Disclaimer: First off, if you're expecting Xel/Fil for this fic, you'll be sadly disappointed. This one is Val/Syl. That's right, Valgaav/Sylphiel. Nothing else. But I just had to do this because it stuck in my head. ^_^ Just remember, I could always do that Gaav/Nagha one instead. Oh, and I don't own these characters. So there.

Feedback: Make me feel better for not getting to go to AWA this year! ;_; ~ sailorN1@aol.com

After the Rain

by Crystal Dawn Phoenix

It had been a chilly autumn night when he'd found out.

It wasn't as if it was a surprise. The bonds between a creation and its creator run deep, and he'd felt a nagging void where his Lord's presence should have been for the past few weeks. But he'd secretly tried to suppress that feeling and the creeping dread that accompanied it, trying instead to busy himself with his daily duties with the Master's army.

Then, one chilly fall night, a messenger arrived, looking haggard and peeked. The news it carried was something he'd been trying to avoid altogether. The messenger fell to its knees and bowed its head.

"Sir, it's Lord Gaav," the messenger said, breathlessly, "He's... Lina Inverse... she... Oh, Gods..."

Valgaav sat motionless, his eyes stone cold. The messenger looked up uncertainly, hoping it wouldn't be punished for bearing bad news. Valgaav glared at it.

"That will be all," he said with quiet restraint. He wanted to scream, to tear something to pieces. The messenger stood, an uncertain look on its face.

"But Lord...", the messenger stammered, not quite sure what to make of his master's attitude. Valgaav glared at the creature. It backed up a few paces, withering under his stare.

"Get. Out...", Valgaav said deliberately. The messenger took the hint and scampered away.

He hadn't wanted to deal with this. He had lost too many important people in his life already. Now the one that had given him a purpose and a reason to continue living was gone. He knew already what he wanted to do. He wanted to take that Lina Inverse bitch and disembowel her. But not right now.

The news was still sinking in, the reality of it just beginning to dawn on him. His Lord was gone. He would never come home again. Valgaav buried his head in his hands, clutching fistfuls of his hair. There was a feeling in his gut like his entrails were tying themselves in knots.

He stormed off of his stone chair and grabbed his wrap off the armrest, then made his way across his large stateroom. His anger manifested itself as he walked out the door, splintering it as he slammed it open. On the other side of the door, a small fox-man stood with a much taller reptilian man. They were his two servants, Jillas and Grabos, respectively. They had been standing outside in the foyer with uncertain looks on their faces.

"Lord Valgaav," Grabos said slowly, "We heard..." Valgaav shot him a glare, silencing him effectively.

"I'm going out," he growled, causing both of his servants to cower. Shakily, Jillas spoke up.

"Where will you go, sir?", he asked, visibly unnerved.

"Out," he answered through grit teeth, "Just out."

The servants winced, but reluctantly let him leave.

Valgaav slammed doors open until he was outside in the cool night air. In truth, he hadn't the first clue what he wanted to do at the moment. All he knew was that he had to get out. The air would clear his head. The desert night was dry and cool, a slight breeze rustling his hair.

The anger in his heart wouldn't be content in just letting him stand still outside. He wanted to do something, kill something, go somewhere. His heart was racing, one of the last vestiges of having a mortal, physical body that he still clung to. There was a pain threatening to rip his chest apart. He simply had to rid himself of these feelings or he'd never be able to think straight enough to plan his vengeance.

Physical activity. Surely that was the key. He would simply exert himself until the still-mortal part of himself was exhausted. When he had still been a dragon, before his family had been slaughtered, if he were frustrated, he would run. He would run until he found a solution to whatever was bothering him. That was fully what he intended to do now.

Valgaav slung his wrap around his shoulders, leaving it hanging loose down his back. There was rain in the air now, and he figured it wouldn't be much longer before it began to pour. Not that he cared much; all that mattered now was the running.

So he started running. He didn't really care much what direction he went in, just as long as he was running. He paid no attention when it did begin to rain. He barely noticed the cold, stinging drops of water as they hit his skin. He didn't notice the mud as it splashed up from the bottoms of his feet. The small branches of desert shrubbery that scraped at his ankles and tore his pants didn't hurt him at all. Nor did it hurt when the branches tore the skin on his legs, nor when they pricked his arms. All that mattered to him was the running.

Every once in awhile, he'd teleport a few miles in the direction he was running. The farther he could run, the more distance he could put between himself and the pain, the better. Soon, the desert faded into grasslands, and then into forest. The night went on and so did the rain, blinding his senses and chilling him to the bone. He had no idea where he was now, and he didn't care.
The forest he was in was full of creatures calling to one another and full of sharp branches ready to tear his skin. Valgaav ignored both and kept running at full speed. He paid no mind to the predatory eyes that watched him from the undergrowth.
Suddenly, a large, grey wolf leapt in front of him, blocking his path. Valgaav snarled at it as he stopped.

"Out of my way!", he growled, not really caring if the animal could understand him or not. It would surely get the gist of his words. However, neither the creature, nor the rain, paid any mind to him. The wolf bared its fangs and growled before licking its chops. It was then that Valgaav noticed that he was not only facing one wolf, but its entire pack. They had surrounded him shortly after their leader had stopped him. He smirked. This could be just what he needed to get his mind off his problems.

The first wolf leapt suddenly, making aim for his throat. Valgaav quickly threw his arm up at the animal, feeling its teeth bear down into his forearm instead of his neck. He slung the wolf off to one side, hearing it collide with a large tree. He had no time to end its life, however, as its comrades jumped at him, snarling.

Valgaav didn't even feel their teeth or claws as he fought them. He worked slowly, toying with them for his own sadistic amusement. He knew it wasn't fair to take out his suffering on a bunch of dumb animals, but at the moment, he didn't really care. The fight was more important.

He broke one's jaw, twisting it when it tried to bite him. He snapped one's neck as it leapt for him. At least two were slung into trees like the first one, and he bit at least two more that happened to get close enough to his face. Their pain and blood was intoxicating, and after he killed the last one, he sank to his knees, laughing.

The cold rain kept coming down in torrents, the lightening flashed behind him in the sky. He continued laughing until he was out of breath. He knew he'd exhausted his physical body. He fell forward, losing consciousness as he hit the muddy ground.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

The next morning was beautiful. The sky was a clear, cloudless blue, and it was neither too warm nor too chilly, but just right. The ground was still soggy and damp from the last night's storm, but other than a few puddles and muddy spots here and there, there was no way to tell there had been such a harsh storm. Bright red, yellow, and orange leaves floated to the ground as a crisp breeze stirred the branches of the tall trees in the forest.

Valgaav lay face down, sleeping in the middle of a clearing full of apple trees. Several dead leaves had found themselves sticking to his back, having fallen on him throughout the night. Neither the sound of the birds singing, nor the wind blowing had woken him yet, and it looked like neither would.

In the distance, there was the sound of a girl singing and a dog barking. The sound grew nearer as a large collie burst through some of the undergrowth near Valgaav. The dog stopped barking and came to a halt at his face. It sniffed him for a moment, then nudged him with its nose. Getting no response, the collie pawed at the young man, smearing a bit more dirt across his face.
"Bridget," the girl's voice called as she came nearer, "Where did you go?" The collie lifted its head and barked. Its master, a tall, slender girl with waist length black hair and wide green eyes pushed her way through the underbrush and bushes and emerged in the clearing that the collie had stopped in.

She wore a lavender dress with a wide, white apron that was currently being used to carry the apples that she had been picking a second ago. When she saw what her dog had stopped for, she lost her grip on her apron and let the apples she was carrying fall.

"Oh... Oh my!", she exclaimed, frightened, "He looks terrible!" She dropped to her knees in front of him and smoothed his unruly green hair back from his face. She couldn't tell for sure if he was dead or not, but he certainly didn't look like it. She felt his forehead. No, he was alive; not only was he warm, he was burning up with a fever.

"Come on, Bridget," she said, hefting one of the man's arms over her shoulders before attempting to pick him up, "Let's take him back home. We can see if he wakes up there."

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

A pounding headache brought Valgaav back to consciousness. He swore silently about his nature and the fact that those who had been Mazoku their entire existence didn't have to deal with obnoxious things like headaches. The first thing he noticed when he came to was not only that he had a headache, but that he was somewhere different than where he usually was when he usually woke up. He was not in his own chambers, nor was he in his state room. He had to think for a second to recall what he'd been doing last. He hadn't been in his own domain at all when he'd passed out; he'd been running. Then it hit him that he had no real clue where he was at.

The next thing he noticed was that he was no longer outside. Instead of the chilly breeze that had been blowing outside, there was warm, thick air in this place. It smelled of firewood and kerosene, and he guessed that those were the source of this place's heat. But more than that, the place smelled of food: bread baking, soup boiling, meat frying. Even though he had no real need of food anymore, the part of him that still clung to his mortal coil relished the delicious smells wafting through the air.

Valgaav rubbed his eyes and looked down at where he'd been laying. All he really knew of it was that it was soft, but when he looked down, he realized that he'd been laying on someone's couch. He guessed then that someone had found him wherever he'd fallen asleep the night before and brought him home with them. Whoever they were, they'd taken great care to bundle him up in several down blankets and stack a few buckwheat pillows underneath his head. He couldn't remember being treated like this since he was a child.

Stunned and curious, he tried to stand and get a better look around. He could tell right away that he wasn't alone in the room, because he could hear a woman's voice singing somewhere behind the couch he was laying on. However, before he could stand and find out where the voice was coming from, a wave of dizziness overtook him and he fell back into the blankets. He suddenly heard a dog barking, adding to the damned headache that was currently threatening to rip his skull apart. He closed his eyes and massaged his temples as the dog's barking grew nearer.

"Bridget, hush!", a young woman's voice called, "You'll wake our guest!" The dog ceased its barking, and not a moment too soon; Valgaav had been planning on ripping its throat out in a few more seconds. There was a sudden clatter of dishes in the room behind the couch. "Oh!", the same young woman exclaimed, "Oh, no! You did wake him! Please, don't move, Sir! You've been hurt badly! I'll be there in a second!"

