Series: Blind Glory
Pairings: Under negotiation. (but if Zel/Xel squicks you out, this is probably not the fic for you.)
Warnings: eventual slashiness, and also, this is set after the series.
Feedback: If anyone wants to give me some for my birthday, I'll share the cake! ^,^
For the Record: This is only Xel’s version of the backstory. We all know how entrancing a storyteller and reliable a reporter Xel is coffcoffANNEcoff.
Previous chapters can be found here.
Chapter 14: Thrice Upon A Time p.1
In which Xellos tells the story he was supposed to tell--and which might have only been one chapter if Certain People Who Shall Remain Nameless had been good enough to shut up and stop interrupting.
I was born in the Serenity of Radiant Grace, ancient city of magic, art, philosophy, and theology, usually called Seragrace by its natives. It was a little more than three hundred years before the Kouma Sensou, four hundred years before the Miasma forest began to take over the remains of Giant’s Flagon, and about sixty years after the Swordsman of Light defeated Zanaffar.
The mazoku had been quiet for more than a century, the dragons were developing an inflated sense of self-esteem, and humanity was blooming. The wars with the elves and fairies, of which I doubt you will have been taught, had finally been brought to a mutually satisfying conclusion involving a wedding and three turtles, and people were feeling open and friendly and generally content with life.
Er, yes, Gourry-san, I suppose I can pack a lot into one sentence. Thank you for pointing that out.
We were sending expeditions everywhere, then. Testaborn, or The Island With Unbelievably Macho Natives, as its original name translates--well, no, Gourry-san, you’re right, it's not a literal translation. They called themselves the Testament to Strength Borne Well.
Testostaborniel, then, had just been discovered, and we were sending trade-and-mercy boats to promote good feeling, get rid of cheap goods, and bring some of the slaves into slightly better situations. It may interest you to know, which we didn’t know then, that the old Testan word for ‘my slave’ translates directly as ‘my little brother who used to slack off in gym class.’ I see that Gourry-san is familiar with the concept.
Anyway, missions like that were very popular. Relations between Seragrace and Ceiphieliobrand and SaoLon were disdainful, but peaceful.
To explain the reason for this tension—yes, Lina-san, it is important, so please be patient. Yes, relevant, too. Isn’t that nice?
In any case. As you know, there is only one religion recognized as such today: the worship of Ceiphied, associated with the draconian race and flying the banner of goodness and light and sunshine and roses and fluffy puppies and, and, and insulin overload, and can I have some water, please?
Ceiphied was worshipped then, too, but so were Shabranigdo and the Lord of Nightmares. Ceiphied’s high worshippers were called Shrine Children and Shrine Masters, and Shabranigdo’s were Dark Wizards and Masters of the Alter. And—what?
Yes, Gourry-san, we did have really long names for things. Well done. Only the dialect that we spoke then was a little more compact than what we speak now. You could say a lot in a few syllables.
Well, our Zelgadis-san here’s a good example. It’s a—sorry, Zel-san—it’s a ridiculous name unless you have a Seragrace accent. Can I still do it? Seregadissan. Yes. Serene Guardian of—er, was it distance or dissent? Dissent, then, fine. Throw that at me and it’ll be Zelgabunny for real.
No, it’s the same language, but it’s a very, very old variant. We used to speak a kind of shorthand in the cities, on the same principle as the squished names. Sylphiel-san, you can ask me about this later, but I see Lina-san getting impatient, and it really has nothing to do with the story. Yes, Gourry-san?
No. If anyone were allowed to have dessert, I would have served less food and made dessert. Yes, I know how to make desserts. Fine. I’ll be happy to. But not tonight. Because I won’t want any. May I go on, please?
I was the youngest child of a Shrine Child and one of the palace over-cooks. My mother, the cook, was from a long line of—Yes, Lina-san, women were allowed to be Shrine Children, but it happened to be my father. Well, my mother’s temper was kind of nasty, for a priest. Even Dark Wizards had some self-control, at least.
My father had been sent from SaoLon as a liaison between their sect of shrines and ours; priests of his order did a lot of traveling. He tried to make my youngest older sister become a Shrine Child, too, but she ran away to ‘prentice with a gemcutter-tailor. No, no, that was a common blending of professions then. That way tailors could be sure that their wares were accessorized properly.
Well, it was a city, Zelgadis-san.
My youngest older sister was seventeen when I was born. My youngest older brother was fifteen. He was supposed to have been the last.
I don’t remember my parents very well. My father was huge and dark and bristling with muscles, hair, a lantern jaw, chin out to here, and a huge hook of a nose, and he used to look at me as though he didn’t know who I could possibly be, or what business I was of his, or how I had the nerve to speak to him. My mother was round and wispy and brown from the fires, and she was always busy and chasing me out of the kitchen.
My brothers and sisters mostly left me alone, although I think my youngest older sister used to play with me before she left. She gave me all my cloak-clasps later, too, when I was old enough to wear them without looking pretentious. Yes, this one, too. …Zelgadis-san? Not. One. Word.
