Memoir - 5

* * *

Xelloss had no time to question Dolphin's disturbing revelation; Warren appeared directly after she spoke. He gave a cursory glance to the broken china and glass, yanked Xelloss to his feet, and shoved the human back into his chair. He didn't look at Xelloss once during this whole manuever. The servant then cast his gaze back down at the mess on the floor, gave Dolphin a very withering look, and waved his hand. The spilled coffee and scattered glass vanished, along with the overturned bamboo frame of the former table.

Warren stepped away, looking again at Dolphin, not even noticing Xelloss. "Zelas adored that table." His voice sounded just slightly ragged, as if he were trying very hard to keep it even but was simply unable to do so.

Eyebrows raised, Dolphin's face was a study in the perfect calm that Warren could not attain. "I'm sorry, but I didn't knock it over." She took a sip of coffee from her still-pristine cup.

His fists clenched and his teeth grinding, Warren tried to maintain a grip on his composure. He didn't feel like rolling another cigarette. Not right now. Not when the warden was sitting right in front of him in her perfect chair with her perfect cup and perfect composure. But he needed it. Gods he needed it. "Why must you entertain your guests using her possessions? They're not yours. She never gave them to you." He still had the slightest grip on his composure, just a fingerhold, just enough to still speak to her with civility.

Dolphin's eyes narrowed ever so slightly. "When I have guests in my presence, Warren, I will not have petty questions put to me by my servants. But if you really want to discuss this later, I will be more than happy to give you a private audience." Xelloss saw the tiniest glint of a fang behind Dolphin's pale lips.

Warren vanished without another word.

Dolphin sighed, rubbing her forehead. "I give him a summon to clean up a mess and he turns it into his opportunity to interrogate me. I can't believe I ever thought that he would be an appropriate choice for bringing you to me. My apologies, Xelloss. I thought your presence might be the one thing that could possibly quiet his perpetual rage." The Queen's tired eyes implored Xelloss to forgive her.

Xelloss' shock and questions about the Dynast were waylaid by apprehension. "And you're still letting him watch my son?" He made to get up from his chair, but an invisible force pushed him down.

"He won't hurt the boy, Xelloss. The consequences facing Warren are so dire that even he can't overlook him. I can make him behave." A wicked grin pulled at Dolphin's lips that excited Xelloss' fear much more than anything about Warren had. For a moment, the man wondered if he would rather be alone with Warren than face Dolphin while she was smiling. "But he is unimportant. You are not. You must be informed of the way of things, Xelloss." She swept to her feet, gesturing for him to stand. "Let us walk along the beach. While you'll probably need to sit down a few times during these revelations, a change of surroundings might be the better remedy for your nerves." She paused, shaking her head. "Your heart is skyrocketing."

Xelloss followed a tsking Dolphin out of the double doors across the room from where he had entered. They opened out to gradually sloping sands. After a ways, the sands parted and became shallow waters so blue that they seemed to glow. The view overtook him for a moment before he realized that his hostess was a few paces ahead of him. Dolphin was right. The sight was certainly distracting enough to quiet his fears...for now.

As she walked, Dolphin's eyes traced over the swirling latticework of clouds hanging over the moon. "You're not as out of the loop as you think, Xelloss. We - Zelas and I, and the rest of the Mazoku...the rest of the world, in fact - did not know of Grausherra's control of Devil's Nest until he announced it to us. That was eight years ago. Zelas sent you out on a short scouting mission in the Kataart mountains. She had no plans for hostility at the time, but always made a point of keeping a good keen set of eyes on the movements of the Dragon Race. And not only did you have the keenest eyes of all her servants, but she wanted to reward your excellent service by giving you an extremely easy mission. So she was quite worried when you did not return within a day. I myself thought that you might have just run off for a bit after you'd finished such a simple task. But she seemed to be of the opinion that you would never sneak away like that if you knew she would get worried." Dolphin shrugged.

Pausing for a moment, Xelloss realized that Zelas was right. He wouldn't have done that.

"Anyways, it didn't matter what she or I thought. When a week passed with no word from you and no trace of where you'd gone, I grew suspicious. You might have been lazy and silly, Xelloss, but even I will admit that such a long absence wasn't in your character. Zelas searched for you and I made my own inquiries. Ironically, I considered asking Grausherra personally about it, but decided that he probably wouldn't care enough to tell me anything. But it really didn't matter...he delivered a message to Zelas that day telling her exactly where you were.

