First up: Review responses!

Second up: France.

Third up: How does Ukchana live with me and not kill things? Things like people

Inverse-chan: Glad you like it. The X/F interaction is a lot of fun to write. I try to concentrate on all the characters at different points, but some demand more spotlight attention.

Lina Gabriev: Well, I'm trying to make the characters fairly realistic, meaning that just because people get along doesn't mean they're a romantic interest. I mean, people are romantic interests with all their friends, right? Or am I just the weird one? Anyways, I like the beginning conversations too. At first they were supposed to be actual recaps, but I'm not stable enough for that, apparently. And thanks for noticing that I'm not going for complete comedy, it's nice to hear that it's working.

Clover the Sea-Beast: You think that beginning was evil? Just wait. Unfortunately these are the more serious chapters, later on it gets insane again. Thanks for saying that they're still cannon. I think they are too, but it's nice to hear it. Those were two of my favorite parts to write too. And please, don't call me Mr. CEP-san. lol. BTW, is it just me or do you have an fascination with ground coverings being in your name? Are you a four-leafed Sea Beast? Can I call you 'thistle'?

Reiko5: Well, actually . . . then you might not want to read this chapter. Without spoiling much, Xellos does indeed become angry. Very angry. Let me know what you like in partcular, it helps the creative process. lol

Samantha: I love it too, glad we agree. lol

Shadow eXtreme: Well, what's the point of a April Fool's Day joke that isn't believable? It was actually a bunch of real life delays kept . . . uh . . . delaying the fic.

Dimitri Plabato: Yeah, she'd kill me. Then bring me back so all of you could take turns killing me. Since I don't feel like dying multiple times, I'll keep writing. Actually, I'm starting to get back into this story again. And no, there is nothing you can do to win my heart. About the only thing that would help is changing Plabato to Placebo. It's more funny that way.

Chapter 11: Blah, blah, blah, Monkeys.

Lina: 'The hell is this?

Gourry: Monkeys, Lina.

Lina: Yes, Gourry, I can see that. But what the hell does it mean?

Zelgadis: Oh, God, this should be good.

Amelia: Mr. Zelgadis, don't be mean.

Gourry: Well, you see, Lina. A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away-

Lina: Okay, Gourry, that's enough.

Xellos: Please continue, Gourry, it was just getting interesting.

Lina: No, no it wasn't.

Filia: Shouldn't we be introducing the chapter or something?

Duncan: Quite right, Miss Filia. Now then-

Gourry (crying fakely): I killed them all, and not just the men, but the women and the children! They were animals and I slaughtered them like animals!

Authors' Notes: Yes, it's back to monkeys again. But, on the other hand, doesn't it always get back to monkeys eventually? Doesn't it? Doesn't it?! DAMN YOU, I WILL KNOW THE TRUTH!

Why don't I use Japanese phrases? Because Slayers is in a European setting, not an Asian one. When I write a Ranma fic, I'll use so much Japanese, a Japanese person'll have an easier time reading it than you guys. Also, what's the point behind spelling anime names the Japanese way when you're not in Japan? And most people don't even do it right. Hell, if you're going to call Filia, "Firia" and Amelia, "Ameria" then you've got to call Lina, "Rina", Gourry "Gauri", Zelgadis "Zerugadisu" and Xellos "Zerosu". If you're going to be weird and ignore the fact that it takes place in a European setting then at least don't do it half-assed.

Oh, and read Modern Day by Ukchana. It's a damn good story. So read it, or I'll find out where you live and leave you little pink notes that say, "read Modern Day, dammit!" And believe me . . . they will be pink.


"There, there baby," Filia cooed gently as she rewrapped the egg. Marveling again at its translucent form, its own inner light and apparent fragility, the blonde dragon finished placing it within the folds of blankets in her tent. She smiled sadly as she went over, again and again, what had happened to the original Valgaav.

Valteria will never be alone like that. Blinking she wiped at the tears on her cheeks. I won't let him be abandoned again. My baby won't go through that. She brushed the blankets once more, My baby . . . The thought lingered in her mind a moment as she smiled down at the covered child. Somehow, it felt right.

