Zelgadis was determined to be awake when Xellos returned. He stood, pacing the rather large room, fighting off his fatigue. He had already gone through every book in the vast bookcase that spanned an entire wall. It had been a pointless exercise as he found none he could actually read. Many were in an odd language he couldn’t recognize. In fact, it was a fairly decent leap of faith that it was only one strange language and not several that balked him. Others crackled with a demonic energy, painful to the touch. Still others, usually those Zelgadis had hope of reading based on the titles, opened to reveal only blank pages.
Other than the bookcase, the bed of dark wood and soft blankets, and two large armchairs, the room was furnished with a large desk and chair in the same dark wood, but nothing else. Zelgadis had spent several hours trying to get a drawer to open, even one drawer. Nothing had worked and eventually he had given up and began pacing. As near as he could figure, however, he’d been pacing for at least two hours now. He was still weak and he knew he couldn’t continue much longer. Perhaps another try at the desk. Zelgadis sat on the stiff wooden chair and began thinking what spells he’d already tried on the locks . . .
“Wakey wakey, Zel-kun!” Zelgadis jerked his head up, looking around quickly. Xellos was behind him, one hand on his shoulder, smiling his usual goofy grin. “Have you been snooping around? You need to have my staff to open this.” He gestured slightly with said staff, smiling wide.
Zelgadis jumped to his feet and away from Xellos. As a result the chair hit Xellos in the chest and he doubled over in pain. Zelgadis reached out instinctively. “I’m sor-“ he hesitated, then turned the motion into a solid shove. “You aren’t hurt, you jackass.”
Xellos straightened, smile firmly in place. “Are you hungry?” Without waiting for a response, Xellos waved his hand across the desk and another large bowl of soup appeared. “Eat up, all right? I’ll be back in a minute or two.”
Zelgadis reached for the priest, but he was already gone. He let out a curse and smacked the soup bowl angrily. It fell to the floor, shattering. Zelgadis resumed his pacing. After twenty minutes, Zelgadis sat down at the desk again, wishing he hadn’t wasted the food. He waited another ten minutes before giving up on Xellos coming back any time soon. He didn’t understand it. Why was he here, why was Xellos doing all this to torment him?
After some time - Zelgadis had given up on keeping track of how long it had been - his eyes began to drift closed again. The chimera sighed heavily and hung his head. He wanted answers and he was beginning to lose faith that he would get them. He was starting to think he’d be trapped here forever with no explanation at all. There was no door and no windows, he noted dimly. Even if he wanted to brave Wolf Pack Island on his own, he couldn’t leave this room without Xellos. And Xellos was not to be trusted or relied upon. Zelgadis sighed again.
Suddenly there was another presence in the room. Xellos had returned, standing quietly behind him. Zelgadis didn’t move, feigning sleep. It wasn’t hard, he was all but asleep to begin with. Xellos made a thoughtful noise and started to walk around the chimera. “Hm. Asleep again? You look so peaceful when you’re unconscious. But you made such a mess . . . and that means you didn’t eat.” Xellos bent and waved his hand, making the spilled soup disappear. Then he stood and turned on his guest. “Is it that you still don’t trust me?” he mused in a hushed voice, talking to himself. “What can I do to make you believe that I want to protect you?”
There was a pause and Zelgadis fought the urge to open his eyes. After a moment there was a sigh. “Ah well, not much I can do with you asleep, no matter how cute you are.” The demon’s presence was suddenly much closer. “Wakey wakey, Zel-kun!” Zelgadis jerked backward, not having to try to look surprised. “I told you, you need my staff to open this desk, Zel-kun. Snooping won’t get you anywhere.” He waved that staff across the desk, yet another bowl of soup appearing.
Zelgadis growled, debating what to do. “White,” he finally mumbled.
Xellos stopped, tilting his head slightly. “What was that, Zel-kun?”
“You asked a bunch of questions earlier. I can’t remember most of them, but my favorite color is white.”
Bright purple eyes arched high in a smile, lighting up with apparent joy. “Really? You know, in some cultures white represents purity and cleanliness.”
A frown. “And in some cultures it represents death.”
Xellos’s turn to frown. Within seconds it turned to a bright smile again. “What’s your second favorite color?”
“Come now, everyone has a favorite color. Everyone has a second favorite color. Some people even have third and fourth favorite colors. What’s your second favorite color?” Zelgadis hesitated, then mumbled something that couldn’t be made out. Xellos leaned closer. “What was that?”