I spent most of my time with the palace’s Master of the Hunt and his dogs, and the gamekeepers and falconers, and the palace cats. The Master used to take me along on unofficial hunts, which were the ones for food, not sport, and none of the lords came. The falconer did, too. My mother said I mustn’t impose on them, but they never seemed to mind. Some of the ladies liked to make a pet of me and ask for their favorite foods. As though I had any influence over what my mother decided to put on the menu.
What I remember best about my parents is that one day, when I was—oh, I don’t remember. I was short.
Yes, yes, very funny, Gourry-san.
I must have been about four. I heard them talking. I had just done something which I dimly recall involved my mother’s lipstick, the doors of the main banquet hall, and a visiting dignitary who I’d seen kicking a dog, and been punished and sent to bed. I had heard their voices, and got up to listen.
My mother said she couldn’t do anything with me and I was always underfoot. My father said I had a strong sense of injustice—sit down, Amelia-san--but no child who could ever hope for the grace of Ceiphied would have punished a wrongdoer in such a sneaky, underhanded manner instead of speaking out with a brave heart, so sending me in my youngest older sister’s place was no good.
My mother said it was impossible to keep me in the palace after the diplomatic incident I’d caused, and she didn’t intend to let me deprive her or her other children of their livelihoods, positions, and reputation. My father said there was only one thing to do, and he would see to it in the morning.
The next day I was told to gather my belongings and given a good, hot breakfast. I was handed a sandwich, a canteen, and an envelope, and told to deliver the envelope and myself to the House of the Golden Mother, which instruction made no sense to me. I was not given directions.
No, it wasn’t cruel or unjust of them, Amelia-san. No one was ever given instructions for getting to the Shadow Guild. Its location was a secret. Finding it before starving was almost an entrance exam; a sort of intelligence test. Sorry, Lina-san. Whether the place still exists or not, whether my Lord Mother has turned her back on me or not, Guild secrets are still secret.
At any rate, I did find it, and presented myself and my note to the woman covering for the entrance. She wouldn’t believe me at first; she said I was much too young. Then she read the note and got upset. She wouldn’t tell me what it said, but she did feed me lunch. It wasn’t of the quality I was used to, but I had better manners than to say so. One snicker and I turn all your pyjamas into nightingales.
I gather there was some discussion at first over what to do with me, but it was decided that since I had come in the proper way and sending me back was out of the question, they would keep me and see what they could make of me. I was shown all the facilities and classrooms. The class schedule was explained to me, and then they gave me my first yellow cloak and told me I might do as I liked. It wasn’t much of a cloak: sackcloth, no shoulder-guards, nearly brown, and a big safety pin for a clasp, but it showed I belonged there and I was ridiculously proud of it.
Now, the Guild wasn’t like other temples. It taught us to survive away from it, and it didn’t depend on outsiders for its own survival. It might have been a small city; there were masters there of all the professions needed to keep a large group of people functioning, as well as masters of all the arts of body, mind, voice, and hand. I, of course, latched onto the first dog I saw, and followed it around until it led me to the Master of the Hunt.
He was a tall, dour man, always in brown-greens and never wearing his cloak. His cloak, by the way, was really beautiful, all leopard skin and feathers and horn, as befit his station. I admired it and him so deeply that I wasn’t even jealous. I don’t see how anyone could have been jealous of him, actually. He didn’t seem to know the meaning of the word ‘enjoy.’ Cheering him up became my primary mission in life. He tolerated me. The first time I made him smile, I was so pleased that I was barely able to speak for the rest of the day, and every time after that was still a major victory. That’s when they gave me the name Celebrant. They had refused to use the name my parents gave me, and they’d been calling me ‘you, boy.’
No, I don't remember my real name. I haven't heard it since I left home, and they barely used it there, anyway. I remember thinking that ‘Xeru’ was a great improvement; I think I was 'brat,' mostly. Well, it sounded like Celebrant in Costran, Lina-san. Different languages use different accents, you know. Don’t you stick that tongue out at me, young lady, unless you intend for me to use it.
At first I just hung around him, getting in the way and playing training games with the dogs. He let me help a little. As I became more confident of my place, though, I started sitting in on classes. I felt a little uncomfortable about it at first, but the Master of Wood helped me make a little folding desk, and the teachers always smiled at me, so I started going every day. Not all day, and not always the same classes, though. I usually went to a lecture class or two before lunch, and a vocational class right afterwards, and I spent the rest of the day pestering people and exploring Seragrace and Giant’s Flagon.
It was a wonderful time for me. The teachers always made sure to explain everything clearly when I was there, and you’d be amazed at what a little boy in scruffy clothes can learn by just going out with his eyes open and his mouth shut. Well, okay, Zelgadis-san, possibly you wouldn’t.
