Perchance to Dream
“You’ll wear this for the ball, right Miss Lina?”
“…I suppose, Amelia.”
“Miss Lina, are you okay? You’ve seemed… distant…”
“I’m fine, Amelia. Really. Now let me get ready…”
Lina would have said anything to get the bouncy girl out of the rooms she had been given in the Royal Palace of Saillune. Fortunately, it hadn’t taken much.
But Lina didn’t wear the dress.
She didn’t go to the ball.
She’d been too upset that Gourry was going to marry Sylphiel. Oh, she saw it coming, and there was no way that she’d ever have wanted a relationship with the blonde. But he’d told her that after he got married, he wouldn’t be able to roam the world. He’d promised Sylphiel that he’d help her rebuild Sairaag.
She’d picked up the dress, and knew that she wouldn’t be able to go.
Instead, she had opened the window, and taken off into the night, the dress still in her hands. Nevermind that she hadn’t answered Zelgadis. He’d find her…
She sank into the chair in the tavern and shook her head. Three years had gone by. Three years, and not a single word from any of them! She hadn’t gone out of her way to be hard to find, either. Nothing from Xellos, nothing from Amelia, nothing from Gourry… nothing from Zelgadis. But today, she’d gotten word. Today, of all days. Her first day back in Saillune.
It had been a strangely peaceful three years, she reflected. She’d had to close herself off, try to forget that question that Zelgadis had asked her so long ago in that little clearing in the trees. But it was good to see Amelia so grown and lovely. She wasn’t nearly as awkward as she had been back then. For some strange reason, now that Amelia’s hair was longer, Lina was reminded of Naga. She shook her head slowly and ordered a drink.
Normally, Lina stayed away from alcoholic beverages. She’d been spoiled in Zefilia, growing up with wine that bards sang odes to, and anything else tasted like vinegar to her. But today, after the news that she had gotten… even vinegar was less bitter. She drank the whole thing straight, knocking it back and setting the glass back on the bar with a thump.
She’d been so damn sure that Zelgadis and Amelia were meant for each other, no matter what those two had thought. That’s why she hadn’t answered him. She’d been so damn sure. She scowled at the empty glass, but put her hand over it when the bartender tried to refill it. No sense in getting drunk. She felt bad enough already.
That idiot and his cure.
She dropped a few coins on the bar and stalked back to her room. When she got to the door, there was a note tacked to it, and she pulled it off, closing the door behind her as she scanned the note.
Come see me? –Amelia.
Lina sighed and shook her head. She should have known better than to register with her name at the hotel. It was either that, or Amelia had seen her earlier.
No sense in putting it off… I guess I’d better go see her.
With that, she turned around and left her hotel room, pocketing the note, and headed for the Palace.
“Lina Inverse, Sorceress of Justice, Destroyer of Dragons, and Bandit’s Bane.”
Lina cringed as they announced her at the great doors of the Royal Hall. She had hoped that the stupid title Phil had given her had been forgotten.
The doors had been opened for her, and she stepped into the Hall quietly, only to walk smack into someone. Clearing the distractions out of her mind, she looked to see whom it was that she’d run into, and her apology drifted away as she registered Amelia.
A hand flashed out, Lina’s voice dying in shock as the impact of the slap stung sharply. Crimson eyes blinked, fiery lashes meeting and parting. She stepped backwards as her hand went reflexively to the offended cheek. “I… I suppose I deserved that…”
“How dare you! How dare you come back here?” Amelia hissed, anger building in her eyes. “Three years… you broke his heart!”
“I didn’t know, Amelia! How could I have known? It’s not as if you sent out couriers to find me! Hell, I expected to come back and find the two of you married by now!” Lina retorted, shaken by Amelia’s anger.
“He was in love with you, not me! You were supposed to be at the ball with him. But you ran away from us, rather than stay!” Amelia turned, stalking towards the far end of the Hall. “Now, come see what you have lost.” The latter was not a kind invitation, but a command that Lina felt impelled to comply with, even though she knew all too well what Amelia was about to show her.
The door that Amelia opened was set behind a curtain, Lina would not have known it was there. Lina paused at the threshold, but Amelia gave her an unceremonious shove through the door.
