Obsession: A Xelloss story

From part 4...

I breathed more deeply now. I was content. I had a bit of working space with which to operate. It was time for me to descend on Lina and begin...well, I wasn't certain exactly what, but I had ideas.

Alas, for a demon's work is never done. I was immediately recalled to my Lord Beastmaster. I had some explaining to do.

-- Part 5 –

My Lord Beastmaster was concerned. My physical form had been undergoing inexplicable changes. I was becoming more substantial, while my spiritual body remained strong and rooted in the astral plane. It didn't make sense. I was her sole servant, empowered to function as both her general and her priest, making me the third most powerful demon in the world. And yet, I had a near-human physical form which was like a foreign entity to her.

"I am sorry. You created me..." I left off.

"Not like this," she sounded petulant.

"I am able to carry out all my assignments without significant differences in my performance."

"See that you do. What else?"

"I was looking forward to receiving your promised reward."

"What promise was that?"

I reminded her that I had retrieved the Sword of Light, as ordered, although achieving my heart's desire seemed remote at best.

"I didn't command you to do that. In fact, I would have preferred that you had left it wherever Phibrizzo had concealed it."

"B-but...I was summoned and given a very direct command. I left Miss Lina as she was being absorbed by the Lord of Nightmares; you gave me no choice! And then, later, that sword was absolutely essential for containing Darkstar and closing the inter-dimensional gateway. I thought it had been a case of brilliant insight on your part!"

I felt a dark, disturbance in the aura of my Lord, while the room temperature dropped several degrees in temperature. "I gave no such command, Xelloss. I do not know who did, but I will find out."

She changed subjects with facile ease, "Now, this Darkstar, you say he was capable of destroying this world?"

I remained guarded in my answers, "Yes, many and all worlds. We stopped him, together. It is my hope to have the honor and pleasure of doing the job myself, at another time."

"That was unwise. You should have let him do it. He was as Lord Shabranigdo is to you."

"I didn't see it that way. He was impossible to communicate with, and he was an outsider that..."

She interrupted me to observe, "You didn't bring that new servant with you?"

I sighed, "No. Valgaav had absorbed the power of Lord Gaav, which made him slippery, and then it turned out that he had been originally the last of the Ancient Dragons and suffered from a bad transformation process which drove him mad. In the end, he was swallowed up by Darkstar, who had previously merged with the Volphied god."

Bingo! A thought illuminated my brain: Volphied had combined himself willingly into Darkstar resulting in a more powerful entity, very much like the merger of holy and dark magic to produce a more potent spell. Okay...that was history and not news at all. Now, why was that so interesting? Why was I thinking about that? My lord's next startling conclusion broke me out of my trance.

"You killed your new servant."

"Before he ever agreed to serve me, yes...in a manner of speaking..." Nothing I had done seemed right, under the scrutiny of Lord Beastmaster.

"And you were unable to manipulate the human girl, Lina Inverse, into casting the Giga Slave?"

"Nnnnot this time. The amplifiers failed at a key moment, so she used a melding spell of Holy and Black magic to destroy Darkstar." The lie rolled off my tongue before I thought the better of it. I hoped it would slide by undetected.

"A melding spell. What do you know about those?"

Now here was a topic I had some confidence in telling her about, and so I did. I told her how Lina used one in the kingdom of Alto to attempt to create a powerful weapon and in a temple to break a dragon containment barrier and of her last successful use of one to destroy Darkstar. Darkstar...a melded creature himself...

"Can you execute one?" she asked.

Execute a melded creature? No, not that...a I? I couldn't remember ever doing so. "No, only humans can," I said, certain, "and then, only very powerful ones who can contain all that magic, like Miss Inverse."

"But you did. You were the one who used the Golden Dragon's holy magic spell and one of your own in the area of a dragon temple."

That was right, but in my mind I had altered the facts so that Lina had cast it. But it had been me; my Lord Beastmaster told me so. Why was my memory of the event so flawed? How was I capable of absorbing, containing, and then melding a Holy magic spell to one of my own? "Oh, well...that's right."

"Xelloss, my priest and general, what is going on with you?"

"I have no idea. I'm not becoming a... human, am I?" I wondered with a shock to my core.

"No, but something, or someone, has infected you. I shall scan your forms, molecule by molecule until I discover what it is," she said.

Me? Tainted? I was horrified at the thought. "Please do, my master..."

It took a very long time.

"When did you interact with the Water Dragon King? I thought he died before your time," my Lord Beastmaster asked me.

I pondered that question for quite awhile, before recalling, "I was fleeing Lord Gaav with Lina and her companions, when a manifestation of the last thoughts of the Water Dragon King transported us all to safety."

My Lord stared at me as if I were transparent. She was trying to communicate with a part of me, but I was not hearing her. Then she smiled, "It has not gone to your head entirely."