Valgaav chuckled to himself. Whoever had found him must have been a simple human. The wounds he'd received from those wolves might have looked bad, but he knew he'd have no problem healing them himself. Of course, the wounds inside were much deeper and would take a lot longer to heal, if they even would. He decided that perhaps he'd stay here for a little while and play along with this human. That might help take his mind off his troubles for a bit.

There was another clatter as the young lady gathered what Valgaav supposed were medical supplies and rushed into the room. He watched, seemingly disinterested, as she ran into the room and in front of the couch he'd been asleep on. The girl, he assumed she was no older than 16 or 17, sat a basket full of bandages and salves down beside the couch and knelt on the floor to put her closer to eye-level with him. She wore her long, black hair loose and unbraided, several strands of it falling over her shoulders and her straight bangs covering most of her eyes. There were smudges of flour on her apron and knee-length purple skirts, and he supposed she'd been the one cooking.

"I'm sorry, sir," the girl said softly, "I didn't realize you were awake. I'm going to treat your wounds now, so try to stay still." The girl rummaged around the small wicker basket for a few moments before turning up a clear bottle and a small washcloth. She unscrewed the bottle's cap and covered it with the washcloth before pouring out a bit of the liquid inside onto the cloth.

Valgaav regarded all of this with a look of boredom. He barely understood human methods of healing, and frankly, he found most of them to be quite strange. The girl screwed the lid back onto her bottle and took one of his hands in her free hand. She began to dab the wet cloth onto some of the wounds on his hand and forearm. As soon as the dampness touched his skin, it began to burn and sting. Startled, Valgaav drew his hand back, hissing.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?!", he growled, startling the girl, "That's worse than just having the wound!" The girl stared at him, obviously surprised.

"Sir, please," she said, her large, green eyes watering, "It's only alcohol. I know it stings a little, but it will disinfect those gashes." He glared at the girl, but did nothing else. She either didn't notice or ignored the harsh look, because she went right back to dabbing at him with the washcloth.

Valgaav fought the urge to growl at her. After a few more seconds, though, the stinging from the alcohol dulled and he decided that it was something that just didn't deserve to be whined about.

"I can blow on it for you if you like," the girl offered shyly after another minute or so. Valgaav looked down his nose at her for a second before turning away to glare at a wall.

"Do as you like," he said stiffly. He reasoned that if she hadn't been so pretty and shy that he'd probably have wrung her neck by now. He swore inwardly. If there was one thing his Lord had instilled in him besides a love of fighting, it was a weak spot for a pretty face. Of course, this didn't apply to an enemy- he was quite determined to strangle Lina Inverse with her own intestines, regardless of how good-looking she was- but the girl at his feet was hardly an enemy.

He looked down at the girl as she began to blow on his wounds. He noticed how small and soft the hands holding his were in comparison to his own calloused ones. The girl continued her work, dabbing a bit of the alcohol on the wounds on his arms and then blowing them. After a few minutes, she was done with the first arm and started on the other. She worked quietly, with her head bowed in concentration as she finished putting the alcohol on the second arm.

She lay the slightly blood-stained rag aside and took a different jar out of the small basket she'd placed beside the couch. Valgaav could tell from the strong scent when she opened the jar that it was salve. She removed a small, white ball of cotton from her basket and dipped it into the jar of salve, scooping some of the greenish gel up with it. Slowly, the girl began applying it to his wounds.

The salve had the opposite effect of the alcohol; instead of burning, it actually made Valgaav's skin cool as it touched it. It didn't hurt at all, though. As a matter of fact, the salve felt quite nice. The girl finished putting salve on that arm and took a roll of bandages out of her basket. She quickly unrolled them and began wrapping them around the parts of his arm that were wounded.

Valgaav looked down at her to notice that she was looking shyly at him. Her eyes were directed a little higher than his eyes, though, and he assumed she was looking at the horn atop his head. She realized he'd seen her staring and quickly returned to her work, blushing.

"I'm sorry, sir," she said quietly, "I didn't mean to stare. I just... I would have healed you using magic when I brought you here, but... I don't know if... I mean, I'm not quite sure if you're human or not..." He raised an eyebrow. She certainly made the oddest observations.

"What does that have to do with anything?", he asked, his voice not hinting at any emotion.

"If you're not," she said haltingly, "A healing spell could do more harm than good." He made no effort to respond, instead letting her salve and bandage his second arm. After another couple minutes of silence, the girl spoke up again. "I want to thank you, sir," she said, finally, "We could barely go outside at night because of the pack of wolves you killed. And they were terrorizing our livestock, as well." Valgaav looked at her, almost glaring.

"How did you know about those wolves?", he asked, sounding slightly suspicious.

"They were laying all about the grove I found you in," she replied, finishing the bandages on his arm, "Most of them had crawled away into the bushes to die, but one or two were laying in the open. However did you kill them all?" Valgaav looked away from her and to one of the room's curtained windows.

"Does it matter?", he asked, sounding cold and far away, "They're dead. That's all you need to know."

The girl finished her bandaging and bowed her head. "I suppose you're right," she said evenly, "Sir, may I know your name? I don't think you should go anywhere for a few days, at least. It would be nice to at least be able to call you by your name while you're here." He looked at her, seemingly bored again.

"Valgaav," he grunted, "You may call me that." The girl smiled softly up at him as she put the remaining bandages aside into her basket.

"My name is Sylphiel," she said sweetly, "I'm pleased to meet you, Valgaav, sir." Valgaav looked simply disinterested.

"Charmed, I'm sure," he said dryly. Truthfully, this girl's chatter was beginning to bother him. Worst of all, he found he couldn't bring himself to be angry with her. She was simply too nice.

Sylphiel got a bit of a pained look on her face and she stood up. She bent over to get a better look at Valgaav, placing a hand on his forehead and smoothing his unruly green hair back.

"You're still hot," she said quietly, "I think you may have been overexposed last night." He wanted to laugh at her. He knew there was no way he'd have to worry about illness or overexposure as a Mazoku. However, he gave her a snort and said nothing. Sylphiel removed her hand from his forehead and stood up straight.

"I think I'll go make some hot tea for you," she said, almost sounding sad, "When I come back, I'll take a look at your chest." He looked away, as if to ignore her. She sighed softly and began to walk toward her kitchen. She got about halfway to the kitchen before she stopped.

"Valgaav, sir," she said softly, "You seem upset... If you want to talk to me about anything... to get it off your mind... I'll listen." She continued her way into the kitchen, rustling around as she gathered tea cups and other such niceties.

"What would you understand?", Valgaav grunted, not really caring if she heard him or not, "You've never had everyone you've ever known murdered in front of you. You've never had the one who's you're reason for living taken away!" He was only slightly embarrassed over having such an outburst; as it was, he was more than a little irritated at the human girl's arrogance in presuming she could share his confidence.

He fully expected her to yell at him or at least say something in response. However, she said nothing. A few seconds passed before he heard her gasp and the clatter of glass and metal against the floor. Surprised and curious, he turned and looked over the back of the couch to see what had caused the racket.

Sylphiel was on her knees in the floor, her back turned to him. The pieces of the tea cups she'd been carrying were scattered around her, broken beyond all repair, a pair of spoons sprawled out in the midst of it all. He could barely see it, but he could tell she was shaking.

"I'm sorry, sir," she said, her voice just a little choked, "But have you ever heard of a city called Sairaag?" Valgaav raised an eyebrow. He couldn't help but wonder what was wrong with her. It felt very much like worry, and it made him uncomfortable.

"No," he said slowly. He watched the large dog that was obviously the girl's companion trot over to her, whining. It nuzzled up against her neck and began licking her face. It struck Valgaav then that she must have been crying. He suddenly began to feel very, very guilty.

"It was leveled a year ago," she said quietly, "While I watched. I couldn't do anything at all. My father was left behind there. All of my family and friends, everyone I'd ever known in my life was gone." Valgaav slumped against the back of the couch. As miserable as he already felt, he felt even worse now, knowing he'd hurt this girl.

"The only one I have left is my uncle," she said, almost whispering, "He lived out here, so he was alright." She was quiet for almost a minute before she spoke again. "The one that was my reason for living is gone, too," she said quietly, "He wasn't interested in me. He's with another woman, now."

Valgaav felt sick to his stomach. He turned his eyes to the floor, unable to face Sylphiel. He tried to make sense of it all. Why did horrible things always happen to good people like her? Then, after all that, he had been cruel to her. He thought he was feeling something that he hadn't felt in years then: shame.

A few more minutes passed. Valgaav continued to stare at the floor, unable to bring himself to look at her. Then, suddenly, he heard the clink of glass and the swish of Sylphiel's skirts.

"I'm sorry, Valgaav, sir," she said earnestly, picking through the glass on the floor, "I didn't mean to burden you. You have enough on your mind." He looked up at her. She was still turned away from him, bent over the glass on the floor, picking it up with her bare hands.

"No," he said slowly, "You're not a burden. I... apologize..." Doubtless, Valgaav was unused to apologizing for anything. However, he felt that this once, this girl deserved his apology. Sylphiel turned to look at him over her shoulder, smiling softly, tears smudging her cheeks. She finished picking up the glass and spoons and headed into the kitchen.

Valgaav was left alone with his thoughts. He'd been hateful to the girl. Even though he knew she had forgiven him, it didn't make him feel any better. Worse yet, in a way, he knew she was just like him and Jillas and Grabos: a refugee, the only one left from her home. He wondered if she was too timid to have even thought about avenging herself or her family.

The thoughts and the guilt spun about his head until the girl came back a few minutes later. She was carrying not only a teapot full of hot tea along with two teacups in one hand, but in the other, she held a large plate. The plate was piled high with fresh baked bread, pan fried steak, and mashed potatoes. It occurred to Valgaav that those were probably what he'd smelled cooking when he woke up.

