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

  1. #51
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    Which I always imagined the name of to be something like “Vases and Maces to Throw in Snide Faces”.
    ...!! This needs to be true!

    Xellos himself probably doesn’t help much with the misunderstandings either.
    XD Nah, he's probably an exacerbating factor.

    I like the concept, it adds another layer to their not-sure-if-happy romance. And yeah, Filia does seem like she is really there in part to avoid him. XD
    One of that things I was thinking about there is the part of the Sound of Music where Maria goes back to the convent to avoid her feelings for the Captain.

    It’s funny, but I had this dream last night where Filia was dancing and singing “Cabaret” of all things and Xellos was just like ...-.-;
    You know, it's funny you should mention that because I've always more or less assumed that Cabaret would be Xellos's favorite musical :P

    Well, you certainly paint a convincing picture of what it might look like given what little we’ve got to go off of.
    Thanks! I do my best with the information I've got.

    Amazing, amazing one-shot. The episode in question is probably one of my favorites despite Xellos not sticking around for the entire time, so I’m rather happy you decided to write about it.
    Thanks you! It's one of my favorite episodes too

    I’m guessing she either set up a different shop, decided to go back to the human town, or this is in the past because one-shot collections don’t always follow set times continuities.
    Yeah, these oneshots don't usually exist in the same continuity and that last one is particularly distant from most of these.

    How I wish I could share your sentiments, Filia.
    I'm pretty messy, but I don't know... I sort of like organizing the files on my computer XP

    Something started to float into the back of my mind when I read this. It’s still a little blurry, but I think the word “Legal” and the name “Skiyomi” are somehow attached. XD
    *whistles*

    Xellos: Easy. I live here, in a matter of speaking.
    I know I read a oneshot once where he was all moved in and she didn't even notice XD

    ....Did he just...? Was he...?
    Xellos has a dirty mind.

    LOL. I guess you really can’t overcompensate when a monster has taken an interest in you.
    The jokes on her! Locks mean nothing to him!

    PFT! Are you sure now, Filia?
    She might revise her statement when she's had more time to think it over XD

    So it’s like:
    XD That's awesome. He should totally change out gems!

  2. #52
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    One of that things I was thinking about there is the part of the Sound of Music where Maria goes back to the convent to avoid her feelings for the Captain.
    SOUND OF MUSIC REFERENCE! Now where are Captain Xellos’ 7 children?
    You know, it's funny you should mention that because I've always more or less assumed that Cabaret would be Xellos's favorite musical :P
    Makes sense. Jealousy! Nazis! The Blame game! Love! Hate! And a seedy club whose acronyms I accidentally once misconstrued for a rather hateful and nasty subject in Southern American history!
    I'm pretty messy, but I don't know... I sort of like organizing the files on my computer XP
    I don’t really do that either... >.> XD

    I know I read a oneshot once where he was all moved in and she didn't even notice XD
    XD Where did he stay if she didn’t even notice? Not that he needs sleep or anything, but “all moved in” suggests that he had some place to put stuff and whatnot.
    Xellos has a dirty mind.
    And it tends to sometimes be brutally honest too...

    The jokes on her! Locks mean nothing to him!
    I think her only saving grace would be to say “What diary?”

    At then he (might) be slightly less inclined to go hunting.

    ONTO NEXT ONE-SHOT:

    Filia stirred her lemonade contentedly with her straw. It was a perfect day, the kind that even Xellos couldn’t ruin.
    How much do you think I should bet?

    “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?”
    I never really thought worms had a scent.O.o

    “I mean,” Xellos said, scratching his cheek speculatively, “what did you think the birds were singing about?”
    Male Bird: I am pretty~ Oh so pretty~ I am pretty and witty and gay!~

    Female Bird: You won’t be once I have my way! *dives*

    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.”
    *snort* I can imagine him a sort of Prometheus though, introducing new ideas into—ok I’ll be good now.

    “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.”
    True, but now that Xellos mentions it, I feel like a lot of societies in general look at things a little like this.

    Knocking his brains out with a ladle won’t solve anything,
    Yeah, provided that you can actually hit him.

    Filia swung around. “How dare you threaten genocide in my house?!”
    Considering that he, at one point, actually committed genocide I’d say threatening is probably a step down.

    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.
    Looks to me like they don’t really teach “The Dragons and the Demons” talk...I mean “The Birds and the Bees”.

    Xellos considered the Dragon race’s attitude toward impropriety and their general fondness for rule collecting.
    Rule collecting...man, I can make a whole list of people who have this as their hobby.
    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.
    GAH! Then how were you supposed to know what was right and what was wrong? I can’t stand stuff like that. I can already name too many times when something like this was used against me.

    “And a diagram with numbered parts,” Filia finished.
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!


    “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.
    I wonder if Filia was under the impression he was going to be a little more...er...drastic.


    “When a man and woman love—or sometimes hate—each other very much—”
    Xellos: “They do something to relieve all their pent up frustrations and stress caused by the other. It’s very therapautic for, after all, it’s rather difficult to argue when said other has yo-”

    Filia: *begins to throw dishes at him*


    Another one-shot I really liked! It’s funny how Filia doesn’t “know” even though that’s how her race reproduces while Xellos “knows” even though he’s a monster (though I can think of plenty of reasons why he’d have such knowledge).
    Fanfiction:
    The Twisted Child of Johto

    http://www.serebiiforums.com/showthread.php?t=543996

    Official from Oscars Thread ^

    png image hosting
    I made this ^

  3. #53
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    SOUND OF MUSIC REFERENCE! Now where are Captain Xellos’ 7 children?
    Captain Xellos has a beautiful singing voice!

    Makes sense. Jealousy! Nazis! The Blame game! Love! Hate! And a seedy club whose acronyms I accidentally once misconstrued for a rather hateful and nasty subject in Southern American history!
    ...And now my nightmares will be full of Xellos dressed up as the Emcee...

    XD Where did he stay if she didn’t even notice? Not that he needs sleep or anything, but “all moved in” suggests that he had some place to put stuff and whatnot.
    I believe he camped out in the guest room or something... and he was a very demanding tenent!

    And it tends to sometimes be brutally honest too...
    Well, in his dirty mind's defense I wouldn't be surprised if Filia had an unusually risque lingerie collection... but perhaps it's just that frilly black garter belt that gives me that idea.

    I think her only saving grace would be to say “What diary?”

    At then he (might) be slightly less inclined to go hunting.
    If he finds out she has one then she's screwed.

    I never really thought worms had a scent.O.o
    It's just that nasty smell after rain... I always see a bunch of worms on the ground, so I tend to blame them for it XD

    Male Bird: I am pretty~ Oh so pretty~ I am pretty and witty and gay!~

    Female Bird: You won’t be once I have my way! *dives*
    Nature is so... beautiful.

    *snort* I can imagine him a sort of Prometheus though, introducing new ideas into—ok I’ll be good now.
    Oh my GOD that is a terrible WONDERFUL idea.

    I wonder if Filia was under the impression he was going to be a little more...er...drastic.
    He might actually still be. Like... maybe he was going to explain using visual aids?

    Xellos: “They do something to relieve all their pent up frustrations and stress caused by the other. It’s very therapautic for, after all, it’s rather difficult to argue when said other has yo-”

    Filia: *begins to throw dishes at him*
    It was always going to end in something breaking! XP

    Another one-shot I really liked! It’s funny how Filia doesn’t “know” even though that’s how her race reproduces while Xellos “knows” even though he’s a monster (though I can think of plenty of reasons why he’d have such knowledge).
    Thank you! In a lot of ways Xellos excentuates the physical much more than Filia even though he's not... you know... actually physical.

  4. #54
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    Here's theme #20.

    Burn. PG.

    Amelia clamped one hand over her mouth and nose to stifled a cough. The only air available for breathing tasted like soot and left her lungs dissatisfied and hungry. Her eyes ached from the filth that permeated the atmosphere, and even if she hadn’t closed them as a ward against irritants, she still wouldn’t have been able to see. It was dark all around here—the kind of darkness that no lighting spell could illuminate. The physical darkness of the smoke pressed in on all sides—hot and oppressive. She’d lost track of where she was. They’d started on the third level, but the floor had given way when the fire started and sent them crashing down. Had they fallen all the way down to the first floor? Was the exit close? Or had they simply fallen down one floor and would they still have to find a staircase before they could escape? …Would they have enough breathable air left to make it that far?

    She shook her head and stopped her dizzy mind from panicking. She didn’t know where she was or how to get out, but she just had to trust in herself and in the person in front of her whose shoulder her other hand was holding onto to guide her out.

    The figure in front of her reached a doorway and pushed—once, twice, three times—before the wood finally gave way and the two of them were plunged into the sunlight.

    Amelia took a desperate breath of the fresh air. “For a minute there I thought we were done for,” she said, coughing.

    “Yeah…” Zelgadis said noncommittally, looking around.

    Amelia caught her breath and then followed his gaze around the outside of the house. “Ooooh, where is everyone?” she moaned worriedly.

    “We got a head start on them because the floor collapsed,” Zelgadis deduced, staring at the burning old house—a place he’d just escaped that he was now having to consider going back into. He took a step back toward the door. “I’d better—” he began.

    He was cut off by the shattering of glass as a blade of light was plunged through a downstairs window. Lina stepped out over the sill with Gourry following, and helping her to avoid the broken glass.

    “Phew! We made it!” Lina exclaimed, muffled because she’d pulled her cape over her mouth.

    “They’re alright!” Amelia cried out, relief all over her face—but that relief was short-lived. “But where’s Miss Filia?!”

    “Wasn’t she with the two of you?” Zelgadis asked, tensed.

    Lina looked wildly over the window they’d just past through, awaiting the appearance of a priestess. “She was right behind us at the start…” she trailed off. “Gourry!” She turned to him. “You saw her come after us, right?”

    “She did at the beginning,” Gourry said with a worried frown. “But it was pitch black in there… you don’t think she could’ve—?”

    At that moment there was a horrible crash. The entire third floor of the old house sunk in onto the second. The second was holding, but it didn’t seem too strong. Flames jetted from every break in the wood and smoke flowed out of it like a liquid.

    “We have to go back in there!” Lina declared, wide-eyed. “We’ll use a wind barrier for protection,” she decided, thinking on her feet, “with a layer of ice spells to keep the flames from breaking it.” She turned to the rest of them. “Zel, Amelia—can you handle the ice spells?”

    Amelia said, “Right!” as Zelgadis nodded.

    Gourry stepped forward with his sword drawn. “There’s a lot of mess in there—you’ll need me to clear the way.”

    “No, Gourry,” Lina said hurriedly. “You can’t clear debris from inside the barrier and you won’t last outside it. Stay here!”

    “But—”

    “Don’t argue,” Lina said, lowering her head seriously as she began building up energy for the spell. “We haven’t got a second to spare.”

    There was an explosion and the second floor fell in.

    “Miss Filia!” Amelia cried out, but before they could finish their magical barrier or dart inside the stifling darkness of what was left of the house again, there was movement out of the corner of their eyes.

    Flickering into existence to their left, and a safe distance away from the collapsing building, was the member of their traveling party that no one had felt the need to worry about when the fire broke out—Xellos. Hoisted in his arms was Filia—soot blackened, bruised, and bleeding.

    “Filia!” Lina yelled, leading the charge as they all raced over to Xellos, who was thankfully wearing an at least comparatively serious expression to his normally smiley face.

    “Is she okay?” Gourry asked, as Xellos released Filia’s unconscious form to Lina and Amelia, who set her on the ground and surveyed her worriedly.

    She was breathing, but her eyes were closed. She was covered in dirt and cuts and bruises and splinters, as though something heavy had fallen on her. That was probably the cause of her unconsciousness, Amelia decided. In the collapse something had fallen on top of her and either knocked her out or pinned her down until she passed out from lack of oxygen. She could imagine some timbers from the ceiling crashing down in a pile on top of her so heavy that no normal human being could lift them… She risked a sideways glance at Xellos before turning back to Filia.

    What was worse than the bruises or the cuts or the smoke inhalation was the burn. Amelia had mistaken it for a bloody gash when she’d seen her from a distance, but no—her side and all along her right arm was a ghastly red and white—blistering, moist and unspeakably vulnerable-looking. Amelia had often done her duty as a shrine maiden—helping to heal the sick and injured—and she knew very well that burns were worse than any wound. A simple cut would leave a slice of skin decimated—a breach that could be bound up once more and sealed. But burns could leave entire swaths of skin dead or dying.

    “She’ll be fine,” Lina assessed quickly, in answer to Gourry’s question that seemed to have been asked a millennium ago, before they’d seen the damage. “You got her in time.” She gave Xellos a nod. In a very quiet voice she added to Amelia, “Use Resurrect.”

    Amelia nodded and began chanting. It was nerve-wracking work—the worry over Filia would’ve made it so no matter what, but there was something else that set her nerves on edge. She was being watched—closely and critically. She didn’t have to see the eyes to know that they were on her.

    Lina noticed it to. Her gaze titled behind them to where Xellos stood. But she didn’t comment on it as she dumped healing magic into Filia.

    “Why didn’t she just follow us out?” Gourry asked, frowning at Filia’s prone form. “I thought she was right behind me when we all decided to get out.”

    Xellos made a gesture with something that Amelia, turned away from him, could only see out of the corner of her eye, but said nothing. Apparently noticing his wordless hush, he chimed in a moment later with an unconvincingly breezy, “I believe she went back for this.”

    “The book?” Zelgadis said, looking up from the healing process where he’d been poised to see if his less skilled hand at healing magic was needed.

    The book, Amelia thought as she let the white magic flow into Filia. Yes… that made sense. After all, the book had been the whole reason they’d gone into that house—the whole reason Filia was traveling with them. They’d gone to meet the man who claimed he had the book about Ancient Dragons…

    That book… the chance in would’ve given Filia to taste that lost to the ages culture that her people had extinguished… the chance to give her son even the tiniest trace of his people’s way of life and beliefs… that had to be priceless.

    Of course, the meeting hadn’t turned out to be what it seemed when they first arranged it. The man who’d promised them the book had another agenda, one that Amelia couldn’t grasp in any full detail at this point. The man had said something about revenge but… revenge against who? Miss Lina was always the most likely option… but it could’ve been meant for someone else… perhaps even Miss Filia, for whom the book seemed to be designed as bait.

    They couldn’t get the man—whoever he was—to tell them the whole story before he called some low-class demons to fight in his stead. There had been a struggle, but in the end it was clear that he was going to lose. And that’s when they’d set the fires—a cowardly and cruel act that proved by itself that they were dealing with an amoral villain.

    Villains… and proof of villainy. Amelia couldn’t help but think that subject had gotten more and more complicated to the point that it was hard to manage. It had been easy when she was younger. Good guys wear white, make epic speeches and punish villains; Bad guys wear black and laugh evilly and tie people to contraptions that gradually lower them into vats of acid—simple. But real life seemed to be rife with exceptions—no one who traveled with Miss Lina’s group could miss that. She’d had to adjust her expectations because, deep down, she knew that Miss Lina was basically good, even if she was occasionally greedy and not 100% moral.

    Mister Zelgadis had been a tough one, because, while Miss Lina would occasionally take on the role of hero with all the flare and style and passion that Amelia had been taught to expect as a child, Mister Zelgadis seemed to actively avoid it. He’d been quick to shut her down whenever the subject of heroism came up—quick to say that, no, he wasn’t a hero of justice—to say that they should stay out of things that weren’t their problem. But… she knew his intentions were good and despite his protestations whenever push came to shove he displayed more good, more heroism than she could’ve ever hoped for. She was coming to believe that part of the reason he shunned the ‘hero’ label was simply because he thought anti-heroes were cooler.

    …Which, of course, Amelia knew was ridiculous. After all, nothing was cooler than a hero.

    She stared down at Filia—at her speedily mending burns. It was when Filia had joined their group that she’d really… noticed that she’d changed in her attitudes about good and evil. She saw how rigid Filia’s definitions of the two were and thought I’ve been there… haven’t I? Filia had gone through a similar change. She must’ve known what it was like.

    But still… she couldn’t imagine what it was like for Filia. Her struggles in where to place Zelgadis on the justice spectrum paled in comparison to… Her eyes flicked in the direction behind her. …Well, at least anti-heroes were still definitely heroes.

    Xellos on the other hand… no one was really sure what to do with Xellos. But Filia would probably have the best idea.

    And he’d snatched her up from that building when they’d all lost track of her. What would’ve happened to her if he hadn’t? It was enough to make a person think…

    But no. That was being sentimental. She realized that when she looked up into Zelgadis’s eyes. He was looking over at Xellos with a sour and suspicious expression—more specifically he was looking at the book in Xellos’s hands… the one Filia had risked her life to get. Was he just holding it for safe keeping or was that book the whole reason he’d been following them again?

    It was impossible to know… and this had happened before. It was dangerous to read into Xellos’s acts based only on their results. She’d made that mistake before. The things he did may have seemed one way but… his intention could’ve be something else entirely.

    Amelia let the last of her white magic flow into Filia. It was a poor substitute for the revitalizing holy magic locked in Filia’s unconscious mind, but yet there was something sacred about it. It was not the kind of magic for monsters. Xellos could rescue Filia, but he couldn’t save her—that he had to entrust to them.

    …If saving her was even what he’d been after. Perhaps it was just a bonus and the book was the real prize. Perhaps its knowledge held something that he and his kind needed to know or needed to keep from others.

    But she couldn’t believe that was the whole story. Amelia was sure. It was a convenient excuse and would’ve preserved a certain world-view—a categorization of good and evil. But it couldn’t explain the force—the manic pressure of eyes boring through the back of her head. There was an edge there, a tension and an ultimatum. She didn’t need to turn around to feel the intensity, the judgment of his gaze.

    Filia’s eyes fluttered open and the pressure ceased.

  5. #55
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    From the review game this is illegal you know in reviewing theme #40, "Childish". I decided to try my hand at one of your numerous Slayers stories despite knowing almost nothing about the series. While at least having a slight idea of who Xellos is, I decided to treat them as original characters.

    Okay, highlighting a couple parts that stuck out to me the most.

    Quote Originally Posted by Skiyomi View Post
    “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.”
    This is probably an unintentional funny moment. I half-expected her to shoot him a look or something along those lines. I mean... what the heck do worms small like XD? Far as I know, it's just wet dirt, and you smell that all the time after it rains whether or not you see the worms. It sounded like somewhat of a childish statement for him to make, which fit the theme a little bit had she pointed it out.

    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.
    SQUIRREL! *stands at attention*

    *beat*

    I just got the last sentence there. Xellos is cheeky, ain't he XP? He must really be the complete opposite of Filia.

    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.
    Ducks make everything better. But I wouldn't want to see two animals get it on in my yard either xD.

    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.
    And ducks are forever ruined.

    Xellos surveyed her in an extremely unimpressed way. “It’s not as though it’s my fault the mortal races reproduce sexually.”
    I dunno, he's an evil overlord, right? He probably would do things like that if he could get away with it XD. He's so snarky, though I'm not sure if he really is in the series (not that I don't trust you in keeping characters in character). Now I really wanna watch this series if just for him.

    You also bring up Filia bring part of a dragon clan. I'm probably wrong about this, but they probably can change from human and dragon forms at whim, or at least until the exhaust themselves. Unless it really is just a clan and the dragon is used as the symbol for said-clan. *shrugs*

    Though of course, there is this interesting story... or something... can't think of another word xD, about how strict the dragon clan is about virtue and celibacy. I don't know if it's really from the show or is just your fan theory, but it truly is fascinating. There is something humorous about a baby dragon getting sent to the corner of a classroom for asking where eggs come from, but it's serious business in their world, and I'd probably get my head torn off for snickering at the imagery.

    “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.
    o_o...

    ...again... interesting, but... huh. I have no idea what to say about it. So... you're hinting that the mommy and daddy dragons don't tell their own children about life because the elders or whoever decided to make it a clan rule that everyone be completely uneducated until the moment they marry. Wonder how many dragons freak out whenever they discover this xD.

    I have to admit, the idea sounds plausible, and I guess a good way to prevent illegitimate children from being born (especially if it's during a time period where bastard children are deeply frowned upon), but... I don't have any negative feelings toward this idea, but I'm sure it has its flaws. Of course, those flaws are probably very quickly swept under the rug if it's anything to go by.

    If they do actually talk about this in the series, I'd like to know, because this is very interesting, and may back-up Filia's personality and attitude about it all.

    “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.
    I'd hit someone too if they were to bring this particular subject up without my consent XD.

    “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.
    The ending feels so abrupt, but it ends in a way that leaves me chuckling inside. It feels like the scene can just cut away to another scene, and it'd be just as effective.

    Overall, I learned a little bit about the Slayers universe (maybe) from this little one-shot, and that it looks like Filia and Xellos get along well, even if they really don't in the show. There was a whole "teasing" feel to it when Xellos was approaching her about this topic, and she really didn't want to hear it because it's pretty much the unspoken rule in her clan. She seems like someone who is loyal, so I can't blame her for wanting to whack his brains out and shoo him out of her house.

    The whole "Childish" theme is a bit... deceptive, I think. Xellos is pointing out it's childish of her for deliberately ignoring the concept of reproduction even though it's pretty much a law in her clan that she, being unmarried, is forbidden to learn of such things. So... would that make him childish for "poking fun" of her?

    That said, the connection between the two is pretty close despite their vast differences. Whether they are enemies in the show or not, judging by this particular one-shot, they often find middle ground together so they could just talk and get to know one another. Could that be the reason you love the two so much, or is there more I'm unaware of? It's not unusual for a villain and someone from the good side to have feelings for one another, but most series tend to make it feel forced, in a way. From what I saw here, it was natural, like the two have known each other since they were young and just grew up choosing what side they wanted to be on, yet continued to remain in contact with one another. I haven't really seen this anywhere else before, so this is pretty refreshing for me to see. (I may be way off, of course, but this was what I got from this one-shot, so bear with me.)

    So while there wasn't a lot of shippiness to this one, which I think subtlety is probably for the best with these two characters, it's cute and fun. Xellos really must show a lot of concern for Filia, even if he's an evil overlord. Still, I think she deserves to whack his brains out every now and then. Putting up with him must get overwhelming at times XD. If they were to ever get married, it would be one heck of a marriage.

    I should read more of your Filia/Xellos stories, something tells me you have a whole lot of fun with these two's chemistry.
    Winner of Best Pokémon/Pokémon Fic of 2013 in the Shipping Oscars
    Current Chapter: Chapter Ten - 3/17/14 / Current: Last Chance - 11/3/11 - Chapter 20 progress: 75%
    I survived Pupa.

  6. #56
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    From the review game this is illegal you know in reviewing theme #40, "Childish". I decided to try my hand at one of your numerous Slayers stories despite knowing almost nothing about the series. While at least having a slight idea of who Xellos is, I decided to treat them as original characters.
    Don't worry. I did ask first. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment on this! I know it must be disorienting to read for a series that you're not familiar with, so I definitely appreciate it.

    This is probably an unintentional funny moment. I half-expected her to shoot him a look or something along those lines. I mean... what the heck do worms small like XD? Far as I know, it's just wet dirt, and you smell that all the time after it rains whether or not you see the worms. It sounded like somewhat of a childish statement for him to make, which fit the theme a little bit had she pointed it out.
    This might be totally just limited to my family, but that's always how we described the smell after rain. Especially since there were all so many worms hanging around--writhing, gross and the perfect scapegoats :P

    SQUIRREL! *stands at attention*

    *beat*

    I just got the last sentence there. Xellos is cheeky, ain't he XP? He must really be the complete opposite of Filia.
    XD He is indeed. Cheeky is a good way to describe him.

