Only Stone on the Outside

by Dreamsinger

Only Stone on the Outside

a Slayers fanfic

by Dreamsinger

2003

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-13 - for a weird 'kiss' description

Note: Otar is pronounced OH-tar

Rokan is pronounced ROH-kahn

Chapter Eighty-Three: The Final Stretch / Water Fun

"Mister Xellos-are you here? Mister-oh, there you are." Amelia entered the music room to see the apparent man patiently waiting near her discarded guiolin.

He's still wearing the gem we borrowed. She felt a pang of wistfulness. The one Zelgadis liked because he said it matched my eyes. She tilted her head. Hm. Maybe that would make a nice wedding gift-a sapphire ornament to fasten his cape with.

"Are you ready to continue?" Xellos shrugged. "May I remind you that I don't particularly care if you succeed or not, but once I commit myself to a goal, I do try my best to succeed."

"Oh, yes-I'm sorry. Zelgadis and I had some things we had to-discuss," she said awkwardly, remembering their first kiss. She tried not to blush.

I'd dreamed of kissing Zelgadis for so long... It was... strange, but good. His tongue was so soft and warm, so unlike the rest of him... And yet, somehow it felt right. He's the same way-tough on the outside, kind and gentle on the inside...

Her eyes unfocused as she recalled the exact feeling of reaching out to touch his tongue with her own, despite the hard barrier of stone that separated them. I've felt something like that before... Oh, I know! When I was a child, I used to buy a type of candy-a big, hard ball like a lollipop, but there was a soft, sugary filling inside. I used to nibble until I'd made hole big enough, then I would stretch out my tongue and lick all the filling I could reach. Then I'd nibble some more... It was fun. I could do something like that for hours...

"Yes," Xellos answered dryly, making her jump as the world came back into focus. He raised an eyebrow at her. "I can imagine. I was with your friends while they were spying on your 'discussion', but when things threatened to turn... amorous... I became quite nauseated, so I decided to leave and wait for you here."

"Oh-you-heard?" Now Amelia knew she was definitely blushing-and that Xellos was probably enjoying the treat. She was mortified. It's bad enough to have my friends listen to our conversation, but Mister Xellos? I wonder if he felt me thinking about Zelgadis just now?

"Yes, I was there, up until the part where Zelgadis was asking you about young Kerrin." Xellos gave her a sly reverse-wink, opening one eerie pale amethyst eye. "I gather he was still worried that you might just choose the boy over him, when you finally get to see him as a human."

For just a moment Amelia wondered if Zelgadis would look anything like his present form when he became human. Then she shook her head. "Not any more. We had a long talk... and then he asked me to marry him. Of his own free will." She smiled in fond remembrance.

Xellos nodded, seeming to lose interest in the conversation now that Amelia was past her embarrassment. "Well, shall we continue?"

"Oh, wait." Amelia pulled the small golden orb from her fuzzy pink carry-pouch. She hadn't wanted to take the chance of dropping it in her dash through the vast palace. "Zelgadis gave me this. He says the Oracle gave it to him."

"Oh, really?" A brief, calculating expression flashed over the mazoku's face before it settled into a look of mild curiosity. "What does it do?" he asked innocently, reaching out to lift it from Amelia's hand.

"It plays the music we need for the spell."

Xellos jerked his hand away as if Amelia had offered him a fireball. "Oh," he said, looking a bit flustered. "I see."

His violent reaction startled her a bit. I wonder if mazoku can use something made with holy magic? "All right, Mister Xellos, let's see what it does. You may want to cover your ears." She focused on the golden orb, and slowly it began to glow. Wonder grew on the young girl's face as she heard the first lovely notes, and Xellos gritted his teeth in pain.

Zelgadis recalled how much his cousin loved animals, and found him tending to Sunshine in the barn behind the palace. He was wary at first, wondering if the youth resented being cast aside for his own cousin, but Kerrin showed no signs of resentment, and before long they were talking as if no time had passed since Zelgadis' departure from the Greywyrs estate.

