It's after Try.

* * *

Zelgadis had almost grown used to being alone again. After traveling for awhile by himself, searching for his cure yet again, the solitude began to feel comfortable. Almost like a good pair of boots that had finally been broken in.

Then Xelloss came.

"Nice cave." Xelloss propped his staff against the wall.

Zelgadis shrugged. "If you came all this way just to insult my cave, Xelloss, your life must be even more boring than the rocks in my bedroll."

"Oh, no, I meant it! It is a very nice cave, Zelgadis. I know caves very well, believe you me, and this is a cave among caves. I especially like the excruiciatingly-hard-to-find entrance and the defendability of being on such a high cliff with a spectacular view of the town below. I understand the natives in the outer lands here aren't used to seeing such interesting specimens as yourself, and the cave was, in fact, the perfect choice, given the situation."

The chimera regarded Xelloss with a very long stare.

Xelloss shrugged. "I like caves. That's all I'm saying. Can I sit? I have some things to talk about."

"Oh, sure. Pull up a nice rock if you want." Zelgadis waved to the expanse of stone around them, which was furnished with a few lanterns, a bedroll, and a bare minimum of hiking equipment. "As you can see, my cave is very accommodating to guests."

"Actually, I find it quite convenient for my plans, such as they are." Xelloss inspected a small boulder and pulled it away from the wall a little. He settled his cape over it as a cushion, then got comfortable. "I have some important things to discuss. There's a problem I have and it is in your best interests to help me with it."

Zelgadis supressed a snort. Problem. Right. Xelloss was just here to bother him because he was bored. "Okay, tell me about your problem, and I'll see if I can help you with it."

Xelloss frowned a bit, looking about him. "Right..." He closed his eyes for a moment, as if thinking very hard. Zelgadis felt the faint prickling of astral work. "Yes, well, before I get to that...Zelgadis? Your strongest ward and astral stealth spells? Could you cast them?"

What!? Zelgadis narrowed his eyes. "And why would I need to do that?"

The mazoku kept looking at the surroundings nervously. "There's a few accquaintances I wouldn't like finding me here right now."

"Look," Zelgadis snapped, "You can play around if you want, I don't care about your bullshit. But don't drag your problems in and drop them at my feet. My search might seem amusing to you, but it's extremely important to me. If you think you can come here to hide from some playmates of yours, you can think again. Get out." He pointed towards the entrance, his eyes angry but his voice quite calm.

To his credit, Xelloss was shocked. He was silent for a few moments, then regained his composure. "I apologize. I didn't mean for my actions to construe...I mean...Zelgadis, I assure you that I am not here to avoid any danger to myself. The astral shielding I request because if others of my kind find out what I am about to tell you, it could result in great danger to Lina." The slits in his unearthly purple eyes pierced Zelgadis. They caught the chimera's attention more than his voice could. In those eyes, Zelgadis could swear that he saw genuine worry.

Well, it was enough to keep him from kicking the asshole out until he finished talking. "Fine. I'll cast the spells. But you had better make the energy spent worthwhile for me, or you'll regret it. Do you know Amelia made up four new verses for her "Life is Wonderful" song? I have them memorized." He smirked, seeing Xelloss shudder at that grisly prospect.

Xelloss fidgeted as the chimera busied himself with magic. When the mazoku felt astral curtains drape around the cave, he began to relax. Nothing could see him or find him now. His secrets were safe.

"So." Zelgadis leaned against the stone wall near Xelloss, looking down at the priest with a half-smile and a relaxed air. "Go on."

"...Yes." Xelloss looked down at his hands and began picking at the fabric of his gloves. It looked like he was smoothing the seams, but as Zelgadis could see, the seams on Xelloss' gloves were perfectly straight. The mazoku just needed an excuse not to look at Zelgadis. "After our little tangle with Dark Star and Vorfied, my mistress, Zelas the Greater Beast, did some thinking. She came to a conclusion and decided to give me a mission, one that, yet again, she could only trust me to do. Two-and-a-half weeks ago she gave me this mission."