    And ducks are forever ruined.
    The duck thing is a true story actually. Lustful animals are forever ruining my springs.

    I dunno, he's an evil overlord, right? He probably would do things like that if he could get away with it XD. He's so snarky, though I'm not sure if he really is in the series (not that I don't trust you in keeping characters in character). Now I really wanna watch this series if just for him.
    He's actually a monster or demon (or Mazoku from the original). Monsters reproduce asexually by basically cutting off a part of their body to create a new being--which divides their power. Xellos himself wouldn't do this, since it takes a big chunk of energy, only demon lords (he's the sole servant/"son" of one) would take that measure to create generals to serve them. As to whether Xellos gets up to the more... usual course of things... hard to say. Never actually addressed in the anime.

    XD And I'm sure it goes without saying that I totally recommend Slayers from the bottom of my fangirl heart.

    You also bring up Filia bring part of a dragon clan. I'm probably wrong about this, but they probably can change from human and dragon forms at whim, or at least until the exhaust themselves. Unless it really is just a clan and the dragon is used as the symbol for said-clan. *shrugs*
    Yes, her true form is a dragon, but she can transform into a human form and that's how she spends most of her time in the Slayers series.

    Though of course, there is this interesting story... or something... can't think of another word xD, about how strict the dragon clan is about virtue and celibacy. I don't know if it's really from the show or is just your fan theory, but it truly is fascinating. There is something humorous about a baby dragon getting sent to the corner of a classroom for asking where eggs come from, but it's serious business in their world, and I'd probably get my head torn off for snickering at the imagery.
    A lot of this is extrapolation, but it's based on real stuff in the show. Filia is always one for taking the high moral ground and is very modest--she's a priestess of the Fire Dragon King, one of the gods of the world of Slayers. Golden Dragons serve the gods and strive to preserve the world, while monsters like Xellos serve the Dark Lord and try to destroy the world (and also feed on negative emotions).

    Making any kind of commentary on dragon society and their feelings about sexuality is difficult because of their limited appearances in the series. Filia is the only female golden dragon that's appeared in the show. I've always assumed their society to be very patriachal due to some of Filia's hyper religious and repressed attitudes and, well, I am obsessed enough to have freeze framed and looked at every single shot of the dragon council of elders and didn't see a single woman there. It's from this information that I make some guess about how their society is run.

    I have to admit, the idea sounds plausible, and I guess a good way to prevent illegitimate children from being born (especially if it's during a time period where bastard children are deeply frowned upon), but... I don't have any negative feelings toward this idea, but I'm sure it has its flaws. Of course, those flaws are probably very quickly swept under the rug if it's anything to go by.
    It might help to know that of the dragons that have appeared in Slayers, Filia and another one named Milgazia are pretty much the only good, sympathetic ones. The elders of the golden dragons have a very fanatical attitude when it comes to "the greater good" and will do any low thing in the name of preserving the peace of the world or the way of life they deem best. That's where some of Xellos's criticism is coming from.

    The ending feels so abrupt, but it ends in a way that leaves me chuckling inside. It feels like the scene can just cut away to another scene, and it'd be just as effective.
    It is pretty quick, I'll admit, but these oneshots are meant to be pretty quick snapshots. I always wonder about these quick endings though... what if I hadn't ended there? I think Dusk is the worst example of this.

    Overall, I learned a little bit about the Slayers universe (maybe) from this little one-shot, and that it looks like Filia and Xellos get along well, even if they really don't in the show. There was a whole "teasing" feel to it when Xellos was approaching her about this topic, and she really didn't want to hear it because it's pretty much the unspoken rule in her clan. She seems like someone who is loyal, so I can't blame her for wanting to whack his brains out and shoo him out of her house.

    The whole "Childish" theme is a bit... deceptive, I think. Xellos is pointing out it's childish of her for deliberately ignoring the concept of reproduction even though it's pretty much a law in her clan that she, being unmarried, is forbidden to learn of such things. So... would that make him childish for "poking fun" of her?
    Ah, well, part of the reason Xellos has a right to criticize her for sticking to this moral code would be... spoilers.

        Spoiler:- I'll try to be vague.:


    That said, the connection between the two is pretty close despite their vast differences. Whether they are enemies in the show or not, judging by this particular one-shot, they often find middle ground together so they could just talk and get to know one another. Could that be the reason you love the two so much, or is there more I'm unaware of? It's not unusual for a villain and someone from the good side to have feelings for one another, but most series tend to make it feel forced, in a way. From what I saw here, it was natural, like the two have known each other since they were young and just grew up choosing what side they wanted to be on, yet continued to remain in contact with one another. I haven't really seen this anywhere else before, so this is pretty refreshing for me to see. (I may be way off, of course, but this was what I got from this one-shot, so bear with me.)
    They're both very special people--at least to me XD. Xellos is one of the most complex anime characters I've ever seen (Filia's quite complex too, and I think she's underappreciated in the Slayers fandom). You could say these two fall into an easier rhythm together because even though Xellos is "bad" he's not really the villain of Slayers. He travels with the heroes much of the time and sides with them when it's convenient for him. So they might be enemies, but they're also companions. Their relationship with each other begins basically with on-sight loathing, and they keep much of that animosity toward each other, but they develop into a sort of regard/fondness as the season progresses.

    I am biased, though. The two are, I maintained, ship teased significantly in the series, but I think people who watch my signatures and then actually see Slayers wind up surprised when they find out the show isn't all about them XD

    So while there wasn't a lot of shippiness to this one, which I think subtlety is probably for the best with these two characters, it's cute and fun. Xellos really must show a lot of concern for Filia, even if he's an evil overlord. Still, I think she deserves to whack his brains out every now and then. Putting up with him must get overwhelming at times XD. If they were to ever get married, it would be one heck of a marriage.
    XD I've done my take on that before and, trust me, it's crazy.

    I should read more of your Filia/Xellos stories, something tells me you have a whole lot of fun with these two's chemistry.
    You are welcome to and I would love to hear your opinion on them if you decide to! XP And yep, these two are a lot of fun. I don't know how to quit them!

  7. #57
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    Burn. PG.
    'Sup? I haven't reviewed in a while so I figured I would since I have some time on my hands at the moment. And yes, I'm aware I'm skipping chapters. I'm not ignoring them, I'll just come back to them later because I want to review this one first.

    He was cut off by the shattering of glass as a blade of light was plunged through a downstairs window. Lina stepped out over the sill with Gourry following, and helping her to avoid the broken glass.
    HA. Nothing new here; Lina and Gourry had a tendency to break walls even when there isn't a legitimate reason.

    “No, Gourry,” Lina said hurriedly. “You can’t clear debris from inside the barrier and you won’t last outside it. Stay here!”

    “But—”
    Lina: "Stay here, you're useless at casting spells."
    Gourry: *sadface*

    Flickering into existence to their left, and a safe distance away from the collapsing building, was the member of their traveling party that no one had felt the need to worry about
    Or probably even cared to worry about. If something happened to Xellos, I can only imagine Lina giving a half-hearted shrug and Zelgadis saying "Serves him right."

    when the fire broke out—Xellos. Hoisted in his arms was Filia—soot blackened, bruised, and bleeding.
    Speaking of bruised or broken people, I hope there wasn't anyone else important left in that building...

    That was probably the cause of her unconsciousness, Amelia decided. In the collapse something had fallen on top of her and either knocked her out or pinned her down until she passed out from lack of oxygen. She could imagine some timbers from the ceiling crashing down in a pile on top of her so heavy that no normal human being could lift them… She risked a sideways glance at Xellos before turning back to Filia.
    She was more likely knocked out instead of pinned, as I can imagine her capable of lifting any number of heavy things a normal human couldn't. Like her mace.

    What was worse than the bruises or the cuts or the smoke inhalation was the burn.
    First she gets burned (repeatedly) by Xellos' numerous comments and now she gets physicallyburned. ....Ouch?

    Erm. This is a relatively serious one-shot, so I can't come up with anything more funny to say.

    Poor Filia. I know Xellos gets bash around a lot in these one-shots, but I feel a lot worse when it's Filia taking the beating. I suppose it could be possible that monsters don't feel pain in the same way as humans, and any injuries cause more or less a temporary weakness or decrease in their abilities. Especially when I think about the end of Slayers EVOLUTION-R; Xellos was little more than a head and it seemed to me that it wasn't pain so much as a lack of limbs/power exhaustion that causes him to be out of the fight.

    Plus, Xellos arguably deserves a lot of the beatings he gets in your stories.

    Amelia nodded and began chanting. It was nerve-wracking work—the worry over Filia would’ve made it so no matter what, but there was something else that set her nerves on edge. She was being watched—closely and critically. She didn’t have to see the eyes to know that they were on her.
    Xellos: Don't mess up now.

    “The book?” Zelgadis said, looking up from the healing process where he’d been poised to see if his less skilled hand at healing magic was needed.
    HAHAHA. Ok, ok. When I first read that, I briefly thought she had actually gone back deeper into a burning building for Xellos' saucy romance novel...

    The book, Amelia thought as she let the white magic flow into Filia. Yes… that made sense. After all, the book had been the whole reason they’d gone into that house—the whole reason Filia was traveling with them.
    So she's only there for the trashy books, huh?

    That book… the chance in would’ve given Filia to taste that lost to the ages culture that her people had extinguished…
    It's because they don't want too many baby dragons or young, hotblooded dragons running around promiscu-Ok ok, I'll be good now. ;~;

    I'm just trying to laugh at something because I don't like injury scenes.

    The man had said something about revenge but… revenge against who? Miss Lina was always the most likely option…
    Lina Inverse? Pissing someone off? Impossible.

    Why, Lina is the picture perfect angel of social norms and polite manners! The most developed of which are her table manners.

    ...Yeah he was probably there to get revenge on Lina.

    They couldn’t get the man—whoever he was—to tell them the whole story before he called some low-class demons to fight in his stead. There had been a struggle, but in the end it was clear that he was going to lose. And that’s when they’d set the fires—a cowardly and cruel act that proved by itself that they were dealing with an amoral villain.
    Ah ok. No random, innocent citizen dying tonight!

    It had been easy when she was younger. Good guys wear white, make epic speeches and punish villains; Bad guys wear black and laugh evilly and tie people to contraptions that gradually lower them into vats of acid—simple.
    Ahaha....Amelia, you can be so adorable sometimes. Didn't Valgaav wear white pants and was prone to epic speeches while he carefully tried to bring utter destruction on the world?

    But real life seemed to be rife with exceptions—no one who traveled with Miss Lina’s group could miss that.
    It's not always Black and White
    But your heart always knows what's right

    I can imagine Amelia getting along VERY well with any of the main Anime Pokemon characters. Or just getting along in the Anime Pokemon world in general.

    *cough cough* Amelia's voice actor. *cough* Gourry's voice actor. *cough cough*

    She’d had to adjust her expectations because, deep down, she knew that Miss Lina was basically good, even if she was occasionally greedy and not 100% moral.
    And prone to anger, obsessive-eating, kicking the rears of people who insult her, insulting people back, shirking duty until her sister tells her to do something...etc. I could sit here writing a list all night.

    Mister Zelgadis had been a tough one, because, while Miss Lina would occasionally take on the role of hero with all the flare and style and passion that Amelia had been taught to expect as a child, Mister Zelgadis seemed to actively avoid it.
    And I'm guessing the whole fiasco in the first episode of Slayers NEXT didn't exactly help either.

    He’d been quick to shut her down whenever the subject of heroism came up—quick to say that, no, he wasn’t a hero of justice—to say that they should stay out of things that weren’t their problem. But… she knew his intentions were good and despite his protestations whenever push came to shove he displayed more good, more heroism than she could’ve ever hoped for. She was coming to believe that part of the reason he shunned the ‘hero’ label was simply because he thought anti-heroes were cooler.
    Anti-heroes are cooler. And I always thought Zelgadis avoided the whole hero/villain issue altogether mostly because he didn't want to involve himself too emotionally in something that wouldn't help him reverse his chimera situation.

    …Which, of course, Amelia knew was ridiculous. After all, nothing was cooler than a hero.
    Batman fans and TV tropes disagrees. In fact, Amelia is currently listed as an anti-hero (along with Lina) under the Anti-Hero page.

    Filia’s eyes fluttered open and the pressure ceased.
    Yay! Amelia was surprisingly contemplative in this one. I guess she can get past the whole black and white sentiments and think deeper.

    EDIT: MORE STUFF

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    ...And now my nightmares will be full of Xellos dressed up as the Emcee...
    ....

    *Perks up with the idea of photo shopping...* >:-D

    ....

    *suddenly remembers that I don't have photo shop, and trying to plaster an Anime face to a real body might not work all that welll...* D-':


    Well, in his dirty mind's defense I wouldn't be surprised if Filia had an unusually risque lingerie collection... but perhaps it's just that frilly black garter belt that gives me that idea.
    I did wonder about that. It just seems so...counter to the way she was raised.


    He might actually still be. Like... maybe he was going to explain using visual aids?
    Xellos: Here, I will be Figure A and you can be Figure B :-D
    Filia: . . . . *grabs the first thing she can throw*

    Xellos really must show a lot of concern for Filia, even if he's an evil overlord.
    Forgive me for quoting you, Kutie Pie, it's just that the thought of Xellos being called an "Evil Overlord" (if only by Filia)...it's so beautiful. Because in an AU world where Beastmaster doesn't exist, what's to stop Xellos from being one? XD

    Ah..again, sorry for quoting you. It's just that you're comment was so perfect I couldn't resist.

    They're both very special people--at least to me XD. Xellos is one of the most complex anime characters I've ever seen (Filia's quite complex too, and I think she's underappreciated in the Slayers fandom).
    Here here; they should have made Filia come back. It would have been much preferred to some stupid kid in a stuffed animal bossing people around and trying to take the spotlight from Lina. That's right, I don't like Pokota and I wouldn't be sad at all if he disappeared completely. And I have to agree on the complex character part, though the same could be said for a number of the main characters as well (Zelgadism anyone?). If Xellos weren't in REVOLUTION, I probably would hate that season ten times more.
    Last edited by AbsolXWolf; 11th August 2012 at 12:43 AM.
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  8. #58
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    Aiiiiiieeee! Thanks so much for the comments~<3

    HA. Nothing new here; Lina and Gourry had a tendency to break walls even when there isn't a legitimate reason.
    Doors are for lesser mortals.

    Lina: "Stay here, you're useless at casting spells."
    Gourry: *sadface*
    Awww! Poor Gourry!

    Or probably even cared to worry about. If something happened to Xellos, I can only imagine Lina giving a half-hearted shrug and Zelgadis saying "Serves him right."
    Awwww, I'd like to think they'd secretly miss him. Or they'd probably just refuse to believe he was really dead.

    Erm. This is a relatively serious one-shot, so I can't come up with anything more funny to say.
    Yeah, sorry XD You hit one that's kind of a downer.

    Poor Filia. I know Xellos gets bash around a lot in these one-shots, but I feel a lot worse when it's Filia taking the beating. I suppose it could be possible that monsters don't feel pain in the same way as humans, and any injuries cause more or less a temporary weakness or decrease in their abilities. Especially when I think about the end of Slayers EVOLUTION-R; Xellos was little more than a head and it seemed to me that it wasn't pain so much as a lack of limbs/power exhaustion that causes him to be out of the fight.
    You're right, but he does seem to cry out in pain some time, so that kind of confuses the matter. Xellos is confusing.

    Plus, Xellos arguably deserves a lot of the beatings he gets in your stories.
    Very true. If anything he deserves more beatings.

    Xellos: Don't mess up now.
    Talk about pressure!

    HAHAHA. Ok, ok. When I first read that, I briefly thought she had actually gone back deeper into a burning building for Xellos' saucy romance novel...
    XD Oh, if only! I should return to the theme of Xellos as romance novelist someday...

    Ahaha....Amelia, you can be so adorable sometimes. Didn't Valgaav wear white pants and was prone to epic speeches while he carefully tried to bring utter destruction on the world?
    The poor thing is constantly getting her world-view revised.

    I can imagine Amelia getting along VERY well with any of the main Anime Pokemon characters. Or just getting along in the Anime Pokemon world in general.

    *cough cough* Amelia's voice actor. *cough* Gourry's voice actor. *cough cough*
    I actually just wrote a vignette recently that had them dipping into Pokemony stuff. I should really get around to posting that (but not here since it's not shippy).

    Anti-heroes are cooler. And I always thought Zelgadis avoided the whole hero/villain issue altogether mostly because he didn't want to involve himself too emotionally in something that wouldn't help him reverse his chimera situation.
    I agree with the not wanting to get emotionally-involved thing, but I also think feels like it's cooler. He *did* seem to dig being called a "heartless mystical swordsman."

    Batman fans and TV tropes disagrees. In fact, Amelia is currently listed as an anti-hero (along with Lina) under the Anti-Hero page.
    She would be shocked to find that out!

    Yay! Amelia was surprisingly contemplative in this one. I guess she can get past the whole black and white sentiments and think deeper.
    Yeah, I really wanted to take a look at Xellos/Filia through the eyes of other characters and Amelia seemed like a good one to explore moral grayness. Of everyone else in the series, her worldview and morals is probably closest to Filia's Though not the same as Filia's. Something Hourglass of Falces didn't seem to get.

    *Perks up with the idea of photo shopping...* >:-D

    ....

    *suddenly remembers that I don't have photo shop, and trying to plaster an Anime face to a real body might not work all that welll...* D-':
    Huh... but I do. Maybe I should take up the challenge?

    I did wonder about that. It just seems so...counter to the way she was raised.
    It is rather weird, isn't it? I gave the garter belt a bit of an origin story in Diary of a Dragon.

    Xellos: Here, I will be Figure A and you can be Figure B :-D
    Filia: . . . . *grabs the first thing she can throw*
    He's only trying to be helpful, Filia!

    Forgive me for quoting you, Kutie Pie, it's just that the thought of Xellos being called an "Evil Overlord" (if only by Filia)...it's so beautiful. Because in an AU world where Beastmaster doesn't exist, what's to stop Xellos from being one? XD
    I can totally hear Filia doing that.

    Here here; they should have made Filia come back. It would have been much preferred to some stupid kid in a stuffed animal bossing people around and trying to take the spotlight from Lina. That's right, I don't like Pokota and I wouldn't be sad at all if he disappeared completely. And I have to agree on the complex character part, though the same could be said for a number of the main characters as well (Zelgadism anyone?). If Xellos weren't in REVOLUTION, I probably would hate that season ten times more.
    I don't actually dislike Pokota, but I completely understand your reasoning for disliking him. In the end, he really seemed like a proxy-main-character. Someone who could develop and grow and change by the end of the series so Lina wouldn't have to which... doesn't do his or Lina's characters any favors.

    ...But I freakin' loved Wizer.

  9. #59
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    Here's theme #90.

    Everything Dies. PG.

    The box was small, cardboard and taped closed along the edges. The markered-on label insisted that it was originally meant to hold paintbrushes, but its purpose had changed. It was a poor casket, really, but it was the best Filia could do on short notice.

    She lowered it into the hole she’d dug, deep enough that she hoped that no marauding coyote would make to rob the tiny tomb. She wiped her dirtied gloves against her skirt as she stood up on the parched grass of her backyard. The shovel was by her feet, but she didn’t feel quite ready to stitch the ground up.

    “Val didn’t want to be here for this?” the lone figure next to her asked.

    Filia dabbed the sweat from her brow and looked sideways at her fellow “mourner”; if he could even be called that. “No,” she said. “He’s pretty broken up about it. This is his first real experience with death.”

    “In this lifetime,” Xellos pointed out.

    “Yes,” Filia nodded gravely. “Gravos and Jillas are trying to cheer him up—they’re taking him out for ice cream.”

    Xellos gave a little smile. “A salve for all life’s wounds,” he observed.

    “Don’t make fun,” she snapped, turning to him with a sour look on her face. “She was his first pet—this is a big deal for him.”

    “I wasn’t making fun,” he scoffed. “Don’t be touchy just because you didn’t manage to keep her from sampling your highly toxic art supplies.”

    Filia didn’t say anything. It was like he’d taken hold of a screwdriver in her gut and twisted it.

    He seemed to take pity, at least enough to change the subject. “Do you think you’ll get him another pet? Perhaps one that curiosity isn’t so inclined to kill?”

    “I don’t know,” Filia said with a massive sigh. “It seems too soon. Like we’d be trying to replace her or something.”

    “It doesn’t have to be another cat,” Xellos pointed out. “It could be something you could keep in a cage so it won’t go wandering off and getting into trouble—a guinea pig or some other small rodent.”

    Filia grimaced. “Don’t those only live for four or five years? I don’t want to do this again so soon.”

    Xellos tapped his staff into the ground where it crunched against the drought-starved grass. “You’re going to have to get used to this, you know,” he commented.

    She stared at him, eyes narrowing as she looked for his angle. “What, do you think I’m going to turn this backyard into some kind of pet cemetery?” she asked derisively. “I told you, Snowball wasn’t even supposed to be in that storeroom. Someone left the door partway open. It was an accident. Despite what you may think, I’m not negligent enough to let the same thing happen to another pet.”

    “I don’t mean that,” Xellos replied calmly. “You’re a dragon living among humans, Filia. It just follows that you’re going to need to get used to funerals.”

    She was silent for a moment, looking back into the makeshift cat tomb that scarred her lawn. There were some things that she just didn’t want to think about anymore than she had to.

    “I suppose it’ll be rather odd for the town several decades down the line, now that I come to think of it,” Xellos mused. “If you stay here, you’ll practically be a fixture. Generations will pass, yet the grandchildren of your long-dead first customers will still know that they can get good deals on ceramics and melee weapons from the pretty little shop on the main street and the dragon girl who runs it.”

    She gritted her teeth. “Do we really have to talk about this?” she asked. “It’s so morbid.”

    He put his hands on his hips and gazed heavenward, rolling his eyes at her under his closed lids. “Morbid? At a funeral? How dare I?” he conceded mockingly. “In any case,” he went on, “if you chose to settle amongst other dragons—those with the same long life span as you—then you wouldn’t have to think about it as much. But you didn’t. You chose to live among people who will die significantly before you.”

    “Oh, a gift for magic has certainly been known to increase a human’s lifespan, but that can only go so far,” he added. “Your neighbors, your customers, Jillas, Gravos, Miss Lina, Mister Gourry, Mister Zelgadis and Miss Amelia… in all likelihood, they will all die before you do. Don’t you think you should prepare yourself for that fact?”

    Despite the summer’s heat, the moisture in the air around Filia felt clammier than it did humid. Near everyone in her life that she counted as important had an expiration date well before hers. It was a terrible thing to think. Hadn’t there been enough death already?

    “I don’t think anyone could really prepare for that,” she said softly.

    Xellos shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe,” he allowed, “But at least if you try then it won’t take you by surprise.”

    Filia wasn’t sure about that. Even the hot stab of surprise seemed preferable to the cold, slowly tightening noose of dread. But there was no forgetting now that it had been brought up.

    “Umm…” she said, breaking the silence as she reached down to pick up the shovel. As she drew back up, she looked at the makeshift casket intently once more before saying, “…So… do you suppose we should say a few words?”

    Xellos looked mildly perplexed. “Words?”

    “Yes,” Filia said, slightly impatient. “Words.”

