Disclaimer: Norihiro Yagi asked me to take Claymore for a test drive, and of course I couldn't refuse. Later, I had to explain that the large dent in Claymore canon was due to a flying pink elephant crashing into me, not the other way around.

Placement: Takes place in Manga Volume 6, after Claire encountered the Male Awakened Being but before she fought Ophelia.

Between the Lines By Nathan Yuen

Raki gulped as he and Claire approached the towering stone walls. "What is this?" He asked.

Claire's eyes never wavered from the gigantic gates as she continued onward. "This is Staff, capital of the East and home to the warriors that are called Claymores. The outer walls are fortified – strongly defended by some of the finest troops, those that can rival the warriors themselves. The walls are thick enough so that they can hold off an army of Voracious Eaters for days, until reinforcements can arrive. The buildings are carved into the mountainside where the city was founded, making it even more difficult to destroy.

"In other words, Staff is virtually indestructible."

Raki managed a quivering smile. "Wow… so this is where your Organization is? Why are we here? Do you need to report in?"

A small frown creased over Claire's features as the giant double doors creaked open. "No… we were ordered to come in."

Life inside the gates was bustling, but quiet – a contradiction in itself. People hurried about their business, single minded in their task. Raki heard very little idle chatter as he and Claire made their way through the city.

They reached their destination in short order, a large squat domed building that was a little higher than the others. Claire lifted the ornate knocker once, then let it drop. It made a resounding crack – Raki could hear it echo behind the wooden door.

Claire turned to him. "I don't know whether they will allow you in these halls – you may have to wait here."

Raki, all business, gave a curt nod. "All right. As long as it takes."

The corners of Claire's mouth turned upward slightly, and it was impossible for Raki not to smile back.

The clanking of armored feet behind him interrupted the moment; Raki turned to see two women walk up the path. He recognized them immediately, and so did Claire.

"Helen! Deneve!"

The two Claymores looked up, their eyes widening. Helen saw Raki's teeth bared and said, "Easy, boy. We're not here to cause trouble. We were ordered here. just the same as you."

The three women exchanged looks in silent communication. Three of us from that one hunt are here. Where's Miria? Could it be…?

Before any of them could speak, the door opened, revealing a man wearing black clothing, hat, and sunglasses. "Well, good. You all arrived on time. You all have a mission," Rubel proclaimed, "and it is to talk to this man."

He opened the door a little wider to reveal a stocky man about a head taller than Raki. The man was handsome save for his crooked teeth, which were accentuated by his slightly askew grin. His slick-backed black hair didn't help his appearance.

By way of introduction Rubel said, "This is Zius. He is our Public Relations writer. Over the next week or so you will go out on yoma hunt missions in the area, but during these excursions you will answer any and all questions that this man has."

Zius stepped forward. "I am so glad to meet all of you," he said, his voice as smooth as oil on water. "Any objections or comments before we begin?"

Helen raised her hand. "We have a Public Relations department? What exactly do they do?"

"The Public Relations department promotes the Organization so that our activities are more…palatable to the people. I'm the one that writes up profiles of the warriors and distributes them in book form, making the warriors more personable to the public at large."

Deneve looked around, at the three of them. "Why us?"

"Those that are assigned to an interview are usually picked by drawing lots. It was just happenstance that you three got picked."

Claire spoke up. "Wouldn't it be better to conduct interviews within the safety of the city, and not out in the field? No offense, but you may be eaten by yoma or accidentally killed during the fight."

Zius' quirky grin seemed to grow wider. "Don't worry about me. I can take care of myself quite well. As for why field interviews… I pride the frankness of my interviews above all else. And what could be more frank than interviews conducted on the field in the midst of battle?"

After a moment, he asked again, "Are there any more questions for either me or Rubel?"

The girls shook their head. Rubel nodded. "The boy may stay in the city, for free lodging. That way you won't have to stress about him as well." Zius stepped out, and then Rubel closed the door.

Deneve turned to the PR agent and bowed slightly. "Please forgive us," she said, "but we are comrades from a recent hunt, and we would like some time to ourselves to get reacquainted."

