The ball was long over, but
Lina and Zelgadis were still dressed the part, walking along quietly in
the garden, fingers entwined. They were talking, enjoying each other’s
company, generally forgetting who they were. For this night, she was not
Lina Inverse the Bandit Killer, and he was not Zelgadis Graywords, relative
of Rezo the Red Priest.
They were simply a man and a woman in love, all thoughts of the powers and abilities at command set aside, all awareness of shortcomings and differences forgotten.
She laughed softly, the untouched glass of wine still in her hand as they came to a stop beside the waterfall. Her eyes caught the path of a shooting star, and she looked at it, entranced for the moment by the simple magic of that light dancing across the night sky.
He looked to her for a moment, smiled, and whispered something into her ear. Startled, she looked up to him, her eyes searching his. When she replied, he pulled her close to him and kissed her.
The glass of wine slipped out of her fingers, falling to the grass behind her.
Morning dawned bright and
clear, heralded by the loud crashing of a bedroom door flying open and
a younger sibling landing on the older, still sleeping one. “Zelgadis!
Wake up! It’s morning!”
Zelgadis came to full awareness only a split second before Jedah’s weight came to a full and sudden stop on his stomach. As it was, he was unprepared for the exuberant youth, and groaned in protest. “Jedah, you’re not five anymore! For the love of Cepheid, get off!”
Jedah grinned. “But Zel! When was the last time I got to wake you up?” He smiled his brightest and most cheerful innocent smile. Oh, he knew what would most likely happen, and it didn’t bother him one bit. Annoying Zelgadis was a brotherly art.
Aquamarine eyes narrowed in a frown, and Zelgadis muttered under the only-slightly crushing weight of his brother. “While I admit that it’s been a while, it does not warrant you remaining on my chest! Get off!”
Jedah grinned, perching on his brother. “Not until you say it!”
“Say what?” Zelgadis asked, rolling his eyes. Truly, the longer Jedah sat there, the more his body changed to account for the weight. Part of his new-found abilities, he imagined. But he wasn’t about to tell Jedah that. The boy was having too much fun with the old game, and who was he to spoil it?
“You have to say the word! You have to say ‘Uncle’!”
Sylphiel was headed down
to the informal dining room that Amelia used for breakfast with her friends
when she heard a loud series of crashes, followed by laughter from the
open door nearby.
She was completely unprepared to find Zelgadis and Jedah on the floor of Zelgadis’ room, engaged in a furious battle of tickling.
Standing in the doorway, Sylphiel’s eyes widened as she realized that she was watching Zelgadis acting like an older brother. It also occurred to her that if she stayed there and got caught watching, Zelgadis was likely to be extremely embarrassed. So she quietly closed the door and walked away with a hidden smile. Yes, it was good to see Mister Zelgadis so happy.
Lina was feeling lazy. After
all, she’d been up much later than everyone else last night. She’d sat
on the balcony, thinking over the events prior to her return to her rooms.
The question that he’d asked last night, and the answer that she’d given. What did it ultimately mean?
In the end, she’d gone to bed without her question answered. But then, she knew that only time could provide the answer she sought.
And now, sitting in bed, she was still no closer to finding her answer. Not that she had truly expected it to come in the night.
She slipped out of bed and rang for the servants to provide her with water for her morning bath. There was nothing in the world like a bath to help ease the worries of the mind.
Naga was eating almost everything
in sight when Amelia walked into the informal breakfast area. With a soft
sigh, Amelia sat beside her sister and reached for a muffin. “Good morning,
“Morning, ‘Melia,” Naga managed around a mouthful of food. “How was the first night without a Mazoku for a pillow?”
Amelia took a bite of muffin, contemplating it, and then swallowed and grinned. “It felt great. I had the entire bed to myself.”
Naga nodded. “So,” she swallowed. “Are you still mad at Lina?” She picked up a glass of juice.
