Secrets Best Unknown


Notes: navy = flashback sequence


A rope slithered and slid down the incline like a snake, dropping coiled onto the dusty ground. The rope was soon followed by a figure who dropped from the fissure in the ceiling, slid down the rope, and then dropped to a crouch on the stone floor. Hah!

The figure paused for a moment of triumph before digging within the folds of it's ivory cloak for a torch and means to light it. The flames sprang up quickly, casting a harsh flickering light over the tunnel in which the figure stood. The torch was raised above it's holder's head, as it to provide more illumination.

The figure stood in a tunnel. Old and cracked with age, the roof had let sands and dust slip through to pool in small mounds and folds along the floor, creating a miniature desert. The air was ancient but good, the many fissures had let in more than sand, as testified by the brightly burning torch. The tunnel stretched far in front of the figure, decorated with designs and fading paints, bracketed by holdings built for torches much like the figure's, and built of the old strong stone from the days long past. Stone that shone like marble, but tarnished like silver. That held up under wind and weather like no other stone quarried in the figure's life.

For a moment, the figure took this in. A moment it held it's breath, standing in a moment of silent appreciation. If not for the design, then for it's durability, for it's age. It began to walk, slowly moving from shadow to inky shadow, pausing now and again to gaze at the scenes depicted on the ancient walls. Scenes of wars long forgotten and cities long crumbled to dust, of creatures and peoples no longer remembered even in myth and lore. Sometimes, the figure would pause, pressing a gloved hand to the mural, as if to absorb the knowledge and stories held within the walls, a moment in which the figure would scrutinize, hoping to decipher the ancient script. Then the figure would hurry on, as if driven by some unseen force, as if to linger was to be lost to whatever demon dogged it's steps.

The sluggish air seemed to part and swirl around it, as if trying to impart some last wisdom or warning about the passing of age and the lore held here beneath the cold and heavy earth. Softly, almost whispering as it moved down the passage, stirred by the movement of life within these long forgotten halls. The murals were a legend now, a painted history of the city that lay here, of the civilization that had once called the ruined tunnel home. Hunts and royal processions, weddings and funerals, wars with winged and fanged foes, emblazoned suns and rising moons, marketplaces and mansions, maps and ancient scripts. The figure moved slowly now as it broke into the antechamber of some sort.

Silver veined, black marble pillars concentrically lined the walls, stretching to a ceiling several lengths above, meeting each other at a rising sun, etched in gold, at it's center. The domed ceiling was also made of the black marble, almost sterile in it's simplicity. The floor was a solid sheet of the same marble, another golden sun etched within the center, rays stretching out to touch the walls. It was a startling contrast to the tunnel.

The figure glanced around the room once, absorbing every minute detail, before moving to the large double doors at the opposite end of the chamber. The doors were also of dark marble, but unlike the marble of the antechamber, it was pure ebon black. It seemed to suck away the flickering flames of the torch, as if a pulsing darkness lay beyond those doors, eating away at life and light.


He ran a hand hesitantly down the smooth marble of the door. He felt uneasy. Almost as if some malevolent force was waiting, watching, stalking, prepared to pounce. He shivered and tried to shove the unease out of his mind. This city was the location of his cure. The lower Mazoku he had trapped had been adamant.

But Mazoku lie, he had learned that unfortunate lesson from Xellos. Didn't matter. The Mazoku was dead now, he had found out everything he needed to know. So close, so very close now ... He just needed to push open the doors. So why couldn't he push away that nagging feeling?

Zelgadis paused for a moment as a thought struck him. How had that Mazoku known about this place? How did it know there was a cure here? He considered it. Did it really matter how it knew? It gained nothing from tricking him and everything in telling him the truth. There was an irony in that. It's everything was freedom, but he had destroyed that with it's death. Vengeance was sweet.

No more stalling. He gathered his will and pushed against the doors, feeling his stone skin crawl at the touch. The torch flickered for a moment and he caught his breath. The doors swung silently inward. He let the breath out, feeling stupid and paranoid. There was nothing there except another chamber. The chamber.

Unlike the room before it, it was made of solid, white marble, the pillars creating a similar effect as the "sun" room. There were no suns etched into the ceilings and floors, however. Plush, blood-red, velvet curtains hung between the pillars from floor to ceiling, cloaking the room. It was like the inside of a chest cavity, white bone sheathed in red muscle. The unease was stronger now, almost stifling. Zel's gaze alighted on the object of his search.

It was a book. In the exact center of the room, a white, needle-thin column rose from the floor, impossibly holding up a flat, round slab of white marble. The book sat on the table, dull black cover seeming to suck in the light from his torch.

Zel tried to push down the unease again as he stepped up to table. Careful not to disturb the precarious balance of it's construction, he lifted the book off the slab and carefully set it on the floor. Setting the torch down as well, he took a moment to gaze at the soon to be author of his redemption.

The book was covered in a odd, dull black cover. It wasn't any substance he knew and felt odd to the touch. A silver sun-in-glory was engraved on the front, very much like the suns engraved in the black room. Words were written below the sun, an ancient script that flowed and merged, doubling back on itself, yet holding the measured precision of his own written tongue. The aura in the room was stifling now, as if to choke him, but he ignored it as he reached out a hand to carefully open the heavy, silver clasp that locked the book.

The clasp was warm, throbbing beneath his fingers. He blinked and pulled back. The metal shouldn't be warm ... Zel swallowed hard as the words suddenly writhed and then blurred, swimming in the black cover. Almost like debris or a body ... floating to the top of a lake, words he knew seemed to superimpose themselves over the ancient script. Oh Gods

He swallowed hard. This could not be where his cure was hidden. It couldn't! Could it? Where better place to hide it? He steeled his nerve again, forcing himself to open the lock and then to slowly and carefully open the book.

Zel steeled himself as he went through the book page by page, the ancient words squirming and swimming, scripts he knew floating up to be read before sinking back into whatever pit they had come from. The unease has transcended to a horrified terror now, a knife-like buzz in the back of his mind that he barely controlled.

There it was, his cure, words so plain as they floated on the page, bloated words, fat, bloated, bloody words ... swimming in darkness ... he swallowed, trying to control the mind numbing terror and the urge to vomit. The curtains were writhing, the thick, bloody shrouds squirming and thrashing as they tore away from the bone white marble, splashing into pools of crimson on the floor, dripping down the walls. Dripping, dripping, dripping, the book was bleeding, drips and splashes, slowly pooling and flowing off the page ... the words were bleeding, broken white and black gashes ... words so obscenely plain ... "Chimera's Cure"

Did he whimper? Was he reading what he thought he was reading? The image was burning on the page, flames reaching up to take him, burn him, consume him in it's fire. This was his cure? It couldn't be. He wouldn't let it be. Oh blessed, merciful Gods He wanted to rip the picture from his mind, tear away the awful words, stop the horrible images, the dripping, the truth from picking and eating through his brain, consuming his soul. This was his redemption? No, no, please no, no no no nononononononono NOOOOOOOOOOOO

The flood of crimson life was surging from the walls now, the muscles long ripped away, the bleached bones stained red, garishly bright. He bent over the book, desperately hugging himself, tears streaking down his blood splashed cheeks. A dull thumping, an eternal measured throb, like a heartbeat was beating within the chamber, behind his eyes, in the back of his mind, beating and burning inside of the book as it bled, throbbing and pulsing along the writhing words and the burning image.

Zelgadis screamed.


Sliding down the rope, she realized that he had been here, even if he wasn't here now. She landed with a thump, cursed cutely, and proceeded to rub her aching posterior. I really need to work on my landings.

Lina got up, summoned a magelight to light her way, and stalked determinedly down the hall, muttering under her breath, "Zel! What the hell was he thinking? Running off like that. Always heading off on his own whenever we get another lead. Geez ... "

She glanced around the tunnel, curious. It was rather impressive in it's scope, if nothing else. Brightly colored murals covering the walls, the shifting sands brought by time softening the floor. She couldn't believe he had run off like that. Especially considering that Xellos told them where to find the place. Oh, yeah right, like Zel'd believe him .... unless he's getting desperate for a cure ... "Hey now? The tunnel's ending."

Stepping from the tunnel was a shock. Black marble walls, golden engraved suns, a ceiling that stretched farther up than she could believe, considering how shallowly buried this place was. It was a startling contrast to the tunnel. That had shown the effects of time and exposure, this place did not. Odd ...

Lina shrugged off the thought as she spied the open double doors ahead. He has been here!

Stalking through the open black doors, she opened her mouth to give Zel a thorough tongue lashing ... and saw no one. She looked around. This room was the exact opposite of the room before it, made of white marble instead of black. Lush red drapes covered the walls, fluttering sluggishly in an errant breeze. Her eyes were drawn to the center of the room, the site of the most bizarrely constructed table she had ever seen. A white needle spire topped by a marble slab. I wonder how they managed that.