The room was lit by candles, a suffocating weight heavy with molten wax in the air. The closer she was to the archway on the other side of the room, the slower she moved. “I don’t want to go in there.”
“I’m not giving you a choice, Lina Inverse,” Amelia said quietly.
Lina sighed and stepped into the other room.
It was completely Amelia to have moved her things into the old room in the Royal Palace, Lina reflected. After Lina had come out of the small room, Amelia was as friendly and as sweet as before. But Lina had been badly shaken, and a guard had walked Lina to the room.
She’d picked at the meal that the servant had brought, for once unable to eat.
What if she had gone to the ball?
She shook her head, finding herself fingering the skirt of the dress that she had carried, yet still not worn. Maybe she would finally put it on, and go to say her farewells. She hadn’t been able to say them earlier…
The green velvet swished around her ankles as she tiptoed through the Hall, late in the night. She’d been unable to sleep, thoughts of what-if running through her head. Eventually, she’d decided that the only way to set it aside was to go face it and say her farewells. Satin slipped against stone, her footfalls stopping at the curtain. She paused, uncertain, then gave the door behind an experimental push. It opened soundlessly, and she stepped through it, allowing the curtain to fall closed behind her.
The candles were still lit, the heavy scent of melted wax clinging to her as she walked towards the tiny little room beyond. At the archway, she drew her breath, held it for a moment, then tiptoed in.
He was still lying there, the shadow of Death cast over him. If she didn’t know better, she’d think that he was only asleep, and that if she only breathed his name, that those ebony lashes would part and reveal his aquamarine eyes.
The story she had heard, how the Mazoku Xellos had goaded Zelgadis into a fight only a few days ago. Xellos claimed to have known where Lina was, but would not tell Zelgadis, instead replying with his ever-annoying phrase. A fight had broken out, chimera against Mazoku, neither winning. Zelgadis had beaten the Mazoku, but it had taken all of his strength.
Two days later, Zelgadis had died.
The day after that, Lina had arrived in Saillune.
Her eyes filled with unbidden tears, and she bent over, kissing his cold cheek, tears falling lightly onto his face, dampening the stone of his skin. She couldn’t stay here. If she did, she’d only spend the night crying at his side. She couldn’t understand it, couldn’t put her finger on why she was crying. Maybe she really had loved him… and run away from it again, just as her sister had warned.
She’d stay for the funeral… then turn herself loose in the world again. Run free once more and try to forget it all. After all… she was a Nightmare creature, a thing wild of Chaos, the human equivalent of a Mazoku. She couldn’t have any other life. No matter what.
She closed the door behind her, escaping the room and leaning against the fallen curtain. Oh, what if she had gone to the ball? A whisper of a wish, and she closed her eyes to see the room filled with people in her mind.
She looked around the room, saw him standing there. Right there by the door, a silent figure in black. Moving through the dancers, she crossed the room and stood face-to-face with him.
No words were exchanged, but hands met, and they began to dance with the waltz. She danced lightly, as she had not danced since her childhood. Eyes met, a shy smile on his lips, and he tilted his head. “I thought you wouldn’t come.”
“I…” She paused, then shook her head. Let the dream play out, Lina. Just once…take this chance to dream. She looked up to him. “I almost didn’t.”
The pressure of his hand at her back intensified slightly, and he turned her in his arms. “Why not?”
Lina sighed. “I’m not really… suited to this type of life, Zel… I…I’m a Nightmare creature. I don’t know what to do…”
He pulled her close as the waltz came to an end and looked at her intently. “You’re doing just fine, Lina. Now tell me… what is your answer…?”
She blushed at both the compliment and the proximity of his face to hers, pausing to try to think of a way out of that sudden question that she’d been avoiding. Something in his eyes caught her, and a thought flashed across her mind. Oh no… no… this is a dream! He couldn’t possibly have truly been in love with me! It was that spell! I’m just dreaming… He leaned in closer, and the voice in her mind started to scream. Wake up, Lina! You’re dreaming in the Royal Hall of Saillune just outside of where he lays in state! Wake up!!!