"Valgaav, sir," Sylphiel said shyly, holding the plate out to him, "Do you feel well enough to eat?" Valgaav briefly wondered what the most appropriate thing to say to her would be. He was not quite used to such niceties as proper manners. He knew that he couldn't refuse the plate. Not only would it hurt her feelings even more, but it would further raise suspicions about his true nature. And besides that, the food smelled good.

"I... Yes," he said slowly, "Thank you." Sylphiel smiled proudly and sat on the couch beside him, setting the plate in his lap. He blinked, not quite sure what to do next.

"I'll fix your tea up for you," she said happily, "Would you like it sweetened?" Valgaav wasn't really paying attention to her. He was too confounded by the food before him. After several hundred years of living as a Mazoku, he had simply forgotten how to properly eat most human food. He knew he could pick the bread up with his hands and eat it. He started with that, trying to stall and hopefully figure out what to do with the fork, knife, and spoon Sylphiel had placed on his plate.

"Yeah," he answered dismissively. Sylphiel busied herself with mixing up the tea with a small container of honey that she'd carried in inside one of the cups. He took a large bite of the bread, noting that it tasted slightly sweet. Living the life of a soldier for his Lord, he'd grown unused to tasting anything sweet or delicious, and now he found that he liked it.

He finished the bread off quickly, leaving him wanting more and trying to figure out how to eat the rest of the food on his plate. He wasn't quite sure how to use the knife anymore, but he was certain the spoon was for scooping and the fork was for spearing food. Apprehensively, he decided to go ahead and try. He stabbed the large piece of steak with the fork, skewering the entire thing onto the end of the utensil. Unsure of what to do next, he began chewing on one of the edges of the meat.

"I would have cooked that steak on the grill," Sylphiel said, not looking up from the tea, "But we don't have the fuel right now. I'm not strong enough to chop my own fire wood, and Uncle is away right now, so..." She stopped speaking when she looked up to find Valgaav chewing on the side of the large piece of fried meat.

Sylphiel would have laughed if it wasn't such a confusing spectacle. As such, she simply tilted her head to the side and gave him a quizzical look.

"Why don't you try cutting it with your knife?", she asked simply, watching him give her a confused look in return before shrugging. Sylphiel put the tea aside. She took the knife off his plate and took the fork and steak out of his hand and put it back on the plate. "Here," she said kindly, cutting into the steak with the knife, "Let me show you how."

"Valgaav stared, transfixed. To his knowledge, knives were used for stabbing and killing, not for eating food. Fascinated, he watched the human girl cut the thick slab of meat on his plate into bite-sized pieces. She speared a piece with the fork and handed it to him.

Quietly, Valgaav began to eat.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Before long, it was night again. Valgaav had chosen not to go anywhere or do anything that day. He simply stayed put on the couch, allowing the human girl to bustle about and treat his supposed injuries or stoke the fire in the fireplace on the left hand side of the couch. He didn't say much to her at all, but he did try and maintain some sort of civil air with her. And the more he was around her, the more he found he enjoyed her company.

Sylphiel had retired to her room long ago, leaving him on the couch with an apology that there was no spare bed for him to stay in. She was afraid it would upset her uncle if she let a stranger stay in his bed.

Her uncle, as it turned out, was nowhere around. The middle aged gentleman, as Valgaav had found out from her, had gone on a trip to a nearby town to sell some grain and livestock. Sylphiel had mentioned that she didn't expect him back for several days yet, but that when he returned, he'd be more than grateful that Valgaav had rid them of the pesky wolves that had been roaming the woods.

What Valgaav didn't tell her was that he had no intention of staying until her uncle returned. He expected to hang around for the next few days, but just long enough to clear his head. Then he could set back out for his home and his vengeance. But for right now, he was content to lay on the couch, bundled in a nest of her blankets.

Sleep, as it turned out, was something that had grown so alien to him that his body naturally rejected it. He was usually thankful for that much, especially considering the intensity of the nightmares he used to have. But at the moment, he desperately wanted to sleep, if for no other reason than to briefly forget what was troubling him.

He would never admit it to himself, but the girl's presence, her nature, had begun to make him feel safe. It also made him uneasy, unwilling as he was to being lulled into a false sense of security. He wanted to believe that he was safe from the world here, at least for a time. But he knew trouble always had a way of finding him, wherever he went. He would be unable to stay here for very long before something bad would happen. That was just the way things went.

Before long, though, the darkness of sleep did overtake him. He drifted off, sleeping deeply without dreams. The oblivion, he found, indeed felt warm and comforting. The softness of the blankets and the warmth of the fire surrounded him, rocking him gently in his sleep.

A few hours passed, and eventually, he began to feel something tugging on the edge of his consciousness. It was a few small noises here and there, like popping, and he thought he heard that damned dog bark once or twice. Then he knew for certain that he smelled something cooking in the kitchen again. That woke him up.

He slowly came to, yawning and exposing his sharp canine teeth. He sat up against the pillows that had been piled beneath his head and rubbed his eyes. Yes, he could tell Sylphiel was cooking something in the kitchen. Again.

"Does that girl do anything besides cook?", he asked himself groggily. Valgaav glanced warily at one of the windows on the wall facing him. Sure enough, the sun had not even colored the sky yet. He swore to himself. What reason had she to be up this early? When he had needed to sleep, he had always relished being able to sleep in.

He ran his hand through his hair, giving it what would pass for a combing for the day. He heard humming coming from the kitchen and turned to look over the back of the couch. He could see Sylphiel standing at the stove, flipping something in a skillet. Her hair was tied up in braids from where she'd been asleep and she was wearing a loose shirt that came roughly to her upper thighs. Valgaav blinked. It occurred to him then, perhaps for the first time, that she had rather nice legs.

Sylphiel continued her ministrations with the skillet, wholly unaware that she was being watched. She turned whatever was in the pan and continued to hum. A few minutes passed, and she handed a piece of meat down to Bridget, who was sitting patiently at her feet. Sylphiel went back to her pan, heeding Valgaav no mind whatsoever.

Suddenly, as if she'd heard him jostle, Sylphiel looked over to where Valgaav was lying. She stood still for a second before she began to blush. She took a step away from the skillet and tugged on her shirt, trying to pull it down toward her knees.

"Oh, my!", she finally said, smiling sheepishly, "Good morning, Valgaav, sir!" It was then that Valgaav realized he must have been staring at her. Clearing his throat, he turned to look at the fire instead.

"Morning," he finally accommodated her. Sylphiel went back to her skillet, blushing profusely.

"I'm sorry," she finally said, shyly, "I always sleep in this, and I just wandered down to make breakfast without really thinking to put anything else on." Valgaav noted to himself that he really didn't mind the view at all.

"Don't worry about it," he replied gruffly. He stared at the fire, resisting the urge to watch her turn whatever was in her skillet.

"What would you like for breakfast this morning?", she finally asked, breaking the silence.

Valgaav had no idea how to answer that question. What did human folk normally have for breakfast? What she'd made him last night was delicious, but he was quite sure that they didn't eat the same kind of thing for their morning meal.

"It doesn't matter," he answered after a minute or two of thinking about it. That seemed like the most appropriate response.

"Alright," she said cheerfully, going back to her cooking.

Half an hour later, Valgaav found himself seated at the kitchen table with an empty plate in front of him. Sylphiel was running about, trying to set the food she'd made out on the table. There was a basket of warm biscuits, a large jar of preserves, a tray of butter, bacon, ham, and several other things that Valgaav couldn't quite recall the names of at the moment.

Sylphiel brought the last plate full of food over to the table and sat it down. Smiling, she picked up Valgaav's plate and began to fork food from the last plate onto it. Valgaav's eyes shot open as he realized what she was putting onto his plate.

He watched as the oily, white and yellow egg slid onto the white porcelain plate. Suddenly, a torrent of memory came back to him. He recalled the eggs that were smashed by the damnable Golden Dragons when they'd descended upon his people. They had been so fervent in their desire to eradicate the Ancients that they'd even destroyed their unhatched eggs. He remembered the smell of the burning eggs and the sight of the limp, unborn dragons that had been evicted from their small, round homes prematurely.

The images were so vivid he could almost have sworn it was happening all over again. The smell of the egg on his plate and his memories mingled together, almost turning his stomach. He nearly forgot entirely where he was or who he was with. He clutched his side, the pain of recollection twisting his innards into knots.

Sylphiel noticed the sudden change in Valgaav's demeanor. Worried, she sat down the two plates she was holding.

"Valgaav, sir?", she said haltingly, "Is everything okay? Are you sick?" He glared up at her, almost baring his teeth. Sylphiel backed up a step, not quite sure what to make of his sudden change in mood.

"Take those off my plate," he growled, surprising her. Sylphiel did as he asked, scooping the eggs back onto the plate they'd come off of.

"What's the matter?", she asked, genuinely concerned, "Are you allergic?" Valgaav continued to glare, his distinction between reality and memory slightly blurred.

"What's the matter?!", he asked her in return, "It's murder!" Sylphiel adopted a totally confused look toward him.

"Murder?", she asked, looking at the plate in her hands, "But last night you ate a piece of steak... How is an egg any different?"

He could tell from the tone of her voice that she wasn't baiting him, but was genuinely confused. However, his glare didn't waver.

"A steak comes from a fully grown animal, yes?", he said, his voice sharp and almost venomous, "A fully grown animal has a chance to defend itself. An egg doesn't." Sylphiel blinked at him before setting the plate down on the table.

"I suppose you are correct, Valgaav, sir," she replied quietly, "I apologize.  I didn't realize it was that important to you. If that's the way you feel, then I won't eat any, either." Valgaav blinked, snapping fully back into the here and now. He watched Sylphiel start placing biscuits onto his plate, opening them with a butter knife. She put food on his plate in silence, apparently ashamed from his sudden outburst. Finally, she filled the plate to capacity and sat it before him.

"Valgaav, sir," she said finally, "What would you like for me to do with them?" Valgaav looked up at her, startled.