"Pardon?"

"The Water Dragon King did you a great favor when he saved your life, and then marked you, indicating that you are indebted to the dragon race. Until you are freed by one of their kind, you will continue to transform."

"Transform? Into what am I transforming?"

"A demon-dragon."

"Is that...?" I couldn't decide what to finish with. The choices were endless: good, possible, going to be a problem, likely to work, going to make me, what...?

"Yes," she nodded, probably agreeing to all the possibilities and more, "I recommend you make amends to the Gods, Xelloss," Lord Zelas said.

"But how...?"

"You are a clever demon with resources. Think of something," Lord Zelas said, and then added, "but...I shall help you."

"My master," I knelt humbly. I wondered if she would crush me under her foot and kill me before I disappointed her any further.

"I salvaged Phibrizzo's remaining astral material. Gaav's was lost to that other dimension, sadly. Consider it a gift."

"I am honored," I whispered, unable to understand the 'why'. Mine was not to question why, mine was but to do or die— the old saying suited me perfectly.

"Yes, you are. The Hellmaster job is open for you, on your successful return," she smiled and looked away a moment, and then she released the most gratifying warmth of power over my being that I had ever recalled feeling.

"Come back," her voice echoed throughout my brain cavity. I had been dismissed with a command which sounded like an emotional entreaty.

"As you wish, my Lord of Chaos." I transported to my private chamber to ponder my 'possibilities', and came up with only one name, one person who might help me. "Lina..."

One thing hadn't changed and that was my particular compulsion to be with Lina Inverse. My Lord Beastmaster had not banned me from studying Miss Lina so I decided to seek her out and pick her brains a little. But then I realized that many years had passed. The world would be different, she would be different. Lina, having been touched by the Lord of Nightmares, had been given the questionable gift of near-immortality. By this time she would have realized that, but what else should I know about? In order to study up on the recent history and look up a few of her past associates, I transported inside the walls of Seyruun. It would give us some common ground with which to begin a conversation, I decided.

I concentrated on learning the fates of Lina's closest companions. The swordsman had died, as mortals do. He had remained with my Lina until his death; however, I could find no record of any marriage contract or children between them. The princess was gone. She had married a nobleman from Atlas City and left behind a slew of heirs to continue running their combined kingdoms.

The dragon woman, her foster son, and the magically enhanced shaman chimera, still lived. At one time I thought my Lina would turn to the chimera for love; they had many interests and talents in common. And although it was possible that they co-habitated after the death of the swordsman for solace, if they had, it had not lasted.

When I investigated, records showed that the chimera was married to the dragon woman and running a small tea and ceramics shop on the perimeter of Seyruun. However, when I rang at the door, no one answered; the shop was closed 'until further notice.' Valgaav-reborn, the foster son, was not in the vicinity either. I was about to ask around for his whereabouts, when a gut-wrenching tug at my astral body changed the course of my activity.

Lina called me; or rather, she located me, and using a spell, the nature of which I didn't understand at the time, managed to 'command' me to her side. I was shocked that anyone other than one of my superiors could do such a thing, and materialized in a heap on the floor of a room at an inn. I got up, folded my hands across my chest, and leaned against the wall, attempting to look unconcerned at the violation of my person.

"It's been a while, Xelloss."

"Yes it has, Miss Lina." I endeavored to remain polite.

The difference now between Lina and me was that she was pleased with her new-found power and yakking aloud in comfort, while I was positively seething inside and thinking to myself. I felt I was in conversation with her; but my end of the dialogue never got spoken. So my brilliant comments, retorts, and summaries stayed put in my cortex, where only I would appreciate their clever spins and innuendos.

She needed me to assist her in her current endeavors. We were to stay here for a few days, plan, acquire the materials we would need, and then leave. She was low on funds, however, and expected me to do something about that.

"I can pay room and board for a week," I offered generously, I thought.

"Good."

"I need to speak to you about something, important."

"Oh yeah?" she grinned smugly. "Later, then, like in the morning, okay?"

"Certainly," I said. I wished to remain on agreeable terms with her in spite of her trick on me, or maybe her cleverness made her all the more intriguing.

I'm not sure why Lina put us in one room. Since I was paying, maybe she was honoring the budget. Uncertain where this was all headed and not willing to ruin all my years of conniving with a rush to the finish, I insisted that she bathe while I undressed. I climbed into bed, pulling the covers over my head and turned my back to the door through which I could hear water running. Waiting was a natural to me, but this time with my mind filling with indelible images, each overlapping the next, of Lina naked, the waiting was killing me with expectation.

