Only Stone on the Outside
a Slayers fanfic
I do not own this terrific series; I just wish I did.. Please let me know if you'd like to print or archive my story-I just like to know people are interested. There are a few minor spoilers, but nothing descriptive. PG for minor swearing.
Many thanks to my friends Shell Presto and Marie!
Chapter Twenty-Six: Zelgadis' Cruel Dilemma /
What Are You Doing Here, Amelia?
Zelgadis walked for a while through the rocky canyon, ignoring the fact that Lina and Gourry were following a good distance behind him. He could occasionally make out their murmured comments to one another, and knew they were still concerned about him, but it was very tempting to allow himself to sink back into the mental numbness that had comforted him for the last week. Tuning out, Gourry would have called it. Except that for some reason the intense emotional surges he'd experienced when Amelia was in danger seemed to have acted as a release for a lot of the pent-up emotions he'd been fighting all week. For the first time in days, he was thinking clearly.
Days earlier, Zelgadis had spent what seemed like hours walking slowly out of the Oracle's temple, his thoughts a confused jumble that went around in circles. Amelia loves me. How can she? She shouldn't...she can't really love me...can she? To have my cure within reach...but if I ask her to cast the spell she'll get hurt and it'll be my fault, so I should try to find someone else to cast it oh right the Oracle said whoever casts it has to love me, so I should try to find a powerful shrine maiden and...no, that won't work. But Amelia loves me. She shouldn't- I don't want to put her in danger...but to finally be human again...
His mind was an agonizing battlefield of a type he hadn't experienced since Rezo's death. It brought back the same raw, conflicting emotional turmoil he'd undergone just after his grandfather had cursed him. At the time, he'd alternated between suicidal despair and helpless rage at the hand fate had dealt him.
Almost immediately Rezo had begun sending him on assignments-and praising him lavishly when he'd returned successfully. Though Zelgadis hated the man bitterly, he could not help responding to the praise, which he'd never received as a human. His one other comfort was that Rezo had indeed kept his promise-Zelgadis had more power than he'd ever dreamed of.
Gradually, the chimera had developed an impenetrable shell to guard his most vulnerable feelings, buried deep inside his heart where no one could touch them. He did his job, taking out his anger on those who opposed him, and quieting the despair with thoughts of Rezo's death at his own hands. That shell had developed some cracks when he'd met those few people to whom he had ultimately given his loyalty; the few he called friends.
This time he was reeling from the double impact of: Does she really love me? and At last-my cure! Do I dare use it? He was torn between two powerful desires; his old deep aching need to be human, and the equally strong urge to protect the young princess at all costs.
Gradually, the stone man had retreated mentally from the dilemma, unable to concentrate, his thoughts cycling inside his head until they made him dizzy. Later, he thought. I'll deal with it later. First I've got to find Amelia.
When he'd emerged, and Lina had begun pelting him with questions, he had retreated even further inside himself, focusing only on the tasks at hand, gratefully retreating into sleep when he could, though he was often plagued by nightmares that left him shaky and sweating through the tiny pores in his stone skin when he tore himself out of their grip. He longed to have one of the rare good dreams, the ones he suspected might be from his connection with Amelia, where all you needed to be happy was to believe that life was wonderful and all goals were possible if you had hope.
Lina had approached him several times, demanding to know what the Oracle had told him, but although he knew he was risking getting fireballed, he refused to answer until he had sorted everything out in his own mind first. All he would tell her, his voice void of emotion, was that they were returning to Seyrune. "I promised Amelia I would be there for her wedding ceremony."
One side of the canyon had a deep gulf, with a large stone cliffside jutting over it. The air was filled with the lonesome whisper of the constantly blowing wind. As if drawn to it, Zelgadis walked to the edge and looked down the steep descent. Slowly, his expression hardened. I've been feeling sorry for myself for long enough. It's time I got my act together. Before Lina applies a little 'motivaton'.
