Oy, hello everyone! How long has it been? I should be ashamed of myself, I know. However, I'm working about three jobs now! That's a much better excuse. Not only am I still teaching crochet, I'm also working at a fabric store (where I hope to teach beginning sewing, advertise my costuming services, and get killer discounts) and I'm an assistant manager at a hospital gift shop! Exciting, no? The downside? Less time and being forced to save all my money to build up my savings again, which means no anime convention this month (the one I go to every year). I'm aiming for one that takes place Labor Day weekend in September, and its held in the same place they used to have the other one. I prefer that location anyway. Its much easier to figure out, there's not as near as much walking involved (the new location for the June one is HUMONGOUS! X_X I almost killed myself last year in my Filia boots!), plus, there's a skating ring at the old location, the coolest place to hang out in costume. Seriously. Oh! And its four days long instead of three! Yeah, can't you tell I'm excited about everything? Now, if I could just get a new car, hmm...

Alright, enough about me. I know you've been dying to read what happens next. Enjoy!

Chapter 74: Not Exactly a Vacation Part II

There was a body. A full flesh and bone body of what appeared to be a young man with long blonde hair simply sleeping and dressed in blue and green robes lined in gold, as if for a royal occasion. Pokota just stared.

When Zelgadis got tired waiting on the prince to say something, he cleared his throat. "Well, what's in there?"

Pokota kept staring into the golden coffin. "How long ago was it, when the Aqualord Knight died?"

The truly puzzling tone caught the chimera off-guard. "Centuries ago, at least. No one knows for sure. If he were as powerful as the legends say, then he could have lived long after the fight with Deep Sea Dolphin."

Pokota did not move. There's just no way!

"Why do you ask?" Zelgadis pressed him.

"The sword isn't here," Pokota replied, never taking his eyes off of the sleeping man, "but he is."

Zelgadis arched an eyebrow at his odd comment. "Well, of course he is. That is his coffin."

"No, I mean, it's like someone just put him there a few minutes ago," the prince insisted.

"What?" The chimera nearly stepped over the magic circle out of compulsive curiosity but stopped himself. Something was not right.

It was possible that someone, not magic, had intentionally set off the old traps in the tomb. It took a great deal of power from a living person to render all spells cast in the area ineffective. Considering the Aqualord Knight's tomb was equal to sacred ground of the gods because of who and what was supposed to be buried here, it would be easier to simply trip an alarm and dump magic using trespassers where their abilities would be useless.

What Pokota was seeing could be an illusion created by the circle to hide where the real Aqualord Knight and his sword was laid to rest. There was more to those tunnels than that map they were using was letting on.

"We better go and find Lina. Leave the coffin alone."

Pokota sensed the urgency in Zelgadis' voice and looked at him. "How are we going to find her? She's clearly not anywhere close by."

"Just get out of that damn circle!" Zelgadis snapped.

The prince did not argue but took one last look into the coffin before jumping off.

In place of the young handsome man, was a dry emaciated corpse in rags that at one time were beautiful, but were now faded and fraying, with only a few gold threads that had been woven in remaining intact.

Pokota yelped in surprise and fell off the coffin.

"What is it?" Zelgadis asked.

Pokota recovered himself, and shook his head, wondering if his eyes were playing tricks on him. "U-um…" a quick glance at the coffin. "There's just a dead body in there now."

"That's what I figured. This is either a dead end, or someone's beaten us to it." Zelgadis then turned and began swiftly walking towards the exit. "Come on. Who knows what sort of trouble Lina's gotten herself into." If it really is a dead end, that doesn't explain the magic circle, he thought. Still, I don't like this.

Pokota bounded out of the magic circle to join Zelgadis, anxious to get out of there. Just as he crossed the writing on the white circle, he felt his heart palpitate for just a moment. He stopped.

There was a faint voice whispering in his ear, barely coherent, but was clearly trying to tell him something. The strange feeling in his chest urged him on, agreeing with whatever the voice was saying.