Zelgadis found himself remembering the little things-his cousin's speech mannerisms, how he always ran his hand through his hair when he was upset or excited, even his favorite foods. His voice hasn't gotten much deeper, even if he is a good deal taller since the last time I saw him. He looks a little older, not bad-looking by any means... Come to think of it, Amelia once described her fiance as 'cute', didn't she?

"Have you had any girlfriends?"

"No... not really. I was sent to an all-boys' academy." Kerrin pushed a tuft of his auburn hair to one side and sighed. "Miss Amelia was the first girl I was ever really serious about."

Zelgadis gave him a sharp look. "'Was.' So you've really given up on her?"

Kerrin's brown eyes were sorrowful. "Well... I'm not happy about it, but it would be useless for me to try to woo her away from you. Anyone can see it."

"See what?"

"That she's madly in love with you."

A slight pink flush appeared over the chimera's nose, and he looked away. The sight of his discomfort made Kerrin smile. "You should have heard her talk about you at the ball," he said mischievously.

Zelgadis cleared his throat, his blush increasing. He rubbed the back of his neck with a stone hand, riffling through the wire hair with a silvery metallic sound. "Yes, well... "

Apparently his tender-hearted cousin decided he'd done enough teasing, for he turned away and began running a brush over Sunshine's golden coat. "Well, anyway, I can't say I envy you, Li," he said lightly, "having to learn to run a whole kingdom. One clan is enough for me."

Zelgadis stared at him. The top of Kerrin's head, covered with his familiar mane of unruly red-brown hair, was only a few inches higher than the tall mare's back. In the yellow lamp-light, the young man looked rather small and vulnerable, and it brought forth the stone man's protective side-and something else.

All of his life Zelgadis Greywyrs had had to fight, sometimes winning and sometimes losing, but he'd never won over an opponent whom he cared about or respected as much as he did Kerrin... and never had he been the victor in a rivalry over a woman. It was an unusual feeling, wanting to extend a magnanimous hand to the loser, but as he looked at the young man who stood there, trying bravely to swallow his disappointment and smile cheerfully, he was moved to do something for his cousin.

Impulsively, he stepped forward and placed a gentle stone hand on the youth's narrow shoulder. As Kerrin turned to look at him, Zelgadis said, "Rin... after Amelia gets to know you a little better, I'll ask her to introduce you to someone nice."

Kerrin's eyes widened a little, and Zelgadis suddenly felt awkward. He dropped his hand, mumbling, "She has a lot of friends, so I'm told... I'm sure there's a wonderful, sweet girl out there somewhere who will be just right for you."

"Thanks." Kerrin sounded slightly surprised. Zelgadis looked up, his head tilted inquiringly, and the youth elaborated, "I've never known you to be so concerned with courting before. You used to scorn women."

"That's because women used to scorn me." Zelgadis smiled wryly, and his cousin laughed.

Shiran nudged the youth with her long, graceful muzzle, asking to be let in on the happiness. Kerrin reached out a hand and stroked the fluffy sheaf of purple hair between her long tapered ears, which the tall beast accepted with dignity.

"I'm surprised she let you pet her," Zelgadis remarked. Shiran turned to look up at him, her emerald eyes glowing peaceably.

"Why?"

"She's a dragonwolf. She usually doesn't pay much attention to other people besides Amelia and myself-she's bonded with us." He looked thoughtfully down at the beautiful lavender beast. "I suppose she senses that you're important to me. She'll probably protect you if you're ever in danger." Like her 'sheep', he thought to himself, amused.

"A dragonwolf? I've never heard of them," Kerrin said curiously.

"Well, technically she's a chimera-it's a long story. She was created to be a guardian."

