Disclaimer: Anyone who thinks that any of this dialogue belongs to me should beware of major spoilers for Slayers: NEXT. Anyone who thinks that any of these characters belong to me is clearly new to the idea of fanfiction.

Author chat: It feels so good to post unadulterated Slayers again! This is part of a Xel-centric arc I'm writing, but it's also purely canon, taken straight from episodes 7, 8, and possibly nine of NEXT. Some of the reader's questions, such as what Milgazia did to disgrace himself during the Kouma Sensou, will be answered at greater length in the arc, although this is the only piece where he's the focus. For now, I'll just confirm your suspicions that the other Golds probably thought Xellos was a bad influence on him.

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Kowai Kare Da

by Nightfall

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Things it's good to know:

1. Lina stood up -through- the Sword of Light once, and Gourry threw it to Phil at one point without a flicker of anxiety. He also never uses it on humans; he uses the steel blade, which is also what he used on the gang's pet black dragon in the first episode. I have formed a working hypothesis that it's a weapon against evil and doesn't work on other things, and I operate on that basis. I also assume that people who were around during the Kouma Sensou would probably recognize it.

2. Milgazia may have access to the knowledge and wisdom of the Flare Dragon, but he's out of the current events loop and doesn't know Rezo is dead.

3. The medical term of the white of the eye is 'vitreous humor.'

4: Translations! Courtesy of www. freedict. com/onldict /jap .html.

Kowai: 'frightening' or 'eerie'. Kare: 'he' or 'boyfriend.'

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Technically speaking, he should have been guarding the library. But then, technically speaking, he -was.- Patrol was a perfectly legitimate guard- like thing to do. Was it his fault that the leaves were all shiny-yellow and new with spring, or that the sky was as blue as the Father's underbelly? After all, if he spent too much time camped out on Dragon's Peak, eventually somebody was going to figure out that something of value was being guarded there.

Even if he was more or less indistinguishable from half the other Golds on the mountain even to people who already knew the Claire Bible was held there. Even if it was perfectly normal for priests to have favorite prayer spots and spend most of their time meditating in them. Even if--

Screw it. His peers were out stretching their shapely wings, the bright young things were playing tag and keep-away in the currents and flashing their comely limbs, it was a beautiful day, and Mil was going flying, dammit. It was his honor and his penance to serve and protect and all that jazz, and if he had to sip in blissful complacency at -one more- cup of weak green tea while staring at the same three rocks, he was going to do something unintelligent.

He might, for example, apply again to be relieved. Or at least put on a shift system. He'd started out on a shift system, him and six other bright- eyed kids who were much more enthusiastic about it than he was.

Then the war had come. By the time it was over, all six of them were dead, along with most of the continent's various populations, Mil was in even worse disgrace than he'd started out in, and the world as he knew it had ended. But, O Consolation, the library was -much- more impressive.

He'd thought at the time that being in disgrace would be worth it. He wasn't sure about that anymore, but he was still certain, with a weight in his chest that a thousand years could only nibble at, that he could never have behaved in any other way. Not then, and maybe not even now.

But now he was flying low, brushing the tops of trees with his tail just for the feel of it, because there was no one but trees left for touching, not for him. Not for the Golden Gold. If challenged, he'd say that the occasional stirring-up of any environment was a good way to keep interlopers out of it. No one would challenge him, though; he'd done it all at least sixty thousand times before. His methods of keeping himself from going stir-crazy were all cemented and defendable and more or less ignored by now.

Flying low, turning belly up to watch the clouds (mazoku could fly, and some of them used animal spies), tail high to people-watch in the lake (she wasn't called Dolphin for nothing), spine to the sky to watch the sway of branches and the lazy turns of faraway roads, going elsewhere (travelers and--oh.)

Travelers. Absolutely coming here. Not wandering, either, or admiring the scenery, but trudging, with a determined pace that said they knew where they were going and didn't care how long it took to get there. An inviting splash of colors in just the wrong place, going just the wrong way. As for time, there was never a right time for humans to climb Dragon's Peak.

Unfortunately, the last time he'd eaten one, the elders had nearly had a collective stroke. Mil didn't see what the problem was; humans ate them when they could, after all. They half-expected to be eaten, too, and had invented the concept of poetic justice all on their lonesomes, the darlings. But it was that kind of thinking that had chained him to the mountain in the first place.

