted.

    “Pull her hair,” Xellos suggested. “Make faces at her, chase her, call her names—”

    “That’s enough!” Filia standing up as she shouted over him. “Val is not going to do any such mean-spirited, ridiculous—”

    “‘Kay,” Val said, and ran back to the playground as fast as his little legs would carry him.

    Filia stared after her son for a moment, and then turned a fiery glare on Xellos. “You—” she began.

    “What?” he had the nerve to ask innocently.

    “How dare you tell my son to do those awful things!”

    “I thought it was pretty good advice,” Xellos said smoothly.

    “It’s not!” Filia exploded. “What gives you the right to sabotage my son’s first crush?”

    “Sabotaging?” Xellos repeated, as if the word was hurtful. “I’m not sabotaging. I’m helping.”

    “You are not!” Filia shouted back. “What kind of girl would actually respond positively to that kind of treatment?”

    Xellos shrugged. “It worked on you,” he said.

    Filia froze, struck dumb. Then she slowly sat down next to him and scowled off to the side. “It didn’t work on me,” she insisted. “You’re just lucky I tolerate your disgraceful behavior.”

    “Your patience is legendary,” Xellos commented in a voice that didn’t sound sarcastic, but Filia knew better.

    “Hmph!” Filia responded, crossing her arms. “Well, I won’t have to be patient for long to see your advice fail.”

    “My advice won’t fail because it is excellent,” Xellos said assuredly. “Perhaps you should start picking up parenting tips from me, Filia,” he said, turning to her. “After all, I am the World’s Best Dad.”

    Filia sucked in an exasperated breath. “Just because you buy a mug doesn’t make you—”

    “Look,” Xellos said, pointing up to the fort. “The plan’s already working. She’s paying much more attention to him now.”

    “She just threw her doll at his face,” Filia said, torn between feeling triumphant over Xellos and worried over her son’s feelings.

    “Yes,” Xellos said, as if this was the best possible result anyone could hope for. “She’s certainly noticed him now!”

    “And now she’s crying!” Filia said accusingly as the little girl ran out of the fort.

    “Crocodile tears,” Xellos said dismissively. “See? She just turned around to stick her tongue out at him. If she’s feisty enough to do that then she’s fine.”

    “Well, she certainly doesn’t like him for this,” Filia said angrily. “Negative attention is not as good as positive attention, you know,” she reminded him.

    “It’s even better.”

    “It is not! You’re missing the point here!”

    “And that is?” Xellos asked.

    “The point is that he wanted her to like him, not hate his guts!”

    “Mark my words,” Xellos said, “she won’t be able to stop thinking about him.”

    “Because she hates him,” Filia clarified.

    “It’ll start that way, of course,” he allowed.

    Filia glared. “You know, there are healthier, less manipulative ways to go about a relationship,” she said reproachfully.

    Xellos shrugged. “I teach what I know,” he said.

    “Then maybe you shouldn’t teach at all!”

    “We’ll have to have a discussion about our different parenting styles later,” Xellos said, looking beyond her. “I think Ginny’s mother would like a word with you.”

    “What?” Filia said, turning around to see a very irate looking woman coming toward her carrying a teary but haughty looking little girl in one arm, and dragging Val by the pointed ear with the other one. She turned around again. Xellos was gone.

    “Come back here, you creep!” she shouted at the empty air. “This is all your fault and you have to answer for it!”

    But her words echoed in the empty air. She sat back angrily waiting for the inevitable chewing out from Ginny’s mother. Here was one woman who wasn’t at all impressed by Xellos’s tactics.

    But then again, Filia thought, maybe Xellos should give romantic advice to five-year-olds. After all, he has about their maturity level in that area.

    Jerk.



    …I wonder when he’ll be back?

  10. #10
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    Wolves and Their Prey. Rated PG.

    Really, there is no such sustainable unit as a lone wolf. Oh, lone wolves exist; pushed out by the higher ups in their packs for various crimes against the pack. But a lone wolf is only one step away from death. A wolf by itself will not howl to the lonely moon unless it wants to risk being torn to pieces by either its old pack or a neighboring pack. Wolves have a complicated hierarchy that extends far beyond the alpha pair. Wolves hunt in groups. A wolf by itself cannot scrape by for long in this cold, cruel world. A lone wolf is not romantic.

    The wolf with the keen eyes and the sleek coat creeping through the underbrush was not a lone wolf. He was from a proud pack that dominated the western edge of the forest. It was one of the biggest packs in the area, though this didn’t say much because many packs in the area had been reduced to as little as four adults, which wasn’t even much of a pack anymore. It was those damn farms that had cropped up on the town on the edge of the forest. More specifically, it was those damn farmers and their damn guns.

    Still, the wolf had to admit that farms had their benefits.

    This one was scouting. As indicated, he wasn’t a lone wolf, but at the moment he was technically by himself.

    And he was hungry. This didn’t trouble him very much. When you live on the margins, you’re always hungry, and to be a wolf is to live on the margins. He was used to the ache in his stomach, sharpening and dulling as time went past.

    He knew, though, that even if he came across a meal his hunger would not be assuaged for long. The Alpha pair had bred, and a litter had been born. It was the responsibility of the entire pack to feed them, not just their parents’. Yes, it was the place of the hunters to give up even food that was already in their stomachs for the soft-toothed pups.

    He grinned his predator grin. No one expects wolves to be so… altruistic. But there’s a certain selfishness even in that act of sacrifice. It’s all for the good of the pack. It’s always for the good of the pack.

    It was up to him to find food and signal to the pack when he had done so. Right now he was easing his way over to the red-washed farmhouse beyond the wood. He sidled along the edge of the forest, staying in the shadows away from any lurking human, and watched.

    Wolves don’t generally take down large prey unless it’s already wounded or sick. But a hole in the back of the hen-house… a break in the wire fence… or just an especially stupid goose sticking its long neck through its pen. That would be just right.
    He ceased his silent padding through the shrubbery, tried to slow his panting to below the volume of the noises of the forest, and zeroed in on a shape bending over a puddle outside the safety of the white painted fences.

    *****

    Three hundred miles away, in the kitchen of Miss Filia Ul Copt – dragon, single-mother, and successful small business owner – Xellos ruminated. Filia shoved a cup of tea in front of him bad-naturedly and wished he’d go ruminate somewhere else.

    He’d often thought back on how it all started, because it had been a moment full of… strangeness. It certainly didn’t go the way it should’ve gone at all. No…

    It wasn’t hard to grasp that he’d earned the hatred of the dragon race. That was the proper way of things. But he’d also earned their fear. And in a rather negative sense, that meant respect.

    But Filia certainly hadn’t been at all respectful when they first met. In fact, he distinctly remembered her calling him a creep and building a barbed wire fence around him in a matter of minutes. This had never happened to him before in all his dealings with dragons; even the ones that had been very efficient fence-builders.

    There was supposed to have been a, well, a forced politeness. There’d be pride struggling like a maddened snake under the skin, but fear would keep it from escaping. More than fear… it was a terrible certainty of what would happen if they took one false step.

    But Filia was all false steps. She wasn’t polite in the least. She was insulting! She accused, harangued, and scolded. Him of all people.

    And it wasn’t like she had any sort of excuse. She knew his history. In fact, his history was mostly what she shouted angrily at him. It wasn’t as though she had ignorance to excuse her. She knew. Could her tiny, dragon brain simply not make the jump from: “Xellos has already killed thousands of my race” to: “I shouldn’t call Xellos raw garbage in case he decides to slay me for my insolence”?

    But Filia didn’t seem to consider that, or if she did she decided to ignore it. Maybe she was too prideful to consider her own mortality. Maybe she’d been so sheltered from living in the temple her whole life that she’d never had to be careful. Maybe, and Xellos tended to think this toward the end of a long day, she’s just naturally obnoxious.

    She hadn’t acted the way she should. And it had been… perplexing. Xellos wasn’t often perplexed. His mind was sharp, his knowledge was broad, and his intuition was keen. It wasn’t something he had to deal with on a frequent basis.

    And, as is so often the case with confusion, it had made him very irritated.

    *****

    It was a lamb. The wolf lowered his head below the foliage so that only his eyes peaked beyond the leaves. It had somehow gotten beyond its pen and was nonchalantly drinking from a puddle in the low grass as though it wasn’t made of protein.

    As the wolf looked closer he realized that this wasn’t an ordinary lamb. It wasn’t a standard animal for sheering. It was well fed, its coat had been cleaned recently, and it had a shiny bow tied around its neck. Somebody loved this lamb.

    The wolf’s legs tensed to leap. A pet. A pet on its own was very good luck. A pet did not have the same experience of its wiser, working brethren. A pet would not be able to outrun him. A pet, especially one that seemed to have escaped its pampered life, would not be smart enough to take shelter in the farm.

    As he readied to make his leap, he trod on a dry leaf. He cursed his luck as the little lamb looked up. He had precious little time before even a brain as useless as a sheep’s got the clue that it might be a good idea to run.

    But it didn’t run. In fact, it crossed its little streamlet on light, little hooves and looked curiously into the darkness until it spotted the predator. That froze the wolf. This was moron behavior even among sheep.

    The lamb watched as the wolf tried to shift his sharp predator mind back into gear in this unprecedented situation. Then it appeared to make up its mind. It lowered its head.

    And rammed it straight into the wolf’s nose.

    *****

    I mean, Xellos demanded of no one in particular, what kind of name is ‘raw garbage’ to call anyone?

    It wasn’t the first time he’d asked that. Not by a long shot.

    *****

    The wolf pawed at his sore nose, more out of surprise than pain as the lamb trotted off in an apparently self-satisfied way.

    It— She— The lamb had just— Where did she get the kind of—

    The wolf was just glad that no one else was around to see that little misstep.

    But honestly, what kind of sheep does that? Sheep may be stupid, but not that stupid. And just because she was a pet was no real excuse. Surely she’d been born with some instincts in that white, curl covered skull?

    She should’ve at least known, and this is a completely random example, that you do not head-butt a hungry wolf if you are a delicious lamb. Did someone honestly need to write that down? Did there need to be lessons for something so obvious?

    It’s not a complicated system. Predators attack; prey run. Come to think of it, predators run too. But predators run to, prey runs away from.

    If prey starts attacking predators then the whole system falls down. It’s anarchy, is what it is.

    He got up and tried to suppress a whine as his tender nose sniffed the air. He watched as the lamb walked off into the forest with her head held high and entirely too much flounce for an ungulate.

    She wasn’t going to get away with this.

    He leaned low and tracked her through the trees.

    *****

    Xellos had to admit that he’d been a bit impressed by Filia’s gall. That is… it had left an impression on him at least.

    Pushing buttons to see when someone would snap was a… hobby, you could say. Filia was clearly all buttons and snapped on such a regular basis that to still be together she must have possessed some truly elastic qualities.

    And perhaps at a certain point she became… a little refreshing.

    *****

    It wasn’t a matter of when the wolf could attack the lamb. The lamb walked through the forest in the open, with such little care for her safety that a half a dozen hawks might have been able to band together and lift her away. He had plenty of time to take care of the lamb. Which was perhaps why he didn’t.

    He started to wonder about her. Clearly this wasn’t an ordinary lamb if she would go so far as to attack a wolf. Hadn’t she ever seen a wolf before? Hadn’t she heard the barking in the night and come out to the pens only to find one of her siblings missing? Could she at least sense, somewhere deep in her ancestral memory, that things with claws and sharp teeth should be feared?

    And he wondered even more where she was going. This was new territory for him. The minutiae of life in non-wolves hadn’t frequently entered his arrow-like mind. Why should he care, beyond a surveillance perspective, what others would do? Knowing that the rabbits always burrow here is important to know for the next meal. But if you concern yourself in Mister Rabbit’s secret blueberry addiction and Mrs. Rabbits worry that the kits weren’t coming along very well in the hopping and scampering department, then you’re just losing it as a predator.

    But nevertheless he wondered. What could a pampered pet like this be doing out in the woods? Why would she want to leave the comfort of the farm for? She looked like she was well treated. She probably belonged to the farmer’s daughter. Girls tended to tie bows around things for some reasons.

    He couldn’t think of anything in the forest that could be worth leaving shelter and daily meals for. Nothing at all.

    She knew he was following him, and that irritated him especially. It didn’t say much for his credibility as a stealth hunter if even she could pick him out. But she’d looked back at him, directly in the eye with those strange rectangular pupils her kind had. Then she’d turned her glance away pointedly as if she had better things to do than spend her time looking at him.

    That had served to only make him angrier. He growled softly, but she ignored him.

    Just you wait. He crept through the underbrush after her. You’ll learn your folly…

    …but later.

    *****

    Xellos had long ago decided that it would be worthwhile to keep an eye on Filia.

    Because she wasn’t stupid. He’d had to admit that very grudgingly. Oh, she could be flighty and rely on her emotions which made her do stupid things. But she wasn’t stupid. Filia had a battering-ram of an intellect. It couldn’t deal in complications, but for the most part it didn’t need to, it just smashed to the core of the problem and overwhelmed until it got results.

    It is said that such people bear watching: from a distance.

    But Xellos knew that only by close observation could he ever really understand.

    *****

    The lamb stopped and sat by the bank of the stream, staring up at the rocks as the trickling of water overwhelmed the singing of the insects and the howl of the wind.

    The wolf stopped and watched the lamb. Was this it? Was this all she’d escaped captivity to see?

    Hesitantly, he approached her. She bleated disapprovingly at him several times, but did nothing more. She turned her gaze back to the…

    …waterfall. He was looking at it too now. He’d come to this place on many occasions for a quick drink of water before the hunt could recommence. He’d never thought of it as particularly impressive.

    But suddenly, as he looked at her, it seemed to change before his eyes. The rocks went up high, and the water flowed out from between them in glassy sheets. It was an icy taste from where the forest turned into highlands, and the highlands turned into mountains. The circle of trees around it let the sun in, and cast multicolored refractions in the misty air.

    He’d never tried looking at things from another’s perspective before. Oh, sure, he’d thought of the pack. But the pack was simply a larger organism that he was a part of. The lamb was something… other. And seeing through her eyes was strange… and beautiful.

    She got up, seemingly satisfied with what she’d seen, and walked back along the path she’d come along and back toward the farm house.

    She stepped on his tail along the way.

    *****

    And yes, Xellos had to admit, on some level he’d gotten… used to Filia. She had a way of filling the days. Life would’ve been significantly duller without her around.

    His thoughts were interrupted by a feather duster plunged into his face. He looked beyond it to see Filia glaring at him, with one ‘I mean business!’ hand on her hip.

    “If you’re going to loiter here all the time than you could at least do something useful,” she said sharply as he took the duster in a numb sort of way. “I’m going to clean in the storeroom and you might try to help!” She stormed off down the hall.

    Xellos followed her. The thing about Filia was that she was different. He was sure that the dragon elders at the temple had tried to stifle the audacity out of her. But what could you do? Filia was just bold. In many ways it wasn’t a good thing, but it wasn’t a bad thing either.

    “And don’t you dare break anything!” she warned, as they reached the storeroom lined with vases. “It’s art, okay? And I don’t want you making a mess.”

    “Art?” Xellos said, taking in the distance the vases were spaced from each other. “Silly me. I thought they were just overpriced tourist fodder. Tell me, Filia, which one is more artistic? The one that says ‘Have Vases, Not Vices!’ or ‘To the World’s Best Mom’?”

    “Oh, just be quiet and get dusting!” Filia shouted, taking up a polish and gently applying it to her work with a rag.

    Xellos shrugged and moved to a likely shelf.

    It was true that everything could get complicated. Filia was a dragon. Monsters aren’t supposed to spend all their spare time with dragons under the normal rules. But then again, the normal rules had no understanding.

    Filia was the last of the Fire Dragon King’s servants. She was also the caretaker of the only remaining Ancient Dragon in the world. If war broke out, she was in for a world of hurt, and likely he’d be the one expected to inflict it.

    But it didn’t have to be complicated. She wasn’t interfering or anything. She practically lived like a human. Instead of concentrating her talents on where they could do harm, she spent them buying and selling antiques and raising her son. She was trying to be normal.

    There was no need to do anything about her. She was no harm, and Xellos had his suspicions that if she were so inclined she could actually be quite useful.

    It would all be fine. He could keep this; whatever it was that this was. He was minding all the spinning plates that could lead to catastrophe. He had everything completely under his control. And if it all must end someday, he could deal with that too. After all, he was a monster.

    There was a horrible shatter of pottery as one tall vase that Xellos had been cleaning fell into the one next to it, causing a domino effect across the entire shelf.

    “XELLOS!” he heard Filia shriek as the clatter subsided.

    He smiled to himself. It was alright. This was alright. It wasn’t as though he’d ever have to pay a price for it or anything.

    *****

    The wolf tracked the lamb on the path back to the farm. He’d tried walking beside her for part of the time, but she had a mean kick. Best to watch her from the sidelines.

    He’d intended to make his kill as soon as he’d satisfied his curiosity enough by finding out where she was going. But he’d decided just lately not to kill her. She’d at least shown him an interesting day.

    And anyway, it was hard to think of her like the other sheep who did nothing but chew grass all day with constipated expressions. She was an individual, set apart from the mindless throng. There were plenty of sheep in the world. He didn’t need to kill her.

    After all, he’d experienced so many things that day that evolution had denied him the luxury of: curiosity, empathy, wonder, confusion, and…

    …something that he couldn’t quite put a name to that had kept him tracking her even after he’d seen the waterfall and decided not to kill her.

    The day would bring no food, but that was alright. Many days didn’t. True, if the pack found out he’d let this one go there’d probably be a fight and he’d be pushed out. But they didn’t have to find out. Many scouters had come back without meat or news of likely prey. There would be nothing suspicious about it.

    And she could go back to the safety of her farm and away from the dangerous woods. But maybe he could watch her from time to time. That would be fine. Only when he was on his way on another hunt. He wouldn’t go out of his way or anything.

    He froze as a familiar smell hit his nose. He barely suppressed a growl as he focused his motion-sensitive eyesight on the path ahead while he concealed himself behind a bush. He found what he was looking for, but hoped wouldn’t be there.