Kerrin looked fascinated. "You mean not all chimeras are awful, twisted monsters?" the youth asked with the impulsiveness that Zelgadis remembered, and then he blushed. "Not that you're a monster-it's just-I knew you before you got-and I remember what you looked like, so of course I see how different you look now."

Zelgadis remembered why he sometimes used to look for places where he could be alone when he was younger. Rin still doesn't think much before he speaks.

Kerrin must have noticed the stone man's pained expression, for he added hastily, "But you didn't change that much-I recognized you right away, didn't I? And it didn't make a difference to me. You're still Li; still my favorite cousin."

And I remember now why I used to spend so much time with him. He has a good heart... like Amelia. Perhaps that's what drew me to her in the first place. Subconsciously, she reminded me of the one person I valued most.

Kerrin was still looking anxiously at him, and Zelgadis smiled. "Amelia tells me you're going to be my brother soon."

"What?"

The chimera's smile widened. I always did love to surprise him. His reaction are priceless. "She says her father's taken to you. Apparently, that means you'll be treated more like a brother than a cousin-by-marriage."

"Really? So I'll get to be your brother for real?"

Zelgadis nodded, and watched his cousin's face light up with a huge grin, losing some of his freckles in the creases. "Wahoo!"

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

Amelia took a deep breath and let it out in a pure, clear note, matching her voice as well as she could to the exquisite music produced by the golden orb. Xellos, now wearing enormous fuzzy purple earmuffs, nodded and gave her the 'OK' sign. Amelia smiled with relief. I have to get this right. I won't fail Zelgadis, no matter what!

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

Hours passed. The two cousins caught up on family news. They spoke of magic, horses, hedge-hurdling races, and swordsmanship, but after a while the chimera began to notice the odd, wistful looks that Kerrin kept giving him. "What's wrong?"

"Well... you aren't exactly the Li I remember. You... you don't laugh as much as you used to."

Quietly, he said, "I haven't exactly had much to laugh about in the last four years."

Kerrin looked even more concerned. "You're more serious, almost... bitter. When you do make a joke, there's always a dark side to it."

Zelgadis suddenly remembered the scene in Amelia's bedroom. "Sorry... I guess I have become a little pessimistic, after all these years. Lina and Amelia have both been scolding me about it lately. I promised myself I would try to think more positively from now on." He gave his cousin a roguish grin, reminiscent of their younger days together. "You'll help me, won't you?"

Kerrin blinked, then responded in kind. "Sure. I can help you remember how to have fun, old timer."

Caught off guard, Zelgadis' mouth dropped open before he could stop himself. "What?"

His cousin responded with a burst of laughter and bent down to grab a handful of straw from the floor, tossing it in Zelgadis' direction and scampering off toward the end of the barn.

"Why, you-you come back here!" Chuckling, the chimera sprinted off after his young cousin, his heart light.

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

Amelia lifted her glass and took a few swallows of cool, soothing water, feeling her heartbeat gradually slow. She took out a pink handkerchief and wiped the sweat from her brow, glad that her bangs were out of the way, still fastened in the topknot that Zelgadis had tied for her every day of their trip since they'd lost the Woodwind.

The stone man had been so driven to return to the palace that he had grown impatient with even the most necessary of chores, so every morning she had grabbed her brush and whisked away the night's snarls as fast as she could, then presented herself in front of the chimera with white ribbon in hand, sweetly asking him to tie it for her.

The first couple of times he tried to brush me off. I think he was embarrassed because Miss Lina and Mister Gourry were watching. '"Not right now, Amelia. We've got to get moving,"' he'd say. '"It'll only take a minute,"' I'd answer, and he'd look over at the others and see that they were smiling, but not as if they were making fun of him, and he'd sigh and say, '"Fine. Come stand over here." ' By the third day he seemed to be over his embarrassment, and just tied my bow with a nod and a smile.

I wonder if I should grow my hair out? I still think this hairstyle is childish, but there's lots of things you can do with long hair, things that I could ask Zelgadis to help me with...

