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Chapter Four
You Are Cordially Invited To...Dinner!
by Shadowdancer

          "Aah, at last! There's the town." Lina looked down the hill and smiled, already anticipating the wonderful meal that she would order and enjoy; the hot bath to relax her muscles and scrub the dirt from her body that she would take and the soft goose-down pillows that her head would hit when she went to sleep that night. Six days on the road made for good travel time but lousy bedding. With visions of roast beef and gravy-soaked mashed potatoes dancing in her head, Lina steadily got more impatient. "Let's get going, already!!! I'm starving!" she gestured for them to hurry and started to trot down the path, eager to see the day done.
          Behind her, the rest of her motley crew followed, Gourry and Amelia talking with Sylphiel about her oft-mentioned and famous stew, while Zelgadiss and Milgazia walked in between Filia and Xelloss.

          "…so do you think that there might be a cure for me in Dragon's Peak, Milgazia-san?" Zelgadiss asked.

          "I am only speculating, Zelgadiss." Milgazia replied. "Yours is an unusual curse, and I will admit that I have not heard of its like. But perhaps there lies some clue to a cure there. I am afraid I can offer you nothing more than a mere hope." He inclined his head apologetically.

          Zelgadiss smiled. "It is all right. Even a hope is more than I can wish for. I am patient. Will you allow me to search in the Valley of Dragons someday?"

          "Someday." Milgazia nodded.

          "Aw, Zel, do you have to be so gloomy again?" Lina asked, hands on hips. "Look, we're almost to town and the sun's about to set. Let's think about good things, like fish baked in lemon juice and white wine sauce, honey-roasted chicken, marinated sirloin beef steaks, leg of lamb in sour cream…"


          "Lina, you're making me hungry." Gourry complained.

          "That goes double for me." Amelia looked down at her belly.

          Filia shook her head and laughed. "She hasn't changed a bit. Always thinking about food."

          Milgazia looked at her, his eyebrow raised. "What do you mean?"

          "Oh, well, Lina's appetite alone demands whole menus, and when she, Gourry, and Amelia get together…" Filia shook her head again, this a rueful memory.

          "Hey!" Lina cried. "I'm sure you two are also hungry!" she pointed at the two Ryuzoku. "When's the last time that you've had basted turkey with sweet-potato-and-raisin stuffing, covered in cranberry and lime jelly, Milgazia?"

          Milgazia's eyebrows disappeared into his bangs as Lina's question caught him off guard. "Ah…" his frown deepened. "I…"

          Lina blinked. "Don't tell me you've never had stuffed turkey before."

          Milgazia looked almost sheepish. "Well, it has been a very long time since I've left the Valley…I can't remember if I have had that kind of dish before…eh?" He looked down at Lina as the petite sorceress grabbed him by the hand and started to haul him toward town at a dead run, an intent expression on her face. "Lina-san?" the bewildered Ryuzoku called after her, half bent and running. Not that he had any choice: It was run or be dragged.

          "I can't stand the idea of someone not ever having had good food in their entire life before! You haven't lived if you haven't eaten one single gourmet meal, and for someone like you, that's intolerable! I'm buying you the biggest stuffed turkey in town, you hear me?! And you had better enjoy it!!!"

           "But Lina-…" Milgazia protested, trying his best not to trip and fall.

          "No buts!" Lina shook her head vehemently. "The best restaurant in town!!!"

           Filia, Xelloss and the others watched the pink, black, red, white and gold blur vanish into the town gate. "Well, they've left us behind." Xelloss observed.

          "I don't think that Milgazia-san meant he'd never eaten just turkey before." Amelia said softly. "I think he meant any gourmet meals! That's just plain unjust! Filia-san, what do Ryuzoku eat?! Don't tell me that you deprive yourselves of good food so you can attain enlightenment!" she turned to Filia, looking horrified.

          Filia sweatdropped. "We're not monks, Amelia!"

          Xelloss started to howl with laughter, laughing so hard he crashed into Zelgadiss. Zelgadiss shoved him away and the Mazoku started traipsing down the road, tears running down his cheeks, his mirth echoing into the twilight.

          Lina ran up to a man in the street. "Excuse me! Could you tell me where the best restaurant in this town is?"

          "Lina, listen to me-" Milgazia began.

