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: Hedge-hurdling is the Slayers-world version of steeplechasing, which is basically a horse race where they have to jump their horses over brushy fences, water pits and other obstacles.
Chapter Fifty-Eight: Clash! A Terrible Confrontation
The town of Tollik receded into the distance behind them. As the raven-haired princess rode her golden mare beside the slender stone man on their way to rejoin their companions, she had a lot of time to think. She glanced at Zelgadis out of the corner of her eye and bit her lip. I'm getting worried... There's not much time left. Miss Lina said they've already been to see the Oracle. She said whatever happened to him was so awful that she was afraid to ask him about it. I was hoping Tollik's healer could do something to help him... but now the only hope I have left is that Miss Lina is right and the Oracle did give him some kind of cure.
Miss Lina thinks the cure has a sacrifice of some kind involved, something so terrible that he can't bring himself to use it, but I don't remember anything like that in the journal I found. The chimera-man in the story, Gaderi, took the spell the Oracle gave him and went back home and used it, and then he married his princess and lived happily ever after.
Amelia reached up to scratch an itch on her nose. Now that I think about it, the book didn't really say much about the cure. I guess I just assumed it was an easy spell. She placed the side of her curved finger to her chin in thought. Maybe the fact that Zelgadis was transformed by someone so powerful-or two someones, really-makes his cure harder than Gaderi's. He was only cursed by a powerful human mage. I guess it's different when one of the pieces of Lord Shabranigdo is involved.
What kind of sacrifice could there be? What price would an Oracle ask? I really don't remember anything about a price in the journal-I got the impression that the Oracle was friendly and helpful. She turned to look down at the enigmatic stone man walking beside her and wondered, Maybe now is a good time to ask him about it? Maybe he just didn't want to tell Miss Lina, for some reason. If anyone has the right to know, I do, after all, I'm the one who wants to marry him-oh!
The young princess put one hand over her lips as her eyes opened wide in remembrance. I promised I wouldn't talk about anything that has to do with us getting married! Does asking about his cure count? Her brow furrowed. I guess so. He must know that he can't marry me if he stays a chimera, so I can't ask...
I wish I knew what he wanted! Either he doesn't want to marry me and is waiting until after I get married to become human again, or... He might be interested in marrying me... oh, I hope so, but... he's so hard to figure out! Her small fists clenched tightly around the mare's reins in frustration. He never says what he's feeling unless I ask him, and not always then. He tries to pretend things don't bother him when I know they do... sometimes I wish we'd had a little more time together before we caught up to where Miss Lina and Mister Gourry were being kept prisoners.
Then Amelia blushed with shame at her selfish thought. It's my fault we're on this journey in the first place. They're all doing this for me. I shouldn't be complaining; I should be trying to honor my vow to be more patient, more mature, so Zelgadis will see that I'm not just little Ame-chan anymore. I have to hold on to my hope that things will work out all right... if they don't, I'll find out soon enough. I want to enjoy every moment that I spend with him.
'Cute.' She called him 'cute'. I feel like a puppet on a string-and now I find out I'm not the only one! Zelgadis thought as he strode stiffly beside Amelia on her palomino mare. His face was grim as he mulled over the newest bit of information he had overheard, courtesy of his excellent thrice-damned chimeric hearing. Amelia already has a fiance. He had never heard her talk about another man in quite that way before. She must have been really attracted to this guy to say something like that. Obviously better-looking than me-he's got to be, if he's human.
Amelia turned again to look at the chimera, who walked silently beside her with his usual inscrutable expression, and sighed. He's so handsome, and so... so somber. I wish there was something more I could do to help him. Mister Gourry said he thinks Zelgadis might be afraid to love me. I guess I understand... sometimes I get scared when I think that he might not love me back the way I love him, but I already told him how I feel-so what could he be scared of? Of me? Or of being in love?
The chimera clenched a bare stone fist, feeling an unaccustomed burning emotion rise up inside of him, an emotion other people might have recognized as jealousy. 'Cute', is he? I wonder how cute he'll be if I-
Hmm... I wonder if he's ever been in love before? It occurred to the princess that the average woman might not see the stone man with the same appreciative eyes as her own. But still, he wasn't always a chimera, was he? What about before he was cursed? I wish I knew more about his past... hey, that's something I can still ask him about, as long as I don't mention marriage, right?