    He cocked his head to the side. “You mean something in the ‘Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat’ vein?”

    “Just… something nice, before we close up the grave,” Filia said.

    “…Very well,” Xellos said after a moment’s hesitation.

    He took a step forward toward the open grave, thought for a moment, and then picked up a bit of loose dirt from the pile beside the hole. He cleared his throat. “Snowball,” he began. “Truly your death has taught us that turpentine should be kept in a sealed container and on a high shelf where a small animal cannot poison itself on it.” He let the dirt fall through his fingers and onto the sad cardboard box. “Rest in peace.”

    He stepped away from the grave, apparently satisfied with himself.

    She gave him a hard look before shaking her head and chipping her shovel into the ground. “That was miserable,” she declared.

    He frowned. Sure, it wasn’t exactly “a flight of angels sing thee to thy rest,” but she’d asked a monster to give a eulogy for a domestic cat. What exactly had she been expecting?

    “I just hope you do better at my funeral,” she added, ladling a shovelful of dirt into the grave.

    There was a pause, slightly longer than it should’ve been. “…What?” he asked.

    “Well, it makes sense doesn’t it?” she said, stopping her shoveling to lean on the handle as she looked at him. “If I’ve got to get used to funerals then you really have to get used to funerals.”

    “I wouldn’t imagine many people would invite me,” he said lightly.

    Filia snorted. “Since when do you need an invitation to show up anywhere?”

    She got back to her shoveling. “So, are you saying you wouldn’t show up to pay your last respects to me?” She paused. “Or more like your first respects, come to think of it.”

    His eyebrows were drawn together ever so slightly. “I… may,” he said carefully.

    A wistful look crossed her features for a moment and her fingers squeezed the shovel handle. “So… after I’m gone,” she said slowly, “…will you still remember me?”

    “Hmm?” he asked, as though lost in thought.

    “Like, after I’m dead will you just sort of… forget I ever happened, or will you still wince every time someone says the word ‘garbage?’”

    He gave a smile that was accompanied by a barely audible laugh. “I can say with certainty that your rudeness will live on long after you’re gone.”

    She nodded, satisfied. “And you’ll remember it,” she said certainly. “So that’ll be my immortality.”

    He opened one eye, more a look of cautious confusion than of malevolence on his face. “Your… immortality?”

    “Yes,” she said. “Because you won’t die, right?”

    He paused, absent of his usual nasal “Hmm”s to fill the space between words. Instead he opened his other eye and regarded her words very seriously. “I won’t die,” he finally said, “…naturally.”

    She tapped her shovel against the filled-in hole, packing in the loose dirt. “Naturally,” she repeated, a slight trace of bitterness in her voice.

    “And you, Filia?” he asked, sweeping over so that he was standing on the other side of the small grave from her. “Will you remember me?”

    She frowned. “Why would you even ask that? It’s not like it makes any difference in my case.”

    “You got to ask me,” he pointed out. “It’s only fair.”

    She tossed the shovel to one side. “Of course I will,” she said, as though it went without saying. “But that doesn’t even mean the same thing. You’re not mortal, so if you remember me even after I’m gone, then you can be my immortality. But I am mortal, so it doesn’t matter if I remember you because eventually I’ll die.”

    “Of course it matters,” he chided. “It just means that instead you’re my…” he trailed off. “…Ah, that’s it, isn’t it?” he said, almost to himself. He shook his head, a strange smile on his face. “I might’ve known,” he said.

    She gave him an odd look “…Might’ve known what?” she asked.

    “Never mind,” he said. He let out what was very nearly a sigh and extended a hand to her across the grave. “I think it’s about time we joined Val, Gravos and Jillas at the ice cream parlor,” he said. “I think we both could use some cheering up.”

    She looked at his hand hesitantly. “Even you?” she asked.

    “It happens sometimes, Filia,” he said patiently.

    She slowly reached out and put her hand in his, walking around the grave and over to his side. “Who’s paying?” she asked.

    “You, of course,” he said simply as they walked toward the back gate. “It’s your fault I need cheering up.”

    She scoffed. “Me? What did I do?”

    “That… is a secret,” he said, guiding her along until they reached the sidewalk.

    She groaned. “Of course,” she said, rolling her eyes.

    “However…” he said slowly, “I can give you a sincere opinion on this whole situation.”

    “Really?” she asked, as though doubting his ability to be sincere.

    He stopped their hand-in-hand jaunt in the direction of the ice cream parlor to look her directly in the eye. “…I think you should get that guinea pig,” he said solemnly.

    Filia raised a blonde eyebrow.

    “Everything dies, Filia,” he said. “Both you and Val need to come to understand that. If the only reason you don’t want to get another pet is because you don’t want to deal with it dying, then that’s not reason enough. After all, it’s not as though you’d end your friendship with Miss Lina or any of the others simply because in all likelihood they’ll die before you.”

    He looked away from her. “It’s not as though I’d leave you because I know someday you must die.”

    She stared at him, her mouth slightly open. Her hand felt slick in her glove, more resting against his hand than actually held by it. She wanted to remember this moment for as long as her lengthy but finite lifespan would allow. She wanted to take it out later and examine it from multiple angles—question it, deliberate on it, and treasure it.

    …But jut for the course of their conversation along the way to the ice cream parlor, she wanted to distance herself from it.

    “Xellos…” she croaked, not realizing that her throat had gone slightly dry.

    “Yes?”

    “You…” she began, casting around for what to say before deciding on, “…You’re not seriously comparing me to a pet are you?”

    He grinned and continued his movement forward, pulling her along by nothing more than his fingertips lightly brushing against hers. “I would never,” he said in mock offense.

    “Good,” she said.

    “…But if I were to,” he went on, “I’m sure I wouldn’t pick a guinea pig or a cat to compare you to. I’d probably choose something more long lived and overly talkative, like a parrot.”

    She rolled her eyes.

    “No?” he said. “How about an iguana? Am I getting closer?”

    “Not in the least,” she said, lacing her fingers more firmly in his. “But you seem to have cheered up. Are you sure you still need me to pay for that ice cream?”

    “Nice try, Filia,” he said, leaning in closer to her as they walked down the road. “You’re not getting out of it that easily. I told you that ice cream is a salve for all life’s wounds. Since you’re the one that inflicted them, you’re the one that needs to fix it.”

    “It’s not like you to bruise so easily,” she commented. “It’s very…” she trailed off for a moment, the pieces falling into place so suddenly that it startled her.

    “…Very mortal of you,” she finished.

  10. #60
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    Here's theme #77.

    The Man of My Nightmares. PG-13.

    “I am so sorry about this, Miss Filia,” Amelia confessed in a shrill whisper too quiet for even the guests seated at the nearby table to hear, let alone anyone else in the crowded ballroom.

    Filia smiled fixedly, aware that every guest in the room had their eyes on the princess. It was all so bizarre. Here was Amelia on her big day—wearing a dress that probably cost more than Filia’s house—all grace and royal dignity; here she was, the absolute apple of the eye of Seyruun’s celebrating residents; here she was, finally married to Zelgadis after much feet-dragging and excuses on his part. This was the happiest day of her life. And yet, she felt the need to deliver a sincere apology for making the kind of hard decisions that any reception planner must inevitably make.

    Filia glanced from Amelia to Zelgadis, dressed up in his military best and with a thin, ceremonial sword tucked at his side, so unlike his usual broadsword. He was letting Amelia take care of the heavy-duty meeting-and-greeting of the wedding guests while his eyes shot back and forth suspiciously across the room—still more in the mindset of a guard than a groom.

    “He was probably going to show up anyway and I had to put him somewhere,” Amelia was explaining in her ear.

    Filia eyes were drawn magnetically to Xellos, still standing at her side after getting up from his chair to receive the greetings of the bride and groom. He was grinning, damn him. Of course he was grinning.

    “There are a lot of really important people here today,” Amelia continued wretchedly. “I just thought… maybe if I sat you two at the same table that he’d be too focused on you to cause trouble with anyone else.”

    Filia’s stomach still boiled with wrathful acid from the discovery—the indignity as the usher directed her to her assigned table and she found Xellos sitting there in that faux-innocent manner of his. A card sat on his place setting with his name in a flourishing script—the place right next to it had a similar card with her own name.

    And she’d thought it had to be some kind of mistake. Or that perhaps Xellos had moved the place settings himself. Amelia wouldn’t have purposefully tried to torture her by seating her next to Xellos. That’s what she’d told herself… but…

    “Sorry…” Amelia finished, drawing back from her with an unrelentingly pitiful look. It must’ve been hard to look so pathetic in a skirt that nearly tripled her size, but she managed it.

    Filia strove to speak, remembering first to unclench her teeth. “It’s… it’s fine,” she finally said, breaking into an uneasy smile. “You shouldn’t worry about that anyway. I mean… today’s about you.”

    Amelia let out a massive sigh of relief before tipping her silk-enshrined form forward to hug the former priestess. “I knew you’d understand!” she cried.

    Filia kept her smile in place as Amelia greeted the rest of the people at their table—second cousins twice removed or other such obscure relatives that no one could keep track of, but who got invited to big family events anyway. As soon as Amelia drifted away toward the next table, to attend to her other guests, Filia’s smile immediately dropped. She turned to Xellos, silently broadcasting her displeasure.

    “What?” he asked, giving his attention to her after gesturing with one last wave to Amelia and Zelgadis.

    “Must you ruin all blessed occasions?” she asked him coldly.

    He sat down in his chair, flaring out the tails on his suit jacket as he did so. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. “I haven’t ruined anything at all. I’m just trying to enjoy my Chicken Kiev in peace.”

    Filia sat down at his side with a disbelieving, “A likely story!”

    Despite his claim, Xellos’s attention was focused much more heavily on Filia than on the breaded chicken dish sitting on his plate. He tapped his fork against the table a few times, a thoughtful look on his face. “I think I know where all this bitterness of yours is coming from,” he finally concluded, arching an eyebrow at her. “What do they say? ‘Always a bridesmaid, never a bride?’”

    Filia clucked her tongue in exasperation. “That’s… that’s not even… Well, look, I’m not even a bridesmaid so that doesn’t apply.”

    “Oh really?” Xellos asked, slightly taken aback. “I assumed you were. That mockery of fuchsia and ribbons you’re wearing looked like the sort of dress a bride who wanted to guarantee she wasn’t competing for attention with any of the wedding party would assign.”

    Filia glowered, straightening out the wrinkles on an overly puffed sleeve as she did so. There’s being evil and then there’s just being catty. “I’ll have you know, I made this dress myself.”

    Xellos picked up a glass of wine, staring into the liquid as he swilled it around. “That explains a great deal.”

    She swiveled around in her chair to face him in full, ignoring the cooling meal on her dish. “Well, why don’t you explain to me how you don’t even know who’s in the wedding party? I didn’t know spies were so unobservant.”

    He made a little “Pfft” sound before taking a drink of his wine. “The logical explanation would be that I didn’t attend the wedding.”

    Filia was stuck for a moment. It made sense. She hadn’t seen him at the wedding, but assumed he’d be observing from a distance. “So… you showed up at the reception, but not the wedding?” she asked skeptically.

    Xellos shrugged. “In my experience, receptions are much more rewarding to attend than weddings.” He cast his glance upwards in reflection for a moment. “I think it has something to do with an open bar and the promise of cake.”

    “So you’re just here to mooch!” she concluded, not bothering to keep her voice down. “I bet you weren’t even invited.”

    “There was a place already prepared for me when I arrived,” he argued. “I think that implies an invitation.”

    “Ha!” she returned. “Forcing people to plan around your gate-crashing isn’t the same as being invited. It couldn’t be clearer that you’re completely unwanted here!”

    He chewed a bite of his chicken thoughtfully. “That is both harsh and unfair,” he said after a moment. “But I’ll overlook it since it is clear that your aggression is born out of fear of becoming an old maid.”

    She let out a scoffing noise. “You’re out of your mind,” she informed him.

    Perhaps she would’ve elaborated, but a cough from the other half of the table turned both their gazes away from each other. “Umm… excuse me?” one of their table mates cut in—a woman with slightly greying hair and a ridiculous hat. Filia couldn’t read the woman’s name tag from her angle, but it seemed to be quite lengthy. “I don’t mean to interrupt,” she said, turning toward Xellos with the corners of her mouth drawn down in concern, “but I was wondering… you’re not one of those dastardly men who show up at weddings they’re not invited to for the sole purpose of taking advantage of the desperation of single women are you?”

    Xellos stared at her, momentarily unable to respond. “Um… no,” he finally said. “No, I’m not.”

    The woman across the table dropped her judgmental gaze and stared instead into her soup. “Oh,” was all she said. She sounded somewhat disappointed.

    Filia realized that her jaw had fallen open at some point in the course of this exchange and attempted, with some difficulty, to correct it. “Is…” she began, not quite sure how to continue as she gave Xellos a horrified look. “Is that one of the ‘rewards’ of wedding receptions?”

    Xellos gave her a weary look. “If it was, Filia, ask yourself this,” he responded in a withering tone, “do you think I’d be sitting with you?”

    Before Filia could answer, a chiming rang out from the head table. She craned her neck around to see the wedding party, having concluded their exhausting meet-and-greet, back in their seats. There were familiar faces—Amelia and Zelgadis of course, along with Lina and Gourry who seemed to have had their patience tested by forgoing food to act in their roles as maid of honor and best man. They already had forks and knives in hand and were glaring at the figure sitting on one side of Amelia, who had interrupted their chow-down before it even began.

    King Philionel was tapping at his wine glass with a spoon to command everyone’s attention. He seemed to have pulled himself together a great deal since the wedding, when Filia had last seen him. It was quite a sight to see a man that big and self-assured weeping as though he’d never run out of tears. But it was a proud sort of crying. Filia was sure that, after all Seyruun had been through in the last year, that the new King was relieved to trade the mournful tears shed after the death of his father, King Eldoran, for the joyous tears at the marriage of his youngest daughter.

    There were other faces there that Filia did not recognize—members of the royal family, perhaps. There was an old woman with grey haired piled up high on her head, holding a handbag and wearing a look of displeasure. Her hat had a taxidermy starling perched on top of it which was… an odd choice for wedding attire. Next to her sat a rail thin, tiny old man who seemed to be enjoying the proceedings much more than his seat-mate. Closer to the center of the table and the bride and groom, sat a very tall woman who was in the process of downing a mug of beer. Despite the fact that the wedding party couldn’t have been seated at the table for very long, she already had quite a few empty glasses in front of her. She slammed the empty mug down on the table and motioned to a waiter for another one, pawing at her bridesmaid dress all the while as though not used to wearing so much clothing.

    “People of Seyruun,” the King began, a broad smile on his face. “Loved ones, distinguished guests, today we celebrate the union of my dear daughter Amelia and—”

    “Oh, it’s just a toast,” Xellos murmured, drawing Filia’s attention away from the King. He put his spoon back on the table. “I thought we were going to peer pressure the bride and groom into kissing.”

    “What?” Filia whispered, raising an eyebrow at him.

    “Hmm?” Xellos turned to look at her. “…Ah, that’s right, you probably haven’t been to too many human weddings. It’s just a silly little tradition. Guests will clink their glasses in order to get the bride and groom to kiss.”

    “That’s… strange,” Filia commented, stealing a glance at Zelgadis. He already seemed uncomfortable with these proceedings, being goaded into a public display of affection probably wouldn’t have helped.

    Xellos opened one eye and looked at her lazily. “Strange? I suppose. Don’t dragons have any such traditions?” he asked. “I’d assume so. You’re such a highly ritual-driven people after all.”

    “Well, we don’t have any rituals like that,” Filia responded, taken aback. “Nothing to make anyone kiss in public. That doesn’t even happen at the weddings themselves.”

    “Of course not,” Xellos responded patiently. “Such a spontaneous show of warmth and fondness would be far too scandalous for your uptight, reptilian sensibilities to process. No, I just meant,” he went on, talking over Filia’s attempt to register her umbrage at his less than respectful attitude toward dragon sensibilities, “I wanted to know what sort of wedding traditions you dragons keep.” He held up a gloved finger to make his point. “This may surprise you, Filia, but, for one reason or another, I’ve never been invited to a dragon wedding.”

    “One reason or another?!” Filia screeched as silently as she could, knowing that they were drawing annoyed looks from guests who were trying to focus on Phil’s toast. “You know exactly what the reason is!”

    “…May their future together, and as leaders of Seyruun, be bright,” Philionel finished, lifting his glass high and taking a drink.

    Filia reached out for her glass at the last minute and took a furious swig which she nearly choked on. She was doing it. She was letting Xellos distract her from properly enjoying the reception.

    “Yes, well,” Xellos began again, talking through the cheers from the guests after he finished taking a drink, “with that in mind, I’m not exactly likely to be a guest of honor at those sorts of affairs. I thought perhaps you could enlighten me. What characterizes a dragon wedding?”

    Filia was silent for a moment. She folded her hands in her lap while their tablemates dug into their dinner before it got too cold. “…Fire,” she finally said.

    “Fire?” he repeated as the orchestra started playing soft, digestion-aiding nothings from the corner stage.

    “Yes,” she confirmed. “It’s…” She absentmindedly smeared the mashed potatoes on her plate into a circle shape. “There’s a large ring of kindling they set out where the ceremony takes place. Most of it’s the usual sort of thing… wood, rope, sweet smelling grasses, but there’s usually something a little extra. The bride and groom each choose a personal item of theirs—a piece of clothing, an article of furniture, a document—something that symbolizes their lives before they were together.”

    “And then they burn it,” Xellos concluded, pressing his napkin against his upper lip. “Rather dramatic, but then again, I suppose we are talking about golden dragons.”

    “It’s not just that,” Filia cut in, choosing not to comment on the perceived melodrama of her people. “When they set the kindling ablaze, all the guests flap their wings to make the flames grow higher and higher—until it’s just a column of fire. The bride and groom fly into the center of it from above and that’s where they say their vows.”

    “I’m assuming this is more a tradition of the Fire Dragon King’s followers, than of the golden dragons as a whole,” Xellos commented, taking another bite of his meal. His eyebrows drew together slightly, perplexed. “Still… that’s an awfully hellish setting for a wedding.”

    Filia went for a drink of wine and rolled her eyes. “You wouldn’t get it,” she said. “Of course a monster would only think that fire is for destroying things. Dragons understand fire. Fire warms houses, hatches eggs, melts ice. And that’s not even mentioning our fine tradition of smithing.”

    She chewed thoughtfully on a piece of chicken. “Anyway, the idea of fire being dangerous and violent is part of the point. It’s… well, it’s a trial by fire, I guess you could say. Flying into that swirling mass of flame is frightening, even a little bit risky. But that danger is supposed to cement the union between the bride and the groom. They’ve passed through the fire—they’ve overcome that to be together.”

    Xellos sat back in his chair as the strains of violins played. “I already mentioned the dragon race’s love of theatrics, but I suppose I didn’t even know the half of it. But…” he began, cupping his chin in his hand. “I suppose I can somewhat see the logic of how living through a catastrophic situation with someone might strengthen your bond with them.”

    He looked at her, as though wondering if she had any thoughts on the matter. She appeared not to. Instead, she put another forkful of mashed potatoes into her mouth and stared ahead at the two women sitting across from them—trying to embroil themselves in a private conversation and ignore the sporadic interactions on the other side of the table.

    “And would you have anything like this?” Xellos pushed on, after it was clear that she wasn’t going to comment. “A wedding reception? Some kind of feast?”

    She cleared her throat. “No, nothing like that,” she answered. “In fact, usually the newly married couple goes off on their own right after the wedding ceremony is completed.”

    “To?” Xellos asked.

    “Traditionally?” she clarified, specifically not looking directly at him. “To gather nesting materials.”

    “…Ah,” he surmised, a small, knowing smile on his face. “Honeymoon.

    She nearly dropped her fork. “It’s not…” she began, “It’s not really about that.” She straightened up in her chair, looking upwards imperiously. “It’s an ancient tradition that began when dragon settlements were more scattered. New couples had to set up households in caves or forests. Now, for dragons that make the temple their home, the trip is really more about giving the couple some time on their own.”

    “Exactly as I said,” he said, his smile not at all dimmed. “What do you think they want time on their own for?” He shook his head. “I know the dragon race likes to put business before pleasure, but when the business is reproduction… well…”

    She grimaced, a slight blush on her face. “The dragon race doesn’t… we don’t really…”

    “What, ever?” he interrupted her, a mock-aghast look on his face as he leaned in to force eye-contact.

    “You don’t understand,” she snapped. “It takes a lot of resources to feed dragon young, and the temple only has limited space. And anyway, dragons live much longer than, say, humans, so they’re not as concerned with… replacing themselves. So there’s a need to be…” she struggled for the word, “…careful.”

    Xellos leaned back in his chair, giving back some of the personal space he’d stolen. “I see,” he said. “How very austere.”

    She hesitated before making a response. Generally speaking, her default policy was to disagree with Xellos. This was almost always the right and true thing to do. However, in this case… “Going to a human wedding, where there’s such a sense of… celebration,” she began wistfully, “I have to admit, that by comparison, my people treat the occasion with much more… solemnity.” She tucked a stray strand of hair behind her pointed ear. “It’s almost like there’s a sense of loss about it.”

    “Did you ever think you’d do it?” Xellos asked, his question rushing out as though it had been lined up long before she stopped speaking.

    “What?” she asked, giving him a wide-eyed look.

    “Marry,” he said. “Burn a symbol of your youth and innocence, fly through the circle of flame, take part in an ancient breeding ritual that your society has nearly rendered pointless.”

    She was stuck for a response for a moment. It all sounded so bleak when he put it that way. “I… I suppose in the back of my mind I thought I would,” she admitted, thinking back. “But it was never really a priority.”

    He nodded wisely, reaching toward his plate for a bread roll. “I’m sure that makes the fact that you can’t anymore much less disappointing,” he remarked, breaking the roll in half.

    Her forehead creased as she turned over his pronouncement. “Why do you keep saying that?” she asked. She wasn’t exactly bursting with the desire for matrimony, but his continued poking at the subject was starting to get annoying.

    “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, taking a bite of bread. “I just sort of assumed that after your very dramatic and principled exit from the society of your people, that you weren’t currently shopping around for a new temple in which to serve.”

    When he put it like that… “Well, of course not,” she said stiffly.

    “That eliminates your primary chance for companionship on that level,” he opined. He grazed the tip of his index finger thoughtfully against his chin. “I suppose, though, we should never say never,” he added. “There’s always the lively and controversial world of interspecies marriage to consider. There’s your sort of ‘adoptive’ people—the humans. And you get along quite well with beastmen, I’ve noticed.”

    “I hope you’re not suggesting that I marry Jillas,” Filia returned coldly.

    “You’ll hurt his feelings with talk like that, Filia,” Xellos replied, a pleased smile on his face. “No, I think the humans are worthy of the most consideration here. You are, after all, taking human form and living primarily amongst humans. There’s a degree to which you can fall into their mindset and thus relate to them—you have many human friends. But…” he went on, as though they’d approached the knotty part of the issue, “…ultimately, the relationship could only go so far before certain incompatibilities might become obvious. Possibly insurmountable ones.”

    She narrowed her eyes at him. “…What are you talking about?”

    “Well, as you and I well know, Filia, though you are able to nearly perfectly imitate human form,” he coughed here and added: “most of the time” in a mumble, “you still retain many of the attributes of your true, dragon form—such as weight, strength and stamina.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “That might be a little… much for the average human to take.”

