I own no one…they only live under my bed. Please read and review. Love to you all. Darth Mer-Mer.

MURMUR

by Darth Mer-Mer

MomijiChan@hotmail.com

Lina stared dumbfounded as Xelloss rushed towards her with a lump of flailing, wailing mass in his arms. Her eyes got even wider as she glimpsed an expression of fear on his face. Before she could even ask what was going on, he threw the thing into her arms.

"Heal her." He demanded. His chest rising and falling with the effort. There was something in his eyes, the very fact that they were open was disturbing. "Lina-san, heal her!"

Staring down at the mass of seared flesh in her arms, Lina gasped as a pair of bright gray eyes met her gaze with tears and a pitiful mewling. It was a human child. A charred, damaged little girl with singed hair, blistered skin and tears streaking down her raw cheeks. She almost dropped the baby as the realization hit her just how faint the little child's heart beat was. There was no way she would be able to heal her on her own. Clutching the youngster to her chest she started to run towards the camp where she could find Amelia or Zelgadiss. At her heels was the strange priest.

It had taken almost a whole evening to heal the child to a point where they were sure that she would survive. Amelia was dozing lightly on Zelgadiss' shoulder, exhausted from the effort of healing the little toddler. Xelloss had hovered over them the entire time, eyes wide open. Lina gently tucked the child into her loose cape on the ground. Sighing, she sat back on her heals and whipped the sweat off of her forehead. The little girl had fallen into a light sleep, her healed chest falling rhythmically. Soft curly, white hair fell just below her pudgy little cheeks, now filled with a rosy color. Her skin was tanned brown and there were two distinctive tattoos on the inside of each of her hands. Lina stroked the tiny girl's hair and then stood up. Motioning to Xelloss, she started to walk towards the edge of the forest.

Xelloss took one last look at the child and followed the sorceress into the foliage. A cold wind whipped through the trees as soon as they stepped out of the light of the fire. Lina rubbed her arms, being without her cape. She started as she felt warm cloth fall over her shoulders. Xelloss stood behind her, smiling gently as he draped his cloak over her. Growling, Lina stepped back and tossed his cape back at him. "Stop it. Why did you bring her to us?"

Xelloss nodded in approval, "I see you figured out that she's part Mazoku, good for you Lina-san." He slowly refastened his cape around his body. "As you know, I can't do such base things as healing spells since I can regenerate automatically."

"Sure," She said sarcastically, "And then you thought that you could just plant the little spy into our group. Xelloss you know that we don't trust you…you should have taken her somewhere else or just let nature take its course." She crossed her arms over her chest, trying to look every inch of her five feet.

He whistled under his breath, "My, my, Lina-san. That's pretty cold, even from my point of view." Twisting around he stared back at the camp. "I brought her to you because I knew that you would help her." He swung his gaze back at the red headed girl. "In the morning, just leave her then. If you think she is a spy, then just leave her for dead." His eyes opened, showing a faint glimpse of anger. "Granted I didn't think that you of all people would turn your back on a child." Without another word he disappeared.

In the morning, Lina stared at the little girl still sleeping and healing. She slowly unwrapped her cape from around the tiny body and placed a flask of water next to her hand. Uncurling her hand, the baby cooed softly and clasped a lock of Lina's hair in her chubby fingers. Oh, L-sama, I just can't do it…she thought sadly. Damn you, Xelloss.

"Lina-san? Are we really gonna leave her here?" Amelia squatted next to the baby. "She's just so small. It wouldn't be good or just to leave her."

Zelgadiss stepped into the argument. "It's part Mazoku, right Lina? If it is and if Xelloss left it with us then we can't take it." He drew his sword. "It would be better for all of us just to kill it now, so it won't suffer after we leave it."

"She's a little baby girl, Zelgadiss, not an it." Lina lifted her eyes to the forest. "We will leave her here. Maybe someone will find it in their hearts to take her."

From his perch in the forest trees, Xelloss cocked his head. "Well, I didn't think that they would actually leave her!" He mumbled. With amethyst eyes, he watched the group break camp, wake up the ever dense Gourry and depart. Indeed, they left the little child behind. Maybe he was around them too much, they were picking up his attitude towards living things. Maybe if he had told them the real circumstances in which he had found her, they would have had more sympathy. Ah, but that was a secret!

He leapt down and strode towards the little bundle. The bright gray eyes peered up at him. Being the sadistic bastard that he was, Xelloss opened his eyes in an effort to scare the little girl. To his utter amazement, she just cooed, giggled and wiggled. She reached up to him. "Da-Da!"

That scared Xelloss. He backed away, quickly. Oh, that's bad, he thought, the last thing I need is a baby calling me da-da…Still, the child followed him with her eyes. As he turned his back, the baby started to whimper.

He started to walk away.

The child started to sniffle.

He kept walking.

The child started to cry.

He kept walking.

The child started to wail.

He stopped and turned around.

Xelloss quietly rocked the child in his arms. His lavender eyes watched the lazy snow drift to the ground in the moonlight. A small smirk lifted the corners of his mouth, oh, if they could see the infamous 'Trickster Priest' now. Cradling a baby in his arms, a baby of all things! Tearing his eyes from the snow to stare at the tiny gray eyes, he stroked the white curls off of her forehead. The child cooed and grabbed one of his gloved fingers.

"Little one, what are you doing?" He asked the babe, amused.

She blinked and smiled up at him.

"Do you know that you and I are complete opposites?"

She gurgled and kicked her chubby legs.

"Oh, you did know?" He waggled his finger as the baby held on to it. "Well, that's good, because that is a secret! And I usually don't share any of mine. But maybe I can tell you a few, ne?" The two year old slowly closed her eyes and yawned. "Sleep little one. I will watch over you as best I can…" He was startled as the child started to change shape in his arms. To his amazed eyes the baby of two grew to a child of three. "My, my, this is interesting isn't it, little one?" He whispered.

The irate little three year old romped around the snow laden campsite, bawling her little white head off. He had tried everything to make her shut up. "What is wrong with you!?" Xelloss yelled as he scooped the child up. She sniffed as fresh tears welled up in her eyes and cried some more from being yelled at. "Oh, stop, I'm not mad at you!" He sighed. Gently, he mopped the flow of tears with the hem of his cloak. The little girl pouted and pushed at his hands until the soft material touched her cheek.

"Petee." She murmured, grasping a fold in her chubby fist.

"Now, stop that, you." He tried to regain the edge of his cape to no avail. He shook his head, amethyst hair also getting latched onto by the child's uncanny grip. "Oww! Fine, you can wear the cape! Is that what you want?"

The little girl nodded and abruptly released his hair. She rewarded her caretaker with a smile as the cloth was draped over her shoulders. "Petee cloak." She stated. "Now, do magee!"

"Magic?" He laughed. "Little one, you couldn't even cast a levitation spell!"

She cocked her head to one side, snowy curls bouncing. "Levi?"

"No, levitation is a spell to fly, not one that a little mortal needs."

The girl closed her eyes, when she opened them, they were a clouded purple. She hissed out a breath and thrust out her hands. "Leviathan!"

Xelloss laughed. "No, it's not 'leviathan', it's levitation! I told you that it wouldn't work for a little human."

Then the water in the pond behind them rippled. She girl smiled up at Xelloss, happy as a clam, innocent as the day she was born. Up from the watery depths of the pond rose a huge dragon, blue scales flashing in the sun. A hideous roar, ruffled the white curls on the child's hair. She raised her purple eyes to the Trickster Priest's stunned face. "Oh, my. Little one, you don't seem to have any qualms about this do you?"

She grinned and shook her head, white hair flying. She turned and ran back towards camp giggling as the cape billowed behind her like wings.

Xelloss sighed and took care of the Leviathan monster.

That night he desperately tried to stuff his pillow in his ears. Not only had the girl commandeered his cape the whole day, she had also practiced her fireball spell in it and now it was singed all over. Beside him, the little girl poked him for the eight time in the past two minutes. "What is it, little one?" He asked, slightly annoyed.

"Levitation!" She whispered and she floated about five inches off of her sleeping mat, giggling like a maniac.

"Yes, yes, very cute." He used the jewel end of his staff to push her back down to her bed. He turned over again. Why did I teach her that? He though desperately.

She poked him again. "Is this going to be the same little trick, little one?"

"Nuh-uh!"

He turned over.

"Levitation!" Up she went.

Down she went. "Bad girl." He sighed. Human children were difficult to keep up with but this child seemed to be half Mazoku. That made it even harder. He needed sleep. "Child, if you will stop this silly game, I will get you a gift when I go to town tomorrow."

"Dolly?"

"Sure, whatever you want!"

"With red hair?"

"YES! I will get one that has fire for hair if that will make you go to sleep!" He yelled.

"Night, Xelly-papa." She snuggled down into her blankets. "An' a pony?"

"GO TO BED!"

"'Kay!" Minutes latter, she was fast asleep, the pure essence of innocence.