The room was only lit by moonlight, which seeped around every window blind and through every diaphanous curtain. I heard the water shut off. The faucet dripped. I counted 1860 drips before the rush of expelling water signaled the end of Lina's bath. Moments later Lina came quietly into the room. To her, the room was pitch black, but to me with demon perceptions, the room was a patchwork of shadow and light.

Lina, naked underneath, had wrapped herself in a towel and was feeling her way across the room. I was officially asleep but my eyes were unable to move from her. Standing in profile against the filmy curtain and silhouetted by the seeping moonlight, she dropped the towel, raised a shirt over her head, and slipped it on. Her body was outlined by the silvery light that edged around her and she was more voluptuous that I had imagined. I forgave myself by remembering that I was a male and she was a female and it was in my nature to watch her, even though her ease with taking off her clothes in front of me could have been founded on the thought that she did not see me as a sexual creature.

As compelling as this event was, I did not infuse it with either the tangible heat of desire or the cool distance of appreciation. For whichever approach I chose, I knew it was bound to be unrequited, and so my dominant feeling for the rest of the night was one of isolation.

Flashbacks of Lina's moonlit body presented themselves as floating pictures. Over the next few hours, I experienced emotions for which there were no names. I was unable to identify them as they passed through me.

The next morning, I was up and laying out a divine breakfast for us before she emerged from her covers.

"That smells...great!" she said with an approving sniff and crawled out of bed.

I allowed her to finish, and then I stared her down.

"Okay," she shrugged. "Sorry about the spell. I needed to get a hold of you and I'd been trying for years, then Filia drudged up this age-old, dragon-muster incantation, which I gussied up with a little black magic touch of my own. Funny that it would work on you, but I'm glad it did. Didn't hurt or anything, I hope... Didn't pull you away from anything important, did I, heh...heh...?"

I think she was seeing that her rash actions might have inconvenienced me to some point, and I appreciated her concern. "No permanent harm, but thank you for asking. On the other hand, the 'funny' part is what I have to speak to you about."

"I said I was sorry! I wasn't playing a joke or anything!"

I loved the fear flowing off of her, be it ever so slight. It was nice to know that I could raise some emotions in her heart. "You misunderstand. Let me tell you a story..."

I made it brief and without adornments.

"You are turning into a DRAGON!" she screamed.

"A Demon-Dragon. I'm not losing the demon part, just gaining, if you consider it to be a net gain, some dragon component."

"And you think Auntie Aqua did that to you?"

"Apparently I owe her for saving my life. There is an ancient contract between our races, it seems. Now I am obligated her and her kind." I picked up the last roll and buttered it, dipped it in my tea, and ate it in one gulp. I decided I could have eaten five more, if Lina had left me that many.

"How do you repay a dead God?"

"I was hoping you might have a clue," I sighed and buried my face in my hands. "I have orders to 'cleanse' myself."

Lina understood. "In that case, we still need to go talk to Filia, but for multiple reasons. Val's missing. He's been missing. He was leading a normal kind of kid's life, and then the next day, he went for a walk and never returned. She's been frantic. Er...was. That was about a year ago, now she and Zelgadiss have just about given up. They're married, you know... Anyway, that's why I'd been after you, for help."

"I see...and, yes, I knew...I had located their marriage certificate in the Seyruun public records department. But from what you were saying yesterday, about your plans? It sounded like you were planning a long journey."

"Ah, well, Zelgadiss and Filia just moved. They are in transit to Dragon's Peak to confer with Milgasia. I don't know how long we'll be traveling after that, but I won't starve."

"Seeking his help? I see. Well, it seems that our needs have aligned themselves again," I smiled. "Let's look at your list of provisions, and then visit our friends, then, okay?"

"Right."

After a stop for supplies, I transported us directly to his hilltop perch. In a matter of moments we were surrounded by the chimera, the dragon lady, and the clan chief, Milgasia.

Milgasia looked me over curiously, but said nothing while the dragon lady and Lina chattered together. Considering how many dragons were in the vicinity, I was not filled with my usual disgust. The chimera met my eyes once or twice while standing with a hand on his sword hilt, mistrustful as always, until Lina let the cat out of the proverbial bag.

"So we're here to launch a full scale search for Val, but first Xelloss has to placate one of your gods, or he'll turn into a dragon. Any suggestions?"

Even the stone-faced shaman became animated and exclaimed, "What?"

I would have preferred keeping the cat bagged, gagged, and drowning at the bottom of a lake somewhere to having the two Golden Dragons mock me. My pride stinging in expectation, I turned away. What they actually did humbled me.

"Oh, Xelloss..." the dragon lady sighed as she attempted to comfort me with a hand to the shoulder. "Does it hurt?"

"No, but thank you for asking, Miss."

"Filia, please call me Filia after all these years."

"Filia," I drew a deep breath to show that I could, I guess, and said, "The last apparition of the Water Dragon King saved me and the others from certain death at the hands of Lord Gaav. I now owe him a debt of gratitude, but have no clue as to what I should do."