Over the months she had grown past her anger at what her people had done, instead it had been replaced with a sense of disbelief and confusion. They had to have known it was wrong. When did the elders gain so much control over our minds and hearts that our only thoughts were theirs?

Pulling her knees into her chest, the young dragon sat heavily up the grassy ground within her tent, face falling into a thoughtful and sad frown. If Lina and the others had never come to the temple, would I have still been able to break away when I needed to? Their courage, their independence, their refusal to do what they were told until they had questioned everything. If I hadn't met them would I have been strong enough to do what was right?

Trying to imagine the past as different than it was turned out to be more difficult than Filia had imagined. I- I can't even think the way I used to. A loud raucous Lina-laugh pierced the tent walls, almost derailing the blonde's thoughts. Standing, she headed out to see what the commotion was, deciding that the past was the past and she was happy with how it had turned out.

((()))

"Uh, Miss Lina, what's going on?" Nervously, Filia stepped up to the small crowd that was gathered around an old tree stump. "Isn't everyone going to sleep? It's almost midnight."

"Huh?" Looking back, the redheaded sorceress waved Filia over frantically. "Gourry an' Xellos are playing chess, hurry up and watch!"

The dragon glanced over as Zelgadis shook his head in shock. "Miss Lina," she said, "it's really not right to force Gourry to do this, you'll just embarrass him. I finished playing against Xellos not an hour ago, he's too good for any of us."

The tiny, red-headed girl placed a mischievous smile on her face. "Uh . . . Filia-"

"Actually," interrupted the demon priest, voice a little sour, "Gourry is currently two pawns ahead." A low growl escaped from the monster's lips, "now a bishop as well." With a grin he moved with lightning speed, advancing his rook and taking Gourry's knight in the process.

The idiot swordsman stared down at the board in concentration, "Hmmmm . . ." for once not making a move immediately.

The ex-priestess leaned down next to Amelia. "Why is Xellos going easy on Gourry," she whispered with a confused tone, "why bother?"

"Because," interrupted the annoyed demon, "I am, in fact, not 'going easy' on Gourry. Lina, Amelia, Zelgadis and even you, my dear dragon, simply aren't mentally capable of matching me in a game of chess . . . Gourry, however . . ."

Leaning in towards the dragon, Amelia whispered back, "A few months ago, Miss Lina thought it would be interesting to have Mister Gourry play against Mister Xellos and-"

"Hey," Lina interrupted, "what's wrong, Gourry? You haven't moved yet."

A soft sob emerged from the swordsman. "He took my last horsie, Lina."

"Huh? That's 'knight', Gourry." A flicker of a pained expression crossed her face as she moved up to his side.

"And now his tower is in a really good place." Suddenly, the sad look disappeared, revealing a dangerous glint.

The priest's eyes opened a little bit, worry just barely etching his face. "Uh, are you alright, Gourry? You seem a little . . . murderous . . ."

A sudden laugh burst out of the chimera. After a quick glare back, Lina laid a hand on the swordsman's shoulder and asked in a quiet voice. "What's wrong, Gourry?"

A harsh breath from the swordsman caused her to flinch. "Don't you see, Lina?" The blond began. "Don't you see what's so awful about this? Don't you see what his tower is doing?" The normally cheerful swordsman's voice was now cold steel, as sharp as any sword. "It's threatening you." He swung his hand out, motioning at his Queen which was now in jeopardy.

A handful of seconds swept by as everyone around the board grew quiet. A quiet sigh from the blue skinned shaman drew the group's eyes. "Well, if nobody minds, I've been driven insane enough for one day. Goodnight." Quickly he turned and headed for his tent.

Amelia's eyes continued to follow him into the night, wishing that the rest of her could as well. Stop it, you stupid girl, he hates you, remember? But, another part retorted, almost hopefully, he said he respected me, admired me even, and he followed me out to the forest. He apologized and . . . she sighed contentedly, he even spent some time with me, of his own free will.