Amelia shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. I really shouldn’t have blamed it all on Lina. It was really Xellos’ fault. All of it was a skillful manipulation by him… and he had me playing right into it, eating all of that negative emotion.”
“You were tricked into it, Amelia. I can’t blame you for that. Xellos had you eating out of the palm of his hand, and he used every dirty trick he had to contain you.”
Amelia looked up to see Lina standing in the doorway. “Oh, Miss Lina…”
Lina waved it off as she walked into the room and sat down at the table. “Forget about it, Amelia. I’m just as at fault, too. If I hadn’t left Saillune that night, who knows what might have happened. But we can’t really know, so there isn’t much of a point in dwelling on it. The best thing to do now is look on to the future.”
Amelia watched Lina grab several muffins. “But what…”
Any thought that Amelia may have voiced was halted by the arrival of a very quiet Zelgadis walking into the room followed by Hurricane Jedah.
With an extremely cheerful hello, Jedah bounced across the room and perched cheerfully in the chair beside Amelia, who had lost her train of thought the moment she’d caught sight of him.
Zelgadis sat quietly beside Lina, and the sorceress laughed softly at the look on Zelgadis’ face. “You know, Zel… after meeting Jedah, I suddenly understand why you’re so quiet. I mean…” She looked over where Jedah had lured Amelia into an animated discussion. “And I don’t think she’s been this happy since the day her father foisted her magic training off on me.”
Zelgadis simply muttered a reply and picked up a muffin. He was still fairly tired, and Jedah had woken him earlier than he’d wanted to wake. Coffee. He needed coffee. But he didn’t have to ask for it, as a servant placed a large cup of the steaming drink before him. He picked it up and began to sip from it as he watched his younger brother chat happily with Amelia. Not a bad match, he supposed. And Jedah’s more than capable of defending himself and Amelia. The two of them make a formidable force against Mazoku. Eh… what am I thinking? He looked up from his thoughts to see Sylphiel leaning into Lina, whispering something into the redhead’s ear. A wicked smile crept across Lina’s lips, and as Sylphiel moved off to join Gourry at the table, Zelgadis felt Lina’s eyes fall on him.
Guilelessly, Zelgadis looked back.
Lina leaned over and whispered a single line into his ear: “I hear you’re ticklish.”
He blushed as bright as her hair.
“Mmmhmm,” Lina said as she turned back to her muffins.
That afternoon, Lina found
herself sitting in the drawing room, contemplating the crystal pendant
that Zelgadis had given her. She could feel the power within it, the link
it carried to Zelgadis. But how it had come to be… if it had been a part
of him before… She shook her head, trying to figure it out, and having
“What’s wrong, Lina?”
She looked up to see Naga standing there. “Oh. Hi, Naga. So…” She tucked the necklace away. “How come you never told me that you were the Crown Princess of Saillune? I mean, a little detail like that… is kind of important, don’t you think?”
Naga plopped herself down on a chair with all of the grace of a four-hundred pound elephant. So much for being more ladylike… Lina thought to herself and waited for an answer.
Naga shook her head. “No, Lina. Gracia is the Crown Princess. And Gracia died the day that she used her magic to kill her mother’s assassin. Gracia, so pure, sweet and innocent. Rather a lot like the Shadow created by that mirror, Lina. I couldn’t be that way, not after that night.”
Lina held her breath. She didn’t know the full story, the truth behind the death of Amelia and Naga’s mother. “What… happened?”
Naga hesitated at first, but haltingly began to recount the story of being afraid that something was under her bed, and tiptoeing to her mother’s room. When she’d tapped on the door, it had opened slightly… something that had never happened before. So young Gracia had stuck her head into the room.
The images coming to Lina’s mind were incredible. To be that young and not only to witness that, but to cast that spell… Lina shook her head. “I had no idea. Holy Cepheid, Naga… what can I say to that?”
