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, just 'cause I like to know people are interested.
Many thanks to my friends Shell Presto and Marie!
PG for mild language
Note: guiolin- A stringed instrument like a cross between a violin and a guitar. Pronounced gee-oh-linn, with the 'g' as in 'great'. Accent on the first syllable.
Philionel - fil-yon-ell
Chapter Seventy-Eight: Zelgadis' Past
"That's Zelgadis, not Li," Gourry piped up helpfully, not noticing the tension in the room.
Lina didn't even bother to hit him, too busy watching the face of the young man in front of them turn red and then crumple as if he was about to burst into tears. "LI!" he cried, and darted across the room just as the stone man lurched up out of his chair, knocking it to the floor with a thud.
All of them watched in shock as the small, slender auburn-haired young man threw his arms around the taller chimera, who did not attempt to evade the hug, although his own arms stayed by his sides.
Shiran growled, rising to her feet, but instantly subsided as Amelia whispered, "Hush." The large dragonwolf cocked her head and sniffed at this new person, her emerald eyes glowing curiously.
"What's going on?" Lina asked the room in general, and received bewildered shrugs.
Amelia watched the heartwarming scene in front of her, feeling her eyes start to fill. The youth was embracing Zelgadis like a long-lost relative... Suddenly she gasped and stood up, nearly knocking her chair over as Zelgadis had. Can it be?
The same long, slim bodies, the same delicate features, the same fluffy hair- Could Kerrin be Zelgadis' brother? She found herself breathing hard, too astonished to realize that she'd been holding her breath.
A loud pounding from behind the door brought everyone alert. "Sire, are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine," Philionel said hastily, still staring at the two men as Kerrin finally released the chimera and stepped back a pace.
All of them were standing now, moving away from the table to study the new arrival.
Gourry squinted, and then commented, "Is it me, or do those two look alike?"
Kerrin's face worked, and he bit his lip. "Li-where have you been all this time? I thought you were dead." His voice cracked in a way that brought a lump to Amelia's throat.
The stone man's blue-green eyes shimmered, and then he dropped his gaze. "I'm sorry... but I... couldn't bear to let you see what I'd become."
The young man's face took on a look of compassion. "Oh, Li... "
Lina had had enough. She pounded her fist on the table, making the dishes rattle. "Hold it! What's with this 'Li' business? I thought your name was Zelgadis." She turned a suspicious look on the chimera, who flushed and held out his hands placatingly.
"It is. But Rin here has always called me 'Li'."
Kerrin smiled, his tone affectionate as he explained, "When I first met Zelgadis I was so little I couldn't say his name properly. The others called him Zelly, and the only part of that that would come out was '... li'. He laughed and told me that that was good enough, and that in exchange, he would call me Rin."
Amelia clasped her hands together. "How sweet!... But then, you aren't related? I thought you must be."
"We're cousins," Zelgadis answered, and when Kerrin turned to look at her as well, it still took her breath away, to see two men who looked so alike, in spite of their differences in coloring, which she noticed far more than she noticed the differences caused by the chimera's curse.
"I see," she murmured, mesmerized.
"Why didn't you tell me that Zelgadis is your cousin?" Phil suddenly asked.
"I didn't know, sir. No one mentioned his name, or that Miss Amelia knew him... Oh!" The youth turned to face her. "Miss Amelia-you-is Li the man you told me about at the ball? The man who was cursed; the one you went to save after your bracelet lit up and... " His voice faltered. "He's... the one you want to marry, isn't he?"
Zelgadis watched as the his cousin paled, his freckles showing like flecks of cinnamon over his nose. A sudden, ugly suspicion had sprung into his mind, and he asked quietly, "What are you doing here, Rin?"
"I'm... I'm Miss Amelia's fiance."
"Her what?" Lina's screech was loud enough to alarm the guards, but this time there was no outcry from them. All of the palace guards were used to her by now.
Zelgadis eyed the young man in front of him. "So." My rival is-Kerrin?
"What are you doing with a fiance?" Lina demanded, and Amelia explained how her father had required her to choose one before she'd left, just in case.
The others began asking questions all at once, creating a confusing babble of background noise that Zelgadis found easy to shut out as he studied his opponent. He's grown-the last time I saw him, he was twelve years old. He cried when I left... but he was already showing more promise with the sword than I ever had. I'm sure he's improved since then.
Lina suddenly noticed the chimera's stare slowly becoming colder, more like his old 'heartless' persona, and realized what was happening. He's psyching himself up to take out the competition-his own cousin! I can't believe this guy...
She clenched her hands into fists, ready and willing to let out some of the stress from the past week by giving the chimera a good pounding, when suddenly she noticed that Zelgadis was still wearing the gem that Xellos had given them. Her face twisted into a grim smile. Even better. "Hey, Zel," she called. "How did you get along with Rin when you were growing up?"