    A few feet away from the oncoming path of the lamb was another wolf. It wasn’t just any wolf. It was a member of the wolf’s own pack. It had spotted the unsuspecting lamb from the other direction, and was poised to leap.

    The wolf’s hair stood on end as his shoulder-blades rose together in barely suppressed rage. For another wolf to take the prey he’d been stalking all day was intolerable. It was not for the other wolf to decide what happened to her!

    Moreover, the portion of his brain that went into action when a shotgun blast was heard, or a large, mad elk lowered its head to charge, seemed strangely to be activated. And he thought of the hunt.

    Humans tend to think of wolves as the spirit of the hunt, and thus believe them to be terribly efficient killers. They’re not. They’re far worse than that. They’re terribly inefficient killers.

    Now a wild cat, that’s an efficient killer. They’ve got the jaws for killing. A clamp from their jaws is enough to silence its struggling prey in mere moments. Wolves just don’t have that kind of jaw.

    When wolves kill it can take hours; blood-soaked hours as the hapless animal is battered back and forth in the grip of the wolf’s teeth. It’s not a pleasant way to die: waiting for your neck to be broken.

    The lamb didn’t see it. She didn’t see the other wolf.

    He ground his meat-tearing teeth together and leapt.

    The lamb stepped backward in surprise. All the fear that she probably owed that day came into her eyes as she saw the wolf that had been following her all day leap upon another surprised wolf that she hadn’t seen, and the clearing erupted into a fit of growling, screaming, and flying fur and blood.

    The wolf watched her panic stricken eyes as it tried to get his jaws around the interloper’s neck.

    There will be a price to pay for this, no matter what happens.

  11. #11
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    Good Deeds. Rated PG.

    It had all started so – for want of a better word – innocently, Xellos reflected as he made his way through the inferno of timber and smoke that he found himself in. But things were rapidly getting out of control.

    It came down to… well, self-destructive behavior of a certain kind. Take humans; they weren’t supposed to try to destroy themselves, but they often felt an… an unnatural itch to do so. To take that drink after they’re already too far gone, to inject something poisonous into their veins, to kill by inches and be killed by inches.

    Of course, a lot of these inclinations were pleasure-based, but just as many of them were pain-based. Humans had an… inclination for danger and destruction. It wasn’t held as positive, and it was always met with attempts at suppression, but still, it was there.

    But destruction is a monster’s bread and butter. Hence, Xellos found himself drawn into a rather different kind of trouble…

    It wasn’t as though he was a stranger to acts the might be seen from the outside as heroism. Life was… complicated, and sometimes it was so much easier, so much better to accomplish things with the carrot than the stick. Traveling with Miss Lina and the others often had such component situations. They were useful people and it was best that they remain alive so that they could continue being useful. That was just being practical.

    He’d always had an agenda in those situations. And that was the way it should be. But now…

    …He blamed Filia for this entire mess, he really did. After all, Amelia had gone on about justice and virtue before and he’d never done anything like…

    Filia’s self-righteous attitude just got to him. Her smug ‘Oh a fiend like you that can’t create anything so he can only destroy couldn’t possibly understand the simple joy of helping others! Now shut up while I subject anyone who disagrees with me to a mace-thrashing and call that doing what’s right!’ routine was just plain annoying. He usually found hypocrisy funny; but from Filia? It just set his teeth on edge.

    And he’d desperately wanted to disillusion her. This wasn’t hard to do and there was no reason he had to abandon the monster race’s agenda to do so.

    He’d saved her life on a few occasions. There was nothing wrong with that; no questions were asked of him. She had been useful then and could be useful in the future. Letting something happen to her would’ve been an unnecessary waste.

    …But the problem was, he realized, that wasn’t why he did it. He’d done it for that look. That shocked look she gave when the universe as she knew it became senseless. When he could look back into her startled eyes and say: That’s right, Filia. That fiend who can only destroy just. saved. your. life.

    And to do something like that, not because it’s practical, but because it’s enjoyable is… a slippery slope.

    …Very slippery apparently.

    After that, he’d occasionally stopped by Filia’s shop. She might not have been very charitable where he was concerned, but she was very much into charity. Xellos tended to think that she used charity as a chance to whack people over the head with the metaphorical mace of morality. She just… took over. Wives that had run charity drives, bake sales, and soup kitchens were forced to sit on their hands as Filia, the tyrant of all organized events, lay waste to their leadership efforts and took the mantle of piety off their still stunned shoulders.

    Xellos said she was a control freak. Filia said that she was just trying to help and that he wouldn’t understand, now would he?

    She always made comments like that, and he knew they shouldn’t bother him. But they stuck like thorns in his side. So he did the only thing he could do. He showed her up on her own turf at every possible opportunity.

    And it had worked too. He’d been much better at it than she was (except for one unfortunate incident of mass food poisoning at the soup kitchen that it was just better not to refer to). And she couldn’t stand it! It was fantastic and just went to show that she was only into the charity business for the chance to boss others around and look good doing it.

    They say that doing good deeds is meant to cause a warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart. If by ‘warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart’ they meant a feeling of nausea and a distaste for the smell of hobos, then Xellos had felt it.

    But it was unfair to say that there were no rewards attached to it. If there weren’t he wouldn’t be in the fix he was in. He’d learned that when he’d dispatched with the robber that broke into Filia’s shop. The thing was… just because deeds were good didn’t meant they didn’t involve violence.

    He frowned at the memory. The stupid, stubborn dragon girl couldn’t even manage to be happy then. She’d yelled at him for hurting the guy. He barely touched him…

    And that’s when the trouble really started. There was a high attached to that kind of vigilante act. What made it worse was that he was out doing things he wasn’t really supposed to do. As he’d said so often to Filia, prohibition tends to make things more attractive.

    So he’d started justifying it. He’d killed petty criminals so that… so that they wouldn’t kill some kid’s parents and cause him to grow up to be a caped crusader for good in the future. That made sense, right?

    These nighttime jaunts were getting risky though. He was in the midst of a dire addiction and he knew it.

    But, he thought, as he reached the lawn beyond the smoldering wreckage of the inferno that used to be someone’s house and set down his heavy cargo: a man, his wife, and a child, I can quit anytime I like.

    He looked down at them as they coughed the smoke out of their lungs and got to their feet. They looked like… troublemakers, he decided. Surely the world was a more discordant place with them alive. It was alright.

    The child sniffed and bellowed: “But Mittens is still in there!” She looked up at Xellos with wide, pleading eyes.

    Oh no, Xellos thought. Not the cat.

    Xellos had nothing against cats. After a fashion, he sort of liked them. Their solitary nature, their arrogant charm, their tendency to bite any hand whether it fed or not. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that there was a certain kind of person that went into a burning building after a cat, and that was a hero.

    Which he wasn’t!

    But he could practically hear Filia’s voice in his head: “I can’t believe you wouldn’t go back for the cat, you vicious beast! You probably just saved that kid so she could be sad about her cat dying and you could feed off that despair! You’re just twisted like that.”

    So he went back in. The suffocating heat of the oven that was once someone’s home didn’t faze him at all.

    He found the cat hiding under a desk. It greeted him in the traditional way of its kind by hissing and swatting at him with its claws. Xellos unconcernedly picked it up and tucked it under his arm letting it go about its futile business of lacerating his arm, and headed out the door.

    …the back door. Because he wasn’t about to let them put him in the local paper as a saver of cats. It was just too much. He set the cat in the direction of its family and let it scamper off at its own will.

    He stood there for a moment, the fire still roaring and crackling behind him. Even in the midst of knowing that this had been a stupid, risky, pointless way to spend an evening he felt it… the best way to describe it would be to call it a rapid cooling sensation. It was like the feeling after running long distances or of just barely getting away with a crime. It was flying high.

    “The cat too? We really do have a problem here,” said a voice behind him.

    Xellos’s high was replaced with dread. He very slowly turned around.

    There, leaning on the charred siding of the burning house, in close enough proximity to die of smoke inhalation were that a problem she even had to think about in the slightest, stood Xellos’s Lord, Creator, and Master. She held her pipe close to the inferno long enough for it to catch ablaze.

    She held it between her teeth and took a drag, blowing blue smoke into the already foggy air. “There’s a word for the kind of person that goes back for the cat,” she said calmly. “I think it’s idiot.”

    Well, that had been Xellos’s second guess. He stood stock still and silent, trying to figure out how to outrun the catastrophe train.

    “You’re not going to try to tell me that saving that family was actually helpful to me, are you?” Zelas asked, one eyebrow raised.

    Xellos knew better than that. “No, Lord Beastmaster,” he confessed, trying to plaster that careless smile back on his face but not doing a very good job of it. “It doesn’t help at all.”

    “But,” he added, in the face of that intense stare, “it doesn’t hurt at all.”

    “Does it?” Zelas asked coolly. “You don’t think this is a problem?”

    Zelas brushed her hair back from her face as Xellos tried to come up with an answer. She put a hand on her hip and looked up into the night sky. “I should’ve known something like this would happen when you wanted to start playing with dragons,” she breathed, as though half talking to herself.

    The anchor tied to Xellos’s dread sunk further.

    “Still,” Zelas said thoughtfully, in a way that barely caused Xellos to dare to hope that he’d escape from this situation unscathed, “I get the feeling that a similar phenomenon is happening to your little Filia, but in reverse. Something like that could be useful yet.”

    “What do you think, Xellos?” she asked. “Are you still in the mood to play with dragons?” Her grin was predatory. He’d seen it many times before, he’d used it many times himself.

    “Yes, Lord Beastmaster.”

    No good deed goes unpunished. No bad act goes unrewarded.

  12. #12
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    Amusement Park. Rated PG.

    The county fair should’ve been the highlight of Filia’s summer. It brought new and exciting sights from throughout the area, rewarding business opportunities at the crafts section of the fair, and plenty of time to spend with Val. Normally, she’d have looked forward to it, but all she could feel as she passed out tickets from under the awning that was the only thing standing between her and the heat of the sun was dread. And it was all Xellos’s fault.

    Sure, Xellos had a history of showing up to ruin her life on a regular basis, but the county fair was something else entirely. Maybe it was just because the county fair should have been fun, maybe it was because there was an audience to her humiliation, but his antics at the county fair always struck her as particularly horrible.

    Let’s see… he had always one-upped her in any contest or game she tried. There had been the high striker game, the ring toss, the gold-fish catching game, the arm wrestling competition… his only real failure had been the pie baking contest which had resulted in two of the judges going home sick and one of them spending the next four hours in the port-a-potty. Other than that, Xellos delighted in trumping her at any way he could. At the end of the day he would be smugly carting around armfuls of trophies, ribbons, and stuffed animal prizes while Filia carried dinkier trophies, second-place ribbons, and lollipops given to her by any carnival game operators who felt sorry for her.

    And her expo table was always a nightmare of shattering ceramic and pottery shard wounds. It was hard to get fair-goers interested in her wares when Xellos kept reminding everyone how breakable they were.

    She shuddered to herself. But the worst of it had been during the picnic basket auction. People still talked about that one. It had been a few years ago and the fair committee was trying a new charity ploy to raise funds for a roof for the schoolhouse. So they’d gotten a bunch of the women in town together to make homemade picnic lunches. Then the men at the fair would bid for the lunch of their choice (and, more importantly, a certain companion to eat it with). It was a set-up based on charitable intentions, an appreciation for good cooking, and male loneliness.

    Filia hadn’t been so hot on the idea when she’d been asked to take part in it. Then again, it was for a good cause and all she was being asked to do was make and eat a lunch when you got right down to it. So she’d agreed.

    The auction took place on the last day of the fair and she’d been in very high spirits. The expo table had done well, Val was having a blast, and Xellos hadn’t shown up once. She’d started to think he had better things to do then spoil her good time. Little did she know what was about to unfold.

    After several young ladies had auctioned off their lunches and a decent pool of money had been collected, it was Filia’s turn. The bidding was going pretty well… she wasn’t sure if she should take that as a self-esteem boost or not, when…

    “500,” a voice called lazily from the crowd.

    Filia froze on the podium. She knew that voice.

    “What?” Xellos asked, looking curiously at the slack-jawed crowd. “I thought this was an auction.”

    It was an auction. And the last bid had been an already-too-generous 25. But Xellos just had to go and bid twenty times that amount!

    Filia looked around wildly at the crowd, but no one else thought spending that amount on lunch was sane.

    “Well,” the auctioneer had said with a slightly shocked smile. “I guess that’s sol—”

    “501!” Filia shouted out, elbowing the man out of the way.

    The auctioneer gave her a worried look. “Umm… Miss, you can’t bid on yourself.”

    “I don’t see why not!” Filia cried out, close to hysteria. “If I win then I can just eat lunch by myself!”

    “600,” Xellos added calmly from the crowd.

    Filia gritted her teeth. “601,” she said in a pained voice. Damn it. She’d really wanted a new pottery wheel too…

    “1000,” Xellos said in an affectedly offhand sort of way.

    Filia may have chipped a tooth at this point. The auctioneer gave her a doubtful look. “Any further bets?” he’d asked.

    Filia made a helpless sort of sound, then looked down and shook her head.

    “Alright,” the auctioneer said brightly. “Sold to the man with the staff! And I daresay we’ve gone and raised enough for a schoolhouse roof earlier than any of us expected!”

    Yeah, more like a roof and a half, Filia’d thought bitterly, biting her lip.

    That showoffy jerk! Did he just enjoy making a spectacle of her in public or something? ARGH! Just thinking about it made her want knock that stupid smile off his face!

    When she’d questioned/threatened him about it at their inevitable picnic table meeting later, he’d played innocent. He said that all he’d been trying to do was contribute to a worthy civil works project. That made Xellos a liar, a cheat, and a potato salad hog.

    File that incident under ‘unpleasant conversations with Xellos’, but they were all unpleasant when it came to him! That particular meeting had ended in an overturned picnic table and a solemn vow to never participate in a farce like that again.

    Of course… she still volunteered.

    Well, she was a respected member of the community! It was downright expected of her. Anyway, she liked to help. She was just more… discerning about what jobs she took nowadays. That was why she’d stoutly refused both the kissing booth and the dunking booth when offered to her. To be fair, she would’ve said no to both of those anyway, but the Xellos factor just made her all the more insistent that it wasn’t gonna happen.

    So she’d taken a safe little job running the Ferris wheel on the last day. It was a nice job, she got to see a lot of the children she recognized from Val’s class, and Xellos couldn’t do much with something like that.

    …At least… she didn’t think so…

    She cringed. This was the day it would happen. He hadn’t shown up any of the previous days when she’d been running her pottery table or taking Val around. Experience told her not to let her guard down. He’d show eventually… he always did. And then there’d be trouble.

    “Mommy!”

    Filia abandoned her inner torment over what the future might hold for a moment as she look up and saw Val approaching at a run with Jillas close behind. He had a balloon in his hand.

    “Val!” Filia said warmly as he approached her ticket booth. “How are you doing, sweetie? Are you and Jillas having fun?”

    “I petted a sheep,” Val said, as if that was all that needed to be said on that subject.

    “Good,” Filia said vaguely, looking at Jillas out of the corner of her eye as she asked, “did you wash your hands?”

    “‘es,” Val said.

    Filia clasped her hands together eagerly. “So, did you two want to ride the Ferris wheel?”

    “‘es,” Val said again. “But Mommy, I wanna know: when’s Xewwos gonna get here?”

    Filia groaned. Val had gotten rather stuck on the idea of Xellos showing up at the fair ever since an incident two years ago. They’d been at the petting zoo when Xellos had ‘accidentally’ (so he claimed) dumped a food pellet bag over the child’s head causing all the animals to swarm around him. That’s right: Xellos had tried to feed her child to goats. As if she didn’t already have plenty of good excuses to hate him. But for some reason, Val had thought all of this was very funny and meeting Xellos had become one of the high points of the fair for him. Go figure kids.

    “He’s not coming,” Filia said in a probably-too-sharp voice as she plunked the Ferris wheel tickets into Jillas’s outstretched hand.

    “Why not?” Val asked, wide eyed.

    “I told him not to,” Filia said firmly.

    “Wait…” Jillas said, cutting in. “You don’t think ‘e’s coming, because you told ‘im not to?”

    “Yes,” Filia said firmly, not about to betray her own fears for the day ahead.

    Jillas was silent for a minute. “But boss, you tell ‘im that every year!”

    Filia gave Jillas a look that froze his expression. He held up a hand. “O’ course, you were really firm last year. You’re right. There’s no way ‘e’s coming back after that!”

    “Right,” Filia said with a determined nod.

    As Filia watched the two of them get into their Ferris wheel car, her determination faded away. Her shoulders slumped. There was no getting out of it. Xellos would show up sometime during the day for his annual make-Filia’s-life-a-living-hell festivities. But what could he do? After all these years, she felt that she was prepared for practically anything he could dish out. What could he be scheming…

    Oh no… Filia thought, staring at the Ferris wheel as a flash of insight took her.

    That was right! The Ferris wheel stopped at the top so that the people in the cars could see the entire fairgrounds and enjoy the view. She didn’t know how it would happen, but she just knew… she could see it as clear as if it was happening right then… Xellos would get her up there somehow… the car would stop… and it wouldn’t start moving again.

    She put a hand to her heart and tried to calm her breathing. No, no. That wasn’t going to happen. Now that she’d thought that, there was no way he could trick her into getting in that car. She was totally on top of the situation. Nothing to worry about.

    “Snow cone, Miss?

    Filia screamed.

    *****

    Okay, so maybe screaming at innocent snow cone vendors was not the action of a totally prepared and well-adjusted person. And maybe she’d overreacted in throwing a rock at that bandleader, but it wasn’t her fault! He shouldn’t’ve gone around with that baton which could’ve easily been mistaken for a staff! And only sociopaths like hairstyles like that!

    The balloon seller had taken up a position right outside the Ferris wheel line, all the better to sell whiny kids balloons. He had them in all different colors and the kids could pick their favorite. Whenever anyone said ‘purple’ Filia visibly twitched.

