Perchance to Dream
The wolf was not a wolf as far as true lupines go. Indeed, the wolf was the Greater Beast herself… but there was no sense in telling any of them that. At least, not right now. She simply paced back and forth before the little group, waiting to see what would happen.
Lina pushed past Zelgadis and Gourry, walking slowly and carefully up to the creature and knelt down to bring herself closer to eye level with the wolf, resting her hands across her knee. She knew that she’d probably be injured badly if it decided to leap at her and attack, but she had to take the chance.
“I am Lina Inverse. I’m here to seek audience with the Greater Beast Zelas Metallium,” she said quietly, watching the wolf.
The wolf approached Lina, and the men gripped their swords tighter. There was an unspoken understanding between Swordsman and Shaman. If the wolf leapt, it wasn’t going to land on Lina alive.
But the wolf simply sniffed one of her hands, then turned and moved towards the line of trees from where it came.
Lina rose, glancing back towards the others and followed the wolf. But when the others began to follow as well, the wolf stopped, and growled a low warning in her throat. Alarmed, Lina looked back to the group. “Guys, I… I think I’m to follow alone.”
There was an affirmative whuff from the wolf, and Zelgadis’ eyes narrowed. “I don’t like this, Lina.”
Lina sighed, shaking her head. “It’s not for us to like, Zel. But if I hope to have a chance, we have to play by the rules given. Remember, we’re only here as long as we’re tolerated. The Greater Beast is powerful enough to destroy us with a simple thought.”
The wolf waited silently by the entrance to the woods, watching. This was the first test to see if they were worth the effort.
Zelgadis sheathed his sword. “One sign of trouble, Lina. One little sign and nothing will keep me out of there. I’ll take the whole island apart if I have to.”
Lina smiled faintly. “I don’t doubt it, Zel. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t come to that.”
She didn’t say goodbye… she’d learned a long time ago that the word goodbye was all too often the very last word ever offered. So instead, she smiled quickly, then ducked into the forest behind the wolf.
Amelia shivered violently, looking after Lina. “I have a strange feeling about this, Zelgadis. What do we do now?”
“The only thing we can do, under the circumstances. We stay here, stay out of trouble, and wait,” Zelgadis replied.
Lina followed the wolf through the forest, occasionally having to duck under a tree branch or pick her way through a briar-bush. She was becoming more and more positive that the wolf was deliberately picking a harder path in order to test the sorceress, but Lina knew better than to say anything about it. She’d walked through worse, and complaining would only lower her ultimate overall impression.
About twenty minutes into following the wolf, a thought occurred to her, and she looked to the wolf. “I get it. I’m following you.”
The wolf stopped and turned to look at her, a strange intelligence shining in the lupine eyes.
“You’re the Greater Beast. You’re Zelas Metallium,” Lina said quietly, studying the wolf.
No sooner had Lina said it, the wolf shifted, a swirl of power transforming the wolf into a tall well-tanned blonde woman with a white slip-dress and heavy gold bracelets. Eyes that held the secrets of the Mazoku turned to the sorceress, and a hand lifted a cigarette to perfectly shaped lips. “Do you know how hard it is to smoke when you’re a wolf?”
Lina blinked, that hardly being the first thing she expected from the Greater Beast. “Um… close to impossible, I’d imagine,” she ventured.
The blonde nodded, exhaling a puff of smoke. “So… Lina Inverse… what is it that you want?”
Whoa… straight to the point… Well, I guess there’s no beating around the bush with her… Lina thought. “I came to ask you why Xellos is dying.”
“Why does it matter to you?” Zelas asked, bringing the cigarette back up to her lips and inhaling.
Lina sighed. “There are a great number of reasons. Yeah, sure, picking on Amelia was pretty low, even for him… and kidnapping me wasn’t one of his brighter moves… but as strange as it may seem, I’ve come to think of him as one of my friends. And I’m kind of protective about my friends.” She looked to Zelas quietly. “And my life would be a lot more boring without him around.”
“If you must know, it was the Cepheid Knight who insisted. She wasn’t pleased with his actions, and came to me to discuss it,” Zelas’ words were punctuated by the swirl of her cigarette smoke.
