"Pushing little children, with their fully automatics, they like to push the weak around." -Deer Dance, System Of A Down

"Valgaav, how many times do I have to tell you? NO BLACK MAGIC IN THE HOUSE."

Valgaav looked up at Filia-mama from the smoking remains of the couch with a look of guilty dismay. Uh oh... He pointed an accusing finger at a disheveled, slightly singed little girl with toussled red hair.

"Mina started it mom! She took the piece of cake right off my plate!"

Filia regarded the little girl in question. Looking at her, it was easy to imagine what Lina had looked like as a child. Cute as a button, bursting with hyperactive energy, her eyes full of youthful curiousity and sharp intelligence.

Dangerous as a burlap sack full of soaked cats when agitated. She glared daggers at Valgaav, who ignored her completely.

"It's MY birthday, and MY cake." Valgaav stated crossing his arms and looking superior.

Filia shook her head slowly. She had a sneaking suspicion he'd been talking to Xellos again... that purple haired fruit cake had taught him a few minor spells when he was 7, knowing full well how often little boys get into trouble... she sighed.

"Valgaav, a piece of cake is no reason to set someone on fire-" she was interrupted by a loud, strident voice from the kitchen.

"GOURRY!! Touch my piece of cake again and the only thing you'll be eating is a fireball!" Filia blinked...

"But, Lina... its the whole cake..." Gourry's confused retort followed Lina's bellow like the next note in some insane comedic tune.

A vein pulsed in Filia's forehead. "Valgaav, put out the couch. Mina, don't touch things that aren't yours. Lina, please leave some of the cake for the children. Xellos, stop tormenting the cat. XELLOS! What are you doing here?"

Xellos looked up from his apparent reenactment of the Spanish Inquisition on the hapless feline and smirked.

"Miss young Valgaav's birthday? I may be a Mazoku, Filia dear, but I am NOT a monster."

"UNCLE XELLOS!" Valgaav dropped the couch and rushed at Xellos, who stood up with a pained expression and held his hands up to stop the young ancient dragon's charge.

"Now Valgaav, remember what I told you about happy greetings..."

Valgaav's face dropped a moment, then he grinned and socked "Uncle" Xellos in the stomach as hard as he could.

Xellos grinned. "Thats better."

Filia shook her head in dismay. Every year.

"Xellos, I thought I made it clear that you were banned from birthdays since The Rum Cake Incident."

"It was a delightful cake Filia, I don't see-"



After the smoke cleared, and the children had settled down enough to be ushered outside to play, Filia sat down at the kitchen table with her friends (and Xellos) to talk about what had happened in their lives of late. With the exception of Xellos (who Filia saw with entirely too much regularity) this yearly fiasco was the only time she had to see her old friends.

"Sorry about the cake, Filia." Gourry was, as usual, taking the blame for Lina's appetite.

"Thats OK Gourry. I'm pretty sure Valgaav is used to that by now..." Filia sipped her tea, relaxing after the stress of being the only sane person in a party of maniacs.

Xellos raised an eyebrow and smiled, but a glance from Lina made him stop.

"No mention will be made of The Rum Cake Incident on pain of death." she warned.

"So Lina, how have you and Gourry been?" Filia inserted tactfully, trying to avoid any more arguments (and broken furniture).

Lina smiled. "Oh well enough I suppose. This year's batch of students are a bunch of rocks. If it wasn't for Mina, I'd be..."

"...in fear for the future of magic, yes Lina, we've heard this before." Xellos pointed out.

Lina glared at Xellos. "...in fear for a certain Mazoku's life if he doesn't shut up."

Xellos looked up, mildly suprised. "So then... the magic is back, Lina?"

Lina reddened and stood up, clenching her fist. "I don't need magic to kick your-"

Gourry put a hand on the small woman's shoulder, gave her a gentle look, then turned his gaze to Xellos, his eyes turning to steel as they did only when he prepared to go to battle. "Xellos, stop teasing my wife."

Xellos smiled and spread his hands. "Now now, there's no need to get angry, I was simply curious."

Lina sat down, looking tired. "It's all right Gourry. No Xellos, my magic is not back." She looked up, frustrated. "Nothing seems to help. No one can figure it out. Not even me..."

Gourry continued to stare hard in Xellos' direction, then patted his wife's hand. She looked grateful, and Filia sighed. A year after the battle with Dark Star, Gourry had carried a deathly pale, unconscious Lina into Filia's house with a stricken look on his normally contented face. From what she had been able to deduce from his nearly incomprehensible explanation (Gourry was not the best person to ask for a detailed description of what he'd done 5 minutes ago, let alone the day before) she had been able to gather that Lina had been in the middle of casting a Dragon Slave when she'd stopped, blinked twice, and collapsed into an unconscious heap. The bandit gang had collectively stood up from where it had taken futile cover and after a few stunned moments, charged the infamous bandit killer. Gourry had fought them off, and brought his stricken charge to Filia.