    So… she might not have been calm. But that was fine. She was wary! She was on the lookout for any sign of him. She was wise to his tricks! He wouldn’t get the drop on her this time…

    She kept turning around in case he tried to tap her on the shoulder.

    *****

    “No,” Filia said numbly as Mister Farrier, the organizer of the fair, came up to her several hours later.

    “‘Fraid so,” he said with a grin. “Time flies, don’t it? But you’ve done a great job, Miss. Don’t think I don’t appreciate it. The clean-up crew will be around in about an hour to take care of packing things up. You can head on home.”

    Filia looked around from one side to the other. “He’ll be here,” she said quietly. “He’s just waiting for me to relax and then…”

    “Umm… who?” Mister Farrier asked.

    Filia closed her eyes, shook her head, and said: “No one. Don’t worry about it.” Then she gave a false little smile and said: “You go on. I’m just… going to hang around here for a little while longer.”

    Mister Farrier gave an understanding smile. “Sure,” he said, putting on his hat and walking toward the exit. He gave a wave. “Good evening, Miss Filia.”

    Filia smiled and nodded back, but the moment he was out of sight her smile dropped. She stepped out of her booth and looked around. The summer sun had set. It was dark and cool now, and all the milling children were gone. The empty fairgrounds were a completely different place.

    She subjected her surroundings to a penetrating glare. “I know you’re here,” she said sourly. “Why don’t you just come out?”

    There was no response. She looked up at the Ferris wheel, sighed, and walked toward it. She approached the control lever and flipped it, causing the structure to jerk into life. As the slowly rocking carriages filed one by one onto the loading dock, she climbed into one of them with a stony expression and stared out into the night as the rig climbed.

    When she reached the very top the machine stopped as it always did, allowing her to take in the full splendor of the abandoned fairgrounds. The moon was big that night and seemed to hint at the coming autumn.

    She stood up, which was technically against the rules, and leaned against the railing. The high winds streamed her hair back from her face and whipped at her dress. She looked this way and that.

    Then she yelled loud enough to cause the fairgrounds to shake with echoes: “WHERE ARE YOU, XELLOS?!”

    *****

    Xellos weaved in and out of the astral plane, leaving a line of afterimages as he teleported from dark cliff to dark cliff. The ruins were just ahead…

    It was a shame, he reflected. He’d come to look forward to Achaea’s county fairs. But… well… his other duties had to come first. He couldn’t very well use a summer festival as an excuse for playing hooky.

    Without him there, Filia would have no choice but to sabotage herself all on her own. The good news was that she was already so good at that. It was such a shame to miss the fireworks though…

    He smiled in the darkness where no one could see him, then parted his lips in the emptiness where no one could hear him and said quietly: “Don’t miss me too much, Filia.”

  13. #13
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    Flower Garden. Rated G.

    The sun went away as Filia put yet another daisy in her basket. She looked up to see what was casting the shadow over her, but knew deep down who it would be.

    “What are you doing here?” she asked numbly.

    Xellos ignored her question, seemingly too absorbed in the process of taking in his surroundings. “We can’t be on holy ground,” he said, nodding at the structure in the distance. “So is this an evil garden?”

    Filia stood up so that he couldn’t look down on her any more than he usually did. She clutched her basket of flowers to her side and answered harshly: “Not evil, just not holy.”

    “I thought they were one in the same to you dragons,” Xellos responded smoothly. He looked into the distance once again. “Speaking of…”

    Filia wilted visibly. The freshly picked stems looked livelier than she did.

    “I think the real question is: what are you doing here?” Xellos asked, gesturing with his staff to the temple over the hill.

    Filia toyed with the petal of a yellow flower, but did not answer. Not yet.

    “I thought you’d abandoned cloistered temple life,” he said. “I thought you’d made a decision. And now I find you’ve come crawling back to the saintly lifestyle of lighting incense and singing songs about dead gods.” He sounded disappointed in her.

    “You left with such conviction,” he went on, “that I can’t believe you’d come back here just on a whim.” He looked at her critically. “Are you hiding from me?”

    That was too much for Filia. She wanted to throw something at him, but all she had was flowers. Feeling that that wouldn’t really make her point, she satisfied herself with a scowl in his direction. “Hardly,” she scoffed. “And what do you mean ‘back here’?” she demanded. “I think you’re confusing temples.”

    “Not really,” Xellos said, casting his gaze once again on the temple of Earthlord Rangort. “It’s just that one temple is the same as another.”

    “Maybe to you,” Filia responded bitterly.

    “Maybe,” Xellos allowed. “But that still doesn’t explain why your house is empty and your shop is closed. It doesn’t explain why you’re here, Filia.”

    Filia averted her eyes. It wasn’t fair that someone like him could make her feel guilty. It was probably just his penchant for picking apart anything she said or did. She could never be right in his books. Then again, why would she want his approval anyway? “I’m here for Val,” she said in a quiet voice.

    “For Val?” Xellos repeated with a humorless laugh. “You left for Val.”

    “I know,” Filia said, still turned away.

    “You’re not going to tell me ‘it’s different now’ are you?” Xellos asked as though she was about to get tiresome.

    Filia glared at him. “You don’t understand,” she said. “It may not seem right, but this is the only chance Val has to be raised amongst his own kind. The people in my to— in my old town were kind, but they didn’t know how different he was from them.”

    “Kind, but not his kind?” Xellos taunted.

    Filia ignored this. “Can you imagine him going to a human school? He’ll never learn all the things I learned growing up, he’ll never fly on Saint’s Day, he’ll never have his first consecration ceremony… he’ll never be surrounded by an entire group of people with the same problems he’s facing. People he can talk to who will understand him. He’ll only have me, and I’m not enough…” she trailed off sadly. “He deserves to be among his people.”

    “His people,” Xellos reminded her, “are dead.” He paused. “Or perhaps a more specific word would serve us better here? How about destroyed? Massacred? Decimated? Slaughtered? Exterminated?”

    “They’re all words you’re very fond of,” Filia responded sharply, a lump forming in her throat.

    “And by whom?” Xellos asked, railroading over her comment.

    “They’re still dragons,” Filia insisted. “They’ve been very kind to him since we came here and I’m… careful.”

    “Oh, I see,” Xellos said, his tone speaking volumes for what he thought about Filia’s supposed carefulness.

    “Don’t pretend you care even a little bit about Val’s well-being,” she said, changing tacks with a growl.

    Xellos put on a mock hurt expression. “Quite the contrary, Filia,” he said. “I am deeply concerned for Val’s safety.”

    Ha!” Filia shot back disdainfully, taking a confrontational step forward. “And that’s the other thing, now isn’t it? You can’t get to him here. Not easily at any rate.” She narrowed her eyes. “Do you just think I’m stupid or something? Do you think I don’t know what you’ve been doing? Did you expect me to believe that you were just playing house for the fun of it? Ha!” she said again, and again: nothing was funny.

    She pointed at him. “You think I don’t know the power he has? You tried to get him on your side once long ago and you’ll do it again if you get the chance. That’s why you’ve been weaseling your way close to both of us!” Her voice broke. When she spoke again her voice was low: “I won’t let that happen. I’ll do anything to stop that from happening.”

    Xellos surveyed her bristling, indignant form. “So you are hiding from me,” he said.

    Filia drew back as if slapped. “I’m not hiding,” she said thickly.

    “Really,” Xellos said in such a disbelieving tone that it wasn’t even a question. “Then what would you call it?”

    “I’m protecting my son,” Filia said, her voice weakened but still forceful like a battering ram sob.

    Xellos watched her in silence for another moment. “If that’s the case,” he said slowly, “then it might be worth remembering that your temple friends have at least as many crooked motives where your son is concerned as you suspect me of having. And no matter how,” his eyes flicked open, “careful you are, you won’t be able to stop them. At least… not on your own.”

    “Oh, what?” Filia scoffed. “Am I supposed to look to you to protect us? How can you honestly expect me to believe you’d do that?”

    Xellos frowned and knitted his brows in thought. “I don’t…” he began as though searching for the right words, “expect you to. I just know that you do.”

    Filia stared at him. There was really nothing else she could do.

    “But I can see you need time to think things over,” he said, putting his customary smile back into place. “I’ll be calling on you again, though not in there,” he said, gesturing to the temple once again with his staff as he turned to leave. “So I suppose if you’re really set on avoiding me you’ll just have to cut out these botanical excursions.” He looked back at her once again with a serious expression. “Lock yourself away in the temple if you think it’ll help,” he intoned, eyes boring into her.

    She watched him in stunned silence as he exited the garden. He stepped over the rows of mums, and daisies, and primrose until he reached the path. He walked around the flowers so as not to crush them.

    He walked around the flowers so as not to crush them. Now what kind of monster does that?

  14. #14
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    Here's my response for theme #46.

    Gemstones. Rated PG.

    Filia tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Her hands were feeling raw, dust was filling her lungs, and she had that Spring Cleaning high. Between caring for Val and running the shop, she’d been letting cleaning fall by the wayside lately. Well, no more. Filia had her mop out and she meant business.

    She didn’t dislike cleaning. It was simply work that had to be done. If one wanted to run a successful household and business, one had to be conscientious about things like that.

    And organizing… organizing actually had its own quiet joys.

    Filia opened the top drawer. She’d swept out the shop, took apart and cleaned the cash register, dusted the shelves and come up with a new cataloguing system for the maces. Then she’d moved on to the house: mopping up the kitchen, tossing what needed to be tossed from the pantry, freaking out when she found a dead mouse, etcetera, etcetera. Etcetera forever.

    But the top drawer was something that passed between shop and home. Oh, it was technically in her living room, but nevertheless it contained a lot of supplies that she used to make her vases. There was clay there and glaze, but mostly there were jars and jars of different paints. It was supposed to be her back-up supply for when she ran out of resources in the shop, but over the years it had managed to gain other purposes. She could see Val’s watercolor set crusting away in the sea of tightly wound thread and her tomato-and-strawberry pin cushion. There were patches and yarn and stationary and ink pots and quills.

    It was the famed craft drawer and it was overflowing. It had started with good intentions, but it needed a serious clean sweep. She began taking everything out bit by bit and separating things into piles. The old or redundant paints went in the ‘toss’ pile; the glazes went in the ‘keep’ pile—she could always use more of those; and a few of the prettier but somewhat unnecessary items made it into the ‘maybe’ pile.

    As she dug deeper she found other things—doodads. There were loose beads, dried flowers and leafs, shells, and plenty of little decorative stones. She’d picked them up over the years and had kept them for vase decoration. She selected a few small decorative stones and beads and put them into a small glass box to keep them organized, but the rest she lobbed into the ‘toss’ pile. They were nice items, but if she hadn’t used them yet then it was unlikely that she’d ever use them. As it was they were just taking up space.

    She reached in to take out the last remaining objects from the drawer to face her judgment. She held two of them, one in each hand, and half-sat, half-collapsed to the floor. “Oh,” she said out loud.

    They were circular gemstones, yellow in color, and on the large side. She’d almost forgotten that she…

    She shook her head and glared at the gems. A souvenir from the temple of marriage? Not likely! As if she’d ever want to remember that awful experience—the absolute indignity of getting paired up with that monster!

    It had all turned out to be a scheme of Jillas’s to turn them against one another and not some legitimate prophecy. Of course it had. Her married to Xellos? The very idea was utterly ridiculous!

    But she’d picked up the two gems that declared them ‘the gods’ chosen couple’. All of them had thrown theirs at Gourry and after Xellos had abandoned her outside the temple and the others had gone off on their fool’s errand she’d just seen them all sitting there in a bunch along with one of Gourry’s teeth. So she’d… picked the gemstones up and put them away in her bag, never mentioning a word of it to anyone.

    Not for any sentimental reasons, obviously. The only kind of sentiments Filia could attach to that incident were probably unprintable. It was just… well, even then before she’d made the decision to open up her shop she’d had an eye for that kind of thing. They were pretty, and it was a shame to let them go to waste. She was certain she’d find some use for them.

    She hadn’t picked up Miss Lina, Mister Zelgadis, Miss Amelia, and Mister Gourry’s gemstones because… well, the gold ones had a much nicer color. Yes. The red and blue ones she didn’t think she’d be able to use.

    …Not that she’d ever actually used these, she thought, staring down at them. And she could see why now. They were certainly pretty but they were… cheap. She could see the air pockets and imperfections as she looked with a more critical eye. They were the kind of fare that ended up as decoration in people’s gardens. Plus they’d been scratched up in the drawer. As it was, they were probably much too big to use for anything. Maybe a paperweight if she could find some kind of holder for them to rest in, but…

    She wasn’t going to use them, she knew, and they were just taking up space. Anyway, they were a reminder of a nasty incident and it probably just made her look a little crazy for keeping them this whole time. She turned around and looked at the ‘keep’ pile. They didn’t belong there. The ‘maybe’ pile? No. She looked at the ‘toss’ pile. Then she looked back at the golden orbs in her hands. She hesitated.

    The longer it took, the angrier she was with herself. It shouldn’t even be a question, she thought forcefully. They’re garbage! He’s garbage. And what do you do with garbage? You throw it out, that’s what!

    She slowly, with her eyes closed and her teeth clenched, placed them in the ‘toss’ pile, but before they’d even left her hands she swung around and put them back in the drawer.

    Well, it’s not as if they’re doing any harm, she thought, turning around to gather an armful of paint from the ‘keep’ pile.

    “You’ve been busy today,” Xellos said, sweeping a gloved finger over the top of her mantle like everyone’s least favorite mother-in-law.

    Filia’s reaction was less than composed. She dropped all the paints she was holding, sending them crashing to the floor where several broke and threatened to permanently stain her floor magenta. She slammed the drawer shut and blocked it bodily.

    “Xellos!” she shouted, trying to bluster her way out of the impression she’d been caught doing something wrong. “What are you doing here?!”

    “Helping,” he said simply.

    “Helping?!” she repeated. Even in her desperation to get him out of there, she had to question this completely blatant bull****. Xellos was the opposite of helpful.

    “Well, of course,” Xellos said as though this were obvious. “You need help if your idea of cleaning is to throw paint on the floor.”

    Filia pointed angrily at him and clenched her other hand into a fist. “Excuse me, but I did not throw this paint on the floor. I dropped it because you snuck up on me! If that’s your idea of helping then go help someone else!

    Xellos leaned on his staff and endeavored to look persecuted. “I didn’t sneak up on you. I merely dropped in for a visit and made an innocent comment to announce my presence. You on the other hand, completely overreacted and dropped everything to try to hide an entire chest of drawers with your body.”

    “I’m not hiding anything!” Filia declared, cape stretched across the furniture in question.

    Xellos sat down in one of her chairs. “Now this is interesting,” he commented cheerfully. “What do you have in there that you don’t want people to see?” he pondered. “Perhaps your diary? A secret alcohol stash? If this was your bureau then I could make some more colorful guesses.”

    “Absolutely not!” Filia screeched, incensed. Her diary was in a combination safe which was itself in a locked chest in the darkest corner of the attic. Her bottle of gin, which she only kept around to put a drop or two in her tea when she’d had an especially hard day, was kept on the highest shelf in the kitchen where only she and Gravos (who wasn’t inclined to judge) could reach. “This drawer is for art supplies and nothing else!”

    “Really?” Xellos asked, sounding somewhat disappointed as he rose to his feet. “Then I suppose you won’t mind me taking a look.”

    Filia braced herself against the chest of drawers. There was no way she could let him find out that she’d kept those orbs. He’d get a bunch of crazy ideas in that nasty little head of his that she wouldn’t be able to dissuade him of no matter how hard she tried. He was already insufferable, she couldn’t stand the thought that it could get worse.

    “Why would you want to see those?” she countered.

    “Because you don’t want me to,” he said simply.

    Filia made an exasperated sound. “That’s just being difficult!”

    Xellos nodded sagely. “I do have a rather high difficulty level.”

    “That’s nothing to be proud of!” Filia snapped.

    “That’s a matter of perspective,” Xellos said dismissively. “Now, will you let me see what’s in there?”

    “Not a chance!” Filia declared. “You have no right to go poking around through my things just because you’re evil!”

    Eyebrow twitch. “You’re just making it more obvious that you’re hiding something. Don’t dragons ever learn subtlety?” He took a step forward.

    She crossed her arms. Subtle or not she was short of viable excuses for why she didn’t want Xellos looking at her art supplies. And he was just getting more and more suspicious…

    “The last time you looked at my art supplies, I ended up with paint all over my floor!” Filia tried.

    “Ah, but that was entirely your fault,” Xellos responded, taking another step forward.

    Filia panicked. Xellos was getting too close. “You’ll have to walk through paint,” she pointed out in a last ditch effort to hold him off.

    “Why should you care if an ‘evil’ person gets paint on their shoes?” Xellos asked, advancing still forward. He stopped in the middle of the paint puddle, getting magenta paint on his evil shoes. He tapped her on the side with his staff. “Well?”

    She glared at him as she felt the pressure of his staff prodding her out of the way. He seemed to have his mind set on rummaging through her drawers and there was nothing she could do to stop him. With belligerent slowness she moved away from the craft drawer.

    She turned away from him in a manner that she hoped conveyed how utterly she disapproved of him. She heard the drawer roll back on its sliders as he opened it. She knew that her excuses for why she’d kept those gems weren’t any better than her excuses for why he shouldn’t see them.

    He stared into the open drawer for a minute. “Filia you…” he began.

    She winced. Here it comes…

    “…thief.”

    Okay, that she hadn’t expected. Her eyes shot open as she turned to him with her fists planted on her hips. “What do you mean ‘thief’?!” she demanded.

    “Well,” Xellos said, taking out one of the golden orbs, “one of these belongs to me, doesn’t it? You stole it.” He gave a sigh. “The dragon race has committed plenty of crimes in their history, but you’d think that their priestesses would at least be above petty thievery.”

    “Excuse me, I did not steal anything!” Filia yelled back. “You threw it away!”

    “You threw yours away too,” Xellos pointed out.

    “Yes,” Filia said, momentarily caught off guard. “But I came back for it.”