Naga’s answer was wry. “There’s not a lot that can be said, Lina. We recover, we make the best that we can of our lives. In my case, I ran away from it all.”
Lina nodded. “But what happened? I mean if I recall correctly, most of the spells that you cast went horribly wrong. I mean… your golems were usually screwed up in one way or the other… and how did you manage to cast the Dragon Slave?”
“I cast the Dragon Slave because I had to, Lina. Amelia… my little sister was in over her head and she couldn’t cast it. I was pretty trashed by the battles I had to fight in order to get into Saillune while it was under siege, but I couldn’t give up. Not when I heard her trying to say the words and nothing was happening.”
Lina nodded, agreeing.
“Let me ask you something, Lina,” Naga started.
Lina looked to her and tilted her head. “Hm?”
“That Zelgadis. He’s why you left, isn’t he? Why you ran away from Saillune three years ago.”
Lina turned red. “Well… I think I left because I didn’t know what else to do.”
Naga nodded for a moment before she grinned at Lina. “Well, if you decide to leave again, I might have to see what my chances with him are.”
Lina reached out and punched Naga in the head. “Back off.”
To Lina’s surprise, Naga started to laugh. “Now that’s the Lina that I know! None of this pensiveness and brooding, now. Get on with your life, no matter which way it’s going to take you, Lina.”
Lina looked at Naga, startled. “I am brooding, aren’t I? I’ve been sitting here since breakfast, trying to see the answer to a question that I’ve only begun to ask myself. Here I am, worried about how my life will change… and I don’t even know for a fact that it will.”
Naga nodded sagely. She was good at that. It was as simple as folding your arms, looking like you knew everything, and closing your eyes while nodding.
Lina bounced up off of the chair and landed on her feet. “So the only thing holding me back is I myself. Thanks, Naga.”
Naga opened her eyes and watched Lina leave the room.
Lina wandered the halls, looking for Zelgadis, and a servant pointed her out to the courtyard where he was sparring with Jedah. She stood on the balcony, watching the two practicing. She’d never seen Zelgadis use a staff before, but he seemed to be holding his own with Jedah quite well. Twice they came to a draw while she stood and watched, and only because Jedah spotted her did the third round end with Zelgadis winning in an easy move. She could tell that Zelgadis had asked why Jedah hadn’t blocked, because Jedah pointed towards Lina and Zelgadis turned to see her.
A short time later, Zelgadis
met Lina out on the balcony over the courtyard. Much to Jedah’s delight,
he’d taken to wearing black, and Lina had to admit with his pale skin and
silvery-brown hair, he was quite stunning in black. It was much better
than that tan he’d worn for years.
She smiled at herself and looked off to the courtyard. “So what now, Zel? It’s strange. There’s no quest, nothing to go and do. I’m not trying to save the world… you’re not looking for a cure… It’s strange. I feel like I’ve done everything there is to do, and everyone except you is leaving me and going away.”
He smiled faintly. “There are all of the outer continents that we haven’t explored, Lina. There’s a world out there. Aren’t you curious? Just to go see?”
She turned to look at him. “Maybe. But what we talked about… last night. The question that you asked…”
He nodded. “Your answer is enough for now, Lina.” He leaned down and kissed her softly, bringing his arms around her.
She sighed, leaning into his embrace. She’d been really dumb, hadn’t she? The thought that she had almost lost this… she shivered and he hugged her closer.
Across her shoulder, he caught sight of Amelia and Jedah watching them. But before he could scowl at his brother, he caught the movement of Amelia’s hand as the princess reached out and caught Jedah’s. With a soft sigh, he shook his head. “Lina… Amelia and Jedah are watching.”
Lina turned to see the guilty pair innocently standing there, holding hands. With a smirk, she looked back to Zelgadis. “Well, there’s only one thing to do.”
Zelgadis looked to Lina. “Hm?”
Lina stood on tiptoe. “Give them something to see.”
And she kissed him.