Obsession: A Xelloss story

Disclaimer: We do not own the Slayers characters or their anime or manga stories, but are borrowing them for the purpose of creating an amusing work of fan fiction. Additionally, we admit to sampling generously and directly from a book called The Pleasure of My Company, by Steve Martin. On reading this book, we could envision Xelloss thinking along the same unusual lines as the main character of Martin's story, and soon Xelloss had insinuated himself into the entire text. The story is a result of an intermixing of the Slayers myth with this book in an effort to explain Xelloss' role in Lina's life.

Authors' warning: Xelloss will be re-telling his role throughout the Next and Try series. However, there will be differences, a few minor infractions along the way, to fit our purposes better. Please forgive and enjoy.

Authors' note: Thanks go to the Prime Minister for the wonderful beta reading while rat prepared for finals. Without that added support, this wouldn't have been completed.

– Part 1–

At first it was merely puzzling: Gourry, the man who carried the legendary Sword of Light, was a moron, and what was even more incredible was that Miss Lina Inverse seemed to like the man. I couldn't comprehend why. She didn't need his fighting skills, not even when I first started following her exploits and she wasn't the accomplished sorceress that she is today.

Why did she keep company with the tall swordsman? Certainly not for his profound conversation. He dozed off during most of her lengthy lectures or appeared stupefied by her magic discussions (which turned into monologues when it was only between the two of them.) He had no wealth, property, or name. Maybe it was just the sword? Well, I could deliberately take it away from him and solve that dilemma.

I considered it too easy, beneath me in fact, to go out of my way to demonstrate to Lina his incompetence. However, I remember dangling him from a foot briefly after saving his worthless life before I dropped him on his head from a height sufficient to make him look ridiculous but not enough to harm him– his head being his least important organ. Still, the object of my obsession (and yes, I admit to this weakness, grudgingly) seemed to be attracted to the man.

The swordsman, I was certain, was in love with her. Alternatively, I was sure that she was not in love with him. Love she reserved for shiny objects and sustenance. So far.

I point out that she was a young lady, innocent of the perils of love. Her mind uncomplicated by such things. So far.

I can say for a fact that the only intercourse Lina had engaged in was the conversational variety. So far.

I planned to change all that from the moment my eyes first caught sight of her.

But, I am getting ahead of myself here. I should start with the origin of my deep set fixation on Miss Lina Inverse, sorceress extraordinaire. Meeting Lina was a thing of chance. The demon lord to whom I was reporting at the time sent me on an errand; at least, that had been his intent. Actually, it was some other demon priest who was entitled to the short vacation. The hapless drudge who delivered the instructions mixed us up– one astral form looking like any other, if you're blind, deaf, and trussed like a holiday bird ready for roasting (which that particular half-wit underling suffered for his mistake.) As it turned out, though, this clerical error changed my plans for a while and left me with a few idle hours I hadn't counted on.

Ripples of despair and pain disrupted the astral plane. What a pleasure! It had a magical aftertaste that pleased me mightily. I have a highly honed appreciation for things like that, in particular, a delicate discrimination for the finer things in life, as I perceive them.

A quick subliminal scan pin-pointed the source of the disturbance: a human female. How intriguing! In a blink of the eye, I transported my corporal self to the scene of destruction. It was vast, complete, and totally unnecessary. By Shabranigdo himself, I was impressed! The inn keeper professed simply to be out of his specialty food item, and now a smoking divot was all that remained of his establishment and all the souls inhabited within. And Lina.

I saw Lina for the first time that day. She didn't see me, though. We hadn't met yet, but that didn't mean we weren't, in some abstract place, already in love. I certainly was. Not that I considered myself in love at the time. I was just spellbound from that moment on.

My next move, I decided, was to ingratiate myself into her subculture. Now, this was something I was proficient at doing, having had hundreds of years to practice. Humans were so easily fooled. Or was it that I was such an accomplished covert operative? Both, I'd say.

But this was going to be different. Lina was different. She made my head spin, my concentration waver, and my complacency, well, go away, let's just say. I became plagued by a nagging sting of self-doubt.