Ah, peace…Lina sighed. It had been almost three days since Xelloss had brought the baby to them. Since then, there had been hide nor hair of him. Maybe he was mad. She thought that through a little harder. No, Xelloss usually didn't have that strong of an emotion. Still, it was nice to have a little break from all of his tricks and schemes. The rest of the group had found a nice inn with an all you can eat buffet for breakfast and lunch. Lina rested her feet on the edge of the table as Gourry finished his meal and Zel sipped on his coffee. Amelia had gone off to do the shopping, they planned to set off in the morning.

There was a crash from the entrance of the store, Lina looked up lazily. Amelia stood for a moment in the doorway, clutching three bags of food in her arms. She spotted her group and ran to the table. "Lina-san!" She gasped.

"Amelia, calm down! What's wrong?" Lina relieved the girl of the parcels.

"I just saw Xelloss-san!"

Zelgadiss stood up, "What did he do to you?!"

Amelia glanced at him, "That was the weird part, I don't think he even saw me. He looked exhausted and was buying all of this stuff. And get this he bought a little dress!" She panted for breath. "It was just so disturbing to see him like that. He wasn't even smiling or annoying anyone. He just looked…tired…and his cape was absolutely fried to a crisp! "

"Hum, I thought so," Lina nodded. "We might as well go and try to find him." Everyone looked at her like she was nuts. "What!? I think that he is taking care of the baby that we left!"

They found the trickster priest almost a half hour later, toying around in a kid's shop. To the amazement of all, he didn't even notice that they were there. All he did was wander around mumbling, "Dolly with red hair….must find dolly with red hair…" In a daze, he tossed dolls around the area until he found one with shoulder-length red hair. He turned on his heal and walked to another section of the store. "Pony, must find pony.."

Lina was the first to approach him, "Uh, Xelloss? What's wrong with you?"

"That's a secret." He tiredly wagged a finger at her. He yawned and headed off to pay for the doll.

"You have the baby with you don't you?" Lina grinned, perhaps there was some minuscule amount of compassion in the Mazoku…

"Nope, I don't have a baby with me." He pulled two silver coins out of his satchel and handed them to a woman behind the desk.

Lina faltered. She had been sure that he would take care of the child…if he wasn't then why was he buying children's stuff? He never lied to them, just twisted the truth to suit his means. "Well, did you save her then?"

"Her salvation is as far away from her as mine is from me." He waved half- heartedly and vanished.

Lina fumed, Damn him! She had been so sure! Zelgadiss and Gourry both patted her on the back as they walked out of the store.

"Oh, well. Someone must have taken it, Lina. That or it was just an illusion made by that damn Xelloss." Zel shook his head.

"She, Zel…she not it." Lina sighed.

Xelloss trudged slowly back to camp, too tired to teleport or use levitation. He hoisted the bag of food and toys over his shoulder, repositioning it for the forth time. Lina had some idea of what he had done, but even he had been surprised by the recent developments. It was true that he no longer had a two year old baby with him…he now had an overly active five year old with a passion fire that rivaled even Lina. It was strange, the girl had grown almost three years in the past three days. She still couldn't talk well enough to explain all of it to him. What he was able to piece together was that she had been separated from her mama and a priest. Unfortunately, she had been keen enough to pick up his own catch phrase and used it when ever he asked a question about her past. "That's a secret" and "Why?" were her two favorite things in the world. The little face still lit up each time she winked and spit his own words back into his face. Her hair was longer but still curly at the ends, and as white as the snow that had began to fall gently again that morning. As he round the corner that hid their camp from others he heard the strangely new, yet strangely familiar sound of the little girl's squeal of delight as she saw him.

"Xelly-papa!" She threw her arms around his legs and grabbed for the pouch. "What'd you bring me? What's going on in the town!?" Her bright gray eyes filled with joy as she pulled the doll out of the pouch. Her smile widened to a full blown grin of happiness as she danced around the poor priest, clutching her doll to her chest. "Thank you, Xelly-papa!" She levitated, gave him a quick little girl kiss on the cheek and her white hair whipping around her tan face, she hopped back to the makeshift shelter. Xelloss sighed. What the hell was he doing….?

"Xelly-papa! Come look at what I made you!" The little girl ran out of the lean to carrying a stand of river grass with a few glassy shells threaded through it. She thrust it into his hands and then ran to the river. She dipped her bare feet into the cold water.

"Hey! Don't do that!" Xelloss waved his staff and the child floated away from the murky waters. He carefully gathered her into his arms and walked towards the camp.

The little girl pouted and pounded aimlessly at his chest. "Why? I like the water. I got your shells there!"

"Well that's too bad! Water is off limits in the winter! It's snowing for L-sama's sake!" He tossed the necklace into the bushes, relishing the quick twinge of anger the girl felt. Stupid child. She was only half Mazoku, she could have died.

He felt the insistent little fists stop their beating and felt little warm drops of tears fall onto his arm. She softly murmured into his cloak, her little chest falling with silent sobs. "I worked all day on Xelly-papa's necklace." She sniffed. Then she pushed hard enough for Xelloss to release his hold on her. She leapt to the ground and faced him, her gray eyes flickering to a darker purplish color. "Why?"

"Why did you work all day on something that will only fade to nothing in the end? I don't know."

"Because, I love Xelly-papa! You try to scare me and to be mean, but you're acting!" Her eyes glowed with the strange Mazoku light that Xelloss had only seen his eyes do. "No matter how cruel you are to me, I always love Xelly-papa!"

He narrowed his eyes. "Stupid little brat…" He hissed. "You have no idea what I am capable of."

"I know that you are capable of taking care of me…" She whispered.

He stopped. Damn…she had him there.

She smiled, cruelly. "Perhaps you have no idea what I am capable of, Xelloss Metallium…" The purple in her eyes slowly drained away. "But that," She murmured, "Is a secret."

The next night, Xelloss was wakened from a light sleep by soft sounds on the other side of the lean-to. In the moonlight he could see the girl curled around herself, silver lines streaking her cheeks like sterling blood. Her body was growing again. Each night it hurt her worse than it had the night before. Usually she slept through it…tonight, the eve of her seventh day, the pain was different. "Child?" Xelloss mumbled. "Go to sleep."

"I can't."

He turned over on his side. "What's wrong?" His eyes sought out hers. The slim lines of her body were rippling as her form slowly went through the changes. Around her neck were the shells that she had meant for him. The smock that she had used for the past two days barely fit at all now. The thin fabric rustled as the wind snuck into the shelter. She curled her thin legs closer to her body.

More tears fell from her bright eyes. "It hurts and I'm cold…" She murmured. Xelloss had forgotten what it was like to be cold or to hurt so much it brought tears. But he did remember that he sometimes needed sleep and this was one of those times. He sat up and pulled the child to his chest. Without a word she snuggled closer to him and wrapped her arms around him.

He pulled her as close as he could. "Hush, little Murmur." Hours later, when she had finally fallen asleep, he tried to convince himself that he had only held her to make her sleep. Or to keep her warm. Or to shut her up. Or…or… He sighed, absently stroking the girl's hair. He wasn't doing a good job of convincing himself of anything.

Amelia slowly trudged to the stream where Lina was catching dinner. As soon as the fire red hair came into view, Amelia started to call for her. "Lina-san…can I talk to you?"

Lina looked over her shoulder briefly as the girl walked towards her. "Sure, Amelia…what's up?"

"It's about that baby." She lowered her eyes. "I think that we should go back for her." Twiddling her fingers, she stared at the ground.

"I already did." Lina sighed. "She was gone. Maybe her family found her."

Amelia brightened. "You think so!?" She smiled. "Zelgadiss-san said that she was probably dead…but I think that you're right!" Off she bounded, headed for camp.

Lina dusted off her pants, gathered the fish up and headed back in that general direction. She had lied. She hadn't gone back. But, perhaps it was best if Amelia was free of the little baby's death. It had been a week since they had left her. Sighing heavily, she started walking. A rustle in the bushes behind her caught her attention. Almost a hundred yards away stood a young girl, maybe nine or ten holding a large white bird in her hands. A rosary of shells adorned her neck.

Unmoving as a statue, the girl stared at Lina with bright gray eyes, her white hair just barely moving with the breeze. Her snowy hair was the only thing that looked like it was breathing. When the bird in her hands started to struggle, the girl finally moved. She raised the bird's throat to her mouth and bit down until red blood flowed down her face, dress and stained her immaculate hair with red. She never took her eyes off of Lina. As the bird quieted, the girl raised her bloodied mouth and smiling with narrowed eyes, licked her lips. Then she vanished.

Ah, what a trick! Murmur thought to herself as she darted home through the trees covered in snow. The girl was petrified! How amusing. She sped through the forest, feet falling in all the right places with the ease of a wild thing, born and bread without fear. Xelly-papa would be so proud!

She landed down in the snow, bird clutched tightly to her breast. Stretching out her muscles as she flowed back into camp. "Xelly-papa!" She trumpeted, swinging her prey by the neck. "I played a prank!"

Xelloss glanced over his shoulder at the girl. "Oh, did you now?" He shifted around and raised an eyebrow when he saw the girl soaked in blood. "Are you all right, Murmur? Whose blood is that?"