"What?", he asked, confused, "Do with what?" Sometimes that girl said the strangest things, he reasoned.

"The eggs," she replied, "What would you like me to do with them? I'd feel cruel just throwing them away or feeding them to Bridget." Valgaav blinked, disbelieving what he was hearing. Since when were humans so sympathetic? He'd always known them to avert their eyes from the hardships of others.

"Me?", he asked, not quite sure what he wanted done with the misfortunate eggs, "I... I suppose I'd like to see them buried..." Sylphiel smiled at him sadly.

"Why don't we do that after we're finished eating?", she asked kindly. Valgaav numbly picked up his fork. He was stunned. This girl had truly managed to impress him with her kindness.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

After breakfast, the whole egg affair passed quickly. For that, Valgaav was grateful. When that was over and done with, Sylphiel had chores to do with the livestock. Curious, Valgaav followed her out to her humble barn and watched her. There were a couple of pigs to be fed, chickens to be given their corn, a horse to be given his hay, and a cow to be milked.

Sylphiel sat before the cow on a stool, setting a clean bucket beneath the cow's udder. Gently, she took its teat into her hands and began squeezing. Milk hit the bucket beneath, making a tinny noise.

Valgaav watched all this in quiet fascination from his vantage point inside the doorway of the small barn. He had known certain animals gave milk, and he'd known that humans drank it, but he'd not really been aware of where it came from before. His men had no need of such things; they only used cattle and their brethren as beasts of burden.

Before long, Sylphiel had filled the bucket half full. There was silence in the barn except for the lowing of the animals and the noise of the milk hitting the metal bucket. The moment seemed frozen in time, a peaceful portrait for Valgaav to save for a tumultuous time to come.

"How are you doing that?", he finally asked, perplexed. Sylphiel looked up at him, her now-unbraided hair falling about her shoulders as she turned her head.

"Doing what?", she asked innocently, "Milking our cow?" Valgaav nodded, crossing his arms. "You must be from a city far from here," she observed, turning back to the cow, "Even when I was a shrine maiden in Sairaag, I knew how cows give milk." Valgaav didn't look especially pleased with this observation. Sylphiel gave him a disarming smile and continued milking.

"This," Sylphiel said, indicating the cow's teat that she was holding in her hand, "Is where she feeds her young." Valgaav looked around curiously. He didn't see any young cows anywhere nearby.

"Where are her young?", he asked, raising an eyebrow and looking about.

"Oh, her calf went to market with my uncle," she said, keeping her eyes on the bucket before her, "He'll sell it there for a good price." Valgaav continued to watch her intently, not quite realizing he had begun staring. Finally, Sylphiel looked up again, noticing his interest.

"Would you like to try?", she offered, startling Valgaav. In truth, he thought it beneath him to do a milk maid's job. However, the way she suggested it indicated that she only thought that was what he was looking at.

"That thing is quite large," he said, "I'd fear it would trample me." He had no such real fear; he was simply trying to make excuses.

"Oh, her?", Sylphiel asked, smiling, "She's as gentle as a lamb! She wouldn't hurt a fly!" To emphasize the point, she patted the side of the cow's great belly, getting nothing but a snort in return from the cow. Valgaav, however, remained where he was.

"I don't think so," he replied, keeping his arms crossed across his chest. Sylphiel looked disappointed for a moment before smiling again.

"Don't be that way, Valgaav, sir," she said sweetly, "Come over here and I'll show you how to do this." Valgaav swore to himself. Did she always have to be so nice? He was finding it harder and harder to refuse her anything.

Grumbling, Valgaav made his way over to the cow. He glared at the creature, causing it to start a bit and jerk, nearly knocking over Sylphiel's bucket. The girl got a concerned look on her face as she petted the side of the cow's stomach.

"What's the matter?", she spoke gently to her, "He's not going to hurt you." Valgaav had a fair notion of what had startled the cow. It was likely that the animal could simply sense the wrongness that his countenance projected as a Mazoku. He knew most animals were more sensitive than humans and he doubted this cow was an exception.

Satisfied that the cow was calmed down again, Sylphiel slid off her stool and offered it to Valgaav. He sat down gruffly, watching as she sat down on her knees beside him. She smiled up at him.

"The first thing you do," Sylphiel explained, demonstrating with her own hands, "Is to take her teat in your hand like this." She wrapped her small hand around the cow's teat, taking a firm grip, but being careful not to be rough.

Sylphiel looked up to Valgaav, noticing that he looked simply disinterested. She took one of his hands into her own and wrapped it around the cow's teat. "See," she said softly, "Like this."

Valgaav said nothing. Instead, he found himself doing as the girl had asked, trying not to squeeze the cow too hard. Sylphiel's hands were soft and warm, and Valgaav found that he quite enjoyed having her hold his hands.

Suddenly, the cow gave a startled low and jerked. Valgaav glared at it. What was the dumb beast's problem now? He looked down at Sylphiel. Maybe she knew what was wrong with it.

"Oh, my!", she said softly, "Not so rough! Here..."  Sylphiel held his hand and squeezed gently. "Just as hard as I'm squeezing you now," she said kindly, "If you're too rough with her, she'll be afraid. You have to be very gentle." Sylphiel squeezed his hand, indicating how hard he should squeeze the cow.

Valgaav swore to himself. If any of his men saw this, it would be such an ungodly embarrassment. Worse yet, he knew that he hadn't been paying attention when he caused the cow to buck. Instead, he'd been distracted by Sylphiel's hands. He tried to focus on milking the cow instead and let Sylphiel guide his hands as he did.

A few minutes passed in this manner and Sylphiel's bucket was filled. She looked up, blushing a little. Valgaav, himself, was at a loss for words. Suddenly, she released his hands, realizing perhaps that she'd been holding them a few seconds too long.

Smiling shyly, she reached over and picked up the bucket full of warm milk. Valgaav watched quietly, a little confused. The girl's shyness and quiet grace was charming, even attractive. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but he knew there was something he enjoyed about keeping her company.

Sylphiel stood with the bucket and waited on Valgaav to rise as well. "We'd better take this inside," she said, watching him stand up, "I'd hate for it to spoil or be spilt."  Valgaav followed her out of the barn in silence.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

The rest of the day passed quietly, Valgaav observing most of the little chores and such that Sylphiel did. There was something about this kind of life that at once occurred to him to be stifling and boring, but also secure and comfortable. While he was used to training and sparring with his underlings, this girl did nothing of the sort. He had always spent his time preparing for battles or for helping his lord play politics with other Mazoku. He certainly couldn't understand the way humans could spend their time doing nothing of real importance, yet stay utterly busy and happy at the same time.

They had lunch together, then a few hours later, dinner. Valgaav wondered if this would really help him clear his head like he thought it would, or if the stillness would simply drive him mad. The inactivity was certainly irritating; he felt like he should be out plotting or actively seeking the one responsible for his master's heinous end. Then again, he reasoned, he did feel calmer now, and clearer headed. Sylphiel was proving herself to be a superb hostess, and even better, a bit of a diversion herself.

After dinner, Valgaav retired to the couch that Sylphiel had set aside for him. It was strange, but he had already come to think of it as "his" couch. He barely noticed when Sylphiel opened the curtains of the large sitting room, allowing him a fine view of the night sky outside. He was absorbed in thought. What would he do tomorrow? Would he stay here another day, or would he head back home? Could his men get along without him for another day? He decided they would. They were a self-sufficient lot, and if they stepped out of line, Grabos could always set them straight for him.

He briefly wondered if they would search for him. He really didn't care for them to. His servants knew that he came and went as he pleased. There was no need for them to worry over him.

Valgaav was so deep in thought that he barely noticed Sylphiel walk in front of him and over to a small wall shrine on the north side of the room. He blinked once and watched her absent-mindedly. The girl knelt in front of the small shelf laden with white candles and lit them one by one. Once she was done with that, she bowed her head and clasped her hands in front of her. It took Valgaav a few seconds to register what she was doing: praying.

"What are you doing over there?", he asked gruffly, snapped out of his reverie. Sylphiel looked up at him in surprise, lifting her head and opening her eyes.

"I'm praying, Valgaav, sir," she said simply, "I do this twice a week." Valgaav gave her a 'hmph'.

"Do you pray to the Gods?", he asked sourly, turning his head away and looking out the window again. Sylphiel blinked, looking startled.

"Of course I do," she replied, "Who else would I pray to?" Valgaav continued to stare out of the open curtains, almost glaring.

"Did you know they aren't listening?", he asked bitterly, "The Gods are just as corrupt as the Mazoku." Sylphiel looked genuinely taken aback by his statement.

"Valgaav, sir," she said quietly, "You mustn't say such things." It was a weak reply at best. He recalled she'd been a shrine maiden once, after all. Shrine maidens weren't exactly expected to question the very nature of their deities.

"Oh, I mustn't?", he asked mockingly, "If the Gods are so righteous, then why do they allow cities to be leveled? Why do they cause entire races to be eradicated? Answer me that!" The room was silent for the next few minutes that followed.

Finally, Sylphiel bowed her head again and clasped her hands in front of her, tears forming in the corners of her eyes.

"If not to the Gods, Valgaav, sir," she said quietly, "Then I will pray for my dead." Valgaav blinked, taken aback. For once, she hadn't given in to him, but she hadn't stood up for herself, either. She had simply avoided the issue. It almost made him angry. How could someone allow another to control them like that?

"What happened to the ones who destroyed your city?", he asked finally, disrupting her prayer again, "Did you seek vengeance upon them?" He was almost saddened to think that this girl would be so meek that she would allow such a grievous offense to occur without seeking justice. Sylphiel shook her head sadly.

"There was no need," she said softly, "He died shortly thereafter. In any event... I don't see the sense in vengeance. Vengeance doesn't bring the dead back from the grave." She said the last sentence so softly that Valgaav barely heard her. Worse yet, he knew that what she said was true. Even if he killed Lina Inverse, it wasn't going to bring Lord Gaav back.

