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, though, 'cause I like to know people are interested. There are a few minor spoilers, but nothing descriptive.
Many thanks to my friends Shell Presto and Marie!
PG-13 for minor swearing and some lime-i-ness..
Note: Dahri is pronounced DA-ree
Chapter Fifty-Seven: Honesty and Deception
Zelgadis sat with his back to the bustling, kiosk-lined street on a convenient log, and watched the vibrant rainbow lambs in their pen bleat and graze and run with a sheep's peculiar gambol-leaping first with both front legs, then both back ones. It was mildly entertaining. Amelia's friend Rilloban was sitting cross-legged on the grass facing the chimera.
Zelgadis was not one to make conversation for its own sake, and Rilloban was shy by nature, so the two of them merely sat together in silence. The stone man noticed that he could hear some of the music still being played behind him, thanks to his enhanced hearing. He listened for a few moments, noticing that a flute had been added to the pair of harps-or was it two flutes? He listened, entranced, as the flutes' gentle whispers wove their way through the harps' delicate tune like a satin ribbon through a woman's silky tresses.
Yet he was too restless to focus properly, wondering how much longer it would take for Amelia to return. Kembri had invited her to 'freshen up' at a nearby neighbor's home, but he suspected that Amelia was using that as an excuse to avoid a confrontation.
I can't believe she told these people that she and I were engaged. He lifted a bare blue hand to tug petulantly at his hood, checking his mask, making sure his face was securely hidden. What's the matter with her? When did she get so devious? Is it Lina's influence? Or has she changed even more than I thought?
He recalled wondering if growing up was changing Amelia for the worse, if she had become someone who broke her word-in most people that would not exactly be a cause for alarm, but the young Amelia whom he had known had been completely forthright. She had always been someone devoted to truth and justice-as childish as the ideals were, he had, in a way, admired her for her dedication.
Lately, though, he had seen things that had made him doubt her. This entire journey was set up by the girls to get me cured in time to be Amelia's husband, according to the Oracle. Supposedly because Amelia loves me-or thinks she does. She even said so herself in Ponmar's cave, but...how can I believe her when things like this keep happening? I almost prefer the old Amelia, who used to blurt out embarrassing comments at totally inappropriate moments, to this new one, who keeps secrets and isn't quite whom she appears.
He leaned over with his hands on his knees, putting his face in his hands. And now this. I can't let her go around telling people we're going to be married, even if she believes it herself. He sighed deeply. Maybe part of this is my fault. I've got to stop letting her think that things are going to work out the way she wants them to. Even if I was willing to marry her...
Unbidden, images from his dream rose before his closed eyes-Amelia as a bride, beaming with joy at her new husband, and then as a mother, with a happy, loving family. He felt again that strange, powerful longing to be a part of it all, to have someone to love him and support him, to be by his side for always, and then a flash of fear made him forcibly shove the emotions away, banishing them behind the remnants of the wall that he had created within himself to keep people out. He did not even recognize the source of the fear, so familiar had it become-the fear of hope itself.
Maybe it's time I was honest with her. When we leave town I'll just tell her that I can't marry her, and that's that. I will keep the promise I made to go to her ceremony, but then I'll leave. Now that the Barrier's inhibiting power is gone, there must be a White magic cleric somewhere who's powerful enough to bear the touch of Shabranigdo's curse-perhaps this Healer Dahri, though I doubt it, since I've never heard of her before now... Lina will take care of the Shamanistic part-she'd better, after all she's put me through-and she'll make Xellos help us with the rest. And after I'm cured...
He didn't want to think about that just now, and lifted his cloaked head from his hands, forcing his attention back to the music. Maybe it was because unconsciously he did not want to jinx his only hope for a cure, or perhaps he was trying not to picture himself, human at last, but alone.
He tried to lose himself in the beautiful, peaceful melodies being played, and succeeded for a while before he became aware of Rilloban smiling at him, the young man's deep green eyes crinkling at the corners. "What?" he asked.
"C-can you hear the m-music?"
Zelgadis blinked. "How can you tell?"
"I c-can hear bits of it, ev-every now and then. Y-you're n-nodding your head in time, just a little bit."
The two males looked awkwardly at each other. Neither was particularly good with social skills-usually the females they associated with did most of the talking. It had taken a lot of courage for Rilloban to speak to Amelia the first time she had visited, and then only because he had wanted to save Shiran's life so badly.