Something drew her attention to the floor. An open book was lying beside the stand, pages turning, fluttering, in a sudden sharp breeze. The breeze caused her cape to flap around her, blowing her hair in her face. The drapes rustled, sounding like dry paper being moved. Curiosity pricked, she went over and knelt down to look at the book. It was opened to ... something. One side was almost darkened, dull, ancient script etched into the old paper, a faded, blurry, undecipherable picture heading the page. On the other page was a blurred picture of a mighty tree.

Lina shrugged, closing the book with a snap and tucking it within the folds of her cape. She stood, taking a moment to look around for treasure before walking out.


He stared at his drink. The rich, dark red wine swirled in his cup as he swished it absently. Did I see that? Was it just a dream? An image? No. It had been real, the words all too the plain, the instructions all too precise. How ironic. The curse was simplistic to cast and convoluted to reverse. How delightfully typical of Rezo. The perfect punishment and the perfect leash. Damn you Rezo.

Zelgadis felt the eyes watching him, burning to his soul. I'm only dreaming this. It's just a ... a ... flashback ... just a memory, not reality.

"Neh, Zel-chan, drinking liquor?! Never knew you had it in you," Xellos stated cheerfully, slapping him on the back and his face conveniently into the cup. He jerked his head up, blinking away the stinging alcohol, furious.

"Kisama!" Zelgadis snarled at the Trickster, powering up for a nice, painful, magical blast.

Xellos playfully wagged a finger at him, grinning. Ensconcing himself in a seat just out of reach of the angry chimera, he snatched up a rib and chewed, watching Amelia and Gourry devour the last bit of their meal. Lina wasn't eating. Instead, she was watching Zel with a searching look, as if trying to read the thoughts behind his azure eyes. Damn.

The night before had been an argument. She yelled at him for running off after Xellos's lead and he yelled at her for getting in his life. Amelia and Gourry had suffered a stroke of brilliance and decided to hide behind rocks until the fight was over.


"ZEL!!! WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING!?!?!" she screeched at him, stalking into the camp. He glanced up. He guessed he had left just before she had arrived. Luck, that, he didn't want her to know about IT.

"What?" he asked, voice cold as he moved his attention from the fire to her. That's when she got a grip on his cloak and yanked him up to her eye level.

"You know exactly what I mean, you idiot!" she ground out between clenched teeth. "You ran off on your own again! Damn it, Zel, we're a team! Don't you understand that?!?!?"

"We are not a team. This is a diversion for you three and a mission for me, " he retorted coldly. She flinched as he struck a nerve. Yes, Lina, this is all just a game for you.


"Yes it is. It doesn't matter anyway, I don't take orders from you. I can leave any time I please, Lina." He knew he was being cruel and he didn't care. The fires was flashing eerily as Gourry and Amelia hopped behind some rocks in preparation for Lina's inevitable explosion. The wind was keening in his ears, the eyes like daggers at his back.

Lina ground her teeth for a moment. Unable to counter this with anything convincing, she resorted to yelling, "YOU'RE STILL BEING A OVERCONFIDENT, BLUE IDIOT!"

The yelling was beginning to hurt his sensitive ears, especially at close range. He pulled back, jerking his cloak out of Lina's grip and stepping back, crossing his arms over his chest. "And your point?"

"Errrrrrghhhhhhhh!!" Lina fumed for a second before smacking him a few times with her bunny slipper in frustration. He caught her wrists, bringing her uncomfortably close, voice mild, "Do you mind?"

"ZELGADIS!!!" she shrieked at him, squirming a little, before subsiding into dark mutters and unladylike curses. He released her when he judged she would no longer try to smack him. Realizing she was getting no where, she dropped to a sitting position on the ground, clearly in a huff, before popping the casual question, "So, find what you were looking for?"

"No." A direct, bald-faced lie.

"Find anything?"

"No." Even more of a lie and she knew it.

"Fine, fine, being uncommunicative," she muttered, stirring the fire moodily.

"I will be." With that statement, Zel turned away from them and walked into the forest to spend the night. Lina just glared.


The night before had decided one thing for Lina: Whatever Zel had found he wasn't saying. The other was more a matter of deduction: She had a sneaking suspicion that the book she still carried had the clue, and Xellos most likely held the answer.

Lina watched the Trickster bait Zel again, watched Zel get ready to blow Xellos to kingdom come, think better of it, and then return to his wine. That was a little odd itself, usually Zel drank coffee or tea, not liquor. Something was wrong, she just couldn't figure out what.

"Xellos, I need to talk to you."


He glanced up as Lina rose, telling Xellos she needed to talk to him and them asking him to join her upstairs. Zel didn't like that too much, but he also didn't have a choice. Xellos smiled brightly and followed her up, chattering inanely. Zel returned his attention to his wine.

Dark and sparkling in the dim light of the inn, it seemed to glimmer, flashing in the candlelight. The unease was there, slowly building on the edges of his mind, a buzz behind his eyes. The wine was darker, more rich now, the flames from the fireplace growing and flickering, casting a ruddy glow along the walls, tinting his skin a dark violet. A light steam rose from his cup, smelling of brimstone and blood, metallic in it's scent. Without thinking he drew it closer, a sick fascination behind the terror as the once-wine grew thick and dark as blood.

The walls of the inn keened. The rich amber wood warping, crimson black life dripping from the knotholes and the grain lines, staining the floor and walls as it slid slowly down. Was his heartbeat louder? It seemed to be, beating from outside instead of within, from above him, beating, beating, beating ...

Dripping, dripping, dripping, won't it stop dripping?! The thought was laced with hysteria as he drew the cup closer, an intense, sick urge to drink nearly overpowering his will. An inky ooze, a shadowed darkness was slowly creeping up the table legs, tendrils of black sliding over the table top, reaching for him, entwining around his arms and legs, as soft and caressing as a lover while the dark crimson within his cup bubbled, heat washing over his face. Flames licked along the edges of his vision, in sync with the heartbeat, sickly, green fire burning on the edges of the slowly pooling blood that slid dripping from the walls. Dripping, dripping, dripping ...

The inky tendrils caressed his face now, probing lightly at his lips, entangling in his hair ...

"Zel?" He jerked his head up, startled. Amelia looked at him, concerned. "You okay?"

He blinked, covertly looking around the inn. It was normal. So was the cup of wine before him, as well as the walls, his hands ... his shaking hands. IT was gone. How? Was he the only one that was seeing this? "Yeah, Amelia, I'm okay. I think I'll go to bed now."

Zel stood, shoving away the feel of being watched, of the faint beating behind his eyes, the faint sound of dripping. Am I going insane? He prayed not, he pleaded it wasn't so. But ... what else could it be? "Good night, Amelia, Gourry."

Zelgadis slowly climbed the stairs to his room, ignoring any looks that might have followed him, as well as his growing sense of unease.


Lina could almost sense the Mazoku's curiosity as he followed her. She knew he knew that she didn't trust him. Not an inch, not a finger, not a hair, nothing. Yet she still asked him to talk. Alone. He was almost had to be curious.

Ignoring the prickling along the back of her neck, she twisted the doorknob and stepped inside, holding it open for Xellos. He stepped inside cheerily and made himself comfortable on the bed, leaning his staff against the bedpost. Closing the door, she nabbed the only chair in the room and sat down, taking a moment to study him.

Even after all this time in his presence, she still couldn't shake the feeling of danger, like a knife was poised at her back, ready to strike. Instinct screamed danger with the very nearness of his aura. Was this the way Zel felt around him? Possibly. Xellos broke the silence first.

"Neh, Lina-chan, what do you feel like talking about? Our dear chimera? Your fight last night? Or perhaps something more ... pleasant?" he asked jovially, opening an amethyst eye.

She ignored the pleasant bit, and didn't bother to ask how he knew about the fight. She wouldn't get an answer out of him anyway. "It's about that city, Xellos. Why?"

He opened the other eye for a moment, "That is a secret."

She beaned him with her bunny slipper as soon as he closed his eyes, "DON'T START THAT WITH ME!!!!!!!!"

"Yare, yare, Lina-chan, do you have to hit so hard?" he whined, rubbing his head, a pouty look plastered on his face. She just waved the bunny slipper at him, flames burning behind her. Right before she sat down with a thump and pulled the book from hiding.

Xellos's face changed immediately. Both eyes opened, the face lost it's smile, the voice was dead serious. "Where did you find that, Lina?"

"The city, idiot. Where else?" she snapped, setting it on her lap, "It's what you wanted him to find, wasn't it? What you wanted us to find."

"Why would I want to do that?"

"You tell me."

He sighed dramatically, "Really, Lina-chan, if I wanted the book so bad I would have gotten it myself. It would have been much quicker."

"Then why?"

"That is - "

"IF YOU SAY IT, I'LL WRING YOU'RE SCRAWNY NECK!!!!!!" she shrieked, getting him in a headlock.

"Yare, yare - urk"



Lina let him go, taking a moment to clear her throat in a ladylike fashion, cross her legs, toss her hair over her shoulder, and then look back at him with a confident smile. "Now, translate."