"You must perform a selfless deed in return," Milgasia intoned, "even though it might result in your death. The race agreement would then be complete."

The chimera, who had been whispering to Lina, now looked to her for agreement, and then said, "Helping us look for our son... my adopted son, Val, might be apt. Milgasia has traced his disappearance to an anomaly in the astral plane, one that matches Dynast's signature."

"What!" I shouted. "You expect me to go up against one of my superiors and demand the return of a dragon? You...you...must be losing you mind..." Or I was...

"Zelgadiss! You can say my name. I have a name," he spat. Zelgadiss looked askance at Lina. "I told you 'selfless' wasn't in his damned, demon nature. Unless it's a direct order from his boss, he won't risk his neck for anyone!"

I could feel waves of disappointment from everyone, but from Lina it pained me. "I would do it just to prove how little you actually know about the demon race, Zelgadiss, but I already promised Miss Lina that I would help her, and if this is the way, then...fine." I moved to Milgasia's side, "Show me your evidence."

What the Golden Dragon clan leader showed me was bizarre but accurate. Dynast had entered Seyruun disguised, and when Val left for home from classes, Dynast kidnapped him and left an astral 'scar' which Milgasia discovered. As I questioned Milgasia, I knew that he had no idea what Dynast's motives were or why he would want the dragon boy, and that what he had told me was the truth. I had my suspicions. Any high order demon would do well with an Ancient dragon servant, if a better transformation product could be created than Valgaav. However, how would Dynast even know about the Valgaav incident and, especially, about Val? Zelas and I were the only ones who knew of Valgaav's existence, and, as to his later whereabouts, I was pretty sure I was the only one that knew he'd hatched out as the reincarnated 'Val'. Of course, Zelas could have ready access to the information through me, unwittingly, but not Dynast. How did he know?

My sustained, brooding silence was making Milgasia anxious. I could feel the clan leader's sinking confidence as well as his fear combining into a strong tea-like consumable. I was drinking freely while measuring the consequences of our next most likely actions, when he interrupted the flow with an unexpected show of intimacy.

"I can detect your physical differences, Beast Master. Should we enter into battle, I wonder, can this body be harmed...permanently?" His curiosity was unmasked and something akin to reverence was apparent in the tone of his voice. "My apologies, if what I ask is too personal, but I have never known this to happen to a demon before. The Gods rarely even touch the lives of their worshipers."

"I was only vulnerable to the Sword of Light and a handful of spells from my superiors in the past, but now? I haven't tested it. Care to try?"

My eyes must have gleamed malevolently, because the dragon leader shrank back. I had neglected to make mention of my Hellmaster-enhanced astral signature, but he may have sensed it. It wouldn't come into play, anyway.

"Let me!" Filia suggested. "Lina can heal you if I do any damage."

"Filia, he's still a dangerous..." Zelgadiss said, moving to protect her.

"...devious demon! Yes, Zelgadiss, I am!" I finished for him. "But this is not an assault, just a test, correct Miss...Filia?"

"Of course," she sniffed. "I'll be fine. Remember, unless he wants to become half-dragon permanently, Xelloss won't harm me or Milgasia."

I hadn't thought of that. Shucks. "Anytime, then..."

Filia let loose a volley of Laser Breath attacks which bounced harmlessly off my shielding. This was getting me nowhere. I smiled toward Lina, as if to say 'save me,' closed my eyes, and then dropped my enchanted demon barrier to the spells.

"Gah!" I felt the corrosive dragon spell sizzle into my flesh. A dragon's flesh was not invulnerable to their own spells.

"Enough, already!" I heard Lina shout as I struggled with unconsciousness. "Ugh, whatta mess. This might hurt...more..."

"Let me," Milgasia said in a low voice. His holy and white magic healing powers were superior to Lina's and drew the pain off first. "You have impressed me with your bravery. Now, let's see if you are a man of honor."

"Marvelous..." I gasped. Inflicting pain on my demon form had brought me pleasure and sustenance, but on this form, only blinding agony. "Miss Lina?"

"What is it Xelloss?"

"About those provisions... I'm going to need something to eat, as in food, quickly."

Milgasia, Filia, Zelgadiss, and Lina chuckled together, "Welcome to the problematic world of the other races!"

We camped that night to rest and catch up on 'old times". I now had to eat to satisfy my physical form, while my demon portion absorbed bad feelings with relish. This disturbed me. I was a mockery of all life forms. I must have sounded petulant when Zelgadiss approached me, and I told him, "It seems our roles have been reversed and I am the miserable one."

"You'll get used to it." Zelgadiss said with a warm smile. "After a few hundred years, I acquired a taste for a wide range of pleasures to suit all the parts of my composition."