"Oh, that's the bird's!" She tossed the limp pile of feathers to him. "But I scared some girl with fire hair!" Proudly she strutted to the stream to wash the blood off of her hands. "She was so scared that I thought that she'd pee in her pants!" She laughed to herself, proud of her prank and happy that her Xelly-papa would pay more attention to her now.

As she turned back around she was met with a very angry Xelloss, both eyes open and glaring. "The one with the fire hair is mine, Murmur. If you so much as touch her, I'll kill you without a second thought." He grabbed her by the front of her smock. "Do you understand me?"

This was all wrong! He was supposed to praise her, not be angry! Her little mind ran through half a dozen reasons for his anger. When she found none that sufficed for him to be this upset at her, her shock turned to anger. "Why?"

"That's a secret."

"I can kill her if I wanted to. You wouldn't have the guts to kill me, Xelly-papa!" She yelled.

Xelloss smacked her across the face. For a moment, Murmur sagged, the breath knocked out of her. Slowly, she raised a shaking hand to her cheek. "Never question me." Xelloss whispered, "The girl is mine, and mine alone. You are not to have anything to do with her. Do you understand?"

Sniffing back tears, Murmur quietly mumbled, "Yes, Xelloss." He let go of her tunic and she thumped to the ground. She shook out her hair, softly stroking the side of her face that was now slightly bruised.

That night, Xelloss wasn't at all surprised to see that Murmur had slipped out of camp with all her worldly belongings. He could still just barely hear her footsteps in the snow almost a mile away. Sighing to himself, he refastened his cape and teleported out of the camp. From the sound of it, she was heading towards the town instead of in Lina's direction. It was still much too cold for her to be wandering about. Not that he was sorry for what he had done, but the girl had been a useful source of entertainment for the past week. At least that is what he kept telling himself…

Murmur shivered and crouched down to conserve warmth. She had been sure that the town was only two or three miles away from their camp. She had been wandering long enough to find the town three times over. Her small feet stumbled over a root hidden by the snow. Crashing to the ground the cold snow soaked her smock and left her fingers numb. What do I do, her mind cried. Her only friend in the world had shunned her, even though he was a Mazoku and she was half of one.

She shook her head. Stupid, she though, I don't belong anywhere! She stared at the marks on her hands. On the left, inhuman, the right, child forever. Shuddering she curled into a ball and waited for the moon to rise to its full height. Then she would change again. Twelve, she thought, I'll be twelve when I wake up. If I wake up…

The morning found the girl warm and safe in a bed stuffed with feathers. Murmur sat up, startled. She had been in the snow…she had run away. Had Xelloss found her? The door to the room slowly swung open and a young man of about sixteen stepped in with a tray of food and warm milk. He was very handsome…Murmur blushed. Her heart started to beat a little faster.

"Good morning." The boy said cheerfully. "We were afraid that you weren't going to make it. How do you feel?"

Murmur pulled the blankets securely around her and tried to find her voice. "Fine, thank you." Biting her lower lip, she cast her eyes down.

The boy laughed. "Oh, that's good! I'm glad. You can look at me if you want. My name's Hakin."

"I'm Murmur." She whispered quietly, blushing her little heart out. He's so handsome, she thought to herself. Glancing at the shock of red hair that fell just below his ears, the strong lines of his face and the sparkling green eyes, she felt strangely fluttery.

That day the boy and his family virtually adopted the child into their home. They had found her lying unconscious in the snow near their home. Murmur spent the whole day following Hakin around like a love sick puppy. And Hakin showered all the kindness and smiles that he could on the child. All smiles, she skipped into the town with him that afternoon all thoughts of her former caretaker all but vanished from her mind. But her former caretaker was keeping a watchful eye on her. Xelloss quietly followed the happy little girl as she fell deeper and deeper in love with the kind Hakin. He shook his head. He knew that this was trouble…

That evening Murmur sat gazing at the moon out of her window. The light caught her hair as she smiled, she was so happy! Hakin was so wonderful. And tomorrow- well, that was a secret. But since tonight was a full moon, she could progress her age a little faster than normal. She could easily gain the appearance of a sixteen year old by tomorrow. She grinned and danced around her bed. Ah, to have found love…

Xelloss sighed, his perch in the near by tree had shown him enough to make his fears reality. She had fallen in love with the human. He shook his head, hair falling in front of his eyes. The girl will have to fend for herself on this account. Perhaps they actually could be happy…he chuckled. Sure, and golden dragons have purple horns…

Hakin knocked on Murmur's door and entered. "Well, did you have a good day?"

Murmur nodded enthusiastically. "It was wonderful…" She whispered shyly.

"It's so great to finally have a little sister!" Hakin commented.

Murmur stiffened. "Uh, yes of course."

"Good night! Sleep well, don't forget about the dance tomorrow."

"I'll see you in the morning." Whispered Murmur. Let's see if I'm only a sister to you then, she thought and smiled. She could hardly wait for the pain to transform her into a woman.

Outside, Xelloss just sighed.

When the moon neared its zenith, Murmur silently slipped out of her window and treaded to the small barn that bordered the edge of Hakin's land. The ancient doors creaking, the girl squeezed inside the hay filled structure. She yanked the edge of her blanket as it caught on some of the rusty nails in the door. The smock that she had bought that day in the market place pressed tightly to her chest. It was almost two sizes too big for her form as it was. But tomorrow. . .She smiled. "It'll fit perfect." She whispered.

Finding a soft mound of hay, the girl quietly wrapped her blanket around her shoulders. Closing her eyes and slowing her breath, she started to slowly chant the familiar words. "Oh, one who cannot be seen, yet is everywhere at all times…grant me the power to change my form as I see fit under your zenith moon. This curse of mine, I accept yet question and hope that my prayers will fall upon your merciful ears…" Her eyes fluttered as the first prangs of the pain shot up her legs like molten fire. "For one night, give me the power to choose my own form…" Gasping for breath she struggled to finish the incantation. "Oh, great lord of all earth, wind and sky…One with the eyes of Gold on a sea of Chaos…" The pain washed over her in a wave of shattered glass and burning acid. Murmur bit her lips hard enough to draw blood. I have to finish this, she thought desperately. For one day, she whimpered…one day, I just want to be a normal girl who has someone who loves her…! Stars blew up behind her eyes…the pain searing through her mind like lightening. "Great Lord of Nightmares…" She was fighting a losing battle. Her senses dropping away like stones into a clear pond, one by one. Each rippling and overlapping, obscuring all of the others. Slowly, she let her mind shut down as the pain overwhelmed her. "Please, grant this wish to me…your…your…yo...ur…" She fell backwards, her mind giving up and floating into oblivion.

"Grant this wish to your loyal servant." A voice finished in the darkness, catching the girl as she tumbled off her perch of hay. A pair of amethyst eyes glowed in the dark as the form held the girl close to its body, digesting the pain that had engulfed the child's essence. "And let her be happy, as she wishes."

That same night, Lina and company met a stranger in the road. A priest, face hidden behind his hooded cloak, slowly approached their motley crew as they headed northward. The priest eyed them and then asked, "Pardon me, dear travelers, but my I ask you a few questions?"

Lina raised an eyebrow, "What will you give us if we agree to answer you?"

"I am but a humble man of the cloth, I have nothing to give but blessings of safe travel, my child."

Amelia stepped forward, "Miss Lina, you shouldn't ask for things just to answer a question! As warriors of justice, we must aid all we come across." She smiled at the priest, who still hid his face. "Please ask away, we'll help in any way we can!"

"Thank you my child, I only need ask you but one question, then I shall let you all go on your way." He leaned on his staff. "Have you seen a baby with white hair?"

Zelgadiss leapt forward, drawing his sword. "Damn you, Xelloss. Leave all of us alone! We are tired of your tricks and plots!"

The priest drew back. "Sir, I assure you that I am not the person that you think I am. I know no one by the name of Xelloss."

"Then how do you know about that baby?" Zelgadiss hissed.

The priest carefully removed the hood that hid his face. Long hair spilled down the cloak, white as the snow itself, framing a beautiful face. A pair of gray eyes flashed in the moonlight. Then, in a voice two octaves higher, the priest said, "Because, I am her mother."

Greater Beast Zelas Metallium eyed her general priest with suspicion and slight annoyance. "Xelloss? What do you think you will accomplish by protecting the child. Do you know of her past?"

"Yes. I know at least of her heritage." "She is a bastard child of a pure human priestess and a pure Mazoku. Not only that she is cursed!"

Xelloss lowered his head, "Yes, I know of that…but her strength grows every day, she may be a formidable addition to our army of Mazoku."

"And have you seen any display of her powers?"

"No, not yet, but-"

"Then this discussion is closed. You may keep her with you, if you wish. But if this in any way hinders your true goal then I will be forced to decide otherwise, understood?"

"Yes, I understand perfectly." He slowly phased out and away into the darkness.