She thought for a few moments about how to start. "Mister Zelgadis, what did you like to do when you were little?"
If I beat the- "Huh?" He looked startled. "How do you mean?"
"What kind of games did you play? Did you have any pets?"
He eyed her for a moment, but then apparently decided to indulge her curiosity. "I practiced swordfighting, mostly. I lived with some cousins for a while who had the training services of a master swordsman, so I got an early start."
"Is that all? You must have done other things beside train." She was disappointed and a little frustrated at his unwillingness to open up. Zelgadis looked at her for a moment with his usual impassive expression, but then he added unexpectedly, "I played the guiolin. At one time I thought I might become a minstrel... before... "
As his voice trailed off Amelia completed his sentence in her head: Before I was cursed. This was too close to dangerous conversational territory, so she piped up with a nervous laugh, "I thought maybe you had some pets-you get along so well with Sunny and Shiran."
"I did. Well, not pets, but I had horses I rode in competitions." His voice took on a definite note of warmth, and Amelia pounced on it.
"Competitions? You mean racing?"
"Sometimes... what I really liked is called hedge-hurdling . It's a race, but you have to jump your horse over obstacles. Usually fences, sometimes plain ones, sometimes ones covered with brush cut from trees, sometimes ones with magic booby-traps, or with a deep puddle dug into the ground either in front of it or behind it... "
Amelia was fascinated. "I've heard of those, but I've never seen one. It sounds exciting!"
"It is." She was pleased to see the beginnings of an enthusiastic smile on his lips as he continued, "You have to literally judge how long your horse's strides are and control how many steps he makes and how fast he runs in order to make each jump. If you misjudge, you run into all kinds of trouble. One time I... "
Amelia listened to her beloved chimera recount some of his youthful adventures-and misadventures-with a gladness so great that she had trouble keeping the tears from her eyes. She was never more happy than when Zelgadis dropped his barriers and let her in, but the times were so rare that she was fast growing to treasure them greatly. I guess Miss Lina is right; he sounds like he comes from a fairly well-to-do family. I wonder why he never mentions any of them? Besides Rezo, this is the first time I've even heard that he has any other relatives. Her breath caught. Unless... something's happened to them all, and he really is alone!
Her lower lip trembled and she turned away for a moment to control her expression. After taking a few deep breaths, she gazed down at the easy, relaxed look on Zelgadis' face as he walked beside Sunshine's shoulder, talking about a horse he had once owned, and slowly her heartache eased. Well, in any case, he has us for a family now-me and Miss Lina and Mister Gourry... She swallowed. Even if this doesn't work out and I can't marry him, he'll still always be... someone very special to me...
Soon Amelia noticed that they were approaching the large pine tree that had been chosen as their meeting place with Gourry and Lina. Oh, I wanted to ask him if he had any girlfriends, she remembered. When there was a lull in the conversation, Amelia seized her chance to find out more about her love's past romantic history while he was in this rare chatty mood. "You must have been a magnificent sight, leaping your horse over all those fences, winning all those awards... There must have been lots of girls in love with you."
A shadow crossed the chimera's face. "I don't know about that," he commented quietly.
"But you must have!" Amelia protested, shocked. "Surely there was one girl at least who was special to you, right?"
"No. Girls didn't like me. They scorned me. They-" He looked up and caught her distressed face and suddenly cut himself off. Helplessly, Amelia watched as his face closed up, his expression becoming cold and rigid. "If you're trying to find out about my love life, stop. Or at least ask me outright, instead of resorting to this kind of manipulative behavior!" His voice rose almost to a shout.
"What?" The princess was stunned. "What do you mean? I'm not-I mean, I didn't mean to-" She felt as tongue-tied as her friend Rilloban. It had never occurred to her that he would be so angry. "I only wanted to know more about you, because I-"
"And when were you going to tell me about your fiance?" the stone man demanded.