    She hadn’t quite arrived at his point yet, but was close enough to dislike where this was going.

    He sighed magnanimously. “Either you’d have to be a much more restrained lover than I assume you to be or…” He tut-tut-tutted with his tongue a couple of times. “Let’s just say, crushed pelvises are a possible hazard a human suitor of yours would have to contend with.”

    “How dare you! You… You REPULSIVE, VULGAR BEAST!”

    Smack. Her chair hit the floor and the reality of the many, many other people in the room hit Filia. They gawked at her, mouths agape at the red-faced, visibly shaking woman standing before the table. She was huffing and puffing and looked one moment from blowing the house down. Filia tore her gaze from Xellos (who was incidentally looking very proud of his workmanship) to the head table where Amelia was wearing a “No please! No! Not here! Not now!” expression.

    Slowly, and under a great deal of pressure, Filia leaned down and righted her chair. Aware of the gaze of hundreds of people upon her, and none more prominent than the two ladies at her own table who were already trying to edge their way toward another group, she sat back down. She took several deep breaths, staring only at her hands—still clenched in shuddering fists.

    “Ummm… everyone please try to finish up your meals quickly,” Amelia tried from the head table. Her voice was higher than usual and to Filia it sounded as though it was coming from the other end of a long tunnel. “They’re going to be bringing the cake out soon.”

    It took a few minutes, but the crowd grudgingly resumed its chatter—though not without stealing several intrigued or appalled looks at the dragon girl sitting at a table not too far away from the royal family.

    As Filia gradually got her breathing under control and managed to persuade her fists to unclench, she took a moment to give herself a bit of a mental pep talk—perhaps even a congratulations. Granted, that outburst didn’t exactly look good. But the fact of the matter was that only a few years ago a comment like that from Xellos would’ve almost certainly goaded her into transforming. She was getting better at resisting—better at keeping her human appearance intact regardless of what her wildly running emotions.

    “The tail might be a bit of a problem as well,” Xellos said in a tone that might’ve been described as gentle if it wasn’t so obvious how much fun he was having.

    Filia looked down and, sure enough, there was a golden-scaled tail poking out from under her skirt. She quickly slid it under the table and decided that she was still doing pretty well, self-control-wise, because she hadn’t 1. Transformed fully; or 2. Beat Xellos over the head with a silver platter.

    She took another deep breath. “You are,” she began, but had to pause to take a minute to ensure that she stayed under control, “the vilest creature I have ever met in my life.”

    “Charming, as ever,” Xellos responded, not at all impressed by her more focused rage. “But did it ever cross your mind that I’m doing you a service by making you aware of uncomfortable truths?”

    She said nothing, but she did not look like a woman who felt she had been provided excellent service.

    “These are things you should probably consider if you ever intend to find the so-called ‘man of your dreams,’” Xellos informed her, an ironic smile in place.

    Filia snorted. “Well, I’ve already found the man of my nightmares,” she grumbled.

    Xellos chuckled. “Those weren’t nightmares,” he informed her.

    “…And, you know, perhaps I’m not a bad choice,” he added, after a moment’s thought. “You wouldn’t have the same problems with me that you might have with others outside your own race. I’m much more… ah, durable than your average man. And I can’t say I mind the tail at all.”

    Her face contorted in disgust. “Don’t you even pretend to take that idea seriously,” she warned him.

    “But it’s more than that,” he went on, ignoring her comment. “I don’t think either of us knows anyone else even half as well as we know each other. And that must count for something, regardless of whether your dreams of me are good or bad.”

    Filia opened her mouth to respond. His every comment had been catching her off-guard, but this one did so for a different reason. His previous comments had almost seemed like he was betting with himself as to how far he could push her—how much he could offend those uptight, reptilian sensibilities that he accused her of having. Perhaps it was just in contrast to those comments that that last one seemed so different.

    She was spared replying, though, by the announcement that the cake had arrived—a lush, multilayered thing with columns of frosting in white and pale pink. Candied flowers ran down its sides like an overflowing fountain of botanical saccharinity. Filia watched as it was rolled—carefully—up to the princess and the new prince on a cart. Zelgadis stood up and was handed a knife by the chef. The action felt rehearsed, maybe because of the stiffness in Zelgadis’s manner (though he can hardly help that). Amelia followed behind him, placing a hand over his. When she looked into his eyes, some of the nervous aggression seemed to fade from them—some of the anger at this perfunctory ritual that was required of him in order to have the things he needed and wanted in life—some of the fear at the privacy of their tender moment being invaded. With that attitude, they reached upward and, together, cut the first slice of cake. Everyone in the room broke out into applause.

    And that moment hurt a little—the simple sweetness of it all. The idea of this matrimonial world being blockaded had never really occurred to Filia before that day. It wasn’t something that entered her daily thoughts—her desires or her priorities. Perhaps there was some small tendril of expectation in the back of her mind—a leftover from her childhood—but it was barely acknowledged. If it had snuck to the forefront of her mind then she probably would’ve come to terms with it as unlikely in her situation—and she would’ve done so on her own. It was Xellos’s smug flaunting of the idea that she couldn’t ever have this which had made her itch at the thought—to want to have something that he said she couldn’t. But even that she could’ve gotten beyond with time. It was just one of Xellos’s taunts after all. But seeing a moment like that between Zelgadis and Amelia, who had overcome so many difficulties to be together… The companionship that they shared fell off them like fumes, leaving her with a contact-high of affection. She couldn’t experience something like that without feeling a little lonely… especially when grappling with the concept of “never.”

    Xellos watched her face as this feeling passed through her. “I suppose you could always try to catch the bouquet,” he suggested. “The woman who catches it is supposedly the next one to get married. Since the odds are against you, why not appeal to superstition?”

    “What’s the point?” Filia asked dully, resting her elbows on the table and letting her head fall into the cradle of her hands.

    He tilted his head to the side. “Oh, Filia,” he said quietly, “have I destroyed all sense of romance in you?”

    “Shouldn’t you be proud?” she asked sourly.

    “Not particularly, no.”

    She lifted her head out of her hands, sitting up straight as she stared at the dance floor beyond her, where, very soon, the bride and groom would have their first dance. It was safe to say, that being a bride was almost certainly not in her future. That was alright, really. It wasn’t a necessity. But… she could dance. She could still dance. And damn it, she would dance.

    It just came down to finding the right partner. She gave a sigh of inevitability and turned to look at Xellos, who was being passed his promised cake by a waiter. Xellos. The evil, obnoxious, no-good, very-bad, durable and tail-tolerating speaker of uncomfortable truths who she knew better than anyone else and who knew her better than anyone else. The man of her nightmares indeed. But, if you wanted to get technical about it, nightmares still counted as dreams.

    As for Xellos, he wasn’t much thinking about dancing or about cake. It occurred to him that a bouquet would not be the only flying object up for grabs by the time this reception was over. It would not be difficult, he realized, to guarantee that he would be the one to snatch up the flung garter belt before any of the bachelors waiting to be unconfirmed could make the catch.

    Of course, Xellos had little use for a token that would proclaim him the next man in attendance to be a groom. Marriage was a concern of the mortal races and certainly not any of his business.

    …On the other hand… he knew a woman who could always use another garter belt.

  11. #61
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    Here's theme #99.

    Guest Room. PG.

    There was no such thing as a pajama-day in the Ul Copt household. Filia had learned very quickly from mornings when she’d stagger downstairs in her nightgown for some sweet, consciousness-affirming caffeine or late afternoons when she’d get out of the bath with no desire to change out of her fuzzy bathrobe into real clothes. Those would always be the moments when she’d find Xellos sitting at her kitchen table or turn around to see him standing right behind her. Being presentable as close to 100% of the time as possible had become the only appropriate way to respond to his random, unannounced and increasingly frequent appearances.

    But at the very least, as a last, graspable straw of stability, she usually only had to watch out for one disappearing-reappearing guest. Yet, as she carried a basket of laundry down the stairs that day, wondering what she should prepare for lunch, she came across a second guest she hadn’t expected to contend with. Oh, Xellos was there too, sitting at a little fold-up table he’d evidently moved from the patio. He turned his head around to see her as she approached, revealing a sequence of cards in his hands. Across from him sat a craggily-faced stranger wearing a powder blue trench coat and a strangely accessorized pink scarf.

    “Ah, Filia,” Xellos said, reorganizing his cards. “Glad to see you’ve finally joined us.”

    “So is this the famous Filia?” the man asked with evident interest. He put his cards face down on the table and stood up, giving Filia a little half-bow. “Greetings and salutations, Miss Filia. Sir Xellos has told me so very much about his special friend.”

    Filia stared numbly at the stranger and wonder with horror just what garbage he’d spouted about her. “Special friend” was certainly a red flag.

    “Oh! Where are my manners?” the man chided himself, resting his fingers on his forehead and his thumb on a very defined cheekbone. “I haven’t introduced myself. I am Inspector Wizer Freion, a special investigator of the Ruvinagald Kingdom.” He held out a hand as if for her to shake it.

    Filia’s hands were full of laundry at the moment and, even without that excuse, she wasn’t sure that she wanted to shake hands with any associate of Xellos. He looked like someone who’d hang out with Xellos too. He had the same shifty expression about his eyes. “Oh,” she said. “…And what are you doing in my kitchen?” she added as diplomatically as she possibly could.

    Xellos jumped in here. “I invited Mister Wizer here for a regular…” he trailed off and turned to Wizer. “What are we calling it again?”

    “Boys’ poker night,” Wizer answered taking his seat once more.

    “It’s not nighttime,” Filia pointed out.

    “Don’t play with semantics, Filia,” Xellos said disapprovingly. “It’s less dangerous than playing with fire, but not as much fun.”

    Filia frowned at him. This was awfully nervy talk from someone who’d invited a person over to someone else’s house. “And shouldn’t you have more than just two people for a good poker game?”

    “As a matter of fact…” Xellos answered as though this was a trifle embarrassing, “I did extend an invitation to Mister Milgazia as well.”

    “M-m!” Filia began, nearly dropping her basket. “Milgazia? As in the leader of the Water Dragon King’s followers? As in a very well-respected and renowned golden dragon? That Milgazia?”

    “Yes,” Xellos said matter-of-factly. “We’ve met on several occasions and I thought he’d be an ideal candidate to join our game.”

    There was a feeling like ice trickling down the back of her neck as Filia contemplated just how pleasant those meetings could’ve possibly been. You had to admire Xellos’s audacity, though, in inviting a golden dragon on the level of the Supreme Elder to play a convivial card game with him. Or… perhaps not admire, now that she thought of it. More like “be aghast at.”

    She had to ask. “What did he say when you invited him?”

    He shuffled around his cards, more out of discomfort than out of a need to organize. “He asked me if this was a life or death proposition. I said that he was being a bit melodramatic—a trait I’ve noticed in golden dragons as a whole, if I might add—but I was curious, so I asked him what he would do if it was.”

    “…And?” Filia pressed.

    He looked up at her. “He said he was weighing his options.”

    A dead silence fell over the room. Clearly in the face of having to play cards and drink beer with Xellos, the fair-minded and sensible golden dragon had decided that death was preferable.

    Filia put down her load of laundry and straightened up, crossing her arms. “So… was there really no one else you could invite along as well?”

    Xellos shrugged and let out a heavy sigh. “I suppose Mister Gourry might’ve joined us, but inviting him would mean inviting Miss Lina and you’re not at all equipped to feed the both of them.”

    Wizer nodded appreciatively and dipped a pretzel stick into a small bowl of honey mustard (both of which had been taken out of Filia’s pantry without her approval). “Snacks are an essential ingredient of any proper poker night and if Lina Inverse were here, you can be sure her greed would allow for none of that.”

    “And as for Mister Zelgadis…” Xellos trailed off. “Well, I’d already been rudely turned down by one person and it seemed futile to make it two.”

    “It shocks me that those who call themselves your friends would treat you so rudely, Sir Xellos,” Wizer put in, shaking his head.

    “It’s alright,” Xellos said, with his usual smile. “As long as there’s the two of us, the game can go forward.”

    “Of course!” Wizer agreed. “What are best pals for?” He followed this cringe-inducing statement with a seemingly never-ending laugh.

    Filia stared at the two of them. So this was… this was really it, wasn’t it? For Xellos, anyway. He traveled far and wide, knew a surprising variety of people, and, much though it pained her to admit it, he could even be charming and likeable when he concentrated and bothered to give a damn about it. Yet… here they were, not for some grand mission or magical conspiracy, but just a casual game of cards and chitchat, and all he could scrounge up was some weirdo from Ruvinagald. …And her, she supposed. This was all taking place in her house. He had his best pal and his… “special friend.” For all that Xellos could boast about, this was what it came down to in the end for people who were at least somewhat willing to subject themselves to him even when they didn’t have to.

    It was a little… stirring now that she thought about it. And pathetic, of course. Really, really pathetic.

    Filia blinked as a thought struck her. Some weirdo from Ruvinagald?

    She turned to Wizer. “Ummm… Mister Wizer, is it? You did say you were from Ruvinagald, didn’t you?”

    “Why, yes, I did,” Wizer answered.

    “…Isn’t that a long way to come from just for a card game?” she asked, casting a look of suspicion at Xellos. Would he actually have teleported a human to her house?

    “It is a bit of a ways,” Wizer confirmed with a nod. “I’ll have a long carriage ride ahead of me tomorrow to get home.”

    “Well, that’s—” Filia broke off, mid-polite response. “Tomorrow?!

    “Yes, and I must thank you,” Wizer went on warmly. “Sir Xellos has told me that you’ve been good enough to provide me a place to stay for the evening.”

    Filia turned her head to Xellos, her neck making an angry, cracking sound as it swiveled. “He did, did he?”

    “You have a guest room,” Xellos pointed out calmly. “You might as well make good use of it. Otherwise, why have it at all?”

    “That’s not the point!” Filia countered, slamming her hands down on the card table and setting poker chips rattling. “Just because I let you stay here all the time doesn’t mean this is your house! You can’t just invite people willy-nilly without asking me first! You don’t live here!”

    Xellos shrugged. “But I practically live here,” he answered. He nodded to the wall next to the sink. “I even have my own mug.”

    Filia mentally cursed as she took in the obnoxiously tidy “Xellos” handwritten on a mug next to a similar mug with the name “Filia” on it. She’d known hosting that paint-your-own-pottery seminar would come back to bite her one day. “That… that doesn’t mean anything at all. A mug with your name on it is hardly proof of residence! It’s just… luggage!”

    A wicked brainwave coursed through Filia’s consciousness before Xellos could properly poke holes in her “luggage” comments or before Wizer could delve into the legal question of what constitutes proof of residence. “That’s right,” she said, a gleam in her eye as she turned to look at Xellos. “It’s luggage,” she repeated. “It’s luggage because you’re a guest.”

    “I think I’m more of a—” Xellos began before being cut off.

    “And since you are a guest,” Filia went on, “that means that if you’re going to stay here tonight, you’re going to stay in the guest room. After all,” she added, ready to throw his words back in his face, “I have a guest room. I might as well make good use of it. Otherwise, why have it at all?

    Xellos shot her a look that was clearly meant to silently communicate that she was embarrassing him and herself in front of their visitor from Ruvinagald. “But you and I have a… a rather different sleeping arrangement already in place,” he reminded her.

    “Not tonight we don’t,” she informed him. “I’m sure if we did you’d have bothered to check with me before making plans that involve my house.”

    “But surely, Filia—”

    “Oh, and fair warning to you,” she added, picking up her laundry basket and looking to Wizer, who’d been watching the conversation with squinty disbelief, “it’s not a big bed and Xellos is a very aggressive cuddler.”

    She turned on her heel and left the room with a little extra flounce in her step. “So enjoy that,” she called over her shoulder.

  12. #62
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    Excuses. PG-13.

    Sometimes it’s just not prudent to ask too many questions. After the previous day’s very draining and costly battle against a pair of monsters with an axe to grind against them, most of Lina Inverse’s crew wasn’t inclined to start making a fuss about minor social inconsistencies amongst the group. After all, they were so tapped out of magical power after the fight, that they’d spent all the energy they had left on healing the most major of their wounds. With fresh cuts and bruises still uncured and lacking defenses if they got ambushed again, it was much more important that they keep a careful eye on things as they traveled along the road than it was to examine why things were just ever so slightly “weird” between two of their traveling companions.

    It wasn’t as though the behavior was completely unexplainable, anyway. They’d all have been toast if Xellos hadn’t shown up when he did with his veiled threats about Beastmaster and the others “not liking” what their foes were up to. Heck, he’d personally blocked a downwardly stabbing claw that had been meant for Filia. She always got a little awkward when she had reason to be grateful to him. Granted, she usually dealt with being in his debt by sticking out her lower lip and giving him the cold shoulder or by furiously alleging that he had some sort of wicked, backhanded motive for helping her. However, twisting her hands behind her back and throwing him anxiously searching looks was another perfectly normal way to respond to something like that.

    It would also explain Xellos’s extra smug expression. Though it didn’t do much to explain why this smugness was occasionally switched out for a look of uncharacteristic hesitation, particularly right after aforementioned anxiously searching looks from Filia.

    Looking back with the context of the strange atmosphere between the two in mind, it did occur to some of their friends that it was a bit unusual that the monster and the dragon had down to breakfast at the exact same time that morning. Still… that by itself wasn’t exactly damning evidence of any sort of… unusual event. They’d come down late, so everyone else was already at breakfast and couldn’t confirm whether they’d simply met up in the hall of the inn on their way down or not.

    There was, however, a slightly more compelling mark of suspicion amongst them that any keen-eyed observer could pick up on. Again, though, most of them felt that it was better not to ask questions about it. Asking questions was dangerous. After all, they might get answers that most of them really did not want to hear.

    “Hey Filia, what’s that weird bruise on your neck?”

    ...Most, though not all.

    “I mean, did you get it in the fight yesterday or something?” Gourry went on as Filia slapped a hand over the side of her neck. “‘Cause I didn’t remember you having that.”

    Lina sighed and rolled her eyes at Gourry as Zelgadis purposefully turned awy from the rest of the group. Amelia and Xellos watched Filia carefully for her response.

    “I… it’s nothing,” Filia tried, knowing that spontaneous wound formation was probably not the best explanation in the world. “A… a bug bite, that’s all,” she added, not doing much better.

    This appeared to be too much for the rational-minded Zelgadis, despite his desire to absolutely not be involved in this conversation. “That would have to be one big bug,” he muttered.

    “It was,” Filia confirmed, trying to ignore a snickering Xellos as she straightened out her cloak to regain some dignity. “A huge pest,” she added pointedly.

    “Oh, was it?” Xellos asked, seeming to take a strange amount of offense to Filia’s exterminating problems. “That’s funny, because I didn’t see any insects crawling around last night.”

    “You wouldn’t,” Filia countered cryptically.

    “Gee, I didn’t see any bugs either, and that place seemed so nice,” Gourry said, scratching his hair as he considered the turn of events. He turned to Lina, with a somewhat worried: “You don’t think we picked up any bed bugs, do you?”

    “No, Gourry,” Lina answered through gritted teeth as she rubbed her forehead ruefully, “I’m pretty sure we didn’t.”

    “Oh, so it must’ve been some other bug then,” Gourry concluded mildly.

    “Yes, tell us all about this alleged bug who allegedly took a large bite out of your neck last night, Filia,” Xellos prodded, pronouncing every word as though it was suspect. “I’m sure we’d all love to hear about him.”

    “I’m not sure that’s really necessary,” Amelia tried, holding out her hands as a bead of sweat dripped down her forehead.

    “No, it’s fine,” Filia said boldly, leaning toward Xellos to take his challenge. “As a matter of fact, it was a cockroach.”

    “Oh, do tell,” Xellos commented in a mock-intrigued voice.

    “That’s right!” Filia said, nostrils flaring slightly. “A filthy, garbage-dwelling cockroach!”

    “How terribly ghastly for you,” Xellos returned, all insincere sympathy, “to have such a thing caressing your neck as you lay in bed. I can only imagine the sound you must’ve let out when that happened.”

    “Do we really have to have this conversation?” Lina asked with a groan as Filia blushed. “I mean, couldn’t we at least wait until we’re not being targeted by enemies that could tear us to pieces without breaking a sweat?”

    “There’s just one thing I can’t quite figure out about your explanation,” Xellos went on, voice heightening critically as he completely ignored Lina’s plea to abandon this line of inquiry. “I’d always been under the impression that cockroaches, however maligned, didn’t actually bite people.”

    “This one did,” Filia maintained.

    “How peculiar,” Xellos commented. “Did any crumbs of food from dinner perchance to fall on your neck to confuse the ‘cockroach’ or do you just have a particularly sweet tasting neck?”

    Zelgadis reflected with a grimace that, were he to shoot himself, the bullet would probably ricochet harmlessly off his rocky skin.

    “I wouldn’t know,” Filia said. Her tone was cold, but her face was just a degree away from projecting actual steam. “I’m not an expert on cockroaches,” she added with a certain “takes one to know one” implication.

    “Well then, perhaps it was just a love bite,” Xellos suggested diplomatically.

    “…This is starting to sound like a weird cockroach,” Gourry commented, feeling only the very beginnings of disquiet.

    Starting?!” Lina repeated in disbelief.

    “Well, he could’ve been more discreet,” Filia hissed directly back at Xellos, ignoring the other two. “The cockroach, that is.”

    “Oh, but I’m sure he’s the very definition of discreet,” Xellos protested, wagging his finger in the same pose that he might use to tell them something was a secret. “You could’ve worn a bandage over the mark, after all.”

    “And you could stop going out of your way to poke holes in my cockroach explanation, Mr. Discreet!” Filia whisper-yelled at him. She was turned away slightly from the others to give the impression that she thought she was speaking only to him, but lacked the volume control to stop the others from actually hearing her.

    He digested this allegation for a moment, and then appeared to make up his mind. “I suppose you’re right,” he decided. “Then I will have to go ahead and withdraw my questions.” He waved a hand at the rest of the group. “And I’m sure the others are perfectly satisfied with your not-at-all ludicrous excuse for your hi—” he stopped and corrected himself—“bug bite.”

    “Yes!” Lina shouted, eager to have the conversation over and done with.

    “Umm… sure,” Amelia said, looking uncertainly from Xellos to Filia.

    “For the sake of our mental health, yes,” Zelgadis said, arms crossed.

    “What… were we supposed to think something else?” Gourry asked without a trace of irony.

    “There, you see?” Xellos asked, turning to Filia with a broad grin. “All taken care of—discreetly.” He punctuated that last word by holding up his index finger.

    Filia muttered something under her breath, but at least seemed mollified enough to let the subject drop.

    Xellos smiled. It was best this way. Set the foundations of order and propriety wobbling, but never quite let them go crashing down. Now things were settled again, for the moment. Though he couldn’t help but feel a certain… unfinished quality. It was like a tickle under his skin, prodding him to keep going instead of quitting while he was ahead.

    “There is… just one more question I’d like to ask,” he said, giving in to the desire.

    “What?” Filia asked irritably.

    He put on his best innocent face. “What kind of roach did you say it was again?”

    Steam actually did shoot out of her face. “You!” she shrieked, reaching for her mace as he disappeared, only to reappear a few feet away.

    “It was only a question!” he called from the distance.

    She answered his question by swinging her mace through the air he occupied as he teleported farther away again.

    The others watched them as they chased each other around the forest. “There’s going to be no living with them now, is there?” Zelgadis asked glumly.