The first ray of sunlight filtered through the dusty barn and fell on Murmur's closed eyes. Sighing, she stretched and slowly opened her gray eyes to meet another day. The hay made her sneeze, waking her up fully. Murmur smiled, almost hesitant to look at her new body. When she finally lowered her eyes, she all but cried out her happiness. From underneath the blanket, long tan legs stretched themselves up to a slender waist with softly curved hips. Her shoulders were curved like a goddesses and her chest had finally filled out to a nominal size. She stood up and danced around the barn laughing, not caring in the least that she was in her newest birthday suit.

Xelloss phased back into the rafters of the barn still slightly peeved at his master. If only Zelas understood the power that this child had. She'd change her tune so quickly that her- He glanced down and almost fell from his perch. With wide eyes he stared at what should have been a thirteen year old Murmur. She couldn't have been less than sixteen now…he whistled low under his breath. Damn, she looked older than Lina-Chan. So that was what she was praying for…His face softened. Oh, she looked beautiful. Her hair almost brushed the ground now and shone like stars as the dusty sunlight caught it through the cracks in the barn. Her tan skin perfectly smooth and unmarked. The smile on her face warmed his cold heart for an instant. Xelloss shook his head. This girl was so happy, but he of all people knew that happiness is fleeting…

Murmur slid into her new dress and prepared to tell Hakin that she loved him, more than as just a sister. She had such a short time, her face fell slightly. Only a few days left until her mother found her, one way or another. She never reached her nineteenth year. That was part of her curse, never an adult…always an eternal child. Forced to live out years in one day, only to be sent back to the beginning in a perpetual circle. But for one day, out of all those she had already lived and of all those to come, this day she would be loved.

Her sensitive ears perked up as she heard Hakin calling her name from the house. Smiling, swinging her new dress around her calves, she pranced towards the barn door. "Hakin, I'm in here! I have a surprise for you!" She called, brushing her hair back with her fingers. Shoving the door out of the way, she stepped out into the sunlight.

Xelloss sat quietly in the rafters, shaking his head. The next sound heard was a startled scream from Hakin.

Murmur stared in disbelief as Hakin slowly backed away from her, mouth agape, fear shining in his eyes. "Hakin, what's wrong?" Murmur slowly followed him.

"W-who are you?!" The boy shouted, a flush creeping up his handsome face.

Murmur laughed uneasily, "It's me, silly, Murmur. I changed for you." She gestured at her body, "Don't you like it?"

"W-what are you? Some sort of demon sent here to kill me?" His eyes were burning flames of horror as he looked at the young woman before him. He bumped into on of the fence posts and landed on his butt. Still he continued to scoot away from her.

"Of course not! I'm the same girl that you entertained yesterday! I just grow a little faster than most people, there's nothing wrong with being different!" She looked down at the ground. "Hakin, I love you!" She whispered.

The stone struck her squarely between the eyes. Murmur collapsed to the ground in a heap of green fabric and white hair. Hakin gasped from the effort of heaving the rock at the strange girl. He ran into the house, yelling frantically to his parents as he went. Murmur faintly saw his shape as she passed away into unconsciousness.

Lina looked up from her lunch as two boys darted by, chattering excitedly about the upcoming event in the town square. The woman who was traveling with them caught one by the sleeve and asked him, "What is going on that has you so worked up, young one?"

"There's gonna be a public stoning of a demon!" He grinned like he had said that the carnival was coming instead of someone dying.

The woman let the boy go and then sighed. "We must go there, I fear the worst."

In the town square, lay a small girl in a torn green dress, a mop of long, white hair half covering her face. Around her was an angry mob of townspeople headed by Hakin and his parents. As she slowly lifted her head and her eyes fluttered open, she raised a shaky hand to her forehead. Her fingers came away bloody. Her breath sped up. Violet leaked into her gray eyes as she scanned the crowd. How could they? She thought, how could they do this to me!? Especially Hakin! Her eyes found him in the crowd and flared dark purple. Why couldn't he love me? Is that too much to ask? Everyone deserves to be loved!

Slowly she rose to her feet. He would pay, she would make him pay… Deep in her breaking heart, Murmur felt a sick sense of happiness as the anger and fear of the crowd soaked her aura with power. Her vision tunneled in on the hatred on the face of Hakin. All the pain that she had endured, all the sadness and disappointment, fueled the violent fire that had kindled in her heart. Slowly she stood on shaking legs. Making her way through the crowd, none wanting to throw the first stone, Murmur passed without incident. She raised her hand and gently touched the boy's face. "Oh, Hakin, please tell me…why is it that you don't love me?"

With hate in his eyes, he spit in her face. "You are a monster!"

A thin smile twisted the corner of her mouth. "Then I shall act like one." She murmured. Without another word, she grasped his throat in her hand and ripped it out. The rich blood splattered her face and hands as she laughed in the dying boy's face. Then the anger and pain washed over her. Bile raised in her throat as she realized what she had done. That and she was enjoying feeling him die.

Lina gaped. That was the same girl she had seen in the forest, but older. She turned her head to stare at the woman who claimed to be the baby's mother. There was a grim look of determination set on her beautiful face. Lina watched as the girl backed away from the boy she had just killed. She was definitely a pupil of Xelloss, all right. Then she looked again.

The girl was crying, a look of fear and sadness crossing her face. "Kill her!" "Kill the monster!" "Kill the killer!" The crowd shouted.

Murmur twisted around and caught the first stone that was thrown at her. She smiled through her tears. They aren't any better than I am, she thought, miserably. Slowly she raised her hands over her head and began to chant.

I call upon all that is dark…

I call for the justice of demons…

Cimmerian race, come reap my vengeance.

Lina stood her ground, hoping that what she was hearing was a joke. Her red hair started to wave softly in an unseen wind. Gulping she started to turn.

"Lina-chan, this may be a good time to get out of here." Behind her, with an unreadable expression was Xelloss. "Right now, leave."

"Xelloss…all right. But I want you to explain this to me later!" Lina grabbed Amelia and Gourry and motioned for Zelgadiss to follow. Xelloss watched as they sped through the streets, when they were a safe distance away he turned to the woman, smile in place. "You may want to go too miss."

The woman frowned. "I must stop my daughter."

"I will take care of this."

"I will not stand for a Mazoku to take care of my problems."

Xelloss opened his eyes slightly and hissed. "Then you shouldn't bed with them either, priestess!"

The woman gasped and stepped back. "You…"

"Yes, now go!" Without a second glance he teleported towards the girl. Murmur continued chanting.

Bless these fools with your embrace of death.

For all that lives will fall before you.

-Blast Ash-

A circle of darkness formed in her hands, expanding, the black void filled the town square. With a deafening, silent boom, all living things inside the blackness disintegrated into small piles of ash. All of the villagers, women, children, the old and the young, all died screaming as their bodies flashed away before them.

The only thing with life in it left was Murmur, dress torn beyond recognition, hair a mess of tangles and flashing white wisps as she collapsed and the one who caught her as she fell. Xelloss shook his head, grinning at the young woman in his arms. "Well little one, you have proved that you are half Mazoku and then some. Their pain was exquisite." Laughing he leaned down and kissed one of the tears off the unconscious girl's cheek. "I must remember to thank you. Although Blast Ash may have been a little too strong for you, ne?" Then he phased out into the darkness.

Zelas looked at her General Priest with a look somewhere between annoyance and amusement. He was standing before her with a girl in his arms. A very bloody, unconscious girl, but a girl none the less. What amazed her was the fact that it wasn't Lina Inverse, enemy of all who lives. Her 'son' had truly seemed smitten with her. Now, here he was with some strange half Mazoku girl in his strong arms.

"Well, Master, was this display enough to convince you of her powers?" He smirked. Blast Ash was a powerful Black magic spell that few sorcerers could master. The fact that the girl had no formal training in magic or the dark arts made her accomplishment even more amazing.

Zelas took a long drag of her cigarette. "Yes, her power is quite a mystery. But you ignored your duties to protect her from her own spell."

The grin froze.

"It was possible that Lina Inverse and company could have been killed by that spell and you didn't even check to see after you shielded her." She let the smoke out in a long breath. "Xelloss, why do let this child divert you from your true duties?"

Xelloss carefully averted his eyes. "That is a secret…" He whispered.

"Could it be because you have some sort of bond with her?" She narrowed her eyes.

"I have done nothing to her!" He shouted, indignant. "That would be directly against you orders and that is something I will never do!"

"Good boy. Now" She puffed out another musky billow of smoke. "I will let this child into my service if she is able to take your commands and as long as she doesn't divert you anymore." She narrowed her eyes, "Honestly, I don't see what you see in her."

Xelloss smiled, pleased about his master's decision. "I raised her from a baby, therefore I feel like she is my own." He glanced back up at Zelas, "Much like someone else did for a poor, misguided trickster priest, so long ago."

Zelas smiled as her son disappeared into the darkness.

Safe within an inn one town across from the carnage, Lina and crew sat, staring at the white haired priestess who sat before them. The strange woman stared quietly at the rest of the group then sighed as she began. "I am Daresu. The child that destroyed the town is my daughter. She is a mixed blood of Mazoku and human, split exactly down the middle. When I was younger, much more so than I am now, I met someone who I fell very much in love with."

Lina raised an eyebrow. "What does this have to do with what happened?"

