12-12-12: Okay, an edit from after the story is ended! :D And WOW, what a date. o.o Anyway, I found a poem in English III that works SO WELL with Magiya's personality. :)
"We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,-
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask."
But yeah, I just wanted to share that. ^^
Welcome to the (WITHOUT EXCEPTION) last bit of Zhi Lao'Hu. There will be no more. No sequel, no extra parts… this is it. Seriously. Here we go, the final reviews.
MusicOfPoetry: Magiya's certainly back to her anti-socializing personality, for sure… And yes, you can use "wowness" now. :)
The poll will probably be open for another good week to two weeks, at least. XD I'm hoping to get the result I like best… it's kind of like asking someone else the question you already know the answer to because you don't like the answer and you're hoping it will change. ^^" I'm guilty.
*tacklehug* I really am SO THRILLED you love my story that much. Funny thing is about Chapter 5, a LOT of girls I've known think a similar thing when they make a mistake in front of a cute guy. XD
Anyway, the ending. *pats shoulder* Don't worry… they'll make an appearance in the next fanfiction. Not a big appearance. They're not the major stars. But they're going to show up as a couple, so don't worry. :) And you're right… True love never dies.
But damn, is it one elusive little shit.
Arieta41: You know how we all love happy endings. X3 I love them just as much as anyone else, I guess. :D And here you go!
Jellybelly Puffypants: In your position, I would have squealed too. X3 And trust me, everything is more than "okay" between those two… promise. ;D Like I said, no sequel. They're going to show up in the next fanfiction, though! :)
CommanderHawke667: I don't know about a sort of "antagonist X OC" relationship… o.o I don't usually write villains all that well. Vayle here was a stretch for me. DX But let me put your mind at rest—though it will certainly be considered, if it is chosen, it will be a long time in coming. :3 No promises.
Unwillfully-Indescribeable: You're not the only one who's sad it's over and done with. :( But I am honestly ecstatic that you liked it so much, and that I MIGHT have been able to change your mind about Canon/OC fics. ;D
*high-fives* *glomps* It's wonderful people like you who stroke my little author ego. :3 Thank you so much!
KiasuEurasian: *hands hankie* Don't worry, you've not seen the last of me! Muahaha!
And yes, actually, I was. :) Very astute! Somewhere in the author's notes in the beginning, I mention the meaning behind the title, and a direct dictionary quote. ^^ A paper tiger is someone who puts on a fierce front, and is not nearly as tough as they claim to be. :) This is one of those rare instances where the author discovered the truest possible name for the story.
And, sadly, the epilogue fast approaches. However, at the end, you will find there is one small loose end that has not yet been tied up…
"Lackadaisical. Lackadaisical. Lackadaisical."
"Artix, would you please stop saying that word?!"
"Grrr, would you just stop it?"
"Well… just this once, I suppose I could show mercy…"
"Yes! Thank you!" I exclaimed, throwing my arms out to either side theatrically. Artix and I were both walking side by side down the main road in Falconreach, and we were still discussing… that word. "It has been a year. I don't know if you can go one day without saying it! I'm sorry I even brought it up! I am so sick of hearing that word, I swear to Lore, if I hear it one more time, I'll—"
"Oh, that is it!"
With a furious growl that was more of a shriek, I leaped on his back and wrapped my arms around his neck from behind. I didn't have much of a plan at all, really, except maybe strangle him from behind. I wasn't carrying my staff at the moment, and I think it might have been for the best, because I would have had to drop it to do this.
"Ow, Magiya, get off!" Artix yelped, his steps halting. I promptly tightened my grip.
It's a good thing he's been helping me get stronger, because under normal circumstances I would never have been able to do this. Looks like it's working against him.
"No!" I shouted childishly. With some effort, Artix managed to unhook my death grip around his neck, and from there it was an easy step for him to pull me off and set me on my feet again. I crossed my arms until my feet hit the ground, pouting. I glared at him, but for Artix, my usual glare had lost its power long ago. A little over a year ago, in fact; not long after I went and fetched him from Death's Realm. It was late spring now, and it had been very, very early spring then.
A lot can happen in a year, I reflected as I gave up my glare, huffing and looking away. Artix grinned that shameless smirk he always had ready to use (and mind you, it's a very lethal weapon), and without a second thought, grabbed my hand as he started walking again. I didn't even blush anymore. It felt perfectly normal. I walked with him, still kind of put out.
Okay, maybe a lot put out.
Artix chuckled when he saw my face again, and asked, "Are you happy?"
"That is very unladylike," he chastised without really meaning it.
"So is that," he laughed, rubbing the back of his head with his free hand. "And watch your language, there are kids running around."