    “Pretty much,” Lina agreed, scratching at her hair. “But it’s not like we can say we didn’t see this coming.”

    “True,” Zelgadis was forced to agree.

    “Still,” Amelia said with a sense that the universe wasn’t functioning quite as advertised, “you’d think that now that they’ve finally consummated their feelings that they’d be a little more… you know… loving to each other.”

    Lina gestured helplessly out to the pair in the woods. Filia had successfully split an ancient tree in two through the sheer force of her rage, but Xellos had just phased over to a different tree. “I think this might be as good as it gets.”

    “Maybe,” Amelia said. In an effort to hold out some hope, though, she added: “then again, we don’t know what they’re like when they’re alone.”

    “Are…” Gourry began, puzzlement and disgust fighting for dominance on his wrinkling brow, “are we still talking about Filia and the cockroach?”

    “Jellyfish-brain!” Lina yelled, smacking her elbow into his gut. “The cockroach is Xellos!”

  13. #63
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    Here's theme #9.

    Out of Time. PG.

    Filia shuffled her way to the front door, muttering to herself about who could possibly be calling upon her on her day off. Jillas and Gravos were tending the shop, so it couldn’t be them, and Val and all his friends were in school, so nobody would be looking for him at home. She squinted as she put her eye up to the small glass circle and looked out.

    She froze. Xellos! His smile looked even more disturbing than ever as the peephole glass warped it—making his face look rounder and the corners of his lips curl unnaturally. Beside him were two beastmen she’d never seen before. Standing taller than the other was a floppy-eared dogman dressed up like a costume wizard—pointy blue hat and all. The smaller figure was a grey and white cat with a fashionably feathered hat perched jauntily between his pointed ears.

    Who were they? Xellos’s henchmen? That didn’t seem like his style… then again, knocking on doors wasn’t his style either.

    “Did we really have to come all the way out here?” the canine magician asked from the other side of the door. “We could’ve just stayed and helped build the maze.”

    “I’m sure Mister Wizer would’ve appreciated your assistance,” Xellos chimed in, “but unfortunately the marquess was quite specific about my supervising the two of you, and since I have a very urgent errand to attend to, I’m afraid you must come along.”

    “What are we doing here anyway, brother?” the cat asked, turning to the dog.

    The dog shrugged. “Search me,” he said.

    Xellos smiled to himself. “We’re here because it’s Filia Time,” he said. He emphasized the words as though they were of capital importance.

    “What’s a Filia?” the cat asked.

    “Filia,” Xellos began, “is the eavesdropping-prone ex-dragon priestess currently listening in behind the door instead of inviting us inside like a reasonably civilized person would.”

    Filia jerked the door open and glared at him. “Just what is ‘Filia Time?’” she demanded.

    “Something that’s long overdue,” was Xellos’s only response as he tilted his staff forward to make his way past her.

    Filia looked beyond the dog and cat who were uncertainly following Xellos into her house. There was a carriage parked in the road. She hoped it had been simply borrowed instead of stolen. It had a barred window in the back which… wasn’t really a positive sign.

    She closed the door and swiveled around to survey her three uninvited guests. She pointed at Xellos. “You, I’ll interrogate later,” she announced. “Who are these people?” she demanded, eyeing the beastmen.

    “These are Misters Flan and Zollan,” Xellos explained, nodding toward the dog and the cat respectively. “At the moment we share an employer.”

    She stared at him. A few names that meant nothing, some mentions of an employer without discussing who or what they’d been employed for, and, to top it all off, the mysterious non-answer of “Filia Time.” “Do you practice being vague in a mirror?” she asked him through gritted teeth.

    “I’m not sure what you mean,” Xellos said off-handedly.

    “So, does this lady know how to help us get the Sword of Light or something?” Flan asked, hoping to get down to some business that he actually cared about.

    Xellos sighed. He knew when to be tight-lipped, but he couldn’t say the same about everyone around him.

    “The Sword of Light?” Filia repeated in a half-shriek. She turned on Xellos, her fangs suddenly protruding in a countenance that was more reptilian than humanoid. “What are you up to this time, Xellos?!”

    Xellos held up his index finger, a big, overdone grin on his face. “Say, neither of you have eaten anything since we set out this morning, have you?” Xellos asked his two companions. He generously waved his hand toward a hallway. “I’m sure Filia has something at least halfway edible in the house. The kitchen’s that way.”

    “Now wait a minute, Xellos! You can’t just—”

    “Come on, bro!” Zollan called, jogging past the protesting Filia.

    “Right behind you!” Flan said, pumping his arms.

    “Hey!” Filia called, stretching a hand out after them. She groaned as they disappeared down the hall and turned back to Xellos, fist clenched.

    Xellos, obvious to this, watched the doorway they’d disappeared through. “You know, I keep meaning to ask them if there’s any way they’re actually related,” he said thoughtfully. “But I think I might be better off not knowing.”

    Filia was beyond caring about any possible scenario that could allow for a cat and dog to be siblings. “Did you seriously bring thieves into my house and then set them loose in my kitchen?!” she asked hoarsely.

    Xellos flared out his cape and took a seat in one of the parlor’s salmon-colored armchairs. “Would-be thieves,” he said gently, as if this made things any better. “If they were successful thieves than I wouldn’t have had to take them along and could’ve used my usual mode of transportation.”

    “In any case,” he said, looking up at her, “I couldn’t possibly see you having any problem with them being here unless you’ve already fulfilled your ‘beastmen who’ve attempted to steal the Sword of Light’ quota.”

    Filia frowned and took the seat across from him. “They’re… reformed,” she tried. “And anyway, that’s another thing,” she added, on a fresh surge of anger at unanswered questions. “How could they be trying to steal the Sword of Light when the sword is gone?

    Xellos shrugged. “Replica,” he said. It seemed to be all the elaborating he was willing to do on that score.

    She leaned forward and looked him square in the closed eye. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on here, or what?” she asked in a low voice.

    He waved her off. “Of course not. There’s no reason you should have to know anything about the current situation. That’s not what I need you for.”

    Filia opened her mouth and let out an exasperated sound. It was typical of Xellos to not give any information yet still expect people to play along with his game. What wasn’t necessarily typical was that he actually seemed to have come to her with a real task he needed accomplished. In the past when he’d popped in on her his goals had been… well, stupid stuff. Excuses, really. He’d claim that he was interested in sampling a new tea that she’d bought or that he’d just stopped by to chat. All of it ultimately came down to the fact that he just wanted to be annoying. This seemed a little more… focused.

    Come to think of it… it had actually been awhile since he’d visited at all. He must’ve been busy… though busy with what was the million dollar question.

    “What do you need me for? Not,” she added pointedly, “that I have any reason whatsoever to help you.”

    He sat there for a moment as thought searching for the words to explain his request. “I have to admit that I have been with rather…” he nodded his head ever so slightly in the direction of the kitchen, “lackluster company as of late.” He rested two fingers on his forehead and shook his head as though something were a shame. “There’s much to be developed, but it would go a lot better if I had the right person to bounce ideas off on.”

    Filia just let her mouth hang open. “You want to use me as a sounding board for your evil schemes?” she repeated in disbelief. “Why me?

    He held out his hand with the palm up and, in a blurry haze of magic, conjured a saucer and steaming cup of tea. He didn’t offer her any tea. Not that she’d have taken any of his mysterious, nowhere-tea, but still, it’s courteous to offer.

    “Our conversations are always productive,” he said, bringing the cup to his lips. He grinned and opened one eye. “I suppose you could say that you inspire me.”

    She scoffed and looked away, hoping her hair was doing a good enough job covering her ears which tended to get a little… pink at comments like that. It was a strange thing, though, very strange, for a demon to say to a dragon. “What am I? Your muse of mischief?” she asked in a tone that she hoped fully expressed how absurd he was being.

    “Hmm,” he hummed reflectively, looking up. “I like the sound of that actually.”

    She groaned. He’d make her regret coining that one; that much she was sure of. “To be that, I’d have to actually be mischievous and I’m not!” She crossed her arms. “If I inspire you to do anything it should be good. Not that there’s any of that to tease out of you,” she added sharply.

    He let out a little chuckle. “Is that what you’d expect, Filia?” he asked. “To be a little angel sitting on my shoulder, whispering that I should follow the path of right as ordained by the doctrine of the Fire Dragon King?”

    She collapsed back in the armchair. “You’d do the opposite just out of spite,” she muttered.

    “Hence why you are the perfect muse of mischief,” Xellos decided, bringing it full circle. “And even aside from that,” he added, “you do have some expertise in what I need to plan.”

    “I’m not an expert at anything nefarious and that’s all you’re interested in, so I don’t know what help I could be!” Filia insisted.

    “Look at the problem like this,” Xellos said, “let’s say that you wanted to persuade Miss Lina to do something. How would you—”

    “Absolutely not!” Filia cut him off, standing up. “You can’t be serious!” she shouted. “Miss Lina’s my friend! I’m not going to help you talk her into whatever plot you monsters are cooking up!”

    “Ah, but it’s just the opposite,” Xellos elaborated. “I’m asking, if you were trying to persuade Miss Lina to do something, what technique would you choose in order to fail in a most spectacular and painful fashion?”

    Filia’s forehead, generally smooth despite the many extra decades she’d lived longer than most around her, crinkled. “Why would you…”

    “Ah-ah-ah,” Xellos scolded, waving a finger at her. “‘Why’ is not where you come in.”

    He sipped his tea thoughtfully. “I was thinking at the start that a romantic overture might do the trick.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her in a manner she categorized as most unsettling. “She’s very immature and has a tendency to react to situations that make her feel unaccustomed emotions quite poorly.”

    Filia might’ve agreed if it weren’t for the alarm bells going off in her head. “Don’t you even dare,” she warned, summoning up from deep within her all the ultimately toothless fury that she could threaten him with.

    “Oh, not me, Filia,” he said, laughing her off. “You don’t need to worry,” he informed her cheerily. “My eye hasn’t wandered. No,” he went on, “I have someone else lined up for this little endeavor.”

    Filia privately wondered at the seeming improper invocation of his eye and its abstention from vagrancy. As far as she was concerned, an eye needed to be focused on something first for it to have the ability to wander off and, as far as she could tell, his eyes only seemed focus on his own eyelids. “Well then whoever he is, he’s going to get blown to smithereens!” Filia predicted.

    “Yes,” Xellos agreed approvingly. “It’s going to be hilarious.”

    Filia rolled her eyes. Of course. Of course Xellos would see other people being in pain or distress as a plus to his plans and not a minus.

    “So, what else?” Xellos prompted.

    Filia resolved to put Xellos on the other end of a non-answer this time. It wasn’t like she actually wanted to help him anyway and he deserved it. “Have you tried actually asking her outright to do something?” she asked sardonically. “Usually that’ll make her do the opposite quicker than anything.”

    “A good point,” Xellos said, to Filia’s dismay actually seeming to like her “suggestion.” “Perhaps I should be writing these down?”

    “No!” Filia countered, flopping back into her chair. “There’s nothing to write down because I’m not going to tell you anything more! I won’t help you in whatever manipulative game you’re playing!”

    Xellos shrugged. “You already have. I mean, after all, I know how to successfully get Miss Lina to agree to doing something because of you.”

    “Because of me?” she repeated helplessly.

    “Oh yes,” Xellos said. “The same ploy you used to con her into following you on your prophesy-following mission: use her big sister.”

    “That was not a con!” Filia shouted in disgust. “I do not con! I was just… encouraging her to do the right thing.”

    “Through fear of punishment,” Xellos finished. “And it worked. Knowing that will help me a lot once it finally gets down to what needs to be done. But that’s just too easy all at once. I need to come up with more failed approaches in order to make the exercise more entertaining. …From a spectator’s perspective, of course.”

    “You… you can’t just bring up Miss Luna to her just to scare her into doing whatever you want!” Filia said, shaking her head wildly back and forth. “That’s despicable!”

    “Oh? And it’s not when you do it?” he prodded.

    “When I did it was for a noble cause!” she explained. “And even in that extreme case, with the fate the world at stake, I only used it as a last resort. I tried everything else to get her to agree with me before that, but she forced my hand.”

    “What else exactly did you try?” he challenged.

    “I told her all about what the prophecy of destruction said and how much was at risk,” Filia said, eager to establish her alibi. She punctuated her claim with a mournful sigh. “It would’ve moved any normal person to help, but Miss Lina is so stubborn sometimes…”

    “Yes,” Xellos mused. “A sentimental story wouldn’t do much to get Miss Lina on someone’s side at all. If anything, that kind of thing tends to aggravate her.”

    Filia looked up at him suddenly, eyes wide. “Y-you,” she began. “That was not meant to be a suggestion! I was just explaining myself!”

    “And your explanation will prove quite useful!” he said brightly. “Now, what else did you try to get her to join you?” he asked with studious interest. “Did you fight her?”

    “No!” Filia yelled. “Well… yes,” she had to admit, “but just to test her powers, not to try to get her to help. Fighting her wouldn’t have made any sense to get her on my side. That wouldn’t have—” she cut herself off, but too late.

    “It wouldn’t have worked at all,” Xellos concluded. “Miss Lina’s ‘respect’ for those who face her head-on in battle merely extends to her paying them the courtesy of a particularly fiery explosion. Perfect.”

    Filia didn’t want to let out another peep lest she accidentally say something else that Xellos took as a legitimate suggestion. Maybe I really am the muse of mischief, she thought with some horror.

    “Hmm… that should be it… nearly,” Xellos said to himself. “I feel like it needs something a little more… obvious and…” He snapped his fingers, a thought having occurred. “Snails!” he said, in the manner that some might say “Eureka!”

    “Snails?” Filia repeated. “What does that have to do with ways of asking someone to do something?”

    “Not much,” Xellos admitted, “but Miss Lina has a horrible fear of snails. I’m sure I can work that into one of our proposals.” He pursed his lips in thought. “Now I wonder… is her fear of snails just about snails or does it extend to all sticky and slimy things?”

    Nobody likes slimy things!” Filia pointed out. “Leave it to a pile of smelly garbage to not know that!”

    “There’s no need to go that far,” Xellos said with a frown. “I’m neither slimy nor smelly. I am smooth and well-groomed.”

    Filia made a face. “I do not want to know about that.”

    “Well, regardless,” Xellos said, gripping the arms of his chair and hoisting himself up, “I think you’ve provided me with a great deal of useful ideas. Yes, that will just about do it.”

    Filia stood up. She thought about the carriage waiting outside and Val at school. He’d stop by the shop first and she could send word to Jillas and Gravos. They were trustworthy. She bit her lip. “I… want to come with you,” she said.

    His tea and saucer vanished; whether he’d meant to dispose of it or if it had been a reflex move out of surprise, she wasn’t sure, but he was looking at her as though she was the single most befuddling thing he’d ever come across in his long and eventful life.

    “Whether I meant to or not, I gave you ideas,” Filia explained, knowing she’d probably regret this rash decision once she was on her way, but pushing forward none of the less. Jillas and Gravos wouldn’t mind watching Val for a few days and she could put the shop on a bit of a hiatus. Something was going on and her instinct was to chase it. “I have to take responsibility for that and make sure you don’t misuse them.”

    It took a moment, but he unslackened his jaw. He took a step closer to her. “I can’t let you do that, Filia,” he said, his voice quiet—not the cheerful assurance of power or the implied sense of threat she’d expected. It was hushed, as though the person with the most to worry about in a confrontation between the two of them was not her, but him.

    “I’m not sure what attribute a muse of mischief would have,” he went on, reaching forward as though he was going to touch her face, but stopping short, hovering in the air inches away from her. “Perhaps a whoopee cushion or a seltzer squirting flower. Nothing especially dignified that I can imagine. The point is, you can be that for me—here, where the stakes are only personal. But the situation out there could get serious and somehow…” He sucked in air through his teeth. “When things get dangerous, I’m not sure how you do it, but you actually sometimes manage to be that shoulder-angel instead. And I can’t have that right now. I have a job to do.”

    She was drifting toward him. He’d delivered a monologue that somehow involved the phrase “whoopee cushion” and she was still drifting toward him. How the hell did he always manage to do that? It probably had something to do with, in so many words, calling her his angel.

    “I… if anything bad happens to Miss Lina,” Filia tried, “I’ll kill you.”

    “Spoken just like an angel,” Xellos countered ironically.

    “You know,” he said, tapping his staff on the ground as though grappling with an internal conflict, “things are going to be… quite hectic for me very soon and I may not be able to stop in again for a while. With that said, it seems, oh… reasonable to me for us to perhaps extend Filia Time?”

    Filia got the tone. Xellos was on the job right now. He wasn’t doing light reconnaissance and waiting around for the next catastrophe. That kind of situation allowed for him to stop by her place, agenda-less, without too many trouble. After all, what was the harm? There was plenty of time and little to do. But now… now he’d come to her because he could construct a work-related reason to visit. Maybe it wasn’t a very good one. “I have evil-schemer’s block and I need Filia’s help to get back on my bastardly A-game,” was probably not the best write-off in the world, but it was something. Now that order of business had resolved and he still wanted to stay.

    And… she was tempted to let him.

    But then there came a very ceramic-sounding crash from the kitchen. Filia could just picture the cookie jar that usually sat on the counter. She’d drawn a scene with an elephant on it and it had taken her quite a bit of time. Now it was probably raining earthenware across the tile floor.

    “That… sounded bad,” Xellos commented, turning an eye to the closed kitchen door where the panicked sound of two people trying to reassemble pottery without glue or skill could be heard. “Mm, speaking of bad,” he added, turning to her with a furrowed brow as though a worrying thought had just occurred, “you don’t actually mean you’d try to kill me if anything bad happened to Miss Lina, correct? Surely you’d be willing to accept a minor scuffle and maybe some very temporary imprisonment, yes?”

    There was a tremor from Filia; not a full on earthquake, but a good indication that it was time to find a table to hide under and try to remember where you’d stashed the candles and matches in case you had to find them in the dark. “Xellos,” she said.

    “Yes?”

    “‘Filia Time’ is over!” she shouted, shoving him away.

  14. #64
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    Jan 2009
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    Theme #69.

    Prophecy. PG.

    Xellos shimmered into being in an alleyway, well out of sight of any of the people milling about in the crowded streets of the city. He had the half-formed idea that he might bide his time over a cup of tea, but was unsure as to whether he’d like to spend this break on something more productive or not.

    The Dark Star summoning was off the monster race’s agenda. That was the big takeaway from the meeting he’d just attended and changed much about what was to be done now. Funny, but he’d had the feeling all along that it would wind up getting shut down, even though there’d been a great deal of excitement about the idea initially.

    Since Valgaav was the force pushing for the summoning, this left them with two options: persuade him to join their side or continue with their plan to simply eliminate him. Xellos was privately certain that the former would not work and that the latter would be necessary. And, despite the benefits his superiors saw to having someone as powerful as Valgaav join their side, he felt it would be better that way. Someone like Valgaav had his own set of motives and would be difficult to control even if he did side with them. They were better off without someone like that in their inner circle.

    …That someone of Valgaav’s ability could create some jockeying amongst the higher echelons of the monster race was an additional fact that did not escape him.

    And so, it would almost certainly come down to him killing Valgaav. Which was fine, since it was the task he’d been given in the first place.

    It wouldn’t be much longer before the confrontation either. Lina’s group was quite close to Valgaav’s main base—by his own design. He’d luckily found a temple in the general area that made vague enough claims to excuse going there, so that had allowed him to prod them in the right direction.

    And what thanks had he gotten for putting them on the correct path? Insults. Insults and being romantically linked with Filia of all people.

    He grinned grimly as he meandered out into the main thoroughfare. Not people—dragons. That was kind of the point. Part of it, at least.

    The worst of it was that he had to admit that in another time, in another mood, with another set of recent circumstances, he might’ve played along with the whole “temple of marriage” bit. It would obviously have been torturous for Filia, which would’ve added sumptuous layer of hilarity to a scenario already ripe for painful comedy.

    But it wouldn’t do. Oh, not now. Now it was a prickling, infuriating thought and one that had made his meeting with Lord Beastmaster to receive his orders a somewhat distracting affair.

    It was perhaps the way Filia had reacted to the idea of fusing magic with him that made it impossible for him to even unseriously go along with the whole thing. Nobody could’ve expected her to take to the idea of fusing magic with a monster easily, but she’d felt the need to add a rather… personal touch to the whole thing. To say that even if she would’ve fused with a monster, it wouldn’t have been him.

    Charming girl. …And that… epithet she was so fond of using with him: garbage—filthy trash, waste, worthless nothing. How absurd. Nobody was expecting her to like what he’d done to her people, but someone capable of wreaking that kind of damage was at least something, if, admittedly, something she did not like. For her to treat him like dirt under her fingernails… like a nothing…

    Well, she really had no idea. No idea at all.

    And that’s why he couldn’t even shrug his shoulders and say that the temple’s judgment was wrong and still go along with it. That’s what made dealing with that little pronouncement in any way aside from open revolt unbearable.

    But the most teeth-grating part of it was that this hadn’t really come out of nowhere. If it had, it would’ve been stupid, but an anomalous kind of stupid. The whole fusion magic idea that had come before it held overtones of this, if only a metaphorical level. He’d have had to have been blind not to notice that symbolic level of the, ah, union between the two of them. She must’ve understood some of this as well, whether consciously or unconsciously, because the language of her squawking rejection was tinged with it.

    All of which left the temple’s little pairing selection still quite ridiculous, but not nearly ridiculous enough.

    Compounding the issue was the fact that he’d been forced to admit that Filia was getting rather… interesting lately.

    Oh, he supposed she’d been at least mildly amusing from the start, even if she oscillated between “entertaining” and “damnably obnoxious,” but the effect was growing. The way she was beginning to fit in with Lina’s group better than any golden dragon (particularly a follower of the Fire Dragon King) really should be able to; the way her rigid moralism competed with powerful vices (and the way the two often teamed up in an unlikely and highly hypocritical manner); the way she was a pressure-sealed capsule of literally every kind of emotion that was all too easy to burst in an explosion of tantalizing drama.

    …Her traitorous move against the Supreme Elder had perhaps been the turning point that had elevated her from mere “social landmine” to someone to watch. She hadn’t quite accepted the truth about her people yet, but it wouldn’t be too long before the facts became undeniable. When that happened… well, he wanted to see the result.

    She was getting to be worth more and more attention. That was perhaps why the temple prediction hit closer to home than it should’ve.

    …Predictions. Filia was probably used to accepting predictions from temples and religious artifacts as truth, so she was likely even more shaken about this than he was. But she was a priestess, yes? If she wanted to double-check that compatibility nonsense then she could easily do her own prediction, could she not? A dragon priestess of her level should possess at least some degree of proficiency in divination. If it had only occurred to her, she could’ve put all niggling doubts about the matter aside by coming up with her own prophecy that counteracted the one from the temple of marriage, and prove that stating that the two of them made a compatible pair was nothing more than second-rate, psychic drivel.

    He stopped in his tracks. A second opinion? Perhaps that wasn’t such a bad idea.

    If anything, it would be no more a waste of time than nursing a cup of tea and halfheartedly abusing the wait staff.

    *****

    The door seemed to be stuck so Xellos had to push twice to get it to creak open and chime a sad, dusty bell affixed to the doorframe. This wouldn’t have happened, he knew, if he’d stuck to the main street and picked one of the psychic parlors with flashy lights and advertising and customers and an absence of rats. But, the thing was, he wasn’t interested in a show. That was really what you were paying for with the more successful fortune tellers. For a guarantee of genuine skill, it was necessary to strip away the veneer of showmanship and the personal intuition to tell people exactly what they wanted to hear.