He sighed and slowly lowered himself to sit, his legs dangling over the edge. I'm surprised she's been this patient. I wonder if she knows what's really going on with Amelia-that would explain a few things. Hmph. The one time Lina behaves like a female-meddling in other people's love lives. I wonder whose idea this whole thing was, anyway? If-if Amelia really does care for me, why didn't she just tell me outright before I left?
The thought of the raven-haired princess doing just that made his mouth feel dry. The chimera reached for his canteen, and swallowed several mouthfuls of the lukewarm liquid. His eye was caught by the ward bracelet, the small dark-blue metal ball dangling by its soft pink cloth band on the string that connected the canteen's lid to the bottle.
Zelgadis set the bottle down without putting on the cap, watching the bracelet swing around and tap against the side of the canteen. Slowly he reached for it, and cradled it in his palm. He had a decision to make, and the meaning imbued in this bracelet would count heavily toward his conclusion.
Brief flashes of memory flickered behind closed lids:
I want you to have something to remember me by!
Zelgadis, please don't go
You're not a monster
You're very special to me
I really want you to be there
I'll miss you
Promise me you'll come back-no matter how this turns out...
He frowned thoughtfully down at the yawning gulf below him. I suppose she was trying to let me know how she felt, but how was I to know? A year ago I would have dismissed it as just a young girl's crush. And now...now, I don't know what to think. Or to feel. I...I do care about her...she's one of the few people I trust without reservation.
Resting his elbow on his leg, Zelgadis put his face in his hand, covering his eyes. But she's so young. Physical age often has nothing to do with mental age. Look at Lina. Only a year older than Amelia, yet half the time she acts like a shrewd thirty-year-old.
Unconsciously Zelgadis rolled the small metal ball between his fingers. Two years ago I would have had no trouble sacrificing Amelia, or any of them, to get my cure. Not without regrets, but I would have believed it was necessary. I've changed in the past two years...I hadn't even realized how much until just now. He almost chuckled as he realized that his self-image was still that of the 'heartless, mystical swordsman', as an intimidated opponent had once referred to him.
Or is it Amelia who's changed? I remember how I thought of her when we first met...she was childish and innocent and got in the way more often than not...someone who needed looking after. I still tend to think of her like that when I remember her...she still acts more like a child than...It's still so difficult to believe that she's old enough to be married.
Do I have the right to ruin her life for the sake of my cure? He had a sudden flash from one of his nightmares: himself, human at last, ready to commit his heart and his life to Amelia, only to discover her lying motionless on the floor, or worse, a babbling madwoman. Though his body was stone, he still felt the chill of fear that went down his spine. I can't let that happen. I couldn't bear to see anything happen to her...
He blinked, his blue-green eyes widening. Can it be that I value Amelia over my cure, my life's goal? He drew out the golden sphere the Oracle had given him. I've wanted this for so long...I've imagined what it would feel like to hold my cure in my own hands. To have hair instead of wire, to be able to walk in public without being stared at like a freak, to be able to touch someone and not have to worry if I'm hurting them...
The chimera held the two spherical objects, one in each hand, looking back and forth between them. Why should I have to choose? he thought bitterly. He looked at the golden orb. I need a powerful worker of white magic who loves me to use this, but Amelia stands to risk losing her mind during the casting.
Now he gazed at the ward bracelet, engraved with a star-Amelia's token of affection. Do I have the right to ask her to risk her sanity? Does she deserve to have to make a choice like that? To be faced with the opportunity to help me regain my human form, especially if she really does care for me...To have to decide whether to refuse, or accept...and risk madness. He knew she would choose to help him. It was her nature.
The idea was horribly tempting, and he hated himself for even considering it. True, the Oracle said she believed Amelia would be able to handle it, but she herself had admitted she couldn't predict the future. If there was even a small chance that the spirited dark-haired girl might get hurt...
A mental vision of Amelia dancing gracefully to his guiolin music caused a surge of protectiveness to rise up inside him. Then another image intruded, that of her dying in his arms during the battle with Phibrizzo, her last whisper reassuring him that she was okay, she was fine... He'd tried to block that moment out of his memory, but in dreams he had relived that moment of searing emotional pain over and over. He had never wanted to kill anyone, not even Rezo, as much as he'd wanted to kill the Hellmaster.