"And I suppose that this mission has something to do with Lina?" Zelgadis attemtped to usher Xelloss back to his initial purpose - if that purpose wasn't ficticious to begin with.

The mazoku's face turned almost gray. "I suppose you could say that."

Zelgadis was silent. Xelloss supressed a smile at that convenient result. This was sadly not a joking matter.

"Lina has killed a shard of Shubranigdu, an extremely powerful magical beast, a half-human Mazoku Lord, and quite a few other entities that were less powerful but still impressive. With aid she has killed a full Mazoku Lord, half a Demon Lord and half a God. Zelas has seen enough. I am to swear in Lina as a minion to her, make her a mazoku, and gain her loyalty by any means-"

Xelloss was going to finish that sentence with "necessary", but Zelgadis had other ideas. Really, Xelloss was impressed by the chimera's self-control. He had expected the attack much sooner during his revelations. Regardless, he let Zelgadis attack any way he wished. The priest had not lied when he said it was a fine cave. The structure was very sound - sound enough to hold up under the spells Zelgadis unleashed at him. Certainly sound enough to withstand Zelgadis throwing him against the walls. Xelloss was impressed. Zelgadis had cast spells on him that he didn't even think the chimera had known. The priest might have been worried if he were any lesser creature. But he was Xelloss, and Zelgadis couldn't kill him. He was sound enough to take it. He probably deserved it anyways.

Seventeen minutes later, Zelgadis finally collapsed.

Xelloss was in a bloody heap, far across the cave from his host. He didn't try to get up. Really, Zelgadis was impressive. Xellos hurt a lot. He could use some time to think. And mend. After a few moments, he realized that he wasn't going to get it. Zelgadis was approaching him. The chimera was still very angry, by the look of his face.

Just before Zelgadis came upon him again, Xelloss held his hand up. This took some very strange bending and a few clicks from places where his arm had broken.

"Are you quite finished? I have to talk to you. Your loyalty to Lina is quite endearing, but do you really think you could stop me, Zelgadis?"

Zelgadis's breathing was heavy and slow, dragging through his chest over a moment that seemed far too long. The chimera was angry, angrier than he'd ever been in his life. But he was smart. And he knew that Xelloss was right. He sank to the floor, panting with the exertions of the last seventeen minutes. His head felt like it was swaying. All those spells...all that screaming...the punching and the throwing...all of that, with the weight of Xelloss' words. Lina was doomed. He couldn't change it. He couldn't even give Xelloss something to remember it by.

"Damn it!!" His fist pounded into the stone floor. Zelgadis thought he felt something give then. He was pretty sure it was the floor. "Why the hell did you come here? Why the hell did you even tell me any of this, Xelloss?!" Tears mixed with sweat and stung his eyes. What kind of a joke was this? Even for Xelloss, it was sick.

Xelloss set his bones back into place, healing his arm in a flash. Blessed relief. "I came here so that you could stop me." He rubbed his foot, searching for the tiny bones in it that had been pounded loose. "Now, don't beat me up again. I can feel the revulsion in your mind. You think that I'm fucking with you. But listen. You can't kill me with any method you know. But you can do something to stop me."

Zelgadis's face drew up into consternation. "What?"

"Give me a second. I want my ribs back where they belong."

The chimera waited while Xelloss fixed what he had so eagerly broken. He felt that he should be ashamed...but really he wasn't. Xelloss deserved every damn thing he'd gotten. He deserved every damn thing he'd ever gotten.

"Have a seat, Zelgadis." Xelloss exhaled, his shoulders sagging. "There's a lot that I have to explain before any of this can truly make much sense." He watched the chimera settle on the floor of the cave. The mazoku noted that Zelgadis wasn't really relaxed so much as sitting with all his muscles tensed and his senses poised in wait for a time to strike. "Fucking hell, Zelgadis. You couldn't do a bloody thing about it on your own, even if you tried every spell you knew. Just friggin' relax, and listen to me."

The chimera untensed marginally.