"It's no problem," the man said, and he walked some distance away.

The four of them huddled together in a group. Helen was the first to speak up. "Is it just me, or is something not right about this whole thing?"

Deneve nodded. "It's unusual that we're all on the same assignment, yet interviewed separately. But there's no need to be suspicious, so far – if the organization wanted to kill us, they would have done so already. And besides, we've all been cleaning up our reputations."

Claire spoke up. "I say we reconvene after the interviews and compare notes as to what he asks us, just to see if there's any pattern to the questions, or any unusual abilities. If he somehow shows a display of power - if anyone needs help - flare your yoma energy as a signal." She turned to the boy beside her. "Raki, keep your eyes and ears open, and keep your guard up at all times. I'll be back shortly."

A confident smile crossed his face. "I don't know exactly what's going on here, but I know that you'll be all right, Claire."

Helen snorted humorously. "All right, that's all the warm-and-fuzzy-feeling I can stand. If we're done here?"

The other two nodded, and the three of them stepped back and touched their sword tips together in farewell, and parted ways.

Each of them silently hoped that they all made it by the end of the week.


A week later, Helen flopped disappointedly on the bench where the four of them were reconvening. "Well, that was anti-climatic," she noted.

"It was…rather odd, though," Deneve added.

Claire still wore a confounded frown on her face. "I wonder… what relevance did his questions have to being a warrior of the organization?"

Raki peered into their faces in turn. "Um… so, what did he ask?"

Helen looked like she was about to object, but Claire pre-empted her with a hand. "Raki's right. We haven't talked to each other about our experiences with Zius since we were out for the entire week. I'll go first, since I was the first interviewed…"


Blood sprayed through the air as Claire cut through the last of the monsters. Four yoma littered the ground in various states of dismemberment, having fought the warrior together in a futile effort for victory. Claire swung her sword, spattering the ground with blood, and then sheathed it.

Zius stood nearby, clapping. "That was a splendid performance, Claire. I'm glad I saw such a work of art. It was like a dance."

Claire, now walking side by side with the agent, looked at him impassively. "It was battle, nothing more. Death is the only outcome, not beauty."

The sidelong grin spread across Zius' face. "But still, even in death comes beauty." He brought out a notepad with a dismissive wave. "Enough philosophy talk – down to business. For the weakest warrior, you certainly handled four yoma with ease. Why did you get the last number when you're so strong?"

Claire hesitated for a heartbeat. It was idiotic to think that everybody would simply see that she was slaying yoma by the handful and not ask about her status. She certainly wasn't going to tell anyone that she was a partially awakened warrior – that would just make her a target for suspicion.

Fortunately, she had a background story to rely on. And one that was an approximation of the truth as well.

"My number," she began, "is a byproduct of the characteristics that I have. I have only a quarter of a yoma inside of me, which makes me weaker than the other warriors. But this is offset by the fact that it is the flesh of Teresa, the top warrior of the previous generation."

Zius must have caught some sort of visual cue, for he said, "You knew her?"

Claire nodded solemnly. "I was an orphan myself when she saved me from yoma. She took me in and cared for me – until a battle took her life." She looked over to the agent and saw that he was scribbling furiously on the pad. "Any other questions?"

"So I see that you have this boy following you – what's his name?"

The corners of Claire's mouth crept upward. "Oh, Raki? We've been traveling around together for a while now. He's good company, and one could say that he has saved my life on occasion."

"Really, now. I see…"

There was a moment of silence, and Claire again looked at the publicist. "Are there any other questions you want to ask of me? Warrior methodologies, safety tips for avoiding yoma?"

Zius snapped the notebook shut, effectively ending the conversation. "No thank you, Claire, that'll do nicely. That'll do nicely indeed…"


"So wait," Raki said after a moment of silence, "He didn't ask about your favorite color, your favorite food, or anything like that? Just your relationships?"

Claire nodded.

"Weird…" Raki said thoughtfully. "Why have Claire come all this way to do a three minute interview?"