She loves me. If the Oracle's right, she wants to marry me. The chimera me, or the human me? he wondered bitterly. Of course she plans to marry the human-that's obvious. She didn't spend months searching for a cure or send me on this journey because she wanted to walk down the aisle with a half-human freak. Or one-third human, anyway.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm even that much human. The things I've done...few real humans have that kind of blackness in their souls. He couldn't stop the shudder that ran through him, feeling the taint on his soul as never before, a vision of the innocent, smiling princess rising up before his eyes. How could I even think of contaminating her with such filth? He grimaced in self-hatred.
Unconsciously, he was punishing himself for his past crimes, doing penance the only way he could, by refusing even the happiness of a dream-life with Amelia. She deserves someone better. Someone who would be more capable than I of giving her the support she needs, someone who hasn't spent half his life serving evil masters. He pressed his lips together, his eyes suddenly hot with rare tears. A single drop escaped, coursing silently around the stones on his face to drip on the fist closed in his lap. He didn't feel it, but his sharp hearing caught the 'tap' of water on stone.
Carefully Zelgadis closed his fist around the bracelet, realizing that he had already made his decision. He contemplated the golden orb, and was seized with the sudden violent urge to hurl it away from him, far into the gulf below, but the one last tiny spark of hope that he would someday be able to use it made him pocket it instead.
The stone man gazed out over the gorge, grieving inside at the loss of his last chance to be human, and of the vague dream of a normal life-a wife, and family... but even as he mourned for a life that would never be, he felt a new strength growing inside.
I will never be human again, he thought with an odd mixture of sadness and solace, but at least I can still behave like one. I have my friends to thank for that. At least this time, it was my decision to make. A hint of a smile appeared on his lips. And I won't have to beg Xellos for help, either.
The wind picked up again, running invisible fingers through his silvery wire hair as it glittered in the sunlight. I'm sorry, Amelia...the one gift I can give you is a normal life. The thought brought with it some unexpected comfort, a sense of security in the knowledge that he was doing the right thing. I wonder if this is how Amelia feels when she's dispensing 'justice'? he conjectured from his new perspective.
The shiny silver-blue strands of his hair moved slightly in the stiff wind like a cat's whiskers as he gazed down at the rocky depths of the canyon, his eyes reflecting the new inner calm that slowly filled him. It was the most painful decision he'd ever had to make, but now that he was past it, he was able to think about the future.
The chimera looked down at the ward bracelet; a reminder of his commitments. If not for my promise to return this bracelet to Amelia I could go anywhere I wanted. He sighed mentally. I'm afraid she's not going to be happy when I return as a chimera. He winced at the mental image of her bawling all over him, and shoved it to the back of his mind.
But after that...where should I go? He felt a flicker of interest stir. The stone man had never really made any kind of plans for a life after his cure-his future was a clean slate. I'll think about it on the way back.
Standing up, he turned to see Lina heading toward him, a determined look on her face. "All right, Zelgadis, that's enough moping around! You've wasted enough of our time-don't forget that we're on a deadline here!"
"You're right," he answered evenly, surprising her speechless. "We've got to get moving if we're going to make it back in time for Amelia's wedding." He turned away and started off at a brisk pace before she noticed the momentary look of pain that had flashed across his face. Her wedding. To someone else.
"Zelgadis?" The red-haired sorceress followed him. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," he answered calmly, his emotions more or less on an even keel at last.
"Oh. Well...that's good."
He almost smiled at her bewildered expression.
Gourry joined them. "Glad to see you're feeling better, Zel. We were really getting worried about you."
"Thank you." Zelgadis gave him a smile, only slightly melancholy around the edges. He suddenly realized: At least I haven't lost everyone.
The trio traveled rapidly, passing out of the mountainous area and into more arable land over the next ten days, for which his companions were exceedingly grateful. Lina was pleased at her friend's emotional improvement, although she found herself wishing at times that he had not also recovered his acerbic wit.
At the first inn they came to, Zelgadis' sharp ears could hear the seams of Lina's clothes creak as they strained to hold together after her eight-course meal. "You'd better watch out, Lina," he warned, only half teasing, "Your clothes just may fall right off you."