    “What if I intended to come back for mine?” Xellos posited. “For all you know, I came back to the temple entrance later that day looking for what was mine only to find it missing. How could I have possibly guessed that a dragon priestess had stolen it?”

    “Oh, please!” Filia said incredulously. “You were just as insulted as I was when Jillas paired us up. Why would you want a reminder of all that? That’s just—” And then it hit her like a truck full of similes.

    That’s just as crazy as me doing exactly the same thing…

    She gave him a horrified look. He couldn’t have actually gone and…

    “Oh gods…” she murmured, leaning against the chest of drawers for support. “I think we’ve got the same kind of madness.”

    “What?” Xellos asked, brow furrowing.

    “Nothing,” Filia said, trying to hoist herself back up. She held a hand up to her head and took a few unsteady steps away. “I think… I need to lie down,” she said deliberately. And because of the current state of her mind, she added: “You’re not invited.”

    And with that she tottered out of the room. Xellos’s gaze followed her until she was gone.

    Well, that was… peculiar.

    He looked down at the golden gemstone in his hand. He held it up to the red one on his staff and shook his head. He didn’t even know why he’d thought that would be a good idea in the first place.

    He gave the gemstone a little toss in the air and caught it.

    Oh well. No harm in keeping it.

  15. #15
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    For theme #40.

    Childish. Rated PG-13.

    Filia stirred her lemonade contentedly with her straw. It was a perfect day, the kind that even Xellos couldn’t ruin. She sat on her back porch and looked out into the dew-glistened morning.

    “I think spring is my favorite time of year,” she said as a yellow finch let out a burst of birdsong.

    “Oh really?” Xellos said, with a willingness to test her previous assumption about him. “Which part do you like best: the constant rain or the smell of worms the rain leaves behind?”

    Filia breathed in the moist air that only had the slightest aroma of worms. “You’re wrong,” she insisted. “It’s the most beautiful season there is.”

    Xellos cocked his head to one side to look at her. “Autumn has its changing colors, winter its frosted vistas, and in summer everything is at its height of liveliness. What makes spring superior among the four?”

    Filia shook her head. “Someone like you could never understand. It’s just… the feeling in the air. It’s like everything is being renewed. It’s full of new life: carefree and… innocent.”

    At this exact moment, a squirrel ran across Filia’s yard, hotly pursued by a second squirrel.

    “Though not for very long,” Xellos commented, following the two animals with his eye.

    Filia managed to avert her eyes before the second squirrel pounced upon the first squirrel, but she was just in time to see a female duck being chased around the shrub at the edge of her property by, not one, but two male ducks.

    Quacks filled the air.

    Filia slammed her lemonade down on the porch, got up and stomped back into the house without looking back. Xellos raised his eyebrows and followed her.

    “Filia?” he tried when he followed her through the screen door.

    “I’ve changed my mind,” she said shortly, not turning around from the dirty dishes she’d chosen to occupy herself with. “Autumn is much better.”

    Xellos leaned against the wall. “What, just because of that?” he asked, gesturing to beyond the door.

    There was another loud quack from outside.

    Filia dropped her scrubbing brush angrily into the sink. It plopped under water and then surfaced. “Just shut up,” she said, retrieving it.

    “Don’t you think you’re being a little… childish?” Xellos asked, not shutting up at all.

    “I said shut up!”

    “I mean,” Xellos said, scratching his cheek speculatively, “what did you think the birds were singing about?”

    Filia whipped around, waving a ladle at him in a threatening manner. “I thought even you couldn’t ruin a day like this! I guess I was wrong!”

    Xellos surveyed her in an extremely unimpressed way. “It’s not as though it’s my fault the mortal races reproduce sexually.”

    Filia collapsed slightly, her outstretch ladle now looking more like an ordinary spoon than a demon vanquishing sword. Technically he had a point there, but nevertheless.

    “I mean, you like ducklings, don’t you?” Xellos asked. “It’s very juvenile to like ducklings but blanch at the steps necessary to get ducklings. But I suppose it doesn’t surprise me. The Dragon race has always had a high and mighty attitude about these kinds of things.”

    Knocking his brains out with a ladle won’t solve anything, Filia warned herself as she felt her grip tightening around the spoon. She forced herself to turn around and dry dishes.

    “I suppose part of it is a survival thing,” Xellos commented from behind her. “Adult dragons don’t need to eat that much, but hatchlings require a lot of feeding and are a very large strain on resources. Then there’s the fact that dragons are very long lived. If you weren’t a backwards and sexually repressed bunch, then the dragon population would have expanded beyond its means.”

    A crack appeared in the center of the plate that Filia was cleaning.

    “Not only that,” Xellos went on, determined to explore this topic to its full extent, “but if the dragon population got too large then the monster race might get concerned about their growing ranks and choose to rectify the situation.”

    That did it. The plate broke.

    Filia swung around. “How dare you threaten genocide in my house?!”

    “I wasn’t threatening anything,” Xellos said in a slightly annoyed voice. “I was just stating a fact.”

    “Well, state your facts elsewhere because I’m not interested in listening!” Filia declared, her voice getting high pitched. She turned back to the sink yet again, hoping that he’d finally take a hint.

    The kitchen was filled only with the squeak of Filia rubbing a washcloth over her wet dishes for a few minutes. Then Xellos said, as thought there’d been no interruption in his previous line of thought, “Then there’s the matter of control, which I’m sure your dragon elders have thought up. Dragons have a lot of rules, you know. Well,” he laughed, “it’s obvious that a population beset with guilt and shame is easier to manipulate.”

    “That’s not how it is and you know it,” Filia countered fiercely. “Stop trying to turn having scruples into something wicked.”

    Xellos raised an eyebrow. “Are you telling me that you’re not controlled by guilt and shame?”

    “Of course not,” Filia said, hands on her hips as she turned around to glare at him. “I have nothing to feel guilty about.”

    “Is that a fact?” Xellos asked insincerely, pulling out a chair from her kitchen table and sitting down. “Tell me then, how do the Golden Dragons incite these marvelous virtues without blame or fear-mongering?”

    Filia hesitated. Thinking back to her youth, well… it wasn’t a subject that dragons talked about that much… or at all, really. She could still remember a time when she’d been quite young and her friend Mintha had made an innocent inquiry to their teacher wondering where eggs came from. She’d been told to stand in the corner until she was willing to behave like a proper dragon and to not ask again unless she wanted worse punishment. That probably classified as blame and fear-mongering.

    When they’d gotten older…

    “There was this… book,” Filia recalled out loud, “of all the things that unmarried dragons are not allowed to do.”

    Xellos considered the Dragon race’s attitude toward impropriety and their general fondness for rule collecting. “I imagine it was quite a large book.”

    Filia couldn’t help nodding. It had been huge. And it got bigger every year. A classmate had commented in a whispered voice that it must have binder rings in it to make it easier to add new debaucheries.

    “So… what was in it?” Xellos asked in a curious voice.

    Filia bit her lip and shook her head. “We weren’t allowed to read it,” she said.

    Xellos raised an eyebrow. “What?”

    “They said it would give us ideas,” Filia explained.

    Xellos pondered this. Dragons possibly had a better understanding of psychology than he’d assumed. “Then what about married dragons?” he asked.

    “From what I always understood,” Filia said, rooting through memories, “whenever two dragons get married they are given a pamphlet.”

    “Of things they aren’t allowed to do?” Xellos asked.

    “No,” Filia said. “Of things they are allowed to do.”

    Xellos stared at her in silence.

    “And a list of instructions,” Filia went on.

    Xellos’s silence got, if at all possible, more silent.

    “And a diagram with numbered parts,” Filia finished.

    Xellos opened his mouth, then closed it again. Then opened it to say: “Filia?”

    “What?” she asked, narrowing her eyes at him.

    Backwards and sexually repressed,” he said firmly.

    “Oh, don’t give me that!” Filia snapped. “There’s nothing wrong with having wholesome virtues. And if you have to write five hundred strictly enforced rules and regulations to get them then… well, what’s the alternative? Just a downward spiral into decadent immorality and detestable sin!”

    Xellos had to figure that she’d lifted ‘decadent immorality and detestable sin’ straight from one of the Dragon race’s sermons. It had that familiar cadence and hammered home repetition that they were so fond of. “Come to think of it,” he said quietly, “you’re not really sure what that detestable sin is, are you?”

    Filia was taken aback. She was sure she wouldn’t like where this line of thought was heading.

    “Oh, I’m sure you’ve managed to collect some idea over the years,” Xellos said thoughtfully, “from the vague forbiddances of your elders, overheard conversations and half-understood jokes. But I’d guess that there’s a pretty good chance that you’re not at all familiar with, shall we say, the particulars.” He looked up at her.

    Filia wished that she hadn’t put her ladle away. Whether or not it would solve anything, Xellos deserved to have his brains knocked out with a serving utensil.

    “Do I need to give you ‘The Talk’, Filia?” Xellos inquired.

    “What?! No!” Filia yelled, her horror knowing no bounds. “Absolutely not!”

    “When a man and woman love—or sometimes hate—each other very much—”

    “GET OUT OF MY KITCHEN THIS INSTANT!” Filia screeched.

  16. #16
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    For theme #89.

    You Are Answerable For Your Fantasies. PG.

    It was a roundabout way, Xellos had to admit, of getting a cup of tea. Going to a café might have afforded him better service and less generalized insolence than stopping by Filia’s and waiting for her to snap enough to need to sooth her nerves with tea, but… then again, that wouldn’t be as much fun.

    It had only taken a backhanded compliment about her weight, a knock on her child-rearing abilities, and a steadfast refusal to give her any clue as to just what exactly he was ‘up to’ with these little visits to make Filia decide to reschedule teatime. The look on her face when she disappeared to the kitchen said: teatime is whenever the hell I need tea, and I need tea now.

    She returned from the kitchen, easily carting a teapot big enough and solid enough to have bent most women her size double. She gave him a nasty look as though questioning where he got off sitting so expectantly at her table like he had a right to the share of the stress-reducing tea that she’d had to brew because of his shenanigans. Nevertheless she coldly set a crinkle-edged tea cup in front of him, lest he make a swipe at her less-than shining hostess skills.

    She poured his tea slowly, as though determined to give herself reaction time in case he decided to pull his cup and saucer away suddenly so she’d stain her tabletop. But he let her finish.

    When she had sat down across from him with her own steaming cup, he picked up the delicate beverageware and took a long drink. He took the cup away from his mouth and let out a satisfied post-drink noise. He looked up curiously at Filia’s seething form from across the table.

    “What’s the matter, Filia? You’re not drinking,” he said, faux-concern latched firmly into place.

    Filia wanted to drink. In fact, she’d go so far as to say that she desperately needed to drink. The smell of it was driving her crazy. She knew that once she had a sip of the warm, consoling liquid that inner peace would wrap its arms around her and her troubles would be forgotten, if only for a moment. But even to Filia’s frequently burnt tongue, the freshly brewed tea was far too hot to drink. Not that that would matter to a monster. And Xellos knew that. He was just lording it over her.

    “I am waiting,” she said evenly, “for it to cool.”

    “Ah, what a shame,” Xellos said, with a tone and expression that indicated in no uncertain terms that this was not a shame. “It might help pass the time if you had a cookie or two to nibble on,” he suggested, looking around his saucer as though a circle of sweetened dough might be hiding under it, “but I see there aren’t any.” He cocked his head at her. “How strange. You’d just opened up a new tin when I was here yesterday—you remember, when you threw an oatmeal raisin one at me with such force that it smashed against the wall behind me into nothing but a cloud of crumbs?” He looked at her critically. “Don’t tell me you ate all of them by yourself between then and now.”

    Her hands encircled her tea cup with more vigor than you’d expect for simple hand warming. In fact, it was hard to tell which would shatter first: the tea cup full of boiling liquid or her gritted teeth. Just when Xellos was making ready to duck away from another flying projectile, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them, she had an expression of such peace and contentment that you’d think that she’d already taken a swig of her favorite beverage (perhaps with a shot of something stronger too). She smiled.

    Xellos eyed her suspiciously. “What was that?” he asked.

    “What was what?” she asked, feeling the heat radiating from her cup. It would be just cool enough to drink soon.

    “Whatever you were just thinking,” Xellos said, narrowing his eyes.

    “Oh, that. I was thinking about bashing that teapot over your head. Repeatedly,” Filia answered sweetly.

    Xellos raised an eyebrow. He’d gotten his tea, now he was getting his serving of insolence.

    “I see,” he said curtly. “And do fantasies of inflicting violence upon me always fill you with such glee?”

    “Of course,” she said, raising the previously boiling, but now merely scalding beverage to her lips to take a drink.

    “Doesn’t the Dragon race have rules against sinful fantasies?” Xellos asked.

    Filia spat out her long awaited gulp of tea in a spray of indignation. She gave him a hard look. “You’re thinking of an entirely different kind of fantasy.”

    “What kind of fantasy?” he asked in an innocent tone that she did not buy.

    “That kind I’d never have about you!” she shouted.

    “Ah,” Xellos said, sitting back. “So you don’t participate in the panting, caressing, fleshy kind of fantasies?”

    “Of course not!” Filia screeched.

    “You’re talking about the wrathful, pummeling, violent kind of fantasy?”

    Filia nodded fiercely.

    “Well how is that any less sinful?” Xellos asked. “It’s not as though sex is more wicked than violence. In fact, it’s less aberrant. At least sex has its place, whereas destruction is always seen as evil.”

    “You’re missing the part where you’re a monster,” Filia said acidly. “Hitting you is practically a public service, whereas”—she choked on her words for a minute—“whereas doing that other thing with you would be an abomination.”

    Xellos clucked his tongue at her. “I don’t see how the victim of your action matters. The act of violence itself is sinful. I can’t say it’s what you practice, but it is what you dragons preach. In that sense, it doesn’t matter what I am.”

    Filia wanted to know just where Xellos got off labeling himself ‘the victim’. But he had an annoyingly accurate theological point.

    “Well that doesn’t even matter,” Filia shot back, “because I didn’t actually hit you, I only thought about it.”

    Xellos wagged a finger at her. “Ah-ah-ah,” he chided. “Haven’t we already established that ‘just thinking’ isn’t an excuse? Lustful thoughts are a sin and so is lust. Therefore if violence is a sin, then so are violent thoughts.”

    Filia was not only running out of counterarguments, but she was running into more violent fantasies. “Who are you to criticize my moral compass anyway?” she demanded in a last-ditch effort.

    Xellos shook his head. “Criticism isn’t the point,” he said. “Clearly you’re being held hostage by these depraved desires you have concerning me.” He looked at her seriously. “You need help.”

    Filia was exasperated. The help she needed was for Xellos to get as far away from her as possible. Also, she wasn’t too fond of the way he wielded the phrase ‘depraved desires’.

    “I think confession is the solution,” Xellos concluded thoughtfully. “Yes. You must got to one of your temples and tell a dragon priest that you’ve been having immoral fantasies about me. I’m confident he’ll get you the help you need.”

    Filia ran that suggested sentence through her mind. ‘So, I’ve been having these immoral fantasies about Xellos…’ “They’d execute me!” she yelled.

    “Yes,” Xellos said with an enthusiastic nod, “but you wouldn’t have any more fantasies.”

    Filia stared at him opened mouthed. Then she shut her mouth, glared at him, and appeared to reach a decision. She pushed her chair out, got up, and gripped the teapot with deadly intent.

    “Oh good,” Xellos said, cheerfully dodging as the hefty weight swung straight through the area his head had been seconds ago. “I’d prefer to see you actualizing.”

  17. #17
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    For theme #24.

    Clipped Wings. Rated PG.

    It always started out sharp and peppery. That was when surprise overtook her. He’d say a word or two to her, probably something fairly harmless or a reply to something she thought she’d been saying just to herself, and then she’d jump and look wildly around the room for the source of the comment.

    “Xellos!” Filia cried out, that surprise even now beginning to shake away into anger. “What are you doing here?”

    Once the surprise was shed, her teeth would grind together and her eyes would narrow. That would generally signal her move from shock into the deep canyon of annoyance and suspicion where she would stay for most of the remainder of their conversation. Annoyance was sugary, diverging into syrupy when her rage deepened. It wasn’t filling like fear or pain, or savory like sadness, but it was almost addictively sweet.

    He raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you ever have anything new to say? I’m sorry to point out that while dragons might consider that a proper greeting, I doubt anyone else would think it’s very polite.”

    “I don’t have to be polite to you,” she declared, stepping away from her chore of lining shelves to glare at him properly. “Would you prefer I greeted you with what monsters consider polite? Doesn’t that generally involve collapsing someone’s skull?”

    “Hardly,” Xellos said with a scoff and a frown. It wasn’t all saccharinity. Things could get downright sour when Filia started jabbing back. But it gave the experience variety. “And the Golden Dragons? Aside from rude demands of intent, how does your race greet people? Maybe a little species cleansing? Or is that just for other dragon races?”

    That one hurt and perhaps even a little too much. He could feel it radiating off of her. Things tended to escalate in arguments with Filia, so he thought he might have to recalibrate. Before he had a chance, though, she was pointing at him, with that look in her eyes that said she might either cry or slap him upside the head next.

    “You of all people have no right to throw stones on that issue!”

    “Ah, perhaps, Filia,” he said, trying to calm the waters back to a more reasonable level of churning agitation. “It seems that both our races have been involved in mass… impoliteness.”

    “I’d use a stronger word than that!” Filia shot back, understandably irked by his reference to genocide in the same terms as one might refer to not taking your shoes off inside someone else’s house.

    “Would you?” Xellos asked, taking a seat on the step stool Filia used to reach the highest shelves in her shop. “But it’s on both sides, wouldn’t you agree?”

    “That’s not even—” Filia began. Then she stopped and you could practically see steam spurting out of her nostrils. “Look, Golden Dragons have done horrible things. I know that. You know I know that. But even in the midst of those terrible things they were trying to do good. They were terrible wrong, but at least their intentions were good. You monsters actually go out and attempt to be awful!”

