Perchance to Dream
The doors of the Royal Hall unceremoniously burst open, startling the little group at the far end of the room. Amelia looked up, eyes narrowing, ready to snap at the rude intrusion, but her eyes widened when she saw the guard rushing up with a frighteningly limp Lina in his arms. He came to a halt, kneeling and out of breath at the foot of the dais where Amelia sat discussing the situation with Sylphiel and Gourry.
Sylphiel, without taking a moment to think, ran down the steps to the guard, the recovery spell building in her hands. She cast it effortlessly, but it didn’t bring Lina around. Frowning, Sylphiel cast the counter-sleeping spell. It too, had no effect.
Amelia moved towards the group, frowned, and placed her hands lightly but firmly on Lina’s shoulders, calling forth her own magic. “Oh, power of light and earth and wind, Break now this evil spell. FLOW BREAK!”
Lina didn’t even so much as twitch.
Amelia looked to the guard, eyes flashing. “Where did you find her?”
“Your Highness, she was brought to the gates of the Palace by a man draped in a black cloak,” the guard replied uneasily. “We could not see his face.”
Sylphiel looked up abruptly. “Was there gold trim on the hood of his cloak?”
The guard nodded slowly. “Aye. Do you know him, Lady Sylphiel?”
She shook her head. “No… but I had seen Lina chasing him earlier. She told me that he’d looked… familiar.” The shrine maiden sighed, and brushed at a strand of silver in Lina’s hair, wondering what had happened to her friend.
Gourry stood at the top of the dais, looking down at the girls and the guard, a memory of more than three years past washing over him. A time when he would have been there, in the place of the guard…
The little clearing in the trees was empty, the question echoed only by the trees. Lina and Zelgadis had left separately, quietly, no answer given or received. There was a sort of comfort to both that no answers had been given. He was shocked that he’d managed to ask, and she was shocked that he had asked.
Alone in the hotel room, Lina packed up her belongings and mulled over the question. It was still too early to be able to think of giving him an answer. She knew him too well now… far too well for a casual reply, and he knew it. She needed to think about it, think carefully and detachedly. Think with her head, not her heart. Easier said than done, Lina…
Amelia bounced into the room, instantly setting Lina’s teeth on edge as she effervesced. “Oh, Miss Lina, how wonderful! I’m sure that you both will be so happy!!”
Lina looked over at Amelia, pausing before she grabbed her cloak and put it around herself. “Look, can’t you keep it down for a bit? I mean, come on Amelia… think about it. This is Zelgadis we’re talking about. He’s been under a lot of stress lately, and there’s no telling how that spell warped him around. Just give it a little while.”
Amelia blinked at Lina, big blue eyes wide with surprise. “But aren’t you happy? Miss Lina… what’s wrong?” The girl ran over to her friend and looked to her with wide eyes, worried that Lina wasn’t feeling well.
Lina shook her head again. “I’d be a lot happier if it hadn’t been for that spell of Rezo’s. I just can’t see Zelgadis suddenly deciding that he’s in love with anyone… let alone me. Not this suddenly. I just don’t buy it. So I’m not going to push the subject.”
Amelia frowned, putting a hand on Lina’s arm. “But what if he really does love you, Miss Lina? It’s possible that the spell gave him the opportunity to tell you…”
Lina sighed and looked to the girl. “What if it had been someone else who had been able to help him? I can’t help but have the nagging feeling that the spell was designed to get Zelgadis to fall in love with someone as well as everything else it did. Don’t forget, Amelia… I know him a lot better than I feel that I ought to. I share some of his memories now. I mean, I know what it felt like when Rezo turned him into a chimera.” She didn’t reveal to the princess how terribly suffocating that experience had been. It had helped Lina understand some of the obsession that Zelgadis had with his cure.
Amelia sighed, lowered her hand, and opened her mouth to say something else, but a knock at the door stopped her from anything else.
“Hey, Lina? You two ready? Zel and I are,” Gourry said, sticking his head in the slightly open door, and looking into the room at the two girls.
Lina turned, forcing a smile and nodding. “I think so. Aren’t we done, Amelia?”
The princess took the more than obvious hint, and picked up her bag, looking down. “If you say so, Miss Lina...”
Gourry knew right then that something was wrong, Amelia’s downcast eyes told him that. He suspected that it was something to do with how Lina had acted when she and Zelgadis had returned. He’d have to ask Amelia later, because he knew if he asked Lina, the only thing he’d get for his concern was a fireball in his face, and he didn’t want to bother Zelgadis about it. The shaman had seemed disturbed enough when he’d returned.
Lina herself paid for the rooms, something which took all three of the others by surprise. She brushed it off, saying instead that her purse was getting a bit heavy, and that the best way to lighten it was by paying for things.
Right away, they knew something was wrong.
Lina was preoccupied.
Of course, saying that was one hell of an understatement. She was far more than preoccupied. Preoccupation implied that there was only a little on her mind. On the contrary, there was an entire world of things on her mind. And the vast majority of it had to do with Zelgadis. It was that stupid spell, it had to have been. Before the spell had taken effect, there was nothing about Zelgadis that came even close to looking like he wanted a relationship. He’d pry himself out of Amelia’s grasp faster than it took her to realize that he’d done it. He preferred to be alone, to go off on his own in search of his cure.