On the other hand, Helen didn't look surprised at all. "Yeah, sounds like mine too. All these little weird questions about me and Deneve."

Everyone turned to Helen. "Do you remember what he asked?"

Grimacing, Helen said, "No, I can't – he picked the worst time to conduct an interview…"


"Can't this wait till another time!" Helen yelled as she blocked the yoma's overhead swipe with her blade and punched her attacker. Hearing one charge in behind her, she back kicked and caught him in the stomach. She swiftly dispatched the monster before it could get up.

"Actually, this is the perfect time," Zius said, writing in his pad as two yoma rushed past him to join in the fray. "Conducting an interview while fighting makes things more honest. Now, tell me about Claire?"

When another yoma tried to swipe at Helen she snagged the arm at the wrist and rammed the hilt hard on the elbow, breaking it with a satisfying snap. "Claire? A good girl. Lots of spunk. I ragged on her for being number 47, but she's got plenty of fight in her. She and Miria were all it took to bring down a male awakened being; I'd trust her with my back in any – unf! – fight." She tucked, rolled, and came up under a yoma to slice him from sternum to crown.

"And Deneve? You two seem pretty close."

Helen bobbed and weaved as a yoma tried to ventilate her face with his stabbing claws. "Deneve's a good friend of mine. We've been in a couple of pitched battles together; saved my life more times than I can count. She's fun to be with, even though she plays the straight and narrow. We hang out every once in a while, when we don't have assignments. Good times, that."

Even though Helen was fighting the two-on-one, she could hear the intrigue in the man's voice. "Hang out?"

Helen sighed as she severed a yoma's head from his neck. "Yes, hang out. Get a few drinks together. Talk gossip. Have philosophical discourse. Do I really need to spell it out for you?" She decided to take her frustration out on the remaining yoma by slicing his arms off at the wrists, then knocking him backward with a kick.

To Helen's surprise, the yoma craned his head toward the agent. "Hey, Mister Zius! You might wanna put into your report that this Claymore's a total bi – "

Sssss-thunk

The yoma's statement was cut off, and yet simultaneously punctuated, by Helen's blade stabbing through his skull. Silence reigned as Helen looked to the side at the writer. "We done here?"

Pallid, the man nodded. "I think that's all I need for now, thank you for your time."


After her report Helen sat in a thinker pose, elbow propped on the table and head cradled in hand. Finally she said, "Yeah, I don't remember much besides him asking about you guys. I dunno – I thought he wanted to know more about the ways of the warrior, but all he wanted was personal stuff. And the way he asked it, well…" She shuddered. "Needed some time under the waterfall after that. But what was even weirder was that the yoma didn't go after him. I mean, come on! Five yoma don't go after a human in plain sight? And one actually talks to him? I must've been seeing things."

"No, you weren't," a quiet voice said beside her.

Everyone turned to Deneve now. "I saw that, too. Zius was also at one of my battles, but he didn't ask me any questions. He just watched. But there was more than that…"


When Deneve was first told that she was a defensive fighter she had thrown herself recklessly into battle, facing long odds time and time again only to come out and recover. Since she met Helen and found a reason to live, the shorthaired girl had cut back on such self-destructive behavior.

Still, in Zius' presence she took a risk while fighting three yoma and kept one eye on the publicity agent at all times, not quite believing what she was seeing.

There Zius was, looking down at his notepad and scribbling his notes… which he was apparently taking from a yoma, who was leaning on a tree and idly talking to him. Deneve maneuvered around so that she could listen with one ear cocked in their direction.

The yoma was complaining, gargles and grunts punctuating its litany of problems. "People think it's the easy life, you know – regeneration of limbs, super strength, super speed, and even flight sometimes. But I tell ya, it's harder than that."

"How so?"

"Well, for one it's not like we can exactly settle down in one place. Kill a human or two, and people are out for your blood, so you gotta get moving. It doesn't help that we don't know where we're from. Where do yomas come from, anyway? It's not like we have a set story like the humans' "birds and bees" tale. No one knows. All we know is how to eat and sleep. Ugh. I feel like an extra on a stageplay because of it. I just wish there was something more, you know?"