The young priestess turned back at the sound of Gourry's voice.

"Sometimes . . ." growled the blond swordsman, eyes narrowing to thin slits, "you just have to get involved, yourself!" Surging forward, the Swordsman of Light lunged over the table, "HAAAA!" bringing both hands up faster than the eyes of the others could follow, "Check."

For a few seconds, silence hung around the chess board. Finally, Lina raised her hand cautiously. "Can he do that?"

With a wooden nod, the demon priest leaned back slightly. "Well played. Gourry, who taught you to 'castle'?"

With a confident smile, the Master Chessman coolly replied, "Sometimes you have to get involved yourself. Otherwise, Lina could get hurt."

Quietly, Xellos mulled over this information. "I . . . see . . ."

The redheaded sorceress groaned as she felt her face turn bright red. That stupid Jellyfish-Brain! Her head twisted sharply at double giggles from the other two women nearby. "Amelia? Filia? Something funny?"

Shrinking slightly, the princess tittered nervously, "N-no, nothing really."

Just as the dragon opened her mouth, the swordsman interrupted with, "And now, Xellos. My Zelgadis-tower threatens you."

Slowly the demon raised an eyebrow, uncertain how to respond.

"And without your Filia in proper position," Gourry's ice blue eyes narrowed haughtily, "you're powerless to stop him."

THUNK.

Carefully, the adventurers picked themselves off the ground, one by one.

Haltingly, the yellow-haired "queen" stood and headed for her tent, not caring that everyone was looking at her. Calm down, Filia. It's just Gourry, you can't take anything he says seriously. She felt a hot flush surge onto her face. There is just no way in hell that I'd ever be that demon's 'queen'.

((()))

"Filia . . ." a familiar nasal voice called in a loving manner. "Filia . . . if you don't pay attention, horrible, naughty things will happen to you . . ."

Slowly, the ex-priestess pulled herself up from the four-post bed with purple sheets and quilts. Sleepily she looked around her, staring at the violet silk canopy that topped the lavish bed. "W-what? Where am I?"

"Here, with me." Suddenly the bed was gone, leaving Filia floating in an empty void.

Spinning, the dragon searched for the incredibly annoying voice. "Xellos! I know it's you! Come out here!"

"There's no need to shout, I'm right behind you." Gloved hands reached forward to lay gently on Filia's shoulders.

Nervously, the blonde turned, revealing the Mysterious Priest. "Xellos, what-" in shock she stared at his open eyes that brimmed with tears.

"Filia . . ." for once the grating voice sounded sad instead of annoying, "my love for you . . ."

"L-love?! What the HELL are you talking about, you disgusting lecher, you can't love anyone!!!" Filia stumbled backwards, trying, unsuccessfully, to escape the demon's grip.

"My love for you is . . . like a truck." He paused for a moment as a deep sigh of relief passed through him. Shocked and confused, the dragon stopped moving backwards.

"Xellos, y-you love me? But-" without warning, the non-existent ground gave way beneath the dragon, "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!"

With a scream, the blonde dragon awoke, tearing at her bedroll. After a few seconds her thrashing ceased as she remembered where she actually was. Sighing exasperatingly, the ex-priestess flopped onto her back. "Can't I find any peace from that slime?"

((()))

Duncan sat in his tent, penning an entry into a book. Closing it, he turned to see a shadowed figure standing just outside his tent. Instinctively his hand went for his sword nearby.

"Don't worry," said a low, subdued voice, "it's just me."

Breathing a sigh of relief, the nobleman set down his sword. "Hello, Mister Greywords. Please, come in. Is there something I can do for you?"

The blue skinned man opened the flap, but didn't cross the threshold. "Just Zelgadis."

The handsome dark-haired man nodded, curious but unafraid. "What can I help you with, Zelgadis?"

A few moments went by where the chimera said nothing, then, quietly he spoke, "I noticed you had a guitar with you."

Again, Duncan nodded, but he held his tongue. He's worried about something. What could it be?