How should I conduct myself around Miss Lina? I pondered this question, filled with agitation.

I must begin by showing her my strengths, I decided firmly, hoping that my status as a bloodthirsty demon would enhance my first meeting with Lina. She did like action, danger and excitement, or at least she sought it out. Indeed, the more I considered that plan of action, the more sure I became that it would be the right tactic.

Why, it could jazz things up a bit! Maybe too much. She appeared to be highly temperamental and suspicious, and although she seemed willing to kill humans and non-humans alike without trepidation, she would probably not like to hang out with a demon, socially. Best not point out what was not obvious, then.

I should make a timely entrance, save her from an attack, and, of course, in the same breath I will tell her that I am a trustworthy priest, but I'll wait just that extra second before I do in order to make sure I've enchanted her. There, that sounded better, felt better through and through.

Whew! That was a close one! A demon without complete self-confidence was vulnerable to attack, possibly death.

So, I decided to just be myself, while at the same time not give myself away. A tricky maneuver, to be sure, but I was the Trickster Priest, and as such was untroubled by the challenge.

The larger issue was the idea of acting like myself. Where do my hands go when I'm myself? Are they in my pockets? Because frankly, I couldn't remember. I had a tough time just being myself when I'd be doing my job. I would start talking to some lesser demon and suddenly I would know I was no longer myself that some other self had taken over. You see, I was both an arrogant, homicidal bastard and an annoying, fun-loving trickster. What was more, and better, for me, was that I was empowered as both my master's priest and general. Twice the punch. See? Something for everyone.

Lina's going to love me, I thought. Oh, I was positive of that.

This thought process had taken several days, or weeks, I wasn't counting. You see, the less active the body, the more active the mind. I had been sitting for days, taking my mistaken time off and my mind made this curious excursion into a tangential problem: What would be the best way to stir up some trouble in that white magic capital of the world, Seyruun?

No, not that, that would have been presumptive of me, second-guessing my superior's next move. Most likely, I was addressing the anomaly of my mismatched socks. Why? They had both been yellow the other day and I hadn't changed them, had I? I mean, how could I? Were not my socks merely a part of my illusionary self? Nevertheless, one was dark red now and no amount of pondering was going to change that.

So here's my point. This question I've been flipping around – what it means to act like myself– is related to my mismatched socks. I was not myself, and the socks proved it. I was not thinking straight or even coherently. And, thinking too much can create the illusion of causal connections between unrelated events. Like socks and Lina. After observing Lina and her magical display, I have one red sock and one yellow one. That was clear and observable.

Oh gods, Lina was so cute and what a sorceress! – Just an aside to give you a taste of what I was going through.

It was time to arrange a formal meeting. I thought I might begin with a letter of introduction. I would write to Lina about myself. Now, how to present myself as your average, nonthreatening human being while simultaneously make myself likeable without lying? I thought it best not to begin our relationship with lies. Cheap and tawdry.

I think I'm pretty appealing on first meeting, but trust takes time and more than a single piece of paper to achieve. See, I tend to grow on people. I needed a few years and a ream or two of paper to get someone to truly trust me. I know how to flatter, overdo, and lay it on thick in order to speed up my likeability time frame, but that wouldn't resolve the trust issue. For someone to trust you, you had to provide them honest answers, and consciousness-raising was not my forte. I was a tightlipped fellow about to reveal my soul, so to speak. So, I tried to compact how I felt, part with a few underlying truths about myself, regale her with flattery, and wrap it up in an air of mystery. Oh, I would not like the sniveling, romantic me who wrote my single page letter of introduction, but I hoped she would.

Time to make a personal mail delivery, then. She had an aura like no other, so I had no trouble locating Miss Lina. By this time she had acquired a sidekick swordsman. Adding an unwelcome human to the mix was not what I had wanted. In my anger and haste to get moving on my plan to entice Miss Lina, I nearly fried the man on the spot. But then, just in the nick of time, I considered Lina's feelings and the mixed message that would have sent. Fleeting human relationships often confused me, since demons employed different ones, but I was aware that if I rashly killed her friend, I would instantly become her enemy. So I wisely held back to see what their relationship really entailed. It was dark as pitch, but they were each easily identifiable by their arguing.