Deneve slew the last of her attackers, and lunged at the yoma that was being "interviewed." He sidestepped her quickly and shrugged at Zius. "Uh oh. I guess that's my cue. Thanks for listening, Zius! Look forward to your next book!"


Helen gaped at her longtime friend. "That's it? You didn't ask him why the yoma didn't eat him, or what book he was referring to?"

"I didn't think to ask," Deneve said plainly.

Helen's face landed in her hands. "Oog. This doesn't add up. A man who asks us two questions, neither of them about our awakening? A man that doesn't get eaten by yoma? What's going on?"

"I don't know," Claire said, "But I think we should stay for another week, see if there is any reaction from the organization about the findings. If there is any," she added as an after thought, "because it probably won't be much with just two questions. But it would probably be best to wait and watch – keep your eyes and ears opened for now."

The two other warriors and the boy nodded in agreement. It would be best to stick around and see how the situation developed.

Just how large a situation, they did not know…


Helen sighed, arms propped behind her head as she walked with Deneve. "Oy… I wish we could just choke the bastard and find out what he's up to with those questions."

The mild-mannered girl walking next to her cast a sidelong glance at her. "Patience was never your strong suit."

"It's been four days! Not one twitch from the council. I don't think we're gonna get anything out of those geezers, or out here. We need to go to the source and 'convince' him to tell us what he knows."

Deneve shook her head as she rounded a corner. "You know we can't touch him. He's human, and a member of the Organization at that. If he comes to harm and we are found at fault, the whole might of the Organization will come down upon us –"

"Wait."

"Helen, I'm not brooking any argument on this. Don't touch him. If not for your sake, then for mine."

"Deneve, you're not listening to me. Wait."

Deneve stopped, turned to look at her companion, and noticed how quiet it was. She bitterly realized that she lost track of her surroundings while she was talking. And Helen wonders why I'm quiet all the time.

Helen looked at her, straight in the eyes. "Look around you. What do you see?"

Deneve's eyes swept the area. It was a street, just like any other in Staff. Houses lined the streets, people milled on the sidewalks. The only difference was the quiet.

Deneve peered closer. The people were mostly men, whispering to each other or grinning. All were looking at them.

Correction; the men weren't grinning. They were leering.

One man in particular caught Helen's eye. His eyes were constantly flickering from them to the book in his hands, as if comparing what was on the page to what was before him.

He wasn't grinning so much when Helen stalked toward him. He paled as the warrior towered over his sitting form. "What have you here, hm? Something funny maybe? Here, let me see." Before the man could flinch away, she yanked the book out of his hands.

She read the cover, pleasantly aware that he was scurrying away from her, but frowned as realization set in. "Claymore Affairs" by Zius? What has this guy been up to?

A crease in the page told her where the man left off. Helen split the book open to read the stained pages… and gasped at what she saw.


"WHAT THE HELL IS THIS!!!" Helen's roar rattled the dishware as Raki's and Claire's heads shot up from the meal. Raki and Claire were eating in the Great Hall of the Organization, used rarely because hardly anyone in the Organization ate at all. Thankfully, that meant that the hall was empty as Helen stormed in with Deneve trailing in her wake.

Helen ranted on, livid with rage "Have you seen what that bastard wrote about us? Have you!?"

Claire's brow furrowed. "Helen, what –"

Helen slammed the open book spine-down on the table, making the plates jump. "I do not! Do that – " She jabbed a finger at a sketch of her and Deneve in a position so salacious that Claire covered Raki's eyes – "to her!" She pointed at Deneve.

Claire's mind raced. "He must have misinterpreted what you said."

Helen snorted as Deneve picked up the book. "Oh, believe me, there's no 'misinterpretation.' This son of a beast's using our names for slander. Half of Staff's male population already has a copy, and it's only been in publication for six hours!"

