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Stemming from Sleep Deprivation. I'll do my best to get back to you.
Well, enough of that, on with the story.
The cold hiss of words shot up the man's spine like a knife. Sweat seeped from his pores as his body stiffened. His friend, who sat across the table from him, froze as well. Seeing what he could not, his friend's jaw dropped before he jumped up from the table and ran out of the pub.
Fear kept him from turning around, but did not keep his eyes off the demon whose gaze pierced through his back. With amazing speed, the man was lifted up and slammed against the wall. He saw narrow, hate-filled eyes, and rocks. Horrible, frightening stone lined those blazing eyes.
Zelgadis was not happy about being played for a fool. Hate bubbled up in him and shot through his veins. It was not the first time he had been tricked, many a greedy peasant had sold him information that was "helpful." Helpful in that it filled their wallets and wasted his time. He wanted to scream at the man, to slice his head off and display it on his sword. The anger within him was growing every day, the one third demon was teetering on the one half mark. Instead, the chimera simply removed his cloak and exposed his face, a monochromatic blue palette of stones on flexible stone, with shiny strands of sharp wire acting as more of a mask than hair covering his right eye.
By no effort of Zelgadis', the man began gasping for air. Suddenly, a voice cried out, "Don't hurt him! Please, he's my husband! I know what he did was wrong! We'll return the money, give you anything you want, just please don't hurt him!"
One third human won out, and Zelgadis let go of the man, leaving him with very little punishment. He instead turned to the man's wife, intent on getting his money back. A small pouch of coins clattered to the ground as the woman cried out in horror. Even without any malice in his expression, the chimera still came off as a monster. Often he wondered if perhaps he truly was one without knowing it. However, it did not matter as he picked up the gold and left.
There was an ache within Zelgadis as he left. He was being more erratic these days; it seemed as though a war was being waged inside of him. The years of being called a monster wherever he went had finally caught up with him. He had done nothing to deserve the curse Rezo had dealt him, had not wronged the townspeople in any way to deserve their fear. The hate was growing with the futility of his quest. He was starting to believe he would never find a cure. Yet the sympathy he saw in the frightened strangers cut into him. He wanted that. He wanted the kindness that would come with being human.
Yet not all humans were kind. Walking down the near deserted streets of the town, he was once again interrupted. Something had tapped him. He turned, and another tap ensued. At least, it was a tap to him. The rocks being hurled at him would have knocked any other person unconscious. Throwing rocks at a golem, he mused, What irony.
A small crowd of young men carrying boards, shovels, pitchforks, and the like stood in front of him. Most were shaking with fear, but all were prepared to fend off the demon they had heard of and defend the town.
Zelgadis sighed wearily as he raised his arm, "Wind Breed." Waves of wind were sent at the mob, knocking them down and scattering them. Zelgadis then walked out of the town before they could recuperate, wishing the entire time that he would have cast something more lethal instead. It would serve them right, he thought.
Night slid in like an invisible fog. Zelgadis did not even realize that the shaded forest was pitch black until he could hardly see a meter in front of him. There was no use for continuing at the moment, and so Zelgadis sat against a tree and removed some rations from his cloak. Dried meat and a canteen filled with water, meant for extreme conditions when no other food was available, but tonight was too much, and he wanted some comfort in the lonely darkness. Humans had to eat often, unlike him. Mostly stone, he could go for weeks without food or water, an unnatural act in most eyes. He chewed on a strip of meat pensively, considering where to head next.
"The Atlas City guilds are holding a convention of some sort in a few days," he mumbled to himself. "I doubt I'll find anything, but I don't have any other leads." Still absorbed in thought, he brought the canteen to his lips. He gasped as a small object fell into his lap, water following it as the startled chimera toweled himself off with his cape. He cast a lighting spell to find Amelia's amulet, one she had worn on her wrist, wet and on his leg. He looked upon it with sad eyes, recalling fond memories. "I've been so wrapped up in finding a cure, I forgot I had this."
He frowned, "I'm also talking to myself." Sluggishly, he stood up and started walking down the forest path once again, this time with Lighting to guide his way.
Atlas City was packed. Sorcerers, students, collectors, and merchants
filled the cobblestone streets. Zelgadis was not fond of the crowd. He
almost feared people in mass as they were. With hundreds of people to see
his face, one outcry and he could be overwhelmed in a mob. He kept his
head low and hood even lower. Letting himself glimpse around sparingly,
a stand selling magical items and wards caught his eye. There really was
nothing of interest, only a few gems with wards in them, yet these gems
seemed strangely familiar. He could have sworn he had seen them before;
they were hand-made, a sorcerer had to have enhanced them. Before he could
finish the thought, he caught a glimpse of himself in a small mirror, a
gemmed relic. Only his eyes were visible, the lower part of his face was
covered by a tight cloth. Still, his eyes were the most inhuman part of
him, he noticed, what with them being surrounded by rocks, no eyebrows,
and with only a thin slice of color adorning the white.