She gestured at the book, motioning for him to take it. He picked it up, serious again, carefully weighing it, as if to find some secret on the cover. A single touch and the lock popped open. He flipped the pages, scanning them in her estimate, pausing at one page approximately in the center of the book. Tenderly, like a lover, his gloved fingers stroked the page, brushing across the blurred, undecipherable image with a odd smile on his lips, whispering under his breath. He snapped the book shut when he caught her peering over his shoulder. "Lina-chan, curiosity killed the cat."


He smiled and wagged a finger at her, touching a kissed finger to her lips, "If you would be so kind." Lina proceeded to slam his face into the floor, beet red.

"Well?!?!" she demanded when he'd pried his face from the floor.

Xellos opened the book to the page again, laying it carefully on the floor between them. He smiled brightly, though there was a decidedly dark cast to it. He tapped the blurred image and the page it dwelled upon. "This is our dear chimera's cure."

"Really?!?! What's it say? How do you work the spell? How long does it take? What do we need? Does Zel know?" she blurted the questions out in quick succession, temporarily forgetting the odd smile that danced across the Trickster's lips.

He smiled wider, lifting a finger, "Some secrets are best left unknown, Lina-san."

Lina slammed a fist into his face. It went straight through him as he smiled again. She glared, "Okay, you heartless bastard, what the hell are you talking about?"

"Dese dare, richiphre catera deme ne', Lina-chan."

"WHAT?!" she yelled, prepared to do him bodily harm, only to find that he had already faded out. "Damn."


Xellos smiled. The information he had told Lina was the truth ... it just wasn't the whole truth.


Lina glared at her room for a bit, daring the Trickster to show himself so she could fireball him back to the Beastmaster. Xellos must have sensed her intentions, however, and did not deign to reappear. She sighed. Damn! What the hell do they know?!

If Xellos actually did know something, he sure wouldn't tell her until he felt like it. Sadly, the same was true for Zelgadis. Men!

Lina gazed down at the open book. This had to hold the answer. Somewhere. What did you see, Zel? She bent down, as if proximity could imbue her with some sort or revelation. The image was still too blurred to make out. Whoever painted this sucked. There was a dark blot to one side, a blue and white blob in the middle, and a multicolored blob to the other side. The whole thing had a fuzzy cast to it, like one was looking through an incredibly dirty window. This is about as clear as mud.

The odd, archaic script covered the darkened page, so old she didn't even know what tongue it was, let alone be able to read it. Xellos knows it. Just how old can it be? From before the War? That was another puzzle. Had Zel read it? If he did, then how? Could the book give it's reader the power to read the script? It was worth a shot.

Lina closed the book and locked it. Then, feeling incredibly stupid, she pressed her hands to the cover, "Oh book, give me the power to read you."

Nothing happened. Lina cracked an eye to glare at the stubborn black cover, feeling like an idiot, "Fine, fine ... stupid book."

Opening it again, she went back to studying the "cure". She pressed a gloved finger to the picture, wiping downward. Maybe it's dirty. She lifted the finger, glancing at the glove. Odd, why's it have that stain on it? Lina looked back down at the page, nothing had changed except now her glove had a spot on it, which it could have acquired at dinner. Lina decided this was going no where, shut the book, and climbed into bed. She'd deal with it tomorrow. A rather persistant thought floated to the top of her conscience as she drifted off. What did you see, Zel?


He climbed the stairs slowly, feeling the weight of unseen watchers at his back. Almost, he wanted to run and hide, to get away, but they'd find him, follow him, just as they had when he ran from the city. Reaching the top of the stairs, he started down the hall to his room. Zel paused for a moment in front of Lina's door, wanting to see her for some vague, indescribable reason. He felt a need to see her, a compulsion, but firmly pushed it away, heading to his room and slipping inside.

Gods, what's happening to me?, he thought as he sunk to a sitting position on his bed, his legs suddenly giving way. Why am I seeing IT? What's the matter with me? Beating, beating, beating, was his heart beating faster? Was it even his heart?

Suddenly, he needed to be moving, to find a way to push the thoughts from his mind, get control of his fear again. Zel stood, unclasping his cape and tossing it onto the bed. The cape was quickly followed by his shirt, sword belt, and this boots. Grabbing the assorted clothes, he carefully put them where he could find them in the morning. Boots beside the chair, sword by his bed, shirt and cape thrown over an arm of the chair, and his brooch laid on the dresser. He was very glad there wasn't a mirror, because he did not want to see himself. Zel clenched his fists, The temptation ... . The thought was quickly followed by another, The price, oh blessed gods, the price!

Shaking a little, the chimera climbed into bed, hoping sleep would give him relief.

It was just a drip, a very singular drip. The blob of inky darkness held there for a moment, poised over the dresser, clinging to the ceiling for an imperceptible space of time before dropping onto the blood red brooch. It didn't splatter. Instead, it sank into the stone as if it were thick water, causing an odd ripple across the smooth surface as it vanished into the red.

Zel drifted back into the waking world as something wet hit his cheek. He blinked as another wet something splattered against his chest. Opening his eyes, he looked up. Is the roof leaking?

The ceiling was no longer a ceiling. Instead, it was a seething mass of creatures. Shadow creatures. Slime covered darkness, oozing across one another as they fed, legs and wings folding and unfolding with each bite. Biting and tearing at each other and the ceiling, the sickening sounds of their teeth rending the pulsing flesh underneath them as well as the screams of their own dying permeated the room. Another wet something fell with a splash to the floor, pooling redly on the varnished wood.

Zel sat up quickly, feeling an unnamable fear as the creatures writhed almost in sync, causing more blood to fall. They were eating the ceiling, teeth tearing into some sort of flesh, causing the steaming red rain. Tiny screams erupted from the flesh eating mouths as they fell to the floor, burning alive in black, blue tinged fire. Flame licked wings beat uselessly as they fell and were consumed before they even touched the quickly pooling blood.

Even as he watched, unconsciously pressed against the wall, the room warped, the view bending and twisting like oil on water to the faint throbbing that sounded in the room. Without the shadow creatures, the ceiling was clear to view, a pulsing, beating wall of smooth, glowing tissue, numerous holes eaten into it. With each beat, steaming crimson life gushed from the punctures, a waterfall of red splashing to the floor and igniting into black fire. Slowly rising, the vicious red murk swirled and bubbled, the heady scent of fresh blood seeming to hold him silent captive to it's dark spell.

The red waterfall of blood was coming thicker and faster now, splashing into the rising lake, even though the heartbeat was steady. Then the ceiling burst, the sudden rush of blood filling the room and sending him close to panic. The throbbing heartbeat was louder now, beating along every nerve, pulsing and pounding in the liquid as he attempted to swim. Attempted and failed, sinking down into the glowing heat.

Zelgadis was rapidly running out of air, verging on drowning when the inky darkness swirled out of the red depths, oozing into a humanoid shape, beckoning him with scythe shaped limbs. The previously checked terror flared up in him as it darkness swirled around him, gliding across his exposed skin, entwining tendrils of ebony curling around his body, caressing.

The blurred, shapeless form that could be it's head swayed within his red-tinged vision, huge whitish spots for eyes. Like the oil-shine in hot water, the eyes flowed and warped across it's surface, never still. Zelgad~issss ... Was it calling him? Was the voice out there or in him? It was a horrible parody of human sound, the pitch and depth changing with every syllable, like a dead thing given the ability to breath, but with no knowledge of how to produce the sound. But then again, Zel doubted that this had ever been alive.

He thrashed, trying to get away from the black corruption, using his remaining air in the attempt. The voice was horribly wrong as it resounded in the thick liquid. This was horribly wrong. The vague temptation that had touched him before evaporated into nameless fear. He opened his mouth to scream, to cast Raywing, to do something, and the darkness flowed inside, the revolting, black sickness sliding down his throat, into his lungs, filling every pore of his being, consuming him from the inside out. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Then he was falling into the dark embrace that rushed up to replace the red.

Zelgadis carefully cracked an eye. He no longer felt what he had before, holding the weight, feeling the black sickness inside him. A beam of sunlight struck his face, causing him to quickly shut his eye before opening it again, quickly followed by the other. He was in a field of thick, green grass stretching as far as the eye could see. The sky was cloudless and the sun was hovering at noontime, as if poised to pause for lunch. He sighed in relief. No voices, no shadows, no blood, no heartbeat. Thank you! Lifting a hand to push the hair back from his eyes, he paused in shock. They were human hands. Pale skinned, fine boned human hands. Zel grinned, happy with this turn of events as he touched his cheek, wonder marking his face as he felt more skin and not smooth, pebbled rock.

Giving an uncharacteristic whoop of joy, he cartwheeled. I haven't done this since I was tall enough to hold a sword! he thought with a grin as he ended up in a heap in the grass. Delightfully silky grass. He squirmed a little, getting comfortable as he gazed into the sky. Raising a hand, he looked at it, wondering, How did I become human again? The thought brought a flash of memory. Oh ... gods ... A room, a book, blood ... so much blood, then ... then ...