Zelgadis was already back where they fell through trying to decide which way to go. "Lina should be on the other side of the tomb, judging by which way she fell, so I guess we can go either direction until we find a way around-"

The chimera stopped talking when he turned around to address Pokota more directly to find Pokota was still in the tomb, not moving, with a blank look on his face. The prince's actions were beginning to creep Zelgadis out.

"What are you doing?!" he shouted through the tunnel.

Pokota finally snapped out of it and looked at the chimera. "I think somebody else is here."

"Of course there might be someone here!" Zelgadis huffed. "That's why we need to get out of here and find Lina before they find us!"

"No, they're not after us," said Pokota, strangely calm. "They're trying to help us."

Lina got a nasty bump on her head but somehow managed a soft landing when the strange wind around her changed direction, then plopped her onto a pile of rubble which used to be the floor.

She moaned. "What the hell just happened?" she wearily asked no one in particular. The sorceress climbed her way down and took a look around her.

There was only a single dark tunnel stretching out ahead of her and behind her. A very faint light was all that illuminated the space, but Lina could not for the life of her, figure out where it was coming from. The wind that had been so forceful before was now gone, leaving the space feeling dead.

Lina was tempted to try another Levitation spell, but the discovery of this unmarked tunnel piqued her interest, despite the headache that getting there gave her.

Odd movement from the edge of her vision caught her attention. Deep in the tunnel in front of her, a faint shimmering mist appeared like walking gold dust. Lina squinted her eyes to make sure they were not playing tricks on her. The unknown light source caused the mist to glow, or was it the mist itself?

Lina went into a defensive pose when she realized it was 'walking' towards her.

The gold mist gradually took on a more defined human shape as it came closer, taking on the characteristics of a man in a flowing gold-trimmed robe fit for nobility. Eventually the face came into focus showing a youthful man with chiseled features who could not have been beyond his twenties. His hair, Lina observed, was a darker, deeper golden blonde than Gourry's and fell to his shoulders. The man's eyes were a swimming blue-green that reminded one of the ocean.

The only way Lina could have known that last bit was because he now stood very close to her, as solid as she was. She had let her guard down without realizing it, and her face burned with what she knew was a blush.

When the man took her chin, she blushed even harder. He smirked. "I've been looking for someone like you."

Lina came to her senses and yanked her chin away. "Hey, lay off, buddy!"

"Relax," he chuckled as he folded his arms. "You're not my type anyway."

"Excuse me?" Lina put her hands on her hips and puffed up her flat chest, knowing full well what he meant. "I didn't come here to get hit on by a-"

She stopped, realizing she had no clue who or what he was.

"Do you even know who I am?" the man asked, more serious now.

Lina narrowed her eyes at him discernibly. "You're obviously pretty powerful if you can materialize out of thin air like that. You're probably not even human."

"Well, you're only partially correct," he said. "I was human, once…"

"Once?" She looked him up and down. "You mean, you were alive once."

"Yes." He lifted one of her wrists and pointed to the big crack in the red stone of her bracelet. "I'm just like your friend in your talismans there. We cannot return to the land of the living because our bodies are no longer usable."

"H-how do you know about Luke?" Lina asked, a little stunned.

"This place enables me to see and do things I normally could not do as a mere spirit." The knight let her wrist slip out of his hand. "The talismans allow Luke to communicate with you, even in their damaged state. His soul is bound to Shabranigdu. The demon's blood is the only way he can stay here and not hurt you."

W-wait a minute, th-that means…! Lina nearly choked. If the talismans allowed Luke to talk to her, then the 'conversation' she had when she thought he was a figment of her imagination while she and Gourry were in that bedroom together was…

"Is something wrong?" the knight asked when he noticed the scared look on her face.

"D-did-did-did, h-he he s-say… a-anything to you about me?" She managed strained smile while trying to keep the red from flooding her face.

"Only who you are, Lina Inverse." He was clearly holding back a chuckle. "Don't worry, he didn't tell me anything personal."

Lina shook herself out of it and took a deep breath. You better not have told him, Luke!

Like he said, don't worry. There wasn't much to tell anyway!