Valgaav shook his head. He was becoming soft from knowing this woman and he'd only been in her house for a day and a half. Whether vengeance would bring his master back was not the point. It was still his duty to punish the one responsible in his lord's name.

"Bah," he said dismissively, "That's not the point. What about the woman who stole your lover from you? Did you simply allow her to take him from you without a fight?" Sylphiel's clasped hands slowly fell from her chest to her lap, as did her gaze.

"I do not wish them any ill will," she said quietly, the tears gathering in the corners of her eyes, "He was never my lover. I never told him how I felt. It's no fault of theirs, and they are both my friends. I would never wish them harm." Valgaav was still then, absorbing her words. She was so naive and good nattered, and he couldn't understand her in the least.

Even more so, he couldn't understand why a human man would pass a girl like Sylphiel over in favor of another woman. Weren't human men supposed to value girls who were good cooks and kept a neat and tidy house? And above all, how could anyone ignore her kind nature? Valgaav shook his head.

"If he was never your lover," he said, "Then your friend was a fool." Sylphiel looked up from her lap, wide eyed. The slightest blush spread across her face and Valgaav realized that it must have sounded like he was flirting. Startled, he quickly turned away to face the open curtains again.

A few quiet moments passed, quickly turning into minutes. Valgaav's stare didn't waver, intent as he was to avoid looking at her. Eventually, Sylphiel turned back to her shrine, bowing her head in prayer.

Valgaav blinked, disbelieving what he'd said. He briefly wondered if he'd insulted her, but decided that she hadn't taken it that way. There was something definitely strange about the way she was beginning to make him feel. He realized he wanted to protect her as long as he was there. There was no conceivable way he could see that she would defend herself. Normally, he wouldn't have felt pity for someone who wouldn't defend themselves, but it was different with Sylphiel. She was meek and gentle and deserved protecting.

His last comment having slipped from his mind, Valgaav turned back to look at Sylphiel. She was still kneeling in front of her alter, praying. Her straight hair fell over her shoulders, nearly masking her face from the angle he was looking at her. Slowly, he turned his back to her, rolling over on the couch into a sleeping position.

Lying there, the time seemed to pass like an eternity while he waited to sleep again. As long as it seemed, a few scant minutes passed before Sylphiel rose from her prayer and put the lights out in the room.

"I'm going up to bed, Valgaav, sir," she said quietly, "Try and get a good night's rest. It'll help you heal faster." Valgaav said nothing, but watched her leave the room, ascending the stairs to her bedroom on the second floor.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Valgaav woke sometime long after dawn the next morning. The house was incredibly quiet. There was no food cooking, no dog barking. Sylphiel was nowhere to be found. The only thing that had woken him up was the light streaming from curtains that Sylphiel had left open last night.

Valgaav muttered something about the curtains before rising to shut them. He took a moment to yawn and stretch before raking his fingers through his shaggy hair. He felt incredibly sluggish, a result, he assumed, of sleeping like an ordinary human and sleeping too much. When his mind resumed something close to normal function, he began to wonder where Sylphiel was at. As far as he knew, she hung around the house for the better part of the day, never straying too far, and doing nothing but chores. He thought perhaps she'd gone out to the barn.

There was no sense, he reasoned, in doing much of anything until she came back. He flopped back down onto the couch and waited. He picked at one of his bandages, noting that he had never really bothered to heal his wounds. Shrugging, he decided there was no real reason to yet, and it was all the better to keep Sylphiel from asking too many questions about his nature.

Valgaav waited for a good fifteen minutes, fidgeting around and doing nothing. He studied the floor, his toes, the window, the couch, the fireplace. Grumbling, he finally decided that he might as well throw on a house robe and go and try to find Sylphiel.
In the back of Valgaav's mind, there was a nagging dread that something bad had happened to her. Some basic part of his psyche knew instinctively that he'd felt too comfortable around her, and that the best things were always taken from him. Everything had just been too nice, for even a day or two.

More than a little irritated, Valgaav threw on the robe, left the house and headed for the barn. He knew she might be there, even though it was later than when she'd went to the barn the day before.  The walk there was a little cool, the early autumn air still being chilly from the night before, but it wasn't uncomfortable. His bare feet collected the dew and the dust from the ground. There was a little breeze blowing here and there, complementing the warm sunshine.

Valgaav reached the barn and looked around the sides. She wasn't beside it. He threw open the door and peered inside. She wasn't inside the barn either. He gave the livestock a quick glance and shut the door again. Everything was in order, the way he remembered it from yesterday.

He asked himself if there was any other place he could think that she might be. What had they done the day before that she might be doing today? Outside the house, there was the barn, and he knew of the little apple orchard she'd found him in, and there was a small forest lining some fields surrounding the house. He doubted she'd be out chopping firewood; she'd said herself that she was far too weak to do something so strenuous. Perhaps, he surmised, she was collecting apples.

Valgaav walked around to the back of the house and looked out at the surrounding fields. He figured he knew how to get back to the orchard from there, and started walking toward it, ignoring the chill his feet were receiving.  It wasn't long before he was standing amongst the apple trees, looking skyward and wondering if perhaps Sylphiel had gone out to the other parts of the forest instead.

As Valgaav walked along, he could faintly make out a familiar noise. After a few seconds, he recognized the sound as Bridget's barking. He knew that if Bridget was nearby, that Sylphiel was with her. He knew better than to be relieved just yet, though: just because he'd found the dog didn't mean that everything was alright. As a matter of fact, it seemed to him that Bridget's barking was different than before - she was barking faster, more frantically, more intensely. His eyes narrowed, and he teleported in the direction the barking was coming from.

Valgaav reappeared near the dog, but still unable to see her. The barking was louder and more distinct, but he was surrounded by bushes, trees, and other undergrowth. Although he didn't want to believe it, he was getting very worried for Sylphiel. He had no idea what could be making that dog bark like that, but he didn't like it. Frustrated and worried, he frantically pushed the bushes and branches aside and began running toward the sound of the dog's barking.

Finally, Valgaav found his way out of the undergrowth and into a large clearing with a running stream. He came to a halt, his eyes snapping wide open. He was utterly shocked at what he saw.

Bridget was frantically playing in the stream, barking like mad. Sylphiel was there with her, splashing about and laughing. She was completely nude, bathing Valgaav assumed, and her hair was soaking wet, sticking to her back in places.

"What the hell are you doing?!", Valgaav said, forgetting any concept of modesty he might have had. As soon as he said it, Sylphiel turned to look at him, startled. Reflexively, her hands flew to her chest and she squealed, loosing her footing and falling backward onto her rump in the waist deep water.

As soon as the water had settled out again, Valgaav could see that Sylphiel was up to her shoulders in the water, just enough to maintain her modesty. Her face was beet red and her hands didn't leave her chest. She pulled her knees up to her breasts, keeping them carefully together.

"Valgaav, sir!", she finally managed to sputter, "What are you doing out here? I was taking a bath!" She didn't sound angry; rather, she sounded utterly embarrassed.

Valgaav, meanwhile, leaned against a tree for balance, unable to comprehend exactly what had just happened. He had been worried terribly about Sylphiel, and he was relieved she was alright, but at the same time, he was also strangely uncomfortable about having seen her naked. Why should it concern him whether she had her clothes or not? He thought he might have begun to feel what humans knew as 'carnal desire' around her.

"I woke up and you weren't around," he said, trying to put the words in the right places, "Why the hell are you taking a bath in the middle of the day all the way out here, anyway?" Sylphiel looked up, slack-jawed, as the dog continued to try and play with her.

"It's too cold at night since it's getting cooler outside," she stammered, "And this is the only place there is to take a bath..." Valgaav sat down on the grass, trying very hard not to stare at her. He noticed her towel and brush and other bath items laying in a basket on a rock beside the stream.

"Would you like your towel?", he asked gruffly, not quite sure he'd said all the right words. Sylphiel blinked, caught off guard.
"I... well...", she said, stuttering, "I suppose, I mean... I guess..." Carefully and slowly, so as not to seem like he was watching, Valgaav got up and walked over to the rock. He picked up the towel and noticed the bathrobe laying underneath it. He held the towel up for Sylphiel to see.

"Here it is," he said roughly, waiting on her to take it from him. She did nothing of the sort, staying curled up with her knees to her chest. "Well," he said expectantly, "Aren't you going to come get it? If I throw it out there, it'll get wet." Sylphiel grimaced, realizing he was right. Slowly, careful not to lift her shoulders out of the water, she uncurled and crawled through the shallow water over to the rock. Shyly, she took the towel out of his hands and stood out of the water, careful to keep the towel in a safe place at all times.

"Ummm," Sylphiel said slowly, tying the towel around her chest, "Would you mind turning around for a second? I wouldn't feel right..." Valgaav blinked, realizing he'd been in a small trance for a moment.

"Right, right," he muttered, doing as he was asked. Sylphiel sighed and grabbed the bathrobe, throwing it on as quickly as she could. Valgaav sat sullenly, his back to her. He glared as he watched a small squirrel run up a tree, trying not to think about the woman standing behind him. After a minute or two, Sylphiel cleared her throat.

"Valgaav, sir," she said haltingly, "Are you angry with me?" Valgaav realized then that he must have sounded rather incensed when he'd spotted her before. In truth, he was rather irritated, but he wasn't sure if it was her he was irritated at.

"No," he finally barked, glaring at the ground, "I'm not angry with you." He wasn't entirely sure if it was true or not, but he didn't want her to stay upset for some reason. He knew that, as a Mazoku, he should enjoy her discomfort and anxiety; however, the sympathetic part of him wanted to protect her from emotions like that.

Sylphiel put her bath things into her basket. Valgaav recognized the noise, interpreting it as meaning she was done putting the bathrobe on. He turned around, still glaring, and watched her place her belongings into the wicker basket.

"But you're angry at something," Sylphiel observed timidly, "Please tell me what? Otherwise, it'll bother me." Valgaav swore to himself. Damn her for being so attractive! Much to his chagrin, he found himself unable to deny her request.