"It's springtime," I said bluntly. "The people here breed like bunnies. What makes you think there won't be children all over the place?" I asked rhetorically. I shuddered, and added, "Snot-nosed, disease-carrying vermin…" Artix gave me a scandalized look. At this, I shot him a questioning glance. "What? I don't like kids. At all." I may have felt bad for that kid I saw in Death's Realm. I still did. He didn't need to die.
I just never wanted any kids of my own. Some women were cut out to be mothers, what with their perfect, caring personality. I simply wasn't one of them.
"Kids are a gift!" he exclaimed incredulously.
"A gift from the devil…"
I huffed. "Artix, I don't put up well with kids, alright? Why they seem to think I do is beyond me."
"A lot of things are," he put in dryly, earning him a light slap on the back of the head. I say light because I still couldn't hit very hard at all. Artix chuckled in that deep tone that you'd think you would feel more than hear, and pulled me off the main road under a tree. It wasn't one of those short ones, but it was one of the trees that was all twisty and perfect to climb that had pink blossoms flying everywhere. I don't know what they're called, and I don't care. I just like them. Artix twirled me around until my back was against the trunk, then just grinned that sinful smile, resting his forehead against mine. I muttered under my breath.
"What was that?" he asked in amusement. I shot him a scathing glare. He knew very well what I had said.
"I said you're a fucking idiot," I repeated in a sickly sweet tone. But despite the antagonism, I felt a returning smile starting to curve my lips. Artix smirked again.
"And there's the smile I was waiting for," he whispered, gently pressing his lips against my own. I did as I usually did, making him work for a moment before I responded, deepening the kiss. He had referred to it before as a 'game'… I don't know what he's talking about. His lips were firm, but not unpleasantly so—just enough that mine molded perfectly around his. My fingers crept up lightly to tangle loosely in his copper brown hair, and after a moment, we pulled back. I couldn't even glare at him anymore. "You are so beautiful," he murmured as he gently placed a tiny kiss on my nose. "You know that?"
Right about then was when one of the aforementioned snot-nosed, disease-carrying children ran up to us. Dear Lore, save me…
"I know you guys!" he chattered excitedly. He didn't look particularly cute or impressive, with dull, muddy brown eyes and short hair that looked like it had gold highlights. He looked to be maybe seven or eight, at best guess. "You're a Paladin and a Mage! I know you guys, I know you! Artix and Mag-giya!" He stuttered over my name, but it didn't really bother me. A lot of people got my name wrong if I didn't say it for them.
"Hey, kid," Artix said with a friendly grin, kneeling down to the boy's height. He maintained his light grip on my right hand, however, and that sent a small thrill of happiness through me. I allowed a slightly shy grin to dart across my lips.
"Oooh, can I ask you something?" a little girl asked, running up to stand next to the boy. She had bright red hair and a light spattering of freckles, but the eyes that lay behind her bangs were a stunning emerald green.
"Sure," Artix replied, flashing a smile at the girl. She giggled and blushed a little bit, then her enthusiasm bounced right back.
"When are you guys gonna get married?"
I froze, and so did Artix. There was a beat of dead silence, and then his grin widened. My silence was not a good silence. His silence meant that he was plotting something.
"Well, we were thinking sometime in late fa—oof!"
"What he means to say is," I covered quickly with a smile that felt sort of cracked as I knelt down too, hopefully hiding the fact that I had just dropped my shoulder and driven it will all the force I possessed into his ribcage. I don't think it worked, but I didn't much care. I continued, "That we don't know when—or if—we're getting… you know." I ended it with another one of those fake smiles that seemed to satisfy them, and the two children beamed.
"I hope you do," the little redhead chirped.
"Me too!" the boy said gleefully.
With that, their short attention spans were spent, and they raced off somewhere else. I rocked back on my heels, sitting with my back to the tree trunk before inspecting my now-throbbing elbow. I glared at Artix, like it was all his fault it was hurting.
In a way, it was.
It's already bruising, I thought irritably. I shot a poisonous scowl in the Paladin's direction, mentally growling at him while at the same time asking if he could fix it. Without a word, Artix smiled, pulling one of the red health potions from nowhere. He tugged the cork out with his teeth and rested his free hand on my left cheek, lifting the rim of the bottle to my lips. It reminded me briefly of when I was (more or less) vulnerable in the Hydra Caves. Still glaring daggers at him, I took a small sip of the red liquid from the bottle, and felt the nearly unpleasant tingling begin to accumulate around the general area of my right arm.
"Thanks," I murmured unwillingly as Artix replaced the cork in the bottle, offering up another smirk.
