In a rush of golden wings, Milgazia landed. The mouth of the cave was ahead of him, dark, save a few fairy lights. But it was the light behind him that was much more worrying than the blackness ahead.
He shook his reptilian head at this thought. The Pillar of Light was far, far away. No doubt the followers of the Fire Dragon King would be looking into the matter with all the vigorous purpose that they were known for. Milgazia could only hope to protect those in his province. The remnant on Dragon's Peak had more than enough to attend to without borrowing troubles.
He stepped into the cavern—a faraway retreat from the bustling, interconnected system in which his community lived. The inside of the cave was musty and relatively bare. Followers of the Aqualord were not much for tools and trappings. There was a bed of soft, dry grasses; a small share of the harvest; a comb from one of the hives his people carefully maintained; a collection of various mountain herbs, tied up in careful bundles in case they were needed; and…
He froze. Speaking of borrowing troubles…
"You know, say what you will about the servants of the Fire Dragon King, they're at least better decorators," a snide voice commented from the darkness. "I mean, I feel as though I should've waited at your desk with my chair facing the window, and then make a dramatic turn as you entered. But since you have neither a desk nor a chair—and not even so much as a window—I suppose I'll have to make do."
The ambient light of the cave fell on his face. Of course he was smiling, but anyone who had a clue who he was knew that this was no cause to be at ease.
Milgazia took a steadying breath and then switched over to his human form. He didn't exactly want to encourage the use of true forms in his current company. He lifted a hand to propel an orb of light toward the ceiling before finally leveling his eyes at his uninvited guest.
"What is your business here, Beast Priest Xellos?"
Xellos rubbed his neck, an expression of boyish self-consciousness on his face. "It's really only a small thing," he explained, his voice a dismissive laugh. "Insignificant even."
Milgazia didn't relax. "Insignificant" just about covered the value that Xellos placed on the remnant in Dragon's Peak. He knew full well if Xellos decided to, it would take barely a thought to kill them all. Perhaps it even took more effort not to kill them.
"I was only wondering," Xellos launched forward, "if you'd ever heard anything about a golden dragon priestess named Filia Ul Copt."
"Not… particularly," Milgazia answered, unable to stop himself from slightly raising his eyebrows. "The name Ul Copt is somewhat familiar to me, but they served under the Fire Dragon King. Why ask me? Otho would be able to tell you much more."
Xellos resisted the urge to make a face. The Supreme Elder was many things, but he was not a stupid man. Expressing undue interest in one of his charges seemed like the sort of thing that could have unintended consequences down the line.
"Oh, I was just in the neighborhood and thought I'd see if you knew anything," Xellos explained in his faux-cheerful way. "She's… been entrusted with a large responsibility that one wouldn't expect to be given to someone as young. It seems as though there's more to this story."
Milgazia hesitated. "What is it that you intend to do with information about her?"
Xellos smiled. "At the moment? Nothing. If you're worried about providing information to me that might put her in danger, then you should know that the danger she's in isn't at my hands… not right now, anyway."
Milgazia rubbed his forehead. Xellos's careful caveats didn't inspire much confidence. It basically amounted to: "I promise not to use this information to harm anyone unless I decide to." But, then again, there was very little that Milgazia could tell him anyway.
Xellos leaned against a rock formation that took the place of actual furniture. "You said you knew her family name?"
"Only by reputation," Milgazia answered. "Bazard Ul Copt was the High Priest of what was then the biggest satellite temple in the Eastern Zone—outside of the Temple of the Fire Dragon King, that is. He was from the more… bellicose wing of his people and proud man—perhaps a bit too proud—but he was known for his fierce loyalty to those he looked after."
Xellos had to figure that the more bellicose wing was made up of warlike dragons who spoke of war, while the less bellicose side was made up of warlike dragons who spoke of peace. "I gather that his pride is what led to him residing in the past tense?"
"Perhaps—but his loyalty was just as much to blame, if not more," Milgazia said, weighing his answer reflectively.