"I remember hearing it myself as Zelas repeated the voice crystal over and over. 'My dear sweet Zelas, it seems that your beloved servant was captured by a good friend of mine while on a spying mission. Ouros has allowed me to watch over him personally. I've put him in Devil's Nest. I know from personal observation that he is quite comfortable there. The Ourachs are quite taken with him, as am I. It seems that I've been hiding things for a long time now...important things. But that won't really matter, in time. I'll be keeping Xelloss with me. Don't worry. I'll take good care of him. Oh, and please enjoy your gift.' And then Zelas saw something in the crystal that only her eyes could see. She never told me what it was, but it made her shivver every time she looked. That was all we heard, until a week passed by, with another message, and another vision for only Zelas' eyes. No demands. No threats of war. Just little updates on your 'progress' that hinted more than described. 'Xelloss had a little trouble sleeping this week.' 'He was so quiet this past week, as if he had a lot to think about.' 'He made some new friends a few days ago.' 'Xelloss keeps talking about you. He must miss you, Zelas.' Every week a new message that Zelas couldn't help but hope to hear, just to know any semblance of what was happening. And with each new message came the struggle. Should she hope that Grausherra was lying because it meant you weren't enduring everything that was implied in the bottomless pauses between his words, or hope that he was telling the truth because it meant you were alive?"

Xelloss stopped walking, and wrapped his arms around himself as a shivver coiled up through his body. His body and heart were remembering things that his mind could not. He'd experienced the sensation many times before, but not as brutally. Dolphin watched the human sink to the sand and sit there.

"But you have no memory of it, Xelloss," Dolphin stated.

He only curled his arms over his head and shuddered as the tears came. He hated it so much when things came to this. His heart felt like it was being torn apart and he couldn't even remember why.

"He drew it out for two months, baiting her, taunting her, letting the desperation accumulate like raindrops in a basin. When his demand finally came, Zelas couldn't possibly refuse it. She'd been stretched too far. She couldn't deny you a reprieve. That's what we decided, at least. She vanished right after she heard Grausherra's message, so I can't be certain of what exactly she was thinking. 'I think Xelloss is ready to leave his accomodations in Devil's Nest. Would you like to help move him to a new room? I'd like you to reside with him and I for awhile. You can look after him personally if you stay. Please reply promptly and in person. Xelloss can't wait to see you.' I never saw her again after that." Dolphin gazed out at the moon. "Grausherra sent her servants and me a message the next day. 'Zelas belongs to me now. Devil's Nest has been mine for five hundred years. The Ourochs are under my command. Regretfully, Beast Priest Xelloss is dead. Mourn him. He suffered.' I moved to this island shortly afterwards. Without Zelas present, the mazoku here were leaderless and lacked the proper organization for defense. For eight years, we've heard nothing new, seen nothing new. And then, one of my long term projects unexpectedly caused me to discover a Phoesid in the lands beyond the Boundary. Imagine my surprise when I found her raising a Rizendi youngling with your help." She chuckled. "Three surprises in one place, it was. Three beings who were supposed to be dead, all living together. The Nightmare Queen provides."

Xelloss' shoulders still shivvered with lingering distress as he shook his head. This Lord was crazy. She had to be crazy. And he and his son were stuck on her crazy island with Zelas' crazy servant in the Dynast's crazy war.

"Oh, but that's not all, Xelloss." Dolphin watched the curve of the moon glide through the clouds like a canoe through water. She smiled. "There's so much more that I must tell you. It's been a long eight years."

* * *

Silence and darkness wrapped around Milgasia, entrapping and commanding him. He saw and heard absolutely nothing. No matter how he struggled to, he could not speak a word. Thoughts came readily enough sometimes, but turned wispy and insubstantial just before he arrived at a conclusion.

Where was he? What struck him deaf, dumb and blind? He couldn't move, could barely register his sense of touch. He was lying somewhere, and that was all he knew.

But he knew where he had been, before...

Milgasia traced in his mind the route of his past journey, hoping it would connect with his present location this time before inevitably abandoning him.

How did it come to this...

. . .

The feeling of warm wind rippling over his wings felt so strange to Milgasia. For centuries he had soared on the bitter updrafts of frozen slopes. This warm air tickled.

It was funny, in a sad way. He had never expected to see Firia again. In fact, one of his greatest hopes had been that their paths would not cross in this lifetime. But here he was, gliding over shady forests and breezy grasslands, sunny meadows and baking deserts. Such a change of scenery, such nice was like a holiday. But he wasn't on a vacation. Ceipheed above, he wished that were the case.