She reached for her glass and drained it. It's a good thing the Oracle's song isn't too hard. We've got all the words matched to the music already. Mister Xellos says it's good enough, but I won't be satisfied with just 'good enough'. There's still a few places that I think need a little work. I'll only have one chance to get this right-it has to be perfect!

She took a deep breath and then winced, placing a hand to her throat and casting Healing. The raw, throbbing feeling inside her throat diminished, and she stood up, reaching for the golden orb. Don't worry, Zelgadis, I'm almost done...

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

"Listen, Rin... I'm sorry you got stuck with my title." Though his tone was serious, Zelgadis' mouth quirked at one corner as he spoke, aware of the irony. Clan leader... most men would covet such a position. Yet his gentle cousin was even less suited to the title than he had been.

Typically, Kerrin only shrugged and said, "It's not so bad."

Zelgadis eyed his cousin, who was sitting next to him on a pile of straw near the barn doors. "It's not?"

"Sometimes in life you have to resign yourself to situations you can't change, and try to look for ways to make a happy life anyway. I still have a lot of fun."

Zelgadis couldn't hold back a grin. "That sounds like something Amelia would say," he remarked, half admiring, half teasing. "Of course, she loves the idea of dispensing justice, so she's willing to put up with the drawbacks of being a princess."

"I remember how everyone treated you before you went away... but I don't have it as bad as you did," Kerrin explained. "I was sent away to school for four years. I learned how to ride, how to give orders (when I was put in charge of a team), and how to fight. The family seems to respect me, maybe because I didn't grow up at home, so they see the adult Kerrin as someone different from the child they used to know. Our older cousins tried to challenge me a few times, but after I defeated most of them on the sparring grounds, they stopped."

The young man shifted to sit cross-legged in the straw. "I can still see the surprise in people's eyes sometimes, but no one seems to want me to step down, so don't worry about me. I'll be all right."

Zelgadis' eyes narrowed. Unless someone uses more clandestine means to get rid of him. I'm glad he's going to be living here, where I can keep an eye on him. Just because I want to have brighter hopes for the future doesn't mean I want to take foolish risks. "What about Otar? He's not the type to back down so easily."

"Oh... " His cousin's bright brown eyes dimmed. "He and Rokan are dead. They killed each other in a duel."

Silently, Zelgadis digested this news. Good. The worst of the lot are gone. Most of the rest were divided into factions, depending on which potential clan leader they supported, so if we can make alliances with those few, the rest will fall into line.

"Listening to Miss Amelia made me think. She said I could use my position to raise the standards of the morals in the family." Kerrin smiled slightly. "Now, I don't know how much I can do to influence the older family members, but most of the younger people... Well, we have eight children younger than me, and the older cousins are starting to marry off. Pretty soon there will be a whole new generation to teach. Growing up in Seyrune will be good for them."

Zelgadis nodded approvingly. He has the right attitude.

"And Prince Philionel has been teaching me leadership techniques," Kerrin piped up.

Zelgadis facefaulted sideways right into the pile of straw, picturing his impressionable young cousin turned into a Prince Phil clone, all loud voice and hearty attitude, a brash, egotistical-if well-meaning-Defender of Justice. Just what I need-another one in the family! As if two isn't enough...

"That's... nice," he managed to say as he sat up, stifling his more negative comments. "Listen, Rin... I promise to do everything I can to support you."

"Thank you, Li." Kerrin's eyes shone as he vowed, "And I promise to do everything I can to make the Greywyrs name an honorable one."

Zelgadis bowed his head, and his cousin returned the gesture of respect.

For a while, there was quiet in the large barn. Zelgadis took a deep, relaxing breath, enjoying the soothing smells of hay, wood, and horses, listening to the chirping of the night insects and the quiet, heavy movements of sleepy horses. He leaned back against the barn wall, closing his eyes against the yellow glow of the oil lamp, feeling a curious sense of peace. One way or the other, this is all going to be over with very soon.