"Don't look so down, Zel. You've really got to lighten up." He could remember Lina having said that so many times, he could almost hear the petite redhead sorceress now.
"Hey, Zel!" This time the words were accompanied by a slap on the shoulder, then a small wince of minor pain. He turned to see two glittering ruby eyes that instantly locked onto his.
"Lina," he mouthed, sound barely coming out due to a dumbfoundedness.
She was slightly shaking her wrist, an overreaction. Smiling, she said, "I forgot how hard your skin is." Then, "You got taller."
He smiled warmly at her under his mask. "So did you, a bit. I wasn't expecting to see you here." He paused, then thought to add, "But I should have known better, this being a rendezvous for the magic guilds." She had made and sold the wards, he realized.
A tall, blonde man carrying a large sheathed sword walked up behind his partner. "Lina, they said they won't have a table available for another half an hour," he informed her, placing a large hand on her shoulder. The young woman leaned into him and pointed at her latest find. "Hey, Zelgadis!" Gourry nearly cheered. "Long time no see! How long has it been?"
"About two years."
Lina tilted her head a bit as she somberly noticed aloud, "You're still a chimera. You still haven't found a cure?"
Growing quiet, Zelgadis only shook his head in response.
"Well, hey, don't be upset. Lina and I are gonna eat in half an hour, why don't you join us?" the blonde offered, placing his other hand on Zelgadis' back as comfort.
"I'd best not," he proclaimed reluctantly. "I really shouldn't take my mask off with all these people around."
Her thin arm wrapped around his as Lina said, "Don't be silly, Zel, no one will notice a thing." Then the three of them walked to the inn.
He had finished eating before them, as usual, and was leaned back
in his chair sipping coffee, cloak still hiding most of his face. It was
then that Lina happily began her interrogation between chewing. "So, did
you find any good leads lately?"
"No," he stated grimly. "My best chance was trying to get back to the Claire Bible, the original one, but between the mess that was made during the battle with Gaav and..."
"Milgesia didn't help you?" she asked, a slightly confused look on her face.
"He wasn't too fond of helping me. I'm not particularly the most honest-looking thing on the planet; I am part demon, and I... well... I..." He blushed slightly.
"You lost your temper and threatened him."
Zelgadis smirked, laughing slightly through his nose. "I fought him, actually, almost won, too. It was a draw, really."
She caught her head in her hands as it dropped, and she nearly choked from sheer disbelief and suppressing a small giggle. "I can't believe you! You picked a fight with a Golden Dragon!" Her tone turned serious as she scolded him, "What were you thinking!?"
"I don't know," he replied honestly. More quietly, he noted, "I've just been like that for a while."
"You should stick around for a while," Gourry chimed in, his voice muffled as it was gorged with food. He swallowed, then continued, "Things have been pretty boring here; Lina and I haven't had much to do, but we'll be able to start traveling again in a few weeks."
"Why in a few weeks? Why not sooner?"
"Dragon Cuisine!" Lina enthusiastically announced, standing and raising her fist in the air. "Since we had some free time, we went back to that town, tracked down the chef and a lake dragon. He was glad to make it for us again, and we've been eating it almost every week for the past four months! It's almost all used up now, but it's delicious! You have to come with us next time we go."
"How can I refuse that offer?" he chuckled. A sudden pang hit him, an acute realization that something was missing.
Suddenly a devious, omnipotent grin crept over Lina's face as her gaze turned to something near the floor. She pointed below the table next to her friend. "What's that?"
He looked down. "My canteen." It was hanging from his belt.
She snickered almost inaudibly. "And what's that on it, hooked to the strap?"
The slightest hint of red appeared on the chimera's pale cheeks. "It's a ward."
"Of Seyruun," she added for him.
"That Amelia gave me."
He acquiesced in a low mumble, "That Amelia gave me." The young man paused a moment, then stood up.
"Zel?" Gourry questioned through a mouthful of food.
He refused to answer. Pulling his mask up over his face, he turned to leave.
"Hold it, Zel!" Lina protested, grabbing his arm. She realized she had gone too far. Her friend's backwards mannerisms had not changed with the years, it seemed. "Don't be so touchy, I just..."
Sad blue green eyes caught hers before Zelgadis sat down again. He mumbled something of an apology from behind his mask and stared at the table. When Gourry and Lina had finished eating in as close to a silence as possible, they stood up, nodded at one another, and began to leave the inn.
"Where are we going?" Zelgadis asked as he finally caught up with them, outside of town.
"We've been taking Amelia with us to dinner whenever we go to eat dragon cuisine," Lina informed him. "It's about time to go get her."
Zelgadis froze a moment, though his legs kept moving on their own. "Oh..." he forced out, deciding he had to say something. "It'll be good to see her again."
The awkward silence traveled with them for another hour. Then it was finally replaced by trolls. A horde of them, close to twenty. They appeared out of nowhere, springing from the bushes to attack.