She had the satisfaction of watching the stone man's face twitch as he fought to hold onto his 'hired mercenary' mentality, but eventually he answered, "Rin was my only childhood friend. The only person I could open up to, confide in. We were like brothers. To everyone else I was a disappointment-small, not particularly strong, only average with a sword... "
Kerrin protested, "But you were always the fastest runner, and great with horses. You won so many competitions! You always had so much drive; I had such a hard time keeping up with you."
Zelgadis looked at him, surprised.
The youth turned to the rest of them and continued, "I was six years younger, and I idolized Li. I wanted to be just like him-brave and smart and fierce and honorable... We were always together. He gave me my first sword lesson."
"Mine, too," Amelia piped up. "He's a good teacher."
Zelgadis met his cousin's gaze as the memories of all the times they had shared together-both good and bad-began to flow through his mind, bringing a rush of emotion. I'd forgotten how much I cared about that kid...
Lina asked, "You didn't have any other friends?"
"No," answered the stone man after a brief hesitation. "My other cousins were rivals. You see, out of all of my relatives, I was the chosen heir to Rezo's fortune. I looked the most like him, and I had the most aptitude for magic."
Lina was shaking her head. "Somehow I can't see Rezo as a family man."
Zelgadis shrugged. "He wasn't always insane, from what I've heard. As a young man he was quite active in family affairs, until his obsession with regaining his sight consumed him... "
Kerrin looked up at his cousin, his eyes wide. "Insane? Then... what Miss Amelia said about... "
The chimera gave his cousin a somber look. "Yes. He was the one who cursed me."
Zelgadis felt a warm rush of appreciation for his tender-hearted cousin as the boy said, "It can't be... Why would he do such a thing?"
Lina felt sorry for the kid. "He needed Zel's help to find something that he thought would help cure his eyes, and he was desperate."
She traded looks with Zelgadis and Amelia and each of them nodded. No need to tell the kid that Rezo was possessed by a piece of Shabranigdo, Lina thought.
Zelgadis continued, "By the time I was born, Rezo was almost never seen any more, so the details of running the family had been taken over by several of my older male relatives. A lot was expected of me, but I didn't measure up to what they thought the future head of the family ought to be like, so I was scorned by most people."
"Not by everyone!" Kerrin exclaimed. "Not by me. And what about Zolf and Rodimus?"
"I said, most people." Zelgadis gave the younger man a look of mild reproof, and he blushed. Amelia saw a bit of how the their relationship might have been in the past, the younger boy enthusiastic, the older boy teaching, and reprimanding him when necessary.
"Most of my male cousins looked for every opportunity to humiliate me, hoping the elders would disregard Rezo's wishes and appoint one of them as the heir, so I learned to avoid people at an early age. I couldn't trust any of them not to stab me in the back-some of them literally. Zolf and Rodimus were loyal servants of Rezo's line, and it was they who handled most of my education and training-and protection, especially when I was younger."
"What about your parents?" Lina asked.
"Both of them died when I was a baby."
"Oh, that's so sad... " Amelia gave him a melting look of compassion, and he felt his heart soften.
"So... you already have a position to take up once you become human again?" Lina asked.
Amelia turned worried sapphire eyes on him, and he responded instantly. "No." He watched her expression reflect her relief, and then her dismay as he added, "They don't need me. They never did. If I went back now the only result would be the equivalent of a civil war."
"Oh." Amelia looked as if she wanted to hug him, to comfort him, and Zelgadis gave her a small, sad smile, acknowledging her empathy over his estrangement with his family.
"As the time neared for me to take over, I discovered that I had no taste for leading such a family. Rezo hadn't been seen in ten years, and the elders favored several of my cousins over me-I even overheard them say once that it would have been better if I had died as a child."
"No... " Amelia put her hands to her cheeks, her dark-blue eyes glistening with distress.
He met her eyes for a moment, smiling in what he hoped was a reassuring manner, then went on, "I decided that I had to do something to make them respect me, so I left the estate at eighteen, vowing to return once I had become a master swordsman. The others only scoffed at my aspirations, but after traveling for months I met up with Rezo and listened to his offer... "
His friends looked at him with sad, serious expressions, knowing what had resulted from that incident.
