"Life's a bitch. Life's a whore. Nothing less, nothing more. There is nothing that she will do for me. I will end, this suffering. Resistance of one man, hatred with no end. My madness, My sadness. I am, my own savior." -Iced Earth, My Own Savior

He was born in pain and flame, not knowing who or what he was. A near mindless lump of agony, surrounded on all sides by the fires of damnation, and the smell of brimstone. Wails of torment, and the stench of burning souls assaulted his senses.

A part of him, deep within his battlescarred psyche and unaffected by all of this, casually noted that the toasting souls of the damned smelled a lot like overcooked pork. This secret, hardened part of him brooded and smoldered hotter than the fires he twisted in, filled with a sense of demonic rage. He was full of blackest ire, languishing in a prison of wormwood and gall forged of his own failure.

In other words, he sulked.

He was not happy with how the events which lead to his downfall played out. Of course, it goes without saying that he was also down right furious with himself over the whole downfall thing in general.

He had been pushed to the limits of his patience by that foolish little girl... what was her name? Lina Inverse.... yes... now he remembered. He did not often bother to remember the names of humans... they were fragile and pitiful, a life gone in the blink of an eye, like tadpoles going blissfully about their froggy concerns, completely unaware of the crocodile lurking... lurking and watching. He did, however, make a habit of remembering his enemies. Being the Mazoku traitor that he was, he had many enemies, but he had only one that truly caused him concern... only concern of course, not fear... never fear. That was an emotion for lesser beings. Fear implied running about waving one's hands and generally making an ass of one's self. Concern had bred caution, and caution had become a plan, but that plan had been foiled by that graceless, frightened, underdeveloped scrap of a girl. He had been humiliated, beaten, nearly destroyed by that terrible spell, sent crashing into the hard earth like a star torn from the heavens. Furious, he had risen up and prepared to smash that insignificant little girl into so much underdeveloped paste... and his worst enemy, his one time brother, if one such as him could be considered to HAVE a brother, had tricked him, humiliated him further, and obliterated him with a single, simple, mocking snap of his fingers.

In the end, it had been his human soul that saved him. An ironic, if somewhat pointless fact. He was in no position to be grateful, he was trapped in his brother Phibrizo's domain, the sadistic little playroom the Hellmaster maintained for his own twisted, childish amusement. It was even possible the little shit had intend him to end up here. Destroyed by the Hellmaster's attack, his astral body had been rent asunder and scattered to the four winds. This would have been enough to destroy any Mazoku... but he'd also had a physical body, not just an imitation of one, and a human soul, something far more hardy than the dark energy that comprised his astral body. The attack had incinerated his fragile physical body, but his soul, and a small... pitifully small bit of his astral body had been consigned here, to be tormented eternally by his murderer.

Not, he had to admit, that he didn't deserve such a fate. Being at least partially human, and thus possessing of a soul, he'd been different from the other Mazoku. Part of him had been appalled at his actions repeated over and over again down the long twisted road of his life. It was this very human sense of pity that had caused him to create his minion, Valgaav. Other than that, however, he'd done very little to merit any treatment other than that which he had received.

He didn't have to like it though... and there was no part of him, human or mazoku, that would ever give up and accept this fate willingly.

While the human side of him writhed in torment, the mazoku part of him strained at the tiny bits of energy that surrounded him in the form of his fellow prisoners. While their pain was great and unceasing, it was unfortunately for the most part mindless, any intelligence having long since been burned away under the constant rape that was this unholy place. It made for a very lowgrade sort of suffering, barely enough to sustain his weakened consciousness. Gradually, he extended his influence around him, on that tiny trickle of sustenance, until he became aware of Others....