So instead of chasing them off the cliff and snatching them out of the air (a tempting fantasy in the mood he was in, especially when they gawked at him and started discussing his size--as though they had either right or a basis for comparison!), he just landed, stretched high and bellowed.

That usually worked, and watching small backs running in fear with long tails of hair trailing behind them had been known to make his week. Which would be good, because he was about three cups of weak tea away from biting some self-important puffed tail out of sheer, stultifying, soul-churning boredom.

These people seemed not to be an easy scare, though. They didn't howl gleefully at him and try to talk him into posing for golems like the terrifying young lady with the little skull between her softballs who'd come up a few months ago. They didn't try to bully him, wwhich was too bad, since he had a substantial immunity to bullying and often in fact found it entertaining when attempted by incompetents.

Neither, though, did they run screaming in terror. They just pulled a little closer together--but like a fighting unit, not like frightened chicks--and murmured cautiously at one another. These were people who spoke his language.

But probably not literally, so he'd have to speak theirs. Abandoning some of the height advantage, he asked, "For what purpose do you of the human race trespass here?"

Mil hated speaking human. It had painful associations and he was rusty. Also, the sensible way of speaking it had died a millennium ago, and the only way left, last time he'd checked, was wearyingly flowery.

"It talked!" yelped the tallest of the travelers, who could probably have passed for a Gold himself without too much difficulty. "Did you hear that?!"

"Yes, Gourry, we heard," the red-headed fashion victim said, in a dull voice that said she'd been walking all day and now she had to deal, not unexpectedly, with idiots. "The dragon talked."

"Is it strange to you," Mil asked heavily, happily eliminating unnecessary verbal curlicues, "that a dragon can speak?" Behind his gravity, he was amused. The last human he'd willingly spent this much time with would have professed astonishment to learn that a dragon could ever -shut up.-

"Nah," the Gold-impersonator said happily while the blue thing beside him winced and the short girl who looked like Softballs went white, "I've just never heard one before! Where did you learn human-talk?"

Human-talk, he thought, and couldn't quite repress a little snort. So much for the Courtly Speech that Transcends Nation. No wonder city-cant had died out. And the young idiot wasn't even afraid of him anymore. How... refreshing, actually. "The race of dragons is one which persists in eternity," he said genially--a complaint, if anyone had been around to decipher it. "In swimming through the seas of time and chance, we encounter the tongues of other races and make them our own."

Now they were all looking at him like he was using too many word. He felt, oddly, as though he didn't want to drive them away. He'd pared it down as far as he could though, short of saying 'old guys meet people, duh.'

"So," the boy said brightly after a moments' consideration (and what a good thing for him that he was pretty and endowed with a weapon of legendary reputation, because from the cringing looks on his companions' faces they would otherwise have killed him years ago just for damage control), "you're saying you learn other languages to keep from getting bored?"

Mil twitched. He could feel his eyes going different sizes at the confounding human, and tilted his head in linguistic pain. "I... uh, suppose that interpretation will serve," he said finally, choosing his words with care for brevity. Either the world had changed more than he'd thought, or this kid was mentally challenged.

"Well," Blond And Brawny beamed, practically rubbing his dark half-gloves hands together in satisfaction, "being able to talk will speed this up a lot. Lina! Tell his guy what's going on and ask him to take us where we're going."

Mil twitched in sheer disbelief, and muttered, "This guy?" Didn't the twit see the wings? The torso-sized claws and fangs? His well-developed chest muscles? Did he not know that the famous weapon he was carrying only worked on mazoku and inanimate objects? Everybody knew that!

The two young ladies sprang into an immediate and probably much-practiced damage control act, Fashion Victim throttling Brawny in instant public retribution while Mini-Softballs shielded them with her body and shamelessly begged him for mercy. Brawny squawked, "What'd I do now?"

"You, my visitors," Mil decided quietly, "are passing strange." He was just deciding that this was shaping up to be his best day in decades when he heard the tap of wood on stone. A shortish, darkish figure melted out of the shadows of a crag in the cliff wall, and suddenly Mil had to swallow all his internal organs back into place.