"Hey, Li?"

"Mm?"

"Are you going to keep your name when you marry Miss Amelia?"

Languidly, Zelgadis murmured, "I hadn't really thought about it."

"Because-"

Zelgadis' pointed ears twitched. "Hush, Rin." He lifted his chin, listening. "Someone's calling."

Kerrin jumped to his feet. "Do you think they're ready?"

Zelgadis pushed his crossed feet against the floorboards and rose gracefully. "Let's go see."

Outside, it was a full moon, illuminating the palace grounds with bright silver light. Zelgadis was stunned when he realized its position. "It's late!"

"Mister Greywyrs! Mister Greywyrs!"

A young page came bounding across the yard. "They're ready for you, Mister Greywyrs. I'm to take you to get changed immediately."

All of the easy, relaxed feeling disappeared. "Changed?" he exclaimed, aghast. "What do you mean, changed? We haven't got time for that; look at the moon!"

The young boy shuffled his feet in the dirt. "It's just past eleven, according to the big tower clock. Miss Amelia is already getting ready."

"This is ridiculous!" Zelgadis growled. "What if the spell takes an hour to cast? What is she thinking of?"

Beside him, Kerrin ran a hand through his auburn hair. "She has spent the whole night practicing... " he said mildly.

In other words, she knows what she's doing. "Fine." He glared down at the cowering page. "Don't just stand there, take me to wherever they're waiting for me!"

"Yes, sir!" The page broke into a run toward the palace, with the two older men at his heels.

Zelgadis and Kerrin were met by a tall, thin older gentleman with a neat gray mustache in the main entryway. "Who are you?" Zelgadis asked suspiciously.

Shiran sniffed the man's knee, but did not seem inclined to think he was dangerous.

"My name is Andon, sir," the man said briskly, glancing down at Shiran, but otherwise showing remarkable poise at being faced with the large dragonwolf. "I am head of the household staff, and Miss Amelia has asked me to see to your needs before you meet her for the ceremony. If you will both follow me, sirs." He bowed his head slightly and began walking down the main hall, his boots echoing on the black marble floor.

Zelgadis exchanged a bewildered glance with Kerrin, who shrugged, and then both of them fell into step behind the rapid strides of the tall gentleman. Shiran trotted at Zelgadis' side, her fluffy tail held in a high, lazy curl.

Head of staff, huh? Well, he seems competent enough, but what's this about our 'needs'?

Zelgadis had just opened his mouth to ask when Andon stopped in front of a door and opened it. He stepped aside and gestured to the two younger men, who automatically entered the room and then stopped short.

An enormous black marble bathing pool filled with greenish herbal-water steamed serenely in front of them. There were little stools and other bathing items nearby on the tiled floor.

"Are you crazy?" Zelgadis protested. "We haven't got time for a bath!"

"Miss Amelia insisted, sir," Andon said quietly, but firmly. "Both of you are to bathe and change clothing with utmost haste. I was also told to inform you that there will be a special ceremony preceding the wedding. Miss Amelia specifically stated that it would not take long."

Zelgadis clenched his fists, furious about the delay, but one glance at Kerrin made him notice the smear of dirt on the youth's cheek and his dusty, mussed-looking hair. He must have gotten like that while we were in the barn-and we were only in there for a few hours. I must look terrible, too... The last bath we all had was when we stayed at that inn, which was over a week ago, wasn't it?

Shiran was beginning to growl, reacting to his anger. "Hush, Shiran," he said, and she quieted.

The waiting water did look inviting. "Fine," he muttered. I hope Amelia knows what she's doing. He turned to face Andon. "Call us in ten minutes," he said tersely. "Ten. No more."

Andon bowed. "Understood, sir." He closed the door, leaving Zelgadis in a bathing area with someone other than Gourry for the first time since he'd been cursed.