Deneve started reading from the book; Claire switched from covering Raki's eyes to his ears. "'"Take me!" Deneve said. Her lips found Helen's as they fooled around in the back of the Cadillac.' Just what exactly is a 'Cadillac,' anyway?" Deneve closed the book and handed it back to Helen.

Helen tried to burn a hole through the tome with her glare. "Just some word that the author made up, like most of the stories in here."

Claire looked between the two. "Is this an isolated incident, or is it throughout the whole book?"

The two standing warriors exchanged a look. "Show her," Deneve said softly, "I don't think she'll believe us otherwise."

Reluctantly, Helen slid the book over to Claire. "All right," she said, "But I don't think you'll like it… flip to the table of contents."

Claire peeled off her hands from Raki's ears and cracked open the book. Reading down through the table, it was clear that the book focused on a series of warriors paired with each other in improbable situations.

Of these, Claire was the most paired.

Her silver eyes widened as she stared down the list in befuddlement. Claire and Miria, Claire and Helen, Claire and Deneve, Claire and Ophelia, Claire and Galatea – I've never even met those warriors! – Claire AND Helen AND Deneve AND Miria, Claire and…Teresa?

Her trepidation surrendered to morbid curiosity, and she flipped the brittle pages to the general area of the article. Silently, she read the text:

"They were in the middle of a kiss when Teresa pushed Claire away. 'Wait, what about Raki?' She asked.

'Raki? What about him? Oh.' Claire realized. 'He's gay. He won't get jealous.'

Teresa's response was only to moan as Claire's hand made it's way lower, to – '

Snap

With shaking hands, Claire slowly turned over the cover of the book and vaguely noticed that she broke the cover of the book, fracturing the name of Zius into several hardcover shards. More on the forefront of her mind was the rage that she was barely keeping in check. He insults Raki and Teresa in the same step. How dare he!?

"Come on, Raki," she said, and without further ado she snagged him by the wrist and took him in tow, forcing the boy to stumble in her wake.


Claire barreled on ahead, fueled by directions from frightened male readers and a vehement need to prove herself. Raki remained silent, lest he break her concentration and she accidentally snapped his wrist.

Following the publicists' scent, they found him outside the city in a forest grove, apparently making his way out towards the world again.

Zius didn't even pretend to be puzzled; he grinned at his two visitors bluntly. "Ah, my favorite warrior, come to pay me a visit."

Claire barely kept her composure. "What gives – " She started over. "What gives you the right to say those things about me and Teresa?"

He inclined his head toward her. "My dear Claire, all I do is in the name of the Organization. These articles I publish help by giving people incentive to co-operate with the warriors that are members."

Silver eyes narrowed at him. "You debase the warriors of the Organization by rending them apart with slander! And then you uplift your own reputation through such works, and earn a pile of beras on the side as a boon."

The portly man waggled a finger. "Tut, tut. Such language from one so ignorant about the written word."

Raki stepped forward. "Um… I'm sorry for sounding so 'ignorant' as you say – Claire won't let me read what you've written – but I need to ask: did you at least do some research and see if what you said was true?"

Zius smiled broadly at the boy. "Ah… one so young and ignorant, yet always willing to learn. We need more like you in the world. But to answer your question, why should I? On my works I have creative license. All I need to do is read between the lines, see what the truth is by finding out what my interviewees downplay. You have to admit, miss Claire, that your popularity within the continent will skyrocket after this issue comes out. Just relax and enjoy the fame. After all," he said, walking away from the seething warrior, "there's really nothing you can do about it."


The shadows danced as Claire held a candle to the library aisle. After Raki went to sleep in one of the Organization's quarters, she remained awake to research what this Zius had also published.

She found the Z aisle, and began counting. Za…Ze…Zi…Zius. She gasped when the candlelight revealed row upon row of Claymore Affairs. She mentally counted the number of volumes as she made her way down the aisle. There must be one volume for every year of the inception of female warriors, she thought.

A particular volume at the end of the aisle caught her eye – an anthology of stories, featuring the seventy-seventh generation of warriors. She pulled out the book and opened it to a random page. Invariably, the situation involved Teresa, Ilena, Noel and Sophia in some sort of position called "the Wheel."