"I'm not like them," Lina insisted. Her toe nudged a hunk of wood closer to the fire.

"But you stole their stuff," Gourry insisted back. "That makes you a bandit too."

"But it wasn't their stuff in the first place."

"That makes you...the rightful owner?" he asked. He poked at the coals, inflaming them as well.

"Well, almost." Lina repeated her claim. "But I'm no bandit."

"I dunno, Lina..."

I couldn't wrap my head around the idea either– I agreed with the human-carrying-the-dreadful Sword-of-Light. Blowing up bandit camps to rob them of their treasure sounded violently wonderful to me, but it didn't justify her keeping the ill-gotten gains. Not that it troubled me. She could keep them on the grounds of 'finder's keepers' for all I cared.

"Well, I'm bushed and we gotta big day tomorrow, so I'm goin' to sleep. 'Night!"

"Okay, Lina. Guess I oughtta take first watch, then," the man answered her unnecessarily, for Lina was out like a light.

Oh well, my introductory letter could wait for a more opportune time. And I have to admit, I did check my socks, twice, for another color change, but it didn't happen this time. Perhaps my earlier assessment was wrong and Lina and my mismatched sock occurrence were unrelated after all. Or maybe it didn't work with the other man around...

The next day I tagged along unbeknownst to them. They were entertaining and Lina was delicious.

"It's supposed to be here," Lina growled and pointed to a mark on a map. "I paid good money for this."

"I don't see signs of an old shrine anywhere. Maybe we made a wrong turn," the strangely insightful swordsman recognized. "Here, let me take another look. Yep, back at that last big rock. Wrong rock."

"Wrong rock? What do you mean?" Lina's voice ratcheted up a notch or two.

Ooooh, how I loved the hot, angry vibes I was tasting off her!

"This one. Lookee here, it's not a rock. It's a dirt mark. See? Wiped it off," the dumb lug told her.

"Not...a...rock? We wasted the whole day...? Arrrrrgh!"

I chose not to descend upon them and disrupt their anguished dismay. It seemed as though adversities like that were always befalling Lina, so I put off meeting her a little longer and settled back into my more distant relationship based on constant observation.

Sometimes when Lina would be telling a story I noticed that she would pause and stare off into the distance, then start right back up where she'd left off. Sure, you might think that she was simply taking a moment to collect her thoughts. But I saw it another way: her mind was being overwhelmed by two processes that must simultaneously proceed at full steam. One was to deal with and live in the present world. The other was to re-experience everything in the magical astral plane. It was as though her lightness pulled her toward heaven, but the extra gravity of her powerful magical ability forever kept her earthbound.

Or was it that I thought too much?

I didn't know if I wanted to approach Lina until the me-as-a-priest-presentation-thing was worked out. I really wanted to act the part as well as look harmless, which meant I'd have to lose the demon-general line of employment. My racial makeup and class were something for a maturing relationship, not the very beginning when first impressions are critical. No, my priestly occupation would be nice to drop over drinks on our third date. If I got the feeling there might not be a third date, I'd have no qualms about moving it up to the second date, or even blurting it out on our first date right after 'hello.' I mean, she'd visited countless shrines looking for action, treasure action naturally, so having a priest along could afford her ready access, or so I hoped she might see it that way and find me essential to her life. In any case, I decided to dress in my best priestly garb and pay my Miss Lina another visit.

They stood and chatted by the bar, she and her brainless swordsman. This was my opportunity to meet my object d'amour, or at least give her the chance to see me, to get used to me. My plan was to walk by on my side of the dining room and not look over her way. This, I felt, was a very masculine move: to meet and ultimately seduce her through no contact at all. She would be made aware of me as a mysterious figure, someone with no need of her whatsoever. This is compelling to a woman.

When I hit the material world from the astral, I encountered a problem. I had forgotten to wear underwear. While I may have cut an aloof figure, I was an aloof figure who was going to be chafing against all wool-pants for the evening. I moved stiffly, without my usual confident swagger and easy manner, veering my way to the bar so as to cover the distance with the least amount of leg-action effort.