His young cousin immediately began pulling off his clothes, dropping them hither and yon and heading for the stools, an anxious look on his face. Shiran went over to the bathing pool, sniffed the water and then put out a large pink tongue, lapping at the green water. She seemed to think it was tasty enough.

Zelgadis hesitated. It's one thing to bathe with Gourry-he's never cared what I looked like-but Kerrin... I know we took baths together when we were younger, but now, when I look like this...

"Hurry up, Li," Kerrin called over his shoulder as he knelt to scoop up some water with one of the small wooden buckets, dousing himself. "What are you doing over there?"

Zelgadis jumped, then began tugging off the new clothes that Amelia had given him, mentally shoving aside his qualms. He set the clothes in a neat pile near the door, then made himself walk to the other stool and sit down, facing away from Kerrin.

He looked into the small wooden bucket and noticed, after a moment, that there was a small, stiff-bristled wooden brush along with the soap and other ordinary bathing implements. Was this Amelia's doing, or someone else's? Maybe that Andon? If so, he really is competent, noticing that my skin can take rougher treatment, and taking steps to provide me with this brush. I'll have to thank him later. I can bathe a lot easier this way.

He emptied the bathing implements on the floor, then knelt by the pool and used the bucket to scoop up the herbal-scented water and soak himself, then brought the half-full bucket back to his stool.

A busily-scrubbing Kerrin looked up at him as he walked by, and the chimera winced reflexively under the scrutiny. His cousin smiled slightly, and went back to trying to get the dirt out from under his fingernails.

Zelgadis was almost disappointed. Here I am, a distorted version of the cousin he once knew, and he doesn't find that worthy of comment? At least, a good long stare? Disgruntled, he dropped down onto the small stool and dipped his brush into the bucket, then roughly ground the bar of soap into the stiff bristles and began scrubbing his hated blue stone skin.

He was almost done when he noticed his young cousin giving him a sidelong glance. Oddly enough, this made him feel better. So... he's learned a bit of discretion after all. He's trying not to hurt my feelings by staring.

His cousin's thoughtfulness made him feel more companionable. He felt his shoulders relax, realizing as he did so that he'd been sitting there all hunched over, his traitorous body language clearly displaying his need for self-protection.

He glanced at the young man sitting next to him, remembering old times, wondering idly if Kerrin had changed much since then. He couldn't see much of his young cousin at the moment, as Kerrin was covered in fluffy white soapsuds, but when the youth got up from his stool and went to douse himself with bathwater, he revealed a trim, lean, tanned body.

He's definitely grown since I left, Zelgadis mused as he watched the youth kneeling at the water's edge, scooping and pouring the water over himself, the muscles in his back and shoulders flexing. His body... I think mine was like that, once. Small and wiry, without the physical power I craved, although I did have speed and flexibility on my side in a fight. Hm. You can tell he's a swordsman. His arms have decent-sized muscles, and his hands are callused. He's got several battle-scars... I wonder, will he be taller than me when I become human again?

Zelgadis finished his self-ministrations and went to sit in the marble bath-pool while Kerrin shampooed and rinsed his water-darkened hair, letting the suds drain into the grate in the floor.

With Shiran watching attentively, the stone man submerged himself and swished his head through the water to dislodge whatever dust might have settled on the shining metal strands, glad that he never really needed to wash it.

He surfaced just in time to hear, "Look out, I'm coming in!"

FOOSH! Zelgadis received a wet slap in the face. His stone skin wasn't hurt, but his nose and mouth got swamped. He was seized by a coughing fit, sputtering and snorting as his cousin leaped to his feet in the waist-deep water.

"Hoo!" the youth yelled. "That's hot!"

Shiran gave a sort of woof and danced at the water's edge, clearly ready to jump in at a moment's notice.

"Hey!" Zelgadis sputtered indignantly, standing up. "Watch it!"

He smacked the water with an open hand, sending a spray of greenish liquid at his cousin, who dodged it, grinning impishly. "Sorry."