The hall was dark, as empty as she remembered it. She was alone with the fading fragments of a dream that might have been, but that she would never know what could have happened. She’d run from the possibility.
Gathering the folds of her skirt in one hand, she swiped at the tears on her cheeks with the other. I’m a fool. I should just go on to bed now and cry myself out. I’m sick of this being strong crud when all it gains me is more painful reasons to be strong. Luna was right. And now I’ve ruined my chance to dream on my own.
She stepped away from the door, walking quietly away from her dream and back to the cold reality of her room.
It was cold.
Hard to breathe.
Odd, that he was cold. He’d never noticed how sharply it bit.
He felt strange, as if he’d been asleep for a very long time.
He lifted fingers. His face was wet. Why?
He heard a door close nearby and rolled to his feet, looking around.
Morning came, and the sudden opening of the door awaked Lina from her miserable sleep rather abruptly. Amelia stalked in, glaring at Lina. “I can’t believe you! What have you done with him?”
“Him who?” Lina grumbled, pushing hair out of her face and wishing that she’d slept better. But that was her own problem, and she locked it firmly away behind the façade she’d spent the past three years building.
“You know who! I take you to him last night, and now he’s gone!”
Lina looked at Amelia disbelievingly. “Amelia, corpses don’t just get up and walk off.” She thought for a moment, then sat up and reached out for her clothes.
“Don’t talk about him like that!” Amelia snapped.
Lina sighed and shook her head as she began to dress. “Amelia, he’s dead. That means he’s a corpse. And I can’t cast resurrection…” Her head lifted, gaze snapping over to Amelia. “Hey, why didn’t you cast it? You can. You’re one of the few with high enough white magic training.”
Amelia turned a violent red, and spun away from Lina. The redheaded sorceress frowned for a moment, then lifted her eyebrows and made a silent “oh” with her mouth. That time of the month… After a moment of watching Amelia’s back as she fastened her blouse, Lina ventured a comment. “Don’t take it too hard, Amelia. It’s not your fault. It’s just bad… timing. But it still doesn’t explain why he’s gone.”
The princess sighed softly. “You’re right. I’m sorry that I thought you had done something…”
Lina stood, shook the wrinkles out of her cloak, and looked to Amelia. “Well, let’s see if we can find out what’s going on. Someone must have seen something…” she stepped out of the room, fastening her cloak about her.
Half the day had passed while Lina had asked around the city, Gourry and Sylphiel arriving in the late morning and helping after being brought up to date by Amelia. Sylphiel had immediately staunched her tears and offered to cast resurrection if it wasn’t too late. When Lina had returned, Sylphiel had immediately attached herself to the sorceress and dragged her right back out.
So Lina was standing in an alley in the middle of town, praying that she’d finally lost Sylphiel in the crowds. It wasn’t that she disliked the girl… but right now she didn’t want company. It was hard enough that she could tell that Sylphiel wanted to ask why she had run away, but respected Lina too much to ask. But she heard a noise behind her, and knew that she’d been found. Spinning around with an apology for vanishing on her lips, she froze when it wasn’t Sylphiel.
“Oh… sorry…” she mumbled, then turned to leave when a hand grasped her cloak. Caught, she spun around, a fireball forming in one hand, snapping hotly. “Look, I said I was sorry! Now let go of me or…” The fireball fell away, dying, and her mouth fell open in shock. “It can’t be… no way… you’re dead…”
Violet eyes opened for a brief moment. “I’m afraid that’s quite impossible, Lina. Given my nature and all…”
“Damnit, Xellos!” Lina leapt, landing on the Mazoku and pummeling him into the ground. “You’re supposed to be dead! So die already, or I’ll make your pathetic excuse for a life miserable for killing Zelgadis!”
“Ouch, Lina… but he’s not dead,” Xellos managed to get out before she stuck her boot in his face again.
“WHAT?” She picked her foot up from his face, and grabbed him by the neck, shaking him. “What are you talking about? If he’s not dead, then WHERE IS HE???”
Xellos was a masochist. It was the only reason that he replied the way he did. Even when Lina Inverse was shaking him hard enough that his teeth rattled.
“That, is a secret.”
Lina cast a dill brand on him and took off for the Palace.