"A few hundred years ago, a disease spread through a few of the dragon colonies," Milgazia explained, eyes closing seriously. "Very few cases reached the Northern Zone, but I understand it was more of a problem outside the barrier. It was a wasting disease that could take as many as ten years to kill its host, by which point most were more than ready to surrender to it. High Priest Bazard Ul Copt's was one of the temples that were completely overrun. The only recourse available was to send the healthy to the Temple of the Fire Dragon King and tend to the dying as well as could be managed."
"So… the High Priest always goes down with the temple," Xellos supplied helpfully. He cupped his chin thoughtfully. "And this would be Filia's father then?"
"Likely," Milgazia answered. "If so, then she's one of the few of that generation that survived. I understand that the disease would spread to the eggs. Of a large clutch of eggs, only a few would even hatch, and fewer would survive infancy."
"Hmm," Xellos hummed thoughtfully. "I suppose her apparently well-known father, coupled with the fact that she survived a great tragedy in the past, goes to explain why the Supreme Elder might've paid special attention to her training and, in turn, why she was deemed important enough to take charge of a task that someone of her age and level of experience wouldn't normally be assigned to."
Despite his words, an air of unfinished business seemed to indicate that he didn't feel the matter had been explained completely. He shook his head. "No. There's something else. Some motive for choosing her in particular. Something hidden." He dug his staff into the ground and muttered thoughtfully to himself, "Why hadn't I heard about her before this?"
Milgazia narrowed his eyes in critical surprise. He, a prominent leader in the dragon race, hadn't heard of Filia. What notoriety could she possibly have had to make Xellos surprised that the name of one priestess among thousands had failed to reach him?
"…Why would you have?"
Xellos threw him a sharp look. "She is…" He paused, as though struggling to find the right word. "…Unexpected."
"Unexpected?" Milgazia repeated. "In what way?"
Xellos cleared his throat awkwardly. "In nearly every way I've discovered… and most likely a few more that I've yet to uncover."
Something about the way he'd said it left Milgazia unsettled. What's more, it only raised further questions. "So from that I take it that you've already spoken to her?"
"Oh yes," Xellos answered, as though he thought he'd already made that obvious. "On several occasions now."
It was as he thought. So why, if he'd already made contact with this priestess he needed to gather information on, was he going to such a tertiary source? "Couldn't you simply ask her for the information you require?"
A pained expression crossed Xellos's face. "You really haven't heard anything about her, have you?" he deduced heavily. "She'd become immediately suspicious and refuse to answer anything I asked."
That didn't pass the sniff test. Of course, she'd be suspicious about a monster suddenly inquiring into her past and her personal attributes. Suspicion is a reasonable reaction when Xellos asks you pretty much anything. Milgazia was incredibly suspicious, in a heightened, hairs on the back of the neck standing up kind of way. But since when did that matter? As for refusing to answer, well… that was dangerous. As long as his questions were polite and simple, it was for the best to follow through. There was some information worth dying for, but that was just it: you would die for it.
Far be it from Milgazia to tell a monster how to accomplish by intimidation. He certainly didn't want to say: "Have you tried threatening the lives of her and everyone she's ever loved? That usually works on me." But… at the same time, well…
"She's very disrespectful," Xellos added, sensing that his explanation left something to be desired. "It's one of the unexpected things about her."
"So you've chosen to respect the fact that she's disrespectful?"
Xellos scratched at his cheek abashedly. "I'm not sure I would've put it quite that way."
He sighed to himself. "Well, I suppose the information about her father is a bit of a new piece. I'll have to investigate further to find the rest. I wonder if the Supreme Elder keeps any files on his subordinates," he added to himself. "They are clerical—in more ways than one. At least they're more prone to record-keeping than your people."
He snapped his fingers and pointed at Milgazia. "Which reminds me: before I go, I was serious about the lack of furniture in here. Just something to keep in mind."
And with that, he was gone. Milgazia let out a breath, but admittedly Xellos had undercut much of his usual aura of menace. He'd seemed oddly… muddled.
Whatever the specifics, one thing seemed to be clear: this Filia seemed to have managed an incredibly rare feat. Perhaps the ability to accomplish that, more than any strange and surprising quirks of personality or triumph through past adversity or endearing insolence, was what made her a worthy steward of this large responsibility that had apparently been placed on her shoulders.
She'd managed to get one over on Xellos.