Monsters. Demons. Mazoku. They stank of his brother. They moved through the fires of Phibrizo's domain like flies from one carcass to another, sucking in the base torment, glutting themselves on it. For a time he watched them, puzzled by their inattentiveness. Surely they were to guard against escape? They were as a whole stupid, small beasts barely worthy of the name Mazoku. Apparently his brother did not trust anyone, not even those born of himself, and he had never created a minion that had even come near his own power. Where was his brother anyway? He was obviously not here, considering how lax his minions had become, allowing a former Dark Lord to "awaken" so to speak... ah well. Best not to look a gift horse in the mouth. His brother would one day rue his inattentiveness but until that day, he must move quickly. He lie in wait, watching those small monsters move through the inferno. Finally, one moved a bit too close to him and in a flash his huge, strong arms were around it, embracing it tightly. It froze, in shock. That a prisoner had moved, much less dared to attack one of his gaolers was unthinkable. It was this very moment of hesitation that allowed him to begin to absorb it. Too late, it thrashed about and tore deep rents in his human soul, but the dark Mazoku part of him pulled its astral body within and crushed its pathetically stupid consciousness in a battle of wills that lasted less than a blink of an eye. No lesser Mazoku had a will to survive like the Demon Dragon King. A thrill of his old pride returned to him, and he quickly suppressed it. Best not to call down Phibrizo's attention. Indeed he must move quickly, but also cautiously...

So they fell, one by one. The battles were as a rule short, boring even. Not one of these beasts had the spirit of that thrice-bedamned little girl, let alone one such as him. In time his thoughts turned to his escape. He could not regain his rightful place as the Chaos Dragon in a place like this. Even were he to consume every third rate Mazoku here, his power would not begin to equal the strength of the one who had built this place. The problem however, was that were he to force his way through the barriers of his brother's domain, forged deep within the astral plane, he would undoubtedly get Phibrizo's attention, and that would mean death. Real death this time; Phibrizo did not make the same mistake twice. He had to find some way to hide himself, to prevent his brother from finding him. It angered him deeply that he should have to hide from his whelp of a brother, but his time here had taught him one very important lesson. Pride was for the strong; it had no place in the weak, and as much as he was loathe to admit it, he was undoubtably weaker than his brother in his current state. So, a way of hiding his nature he would have to find... but how?

Then his thoughts turned to the pain-wracked form of his human soul. A glimmer of a plan came upon him. It was dangerous, for he would be nearly incapable of defending himself from a real enemy, but he would be hidden.. and the possible reward... He smiled, a familiar baring of teeth not so much an expression of happiness as a promise of terrible things to come...

For he would BE Gaav, the Demon Dragon King again, and he DID love war the most.

With a thought he clothed himself in familiar utilitarian clothing, long overcoat, tunic, slacks and sturdy boots, and formed of his very substance his familiar blade, the heavy and terrible weapon feeling right in his hands. Then, with a roar of terrible anger and defiance, he threw himself at the very fabric of his prison. The air (if it could be said to have air) of hell filled with a new sound; that terrible bellow, and the walls of hell shook and tore. Filled with pain and a momentary sense of weakness, Gaav finally pushed his way into the world, allowing himself a moment of exhilaration at the end of pain, and his return....

Then, he locked himself deep inside his human soul, surrounding himself with his until now loathed humanity like a security blanket, with only the barest crack in the armor of his psyche for awareness. He put himself to sleep within himself, and forgot everything until the day he would be powerful enough to reclaim his rightful place.

It is at this point that he might have saved himself a large portion of time and effort. Since he felt he had very little time however, and since he thought he had avoided detection thus far, he did not search out his brother's location so as to prevent the little Hellmonkey from pinpointing him. If he had only stopped to search, if he had only paid attention... he might have noticed that his brother simply no longer existed. These little ironies abound in life however, and this wouldn't be a very good story if he had done so, now would it?

A very confused, very LARGE man in a yellow overcoat carrying a huge sword blinked at the world around him. He could not for the life of him remember what it was he was supposed to be doing. A thin, dreary sort of drizzle drifted on the breeze past him, making numerous small diamond like sparkles in his long, bushy red mane. He looked down. The ground was smoking at his feet, and he backed up slightly, alarmed. Two large footprints made of charred earth smoked gently on the rocky ground. He blinked and glanced once again at the world around him. He stood at the base of a large mountain around which a small dirt road wound. Behind him a dark forest loomed over the dusty road he stood upon. He frowned. He had a sense that he should be doing something, but he could not remember what it was. Whatever it was, he had a nagging feeling that it was terribly important to him. What was it? As he stood silently, trying desperately to remember something... anything, he gradually became aware of something pricking the edge of his consciousness. Two voices finally forced themselves into his pondering. He realized they were discussing him.

