Heart of Darkness
Dinner was a subdued affair, his earlier words still ringing in both their ears. He hadn’t meant to sound so angry… hadn’t meant to upset her. But if anything happened to her… He knew that he could survive most anything, but she was mortal. He knew that she’d died once, and it was only by the good grace of the Holy Tree of Flagoon and Sylphiel’s expert wielding of magic that had resurrected the redheaded sorceress. And as they had neither pure Holy ground, nor a full Cleric nearby, he knew that anything that might seriously injure Lina was good to steer clear of.
And that included that damned cave.
“Look, Lina… I was thinking…” Zelgadis started, cutting his steak into smaller bites than hers.
“I know what you’re going to say, Zel.” Lina said after swallowing a mouthful of meat. “And I guess you’re right. I mean, I’m not all that powerful in the grand scope of things. It’s not like I’m a Chaos Knight or anything. I’m lucky to be able to control the few Chaos spells that I do know… and we know how much it took to destroy Shabranigdo. Dark Star was completely out of my league. If it hadn’t been for Xellos and Filia…” Her voice trailed off and she pushed a few grains of rice around on her plate. “Dynast… if it is Dynast… wouldn’t be that strong… but I doubt he’s here. Before dinner, I went back through the books. The last known place that Dynast was bound was in the frozen north… close to where we found Galbeda.”
Zelgadis considered. “Either way, there is something reasonably nasty in that cave… and that makes it all the more important that we don’t go poking around in places that have things better left alone. We don’t know what’s out here: this part of the world hasn’t been explored in far too long.” He picked up his goblet of wine and studied it for a moment before tasting it. It wasn’t too bad, considering.
Lina slid down in her chair. “I just hate it when you’re right, Zel.” She scowled at the steak on her plate for a moment, and then sat up to return her attentions to it. “So what do you suggest we do instead?”
Zelgadis set the goblet down and looked thoughtfully around the restaurant. A thought came to his mind, but he set it aside for now. “I’m not sure. The local library showed some promise, but I know that you would lose your mind cooped up with books all day.”
“Tell you what, Zel,” Lina said around a mouthful of steak. “I’ll spend the day relaxing on the beach and you can read every book in that library.”
Aquamarine eyes narrowed. “Oh no, you won’t, Lina. The entrance to those ruins is on the beach, and we’re not going back there.” He pushed his plate away in irritation. “I’m not falling for it, Lina.” Her eyes had grown round and an air of ‘who me?’ had formed around her. “You’re not going back, and that’s final.”
Lina sighed and slumped in her chair. “It’s not fair, Zel.”
He looked wearily across the table at her. “What’s not fair, Lina?”
The tines of her fork chased a fragment of steak as she sulked. “You see through me so fast. It’s just not fair.”
This time, it was his turn to sigh. Her eyes flickered up, and she saw the emotions written in his eyes. “Lina… I can’t stand to think of you somewhere you might get hurt. Remember how you told me once that when you were sword-practicing, when you thought of me, you stumbled?” She nodded, and he continued. “Well, that’s how I feel when I think of you in those caves. And if I stumble when you need me…” His voice trailed off.
Lina stood, pushing her chair back. “Come on, Zel. We’ll leave town tomorrow. The ruins aren’t that important.”
Night fell, a velvety black quiet dazzled with silvery stars as they walked back to the hotel. They walked in silence, listening to the waves beat up against the nearby rocks, and he drew Lina a little closer to him as they went. It was such a peaceful night, the air was warm and the breeze was light, just the right climate for walking on the beach…
Zelgadis shook his head, clearing all thoughts of the beach. Something was wrong. There was something down there in those caves that wanted them to go back there. Something… or someone. As they entered the hotel, he paused at the desk and settled the bill. They were paid out through the morning, and they’d be able to leave early.
The sooner, the better.
He’d managed to talk Lina into turning in early, so they could get a head start on the morning, but a sound woke him in the middle of the night. Lina had gotten out of bed. There was another sound, like the hotel door opening-!
“Lina?” Zelgadis rolled out of the bed, the light spell snapping into existence without any real thought given to it. She was out in the hallway, barefoot in her white nightgown, walking in her sleep. It took no imagination to realize where she was headed, and he took off after her.
He caught her halfway down the hallway and grabbed her arm, spinning her around, the sudden shock of motion waking her. “Lina! Snap out of it! You’re sleep-walking.”
Her eyes widened, and first she looked at him, and then behind him. He registered it almost as soon as she did. It was a feeling quite like Xellos, and he pushed Lina back, spinning to see a dark shape reaching for him. Summoning his powers, he shot spells into the darkness, watching them vanish as if they’d never been cast. Something cold grabbed him, flung him into the air, and he heard her scream his name, saw her running towards him.
And then, there was nothing but cold blackness.