That surprised me—his openness. Now that I had shown a vulnerable side, were all these 'friends' feeling kinship with me? Did this mean that perhaps Lina might as well? "New possibilities..." I said.

"Yes," Filia purred as she draped an arm around the chimera's neck and nuzzled the stony covering. "Like a sex life. Lucky for him we discovered that a dragon has skin tough enough to tolerate any surface."

Zelgadiss hadn't been expecting her to say that, and he blushed past his blue-toned skin, "F-Filia..."

Lina let out a whoop and a laugh while I demonstrated more self-control than normal, in recognition of our shared manhood, and simply smiled behind a hand.

"Unfortunately, as well matched as we are," Filia continued, "it seems humans and dragons cannot produce children."

"Which doesn't matter," Zelgadiss put in quickly before anyone could offer them condolences. "We have Val and he's been our son in every way that's important."

"But that's why we've been searching so hard. We need everyone's help," the dragon lady said sorrowfully.

I watched Lina's face grow troubled. I wondered if she drew the same relevance to the dragon lady's words as I had: Lina was human and I was part dragon and so we could never produce children either-- and that was discounting the demon blood. Offspring of mixed races were improbable, but possible. Still, she and the swordsman had stayed together, despite never having any either, so maybe it was of no concern to her.

"Xelloss?" Filia asked. "What's your problem?"

I shook my head and was about to say 'it's a secret', when out-of-the-blue I asked instead, "Whatever brought you and Zelgadiss together in the first place?" setting her off-kilter.

Filia gaped at me, "What?"

That felt better, I smiled in silence.

Lina filled her in on my eventful past, "He's been under the knife having his structure examined for dragon cooties for the past few centuries. He missed a few events. So tell him."

"Come on now, Lina, that wasn't all..." I wanted to correct the undignified image she'd made of me being a lay-about.

"Oh, it was so sweet," Filia began rhapsodizing on her romance with Zelgadiss. "It began over a cup of tea..."

I believe he wanted to become one with the rock he was leaning against as she told the tale of his lengthy courtship. "At least you were successful," I whispered so that only he could hear me.

Zelgadiss rolled his eyes and the corners of his mouth turned up slightly, but dropped the smirk when he saw that I was serious.

Milgasia changed the subject over to Lina by asking, "Forgive me if I seem impolite, but Miss Lina, when I last saw you, you were...with another gentleman, and it wasn't appropriate to ask at that time if you were married."

The swordsman. Yes, I was curious to know what had happened between my Lina and that man in my absence, and now that he was long gone I wouldn't be tempted to ring his neck. I didn't want to appear obviously inquisitive, so I pretended to be fascinated in the contents of my shoulder bag.

"Gourry," Zelgadiss said in a low voice, "died a long time ago. Amelia five years later."

"It's okay, Zel, I can talk about him. Like you said, it was a long time ago and time heals all. Well, Gourry and I traveled around for years until he just wore out. I kept curing him and fixing him and using all the healing spells I could, but after awhile he couldn't travel like that anymore. We settled in Zephillia where I still had relatives..." Lina's voice dropped as a wistful expression softened her face. "And there he died."

"But you never married," Filia stated the fact simply. "I never understood why not."

"I didn't see any reason to. I couldn't bear children, or so Amelia's best healers told me. Something about the magic I'd used. So, we didn't," Lina answered.

The subject changed to other personal reflections, which I couldn't follow because my brain was clouding over. Instead, I drifted off to sleep. I mention this only because this was a highly unusual event; demons do not sleep, ordinarily.

I awoke to the delicious aroma of frying bacon over an open fire. I was glad that dragons liked meat; it was making me salivate and it smelled wonderful.

"Xelloss, you okay?" Lina asked.

"Yes, I feel...refreshed and hungry," I told her. It wasn't so bad being honest.

I knew they wanted to wait and see if I was fully recovered. I would need to be entirely sound to carry off Val's rescue without a hitch. In any case, success or failure, we determined that the next leg of our journey would be brief. To avoid being wiped out instantaneously by Demon Lord Dynast, I developed a simple plan: cast a melding spell using the combination of shaman, black magic, and Holy magic spells. Lina would cast the first spell, using her own magic plus that of Zelgadiss and Filia. Milgasia and I would be free to search for Val. Milgasia was necessary to supply healing spells as required. If needed for a follow-up attack to Lord Dynast, then, I would summon all my power, supplemented and merged with Milgasia's. It would be a real punch out blow.

What I was less sure of was what my master would make of all this. How could she overlook my role in wiping out yet another demon lord? I didn't know why I even bothered worrying, though. If she was annoyed by me, I would know soon enough. My victory, when it happened, would be short indeed. I would have to pull off one last true miracle to ensure my future existence.