“It’s blue, all right?” Xellos’s eyes lighted with renewed joy, but the chimera kept going. “Dark, deep, rich, royal blue. Not this pale mockery on my skin.”
For a minute, Xellos was silent, his smile fading to something softer and somehow more earnest. “I know you want to get out of here, but I’m not letting you leave until you’re a bit stronger. A few more soups and you should be able to handle real meals. Of course, I’ll have to figure out what you like to eat.”
The shaman glared. “Why are you doing all this?”
“You haven’t regained any strength. Do you want me to force you to eat?”
Zelgadis narrowed his eyes and stood. “That’s not an answer. You want me to eat? Then tell me what I am to you that you would go through all this trouble.”
Xellos only smiled, wagging his finger at the other. “Now now, that hardly seems fair. I did just say that I could force you to eat. Especially as weak as you are right now.”
Zelgadis growled again, frustrated with the damn monster. If he was forced to be here, he would at least know why. “A trade then. You tell me your reasons and I’ll answer any one question you want.” Xellos looked thoughtful, but started to shake his head again. Zelgadis didn’t let him speak. “Three questions.”
Xellos stopped, again thinking it over. “Three questions? And I get to go first.” The shaman began to protest, but Xel cut him off this time. “I go first, or there’s no deal.”
“Fine,” he huffed. “What do you want to know?”
Xellos thought about it for a minute before deciding on one of his earlier questions. “How did you get so good at magic and sword fighting?”
Zelgadis sighed and sat down again. “I started learning to fight when I was very young, mostly self-taught. When Rezo . . . when he did this, a lot of skill came with the spell. It was supposed to make me stronger and it improved my abilities as well. Most of my spells I learned from Rezo afterwards.” It was not a pleasant memory, but not a particularly probing question. “That’s one,” he finished.
“Really, came with the spell, huh? Fascinating.” Xellos had a mock scientific air about him, one hand to his chin in thought. “All right, what is your favorite food?”
Zelgadis boggled at him. “You have a free shot and you’re wasting it on that?”
“If you don’t want to answer –“
“It’s octopus,” Zelgadis said quickly. “I’ve always liked octopus dishes, if they’re prepared right. I like most seafood.” He hesitated, but pressed on. He didn’t want to go to all this trouble and then have Xellos get off on a technicality. “And chocolate ice cream,” he added in a whisper.
Xellos looked positively delighted. “Who would have thought!”
“That’s two!” Zelgadis reminded sternly.
“All right, all right. Last question.” There was a pause and the look the mazoku gave made Zelgadis shiver. “Why do you hate me?”
“What? You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve told you –“
Xellos cut him off again. “Ah ah, Zel-kun. I don’t want to hear anything about me impeding your search, we both know that’s just a convenient lie you tell. And it’s not because I’m a monster. Surely that’s reason to want me dead, but not for this level of utter loathing.”
Zelgadis stared at his captor for nearly a minute. Xellos stared back evenly and finally asked, “Do you really want to give up such a big secret just to learn one of mine?” Zelgadis still didn’t answer and Xellos started to turn away. “I thought not.”
“You’re beautiful.” The words were so soft even his sensitive ears barely heard them. But he did hear and he froze in place. Zelgadis let out a small growl as he continued. “You’re beautiful, all right? You’re gorgeous and so strong. Even at my best you far surpass me and it was just handed to you! I gave everything I had and more for this, but for you it’s all natural! I hate you because you’re beautiful.”
Xellos turned fully back to Zelgadis, ready to reply. “You think I’m . . .” The look of pure hatred he received made him stop. He frowned. Zel had actually answered, that meant he had to answer now, too, if he was going to keep his word. He wanted to keep his word, it was such a strange feeling. “You’re my hope.”
Zelgadis’ eyes widened and his anger at least doubled. “What?”
Xellos’ smile was back suddenly, eyes happily shut. “I never said you’d like the answer. I never even said you’d understand the answer! But now you have it. You’re my hope and it’s a terrible thing when hope dies. That’s why I can’t just let you die.”
Zelgadis stood slowly, his mind working through the facts at an impossible rate. “I do understand,” he whispered. Xellos hesitated, his smile fading. He hadn’t been expecting that. “What is it that you want, Xellos? What are you searching for?”
