Disclaimer: Slayers isn't mine, and it's probably a good thing.
Warnings: Here there be mazoku. Dark. Sleaziness, ruthlessness, practicality, politics, and nastiness. Amelia will not be harmed. Happy Halloween!
Ruminations of a Rising Star
Of course there is no justice.
When a mother dies for her daughters and they tell you over and over that she would have been happy to save you but you saw her, you saw her, all bloody and burnt with wires, her mouth a little open and her blue eyes wide and glazed with death and who could be glad of that then where is justice?
When you fight and fight and make yourself beautiful and brave and make yourself sleep even though he could be coming back any night in the dark and in the shadows and you haven't been able to tell the strong friends who could protect you, when you make yourself graceful and you still fall from trees, your boots still manage to catch on every pebble and crack and you still haven't learned to land then where is justice?
When your beloved uncle and your best cousin try to kill your glorious and affectionate father in order to take his worthy job away without even knowing how to do it, without even thinking that he's doing it wrong, without having the slightest complaint about him, and your friends only sigh and wince without indignation because if it's associated with you it must be a little mad, then where is the -order-in that?
When you love with worship and love with adoration and protect with ferocity and heal everything you can touch and you're the only cheerful voice and they ravage your purse and burden your back and hit you for your figure and make snide remarks over your head and then pat it, there is certainly no justice there.
But there could be. If you're good enough, if you're strong enough, and certain and brave and determined, then there could be.
And so when your uncomfortable hero 'suggests' in her fearless way that since your oblivious love's quest has brought you to the southern edge of the Alliance of Coastal States (which location makes you nervous, since the word Alliance has been used only politely in political circles for the last year or so) off the Demon Sea, the object of your concern and some suspicion should bring them all home to his island to meet Mother, since you yourself set the example by being such a gracious host in your own home territory, you don't complain or protest, but follow cheerfully along.
And when you're in that comfortably elegant parlor with its homey rusts and greens, with the evil rankness around you, insinuating its way around the incense, you're polite to your enemy and smile, and sit on your urges to make speeches. One does not lecture one's host unprovoked. And even though the worryingly cheerful one who flits through life as effortlessly happily as you try to seem to is kneeling at her dainty feet, looking somber and sedate and more than a little worried himself, you plaster your happy visiting face on and say nothing but social graces.
When the interview is over, your sometime traveling companion escorts you each to your separate rooms, and you last of all. He turns to you then, the two of you alone in the candlelit hallway. Opening eyes of dark, chiseled crystal, he says in the voice of a messenger, "We are concerned with the future of your city, Princess."
And fear slams down your spine, because when a mischief-making demon concerns himself with your future or the future of your people, the time for fear is right now.
But he is going on the tones of one of the old counselors back home, grave and calm, and less persuasive than informing. "It is with your father that Sailoon's history of dictatorship has turned benevolent, and believe it or not, Princess, we are pleased. War is not our concern, nor the misery of the badly-run city. My master and I prefer to feed on different stuff. Like your soft serve," he adds, in a lighter tone. "I would personally prefer that it stay available." You risk a smile, but no words. You know this game, and his making himself more human will not affect your judgment of his position. "Such lovely stuff," he goes on. "If only life itself could be black and white like that. But then there would be no humans, would there? Only my people and Miss Filia's. It's with humanity that grey comes in. You know that, don't you?"
You tell him, cautiously, that you have heard the view expressed. His face, that terrifyingly appealing face, lights. "Oh, you can have an adult conversation! I'm so glad. After Miss Filia and Mr. Gourry I had held little hope of it. Maybe it's a height thing. Or a blond thing. Where was I? Oh, yes.
"You see, Princess, we are concerned for you," he says, back to his usual offhand tones, and the fear crawls up your neck and scalp and raises your trembling black hair. "For your people, under you. Don't think we are dishonest or selfless; this is a genuine concern of ours. War, you see, and most especially a holy war, will feed and strengthen Gaav and help him to come back, and the dull misery of the oppressed will do much the same for Dynast, and the cold madness of the tyrant will give Dolphin much pleasure. We don't expect much out of you for ourselves once you take the throne, you understand; you're not much of a hunter and the aggravation you will create is comparatively minimal compared to your other potentials, but we can at least hope to stop you from strengthening our competitors in a way that you yourself would not approve of."
Angry now, you protest. You want no war. You want the best for your people and of them, not misery,. How can he accuse you this way?
"Have you ever heard of a kingdom called Zephilia, Highness?" he asks in the sweet and pleasant tones he uses on the dragon when she's on the verge of pushing him beyond endurance. "The White Knight rules there, and everyone is good and law-abiding and terrified. Dynast's priest has a residence there, and he's grown fat off this good and regulated community."
"That's where Miss Lina is from," you venture.
"Very good. Yes. That is where Miss Lina is from. That is where she escaped from, when they tried to scrub all the grey out of her with fear. That is what forced her to look to the dark as an alternative to blindingly dull brightness."
You remember the terror of the Knight's sister at the Knight's name, and say nothing.