"Zel!" Startled, he sat up. It can't be ... "Zel! Oh, there you are!"

Lina smiled and waved at him from a couple meters to his side, before dashing over and pouncing him. The impact caused them to tumble over in the grass, ending up with Lina sprawled on top him. She's ... the thought petered out when Lina bent her head to kiss him hungrily on the lips. "Neh, Zel, you look nice human," she murmured around the play of their lips.

A long moment later, he reluctantly pulled back, a little confused, "But you're - "

Lina grinned and covered his mouth with a hand, the other tangling in his dark blue hair. "Of course not!" she said, snuggling up and laying her head on his chest. Lina murmured something else, but without his enhanced hearing he didn't catch it. It's not, it isn't ... His mind was a jumble and Lina pressing up against him wasn't helping much. Zel did catch hold of one fact, however, a fact which brought a rush on relief. I can cast it! I can be cured!

Sliding an arm hesitantly around her waist, Zelgadis pulled Lina closer, burying his face In her silky red hair, smelling the sweet, flowered scent of the soaps she used. She giggled and squirmed at this display of affection, tilting her head up for a kiss. A kiss he happily obliged, not bothering to wonder why she had become so affectionate towards him. Does the spell do this too? Is that even possible?! Once again, Lina cut off his train of thought with a kiss.

She pulled back, grinning mischievously as she suddenly pushed him back into the grass, hands gliding across the smooth expanse of his still bare chest, laughing at the look on his face. Bending to get nose to nose with him, she pouted, "You don't want to? I thought you loved me."

"I do ... ", he squeaked, taken aback.

"Good, " she said, eminently satisfied, "because I love you too."

With this pronouncement, Lina smiled, before engaging both of them in another kiss. A kiss that soon led to ... other things.

Zelgadis didn't have enough clear thought left to question how Lina had suddenly appeared, or why the sun was tinged red, or why the rich green grass suddenly darkened into black as living tendrils moved to entwine the two in a loving embrace. Only that it was suddenly, entirely wrong.

After an immeasurable length of time, Lina snuggled against him, looking as exhausted as he felt, but radiating a pleased contentment as they finished and relaxed back into the waving ebon grass. A rather odd thought flitted through his head, Xellos would be so jealous ... Zel absently ran a hand through Lina's hair, brushing the damp strands away from her face. She looked up and smiled, placing a final kiss on his lips before resting against him again, unnaturally still.

Still caressing her hair, his hand slid down her back, pausing as it touched something that felt ... odd. Zel pushed himself up on an elbow, feeling Lina's stillness as he pulled his hand back to look. L-sama ... His hand was covered in blood. A sticky, half-dried mess of blood and sweat slickly coated a gaping hole in her back. "Lina?"

His whisper got no answer as he carefully pushed her up by her shoulders. Her head fell forward limply, the vibrant, red hair dull and lifeless as it slid forward to cover her chest. A matching hole was oozing on her stomach. Zel lifted a shaking hand to touch her cheek, finding it cold. A cold that is only possible in bodies long dead, after death has sucked every vestige of life and warmth from the soul's shell. What have I done? The thread of thought slid through his frozen mind like a snake, leaving turmoil in it's wake.

"What have I done?!" Even as the horrified moan broke the stillness, the waving grass hissed and whispered across itself, a dark marble stone rising out if the ebony sea. Words swam across the stone, squirming and slithering as they floated, blazing white in the silver streaked darkness. Words he knew, had read before, in another place, where a heart beat in sync with rushing blood. Images blazing across the surface, beckoning, calling ...

Someone screamed in the stillness, and he didn't even know if it was himself or a creature caught in the wicked talons of a predator, shrieking death with it's last throes.


The feel of being shaken like a rag doll woke Zelgadis up.


Lina sat bolt upright at the sound of the screams. Who-wha-whe- Her mind was a jumble as she blinked in the sudden silence. Another scream ripped through the silence like a knife through butter, a scream that didn't end, setting every nerve on edge as the sound raised in pitch, higher and higher till she thought her ears would burst, singing and razing through her bones as it went into supersonic levels. Dogs began to howl in the inn yard as she lowered her hands from her ears. Zel!

The sorceress practically fell out of her bed in her haste to reach his room, deathly afraid of what she might find. Never in her life had she ever heard him scream like that, a sound so filled with agony, anger, and fear that it seemed to leave aftershocks in her heart.

Not surprisingly, the door to his room was ajar. Gourry and Amelia were already there, trying in vain to hold the lightning blur of blue and crackling light that was Zel down. A finger tapped her shoulder. Lina whirled, ready to slap the perpetrator silly.

"Oya, oya, Lina-chan, having difficulties?" Xellos asked cheerfully, peering over her shoulder.

That was the last straw for Lina. She never was a morning person, and that coupled with the sudden occurrence of this had shortened her tolerance of the smiling Trickster to diddly. Lina had Xellos in a headlock in less than two seconds, "WHAT THE FRICKIN' HELL DO YOU THINK, YOU HEARTLESS, SMILING BASTARD!!?!?!?!?!?!?"

"That is - gurk" Xellos lost the ability to breath as Lina attempted to strangle the life out of him. Then he vanished.

"Wha - ?" Lina looked at her hands for a second, caught off guard, then turned to look at Zel. The dogs' howling had petered off into tortured whines as Zel's scream reached levels that even set human nerves to agony, the glass in his window vibrating and shattering into a shower of glittering dust. Then everything was silent.

Lina's gaze was drawn up to the form that floated above Zelgadis's bed. Xellos grinned and waved at her, before returning his concentration to the now-still chimera. Dropping a gloved hand he gently pushed Zel's hair away from his face before pressing a hand to his throat. Xellos smiled darkly. "He's dead."

Xellos fell over with when a bunny slipper hit his head at warp speed, "DON'T EVEN JOKE ABOUT THAT!"

"But, Lina-chan, " he whined, anime tears streaming down his footprinted face, "Here I went and slapped a still spell on him and this is the way you repay me?! Wahhhhhhhhhhh! You never let me have any fun!"

Lina pushed down the very pleasant image of a dead Trickster Priest before darting over to Zel to check on him. He's so still ... Unable to stop herself and needing reassurance that he was alive, she pressed her ear to his chest while her hand searched for his pulse. The faint sound of breathing and the slow muffled beat of his heart sent a almost painful rush of relief through her. Then she started to shake the stuffing out of him while screeching, "Don't you EVER scare me like that again, Zelgadis Greywers!"

That woke him up.


Zel blinked as the world rushed up to greet him. Light and color spinning sharply into focus, so fast he almost felt sick. Unfortunately for his stomach, it didn't seem to stop spinning.


"Um, Lina, he's awake now, you can stop shaking him, " Gourry said, edging around to hide behind Xellos should Lina decide to take out her fury on him.

Lina looked down the limp chimera. His eyes were all swirly and little stars were spinning around his head. "Eh heh ... sorry Zel."

Quickly releasing his shoulders, she pulled back as he kinda swayed and then sagged forward into her arms. Two things came to her attention with him pressed against her, the little stars spinning around them. One, he was shirtless and she wasn't wearing much more than a nightshift and Two: It felt awful nice being this close to him.

Xellos grinned lewdly as Lina blushed seven shades of red.


The world slowly swam into focus again, the chaotic swirl of light and color settling into calm, normal patterns. It took him about three seconds to figure out where he was, what nice thing he was propped against, and who that nice thing was. He choked and jerked back, eyes big as saucers as he searched Lina's face, looking for the cold touch of death and finding only blazing life. Thank L-sama, he thought as a flood of pure relief washed over him. She wasn't dead.


Lina blinked as Zel jerked away suddenly, staring at her with wide, frightened eyes. Almost as if he's afraid of what he'll see ... Then relief so intense it wiped away all other emotion flooded through those ice blue eyes. Before Lina could figure it out though, his cold, apathetic mask fell back into place, hiding his heart from her eyes.

His voice was cool and measured when he finally spoke, "Lina, could you please get off me?"


Xellos grinned wider as Lina blushed seven more shades of red and quickly scrambled off of Zel. This whole escapade is just getting more and more interesting ... He glanced over at the now far too calm chimera. I wonder just how long it'll take before you break, Zelgadis. Just how long can you stand the temptation?


Lina watched, silent and pained, as Zel rebuffed Amelia's attempt to talk to him for the fifth time that morning. Why does he have to be so cold?! But she already knew the answer, To block out whatever's wrong. Whatever he saw. The thin shield of uncaring that covered his heart was slipping more and more often. If only I knew ... Her mind flew back to their conversation after he had screamed them awake, a conversation a week ago.


"What's wrong, Zel?" she asked as they finished their usual massive breakfast. A breakfast that all three had eaten with one eye on their food and the other on Zel. His eyes were locked to a place over their heads, almost as if lost in another world of his own creation as he slowly swished the coffee in his cup.

He glanced over at the sound of her voice, unseeing. Zel blinked for a moment before asking, "Did you say something, Lina?"

