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Well, enough of that, on with the story.
He wanted to see her. He did want to see her. At least, he kept
trying to tell himself he did, but his body only responded with a queasy,
empty feeling in his rather full stomach. He had been fine up until they
had eaten, now he felt as though he would pass out. It had to be the
food, he told himself. Then, I haven't seen her in two years. What
will she say about that? What if she's mad at me, or upset. I didn't even
write. I should have written. He lightly scraped his fingers down his
face, abrasive pads resisting the motion as if he ran his hand across sandpaper.
He licked his fingertip to taste the slightest hint of salt; perspiration
could not pour off his face like others'. The closest he could come to
sweating was the lightest film of salt water that could make it past his
rock hide. He was sweating, his way, and had not done so since they had
fought Darkstar. Or maybe Shabrinigdo, he was not sure.
As they entered the gates leading into Saillune's Castle, they were stopped by a guard. Zelgadis knew he looked suspicious, all covered up in layers of tan material, afraid that he would simply look horrifying if he did not. Lina cleared him; he was allowed to remain hidden. The castle had never looked so big before, with huge towers looming over him, nearly reaching up into the sky. The pacifist capital gave off a malevolent vibe, making him feel unwelcome. By all rights, she could hate me.
"Amelia will be thrilled to see you again," the bright redhead
asserted as she put her hand on the door leading to Amelia's room.
"Yeah," Zelgadis choked unevenly.
He whipped himself around and began walking back down the hall. "I've decided it's best if I don't stick around. I don't have time for all of this."
Gourry caught him by the shoulder. "Don't you even want to say hi?"
"No." A cold word, devoid of all emotion.
Lina frowned. "Don't you even want to know how she's doing?"
He could not bring himself to bark out another cold lie of a syllable. Staying behind one of the double doors, he allowed his friends to open the other, bidding them leave it open. I'll leave after I know she's doing well. He could not bring himself to complete his own thought 'without me.' But that doesn't matter. I want a cure, that's all. That's most important. Yet, for some strange reason, he felt the urge for violence bubbling up within him. He thought of the man who had tricked him at the bar.
Those thoughts melted when he heard a bubbly, warm, yet unfamiliarly soft voice.
"Miss Lina, Mister Gourry, you came! I knew you would today, I had this feeling."
There was a hug, even though he could not see it, he knew it happened.
"How are things with the kingdom, Amelia?"
"Alright...." her voice trailed off in a bout of minuscule confusion.
"What's wrong, Amelia? What are you looking for?"
"Nothing, Mister Gourry, it's just I.... I felt... I was thinking about....."
Lina did her best not to grin. She knew this would happen, this always happened. Soon Amelia would cut herself off and shake off the whole, seemingly silly to her but actually respectable, idea. It would be forgotten, or at least hidden, in their presence. Not today, Amelia, Lina thought, laughing internally. "You can say it, Amelia," she coaxed her friend. Amelia, being a princess, never allowed herself to say it, but today the emotion was thick, laying like fog in the air. Amelia wanted to break today.
And she did with the invitation. "D.. Did you hear from him?"
"Who," Gourry asked, genuinely confused.
Zelgadis let his body slump against the door, perplexed.
"You haven't heard from Mister Zelgadis, have you?"
Sad eyes looked back at her knowingly; they could not say a word.
"You have, haven't you," Amelia concluded, yet she did not feel the happiness she would have expected after two years. Their eyes filled her with panic. Why won't they share? Her eyes widened. "He's hurt!" she cried hysterically. "You won't tell me because it's bad! How is he? He's not... He can't be...!!"
His fingers twitched. Nails shaved the coating off the hard wood door as he heard the agony in her questions. He imagined huge blue eyes on a small face, untouched hope cracking in them. It tore through his once heartless chest. "I'm alright," he rasped, trying to project his voice to inspirit her; failing. He allowed himself one step entry into the doorway, catching a slight glimpse of her before he found his voice. "I'm fine, Amelia."