          "Oh, that would be the Grapevine Bistro, up Bank Street. I warn you though, it's a pretty penny to eat there with your boyfriend." The man pointed up the road. "Though, by the look of him, I think he can pay your way. Have a nice meal."

          "Thanks, buddy…" Lina started to drag Milgazia down the street again when she stopped in her tracks, blushing furiously. "BOYFRIEND?!" she exclaimed. She looked up Milgazia, blinking in confusion. "I wonder why he-oh." Lina's eyes dropped to her hand, which held the Dragon Elder's larger one in a vise-like grip. Embarrassed, she let go. "Eheheh…sorry about that."

           "It is quite all right…" Milgazia said, looking only slightly flustered. "But Lina-san, what I meant when I said I couldn't remember if I've ever had basted turkey with sweet-potato-and-raisin stuffing covered in cranberry and lime jelly was-"

           "EEEP! That's right! I almost forgot that! Come on! We've gotta hurry and find that bistro!" Lina grabbed his hand again just as Gourry spotted them and waved for the others to hurry over.

          "Lina, please allow me to-"

          "No no no! There's no way you're not going to the restaurant and not trying out gourmet food, Milgazia!" the little redhead pulled the taller Ryuzoku down the street.

          "I wonder why she's making such a fuss…" Sylphiel murmured.

          Gourry laughed. "Oh, you know Lina. She can't stand the thought that any of her friends hasn't eaten anything good in their life."

          Xelloss finally stopped chuckling and looked up. "Well, let's not tell her then that Milgazia-san knows how to cook."

          "He does!?" Amelia, Gourry and Zelgadiss stared at the Mazoku priest.

          "Oh yes he does!" Filia agreed. "He bakes a very good pot roast."

          "Well, maybe you could tell Lina that, once we catch up to her." Zelgadiss pointed up the road, where they could see the crowd parting for said sorceress.

          It's simply unbelievable! Lina steamed, not hearing Milgazia's futile attempts to catch her attention. How can he not have ever tasted a gourmet meal in his life!? She remembered that he hardly did eat back at the Silver Springs Resort. A spring roll, sandwiches, pancake, coffee and punch don't count as a meal! Well, I'm going to make sure that will change right now!

          "Hey! Wait up! Excuse me! Miss Inverse!" a voice cried out of the crowd.

          "Oh, what is it now?!" Lina halted her headlong charge suddenly, Milgazia stepping around her as she did.

          "Lina, I really must explain…"

          "I knew it! I knew it was you!" a young man exclaimed joyfully, running toward them. "Lina Inverse!"

          "Who're you?" Lina stared. He was taller than she was, with brown hair styled in a fashion that mimicked Xelloss' and watery blue eyes. The youth in front of her was no priest, however, garbed as he was in a rich brown velvet vest and pale yellow tunic. "You look familiar."

          The youth stopped in front of her and clasped her hands in his. Lina blinked. "Don't you remember me, Miss Lina?" he asked, gazing down at her happily. "I definitely remember you! How could I forget?"
          "Hey, Lina, who's he?" Zelgadiss asked, jerking his thumb at the stranger. "I didn't know you had friends in these parts."

          The man looked at Zel, then past him. "Ah! Gourry! Amelia-san! You're here too?"

          "Look, mister, who are you?" Lina asked, pulling her hands out of his.

          He looked down at her, hurt. "You mean you don't remember me? Well, it has been several years…so I'll give you a clue." The man drew himself up proudly. "You and I almost got married, remember?"

          "WHAT?!?!?!?!" Filia, Xelloss, Sylphiel and Zelgadiss stared at the man.

          "Oh no…say your prayers…" Zelgadiss cringed.

          "Wow, you mean someone actually wanted to marry Lina?!" Gourry gasped in disbelief. "You must like suffering!"


          Lina removed her fist from Gourry's skull and straightened. "Just what do you mean by that? Are you saying that I wouldn't make a good wife?!" she screeched at his prone form.

          Milgazia lifted her bodily off the ground by the shoulders before the little sorceress could trample the jellyfish into the cobblestones. "No one said that, Lina…" he soothed as Sylphiel started to heal Gourry again.

         "Who are you anyway?" Filia asked. "No offense, but is what you're saying even true?"

          "Why would I lie?" the young stranger asked in confusion.