Lina unconsciously stepped backwards. “My sister…? Luna? But how…”
The Greater Beast Zelas Metallium waved indifferently as she knocked some ashes off of her cigarette. “We have dinner once a week and play gin rummy. She mentioned it in passing.”
Lina fell over. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she had a vision of Luna and Zelas sitting at a table playing rummy. It was just enough to seriously play with her mind. Collecting herself and standing back up, she looked to Zelas incredulously. “You’re telling me that you’re getting rid of Xellos because my sister mentioned it over a card game?”
“Of course. Luna and I are friends… and she’s so hard to calm down when upset.” Zelas obviously failed to see the problem.
Lina put her hand to her forehead. “Unbelievable… Just,” she looked to Zelas, letting her hand fall. “Don’t kill him, please?”
Zelas looked to the small redheaded human. “A human asks clemency for a Mazoku? Moreover, you, his target, asks?”
Lina shrugged. “Call me a pushover. In a weird sort of way, it’s kind of flattering that I have the attentions of your General-Priest.”
Zelas smiled faintly, nodding to Lina. “I’m certain that I can make Luna understand. Very well, Lina Inverse. Your request is granted.”
Lina blinked in surprise for what must have been the hundredth time. “That easy? You’re going to let Xellos live and stand up to my sister that easily?”
Zelas Metallium smiled at Lina, and the sorceress felt a chill run down her back. “Your sister isn’t the monster, Lina Inverse. I am.”
Lina shuddered at the thought, and suddenly found herself standing in the hallway of the royal palace of Saillune with everyone else standing beside her. The entire group looked around at the Palace walls, confused. Zelgadis was the first to recover himself and turn to Lina. “What happened, Lina?”
Lina sighed, leaning against the wall. “The Greater Beast said that she’d let Xellos live… and then we were all standing here. My guess is that we’ll have a visit from the ungrateful Mazoku shortly. Now if you don’t mind, it’s been a long day and I’m going to take a nap before anything else happens.”
As Lina turned and walked down the hall, everyone else looked to each other, silently concerned. Zelgadis moved to follow Lina, but Sylphiel touched him on the arm and he turned to look to her.
“You’ve done a lot more than you usually do… You ought to go rest as well. Let one of us keep an eye on Lina this time,” Sylphiel said quietly.
For a moment, he considered arguing the point. But the more he thought, the more he realized that she was right. With a sigh, he looked down towards Lina’s room, but shook his head. “Fine, but who will watch her?”
Naga lifted her hand. “I’ll go. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her. If she can’t sleep, at least we will be able to catch up.”
Zelgadis looked at Naga. “You can’t possibly fight off Xellos.”
“Maybe not,” Naga admitted, having learned the hard way that the ‘I can do anything’ attitude didn’t work with Zelgadis. “But I can scream loud enough for you all to hear me.”
Amelia blanched, recalling some of her sister’s more ear-splitting laughs. “She’s not kidding about that, Zelgadis. When Gracia wants to be heard…”
Naga stuck her tongue out at Amelia and flipped the corner of her cloak as she walked past the group and on to Lina’s room.
Well… at least she’s sticking to the shirt and pants… Amelia thought as she watched Naga slip into Lina’s room.
Before anyone could go anywhere else, the door to Lina’s room came flying open and Naga tumbled out into the hall. Lina’s voice could be heard quite clearly, even from halfway down the hall. “I can take care of myself, damnit!” The door slammed shut, and the lock was thrown.
Naga sat up and looked at the door, calling back. “I’ll just sit out here, Lina. Holler if you need anything.”
Zelgadis sighed and turned away, heading for his room. He was pretty sure that Lina wouldn’t have tossed him out… but Sylphiel was right. Giving control to the Mazoku aspect did wear him out more than he’d like to admit.
The scene was familiar, the burned-out city that was the aftermath of the time that Rezo-Shabranigdo had controlled him. He stood, looking out over the destruction, the Mazoku aspect there beside him. He began to talk, unsure if he was talking to himself, or the Mazoku. “This is the final barrier. The one issue that I haven’t come to terms with. I did this… and yet… I didn’t. Dancing like a puppet on a string, I wrought all this destruction. The very nature of Mazoku conflicts with my own. Loveless beings who only wish destruction.”