"What's wrong?" she asked again, slight worry seeping into her question.


"You're lying."

"And if I am?" a cool, unconcerned question.

Amelia's heart was in her eyes as she reached across the table to catch his stone hand, "Zelgadis-san, please tell us." The question was almost a beg, her eyes pleading with him to open up to them, just this once.

He extricated his hand with almost overdone care, coolly turning away from both of them, eyes again loosing focus as he stared over their heads, ignoring them completely. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. Or they did before Lina smashed a serving plate over his head.

"What did you do that for?!" he growled, glaring icy daggers at the unfazed Lina.

"What I should have done a long time, you idiot! You're locking us out again!" she snarled, fury lacing every movement as she carefully set down the pot she'd been about to throw at him next.

"We're your friends, Zel. If you can't trust us, who can you trust?" Amelia asked softly, catching his arm, eyes once again pleading.

Zel shook her off like a leaf. "Friends? We are not friends. We just happen to travel together. An action I'm beginning to regret," So cold, so very cold ... His voice was like a dagger, the words cutting through both anger and fear, leaving shocked stares.

Gourry broke the deadlock, "Of course we're friends. We fought Shaba-uh-dingo-what's-his-face, didn't we? We killed the Kopii-thing together. We've been through thick and thin for your cure, Amelia's quests, Lina's treasure, and keeping the weirdoes from my sword. We are friends."

The chimera flinched visibly at the mention of his cure, the indifferent mask slipping for a moment, raw terror and guilt painting his features before it slid seamlessly back into place. Amelia and Lina rallied with Gourry's words, preparing another attack even as Zel dropped the cat among the pigeons. "Never, ever, mention that again in my presence."

They were stunned, Lina managed to give a strangled gasp as she stared at him, in shock again,"Wha-wa-at?"

"You heard me."

A swirling mess of questions rose up in Lina's mind. The book, Xellos, city, black, what? "What did you see, Zel?"


The second question was a whisper, "Did you find your cure?"

"Does it matter?"

"Zel, please! What did you find?" the last question was a beg as Lina realized she would get blood from stones and turnips before she got an answer from him.

"Nothing. This matter is closed."


Lina swallowed to stop the bitter tears that threatened to spill over her cheeks. Amelia looked much the same as Zel once again verbally pushed her away. Their friend was closing himself off when he needed them the most and there was nothing they could do. The princess slowed to match pace with Lina, her eyes pleading silently what she didn't dare say, 'Lina-san, what are we gonna do?'

Lina just shook her head, 'I don't know'.


Xellos was floating in the shadows just beside the travelers. He could tell easily that the three following the relentless pace of the chimera were frayed and worried, a sharp contained fear rising off them as they found themselves without recourse to act.

Zelgadis was another story. Every step was agony, every movement a walk through hell. Xellos could read it in his footsteps as they faltered from whatever vision plagued him. His friends might be frayed, but Zelgadis was a man about to break, walking on the ragged, knife-thin edge of destruction.


Zelgadis was walking in a haze of blood and darkness, of black lightning and sick green fire, barely able to discern reality and fantasy, uncertain of every step through the murk in which he was walking, unable to read the stars when they hung like drops of blood in shuddering, fleshed sky. It was a vision that rarely lifted, usually at the voices of those he had fissioned from himself with his own cruel words. He couldn't allow them close now, not when he was uncertain if the voices he heard were friend or foe. Zel ached for them, for the comfort he so desperately needed, for the caring he knew was there if he only looked. But he didn't dare look.

His dreams were more real than his waking daze, sweet temptations burning in dark corruption, pulling at his soul, tugging at his heart. The dreams were like the first, but more vivid, more jewel like, IT was getting better, smarter as time went on. IT was learning from each vision, from each reaction, learning his mind and heart better than he did, reading his soul like an open book as it twisted his desires into his downfall.

But if he fell, there would be no one there to catch him.

The first dream was a test... did I read that? The second: Power.


Screams and the clash of arms rang in his ears as he fought on the weathered, battle hardened, black war-horse. It bucked and then crushed in the skull of his attacker, blood drenching the mare's flanks even as it splattered his own ebon leather. He grinned, cruel, blue eyes flashing as another fireball exploded among the enemy, setting the line of protecting brush on fire. Another swipe of his sword and another attacker fell as he charged, dark blue hair whipped back in the wind.

"Diem Wind!" A blast of air leveled a flank of his soldiers, knocking them over like pins. Zelgadis smiled up at the flame haired sorceress of the enemy, knowing that she would soon serve him. It was only a matter of time. She was chanting now, but he didn't give her time as he reined in Thundercloud, hands lifting to cast his own spell. The dark laced spell of dragon containment. Dragon Slayer, dragon heart, burning within cage of black and gold, hold fast to these bindings as Our power unfolds! Lina never knew what hit her as she blacked out.

Without the Dragon Spooker at their backs, the enemy fell like wheat before the scythe. The comparison brought a smile to his cold, human features, twisting the fine lips into a unholy grin. Amelia was a simple thing to eliminate. The Ra-Tilt blast of Shamanism did nothing on his bespelled armor. Her screams rang in his ears as he handed her over to Xellos and searched out Light Holder, his one true threat next to Lina.

The brooch flashed in warning. He dodged to the side, his cape speared by the blade of blazing light. Blonde haired Gourry leaped from behind the dying embers of the brush, lightning fast in his strikes. He was dead after the first strike. Zel lifted a hand as the second strike descended, energy rippling around the palm, blasting Gourry to cinders. He watched, the smile still fixed to his face, as both the now dead sword and the ashes of his former companion fell, spinning, to the uncaring ground.

The next time he saw the fiery treasure he had sought in these lands, she was bound and gagged in his tent, glaring hatred at his every move. He knelt before her, gently removing the gag. "I am sorry you couldn't see things my way," he whispered.

"Like hell, bastard."

Zelgadis gently brushed her soot peppered hair away from her face. "I'm also sorry you don't see what is plainer than the nose on your sweet face."

"I see perfectly, murdering snake!"

Quicker than the snake she had mentioned, he had her caught against him, crushing his lips to hers in a searching, devouring kiss. She bit him. Zel jerked back, fingering his bloodied lip, "Fire soul you are, my heart. Try to understand."

With those words he shot the death fire through her stomach, burning and searching to capture her soul before it fled on golden wings, confining it to the blood red brooch that hung glittering around his neck. Death glazed the ruby eyes as she sank soundlessly to the floor.

The brooch glimmered, double shine marking it's red-black surface as he watched the remnants of Amelia's army grovel at his feet. He held their lives in his fist, a single squeeze and they would die, slowly and painfully as each drop of blood was dragged from their forms. Uncaring he watched them beg and plead, seeing the fear in their eyes, the knowledge that he didn't care if they lived or died, just as long as the living or dying served him.

The ruby eyed temptress slipped to his side, stepping into his embrace and kiss, knowing her presence had just twisted the knives thrust through the men's hearts. Zel smiled at her, twisting a lock of hair around his fingers, as he sucked gently on her too-cold lower lip, eliciting a moan from her blasted throat. Lina in the crystal screamed soundlessly as the shell of her body bound herself to their conqueror with a single sealing kiss.

Power, indeed. Complete and absolute. Life and death held in his oh so human hands.


Chi~merrr~a issss currrr~sssse. Hu~maan isss po~wer. The voice of IT, the singular voice of temptation, sending him screaming to the waking world that had become less a refuge and more a nightmare.

That time he had darted out of his bedroll to check on his friends, needing the reassurance that they were alive and not crushed by the cruel, cold monster he had become. Then he had escaped to empty his stomach, sickened to the core, even though the promise was hard to push away. The promise of control, of the power to do as he pleased, Lina by his side ... it was the self-same desire that had driven him to take this form, even though he hadn't known then the price of power.

Now he knew it all too well.

The third dream was harder to ignore, following hard on the heels of the first. Revenge.


The red robes swished softly around his bound form, brushing against the bare stone, sending shivers down his back. The memory of prior "lessons" burned in his mind. Rezo punished disobedience with torment, imaginative and will destroying torment.

Zelgadis stifled a whimper of fear as he felt the soft, white feather brush across his stone cheek, burning the path it gently stroked. "Zelgadis, do relax, it can be ... pleasant if you let it."


"Pity." The pain ripped through him as the tip of the staff was slammed through his shoulder. "Why must you make this difficult?"

Zelgadis was too busy fighting the pain and keeping silent to answer.

Then he was fighting his friends in Rezo's Tower, red eyes burning as he attacked her, the one who would stop his controller. Her death was everything, Rezo's will must be followed, even though his soul screamed and writhed in the grip of the ruby spell woven into his body.

'Me~mberrr th~isss? We~ak.

The scene shifted. Rezo's sightless eyes opened wide as the sword slid through his heart, spearing it in an instant. The azure eyes of his grandson glared hatred into his own, cured, normal eyes, no longer slitted as a Mazoku's. Zel jerked the sword out, not wishing to stain in with the snake's blood. He smiled, a spell forming in his pale hand as he pressed a finger to the chest covered in bloody robes.