"I'm getting to that…The problem was that I was in training to be a high priestess of white magic and the one who I fell in love with was a pure blooded Mazoku."

The patrons of the table gasped.

"That's stupid," Zelgadiss growled. "Mazoku can't love anything, especially humans!"

"That's what they want you to think. This particular Mazoku was very much in love with me, perhaps even more so than I was with him." She absently twisted the thin band of silver around her ring finger. "At first he was very cruel, but as time when on, he grew to be more and more sensitive and loving. Eventually, we were married. Many people scoffed at us, calling our union unnatural and calling me a fool. But he did love me and when the evil one came to destroy us, my husband gave his life so that I and our child, Ciara could live on."

"Wait, who came to get him? If he was pure Mazoku in a human form, then it must have been very powerful to kill him." Lina crossed her arms.

"Your friend killed him." She hissed. "The one that has my daughter, is the one who killed my husband and cursed her!"

"Xelloss?" Lina shook her head, she should have known. "Well then how did he get her in the first place? When he brought her to us, she was just a baby!"

"As I said, my child is cursed. He made sure that Ciara was an example to all the other Mazoku foolish enough to fall for a human. He gave her an enormous power for the dark arts, but as a side effect of his curse and her half Mazoku blood, she grew a year every day. Eventually, if she got too old the power he gave her would destroy her. Now every time Ciara reaches a certain age, I have to cast a spell to turn her back into a baby to make sure that the power never destroys her." She sighed. "The night I tried to use the regression spell on her, the villagers found us, accused me of being a demon, then tried to burn me and my baby to death. I was sure that she perished, as they tore her from my arms, I was able to escape." Tears fell from her gray eyes. "I saw the flames start to devour her and I fainted." Her words faded away to silence.

"But why would Xelloss save her?" Gourry asked confused, "If he cursed her, why would he want to rescue her?"

"Because Ciara has power." The Daresu whispered. "He want's the power that she possesses."

Xelloss sneezed. Someone, must be talking about him. No matter, he shook his head, there were more important things to think of now. He gently laid the cloth over Murmur's bloodied forehead. "Oh, child, you outdid yourself this time." Smiling, he ran his gloved fingers over the curve of her jaw.

She slowly opened her eyes. "Xelly-papa…?" She whispered. She shook her head and sat up.

Lightly he slipped a hand to her back to support her. "Good evening, Murmur!" He said cheerfully. "Did you sleep well?"

"Xelloss, w-what happened?" She blinked her eyes, desperately trying to get them to focus. Her memories were so blurry. Raising a hand to her head she screamed.

Xelloss tightened his grip on her shoulders. "Murmur, calm down."

Red blood stained her hands, as she glanced down, she saw that the remnants of her dress were also stained and grimy with blood. Her breath caught in her throat as she turned her eyes to her keeper. She batted his hands away. "Whose blood is this?!" Screaming, she buried her face in her bloodied hands.

"Hakin's." He said, once again cheerful.

Her eyes widened. Gasping for air she ripped the dress off and huddled in her blankets. "No…no, no, no…" She chanted. "I did this…I killed someone."

"Actually, you annihilated an entire town!" He chuckled, "Such power, at such a young age…amazing really."

"I killed someone I loved…"

Xelloss opened his eyes, just a little, "Be glad that he died by your hands, and not mine. If you hadn't finished him off, I would have." He growled.

She glanced up at him, purple fusing her gray eyes, making them glow. "Get away from me." She hissed.

"Admit it, Murmur, you loved feeling him die, all the anger and pain…it was wonderful, isn't it?" He swiftly wrapped one arm around her waist. "It felt good, didn't it?" He whispered in her ear. "That mazoku inside of you finally reared her head and you loved it."

She sobbed and beat his chest. "Monster…I hate you…I hate everything…I hate myself. God, it did feel good…I'm a monster, too…hold me." Soon she stopped sobbing and wrapped her blankets around her naked body. "I have to get clean…" She whispered.

Walking to the small stream, she sank into the icy waters. The rush of cold was almost too much, her eyes fluttered shut. Clean my soul, she thought, freeze my sins to ice and wash them away. She prayed. Slowly, she scraped the blood of her first love off of her body. Her tears fell silently into the rushing current. Not all the blood would wash off, she couldn't reach her shoulders. Frustrated, she began to weep again.

Xelloss only stood by and watched. Poor child, her aura wrapped in guilt and self loathing. He could feed off of that one instant for the length of a human's lifetime. Ah, sweet Murmur. Unfastening the clasp on his cape he silently stepped from behind his hiding place.

Hearing the slightest rustle of the leaves behind her, Murmur halfheartedly turned her teary eyes to see Xelloss gracefully folding his cape and seat himself behind her.

Pushing up his sleeves and silently removing his gloves he smiled his strange enigmatic smile and said. "Care for me to wash your back, Mur-Chan?" He purred her name.

Slowly, she allowed him access to her back. Still untrusting of his actions, she reluctantly felt herself relax as his strong warm hands washed the blood and all the bad things away. The ice water flowed over her legs, gently pulling her away from Xelloss' hands and their warmth. Rippling with the current, her hair blossomed around her like a blood stained lily. She slowly let his fingertips slip away from her soft shoulders, sinking into the water around her. Cold flowed into her ears and nostrils as she slipped below the surface. It's better this way, she thought as the water covered her eyes, hair flowing over her throat and naked body. Just before her lips touched the frigid waters, she whispered, "Vice Freeze…"

Xelloss yanked his hands away from the water as ice sped across the stream. Everything froze, the lake the stream, even the small waterfall some distance away. And from below the cage of ice, Murmur smiled sadly up at him then closed her eyes and floated to the bottom, relinquishing her body to death. "No…" Xelloss whispered. "No, no, no!" He beat on the ice with his bare fists, trying to break it. All this was his fault. He should have stepped in before she killed Hakin, it had broken her.

Now, all he wanted was to have her back, like she was. So full of life, so loving. She didn't care that he was a Mazoku, to her he was only Xelloss. Not bad or good but both. His master was going to kill him. The cold bit into his fists as he pounded the ice, the muscles in his arms began to ache. "Murmur!"

With one final blow, the ice shattered before his Mazoku strength. Using his magic he pulled the child from the shards of ice and freezing waters. Cradling the dripping girl to him, he felt for a pulse, for breathing and found nothing but cold, dead skin and slick white hair. As gently as he could, he laid her on the snow and leaned over her motionless body. "Breath…" He whispered as he tenderly placed his mouth over her own. He may not have healing magic, but he knew other ways to resuscitate a human. Lifting his head away, he listened for a heart beat. Still nothing. With careful violence, he started the palpitations against her bear chest. "Stupid, half human girl!" He stopped to breath for her again. "All this for some stupid human that you killed!" Breath. "He wasn't worth all of this, now was he!?" Breath. "Don't you dare die!"

Murmur slowly looked around. A huge room lit with torches surrounded her with shadows and the smell of smoke. She coughed quietly and stared at her new area with wide eyes.

"Hello, Ciara Arl Mimette. Or should I call you, Murmur?" A voice purred from the darkness.

Murmur spun around, her hair billowing out behind her. "Who's there?" She murmured to the dark.

Behind her sat a woman with tan skin and gold hair. She gracefully clasped a cigarette between her fingers. Her eyes regarded the child with a predatory gleam. A flash of pink, her tongue darted out to wet her lips. "Care for a drink?" She stood, her long legs swiftly carrying her to a table laden with wines of all kinds. "

W-who are you?" Murmur whispered.

Again, the predatory eyes lit upon her. "A friend." She turned, a glass of wine redder than blood clasped in her slender fingers. Taking a long drag on her cigarette, the woman smiled seductively. "I'm here to offer you something."

Murmur crossed her arms over her chest. "What do you have that I would need?" She turned her head away. "All I want is to die."

"Would you like to stay with a certain someone? Or perhaps take revenge on the fire haired?" The woman smiled again.

Murmur started. How could this woman know so much about her?

"It wasn't your fault that you killed Hakin. The fire haired one made you do it. If she had not abandoned you when she first found you, then you wouldn't have had to kill the boy."

"No," She whispered, "It was my fault! I killed him and now I only want to die!"

The woman raised a slender eyebrow in the darkness, "Well, not everyone wants you to die, dear Murmur. Come and see for yourself." She waved a hand in front of her mirror and an image leapt into view.

Murmur gasped. Before her eyes was a startling scene. She was laying on the snow, naked and blue, wearing only her shell necklace. Above her, Xelloss was desperately pounding on her chest and breathing into her mouth. His bangs hid his eyes, disarrayed, the strands of the silky hair stuck to his face and mouth from his effort. "Oh, Xelly-papa…" She whispered, fresh tears springing to her eyes.

"Well, now do you want to go back?" The woman slipped an arm around the girl. "I will make sure that you can stay with him if you defeat the fire haired in battle."

"And if I fail?"

"Then you may die if you wish." She gently petted the girl's hair as she were stroking a cat. "But it would be such a waste for someone like you to just die like some pitiful human…"

Murmur shook the woman's hands off her shoulder. "I'm half Mazoku, be careful how you talk to me. My life is my own and I'll choose what I want to do with it." She took a step back, her eyes glued to the image of Xelloss and her body. "Who are you anyway?"