Amelia felt her breath rush out of her as if someone had punched her hard in the stomach. "How-how did you-"
"I overheard you talking to Kembri about him back in the village. Never mind that." The chimera ran a hard blue hand through his shining wire hair with an odd silvery sound. "This whole journey is... "
"Amelia? Zelgadis? What's going on?" came Lina's voice.
The princess and the chimera turned to see Shiran approaching at a fast trot through the knee-high grass, with Lina and Gourry jogging behind her. Both of the watchers' eyes widened at the sight of the large pale lavender orchid tucked into the petite sorceress' black headband. What do you suppose they've been up to since we've been gone? both of them thought, blushing simultaneously.
Zelgadis shook his head, deciding to ignore that for now. As his friends drew near, Lina started right in with her usual relentless questioning. "How come you're so late? Why you still have that horse? And we heard shouting-what's going on?"
The chimera's lips thinned to a hard line. "You should know."
Lina looked surprised at his acidic tone. He added heatedly, "This whole journey was your idea."
The sorceress' ruby eyes widened. "Zel... what are you talking about?" As he glared at her, his sensitive ears caught the faltering undertone in her voice. "Amelia was the one who found your cure and made the plans... Gourry and I just came along to-"
"Enough!" he shouted, losing his temper completely as the stormcloud of emotions that had been building deep in the chimera's heart ever since the Oracle's cave burst forth with a fury.
"How can you stand there and lie to my face like that?" he demanded furiously. His voice was filled with bitter venom. "Do you think I'm stupid? A gullible fool, a moronic lackey, like Gourry?"
"Hey!" Lina said indignantly at this completely uncalled-for insult to the gentle swordsman. Her face began to show the first signs of losing her infamously volcanic temper, but the stone man ignored the warning signs, too infuriated himself to care. He didn't often lose his temper-not like this, wherein he was so reckless that he discarded all his hard-won tact and manners, and even friendship became negligible. In this state he often said or did things that he regretted later.
"I'm sick and tired of being treated like a puppet, as if I have no will of my own. You've always had a big ego, Lina, but you've gotten such a swelled head lately that traveling with you is almost intolerable! Just because you defeated a couple of Dark Lords doesn't make you one."
Behind him he heard Amelia gasp at this blatant insult. Gourry and Shiran looked back and forth between the verbal combatants as if watching a game of Brass Rackets. Lina looked stunned for a moment, but even as she began to respond he turned to the princess and stabbed a blue finger at her. "And you, Amelia. How could you do this? Hide something like this from me?"
She was caught completely unawares. "I-I-" She couldn't meet his eyes, and hung her head as waves of grief and shame seared her. Her eyes burned with the tears that she had held back so successfully up to now, and began to overflow. As he spoke again, his voice revealed his fierce anger, and an even greater anguish that made her throat close up, choking her.
"You were... the one person I trusted more than anyone. I didn't want to believe that you were capable of such... duplicity. I-I wanted to believe that you really did want-" Zelgadis cut himself off as his voice began to crack betrayingly. He watched as twin lines of tears ran down the young girl's cheeks. She made no sound, but her expression was so tragic that he felt a sharp twinge in his chest at the pain he was causing her, but he knew he had to resist the urge to gather her in his arms and comfort her.
She hasn't denied it, he told himself, realizing from the sinking feeling inside that he had wanted her to somehow be innocent. She planned this all along-to cure me and use my subsequent gratitude to bind me into a marriage. Maybe Lina came up with the idea, he surmised, still unwilling even in the clear evidence of her wrongdoing to condemn her as being truly devious, but she still went along with it. I don't know if she ever really believed she was in love with me, or if she was faking that as well, but Amelia could have confessed her part in this scheme to me at any time. We were alone together away from Lina's influence for long enough for her to reconsider what she was doing to me. She didn't. And that means... I can't trust her at all. Or any of them.
"I thought you were my friends." He couldn't hide the clear note of betrayal in his tone.
"We are your friends, damn it!" Lina cried, momentarily forgetting her own anger. She stepped between Zelgadis and Amelia and glared up at him with her hands on her slim hips. The big lavender flower bobbed merrily at her temple, completely incongruous with her frustrated expression. "We just thought it'd be better to wait 'till we were back in Seyrune, to give you the chance to adjust to being human first. We didn't know the damn ship was going to get wrecked. Gourry and I sure didn't plan on getting kidnapped! We just-ran out of time... "
She trailed off at the hard look in the chimera's eyes, and his next statement completely decimated her defense. "Even if everything had gone according to your scheme, don't you think I might have felt obliged to accept the proposal?"