"After I was cursed, I was too ashamed to go back. I knew that most of my relatives would just sneer and say that I'd gotten what I deserved. Part of me wanted to return just to teach them a lesson-to get back at them for all the things they'd done to me-but it was the thought of facing Kerrin that kept me away. I had been audacious, brash, unthinking-and I didn't want him to see the results of that arrogance. I... couldn't face disappointing him. It was better to let him believe I was training with Rezo... "
Kerrin said, "I always looked forward to your letters, but after the last one, they just stopped. I didn't know what had happened to you... and the others said you couldn't be with Rezo because no one had seen him for ten years; that he was probably dead... "
With a jolt, Zelgadis saw tears brimming in his young cousin's eyes. "I was afraid you were dead, Li... I'd almost given up all hope." The young man sniffed and rubbed a hand over his eyes in a gesture so familiar that Zelgadis closed his eyes for a moment, engulfed by the memory of a younger Kerrin with tears streaming from his eyes as he waved a final goodbye from the edge of their village.
He asked me what he was going to do without me there to look after him, and I told him that he was strong enough now to look after himself. '"Practice your swordsmanship,"' I said, '"and when I return we'll have a match to see who's improved the most. Do your best!"' And he wiped his eyes and managed to smile and promised to practice hard every day. The chimera dropped his gaze, his shoulders slumping as he recalled, Still, I felt really guilty that I'd left him on his own against our rotten cousins, even though most of them treated him cordially enough. I'd always been there for him, protecting him...
Zelgadis' gaze snapped up in surprise as Kerrin again reached for the chimera, placing his hands on the taller man's shoulders, his voice choked with emotion. "I'm so glad to see you, Li, whatever you look like!"
As the stone man stood there, his teal eyes shimmering with feeling as he looked into his cousin's earnest brown eyes, he realized, I can't do it. I can't challenge him to a duel. Not Kerrin; not my friend. I can't kill the one person who's stood faithfully by my side, believing in me, looking up to me... We practiced the sword and the guiolin together, dreaming of the day when we'd be minstrels, or a famous mercenary team. He's a little brother to me, and by the looks of him, he hasn't changed at all. He still needs me to look after him...
Gently he pushed the young man's arms away, his face grave as a powerful surge of protectiveness rose within him. And as an older brother, it's my responsibility to make sure Kerrin prospers. I'm not sure how he ended up being Amelia's fiance...
He stopped breathing, suddenly realizing that the solution to all of his problems was right in front of him. The stone man had to brace himself against the sudden pain that hit him like Filia's mace. He'll be much happier here in Seyrune, safe from those arrogant bastards, and... being married to Amelia. And Amelia will be safe, too. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard, fighting the urge to weep.
She'll never agree to it. I should have said that I do need to return to my family. I know what they're going to say, and I don't want to hear it. It's my fate to spend the rest of my days as a chimera. It has to be. Why else would Amelia-the very person I most want to be human for-be the only one who can perform the spell? The only one who has to take the risk of dying or going insane? And why, of all people, does Kerrin have to be my rival? I would almost think it's part of Shabranigdo's curse-to allow me to achieve happiness only by destroying those people closest to me. And I won't do that!
"Li? Are you all right?"
He opened his eyes to see Kerrin giving him a worried look. "Nothing. I'm... just glad to see you too, Kerrin," he said, calling upon all the years of practiced stoicism to keep his face calm and his voice steady, though his heart was breaking. I know my duty now. I see it clearly. Just one last thing to check, and if I'm right... "So... you're Amelia's fiance."
The youth glanced at her, and then looked away, blushing. "Not really. Miss Amelia only chose me because she had to pick somebody before she went to go look for you. Her bracelet lit up with this bright light and she said you were in trouble... "
Zelgadis nodded. "I was, but fortunately Lina was there to save my hide."
He caught the redhead's surprised expression at his unexpected praise as Kerrin turned to Lina and bowed his head, his voice fervent as he said, "Thank you, Miss Lina, for saving my cousin's life."
The diminutive sorceress developed a hint of pink over her nose as she said, "You're-you're welcome."
Zelgadis noticed her slight stutter. "I see you've become quite the charmer with the ladies, Rin." He put a note of amusement in his tone, although in truth he was far from amused.
Kerrin put a hand behind his head, grinning sheepishly. "No, not really."
The stone man tried to sound casual. "Oh, by the way, speaking of Amelia's ward bracelets... We discovered something even more remarkable about them on the journey back here."
"What is it?" Kerrin asked, his face brightening with curiosity.
Zelgadis suppressed a pang of nostalgia at seeing that familiar expression. "It turns out that her bracelets were made by one of her ancestresses in order to find the best matches for the royal children."
"Really? How do they work?"
With a start, Lina suddenly realized what he was doing and she hastily stepped in between them. "Uh, well, we really don't have time to go into all of that right now-we've got to start work on Zelgadis' c-"
"Lina." Zelgadis drew himself to his full height and stared her straight in the eyes. "I think it's only fair to give Kerrin a chance. He is her official fiance. If the Spheres say he isn't right for her, that would give him a way to back out of the situation with grace." I hope she doesn't remember that Phil didn't announce who Amelia's fiance is.