A quiet sigh from the shaman broke Duncan's thoughts. "I was wondering if I could borrow it for a little while."

Surprise washed over the man's face for a moment, then settled into an easy smile. "Of course, I wouldn't mind a bit!" Reaching behind his bedroll he pulled out a leather case. "Enjoy, my friend. Perhaps we'll play a set together one day."

A wry smile flickered on the sorcerer's face for a bare second. "Perhaps." He accepted the case carefully, as if it weighed a great deal more than it did. In a grave voice, Zelgadis whispered, "Thank you." Then, with a nod, closed the tent flap.

The nobleman watched as he walked off into the night, slowly he shook his head. "Poor fellow," he whispered before blowing out the lantern.

((()))

Darkness surrounded Zelgadis, encased him, flooded through him, both inside and out. Patches of moonlight through the forest provided just enough illumination for even his eyes. This was stupid. I never should have borrowed the damn thing.

Those same eyes hardened as he stared down at the casing that held one of the few catharses that still gave release. His features hardened as he protested his own desire to bring his despair out into the open. Violently, his head shook, I can't return it now, the man's already asleep. Sighing, he lifted the catches, raised the lid and looked inside.

His eyes widened at the sight. A remarkable instrument. A ghost of a smile played across his face as he took out the elegant guitar and held it gently. Perfectly balanced. He knows quality, that's certain. Forest sounds drifted to his ears, wind, leaves, the scrambling of a few woodland creatures through the underbrush.

Guilt washed over him for a moment, threatening to drown him in its waves. W-why? Taking a deep breath, the chimera pushed aside the feeling; the temptation to play the guitar was too great to ignore for very long. Settling into the proper position, he gave the strings an experimental strum. Already in tune? Duncan must care for it daily.

Quietly, at first, then with greater confidence, the chimera gave his sorrow, despair and anger life through the simple wooden instrument in his hands. The pale moonlight shown through a patch in the clouds, enveloping him in its pure light. My own personal spotlight? If I didn't know better, I'd say that someone actually cared.

((()))

At the edge of the stream near the camp, Amelia stood, watching bits of leaves and twigs float away. I haven't been able to sleep since he left, and now that he's here, I still can't sleep. With a quiet chuckle she tossed a pebble into the water. I suppose I should try. Maybe I should ask Xellos for some wine. Where does he get all that alcohol anyways?

Standing, she turned towards the camp, then stopped as a foreign sound worked its way through the forest. A guitar? Duncan, at this time of night? Cautiously, she made her way, as quietly as she could, through the plants and branches that surrounded her.

The sound was easier to pick out the farther removed she was from the stream. It soon became apparent to her sensitive ears that it wasn't Duncan at all. Duncan's good, but not this good. And Duncan was never . . . the young princess shivered as the notes continued in their sorrowful minor chord. I was never . . . afraid after listening to Duncan. But this . . . it sounds like someone's dying.

Carefully pulling herself onto a low branch, she swung over to another, higher limb, bringing her sight in line with the mysterious musician. She couldn't help a gasp, for the figure before her was burned into her mind. Zelgadis?

Almost immediately, tears sprung to her eyes. The sight of him feeding into the low mourning notes of his song . . . Oh Cepheid . . . what can I do? She watched as the man she loved gave his very soul into the music. He was always so strong on the outside. I knew this was in him. His anger came out all the time, but this he kept bottled up. Tears ran freely down her face as the chimera continued to play.

((()))

Letting the group get a few paces ahead of him, Zelgadis looked around the early morning forest. A low breath made it's way through his lungs as, for the first time in months he merely felt dour and depressed, as opposed to homicidal. Playing the guitar actually made me feel a little better. Perhaps I should look into getting an instrument of my own. A scowl sprung to his face as he recalled where the vast majority of his money came from. Damn you, Rezo. Growling he stomped forward, ignoring Lina's questioning shout of where he was going.

"So," Filia asked as she brushed aside a bit of foliage, shaking her head slightly at Zelgadis' abrupt disappearance. "You think all royalty should obey the Knight's Code?"