As Zelgadis watched, the young man took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders, his expression serious. "M-mister Z-zelgadis, is something wrong?"
"What do you mean?"
He watched Rilloban's expression go from concerned to uncertain. "W-well," the boy stammered, "I-I m-m-mean..." He took a deep breath and shook his golden-brown hair back from his face. "M-miss Amelia is my friend. She saved Shiran's life. And-and if it wasn't for her, I w-wouldn't have Miss Kembri now. You're her f-f-fiance, so if something's bothering you, I w-want to do anything I can to help."
The chimera was moved by the young man's earnest offer of help to a stranger, especially one whose face he hadn't even seen, but Rilloban's last statement touched a nerve. "She's not my fiance."
"She's not my fiance," he repeated, turning his gaze away from the young man, his eyes following a pair of frolicking lambs-one pink, one yellow. "I don't know what she told you, but we're not engaged. Maybe if things had been different-" He cut himself off, almost shocked at how easily the words had come out.
He lowered his gaze, not wanting to make eye contact. For a long minute Rilloban was silent, while the entrancing beauty of the music continued behind them. Zelgadis could hear the calls of happy children, the chattering of old women, the hearty laughter of farmers as everyone ate sweets and strolled through the kiosks, enjoying the fine weather and each others' company.
"I-I'm s-sorry for the misunderstanding." Rilloban's countenance was contrite. "F-from the way Miss Amelia spoke of you, I g-guess I just assumed you were betrothed. I-it's my fault."
Huh? Zelgadis was startled enough to look up at the young man, watching him put a hand behind his head, his expression sheepish. "W-was it s-supposed to be a secret? Uh...d-d-did you not know she was in love with you?"
Then she didn't lie. Zelgadis felt some of the tension leave him, his shoulders relaxing. He almost smiled under his mask as he answered, "I knew she'd had a crush on me for a long time, but there's never been anything serious between us. She did confess her feelings to me not long ago, so you haven't told me anything I didn't already know."
Rilloban looked relieved.
There was another silence between them, as each seemed to retreat into his thoughts. 'If things had been different'... Zelgadis mused. I can't believe I said that. Does that mean that I am in love with her? Or just that I'm regretting the choice I have to make, the lost opportunity? He felt the fingers of gray depression reaching for him and veered his mind from that painful subject, firmly telling himself, There's nothing to be done now. The decision's been made. Amelia will get along without me, and probably be better off for it. I'm sure there will be plenty of eager men for her to choose from...
His introspection abruptly halted as he heard Amelia's voice off in the distance. "Well, I really don't know much about him, to tell you the truth. I met him at a ball my daddy arranged to help me meet prospective husbands."
Husbands? The chimera's pointed ears twitched as he focused his attention on the girls' conversation.
"A real ball?" Kembri's voice had tones of curiosity and awe. "With lovely music and elegant people in beautiful evening clothes?"
"Mm." Amelia made a sound of agreement.
"I have always wanted to attend a ball. Just once, to know what is it like." Now the younger girl sounded wistful.
Zelgadis could hear the smile in Amelia's voice. "Well, maybe the next time we have one, you can come and visit me."
"Thank you, Miss Amelia." There was a short pause, during which Zelgadis imagined a hug was taking place. "I would like that. I have never been farther the nearest villages. Father would never let me travel much. But maybe now he will allow it, if Ril-sama went along to protect me."
Some protection, Zelgadis thought privately. It would be better if Amelia sent a competent escort/guard instead. But what was that about husbands?
As if she had heard him, Kembri asked, "So is he nice?"
"Oh, yes, he's very nice, friendly and well-mannered...in fact, he sort of reminds me of Ril," Amelia answered cheerfully. "He doesn't look anything like Ril, of course, but I think he's cute."
Zelgadis scowled without realizing it.
"His hair is sort of a chestnut-red color and he has big brown eyes. You know, it's strange, because he actually looks just like-"
"Mmbaaaaaaaa!" Zelgadis jumped as a bright red lamb bleated at him, obviously looking for attention.
"Quiet!" spluttered the flustered chimera, trying to gather together the shreds of his composure as the two girls came around the corner of the lambs' kiosk.