Claire gazed forlornly at Teresa's name on the page. Did you know of this too, Teresa? Did you object to it, or did you do it willingly?

The girl's introspection was interrupted when she noticed a stain on the page. She frowned as the thoughts began cumulating. Stains like these appeared on the newest issue as well… and that was only six hours in publication. Is it the material that the printing press is using?

Seeing some residue on the stain, she scraped at it with her finger and sniffed it. Her eyes widened as she realized what the stain was, and running to the nearest fireplace thrust her hands into the open flame.

Despite the searing pain rocketing up her arm, she sighed with relief. My hands will heal… but forgetting what that was will take some time.


"They're wankfics," Claire told the others as Raki ate breakfast, after she healed her hands, "stories written for males to gain pleasure, nothing more. They do not justify us in any way, shape or form – rather, those that read Claymore Affairs use us as objects of imagination to reach heights of ecstasy."

Helen gritted her teeth. "Tch. And they don't even validate the claims?"

Deneve nodded, comprehending. "Makes sense. Why verify the truth when the lie is so much more enjoyable to believe? And for the writer, it is much more time – and cost – effective to fabricate the story than to make it believable and accurate."

Raki looked up from his fruit medley. "It's just so hard to believe that people wouldn't want to see the truth…"

Helen tossed the boy a saucy grin. "I'm sure Claire will be able to explain it to you when you're a bit older, boy. What I can't believe is that it just takes this" – she dangled the entire book by a single page in the middle – "for males to be satisfied."

Deneve folded her arms on the table in disgust. "Same reason why males make effective Awakened beings – they reach pleasure easily."

Raki was wise enough to look ashamed for the entirety of the male population.

Claire continued. "If Zius has been publishing this since the founding of the female warriors, then it is no wonder that he has such a large following of men for his books."

Helen cocked her head to one side. "And the yoma?"

"Yoma are not mindless beasts – they read as well. They probably read the wankfic for entertainment and pleasure, along with the added benefit of seeing those who hunt them cast down in humiliation."

Claire's silver eyes closed in frustration. "The problem lies in Zius' popularity. His fanbase ensures large profits and respect for the Organization. Silencing him – permanently or otherwise – would result in a lethal backlash."

"So we're just gonna let him continue with this?" Helen asked.

"Unless you have anything else to try."

Raki shook his head after chewing on a bit of fruit. "It's too bad that we can't fight creative license with creative license…"

Claire's mind lingered on those last two words. Creative license… "Perhaps we can," She ventured.

She began explaining her idea to the others. When they heard it Deneve blanched but Helen cracked a smile. "A plan so wrong… yet oh so right," the rambunctious warrior observed, "Ladies, I believe what we're feeling is vindication."


Helen still had that smile on when she made her way to the publishing office a few days later. The place was dark, damp, and stank of ink, but still she managed to find a pale lanky man in the middle of it all. "Hey there, you the owner of this place?"

The man blinked owlishly. "All publication orders need to be processed through me," he said.

"Then you're just the guy I want to talk to." She held up a paper for inspection. "I'm ordered by the organization to give this to you for the publication."

The man donned some spectacles, making his eyes seem ghoulishly wide. "Normally, our orders are delivered by one of the handlers. I'll need to contact them directly for some verification – "

"Ante, you at it again?" A tanned man with dark hair sidled up to the other.

"But – this woman doesn't have proper clearance to publish – "

"And what makes you think that a beautiful young lady like this has any need for clearance? Take a break, Ante. You've been sucking ink fumes in here too long."

The pale man slunk away, only casting one suspicious look at the warrior before cracking open the door to go outside.

The tanned man tugged at his stained tunic in an attempt to straighten it. "Sorry about that, Ante just likes to think he owns the place. Name's Dinaham," he said, shaking Helen's hand in a firm grip, "Now, what did you need?"

Helen couldn't stop the grin from spreading as she said, "Oh, just an order that needed to be made. I was told that you're the one that could fill it."

