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. Anyone who reviews gets love. It might stretch as far as homemade brownies (dangle, dangle. Heeere, fishies...)

Author chat: Love and banana bread to Stara Maijika, most of whose questions shall be answered! :-)


Kowai Kare Da

part three of three

(chapter title: let in the free air)

by Nightfall


The passage felt longer than it should have, even with two of them.

"Is it here?" Lina asked eagerly, looking eagerly around as soon as they'd emerged from the Sparkly Floating Corridor of Slo-Mo.

He looked back at her, just out of the corner of his eye, since he was almost positive that something had come through with them. He caught a glimpse, under her enormous cloak, of a lot of pale flesh topped in green. Gaav's minions had already made an appearance, so it might have been that short spitfire priest of his. Even Valgaav usually wore more than that, though, so probably not. He decided to see how she'd handle her stalker on her own.

"The Claire Bible and this passage," he lectured as though it were a tour, "were formed together a thousand years ago, during the Kouma Sensou. Follow me closely, human maiden. Many forgotten things remain, and monsters roam these corridors."

"I hear ya," she laughed nervously, walking a little faster. "Like I'd be dumb enough to..." She paused, choked, and screamed, "MARTINA?! What are you doing here?"

Not Valgaav, then. Good. Even Milgazia's dubious reputation wouldn't count against the color of his scales with that one, who had been an Ancient dragon once. He turned around, and barely contained a wince. What was it with modern human fashions? This Martina girl was even more badly dressed than Xellos's Lina. Impressive, considering how much less she was wearing. Mil was usually a big fan of skimpy clothing on people who were much too young for him, but her hair was distracting, and her shoulder-guards were a monstrosity. Or possibly it was the other way around.

"You can't escape me, Lina," the tiny thing gloated, clinging to his charge's ankle with both hands and refusing to be kicked off. "Now -I'll- get the Claire Bible, and with my own hands I'll use it to rebuilt my Kingdom of Xoanna!"

Mil didn't have to know what she was talking about to hear the unspoken 'and then you'll be sorry' at the end of that.

"Martina," Lina groaned, drooping as though she'd heard it all before and had lost interest years ago, "Just--stay out of this one, okay?"

"Excuse me?" the girl sniffed haughtily, scrambling to her feet. "You stay out!"

"What did you say?" Lina growled, balling her fists up by her breasts. Not, in Mil's opinion, a wise choice: it made it obvious that her fists were bigger.

"You heard me," the girl shouted back. They glared at each other for a moment, nose-to-nose, and then fell to hair-pulling with the most guttural battle-cries he'd ever heard from any female.

Mil hated to interrupt such a touching reunion between old friends. Oh, wait. No, he didn't. Honestly, humans had the most pathetic attention span...

He pulled a piece of cut quartz out of his astral pocket and flicked it through the air. Their reaction was even better than he'd hoped: they -both- went for it. Their eyes went starry and they turned from each other, just to in time to see it fall into a puddle and mourn with disappointed noises.

They made very cute display (it would have been cuter without their cloaks in the way), but Xellos was unlikely to give them unlimited time. The Lina maiden would most likely prefer to find her friends in the same condition she'd left them in.

"Be silent, both of you," he boomed repressively. "This is no ordinary labyrinth. It is a path of stepping-stones inlaid upon the Astral Plane. A single misstep carries a grave penalty: to be lost forever in the ether." He bowed his head somberly. "As we are now."

The insufficiently clad girl looked impressed and worried, in a posing kind of way, but he got the sense that her understanding of the disaster he was describing was as incomplete as her outfit. His actual charge, on the other hand, went a satisfying whey color that spoke as well for her education as the determination under her unease did for her character. She grinned up uncertainly at him. "J-just one little mistake won't get us lost--will it?"

He looked gravely to one side, shifting only his eyes as though in well-controlled distress, and then met her eyes. It was a trick, looking down at someone without appearing to look down his nose. He remembered practicing it while Rezo modeled and a smirking and an oh-so-helpful--look--how-helpful-I'm-being mystery priest, too short to bother, held up mirrors for him and went into fits of gleeful hysteria by way of feedback when he ended up looking mostly constipated.

He had it down, now, although he rarely got to use it on anyone who took him seriously as an authority figure anymore. -They- were buying it, though, because when he intoned, "Alas, already it is too late," the Lina collapsed in despair and the Martina shrieked piercing horror.

He held the moment for as long as he could justify it to himself, which was coincidentally also as long as his sensitive ears could take the high-pitched Ah Ah Ai Ya Alackadays. Then, without changing his voice or expression (sometimes he thought he'd forgotten how), turned back to their path, intoning, "I merely jest."

Lina was gripping the back of his collar in an instant, snarling up into his ear. "Quit fooling around and -take me there!-"

He shrugged minutely, just to feel the extra weight as her feet left the ground, and inclined his head. "As you wish." Really, she made an excellent straight man.

[At this point, the director foolishly indicated a scene-change, leaving the author free to insert what spackle she wills. The author, however, despite the enormous enjoyment she takes in perverting our good librarian's character almost beyond recognition, has no interest in actually putting words in his mouth at this point in the arc, and will take minimal advantage.]

The path to the Bible was not a short one--a fact of which Mil heartily approved. The length was meant to give suppliants time to calm themselves and consider their requests in the soberness of sore feet, but he mostly liked it for what it gave him time to do to the fools who occasionally tried to manhandle him into showing them the way.

Today, however, he would have preferred a shorter road: this one just gave everyone, those with him and those left behind, time to fight. He gathered that the buxom one considered his charge responsible for her homeland's destruction. Lina disagreed loudly, stating in no uncertain terms that not only had the Martina-child brought everything on her own head in the first place, but her subsequent behavior had more than equalized any imagined imbalance between them. Martina tried at one point to bring Mil onto her side, but he ignored them both which such perfect indifference that she soon stopped.