But even the Master of the Hunt decided that he couldn’t get rid of me and he might as well make use of two extra hands, since the animals didn’t seem to mind. One day I realized that the white scribbles on the black walls weren’t sacred arcana known only to scholars, and teased the Master of Brush until she figured out what I wanted and agreed to unveil to me the mysteries of the written word, which was after all what she was there for.
After that, it seems as though I never stopped to eat or sleep for years. There was too much to do to allow time for rest, and the Guild’s food was dreadful. Especially for someone who’d grown up on palace leftovers. I think that by the age of ten I knew the names and life histories of everyone in that neighborhood, the personal habits of every animal in Giant’s Flagon, the rudiments of all the professions that interested me, no few nuances of the current political situation, and I had made a sizeable dent in the Guildhouse library.
I mention that age for a reason. I had one very busy week that year. I had secretly memorized a number of white and black magic spells. Nothing really fancy; for anything impressive or Guild related you needed to have a request for access approved. I’d never practiced any of them; I liked having one thing to study on my own, without anyone making approving noises at my progress or giving me dismissive looks. But that year, a fox I’d been shadowing got its tail cut off by a trophy hunter. I didn’t think it would spoil my secret to do something about that.
I healed the fox—not perfectly, mind. I didn’t know nearly enough anatomy to give it its tail back, but I did close the wound and stop the pain. Then I went and threw a fireball at the hunter’s camp-stool just as he was sitting down.
As far as I know, he never found out who did that, but I was discovered just the same. I developed a headache that didn’t feel natural, so I went to the healers, figuring that even if it were related to the magic, the laws of their craft would keep them from telling anyone nosy. But of course I got stopped on the way.
Because I didn’t wear my hair like this when I was a child, that’s why ‘of course.’ Boys didn’t cut their hair, then, only grown-ups, and grown-ups only kept it short when they were married or clergy. No, Amelia-san, not like—well, yes, all right, Shrine Children, but not like shrine maidens. The chastity rule is relatively modern; I never really saw the point of it. I never really saw the point of most draconian innovations. But boys didn’t, anyway, and everyone could see my two nice new mage-scars.
Well, I got lectured until I nearly cried, and, um, given a taste of what I’d done to the hunter. Lina-san, I’m not sure if it’s quite that funny. Oh, well, if you’re sure, then. —No, no, not a fireball, Zelgadis-san, just someone’s belt. Why do you ask? Oh, yes, I’m all for curiosity.
They made me cut my fringe, too, so the other children wouldn’t see my mage-scars and be intimidated. No, I was much too young to cut my actual hair then. That was later. I don’t know. Pretty long. I can’t really compare it with Gourry-san’s, Sylphiel-san. He’s taller than I am now, let alone then. No, we wore it up. Why this sudden interest in my hair?
Anyway, that was the end of my free time. They decided that my latest little prank proved I really belonged in the Guild, and I was old enough to enter formally. They gave me my own class schedule, and told me to stick to it or risk consequences, and to do everything the teachers told me to, or the Golden Mother would be sad.
You can guess which carried more weight with me.
Um, actually, no, Amelia-san. I don’t think you quite realize the underlying principles of the Guild. Have patience, then, and I will.
Shrine Children were out in force, then, trying to make the world pure and perfect. Dark Wizards were scuttling around everywhere, trying to improve their own lives. I was taught from the day I came to the Guildhouse that perfection hurt my Mommy-Sama, and selfishness reminded her of Shabranigdo’s rejection. One of the first books I was given to read was an illustrated version of that ‘stupid bedtime story,’ and I couldn’t stop crying all night, until someone came and unstuck the last page, where she was laughing.
You may close your mouth and stop staring at me now, Gourry-san. I was extremely young at the time, and besides, I’m not from the Testament. In Seragrace, only selfish tears were shameful, and this was doubly true in the Guildhouse. I don’t know about the temples and the alter halls, but I think it was different there. In fifteen hundred years, I never saw Rezo cry but twice.
Be that as it may, I did do all the work I was supposed to, but I kept skipping some of the classes to go to others. I didn’t see why I should have to take Elements of Mathematics, for example, when I knew them already and and Applied Logic was so much more interesting. The masters eventually, though, came to the stunning realizations that I preferred taking my ‘consequences’ to sitting through boring classes and that I really could keep up with the older students in the subjects I was interested in. They revised my schedule accordingly.
Well, sort of relevant. I’m working up to something, Lina-san. Leave me some breathing room, will you?
What? Oh, I ended up taking History Through Maps, I think, that first year, and Intermediate Theology, and Inkbrushes, and they sat down with me and explained why I needed Theory of Magic. And, as I said, Applied Logic. That was when my name became Xel-Los, probably because I kept arguing with all the teachers.
It’s really not difficult, Sylphiel-san. I told you we were all speaking shorthand. Think about it a minute, Celphil-san; it’s the same as yours.
You can’t? Oh, well. It means, ‘loves truth.’ Or ‘seeker of wisdom,’ or ‘insists on understanding even if it takes the entire cracking class period.’
Always pleased to make you happy, Lina-san. …Although possibly not quite that happy.
[end ch. 14]