The worst thing about Xellos, Lina decided, was that he didn't hate anyone. Oh, sure, he was full of malice all right-- that was just natural, for a monster. But a general sort of malice wasn't the same thing as directed hate. In fact, Lina sometimes got the feeling that Xellos quite liked the people he tormented, in a warped sort of way. That was the part that made it all creepy-- because he'd kill you if he needed to, and he'd smile while you screamed, and not because he didn't like you, but because he did.

"Ah! What a coincedence, Lina! Fancy meeting you on the road like this."

Lina wilted. Jeez! I've heard the expression 'Speak of the devil and he's sure to appear', but all I did was think about him! Out loud she mumbled, "You again, huh?"

Xellos appeared at her elbow, walking too close-- always too close-- for comfort. "My, my, you make it sound like I'm not welcome! Haven't we had some grand adventures together?"

"Grand, sure." Lina suddenly felt tired. It's too damn late in the evening to deal with mind games, she thought dejectedly. "What do you want, Xellos?"

Xellos glanced around theatrically. "Why, you're alone? Don't tell me you've left your friends behind."

Lina waved a hand uncaringly. "Zel and Amelia are back at the inn, and Gourry's at the bath. Not like you didn't know that."

Xellos chuckled, good-naturedly. "And where are you headed on this fine evening?"

Lina didn't answer. The path up to the womens' side of the mountain springs was clearly marked, and she was wearing a loose cotton bathrobe; there was no way Xellos didn't know where she was headed.

They walked in silence for a few minutes. It was a cool night; a breeze tossed the long grass along the sides of the carefully-framed path and sent scurries of flower petals raining down from the ornamental trees. Overhead, the moon was low and full, golden and ripe-looking.

Xellos sighed dramatically. "I can't help but feel like I've offended you somehow, Lina."

Lina gritted her teeth and shot the priest a dark look. "Xellos. We aren't friends."

"Aren't we?" He put a hand to his chest, miming injury. "That's so cold, Lina. After all we've--"

She rounded on him, fierce. "Don't start with that crap! You've tried to kill us so many times--"

"Have I?" Something in his tone warned her, though she couldn't say what it was. The singsong quality was still there, but the playful lilt was draining away like water on hot cobblestones. (Deep down, it sort of worried Lina that she was starting to be able to read Xellos by just his voice. Too much association, surely.)

Xellos cocked his head to one side, and he was still smiling, but it was flatter now-- and somehow less fake. It looked less like a pantomime of a real expression and more like a real expression gone wrong. It looked even worse when he opened his eyes, because the smile didn't match them at all.

"You know me better than that," he murmured, low and soft. "If I'd ever really wanted to kill you, you'd be dead now."

"Just like that?" Lina whispered, dropping her voice unconciously to meet his.

"Just like that," he agreed, gently.

And that was the problem with Xellos, really-- he didn't hate anyone. He just sometimes liked people enough not to kill them yet.