The petite sorceress stared at him for a moment, then looked away, refusing to meet his gaze, as wolves do when backing down from a conflict. This rare victory over the hot-tempered sorceress did much to calm the chimera. Zelgadis sighed as a great feeling of tiredness weight him down, lowering his head as if his outburst had finally burned his heart's crucible clean. His slender frame slumped as he said quietly, but with a note of bitterness he could not hide, "You never even gave me the choice."
For several moments there was silence, save for the soft sounds of Amelia's weeping as she faced away from the group with her face in her hands, her small shoulders shaking. Lina put an arm around her to comfort her while Gourry looked from one person to another, trying to understand why everyone was so upset with each other.
Finally Zelgadis squared his shoulders and stated evenly, "We don't have time to waste. I will return to Seyrune, as I promised, and after that... I will leave. Let's go." He began walking without a backward glance.
"Why, you-" Lina took a step toward him, but Amelia took hold of her black cape and stopped her.
"No, Miss Lina-let him go," she said quietly. Lina looked back and forth from Amelia's shadowed eyes in her tearstained face to Zelgadis' stiffly retreating back, and subsided reluctantly.
At dusk they stopped to set up camp. Zelgadis had pushed the pace considerably, conscious of the two days or more that they had to make up for, and for a change no one complained-in fact, all of the travelers were unnaturally silent. The three humans had all taken turns riding the
palomino mare, who was doing quite well now that she was getting grain in her diet as well as grass, and the group had made good time.
The night was warm enough so that there was no need for a campfire, but the two girls shared the ground cloth anyway, as they had done every night since the 'rescue'. Gourry settled down near Lina, and Zelgadis, to Amelia's woe, chose to sleep on the opposite side of the clearing. Shiran slept on Amelia's other side.
As Lina lay down on the heavy blue ground cloth, she turned to sleep on her side, and something soft and fragile touched her temple. Instantly she jerked her head up from the cloth and then sat up, reaching for the forgotten orchid that was still nestled in her headband where Gourry had placed it that afternoon.
As Amelia approached the ground cloth and sat down, Lina pulled the blossom from her headband and held it out to the princess. Amelia gave her a quizzical look. "It was supposed to be for you," Lina explained. "Gourry spotted it."
"It's for me?" The younger girl's eyes widened in delight as she took the large, pale lavender flower and studied it in the dim light from the banked campfire. "I noticed it earlier. It's lovely!" Then she tilted her head to the side. "Mister Gourry gave this to you?"
The diminutive sorceress flushed as she realized what Amelia was referring to. When a girl wears a flower given to her by a man, it usually means that they're more than friends. We sure are... she thought, remembering vividly the kisses they'd enjoyed, and then noticed Amelia watching her.
Flustered, she stammered, "N-no-he noticed it 'cause it looks like Shiran's fur, and it is-a shiran, I mean, a purple orchid, well, lavender anyway, and Gourry thought my headband would be a better place to carry it than in his bag where it might get crushed... And with everything that happened today we both forgot all about giving it to you... "
"I see." Amelia smiled at her understandingly. "It's very beautiful." She turned the pale lavender-white flower by its stem, admiring it. "I've never seen one so light-colored. Orchids are usually a deep blue-purple or magenta, aren't they?"
"Or golden-yellow," Lina agreed, glad to be off the hot seat. "That's why we picked it-'cause it reminded us of Shiran's fur." And Gourry thought it made me look cute...
Amelia hesitated, then asked, "Miss Lina? Would you... would you mind wearing it for me? I haven't got a headband like yours."
Lina was a little taken aback. "You don't want it?"
"Oh, it's not that. It's just... if I wear it, I can't see it. You see?"
"Yeah," the redhead said slowly, and smiled. You're a good friend, Amelia. I guess I didn't realize 'till now that I've sort of gotten attached to my own little shiran.