          "Ah!" Amelia exclaimed. "I remember you! You're Hallas Raizu, the one that asked Lina-san to marry him while we were travelling to Sairaag long ago!"

         "Oh, so you do remember me!" Hallas cried happily.

          Lina quit struggling and looked closely at Hallas. "Hey, yeah! I also blew up your house getting rid of Cali and her daughter!"

          Everyone sweatdropped.

          "Yes, well, I forgive you for that…you did help me get rid of them." Hallas said. "But I never thought you would come back!"

         "Uh…well…" Lina grinned weakly. "That's a different story. Hey, you never did pay me!"

          Gourry and Amelia smacked their fists into their palms. "That's right, you never did!" Gourry accused.

          "Ah…well…" Hallas grinned. "Let me make it up to you." He spread out his arms wide to include everyone in the group. "I want you and your friends to all come to my wedding! And in the meantime, you're all welcome to stay at my mansion! Also, if there's anything you need, I'll be more than happy to obtain it for you!" he declared. "Provided it is in my power to do so, of course." He added, wagging his finger.

          "You rebuilt your mansion, Hallas?" Lina grinned. "I guess you must be doing well. I'll be glad to accept your invitation!"

          Hallas smiled. "Great! Shall we go then? My carriage is just a few streets back. I had it stop when I spotted you dragging this man up the road. At first I thought it was Gourry-kun but when I saw the white robes, I figured he must be another mage or a priest of some kind."

          "Kinda." Lina replied, not certain she should tell Hallas that she'd been dragging a dragon down the street. "So, you're getting married, eh, Hallas? Who's the lucky girl?"

          Hallas' eyes turned dreamy and a smile crept across his handsome face. "Her name is Mara Vincent and I met her about a year back when she moved here so she could work at the shrine. It was love at first sight." He sighed blissfully. "Really, she's a sweet, beautiful generous girl, and I'm really lucky that she finally accepted my proposal."

          "I bet." Lina smiled. "She's a shrine maiden, huh?"

          "Yes. She just came in from Femille, and she's a very good healer. But when I first glimpsed her, I thought she was you." He laughed as he walked.

           "What?! How come?"

           "Well, she has long red hair much like yours, but when she turned, I saw she had blue eyes." Hallas replied. "But I can't imagine that you would want to become a shrine maiden either, Miss Lina."

          "Naw. There's more things that life has in store for me. For one thing…" She clenched her fists, eyes shining in longing. "Basted turkey with sweet-potato-and-raisin stuffing covered in cranberry and lime jelly! Medium rare steaks fresh from the grill and dripping with herb butter melting, with glazed baby carrots and peas!"

          "She's making me hungry again," Gourry whined.

          "Oh, so you haven't had dinner?" Hallas stopped next to a parked coach. "Well, in that case… Everyone please get in."

           When everyone had seated themselves, surprised that they were able to fit inside (although Xelloss had opted to sit next to the coachman) Hallas ordered the driver to head straight for the Grapevine Bistro. "My treat," he said expansively.

          "That's really very nice of you, Mr. Hallas," Amelia said.

          "It's the least I can do after saving me from Cali." Hallas replied.

          "What about your girlfriend, Hallas?" Gourry asked.

          "Yes," Sylphiel nodded in concern. "Isn't she going to eat with us?"

          Hallas shook his head. "Oh no. She told me earlier that she had work to finish off tonight so we could spend the day off tomorrow. She's staying at the shrine for the night. And here I was worried I'd be eating supper alone."

          "Well, you're anything but alone now, Hallas." Gourry chuckled.

           "If you don't mind, Hallas-san…but may I ask you a question?" Zelgadiss began earnestly. "How did you ask Lina to marry you and why are you not married?"

          "Oh, I don't mind explaining...if you don't mind listening to me." Hallas grinned, somewhat shyly. "Well, it all began when Cali the Sorceress came to my house and used her magic to force us to let her stay there with her daughter. I tried to make her leave, just as she tried to have me marry her daughter. Finally, she agreed that if I found a bride in a week, she'd leave with her daughter. I tried looking for a bride, but every woman I met or ran into would run away screaming. Then I met Miss Lina, Master Gourry and Princess Amelia here. Miss Lina discovered the girl-repellant spell that Cali had placed upon me, and Princess Amelia removed it. They then agreed to help me get rid of Cali by staging a false marriage."