No white magic spell or remedy she could think of could rouse the fallen sorceress from her coma.

A week later, she'd simply come out of it on her own. After she'd sated her enormous appetite (a week asleep had left her "dangerously ravenous" as Zelgadis had once put it) she'd set about testing her limits, in spite of Gourry and Filia's reservations, and found herself unable to cast any but the simplest of spells.

She had been devastated. Her whole life to date had revolved around magic. She'd solved most of her problems with it, it was as much a part of her as her arms or eyes. That it had betrayed her was unthinkable. She'd come very close to giving in to her despair completely.

Only Gourry had saved her. He'd stubbornly remained with her through her depression, enduring her temper when she lashed out at him unprovoked (as opposed to the normal lashing out for his regularly scheduled provocations). She'd cursed him over and over again, calling him a fool, an idiot, or worse.. He'd only smiled. He had remained maddeningly calm despite her every attempt to force him to leave, to recognize her worthlessness... but he never had.

She loved him for that.

Oh she'd loved him before that of course. Not that she ever would have admitted that to herself. Lina as a tough-as-nails bandit killer, she could handle. Lina as a woman in love? It scared her. Her sickness had forced her to rely on someone else, something she'd never allowed herself to do, never COULD have allowed herself to do before, and he'd never betrayed her trust. Their relationship was tentative at first (Gourry had developed a Pavlovian reaction regarding Lina and romance, namely Lina + Romance=PAIN) but it had grown steadily until the day he'd finally proposed to her.

Mina (a name chosen by Gourry, to which Xellos had sardonically replied, "that figures") was the result.

Filia smiled at the look shared between the two, noticing that Xellos was looking a bit green.

He stood up, giving Filia an ambigious look that confused her before his usual smirk returned.

"I think I'll... go check to make sure the children have burned the forest down."

Filia smiled and allowed him his out. Xellos was a mazoku, but for some reason only known to him he was actually very protective of the boy. As for Mina, well... Lina might not be capable of really killing the Trickster Priest, but she was more than capable of making him WISH he was dead.

She turned her attention to Lina and Gourry.

"So... how is the rest of the group?"

Lina frowned. "Well... Zelgadis is still off on his own. I don't think that's going to change anytime soon." she sighed, rubbing Gourry's hand. "He's convinced there's no hope for him, so he just sits around and sulks. He wouldn't even see ME the last time I went up there to visit him. The idiot. Amelia is as cheerful as ever, but she's way too busy running Sailoon to go looking for him. Truth is, I think she blames herself..." she shrugged. "How have you been?"

Filia smiled. "Well, its not easy raising an ancient dragon. Xellos stops by once a week to "give the boy a proper education" as he puts it, but other than that things are pretty quiet. The hardest thing about it is answering the questions he has about his former life..."

Gourry blinked. "Former life?"

Lina fondly punched his head. "Jellyfish brain. Remember? Dark Star? Weapons of Light?" Lina turned to Filia. "Still... what DO you tell him?"

Filia took a sip of her tea before answering. "The truth. If I didn't, Xellos would use it against me. The boy already has too high an opinion of that trickster. I'm worried he'll disappoint him... Valgaav looks up to him, and Xel isn't happy unless he's hurting someone... I don't want it to be Valgaav."

Lina looked slyly at her. "Xel huh? Kinda familiar aren't we?"

Filia blinked, then looked flustered. "Lina don't even JOKE about that kind of thing. It was just a slip of the tongue. He's around so often I..."

Lina smiled. "Just sort of got used to him hmm?"

Filia snorted. "No. You never get used to Xellos. Valgaav doesn't like it when I fight with him, so I try to be civil, at least until he breaks the boy's heart. I'm not looking forward to cleaning up THAT mess."

"Oh come on Filia. I don't think its all that bad. You're raising Valgaav right. If anything, it'll be a good influence on Xellos."

"But he's a Mazoku! He's evil!" she exclaimed.

"Yeah, but he's not a Gaav, Phibrizo kind of evil. He's more of a common cold sort of evil. He might be annoying, and might live off of human misery, but it would be really far fetched for him to actually hurt you. He can't help being what he is." her eyes twinkled. "Besides, he's our Mazoku, right?"

Filia gave Lina a sour look. "Since when did YOU become a matchmaker?"

Gourry frowned. "Speaking of Xellos, am I wrong, or did he say he was going to make sure the children burned the forest down?"

The action at the table froze for a few seconds, then the faint smell of woodsmoke reached their searching nostrils.

"XELLLLOOOOSSS!" their simultaneous cry of dismay rang out over the hills as they scrambled to prevent a major disaster.