Duncan nodded as he swept away another shrub that was in the young woman's way. "If everyone did, we'd have less problems today, don't you think?"

Nodding hesitantly, the ex-priestess carefully stepped along the overgrown trail. "Well, that's true, but . . . " she paused for a moment as she remembered her past, "high ideals are never really enough. Some people are always willing to take advantage of other's beliefs."

She raised her hand to swipe aside another branch, only to find that it had already been moved by a familiar gloved hand. The blonde stopped in her tracks and looked up to see the dark priest, his eyes narrow and features hard. She found herself surprised at her lack of anger at his presence.

A handful of seconds fell past as the demon and dragon stared at each other. A light wind stirred the woman's saffron hair. An overt cough from up ahead caused her to jump. Flushing, she ducked her golden head and turned to see an abashed looking Duncan.

"I'm sorry to interrupt," the young man said quietly, "but the party is pulling far ahead." He paused as his eyes swept between the two. "Uh," the prince muttered, as Filia looked quietly back towards the priest, "n-never mind." Hesitantly, Duncan turned and began to jog towards the main group.

Another breeze blew through the glade, gently throwing leaves around the two silent figures. Finally, Xellos broke the silence. "Hello." His eyes closed peacefully.

Filia paused for a moment, mind blank. Then she softly said, "Hello."

The demon's eyes opened, holding her in reflection. "A most," the Trickster Priest replied, "mature and well-reasoned opinion." His eyes opened further, revealing more of his amethyst pupils. "You've definitely raised my expectations of the dragon race. You certainly have grown."

The young woman's eyes widened as she felt a hot flush run across her face. "Thank you." Enthralled, she continued to gaze into his eyes.

"Unlike me." The slight smile on the demon's face dropped, leaving a dour expression behind.

The dragon started to ask what he meant, then stopped. He still blames himself over what happened last night- but that means- "Xellos," the blonde said quickly, "it's not your fault. You don't have to feel . . . guilty . . . about last night."

The dark priest nodded slowly. Finding himself lost in Filia's sapphire eyes, the demon only dimly registered that he was leaning towards her. "It would be nice not to feel responsible for that. This party is already fragile enough as it is."

((()))

"Miss Inverse!" came a distant call from the forest. Slapping a hand to her forehead, the Exasperated Sorcery Genius sighed. "Does anyone else have the urge to blow the crap outta' something?"

"But, Miss Lina," Amelia said concernedly, "you were fine just a few seconds ago."

Unnoticed, Gourry looked down at the petite redhead.

"Well, I, uh . . ." began the sorceress nervously, "you see . . . it's--"

Hmmm . . . The blond swordsman raised his hand to his chin, did Lina forget that she's trying to be nice to Amelia and cheer her up? A frown crossed the warrior's chiseled face. I'd better remind her. "Remember, Lina? It's because you were trying to make Amelia feel better-" The Swordsman of Light barely had time for his eyes to widen before the little redhead leapt up onto him, grabbing his collar roughly.

"You moron I should - uh oh . . ." Lina glanced down to see the young princess' eyes begin to fill with tears. Another distant cry from the forest was ignored as the young sorceress began to nervously began to climb down the tall man. "Really, Amelia I was just trying to not bring you down, it's nothing big, right?"

The tiny princess clenched her hands together as a single tear rolled down her cheek. Rushing forward she enfolded Lina in a tight embrace. "Thank you," the aquette sobbed, "thank you so much, Miss Lina."

Hesitantly struggling, the redhead tried gently to extricate herself from the bittersweet hug. "It's not . . . well – I don't – oh, come on!" With a half-resigned sigh, the sorceress returned the gesture. Well . . . the girl needs it, no matter how embarrassing it is.

Lina smiled a little as the brunette's crying subsided. "Come on now, Amelia. It's okay, right?" She felt the younger girl nod and gently pushed her back.

"I'm sorry, Miss Lina, I don't know what got into me." The princess wiped at her eyes as she smiled, eyes still watery.