"Come on, then," he quipped, holding both of my hands and lifting me almost effortlessly to my feet again. I felt a grin start to spread across my features as Artix gently pulled me along with him as we walked. I jogged until I was even with him, and we continued to walk as we had before we were distracted.
Of course, had I been able to see the grand scheme of things, maybe I wouldn't have been so carefree. In another dimension entirely, Fate was spending time in Death's company. The two were siblings, only two of four; Death, Fate, Time, and Life. They watched us, and looked down on us, for they were greater beings than we, and far more powerful.
At the moment, Fate and Death observed us curiously.
"That female made a deal with you, didn't she?" Fate said softly. Death wasn't her favorite sibling, but the two got along surprisingly well—after all, they worked together flawlessly.
"She did," Death confirmed. "What does it matter, sister?"
"I was just wondering… with how happy they both look, are you ever really going to collect that favor? Wouldn't you rather see them happy like this?"
"No, I wouldn't. I had that Paladin, and… well, her offer was tempting."
"They could save the world, you know. They did it once before already. You have that Necromantress in your grasp now, thanks to them," Fate reminded her brother.
"True," Death conceded, "But still… I always call on favors. Maybe not today, and maybe not soon. But I will, of that there is no doubt…"
And so, dear readers, beloveds of mine, we have reached the end.
*sniffs and wipes eyes* Seriously. Last night, I actually cried. Paper Tiger is my BABY.
I don't want kids. I NEVER want kids. But this story is, I think, as close as I may ever get.
And I'm fine with that.
I cannot thank all of you enough if you read, commented, or in any way supported this fanfiction. I will be eternally grateful to all of you. In fact, let me just give a quick shout-out to a couple people I would love to hug right now if I could meet them! They'll know who they are: Michelle and Arieta. :) You guys kept on boosting my poor little author's ego in the last third of the fanfiction, and I can't thank you enough.
Yeah, without everybody, Zhi Lao'Hu would probably be finished anyway. But it would be much shorter and take longer between chapters, and it would completely lack the emotion and feeling that so many people tell me I can pack into a fanfiction.
I owe so much to so many people… my mom, my friends, hell, even my dogs. I just can't write it all here, because it would take so much time that I really don't have right now. My heart goes out to everyone who helped me finish Zhi Lao'Hu.
Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Well, one other thing… I wanted to interview our stars before we go. ;D Ready? *shoves Artix and Magiya into the room*
A: She's happy to see you, really.
A: *grin* She loved being the star, she just doesn't want to admit it. Just like she doesn't want to admit that right now, she would rather be locked away with me in a tower, having us doing nothing but-
M: *slams hand across Artix's mouth* YOU SHUT UP. YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP RIGHT NOW.
J: *singsong* Methinks that Magiya doth protest too much.
M: Will you all just shut up!?
A: No, of course not! Why would we, it's much more fun doing this!
J: *ducks brick* Look, the whole point of this was-*WHAM*
A: What Juliet was trying to say before she got bricked is that this was supposed to be the star interview! But clearly, Magiya doesn't want to do it!
J: *rubs head* *mutters* Magiya doesn't want to do anything.
M: You're the one who made me like this, J! Can't you just go POOF and make me all nice and caring?!
J: *grumble* No, I can't, because that would really screw you up.
A: You mean more than she already is?
M: SHUT UP.
A and J simultaneously: No.
M: *glare* WHY?
J: A), you have a message to deliver, B), I'm the author.
M: What, so that gives you free reign?!
J: No, it means you're going to give the message to the readers, THEN you can go home.
A: *grin* Aw, come on, Magiya, it's not that bad.
J: He's right. I could be having you dance the Macarena with Cysero, or being Lim's assistant for 48 hours.
M: ... I'd rather take Cysero.
J: I know, but that's not an option right now!
M: *grumble* Why can't Artix do it?
A: I died in the story, babe. I may be a major character, but I'm not the main charrie.
M: *mutter* Stupid authors... fine. *ahem* Readers, Juliet would like me to thank you (since she doesn't have the guts to do it herself) for reading Zhi Lao'Hu. Now you can all go die in a hole.
J: *slaps forehead* It wasn't quite what I asked for, but considering how long it took us to get here, I'll take it.
And it DID take us a long time to get here, readers… I'm just sad that it's over, yet at the same time, it feels like a weight's been lifted off my shoulders. It will probably be a while before I actually start writing and/or put up the next Dragonfable fanfiction, no matter how much I have planned out. Next time… I think I'll write almost everything before actually posting it, so you all won't have to wait as long. :)
I love you guys.
Juliet, signing off.