    Xellos waved a finger at her. “Ah, so are you saying that a well-intentioned massacre is less vile than a poorly-intentioned massacre? Do the brutally murdered appreciate that good intent?”

    Filia often thought that Xellos derived some sick pleasure from confusing her. This was absolutely true. Filia was trying to build up a counter-argument, because she knew that Xellos’s thesis was full of holes. She just wasn’t entirely sure how to express that at the moment. But he was already moving on and didn’t give her a chance to respond.

    “And in any case, if intent is considered then the matter becomes all the more murky when you realize that these acts are carried out by servants under the orders of their superiors. This is true on both sides. Now… correct me if I’m wrong, Filia, but isn’t obedience one of the Dragon race’s favorite virtues?” Though certainly not one of Filia’s, Xellos had to admit. Unless it involved being obedient to her. “If that’s the case and following orders is a laudable act, then by your own argument you have absolutely no reason to hold a grudge against me for such acts.”

    Filia nearly exploded. “Are you serious?!” she demanded. “You’re actually going to try to play the ‘I was just following orders’ card and think everything will be forgiven?”

    “I was not apologizing,” Xellos said coldly. “I was simply following through with your logic.”

    “That wasn’t my logic,” Filia countered fiercely. “That’s some twisted version of my logic that you’ve concocted by missing the point of everything I was saying to excuse your dastardly behavior!”

    “Pardon me for listening to your words, I’m sure,” he answered icily, though he was glad at least for the ‘d’. “I just consider it rather hypocritical for you to judge me for carrying out orders, when you served your own race in a similar—though infinitely less important—way.”

    “Not even remotely similar!” Filia shrieked. “And anyway, you hit on the actually point there, served,” she said forcefully. “I didn’t like the things that the Dragon race was doing or the things I was being asked to do so I quit! I could do that too. Nobody clipped my wings.”

    “And if you’re going to claim to be just ‘an obedient servant’ then I’ve got news for you,” Filia snapped, really getting in his face. “If you get pay and the occasional day off then you’re a servant; if you get to go home at the end of the day and belong to yourself then you’re a servant; if your choices belong to you then you’re a servant; if you can quit when you don’t like what you’re being asked to do and not face death then you’re a servant. If not, then that’s just,”—she struggled with herself for a moment—“that’s just slavery.”

    Xellos gaped at her. How could she have the audacity to suggest that— If she honestly believed something so stupid then there was no way he could set the deluded creature straight. When, by all accounts, if she had even the slightest bit of sense she should envy him his position. How dare she! Did she really think that just because those more powerful than her deigned to let have her way for the moment that she was freer than him? Did she have any concept of how fragile that illusion of freedom was? That at any moment it could be taken away? And yet she had the nerve to imply something so… so low and untrue about him?

    He was about tell her that. All that. To take the blindfold off her and let her see what chains she really lived with. He was about to tell her, when he picked up a new sensation.

    It was small, just a tendril of feeling flowing off of Filia as she stared back at him with a difficult to decipher expression. It had a coarse, sickening taste, as bitter in his mouth as ash.

    It was pity.

  18. #18
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    Here's theme #75. Continued from last oneshot.

    Totally Smashed. Rated PG.

    Xellos was still stewing from his last encounter with Filia. Being called a slave by a lizard who did not even possess a hundredth of his power was not sitting at all well with him. She was just spewing nonsense and didn’t even understand half of what she was saying. Yes, that was right. Unfortunately this was probably the eighth time he’d told himself that and the matter didn’t seem any more likely to leave his head.

    He had to suppose that from a certain perspective, namely Filia’s, she was actually correct. But that was only in the way that all creatures were subject to the whims of those more powerful than them. She wasn’t any freer than he was, she just wasn’t aware of it. We’re all under someone’s heel; that’s just a fact.

    It wasn’t, to be perfectly honest, a fact that was making him feel any better.

    It was the pity that had really gotten to him. The idea of someone like her pitying him was almost too much to bear. He’d witnessed pity before, but it being directed at him was a galling and utterly foreign experience. Being pitied was not pleasant. After all, pity was just a disgusted kind of love.

    This… wasn’t a productive line of thought. But he kept running through the same old tracks and was unable to put it out of his mind or move on to anything new. At this point, he just wished he could stop thinking, if only for a little while.

    It is in this mindset, Xellos observed grimly, but with irony, that mortals drink.

    Of course, Xellos himself occasionally partook in alcohol. It was a… social thing. Humans are much more inclined to make deals over drinks. Not drinking would’ve made them uncomfortable and, in any case, the more he’d drink the more they’d drink and the more they drank the easier it was to strike a deal.

    But it wasn’t the same thing for him. Not having a blood stream to build up alcohol in, he was simply left to enjoy the fine flavor of the beverage while anyone who drank with him enjoyed the effects of inebriation.

    Then again… it was all just a matter of processing chemicals, wasn’t it? He could do that. When the mood struck her, Lord Beastmaster certainly seemed to manage it. With flourish.

    He should… probably check this out. If only to develop a better frame of reference for the experience. Xellos was all about developing better frames of reference.

    He fazed out.

    *****

    Some time later Xellos found what he was looking for. He walked into a bar which wasn’t quite seedy, but definitely on the seedy side. It was seedy-esque; certainly not a place that would make it into a tourist pamphlet top ten list, but on the other hand, they probably actually washed their glasses. The lighting was low and depressed inside; a sharp contrast from the bright, snowy day outside where couples were walking arm in arm, carrying heart-shaped objects. Apparently some sort of late winter festival devoted to love was going on. Perhaps it was the rejects of that ceremony that turned to look at him in a glassy-eyed way as he entered and then turned their attention back to their drinks.

    He walked up to the bar, rapped on the counter and asked the bartender to fetch him a bottle of whatever the locals used as paint thinner. Normally this kind of behavior would at least have earned him the cold shoulder in such establishments and at most sent a chair flying at his face, but this bartender hadn’t lasted as long as he had without learning how to feel people out. Priests could always be trouble when they drank and this one looked like trouble already—not in the usual scarred, tattooed, grimacing way—but a kind of trouble nonetheless. He passed the newcomer a bottle and a very small glass without a word.

    Xellos poured a generous dose into the glass with a steady hand and downed it in a way that got the attention of the more competitive clientele of the bar. It tasted awful, but he knew it would start tasting better when the caustic substance starting burning away taste buds. He took another drink and the quality seemed to be marginally improved. It was even better on the third go.

    He was starting to worry that he’d gone to all this trouble for nothing. He wasn’t feeling any different and the stinging encounter with Filia weighed upon his mind just as much. He reached for the glass again and missed, but chalked this up to being lost in thought. He managed to grasp it on the second try.

    The morose silence of the room was broken for a moment as a sigh that was more of a groan from some rose up. Xellos followed the gaze of every man in the room toward the window. The windows must have been dirty, since his view through them was rather blurry, but he could make out a young woman holding a box given to her by a young man. She moved quite animatedly, putting something from the box onto her finger and throwing herself into his arms.

    Xellos turned back to his drink. He didn’t know for sure what number drink this was at the moment, but that hardly mattered. What he did know for sure was that watching the courtship rituals of humans wasn’t doing anything to improve his mood.

    Filia probably would’ve thought it was sweet. If she’d been there she would’ve sighed and clasped a hand to her heart. Maybe if she was really drawn into a fit of emotion she’d take out a handkerchief and cry into it over the romance of the situation. But no… if she’d been there with him she would’ve been too absorbed being disgusted by the bar and its customers. Yes… she’d feel disgust, but not love as well… not pity. No pity for them, but…

    He looked up in time to see one of the bar’s patrons giving him a half smile. It wasn’t a nice smile, and not only because it was on a grizzled prospector’s face and therefore missing a few important teeth. It was an unhappy sort of smile, but one that bespoke a fellow feeling. The man lifted his glass, said: “Wimmin’,” vehemently and took a drink.

    Xellos looked at his own glass. “Wimmin’,” he was forced to agree, and drank it down.

    *****

    A few hours later and even Xellos’s new friends from the bar (to whom he owed a great debt of thanks for teaching him a series of amusing songs) thought that he’d had enough. Now he was roaming around at the stage of drunkenness where calling on an ex to give her a piece of your mind and/or beg her to come back to you seems like an excellent idea. After a few misses he managed to teleport to Filia’s door.

    Before Filia had even managed to get out her quintessential ‘what are you doing here?!’ (with perhaps a confused addition of ‘…and why are you using the door?’) Xellos had declared in what, in his mind, was a clear, reasonable voice: “I don’ need yer pity!

    For a moment Filia was taken aback, then she sniffed the air and was really taken aback. “Are you drunk?!” she asked disbelievingly as he lurched past her and into the house.

    No,” he answered belligerently. He walked into nothing and fell down. “…Maybe a li’l,” he admitted from the floor.

    “You can’t be drunk,” Filia said, as if she could order the facts away. She clomped over and tried to pull him up. “That shouldn’t even be possible!

    “Well if I am itsyer fault,” he said reproachfully, immobile despite her efforts to get him on two feet again.

    She grunted and pulled but he wasn’t moving, instead she ended up falling to the floor next to him where she shrieked at him in utter aggravation and demanded: “How is it my fault?”

    He extended his index finger and narrowly avoided poking his own eye out. “ ‘s secret,” he said.

    She slammed her hands against the wooden floor in frustration. “I demand that you sober up immediately!” she ordered.

    Xellos actually might’ve been able to follow this somewhat ridiculous command if he’d been in any state to see that it was a good suggestion. As it was, he reached out and touched the clenched and angry face in front of him. “S’okay though,” he said in drunken rumination. “S’okay ‘cause… we’re the same.”

    After a brief moment of uncertainty she slapped his hand away. “What are you talking about?” she shot back in utter bewilderment.

    He hoisted himself up unsteadily on his own steam and walked on, using his staff like a cane as Filia scrambled to follow him. “ ‘Salright, ‘salright,” he kept muttering to himself. “Yer the same ‘s me.”

    “I am not the same as you,” Filia said forcefully. “What do you mean by that?” He stumbled again and caught himself on her sofa. “Xellos!”

    “Filia,” he said, at first it was an answer, but then he seemed to get stuck on it. “Filia, Filia, Filia. For some reason ‘s nice to say.” He climbed onto her couch and quieted.

    Filia watched him with growing horror for a moment. “No,” she said, crossing her arms. “You are not sleeping it off here. Absolutely no way!”

    There was silence from the form on her couch. She stepped back. “Absolutely no way,” she repeated, but to herself. She couldn’t just let someone that evil spend the night on her couch, could she?

    She drew closer once again and reached out a tentative hand, as if ready to recoil in case he awoke and made more bizarre proclamations. She touched his forehead gently and swept his bangs out of his face. His eyes were closed, not in his usual insincere squint but in the slumber of the seriously drunk.

    “What could’ve possibly gotten into you?” she asked softly.

    She hesitated for a moment, then reached up for the quilt that was draped over the top of the couch, pulled it over him, and stood up. She dimmed the lights and went up to her room.

    He was going to have a lot of explaining to do when morning came.

    …And a monster of a headache.

  19. #19
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    Alright, I've admittedly never read or watched Slayers. But I decided to read "Guilty" since it was in your sig. And it was so cute! I liked that Filia read the whole book in one night and that Xellos ended up being the one who wrote it. Haha, he must really want to do all that stuff with her! xD *shot*
    Ahem, anyway, it was really good and I liked it. (:
    //*☆*Jesus loved the outcasts,
    He loves the ones the world just loves to hate*☆*//

  20. #20
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    I almost dropped my potato chip I was so surprised that someone commented XD. Thanks so much for reading!

    XP Yup, Xellos is in truh-ble. Although for Filia to confront him she has to admit to him that she rescued the book

  21. #21
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    Here's theme #42. Continue from Totally Smashed.

    Just Because You Can Do It, Doesn’t Mean You Should. Rated PG.

    Xellos’s eyes blinked open slowly, as though the body he used to get things done in the physical realm wasn’t quite as responsive as it usually was. Waking up and not knowing where he was was an unusual experience for him… so was waking up.

    He concentrated on his surroundings. He was on a light-brown sofa in well-decorated (if a little froufrou) living room. It was an extremely clean space. In fact, the contrast between the unnecessarily clean living room and the somewhat messy kitchen with dirty dishes piled on the counter was very odd. He tilted his head to see that he’d been covered with a quilt. Several patches of the quilt featured kittens.

    Oh dear… he thought as recollections began to emerge.

    “It’s about time you woke up,” a voice complained.

    Xellos turned his head to see Filia glowering at him from over by the mantle. She was holding a feather duster and ostensibly dusting the dust-free trinkets over the fireplace. Her body was tense, like she’d been waiting for something for a long time and now worried that it might have been better to go on waiting.

    He sat up on the couch and touched his forehead gingerly. The fine chemical processing structures that he’d created the day before to properly enjoy alcohol seemed to be sloshing around as though preserved in death throes. It was a good thing that he didn’t really need those structures, because he knew that they’d been severely damaged by last night’s little… indiscretions. In short, alcohol was no longer fun.

    “Well,” he said with some effort as he fingered the quilt over him with his other hand, “this is extremely unpleasant.”

    Filia held her hands to her hips, one hand still clasping the feather duster. “A hangover is fate punishing you for drinking,” she told him self-righteously.

    “I was talking about your quilting skills,” Xellos answered calmly.

    She threw the feather duster at his head, which is, for the record, not a nice thing to do to someone who is hung-over. It was a mark of how bad Xellos was feeling that he didn’t dodge.

    “I think,” Xellos said slowly, almost laboriously, as the feather duster fell on the floor in front of him, “that I’ve had enough of this.” He made adjustments. The air shimmered oddly around him for a moment, like super-heated air on a desert horizon. He straightened up and looked more alert.

    “What did you just do?” Filia asked suspiciously.

    “Got rid of the alcohol,” Xellos said simply.

    Filia growled. “You can’t just opt out of the consequences of your vile actions!”

    “Yes,” Xellos said, “I can. I just did.”

    That much was evident. “Well, it’s not right,” Filia insisted. “You think you can just get drunk and then waltz in here and mess everything up without so much as paying the penalty of a headache in the morning?! There is a child in this house for your information. You should be ashamed of yourself!”

    Xellos made a determined study of his fingernails, which was difficult because he was wearing gloves. “I don’t think I should have to change my behavior just because you can’t grow up.”

    Filia took a minute on that one, then set her teeth into a grimace. Too bad she didn’t have anything else to throw at him. “I was talking about Val.”

    “He at least has more of an excuse then you,” Xellos said, visiting a smile on her.

    Filia gave him a disapproving look. No one had the right to be that chipper the morning after bursting into their enemy’s house in a drunken stupor and then collapsing. She approached him, and he watched her as though wondering what she’d do next. Then she reached down and pointedly snatched up her feather duster. She sat down on the recliner perpendicular to the couch.

    She sat there for a moment, plucking idly at the duster, before finally saying: “I didn’t think that you monsters could even get drunk.”

    “We can,” Xellos said, swinging around his legs so he was facing her. He still had the quilt over him, which made him look very out of place. “We just don’t have to.”

    Filia’s brow creased. “Why would you want to get drunk if you don’t have to?”

    Xellos shrugged, not looking at her as he shook out the quilt and began folding it on his lap. “I suppose because I can.”

    That explanation cut absolutely no ice with Filia. She gripped the feather duster in her hand, but held on in case he did something else to make her want to hurl it at him that was worse. “That’s no reason to do something!”

    “Isn’t it?” Xellos said, using patented deflection technique number one (respond to questions with questions); “Then why do you get drunk?”he asked, pressing on to patented deflection technique number two (pretend the other person is the one with the problem).

    Filia scowled. His patented deflection techniques weren’t anything new to her. “I don’t get drunk.”

    “Oh really?” Xellos asked disbelievingly. “I’ve seen a few tell-tale bottles on high shelves where children’s hands can’t find them.”

    Filia made an indignant squawking sound. Xellos had no right to go through her pantry and pass judgment on her. “Those are just for cooking!” she explained.

    Xellos gave her a sly look.

    “Alright,” she said harshly, “maybe occasionally when I’ve had a very bad day I’ll… put it to non-culinary use. But it’s not like I get wasted and come to your door lurching around and slurring nonsense!”

    “That would be funny,” Xellos commented, giving the drunken-Filia scenario an almost criminal amount of thought.

    You didn’t seem like you were having fun,” Filia pointed out. “You sounded upset.”

    One of those quick twitches crossed Xellos’s face. It was the kind that always left Filia unsure as to whether she imagined it or not. “By you?” He let out a little ‘as if!’ snort.

    Filia narrowed her eyes and leaned forward. “I never said by me.” She gave him a puzzled look. “What could I possibly have done to upset you so much?”

    “I suppose you just do it naturally,” he said sourly.

    “I was being serious,” Filia said severely. “What did I say that hurt so much that you needed to get smashed to forget it?”

    “You can’t hurt me, Filia,” he said, falsely as it happened.

    “My ‘pitying’ you seems to hurt you,” Filia struck back. She’d had all evening lying awake in bed and all morning waiting for him to wake up to mull over his strange performance. “But apparently that’s okay because ‘we’re the same’.”

    “We’re not the same,” Xellos almost whispered.

    “That’s what I said; you seemed to have other ideas.”

    Xellos was quiet for a moment. It had all made more sense when he was slightly-or-more-than-slightly-as-the-case-may-be unhinged from reality. This idea that no matter how different they seemed that there was something about her that called out a fellow feeling… that they could understand each other in ways that no one else could.

    “I was a little out of sorts as you might have noticed,” he answered.

    “Maybe,” Filia said, “but that doesn’t mean it came out of nowhere.” She gave him a searching look. “What were you thinking?”

    He got up abruptly, picking up his staff from where Filia had leaned it against the couch. “Clearly I wasn’t,” his back said.

    “You were!” Filia shot back indignantly, standing and moving toward him. “Maybe you didn’t like what you were thinking but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen!” She reached out and touched his shoulder. “Xellos?”

    He turned around snatched her hand, but when he spoke next he sounded more tired than angry. “You’re doing it again, Filia.”