Zelgadis looked at the cheerful face in front of him and suddenly saw another face, much younger, but with the same happy smile, the same laughing bright brown eyes, the same earnest, eager demeanor, and suddenly he felt a burst of jubilant energy take hold of him.

He spoke in a low, deadly tone. "That's not good enough, cousin."

Kerrin's face went from cheerful to startled. Zelgadis gave the younger man a wicked gin, and then shouted dramatically, "Dying Dragon!" and threw himself backward with his arms out to the sides, an old move he'd often used in their water-fights as youngsters.

"No, not that!" Kerrin threw up his arms just as a phenomenal surge of water struck him like a typhoon, almost knocking him off his feet.

Shiran howled as she got caught in the backwash, leaving a big wet slick in the lavender fur on her side.

Zelgadis surfaced in time to watch his cousin doing the ow-hot-hot-hot dance, and grinned. I guess a stone body even gives me an advantage in the water, as long as it's not too deep. I only feel a pleasant warmth. Then again, Rin's always been more sensitive to hot water than me. Look at how red his skin is already.

"Hey, lobster-boy," he teased, "I thought you'd have grown out of that by now. Do you feel faint? Should I go get a cool cloth to put on your forehead?"

Kerrin's face could not get any redder, but it tried. He had indeed fainted a few times during baths when he was younger, and Zelgadis still liked to tease him about such 'unmanly' behavior.

"Why, you-" The young man used his hands as a scoop and began splashing for all he was worth. The chimera returned the action, and soon nothing could be seen of the two cousins amidst the shining sprays of water flying everywhere.

Shiran leaped and dodged, snapping enthusiastically at any water that happened to come her way, letting out short, high howls of excitement.

Zelgadis had to breathe by straining air and water through his teeth, but he didn't care. He was laughing harder than he had since the time that he and Amelia had chased each other around inside Sunshine's stall on the Woodwind, and enjoying every moment of it.

Eventually, the sound of someone loudly clearing their throat brought their sport to an awkward halt. Andon stood just inside the open door, his mustache twitching as if he wanted to smile, but he merely said, "I apologize for interrupting you, sirs, but you did specify ten minutes only."

"Ah... yes." Zelgadis climbed from the pool, thoroughly embarrassed. "Thank you."

Andon held out a pair of small white towels. Each of the men took one and wrapped it around his own waist. "Now, if you will follow me, gentlemen," Andon said, nodding politely and turning to leave.

Shiran chose that moment to shake vigorously, sending volleys of water from her soaked lavender fur.

Andon did not appear to notice, but Zelgadis winced to see a hundred tiny dark spots appear on the back of the man's impeccable pale gray suit. The stone man turned to look at Kerrin, who pointed at the spots and then covered his mouth with a hand in order not to laugh.

Suddenly Zelgadis grinned back. What is it about people like Kerrin and Amelia that brings out the child in me? I ought to be mortified to have someone like Andon see me so undignified, but for some reason it doesn't bother me. It was... fun.

As he approached the doorway, he paused, then went to his clothes and rummaged through them. As he stood up, he was holding the Star Sphere that Amelia had given him. For a moment he gazed down at it, cradled in his bare blue palm, then followed Kerrin through the door.

Author's Notes: I'm making the chapters longer now, so it won't be too many more until Only Stone ends. I can't decide if I'll be more happy or sad then...

-Does anyone know what the 'wil' in Amelia's name means? And is 'Tesla' her family name or part of her title?