"Really? Let me see." He read the paper from her hand. "Hm… a tall order, a tall order indeed. Can I see the manuscript?"

From behind her back, Helen produced a ream of paper. Dinaham flipped through it, eyes widening. "Wow. This certainly is…something else. It's done in Zius' handwriting, to be sure – I think it'd even pass Ante's forgery tests." He looked up, all seriousness. "But it wasn't written by Zius' was it?"

Helen felt all the color drain from her face. He found out!

The man laughed at her expression. "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone. I've been wanting to get Zius for years on something like this, but didn't have the creativity to pull off something like this. You Claymores are really something."

He took the top page of the manuscript, set it in a machine, and pulled a lever. The machine started churning, belching steam as it worked. "Give it an hour, maybe two, and I'll have it on the streets. Don't worry about the price; it's on me. It'll all be worth it to see the look on that bastard's face."

Reverently, Helen bowed. "Thank you for doing this."

The man winked at her. "Thank you for letting it be done; it's nice to know that there are some out there that will still work to garner respect that they deserve."


Zius was at a village about a mile away from Staff when it began.

He was swaggering along, lazily greeting every passerby with a grin and a wave. Then from across the street a feminine voice called, "Hey, you're Zius aren't you?"

The publicist turned to see a longhaired woman staring wide-eyed at him. His grin became wider, more satisfied. "Yes, that's me."

As the girl skipped over to him, Zius couldn't help but feel pride welling up within him. For certain he was a well-renowned writer in the lands, and got a few backslaps, a few beers from his male fans, but never no never did he have a woman admire his work. It truly showed how he was coming up in the world.

"Would you pleeeassse sign this for me?" She pleaded with wide doe eyes. More women were making their way towards him, books in hand. Zius' chest puffed up a little more.

"Why certainly, m'dear. Lemme just sign the inside of the cover." He plucked the tome out of her hands, still smiling… until he read the title on the cover.

"The Letters of Zius the writer?" I don't remember writing this… Insistent prodding at his side forced him back onto his task. But still, he needed to make sure. He flipped into the middle of the book and began reading.

"Oh Rubel, I want you so badly,' I said with a sigh as his hand slid lower to my sh –" This isn't my writing! This is such poorly written, inaccurate drivel; who would write this? For what audience!

More insistent prodding from the girls surrounding him was making his concentration slip. He slammed the book closed, took a few breaths, and said aloud as he looked around, "My ladies, please… one at a time, and if you could please keep your hands to yoursel-"

It was then that he noticed that all the hands of the girls remained at their sides, not touching him. He frowned at the incongruity. Then what's prodding me? Automatically, he looked down – and realized two things:

Number one: The crowd was not using their hands to prod him.

Number two: The crowd was not made of girls.


From the top of the gates of Staff, Rubel could hear Zius' screams from half a mile away.

It gave the retainer ample warning to protect against the incoming tide.

"Close the gates," Rubel said calmly. The guards complied; the doors slowly closed…

Making it just in time to shut Zius out.

The publicity agent slammed against the door impotently. "Let me in! You have no idea what's behind me!"

"And why should we?" Rubel queried, retaining that bemused smile on his face. "Staff now offers you even less of a sanctuary than what is out in the wilderness."

"What! Why?" Zius pounded both his fists against the door. "I've been a loyal servant of the Organization for ages now! And they turn their back on me!"

"You mean you turned your back on the Organization," the handler said humorously, "when you began publishing your Letters. Of all things, you should not have made up that tryst between you and the Chief on page 86."

"Page 86!?" Zius chattered a nervous laugh. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Someone's setting me up – you know that. Wait a second…" It was apparent to Rubel that the agent was grasping at straws as the mob got closer. "It's Claire! Claire and that boy of hers! They set me up!"

"Oh, really?" Rubel reached at his side, tossed a ream of paper to Zuis. It flopped upon the ground. "Surely you recognize your own handwriting. To me, it's undisputable proof that you wrote it." His smile widened, almost imperceptibly. "Be glad that the Chief decided to let you live in spite of this breach of conduct. And who knows? Perhaps you could… write your way out of this one."