"Why my dear, I am the one who has saved you!" She laughed, spilling a little of her wine on the floor. Murmur glanced down and saw that the wine wasn't wine at all, it was blood. And it was still warm…

Her eyes fluttered open. It was dark again, she tried to turn her head and saw that she was back in the small structure of her and Xelloss' camp. Ah, it was so warm. She let her mind drift almost back into sleep before she sensed the source of the warmth.

Beside her she saw a shock of violet hair shining in the moonlight. Steady deep breath caressed her cheek like silk. Curled up beside her, one arm tossed haphazardly over her waist, was Xelloss. Exhausted by the effort of reviving her he slept like log. Oh, she thought, the devil looks like an angel when he's sleeping. She slowly raised one hand and touched his cheek, brushing the stray hairs away from his face. He was cool like quartz. His eyes fluttered slightly, but Xelloss slept on. Thank you, her mind whispered. I will defeat the one with fire hair and then I'll be able to stay with you forever, Xelly-papa.

She carefully slipped her hands around his back only to find it bear. Shrugging off the blanket, she saw that she was encompassed by his shirt and cape. Wiggling her toes, rewarded her with the knowledge that his socks were now on her feet too. Her eyes widened. With shaking hands she felt her legs and sighed, relieved that she found only skin. At least he had the good sense to keep his pants! He must be so cold, she thought, nuzzling her way deeper into his arms, tucking her head safely under his chin. She laughed sadly, I must remember to tell him we can't sleep like this anymore, I'm getting too old. People might think it's not proper. Closing her eyes, she sighed letting the steady rhythm of his heartbeat ease her troubled mind. He shifted in his sleep, putting him almost nose to nose with the young girl. Murmur bit her lip, he was so close to her, his lips only inches away. Hesitantly, she raised her mouth. A kiss wasn't much to steal, was it? Her lips were only a breath away from his, she stopped. He had already given her enough. She sighed and curled up in his arms, finally falling asleep.

Meanwhile, at the inn where Lina and company were staying, Daresu was in conniptions. "There is telling what that monster is doing to my baby!" She slammed her fist on the table were Lina, Gourry and Amelia were stuffing their faces. "And all you are doing is EATING!" She shouted, her cheeks going red with frustration, white hair ruffled and unruly.

"Don't worry, Daresu-san, Xelloss isn't quite as evil as you think." Lina mumbled through her baked chicken.

"Excuse me?!" She yelled. "This 'Xelloss' as you call him killed my husband and attempted to kill me too! Not only that, he CURSED my CHILD! How can you expect me to believe that he isn't evil!?"

"Well, he is a Mazoku, but he's more of a fluffy evil." Amelia mumbled from her side of the table, only to be silenced by The Ultimate Deadly Mother Stare from Daresu.

Zelgadiss sat his tea down with a loud crack. "Look, Daresu-san, at this moment, does Xelloss have a use for Ciara?" He raised one stone eyebrow.

"Like I said when you all agreed to help me find her, he wants her power. If I don't cast the regression spell soon, the power will overtake her!"

"Then no harm will come to her as long as she is needed and as long as Greater Beast Zelas doesn't command him to hurt her." Zelgadiss quietly regarded the flustered mother. "I grantee that we will find her soon. And give Xelloss just what he deserves."

"Ne, Zel. Why don't you go find her now since you're so hot on the subject." Lina suggested from her pile of empty plates.

"Actually, I was going to suggest that one of us goes on some sort of recognizance mission. But it would be fairer if we drew straws to see who should go." He coughed into his hand. It was awfully cold out tonight.

"Agreed! To walk the way of justice, we must-" Amelia was quickly silenced as Lina grabbed her by the hair and yanked four strands out. She carefully cut one in half and arranged them in her fist. "Lina-san, that was cruel!" Amelia whined as she pulled one of her own hairs from Lina's fist. Long.

Zelgadiss then took his. Long.

Lina and Gourry both drew theirs at the same time. Long, short.

Gourry had picked the short hair.

Daresu groaned. "But, he's stupid!"

Gourry looked at Lina. "She's right you know."

"Too bad, you're going!" Lina booted poor Gourry out into the snow, throwing the Hikari no Ken after him. She dusted her hands off and turned to Daresu, "Don't worry, he may be stupid, but he has uncannily good luck."

And indeed Gourry stumbled upon the camp only an hour later. "Oh, excuse me?"

Murmur stirred and looked up. Standing in the opening of the lean to was a man with really long hair staring down at her. "Uh….Xelly-papa, wake up! Some guy's here!" She grabbed him by the hair and started shaking him.

Dazed, still sleepy he opened his violet eyes for a minute. "Oh, Gourry-san. Hello." He yawned. "It's still dark, the rest is a secret. Good night." Without another word, he rolled over, tucking his bare arms around Murmur.

"Oh, okay. Good night!" Gourry turned around and walked away.

Murmur just blinked.

"Well, did you find them Gourry?" Lina leaned over her meat loaf and three cheese vegetarian lasagna. Behind her, Daresu was wringing her hands and Amelia and Zelgadiss were desperately trying to calm her down.

"Yes, I think so." He mumbled over his soup.

"Well?" Lina coaxed.

"They were asleep at their camp, so I only stayed a minute." He grinned, proud of his efforts.

Zelgadiss raised an eyebrow. "Xelloss was sleeping?" He shook his head. "It would take a lot of physical action to make a Mazoku sleep like a human."

A look passed between him and Lina. "Physical activity?" Lina said blandly. "Gourry, what were they wearing?"

Gourry tilted his head, deep in thought. Suddenly his face brightened, "Xelloss wasn't wearing anything but a blanket!" He grinned brightly. "And he was hugging the girl like Lina does her stuffed dragon!"

Lina, Amelia and Zel all sweat drop.

"H-he was naked?" Amelia whispered behind her hand, blushing.

"You sleep with a stuffed dragon?" Zel looked sideways at Lina.

"Shut up, Zel…"

"How would Gourry know what you sleep with?"

"Shut up, Zel!"

"I sleep with Lina a lot! It's warmer that way, but the dragon gets a lot more room than I do!" Gourry babbled happily. "Is that bad?" He asked as Zel and Amelia looked at each other.

Amelia sighed and dug a five oolong note from her pocket.

"Told you." He said simply as she handed him the money.

"I'll never bet with you again." Amelia mumbled.

"GUYS! Stop that! We need to worry about Ciara!" Lina yelled, after fire balling Gourry, her face as red as her talismans. She cleared her throat in her hand. "Let's think this through for a minute. He was sleeping, which means that he exerted an extraordinary amount of power physically. Magic shouldn't make him that tried. And it's really cold out, so under normal circumstances he should have had his clothes on…" Lina paused as she felt a fiery aura behind her.

"I'LL KILL THE MAZOKU BASTARD!" Daresu yelled. "If he's touched my daughter in any way, I'll torture him to death!" She started out into the night.

Lina grabbed her arms and pulled her back inside. "Look, I know you are worried about Ciara, but for the moment she's safe."

"You call naked in bed with a Mazoku, safe?!" The distraught mother shouted.

The pile of ash that was Gourry raised a hand. "The girl wasn't naked, she was wearing Xelloss' shirt and cape."

Lina sighed, "See, she's not naked, her dress was probably damaged from the Blast Ash spell and she borrowed his clothes."

A fire blazed behind Daresu's eyes. "Then he saw my baby naked!"

Lina sighed. "Just wait until morning and then we'll go find her."

"Why should I wait till morning?"

"Because you need us and I'm sure as hell ain't gonna miss the all you can eat breakfast buffet that they have here!" With that Lina yanked Daresu back into the inn.

Sun filtered through the opening in the makeshift shelter. One beam cut light across Murmur's closed eyes. Whimpering she rolled over to cuddle Xelloss, but was met with only cool blankets. Her mind registering this knowledge, she let her eyes peek open as she stretched. Crawling outside, she pushed her hair away from her face. "Morning, Xelly-papa." She chirped stepping into the fresh snow.

A pair of violet eyes turned to her, framed by a lighter shade of hair. For just a second, she saw true sadness in those eyes, then the smile was firmly restored to it's proper place. "Ah, good morning, Mur-Chan." He walked over to her and abruptly reclaimed his shirt.

Murmur gasped as the cold hit her full in her bare chest. "Hey!"

He regarded her for a moment. "Well, you aren't getting any taller, but those sure have grown." He poked her with one gloved finger, the soft flesh of her breast yielding. Grinning, he watched her squirm. "You can't drown yourself now, those would be more than buoyant." He pulled the shirt over his head, cover the muscular expanse of his chest and abdomen. His face reemerged, grinning. "I've been to see my master this morning, Mur-chan. She wants you to prove your power to her."

"I want to fight the fire hair girl!" She murmured, crossing her arms over her naked body. A fierce blush flooded her tan cheeks. "If I beat her, then I can stay with you!" She said with a note of hesitation.