         "Knowing Lina..." Zelgadiss said, smiling slyly at his friend, unable to resist teasing her, "it was a princely sum you offered."

           Sylphiel looked shocked. "You mean you agreed to pay Lina-san for marrying you, Hallas-san?!"

           "Oh, it was five thousand gold pieces, and I thought it worth every penny just to get rid of Cali. I'll admit..." Hallas looked shyly at Lina "After seeing how beautiful she looked in her wedding dress, I wanted to marry her for real, but she said she was too young."

           Lina blushed at Hallas' compliment. "Well," she replied with her usual arrogance "It's a good thing you can recognize true beauty when you see it, but I was only fifteen then - I'm not stupid enough to get married that young!"

          Filia clasped her hands together. "How romantic! Lina as a blushing bride...!" she gushed.

          Gourry chuckled. "Well, if I hadn't seen it myself, I'd have problems imagining it. No offense, Lina...but I just really don't see you wearing dresses! It doesn't look you."

          "What Gourry means to say is," Sylphiel soothed, seeing Lina about to punch Gourry out again "he's not used to seeing you in a formal gown - after all, you use your travelling clothes all the time, and I must admit it's hard for me to picture you in a dress....although you'd look cute!"

          "Yeah, she did! Lina-san looked really pretty, Sylphiel-san!" Amelia gushed. "But all brides are beautiful!"

           "Especially on their wedding day!" Filia said.

          "Oh, to be a bride...!" Sylphiel, Amelia and Filia chorused, blushing and picturing themselves in a wedding gown.

          Milgazia sweatdropped as little pink hearts swirled around them, and one bumped into his nose.

          "Well, I can order the tailors to all make you proper attire. Spare no expense, I want everyone to be at their very best!" Hallas grinned. "I want this to be a wedding day to remember!"

          "Master Hallas, we have arrived,," the coachman said, just as the coach slid to a stop.

           "Excellent, Daniel!" Hallas exclaimed. "Come on, I want everyone to eat, drink and be merry - because I'm getting married!"

          "..really Lina...this is too much. You don't have to..." Milgazia protested softly, eyeing the huge stuffed roast turkey that he had in front of him, fork and knife in hand.

          "Eat already, will you? Before Gourry gets it into his head you don't want it." Lina told him, in between swallows of her current dish.

          Milgazia glanced over to where Gourry was inhaling whole platterfuls of food. "...I don't think he'd be able to eat it anyway." he murmured.

           "Want to bet?" Lina raised an eyebrow. "Just eat already. If you don't like how it tastes, then we'll take it off your hands." she speared a large steak and began to cut into it.

          Filia washed down some of her mashed potatoes with a sip of wine. "It looks good, Milgazia-sama. Do try it..." she urged.

          Sighing to himself softly, Milgazia started to carve into the turkey. He took a bite. And another.

           All around him, plates began to pile up.

          He took another bite, carved another piece from the turkey and spooned a little of the lime jelly from the pot next to the plate onto it, ate that, and some more mashed potatoes after that. Drank some wine.

            The plates were taken away and the piling process began all over again. Zelgadiss, Filia and Hallas, long since having finished their meals, were engaged in conversation, the bulk of it centering around a pottery and a library.

           Sylphiel joined their conversation, asking about shrine maidens in Femille, and if the rumor about the whole populace of a queendom of females being guys was true. Hallas laughed, saying that if it were, then he would never have met Mara.

           Milgazia reached to carve another slice of turkey and saw he had eaten the whole turkey without realizing it. Mildly surprised, he put his fork and knife down. "Goodness." he murmured.

          Thwap. Lina clapped him on the shoulder and grinned. "See? Told you you'd like it!" she grinned. "You went and ate it all up!"

           Milgazia nodded in agreement. "That is true..." he chuckled softly in amazement. "It was very good, Lina.  You were right about that." He leaned back into his chair. "I will admit that I haven't eaten so much in a long time."

          Across the table, Amelia let her spoon clatter back into the now empty pudding bowl and sighed happily. "Too bad you don't, Milgazia-san... This kind of food gives gourmets justice."

          "This is one time I totally agree with you, Amelia." Lina grinned.