To my dismay, Lina and her sword-mate were facing my way and looking comfortable in their non-restrictive travel-wear. I was probably dangerous-looking. Not the impression I wanted make at all. Still, as freakish as I may have appeared, I had established contact. Of that I was sure. And I doubt that her brief distorted impression of me was so indelible that it could not, at some point, be erased and replaced with a better me.

Which leads me to the subject of charisma. Wouldn't we all like to know the extent of our own magnetism? I can't say my charm was at full throttle when I strolled, stork-like, by Lina, but had I been at the other end of the room, so that I was walking languidly through the haze with the lights behind me, at my best angle, and relaxed and perhaps in dusky silhouette, my own charisma would have swirled out of me like smoke from a hookah.

Or was I thinking of my aura?

Alas, my charisma had yet to fully bloom around the object of my obsession. It was as though something was keeping me back from it. Perhaps apprehension: What would happen to me and to those around me if I were suddenly just too sensational to be managed?

Ah, well... I had no answer to that and so chose to overlook the problem for the time being and commit a little mischief. When you see an opportunity for fun, you would be remiss not to take it for a ride, I say. With a snap of effort on my part, I spun a very minor spell which dispensed with everyone else's underwear. Now we'd all suffer equally.

In order not to break out into uncontrollable laughter, I had to disappear. That wouldn't have been a good thing to do; it would have given away my secret powers– blown my cover, so to speak. I just crack myself up sometimes! Maybe my obsessions with mischief-making are there to keep me from being too powerfully alluring, to keep my would-be lovers and adventures in check. After all, I can't be too seductive if I have to spend a half hour explaining just why a prank I had pulled was hysterically funny in a woman's apartment while she sits on the edge of the bed checking her watch.

I concluded that Lina could not have possibly seen so much of me to have any sense of who I was, or to have spoiled the entire evening, so I reappeared out of the shadows and tried again. On my second interaction with Lina, I said something exquisite: "I'm always looking to upgrade." I muttered this casually in passing as I sauntered off. The wrong way, I might add. I hit a glass wall with a sickening, brain-numbing thud.

This was odd because I am not usually so klutzy. Never, really. It must be love, I concluded irrationally.

"What was that?" her sidekick asked.

"I dunno, some bozo with too much to drink," Lina-dearest offered up.

"But he said something to ya."

"Something about a room upgrade."

"Oh, I get it!" the swordsman glowed errantly, because he of course did not. "He thought you were a waitress here. I can't figure why, 'cause all of them are wearing those low cut blouses and have big boobs and you don't..."

Lina, my heart, cut him off with a well-placed kick, stepped over me, and stalked off to what I assumed to be her upstairs room. That was the last I saw of her that night.

My third contact with Lina, which occurred a few weeks later, was a total failure, with an explanation. I was pounding to a pulp some poor slob, proving my devotion to my race's objectives, when Lina and a couple of new friends marched up. Nothing could have seemed more casual, more unplanned, than my priestly presence in front of the Tidy Shrine. Still some ways off, she stretched herself to her full, petite size, all legs and hair, and gave me a jaunty wave. I think she was about to speak to me. The problem was: I was a bloody mess. I was looking pretty suspicious for a priest. This couldn't have made Lina too comfortable, particularly if she'd had any inclination toward viewing me as her next beau.

So, I did the only thing I could do under the circumstances. I stepped back into the doorway and disappeared, taking my tortured captive away. No reason to leave evidence. From the astral plane I sensed Lina's disappointment upon reaching the shrine and finding no priestly caretaker, and then her surge of exultation at discovering the same piece of information.

"I think the place is empty, Lina."

"Ah, nuts! Now how are we gonna get that, ah...?" Lina paused, smiled demonically (sigh), and then blasted the lock of the door in a flash of energy. "Hey! Come on, Gourry, help me look for that Claire Bible that's supposed to be locked away in here, then we'll go celebrate, okay?"