"The next time you go out like this," he said roughly, "Tell me where you're going, dammit! What if something had happened to you out here? How the hell would I have known?! I'd still be sitting on that couch like a damned idiot! You could have been dead, for all I knew, goddammit!" Sylphiel stared at him, saucer-eyed. By the time he'd finished his last sentence, he'd been screaming. He could tell he'd startled her a good deal. He wasn't happy he'd had to yell at her, but if it got his point across, in his mind, it was worth it.

"But, Valgaav, sir," she protested, "Nothing would happen out here. It's quiet and--" Valgaav cut her off, mid-sentance, and grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her.

"Don't you get it!?", he screamed, furious, "Nothing's ever supposed to happen! But it does! Bad things happen, anyway, anytime I'm around! Bad things always happen to the ones I love! I--" He stopped dead in the middle of his sentence, staring at her, trying to figure out what he'd just said.

He couldn't have just said that. It couldn't be true. They had told him that Mazoku were not made to love other creatures, only to bring pain and suffering. He had always been told this. But he also was not solely Mazoku, but a hybrid.
There was silence in the grove. The birds stopped singing, the water ran silent, it seemed as if time itself had stopped. Sylphiel blinked at him once, then twice, then once again.

"Valgaav, sir," she said in a hushed whisper. She looked for all the world as if she might cry. The moment dragged on for what seemed like an eternity, Valgaav simply staring at her. He could hear what was left of his heart beating in his ears and feel himself drawing nearer to her as his eyes drifted shut. He thought for a moment that he might kiss her, before snapping back into himself. His eyes shot open, making him disturbingly aware of what he was doing.

Valgaav quickly backed away, receiving a puzzled, hurt look from Sylphiel. He released her shoulders before rising and dusting himself off. Sylphiel watched, the confusion apparent on her face.

"I'm going back to the house," he said hoarsely, "Don't be much longer." Sylphiel watched him walk off sullenly. She was visibly shaken and confused by the whole episode, but Valgaav didn't want to stay and deal with it. He didn't want to get too attached.

Valgaav swore to himself as he pushed his way through the undergrowth and back out into the forest. How could he have been so stupid? He could never get involved with an innocent human girl, and especially not one as sweet as Sylphiel. He already knew what happened to people who got close to him. They always wound up dying horrible, gruesome deaths, usually right before his very eyes.

Valgaav knew what he had to do.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

It was a sunny, breezy day. Valgaav could see fields of green and gold stretch out before him, underneath a sky of azure blue. It was beautiful, just as his homeland had been before those damned golds wiped his clan out.

Wildflowers bloomed all around, springing up from the ground as he watched, their fragrances heady and strong. Out in the distance, a good ways away from him, he could see Sylphiel, sitting on her knees in the grass, weaving a wreath of the flowers. She'd already made one for herself and used it to adorn her own head.

Valgaav began to walk toward her. He wanted to ask who the other wreath was for, or perhaps just to sit beside her for awhile. However, after he'd taken a few steps, the sky and the fields went black, drenching all of the landscape with a wretched black ichor. The only thing that remained in sight was Sylphiel.

Sylphiel stood, frightened, the flowers falling from her head and hands, melting to darkness before they reached her feet. Valgaav ran toward her, afraid for her safety.

"Valgaav!", she cried, reaching out a hand for him. However, before he could get to her, an inky, fluid blackness reached out of the scenery and pulled her back, pinning her up against it. A tendril of the darkness whipped out and covered her mouth, preventing her from calling to him again.

"Sylphiel!", he screamed, his voice tearing his throat and making it raw. He lunged for her, only to find himself held back by the blackness. He struggled and strained against it, only to be held all that much tighter. He growled before screaming and trying to tear the darkness away again.

"Now, now," a voice called to him from the darkness, "Struggling won't do any good." There was an obnoxious laughter then, echoing through Valgaav's mind. He recognized the voice as belonging to one of the Mazoku that had been sent to track down Lord Gaav. He believed his name was Xellos, the priest of Beastmaster Zelas Metallium. He knew the darkness was coming from the Mazoku.

"Damn you!", Valgaav screeched, pulling at the bonds again. The laughter came again, the bonds holding him tighter and seeming to strangle Sylphiel.

Suddenly, he heard a sound like nails being driven into wood with a hammer. He looked over to see the slender figure of a woman walking toward them. Trailing behind her was the tall figure of a man with long hair tied into a ponytail. As she came into the light, he could see long, straight red hair, tied up onto the top of her head, hanging madly down her back and framing her face. Her eyes were an evil, glowing red color, pointed and turned up on the ends. She wore a tight red pantsuit with thigh-high black leather boots; her sharp stiletto heels made the pounding noise he'd heard before. Her lips were thin and red and turned up in a cruel smirk. She was everything evil Valgaav had ever imagined about a woman, and he knew he hated her instinctively.

The man which followed the red head came into the light as well. His hair was long and blond with a few braids hanging down the side of his face. His eyes were green and sharp, focused into the narrow slits of a glare. He held the hilt and scabbard of a sword at his side, walking with a strong, purposeful stride. His armor shined in the dull light, making him look all the more sinister.

"Take the gag out of her mouth," the red head said, her voice smooth and evil, like glass, "It's no fun if we can't hear her scream." The black bands vanished from Sylphiel's mouth, causing her to gasp in fear. The red head cupped Sylphiel's chin in her hand, jerking her jaw violently.

"Stay away from her!", Valgaav hissed, pulling at his bonds. The red head laughed, a shrill, terrible sound that scratched at Valgaav's ears. She dug her fingernails into Sylphiel's jaw, drawing blood.

"Isn't that cute?", the woman said, "The so-called Mazoku is in love with a human girl! How weak. You're just as pathetic as your master, and you'll be no harder to kill." Valgaav's eyes widened for a moment in realization before he spat at the slender woman.

"Lina Inverse," he snarled, causing the evil woman to grin at him and release Sylphiel's jaw. She turned her full attention to Valgaav, but stayed right next to Sylphiel.

"How nice of you to recognize me," she said, her voice low and deadly, "Gourry... what do you think we should do to this little cunt?" Valgaav's lips curled over his canine teeth in a terrible snarl as he watched the blond man appraise Sylphiel with his eyes.

"Oh, I can think of plenty of things," Gourry replied, his voice sinister and loaded with meaning. Valgaav's nostrils flared as he strained against the black tendrils once again.

"Don't touch her, you bastards!" he screamed. This incited a round of insidious laughter from the two villains, as well as the ethereal laughter from the Mazoku currently holding him back. Valgaav screamed in frustration at them.

"How sweet!", Gourry sneered, "He doesn't want us to touch her..." The blond smirked at him as ran a finger down Sylphiel's collarbone and in between her breasts. Sylphiel whimpered, obviously in fear of her life. Valgaav could feel her anxiety all too clearly, as though it were his own.

"Maybe there are worse things we could do to her than killing her," the blond said, his voice deadly and full of wicked intent. He unlaced the top of Sylphiel's dress before ripping the collar open, making a gash in the fabric down to her stomach. "Do you like to watch, half-breed?", Gourry asked, never taking his eyes off of the glaring Mazoku before him.

Lina watched Valgaav and the anger growing over his face and laughed. "I think you hit a nerve, Gourry!", the red head chimed, enjoying the spectacle, "Maybe you should use your sword?" Lina kept her blood red colored eyes trained on Valgaav as well, infuriating him even more.

The swordsman smirked and unsheathed his blade. Sylphiel gasped and Valgaav growled. The blade of the sword was like reflective glass, lit up by an unearthly light. A blue current passed through it, volleying back and forth from the hilt of the sword to the tip of the blade. It gave a nasty hiss as it came out of its sheath, and Valgaav thought it smelled intensely of ozone. The blond brought the sword up to Sylphiel's neck, causing it to make a sizzling noise. She cried out as Valgaav smelled the distinct scent of burning flesh.

The blade came away from her neck, leaving a hideous red, blistered line. Valgaav winced, feeling her agony. Their assailants began laughing again and the sinister-looking blond ripped Sylphiel's dress away, leaving her nude and vulnerable.

"Now, where should I begin?", the blond asked himself, feigning a thoughtful look. He first pointed the tip of the blade to the junction of Sylphiel's legs. "Here?", he asked, grinning wickedly before moving the blade to her stomach, "Here?" Valgaav growled at him, wanting to taste his blood for such an unforgivable trespass. Sylphiel shut her eyes and made a pathetic whining sound as the blade traveled up her stomach and the tip came to rest right between her breasts, over her heart. There was another sizzling noise as the tip seared her flesh again.

"How about here?", Gourry asked, pressing the blade against her hard. Valgaav could see a small drizzle of blood run down her chest and over her stomach. He tried to pull away from the darkness again, once more to no avail.

"Stop it!", Valgaav yelled, straining his voice again, "Leave her be! Take me instead!" He could see a flash of hateful, green fire in the blond's eyes before he pressed the searing tip of his blade into Sylphiel's breast. She let out a piercing scream as the sword entered her flesh and broke her breastbone, making a sickening 'crack'. Blood gushed down the front of her body, catching in her throat, and trickling out the side of her mouth.

"No!", Valgaav screamed, nearly drowned out by the laughter of his adversaries. The noise became almost too much to bear.

"NO!", Valgaav cried, sitting bolt upright on his couch. He looked around frantically, the darkness of the living room at night reminding him too much of his recently dreamed nightmare. After a few seconds, he realized where he was, the familiarity of the surroundings sinking in. There was absolute quiet in the house except for his breathing, which was thick and heavy and coming in short bursts.

Shaking his head, Valgaav hauled his legs over the side of the couch. He smoothed his hair back and wiped some of the sweat off of his brow, the memory of the dream burning in his brain. He swore at himself for having fallen asleep, and even more so, for having dreamt what he did. The dream not only proved to him that something bad was bound to happen here, but that he was, in fact, growing too fond of the girl.