Amelia chose a suitor? How come no one mentioned this to me? I thought she wanted to marry me! The Oracle said so. He was both shocked and insulted to discover that he had a rival.
Zelgadis found his hands clenched into fists at the thought as he watched Amelia approach and bow deeply, her face embarrassed and contrite. "I'm sorry, Mister Zelgadis. You too, Ril. I didn't mean to mislead you."
His narrowed eyes opened wide from surprise. Is she going to tell me about her other suitor? But why is she apologizing to Rilloban, too?
She continued, "Mister Zelgadis and I aren't fiances-I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong impression. At the time, I was thinking that it couldn't do any harm, and might give you the courage you needed to talk to Kembri."
The stone man watched Rilloban smile at her. "N-no harm done. Y-you were r-right. It did help me." The young man's eyes turned to meet Zelgadis', and he continued, "Mister Z-zelgadis and I already t-talked about it."
"You did?" It was Amelia's turn to look surprised. She turned to look at him, her eyes searching what little she could see of his face past the mask. He didn't look angry, but he didn't look glad, either. His stare was cold, unblinking. She shivered. I guess he hasn't forgiven me.
Her expression showed her distress. As always, the chimera felt a twinge of conscience at being the cause of her pain, but he sternly reminded himself that Amelia was still being deceitful. She has a suitor...what else is she hiding from me?
Rilloban stood up from the grass and went to greet Kembri, covering one of her hands with his and looking into her eyes, a slow, lovesick smile spreading over his face. She seemed equally captivated, staring into his eyes in adoration for several moments before looking away with a
little flush over her nose.
Amelia watched them with wide eyes, suddenly very glad of her part in getting them together, and wished she dared take Zelgadis' hand in hers.
The young lovers turned to face the travelers, still holding hands, and Kembri tilted her head to
one side, commenting, "I believe I sense Healer Dahri's return. If you come with me, I will
introduce you to her."
"Fine. Let's go," Zelgadis said in a cool, precise tone. He stood up and strode away, trying not to let his irritation show.
The others followed him as he strode through the crowd toward the healer's kiosk. He became aware that the townspeople were giving him the same sort of nervous, suspicious glances that he was used to receiving when he wasn't wearing his hood and mask, and he realized that his body language was practically radiating anger.
He tried to calm down. It shouldn't be that much of a surprise that she had to choose a suitor...and she'd be the type who would be swayed by a...handsome face and a friendly manner-she's still so much a child. But to marry someone she barely knows? Even she isn't that impulsive-is she? Or is there more to this story?
As he approached the healer's kiosk, a tall woman with ankle-length silver-blue hair turned to face him. She wore a royal-blue outfit similar to the cleric's uniform Sylphiel wore, trimmed in white. Her face was young and very beautiful, with large eyes of the most vivid shade of brown Zelgadis had ever seen.
Amelia took her place by Zelgadis' side, her mouth opening a little in surprise as she took in the woman's appearance. The healer's pupils, instead of being black, were merely a darker shade of brown, which gave the brief impression that she was blind. It was very obvious that she could see, though, judging by the calm, measuring look she gave each of the travelers in turn.
Kembri stepped forward and made the introductions. The healer did not seem at all disconcerted to be meeting the princess of Seyrune, but when Zelgadis was introduced she tipped her head to the side and studied his masked form.
"I will do what I can." Her voice was calm, almost detached, as if only a part of her was living on this plane of existence. "Please come inside."
Zelgadis followed her into the enclosed portion at the back of the kiosk. Amelia made as if to follow, but Kembri held her back, shaking her head 'no'. Amelia bit her lip and turned away.
It was cool and shady inside the tent. The only furnishings for this temporary domicile were a cabinet with medicinal supplies, a pitcher of water on a small stand, and a long, unusually high table. The healer gestured to the table. "Lie down and remove your cloak, please."
The chimera fought with a twinge of reflexive fear that warned him never to put himself in a vulnerable position around strangers, and did as she said, also removing his mask. Clad only in his pale tan shirt and pants, he looked smaller, thinner, more vulnerable. He saw the healer's unusual eyes go to Amelia's ward bracelet on his canteen and had an impulse to cover it with his hand.