The first thing was the hair, because nobody had hair like that anymore. And the hair alone was enough to break his heart. He remembered when that dark, greyed purple, a silky mauve so dark and dull you could wear it for mourning, had been flashing heliotrope highlights on a glossy, vibrant black. Bare eyes were squinted tight, because the world had yet to reinvent polarized glass to hide behind, where there should have been darting lavender effusion made large by coke-bottle lenses. And then that expanse of silver and red, strung across that hidden, ruined, magnificent chest like a half-healed scar, was chain and manacles to anyone with eyes for it.

The terrible mockery of a cloak, orderly blood-red rectangles where a border of swirling green and gold belonged, over a shirt in the old style of a dead order that was meant, apart from creating useful pocket-folds, to modestly hide a sexy waist (it mostly served to stretch long legs) was a cruel breath of vanished memory, and the familiar bag of books bulging innocently at his side didn't help. He still left his bandages poking outside his boots, still hid the limp with a smooth sashay--even with the staff to help him.

That staff. Mil couldn't even look at the horrible thing. How could he, when he knew what it was? And worst of all, worse even than watching a ghost flaunt its own frozen heart on a stick of solid blood, was the sucking, seething void that spun with sedate impatiance before his astral eyes, delicate black tentacles flickering like lightening even without intention.

When the mazoku half-sighed, all grave business, "It's been a long time, Milgazia-san," Mil wanted, just for a moment, to fall and stretch his neck long and just let the thing kill him. It was unbearable, hearing that dark, promising voice call him anything but Miru-chan.

But Xellos was looking at him with challenge in his set little smile, an irritated expectation of failure that had stung him once to deplorable, glorious heights. Now it was only goading him to civility, and he wasn't sure he wanted to manage even that. Drawing himself up stiffly, he pushed words out without evaluation. "A very long time. I had hoped never to cross paths with you again, Master-Beast Xellos," he said stiffly, and managed not to spit, quite. Xel-kun was not in the building.

But Xellos was looking at him now almost fondly, a look halfway between 'caught me out' and 'that's what I thought you'd say.' It occurred to him to wonder whether the children the priest was travelling with had known who he was before. If not, maybe this was his lucky day after all. Xellos might even be quick about killing him, for old times' sake.

The humans seemed mostly astonished about Xellos knowing a dragon, though, so maybe he hadn't de-sacked any cats. And Xellos didn't seem concerned-- was, in fact, doing his shy-maiden wriggle and being only ordinarily secretive, as though he was used to the walking statue calling him rude names and making demands.

Maybe he was used to it. Of all Xel's sweet modesties, only courtesy had survived the war. After that, Rezo had assured him glumly, coming to visit on the official pretext of making sure that the Bible hadn't got tired of slapping him on the wrist and knocking him on his dignified red bottom yet (he'd done this every decade or so until his marriage had turned him unexpectedly monogamous), Metallium had turned into quite the twisted little son of a beast. How ironic, that Xellos had gotten mature enough to be kinky just when Mil was starting to feel too tired for it.

It had been a long time. He hadn't seen Xellos--hadn't even seen Xel-- since his exile to home, although Xel had written faithfully until he died. Rezo hadn't been able to shake the little ghoul, and Rezo had gotten married anyway. Rezo was born a fool. "I haven't seen your face," he said pointedly, "since the Kouma Sensou."

Three jaws hit the floor while the blond displayed his serious need of a history lesson, and Xellos just stood there, listing a little to one side, everything about him murmuring, But isn't it a cute face? All that meant, though, was that he didn't have anything to say. But there wasn't anything to say. Even Xel had never been his, had never promised him anything.

"So to a Gold Dragon like Milgazia, here, Xellos would look a lot like an enemy!" Fashion Victim was finishing. Mil wondered if shaking the boy like that would make it easier or harder to keep information in his head.

"The monster's fall?! Xellos?!" he repeated back, shocked, and then his face shell sheepishly. "Um..."

"Forget it," she sighed.