Zelgadis began advancing on the demon priest. “You think of me as your hope. But all I have is my search for a cure. What are you searching for? Tell me.” His hand reached up, brushing against a pale cheek as he advanced.
Xellos retreated until his knees hit against the bed. “Zelgadis . . .”
“You’ve done all this for me, let me do something for you. Xel-chan.” He poured tenderness into his touch, into his voice.
Xellos leaned back further, to the very edges of his balance. “Ze-Zelgadis . . . stop. You’re . . .”
The shaman leaned close, almost brushing his lips against the other man’s. He let his hands trace along the priest’s arms until he felt the staff and empty hand respectively. The other was completely off guard, letting his staff be pulled away. “Tell me your secret,” Zel whispered, feeling the mazoku shake beneath him.
Suddenly Zelgadis pulled back, his hand bringing the gem of the staff into solid contact with the other’s head. Xellos let out a pained gasp and crumpled to the bed beneath him. “Tell me so I can use it against you.” Zelgadis told the unconscious body, letting his hatred to the surface again now that it wouldn’t give him away.
Staff in hand, the shaman walked back to the desk, more determined than ever. After several unsuccessful tries at unlocking spells, he stood back slightly. An old game he played as a child came to mind and he tapped the desk twice. To his surprise, he heard several locks click open. Zelgadis set the staff aside and sat in the stiff wooden chair once more. The first drawer he slid open was the one in the center, right above his knees. Inside there were several small daggers and a stain that looked suspiciously like blood. He closed the drawer with a thunk.
The top drawer on the left held at least twenty small glass vials. Zelgadis stared for a moment before lifting one. It was filled with a dark liquid. Distantly he realized he’d never asked Xellos directly if he had a cure for his curse. It was possible that it was in one of these bottles. He uncapped the one in his hand and sniffed it cautiously. It bubbled when exposed to air and let off a strong acrid smell. Zelgadis replaced the cork and the bottle. It was possible that it was his cure, but it was far more likely that these bottles were filled with varying poisons. He was fairly certain he couldn’t trust anything he got from Xellos anyway.
There was a groan from the bed and Zelgadis glanced up, but Xellos didn’t move. He decided to try the top right drawer and see what was in there that might reveal some of the mazoku’s secrets. Curiously, it held a rather large stack of papers, looking deceptively like an ordinary desk. Zelgadis lifted the stack and froze. After a moment of shock he riffled through the papers quickly, eyes widening with each. They were pictures.
Pictures of him.
Dozens of them. Many were fully colored, intricate oil paintings. Just as many were quick, black and white pencil sketches. Several were even of Zelgadis as a human. Zelgadis rifled through more of the papers, finding a few with writing. It was that same alien language that he couldn’t decipher, but the lines were arranged suspiciously in poem formats. And at the bottom of the drawer were a few paintings of Xellos. A human Xellos.
There was another groan from the bed, but Zelgadis ignored it. He held one of the pictures close to his face, fascinated. Xellos lay beneath a tree, nose buried in a book. His hair was shorter and ruffled, similar to Zelgadis’s own hairstyle, actually. He was wearing the simple clothes of a farmer and the field behind him appeared to be in the early stages of planting. Behind the relaxed boy – because while it was obvious he was Xellos, he was much younger than the mazoku appeared now – there was a shadow resembling a wolf and a nearly invisible, but obviously female hand.
Zelgadis gasped as his back was forced into the bookcase behind him. He looked up to see Xellos inches from his face. The priest was furious. His eyes were wild and his hair floated around his head from the power radiating off his body. One gloved hand locked around the chimera’s wrist and twisted. Zelgadis managed not to cry out, but he had no choice but to let go of the parchment he still held. Xellos snatched the picture away and then pushed Zelgadis to the ground. He slammed a fist into the bookshelf and Zelgadis flinched as several volumes toppled down onto his head.
Xellos suddenly moved again, grabbing Zelgadis by his wrist again, and threw him bodily onto the bed. “You will eat,” he growled, none of the fury gone from his face or voice. “You will recover, and you will leave. If you move from that bed again, you will regret it.”
Zelgadis tried to sit up, but fell back in pain. His right wrist was still tender and splinted and it felt as if Xellos may have fractured his left wrist now, too. The mazoku turned his back, apparently not caring about the injury in the slightest, and gathered papers with fierce, angry motions. He threw them crumpled into the drawer and slammed it shut before disappearing without a glance at the shaman.