My Fancy Way of Saying Hello.
Filia opened the door to the kiln and took a deep breath. It was cool now, but she could still smell the smoky mixture of earth and flame. She reached in and felt the ceramic surface of the piece within. She looked it over careful, spinning it gently. So often a promising vase could be ruined in its trial by fire. Here, though, all seemed to be well. There was certainly no warping, and she breathed a sigh of relief when she had confirmed that the new paint she'd bought had held up under the heat. She smiled. All that was left was to put this on the shelf, where it would surely find a home when her shop doors opened the next morning.
She lifted the vase from its warm and cozy mortar womb, hugged it to her chest, and carefully shut the oven door. She turned around and walked two steps—maybe three.
"Oh dear," commented Filia's saluter. "How very clumsy of you."
Filia was already crouched down on the floor grasping pottery shards in a kind of desperate rage. "Xellos!" she shrieked at the figure who could've only materialized by magic or by hiding in the back of her kiln. "This is all your fault!"
Xellos arched an eyebrow. "Is it my fault that you scare easily?"
Filia was still gripping a pottery shard like a dagger when she rose. She came back with a red-faced and sullen: "You don't scare me. You just startled me, that's all."
"Forgive me," Xellos said, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear. "Is it my fault that you startle easily?"
"Anyone would be startled if someone just randomly appeared behind them," Filia countered. She tossed down the shard on the floor with the rest. "But you always do that. It's downright rude."
"I thought I greeted you quite politely," Xellos replied. "I believe you're the one between the two of us that can't seem to master basic etiquette."
Filia crossed her arms. "It's not polite to wait around until people are carrying something heavy or fragile before you materialize right behind them. It doesn't matter if you say your phony 'salutations'; you might as well say 'boo!' It's mean-spirited and don't pretend it's anything else, you trash!"
"Well, then it was poorly received," Xellos commented sourly. If he'd lied to her he'd have blamed her for hearing it wrong. "So why don't you tell me how someone mannerly enough to resort to name-calling two-minutes into a conversation thinks she should properly be greeted?"
"Polite people use the door," Filia spat.
Xellos hesitated. "…But doors are so unnecessary," he replied with the slightest hint of fretfulness in his voice.
"They are not!" Filia shot back. She scowled at him. "I can teleport some too, y'know," she reminded him, "but I don't just randomly appear in people's living rooms. There have to be certain boundaries."
Xellos shook his head, making little clucking noises with his tongue as he did so. "But we don't operate under those boundaries, Filia. That's not our procedure." He placed a hand on his chest. "I greet you by rising from your shadow and talking in your ear, and you greet me by dropping something on the floor, screeching my name and then accusing me of something ridiculous. I see no compelling reason to change any of this."
"You wouldn't," Filia answered darkly. "And I'm not greeting you when I do that."
"Really?" Xellos asked thoughtfully. "Then I suppose you're rather rude as well, by your own standard," he concluded.
Filia couldn't really argue against that, but that was alright because she knew very well that Xellos was no good and that bad people deserve bad manners. "Maybe I'd greet you politely if you greeted me politely," she said with a self-righteous sniff.
Xellos mulled over this in his mimed sort of way, cupping his chin in his gloved hand. He grinned at her. "I suppose it's never too late to start again," he said, and then disappeared.
She stared at the place he'd just been standing for a moment, then groaned and resolved not to entrench herself in his nonsense. She walked over to one of the shelves where the broom and dustpan were leaning.
There was a knock at the door. Filia froze for a minute, her gaze fixed on the side-door. She unfroze, muttered a word she wasn't particularly proud of knowing, and continued toward her cleaning implements as if she hadn't heard anything out of the ordinary.
By the time the second knock struck she was already making her way back to the pile of rubbish that had once been a promising new vase. By the third knock she'd begun clearing up the mess. By the fourth knock Jillas had raced into the room.
"Oi'll get it," he declared running for the door.
"No!" Filia whisper-shouted at him, holding an arm up and signaling wildly.
Jillas gave her a puzzled look as the fifth knock struck. "But, Boss," he began, "what about…?"
"Trust me," Filia said heavily, "it's no one we want to talk to."
Jillas gave her a knowing nod. "A salesman, right?"
The sixth knock sounded and Filia glared at the door. "Much worse than a salesman."
A fresh look of horror suffused Jillas's vulpine features. His hand strayed to his belt where he'd once kept grenades before Filia had requested that he not go so heavily armed. "You don't mean…" he began.