Forget it. Yes. Absolutely forget it. Xellos wasn't here for him. Xellos would never be anything for him, not even his death. So screw the small talk. The sooner they were gone, the sooner he could curl up in the cold lake and pray until his scales turned blue and his heart went numb again. "Master Beast. Why are you in my valley?" For a favor. Only for a favor. Small words were getting easier all the time. The only question left was, why the hell had he brought humans with him? Did mazoku -do- nostalgia?

"The truth is," Xellos confessed in a light, businesslike tone that made Mil want to play stickball with his head, "we find ourselves in need of your Claire Bible. I was hoping you'd let this young lady here use it."

"Let a human use it?" Mil choked, shocked. He'd expected to be given the choice between honorable death (or at least a humiliating fight to unconsciousness) and the final degradation of willingly letting a mazoku touch his charge, but a human? Fashion Victim choked nervously, trying to turn it into a laugh. She was certainly powerful. He could see it all around her--forces curling the ends of her hair, rippling through her black cloak.

But which did Xellos want her for, the gold magic or the black? Which of his two great ladies was he playing for? Was he a monster today, or a ghost?

Mil leaned forward a little and narrowed his eyes suspiciously, as though all he was asking was whether he'd been given Rezo's godawful peppered oatmeal for a breakfast joke again. "What are you up to?"

"I'm not the one who's up to anything," Xellos said earnestly, all wounded innocence in his surprise. "It's Hellmaster-dono that is."

Mil was ready to disbelieve anything he said, but then his voice went dark-- not a whole octave lower, just enough to put anyone who knew him well and truly on the alert, long ribbons of sentence reeling out without any space between the words. He betrayed his origins every time he opened those supple lips, and almost no one was old enough to know it. "He hasn't told me what his objective is."

Then the air came back into his voice, a merry little self-deprecating sorrow. "Ah, the sad and sorry lot of middle management." And then he laughed. H'ha-ha-ha. Four cracked syllables, curling in on themselves like a centipede dried out and cracking on the pavement. Was that how he laughed now? Desperately, like the joke of life was pointing at him, just waiting for his smile to flicker?

"And what will you do if I say no?" Mil asked coolly. It wasn't the question he was asking. They both knew he'd cave without a murmur. But was this for a joke, or a move in a game, or something personal? How would Xellos answer him--a quip? An innuendo? A flurry of nightmarish logic?

"Think," Xellos said, entirely serious beneath that porcelain smile, "of something other than negotiation.

He sighed. "I see." He did, too. If the master of 'do what I want you to so I don't have to put myself out and manipulate you' was using flat-out threats when they both knew that Milgazia had never been able to refuse him anything, it was to tell him how out of control the situation was.

And if it was out of Xellos's control, things were bad. In Xel's life, the only thing he'd never been able to entirely master was Rezo, and that was only because he had steadfastly refused to try. And if Xellos was bothering to hint at how bad things were, it must be Mil's business. In which case, -shards.-

The humans wouldn't know the little priest that well, though. They were looking at him in astonishment, as though they'd never seen him wield real power before. It was too bad, because Xellos rearranging the universe was a glorious sight, but Mil had enough respect for his own hide not to spill any more secrets.

"If such is your intention," he started cautiously, staying vague. Tilting his head again he gazed down helplessly, surrendering not to Xellos's strength but to his judgement, he acknowledged, "we are in no position to check you. As ever, you'll please yourself. However," he finished, and blinded them all with the radiance of a dragon between forms.

Xel could moon all he liked about his blind lover's hands. They all knew what the dragon could do to him, given half a chance--well, the children didn't, of course, but everyone here who mattered did. Being large and majestic wasn't fazing Xellos in the least, but being beautiful might. Even if it was just Miru-chan.

"However, I myself shall lead you to it." Xellos was -not- going in. He hadn't bargained for that, and he could wait on the cliff like everybody else. "Follow."

And sure enough, when he turned to cast one last resentful look over his shoulder before walking off, Xellos was behind his wary humans again, away from the light, with his legs braced wide and his knuckles tight on that gruesome, horrible staff, and anyone who'd seen that nonexpression before knew that the secret it kept was nothing like pain.

( Meanwhile, the author waves her Xellos/AnyoneAndEveryone flag, and elsewhere a destitute street urchin has fallen and skinned his knee. But don't feel sorry for him. He's eeeeeevil. Also, he gets a piggyback ride. )

[end part 1/3]