"Is that what you want for your city? Dim and constant dread lacing the streets? Fear of -you-?"
"My people will have nothing to fear from me!" you avow. "I will show them the light, and they—"
"Will you," he interrupts you, his smooth voice stretched tight over a laugh. "And what is light, Princess? Is it light in here, right now?"
You look at the candelabras in the dim hallway. "No, not very."
He snaps gloved fingers, and the candles die. You bit your lips on a scream, and wish fervently for a chair to stand on. His long fingers trail unerringly over your shoulders and arms, and brush your cheek. At least, you think they're his fingers. You hope they are. "Would you care to change that answer, Princess?" he chuckles lightly into your ear. "Yes. That is why you will come with me now. Because you cannot know what is white and what is grey until you have seen midnight."
"I can scream very loudly," you tell him staunchly, filling your lungs.
He only laughs. "I'd let you fear me longer, Highness; a most delicate flavor. But we should be going, and this sort of feeding is an unaffordable luxury when I'm on errand-duty. So please be assured: you will not be harmed. It is our wish to show you darkness that you may use it as a measure—that it may be distinguished in your mind from mere dimness—not to immerse you in it. Whatever our more personal wishes may or may not be, they are fleeting and, as you know, must take a back seat to politics."
His tone is businesslike, and you are reassured. Somewhat. "What will you do?" you ask.
"I have not been informed," he confesses, unconcerned, as the light flickers back on, and you both disappear.
He is behind you, his hands firm on your shoulders, and you are back in the rust-and-green room. You draw your courage around you like it would look weak to do with your cloak, and suddenly he has stepped gracefully out from behind you and is at her feet, not sitting this time but crouched huddled on his elbows and knees with his face pressed into the furs beneath her sandals and his black cloak like a puddle of shadow making him part of the floor.
With a shock, you realize: he no longer matters. He might as well not be there. You turn your eyes up to the lovely tall woman in the armchair, and she smiles at you like a queen smiles at a princess and offers you a chair and asks with a solicitous manner, "Has my slave been polite?" The shock of the word, by itself and as applied to such a free spirit, widens your eyes, and she smiles approval. "I see that he has. And such good timing, too! I'm so pleased with you, child," she addresses the purple and black lump at her feet. It doesn't move. "You've done so well. Sit up and let me kiss you." He obeys, blankly, and she does, all over his pale face with cloyingly possessive tenderness, and the occasional glance at you to make sure you're watching.
You are, your face as blank as his, and what you see is that when his face is at rest he is beautiful in the firelight, like a statue, and that his jaws are clenched tight, a wiry muscle at his jaw standing out, still and tense. And yet he sits still. He never stands still. He never stands for anything.
"He's my very favorite minion, you know," she confides. "I was lucky to find him, lucky to get to him when I did. Such a fine mind, so powerful, and such devotion! I had to catch him when his soul was switched off and lock it away—no simple procedure, that. But it was worth it. A good hunt. Do you know, he's quite the only servant I need? I really ought to treat him better than I do," she laughed lightly, and that muscle jumped. His closed eyes tightened, too, perhaps a millimeter of resignation.
"But I'm a little peckish tonight, darling," she went on, speaking to him now, "and of course, as you pointed out, I can't eat my guests, can I? Sit up solid for me, darling, and don't look away. For you, Princess, there is a charming assortment of cheeses and fruits on the table to your left, and a glass of excellent sherry. It would, after all, be the height of discourtesy to eat alone in front of a guest."
You don't look at it.
He bows his shining head once, and scoots backwards, arranging his legs so that he sits crosslegged before her, leaning forward with his pristine gloves draped across his ankles. His eyes are loosely open, and the blunt resignation dims them.
Meanwhile, she has taken out a golden whip, with a little golden starburst at the end.
One lash, kissing the curve between his eyes, and you nearly start out of your sinfully comfortable chair. His hands have not even tightened on his ankles, he has not blinked.
Two, caressing the upper lines of his cheekbones, and you are huddled back in your chair, biting your knuckle.
Five, outlining his face, and your eyes are swollen and prickling with tears. He is still and calm.
Three, lashing in to tickle his neck, and his fingers tighten on his boots.
"You flinch from me, darling?"
Six, hard and angry in quick succession for that lapse, three on each lip, and his eyes are blank and staring.
More, inside, and black ether floats away from his parted, swollen lips, rolling over them from inside.
Mollified, it is with less fury that she commands, "Wrists."
He pulls off his gloves, revealing the need for them in the form of short, glinting copper claws, and pushes up his sleeves, showing three long, bloodless, unhealed gashes on the soft underside of each arm, disappearing under his shirt. He holds his hands up steadily, palms up, and she bathes them in lacerations.
"Steady," she warns, as the black ether boils and drips like the fog of dry ice, pooling in his cupped hands and leaking away into the air. "Eyes front."
The hollow of the cheek facing her is pinched, caught in his teeth. He is not enjoying this pain. The muscle jumps again, tightens, holds firm.