"Fireball!" A burst of cleansing flame and charred robes fell like leaves to the ground, the last remains of the Red Priest. The clattering of chimes and the staff fell as well, shattering into nothing as it struck, made fragile by the intense heat of mageborn flames.

Looking at the scorched, smoking earth, Zelgadis smiled.


If Rezo had not already been dead, he would have crumbled, giving into the blackness that insinuated itself into the flaws and cracks in his heart. Yes, he wanted vengeance, he burned for it, to make them suffer as he had. Rezo was only one of many, merely the figurehead for those he wished gone. Sailoon, Xellos ... Gods, Xellos, I want him dead most of all ...


Zel could no longer tell if the words came from a dream, from the fantasy he walked in, or from himself. He prayed the dead voice was not from him, although he feared it was. He wouldn't admit to it, though. He would not give it something else to use against him. No.

He shivered as the memory of the fourth dream washed over him. Eternity.


This time when he shut his haunted blue eyes, he was alone in the field of battle, icy rain pouring around him as he fended off another magebolt only to turn too late. The arrow of incandescent light pierced the stone skin, shattering it like glass, tearing through his heart, ripping away his life in an instant. He fell to the earth like a shooting star, wreathed in crackling light and skidded on the rain slick grass. Dead eyes looked into nothing. Nothing left him. No soul, no thought, nothing. There was only the eternal nothingness. But he wasn't there to feel it. End is end.

He felt the weight of time and stars, of eternity slipping through his fingers. He was alone in darkness, the stone body dragging him down into the black, far, far away from the singing sparks of distant stars. Alone permeated him, the complete and utter knowledge that chimeras don't have souls like humans, that they live on and on to suffer and worry before dying empty, broken deaths alone and unloved by gods and men, demons and dragons, left alone in the darkness. Only pure creatures had souls, creatures that are birthed as they are. Chi~merrr~a issss punisssh~me'nt

The words rang in the darkness, filling him, feeding the emptiness for a time before it was consumed and the emptiness returned, consuming him. If he was human ...

The scene changed. The selfsame lance of light speared his frozen form, tearing and ripping through his human flesh, burning a hole through his human heart. Then the fall, slow and final as he slammed into the earth, skidding along the slick, wet grass. Through death clouded eyes he watched as his soul took flight from his shell and spread golden wings of light. The dragon-formed soul turned to regard the dead eyes, to consider the smoking human form before it beat ethereal wings and soared weightless to the heavens.


Zel pushed down the tears of hopelessness, begging it all to end. Anything if only the horror, the temptation would stop. That dream had sucked away the phantom hope of death's release. Please, someone, Lina, anyone! Make it stop!


Lina saw Zel stagger, faltering, hugging himself, crystalline tears poised at the edges of his closed eyes. Both she and Amelia were by his side in a moment, hugging him tightly, but he didn't see them, caught in whatever held a grip on his mind.

"I don't need your help," he hissed, opening hate-filled eyes. Lina's heart clenched at his look, knowing the same thing was mirrored in Amelia's eyes.

She reached out to gently brush away the crystal tears that still glimmered at the edges of his eyes. He flinched away from her touch, suddenly shrugging both of them off in agitation. "Leave me alone!"

His friends shares a hopeless three way glance. 'Zel ... '


Xellos smirked, seeing beyond the delightfully "touching" scene before him. He phased in next to Zel, leaning on his shoulder and winking at the group. "They're coming."


Zel twitched. How dare that NAMIGOMI BASTA - the thought froze as the dreamscape evaporated at Xellos's touch, fading into sweet, blessed normality. Wha - ?

Xellos smiled at him for a moment, enjoying the stunned look on his face, before stepping back and clapping, "Oya, look! I've stunned him into silence! Not that that's too hard ... "

The Trickster found himself being strangled by a very ticked off and on edge chimera. Lina sighed in relief at Zel's reaction. At least him trying to kill Xellos was comfortingly normal. "What's coming?"

"That is - gurk, not so gasp hard Zel-chan!"

Zel released the Mazoku long enough for him to talk. Xellos brushed himself off, smiling widely, "A band of freelance Mazoku, what else?"

Everyone facefaulted. Xellos looked down at their twitching forms, "Ano ... "


Lina glanced around the bend in the road. Sure enough, there was a whole mess of monsters, obviously waiting for some unfortunate fool to cross their path. The sorceress looked back at the others, Amelia and Gourry ready to kick butt, Zel, with one grip on Xellos's neck and the other on his sword, and Xellos, who was smiling like an idiot.

She sighed at the sight. Drawing herself to her full four feet she grinned widely, "Let's do it!"


Dear, dramatic Lina ... Hair flying out behind her, she hopped into the path, waving cheerily at the Mazoku. "Hey, Ugly! Didn't anyone ever tell you that blocking the road is rude?"

The horde of truly nasty looking monsters turned their collective head to look at the diminutive sorceress that had just challenged them. They smiled their equivalent of a smile, showing lots of teeth, and charged.

Lina grinned, fox-like, as she cast her spell, "Fireball!"

The first few exploded into fire. Xellos grinned from Zel's deathgrip as they leapt to Lina's assistance, "That's our cue!"

"Stay, " Zel growled, dropping Xellos and drawing his sword. Limitations ...

"Sure thing, go and have a blast, " the Mazoku answered, propping himself up on an elbow, tossing a leg over the other, and whistling cheerfully as the battle raged around him.

"Light come forth!" The haze in Zel's mind was astonishing clear as he threw himself into the fight, an odd, clear calm descending on him as he noted Gourry drawing the Sword of Light, Amelia bashing Mazoku right and left in the name of justice, Lina flinging spells all about and having a good old time, and Xellos lounging on the ground, reading a book, drinking lemonade, and frying any Mazoku that stepped into his reading light.

For some reason, he wanted blood, wanted to see it cover his sword and drench the ground, as he leapt forward to strike a tentacled monster, slicing it in half in a spray of acidic ooze. Zel spun to slice through another at his back when he saw his future in the path of the rust edged sword of a black skinned Mazoku.


Lina turned too late to stop the sword strike that swept at her with either magic or her own sword. She froze as it dropped, flashing, for her, seeking out her heart.


Some compulsion other than his own sent him forward as fast as the wind. Something besides his own mind screamed at him to move, to stop the blade before their future went out in a spray of blood.

Zel hit his full speed in less than a yard as he jumped between Lina and the sword, slamming her to the ground beneath him. On instinct he brought his hands up to stop himself before his weight crushed her even as the sword clanged off his back.


She cracked an eye, wondering why she wasn't dead and what had pushed her out of the way. Her eyes widened to saucers as she realized it was Zel. He suddenly jerked his head back in a gesturing motion. Always a bright girl, Lina quickly powered up a spell as the Mazoku hissed and raised his sword to strike again. "Now, Zel!"

He rolled off of her and out of the way in an instant, a spell of his own at the ready, as she let loose a fireball, incinerating her attacker. Zel stood, a growl escaping as he glared at the remaining mess of monsters. "You could help me up, you know!", she yelled at him, pushing herself up.

He wasn't listening.


Zel was dimly aware that Lina was yelling at him, but he was to preoccupied to deal with it. His future was safe again and he wanted it to stay safe. Limitations ... the fifth dream ...

Grey mist swirled into his clenched fist in a spinning vortex, sucked into the shadows burning in his palm. The memory of the dream washed over him. Chimeras are limited creatures, based in Shamanism, bound to Shamanism, and limited to Shamanism. Mastery of the dark arts were out of their grasp, healing a maze of nothing spells, Giga magic so far out of reach they might as well wish to touch the stars. Creatures of magic, but bound to one art, caged in stone. The cure ... with the cure I could master those magics ... the temptation.

The dreamscape was returning as the Mazoku died, the blood pooling and spreading. Hissing, spitting creatures of shadow emerging from the crimson pools is explosions of blood and black ooze, before spreading red drenched wings and slithering into the reddening sky. A pounding began behind his eyes, pulsing along his nerves, the beating of another heart as his brooch began to bleed, blood dripping and sliding down his clothes to the ground, pooling at his feet.

Not again! Zel let his anger and fear take him away, letting it run rampant as he drew the star drenched power of the archaic Shaman spell into his hands, feeling the crackling energy of plants and earth bind with sun and wind. Now uncaring about the damage or consequences he slammed a palm to the earth, his shout ringing in his ears, "Vireh Sedre!" Vine Wrap!


Lina stared in a kind of tableau as Zel stood frozen, power gathering in his clenched fists, the pure, mindless fury twisting the delicate features of his face into something completely inhuman. She swallowed as he shook, the anger barely contained, before he crouched to slam his palm to earth, a shout ripping from his throat, "Vireh Sedre!"