Firia would welcome him, of course. That he was sure of. But she would immediately wonder why he had returned. Milgasia had sworn many oaths that he would not come back, and here he was, bobbing on the wind...she would want to know. And he would have to tell her everything.

How could he come to her with such a plea? He was in dire need and had no one else to turn to, and she would know as much from intuition. How could he ask her like that? It was like forcing her hand. He knew she couldn't refuse him. She had a caring heart, a generous nature, and an incredible will. Of course she would help him if he asked. That was the problem. If he came to Firia with this proposal, the dragon would have no choice but to accept. It was unfair.

To think he was seriously attempting such an endeavor. Milgasia felt the stab of self-disgust yet again, not even trying to shrug it off. He deserved every bit of this self-hatred. He deserved a lot of things. He was breaking a family, and for no reason that had anything to do with them. How despisable was he.

He could turn around now. He could turn around and keep his promise to never see Firia again. He had made that promise to her and to himself. What was he now, that he couldn't even trust himself to keep his own word?

But Milgasia knew, even as he hated himself for the deed ahead, that it had to be done. The Amizmer had so long ago appointed him Hieriphist because they knew that they could trust him to betray his family, his loved ones, his own people and even himself for the continued preservation of dragonkind. Those two thousand years ago he accepted that responsibility. He knew what it meant back then, and he knew what it meant now. There was a reason that the Amizmer trusted the Hieriphists least of all and most of all at the same time.

But Firia didn't know that. She had no idea of Milgasia's position when he came to her. Her people didn't school their young too intensely on the cultures and politics of other dragons. So while Milgasia could betray his own people, it wasn't as bad as betraying Firia. His own people had elected him to do just that, and were aware of the dangers. Firia was innocent.

And she...she doesn't deserve this! many are suffering...

...and what if the Dynast spreads his domain even further, and one day finds a little cottage with a Phoesid and a Rizendi and a prisoner that had been stolen from him long ago? What will I do for them then?

Best fly tell her now, before the rats come scrabbling at her door...

. . .

Movement. This was movement. His was sliding...sliding against...against a floor. Something was dragging him. Was Firia dragging him away...from something? Were those...talons?

...That smell...that's the smell of Ouroch.

Gods, I won't even think about that right now. How did it come to this?

. . .

As much as he hated his role as the bearer of bad news, Milgasia looked forward to his arrival at Firia's. He wanted a warm welcome. He wanted to be in a house with a busy stove and steaming tea and the aura of everyday family life hanging over every board, shingle and nail in the place. The whole flight would be worth it for just that. A real, happy family...

...A family with Xelloss in it. There's a puzzle.

Wasn't that going to be interesting? Seeing Xelloss again. The whole reason for his oaths of secrecy. The reason he and Firia met. The only reason that he knew how to pull off an escape from Devil's Nest. Of all the bastards to rescue in his life...

Milgasia still wondered why. Why the hell had he done that? The idea of performing any boon for a mazoku left a bad taste in his mouth. Sure he'd done Xelloss a few favors before. If he hadn't, he wouldn't be alive now. But being forced to help some self-important trickster with the ability to blow away a sizeable chunk of your homeland was different than willingly saving said trickster's life when he was so powerless that sugar fairies could probably put him in a bad way.

And that's what Milgasia would have said, if he'd never been there that day when Xelloss crumpled at his feet, barely alive and unable to speak more than three consecutive words without crying out in pain. It was so easy to criticize decisions when you never really knew their full consequences. Milgasia had hated Xelloss before that day, just as all dragons did. Afterwards, all he could feel was pity.

But what would he feel now? What a charming little scenario he'd created. Now Milgasia would get to see the real consequences of his actions. What had Xelloss become after being stripped of his status as a Mazoku? What would he be like as a...'normal' human being? Milgasia had saved a life, but what had become of that life?

And for that matter, had Xelloss changed even more?

His hatred for Xelloss had been replaced by pity, and that pity had then faded into...into nothing at all. He had residual feelings for the Xelloss in his memory, yes, but what of the Xelloss of the present? How do you hate or like a person that you now know absolutely nothing about?

Then again...he's still Xelloss.

And for that matter, how had Firia managed to put up with him for eight years?

. . .