    “What?” Filia asked, unsure as to whether she should take back her hand or let things lie. It felt very much like that brief moment when he’d touched her face the night before.

    “Pitying me,” he said, definitely sounding resigned.

    “I’m not,” Filia said, caught off-guard by this accusation.

    “You are,” he said heavily, “and you were. I can feel it.”

    “Well, maybe I am,” she shouted, “but if I am it’s just because you can’t even manage to tell me what’s going on without resorting to changing the subject or your stupid catchphrase or pretending this is all about me!”

    “It is all about you,” he said gravely, though he understood Filia’s meaning.

    I’m not the one that’s upset about something!” she yelled back. He raised an eyebrow and she added: “Fine. I am upset. But only because you started it.”

    “We are rather in tune to each other, aren’t we?” Xellos observed with a small smile.

    She very nearly stamped her foot. “You’re changing the subject again.”

    “I’m not,” he said. “Not really.” He looked into her had-it-up-to-here-with-this-bullsh*it expression and sighed. He sank back onto the couch, still holding her hand so that she was obliged to sit next to him.

    “Could you say that you’d be happy about being called a slave?” he asked her.

    “That?” she asked incredulously. “Come on, you’ve said way worse things about me!” That was what her words said, but there was a prickle of guilt just beyond them. Xellos could taste it. It tasted better than the pity, but he still didn’t like being on the receiving end of it.

    He scratched his cheek in thought. “I suppose I have,” he said.

    “Don’t just admit it so calmly like that!” Filia exploded.

    “I thought you’d appreciate my honesty,” he answered smoothly.

    She scowled. “You’re not honest. You tell the truth—most of the time—but that’s not the same thing.”

    Xellos couldn’t help but smile. Filia was more perceptive than most people would give her credit. That’s why exchanges with her, while often leading to triumph for him, could easily end in such scenarios as him getting the bright idea to marinade his troubles in whiskey. What a troublesome girl she was…

    She was looking down now, at his hand still holding hers—lightly, almost inviting her to let go. “And that’s what was bothering you?” she asked quietly, as she let his words sink in.

    “Don’t feel too sorry for me,” he warned: “it’s not species-appropriate. Anyway,” he added, with a shrug of his shoulders, “we’re all governed by limitations… you as much as I, perhaps even more so. And don’t fool yourself. There are very few things that I would change even if I had the power to.”

    She leaned toward him, eyes wide, surprised and watching. “…But there are things you would change?”

    He increased the pressure on her hand for just a moment, perhaps more as a reminder that he was holding it than anything. “I suppose there’s always a line,” he said speculatively, “but it’s rather sketchy as to where exactly it is. So I’m afraid I won’t know until I’ve crossed it.”

    “And you’re worried that you’re going to cross it?” she asked. It must be true, she thought, or the idea of his freedom being restricted wouldn’t have driven him to… to try out drunk.

    He looked at her very seriously. “I’m going to cross it,” he said. “That’s the problem.”

    “But what will happen to you if you do that?” she asked. Surely Xellos’s creator and master would do more than give him a time-out if he stepped out of line.

    He rolled his shoulders back. “Hope that the line gets redrawn,” he said simply.

    She gripped the feather duster with the hand not being cradled in Xellos’s gloved one, sliding the feathers idly against the base of the couch as she thought. That hardly seemed like a satisfying or secure way of looking at things. But maybe Xellos was valuable enough that he could get away with whatever small indiscretion was so important to him.

    He let go of her hand and tapped the side of her nose playfully with his index finger. “But look at it this way,” he said brightly, “for someone in my station to be able to hang around in some dragon hovel after a night’s hard drinking without stirring up trouble seems to imply a more than comfortable amount of liberty.”

    She scowled at his finger, still in the air in one of Xellos’s stock gestures. His serious to silly attitude was starting to annoy her. Not only that—her house was not a hovel!

    “You don’t know that,” she shot back. “You haven’t even reported in—after spending the night at the very nice house of a golden dragon no less!”

    He withdrew his hand and looked thoughtful. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he admitted. He leaned against his staff and propelled himself off the couch. “I suppose I’d better go face the music then,” he said in a voice that had a bit of a sigh in it.

    He looked at her, looking at him, and perhaps her pity wasn’t as terrible an experience as the first time.

    “Oh, might as well,” he said, “I’m in trouble anyway,” and kissed her briefly on the lips before disappearing from the physical plane.

    She brought the feather duster around in a heavy, inevitable arc, slicing the air where he’d been just a second ago with a more terrible force than a mere feather duster ought to carry.

    “JUST WHAT KIND OF ‘LINE’ WERE YOU THINKING ABOUT CROSSING?!” she demanded of the still shimmering space where he’d disappeared.

  22. #22
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    Here's theme #18.

    If Looks Could Kill… Rated PG.

    “I’ll kill him,” Filia vowed in high, scandalized voice. She stared across the dining hall at the purple-haired fiend sitting just two tables away and cheerily giving his order to the waitress.

    “I don’t really think that’s going to work, Miss Filia,” Amelia said nervously, with a discouraging wave of her hand.

    Filia, with a great deal of effort, managed to shift her gaze from her least favorite traveling companion over to Amelia, her seat-mate. Even though they all traveled in one party, they often took up several tables at restaurants. This was because Lina and Gourry required so much… space when they ate. First off, they tended to order more food than could possibly fit on the table at one time, so there wasn’t room for anyone else’s meal. That wasn’t such a big deal because any meal at the same table as Lina and Gourry became their meal. What really worried anyone forced to sit next to them was the flying arms that flapped in unpredictable and sometimes impossible directions as the two of them shoveled food in their mouths as quickly as they could. A bruised jaw had taught Filia early on that sitting next to Lina when there’s anything deep-fried on the table was a bad idea. That elbow was bony. And this wasn’t even mentioning the silverware fights that occasionally broke out…

    Bottom line was, she and Amelia had retreated to a table close by as soon as Lina started cracking her knuckles and Gourry’s stomach had started growling. Zelgadis had left them too, for a table at the far end of the dining hall with his back to them. He’d been in a bit of a bad mood lately.

    But none of them were the problem. The problem was…

    “Well, I didn’t mean it literally,” Filia snapped, “but someone’s got to do something about that monster!” Filia turned her gaze back to ‘that monster’ and glowered. “Xellos! He thinks he can just waltz back into the group after what he did last week? Well, he’s wrong! It was all his fault that that town got destroyed anyway. If he’d only told us that dragons weren’t allowed then we never would’ve gone there in the first place. Him and his stupid guide book… I bet he would’ve just let Miss Lina and Mister Gourry eat that Dradora’s Surprise too!” Her complexion greened slightly, but she mastered the urge to throw up. “I should give him a piece of my mind!” she declared, reaching almost absentmindedly for the mace holstered to her thigh.

    “Right, I just don’t think that’s going to work,” Amelia said weakly, deciding not to mention that the whole ‘town destroying’ thing only happened because Filia lost her temper.

    Fila turned a betrayed look on Amelia. “How can you of all people say that? Aren’t you always going on about fighting evil?” She gestured broadly at Xellos’s table-for-one. “There’s evil!”

    “I know that,” Amelia said, adding some pepper to her soup. “But do you really think going over there and shouting at him is going to do any good? This is Mister Xellos we’re talking about. He’d probably just think it’s funny.”

    Filia relaxed the hand on her mace, feeling slightly dismayed. “But…”

    “After all, Mister Xellos is a monster,” Amelia went on. “They really thrive off that kind of negativity.”

    Filia looked angry, then she looked crestfallen, then she looked angry again. “Are you trying to say that there’s nothing I can do to punish him for his bad behavior because he’d just enjoy it?” she demanded.

    Some of what Amelia said, Filia was forced to admit, made a lot of sense. Xellos seemed to get an unnatural kick out of upsetting people. Then again, when she’d fought with him before… well, he’d smiled and he’d laughed at her, of course, just like the jerk he was. But sometimes there had been a… strained quality to it. Like some of her rage and a few of her insults had actually hit the mark in a way that made him a little uncomfortable. By what Amelia was saying, he should’ve been having the time of his life… but for some reason her words had stung him…

    “I’m not saying that,” Amelia explained. “It’s just that there are other ways.”

    Filia’s ears pricked up from behind the globular ornaments attached to her headdress. “What kind of ways?”

    “Well, if he likes negativity, then you just have to be positive,” Amelia said brightly.

    Filia’s brow crinkled. “Positive?” Treating Xellos with any kind of positivity aside from positive revulsion had never occurred to her.

    “You know,” Amelia prodded. “Think happy thoughts! Praise life and all its wonders! True Love! Friendship! Justice! Charity!” She smiled. “Be nice to him and he won’t be able to stand it.”

    “I can’t be nice to Xellos,” Filia half-shrieked, half-whispered. “The very idea is just… no! I can’t do it!”

    “But just think about it,” Amelia encouraged her. “There’s probably nothing that would bother him more than you being nice to him.”

    Filia gave it some thought. Of course it was impossible, but… “Would that really work?”

    “Oh yes,” Amelia said with a fervent nod. “We’ve threatened it before when we needed him to tell us more than he wanted to.” She did a celebratory fist-clench. “Even monsters quake in fear against the power of JUSTICE!”

    Now that Amelia mentioned it… she did remember Xellos looking a little uncomfortable when Amelia had climbed the tree in the village square and started proclaiming the virtues of the heavens. Though, then again, Lina had buried her face in her hands, Zelgadis had started muttering what was either a prayer or a curse, and even Gourry had looked a little embarrassed in the face of this impromptu Justice-harangue.

    “That’s always been our emergency plan for dealing with Mister Xellos,” Amelia went on. “You know, if we ever had to fight him or something.”

    “Really?” Filia asked.

    “Yeah,” Amelia said, now sounding a little unsure. “Although… Miss Lina says we don’t need to worry about that anymore, because if Mister Xellos does get out of control, we can just throw you at him, shout ‘Look, a distraction!’ and run off.”

    Filia slammed her hands down on the table. “She said what?

    “I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it,” Amelia said, holding up her hands and looking like she wished she hadn’t mentioned it at all. “It’s just that… you know… you two get distracted by each other, that’s all.”

    “We do not get distracted by each other!”

    “Of course you don’t!” Amelia went with, because Filia was eyeing her silverware in a not-too-friendly manner. In the last silverware battle, Filia had actually beaten Lina. The only one who’d ever managed that before was Gourry. Best not to tempt fate. After all, armed only with a soup spoon, she’d be at a natural disadvantage.

    Filia appeared to calm down at this retraction. She breathed deep for a moment and then turned to glance at Xellos. “So… how would I go about this… positive thing around him?”

    “Just sort of… radiate happiness,” Amelia said thoughtfully, not commenting on Filia’s Xellos-distractibility factor.

    Filia looked and Amelia with a severe expression. “How am I supposed to radiate happiness around that?

    “Well…” Amelia said, sitting back. “Try not to think about it being Mister Xellos. Just think about things that make you happy… flowers… kittens…” She tried to put herself in Filia’s shoes. “…antiquing?”

    Filia stared at the wood grain for a minute. Would this actually work? On the one hand, yes, negativity was a monster’s sustenance so positivity should at least annoy, if not hurt, him. On the other hand, a bit of her soul might die if she actually went through with it. Was this really the only way of effectively fighting Xellos?

    She made a fist and slammed it down on the table. “I can do this. I am strong!” she declared.

    “Go get him, Miss Filia!” Amelia chirped.

    Filia got up, and made that slow, painful walk to Xellos’s table. Halfway there she stopped and looked back at Amelia who gave her a thumbs up. She gulped and kept moving.

    He looked up at her as he saw her approach and she knew from that moment that this would be no picnic. Just seeing him look at her with that curious expression made her fingers itch for her mace. She noticed that he’d already gotten his dinner order. It was a slice of cherry supreme pie. For dinner. Sure, monsters think that the rules don’t apply to them—that they can just go around eating dessert for dinner and not face any of the consequences. Bastards.

    She stopped herself and tried to focus. If she was going to get that upset over a slice of pie then this whole operation was doomed. She forced her face into a smile and sat down across from him.

    “…Hi,” she said.

    And it sounded so wrong! Xellos should never be greeted with a simple ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’ or even a slightly frivolous ‘Hey there, hi there, ho there.’ Not when ‘Xellos!’, ‘What are you doing here?’ or ‘You’ve got a lot of nerve to show your face around here after what you did!’ were infinitely more appropriate.

    He stared into her smiling face. He definitely seemed put-off by the friendly greeting, so Filia hoped her plan was working. But just a second later he turned his attention back to his pie.

    “Nice effort, Filia,” he said, “but you need to scrunch up your eyes more if you want to get it just right.”

    That threw Filia’s smile completely off. “What?”

    “Of course,” Xellos said, tapping his cheek thoughtfully with his knife, “yours is way better than Mister Zelgadis’s try, so I guess I have to give you credit for that.”

    She looked at him like he was crazy, which she was beginning to think that he was. “What are you talking about?” she demanded.

    “Your impression of me,” he explained, taking a bite of pie and chewing it in contemplation. “They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” he added.

    She stood up violently. “It wasn’t an impression! Why would I ever want to be like a filthy mon—” She remembered her role just in time and calmed down. She lowered herself back into her seat. “I mean, I was just smiling. I’m allowed to, you know,” she added with slight petulance.

    “I suppose so,” Xellos mused, as though this was a debatable issue that he wasn’t currently in the mood to argue. “And what exactly are you smiling about?”

    Filia was encouraged by Xellos’s reaction of mild distaste. Although, to be honest, it seemed like her smiling was bothering him less because it was positive and more because he had the sneaking feeling that she was making fun of him.

    “Oh… you know… it’s just… a beautiful day, that’s all,” Filia said, struggling to play her part. “So full of life,” she added vindictively.

    “Life?” he repeated, taking a bite of his pie.

    “Yes, life,” she answered through gritted teeth, her eyes following the movement of his hand.

    He noticed this and gestured at his slice of pie with a fork. “Did you want some?” he asked in that awful ingratiating tone.

    “No,” she said stiffly. “I don’t eat pie for dinner.” After all, if you don’t eat your meat then you just can’t have any pudding. How can you have pudding if you don’t eat your meat?

    “And aren’t you the dietary paragon of virtue,” he commented nastily, taking another bite.

    “Anyway, as I was saying about life,” Filia pushed forward.

    “What about life?” Xellos asked, as though hoping that Filia might get to the point soon.

    “Well… uh…” Filia wasn’t quite sure where to go from there. She hoped that she’d just praise life a bit and Xellos would shriek and steam would hiss off of him or something… or at least he’d just get annoyed by it. She strove for something to say… Amelia was so much better at this kind of thing. “It’s good, that’s all.” She paused. “And… I’m happy about it.”

    “Wonderful,” Xellos commented dully. “And you were moved to report this happiness to me… why?”

    Filia bit her lip. This line wasn’t really working. What else besides praising life had Amelia mentioned? Something about true love…

    She stared at Xellos for a moment.

    Moving on…

    Well, she’d been trying to think of adorable kittens since she sat down, so the psychic warfare really wasn’t working on that side. The problem might have been that she was praising life, smiling, and thinking of happy things without actually being very happy. Since it was all directed at Xellos, there was probably a little too much malice behind it for it to count as positive.

    …What else do you do when you’re being nice to someone? Well, you compliment them, but she couldn’t really do that with Xellos, could she? Certainly not sincerely. And if none of the other ploys had worked without sincerity, then neither would this one.

    Then again… there had been a few times since they’d met that Xellos had… well, for want of a better word, he’d complimented her. He probably didn’t mean it most of the time, and there was usually some sort of nasty barb attached to whatever he said but… whenever he did it, it was always… strange. Considering that they hated each other, maybe he’d feel the same disequilibrium if she complimented him… even if it was forced.

    She ran her eyes over him, searching for something to comment on, whilst he chewed his pie and looked at her like she was losing her mind.

    “Your umm…” she decided to go for something she thought was fairly neutral, “your staff is… nice.”

    He narrowed one eye and gave her a ‘Yep. The dragon’s definitely losing her marbles’ look. “My staff.”

    “Yes,” she went on, now that she was already too deep in to get out. “It’s um… well, is that a ruby or something?”

    He looked over at the staff leaning against his chair and then gave her a mildly befuddled look. “You’re saying you like my staff?”

    “Oh yes,” she said triumphantly, quite clearly seeing how her comments were confusing him. He was already trying to figure out her game. This was working! “And… your hair is so… shiny and… purple.” Thinking up compliments was hard. Not, she was shocked to realize, because she couldn’t think of features worth complimenting, but because she couldn’t quite explain why they were worth complimenting.

    He surveyed her with the same mystified look as she tried to think up a good follow-up to ‘purple’, but suddenly, the clouds seem to clear. “Ah,” he said understandingly, setting down his silverware and sitting back. “I think I know what’s going on here.”

    She strove not to panic or turn around and exchange a look with Amelia. “W-what?” she tried. “Going on? Nothing’s going on. We’re just talking.”

    “No,” he said, shaking his head. “Your technique is understandably awkward, but I think I see what you’re going for.”

    Filia was not entirely sure what he was talking about, but bristled with indignation in any case. How dare he call her technique awkward? Whatever technique he meant.

    “I must admit, I’m surprised,” Xellos said, looking at her as though in a whole new light. “But then again, maybe I shouldn’t be.”

    “Surprised about what?” she demanded.

    “You’ve been sheltered in that temple your whole life, and now that you’re out… well, things are different,” he said with a helpless shrug. “You’re not used to dealing with this kind of thing.”

    “What are you talking about?” she snapped. She thought she was fulfilling her role as guide quite well despite the fact that she’d spent most of her life in the temple, and she didn’t take kindly to garbage questioning her navigating abilities.

    “Of course, it’s understandable that you’d have needs. Perhaps I should just be surprised at your gall to actually pursue something like this, though,” he looked at her almost fondly, “you’ve never had a shortage of that. Still, it must’ve taken a lot of nerve to try this—more than I honestly would’ve expected from you.”