Shock lit up his eyes like a battery when she turned to face him.
Thinner face and smaller eyes tensed in a frozen moment. The slightest hint of pink turned up with the rest of her lips. Slightly longer hair danced with flowing off-white robes against wind and velocity away from him. The total sum of Amelia was headed towards him. Delicate pastel lips freed his name, "Mister Zelgadis!"
For a split second, it was all of gorgeousness and gorgeousity sealed in an instant. Then pleasant surprise became a small slice of horror as heels stopped their forward momentum and both feet left the ground at once. "Amelia, DON'T...!"
Despite his best efforts at catching her, her forehead and his cheek had a much less than joyful encounter than they themselves were experiencing. A trace of blood traversed down her brow, making its way to her eye. Zelgadis cursed his inhumanity as he set her standing once again, wiping, as gently as his rough skin would allow, the crimson from the peachiness that was her face. Instead of a nice, normal greeting, he reintroduced himself whispering, "Recovery."
She never stopped smiling, not once. "Sorry, Mister Zelgadis. I'm just very happy to see you again. I've...." The red that disappeared from her forehead was spread across her entire visage. "I mean, that is to say, WE've been worried about you, and.... Aren't you going to take your mask off?"
Blue green slits averted their attention to the floor.
Lina's hand darted between the two, one slim finger hooking onto the chimera's disguise. "C'mon, Zel, show her how handsome you've become!" she playfully teased, yanking the cloth down.
He scowled initially, but when he realized that Amelia was taking the comment to heart and actually studying his face, lavender creeped up onto the blue.
The the ever-puzzled swordsman inquired, "Why is his face all purple? I thought it was blue."
Zelgadis' stone body collapsed, straight back, stiff as a statue.
"Miss Lina, is he going to be alright?"
"C'mon! Wake up already!"
He opened his eyes to a huge yellow and blue haze.
"Get up, Zelgadis!"
It took him a moment to clear his head. "Gourry.. Where's Amelia? ...and Lina?"
"That's what I've been saying!" Gourry exclaimed, frustrated at having to explain it over and over.
"I wasn't awake, I can't remember."
Two very large hands grabbed the front of his shirt, pulling him to his feet. "Man, you're heavy."
"I'm a rock," Zelgadis bluntly informed him.
Gourry gave him a puzzled look. "I thought you were a person. Or a... or a.. kirema."
"Chimera. Anyway, let's go."
Gourry gritted his teeth. "I told you!"
"I couldn't hear you, I was unconscious."
Gourry huffed, "Lina and Amelia are downstairs eating dinner. They made me stay to make sure you're alright and now Lina's gonna eat everything!"
"Oh?" Zelgadis blinked twice. "Well, I'm alright now, so you can go."
Gourry's heavy footsteps resounded through the hall as he took off down the stairs.
"Now then," Zelgadis began planning as he covered his face and pulled his hood up over his metallic hair. "Although that went much better than expected, I'm afraid I can't stay any longer. I have to focus on finding my cure." He headed down a different set of steps, taking the long way to the doors of the palace. "Sorry, guys," he apologized to the air, "That dragon cuisine did sound tempting, but it's not my place to be bothering you anymore. Sorry, Amelia." He smirked in an awkward sense of pride.
A pride that shattered when he heard: "Amelia can't exactly hear you when you're way out here."
A sharp, anguished cry could be heard from the dining hall: "She ate all the food!"
Then, "Don't worry, Mister Gourry, the chefs will bring some more out in a few minutes."
The redhead winked and wagged her finger in a knowing manner. "I knew you were going to try something like this, Zel. However, you know we won't let you go off on your own again." She remained leaning against the door, but moved her shoulders forward and softened the egotistic look in her eyes. "We're your friends, Zel, and we genuinely want to help you. You aren't bothering us at all. Your chances of finding a cure are actually better with us coming along, anyway."