"Okay, Lina, but I thought we were just looking for directions to that old ruin. Now what am I looking for?"

She let out a sigh, "A book Gourry. Without a guard to stop us, we can steal their copy of the Claire Bible, a book."

At least I knew that I had lent my lady-love a great service, clearing the way to something far more valuable than what she was looking for. Yes, the more powerful Miss Lina becomes the more destruction she spreads, and with destruction comes despair and anger. She's irresistible!

Sadly, I would have to take her treasure away from her shortly. Those Claire Bibles were the source of powerful spells to damage demons, and I shouldn't allow her to get a hold of those through negligence on my part. I giveth and I taketh away. But I had learned an important secret to controlling her: she was hunting for copies of the Claire Bible, and I knew where a few were, or were reputed to be or could possibly, maybe, on a chance could be.

I am always amazed at what lies buried in the mind until one day for no particular reason it rises up and makes itself known. That night whilst perched on a tree limb outside Lina's inn window, a vision of Lina's face entered my consciousness, and I saw that she had ruby-red colored eyes. It was a small fact I hadn't realized I knew.

I was recalled about this time to Wolfpack Island, home to another dark lord, the Lord Beastmaster Zelas. To be more precise, it was around this time the clerical error was discovered and my unintentional leave of absence came to a screeching halt. Lord Zelas was my creator and ultimate employer, but she was happy to loan me out these days rather than come up with any constructive service for me to perform, save feeding her wolves. Naturally, now that I had found something fun to consume my time, energy, and talents, Lord Zelas had numerous duties for me to discharge.

I lost track of the date, a common occurrence among us immortals, so that by the time I was able to locate and spy on her, Lina had accumulated a following and a new enemy, Rezo the Red Priest. It was then that she and the chimera went after Rezo-Shabranigdo, a.k.a. my boss's boss and ultimate lord and master, and I steered far away. I was ordered to stay out of Rezo's business. And to make sure that I did, I was put to feeding my master's wolves when Lina ultimately defeated Rezo. Yes, it was very fortunate that I wasn't following Lina at the time; otherwise I would have had to kill her to stop her. I wouldn't have liked that.

It wasn't long before Lord Zelas was fresh out of good ideas or even bad ideas or tasks to occupy my time, so she announced that she was to lend me to her peer, Hellmaster Phibrizzo. Lord Hellmaster Phibrizzo was a demon lord who had lost all his servants more than 1000 years ago so he was always begging the other demon lords for assistance. He was also impulsive with an over-zealous 'Gaav' complex bordering on psychosis, who now absolutely required my special services. I was essential to his success. It is like that for those of us who excel naturally, and me in particular.

As a parting gift, the Lord Beastmaster gave me a set of spell-amplifying amulets to make use of as I saw fit. I thanked her graciously wondering why in the seven hells she thought that I might need the flashy jewelry, and took my leave to one of those seven hells in search of its master.

First, Lord Phibrizzo asked what I currently had on my plate. I told him 'not much'(while curious what he was thinking about my new ruby encrusted adornments– I mean, did they scream 'Xelloss is still mine, the Lord Beastmaster Zelas, and don't you forget it!?') but dutifully offered up a few suggestions. He liked my idea of me giving aid to Lina so that she would acquire the knowledge and strength to invoke the all-powerful Giga Slave spell of unpredictable consequences, but only as a sideline to his own selfish goals. "But can you work that in with the ongoing Demon Dragon Lord Gaav problem?"

"Of course, a two-for-one deal, eh?" I smiled and accepted the challenge, the most demanding part being not spraying my diminutive boss with my spittle as I exploded into cackles of mirth.

If Lina somehow pulled off a Giga Slave spell, which I was certain she was unable to at this point and would need direction to gain that expertise, then the end of our world would result, possibly. Forget Gaav, Phibby! He's pigeon shit! This Lina is the Real Deal! I didn't say that to his face. In fact, I didn't laugh either. I smiled and waited to be dismissed, like a loyal, life-loving (mine, naturally) demon employee.

"Okay, but I want Gaav at my feet first, the turncoat..." Lord Phibrizzo demanded.