Milgasia finally managed to groan. Something was wrong. Something was horribly wrong. But he was still blind and deaf to it all. His thoughts were evaporating yet again. He was lost, he was desparately lost, and he still smelled Ourach.

Avril snickered and continued to drag her prize through the corridor. She had been waiting for so long to break in the last Hieriphist.

* * *

Valteria allowed himself to relax after a little while, focusing his eyes on the surrounding darkening paradise and his mind on anything but the present. He found an effective distraction in contemplating what he and his father would have for dinner if today had remained normal. This basically involved inventorying what he himself could cook, because trusting his dad with dinner would be extremely foolish.

Warren snorted. "If you're hungry, you could always just ask for food."

Terry's eyes widened. "You can read my mind?"

The mazoku rolled his eyes. "No, but I can taste your feelings."

"Really?" Terry thought about that for a few seconds. "What's hunger taste like, anyways?"

"I've never found it very filling."

A few moments passed before Valteria could reply. "Was...was that a joke?"

Warren stood up from his lounging position and lit a cigarette. "C'mon," he said, lifting Terry to his feet. "It's probably dinnertime where you live, and keeping you alive is my job right now."

They began to walk back to the house that Terry and his father had first appeared in on this island. The ancient dragon wondered about the uncertain days ahead, and if he would ever figure out whether Warren was a friend or a foe. For now, Terry would trust him. He was hungry, after all.

* * *

Warren had taken care of Terry's dinner and shown the boy into a room nearby that was to be his. Then the mazoku gladly left the house and the boy alone together. It wasn't that Warren didn't feel a certain affinity for Valteria. It was just that everything happening was swirling about him, nagging him and threatening him, and it made him feel like being alone right now. Besides, every time Warren looked at the boy he thought of Xelloss. The old Xelloss...the real Xelloss.

And it hurt.

So as Warren tried to walk away from his memories, his memories walked right into him.

"Warren." Dolphin's voice was as cold as the deep. "Where is the boy that I told you to watch?"

The mazoku snarled. "You say it like I left him to die instead of leaving him in his room." What was the Bitch doing here, anyways? Lurking around just to taunt him? Oh. She had Xelloss with her. "At least I can take care of my ward. He looks terrible." Warren actually felt a little concerned for a moment. Xelloss looked pale and haunted. It brought back memories of waiting weeks on end for news of how he was faring in Devil's Nest. "What were you doing, anyway?"

Dolphin plucked the cigarette out of his mouth, threw it onto the dirt, and ground it with her shoe until it was nothing but a black smudge. "I was talking to him about many things, but there is still much left to discuss. I felt that you should be present." She snapped her fingers, teleporting them all outside of the building on the beach. There were more chairs here, and a table similar to the one that Xelloss had broken. They each sat, Warren taking his seat a little reluctantly while Xelloss lowered himself very slowly, as if he were numbed.

Warren blinked. He hasn't said anything since I left him with Dolphin. "...So. Are we going to get on with talking about what we're suppossed to talk about, Lady Dolphin?" Xelloss isn't even looking at either of us. His eyes are tracing the waves in the distance, as if they'd ever have an answer to anything... I remember seeing him like that once, when he thought I wasn't looking. That night after Fibrizo told Zelas that if she didn't send Xelloss to work for him, he'd kill her precious priest. She never did find out that Xelloss heard the whole thing. And that night...he looked so lost... "Let's get it over with. The mortals have to sleep, you know." He looked just like if they were really the same person.

Dolphin sighed. "Such impatience." She folded her hands in her lap primly. "Well, don't badger me. I arranged this so that Xelloss could speak."

Xelloss jerked his head away from the oblivion of the waves. "Me? Why?"

I asked him why he was looking at the waves, and he said..."Sometimes I forget things when I'm watching them. For just a little while."

"Because I would like you to explain something to me. In his message to Zelas' servants, Grausherra claimed that you were dead. But you are most certainly alive. Was there anything that you remember-"

Xelloss' voice was quiet but not emotionless. "I don't remember anything from Devil's Nest. I don't remember anything from before it. You know that already."

Dolphin brooded in silence for a moment as Warren murdered the urge to grin. The Queen then regained her composure and started anew. "Well, surely you know why you are still alive? And perhaps why the Dynast was angry enough to announce otherwise?" Her voice rose slightly in pitch and she leaned forward, her stance more commanding.