    All of that meant that Xellos’s chances of finding a viable second-opinion in the town he’d stopped in without doing a great deal of extra searching went exponentially up on the shabbier side of town. He’d wanted to find a fortune teller with a second job—perhaps who sold shoes during the day—but he hadn’t been lucky enough. He’d make do with what he’d found.

    What he’d found in this out of the way little shop with the symbol of a crystal ball above it was a middle aged woman who looked like she’d happily be mistaken for a crone. She tossed stringy ginger hair out of her face and gave him a preemptive look of suspicion through glasses that looked as though they’d been warped by ocean tides.

    “I’m not going to get involved in criminal activity,” she warned him.

    He tilted his head to the side. That was a new one. “I’m sorry,” he tried, “but I’m not sure what you’re talking about Miss uh…”

    “Placenta,” she supplied.

    He stared at her as though expecting her to break out with a “…just kidding!” any minute.

    “Don’t look at me like that,” she said sternly. “I didn’t pick it.”

    “Well then, Miss uh… Placenta,” he said, the name refusing to fall naturally into his sentence, “I don’t know what sort of requests you usually get here, but I was under the impression that a person could come here to get a psychic reading.”

    “That’s exactly what I mean,” Miss Placenta replied, striding forward and giving him a more critical, close-up look. “You, sir, you got the stink of bad news about you. Like a Mafioso or a thief or a senator.” She pronounced this last category as though it inspired the most revulsion of all. “Don’t you know they can charge me as an accessory if any psychic information I give you gets used to commit a crime? If you want to ask where the bodies are buried, you’re gonna have to pick on a different fortune teller!”

    “Oh no,” Xellos answered, shaking his head and holding one hand up. “I had no intention of asking anything like that. I only wanted to ask about…” He paused. It was all so appallingly common when you actually laid it out. “…About my love life,” he finished.

    “Oh.” Miss Placenta’s weathered face brightened up immensely at this more familiar subject and at the prospect of getting her hands on some legally unquestionable cash. “Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” She shuffled over to a cabinet with multicolored plant life poking out from the shelving. “Can I interest you in a charm or a potion then?”

    “None of that,” Xellos said, waving off her herbs. “My request is less general. I’d like to know about a specific person.”

    Upon this further information, she beckoned him to an unlit corner of the room, leveling a heavy glass ball out from a shelf below the table. Xellos could see that it was cheaply made, with stilled little bubbles beneath the clear surface of the orb and the occasional superficial crack here and there. Miss Placenta blew at a little stand fixed to the table to clear out the dust and then slotted the ball into place. It didn’t seem that the stand and crystal ball had come as a set because the ball seemed a little small for it, but it didn’t roll off the table here, so all was well. Xellos took a seat on a stool that was slightly wobbly despite the fact that a piece of cardboard has been slid under the short leg.

    Miss Placenta sat down across from him and placed her hands over the crystal ball, but didn’t bother looking into it much. “So this… girl you’re asking about,” she began as though making a guess that she wasn’t very confident in, “I’m picking up the fact that you’ve only known her for a relatively short time but… yes, she’s made quite an impression on you already,” she went on, still watching for the slightest flicker in his expression so that she could correct course if needed. “And her name starts with a…” she began, trailing off searchingly.

    “Her name is Filia,” Xellos cut her off abruptly. “She’s a blonde, has blue eyes, is, yes, quite attractive, and I’m not completely certain of her age myself, but I wouldn’t bother trying to guess it or you’ll almost certainly miss the mark. The same goes for her weight.” He raised his eyebrows. “I’m pressed for time and I’m honestly not that interested in watching you play a guessing game about who I’m talking about to try to impress me with information I already know, so, if you wouldn’t mind, could we skip ahead a little?”

    Miss Placenta shrugged shawl-wrapped shoulders. “It’s your dollar, I guess,” she said.

    She shifted her attention from him to the crystal ball, squinting her magnified eyes at the warped surface of the orb. Raising a thin eyebrow, she reached over and lifted the ball from its stand, grasping it in both hands. She shook it by her ear and listened, as though expecting to hear something jostling around inside it. After apparently not hearing anything to answer her questions, she breathed a moist fog onto the glass and wiped at it with the corner of her shawl. When the squeaking subsided, she placed the ball back in its stand and gave the contents of the sphere another searching look.

    “…I don’t want to be insulting or anything,” she said, not even daring to look up, “but is your Filia some kind of iguana girl or something?”

    A genuine smile twitched at the corner of Xellos’s mouth, fighting against the more superficial one that made up his default expression. This was cause for some cautious hope in the endeavor. Any two-bit sham artist could guess something like hair color or age with a bit of luck and skillful attention to their mark, but picking up on the fact, however clumsily, that Filia was a dragon? That wasn’t something someone would say as a guess.

    “Something like that,” Xellos answered cheerily.

    Miss Placenta opened her mouth like she was about to question this, but seemed to decide against it, muttering something about other people’s kinks not being her business. Instead she rolled back her shoulders and placed her hands over the crystal ball, evidently ready to return to her work. “Alright then, let’s see what’s between you two…”

    There was silence for a few minutes as she gazed into the glass. Occasionally she’d swivel the orb around or look at it at odd angles, her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth in concentration.

    “Well, there might be something to the two of you after all,” she announced. “I mean, there is definitely a connection that I sense. She seems to think a lot about you and there’s just this… swirling cloud of emotions associated with you.”

    “What kind of emotions?” Xellos asked carefully.

    It didn’t seem like a complicated question to him, but Miss Placenta bit her lip as though it was something worth hedging on. “Oh… you know,” she said, “emotional ones.”

    “One would imagine,” Xellos went on, trying to keep his tone friendly but get at the actual answer he needed. “But which specific emotions is she experiencing?”

    The psychic sighed as though ready to give up the ghost (instead of conducting a séance to communicate with it as a psychic normally would). “I don’t really know,” she said. “I can’t tell.”

    “…Surely there’s a way to distinguish between emotions,” Xellos tried. “You’re clearly able to sense them. Aren’t those who possess a sixth sense supposed to be able to identify emotions by the color of a person’s aura?”

    “Right, sure,” she said, “but I’ve never really called what I’ve got going on a ‘sixth sense.’ Add everything up and it’s more like a 5.5th sense, if that’s even a thing.” She tapped at the frame of her glasses. “Colorblind, you see? There’s not much of a chance of me reading auras right.”

    It was only a great deal of self-control that kept Xellos from slumping in his seat. A monochromat medium? Of course. It had just been that kind of day.

    “I suppose I’ll just have to look a little bit into the near future to see if anything becomes clearer,” Miss Placenta announced, perhaps knowing that her admission hadn’t been very well received.

    “Or more colorful,” Xellos muttered.

    She ignored him, instead concentrating on whatever images she could make out in her crystal ball. After a moment, she peered at him over her glasses, her expression suddenly more concerned than when she’d had to confess to colorblindness or even when she’d accused his for-all-she-knew love interest of being a lizard. “I hate to break it to you, but I think you might have a romantic rival,” she said.

    Xellos raised an eyebrow. “I have a what?

    “Yes,” she confirmed. “I mean, she’s still emotionally connected to you in this very conflicted way,” she added, as though to reassure him, “but… she’s got some conflicted emotions for another man too.”

    Xellos opened his mouth and it was a moment before he spoke. “Who?” he finally asked, shortening his initial question of: “Who could possibly?

    “Don’t know,” Miss Placenta answered, squinting into the glass once more. “Kinda tall, brooding guy—seems to like exposing his midriff.”

    “…Valgaav?” Xellos tried, almost completely mystified.

    “Sounds about right,” Miss Placenta decided. “She seems like she’s going to be giving him a great deal of thought in the future.”

    “Hardly proof of any romantic intent,” Xellos was quick to point out.

    Valgaav was the last of the ancient dragons—a walking, ranting symbol of the measures the golden dragons had been willing to take in the name of protecting “peace.” Filia would have to accept that soon and it would shatter much about the world she knew. Of course that would leave her feeling rather thoughtful and conflicted.

    …That was scarcely a good enough reason for some back-alley soothsayer to start making not-at-all-educated guesses about a romantic connection between the two of them.

    “Sure,” Miss Placenta allowed, “but that’s how it starts.”

    Xellos leaned forward, eyeing the crystal ball which showed his host things that he could not see. “Why not put that to the test, then?” he asked confidently. “Look farther into the future—five or so years down the line—and see if this ‘start’ has amounted to anything.”

    She grit her tea-stained teeth together. “Oh, but I’m much more of a near-future kind of psychic,” she explained. “Looking too far into the future always gives me a headache. Everything goes all funhouse mirror-like and blurry. It’s not easy, you know?”

    “That must be a hazard in your job,” Xellos said pointedly, as though reminding her of what exactly her job description was.

    She let out a hefty sigh. “Fine. I’ll look,” she relented, flexing her fingers outward and loosening out her wrists before she drew her attention back to the crystal ball.

    She swiped at the thing as though sweeping through pages. Every so often she’d mutter things like, “No…” or “Not yet…” or “What?” or “A talking jar?” before she finally seemed to be satisfied that she’d reached the correct point. She closed one eye in a look that was more about focus than coquetry.

    “Nope,” she finally announced, having made her analysis. “Bad news for you. She ends up with the other guy.”

    Xellos opened his mouth to protest. By all accounts, Valgaav wasn’t even likely to be around in several years’ time, let alone be a romantic interest of Filia’s. “What makes you say that?” he asked.

    Miss Placenta shrugged. “The signal’s really clear,” she said. “All those confused emotions have cleared up and unified into one. Even a colorblind person can tell that she loves him.”

    “Pardon me if I’m a bit skeptical of your ability to discern between emotions,” Xellos answered with a slight scoff. “Surely, if you’re only able to perceive the tint of the aura spectrum, there are many similarly shaded emotions that you could be mixing up with love. Perhaps pity or nostalgia or—”

    “He’s in her bed,” Miss Placenta said bluntly.

    When there was no reply after several moments, Miss Placenta looked up from her crystal ball and to her client. “You okay, buddy?” she asked, genuinely concerned as she eyed his expression.

    “I’m fine,” he answered, a forceful emphasis on “I’m” to indicate that someone else was the one with the problem, “but I’m afraid you must’ve made a mistake.”

    “I’m not wrong just because the future’s showing something you don’t like,” Miss Placenta replied, a little offended.

    “This isn’t about what I like,” Xellos answered with just a hint of sharpness in his voice. “I couldn’t care less who she ends up with. But what you’re suggesting is just impossible.”

    He leveled himself into a standing position with his staff and gave a little put-upon sigh. “I should’ve known this would be a waste of time, but I didn’t honestly expect that you’d make the prediction at the temple of marriage look legitimate by comparison.”

    Miss Placenta furrowed her pale brow. “What are you talking about?”

    “No matter,” Xellos said, more to himself than her. “It killed time. Now I have more pressing issues to attend to.”

    Miss Placenta stood up. “Now, hold on just a minute,” she said. “You’re not going anywhere until you’ve paid me for—”

    …But he was gone. She hadn’t even seen him dash for the door. He’d just vanished.

    She might’ve been more concerned about a client showing such supernatural ability if she didn’t have other things on her mind. She ground her fist into her forehead. “I knew I should’ve got cash from that one up front,” she derided herself.

    *****

    Unbelievable.

    Of all the responses he could’ve possibly expected to receive from his second-opinion psychic, Xellos reflected as he rematerialized beside a river not far from Mt. Coronay, that was not even one he’d considered. She could’ve confirmed the temple of marriage’s prediction, saying that Filia was indeed meant for him, born from the misperception that that was what he wanted to hear. She could’ve contradicted it, saying that this whole being-paired-up-with-Filia thing was nonsense, accurately realizing that that was what he wanted to hear. But to say Filia was instead going to end up with the renegade ancient dragon currently focusing his attention on a revenge quest against all of them? That was just an off the charts kind of ridiculous.

    Yes. The proposed Filia-Valgaav union was so ridiculous, that it made the idea of him, a high ranking member of the monster race, marrying a dragon priestess look reasonable by comparison. At least she had a rapport with him—a sense of familiarity, even if it was one that was so often negative. In any case, there was a certain amount of playfulness to their… would you really call it fighting? More like… jousting. A little exchange to bring something out of the other person. To see what they were capable of and how they could defend themselves. They wouldn’t have bothered with it if there wasn’t something about the other to discover.

    And what did she have with Valgaav? They didn’t really even know each other. They were just on opposite sides of this little adventure. All he could feel for her would be contempt—that she was one of the same race that had slaughtered his own. The best she could feel for him was…

    Well, perhaps a growing sense of pity, and that was a little worrisome in conjunction with Miss Placenta’s claims, Xellos had to admit. Perhaps her internalized guilt could get Filia to trick herself into placing more value upon him than she really should.

    What’s more, she properly saw Valgaav as a genuine obstacle standing against them—a force to be reckoned with—their foe. Oh, she’d gone through all that nonsense with Xellos as well about how he was the enemy of the golden dragons and killed her people and so on and so forth, but she didn’t treat him like a grand and impressive foe. She didn’t take him seriously. It could be argued that she took Valgaav seriously, and perhaps saw him as more important as a result of that.

    And oh… she had to have had very… restrained interactions with men in the religious environment of the temple, hadn’t she? It could well be that her encounter with Valgaav was the first time that Filia had seen abs quite like that.

    Xellos frowned.

    Of course, it was all a non-issue. He’d get to see to that himself. Very soon he’d have to make the proposal that Valgaav join the monster race, which the former servant of Gaav would surely decline. Then it would be Xellos’s task to destroy him. He would not be around for Filia to either transform her pity into love or form any lasting opinions about the ancient dragon’s stomach muscles.

    Xellos glanced at his reflection in the running river. Filia sleep with Valgaav? A borrowed word from Filia probably best described that prediction: garbage. And soon he’d get a chance to prove that when he rendered that highly questionable prophecy completely impossible.

    It would be very soon.

    He teleported away to the strange complex sitting on top of a cliff in the distance, sure that the others must have arrived there by this point.

    *****

    It was all so easy, looking back on that moment and what had followed it, for Xellos to see the mistakes he’d made—to realize why that job had ended up so thoroughly botched. It came down to motives and pretending that he didn’t have them.

    Not killing Valgaav immediately when he had the upper hand? That was a big one. He’d let the fight drag on—let it become play. Such a ploy was at least unprofessional against any target, but it was especially foolish against one as desperate and as dangerous as Valgaav. He’d given the ancient dragon time. Time to mount a counterstrike with Ragudo Mezigis and seriously wound him—effectively knocking him out of contention, leaving him fit for little more than hanging limply off of Filia with little ability to reign in the madness that followed.

    He’d allowed Filia to be present at the confrontation. He could’ve easily kept her out of it. He could’ve caved in the passageway she was going through to block her path. He knew she was going that way because she’d been the one to tip him off about the correct direction (even if she hadn’t meant to). He’d let her see him about his business. He’d wanted her to see. To see him as something far more imposing than garbage. To develop respect for him even if she hated him.

    He’d used her to casually blow up his half-hearted attempts to persuade Valgaav to his side. There was no chance that the ancient dragon was going to ally with him after witnessing Filia feel so betrayed by him. Nor would he be receptive to the slight at the golden dragons since it so clearly paralleled the monster race’s dealing with Gaav.

    There was error and there was ego. The latter had caused the former. But perhaps the most humiliating flaw, in retrospect, was the least harmful one. It was all because it wasn’t really about what he’d done, but how he’d handled it.

    Saving Filia. Well, he supposed she was a little too emotionally confused to figure out that dodging falling rocks was a good plan for survival. He’d had to act. Really, there was nothing wrong with acting. It should’ve been fine. It was his state of mind that was wrong—a state of mind where he felt that this was an act that he had to cover for.

    And cover he did! …In an incredibly lame fashion. Dropping her and claiming that he was using her in the stupidest sneak attack in history on an already downed foe was probably not the smoothest reaction that he could’ve had to saving her life.

    It wasn’t even necessary. So he’d scooped her out of harm’s way? It didn’t have to mean anything suspicious. He could’ve easily made the argument that he thought he might need her alive in the future. Completely reasonable. He could’ve said that to her. Or he could’ve passed a comment about the poor survival skills of golden dragons (though that, of course, would’ve left an opening for a shot at his past history with her race—and yes, he had mapped out how that conversation would’ve gone if he’d gone that way). Really, he didn’t have to say anything. He could’ve just let her wonder why. There was no reason to make excuses.

    …The fact that he’d made an excuse made it obvious that there actually was a reason. If there hadn’t been, then there wouldn’t have been anything to be embarrassed over. And yet he’d behaved in a manner that showed he was embarrassed—that he felt he had something to hide. That might’ve been lost on Filia, but it was not on Lord Beastmaster and that had not been a fun conversation.

    So yes, there had been mistakes. But he was far enough away—years away—from those mistakes to see that they had led them to the point he was at now. With that in mind, it was hard to lament them too much.

    Filia turned over beside him, thin white sheets hanging half off of her pajama-clad form in the summer heat. She muttered something about a “stupid monster” in her sleep and then seemed to settle back down.

    He smiled. It seemed to him that he made more mistakes whenever Filia was around, but they were mistakes he could live with.

    …And, as he strolled down memory lane, it was gratifying to him that he hadn’t been the only one making mistakes that day. That batty fortune teller with the unfortunate name had called it so wrong that it was laughable. Perhaps she’d somehow managed to mix up him and Valgaav in the distorted haze of her future sight. What with how the situation with Valgaav had turned out… Well… “romantic rival” seemed a very unlikely role for him to take nowadays.

    He looked up. There had been a sound—felt-covered footsteps in the hall. The door to their room opened with a creak and a small figure bounded toward Filia’s side of the bed.

    “Mommy?” it tried tentatively, pulling with a little hand at the sheet that covered her.

    There was a groan as Filia forced her eyes opened and elbowed herself upward into a seated position on the bed. “What is it, Val?” she asked groggily.

    “I had a scary dream,” the child explained. “Can I sleep with you tonight?”

    Filia rubbed the sleep out of one eye with a sigh. She pulled aside the bed covering. “Climb on up,” she said with a little overtired reluctance.

    As the reborn ancient dragon crawled into bed and into his adoptive mother’s arms, Xellos let out a laugh.

    “What’s so funny?” Filia asked sharply, perhaps annoyed at the thought of Xellos mocking her child’s fear.

    “Oh, nothing,” Xellos answered lightly, his laugh lingering. “It’s just that it seems a prophecy has been fulfilled tonight.”

  15. #65
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    Here's theme #6: "Rivalry." This is the first Summer Nights oneshot to need to be split into two posts due to length.

    Rivalry. PG.

    Filia stared down at the smudged ledger where she’d been noting the shop’s latest expenses. She turned her hand to the side and sighed, wiping the ink off with a pocket handkerchief. She stood up, tilting her neck this way and that to work out the kinks. That was enough bookkeeping for the day, she decided. She’d better get back to the shop room and help Jillas and Gravos handle the influx of customers. It was a Saturday and things always got a little zooey on the weekends. What was more, she knew many of the town’s residents were growing concerned about the agitated rumblings of military intervention out of the capital. Even though it would almost certainly turn out to be nothing more than pointless posturing, she knew for a fact that several of the town’s more excitable residents would be considering upgrading their brick-in-a-sock or bat-with-a-nail-in-it security systems to something a little more refined. She’d need to be there to help them make the most informed decision vis-ŕ-vis melee weaponry.

    That mindset left her understandably confused when she stepped out into the showroom and saw Gravos and Jillas engrossed in a card game without so much as a single customer in sight to attend to.

    “…Where is everyone?” Filia asked, leaning forward to see around the shelves in the hopes that she’d missed at least one little old lady eyeing the vases.

    “Don’t know, Boss,” Jillas piped up, tossing a card down onto the discard pile. “It’s weird. Nobody’s been in all day.”

    “Did we… forget to turn over the ‘closed’ sign?” Filia asked, eyebrows drawing together.

    “No way,” Gravos said, shaking his head. “I’m not gonna miss something dat basic.”

    “Well…” Filia said, shifting her weight awkwardly from one foot to another. “I guess I’ll go double-check just in case. I’m not sure what else could be the problem…”

    She strode toward the front of the store, but completely neglected to check the sign (unnecessary since the “open” side was proudly facing the street) as she saw a crowd gathered just outside. But they weren’t waiting to get into her shop—oh no. There were countless familiar figures pushing and shoving to get into the place across the street and a steady stream of people spilling out of the doors with paper shopping bags in hand.

    …Of course, none of that made any sense to Filia because, as far as she was aware, the lot across the street had been empty ever since that meat pie shop went out of business a year ago.

    “I’ll umm…” Filia said absentmindedly, pushing the door open to the accompaniment of a bell chiming, “…I’ll be right back,” she finished, stepping outside and navigating cannily through the throng.

    *****

    Filia stared at the wares on the shelves, an inevitable glumness stealing over her. She’d had to fight through quite a few people to get into the building just to even have a chance of seeing what it sold and finally she’d arrived to see this.

    Polished wooden handles crowned with spiked, metallic balls. Some were attached by chains and some were just tips on the ends of clubs. She sold many like those in her shop through her line of maces. But now they were flying off, not her shelves, but those of some interloper.

    Why? The place was crawling with eager customers and yet, beyond the place’s “new” factor, she couldn’t for the life of her explain why. In fact, she found even standing inside of it profoundly unappealing. The room stank and the air was heavy with smoke that made her eyes sting. The source of the atmosphere was obvious as soon as she set her eyes on several squat old men lounging in leather chairs in a less crowded nook of the store, smoking cigars with a look of utter contentment.

    A pair of glass doors leading to a walk-in pantry stuffed with wooden boxes opened, sending a blast of damp air in her direction. She turned to see a person walking out of the storeroom that she should’ve expected to see as soon as anything even slightly troublesome happened.

    “Ah, Filia, I see you’ve come out to check on the competition,” he said.

    Most of his look was the same—certainly the omnipresent smug style was there. But, slightly oddly, he was wearing a red silk-lined jacket that tied around his waist like a robe over his yellow turtleneck instead of his usual black cloak. In his hand was a lit cigar, which overpowered his normally neutral scent with one of foul, burning licorice.

    “Xellos!” Filia yelled in his direction. “So you’re responsible for this?”

    “Partly,” Xellos admitted, unabashed. “But, really, I think most of the credit goes to you.”

    Filia was nearly shoved to the side by a particularly enthusiastic customer trying to get into the room beyond, but she stood her ground. “Me?” she asked, struggling to keep her balance. “Why me?”

    “Well,” Xellos said, gesturing out the window to her lonely little shop across the street, “I noticed how well your ‘Vases and Maces’ store was doing and I started thinking that the ‘innocuous item paired with rhyming weapon’ business might be a lucrative one to get into. And that is how ‘Fine Cigars and Morning Stars’ was born.”

    Fine Cigars and Morning Stars?!” Filia repeated through clenched teeth.

    “Oh yes,” Xellos confirmed happily. “I went through a couple of different concepts, truth be told: ‘Ornamental Spoons and Harpoons,’ ‘Buckles and Brass Knuckles,’ ‘Pickles and Sickles,’ ‘Gourds and Broadsword,’ but eventually I decided on ‘Fine Cigars and Morning Stars’ and, lo and behold, here it is.”