Zelgadis was taken aback, his mouth open slightly, trying to find something to say. Part of him wanted to push her aside and set out. The other half wanted to whisper an apologetic thanks and go into the hall for dinner. Then there was the minuscule .000000000001 percent that wanted to start crying and hug her, and he laughed at himself simply because the thought was in his mind somewhere.
Lina returned a knowing grin and stepped towards him. "Besides, we're all bored here, so we want to go with you if only for something to do." He nodded in agreement as they walked into the dining hall and sat down.
"So you're going to join us for dragon cuisine this week, Mr. Zelgadis?" Amelia asked as Zelgadis lackadaisically ate his dinner.
He chewed slowly for a long minute before swallowing. "Perhaps."
Amelia frowned. He had seemed so happy to see her before, but now he was distant once again. She wanted to see him smile. "So, did you go looking through Saillune's libraries yet?"
"Not yet, not this visit."
"You really should, Zel," Lina suggested. "This is the White Magic Capital. If there's a cure to be found, it's here."
After another long pause of consideration, Zelgadis revealed, "After Rezo turned me into a chimera, I spent three months in Saillune looking through every book to find a cure. The last time we were all here together, I took another look through. I didn't find anything."
The rest of the meal was eaten in an uneasy silence, people leaving the table one by one until only Zelgadis and Amelia remained. At some point though, Amelia thought it best to leave him alone as well, and left the table without a look and only a light touch on his shoulder.
He did not know what was wrong with him. It was normal for him to be quiet, but he felt something deep inside of him, nagging, lurking, wanting to get out. It ate at him, yet he knew not what it was, only that he wanted it to go away.
His feet dragged along the great stone floors as he left the dining hall. Much to his surprise, his friends were waiting for his arrival; they were all suited up and ready to head out.
Zelgadis returned the smirk that lay on Lina's face. "I know we had dinner early, but it's still rather late to be heading out now. We'll never make it to the next town before nightfall."
"Sure we will," Lina corrected him with a wink.
"C'mon, Mister Zelgadis, let's go!"
At first he did not ask any questions, but, as they left Saillune's city gates, he could not suppress his incredulity of their plan. He had to be missing something. "Are we taking horses?" he inquired.
Lina smiled and shook her head 'no.'
"Do you intend to fly all the way to the next town?"
"Of course not, Mister Zelgadis, that would be silly," Amelia declared cheerfully. Her quick steps increased in speed and bounce until she was nearly skipping down the path with an unbridled joy.
Zelgadis pulled up his mask to hide his smile, then pulled down his hood so that no one could watch him watch her. Her mood was infectious.
"I told you we'd never make it to town on time!" he huffed. The
sun had set. "Why didn't you listen to me in the first place?"
Gourry sighed as if wondering himself. "Lina said it was important to go today so that you wouldn--"
A thin, gloved arm sped sharply into his ribs just below his armor. Before he could so much as moan, Lina interjected, "There's no use complaining now. We'll just have to sleep here."
The chimera did not have time to digest Gourry's comment before he scolded her again. "Yes. Here. In the middle of the woods where we were attacked by trolls just this morning. And it's been cold these past nights. You don't have the proper gear to sleep outside and you'll all freeze!"
"You shouldn't complain!" Lina snapped back. "You won't feel the cold anyway! We'll be the ones who are cold, Zel, and you can just--"
"And I have to be the one to sit up all night keeping the three of you warm! I won't even be able to stretch, let alone...." he trailed off, and Gourry's stray words gained perspective.
He let his head hang low. "We're out here tonight so that I would have no choice but to be your own personal heater. You figured...."
"Miss Lina thought that if you were needed, you wouldn't try to leave us in the middle of the night."
His hand covered the last, barely visible part of his face as he sighed in a combination of frustration, distress, and some warm feeling he could not identify. "I see. Well then, start a fire. I'll be back in a little while." With that, he turned from them and headed into the forest.