Xelloss inwardly shrugged. If Zelgadis wanted to be stubborn, there wasn't much he could do about it. Might as well just accept it and move on. But no, he was having more difficulty brushing this off than he usually would. It wasn't that the chimera was getting to him. It was that Zelgadis's insistence on distrusting Xelloss was going to hurt Lina. And it made Xelloss angry that the chimera's stubborn, rock-filled head was going to cause Lina harm.

Ah well. He would succeed. He was Xelloss, after all.

"Often-times humans make mistakes when dealing with mazoku. This is due to many reasons, but I think the most important is that humans don't understand how mazoku think. You know that we're not like you. You and I are completely unalike both physically and astrally. However, the largest rift between us is mental."

Zelgadis snorted. "I already knew you were all mental." As he smirked, Xelloss shot him a glare so serious that Zelgadis froze. After he recovered his composure, he said, "I'm sorry. Please go on."

Xelloss looked beyond Zelgadis, at the cave wall behind him, at the grain and imperfections in the rock. It was better to look at this rock than the impudent rock sitting in front of him. He could concentrate much more this way. "I can't think the way you think, Zelgadis. I can try. I am very intelligent, if you could possibly hold your jabs at that. Not only do most higher-powered mazoku have very complex minds, but we think on a completely different level than you humans. do I explain it...there are just different things to ponder when you're a mazoku at all... In addition to your five, sometimes six senses, we have...well, can I even separate and count them? You do astral work, you might somewhat understand what it's like to think in that plane. But you humans rest your physical bodies while travelling in the astral plane - you cannot do the two at once. We live in the astral plane. Even now, I live in it - while simultaneously living in this physical one, in a shell construct that allows me to interact with physical space. Even now, even as I try to accomplish what is the most important thing in my life - to me, at least - this physical thing I am doing is secondary to my astral life. I am regarding both at once, processing the information given to me on both planes at the same time. If that weren't enough, the astral plane is at least five times more complex than the physical plane, and this is during its simplest phases. Let us not even bring into the equation the factor of extra dimensions which I may travel into while still existing in the first two. So, Zelgadis, if my or other mazoku's thought processes have ever seemed completely insane, let me assure you that there is good reason." He paused, finally looking at the chimera again. Zelgadis was staring at him with rapt attention. "What?"

Zelgadis cocked his head. "Nothing. It's just that this is very interesting."

"...Oh." He's actually listening and understanding? I guess I finally managed to penetrate that granite skull of his. "That is merely a prolouge to my point. There is more than just the simple fact of our multi-plane existence. You addition to all the things mazoku think about that you simply cannot, there are things...that we can't do. That you can." Xelloss paused for a moment. He realized that his hand was twitching, the fingers digging into the folds of his cape. He forced himself to stop. Such a nervous habit, and him not even noticing. He was that troubled with this problem... "You humans...simply put, you can say no. You are separate individuals, independent, free of each other. Perhaps this can be changed due to spells and oaths, but the initial truth is still there: you are free."

Zelgadis looked down at his hands. The stony skin of his fingers. He thought of Rezo. "Sure," he breathed.

"Mazoku are not free, Zelgadis. We are chained directly to our masters, and our masters are chained directly to Lord Ruby Eye. Perhaps He is the only one in our lineage who isn't bound to something higher, but I doubt it. The Great One, who exists in a plane higher than I could even begin to comprehend, who filled Lina with her presence and smote Lord Hellmaster from this world. No, even Lord Ruby Eye--"

Zelgadis' eyes widened. He watched the mazoku clutch his own throat as his word were chocked off. He half-extended a hand in help before Xelloss waved it away.

"Don't. It's nothing of any real trouble. You see, I can't even say that about Lord Ruby Eye. His connection to my mistress, and her connection to mine, is enough to punish me for bringing insult to his name, even with a ward put up against outside forces."

Putting his hand to his chin, Zelgadis asked, "When Valgaav almost killed us and the world with it, he said that the mazoku and dragons, the demons and gods, were simply toys of the Lord of Nightmares, that their wars were meaningless--"

Xelloss cut him off, his face stricken. "Valgaav was driven mad by that point. It is impossible for any mazoku, even a halfling, to say such things. It cannot be said."

Zelgadis nodded. "Yeah, I was going to ask if that was an example of what you were explaining."