"Is something bothering you, or are you just withholding information from me?" Lina asked as we stood on dragon territory for the last time.

"Both and neither," I smiled. "There are things I cannot explain to even myself, like what will become of me once my superior hears of my...duplicity. But, don't worry about the mission, Miss Lina. If Val is there and alive still, we will succeed in releasing him."

"So...you are saying you'd rather risk death as a demon than remain alive as a dragon?" she asked.

"Not at all. I don't wish to die for any reason. It's not that that has me concerned, it's the living part. Living is far more difficult and dangerous, whereas dying... that is easy."

She sniffed, unsatisfied by my nebulous answers, but how could I tell her that I only wished to live if she wanted me to?

"Ready?" she asked.

"As you will," I said automatically. In an instant the five of us were in the Temple of Demon Lord Dynast. Actually, three: Milgasia and I were hunting for Val in a nearby corridor.

"Where's my son?" Filia immediately shouted to the empty chamber.

Lord Dynast appeared. He was alone since his general and priest had succumbed to death over the years. He was in the form of a man the size of Zelgadiss, with black hair and wearing a blue suit. "You were the caretaker for the young Ancient? No longer. I shall develop him along...different lines. You had all best leave now."

"Not without our son!" Zelgadiss shouted.

"My next action will be to kill you. I give you no further warning," the Demon Lord Dynast stated as he drew in power to launch an attack.

"Yeah, right," Lina bit off. "NOW!"

I could feel the clash of colossal forces rocking the real and spiritual planes. Milgasia locked onto Val's location first and transported the two of us to a cell. I removed the locking spells to his containment with ease; they were not intended to keep me out, apparently.

Milgasia pushed into the cell ahead of me. "Young Val, this is a rescue. I'm going to check you for any serious injuries," Milgasia informed the youth as he swept over him with a glowing health charm. "My name is Milgasia. We met before when you were much younger."

"I know you," Val said to Milgasia and conceded to the check up. "I'm okay." Considering that he had been incarcerated for over a year, Val didn't seem too upset, actually. However, he hadn't noticed me hanging back in the shadows, yet.

"Nobody did nothing to me much. The demon guy wanted to turn me into another demon, but I wasn't old enough, I guess. So, he just kept me here and gave me books and took me on walks and stuff. Boring really," Val explained.

Milgasia seemed to concur with the boy's opinion as to his satisfactory health. "You are thin, but unharmed. Are you able to fight?"

"Always," the dragon-boy growled deep in his chest, then flashed a canine-rich grin at me. "I wanna kill me a demon."

"Not me, you stupid lizard!" I snarled in return. "I'm here to rescue you."

My anger was replaced by aching need. "Lina requires me immediately," I gasped as another concussive force impacted our worlds.

Milgasia yanked the slightly confused dragon to his feet. "Then we shall help her."

Straight away, we vanished and reappeared in the decimated temple. I had only time to notice that everyone was still standing, including our target, before Lord Dynast leveled his eyes to mine, "You! What is a son of Zelas doing here with these creatures?"

I needed to keep him occupied a few moments longer while the others prepared their most powerful incantations. "Coming to get what is mine, Lord Dynast. I claimed Valgaav for my own, and now I have come to take his reincarnation away."

"Nooo..."

As I felt Lord Dynast draw power again, I nodded to the others. The spells let loose in blinding flashes of energy. Both Lina and I fired our melded castings at the demon lord simultaneously.

The results were terrible to behold. Betrayal! I felt the Lord Dynast's last thoughts pass through me as I strove to absorb his astral essence into mine. Traitor! My entire body trembled with the effort. This was the miracle I had to pull off. Could I contain it? It would make quite a spectacle if I couldn't. Rebel throwback scum of dragon spawn! Was Lord Phibrizzo's material enough to prepare my astral body for this undertaking? I didn't know; I could only try.

Filia and Val were locked in one another's arms. How sweet. Was my indebtedness over? I would be ever so grateful if the Water Dragon King would 'give me a sign.' I wanted to look around for Milgasia, however I seemed to be fixed in place.

"We must get away while we have the chance," Milgasia told the others.

"But what about Xelloss? We can't just leave him floating here. We have to take him with us!" Lina shouted.

"He is holding back all of that demon's power. Should he exhaust his strength before it has run its course, we shall all die!" Milgasia shouted.

"How do you know that?" Lina rounded on him.

"We don't know anything for sure," Zelgadiss wisely pointed out, "except this entire realm is disintegrating around us. If we don't go, we will be left floating in temporal nowhere!"

"Fine, let's go," Lina agreed. "But I'm taking him with me. I'm betting that that ole Auntie Aqua has one more trick up her sleeve."