"But-" she exchanged unhappy glances with Amelia, while Gourry looked on in puzzlement.
Just then Phil took a step forward, looking thunderstruck. "Are you trying to tell me that those ward bracelets can actually help choose the next ruler?"
"Right." Zelgadis nodded and avoided looking at Amelia, not wanting to see the distress in her eyes. "All you do is have your prospective match wear one of the bracelets-they're actually called Star Spheres, by the way-and have the princess wear the other one. If your hand turns green, you're not a good match."
Kerrin let out a snort of surprised laughter. "Green?"
His laughter always was contagious, Zelgadis remembered, watching as the others began to smile, reacting to the youth's amusement.
Before any of them could interfere, he reached behind himself and pulled his canteen around to where he could reach it, and yanked the Sphere free, snapping the twine that held the cap to the bottle. "Here." He seized one of the young man's hands and slid the pink cloth band over his fingers.
"Hey!" protested the boy.
Amelia and Lina both let out exclamations of protest, but it was too late. The bracelet was on-and Kerrin's hand was still normal-colored.
The entire room went silent, waiting. Long moments passed, and nothing happened.
"No... " Lina breathed, glancing at the stricken princess.
Amelia felt her eyes stinging. Why did you do that, Zelgadis? Don't you want to marry me?
Kerrin looked puzzled. "Wait a minute. Wasn't my hand supposed to turn green? Is it working right?"
Amelia suddenly came to life. "Maybe they're not!" She snatched the Sphere from the youth's hand and grabbed the nearest man's hand, Gourry's, sliding it on over his large hand with difficulty. Instantly there was a crackling sound, and small ragged lines of yellow light appeared, flowing over the man's hand like miniature lightning. Slowly, his hand discolored, becoming a dull grayish-green. "Hey!" Gourry protested, too late.
Lina snorted, then began to laugh. Amelia covered her mouth, but soon gave in to giggles as well, and then Kerrin began to cough into his hand, his face turning red as he tried to hide his mirth.
"So... does that mean that either Kerrin or Zelgadis would make a good husband for Amelia?" asked Phil, scratching his shaggy black head. At this, everyone froze, staring at the evidence with bulging eyes.
Slowly, grimly, the stone man nodded. "Just as I thought. There is no such thing as a 'one true love'." A tiny sound of distress came from Amelia's direction, and Zelgadis dared not look at her. He went on, "That means that my cousin also has all the right qualities needed to make you happy."
"No!" Amelia protested, then her innate honesty made her say, "... Well, yes, technically, I suppose so, but I don't want him!" Her eyes widened as she realized how that sounded and hastily she turned to the younger man, waving her arms in a panic and babbling, "I'm sorry Kerrin-I didn't mean to insult you-I'm sure that you're a really great guy and all that and I know that a lot of girls would consider themselves lucky to have you but it's just that... I've already made my choice." She put a hand behind her head and laughed from embarrassment, feeling her face blazing. "I made it a long time ago."
Gourry was looking dubiously at his green hand. "Does this stuff wash off?"
Amelia gasped as she realized what she had done. "Oh, I'm sorry, Mister Gourry!" She reached out and slid the Star Sphere off of his hand. "Don't worry, it'll fade... eventually."
"Okay." Gourry grinned. "So does this mean I've been rejected?"
Amelia sweatdropped. "Uh, not that I don't like you, Mister Gourry, but you're just not my type-I mean, you would make a bad king-oh, that's not what I meant to say!" Again she blushed, and everyone chuckled, more as a release from the tension than out of any real humor.
"It's just as well. I'm already committed," said Gourry, looking at Lina with a smile, and she blushed.
"Anyway, Zelgadis, it doesn't matter what the Sphere says, Amelia's already decided-" Lina broke off. "Zel?"
All heads in the room swiveled, looking for the chimera-but it was too late. The door at the other end of the room was open, and Xellos' gem lay on the floor nearby. Zelgadis was gone.
Author's Notes: I hope this turnaround isn't too out of character for Zel. I had to make sure Kerrin was someone whose best interests Zelgadis would put ahead of his own. Only for someone Zelgadis truly loved-a little brother-would he give up the happiness he had more or less decided to shoot for. Of course, the fact that he was still undecided about letting Amelia perform the spell helped contribute to his decision.
Poor Zel-I feel like I'm torturing the guy. Let's just say that this is the final test of the love between the chimera and his princess.
I've been having trouble with my computer lately, so I may not be able to post on time next week. I'm going to be trying to figure out what's wrong with it, and thus I may be unable to go online for a while. Wish me luck!
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