    He scratched his cheek. “As bizarre as the situation is, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little intrigued by the idea.”

    He looked up, as though deep in contemplation, while she took her turn to look at him like he’d gone mad. Finally he withdrew from his thought process and shook his head, “I’m afraid the answer is no,” he summed up. “Even though we’d both obviously enjoy it, we’d really just be asking for trouble.”

    She slammed her fists on the table and stood up. “Enjoy what?” she shouted. “Tell me what you’re talking about, you stupid monster!”

    He wagged his finger in front of her and treated her to an obnoxious smile. “Dragons are such abysmal flirts.”

    Three rage-filled seconds later, the table split in half. Xellos stared down at his pie, which now had a mace embedded in it.

    “I wasn’t finished with that,” he said.

    A scream shattered every glass in the room, as Filia brought her hands up to the gem on her robes and began glowing gold.

    Amelia, having watched the whole thing from a distance, scuttled over to the table Lina and Gourry were still eating savagely at, as though nothing out of the ordinary was going on.

    “Miss Lina,” Amelia tugged urgently at her sleeve. “Miss Lina, we have to get out of here!”

    “Huh?” Lina looked over at the table Xellos was still sitting calmly at, watching the glowing dragon girl in front of him. “Oh geez! What’s going on with those two now?”

    “I kinda told Miss Filia about our emergency plan for dealing with Xellos, and she thought she’d try it,” Amelia explained anxiously.

    “You told her about Plan X?” Lina asked sharply. “Well, it doesn’t look like it’s working!”

    “I think she’s doing it wrong,” Amelia insisted.

    “Oh man,” Lina said, letting her head fall into her hand. “And I wasn’t even done yet. Do you think there’s time to get a to-go bag?”

    “No!” Amelia shouted.

    “XELLOS!!” a voice screamed, getting louder and louder until it was punctuated with a laser ray.

    “Now, now, there’s no reason to be shy about it,” was the only thing that they heard before the thunderous splitting of timber left a dragon-shaped hole in the wall.

    Lina chewed on a chicken wing idly as she watched a tiny purple dot and a larger golden dot disappear noisily over the horizon. The Innkeeper gawped at the hole in the wall. He appeared to be crying.

    “Do you think it’s time to retire Plan X?” Lina asked.

    “Plan X can work,” Amelia maintained.

    She turned to look at the buckled wood hanging sadly over the fissure. “It just… obviously doesn’t work for all people.”

  23. #23
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    Here's theme #26.

    Blended. Rated PG.

    Her parents had passed away long ago; even her adoptive home at the temple of the Fire Dragon King was gone, along with those she’d lived alongside for years. So Filia could be nothing but thankful from the bottom of her heart to even have a family now. It was a family that… admittedly must’ve looked strange from the outside. None of them had a drop of blood in common. Heck, they didn’t even have race in common. But here they were a… blended family.

    And it was all because of Val. He was what had drawn them together and he was what they all orbited around now. The tottering child with the unfortunate haircut passing his mornings at the local preschool had no idea what he had brought her; what he had brought them all. Hopefully, someday he would.

    There had been many moments in their time together in which that fact had been brought home to her: when she first took Val’s egg home; when Jillas, standing on Gravos’s shoulders, had hung the shop sign up for their opening day; when Val’s egg had hatched. But for some reason she always came back to, of all things, the paperwork.

    Filia had been determined to enroll Val in the local preschool. Just because he was a creature of staggering power didn’t mean that he shouldn’t be allowed playmates. She wanted him to get acclimated to the community of humans, to be accepted, to learn, and to make friends. He deserved that. She desperately needed to give him the happy childhood he’d been denied in his past life.

    But that didn’t mean she wasn’t worried. There were a thousand things that could go wrong. What if he had trouble leaving her? What if he thought she was abandoning him? What if he transformed and burned down the school house? What if the other kids didn’t see how special he was?

    Well, now that he ran ahead of her to join his buddies on the playground, and she practically had to drag him out of the sandbox at the end of the class, her worries seemed pointless. But they’d been so real when she was filling out the forms to enroll him.

    After reading over safety procedures, some legal mumbo jumbo, and filling out his medical history, she’d come to the pick-up authorization. It was a list of people besides herself who she’d allow to pick up her son from school. She put Jillas and Gravos down in a heartbeat. They loved Val and would protect him to their deaths. She knew that it was the delight of their lives that they’d somehow made the transition from his devoted servants to his adoptive uncles.

    Her pen stopped hesitantly along the next line, poised to make a familiar stroke. Why? Why did she almost automatically have the urge to write that name? The name of her household’s other sometimes-resident. This list was for people she entrusted with the treasure of all treasures in her life. It was not the place for someone who could never prove himself trustworthy.

    And yet… she struggled.

    She didn’t know why she thought of this now, as she added a smattering of spices to the soup that would be that day’s lunch. Maybe it was because he was there—humming at her. He’d taken to humming tunelessly whenever he was idly hanging around her house and couldn’t think of anything to say to start a sparring session. He knew it drove her completely up the wall. Just lately, though, he’d found a new, even more obnoxious trick: he’d stop humming. Now that set her teeth on edge.

    Xellos. No matter how much she wished otherwise, he was also a part of this blended family. And she was almost sure that he hadn’t meant to be. Almost.

    The fact was, he was just… there. Oh sure, he’d disappear occasionally, but it seemed like he spent all his spare time in her home. She wasn’t even sure if he went away at night, which worried her slightly.

    So in some ways, it wasn’t surprising that she’d thought of him while filling out the form. If she was Val’s adoptive mother and Jillas and Gravos were his adoptive uncles then Xellos was… well…

    It had been an accident. The look on his face told the whole story, really. Xellos had visited her many times before Val hatched. At first she’d been horrified beyond belief, thinking that he might be there to steal Val away; to deliver him to the monster race and raise her boy into something dark and tainted, or to kill him before he could even take a breath to threaten them. But he’d seemed indifferent to any such scheme. In fact, the unhatched Val had been an afterthought to Xellos, who only brought him up as a means to insult her. “Haven’t dropped him yet, have you, Filia?” he’d ask sneeringly. To her dawning surprise, amidst sustained irritation and the desire to smack him upside the head, she realized that he was there for one person and one person alone: her.

    That had changed after Val hatched. Oh, he still showered her with attention—mostly negative, but Val had innocently and unthinkingly propelled him into a new role. “Dudduh,” Val had gurgled unmistakably. If Xellos wasn’t shocked by this, then he was an even better actor than Filia gave him credit for. It was as though the wind had been knocked completely out of him, and he could do nothing more than stare keenly, curiously, perplexedly, at the little bundle in his arms. Before, Val had just been another tool with which to mock Filia. In fact, he’d only picked up the child in order to better insult her for having to repeat “Say Mommy!” to the baby for an hour before he followed suit. But suddenly he was assigned a new fate in the child’s life. Just like that, he was ‘Dudduh.’

    Filia had tried to fix it. “No, no, no, no, no!” she’d whimpered, snatching her Val away from the still gobsmacked Xellos. “Not ‘Dudduh!’ Absolutely, certainly, 100% not ‘Dudduh!’” But Val had been resolute. “Dudduh,” he’d said, stretching out his fat little arms toward his newly christened father-figure.

    So by relation, Xellos might have earned the right for consideration on that list. He was ‘daddy’ nowadays to Val, and there wasn’t a damn thing Filia could do about it. No more than she could stop the gossiping villagers from assuming that she and Xellos were married or at least ‘shacking up’ (their phrase, not hers).

    The funny thing was, Xellos had sort of… adapted to his fatherly role. Now he hung around not just to dish out verbal abuse to her, but to play Candyland, tag, and destroy-the-resale-value-of-Filia’s-house with the son who had adopted him instead of it being the other way around. He was even talking about building a tree house. It was like he’d caught some kind of madness.

    But… but on the other hand, she’d thought wildly as she’d stared down at the legal form, he had no right to be trusted with her child. He was a monster! She couldn’t trust him just because he acted nice. He always acted nice! That didn’t mean there wasn’t some kind of sinister scheme under all the niceness. Maybe this was just fun and games for him; a way to pass the time and nothing more. But she couldn’t know. She could never know for sure whether or not he was just playing the waiting game to devastate her and take away what was most precious to her.

    She didn’t know how long she’d stared at that form without moving. Her pen had been frozen on the paper, and she couldn’t bring herself to move it away or to press forward. She knew she’d have to make a choice, and she wasn’t sure if it was the right one.

    But that horrible moment of indecision was past now. Val had settled himself pleasantly among his new classmates this last month and, aside from accidentally causing the water table to boil over that one time, he’d been doing just fine. Having Jillas or Gravos occasionally charged to pick him up from class whenever Filia was too busy to go down to the schoolhouse herself to walk him home earned him much respect amongst his peers. Gravos’s stature alone was impressive and Jillas managed to dazzle the children with a fireworks display. So Val had no shortage of friends and was a happy, healthy, and surprisingly normal boy.

    Xellos stopped humming from his perch on the recliner. Filia scowled and turned away from her cooking.

    “Stop that,” she ordered him sternly.

    Xellos looked up at her with a would-be befuddled expression. “I’m not doing anything,” he’d said innocently.

    She crossed her arms in a movement that she hoped indicated that she wasn’t going to take any crap from him that day. “Don’t play dumb with me,” she said. “You know what you’re doing.”

    “Why don’t you tell me what I’m supposedly doing,” he said calmly.

    “You’re not humming!” she snapped.

    He tilted his head and raised an eyebrow at her.

    “Don’t look at me like that,” she glared. “You are! I can hear you not-humming at me!”

    “Truly that must be deafening,” he said with a smirk.

    “It is!” she insisted.

    “Would you like me to start humming again?” he offered.

    “No!” she shouted, turning back to her lunch preparation. “No,” she said more calmly, having caught sight of the clock. It was nearly twelve.

    “Well, those really seem to be my only options,” he answered. “What else am I supposed to do?”

    “Why don’t—” she began softly. She stopped herself. “Why don’t you do something useful for once and take Val home from school,” she ordered in a put-on harsh tone that in no way matched her expression.

    He couldn’t see her face, but he seemed to feel the tension in the air. He stared at her back for a few minutes as she tried to go about the casual business of preparing lunch. Then she heard him rise from his seat.

    “I’ll be right back,” he said, and was gone.

  24. #24
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    Theme #56.

    Not Human. Rated G.

    She’d never actually claimed that she was human; she’d just… never quite said that she wasn’t. It’s not like she was trying to keep it a secret or anything, but in all the getting-to-know-yous of moving into a new town and starting a new business, somehow ‘I’m a dragon’ had just never come up in conversation. It was… a bit awkward and hard to lead up to. She tried to tell herself that it wasn’t a big, scaly deal; that after people got to know her they wouldn’t care what species she was.

    Well, it had come out piece by piece. She had a sort of intuition that was hard to miss and they couldn’t help but notice that she seemed a little too well-informed about what kind of weather would be heading their way and who would be sick in the future. That was their first tip off that there was something supernatural about her. They knew she was stronger than a woman her size ought to be, easily lifting large vases and heavy maces that not even the strongest men in their village could budge. Then Jon Calk spread it around that her hat had slipped when she’d reached down to pick up the vase he’d gone to buy and that he’d seen that she had pointed ears. Whispers followed that their mysterious resident might be an elf maiden. But, in a fit of temper, the appearance of her tail had spelled things out once and for all to them. They knew. And they weren’t pleased.

    She should’ve known trouble was brewing when they’d been wary of Jillas and Gravos helping her out. She’d tried to tell herself that they weren’t bad people—just fearful. It wasn’t completely out of the ordinary for beastmen tribes to raid the nearby villages when they couldn’t find food. She told herself that they’d learn soon enough that Jillas and Gravos weren’t anything to be afraid of…

    But no. It was all over now. She’d heard the talk, seen the fear on their faces. The whole town reeked of it. ‘Who will protect our children?’, ‘They can breathe fire, you know!’, ‘Who’s to say she’s not here to make war with us?’ and ‘If we don’t do something about her for good, she’ll seek her vengeance upon us!’ She could feel terror, the said-terror and the unsaid-terror. Her skin itched with it.

    And there was no fooling herself or making excuses anymore. Jillas had run back to the shop from the town square that night to report that the villagers were holding a meeting—and it didn’t look good. That was when she knew that they had to leave, and fast.

    She and Gravos gathered up as much of their merchandise as they could carry. A lot of it would have to be left behind, she realized, but they’d have to take the loss. Jillas, however, carried the most precious cargo of all: the egg containing the reborn Val. Her son.

    She dimmed the lamps and nodded to her two beastmen determinedly. Without a sound they crept out the back way of the building that made up their home and their shop. She closed the door behind them knowing that she’d never enter it again.

    Then the three of them hiked down the dirt slope at the back of the house, careful not to drop anything that they were carrying or trip in the darkness. Filia had decided quickly that they’d better walk instead of having her fly them away. The villagers had skilled archers and, seeing her in flight, she was sure that they’d use them. She wouldn’t be worried for herself if it came to that, but her passengers…

    They hadn’t gotten more than a few yards away from the house when a glow from behind them forced them to turn around. Filia stifled a gasp. They were there… already. All the men and many of the women of the village were tromping up to her house with torches in hand, chins set determinedly and eyes dancing madly in the flames.

    She froze, unsure of what to do. If they made a run for it now, the villagers would surely see the movement and chase them. Loaded down as they were, they wouldn’t be able to move very fast. On the other hand, if they stayed where they were and the mob torched her house, they’d easily be spotted in the light. Either way…

    If it came to a fight, she could win. But… she did not want to be the thing that struck terror into these villagers’ hearts—even if they drove her to it.

    “Boss?” Jillas whispered uncertainly.

    Filia held up a finger to her lips. Maybe if they were lucky the mob would go inside the house and then they’d be able to…

    “You’ve come to the wrong place,” a mild voice said.

    Filia bit down on her lip to keep sound from escaping. Xellos was there. He hadn’t so much appeared on her porch as stepped out of the shadows like he’d always been there.

    The leader of the mob, a man with a coarse, grey beard that took up most of his face, held up his torch to better see the man (or monster, as the case may be) who had addressed him. He scowled. “Aren’t you a friend of that blasted dragon? There’s no use trying to hide her! We’ve seen her for the beast she really is!”

    “Oh, I don’t think anyone could mistake us for friends,” Xellos commented in a chillingly light-hearted voice. “And quite the contrary, I’ve been on to her tricks long before you. The fact is, she’s already left—trying to escape on foot.”

    Filia made frantic eye-contact with Jillas. She’d told him that if push came to shove and she had to fight the villagers, to run away as fast as he could to protect Val. And now, just because that monster was set on destroying everything she sought to build, she’d have to…

    “Where is she?” the leader of the mob growled as the torch-waving group grumbled amongst themselves.

    “There’s no need to be anxious,” Xellos tutted. He pointed north across Blackfield Street with his staff. “There. She’s got a head start, but if you hurry you might just be able to catch her.”

    The bloodlust-fueled mob did not need to be told twice. They did an about-face and squeezed their party of maniacs down the narrow street, accidentally burning the hair of the people in front of them along the way, but with a few cries and the smell of burnt skin, they set out on the dragon’s tail.

    …By going in the exact opposite direction as where she was standing.

    Filia sagged with relief. It was only then that she felt the ache in her jaw and unclenched her teeth. She didn’t know what to think and could barely command her own body to take her chance and move, guiding Gravos and Jillas back on their silent retreat from the village.

    She glanced over her shoulder at her porch one last time, but Xellos was already gone.

    *****

    Several hours later they rested in a forest clearing. They were all bone-weary long before then, but Filia had refused to stop until they had left substantial distance between them and the village. Even now, she only wanted to stop for a few hours so that Gravos and Jillas could get some sleep while she kept watch. Who could say when the villagers would realize they’d been duped and turn around?

    She warmed her hands against the fire she’d built while Gravos snored lightly and Jillas’s tail wagged in his sleep. They could almost pretend they were camping if it weren’t for the paralyzing fear of getting hunted down like animals.

    “I must say, I thought that was a very disappointing mob,” Xellos commented before appearing across from her.

    Filia withdrew her hands from the fire and glared at him. She was angry with him, base-line because he was Xellos and Xellos was someone to be angry at. She was more angry because he’d scared her out of her wits earlier and had probably done it on purpose too. Yet, it was also because of him that they’d managed to send the villagers astray and escape them. …That probably made her the angriest of all, but it kept her tirade in check.

    “Not even a single pitchfork,” Xellos added, shaking his head as though unable to believe how low standards had sunk in the mob game. “A mob without farm equipment has lost its soul.”

    “What are you, a connoisseur of angry mobs or something?” Filia snapped.

    Xellos shrugged. “I suppose you could say that. I’ve seen a lot of them.”

    “Gotten chased by them?” Filia asked snidely. “No,” she snorted. Mobs should chase monsters, but they never do—only things that look like monsters. “You probably incite them.”

    “I prefer to think of it as redirecting their negative energies and channeling them toward more productive activities,” Xellos answered with a smile.

    Filia scowled. Miss Lina was right; Xellos should’ve been a politician.

    “So why didn’t you ‘redirect their negative energies’ toward me?” she asked irritably. “You would’ve enjoyed that, wouldn’t you?”

    “I always enjoy seeing you set fire to entire towns and then trample them,” he answered serenely. “But I opted for a more prudent course of action in this case.”

    Hmmph!” was her only response.

    The fire crackled and popped loudly as a bit of kindling burned all the way through and shattered into two halves.

    “So… where are you headed to now, Filia?” Xellos asked.

    Filia opened her mouth to say something but found that she had nothing to say. She closed it, crossed her arms and finally said: “It’s none of a monster’s business where I go.”

    “Meaning you don’t know,” Xellos summed up neatly.

    Filia grimaced and turned her nose up at him. “Well in case you hadn’t noticed, I was in a bit of a hurry!”

    “Of course,” Xellos allowed. “You were more concerned with getting away then going anywhere. Though now that you’ve gotten this far, I’d say it’s time to give the matter some thought.”