Filia nodded darkly.
"Tax-collectors?" Jillas finished ominously.
Filia ceased her nodding. "No, it's just—"
"You ignored me," Xellos accused, popping into existence predictably inside Filia's personal space bubble.
Filia sprung away from him; not to a conversational distance, but certainly to an argumentative distance. "So what?" she retorted.
"I wouldn't say that ignoring someone counts as a polite greeting," he pointed out with damnable reasonableness, though not without a certain irked increase in grip on his staff. "And I was so very courteous to you this time around."
"I only said I might be polite to you," Filia countered, exploiting her loop-hole. "I didn't say I actually would. And it's not courteous if you only play at manners and then just barge in and do whatever you want when it doesn't work out the way you want it."
"Well, it's obvious to me that rudeness is the only thing you respond to, Filia," he said, raising his index finger.
Filia's fingers twitched; they felt magnetically drawn to Xellos's neck. "My only response is to tell you to leave my house this instant or I'll start testing the maces on you!" she snarled.
Xellos shrugged carelessly. "But it's a response nonetheless, Filia," he reasoned. "I'm not picky as long as I get one."
"You—!" Filia began, incensed.
"Umm... 'ey, Boss," Jillas cut in.
The corners of Xellos's lips turned downward in displeasure. Because of that interruption he'd be left in permanent suspense as to what Filia had been about to call him. It could've easily been the generic 'monster' or 'demon'; likely her usual 'raw garbage' or a variant thereof; but it also could've been cockroach… snake… beast… devilishly handsome gadabout… Yes, he decided, let's go with that last one.
"What?" Filia demanded, her anger still at high-levels when she turned to Jillas.
"It's just…" Jillas began, "is this guy bothering you, Boss?"
Filia sunk her head into her hand in frustration. "Always and every day," she said harshly.
"I'm not here every day," Xellos pointed out.
"Always and every day," Filia reaffirmed.
"If that's 'ow it is…" Jillas began resolutely, turning to face Xellos with a steely one-eyed look. This was the same person who'd threatened Lord Val for such a long time and had now turned his negative attention toward his new boss. He gulped. He knew he didn't stand much of a chance against someone who'd given even Lord Val a run for his money, but… some things just have to be done. He wasn't about to let anyone antagonize his boss. He lowered his voice. "…Oi'm going to 'ave to ask you to leave," he finished.
Xellos rested his head against his hand and chuckled. "Oh, please, do," he urged. "Go on and ask."
"Don't bother asking him," Filia counseled her loyal fox, throwing Xellos a disgusted look. "Talking to Xellos is impossible."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that," Xellos returned slowly, as if he felt Filia's assessment rather unfair. "I'm sure I wouldn't insist on staying here if I felt myself prompted to leave."
Xellos leaned in closer to her and gave her the kind of look an ingratiating teacher might give to encourage a dull-witted student. "You just have to ask the right way."
"What's the 'right' way?" Filia asked skeptically.
"Well," Xellos said, grinning, "we've already discovered how you and I say hello to each other; now we just need to find a way to say good-bye to each other in our own, special way."
"And what way would that be?" Filia asked again, grinding her teeth together.
"You're actually following the procedure I want us to adopt pretty well so far," Xellos observed cheerfully. "First off, you stop ordering me out of your house and grudgingly accept my presence, which you've done already."
"'Grudgingly' is right," Filia muttered. How very like Xellos to only take it as his cue to leave when people stop asking him.
"Then I give you my good-bye," Xellos continued as if this interruption hadn't occurred. "And then," his eyes flicked open and he surveyed her conceitedly, "you beg me to come back to you."
"What?" Filia demanded incredulously. "There's not even the slightest chance that I'd actually ask you to—"
He leaned in closer and kissed her on the cheek.
"Bye, Filia," he half-sang at the still stunned dragon before he disappeared from view.
Filia's mouth hung open in shocked stillness for a few seconds, blood rising in her face and making it almost glow red. Then finally she clamped her mouth shut and clenched both her fists.
"Xellos!" she yelled into the empty space he'd occupied. "Come back here, you creep! What makes you think you can do something like that and then just run away?! You won't get away with this!"
Jillas, for his part, stared from his boss—raging and stamping her feet, on the verge of a tantrum and still yelling, red-faced at her departed guest—to the smugly vacant space in front of her.
"What the 'ell was all that about?" he wondered to no one in particular.