Rubel smiled even more as the effeminate mob burst from the forest and grabbed the hapless Zius in manicured hands.

The plan worked perfectly.

Rubel had caught wind of what the warriors were planning while they were in the publication stage; nothing goes under Rubel's watchful eye, but silently he wholeheartedly approved of their execution. In fact, it was he who informed the bishounen crowd that "Zius'" new book catered to their tastes, and they were more than eager to respond. And with Rubel's…imaginative visual mind, he was able to come up with quite a few sketches that catered to their tastes, which he managed to slip into Letters.

Rubel smiled ferally. That'll teach you to refuse pairing Teresa and me together…

He brought out a sketchpad and some charcoal, and began to draw the scandalous scene below.


Hearing the exchange was satisfying enough for Claire and Raki; there was no need for them to see it, and so they avoided the one-sided struggle at the southern gate by exiting through the western gate.

Raki rested his hands behind his head as he walked, "Well, glad that's over, huh?"

Claire nodded. "Hopefully, the Organization will find an agent who's more respectful than the last."

"I'm sure they will." A pause. Then, "um… Claire?"

"Yes?"

In the shade, Raki's eyes averted from Claire's curious stare. "Could we…hold hands…like that one time?"

A little smile crossed Claire's features. "Sure, Raki." After all we've been through in the past couple of weeks, what's the harm?

But when Claire reached out to grab Raki by the wrist, he snagged her first, quickly twining his fingers with hers. They both blushed – Claire from the relatively intimate contact, Raki from his own unexpected forwardness.

Still, they thought as one, This…feels nicer than before…


From the eastern gate two warriors emerged, set upon their journey back to their respective regions. But there was one difference from their entrance – one of them was reading a book, and cackling as she did so.

Deneve sighed. "How long are you going to keep reading that waste of paper?"

"I'm sorry," Helen wheezed as her eyes kept scanning the page, "I just can't help it! All these stories are – Hoo haha hahaha!"

Deneve managed to keep a straight face while her friend doubled over in laughter. "Honestly, Helen…"

"I just can't believe (gasp) people are eating up this drivel! It's just too awesome! And the part about Rubel saying 'I can't live without you, Zius-' hahahahaha!" She paused, sucking in enough air to ensure that she didn't pass out. "I crack me up!"

Deneve yanked the book out of Helen's hands and scanned the page quickly. "You didn't write this," she observed, "Raki did. He'll make a good romance writer one of these days."

Helen managed a smirk. "If by good you mean corny, sure. But man… you've gotta admit, I did do some good writing."

Deneve was silent. Each of them wrote a segment of Letters, which Helen transcribed in a near perfect imitation of Zius' handwriting. Using creative license to fight creative license – poetic justice, from the warriors' perspective.

Deneve handed the book back to her friend. "Don't enjoy yourself too much – you might break into a fit of laughter during a yoma attack."

But still Helen cracked a grin as they walked along. Hm… maybe I should look into this writing business…

END

Author's note: This took me more than a week to write. A WEEK! And yet the idea wouldn't let me alone. How IO manages to write 3000 words in an hour, I'll never know. Characterization may need work, but relatively speaking I think it's okay for a first draft.

Don't worry if you don't get the reference to "the wheel- " it's an in-joke between a friend and I. If you would like to draw your own conclusions, the participants in such a position need to have mastery in yoga and very flexible backs.

An open letter to all the Shuojo-ai writers: Don't get me wrong, I like Shuojo-ai as much as the next guy – which, depending on the next guy, may be a lot to not at all. OOCness, however, is silly. Silly silly silly. So silly, it'd probably make Norihiro Yagi weep at the "tributes" that fanfiction makes to his story. And so I point and laugh at the OOCness with this fic. Keep making the OOCness if you want me to make another fic like this.

No prereaders were harmed in the writing of this fic – although Sideris did die once or twice from laughter.