"It's not fair. You don't have any say in what happens to you! He'll just force your destiny to be whatever he wants, for the simple fact that he can!" That's what I told you as we watched the waves, Xelloss. Xelloss sighed, shrinking back into his chair a bit. He knew who was in charge here. And though you don't remember it, you seem to know that it's still true.

"I don't know anything about the Dynast's actions or motivations. All I know about him is that he was apparently very talented at instructing his torturers." He rubbed his forearm, the sleeve of his shirt hiding whichever scar was on his mind. "But if I was that important to him, then he probably just got angry when I dissappeared." Xelloss paused. "Or are you just interrogating me on something I'm sensitive about to trick me into telling you how I got out of Devil's Nest because you think I'd lie if I were asked straight out? Perhaps because you think I'm lying about exactly how much I remember?" Xelloss cocked his head, looking Dolphin straight in the eye. "Is that it?"

And then you looked at the waves for a very long time, and said, "No, Warren. It's not fair. But it's okay, because no one can ever really trap me."

Dolphin, again, was silent for a moment. "Very well," she said a little less imperiously, "how did you escape?"

"Escape? I didn't escape. I was rescued. By my wife." He sighed. "Firia didn't really want to tell me much about the experience, and to be honest, I was all too willing to let her be lax with the details. But I can tell you a few things at least.

"Firia was used to my occasional disappearances. When your partner is the Beast Priest, the occasional work-related absence is to be expected. But she grew worried after awhile. Still, how do you go about searching for a mazoku whose homeland is thousands of miles away?

"Then an old Amizmer...'friend' of mine arrived and told her where I was. He was a Hieriphist, and because of his position the Ourachs invited him While I'm hated enough among dragons, they're soppy enough to take pity on things what was happening to me. So he decided that he wanted to free me...I think there was something political going on as well, but Firia wasn't sure of exactly what was happening beyond what affected us. Anyways, he used his position to get guard duty, and Firia snuck in with an invisibilty charm. The Ourachs didn't think that a dragon would break dragon law, so the wards didn't affect their own kind. It was surprisingly easy to get me out. I just...Firia said I was broken then. My astral form was broken, and they'd warped me into something I was not. I was some sort of half-human half-mazoku...but my mazoku side was so damaged that when she healed me, I pretty much turned human. She always seemed really hesitant to tell me about that healing part, for whatever reason...anyways, she took me home, healed my physical injuries, and married me. I learned to be human. We never really heard anything from the outside world until very recently."

Dolphin folded her hands and perched her chin on them. "Until today, in fact."

"No," Xelloss said, shaking his head. "Until about a week ago. After all these years, Milgasia paid us a visit. It was very strange to see him after all this time. Everyone else in my home life is a part of my world...Milgasia is part of the past." He paused as he saw Dolphin and Warren's expressions. "What?"

Dolphin schooled her voice into staying calm. "Why was Milgasia visiting you?"

"Oh! I didn't mention, did I? Milgasia was the Hieriphist who helped rescue me. He said his curiosity finally got to him after all these years, and he had to come see how we made out. He and Firia talked about dragon things and then Milgasia decided to accompany her on a merchant run. That's why she wasn't with us when Warren, uh...made his 'visit'. Anyways, yeah, Firia hardly ever gets to see any other dragons, so I was pretty happy for her. Still, it was very weird for me, and I was kinda glad that he left, hah." Xelloss faked a chuckle in an attempt to rid himself of the increasing nervousness that Dolphin and Warren's stares were giving him.

The Mazoku Lord was the first to speak. "Well! That's interesting, I suppose. Amizmer can be so strange! Warren, why don't you see if Xelloss desires something to eat before he goes to sleep? While you're at it, you can...tell him anything that you feel you need to. Yes." She vanished right there, just as Warren began to voice a protest.

Xelloss looked to Warren, perplexed. "What? What did I say?"

Warren growled and lit a cigarette. Of course. The Bitch was leaving him with the painful explanations and the trouble of dealing with Xelloss' reactions to them. Of course. He sighed, standing up as he did so. "It's strange, you know? How I get stuck with all the hard tasks." Forgetting...that would make it so much easier, wouldn't it? That would make it all go away. But no matter how hard you try, can never bury the past beneath the waves. "Come on. We'll have dinner in my room."

Damnit, Milgasia. Why did you have to take your problems to Firia? How did you think you could win with only her as your ally? Did you really think the Dynast would let you steal from him twice?

Xelloss let himself be led up to the house, wondering as he walked a little unsteadily. What are those two so upset about?

* * *