"Would that really make you happy? I'm a monster remember, I've bathed in the blood of thousands." Still the smile remained as if he had only told her what he had eaten for breakfast.

"I can be a monster too!" She cried out defiantly.

Xelloss nodded. Picking up his staff, he pointed to the woods. "Over there is a nest, bring one of the things in it over here."

Murmur slowly crept away, the frosty wind licking her naked body, leaving her feeling like she had been lashed with whips of ice. Sure enough, a small nest of baby squirrels was eye level in one of the nearby trees. With unsteady hands she gently scooped out one of the tiny creatures. It curled into a tight ball of soft fur as the cold air and the absence of its siblings ruffled it's fur. Murmur smiled and cared the tiny little warm ball back towards Xelloss.

Oh, it's so cute! She thought, she brought it up to her face and caressed it with her cheek. Just a little fuzz ball, all snug with your tail wrapped around yourself. She was still grinning at it when she heard Xelloss speak. Her eyes widened when she registered what he had said.

"Kill it."

"What?"

"I said, 'kill it'. You said you could be a monster, if you can be then kill it."

Murmur bit her lip. This wasn't food, it's death would be senseless. But she had to prove herself. And if this was the only way, then… She started to squeeze and the tiny baby chirruped from her palm. She screwed her eyes shut and closed her hand tighter. The squirrel squealed in fear.

Then she stopped, abruptly turned away and walked back the way that she came. Placing the unharmed baby back in its nest with its brothers and sisters, she turned again and trudged defeated back to Xelloss' side. Rubbing her hands up and down her nude arms, she glanced down at her feet and sighed.

Xelloss absorbed the feeling of loss and failure radiating from the girl. Grinning he patted her shoulder and wrapped his cloak around her bare shoulders, slightly disappointed that he lost sight of her breasts. "Yare, yare, well, there's always time to teach one to be a killer, ne, Mur-Chan?"

Murmur halfheartedly nodded her head in reply, clasping the edges of the cloak tighter around her body. "My power may be great, but I don't have it in me to kill something innocent."

"Tut, tut Mur-chan." He whispered, pulling her to him. "You must learn not to be melancholy if you want to stay with me. Mazoku or even half Mazoku must learn to obey their instincts above all else."

Instincts, huh? She'd show him instincts. She raised to her toes and pressed her mouth against his, kissing him as boldly as she dared. The folds of the cape slipped behind her shoulders as her body pinned one of his hands to her bare chest. Murmur let her mouth gape slightly and slipped her tongue into his mouth. To her surprise, he started laughing. Startled she pulled back to stare at the chuckling priest.

"Silly child. Don't you understand that I don't love you?" He snickered. "I am not capable of loving. Especially not you, you're just some bastard child, without even a fraction of my power. Why do you think I'd even be interested in you?"

Murmur's eyes flooded with amethyst. "Because a friend showed me what you did for me yesterday. You saved me, you must have had a reason." She slowly backed away from him.

"I did save you but why is a secret." He shook one of his fingers, "When you were a baby, I said that I'd share one of my secrets with you. So I will now keep my promise. Haven't you ever wondered, just why you are cursed?"

"A Mazoku came and punished my mother and father for falling in love. They weren't supposed to have children, but here I am."

"But what of your mother, you know that she must be worried."

Murmur shifted uncomfortably, "Mother only sees me as what is left of my father. I honestly can say that I am only a substitute for a love that she lost many years ago."

"And your father, where is he?"

"The place where Mazoku go when they die…I really don't know."

"Do you know who killed him?"

Murmur looked up into his strange, lightless cat eyes. "Yes. You did."

Xelloss was slightly taken aback. This girl knew that he was the cause of her real father's death and yet he felt no hate or vengeance radiating from her in his direction. She knew that he had killed him without a second thought and still she called him 'papa'? "I enjoyed ripping his throat out."

"I don't care, I'll still stay with you. I can't condemn you for being what you are." The morning sun glinted off the glass like shells on her necklace.

"Then you will have to fight the girl with fire hair." Stupid child! What in the nine hells is wrong with you?!

"Good."

"And if you harm her, then I will kill you like I have told you before. Do you understand?"

"Yes." Then she thought to herself, I lose either way.

"Why did you tell her what you did!?" An enraged voice echoed down the torch lit hallways.

"I only offered her what she most desired. There was nothing wrong with that." A calm husky voice replied.

"The child has no choice! If she fights Lina and wins then she dies, if she loses she still dies! What do you expect her to do!?"

"That, my dear general priest, is what will make this so much fun."

"That's cruel…yet it will make for a good show…" How was he supposed to argue with his master? Stupid human, why did she have to be so unpredictable?

Lina and her strange traveling party didn't have far to go that morning, their trek to Xelloss' camp was cut short as the one the sought appeared in front of them about a mile outside of town.

"Good morning, min'na!" The priest cheerfully popped into view.

"Xelloss…" Lina whispered. "Where is the girl, Ciara?"

"Evil Mazoku bastard!" Daresu screamed. "Where in the nine hells is my daughter!? Give her back to me!" She flew towards the grinning man, ready to strangle her child's whereabouts out of his smirking face.

Murmur spun around from her place behind Xelloss. "Mother, stop! Here I am, don't hurt him!" Clutching Xelloss' cape close to her body she shielded him from her mother's oncoming rage.

"Ciara!?" Her mother's eyes widened as her daughter, considerably older than she had ever been before. "What has happened to you, my child."

Murmur smiled sadly and replied. "I've grown up, mother." She shook her head, her hand grasping the shell necklace that she wore. "I think that since I've used some of my magic during the past days, the power is lessened."

"Fool." Daresu hissed. "That's what that monster wants you to think." She pointed a pale hand at Xelloss.

"Xelly-papa has explained nothing to me. I have a brain, I can figure some things out." Murmur hissed back.

Zelgadiss and Amelia looked at each other. "'Xelly-papa'?"

"But he killed your father!" Daresu's voice held a slight edge of panic.

"I know." She whispered. "I am here to challenge that girl there, the one with fire for hair, to a duel." She pointed one slender, tan finger in Lina's direction.

"What? Why am I getting dragged into this?" Lina shouted.

Ciara ignored her. "One hour from now, meet me by the stream, one mile to the south. We will each cast one spell, whoever is left alive wins." Without another word, she vanished.

Xelloss tipped them a farewell glance saying, "Be careful, Lina-san, she means business." Before he too faded away.

Murmur paced back and forth before the stream. Still there was half an hour left until her battle. Clothed in nothing but Xelloss' cloak she shivered and cursed the falling snow. "Xelloss, I need to ask you a favor."

"And what would that be, Mur-chan?" He raised an eyebrow.

"I want to know why you hate me now. You've been so nice to me until today, always looking out for me, always seeming to care. Was all that an act?"

Xelloss stood up slowly, dusting the snow from his pants. His eyes open, he mumbled some strange spell. Murmur gasped as the snow and water began to blow around her body. Through the whirl of snowflakes and water droplets, Murmur caught small glimpses of his face, sadness pulling at the ever present grin. Then the movement stopped and the snow and water fused to her body. Gasping at the sudden frost that smacked her body like fire, Murmur collapsed to the ground, Xelloss' cape unfastening and drifting away. To her amazed eyes, blue and white cloth covered her entire body and it was warm to her skin but cold to the touch. "What you are wearing now are called elemental clothing. This will deflect most of Lina's fire magic. Hopefully, she'll just try to fireball you to make sure that no major harm is done." He shook his head. "As for your question, that is a secret!" He grinned and wagged his finger at her.

"You want me to what?" Lina gasped as Daresu finished what she was saying.

"I want you to cast the most powerful of your spells at Ciara. She has been enchanted by this Xelloss and therefore there is no hope for her."

Zelgadiss stood up. "This is your child that we are talking about here!" He slammed his fist on the table. "She'll die if Lina hits her too hard."

Daresu held up one finger. "But remember, she's half Mazoku. She won't be harmed too terribly. I will be able to heal her if worst comes to worse."

Lina numbly nodded. "All right if that's what you want."

Amelia bent over and whispered to Zelgadiss. "Why is she acting like this?"

"Well, there are a few reasons…she could really just hate Xelloss that much, which I would understand. Or she's hoping that the blast will hit her and then hit him…" He scratched his head. "I really do think that she loves her daughter but…"

Amelia laid one hand over his. "I know. I'm confused too."

"I just wonder what Xelloss is up to this time."

A pair of gray eyes regarded their foe with grim determination. Murmur, all decked out in her new clothing, stood her ground, wind billowing her hair out behind her. At her flank was a very still Xelloss, his cape the only thing that reveled that he wasn't some life like statue. There was no way that she could win this fight, frenzied thoughts flew through his mind like startled birds. The small child that he had raised in a little over two weeks was now staring death in the face and not backing down. If she knew what was best for her, she would just walk over to her mother and regress to a baby again. But he couldn't let her do that either. He would shield Lina if it was necessary, the child was capable of incredible powers. It would take a lot to take her down, but still… All he could do was watch, the destruction that he usually reaped eluded him just like the meaning of this strange half-bread girl's life.