"Turncoat in the greatcoat, got it," I quipped.

"Just go already." Lord Phibrizzo had a child's sense of wordplay. He never appreciated my finer points.

"As you wish, Sir." He did love kowtowing, on the other hand.

By this point, Miss Lina was still touring the country with her entourage of misfit magic users. I had to admit that my former plans to impress Lina had misfired like a bad spell. It was time to do the manly thing: to meet her without deception, without forethought. I decided to present myself as an out-of-work priest and minor sorcerer looking for adventure. This seemed to be the honest thing to do.

We met inauspiciously in the remains of one of Lina's destructive ruins. I was certain that she did not recognize me from our earlier, unfortunate encounters, and we were off to a fresh start.

"So, if you're a priest," the dummy sidekick swordsman asked me. "Where's yer shrine?"

"Ah...it was destroyed. Completely. Washed away in a flood." Now shut up, go to sleep, and let me have Lina to myself, you idiot.

"Oh, that's too bad. There's one in this town, why don'tcha join them?"

"Wrong, ah, affiliation." I hoped the use of large words would confuse him.

"Really? Which one are you?"

"Which?" I hadn't a clue what to say to that.

"'Course," the blonde swordsman went on, "maybe you can do somethin' else? Ya don't look much like a farmer or a fighter."

"What?!" I had just been insulted. My manhood was on the line here, and I wasn't even a hu-man. "I can fight quite well. I have quite a few spells under my belt."

"Have you ever considered using this ability in a job? Then you wouldn't haveta keep followin' us around."

I was taken aback. Where did this lamebrain come up with material like that? Did he in fact recognize me from my other earlier, failed encounters? Worse than that, did Lina? I was afraid that he had seen right through my facade. "I have... but I haven't come up with anything yet," I mumbled, feeling like I was losing to a moron. What did that make me, then?

"Oh, I get it. Don't you have any friends?"

I could feel Lina's attention on me. I had to turn this conversation around to favor me, "Oh, yes, I do. We work out together, my er...friends and I." This was, of course, a lie, but it was the kind of lie that could become true at any moment, as I potentially could work out if I chose. If I wasn't sure whether Lina recognized me, I was sure Lina had never seen this masculine side of me before, which must have sent a chill through her.

"I'm getting cold," Lina stated with finality. "You guys can sit up and talk. I'm gonna go soak in the hot springs and have some fun."

Of course, it may have been the rapid temperature drop. Well, I may not have sent her into a swoon over me, but... she accepted my presence as a wandering priest.

After that, I led her on a few wild goose chases, had a bit of fun, until ... Oh, well, yes, I did step in and give Lina a little bit of help with destroying that Halciform guy. If I hadn't, my Lina might not have gotten away. One can't be too careful when other demons, this one a nasty creature I hadn't seen in a long time called Saygram, were involved. I told her to destroy the pledge stone that was behind the human sorcerer's power, but I couldn't go as far as pointing out where exactly it was. That would be turning on one of my own, and for all I knew, Saygram was working for the same demon lord I was. How would I know? No one was aware who I was reporting to lately. Anyway, Saygram was far weaker than I and so was unaware of my quick action and retreat. We demons are an unpredictable race from a human standpoint.

Oh, and I tried to offer Lina a few suggestions when she encountered a chaotic magic user by the name of Martina. There was one odd duck who was putting a crimp in my plans. She put a curse on Lina so as to interfere with Lina's use of magic. This was unacceptable. I needed Lina to use and explore her magic limits, not have them shut down! Funny, I found the situation to be both troubling and immensely amusing at the same time. After I determined that the curse was a weak one and that it would wear out soon anyway, I left the two ladies to sort out their social problems on their own. I should have simply killed Martina right there and then, had I known the headaches the perverse little woman would bring me later.

And then, how can I forget one other little incident? I covertly observed Lina and her comrades making their way toward Seyruun. I was curious as to what kind of ruckus would Lina stir up this time? They stopped at a restaurant. Nothing unusual about that, so I materialized at the threshold and found a table for one. The menu featured an enticing but wholly out of date and impossible listing of Dragon Cuisine delights. I knew my Lina would be dissatisfied and disappointed, which could lead to a plethora of bad feelings, and possibly violence.