-Thank you to the many many people who suggested red-colored stones! There were so many that I ended up checking out some library books and reading up on gemstones. I was looking for red, but then we had an autumn fair in town, and one of the craft vendors was selling stone jewelry and-my favorite-little carved, polished stone animals. I got a horse carved from sandstone, and a ring with the exact color stone that I always think of as rose-colored-Amelia's color, in my fic. It's a rubellite tourmaline, so that's what I chose to use in my fic. It's not opaque, but close enough. Plus, I like the sound of the name. Talythia Starseeker mentioned tourmalines in her wonderfully informative review-and thanks for saying you like peridots-they're one of my birthstones. (I've never liked them. Yellow-green-ugh.) August also has carnelian as a birthstone, which I like better, (my favorite color has always been bright red). Garnets have asterism, hm?...

-I'll be using other stones as well. Para mentioned spinel, which I really like from the pictures I've seen, plus I've been really getting into CardCaptor Sakura-season three, the best season, where there's several love confessions, Toya's great sacrifice, and getting to see Li comforting a crying Sakura in his arms. There are two new characters named Ruby and Spinel, and I would never have known that 'spinel' is the name of a stone often mistaken for ruby, so now I'm like "Ruby and Spinel-I get it!" I like being in on the in-jokes.

Kaeru Soyokaze comments: Another brilliant chapter! I have to admit, I'm still blinking whenever Zel or Amelia call each other "dearest" or "darling"...I guess I just got so accustomed to hearing the chimera address her only by her name that it seems strange to me. I'm sure I'll get used to it eventually. and I LOVE the Oracle. Where the heck did you come up with a character as cool and color-changey as her? (It?)

-As for Zel and Amelia addressing each other by cutesy names-Amelia is a very dramatic person by nature-in very intimate, emotions-running-high moments I think she'd want to show her feelings for Zelgadis. As for Zel, he's taking his cues from her. She really seems to like it when he calls her by a name that means she's the most important person in his heart. (She'd like it even more if he serenaded her or read her love poems, but this IS Zelgadis, ne? One-word utterances are about all he can manage for now, but he's trying.)

-I got the idea of the Oracle from looking at pictures of the Clare Bible's orb. In my head I hear the voice of the woman from the episode of Hey Arnold who was a fortuneteller, with a sort of Brooklyn accent, and as for the colors-I associate color with emotion, just like a lot of people. It seemed natural to make the Oracle many colors, instead of just one. You can't do that with people.

Ichiban Victory asks: Aye, was there a warning on this chapter? (chapter 82)

-Yup. I rated it RG-15, just in case.

Talythia Starseeker comments: Zel's reaction to that kiss was...interesting. I've never seen the fact that...well, it's basically one of the very few parts of his body where he can still feel full tactile sensations and human senses and all that explored in a fic before.

-I often wonder why no one else seems to have deduced that fact. He must be normal inside-he bleeds, breathes, eats and drinks, and his tongue looks normal to me on screen, so...

an unauthored comment: I don't mean to sound blunt, but I'm a very strong advicate AGAINST using script in any situation. I think you're too creative and original to stoop to such a choppy and rough scene. Judging by how good the rest of this story is, it just isn't something I thought you would do.

-Thank you for the compliments-and your concern. You would be totally justified in your objections if I had used script format in order to avoid the work of writing a fully-fleshed out scene, except that I chose script format mainly because in my flashback scenes, what's actually going on is sort of a verbal shorthand. My characters are sitting there, and one is saying, "... and then she said, '"-"', and then I said, '"-"', and then she said, '"-"

-And so on. This is very boring for a reader.

-Now, I use script format in flashbacks because to me it's useful for conveying two things: One-the feeling that you're hearing a retelling of something that's already happened-it's happening faster than normal because it's actually a recap of previous information. (Previously known to at least one of the characters, if not the audience.) Two- it lets me convey things that I do consider important to my readers-tones of voice and the Oracle's color-emotions, for example.

-I understand your objection to using script format-perhaps many people do associate said format as a lazy way to write a story (I can't blame them, considering all of the haphazardly-written fanfics out there)-but in my case, I deliberated carefully before deciding on a script format, for flashback scenes only. Again, thank you- it's nice to know that there are some people out there with editing skills who care enough to let me know if I botch up.

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