With a derisive snort, the red head looked forward where their "scout" had gone on ahead. "Yeah, well . . . I don't blame you." Zel, if you don't get back here soon, I'm gonna kick your ass. With a quiet throaty growl she remembered how much damage the chimera had done since his return. Calling Amelia a mongrel, I still need to finish paying him back. Crashing foliage brought everyone's attention to behind them, revealing a disheveled Duncan half-tumbling out of the nearest bush.

Rising to his feet, the young nobleman smiled sheepishly, "I suppose I should have yelled louder to find all of you. I was somewhat lost, you see."

"I'm sorry," the shrine maiden said, eyes still puffy, "we were distracted by-"

"Hey!" yelled Lina, her eyes narrowing slightly, "didn't I tell you to keep an eye on Xellos and Filia?" She slammed her hands onto her hips, "I don't want those two left alone!"

Duncan backed up slowly, waving his hands in an attempt to mollify the girl who was almost half his size. "They seemed to be getting along fine, and when they started staring at each other-"

"Whoa, hold it!" Rushing forwards, Lina roughly grabbed the prince's shirt, ignoring the frightened sounds from the other two adventurers behind her, "they were staring at each other?" Her skin paled as the dark haired man nodded. She pitched her voice low, afraid herself of what she was saying , "Where are they and how long have they been alone?" As the man pointed, the sorceress jumped down and began to heroically run in the exact opposite direction.

Gourry watched as his ward ran past him. What's going on? Is Lina afraid of something? Ignoring a stunned Amelia, he ran after the young girl.

Blinking, Amelia stared incredulously as her two friends ran away. "Miss Lina, Mister Gourry, stop right there!" Her eyes widened in shock as they actually obeyed.

Whirling around, the redhead brought her hands together in a pleading manner. "Come on, Amelia! They're gonna kill us!" Behind the sorceress, Gourry stood, scratching his head in confusion.

The young princess shook her head, "If we just leave the whole forest could burn down! That's not a JUST thing, right?" She narrowed her eyes and waggled her finger knowingly.

At the sound of crunching leaves, the priestess turned to see Duncan with a bemused smile on his face.

"Relax, My Lady," the nobleman crossed his arms nonchalantly, "they looked perfectly clam. I'm sure yesterday's outburst was just a misunderstanding."

Amelia hung her head as she felt a bead of sweat roll down her forehead, "Uh, Duncan-" she began quietly just as she noticed the redhead trying to tiptoe away, "Miss, Lina!" she called out, half in anger, half in concern for the forest, "we have to stop them!"

The sorcery genius sighed and turned around, "Yeah, yeah, I'm comin'."

((()))

"Xellos," whispered the golden-haired dragon as he leaned in closer to her. Her mind felt frozen as she looked into his exotic amethyst eyes.

Time stopped within the forest clearing as Filia's mind emptied completely. They were so close that she could smell his musky scent and feel his breath on her cheek, which sent shivers through her body. Unable to stop, her fingers grabbed his shirt and pulled him towards her; she inhaled sharply as he wrapped his arms around her. Her gaze searched his, flicking from his violet eyes to his mouth and back again. "Xellos . . ."

Butterflies in her stomach, her lips parted and she rose onto her toes, heat burning through her body as his hands tightened their grip.

Then, their lips met and all Filia could feel, in all the world, was the man holding her, kissing her back. Everything felt calm, at peace, at-

"NO!" yelled Lina in a frantic voice as she leapt towards the couple, "STOP!" The tiny redhead slammed into them at full speed, upsetting Xellos' balance and sending Filia reeling with a scream of her own. "Amelia," cried out the sorcery genius, "now!"

From the same angle, the adventurer sprang from the foliage, "Xellos!" the young priestess cried out, "LIFE IS WONDERFUL!"

As pain suddenly sprang to the monster's face, the redhead scrambled back towards the stunned dragon who was just now raising herself back to her feet. "Filia," Lina yelled as she rushed towards the still shocked blonde, "I'm sorry, but we've got no choice!" Lunging forwards, the sorceress grabbed a hold of the dragon's arm, "Sleeping!" she cried out, causing a bright flash to burst over Filia's body.