“I love,” the Mazoku aspect grated. “Mazoku love. Not as humans do.”
He looked to the Mazoku, head tilted. “You are the source of my emotions… I don’t understand you. I don’t understand half of this. Why do I look like this? Why am I at peace with the golem and human aspects, but not with you?”
“When you cast a spell, you draw on the Mazoku’s powers, Zelgadis. He is you, although you want so badly to keep him separate that within your mind, he takes his own shape. You look human because as part Mazoku, you have the ability to change your appearance,” came a voice from behind him.
Zelgadis turned, seeing a memory of Rezo. “What do you mean?”
“You accept him without accepting him. You walk a dangerous line, for to keep that part of yourself separate invites a time when you will not be able to control it and return to yourself. The prospect of losing control makes you keep yourself separate… but if you aren’t careful, you could lose yourself to the Mazoku completely. The very thing that you fear could become the frightening reality.”
Zelgadis sat up in his bed, drenched in sweat. He looked over to the windows and saw that the sun was setting and evening was fast approaching. He looked at the orange light in the sky for a moment, reflecting on his dream. It was something that he was going to have to work out. But how, when the very nature of the Mazoku contrasted so sharply to his own perceived nature? He walked across and into the small bathroom where he had lain his clothes.
The servants must have heard him wake, for the far door was just closing, a warm tub of water nearby, his clothes cleaned and folded neatly on a chair. He shook his head at his own thoughts and rinsed himself off before grabbing up his towel. His skin was still pink… what was it that the dream had told him? He looked human because of the Mazoku’s ability to change forms?
He dried off quickly, dressing while he considered the differing natures within, and dismissed it from his mind as he left the room. It wouldn’t do to enter the dining hall preoccupied. Lina would take it the wrong way, and everything he’d worked for would fall apart all over again.
The dining room was a scene of mild chaos when he arrived, Lina and Naga arguing heatedly over food, while Amelia sat with her face buried in her hands. Jedah watched the two sorceresses with awe, as Sylphiel and Gourry tried their best not to get themselves involved in the ongoing argument. Zelgadis gave it a moment, then realized that Lina and Naga were arguing over everything from manners (or lack thereof) to which dish was the best.
With a reluctant sigh, he took a seat beside Sylphiel and looked towards the two women across the table. “How long have they been at this?”
Sylphiel sat her glass of water back on the table and looked to him. “It’s been going on for a while now. Poor Amelia tried to stop it…” Zelgadis looked over to the princess as Sylphiel talked. “But it’s really no use. Once Lina and Naga start…”
Gourry yawned. “I can’t see how they ever traveled together. They’re too alike.” He was suddenly knocked over and out of his chair by two well-thrown goblets.
Zelgadis looked across the table to see that both Lina and Naga had thrown their glasses at Gourry in objection, but had only further reinforced what the swordsman had said. Wisely, Zelgadis chose to keep his mouth shut about it. It paid to be circumspect around Lina.
Lina looked at Naga, who in turn looked back at Lina. A moment paused, then Lina made a face at Naga. “You really shouldn’t throw things at people, Naga! It isn’t polite!”
“Me! You threw your glass at him too, Lina!” Naga replied, glaring at Lina. “Or are you going to tell me that it just slipped out of your hand at the exact same time that mine did.”
“There’s no way that your glass slipped out of your hand, Naga! Not when it landed across the table on Gourry!” Lina shot back.
Amelia slumped in her chair, and Zelgadis couldn’t help but chuckle. As much as it endangered his health to admit it, Gourry was absolutely right.
The two sorceresses noticed Zelgadis chuckling, and suddenly one pair of blue eyes and one pair of crimson eyes were narrowed in his direction. Some inner sense of danger twitched, and without truly thinking about it, the shaman shielded both attacks and watched the spells bounce off.
“Zel!” Lina fussed. “No fair!”
Aquamarine eyes looked across to brilliant ruby eyes. “I’m supposed to let you knock me over too? I’m not Gourry.”
“Yeah!” Gourry piped up as he sat his chair back on its feet. “Two of me, and the world would be in trouble. It’s bad enough with the two of them!”
The blonde didn’t even make it back in the chair before the two fireballs hit him.