"Mister Zelgadis!" Amelia called, half choked.
"I'll be back," he told her dully. "You haven't left me with a choice."
The princess sobbed lightly, not allowing the moisture to build in her eyes. "mister zelgadis." She let her right foot move an inch forward before stopping herself.
Lina knew better. She walked up behind her friend, then spoke quietly, though firmly, into her ear, "I think you had the right idea, Amelia."
"You think so?" She did not wait for an answer before she allowed her quivering lips to tense into a strong smile. Of course, Miss Lina is right. She followed the path that Zelgadis had taken into the thick brush, lost, but confident that she would find him.
"Eh... What just happened?"
"Jellyfish for brains!" Lina scowled as she slapped Gourry upside the head.
"It's not safe to wander around in the daAARRK!" Amelia shrieked
as she felt the blade of Zelgadis' sword press against her neck.
"Amelia!" He lowered his sword in a panic. "What in the world are you doing here? I didn't cut you, did I?"
Her heart was pounding in her head and her breathing resumed. It took a few seconds of effort to realize she was unharmed, and longer still to remember why she had come out to him. She could not see his face in the darkness of the forest, but by the clarity of his voice she knew he had removed his mask. "I'm fine. I wanted to surprise you." So much for that.
"Don't sneak up on people when there could be monsters around."
He cut her off, "Are one. I know. Good point. Sorry."
"Don't put words in my mouth!" she nearly threatened. Her flashing, navy, fed-up eyes went unnoticed in the cover of the night. "As I was saying, you're so serious, and distant. I thought you could use a distraction."
There was a long silence, save for the sound of rock scraping through wire.
She thought to add, "And you're not a monster."
"One third monster, demon, golem, all the same thing. I'm something like that," he mumbled. More loudly, he retorted, "I just don't want you, any of you, involved in this. Sometimes it's just not safe, and this is my problem, not anyone else's."
"But we're your friends!"
"All the more reason for me to leave. Why should you share the suffering and disappointment?"
"suffering and disappointment?" Amelia mimicked the words innocently, gently, as if they were new to her. The fast pace of her beating heart had not slowed since his sword had been against her neck.
"I've been searching for years now, Amelia, and each new failure doesn't make me feel any better," he confessed. "Why spread the pain?"
Suddenly the naive girl before him found her voice, loud, confident, and full of love and justice. "What about the disappointment of missing a friend? Or the suffering of not knowing how they are? You could die out there, and we would never even know!"
Bitterly, he muttered, "I'm not that lucky."
He heard her gasp, then awaited a reply. After a long moment of silence, he concluded that she must not have heard him. He was glad for that. It was a selfish thing for me to say, he rebuked himself. I had no right to say it.
A soft hiccup of a sob ceased his thoughts. All was still as the faint sound of strangled heaving, suppressed, reverberated in his pointed ears. "Amelia?"
Her tense throat would not allow for more than a barely audible, high pitched vibration in the back of her throat. Tears stung her eyes like venom. You can't mean that, she protested in her mind, but she knew better. His situation, his feelings about his failures became clear to her. Logic confirmed his statement for her; it only made sense that he would want to end it all.
His hand found her cheek, but his fingers were retracted into his sleeve. The plain, cottony material was cold against her face, soaking up her tears. If not for the subtle vibrations of his fiercely shaking hand, she would have sworn that it was a part of no thing living. It was the closest that they had ever been, the most intimate contact that they had ever shared, but it did not disapate the haze of suffering, disappointment, fear, and heartache that stabbed into her eyes. She felt that her heart had shattered in that hand, and after two years, she knew that it was not the light heart of a girl with a crush, but a heart of too-long-smothered longing for a man who remained far away from her.
He knew it, too, as some irresistible force plowed a hole through his once solid chest. How he regretted his words; it would have been better had he said nothing. Yet he knew it, her, and heard it as well, as she choked out with voice thick, "zelgadis."