Author's Note: For a contest over on DeviantART.
There was a problem, Xellos had to admit as he sat alone in the café of the inn while the others slept, within the monster race. It wasn't a huge problem or a new problem, but it was a growing and largely ignored problem. And it all had to do with the fact that the human form was… powerful.
Not that humans themselves were powerful. They were largely weak and easily lead. Even the strongest and wisest of their numbers had easily found failings. Humans really hadn't come much further from the days of yelling and jabbing pointy sticks in the air.
It was that human form. It had an… insistence.
Now, it was not common practice to manifest an actual human body. It could be done, but it was more effort than it was worth. Besides, the horrifying thing about a demon's mind in a human body is learning that the body holds all the cards (it has the hands for it, you see). Humans wouldn't notice it because humans barely noticed anything, but the mind is actually responsible for surprisingly little of the action of the body.
What happens is the body decides to do something… perform an action or feel an emotion, and the mind struggles to present excuses – but not necessarily reasons – for why this was done. At times, even thoughts run on automatic. And the monsters had very little use for bodies they weren't 100% in control of.
But it often proved necessary to appear in a human form when dealing with humans. In Xellos's line of work, for example, it was a very frequent thing.
So the cheaper, less messy way of handling this was to take a human shape. It looked human, it sounded human, but it was a shell. It was all about appearance without bothering with the pointless machinations of metabolic processes or a circulatory system when they weren't needed. And if you were powerful – and Xellos was powerful – the appearance could be quite convincing.
Yet still, even though the form was in no way, beyond mere appearance, actually human, a certain… human-ness could insinuate itself on you if you weren't careful. It was like a kind of insanity; a disease which ironically infected the highest ranking monsters moreso than the lower who had less control over their forms.
It was understandable when you came to think of it, though. Monsters called to take on human forms usually did so in order to interact with humans to manipulate them. The entire purpose was to deceive the humans from their true forms. They had to act like humans. And the monster race was full of good actors. You wouldn't find an undercover demon loudly announcing: "I am a completely normal human with organs and everything! Now, could one of you please direct me to your local monarch, president, despot, or duly elected public official?"
No. The monsters studied, understood, and excelled.
And that's where it started. If you lived your method then there were likely to be a few quirks that… stuck a little. A good example was food.
Now, for monsters, food did not come on a plate. It came from the ragged hearts and minds of living things: from the torn souls. From the paralyzing fear, blinding anger, and crippling despair which poured out of living beings in floods when encouraged to do so. But that didn't completely work in human company. You couldn't just say: "No, I won't have waffles for breakfast. If I'm feeling peckish I'll probably just 'accidentally' elbow your drink so it spills in your lap". Eating human food wasn't necessary in any biological sense, but it was part of the act.
And that was fine. But after frequently doing this a monster might sometimes find that they liked a nice rare steak or a fine wine or a decadent chocolate cake. There was no reason for this. All of those things were nothing more than meaningless strands of protein. They played no part in the conversion of energy for beings like the monsters. Yet still, taste ruled over reason.
And then there was the whole headache-inducing issue of substance abuse, Xellos mulled over, a slightly sour look eking onto his face. It shouldn't be possible for a monster to develop a chemical dependency since they did not bother to process said chemicals. Any addiction must be purely based on delusion. Not that he'd be bringing that up any time soon.
Cravings were a problem. Cravings of all kinds.
Sleep was another issue. Technically evil never slept, but the rest of the world still felt the need to log in some time with the sandman. That's why Xellos fully intended on bothering the sleepy night-staff of the inn until Lina and the others woke up. He had time to kill.
Monsters could sleep just like they could eat and for about the same reasons. But sleep was contrary to their nature. It was a call to be attacked.
But if you did sleep as a monster you'd find it to be… strangely pleasant. There wouldn't really be any need for it, again in the biological sense, but it was… luxurious. To be able to sleep was almost a show of strength. It proved you could handle a surprise attack from any foe.
Plus it ate up downtime, Xellos thought as he boredly played with his set of silverware.
But again, it could go too far. A monster could get used to getting their eight hours in. And then, if they didn't get them, they might feel tired. There could be no reason for this other than a psychological one, but it was true.
And the food and sleep weren't even the most dangerous part. If you live like a human and talk like a human, on some level you have to think like a human. It was ridiculously easy too. The fact was that human shaped things tend to think human shaped thoughts.
It was easy too, to almost encourage this. It was a facet of curiosity. Monsters learned; it was how they got things done. Information gathering was how the monster race leveraged its power. It was easy to take a human action or feeling – especially a feeling – and decide to investigate it; to try and understand it. That path only led to madness.
As such, a bunch of demon field operatives were slowly – largely without their noticing – picking up incidental human-like habits. Oh, maybe it'd be a small thing: smoking, stamp-collecting, whoring, buying a subscription to a magazine about cats… but it would be there. It would be a seed and if unchecked it could grow out of control.
And the others knew. But no one talked about it. It was a hard thing to admit.
But Xellos knew he was the best of them. He'd managed so much more than the rather shoddy disguises and weak personas of some of his contemporaries. He hardly even had to think about his act anymore and he was completely without temptation for the foibles of the human race.
It was a masterwork when he came to think of it. His mysterious priest routine had rarely let him down. Even among Lina and her friends, who knew what he was, it still worked to a degree. Occasionally they'd unconsciously write him off as harmless without really thinking.
It had even worked with some surprising success – and this really gave him a twisted sense of pride – on a golden dragon of all things. Sure, Filia had hated him as she should someone who had killed thousands of her race. But when push came to shove she was actually surprised and disappointed that he would've agreed to kill Lina. She who should've known his nature more than any of the others.
And then after he fought against Valgaav, after her naiveté should have been completely shattered, she still managed to instinctively worry about him when he was struck down. She who should've spat in his face given the opportunity.
Yes. Poor, confused Filia. It had all worked very well on her.
He looked up from his absentminded stacking of mini-creamer canisters and furrowed his brow. Perhaps a little too well now that he thought of it.
That was the useful thing about the act. It formed attachments. Not attachments of him to others, he was careful about that, but of others to him. It kept situations malleable even if he was found out.
He'd managed this terrifically fun act that was absolutely second-nature to him after all this time. Yet, he assured himself, he'd allowed none of it to come into contact with his true purpose. He hadn't allowed the taint of humanity to blemish his demonic nature or cause him to lose focus. He was, as he had always been, free of human cravings; whether they be of the body, mind, or the spirit. He could exploit humanity to his utter content, be a part of it all, yet never let it be a part of him.
He smiled. It's good to be good at what you do.
Now, he thought to himself, looking around as a slightly peevish look crossed his normally amiable features, where has that waiter gotten to with my tea?