She glanced back at him, but did not say anything about the ward. He felt a little foolish, wondering if she had sensed his impulse, but she only asked him to lie still. "I will study your curse and then tell you what may be done to counter it."
He watched as she held her arms out above him, noting idly that she seemed to have much the same womanly proportions as Sylphiel. Her breathing seemed to slow and her face lost all expression.
She did not move for several minutes, causing Zelgadis to relax somewhat when nothing happened. Her eyes were closed, so he felt free to study her appearance. Her long silver-blue hair flowed down her back and legs like liquid silk, sliding easily over the deep blue-purple of her form-fitting coat. The collar lapels and sleeves were edged in white. A thin belt of silver links encircled her slender waist, emphasizing her womanly curves while providing something from which to hang various pouches of what Zelgadis supposed were healing herbs.
Unconsciously, his tension eased as he rested safely inside the tent, away from curious eyes. After a while she slowly lowered her arms, and he realized that he was nearly asleep. Dahri had been so still and silent that she had been more like statue than a living person-he'd let his guard down, which was perhaps what she'd wanted. It was undoubtedly easier to read him that way, but the thought itself made him stiffen.
As if on cue, the luminous chestnut eyes opened and he froze, having forgotten their intensity. Her expression remained enigmatic, but somehow Zelgadis knew she was troubled. She was silent for a long moment, and then said quietly, "Let us return to your friends."
The stone man donned his cloak and mask, pulling the hood securely over his wire hair. Dahri went out first and he followed her out into the daylight. His hood shaded his eyes somewhat, but he still had to squint at first as his eyes adjusted somewhat painfully to the vividness of the light.
Amelia and the others were sitting together on the grass. Zelgadis couldn't help but notice how pretty Amelia looked as her face lit up at the sight of him. Her sparkling smile almost outshone the sun's brilliance as she scrambled to her feet and asked excitedly, "How did it go? Did it hurt? Did Miss Dahri find out how to cure you?"
He answered the last question. "I don't know yet." He turned to look meaningfully at the healer. Dahri gazed back, her expression inscrutable as usual, but an aura of almost tangible regret emanated from her. He was not the only one who sensed what her answer would be.
"What is it, Miss Dahri?" Kembri asked, her small face clouding over. They were all silent, waiting with identical expressions of concerned anxiety, except for Zelgadis, of course. Amelia had her hands clasped under her chin as her large deep blue eyes shimmered.
Slowly the healer answered, "The curse which has been placed upon you is the most powerful, stable, and complex spell of its kind that I have ever sensed. An extremely formidable being must have cast it."
"My grandfather." Zelgadis' voice was quiet. "He was possessed by a shard of Lord Shabranigdo."
Kembri's hands went up to cover her mouth, the horror in her violet eyes matching that in
Rilloban's deep green ones. Dahri merely nodded, as if Zelgadis' answer had confirmed her own assumption.
Amelia clenched her fists at her sides. "Can you break it?"
Of course not, Zelgadis thought pessimistically.
The healer hesitated for a long moment before replying, "Perhaps."
Huh? The stone man's eyes widened in surprise.
"Really?" Amelia looked ready to start celebrating.
Dahri continued, "But I would have to study it carefully, slowly, to discover how the different strands interweave, for each aspect of the spell must be addressed."
The princess looked thoughtful. "You mean the human part, the demon part and the um, the golem part?"
"Yes." Dahri nodded. "The solution would not be soon in coming."
Zelgadis watched Amelia exchange stricken glances with Kembri, who swallowed and whispered, "How...how long, Mistress?"
"Several months. Perhaps a year."
Dahri's gaze was somber as if she sensed how bitterly disappointed Amelia was. Perhaps, considering her abilities, she had. Zelgadis felt a pang in his own chest as Amelia's face seemed to crumple and she turned away with a sound like a choked sob.
He concentrated on keeping his own face impassive. He hadn't really expected a cure from a village healer, no matter how powerful; the Oracle hadn't mentioned her, after all. Still, she seems to know a lot about curses. I sense there's a lot more going on under the surface than she's saying. Maybe I should return here after I see Amelia safely to her home and enlist her help in using the Oracle's cure. The thought gave him some hope, lightening the burden on his shoulders.
Kembri had moved closer to Rilloban and leaned against him, and he had put a comforting arm around her waist. Now she moved away and approached Amelia, who had turned her back to the group. She put out a hesitant hand toward the princess' back. "Miss Amelia?"