    “I don’t need advice from you,” Filia retorted, though she was damned if she could think of a way not to follow his advice… unless she took up a nomadic lifestyle, but that really didn’t appeal to her that much anymore.

    “I suppose you could always go to one of the other dragon temples,” Xellos mused, unable to grasp the notion that his guidance was not welcome.

    Filia sucked in a hasty breath. “Never,” she said.

    “That down on organized religion nowadays, are you?” He sounded a little too pleased.

    “It’s not that,” Filia glowered at him. “It’s just… I swore I wouldn’t go back there after what I found out. …And anyway,” she said, nodding at Val’s egg where it lay wrapped in Jillas’s cloak, “I couldn’t trust them with Val.”

    “I suppose it would be a little too much to ask for them to learn a lesson,” Xellos said with a little sigh. “Ah well. Then, since the humans have kicked you out and you won’t go back to the dragons, I guess the only option left is to throw your lot in with the monster race,” he decided gleefully.

    Filia fell over backwards and stayed down for a solid five seconds. By the time she picked herself up off the ground her glare of death, doom, and other icky things was firmly in place. “You shouldn’t even joke about something like that!”

    “Ah, but Filia,” he chided, wagging a finger at her, “you must admit that someone of your talent and predilection could be legitimately useful to the monster race.”

    “I don’t want to be useful to you demons!” she shot back. Where did he get off questioning her predilections? None of them were monstrous as far as she was concerned! …Well… except for when someone tried her patience while she was holding a bludgeoning implement. But that was righteous fury and therefore shouldn’t be counted. “I’d rather stay holed up alone in a cave my whole life than mix with the likes of you!”

    Xellos lowered the Almighty Finger of Admonishment (yes, it’s deserving of capital letters) and looked mildly disappointed. “Ah well,” he said. “I don’t really have the authority to make that kind of invitation anyway, I suppose.”

    He looked a little glum for a moment, but suddenly his spirits seemed to improve. “So, I’m guessing you’ll be looking for a cave to live in, then?” he asked brightly.

    “Hardly,” Filia answered. “I’ve already decided. I’m going to a new town and trying again.”

    Xellos raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Because you enjoyed fleeing from an angry mob so much that you thought you’d try it a second time?”

    “It’ll be different this time!” Filia snapped.

    “How?” Xellos asked flatly.

    “Well... you don’t know!” Filia struggled, trying to put her hope for a brighter future among humans into words. “Maybe the next town will have a more accepting population. And I think I’ll let them know right away that I’m a dragon. I think part of the problem last time was that they thought I was hiding it to do them harm.”

    “That’s an excellent idea,” Xellos gushed. “Then you’ll be driven out right away and won’t have to worry about having formed attachments to a place.”

    “It’ll work this time,” Filia insisted. “Or next time,” she admitted. “Or some time. But we’ll find a place for us.”

    “Well,” Xellos admitted hesitantly, “you don’t really have any other options since you’ve snootily shot down both my all-too-generous invitation and the prospect of cave-dwelling.”

    He leaned his chin in his hand pensively and a funny thought seemed to strike him. “I suppose the human race is the last vestige of hope for community among the outcasts, rejects and oddballs of the world’s species,” he said, tilting his head toward her and her family of outcasts, rejects and oddballs.

    “Then that must be why you spend so much time with Miss Lina and her friends,” Filia replied loftily.

    That one hit him between the eyes. “Oh really?” he asked, patience a little strained. “And what makes you think I’m an oddball?”

    “Well, just look at you,” Filia said as though it was self-evident.

    Xellos treated her to his ‘I just swallowed a bug’ smile. He probably wasn’t aware, but whenever he was annoyed his hair seemed to react to humidity more than normal.

    “Oh, well thank you ever so much for that lovely invitation into your family of outcasts,” Xellos said, voice thronging with bittersweetness.

    “I wasn’t inviting you!” Filia said crossly. “Just because you’re weird even for a monster doesn’t mean you should get to stay with me.”

    “Ah, but Filia, shouldn’t someone in your position be a little more accepting?” he asked.

    “No,” she decided instantly. “Why don’t you just go back to bothering Miss Lina and leave me alone?” she asked, crossing her arms.

    “But Miss Lina’s not as fun as you,” he simpered.

    She made an exasperated sound. “The meaning of my existence is not to make fun for you!”

    “Well, perhaps not the sole meaning,” he allowed playfully.

    If she’d scowled at him any harder her eyebrows would’ve switched sides. “I don’t know what you’ve been led to think, but you are not the center of the universe,” she glowered, and, because he looked like he was about to make a comment, she added: “or the center of my universe.”

    “Well… I suppose not exactly,” Xellos agreed reluctantly. “We just sort of,” he twirled a finger around in the air absentminded, “orbit around each other.”

    Filia was not sure whether to shout at him, turn away from him, or, oddly enough, blush at him. Instead she just muttered something about egomaniac demons and stoked the fire.

    Xellos watched her pile more fuel onto the fire and let out a sigh that sounded very satisfied indeed. “So,” he asked, “what town were you planning on getting run out of next?” he asked.

    Filia began idly stripping the bark off of a spare twig for want of anything better to do. “I haven’t decided yet,” she answered, not giving his opinion of her prospects the dignity of a response. “I think… maybe I’ll stop by Seyruun first and visit Miss Amelia. I’ve wanted to visit her for awhile and this seems like the perfect time.”

    “Quite perfect,” Xellos agreed. “Having lost most of your merchandise, you’ll need something of an advance before you can plunk anything down on a new shop to recoup your losses. And someone as stubbornly good-natured as Miss Amelia is the perfect person to ask for a loan,” he added in his you-silly-dragon-your-motives-are-laid-bare-before-me voice.

    “Which I would pay back,” she shot back a little too quickly.

    “Of course you would,” Xellos humored her. “Now,” he said, leaning back on his hands and nodding at her sleeping companions, “don’t you think you ought to get some sleep too? Seyruun is a fair distance away, even if you fly, and I’ve seen you without the benefit of tea in the morning. It’s not a pretty sight.”

    Filia scowled at him again, but it was half-hearted. The truth was she was exhausted. Arguing with Xellos had perked her up, as it always did for some strange reason, but she was running out of credit with her body and the suggestion of sleep sounded like a good one… even though it was from Xellos.

    She curled up in the grass with her back turned to him and tried to make herself comfortable with just her hat for a pillow. “You’d better keep a good watch,” she warned him sternly.

    “I always do,” he said quietly.

    And so Filia drifted off to sleep, blanketed in the warm glow of the fire as the priest sitting across from her drummed his fingers against the turf to a patient rhythm that she did not recognize. And though for miles around them the infuriated villagers searched the forest and paths until their torches burnt out, they never found the circle of firelight where the non-humans lay.

  25. #25
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
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    IL
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    Theme #29.

    No One Has to Know. Rated PG.

    Sleep had been hard to come by ever since Filia joined up with Lina’s group for a second time. Being away from home and work even for the short time that her errand would take was nerve-wracking. Was Val doing alright without her? Did he miss her? Was he doing all his homework? Did he get his thumb stuck in the faucet again? Were Jillas and Gravos taking good care of him? And what about her shop? The questions mounted, and she’d have no way of knowing the answers until she returned home—likely to find that her domestic world had kept on turning just fine without her.

    Insomnia drove her ever more frequently from her bed and to the lounges and lobbies of the inns, where she’d have a calming cup of tea to try to sooth herself into a more slumber-friendly frame of mind. It didn’t help that she’d drawn the short straw again that night and had to share a bed with Lina. Sleepwalking is one thing, but sleepkickboxing is another thing entirely. She rubbed her bruised side ruefully and spared a minute of sympathy for Gourry whenever he and Lina finally decided to get married. When she’d commented upon this to Xellos (after receiving absolutely no sympathy for her Lina-inflicted bruises) he’d cheerfully speculated to her that because of that fact Gourry would probably be forced to tie Lina to the bed for, as he put it, “completely non-kink-related reasons.” He had a filthy mind.

    Xellos. Unfortunately for her, insomnia wasn’t her only companion these past few nights. Presumably he didn’t sleep, so she always ended up running into him in the lobbies of the inns late at night. The stupid monster was always pestered her with completely unreasonable questions like: “Are you having trouble sleeping?” and “Would you mind telling me where you got that cup of tea?”

    So it didn’t come as any surprise to her when she looked up from reading the newspaper to see him standing before her in the mostly empty lobby. He nodded to the open space on the sofa next to her. “Is this seat taken?” he asked.

    She glared, but didn’t even do him the courtesy of directing the glare at him, and plopped the newspaper down next to her. “Yes,” she said harshly.

    “That’s not very polite, Filia,” he said, stooping over to move the newspaper. “Nighthawks should stick together.”

    Filia made a hmmph sound as he sat down next to her, and if you want to talk about politeness he was a little closer than was polite.

    Too much time. She spent way too much time in close company with someone who was her most detested enemy. Part of it she could blame on Xellos himself. He liked annoying her, that much was obvious, and he knew full well that keeping himself close to her annoyed her. He didn’t seem to have respect for anybody’s personal space when it came to that. Perhaps he just liked the discomfort it brought… and more than that, if he took a step forward then all he needed was for her to take a step back and it was like she was admitting that she was weaker than him.

    She used to recoil from him, but every time she did so she felt a tiny pinprick of humiliation. Those added up. As soon as she realized that it all amounted to a contest that she did not want to lose she ceased her retreat. Now she didn’t give him the satisfaction of letting him know that he’d rattled her. Let him be the first one to shrink away!

    Of course, some of the things that drew them together didn’t seem to be manipulated by Xellos at all… but they did seem manipulated by… oh, Filia wasn’t sure. Perhaps by a vengeful god with a sick sense of humor; or by the almighty forces of irony; or by whatever it was in her that compelled her toward bizarre, awkward, Xellos-related situations; or by gravity. Even surprisingly strong gusts of wind were suspect—that’s right, the universe was literally throwing them at each other.

    But Filia was determined to endure it all. She could handle Xellos’s teasing and her own flair for landing herself in strange situations. He wouldn’t make her lose her cool.

    “I must say,” he commented, turning to her, “I don’t think the lack of sleep is doing anything for your temperament.”

    He wouldn’t make her lose her co…

    “Or your complexion,” he added, leaning closer to scan her face. “Those are some nasty dark circles.”

    He wouldn’t make her… aw, screw it.

    “What do you care?” she asked, shoving her face just a few inches from his. Let’s see how he likes someone being in his face! she thought violently. He thinks he can make me shrink away? Ha! I don’t retreat, I advance!

    And then something delightful happened. Xellos tilted his head back and away from her, adjusting the distance between them to one that was more conversational and less confrontational. “Can’t a person express concern over a companion’s well-being?” he asked.

    A rush of triumph surged through Filia. She didn’t think it would actually work, but she’d made him flinch back!

    “A person can,” Filia said, moving toward him and taking the distance back, “but you can’t.”

    He frowned and drew himself back once more. “Now that is just not fair. You rage when I treat you cordially and you rage when I don’t. How can I win?”

    “You can’t,” Filia countered, bearing down on him once more. “You lose.”

    Filia had to admit, she could see why Xellos played his little games with proximity. It provided more advantage in an argument than she’d thought it would. Being able to make Xellos back away was ridiculously empowering and leant an extra bite to her comebacks.

    “Well then,” Xellos said, slipping peaceably away from her once more, “I suppose the only thing I can do is treat you honestly.”

    “Honestly?” Filia scoffed, moving forward once more. “You don’t even know what that means!”

    “Don’t I?” he asked.

    “No you—” Filia stopped mid-movement.

    There was something wrong here; something in the tone of his voice and the curve of his lips as he smiled froze her sense of success. Something in that mess of signals made her wonder if he’d actually been retreating… or just reeling her in? He hadn’t moved back this time and their faces were much closer together than she intended them to be. He looked at her with eyes that sharpened to challenge her.

    She swayed dizzily. Her every uncertain breath fell on his mouth. She felt like she was going to fall. Something was pulling her. It was like gravity, but it wasn’t. She wobbled forward and her lips brushed against his chin. She lifted her head, ostensibly to pull herself away, but simply met his lips instead.

    And that’s… all it was. Just her lips accidentally brushing against his. A mere… lip brushing incident. Not a kiss at all, right? How long can a brush be?

    Filia pulled herself away after probably-longer-than-a-brush-can-conceivably-be. Some sense must have reinsinuated itself into her life because the first thing she said was: “Oh my GOD! What have we done?!”

    Xellos didn’t budge, his expression oscillating between gloating and thoughtful. “I could ask you that—but I think I know the answer.”

    “No, no, no, no, no!” Filia said, shaking her head wildly.

    “You kissed me.”

    “No! No I didn’t!” Filia denied. “I mean… alright, I did,” she took it back a wretched second later. “But only because you tricked me!” she said, pointing at him.

    “I tricked you,” Xellos repeated, profoundly unimpressed. “And just how did I trick you?”

    Filia was at a loss to explain. It was hard to tell where Xellos’s mind games ended and her own paranoia began. She settled for crossing her arms and saying: “You know how you did it so I don’t have to explain it to you.”

    Xellos grinned. “It sounds like you tricked yourself into kissing me.”

    Filia let out an exasperated sound. “That part doesn’t matter anyway,” she said because her ‘you tricked me’ defense wasn’t that strong. Her only evidence was ‘you moved away from me!’ which he’d probably cast as evidence against him tricking her. Best to move on to more important matters. “Look, the point is… the point is that whatever just happened was all a colossal mistake!”

    “Whoops,” Xellos said, not-so-helpfully.

    “Yes,” she said coldly. “‘Whoops.’ So the best thing we can do now is to… to forget it ever happened and go back to how we always treat each other. Just… just sweep it under the rug.”

    Xellos thought for a moment before finally saying: “I suppose you’re right. Let’s just forget it then.”

    Filia stared at him for a moment in helpless bewilderment. Finally she exploded with: “How can you even say that?!”

    “Well it was your suggestion,” Xellos answered, amused.

    “That’s beside the point!” Filia snapped, near tears. “You honestly think we could just go back to the way things were? You could just forget about…” She choked. “About that? You heartless beast!”

    “It wasn’t my idea,” Xellos repeated. “If sweeping it under the rug doesn’t agree with you, then need I remind you that there is another option available?”

    The waterworks stopped as the dull weight of exactly what Xellos was talking about dropped into her mind. “No. No. No! How could you even suggest such a thing? That’s beyond wrong!”

    Xellos shrugged his shoulders. “A lecture on decorum from the dragon girl who just kissed a monster?”

    “But…” Filia tried, not really sure where she was going. “I didn’t mean…”

    “What did you mean?” Xellos asked flatly. “And what do you want to do about it?”

    Filia folded her hands onto her lap and look somber. “…If my parents knew…” She closed her eyes ruefully. “…They’d roll over in their graves.”

    “But they don’t know,” Xellos said simply, “and the dead are always somewhat behind on news, so no cemetery gymnastics will be required.”

    Before Filia could lash out at him for not showing proper respect for the dead he’d reached out a hand and put it gently on her cheek. “If you’re going to make a decision then don’t make one based on your reputation, which, by the way, hasn’t been in great shape for awhile now,” he said softly. “You know me well enough to understand that I can keep a secret.”

    Filia stared back into his eyes and for that moment everything he was saying sounded so easy—as easy as falling into that kiss with him had been. Easy and inevitable.

    He smiled, centimetering closer to her and stroking the side of her face. “No one has to know about us,” he whispered.

    Filia slowly leaned closer into him and then abruptly shot backwards, slapping away his hand. “What do you mean ‘no one has to know?!’” she demanded. “What about them?” she asked, pointing to a late night poker game going on at the card table in the corner of the lobby. “They saw us kiss!”

    The mercenaries and card sharks who had been watching the drama unfold for the last ten minutes without paying their cards the least bit of attention abruptly turned back to their game. One of them whistled nonchalantly.

    “Well…” Xellos began reluctantly, “I’m sure they could make some sharp guesses if they saw us leave together—but they wouldn’t know for sure. Anyway, we don’t know them so why should it matter?”

    Filia crossed her arms and glared at him. “Are you telling me that you wouldn’t tell your bosses if we did that?”

    Xellos grimaced. “I suppose technically I’d be obliged to report something of that nature to Lord Beastmaster,” he admitted. “But if it makes you feel any better, that would not be my favorite report to give.”

    “Aha! And what about Miss Lina and the others,” Filia added, eyeing him suspiciously. “Do you really think that we could keep something like this a secret from them?”

    Xellos gave it some thought. “They can be quite observant sometimes, but honestly I think you would’ve already blabbed to Miss Lina or Miss Amelia before they could figure it out on their own. You’re not as good at keeping secrets as I am.” He gave it some more thought. “And then I suppose Mister Gourry and Mister Zelgadis would find out from them and we’d have to… I don’t know, exchange high fives over the incident,” he added, though somewhat doubtfully. Gourry could always be counted on for a high five, but the same could not be said for Zelgadis. The bro code was in sadly short supply in their group.

    “And I suppose your little beastmen family would find out too if we kept on seeing each other,” Xellos went on, tugging at the thread some more. “Unless of course,” he added, eyebrows moving in a way that Filia did not approve of, “you were just planning to use me for one wild, passionate night of carnality and then callously discard me.”

    Filia scoffed, partially because she felt that that should be her line. “So when you say ‘no one has to know,’” she summed up, “what you really mean is everyone has to know!”

    “I suppose I do,” Xellos admitted. “Is this a problem?”

    “Don’t you think it is?” Filia screeched back.

    “Can’t you look at it this way, Filia?” he asked, taking her hand. “Some things are just too important to keep a secret.”

    …And if you want to know what happened next, after Filia argued and Xellos presented counterarguments; after Xellos attempted to negotiate; after a change of setting was suggested; after Filia admitted that she was getting tired, but didn’t want to go back to her own room to get sleep-punched by Lina again; and after Xellos made her an offer that she could refuse, but he hoped she wouldn’t… well, you can ask anyone you’d like. Because everyone knows.

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