She lifted the blossom from her friend's fingers and hesitated, then leaned over to place it in the grass off the edge of the ground cloth, well out of reach of her usual nightly gyrations. "That'll keep me from squishing it in my sleep."
Amelia nodded and smiled at her warmly. "Thank you very much, Miss Lina. That was very thoughtful of you."
Lina returned the smile. Thank you, Amelia.
The next morning Amelia woke early, and looked around for Zelgadis, as she always did first thing in the morning. He was still asleep, lying several feet away in the thick grass, but as she watched he turned over restlessly, and she knew he would soon awaken.
Then she blinked and rubbed her eyes. His movement had turned him so that he was facing her, and at such an unexpected sight she had to struggle to hold back a rouge giggle, only to end up snickering quietly through her nose. I've got to show this to Miss Lina!
Moving quietly, she scooted over to where Lina lay flat on her back, her arms and legs akimbo, and whispered into the older girl's ear, "Miss Lina, wake up." She set a hand on the redhead's shoulder and shook gently.
"Mmm... Amelia? Wha-" Lina began, but the princess put one finger over her own lips to show the need for quiet, suddenly worried that the chimera's sensitive hearing would cause him to awaken. Lina's ruby eyes widened, then one red eyebrow quirked as if to ask, What's wrong?
Amelia beamed at her to show that there was no danger, and pointed at the sleeping chimera
Lina looked, and repeated Amelia's earlier reactions of blinking and rubbing her eyes as she took in the sight of the usually somber chimera lying in the grass with quite a few small yellow flowers attractively nestled among the pale blue wires of his hair. Amelia had been trying to control her laughter, but when Lina let out a snort of mirth, sputtering, and then began to guffaw, the young princess lost the battle, giggling uncontrollably.
Zelgadis thrashed around and abruptly sat upright, his eyes wildly staring at the two young girls apparently having hysterics in front of him. Are they laughing? He looked rapidly from side to side, trying to figure out the cause of their merriment, but the only result was a new burst of hilarity, as they both dropped down to the ground cloth and wrapped their arms around themselves, rolling around gleefully as tears trickled from their eyes.
"Do you have to make so much noise?" he said grumpily. "Some of us are trying to sleep."
Amelia tried to control herself, gasping frantically between bouts of chortling, feeling her face turning deep red but unable to stop laughing. "Sorry-Mister-Zelgadis," she managed breathlessly. Lina didn't even try.
"What's so funny?" he demanded.
"I'm sorry," the princess giggled. "You-you have-" She put both hands over her mouth, trying to stifle herself, not wanting to hoot in his face.
Zelgadis gave her a suspicious look. "Is there something on my face?"
"No," she gasped, "Hee-hee-hee-in your hair."
His hands went to his hair, his stone fingers sliding through the fine metal strands, and a small yellow blossom fluttered down to land on his leg. He raked his fingers through his hair, dislodging several more flowers that scattered around him like snowflakes.
Then he gave the girls a dirty look. Amelia correctly interpreted his expression and took her hands away from her mouth to wave them from side to side in front of her. "No-we didn't do it. Honestly!" Her laughter abated abruptly in the face of his displeasure.
He glared at her, then checked behind him. Sure enough, there was a patch of yellow flowers where his head had been. As Lina's guffaws died down, Amelia crawled toward him through the grass and reached out with one hand, saying cheerfully, "You missed one. Let me get it for you."
As her hand came toward his face, Zelgadis suddenly remembered the events of the prior day, and moved his head away from her outstretched hand, turning his face away from the princess' questing fingers, spurning her.
Amelia froze with her hand in mid-air. A dark shadow seemed to fall over her face as she also remembered what had happened yesterday, and took in his now-wary expression. Her small face seemed to crumple in grief, and she stood up and trudged dejectedly away into the bushes without a word.
Zelgadis rose to his feet and began to walk toward the banked camp fire without a glance in the princess' direction.
Lina had watched the whole thing with her fists clenching and unclenching, a dangerous twitch in her left eye. As soon as Amelia was gone she roared, "That's it, you ungrateful, ill-mannered, misbegotten son of a-FIIIREB-"
"No!" Amelia's scream rang out as she leaped from the brush to stand in front of Zelgadis, her arms outstretched as if to protect him. "Don't hurt him!"