"... I got no idea Mel... cor.. look et the size of 'im...."

"... Heah.. you'd think someone his size in that ridiculous coat of his would be pretty hard to miss but here he is, larger than life."

"Think he's got any money?"

"I don't know Larson, but I'd say judgin' by that huge sword and those clothes he's got to have somethin'. Hell, its better than standin' around here gettin' wetter by the minute with nothin' to show for it. 'Sides, Boss Gabro will have our hides if we come back empty handed."

"I don't know Mel... I mean, he's awful big..."

"Larson, there are two of us, and he hasn't done a whole lot but stand there lookin' dumb for the past ten minutes. What could it hurt anyway?"

"Well... bugger me for a lark. I say we do it then."

"Alright! That's the spirit. On the count of three... one... two..."

Looking up from his newly made, formfitting hole in the mountain side, Mel uttered an extremely painfilled... "Three...."

The damnable thing of it was the man hadn't seemed to be paying much attention. He'd just stood there with that quizzical expression on his face while the two of them had charged him hellbent on his destruction (or at least severe beating). Mel had dimly remembered that he was supposed to ask the man for his money or his life, but being a recent addition to the Black Hills Bandit Gang, he was still rather new at this. It also didn't help that he wasn't the brightest man in the world, but this was hardly a negative factor in his new profession,--in fact considering the huge number of heroes in the area it was almost a requirement. That still hadn't explained the royal ass whoop he'd received as payment for his actions. The huge man had moved with inhuman speed, and just as Larson had gone sailing with a stunned expression on his face towards the woods on the opposite side of the road, Mel had found himself becoming acquainted with the mountainside in a far more personal manner than he'd have wanted to on their first date.

The huge man in the yellow overcoat glared down at him. He hadn't even swung his sword.

When he spoke his voice was a feral growl that almost made Mel do something very unpleasant in his trousers.

"What in the hell was that for?"

Mel blinked and tried to sit up, thought better of it simply and looked up with a "please don't kill me" expression.

He suddenly found himself being lifted up out of his impromptu grave with less effort than a man picking up his dirty laundry. He dangled by his (dented) breastplate in the man's massive grasp.

"Well? Answer me!"

Mel blinked. "Uh... what the hell was what for?"

He was lightly shaken for his answer. "Why did you attack me?!"

"Uh... I'm a bandit... that's what bandits do..." Mel squeaked, beginning to wish he'd listened to his mother and become a baker instead.

The man frowned like he was trying to remember something. Then he gritted his teeth and if it was possible, looked even more angry. Mel took a chance.

"Excuse me sir... but I'm beginning to see that attacking you was a grave error on my part and will willingly part with my purse if you'll just let me go..."

The huge man frowned. "Why would I want that?"

Mel looked at him. "You're kidding right? They don't need money where you come from?! Who the hell are you?"

The man frowned again. "I don't know..." Seemingly without giving it much thought he released Mel from his iron kung-fu grip, causing the hapless bandit to land with an agonized groan. The red haired giant didn't seem to notice. "I can't seem to remember... anything. Money... bandits... where I come from, even my name, its all familiar and yet I can't..." he squeezed his fist in frustration and a red light emanated from his eyes for a split second. "Why can't I remember?!"

Mel shook his head and stood up, brushing the rock dust from his bruised and aching back.

"Sounds like you got a bit of the... uh.. am... amn... amnonia. Yeah. Thats it. I heard it happens when you hit yer head really hard. Don't worry too much. It should all come back to you eventually." he patted the confused giant's arm sympathetically, more or less hoping that he wouldn't be killed.

Mel took a long look at him. For a large man he looked extremely forlorn, and Mel suddenly had an attack of sympathy. "Look... yer a big bloke, and you don't have much in the way of job skills not rememberin' anything and all, but the Black Hill Bandits 'er always looking for big lads and you can sure fight. Why don't you come with me, and I'll put in a good word for ya with the boss."