And she did not disappoint me. None of them did. Before I had ordered my own meal, Lina had the restaurateur/fisherman in a headlock extracting his promise to catch her a dragon. Killing dragons was right up my alley! Nothing could be better, I challenge anyone to prove me wrong about that.

From my outpost in a tree, I had the perfect viewing position of their entire fishing-for-dragon fiasco– priceless, at any cost, and my seat was free. They failed repeatedly to outsmart the creature, which was a telling fact because non-sentient dragons were not nimble-minded beasts.

By evening they had failed to catch Lina's dinner, but were not ready to chuck up the sponge, as they say in the country. They gathered around a campfire and listened to the fisherman's fish-tales. According to him, each one of the group resembled or at least reminded him of his own eccentric family. Even I took pity on his wife after hearing that the chimera made him think of her. Must have been a suicide... After that, I stopped listening. The stories were mildly entertaining, though with not enough sex and violence to hold me on the plane of existence.

To my wonderment, the next day they killed the beast and in the confluence of water and pandemonium, a gleaming amulet fell from the sky. My natural curiosity drew me off my roost and down to the forest floor, where I located what I thought was a pocket watch. The owner's name was etched on the case, so I knew it belonged to the restaurant owner. At that moment, Lina passed chattering excitedly with the dragon killer about the phenomenal dishes he was going to create for her. I stepped in behind them. I had to see this through to the end, didn't I?

Of course Lina was unhappy to learn that none of her favorite dishes could be prepared in fewer than several weeks. Nasty, nasty poisonous dragons... Her reactions were as I had hoped, and I feasted well that day until she turned on a heel and left in a huff. If she was going to apply her Dragon Slave spell to the establishment, I should leave as well.

Then I remembered the pocket watch in my pouch. Inquisitive by nature, I released the latch to take a look at its contents. I decided that if it wasn't valuable I'd return it. Inside was not a watch face, though. It was a family portrait, and damn if the dragon-killer hadn't been right. Lina and her gang were dead ringers for the dead people.

How quaint! It was a keepsake locket, which would be useless to me, so I left the man his memories, and then left the premises intending to create a few new ones for myself.

Or I was about to. I hadn't forgotten my orders, but I was close to neglecting them, so I left my little band of trouble-makers to wend their way to Seyruun, and went in search of The Demon Dragon King next. In my stead, I commanded a pair of my best servants to insinuate themselves into the Palace of Seyruun as a pair of sorcerers. One of Lina's friends was the princess of Seyruun, so I knew that Lina would end up there. I needed my contacts to spy on Lina and keep me informed of any change of events while I conducted my own work. I couldn't be everywhere at once!

Secure in the knowledge that Lina was in good hands, I was able to concentrate on Demon Dragon King Gaav, a defector from the Demon league of cutthroats, sealed up in human form, which must have galled him into hiding out. No one knew at the time that he was setting up shop on his own in the Desert of Desolation. That I was to discover a few weeks later.

My mind's driving preoccupation with Lina, however, constantly drew me toward her. Ah...my dear Lina. Her future held so many possibilities. I had concluded that for Lina to succeed in the goal (okay, for her to succeed in either goal, work-related or personal) I had set for her, my role would have to become more active. She needed training, guidance, and opportunities to develop under the tutelage of an older, more experienced man, which was me. I needed to make certain of her well-being personally, not to mention that I really would have preferred to hang out with Lina sampling ice cream in Seyruun than sift through the countless sand dunes pondering Lord Gaav's whereabouts.

So my agitation built up until, at one point, when I could overlook the urge to locate Lina no longer, I attempted to contact my two minions for an update. Failing to get my demon underlings to respond to my call, I became uneasy. I scanned the astral plane and detected a nasty convolution, a maelstrom of bad vibrations emanating from the direction of Seyruun. There was nothing more to do than abandon my desert search for a turn at that ice cream in Seyruun, and Miss Lina.

End part one.