To his puzzlement, for some reason Lina shot a quick, wide-eyed look at Gourry, and went bright red. Then she stood up and announced that she was going up to her room to 'turn in early'. Both men watched her leave. Zelgadis looked at Gourry as if to say, 'what's up with her?'. Gourry shrugged.
Amelia could hardly contain her joy. They're around here somewhere; I can feel it. She patted Sunshine's neck, and grinned at Shiran loping easily nearby, tongue lolling. The top of the dragonwolf's head reached halfway up Amelia's shin as she rode the tall golden mare.
It's a good thing Sunny's so sweet-tempered. I was worried at first that she might be scared of Shiran. She was awfully suspicious at first, but I guess Shiran smells and acts enough like a farm dog that she was able to get used to her pretty fast.
Suddenly Shiran lifted her long tapered ears, assuming an alert pose. Uh oh. "Shiran, flank!" Amelia commanded, using the accompanying hand signal that meant 'stay with me'.
I don't want her threatening my friends. It would be awful if someone got hurt. She had learned the hard way that Shiran usually bounded off to confront anything suspicious. After the first time, when she'd waited worriedly with Sunshine for over an hour, she had realized that it was natural for the large guardian to investigate everything in the area.
Amelia got used to her comings and goings, discovering that the dragonwolf apparently hunted small game on her expeditions, which was just as well. She didn't really feel like watching that, and it did save money, which was nice. I'm starting to think like Miss Lina. As if I need to worry about how much it costs to feed-
"How much further until we get to the next town, Lina?"
"How the heck should I know?"
It is them! Amelia thought excitedly. "Shiran, remain!" she said and signaled. Then she swung down from Sunshine's back. "Miss Lina? Mister Gourry?" She jogged through the woods, peering through the dense foliage.
"Did you hear that, Lina?" the princess heard Gourry ask. Amelia changed her direction, moving toward where his voice was coming from, and caught a glimpse of Lina's fiery-red hair.
"Yeah, it sort of sounded like-"
"Miss Lina! Mister Gourry!" The dark-haired girl burst from the bushes, making a beeline for her friend. She threw her arms around the older girl, almost knocking her to the ground.
"Oof!" Lina gasped.
"Amelia? Where did you come from?" Gourry asked, since Lina was too busy trying to catch her breath. Amelia turned and gave him a quick hug, too.
"Is something wrong in Seyrune?" the red-haired sorceress demanded.
"Oh, no, I just...hey, where's Mister Zelgadis?" Amelia's black hair flapped around her face as she looked quickly around the little clearing. He wasn't there. A sudden chill washed over her, as the terror of the ward-bracelet vision came back to her. Was I wrong about him recovering?
She saw Lina exchange glances with Gourry, then look away as if she was afraid of meeting Amelia's gaze. Their reactions frightened her even more. She paled, a violent tremor beginning in her hands. "No. Oh, no...he...he isn't...he can't be-" she couldn't finish. Her eyes filled with tears.
Gourry looked at her, puzzled. Too late, Lina realized Amelia had the wrong idea. Belatedly, she said, "Amelia, wait a minute."
The dark-haired girl took little notice of her words, beginning to weep hysterically, her hands coming up to cover her mouth. "He can't be dead! He just can't be!"
"Who's dead?" Zelgadis had emerged from the bushes, carrying a piece of bark with assorted berries and mushrooms on it.
Amelia's head snapped around. "Mister Zelgadis?" Her look of surprise swiftly changed to one of joy as she began running to him, the tears lifting from her face into the air in a shower of sparkles. "Oh, Mister Zelgadis!" she cried, half laughing, and threw herself at him.
"Amelia? Wha-" was all the startled chimera had time to say before she leaped up and flung her arms around his neck. Reflexively dropping the food, his arms came up and caught her lightly, supporting her upper and lower back as he pulled his head to the side so his hair wouldn't scratch her. Even through his stone skin he could feel the strength of her embrace. Awkwardly, he looked past her raven hair at his two companions and raised his stony eyebrows to ask what was going on. Both of them shrugged, looking as astonished as he felt.