Zelgadis thought that Amelia would probably throw herself into the other girl's arms and start wailing, but again she surprised him. With an impressive display of control, she squared her shoulders and turned around, her face set into a rigid, unsmiling mask, but there was no trace of tears. She did not speak, or look at Zelgadis.
Dahri looked back and forth between the two, her face showing traces of distress. Slowly she said, "I am sensing other barriers in your path to your cure."
All eyes turned to her. "What barriers?" Zelgadis asked.
"Emotions..." Her tone was soft, etherial, seeming to come from far away. "Tangled, confused, resisting. Deep feelings long denied. I sense-"
"That's enough." Zelgadis cut her off curtly. "Listen, thanks for the advice, but we're on a schedule and we're already running behind. Come on, Amelia, say goodbye and let's get going."
He did not give her time to argue, turning on his heel and striding away, back to the rainbow lambs' pen to retrieve Sunshine from where she'd been left tied to a tree so that she could graze.
Amelia watched him stalk off, surprised. Where did that come from? She turned to look at her friends and saw the same surprised look on Ril's face, but Kembri had the same bemused expression as her teacher. "What is it?"
Kembri hesitated, looking to her teacher as if for help or guidance. "Well...Mister Zelgadis definitely has some kind of strong feeling buried deep inside him, but...it's like there's a wall or something, keeping people out. People do that sometimes, to keep from being hurt. My father did..."
Amelia remembered what Kembri had said once, about how her father had become emotionally closed off from other people after his wife, Kembri's mother, died. He had become very mean and nasty to everyone except Kembri, until a chance spell of Amelia's had made him admit why he was the way he was. According to the young healer-in-training, that had been the catalyst for a time of healing, a time where Kembri had watched her father begin to open up to other people and start to enjoy life again.
Somehow Amelia didn't think a simple Megido Flare spell would be enough to heal Zelgadis, wall or no wall. He needed real magic, on a par with Shabranigdo's. She took a deep breath and let it out as a resigned sigh, and tried to smile at her new friends. "Well, I'd better join him."
She bowed deeply to Dahri and thanked her, then turned to Rilloban and began to do the same, but he surprised her by hugging her warmly, though when he pulled away she could see the pink blush over his nose. "T-take care, Amelia."
Kembri also hugged her tightly, her big violet eyes leaking tears. "I wish I could do something more to help you," she whispered mournfully, her voice trembling.
Amelia took comfort from her friend's embrace, closing her eyes and whispering back, "Don't forget-the next time I have a ball you're invited, all right? I'll see you again...soon..." She could feel the tears starting and sniffed them back, releasing Kembri and wiping her eyes with the palms of her gloves-Zelgadis' gloves, the ones that he had let her borrow and never asked her to return... "Both of you."
She took one last look around at the prosperous, happy town and then turned toward Zelgadis, who had not waited for her to say her goodbyes and was standing with Sunshine at the edge of the field where the town ended. He had pushed back his hood and lowered his mask, as if he'd suddenly felt their constriction-another kind of wall?-and behind her she heard her friends gasp.
Amelia turned to them with a solemn face, wondering how they saw him, and was pleased to see that their expressions were more curious and wondering than frightened. She beamed at them and gushed, "Isn't he handsome?"
The two young lovers watched as the princess of Seyrune ran to join her enchanted prince-to-be and looked at each other, and smiled.
Cloaknblade asks: So where are they going to get the airship from? That might help some in naming it you know.
Answer-They're going to get some villagers to build it for them. I don't want to say too much or when you read it it'll be like watching a rerun. And I may not use Gourry to come up with the name, so don't be restricted by that idea...
Millina and Jamfase ask about Naga as Amelia's sister-
-And I'd have to say Lina MUST know they're sisters-don't palaces always have oil paintings of family members on the walls? Besides, they do look alike. I honestly doubt that Lina, who doesn't miss much, would fail to notice the resemblance-but seeing as how Naga seems to repel her so much, I doubt she would ever mention her to Amelia, if for no other reason than that she knew Amelia would insist on searching for the annoying woman to see if she IS the lost princess. And it isn't nice to mention the black sheep of the family-didn't Gourry thump Zel on the head for doing just that?
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