The village was burning. The screams of the dying and the injured intermingled with the chuckle of the fires that had been sporadically set among their homes. It was a macabre choir of chaos.

The LARGE Man With No Name found himself strangely moved by it.

The garrison had been easy enough to overcome, even with Gabro's inept leadership. Here on the frontiers of Sailoon, the resupply of weapons and armor were a trickle at best. The Black Hills Bandit Gang had grown strong. A veritable army of black-hearted men (with a few grey and yellow-hearted men thrown in for variety) had swept over the village's defenses wave after wave until the village had fallen.

For the moment.

T.L.M.W.N.N. hefted his sword over one shoulder and strode through the wreckage, seeing nothing but his enemies dead, and their lamenting women and children. His contentment was complete until he noticed a small knot of bandits herding frightened women and children into the village center. He frowned and, when one bandit rushed past him, reached out with lightning speed and lifted the surprised man to his own eye level by his collar.

"What's the rush, Strom?" he asked conversationally, as Strom's mind struggled to reconcile himself with the fact that he had gone from looting to choking in less than a second.

"Gatherin'... all the women.... in the center... gonna.. have some fun...." he choked out, staring into the giant's red eyes.

They did not look pleased. "What do you mean... fun?"

"Errk... I mean... you know... fun..." the man sputtered.

"SPELL it out for me Strom." his voice going from conversational to dangerous.

"Erk... boobies?" Strom was at a severe conversational disadvantage due to his lack of oxygen, but T.L.M.W.N.N. got the gist. He dropped the gasping bandit on the ground and strode towards the town center with a grim purpose in his eyes. He didn't know why, but humiliating and degrading helpless women and children didn't sit well with him. It seemed... overly cruel.

He entered upon a group of laughing and jeering bandits surrounding his illustrious leader, who was currently in the process of removing a shrieking teenaged girl's clothing, his breathing labored in part by his arousal, but mostly from the exertion of moving his own great bulk.

The red haired giant pushed his way through the crowd roughly, stilling any arguments with a murderous glare and a snarl. Grabbing the grossly fat man by the back of his neck he lifted him bodily off of the young girl with one hand, then tossed the stunned bandit king into a group of his bandits, much to their dismay.

"WHAT IS THE... I'LL... I'LL KILL!!!" the furious fat man struggled to his feet, ripped his sword out of it's sheath (while simultaneously trying to button up his pants) his pig eyes searching about until they fell upon his tormenter. The large man stood between the girl and her would be rapist with his arms crossed, his own great sword stuck in the ground in front of him.

"YOU! I should have known it was you. You've been nothing but trouble since you showed up, ignoring my orders, making rude comments during my speeches... well it ends now. Boys! KILL HIM!!"

Silence save for the muted sobbing of the girl reigned in the square as the bandits looked first at the giant, then their leader, the giant again, then avoided their leader's eyes.

"Cowards!! He's only one man!!" the incredulous fat man shook his sword.

"Are you going to attack, Gabro? Or are you going to stand there squealing until you keel over?" the giant's deep, growling voice was quiet, but carried menacingly over the fat man's din like a flag flown over a wartorn field.

The fat man roared, took his sword in both hands and charged the giant like a boar startled from the brush. He moved surprisingly fast for a corpulent man, once his bulk reached terminal velocity it was nearly impossible to stop. He was a powerhouse of destruction, and this was the reason he was Gabro, the Bandit King.

He'd never had a chance.

Bandits who witnessed the fight (if it could be called one) would one day in their cups whisper fearfully amongst themselves that the red haired man's eyes had glowed crimson for a moment, and that the shadow of something terrible had loomed over him. Regardless of this talk, what was accepted was that the fat man had charged toward him, sword prepared to cut him from groin to gizzard giant or no, and the red-haired giant hadn't even bothered to remove his sword from the ground.

He'd simply avoided the fat man's terrible blow and punched the Hapless Bandit King with all of his strength. His fist connected with his foe's chin in an uppercut that threw the grossly fat man several feet into the air. When his falling body crushed an overturned wagon no one bothered to check if he was still alive.

All concerned realized it was a moot point.

The new Bandit King drew his giant sword effortlessly from the blackened earth and levelled it at the bandits. They took a step back collectively.

"There will be no rapine or slaughtering of women or children. Nor will any man too feeble to lift a sword come to harm. We may be bastards, but we are not without mercy. Nor without honor." his eyes shifted from one side of the group to the other.

"Any questions?"

A voice from the back shouted something to the effect of "What's rapine?" and was quickly silenced. The Bandit King rolled his eyes.

"Any INTELLIGENT questions?"

A grizzled, one-eyed bandit with a poorly kempt beard looked him in the eye.

"What do we call ye?"

The giant thought for a moment, then bared his teeth in a grin that gave more than one of the bandits nightmares.

"Call me Boss..."


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