Zelgadis is a loner, not a lover, Lina thought to herself, shaking her head and watching the road continue to unfold under her feet. And no matter what he may think, I’ll find a way to break through the spell that makes him think that he loves me. She paused, hearing his voice echo in her mind. “His spell is the whole reason that I have the courage to tell you any of this.” I’ll find a way to keep him from making the biggest mistake of his life. I promise you, Zel. I can’t take advantage of you like that.
The guard had transferred Lina across to Gourry, and the blonde swordsman carried the unconscious sorceress up to her room with a very worried Sylphiel following closely behind. Amelia was only a few steps behind Sylphiel, giving orders to a handmaid to take care of any further visitors, and to have various things brought up to Lina’s room.
As the handmaid scurried off, Amelia turned her gaze back to the cascade of red hair that fell over Gourry’s arm. She had a lot to blame Lina Inverse for. But the question to ask herself was would she help heal Lina in order to punish her later, or would she count this as Lina’s punishment?
It had been a hellacious battle without Lina or Zelgadis or anyone else to help her. But the monster had been cornered, and Amelia was taking stock of the situation. Her father, Philionel was injured badly, and the last wave of resistance had fallen back. It was solely up to Amelia now. She’d never cast what she was contemplating before, even though she knew the words. She knew that a follower of Cephied could cast the Dragon Slave, Sylphiel had done so once. So Amelia was going to give it a try.
“Darkness beyond the twilight, crimson beyond the blood that flows…” she started, straining to feel the power that should accompany it. But there was nothing.
A new voice, ragged and rough with pain caught her attention, and she looked up to see a figure in a black cloak standing on a nearby roof, hands aimed at the monster.
“Power beyond the twilight, in crimson blood that flows…Buried in the stream of time is where your power grows. I pledge myself to conquer all the foes who stand against the mighty gift bestowed in my unworthy hand! DRAGON SLAVE!”
The words were slightly different than from what Amelia remembered, but the end result was just as devastating. The spell ripped away from the caster, tore down into the monster and destroyed it.
The woman landed beside Amelia, and the princess gasped as the back of her mind suddenly registered a whole great many things at once. The woman beside her was injured, and was undeniably her older sister Gracia. And Gracia, who couldn’t even control anything beyond a simple flare arrow or a freeze arrow before she had vanished had cast the Dragon Slave.
Amelia reached out and caught her sister as she fell.
It had turned out that Gracia had been running around the world, calling herself Naga. And the one she’d learned the Dragon Slave from was none other than Lina Inverse. Of course, that was many years before Amelia had met Lina, but it still did nothing to appease the younger princess. Lina hadn’t taught Amelia that spell. And now it would be her sister’s death. Gracia had had no business in casting it while she was so injured. But she had, and she had saved Saillune. But she had died for it.
And Amelia blamed Lina.
Gourry settled Lina carefully on the bed, and looked to Sylphiel. “It’s like that time all those years ago, when she kept falling into the Astral Plane.”
Sylphiel nodded. “Except that she hasn’t. She’s there… just not there. It’s like something has … it’s like she’s locked herself away inside her own mind…”
Amelia closed the doors behind them all and walked over to the bed, carefully hiding any antipathy that she had for Lina. “Perhaps it is rest that she needs, and she will return to us when she has rested.”
Gourry and Sylphiel nodded slowly, though not convinced.
Lina was indeed locked within herself. With that simple touch, that damnable Mazoku had shown her everything from the past three years. She wasn’t dealing with it well at all.
She’d left the night of the ball, the results of that night she couldn’t have known. He’d waited for her all that night and the following morning before the servants came in to announce that Lina had vanished in the night.
“I’m sorry, Zel… Lina is willful, stubborn, and totally and completely wrong on this one.” Gourry said, clasping Zelgadis’ shoulder. “If you want, we can head after her. She can’t have gotten all that far. She was pretty tired.”
Zelgadis took a breath and held it, debating for the moment. Then the answer came to him as clearly as if it had been written on the wall in front of him. “No, Gourry. This is her answer to me at last. So be it.” Turning away, he stepped out of Gourry’s grasp and left the room in silence.
Once again, it was as if she was there, standing in the room and unable to interact. She saw the stiffness in his shoulders; the tense steps as he left the room, and watched the others react. Gourry sighed, shaking his head, and Amelia did her dead-level best not to look too upset. But Lina could see that the damage was done.
She’d betrayed them all that night.
The scenery changed, Lina saw Sylphiel and Gourry get married, Zelgadis a silent figure in the back of the ceremony, watching without emotion. She knew that he’d declined the request to be Gourry’s Armsholder in the ceremony. She wanted to rant at him, to scream that she wasn’t worth ruining his life over. To tell him that it was only a spell and that he could break it if he’d wanted to. But nothing she could do would reach across the past. She curled into herself, her very soul aching, hating herself for what she had done, and hating Xellos for showing her all of this.
He stood in the shadow, watching the Palace. He still loved her. He always would. But he wasn’t the same anymore. He didn’t understand it, what had happened after that fight with Xellos. So it was easier to be someone else, not Zelgadis. He wondered, fleetingly, if his little brother would pitch a fit if he borrowed his name. The only true difference between himself and Jedah was that Jedah was damnably better at magic. No… best not to involve Jedah. Bad enough that Zelgadis had to abandon him when Rezo had turned him into a chimera. And explaining the family ties would be even more messy if he was asked.
Time to go. Time to start over. New life, new name. Whatever had happened, he’d been granted a second chance at a normal life and he wasn’t about to screw it up again.
So why, by the Power of Cephied, did he feel like he was making the biggest mistake of his life?