They really were very refreshing, these girls.

He listened, amused, until they started repeating themselves and ceased to be entertaining. "You argue at great length, human maidens," he rumbled, "about a matter you have no means of affecting. It is a pastime which neither creates beauty nor decreases entropy."

Abashed, they fell silent. He let them chew this over for a while, and then tried to open a useful avenue of conversation. "Still," he addressed Lina, "I well can see your worth, that Xellos should put such faith in you."

Odd. The curvy one's aura vibrated violently at that.

"Oh?" Lina asked with sly sweetness, and he braced himself for some kind of explosion. "But where Xellos is concerned, I could never compete with an old acquaintance of his like yourself, Milgazia-san, right?"

Clearly she was trying to make him blush or splutter, with all that innuendo sunbathing itself in the open like that. He'd forgotten how to blush before turning three hundred, though, and it was so dismally untrue that he just got depressed. Not only had Xellos (although you never could tell, with Xellos) shown very little sign of looking back at him, but he'd been almost sure that he wasn't being obvious. So much for his poker-face.

"The old acquaintance of a monster?" Martina bit off sharply. "Don't make fun of me; you'll just end up crying."

"I wasn't trying to," she said, adding with a wry little chuckle, "although I take your point."

Mil smiled at himself, since his back was to them. Even if he did wear his heart on his sleeve, at least his dignity had survived intact. Still, this was as good a time as any to make his point, and it might save him some teasing.

"An old acquaintance?" he demanded quietly, stopping in his tracks right before the inner chamber and clenching his shoulders into clean lines of tension. "That, then, is why you believe I have led you thus far? Why I so meekly hasten to fulfill his requests?"

"Huh?" Lina asked, in a voice of natural befuddlement. "Well, clearly you two aren't exactly best buddies, but--"

"He is terrifying," he said flatly, quietly. They nearly stopped breathing. "A thousand years ago, during the War of Fallen Evil, we faced one who wiped out an entire dragon clan in a moment--single-handedly. That is the kind of opponent Xellos is."

And the frightening part was, that was what he did to mere opponents, out of duty, without spite or personal enmity. He would have liked to tell them the really important thing--that Xel had been a thousand times scarier when he was just a hyperactive, imaginative human priest with a burning desire to teach people manners--but since Xellos seemed to be on their side, it wasn't the lesson they were most in need of learning. Not now, and not from him.

"You should never force a monster to see you as a challenge," he said, so softly they had to strain to hear him. "There is nothing more foolhardy than trying to get the better of their like." Point made, he moved his foot fractionally, opening the last 'door' he could help them through.

"Foolhardy?" Lina demanded at once, stung. "If you don't take a few risks--"

You end up chained to a rock for a thousand years with the jeers of children muddying your scales, he finished for her silently, but it wasn't true. He'd gambled on integrity in the midst of a holocaust, which was a stupid enough risk to last anyone a lifetime, and he hadn't even entirely lost.

He had no intention of explaining this to her, though. He wasn't going to have to, either, because the next voice that spoke wasn't his.

Strictly speaking, it laughed. It usually did laugh, and the way it laughed was one of the reasons he and Rezo had taken Xel's fall so hard.

When it did speak, it spoke to Lina. "Just as I'd expect of my sweet little Lina," Ceiphied's echo burbled.

He turned without surprise to see what form the dreaming ghost of his god had taken today. He had to look down quite a long way to see a tiny, wrinkled, green-skinned old lady with a huge, gnarled stick. The stick, he expected, was to rap him over the head with if he talked back to her in front of this major player in the cold war crystallizing around them.

The major player, who was speechless and dewy-eyed with joy, finally wrenched an, "Auntie Aqua!" out of a full heart.

Auntie? He looked at it blankly, thinking, ::Politics, Bright Lord, or sentiment?:: as loud as he could, and ::or senility:: rather more quietly.

He was almost sure he saw the staff quiver.

"So you finally made it, sweet Lina," the echo crooned in an childish old-lady voice like bright rock candy.

::I only hope, Bright Father,:: he thought at it gravely, ::that you will give your servant sufficient warning before the ceremony to copy out an adoption form. May I suggest that a set of dark-blue robes would best set off the lovely hair of both such charming ladies?::

"And the Golden Dragon, too," it said, emphasizing his ranking color in as clear a 'shove off and let your Lord Grandmother deal with you, there's a love' as he'd ever heard. Mil didn't stick out his tongue, but he didn't have any better retorts, either. "It's been a long time," it went on to say. Which must have been in response to the lack of filial backtalk, since he'd come in the week before and Lina was looking at it as though it were a miracle, not a ghost.

"I just came back here like you told me to, Auntie Aqua," she said softly, tearfully, getting down to the echo's eye level. Then her eyes went bright and sparkly. "Now, give me my reward!"

::Oh, of course,:: Mil snickered silently from behind his stoneface. ::Unlimited knowledge... tea... no contest. Bright Lord, don't you know who brought her?::

His god's voice hit him, then, enveloping him in a delicious, shivering warmth and sounding a little plaintive. ::My Daughter Her Sister Is More Restful.::

It was looking at the girls, who were clamoring for Bible Right Now. How nice, Mil thought, to see such a love of learning in the youth of the day. He personally could have used the tea.

He managed not to react to any of this, beyond looking at Lina. This was the Knight's sister? But the Knight was dark-haired and demure. And built. Still, surprise wasn't going to stop him making a perfectly good point.

::Dear my Lord,:: he said instead of the more formal address because of the spiritual hug he'd just gotten, ::'Restful' hasn't woken you yet.::