    If Filia had her druthers, it would not have been there and it certainly would not have been as crawling with her customers as it was. “What on earth would you even want to open up a store for?” she demanded. “You don’t need money! You don’t need to eat! You don’t need to sleep! You don’t need to be in my way like this!”

    He studied her as though she was some rare, but temperamental species. “I’m not ‘in your way,’” he scoffed. “And even I have expenses to deal with. Surely not even you would begrudge me a little financial security in these trying times?”

    Filia had been begrudging him from day one and wasn’t about to stop any time soon—especially since she’d gotten so good at it.

    “Well, you can get your ‘financial stability’ somewhere else!” she informed him. “This is my town and I already sell morning stars.”

    “Ah, but after careful research,” he said, taking a puff of the nasty thing—probably more to show off his wares than out of any personal inclination—“I’ve come to the conclusion that the citizens of Achaea are unusually fond of bludgeoning implements. There could be no better place for me to set up shop.”

    “Careful research?” Filia repeated, one of her blonde eyebrows starting to twitch. “Is that what you call making a nuisance of yourself around my shop? People like maces because of the ones I sell! Stop trying to glom off my hard work!”

    “I wasn’t glomming,” Xellos replied, having the nerve to sound like she was being hurtful.

    “You were!” Filia insisted with a childish stamp of her foot. “You copied my idea and set up shop right across the street just to take my customers away and sabotage my livelihood! You are literally stealing food from my son’s mouth!”

    “I wouldn’t say that,” he said, shrugging with the cigar between his fingers. “It’s more like I’m keeping you from spoiling him too much.”

    Filia was about to open her mouth to respond when he decided he wasn’t done. “In any case, this kind of set-up is the most beneficial thing for your customers, Filia. You may selfishly want to hold a monopoly on blunt force weaponry so that you can set whatever price you want, but competition is really what’s required to ensure fairness. If we have to guard against each other then there will be an incentive to put out the highest quality, lowest priced product that we’re able to. Isn’t that what’s best for the customer?”

    “Best for them?” Filia asked, waving a hand around to clear the immediate area of smoke. “This is a cigar shop! You’re outright peddling dirty habits! What are the kids who come through here going to think? And if you get them smoking, then what’s that going to lead to?” Realization dawned on her face and she took one step back. “That’s what this is all about, isn’t it?” she asked, shaking with rage. “You’re trying to corrupt the people of Achaea and lead our children into dangerous vices!”

    Xellos blew a smoke ring as coolly as he could. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t match Lord Beastmaster’s skill. It just wasn’t his thing.

    “You know I could say the exact same thing about your business, don’t you?” he asked as the shape of the ring dissipated into the air. Lord Beastmaster’s smoke rings tended to stick around so she could make them into a chain once she had enough, but Filia didn’t need to know how outclassed he was.

    She stared at him for a moment. “We both sell maces, so unless you’re trying to claim that vases are somehow on the same level as cig—”

    “That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Xellos cut her off, pointing the cigar at her in triumph.

    “…Explain,” Filia requested after a moment. She honestly wanted to see what sort of insane ******** he was going to have to come up with to justify this.

    “Of course, it starts with one vase and that seems harmless enough,” Xellos began thoughtfully. “But then it’s, ‘Oh, I must get more for different seasons or just in case I decided to redecorate’ and ‘Well, I can’t very well go to Wonder Island and not get a souvenir, now can I?’ and ‘Just one more for my collection.’ Then, before you know it, a full-blown addiction is born. Ceramic knickknacks are everywhere—so many that you can’t even walk. So many that the house is clogged with dust. And obviously, vases are just the gateway drug to things like dish sets and figures and, worst of all, souvenir mugs.” Xellos shrugged. “Then again, you are a dragon, so perhaps you’re pro-hording.”

    “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Filia informed him. She put her hands on her hips and leaned in to glare at him. “And it’s a negative stereotype! I never horde!”

    Xellos grinned knowingly. “I’ve seen your horde, Filia.”

    Filia took a step back. “What? What are you—”

    “That drawer of shiny things you’re holding onto?” Xellos reminded her, waving a tut-tutting finger at her. “Classically it should be gold, but I understand you’re not rich enough to partake in that tradition.”

    Filia nearly growled. “Those are for art projects—idiot!”

    “Trying to rationalize your problem isn’t going to make it go away.”

    She pointed at him, her finger just an inch away from his nose. “You’re the one with the problem, Xellos! Because all this,” she said, gesturing to the crowd with her other hand, “is not going to last! Your novelty will wear off soon and then people will realize that they could be buying quality merchandize at my place instead of settling for your inferior copies! And then you’ll be out of business!”

    Xellos leaned his head back and around to avoid her pointing finger. “Well,” he said, as though all of this was very unfortunate, “I had hoped we could coexist as friendly business rivals, but if you insist on playing it like this then that’s just the way it’s going to have to be.”

    “That is the way it’s going to be,” Filia said, argumentative despite the fact that she was essentially agreeing with him. She swept over to the exit and turned back to shout. “I’ll take you down, Xellos! Mark my words!”

    He waved pleasantly at her as she left. “I look forward to it.”

    *****

    Filia cupped her chin in her hands, her elbows resting against the counter next to the lately disused cash register. “What more are we supposed to do to get people in here?” she asked despairingly.

    They were in the midst of the shareholders’ meeting—well, sort of. The only shareholders were herself, Jillas and Gravos. Normally if they were going to have any kind of meeting they’d have done it in the wee hours of the morning before they opened or after closing. Now there was very little need to make time for something like that. Working hours had been so desolate the last couple of days that they were striving to find ways to fill them.

    “I still say we should lower our prices again,” Gravos answered. He was sitting the same way he always did on chairs designed for humans: very, very carefully. “People know they can get something cheaper just across the street, so they ain’t even gonna waste their time with us.”

    “We’ve already lowered them as much as we should,” Filia disagreed. They’d had this conversation before. “Xellos’s stuff is cheaper because it’s shoddier. It’s just low-bid garbage he’s order from somewhere else. My maces are handmade and use only the finest materials. You’ve got to pay for that quality.”

    Gravos shrugged his expansive shoulders. “Yeah, but people don’t seem to wanna.”

    “I got an idea,” Jillas announced chipperly, turning away from dusting the vases. He gestured excitedly with the rag he was holding. “We could do a fireworks show—right over the shop! That’d bring people out ‘ere no problem!”

    Filia and Gravos exchanged wary looks. “Xellos’s shop is right across the street,” Filia pointed out. “If we did a show then there’s no reason why people couldn’t just watch it from there. It doesn’t actually help us.” This wasn’t the real reason she didn’t want Jillas fussing around with pyrotechnics, but it was a valid one.

    Jillas paused, appearing to give this some thought. Finally he came out with: “Well then, we could set ‘em off inside the sh—”

    No,” Filia said firmly.

    “Not dat I’m saying dat’s a good idea, ‘cause it ain’t,” Gravos went on, giving Jillas a sharp look, “but we gotta do something to change things.” He held his large hands up in a shrug. “If dis is just people being all excited about a new store and dat dies down so they wind up comin’ back here—it’s fine. But if dis is just how things are gonna be from now on…” He shook his head. “We’d be better off going somewhere else where we can make a real living.”

    Filia frowned. “Let Xellos drive us out of town?” she said, more to herself than to Gravos. “No…”

    But she knew why Gravos said it. It was a thought she’d tried to drive out of her mind the last few long, empty days running the shop. This town was more to her than a place to run her business. She’d put down roots, made… well, if not friends then familiar acquaintances. If she had to leave then she’d be forced to start over. Not only that, but she’d have to put Val in a whole different school—take him away from his friends and the sense of stability he had. She couldn’t do that to him. She couldn’t risk his happiness in this second chance he had at a real childhood.

    Her expression soured further. What’s more, she realized, trying to get away probably wouldn’t even work out if it came to that. Houses had been slow to sell lately in Achaea. In her area alone she had several neighbors who had been trying to move on—to seek out a bigger city or to downsize after their children had left the nest—but forced to hold onto their property and slowly slash their asking prices lower and lower. Nobody was buying. She couldn’t take a loss both on her shop and her house all for a chance to move to some mythical, Xellos-free zone where she had customers again. Not when there was always that horrible chance that he could follow her.

    A tinkling of the bell on the door snagged all of their attentions as a middle-aged man toting a shopping bag walked inside. He lingered by the smaller vases, an expression of concentration on his face as he rested his chin in the crook between his thumb and index finger. Filia, Gravos and Jillas all froze as they watched him. It was as though a rabbit had scampered into the den of a famished hunter and there was a moment of uncertainty as to how to deal with the opportunity. Was it better to remain perfectly still, so as not to spook this prey? Or should they strike now that they finally had the chance?

    “Umm… can I help you?” Filia asked carefully.

    “Hmmm?” the man mumbled, looking up at her. “Oh no. I’m just browsing.”

    A tense few minutes followed as the browser picked up pieces of pottery, examined them, and placed them back on the shelf in disinterest. Suddenly Filia was second-guessing her every creation. What kind of impression did that one leave? The colors weren’t right on that one… Do you think he noticed the unevenness around the base? In this newly desperate environment she found herself crippled with doubt as to whether any one of her works could woo customers back to her aisles.

    Her heart truly sank when he picked up a piece she’d had serious reservations about putting out in the first place. It was a plain little bowl and far too shallow to be of much use. The wide mouth was dimpled oddly and, all in all, it just wasn’t a very attractive piece—a victim of her distraction. She’d only decided to put it out at all in case someone needed a cheap ingredients bowl. But with the new, higher standards of the day, she felt sure that the man would decide her work by that example and never come back.

    That was why it was such a surprise when he snatched the little bowl up, marched over to the counter and said: “I’ll take this.”

    “O-of course,” Filia managed to get out, taking the piece in her hand. She broke into a relieved smile and began tapping the relevant information into her cash register. “And what are you planning on using this for?” she asked, by way of some pleasant small talk.

    The man patted the shopping bag he’d come in with. “Got a box of cigars across the street and I figure that’ll make the perfect ashtray.”

    There was a cold and terrible silence.

    “…Is something wrong, Miss?” the man asked.

    Gravos got up, lumbered over and took the destined-to-be ashtray from Filia’s motionless hands. “I can take ya over here,” he said, directing the customer to the second register.

    Filia hadn’t moved from her mortified position even after the chime of the bell signaled the man’s departure with his newly purchased cigar receptacle. Jillas exchanged a look with Gravos, full of cautious promise. “‘ey Boss Gravos?” he began. “Are you thinkin’ what oi’m think—”

    “No!” Filia cried, shaking herself out of catatonia. “I will not rebrand my vases as ashtrays for Xellos’s disgusting cigars! I WON’T ALLOW IT!”

    “But then we wouldn’t ‘ave to worry about competin’ wit’ ‘im ‘cause we’d ‘ave…” Jillas snapped his fingers, trying to think of the right word “…synergy!”

    “I refuse to have synergy with Xellos!” Filia exploded, breaking away from the counter area to look—or, rather, glare—out the front window.

    It was insane. How was his shop staying so busy? Yes, a new store was exciting and it had been awhile since the line-up on the main street had changed. Yes, there was now a place to buy cigars where there had never been one before. But, as she stared across the street at Xellos happily handing out coupons to customers as they walked over, she couldn’t help but think it was impossible to rationalize away all of the store’s popularity. For example…

    Where have all our female customers gone? That’s what I’d like to know,” Filia commented, her voice tired. “I was counting on them to pull us through this.”

    The majority of customers who purchased from her pottery collection had always been female, and it wasn’t as though she was competing with Xellos on those. She couldn’t imagine too many ladies being very interested in those nasty smelling cigars. That just left the maces and, as much as Filia had endeavored to change this, she’d never been able to persuade many of Achaea’s women that spiked bludgeoning implements were perfectly ladylike.

    “It must just be because Xellos stocks a lot of lighter flails that are easier to manage,” Filia reasoned. Her eyes narrowed as he passed an introductory coupon to an attractive young woman who giggled as she took it. “Yes, that must be it,” she affirmed. She raised the volume of her voice and added severely: “I can think of no other reason whatsoever!”

    “Who’re you yellin’ at, Boss?” Jillas asked worriedly. If they were being chewed out for something he’d have liked to know why.

    Filia didn’t answer. She was far too focused on the fact that Xellos had turned his attention away from the throng of people around his shop and over to her—visibly watching him from the window. Filia responded by jerkily pulling at the chord to draw the blinds down, turning aside and fighting to catch her breath. After a moment she finally looked back to peek through the shutters.

    He was coming toward the shop.

    Filia raced back up the main aisle and hopped back behind the counter. “Look busy!” she hissed at her two employees.

    Gravos held out his pale green hands. “With what?” he asked.

    Filia ignored him. She was too busy grabbing a clipboard and scrawling on it like someone so drowned in orders that they could not be bothered to deal with monsters. In reality, all she was noting down was a tornado of pointless scribbles.

    She purposefully kept her eyes focused on the incomprehensible jottings as the bell sounded again—it had rung twice that day. Sadly, more times than it had in the last few days. She only looked up when a shadow fell over her and, when she did, did her best to look nonchalant yet annoyed.

    “Oh, it’s you,” she said sourly.

    Xellos placed a gloved hand on the wooden countertop and leaned forward. “I’d think with how slow business has been for you the last couple of days that you’d be much friendlier to visitors.”

    “Well, you thought wrong,” Filia retorted. Because he was right in front of her and her every instinct was to swipe at him she added: “And has no one told you to stop wearing that stupid thing yet?”

    He looked down at the silken smoking jacket he was wearing, gesturing to it with his other hand. “You mean this? What’s wrong with it?”

    “It makes you look sleazy,” she struck out, venom in her tone. “…Or at least sleazier than usual.”

    Xellos let out an annoyed breath. He’d been going for suave and sophisticated.

    “And to think, I came here to offer a helping hand,” he said, shaking his head.

    Filia snorted. “I’ll believe it when I see it!”

    “I was thinking,” he said, ignoring her skepticism, “that there is some… overlap in our businesses, after all”—Filia would’ve cut in to say this was because he’d purposefully copied her, but he went on—“and it might be a savvier move to be allies instead of enemies.”

    Filia stared at him.

    He returned the stare with his familiar closed eyes smile. “We could be partners,” he ventured.

    Filia’s jaw slid open. Partners. Her and Xellos. Horrifying.

    “W-what about that whole thing about competition being better for the consumer?” Filia asked mockingly, her nostrils flaring up at the unpleasant proposal.

    “Well,” Xellos began, shrugging his shoulders expansively, “that is one way of looking at it. But perhaps what’s really best for consumers is for retailers such as you and I to be able to pool our resources to bring them the best quality and variety of products at the greatest convenience we are able to.”

    In Filia’s mind this excuse translated itself to something like: Screw the consumer. Join me! With my charisma and your expert craftsmanship, we can rule the weaponry/pottery/smokables markets as franchiser and franchisee!

    “If that’s true”—and Filia doubted this was anything more than an excuse to insultingly absorb her hard work into his lazy-but-inexplicably-successful business—“then that’s a shame for them,” Filia said, crossing her arms. “Because I’d rather go bankrupt than join with the likes of you!”

    There was a meager eye twitch from him, but it didn’t seem like this response was terribly unexpected. “Ooh, what a shame,” he said, almost overflowing with insincerity as he straightened up and withdrew his hand from the counter. “Because, if events continue at their current pace, that’s exactly what it’s going to come to.”

    “Not a chance!” Filia retorted. It was her turn to lean across the counter toward him now that he’d pulled himself back. She slammed both hands down on it. “I’ve got something up my sleeve that’ll stop you in your tracks! Just you wait!”

    Her fiery pronouncement was somewhat undone when Jillas dropped his dusting rag in surprise and said, “You do, Boss? Why didn’t you tell us?”

    Xellos snickered. “I recall hearing something like this before. I didn’t see any of that promised marketing genius from you—unless you want to call a little bit of grudging price reduction a master strategy.”

    “It’s different this time,” Filia insisted, shooting Jillas a warning look. Damn it! Real plans could be thought of later! Right now it was more important to rise to the challenge. “You won’t be laughing when you see what I have in store…”

    *****

    “Get’chore maces! GET’CHORE LOVERLY MACES! Special sale today only!”

    The shouts echoed through the streets. Even if one of the main street’s passersby had been blissfully unable to hear the cockney hollering then they’d still have been forced to come face to face with Jillas’s message. He wore two sheets of poster board over his regular clothes so a large sign fell over both his front and back. In black marker a neat, but hurried hand had written: “Filia’s Vases and Maces: Voted #1 in last year’s issue of Armory Barn!” on the front and “Quality merchandise at affordable prices!” on the back.

    “A fox in a sandwich board sign,” Xellos commented from the shade of the awning outside of Filia’s shop. “Now why didn’t I think of that?”

    “Shut up,” Filia muttered from next to him. That lifesaving, eleventh hour idea had never shown up. She’d had to make do with what she had… and she didn’t have very much.

    “‘ey you! Oi! Listen to me!” Jillas bellowed, tugging at the coat of a man who had been heading toward Xellos’s shop. “Don’t you think you oughta be gettin’ a gift for your dear old mum? She’d like a nice flower vase, she would! Least you can do, really!”

    “Even seeing as you obviously have things well under control,” Xellos said, mockingly chipper as Jillas’s subject tried to slip away from him, “I feel the need to let you know that my offer still stands.”

    “You can keep your offer to yourself!” Filia shot back, rounding on him. “I’d rather die!”

    “Got a duel comin’ up? When you’re bashing the other bloke’s ‘ead in, you wanna make sure you’re doing it with quality equipment!”

    “That’s a bit dramatic, isn’t it?” Xellos commented, raising an eyebrow and trying to ignore Jillas’s excellent sales pitch.

    From where Filia was standing it most certainly wasn’t. Ceding part of the business that she’d built with her blood, sweat and—Okay, not blood, but certainly sweat and tears!—to Xellos was despicable. What’s more, she got the uncomfortable impression that the kind of “partnership” Xellos had in mind would be more in the realm of 70-30 than 50-50, and the idea of having Xellos be her boss was just unthinkable.

    “In case you haven’t noticed, we don’t exactly work together well,” she hissed at him. “It would be a complete and utter nightmare!”

    “…I thought it would be fun,” he begged to differ.

    “Well, of course, you’d think it’d fun,” Filia snapped. “You think everything that makes me miserable or drives me insane is fun!” She waved an arm toward his shop across the street. “That’s the whole reason you bothered to do this, after all.” She turned back to glare at him out of the corner of her eye. “You’d think you’d have better things to do with your time than pick on me.”

    “That’s a bit of a self-centered assessment, don’t you think?” Xellos asked, trying to inject some fairness into the conversation. “You think everything I do is directly intended to annoy you.”

    “That’s because it is!” Filia replied, having to shout over Jillas’s entreaties to by maces “while they’re ‘ot!”

    Xellos clucked his tongue in mild irritation. “No, Filia. It’s not,” he said patiently. “I did not make a very large investment in setting up a business purely to get your attention. I have a purpose in mind for my profits.”

    “And what is that?” Filia demanded. “No matter what you say, you don’t need the money.”

    Xellos grinned. Filia saw him taking on a familiar posture and, with a sinking feeling, knew what was coming. “That is a secret,” he answered, wagging his finger at her.

    Filia groaned, but this little catchphrase wasn’t destined to be the last irritation she had to face on that street.

    “Get’chore vases an’ maces now for the greatest variety!” Jillas chanted out into the crowd. “Don’t wait for the going out o’ business sale!”

    Filia let her face fall into her hands. It was better than looking at Xellos’s smug expression.

    *****

    Filia walked out into the darkened streets, locking her shop door behind her. It had been lonely the last few hours keeping the lamps lit and finding long undone filing to keep her occupied. She’d let Gravos and Jillas have the rest of the day off. With so few customers there was just no point in them staying. What’s more, Jillas had worked hard trying to drum up sales. …He’d worked badly and produced no positive results, but it couldn’t have been denied that he put a lot of effort into it. He deserved a break.

    Filia suppressed a yawn. This was later than they usually stayed open, but she’d held out some small sliver of hope that if she kept later hours then a few of Xellos’s customers, still seized by mace-mania, would deign to come to her shop after his shut its doors. So she’d asked Gravos and Jillas to pick up Val from school and watch him while she worked the night shift.

    It hadn’t worked. No real surprise there. But she’d had to try.

    The street looked so desolate at that time of night. It had been packed with people just that afternoon, but in the dark of night… not a soul was around. She spied to her right the sandwich board sign that Jillas had been wearing earlier—discarded and half submerged in a puddle from a spell of evening rain so that its markered letters ran.

    She leaned against the door of her shop and was thankful that, if nothing else, no one was around to hear her ask: “…What am I going to do?”

    She turned her gaze to the shop that had caused all the trouble—Xellos’s shop. Unlike hers with its frayed awnings and faded paint and streaked glass, his was brand new. They were shabby by comparison—her shop and herself.

    A strange, glazed look came over her eyes as she stared at Xellos’s shop—as though seeing it suddenly in a new light.

    “Such a lovely building,” she murmured to herself. “It would be a shame if something were to happen to it…”

    *****

    “What do you mean you have ‘dragon insurance?!’” Filia cried, thunderstruck.

    Xellos was perched on top of a demolished slab of concrete, his bearing more in the manner of someone who’d won a prize than someone whose place of business had been reduced to a few splinters of wood and ash. She’d gone over there to lord his loss over him, perhaps in the form of some insincere sympathy—after all, it’s what he would’ve done—but then she got closer and saw that look on his face and those awful two words explained why.

    “Well, obviously I do, Filia,” he answered easily, getting up. “No businessman operating so close to a dragon would be without such essential protection.”

    Filia’s jaw flexed as she tried to make a response. The fact that this actually seemed to be a real thing and his implication that the rest of her neighbors had the same policy… well, did people just not trust her or something?

    “Are you implying that I did this?” she demanded, summoning from the depths of her soul all the false outrage of the accused that she could muster.

    Xellos gestured to the peculiarly shaped crater they were in the midst of. “We’re standing in one of your footprints.”

    Filia bit her lip. “Th-that could’ve been from any dragon. I’m not the only one in the world, you know.” She crossed her arms. “That’s circumstantial evidence! Just because I happen to be a dragon and happen to have a store across the street doesn’t mean that I’m automatically responsible for this!”

    “…And even if I was,” Filia added, striking out wildly, “I… have been known to sleepwalk! So I’d of course have no memory of the event nor any responsibility for it!”

    “Of course,” Xellos replied, all too understanding for her comfort. “And, in any case, dragon insurance doesn’t work that way—seeking out a perpetrator and demanding payment for damages. It would be rather like trying to track down a hurricane or a tornado and asking it for reimbursement.” He held out his hands in a gesture of helpless acceptance. “It’s clear that there’s no point in expecting such wild creatures to control their petulant rage.”

    A muscle in her cheek quivered without her bidding it to move and she clenched her fists. She hated it when he referred to her as though she were some sort of mindless killing machine.

    “In any case, there’s no real harm done,” Xellos continued, oblivious to her simmering fury. “The insurance company will cover all the damages, and it won’t be long before…” he trailed off, eyeing the passersby stopping to look at the wreckage, before he finished in a much louder voice, “we have our grand reopening sale!”

    The milling pedestrians broke into applause at this dangled prospect. Filia stalked away, nearly tripping over a laser breath-barbequed slab of timber in the process.