What?! That's no spell I know of! Lina stared as a pulsing gray-green wave of energy rippled through the ground in a shock wave, the earth rumbling and groaning as huge, fat, razor edged vines surged from the broken ground. The chimera stood, face twisting in a sick smile as the greenery grabbed the remaining Mazoku, spearing them, before crushing them in a shower of blood. Snapping his torn cape around him, the cruel smirk still lingering on his lips, Zelgadis went to retrieve his sword.


Xellos paused in his reading, cracking an eye, faceted, amethyst orb dead serious as he watched the chimera cast the spell. Vine Wrap? Interesting ... that was from the book. He smiled darkly as the plants that shot from the ground went about their gruesome work. The temptation is growing isn't it, Zel-kun? Your control is slipping.


Zel felt the hate and fury slip away like water, taking everything else with it, leaving an empty sickness and numbing nothingness behind. Had he really done that? Forced them to suffer, no matter how briefly, just so he could watch them suffer?

Jerking his sword from the bloody ground and cleaning it on the edge of his cape, he sheathed it, ignoring the others' stares. What was a little blood to stain his clothes after this? What was a little blood when he was walking in a red-drenched world from nightmares? He grabbed Xellos's hand on his way, heading on down the road, dragging the smiling Trickster behind him, "C'mon."


"Um, Zelgadis-san? Why are you dragging Xellos-san with us?" Amelia asked timidly after they'd gotten some distance from the Mazoku blood bath.

"Giku!" he paused, a foot in the air, caught in the reason. He couldn't tell her without making her think he was insane and nothing else would suffice.

"Yeah, Zel, why?" Lina grinned, nudging him with her elbow.

Xellos clapped with his one free hand, "Yes, why?"

Zel sweatdropped. "Uh ... "

"I know!" Suddenly leaning on the chimera, tossing his arms around his neck, grinning brightly, the Trickster chirped, "You really do care about me!"

Zel made gagging noises, "Dream on!"

"You're just too shy to reveal your true feelings for me, " he purred, snuggling up to Zel and laying his head on his shoulder, running a gloved hand up Zel's chest.

The chimera twitched.

"And holding my hand the whole way! Oh, you're just so sweet!, " Xellos exclaimed, catching Zel's head to give him a big, sloppy kiss.

"PERVERT!" Zel blushed furiously and introduced the Mazoku's face to his fist.

Amelia was in shock, Gourry was green, and Lina was sorta in control. She was slack-jawed and staring, but other than that ... Getting control of her motor functions she managed a dry comment, "Gee, Zel, I never knew."


"Could have fooled me," Xellos purred, pressing against his back and draping his arms around his neck. Zel twitched and slammed him into a tree.


Lina sighed and leaned back against the tree, watching Zel slap Xellos silly over the flickering light of the fire for getting too touchy feely. Weird ... I wonder why he's keeping Xellos so close to him like that?

She sighed again, blowing her bangs out of her face as she absently stirred the fire. After the day's endless round of "Pervert Xellos" and Zel inventing new ways to mangle the Trickster, Gourry and Amelia had pretty much become immune to the whole thing, figuring it was just Xellos finding another way to needle their friend. One good thing had come of it, though, Zel had stopped looking like he was walking through hell. So many questions she wished she could ask ... if only she could get an answer from him!

Curling up in her bedroll, listening to Amelia and Gourry snore, Lina tried to ignore the sounds of the fight going on behind her, as well as a brief pang of ... jealousy?


It was all Zelgadis could do to keep from killing the Mazoku on the spot. Couldn't the bastard keep his mouth shut and his hands to himself for one lousy minute?!?! Apparently not.

"Awww, sweetie pie, don't you want me to stay with you?"

"N - ...yes," the last was ground out through clenched teeth as Zel once again stifled the urge to strangle him. He hated himself for needing Xellos like this, having to hold his hand like a child whenever the fantasyscape started clutching at his mind, drawing him back into the darkness. The last time he had killed just to kill and he could not allow that to happen again, could not let himself lose control. Xellos knew the effect of his touch ... Zelgadis could see it in the Trickster's smile, in the unguarded moments when he opened his glittering, jewel-like eyes to watch the chimera squirm. But how?!?! How are you doing it? How come you can make it stop?!

Xellos smiled and immediately cuddled up to Zel. He twitched before shoving the way the Trickster was holding him out of his mind, concentrating on falling asleep as he curled up. Xellos may have been protection against the nightmare of his waking hours, but that didn't stop the nightmares of his dreams. A hopelessness filled him as the darkness drew him into the sixth dream. Desire.


Xellos amused himself by draping his body over the sleeping chimera and probing his dreams. Smiling as he fingered the darkened brooch around Zelgadis's neck lovingly, he decided that giving running commentary on the contents of this dream might be interesting ... considering that Lina was listening.


Lina did her best to ignore the sound of Xellos chattering, "Interesting ... how unfaithful can you be, sweetie?! I thought I was your one true love! ... Come now, don't be shy! What's a little friendly groping among friends? .............. Passionate, aren't we? Repressed sexual urges can do that to a person ... "

Unfortunately, her curiosity got the better of her and she sat up to see exactly what the heck was going on, blushing as a naughty theory flitted through her head. Xellos was draped over Zel's sleeping form, watching the chimera intently while talking, either out of boredom or to bother her, Lina couldn't tell, but it was irritating. "What are you talking about?!"

"Kinky ... ," he glanced up, "Lina? Did you say something?"

She glared at him before throwing off the cover of her bedroll, stalking over to the two, and hitting Xellos upside the head. "What. Are. You. Talking. About?!"

The Trickster winked, a rather lewd smile playing on his lips, "Wanna see?"

"Ummmm ... no."

"Pity," he said, still smiling as he returned his attention to Zel, "Is that position humanely possible? Guess so ... "

Lina shifted uncomfortably, not entirely sure what Xellos was talking about, but not all too curious about it after that smile. "Xellos ... what are you doing?"

"Looking into his dreams," he stated cheerfully, watching her carefully through closed eyes.


"Oya, oya, so eloquent! Now I'll have to tell you, won't I?" the Trickster wagged a finger at her, the other hand still lightly caressing the brooch, "I'm watching his dreams, Lina-chan, they've been very interesting lately."

Lina leaned forward, suddenly interested, "What are they about?"

"That is a secret."

"I should have known," she groaned, sweatdropping, "Well, what can you tell me?"

"Dese dare, richiphre catera deme ne', Lina-chan."

"Yeah, yeah, you've said that before, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!?!?!"

"Not so loud, Lina, you'll wake up my sweetie-kins, " Xellos whined, protectively covering Zelgadis's ears.

"He is not your sweetie-kins!!!!"

The Mazoku pouted cutely, "So?"

Lina refrained from clobbering him, little fires dancing behind her, "What does it mean, Xellos?!?!"

"What does what mean?"

"Whatever you said?!?"

"Oh ... sweetie-kins?"

"NO! Dese, darit, richi - whatever!?!"

"Oh, that! Dese dare, richiphre catera deme ne' ... The chimera's cure will find him, Lina-chan."


Xellos smiled as she stared at him, the rest of the phrase coming to mind, the small detail he had chosen to leave out. Dese dare, richiphre catera deme ne' dimi nichiti sare chela, The chimera's cure will find him, Lina-chan, and it will find you.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?!?!?!" she growled, fuming.

He smiled for a moment, allowing a dramatic pause, before wagging his finger and opening one brilliant violet eye, "That is a secret."


Lina flinched as she heard a door slam. Zel ... Motioning for Amelia and Gourry to start dinner without her, she grabbed Xellos by the neck and dragged him upstairs.

"But, Lina-san, I'm hungry!" the Trickster whined, arms reaching to their order of food, a pathetic expression plastered on his face.


"But, Lina-chan ..."

Amelia glanced over at Gourry as the sounds of the two retreated up the stairs. Sighing, the princess picked up a fork and dug into the pot of seafood, listlessly chewing on a morsel of fish. One of Zelgadis-san's favorite ... and he didn't even bother to look at it ...

Amelia put the food down, fiddling with her bracelets nervously. What's wrong with Zelgadis-san? He's been acting ... strange ... In fact, he hadn't hit Xellos all day, even after the Mazoku had spent it hanging all over the chimera and flirting shamelessly. She felt her heart freeze, Could Zelgadis-san like Xellos?! She immediately shook it away. Of course not, he hadn't even been paying attention to the Trickster at all.

"Amelia? Aren't you hungry?" Gourry asked, looking at her in concern.

"No ... I mean, I'm just ... well ... I'm worried about Zelgadis-san," she answered, feeling herself blush.

The swordsman nodded sagely, before stating confidentially, "Lina'll find a way to fix it."

She sighed, "Yeah, Gourry, I know she will." I hope.


Lina dropped Xellos on the floor and settled into a chair the minute she entered her room, glaring at him, "Okay, I want to know what's going on and I want to know NOW!"

Xellos took a moment to sit up and brush himself off with overdone dignity, "Why?"

The sorceress twitched for a minute, before carefully removing the black book from a pocket in her cape and setting it on the floor. With an imperious gesture, she gave the Trickster one of those commands, "Read."