          "Are we all finished now, Miss Lina?" Hallas asked with a smile.

          "Yeah, we are; thanks for the meal, Hallas." Lina replied, standing up and patting her midsection happily.

          "I sent a message ahead. You have rooms ready for all of you back at my mansion." Hallas told them. "It is the least I can do in thanks for freeing me from Cali and her ilk."

          "That's really very kind of you, Hallas-san, thank you." Filia said.

           As they walked out, Gourry fell into step with Milgazia. "Heheh, you looked like you enjoyed eating for a change, Milgazia."

          "I always enjoy it when I eat, Gourry." Milgazia replied.

          "Really? You sure don't look like it." Gourry scratched his chin. "You know, for a big guy, Milgazia, you sure don't eat a lot. It doesn't make any sense. Look at me! You're bigger than I am, but you eat like a bird, not a dragon. Even Filia eats more than you do."

          "That's because adult Ryuzoku like Milgazia-san don't need to eat any more. They take nourishment from the sun and the air and water." Xelloss told Gourry.

          Lina overheard them. Stopped in her tracks and slowly turned around. "What did you say...?"

           Gourry smiled. "Xelloss just told me that Milgazia doesn't eat anything except sun and air! Isn't that funny? He should be skin and bones, not looking as solid as he does right now!" he turned back to Milgazia. "That's a pretty neat trick!"

          "...I suppose you could call it that..." Milgazia replied, sweatdropping. "It's really a practical discipline...imagine the amount of food that we'd need to consume daily just to live, if we ate. This is much easier...though..." he smiled "not as pleasurable to the palate."

          "I see..." Lina grinned. "So that's why you couldn't take much of that chocolate cake! It was too rich for you!"

          Milgazia nodded.

          "So...what does sunlight taste like, Milgazia-san?" Gourry asked.

          Xelloss chuckled. "Does it even have a taste?"

         Milgazia cocked his head slightly, thinking. "That is actually a valid question, Gourry-san... I never really thought about that." he nodded to the swordsman. "I will let you know when I can describe it to you."

           "In the meantime..." Lina gave him a thumbs up "We'd better feed you more so you'll have a comparison!"

          Milgazia involuntarily looked back toward the dining room. "We must...?" he hoped not. Eating so much had made him feel decidedly heavy around the middle, and he wasn't used to that feeling.

          "Think of it as research!" Lina told him as they climbed into Hallas' carriage. "You need a database of information to base your conclusions on...the only way to gather information like this is to taste it!"

          Zelgadiss laughed. "Only you could make a statement like that, Lina, and get away with it."

          "I won't doubt Lina's expertise in the matter though. She's a real gourmet." Filia grinned back at the red-headed sorceress.

          "Hey, studying can be fun." Lina said lightly.

          "I agree." Hallas said. "Not everything is a chore..."

          "And the pursuit of knowledge is a most righteous quest to follow!" Amelia exclaimed.

          "Well..." Sylphiel spoke up softly "I could give you some good recipes to try, Milgazia-san. Xelloss-san and Filia-san mentioned that you had some cooking abilities..."

          "YOU KNOW HOW TO COOK TOO?!" Lina almost pounced on the Dragon Elder before he could reply. "And how the heck do you know if you did a dish right if you don't taste it?!"

           Milgazia sweatdropped. "I do... I learned how to cook when I was younger, and I sometimes cook for Memphis, my elven friend's daughter and adoptive niece."

          Lina sighed in theatric relief. "Thank goodness. Do you have any idea how boring your life would be without the wonders of good food? I was pretty horrified when Xelloss said you don't need to eat. Life just isn't worth living if you can't even enjoy it, in my opinion."
          Milgazia nodded in understanding. "I would most heartily agree with you, Lina." There are certainly many things we could learn from humans, he thought. Their zest for life is something we Ryuzoku must learn to cherish as well. I will learn so I can teach my people.
          Hallas laughed. "Well, you needn't worry about the lack of good food. My cooks are the finest in this district, rest assured. You'll have plenty of time and opportunity to make a gourmet out of Milgazia-san."

          "I don't think Lina will not let him learn." Gourry chuckled as the carriage sped into the night.

AN: Actually, its true that Milgazia takes his nourishment from air and sunlight. It doesn't mean that he doesn't eat though...

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