Time had run out for further argumentation. Milgasia and Filia cast a transportation spell over the entire cluster of living beings, and we returned to Dragon's Peak.

There was a fluctuation in the air currents, and then Lord Beastmaster Zelas materialized. I was floating, immobilized. A few hours after a person or animal dies, the joints of the body stiffen and become locked in place. This stiffening is called rigor mortis. Was this what was happening to my body, I wondered? My eyes were trapped wide open, unblinking but seeing; my mouth was agape, but unable to speak. I could hear her voice clearly.

"I felt the death of Dynast. I taste him on you. What have you done?"

In my mind I answered, "What I had to, to save Val and the others. Lord Dynast is dead."

"You are uncomfortable?" she asked, not unmoved by my plight.

"Um, no. I can't move, however."

"You have tried to absorb more power than your astral body can handle quickly. It will wear off soon and then you will be fine."

"Thank you. I am relieved."

"You still have the dragon portion attached. You should be able to dispel that without difficulty."

"Oh? Well, good."

"You did me a service, I'd like you to know," Lord Beastmaster Zelas continued. "He had to go. With the Ancient as his servant, he would have grown too strong and he would have toppled my empire, had his plan any chance of success. It was a stupid plan of his. He must have overheard me gloating over your past attempts to recruit a part Ancient Dragon, and all the chaos you created out of that, and decided that he could go a step further and surpass us both. Crazy fool. If Gaav hadn't been successful in transforming the Ancient into a stable servant, and he was a far greater demon than Dynast I can tell you, then Dynast had no hope whatsoever of doing so. What a disastrous mess he would have made of the creature! Oh, and I know how much you have wanted to take a crack at transforming the Ancient yourself. But if Dynast had somehow succeeded, well..." her voice trailed on as her eyes darkened dangerously a moment.

"Of course, I couldn't order you to eliminate Dynast, but I didn't stop you from doing so. I could have. I could kill you now, too, in this vulnerable state..."

How could I forget? I blinked, in a virtual way. Et tu, Lord Zelas? You too have lost your mind in the demon race's fight for power? Alas, well, here it comes, my end...

"But I would be lonely without another demon of rank and healthy mind to socialize with. Let me know sometime in the next millennia if you plan to take the Hell Master position. Otherwise, when you awake, I am no longer your master; you are your own Lordship. Take care how you handle your new powers." She blew me a saucy kiss and vanished.

Thankfully I passed out for a short, digestive period.

Some minutes later, I came to, much to the joy of my friends. I learned from their line of questioning, that I was the only one to enjoy the company of Lord Beastmaster. Since the others had no idea of what had transpired, I didn't tell them. Well, I couldn't; I was too weak.

"Food," I gasped. "I must...have food."

"As thrilled as I am to return Val to his nest, your idea of doing a good deed for the dragon race did not pan out for my problem, it seems," I snapped off at his high-and-mighty Milgasia.

"Are you sure you want to stop the transformation?" Milgasia asked. "It was her gift, a gift from the Gods."

"Gift? Gift, you say?! Becoming a freakish half-breed is a gift?" I gasped out. I was about to kill off my physical form and start over, rebuilding with a clean sweep. It had long been overdue for an overhaul.

"Sometimes it is, when you look at the advantages," Zelgadiss said wryly.

"Advantages?" Okay, so it worked for a human-chimera, but would it work out for me?

"Dragons have free choice to obey what their rules set out for them, or not. That is a gift to one such as you who has only tasted such freedom. If you wish to lead an independent life, you may."

That was true. And here was my chance to employ that freedom-- especially now that I no longer had a 'master' to answer to. However...

"Valgaav was unstable. With time, I might become a cripple," my voice cracked.

"The Gods don't work that way. Your astral form is unmarred. Your demon qualities, such as they are, have not been touched."

I wondered again if the dragon clan leader sensed my growing demon astral form, and that he was making a jest about that. "It's nice to see that you've managed to keep your offbeat sense of humor though all this, Milgasia," I smiled. Have you any idea just how powerful I have become?

"So have you," he remarked with a raised eyebrow.

Ah yes, funny me. All this power and nothing to blow it on. My eyes traveled over to where Lina sat. My greatest question, as yet unanswered, was whether or not Lina would accept me in this new way. As a demon-dragon, would I be 'human' enough for her? Could she fall in love with...me?

I chanced a quick glance to my other side. Zelgadiss looked me directly in the eye, reading my thoughts. He had watched me pine away for Lina, and he had known Lina well and long. He knew what lay at the bottom of her heart where I couldn't reach. "There is a chance, this way," he said.

"Thank you," I murmured, directing my eyes to the ground. That intimacy cost us both a great deal. Now, did I owe him as well?

"Just between friends," he added with a wink. That's right; friends did each other favors free of charge.

"Have you made a decision?" Milgasia asked.