"Oh, come on, Amelia . . ." the dark priest whined, "I was being nice, wasn't I?" The demon's eyes nearly lurched out of his head as the tiny princess wrapped her arms around him in a hug.

"Mister Xellos, you're like my BIG BROTHER! I love you soooo much!" His normally pale skin turned a unique shade of green as Amelia continued to call out loving remarks.

"Uh, Amelia," he interrupted in a quivering voice, "this is very twisted and underhanded, and normally I'd be proud . . ." A violent shudder wracked his slender frame, "but I think I'm going to die . . ."

Lina watched, nervous, as Filia rose, totally ignoring the Sleep spell. "Oh yeah," the redhead anxiously laughed, "I forgot. Dragons are resistant to simple magic, aren't they?" Her eyes flashed downward as the blonde pulled out her mace slowly.

"Hey, Lina!" Gourry's voice called out from behind another tree. "Are me and Duncan supposed to wrap Filia up in these chains now?" He leaned out towards the group and held up the heavy metal links. Behind him Duncan carried a large padlock while helping Gourry support the restraints.

"Uh . . . no," the sorceress called out in as calm a voice as she could manage, "not yet!"

"What," growled the ex-priestess in a dangerous voice, "did you think you were doing, Miss Lina?"

"C-come on, Filia," began the sorceress, hands splayed out in front of her, "what happened the last time you were playing 'Grope-Me' with Xellos?" Suddenly, the redhead's eyes went wide as she realized exactly what she had said. I'm so royally screwed . . .

Halting in her tracks, the dragon stiffened. "I- I . . . what?" Woodenly, the blonde turned to stare at the embracing princess and convulsing demon. "He and- and I . . ." Unseen, the brave Sorcery Genius began to slink away, hoping to gain enough distance to get out of the blast radius.

"Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb." In as cute a voice as Amelia could manage, she sang one of her favorite nursery rhymes, not noticing that Lina had failed to hold up her front in their decidedly strange battle. Can't sing 'Little Bunny Foo Foo'; too much violence, and it has a magical curse in it.

"A-Amelia . . ." began the dark priest, "this is really too . . ." just then, his violet gaze met Filia's bright blood red glare. "Uh-oh." Struggling to push off the still unaware shrine maiden, Xellos stared shocked-eyed at the approaching menace. "Amelia . . ." he whispered harshly, "we have to leave now!"

Finally realizing something was wrong, the aquette twisted her neck around to see Filia moving at a slow stalk towards them. Grabbing the demon's arm, Amelia tried to pull them away from the advancing force of destruction that was just now getting close to them. Just as the two doomed adventurers started moving, the blonde's left arm snaked out and clasped the dark priest's shirt.

"What," snapped the dragon as she pulled Xellos close to her face, "did you think you were doing back there?!" Effortlessly, she raised him off the ground, holding him steady with one arm.

"What did you think I was doing?" Indignantly the priest stared down with sharp amethyst eyes. I'll be damned if she thinks she can manhandle me . . . "I was simply trying to be nice to you."

Sapphire eyes widened and then shrank at the demon's words. "Nice? I am getting sick and tired of you always taking advantage of-" her words cut off as Xellos flashed out of her grip and reappeared a step away from her hands. She raised her mace to smash his arrogant face in and froze, arm raised, at the change in his posture. She stared as he tilted his head and glared underneath his violet hair. W-what-

The demon's smile became feral, and slowly his calm, regular stance melted into a languid posture. When he began to step in her direction the dragon was struck by how fluid his motions were, how he seemed to slide towards her. Like a wolf . . . she took a step back, a quite feral wolf.