"Thank goodness you're all right." With most of her weight on the chimera's lower arm, her legs dangling like a little girl's, Amelia shifted her grip, interlacing her fingers behind his neck and leaning back so she could look him in the eye. Her own dark blue ones were shimmering with affection. "I've finally found you," she said softly.
Zelgadis stared back at her, his eyes wide. He had almost forgotten how beautiful her smile was. If not for his chimeric strength his knees would have buckled.
Lina blinked at the sight of the slender chimera easily carrying the affectionate princess. She knew he was many times stronger than Gourry, despite his somewhat elfin appearance, but it was still a strange sight. The young girl was more or less sitting on his forearm, with his hand lightly curled around her thigh. Neither of them seemed to notice, seemingly caught up with gazing into each other's eyes.
Gourry watched in amazement as Amelia attached herself to Zelgadis. He could see the other man was surprised to receive the affection-as far as Gourry knew, Amelia had never hugged the chimera before. Somehow I doubt anybody's hugged Zelgadis in a long time. The blonde swordsman couldn't help smiling as he watched Zelgadis' expression fade from astonishment to a kind of wonder, as the two of them gazed at each other. I knew I was right. He does love her.
After a moment, Lina recovered enough to comment, "Are you sure that's really where you want to put your hand, Zelgadis?" She was only half-joking, as Amelia's modesty switch was apparently off. I don't want him getting any ideas. Yet.
Both of them froze as they stared at each other, matching blushes coloring each of their faces.
Just then the chimera's pointed ears twitched as he picked up the sound of an approaching predator. Instinctively he swung the startled princess around behind him with one arm, drawing his sword with the other. Just in time-a huge lilac-white creature with glowing green eyes was advancing toward him, its lips drawn back to show sharp fangs, a fierce snarl sending chills up his back in spite of his bite-proof skin.
Author's Notes: For those of you who don't remember the beginning of my story, (I know, it's been a long journey, and we're not over yet! Not by a long shot! ^_^) this is the scene at the very beginning (taken from the end of Try) where Zel sits on the edge of a cliff, takes a drink from his canteen, and looks at Amelia's bracelet with such a serious look on his face. So we've come full circle at last.
I knew it was going to take most of a chapter when it came time for Zelgadis to make his decision...and it meshed well with the cliff scene, besides being kind of lonely and dramatic and beautiful, with Zel looking down over the valley...literally fighting a battle for his life/happiness, for all that it's internal.
Tibiris said in a review that Zelgadis seemed suicidal in the last chapter. I was going for mentally closed down, depressed, numb, but I suppose that might describe how a suicidal person feels...I'm not prone to depression, but since Zelgadis is, perhaps he might feel suicidal in a situation like the one he's in... Hmm. I guess I see him as someone who has too strong a hold on life to give up-at least not for long. He fights back.
And AllisterH pointed out that if white magic has increased, then Sylphiel should be stronger now than Lina. You're right...but how can you compare a healing spell to, say, a Dragon Slave? They're in such different catagories...and Sylphiel is not likely to make a move on Gourry-it's not her nature. She would prefer to keep the harmony-and be on Lina's good side (she's not a dummy-just na´ve). She also has enough sensitivity to see that Gourry is Lina's, and has resigned herself to that fact. I admire her, actually. I think I see her as the person I'm most like in the series. You'd think Zel would immediately think of Sylphiel to help cure him. To be honest, I think he likes her enough to be protective of her, after what happened at Sairaag, plus her fairly agreeable nature isn't what is needed to be able to stand up to such a dangerous spell. He doesn't know about the increase in white magic yet-he doesn't socialize much these days and is behind on the current news.
And now he's sort of feeling like 'if I can't be cured in time for Amelia's wedding, it doesn't matter if I'm cured at all', though he still won't let himself believe that he just might be interested in marrying her.
I realize that I still haven't said exactly what went on between the Oracle and Zelgadis-gomen nasai! Sore wa himitsu desu-at least for now. ^_^
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