Lina stood on the other side of the soon to be battle field, the snow devouring her feet to the ankles. Behind her were all of her friends and Murmur's mother. A staggering number compared to Murmur's ranks. Lina was vaguely aware that Daresu was praying behind her. Let her, it was ultimately her decision, but Lina felt obligated to the mother's wishes. Placing her hands slightly in front of her, she signaled that she was ready.

Xelloss nodded as he saw Lina shift into position. Walking to the middle of the snowy field, he raised one hand. "All right, the rules." He looked from one girl to the other. "One spell, last left standing wins. Other than that, no rules." Lina bent her knees slightly and brought her hands up to shield her chest if Ciara decided to hit fast. She leveled her breathing and waited for Xelloss to move, officially starting the match. Her talismans started to glow faintly.

Murmur's head shot up. That little bitch was using Xelly-papa's magic! Anger boiled up in her chest. That was unfair! Even if this girl was only a human, using an almost pure Mazoku amplifier was tipping the tables a little too far in the fire headed one's favor! Still, she took a deep breath, calming her fury. That didn't really matter, fiery minds led to simple mistakes. She grinned slightly. Let her try to fight, just let her try.

Xelloss shot a troubled glance over in Murmur's direction. He had felt the surge of anger, now there was nothing. And she was grinning…what the hell was she thinking? There was absolutely no way in the world for her to win. Stupid girl! Bowing his head, he phased out and signaled the beginning of the strange death match.

Immediately, Lina started to chant.

Murmur tilted her head slightly, grinning as her bangs hid her eyes.

"Darkness beyond twilight, crimson beyond blood that flows…"

Xelloss appeared near the rest of Lina's group. "Yare, yare, Lina's casting the Dragon Slave on such a young girl…" He opened one eye when he noticed that Daresu hadn't replied. She was still praying, her head bowed, motionless.

"Buried in the stream of time, in thy great name…" Lina glanced at her opponent, still the girl with snow hair hadn't moved. She only stood there grinning.

Come on, Murmur…Xelloss thought narrowing his strange eyes.

The ball of black void expanded in Lina's hands…beginning to glow red. "I pledge myself to darkness! Let the fools who stand before us-"

Murmur raised one finger and whispered… "Mute."

Lina's eyes widened as the wind was knocked out of her throat. Of all the stupid things to forget! Mute…now she couldn't finish her spell…

Xelloss started laughing as he appeared by Murmur's side. She smiled weakly up at him. "You are simply unbelievable, Mur-chan…simply unbelievable…"

"Thanks…Now you don't have to kill me because I didn't hurt her…and she didn't kill me…?" Smiling she wrapped her arms around him, "Now, I can stay with you!" Then her smile mutated into a grimace of agony. Suddenly she pitched forward, her body contorting wildly. Her mouth opened as she gasped for air. "Mother-"

Xelloss grabbed her as she fell. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that Daresu had finally looked up. She hadn't been praying at all, he thought as the magic washed over them…she was casting the regression spell. Xelloss opened both of his eyes, ready to rip the woman apart.

Murmur laid a shrinking hand over his wrist, "Don't, she's my mother…" Tears streamed from the corners of her eyes, "She's only doing what she thinks is best for me…she doesn't know…" Murmur smiled bravely though the pain. Her form slowly regressing.

Not fair…This isn't fair! His mind screamed. Stupid, fucking human! She won fairly, she had fought bravely. Could the child not be happy for even one day in her short life?! Didn't she know how terrible her fate was treating her?!

Murmur looked up at him. "But, Xelly-papa, I was happy."

Stupid, STUPID, half breed!

"When you took care of me…" She coughed as blood slowly leaked out of her mouth. "I was so happy. Of all of them, you were the only one who would even care about me." She raised a shaky hand to his cheek. "Even if you don't or can't love me, you cared enough to raise me. And because of that I'll be a better person next time." Her eyes glassed over. "You'd better get out of here…I don't think that I can control this much power in my body now that it's smaller. Bye-bye, Xelly-papa." She smiled, even though the power in her veins threatened to rip her apart from the inside out.

Xelloss bowed his head. As he raised his face again, the evil smile was plastered on his visage. "Stupid little half bread." Chuckling cruelly, he grabbed the girl's hands and smashed the symbols on her palms to the jewel on his staff.

Murmur managed a muffled scream as she felt the power being ripped from her being. Her shrinking form gathered more speed, she turned hurt eyes to him. "Why?"

"That's a secret…" He giggled madly as the power flowed from the girl to the red orb. He turned his head slightly as her body reached the age of four. Almost, it was almost finished. All of the effort would now pay off. Just hang on a little while longer. It'll be over soon. He felt the girl's small hands shrink to pudgy baby hands as he circled his other arm to support the deteriorating child. Her hot tears fell to his wrist and soaked the gloves that cover his hands. The red gem pulsed with the beat of the baby's heart as the great power that filled her was torn from her body and spirit. And deep inside the black pit where his soul used to be, Xelloss felt something tug.

Finally nothing was left of Murmur but a marble sized orb of swirling gray, floating over Xelloss' hand. Without another word, he approached Daresu. He pushed aside an angry Lina and glared at Zelgadiss, daring him to move. Sure that no one was going to interfere, he continued towards Daresu.

Catching the arms that moved to beat him away, Xelloss rendered the crying mother helpless. "You monster! You've killed her! Why do you take everyone I care for away from me!? Truly you are a demon!"

"Perhaps…" Then as gently as he was able he pushed the orb against her belly. It disappeared when he removed his hand. "This time, try to love the little brat more, ne?" He growled behind his grin. "Your husband is gone, but your child remained. Remember that." He phased out without another word, leaving a baffled and angry motley crew behind him.

"Did you complete your mission?"

"Of course, Jouusama." He carefully handed her the stone from his staff.

"Ah," She proclaimed, breathing out a stream of smoke. "Such power, however did she keep it in check?" The woman twisted the globe, letting the light hit it from all angles.

"She was a strong person, master." Xelloss bowed his head, clutching something in his fist. The light shown red over his face, shining in his lightless eyes.

"True, yet she was still part human. She could never had been truly happy."

No, master, you are wrong, he thought. "I suppose so." The red prisms of light reflected off his hair as he looked up. "Perhaps she will be happier in her next life."

He smirked quietly to himself as he took his leave, Murmur's shell necklace clutched tightly in his hand. He stepped outside and watched as the snow finally began to melt away, letting the soft light of a new dawn set the shells on the rosary sparkling. With a solemn face, Xelloss brought the necklace to his lips and kissed it gently, "Yes, this time she will be happy..." and smiled.

Epilogue

"I can't believe this!" The young woman cried as she hiked up the layers of her snowy white skirts. The twenty year old bride to be raced towards the ceremonial building were she was to be wed…about ten minutes ago. "I'm late for my own wedding!" Tenaciously, Ciara bit her lip and slipped the high backed shoes off of her feet. Wisps of her white hair cascaded down her neck as she sprinted towards the chapel at full speed.

A thousand thoughts flew through her mind like startled birds. Soon she'd be someone's wife. Granted it had taken her long enough to figure out that the person she had been looking for for almost twenty years wasn't coming to claim her. Her mother was rejoicing over the fact. She still refused to see that it was all his doing that she was able to live a normal life now. Somehow her curse had been reversed, she aged normally and was relieved of all the crushing powers that had held her captive. She now had friends and normal relationships, since they could now stay in one place for longer than a week. Ciara grinned. The man she had found to take the other's place loved her so much. She spun around, letting her gown flow around her like water. Grimacing, she shoved some of her hair back into place, but she still missed him…

The warm spring breeze whispered past her as the ceremonial building came into view. Gasping for breath, her cheeks pinker than the blossoms on the trees around her, the soon to be bride was almost bursting with happiness. Except for that small space in her heart that was still empty from the absence of a certain loved one, Ciara was almost completely content. She slowed as she neared the hall, slipping her shoes over her soiled feet. "Mom's not gonna be happy with me." She whispered, smiling and sticking her tongue out just a little to note how much she really cared.

Then the flurry of thoughts stopped. Propped against the double doors of the chapel was a small box. Suddenly, Ciara's heart felt like it was going to pound it's way right out of her chest. With shaking hands she picked up the small box that barred her way. Swallowing hard, she eased the top of the present off and gasped. Inside was her shell rosary. Clasping it in her hand, Ciara turned away from the wedding and looked back into the trees from where she had come. If her necklace was here…then so was he… She felt the tears slowly prick at her eyes, she had to find him! Her shoes echoed as she slowly began to walk back towards the woods.

Then a small piece of paper fluttered out of the box. She bent down, ignoring her pure white dress and delicately snatched up the note. The tears finally leaked out of her gray eyes when she read it…

Murmur,

Be happy.

Murmur smiled and turned back. Of course…that's all she had ever really wanted wasn't it? With joyous determination she threw open the doors to the chapel and was enveloped by candle light. As the doors slowly swung back, she looked back, smiled and whispered, thank you. Then the doors shut and claimed the beautiful angel and from the trees outside, a certain someone smiled.

The End