"Yes. I shall execute my option to keep my present condition," I said.

Milgasia smiled a genuine smile, "I'm glad. Welcome to the realm of the Gods, Xelloss the Beast Master."

"Ah, about that title...just call me Xelloss," I smiled. I decided to tell them all about the new 'Demon-Dragon Lord' designation I had come up with, at a later date.

We traveled on foot to Seyruun, where we left Filia, Zelgadiss, and Val to recover their lives together. The silence grew long and awkward between Lina and me, leaving too many important matters unsaid.

"There's a cottage for rent outside of Seyruun. Would you like to share it with me?" I couldn't think of anything else to say, though I wanted to keep talking so I would never have to hear her answer.

"How much is it?" she asked, remarkably.

"I would pay all out monthly bills, food, and all that. You could continue your magic studies."

"Why would you do that?"

Because I am insane. Because I am lonely. Because I love you. "It would work for both of us," I said, actually. "I am a master of black magic and have a thousand years of memories, but no one to teach."

"Can I let you know?"

"Certainly."

"We would be sharing, right?" she asked.

She meant, sharing and that's all. I nodded yes, hoping no, and we got back to reality and proceeded to walk on so I could show her the little house.

Lina's move into the cottage was quickly done. "There," she announced as she tossed her few belongings onto the floor. The place filled out incrementally, a few framed photographs appeared, a rug, a few pieces of furniture. By the end of the month it looked as though a family lived there. Except.

Except that the space between me and Lina remained uncrossable. Sometimes I felt an intense love coming from her toward me, but I couldn't tell if it was because of the comforts I brought her. So, I did the only thing I knew how to do: I gave it time, and it was easy to give it time. It was my nature, being an immortal being.

But Lina wanted change. She told me so. Therefore, we traveled together, saw the sights, uncovered some mysteries, bought some souvenirs, and then we brought them home and placed them above the fireplace.

Now I wanted the change. I thought of the status of my love life, and I knew it was time. I decided to summon the full power of my charisma and unleash it on my object of obsession. But nothing came. There was no longer any irrational need to overcome; no artful deception to perform. There was no need to possess her attention every waking moment. It seemed there was no need because Lina was in full charge of herself and didn't need anything extra to determine what she thought about me.

I said, "So, is this arrangement okay with you?"

But instead of answering, she smiled, then laughed and put her hand on mine, and said, "Oh, you don't have to make conversation. I already like you."

I melted. This was so easy. I could feel whatever I wanted for her, and she accepted it, and wanted me. My unnatural obsession with Miss Lina was unnecessary now. Yes, Lina Inverse proved, instead, to be the love of my life. At that instant of realization, I pressed her against me. Her head fell back and I kissed her. Her arms dropped to her side, then after a moment of helplessness, she raised her hands and held my arms. She drew in a breath while my lips were on hers, and I think she whispered the word 'love,' but it was obscured by my mouth on hers.

Months went by and she got to the heart of me.

One night Lina and I were in bed and she asked, "You haven't been summoned to work lately, right?"

"That's true. I am my own master now."

"I meant, what about Zelas?"

I told Lina of how I had absorbed the power of other demon lords, making me one now, should I choose. "Lord Zelas will not be calling on me any more. Also, I think I have finally melded the dragon and demon sides of me to become even more powerful; the dragon portion is bursting with self-determination and the demon answers to that, and yet…"

"What?" she asked.

"I have no urge to do anything with it."

Lina smiled wryly, "You already have."

"Oh?"

She leaned over to me and whispered that she was pregnant, and I pulled her into me and we entwined ourselves and made slow and silent love without breaking our gaze to one another. "Thank you..." I whispered.

"Thank the Gods, Xelloss. I think that Auntie Aqua had a thing for you back then," she chuckled. "She gave you all kinds of special features and powers."

"Oh? Well, that's interesting. You know, I didn't think this was possible, though."

"What part of 'this' do you mean?" she asked. She was lazily drawing her fingers through my hair and alternatively kissing my face.

"The two of us creating a baby. But then, when you think about it, it's really just another of your melding spells, only this time you are blending demon, dragon, and human cells and making a baby, just like making an enchanted charm."

"With you, all life is magical," Lina smiled and I knew it was true for me as well. "Maybe we can teach Zelgadiss and Filia the melding spell, if we figure out its secret."

Maybe, if the Water Dragon King would allow us.

Silently thanking those who brought me here and those who had affected me, both above and below consciousness. I thought of the names, of their astounding numbers, both in the present and past, and I understood that as much as I had resisted their influences, as much as I had constricted my life, as much as I had driven my goals so as to leave closed and narrow channels leading into me, there were still many takers for the twisted demon-dragon heart, and my Lina was the most important one of all.

End part 5.

End Obsession