Lina growled. You and I are going to have a talk later. She then relaxed her smile. "So, you must be bound to the Water Dragon King. Does that mean the sword is here?"

"No, someone else has it," he said with no sense of urgency.

She sighed. Somehow, it was not all that unexpected. "Then we came down here for nothing. I'm surprised you're so calm about it."

"That's because it's in the hands of the next knight," he added. "You'll meet him when the time is right. You have the fire to mentor him."

At that, Lina had to scoff. She waved her hand in front of her. "Okay, look, I already have one kid I'm teaching. I can't take on another one!"

The knight grabbed her hands. "Of course not now. We have Dark Star to deal with, and Jean will be a big help."

She stared. "You know about him too?"

He smirked. "The Aqualord isn't the only one I'm bound to."

That did not make any sense to Lina. "Well, don't expect me to be the babysitter of the next knight forever!"

"Only for the time being." The knight let go of her hands. "As for Dark Star, I know you need those talismans."

"It's no use." She looked down at her bracelets. "They're only good as enhancers for regular spells. I can't use them in the same way I defeated Luke." She turned them over and clenched her hands. "I don't want to risk another Giga Slave with them either."

"And you won't have to," he calmly assured her.

His words told Lina he knew something very important. She gave him a strange look. "How so?"

The knight's demeanor suddenly became very grave. "If you promise to tell no one, including your friends, I'll let you know how to fix those talismans."

"And why exactly can't I tell them?" the sorceress demanded, putting her hands on her hips for emphasis.

"It can endanger one of them if not done at the right time," the knight warned.

She blinked at him. "One of them?"

"Yes, and in turn, it'll endanger everyone else." He stared intently. "You'll fail."

Lina was not liking this at all, but there was nothing else she could do. "Alright then." She folded her arms. "Tell me what I've got to do."

"You're out of your mind!" Zelgadis was getting sick of this. "Get the hell out of there and help me find Lina!"

"I'm serious! I'm not crazy!" Pokota felt the palpitations in his chest die down, and the whispers in his ears faded. "Whoever they are, they're gone now."

Zelgadis pulled out his sword anyway. "Then lets get going. They might not be the only ones here." He took off down the tunnel to his right.

"R-right." The prince followed.

After their footsteps faded, Xellos phased into the tomb feeling rather pleased with himself. It was the most progress he had made in over a month. Of course, he had to rely on human beings to do the actual work, and the prince Pokota did a fine job being curious enough to pass over the magic circle.

The monster walked over to the circle's edge. Xellos had no desire to mess with dragon spells, especially after what happened to him in dealing with fusion magic. He did not have time for them to figure out the way and gave them a nudge by working the old contraption that held the tomb secure. Yet, he did not expect what would happen next.

"I should thank the Water Dragon King again, or perhaps, his champion," Xellos commented to himself. "It was a wise choice not to keep such a weapon in the most obvious place."

His mistress had her eye on the sword for some time, knowing that Deep Sea Dolphin would eventually tire of hiding and would want to get her revenge on the Aqualord. The agreement between the demon lords was a fragile one. In order to make sure Dolphin did what Beastmaster wanted, Xellos was sent to investigate the sword's whereabouts. At the very least, his mistress wanted to keep it out of Dolphin's hands.

The possibility that another Aqualord knight had been chosen may make things interesting later. As long as they stayed out of Beastmaster's way while she held back Dark Star's forces, Xellos did not care. It might even compel Lord Dolphin to consider a temporary alliance with Beastmaster during a time when such an alliance was needed. Lord Deep Sea had yet to make any significant moves concerning the present war, so only time will tell if Beastmaster's assumptions were true. Xellos was still a little skeptical but remained confident for his mistress' sake.

All that was left to do was to convince Filia to go with him. There was not much of an opportunity as far as he could see.

"That will be quite a challenge. If only Egan were not in the way." Xellos held his chin thoughtfully. "Hmm, I suppose there's nothing I can do but wait a little longer."

If he had not stepped away from Filia for a full month, he might have found something to use to his advantage. His mistress had not noticed yet, but he was slipping. He did not like how his feelings were becoming obvious to everyone else around him, Neskaa in particular.