"I can't."

"How come?"

"I forgot how."

Lina facefaulted and fell over. Then she slapped the Mazoku with her bunny slipper, "DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT MAKING THIS DIFFICULT, YOU FRUITCAKE!"

"Too la - urk." Xellos found himself in a headlock as Lina fumed.


The Mazoku phased out.


He sat up, clutching at the tousled sheets of his bed as he tried to stop his heart from pounding it's way out of his chest. Zel shuddered and hugged himself, shaking violently as the last few dreams swept over him Acceptance, Significance, Hope, Love. One sweet, tempting dream after the other, burning it's dark seduction into his mind.

Zel had nodded off almost as soon as he had entered his room and the delightful darkness had swept him away. I feel so alone. He wanted to tell someone, ask someone for help, but after the dreams he was having he didn't dare confide in the one person he thought would understand: Lina.

You'll have her ssss~oon.


Lina gave the room a baleful glare, fully ready to fireball anything that dared to move. Xellos phased back in over the book, settling gently down to open the dull black cover and turn each page one by one, lovingly. He looked up into her eyes, opening both gem orbs to meet her gaze for a moment, completely serious before he smiled. "Let me tell you a story, Lina-chan."


Zel froze, the cold snake of dread worming it's way through his stomach. Wha - ?


He swallowed. The voice had changed from the whispering, clinging, sound of death to a smooth, sweet voice that reminded him of Xellos. A drop of black fell from the ceiling to splatter on the floor, followed by a shiny waterfall of darkness. The puddle swirled and swished, slithering, bloated white shimmers and lines snaked across it's surface before it surged upward, shaping itself into a vaguely humanoid form. Oil-shine eyes moved across the round knob of it's head, the scythe arms hung loosely at it's side, the lower half still puddled from the floor, a moving, liquid pillar of ink holding it up.

I, Zel~gadiss.


"Have you ever heard of a city called Sunheim, Lina-chan?" Xellos grinned, leaning forward over the book.

Lina swallowed, her eyes big as saucers, "Sunheim as in the "City of the Rising Sun"? The Demon City, the City of Stolen Souls? That Sunheim?!"

The Trickster clapped his hands together, smiling, "Then you do know of it!"

"I know it's the worst city in history! The pit of destruction! The home of all evil!"

"Oya, oya ... that's what most people would say about you."

"... oh."

"Merely because one has a reputation does not make that reputation true," he said, titling his head a little to the side, amused.


Zelgadis was floating in blood, the ebon stain stroking him. It tingled as it moved, sliding violently into every pore. Hearing it thrum against his stone skin, beating with his heartbeat ... and another's. He felt it sliding across him, slithering up to encase him completely, sheath him within the skin-close darkness. Was it bleeding from the crimson lake he hung in?

The thought was washed away in a flood of red, another thought taking it's place. Where will I start?


"There once was a magnificent city, Lina-chan, " Xellos started brightly, holding out a hand as a glowing image formed in his gloved palm, "one of the wealthiest cities of it's time, marble homes, paved streets of the old stone, gems as common as rocks, money more common than water. The throne room of it's palace was white Zelpher marble inlaid in gold, the last stone of the Camzye race adorned the back wall, lush tapestries decorated the floors, murals of gems and rare stones covered the walls ... it was a magical place, Lina-chan," Xellos leaned forward, nearly nose to nose with her, his gem eyes opened, holding her captive like a snake holds a bird in it's thrall, "But the city was created as a way to the other place, formed when the sacred bindings of the sun had been unsealed ...In the end, the city was destroyed by the same magics it was made from, buried deep in the earth, sealed for an eternity. "

"So what's this have to do with Zel?"

Xellos drew back for a moment, mouth a cute little "o" as he considered. He smiled widely. "Nothing."

Lina fell over, stifling a facefault. "THEN WHY DID YOU - "

Xellos smiled, leaning forward to kiss Lina lightly on the lips. "Sunheim is where Zelgadis found his cure, " he whispered into her mouth. Have you given into the temptation, Zel-chan? The Mazoku pulled back, watching Lina blush hotly as he carefully probed the chimera's room. It would seem you have.


Lina started as Xellos phased out at the sound of a knock on the door. What is with Xellos?! Him and his stupid riddles! "Come in."

The door swung open as Zelgadis stepped inside, carefully shutting and locking the door behind him. The chimera turned to look at her, a cruel smirk twisting his features as a unnamable darkness seemed to shine from behind the ice shard eyes.


The heartbeat pounded behind his eyes, singing along his nerves, eating into his flawed and brittle ink stained soul. It was nothing to the hovering blackness that pressed into his back, thrilling along his spine in sync with the heart that beat within the book before the wide-eyed sorceress. The room was swathed in cobwebs of flesh and blood, sleek trickles of crimson sliding down the slick, wooded walls to pool on the floor, green fire dancing along the edges of every trickle. The moon was rising, the beautiful, scythe shaped blade of the dying, midnight light. A scythe dipped in blood. He smiled.

Lina, heart, sweet temptress ... The sorceress's figure was superimposed by another. A book ... no a cup. A deep, silver chased goblet of dark red stone. A gem he noted absently ... carved from a single red gem, flawless and glittering in it's perfection, as red as Lina's eyes.

Drink. The word whispered from the darkness that held him, promised him escape. Unease flashed through the part of his soul that was still Zelgadis. Something felt wrong.

A swirling, bubbling mix of red and black steamed inside the goblet. The simmering red never mixing with the hissing black, a chaotic whirl of vicious liquid. Oddly tempting as it pulled at his mind.

Drink. The word vibrated along his nerves, tugging him closer to the goblet, to Lina. The unease strengthened, beating against the heartbeat that consumed him as it rose from the ancient script.

A sweet, swirling scent reached his sensitive nose. It was a mix of blood, the taste of the darkness that permeated every pore ... and a thrilling, phantom fragrance spun inside the former, a light, heady aroma that made him want to close his eyes in delighted pleasure.

DRINK. The word pounded inside him, washing across his vision, rocking the fragile world in which he stood, beating his mind ... what was left of his mind.

He drank.


Lina stared as he stepped close, a corner of her mind questioning why his brooch was black as night, while every instinct screamed wrongness. A permeating evil that sucked at the dim light in the room, consuming it in a splash of blood, sending the room into darkness as Zelgadis's arms suddenly snaked around her waist and roughly tilted her head up for a devouring kiss.


Xellos plucked the book from the floor, invisible as he gently cradled it in the crook of his arm, watching the scene unfold before him. To step in or not to? No, he decided, he is doing exactly what I want him to do.


It had taken years of searching after that horrible night, years of looking in every place he could be, going over the known world with a fine-toothed comb ... but she'd found him. Finally.

It was a forest clearing in the middle of no where. A small stream babbled happily along the side as bright sunlight beamed down from an opening in the trees on a carpet of wildflowers that covered the ground as tiny white and yellow butterflies fluttering about the carpet of blue and white. The tree was almost in the exact center, tall, dark blue trunk curving in a vaguely human figure before divulging into millions of branches covered in leaves every shade of blue, violet, green, and any combination there of. Splotches of darker blue speckled the trunk, and the roots were a thick mess, spreading across the ground like vines, wide and tall enough to use as seats.

Lina dropped down in front of the tree between two roots, the dappled patterns of midday shade dancing over her as she leaned back against the trunk with a sigh, closing her eyes as the bitter memory washed over her. She pulled her knees up under her chin, tears trickling down her cheeks, "Zel ... why did you do that to me?"

A rainfall of blue leaves gently fluttered around her shaking form, as soft and delicate as rose petals ... silent apology.

"What did you see, Zel?" she whispered softly, "What did you find in that city? What made you like ... that?"

A leaf floated to the ground, near white veins seeming to make words against the dark green of the leaf. That is a secret, Lina.

She sighed, turning to hug the trunk, pressing her face into the bark. "Yeah, I know, Zel, some secrets are best unknown."

A soft measured throb beat behind the bark, gently pulsing, the sweet, delicate sound of his heart. Lina smiled, lightly stroking the pebbled surface. "Zel? You did this for me ... didn't you? When ..., " she bit her lip, " you ... you realized what you did ... "

She felt the tree shudder lightly, roots creaking as it shifted, another leaf hesitantly floating to the ground, Yes.

Lina could almost see him in her eye, the soul dragging guilt and overpowering grief etching every line of his being for what he had nearly done. Her hand strayed to the clear crystal brooch that hung around her neck, her only comfort in the many years since that night ... and the only thing left intact from the explosion that had left a scattering of broken, blue, stone shards, shredded, ivory cloth, and sickening, black liquid. She could feel it throb comfortingly, the deep, blue-green spark in it's depths glimmering at the touch. The sorceress swallowed hard, the long held tears brimming in her eyes, nearly blinding her as she threw her arms around the dappled trunk and sobbed a lifetime of pain into the sweet smelling bark.

A wind fluttered through the leaves as the branches swayed and dipped, hiding Lina from view.


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