Out of the corner of her eye, the blonde saw Amelia pick herself up off the ground and start to speak to the dark priest. Before a word could escape the princess' lips, Xellos flicked his wrist casually in a half-circle. The ex-priestess watched in shock as the air rippled around the demon and dragon violently. Taking a step backwards, she found her progress halted by an invisible wall. Her mouth fell open as an inky black cloud started to drip from the demon's body. I can . . . feel his power. Oh, Gods, what have I done?! She felt a sob escape her throat as the suddenly vicious creature continued his slow advance. I- I'm going to die.

((()))

Zelgadis stepped lightly as he could through the steadily thinning forest. Hmmm . . . another three or four hours for the others and we should be out of the thick woods and back onto a real road. He squinted slightly, spying a coaching inn little more than a mile off. Even at this distance, his inhuman eyes were able to spot merchant caravans, stable boys and everyday travelers passing through it's yards.

At least we'll have our own rooms tonight. The chimera sighed and shook his head ruefully. I despise Rezo for giving me this body, yet I still make full use of all it's abilities. Sitting down, he reached for his canteen, feeling a little thirsty after his short sprint.

His mind flashed to an earlier time when one of Amelia's black magic amplifiers had adorned it. I should have ditched it, or sold it, or . . . something . . . Reaching into his pocket he pulled out the definitely not treasured memento from a happier time. Even though we were fighting for our lives, we still had a wonderful journey. Scenes of embarrassment floated through his memory. Miwan, 'anchor time', 'Mister Zelga-bunny', and not to mention kidnapping Amelia, getting launched into low orbit by Filia and that stupid amusement park . . .

He took another swig from his canteen, Okay, maybe not that wonderful of a journey . . . Unbidden, other memories rose to the surface; the aftermath of the Dark Star battle, after Valgaav had been reborn . . . Everything seemed . . . right, then . . . Shaking his head angrily, the chimera slammed the cap back onto his canteen. Stupid, shouldn't be letting yourself get emotional over something like that. Growling he shoved the amulet back into his pocket, refusing to give it another look.

Sighing, he tucked away the canteen behind his cloak and started back towards the group. No explosions, must be pretty quiet there, for once.

((()))

Filia watched as Amelia and Lina tried again to breach the shield that Xellos had placed around them. A few seconds had passed, but it seemed like she'd been trapped for hours. Phasing was useless, she'd already tried, Somehow he's managed to put up a barrier and a Halcyon Field. The blonde felt a cold shiver work down her spine as the demon took another step closer to her.

If I could get away he'd just be playing a game, the dragon's mind worked furiously for a solution, driven by adrenalin and fear. He doesn't want me to get away. She began to sob as she realized what that meant, This isn't a game for him, he's serious.

"Xe- Xellos?" Filia tried again as the first tendrils of ebony energy brushed her body, placing an even deeper chill right into her bones. Her cerulean eyes closed and she gave a quick prayer, hoping that what she was about to say would work. "I-I'm s-sorry . . ."

The quiet sound of crunching earth grew completely silent and the ex-priestess opened her eyes to see the visage of Xellos, nearly obscured by his own black power running over his form. A ghost of a smile crossed the demon's lips, and her eyes flicked downward. Oh, please let that mean that he's forgiven-

"It's too late for that, my dear." A near whisper, the cold and deathly tone of the normally annoying voice drove into her mind. "I tried being nice before, but you wouldn't have that, would you?" Filia watched, eyes wide, as Xellos' mouth twisted into a scowl. "You should have remembered," the demon murmured, mouth twisted into a sneer, "your little 'golden rule' works two ways. 'Treat others how you wish to be treated.'"

His sour expression melted into a macabre grin as the monster straightened, swinging his head away from her. "Remember that, won't you?" A almost howling, nasal laughter pierced her ears.

Then he vanished and the air again rippled around her; as the dragon slumped to the ground, she could hear Lina and Amelia rush towards her, the redhead yelling, "Filia! Are you okay?"

The blonde began to weep as the other two women wrapped their arms around her. Hugging her own chest, she began to shake, still feeling the miasma of death and evil that still filled the forest glade, despite the demon's passage.

"I- I don't know." She looked up, cerulean eyes blank and empty. "I just . . . don't . . . know."