Nothing short of Egan throwing Val and Filia herself into Xellos' arms will make up for his misstep. That would take something extremely stupid on the Dimos' part.

The monster sighed. "One can dream."

If push comes to shove, he may just have to kidnap Filia and the hatchling and hide them elsewhere, not just for his mistress' sake, but for his own as well. There was no telling what would happen if Dark Star figured out just how big of a weakness Filia has become for Xellos.

"C'mon, Miss Filia!" Amelia's voice happily beckoned on the other side of the door. "Miss Alyssa and I are already changed!"

"Just a minute, I'm still changing Val." The hatchling was being extra wiggly in Filia's arms. "Go on ahead. I'll catch up in a few minutes!"

There was no problem with keeping him in his complete human form, but lately, it was causing Val to get anxious and move about whenever he could get the chance. His human legs weren't quite stable enough to hold him up without help yet, which made it easier to catch him for now.

"Okay. We'll be waiting!" Amelia called back before bounding off down the hall towards the hot spring.

"Let Momma pin this on, Hon. Then you can play while I change." Filia gave Val kisses for encouragement while she finished him.

The hatchling held still just long enough for the pin to slip in it's clasp before he slipped away to investigate the bedding on the floor.

The dragoness sighed. "I swear, you're going to be a handful!"

Val simply squealed and giggled as he attempted to pull the covers over his head. Filia could only laugh.

Gourry was supposed to come by the room in just a few minutes before she joined the girls, so Filia pulled out one of the robes sitting beside the bed and began undressing herself. She happened to catch her reflection in a mirror beside the door just as her travel dress slipped off.

In just a couple of days, Torrin will get to see everything, and not just for a few seconds. He will have a good look, up close, at every curve and blemish, and will have a chance to touch every part of her and investigate without any limits. She will finally have a chance to do the same. Even after all that they had done so far, it made them both very excited and nervous.

Filia's eyes fell to her chest, something that Torrin was most eager to see and touch without anything in the way. And kiss.

That made her blush.

She grabbed her breasts and began examining them in the mirror, wondering if they were too small, or too big (they seemed pretty big to her, at least, compared to Lina), or not the right color, or the right shape, or what they might feel, unclothed, in Torrin's bare hands.

She dropped them as she giggled at the thought. Filia never felt much stimulation whenever Torrin massaged them through her dress and wondered if it will be different if he handled them directly. Also, aside from that one night at the Darrems, she never got much stimulation down between her legs.

Considering how wonderful the sensation was when she was not touched directly, Filia could not wait to know what it will feel when everything was off, when Torrin could explore with his fingers, and with his…

Now, Filia could not look at herself, but she was smiling. I'm turning into Janna! she thought.

She certainly was not ignorant of the many different techniques people would use during sex, having heard enough from her girls, most of whom were, ironically, virgins themselves. They had family and friends who were already married that probably helped them with all that imagery, while they impatiently wait for their turn. Dragons did not discuss such things as openly as humans did, but were not afraid to help young dragons who were getting ready to enter their first, and possibly only, Commitment.

The only real question Filia had was how on earth Torrin was going to fit inside her.

There was a knock on the door, and she nearly jumped out of her skin.

"Hey, Filia!" It was Gourry. "Is Val ready?"

"J-just a moment!" Filia threw the robe on and made sure it was securely tied on. "U-uh, is Torrin with you?"

"He went into town to grab something." Gourry answered. "He should be back in a little while."

"Okay!" Filia looked over to where Val had been messing around in the bedding and found him putting his hands into Torrin's pack. "No, honey! Don't do that!"

She frantically picked him up, just as he decided to dump everything onto the floor.

Filia sighed and pulled the pack out of Val's hands. "Now look what you did."

Val just laughed at the mess he made.

She opened the door and handed him to Gourry. "Here, take Mr. Messy Pants with you before he brings the place down."

Gourry noted the items strewn about beside the bed. "Uh oh, looks like somebody's in trouble! We better make a break for it!"