The man looked at him with those inscrutable eyes and frowned. "So what is it that bandits do exactly?"

"Well... the boss has got this big theory about robbin' from the rich and given to ourselves with e--konimics and stuff, but basically as I see it, we beat people up 'o 'er weaker'n us an' take their stuff." he scratched his head.

"Beat people up, hmm?" the man rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

When he smiled, Mel was reminded of a cat right before it pounced on a cornered mouse....



The little voice distracted Xellos from his reverie and he looked up from his teacup, which was rapidly becoming cold.

"No Valgaav... that disgusting piece of Mazoku filth is not your daddy!" it never ceased to amaze Xellos how sickeningly cheerful Filia could sound when one considered the words coming out of her mouth. He grinned mischievously and patted the small boy's head, mindful of the small horn which was now growing there.

"Oh come now Filia, there's no harm in it! After all a child shouldn't grow up without a father figure... its not healthy."

Filia scowled and snatched the boy from the table, glaring at her tormentor in disdain. She really hated "uncle" Xellos' little visits, but there was very little she could do to prevent him from popping in... At least very little that wouldn't result in large amounts of property damage.

Probably her's.

But if he kept this up... she clenched her fist and closed her eyes as a vein popped out of her forehead.

Xellos smiled and took a sip of his tea. He didn't really need the tea, just like he didn't need the small cookies on the plate before him but he had to admit, they were good. He looked upon them as a sort of appetizer for the low grade irritation he got out of Filia for the necessity of having to serve her unwanted house guest for the sake of propriety. He always enjoyed getting a rise out of Filia, the dragon girl was a veritable fountain of yummy emotions. Truthfully, that was part of the reason why he kept coming out to this hut in the middle of nowhere,-- well that and the fact that his master, Xellas wanted him to keep an eye on the little minion of dear, departed Gaav... but Xellos, Mysterious Priest and General to Beastmaster Xellas always had more than one reason for doing the things he did and keeping the secrets he kept.

Some he kept even from himself...

Still, as much as it would be amusing if young Valgaav thought of him as a father (there was sooo much he could TEACH the dear boy!) his attention had not been on the boy. It had been fixed far away towards a disturbing ripple in the astral plane and a familiar presence Xellos had not felt since...

No matter, being the inquisitive master of the enigmatic that he was, Xellos always trusted his gut,(metaphorically speaking of course since Xellos was pretty sure he didn't have a gut) and he'd soon have the heart of this matter ferreted out and any advantage he could possibly gain for himself or his master (in exactly that order) wrung from it. He smiled again and stood.

"Thank you for a lovely evening Filia, as always you are a charming host." he said, sounding extremely sincere as he picked up his staff. He turned so she would not see his face.. wait for it...

Filia blinked and put down Valgaav gently, frowning. "Why.. thank you Xellos..."

"..It almost makes up for your.. how should I put this.. lack of culinary expertise." he winked at her over his shoulder and bowed deeply, as though he'd just awarded her a deep compliment, taking in the fuming anger and... just a little bit of hurt? that washed over him.

"Why you filthy, steaming pile of... Mazoku...." her fangs were, he had to admit, actually rather fetching, though the mace she lofted was somewhat alarming.

"Now now Filia, remember the boy. Do you REALLY want to teach him to resort to VIOLENCE to solve his problems?" he grinned. "I'm on my way, no need to see me to the door." He popped out of existence (and out of the path of her swinging mace) and reappeared by the door, opening it smoothly. "I'm off to look up an old friend and mentor of your boy there... so don't wait up.. dear."

She stopped advancing on him and frowned. "What do you mean, old friend?"

There were days when everything just seemed to go your way. Days like this, Xellos just loved being himself. "That, my dear ex-dragon priestess, is a secret."


He stepped out the door, paused for a moment to listen intently, then upon hearing Filia's angry howl behind him, walked jauntily down the path that lead away from her small cottage, whistling happily to himself.

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