Growling, Valgaav threw his blanket back and stood up. His bare feet padded across the hardwood floors, past the fireplace and toward the staircase. Silently, he stepped up the stairs, not wanting to wake Sylphiel. He walked down the hallway at the top, trying to remember which room belonged to her.

Finally, he stopped at the door at the end of the hall. He turned the knob slowly before pushing it open. It squeaked, the hinges greatly in need of oiling. Valgaav peered into the darkened room, his pupils dilating to take in all the dim light from the curtained window. He could see Sylphiel, asleep in her bed, the covers up around her shoulders.

Valgaav sighed with relief. She was fine. He stood in the doorway, leaning on the frame, and simply watched her sleep. Her steady, even breaths were causing the blankets to rise and fall rhythmically. There was definitely something soothing and calming about just watching her like this. Valgaav took a step into the room.

He heard Sylphiel stir for a moment, making a contented noise and turning onto her side. She was still for a moment before she sat up and rubbed her eyes sleepily.

"Valgaav, sir?", she asked, just a little fear tinging her voice, "Is that you? Valgaav, sir...?" Sylphiel drew her blankets up to her chin when she didn't get an answer. Valgaav began to walk slowly toward her, shutting the door behind himself. It fastened with a click, and then all was silent except for his footsteps.

"Sylphiel," he finally answered, breaking the silence. He could see Sylphiel's figure visibly relax when he spoke. Even so, she still seemed tense.

"What are you doing up here, Valgaav, sir?", she asked timidly, "You shouldn't be here while I'm asleep. It's improper and..." She stopped talking as Valgaav reached the side of her bed and laid a hand on her cheek.

"Are you alright?", he asked, ignoring her comments. He could see well enough to see the confusion on Sylphiel's face, and her large, round eyes. She nodded, dumbfounded.

"I'm alright," she said quietly, "Is something wrong, Valgaav, sir? Did you have a nightmare?" Valgaav started, taken aback. He knew he should have been used to her questions by now, but sometimes she still managed to catch him off guard.

"Yes," he answered simply. He didn't bother to elaborate. That was all she needed to know. As it was, she still looked a little frightened anyway.

"Valgaav, sir," she said quietly, "Your eyes... they're... glowing in the dark..." Valgaav blinked. He'd forgotten about that particular aspect of his anatomy for several hundred years. His eyes had always reflected light, much like a feline's. He blinked before sitting down on the bed. Sylphiel scooted over, keeping her covers around her chin.

"They do that," he said dismissively, not caring to address her concerns. He watched her for a few seconds more, noting that she didn't seem to be any less tense.

"Go back to sleep, Sylphiel," he ordered, leaning back onto the large pillows in the bed. He rolled over onto his side in order to get a better look at her. She wasn't moving at all.

"But, Valgaav, sir," she protested quietly, "You're in my bed... It's not right, I--" Valgaav glared through the dark, irritated by her disobedience.

"Go to sleep," he said again, this time putting a bitter edge to it, "I'm not going to let you out of my sight. Go to sleep." Sylphiel blinked, unsure of what to do for a moment. After a few seconds, though, she capitulated and lay back down, resting against the pillows. However, instead of going back to sleep, she lay there with her eyes wide open, watching him.

"Valgaav, sir," she whispered after a while, "You're... scaring me... What did you dream that was so awful?" Valgaav simply watched her, satisfied that she was alive and well.

"It doesn't matter," he said in a gruff whisper, "You don't have to be afraid. I won't harm you." Sylphiel seemed to relax a little into her comforter at this remark. Valgaav reached over and took the hand that was lying beside Sylphiel's face, stretching her arm halfway to where he was lying. He gripped it tightly, sure that if he could touch her, he would know she was there, even in his sleep.

"Go back to sleep," he said firmly, "I won't let anything happen to you. Not while I'm here." Sylphiel just nodded at him, obviously confused once again by his strange behavior.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Valgaav woke later the next day to find a bright beam of early morning sunlight smacking him in the face. He was sincerely beginning to detest waking up like this. He groggily pushed himself up into a sitting position before noting that Sylphiel's hand was no longer in his.

Frantic, Valgaav looked over to find the bed empty. He looked around the room, noticing it was also empty. Swearing to himself, he vaulted out of the bed and ran for the door.

He turned the knob and jerked the door open, pulling it so hard that he almost tore it right off the hinges. As soon as the door was open, however, he could hear the sound of Sylphiel's laughter coming from downstairs.

Relieved, he stopped, leaning on the doorframe. He could hear the dog barking, as well as Sylphiel's laughter, and the sound of food frying in one of her skillets. He was still a little irritated from waking up in such a sorry manner, but he let it go as he headed toward the staircase.

As Valgaav trudged down the staircase, Sylphiel overheard his footsteps and turned to look. She smiled as Bridget ran to greet him.

"Good morning!", she called, last night's fright seemingly forgotten. Valgaav barely managed to glare at her through heavily lidded eyes.

"What the hell is it with you and running off while I'm asleep?", he asked, only halfway joking, "I should think you'll regret that one day." He yawned, hating the sluggish, human feeling sleeping was giving him, but unable to resist the oblivion of unconsciousness all the same.

Sylphiel's face grew only a little more serious as she watched him walk to the couch and then sit down. She stared down into her skillet, turning the food she was cooking.

"Valgaav, sir," she said quietly, "About last night..." Valgaav turned to look at her from the couch. She was in the small nightshirt again. He almost turned away, but decided not to.

"Don't worry about it," he said softly, "It won't happen again." Sylphiel lifted her head up to look at him. There was a little bit of hurt in her eyes.

"I didn't mean it that way, Valgaav, sir," she said quietly, "I mean..." She turned away again, obviously a little uncomfortable. Valgaav rose from the couch and slowly walked around it. He walked into the kitchen and stopped right before Sylphiel. She looked up at him, at a loss for words.

"It won't happen again," he said simply, "Because I'm leaving." Sylphiel's eyes widened, tears pooling at the corners.

"Valgaav, sir," she said sadly, forgetting what she was doing. Her carelessness caused her to drop her spatula into the skillet. The oil splashed up and burned her hand, causing her to jerk away.

"Oh, no!", she gasped, backing away, unable to get the spatula back. Valgaav looked over at the hot, oily skillet, unfazed.

Calmly, he lifted his hand and reached into the oil, pulling the spatula out. Sylphiel watched, shocked, as he let the grease drip off of the spatula and into the pan. Satisfied that it was sufficiently cool enough for her to touch, he handed it back. Sylphiel took the utensil, eyes wide in shock and jaw open.

"How did you just...?", she began to ask as he walked away toward the kitchen table, "That skillet is scalding hot, Valgaav, sir! Are you hurt?" He sat down, a slightly irritated look coloring his face.

"Of course I'm not," he replied, holding up his hand for her to see. Sylphiel watched, not believing what she was seeing. It was obvious there were a dozen questions she wanted to ask him, but couldn't seem to put them all into words.

"Valgaav, sir," she finally asked, "Why are you leaving?" Valgaav looked down at the table, finding a clean napkin, and wiping his oily hand off with it. When he was finished, he looked back at Sylphiel. She had an expression on her face that told that she was worried, and perhaps a little frightened.

"Because trouble follows me, Sylphiel," he remarked simply, looking down at the table top, "If I stay, I fear for your safety." He looked up at her again, able to see that all the questions in her eyes hadn't been answered.

"But you're still hurt!", Sylphiel protested, "Your wounds couldn't possibly be healed by now!" She fell silent as Valgaav unwrapped the bandages on his left arm. As they fell to the floor, Sylphiel could see no indication of any wounds: no scars, no scratches, nothing. She gasped as he held the arm up for her to see. There were no wounds whatsoever.

"Valgaav, sir," she said, all but whispering, "What are you?" Valgaav simply stared at her, an open-eyed stare, allowing her to get a good look at his cat-like pupils.

"I think you already know, Sylphiel," he replied seriously, watching her shake her head in denial.

"No," she answered softly, "You can't be. You're a kind man, Valgaav, sir." She leaned against the counter beside the stove, still shaking her head. There were tears now falling down her cheeks, her eyes fixed on the floor. Valgaav hated to see her this way. He hated even more to think that she might turn him away now that she knew.

"Don't worry about it," he finally said, "I'll be gone soon, anyway." He averted his eyes to the tabletop once more, avoiding Sylphiel's tear-stained face.

All was silent for a few seconds. Truthfully, Valgaav didn't know what to expect from her now. However, after a few moments, he felt soft arms slide around his neck from behind. He realized then that Sylphiel had walked up behind him while he wasn't paying attention. She drew his head to her breast, holding him gently and stroking his hair with one of her hands.

"You don't have to go anywhere if you don't want to, Valgaav, sir," she said in a whisper, "It doesn't matter to me what you are." Valgaav couldn't believe his ears. This human girl was offering to let him stay with her, knowing he was a dangerous demon. He reached up and took her free hand in his own, giving it a small squeeze.

"I have to leave," he said quietly, "I won't continue to put you in danger." Sylphiel was quiet then, simply running her fingers through his hair.

"Valgaav, sir," she finally asked after several minutes of silence, "Have you ever heard of... Do you believe in 'love at first sight'?" Valgaav opened his eyes, taken off guard. He couldn't believe she would ask him something like that.

"No," he replied simply, "But I believe there's something really damned close to it." He didn't look up, but he could tell Sylphiel was smiling at him all the same.

"Valgaav, sir," she said quietly, "If you're going to leave, I can't stop you. But will you make me a promise?" He looked up at her, curious.

"What?", he asked, feeling her arms leave his neck and her hand leave his hair. Sylphiel knelt before him, taking one of his hands in hers.

"When your trouble's passed and the danger's gone," she said softly, "Promise me you'll come back?" Valgaav blinked at her. He had never known that human women, particularly those as pretty and talented as Sylphiel, would wait that long for someone.