    *****

  16. #66
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    Filia sighed and got up off her front doorstep. She’d thought staying home and relaxing for the day while Jillas and Gravos took care of the shop would give her a chance to clear her head and find a way out of this mess, but it just wasn’t working. The little gains they’d managed to make back with Xellos out of commission were being taken away once again in the face of that promised grand reopening sale.

    She walked down the slope of her front lawn with the intent of heading for her shop. She’d probably be just as useless there as she was at home, but at least she could be useless with Gravos and Jillas alongside her.

    Her eyes fell on the “For Sale by Owner” sign in the yard of the house next door. It had been there for so long, like too many others in the neighborhood. Filia had a nasty premonition that hers would be next. If she couldn’t beat Xellos then there was little other choice but to leave—to run away from this town with her tail between her legs and to pray to the gods that Xellos didn’t open up a new branch across the street from wherever she ended up doing business.

    But she desperately hoped there was a way to avoid this. Of course… there was. She knew there was. More than one, really. But both were almost too awful to consider.

    She could bite the bullet and do what Gravos and Jillas wanted to; to quit fighting against Xellos and instead try to monetize the new needs he created; to say goodbye to the vase and mace-making business and instead dive headfirst into the repellant and depressing world of ashtrays and air fresheners.

    …And then there was Xellos’s solution which managed to somehow be even worse than that.

    Her mood was stormy as she cut through the park on the way to the main street, and the sights she saw there did nothing to improve her mood. The scent of tobacco lingered in the air as several people blew wisps of smoke, rolling the fat bundles between their fingers as they prepared to take another drag.

    On the paved area by the fountain, a couple older boys were playfully jousting with spiked clubs—not, of course, her make. That was the biggest heartbreak, really—not that Xellos was eating into her profits, but that he was tricking people into buying inferior products. She put so much time and care and thought into making her maces that it stung to see crowds of people going out of their way to buy mass-produced fare from whatever big city company focused only on its bottom line that Xellos was ordering his stuff from.

    Maybe people thought that there wasn’t a difference, but Filia knew better. Xellos’s weren’t weighted properly, and would tarnish and break with time and constant force. Then again, Filia couldn’t help but think that might be all part of Xellos’s master plan. He’d sell people products that he knew full well couldn’t stand the test of time, and then collect more money when they eventually broke and a replacement needed to be bought. Genius—in a completely repulsive sort of way.

    She stopped in her tracks, a light coming to her eyes. She dawdled for a moment there in the park—the sounds of water sprinkling from the spigots along the edge of the fountain, the children’s playful yells, and the smokers’ coughs faded into the background.

    Filled with renewed purpose, she raced ahead.

    *****

    “I challenge you to a fight!”

    The words immediately superseded the hum of activity in the shop, as every eye turned to the young woman who had dramatically pushed her way through the front door.

    Xellos held a hand to his head, narrowly avoiding singeing his hair with one of his lit wares. He didn’t dignify Filia, standing their determinedly trying to catch her breath, with a direct look. His posture suggested embarrassment—though not for himself.

    “Filia,” he said, his voice moderate and pleasant as his customers listened on, “I realize that as a golden dragon you may be used to settling all of your disputes with violence, but in this case—”

    “No! It’s not even like that,” she spat in response, marching closer to him with her fists clenched. “This isn’t about us fighting.” Much as she hated to admit it, in a real match-up between the two of them, she would always lose. “This is about our maces.”

    “I assumed a weapon would be involved,” he countered dispassionately.

    She pointed a shaky finger. “But this is not about me bashing your head in with my mace or vice versa!” No matter how much she dearly wanted to give that a try on certain occasions. “This is mace vs. mace! A mace-off!”

    The crowd muttered to itself in a mixture of confusion and excitement.

    “You can talk all you want about competition,” Filia went on, “but the fact is that Achaea doesn’t need two shops that sell maces! So I say we quit trying to compete based on things that don’t matter and put our work to the test.”

    She was relishing this. He clearly didn’t want to go head to head. She could beat him! She just had to change the venue.

    “You can pick any model that you sell, and I’ll use an equivalent from my shop,” she went on, laying it all out. “We’ll put them up against each other and see which one breaks first.”

    “And?” he prompted, daring her to get to the bottom line.

    She took a deep breath. “…And the loser will have to close up shop in Achaea,” she said.

    Xellos raised his eyebrows as the crowd gasped appreciatively. He held up his gloved hand for examination as though he could possibly check his nails through silk. “Overly dramatic as usual,” he appraised. “And what reason do I have for involving myself in this? I’m not one for brawls, Filia.”

    This was true. He was one for horrifying stabbings and bringing about magical genocide with frightening ease. But bare knuckles and the smacks of truncheons weren’t his scene. Somehow, she couldn’t help but categorize his violence as being less honest and down-to-earth than hers.

    “If you don’t show up tomorrow at noon in front of our shops to face me, then everyone here will know that you were scared because my products are better after all,” Filia shouted, making eye contact with a few choice ex-customers. “And they’ll tell their friends and their friends’ friends that your shop sells second rate merchandise!”

    She rushed out of the shop almost as abruptly as she’d rushed in. The slam of the door followed the yell of: “I better see you tomorrow!”

    *****

    “So that’s what you’re going to be using?” Filia asked, getting ready to square off.

    Xellos stood a few paces from her in the center of the street. A crowd had encircled the both of them, which seemed to be ready for, if not blood, then at least some hot mace on mace action. He held in his hands a slender metallic club, with a bit of perfunctory detailing along the shaft, and a bulb on top with short spikes. She’d hoped against hope that he’d pick a bulky enough mace that she could use her personal weapon to bring him down, but that didn’t seem to be in the cards.

    “Yes,” Xellos said, hefting the thing so the steel head was in his palm. “This will do.”

    Filia turned to Jillas, who hastily opened a velvet-lined case full of a variety of maces. She was sure she had one that was close enough in design to make a good match. Spotting one, she easily lifted it out of its slot.

    She turned back to Xellos with it, swinging it lightly in front of her to test its weight and characteristics. He watched her, calmly—all too calmly. If he thought having the crowd on his side would help him out then he was dead wrong. This was about craft, not charm. And she knew that hers was superior.

    “Why don’t we make this more interesting?” she suggested, on a sudden jolt of inspiration.

    Xellos cocked his head to the side curiously. “We’re putting both our businesses at stake here, Filia. How much more interesting do you need it to be?”

    He had a point. Nevertheless, if she was trying to solve her problems with this fight, then there was another annoyance she wanted to clear away.

    “I was thinking that if I win, you should never wear that ridiculous smoking jacket ever again,” she said. This fight was about which of their products would break first, so she couldn’t really smack him. But she could at least do so verbally.

    He looked more doubtful than insulted. “…Is this some variant of strip poker that I’m not familiar with?” he asked, as though he was pretty sure that he was familiar with all the strip poker variants. “And, if so, what article of clothing will you be wagering?”

    She grimaced. Why did he always have to take things the wrong way?

    “Never mind,” she said, her voice heightening. “I’ve decided things are interesting enough already.”

    He smiled. “If you say so, Filia.”

    They marched off to opposite sides of the ring of people. Filia knew that Xellos was better at the stare-down than her. Nobody she knew could pull off a more unsettling look. But he wasn’t giving her his A-game. Just his usual agreeable, insincere grin. She answered with a scowl.

    Gravos walked into the middle of the street. He held up his hands for quiet. “Now dis here is gonna be a clean fight,” he declared. “Weapon contact is the only thing dat counts. Dat means no magic, no biting, no hair-pulling, no eye-gouging, no smacking upside the head, no wrestling holds, no bone-breaking, no nutshots—”

    “We get it already!” Filia shouted.

    Gravos stepped back, to the edge of the crowd. “The fight starts now!” he declared. “Stand back if ya don’t want a concussion!”

    If anyone in the crowd had considered staying close to get a good view of the action, they immediately reconsidered when they heard Filia’s war cry and saw her sprinting toward Xellos with her weapon raised. The screeching probably wasn’t doing anything to improve her form—Xellos certainly wasn’t joining in—but it gave her confidence and that counted for something.

    Xellos seemed confident enough without that kind of belligerent display. He didn’t even run to get momentum. Instead he just lifted up his mace at the very last second before Filia struck in a loud clang of metal hitting metal.

    His smile was even more unpleasant so close to her face, but she did her best to ignore that. She had to push against him with all her might.

    It was disheartening to know that all her might—so much compared to the average human—was nothing to Xellos. She could never be stronger than him; she was too mortal. He was unstoppable, immovable, and even if he babied her, she could never win against him.

    …But that was okay, because this wasn’t about her strength against his strength. This was about which one of their maces could withstand the most. She knew her weapons. She’d made them with her own two hands. And she knew that she could wield them with every last ounce of her strength and they could take the punishment. Xellos, she was sure, couldn’t say the same about his outsourced weaponry.

    “You’re going to hurt yourself,” Xellos warned quietly into her ear. Likely he was unintelligible to the rest of the crowd over Filia’s groans of effort.

    But Filia didn’t care. A burst blood vessel would be worth it. Anything would be worth it to win.

    She let out one finally screech—one final push—and snap! The thinner material of Xellos’s mace caved to the pressure, sending the spiked ball at the end flying into the crowd, narrowly missing striking a spectator. The sudden lack of force to push against sent Filia toppling into Xellos, knocking him over onto the ground.

    The crowd, a fair-weather one if Filia had ever seen one, broke into cheers.

    Filia lifted her head with a wince. It had whacked into something hard—in all probability, Xellos’s head. She looked down at him—for the moment, pinned under her weight. He seemed surprisingly unruffled despite the loss and despite the fall, but his hair was fanned out awkwardly as he looked directly up at her. It made him look so delightfully stupid that Filia was loath to move out of the way and let him up immediately.

    “You’re not a salesman, but I’ve got to admit you’re a pretty good blacksmith,” Xellos commented lightly.

    Filia grit her teeth. Why did he have to be such a graceful loser? She didn’t even get to see him disappointed and it took a lot of the fun out of the rare times she managed to one-up him.

    “Don’t even think about going back on our deal, Xellos,” she warned, just itching to have a reason to put her (you’ll notice still intact) mace to use on him. “You will close your shop now, right?”

    He sighed. “I suppose I’m obliged to. I won’t be your business rival anymore, if that’s how you want it.”

    “Good,” Filia said, a genuine smile on her face for the first time in more than a week.

    He smiled back at her, his hair still spread out all around him like a ridiculous purple mane. With an unwelcome tingle down her spine she suddenly realized how… precarious their positions must have looked and scrambled off of him—brushing herself off as she stood and trying her best to look ladylike. He rose more slowly, as though disappointed to be unpinned.

    Jillas took this opportunity to redeem his name in the “hawking of wares” department. “Come on in everyone!” he cried, strutting over to the door of the shop. “And you can get the same type o’ mace you just saw the boss win with!”

    The throng liked this idea very much and rushed past Filia and Xellos to snatch up such proven equipment for themselves. Filia only hoped that she had enough of that particular model in stock.

    Xellos looked over his shoulder to his now closed shop with a slight air of regret. “Well, it seems that I’m stuck with a great deal of merchandise that I’m no longer allowed to sell here,” he said. He turned back to Filia. “I don’t suppose that you might…”

    “I’ll take them off your hands—the maces at least,” Filia said, but her tone was far short of magnanimous. In fact, there was an unsettling gleam in her eyes. “But since I’m only going to be melting them down to make something that’s actually worth selling, I want them from you at cost—and, knowing you, I’m pretty sure you wrangled a good deal for them.”

    “…I suppose I have no choice,” Xellos admitted ruefully. He opened both eyes to give her a serious looking over. “I should’ve realized that you’re a much more ruthless businesswoman than you seem.”

    Filia smiled—a weight that had been on her shoulders for so long was now well and truly lifted. There were finally customers again; so many that, by the looks of it, she’d better be getting back inside to give Gravos and Jillas a hand with them.

    “If you’d figured that out earlier you could’ve saved us both a lot of trouble!” she called over her shoulder as she drifted over to the front door of Achaea’s one and only vase and mace shop.

    *****

    After her triumphant return to the top of the retail food chain, not even bills could sour Filia’s good mood. After all, she knew she could pay them now. And, as she stood by her mailbox, sifting through the bills she’d received, she wasn’t thinking about how many there were or how she was going to scrounge up enough money to pay them; she was thinking about how blue the sky was and how perfect the last few weeks had been.

    “I think I’ve developed a bit more of an understanding about dealing with creditors after my recent experiences.”

    Filia nearly dropped her mail. That voice… No. No it couldn’t…

    She forced herself to turn around. He was back! Not only was he back, but for some reason he was standing beside the mailbox next to her own.

    “I nearly thought I wouldn’t make my goal after your little upset managed to shut me down,” Xellos said casually. “But I was at least able to recoup much of my loss by passing on my materials to you—even if you were far from kind in your asking price. And a stroke of luck selling to a cigar dealer in Ruvinagald made the difference. With the rest of my savings and a little finagling, I was able to make it work.”

    “Xellos…” Filia tried once she found her voice. “You… you don’t…”

    “I told you, Filia,” he went on with a sunny smile, “I needed the money.”

    The “For Sale” sign… With numb horror she realized it was gone. It had been planted in the yard of the house next to her own for so long, and now its absence seemed to stick out like an amputated thumb. How had she missed it when she’d walked down to the mailbox? It didn’t matter. Even if she’d noticed she could never have in her most paranoid of nightmares dreamt that he…

    “I guess what I’m trying to say is…” Xellos began, as he stooped down to pick up the newspaper that rested on the grass by the mailbox. Behind him the house came into sharper focus in Filia’s panicking mind.

    He straightened up and saluted her with the roll of newspaper. “…Hello, new neighbor!” he finished brightly.

  17. #67
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    Here's theme #45:

    The Past. PG.

    In a rush of golden wings, Milgazia landed. The mouth of the cave was ahead of him, dark, save a few fairy lights. But it was the light behind him that was much more worrying than the blackness ahead.

    He shook his reptilian head at this thought. The Pillar of Light was far, far away. No doubt the followers of the Fire Dragon King would be looking into the matter with all the vigorous purpose that they were known for. Milgazia could only hope to protect those in his province. The remnant on Dragon's Peak had more than enough to attend to without borrowing troubles.

    He stepped into the cavern—a faraway retreat from the bustling, interconnected system in which his community lived. The inside of the cave was musty and relatively bare. Followers of the Aqualord were not much for tools and trappings. There was a bed of soft, dry grasses; a small share of the harvest; a comb from one of the hives his people carefully maintained; a collection of various mountain herbs, tied up in careful bundles in case they were needed; and…

    He froze. Speaking of borrowing troubles…

    "You know, say what you will about the servants of the Fire Dragon King, they're at least better decorators," a snide voice commented from the darkness. "I mean, I feel as though I should've waited at your desk with my chair facing the window, and then make a dramatic turn as you entered. But since you have neither a desk nor a chair—and not even so much as a window—I suppose I'll have to make do."

    The ambient light of the cave fell on his face. Of course he was smiling, but anyone who had a clue who he was knew that this was no cause to be at ease.

    Milgazia took a steadying breath and then switched over to his human form. He didn't exactly want to encourage the use of true forms in his current company. He lifted a hand to propel an orb of light toward the ceiling before finally leveling his eyes at his uninvited guest.

    "What is your business here, Beast Priest Xellos?"

    Xellos rubbed his neck, an expression of boyish self-consciousness on his face. "It's really only a small thing," he explained, his voice a dismissive laugh. "Insignificant even."

    Milgazia didn't relax. "Insignificant" just about covered the value that Xellos placed on the remnant in Dragon's Peak. He knew full well if Xellos decided to, it would take barely a thought to kill them all. Perhaps it even took more effort not to kill them.

    "I was only wondering," Xellos launched forward, "if you'd ever heard anything about a golden dragon priestess named Filia Ul Copt."

    "Not… particularly," Milgazia answered, unable to stop himself from slightly raising his eyebrows. "The name Ul Copt is somewhat familiar to me, but they served under the Fire Dragon King. Why ask me? Otho would be able to tell you much more."

    Xellos resisted the urge to make a face. The Supreme Elder was many things, but he was not a stupid man. Expressing undue interest in one of his charges seemed like the sort of thing that could have unintended consequences down the line.

    "Oh, I was just in the neighborhood and thought I'd see if you knew anything," Xellos explained in his faux-cheerful way. "She's… been entrusted with a large responsibility that one wouldn't expect to be given to someone as young. It seems as though there's more to this story."

    Milgazia hesitated. "What is it that you intend to do with information about her?"

    Xellos smiled. "At the moment? Nothing. If you're worried about providing information to me that might put her in danger, then you should know that the danger she's in isn't at my hands… not right now, anyway."

    Milgazia rubbed his forehead. Xellos's careful caveats didn't inspire much confidence. It basically amounted to: "I promise not to use this information to harm anyone unless I decide to." But, then again, there was very little that Milgazia could tell him anyway.

    Xellos leaned against a rock formation that took the place of actual furniture. "You said you knew her family name?"

    "Only by reputation," Milgazia answered. "Bazard Ul Copt was the High Priest of what was then the biggest satellite temple in the Eastern Zone—outside of the Temple of the Fire Dragon King, that is. He was from the more… bellicose wing of his people and proud man—perhaps a bit too proud—but he was known for his fierce loyalty to those he looked after."

    Xellos had to figure that the more bellicose wing was made up of warlike dragons who spoke of war, while the less bellicose side was made up of warlike dragons who spoke of peace. "I gather that his pride is what led to him residing in the past tense?"

    "Perhaps—but his loyalty was just as much to blame, if not more," Milgazia said, weighing his answer reflectively.

    "Oh?"

    "A few hundred years ago, a disease spread through a few of the dragon colonies," Milgazia explained, eyes closing seriously. "Very few cases reached the Northern Zone, but I understand it was more of a problem outside the barrier. It was a wasting disease that could take as many as ten years to kill its host, by which point most were more than ready to surrender to it. High Priest Bazard Ul Copt's was one of the temples that were completely overrun. The only recourse available was to send the healthy to the Temple of the Fire Dragon King and tend to the dying as well as could be managed."

    "So… the High Priest always goes down with the temple," Xellos supplied helpfully. He cupped his chin thoughtfully. "And this would be Filia's father then?"

    "Likely," Milgazia answered. "If so, then she's one of the few of that generation that survived. I understand that the disease would spread to the eggs. Of a large clutch of eggs, only a few would even hatch, and fewer would survive infancy."

    "Hmm," Xellos hummed thoughtfully. "I suppose her apparently well-known father, coupled with the fact that she survived a great tragedy in the past, goes to explain why the Supreme Elder might've paid special attention to her training and, in turn, why she was deemed important enough to take charge of a task that someone of her age and level of experience wouldn't normally be assigned to."

    Despite his words, an air of unfinished business seemed to indicate that he didn't feel the matter had been explained completely. He shook his head. "No. There's something else. Some motive for choosing her in particular. Something hidden." He dug his staff into the ground and muttered thoughtfully to himself, "Why hadn't I heard about her before this?"

    Milgazia narrowed his eyes in critical surprise. He, a prominent leader in the dragon race, hadn't heard of Filia. What notoriety could she possibly have had to make Xellos surprised that the name of one priestess among thousands had failed to reach him?

    "…Why would you have?"

    Xellos threw him a sharp look. "She is…" He paused, as though struggling to find the right word. "…Unexpected."

    "Unexpected?" Milgazia repeated. "In what way?"

    Xellos cleared his throat awkwardly. "In nearly every way I've discovered… and most likely a few more that I've yet to uncover."

    Something about the way he'd said it left Milgazia unsettled. What's more, it only raised further questions. "So from that I take it that you've already spoken to her?"

    "Oh yes," Xellos answered, as though he thought he'd already made that obvious. "On several occasions now."

    It was as he thought. So why, if he'd already made contact with this priestess he needed to gather information on, was he going to such a tertiary source? "Couldn't you simply ask her for the information you require?"

    A pained expression crossed Xellos's face. "You really haven't heard anything about her, have you?" he deduced heavily. "She'd become immediately suspicious and refuse to answer anything I asked."

    That didn't pass the sniff test. Of course, she'd be suspicious about a monster suddenly inquiring into her past and her personal attributes. Suspicion is a reasonable reaction when Xellos asks you pretty much anything. Milgazia was incredibly suspicious, in a heightened, hairs on the back of the neck standing up kind of way. But since when did that matter? As for refusing to answer, well… that was dangerous. As long as his questions were polite and simple, it was for the best to follow through. There was some information worth dying for, but that was just it: you would die for it.

    Far be it from Milgazia to tell a monster how to accomplish by intimidation. He certainly didn't want to say: "Have you tried threatening the lives of her and everyone she's ever loved? That usually works on me." But… at the same time, well…

    "She's very disrespectful," Xellos added, sensing that his explanation left something to be desired. "It's one of the unexpected things about her."

    "So you've chosen to respect the fact that she's disrespectful?"

    Xellos scratched at his cheek abashedly. "I'm not sure I would've put it quite that way."

    He sighed to himself. "Well, I suppose the information about her father is a bit of a new piece. I'll have to investigate further to find the rest. I wonder if the Supreme Elder keeps any files on his subordinates," he added to himself. "They are clerical—in more ways than one. At least they're more prone to record-keeping than your people."

    He snapped his fingers and pointed at Milgazia. "Which reminds me: before I go, I was serious about the lack of furniture in here. Just something to keep in mind."

    And with that, he was gone. Milgazia let out a breath, but admittedly Xellos had undercut much of his usual aura of menace. He'd seemed oddly… muddled.

    Whatever the specifics, one thing seemed to be clear: this Filia seemed to have managed an incredibly rare feat. Perhaps the ability to accomplish that, more than any strange and surprising quirks of personality or triumph through past adversity or endearing insolence, was what made her a worthy steward of this large responsibility that had apparently been placed on her shoulders.

    She'd managed to get one over on Xellos.

  18. #68
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    Hello. Reviewing The Man Of My Nightmares as requested in the review game. I've read this quite a couple times so I could try and give you a proper review. Whilst I've only just started getting into Slayers, I did enjoy this as a stand alone piece. Even though I'm not that far into Slayers, I feel as if I have known them for a long time with the descriptions and how their personalities are shown in the dialogue. I got a good feel of how characters like Xellos and Amelia behave in the canon universes. I really like Xellos here. I get the feeling he's trying to be really cheeky, but he sounds so cute at the same time.

    Filia’s stomach still boiled with wrathful acid from the discovery—the indignity as the usher directed her to her assigned table and she found Xellos sitting there in that faux-innocent manner of his. A card sat on his place setting with his name in a flourishing script—the place right next to it had a similar card with her own name.
    This part really stood out for me. Here I thought the descriptions were really sweet but also gave a really good atmosphere. It makes me want to write better descriptions that sound really natural. Another thing I liked about the one shot was the pace. It's not too long and it's not too short either, everything had a chance to stand out. Again I mentioned Xellos being cheeky, the use of the word faux-innocent is an example of this cheeky vibe, that I'm getting from him.

    Another thing that really stood out for me was this line here. My favourite part of the fic for me because I find the question really amusing.

    He tilted his head to the side. “Oh, Filia,” he said quietly, “have I destroyed all sense of romance in you?”
    Overall, I found that this was a really nice and balanced one shot. It gives me a good impression of Xellos/Filia. It really sounds like an interesting pairing, not to mention a very nice match. Well thanks to this fic, I feel like watching some episodes of slayers.
    Last edited by ChloboShoka; 18th April 2014 at 10:25 PM.


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