Gourry, who had slept through the girls' boisterous laughter with no apparent effort, jerked upright with a terrified look in his eyes, as if even in his sleep he knew which dangers to listen for. Shiran was suddenly standing in front of her bonded ones, her lavender fur bristling as she snarled warningly.
Lina stopped short in the middle of her windup, the faint glow of the impending fireball fading from her hands as she gave the dragonwolf a nervous glance, then gaped at the younger girl. "Amelia, why are you stopping me?"
"He doesn't deserve it," the younger girl answered sincerely.
"What are you talking about? He's been acting like a jerk for way too long-and didn't you hear what he called me yesterday?"
Shiran reacted to Lina's raised voice with a louder snarl. "Shiran, hush," Amelia said quietly but firmly, and the beast quieted instantly, turning her great head to whine at the dark-haired girl as if to say, Are you sure?
"It's all right," Amelia said, and stroked the fluffy mane of darker purple fur between Shiran's ears. "I didn't mean you, Miss Lina, I meant me." She sent quick a glance of sorrow over her shoulder at Zelgadis , who was watching silently with his customary-and infuriating, in Lina's opinion-inscrutable countenance, then continued, "I have been acting sneaky and dishonest... and I did plan all this without telling him or asking for his consent. I deserve to be punished!"
Her voice began to get louder, a note of anguish mixing with her familiar dramatic speech-making tones. "I can't believe I was so unjust! I acted like the worst kind of lying, underhanded... " She paused, as if unable to decide on a terrible-enough word to describe herself, and finally finished in a small voice, "I can't even ask for his forgiveness. He's right to hate me."
The princess' astonishing statement shocked Lina out of her anger. She caught the swift look of pain that passed over the chimera's stone face before he could hide it, and then watched as he turned on his heel and walked away into the brush. What is the matter with him? Lina thought in baffled frustration. He almost acts like he really does hate her-but that look on his face right now... and the other day, when he held her in his arms after she had that nightmare...
She looked back and forth, undecided as to whether or not to go after Zelgadis and give him a taste of a sorceress' displeasure, but the lost, distressed look on the princess' face made her decide Amelia needed her more. Lina hesitated, then said gently, "Amelia, I don't think he hates you... He's mad at you-us-right now," she admitted, and took a deep breath before adding softly, "but I don't think Zelgadis could ever hate you."
Amelia only looked at her with haggard blue eyes in a face that seemed to have aged years in a single day. "I hope so, Miss Lina. I hope so."
"Besides," Lina added with a bit of her usual sarcasm, "Most of this was my idea, remember? Don't you go claiming the credit."
She was rewarded when Amelia gave her a weak smile.
Author's Notes: I'm still looking for names for the flying craft. **Here's a hint: I like nature-inspired names best.
So the inevitable accusation occurs! How many of you wonder if Zel is hiding something of his own? Lina suspects...
I hope people don't think it's annoying to come across a lot of words they don't know. When I first started writing I thought about only using words I was sure people would know, but three things stopped me: 1- there's no way to be sure which words people do know, 2- it'd be like I was insulting your intelligence, assuming that you don't know something, and 3- even though many words can mean the same thing, there's a little something called connotations (associations) that can change the entire meaning of a sentence. For example 'he gazed at her' vs. 'he watched her'. Which is more romantic? And in my title-I chose 'confrontation' instead of 'fight' because one of the connotations of 'confrontation' is that someone is accusing someone else of something.
Ichiban Victory asked: 'Touch of Shabranigdo's curse? That sounds downright evil! Not to mention horrible! No wonder Zelgadis opted not to say anything... Would this be some nasty present Rezo left behind should anyone ever break Zelgadis' curse?'
*Not exactly-it just seemed logical to me that anyone who wanted to mess with something left behind by Shabranigdo would essentially come into contact with his evil influence...
Purr asked: Didn't you say in an earlier chapter that ALL the rainbow sheep had died out?
*I think I mentioned that the old mage who created them had started selling/trading them about a year before he died, as if he knew he didn't have long to live and didn't want his creation to die out.
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