"Fireball!" Lina summoned her power and threw it with devastating effect.
"Where did these guys come from?" Gourry asked the others as he drew his sword, taking off a troll's arm.
"I don't know, they've never attacked like this, though," Lina said, before lining up another fireball.
"Lina, where's Zelgadis?"
It had seemed he had run from the battle, for he was nowhere to be found. Suddenly, pillars of earth shot up from the trail, impaling the hulking beasts that had ambushed them. The cloaked figure returned from a thick patch of forest. "Sorry I left you two like that," he said calmly "I needed a minute to cast that spell."
"What made the trolls so hostile, I wonder."
"I don't know," exclaimed the blonde swordsman nervously, "but there are more on the way."
A greenish mass of bodies was headed towards them at an alarming rate. "There's no way we can take them all on without destroying the forest as well," Zelgadis contemplated aloud.
Lina tossed some ideas around in her head. "Zel, you cast something to hold them back. Gourry and I will handle the rest."
They were ever the well-oiled machine, the two of them, Zelgadis thought. He had forgotten what it was like to be part of a team. He sighed, raising his outstretched arms towards his targets. "DIEM WIND!" Another wind-manipulation spell, it caused fierce winds to retard the monsters' advance.
A round of freeze arrows followed it up, Lina chanting like crazy as her companion sustained his initial spell. Any troll to make it through their rapidly increasing barrier met with Gourry's sword. At the realization of their thinning numbers and ever decreasing luck, the trolls that had not been frozen nor killed retreated.
By that time, the red sun was filtering little light through the thick trees, and darkness was beginning to loom over them. The night was chill as the exhausted travelers advanced towards the next town. Lina clung to Gourry for warmth until he finally ended their journey for the day. They found a decently sized clearing and made a fire, Gourry going up the path a bit to stand first watch. That left a shivering redhead and a quiet golem to watch the flames crackle in the night.
After watching her lips turn the colour of his skin, Zelgadis removed cape and shirt, handing them to her. Surprise beamed from her wide eyes as the chimera laid by the fire, his upper half dangerously close to the base of the flames. "I'm sorry I've been so moody today." His words, meant for her, seemed more directed to the stars above them. "Like I said, I've been that way. I'm not feeling quite well, that's all. Still, you shouldn't freeze like that. Gourry would kill me if I let you get sick."
"Zel..." Lina murmured, coming closer to the fire. She sat down next to him. "We shouldn't have left you go off on your own like that..."
"It's not that." He dissipated her guilt. "It's..." he trailed off as he looked at his hand, stone on stone, and with very little sensation. So close to the fire, he only felt mild warmth. "Anyway, lay down on me."
"Don't ask; just trust me."
With as much reluctance as she had the first time she had followed him out of her confinement with Rezo's henchmen, she leaned into his chest, allowing him to put an arm around her. She immediately comprehended his reasoning. "You're warm," she thought aloud.
"My stone body is an excellent conductor, although it's not quite as soft as a bed." Far from it, his chest was just that, stone, and horribly uncomfortable, but Lina was too cold to complain.
"Amelia misses you," Lina broke the silence, reading her mattress' thoughts.
"I don't want to talk about that," Zelgadis ended the conversation there, and, eventually, Lina fell asleep.
He had tried his best not to think of Amelia, to focus only on his cure. Their parting had been so ambiguous, he did not know what it meant, even now. The young girl that he had traveled with two years ago --it seemed like another lifetime ago-- had come to mean so much to him. He just could not decide how. Everything inside of him was a mess, and he tried not to deal with his emotions. He just wanted to see her again, to make the muddied lake that was his mind clear. Somehow, he believed that seeing Amelia again would do that for him. However, now was not the time to do so. No matter what he wanted, he could not be with her, not as he was now. It's impossible, he told himself. Impossible.
When Gourry returned, Zelgadis explained why Lina was sleeping on him, a sight that initially disturbed the man. He then offered himself as a warm mattress to his standing companion, stating that he was not going to sleep despite his position.
The awkwardness of being a living bed could not surpass the ache that seeing Gourry sleep contentedly with his arms around Lina brought to him. They were happy, and he was happy for them, but, somehow, pain overcame all other emotions. He wanted to know why and how he had become so touchy, especially over the mention of Amelia. Of course, he knew. He had feelings now, and he acknowledged them. Before meeting Lina, he was continually obsessed by power, revenge, healing. Now there were people he cared for, Lina, Gourry, Amelia, but he could not shake the thought that the feelings were not mutual.
The past few years had brought to his attention that he was one third demon. How could anyone hold amity for a monster? They couldn't, he told himself. That was why he wanted to be human, was it not? Still, he reassured himself as he gazed at the people dozing contentedly upon him, they are my friends, and I care about them no matter how detached I feel. And Amelia... He fingered the ward thoughtfully, I care about her even more, it seems.
The fact that he could go another night without sleep was yet another testament to his inhumanity.