"Ba! Ba! Ma-ba!" Val said as if he were answering him.

Filia shook here head and gave the little hatchling one more kiss. "When Torrin comes back, tell him I'm with Amelia and Alyssa."

"Sure thing, Mom!" said Gourry with a ridiculously big grin.

"Ma-ba!" Val answered with a wave of his little hand.

"Have fun, you two!" Filia laughed as she closed the door and proceeded to pick up Torrin's things.

Something shiny underneath Torrin's pack caught her eye. She picked up the pack and saw an unadorned crystalline pendant on a simple silver necklace.

Thinking that it was a present Torrin had been planning on giving her, Filia quickly began throwing things back into the pack, hoping she did not ruin his attempt to surprise her. However, when she picked up the necklace and looked around for either a case or a small bag it might have fallen out of, Filia took a closer look. It was no ordinary necklace.

She stared at it. Filia sensed it contained some sort of spell, and judging by the particular cut of the crystal pendant, it was specially made for a female dragon.

"What the… why is this here?" she asked out loud to no one.

This sort of charm was only presented to a daughter by their father or another authoritative male family member, never by one's betrothed. It protected the female from having to care for a hatchling during a Commitment, the only time a dragon had full permission from their clan to engage in sexual intimacy aside from a marriage.

Filia then glanced over to where it had lain on the floor and saw several large pieces of crumpled up paper. One would think they were simply scraps if it were not for the fact they appeared to have been neatly folded at one point, like letters. They looked like they had been stuffed into the bottom of Torrin's pack with the charm, either because he had forgotten about them or they were something he did not want anyone to see.

She looked around at the remaining things on the floor. Four equally crumpled envelopes were scattered about, and there were names and numbers written on all four of them.

Filia picked one of them up and read it. "To Torri, from Rose."

The second name sounded vaguely familiar. Is it from a family member?

There was no other reason for those letters to be in Torrin's pack, but if that were so, the charm was out of place.

Something Xellos said about Torrin's past promiscuity flitted across the back of Filia's mind.

Torrin had admitted he was not proud of what he did with other dragonesses and had always respected her boundaries. He always thought about her safety, yet he also did his best to let her decide what she wanted to do. It would make no sense for him to mess around behind her back. Torrin was always happy to see her whenever they had been apart for an extended period of time.

Then Filia's thoughts turned to that one incident back in Seyruun, when he tried to leave her without saying goodbye after they had nearly slept together, and then when he came back three weeks later, glad to see her but distracted by something. Filia remembered the look in Torrin's eyes, when after dwelling on the lie she had just told him about Xellos, she asked him if he cared for her.

That look took her by surprise. She had only asked out of shame of what she allowed Xellos to do. It never occurred to her that Torrin may have been purposely hiding something as well. The letters and envelopes appeared to have been in his pack for a while. It was not too far-fetched.

Filia shook her head at herself, immediately trying to squelch the idea. If there was another girl, there was a good chance that it was an old flame he was trying to get away from, or maybe it was just a friend. But the charm…

Her heart was sinking. She knew she should not poke around in Torrin's personal things. It would reflect a lack of trust.

Filia looked at the charm in her hand again. Torrin trusted her. She had lied to him enough times already and did not deserve it. Yet those letters laying on the floor right in front of her were practically screaming RED FLAG!

She felt her chest tighten as her hand dropped the envelope and crept over to one of the wrinkly pieces of paper marked with the number one. It hovered for a few seconds before picking the letter up cautiously, as if she feared it would burst into flames if she moved too quickly.

Taking a slow deliberate breath to calm herself, Filia smoothed the paper out with her thumbs then opened it.

Man, I'm glad I didn't put this up right before Valentine's day. Anyways, the next one should be up within the next week, if work doesn't get too crazy. I'm juggling several projects at once right now at home, mostly relating to my crochet classes and getting myself set up to advertise my business. The work hours aren't that crazy, its all the extra stuff that can make my head spin sometimes. X_X I still plan to do revisions and such too. I've been working on them on and off as well as a couple of side stories. Stay tuned! ~NB~