"You'll wait? You realize it could take years?", he asked, watching her nod in return, "Then I'll come back." Sylphiel's eyes filled with joy as she rose from the ground, taking him with her by the hand. As soon as they were both standing, she wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his chest.

"Thank you," she whispered into his shirt, "Valgaav, sir."

Valgaav hadn't the first clue what he was supposed to do with a fragile young woman clinging to him like this. He guessed that the proper thing to do would be to put his arms around her in return. He did so, finding that he rather liked the way this was making him feel. Gently, trying not to be too firm with her, he ran his hand down her back and over her hair.
Sylphiel lifted her head up, looking directly into his eyes. Valgaav didn't know what to make of it. It was almost like the time he'd grabbed her by the river the day before. It occurred to him that she was looking at him expectantly, as if she were waiting on him to do something.

Slowly, he lowered his face, drawing closer to hers until their lips met. It had been at least a millennia since he'd kissed a girl. He'd forgotten how wonderful it felt.

After what had seemed like several minutes, they parted, Sylphiel blushing profusely. She brought her hand to her cheek, her face burning.

"I've never..." she said, out of breath, "That was the first time I've ever kissed anyone." Valgaav himself had to stay still for a moment to recover. As he slowly came back to himself, though, he realized that his time there was over. He knew that the longer he stayed, the more chance there was that something would happen.

"I have to go now," he said quietly. Sylphiel pressed herself back into his arms one last time, resting her head against his chest again.

"Please be safe," she said softly, "And come back soon." He ran a hand over her hair and squeezed her in return.

"Goodbye, my Sylphiel," he said quietly before simply vanishing from her arms. Sylphiel looked surprised at first and almost fell forward. She quickly recovered, however, and stared at the space Valgaav had occupied a few seconds before.

"Goodbye," she said sadly, "Valgaav, dear."

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Valgaav stormed into his lair, frightening the lesser Mazoku that happened to be standing in his path. If one were unfortunate enough to get close to him, it would be immediately shoved out of the way.

"Grabos!", he yelled, his voice echoing off of the stone walls, "Jillas! Where in the bloody hell are you two!?" There were heavy footsteps, the sounds of people running, filling the halls then. Valgaav looked over to see his two beastmen come barreling out of one of the passageways toward him.

"Lord Valgaav!", Jillas exclaimed, almost tripping over his too-long poncho. He got shoved back as Grabos took the lead.

"Lord Valgaav," Grabos said happily, "Where have you been!? We've been looking for you for two days now! Are you alright?" Valgaav ignored their questions and kept walking, intent on reaching his stateroom. He did, however, allow himself a small smile as he brushed past some more soldiers.

"I'm fine, Grabos," he replied coolly, "What have you been doing since I left? It had better have been something productive. Don't tell me you spent the entire time I was gone waiting for me to get back." Gravos smiled nervously, following his master in step.

"Well, actually," he said slowly. Valgaav didn't turn to acknowledge him, though.

"You have to make up for lost time now," he informed the beast man, "We have work we need to do. Our Lord's spirit demands vengeance." The two servants nodded eagerly.

"Yes, sir!", Grabos replied, saluting. Jillas, however, noticed something different about his Lord.

"Lord Valgaav," he said, a hint of anxiety in his voice, "Are you sure you're okay? Your right arm is bandaged..." Valgaav stopped walking and looked at his arm. He had forgotten to remove the bandages Sylphiel had placed there. He started to take them off, but reconsidered.

"This?", he asked, "No, Jillas, it's fine. This is... a keepsake." He left the bandages in place and continued on to his stateroom.


Seven years had passed since Sylphiel had last seen the strange green-haired man that she'd found unconscious in her orchard. True to her word, she had waited patiently for him to come back to her.

The world had suddenly changed around her, though. A barrier around her land that had lasted for more than a thousand years had collapsed, allowing the people inside to leave and people from outside to enter. The high concentration of magic inside the barrier diffused throughout the surrounding areas, allowing more people to learn different and more powerful magic.

Sylphiel saw the changes around her and watched with interest. The world seemed full of open possibilities and new and exciting things. She was reluctant, however, to leave and explore the new world. She had made a promise to Valgaav, and she fully intended to keep it. She couldn't bear the thought that he might actually come back while she was out looking for him. So she stayed where she was at.

While time changed the world around her, Sylphiel stayed relatively the same. She knew that magic users, particularly those who were gifted in white magic, lived long lives and seldom aged. Even though years had passed, she didn't look a day older. Sylphiel was at least thankful for this, for no other reason than that she knew Valgaav was a Mazoku, and Mazoku could be practically immortal.

Then the unthinkable happened: Sylphiel's uncle took ill and died. She couldn't bear to stay in the same old house alone. Picking up the belongings she needed, she sold the livestock and the property, and set out for the world outside the old barrier. Hopefully, she'd be able to find Valgaav before he came back to look for her.

The trip was long and arduous. It took weeks to simply make it out of the territory that she had maps and charts for. She saw savannas, steppes, and finally, desert. The hot, relentless sun was something she wasn't used to, and it burdened her to no end.
Every once in awhile, she'd come across a little town or oasis and stop there. In the larger towns, she'd visit the bazaars and town squares to pick up supplies and watch the people. Secretly, though, she hoped to catch a glimpse of Valgaav in one of those places. The more people she could come into contact with, she figured, the greater the chance she could find him.

So it went for many, many months. Finally, Sylphiel arrived in a very large town in the center of a great desert. She'd traveled for what felt like forever before she finally reached it.

The bazaar the town held was huge. Sylphiel still stared in awe of gatherings this large, even after all this time. There was nothing this large back in Sairaag, and there were so many wonderful things to buy there, too. She happily browsed through booths full of silk dresses and exotic jewelry, knowing she couldn't afford anything, but happily looking nonetheless.

Sylphiel left the vendor with the lovely clothes, turning back out into the throng of shoppers. Suddenly, out of nowhere, she looked up and saw a familiar shock of blue-green hair. Her eyes went wide and she almost dropped what she was carrying as she pushed through the crowd to get to him.

The crowd was unbelievably tough to push through, though. It seemed like the harder she shoved, the more intent they seemed on pushing her back. Finally, though, after quite a struggle, she managed to get closer to the flash of color she'd seen before. She tumbled out of the crowd just close enough to get a good look at what she'd seen before.

"Valgaav!", she cried out before looking up. When she looked up, however, she was surprised, and quite disappointed.
Instead of the man she'd been expecting, there was only a pretty woman with long, blonde hair holding a small boy and flanked by a fox-man and a large, reptilian man. The flash of blueish-green, Sylphiel found, had come from the small boy's hair. The boy looked to be no older than 5 and he, and his family, were now staring at Sylphiel.

"Did she just say...?", the fox-man started, blinking in disbelief. Sylphiel bowed her head and backed away.

"I'm very sorry," she apologized, "I mistook your son for someone else. Please don't mind me." She almost turned away to leave before the blonde spoke to her.

"Wait a minute," she said, sounding worried, "Did you just say 'Valgaav'?" Sylphiel perked up and smiled, taking a step toward the small family.

"Yes, yes I did!", Sylphiel replied happily, "Do you know that name?" Sylphiel's eyes landed on the young boy again. He was openly staring at her from his mother's arms. She noticed his eyes were the same gold color as Valgaav's, as well as being cat-like and slanted. Sylphiel's countenance fell immediately.

"Oh, I see," she said sadly, "He must be your husband now." She looked from the boy's face to the ground and back up to the blonde. The blonde had a strange look on her face.

"It's nothing like..." the blonde said sadly, watching Sylphiel's face as well. Sylphiel felt like she might cry. She couldn't believe Valgaav would have forgotten about her and had a son with this woman. She felt a hot tear slip down her face and she looked down before brushing it off of her cheek.

"I'm sorry to have troubled you, ma'am," she said quietly. She looked back up to go. The blonde had a look of genuine pity on her face, as though she knew something that was too terrible to tell Sylphiel. The boy she was holding, however, was squirming in his mother's arms.

"Mom, put me down!", he insisted quietly, "I want Sylphiel to hold me!" Sylphiel's eyes snapped open and she watched the boy carefully. She didn't know why, but she suddenly knew deep in her heart that this boy wasn't Valgaav's son; she was certain he was Valgaav.

"Val, you know that's very rude,", the blonde scolded, "You should address her as 'Miss... Sylph...' Val, how did you know her name!?" The boy shrugged for a second and then continued squirming. His mother looked so startled that she might actually drop the boy at any second. Finally, she numbly let him down and he ran over to Sylphiel.

Sylphiel knelt down to eye-level with the boy and he threw his arms around her neck. Sylphiel looked up to his mother for approval, and seeing her nod, held the boy tight and picked him up.

"But Lord Valgaav doesn't remember anything else about himself," the reptilian man said, watching the spectacle unfold, "Why would he remember this girl and not even us?" The smaller fox-man grinned happily as he watched his young master.

"Maybe he was in love with her?", he asked, "I mean, you can forget everything else in the world, but you'll always remember love!" The larger reptilian man smacked the fox on the back of the head.

"Jillas, put a lid on it," he said, "You've been listening to Miss Filia talk too much again."

Sylphiel held the boy's head under her chin, rocking him back and forth as he wrapped his arms around her shoulders. The blonde looked on in shock, apparently at a loss for words.

"I missed you, Valgaav, dear," Sylphiel said softly, tears slipping down her cheeks. The boy looked up happily as he held her tight.

"I missed you, too," he said quietly. He looked at her, smiling, for another second before he looked back at his mother. "Mom, when I grow up, can I marry Sylphiel?", he asked cheerfully, causing his mother's eyes to grow round and large.

"Val, what in the world are you talking about?", she asked, looking back and forth from the small boy to the woman holding him. Finally, she spoke up again. "Miss... Sylphiel, was it?", she asked, smiling sheepishly, "My name's Filia. Maybe you should come back to our place with us? There are some things I need to explain to you."

Feedback: More Xel/Fil? I'd be happy to! ~ sailorN1@aol.com