The whip leaps and licks his white face like a snake or a playful puppy, and her bronzed arm flashes in the firelight. When she finally coils the whip and tucks it away, his face is flecked all over with cuts, and the mask of skin around his eyes is completely black, like a raccoon. So are his eyelids, slack in emptied sockets.
"You may heal your eyes," she concedes graciously. "Nothing else."
There is a sort of purple-grey shimmer, and he blinks for the first time, with whole eyes. But his lids are still black, and his eyes are still dull and glazed. Like your mother's. Like Mr. Gourry's sometimes, dead and exhausted, when he's looking at Miss Lina and thinks no one's watching. And it could be that in the grand scheme of things the demon deserves this, but no one could argue that Mr. Gourry does, and it's exactly the same expression.
"My good boy," she coos. "You see, Princess? Here is devotion. Now come here, darling. Come rest on my lap and finish while I speak with my guest. I'm still a little hungry, a very little," she explains, and winks at you, but she has lost you.
He moves forward, not rising, and lets his head fall to her shapely thighs in a gracious concession. He has arranged himself so as to be masked by his hair; you cannot see his face. You expect a snap of his fingers and a tray of the wine she is famous for
Instead those bare, copper-tipped fingers slide between her thighs, and you gasp. You're not sure what you're seeing, but you don't think you like it.
She sighs with a purr, and shivers as though at the touch of sunshine, and chides, "Why, Princess! You haven't -touched- your tray."
Unable to form words, you force a polite smile, and shrug dismissively.
"Try the sherry. It's really an excellent label. A little harder, darling, a little higher. He doesn't appreciate this properly, you know," she confides, like a schoolgirl. "He dislikes the way women smell. And of course the acid does burn his hands, poor thing, when they've been rubbed raw like that."
"Why are you doing this?" you blurt finally, as a lock of purple hair falls and you see that his ever smiling lips are pulled tight and drawn down grimly.
She smiles like a cat and shivers again, luxuriously. "Because I feel like it, lamb. Because I can."
"I trust you understand now," he says later, escorting you back to your room. He has on his regular face again, cheerful and undamaged. "You see the line, don't you? Between mere humanity and--"
"Why did you let her do that to you?" you demand, cutting him off. He's nearly a head taller than you, with shoulders as broad as your oblivious love's, and he carries confidence with him again, he oozes invulnerability. The evening might not have happened, for all he seems affected.
"Because I am owned," he says simply, calmly, brutally, pausing in the hallway to look at you with sharp-edged eyes like yielding violets. "As you own your peasants and your ministers and all the rest of your subjects in between. I could stop her, but I don't, because I am hers, I am Metallium. They could speak up against taxes or whathaveyou and leave, but they don't, because they are yours and your father's, they are Sailoon. The only difference is, I know it and know what it means."
He cocks his head and looks at you with a smile that invites you to share a joke, and you're not laughing. "You know, she wasn't very hungry. She wasn't starving. And she had a plenitude of other choices. And I am unable to refuse her, and have pleased her greatly of late."
"That's... evil," you say helplessly, knowing he would laugh at 'unjust.'
"So it is," he agrees placidly, and starts walking again. "Could have been much worse, of course. Much worse. But we did promise not to hurt you, and scarring you for life would probably count. Just be grateful you didn't come during Worship Week. My master is really quite gentle."
Your mouth falls open, and then your brain catches up. "What's Worship Week, Mr. Xellos?"
"Well, it wouldn't do for us, we generals and priests and lesser minions, to lose respect for any of the Lords, now would it? So they... pass us around a little. Gaav wasn't bad. Very direct, very straightforward. I almost miss him. And Dynast... well, no one but Dolphin was as bad as Phibrizzo, and he's gone, thanks to... well, I don't know who, really," he said thoughtfully, smiling whimsically. "He more or less brought it on himself. Poetic. Very enjoyable, really."
You are speechless.
"Well, here's your room again, Miss Amelia. But may I leave you with a thought?"
Unwillingly, you nod.
"Neither you nor I would have thought my master's actions tonight quite so very terrible if she'd been actually starving. If she hadn't just had the urge for a snack, you would be telling yourself right now that I'm a demon and probably had it coming to me and after all she couldn't help herself, poor thing."
You are very pleased not to be a blusher.
"So please remember that when you're a great queen sitting in judgment," he smiles, and you catch a lacing of distaste in his undertones. "Or even a reactionary princess standing and pointing and dropping out of trees. Life's a grubby thing, and it imposes all kinds of needs. Real needs, not just desires. And sometimes the world doesn't deliver, so one has to go out and grab. You can change the world with power, Miss Amelia, but people are people, and people do what they need to do. Focus on what you can change, will you? For me? Dissonance is shown up best in a harmonious melody, after all, and I do like to have my work set off properly."
He opens the door and ushers you into the dark bedroom, and pauses before he shuts it in front of him, with bunched up cheeks and a little smile and happy, squinched up eyes. "Oh, one last question, Princess. Is it light in the hallway?"
No, it's not, you insist grimly to yourself, as the door closes, but you have to admit that he has a point. Dim as the hallway may be, it's pitch black in here. You know exactly what you have to do.