Zelgadis had fallen asleep almost instantly after the debacle with the desk. When he woke next, there was a large bowl of stew waiting beside the bed. Carefully, he sat up and reached for it; it was still hot. He reached for the meal and stopped, staring at his newly-splinted wrist. Zelgadis sighed and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He wondered when Xellos had treated the wound. Had he been asleep so long? A glance around the room revealed that the books were still laying haphazardly all across the floor.
The shaman finished his meal and stood, calmly walking to the desk. His mind was eager to supply several scenarios as to what would happen should Xellos return now. Zelgadis firmly ignored all of them and tried to open the top right drawer. It was locked, of course. The shaman sighed and bent, picking up a couple of books. He put them back on the shelf and bent to gather more, the cleaning almost meditative. A few minutes passed and Zelgadis spent the time mulling over his last encounter. He couldn’t remember seeing the priest so angry, and over something seemingly insignificant.
The paper almost escaped notice, Zelgadis was so lost in his thoughts. It was buried near the bottom of the books and Zelgadis pulled it out with curiosity. It was one of the poems, Xellos must have missed it. Suddenly an idea overcame the shaman and he began tearing books off the shelf again, completely forgetting his desire to clean. There was a book up here, he had seen it before and recognized the cover. Several volumes were pulled out and tossed to the floor before he found it. It was a thick tome about dragons and monsters, written in the same alphabet as the poem. It was also a book Zelgadis had all but memorized in his early years of study.
Over the next several days, Zelgadis spent most of his time asleep. Every time he woke up, there was another bowl of soup, always hot, waiting for him. But he didn’t see Xellos again. Whenever he was awake, he poured over the book and poem. It was three days before he had the alphabet deciphered and the poem translated into words he could understand. Or, words he could say in any case. Aside from a few words he was able to pick out of the reference book, he didn’t know what most of the poem meant.
Or who it was about. A name recurred in the verses, but Zelgadis wasn’t sure who it was referring to. There was no ‘X’ in this alphabet, so ‘Zel’ could be Xellos, or Zelgadis. The shaman wasn’t sure which he was hoping for. With a sigh, he tucked the poem into the bandages around his wrist and lay his head down again. He was asleep in minutes.
Zelgadis yawned and stretched when he woke up again. He looked around as he sat up, instinctively looking for Xellos, though he didn’t expect to see him. What he did see shocked him into stillness. No longer was he surrounded by the dark polished wood and rich bedding he’d fallen asleep to. Instead, he was in a small, dirty hotel room with just a bed and small table in it. On the table was a small covered platter and Zelgadis got up, lifting the cover. It was a small meal of octopus and sushi. The cooked fish was still warm, but there was no sign of Xellos.
“I can’t believe it! We haven’t seen each other in months!”
Zelgadis smiled bracingly as Lina hugged his waist tight. “It’s good to see you, too.” He was certain Xellos had dropped him in the same town as the dragon slayer deliberately. He didn’t want to be there, didn’t want to try and explain any of this to Lina or Gourry, the latter was thankfully absent at the moment. But, since he was here, Lina could be helpful to him. “So, Lina, I have something I wanted to ask you.”
“First, tell me what you’ve been up to!” She glanced at the shaman’s bandaged wrists none too subtly. “Where have you been lately?”
Zel frowned behind his mask. “Searching for my cure. It’s taken me to some rather . . . interesting places. More of the same, really.” Lina frowned at him, disbelief clear in her eyes. Zelgadis pressed forward. “Why don’t we sit down for some food? My treat.”
All argument evaporated from the redhead and she practically bounced after the chimera into a small tavern. As a befuddled waitress walked away with a triple order of everything on the breakfast menu and two of every sandwich, Zelgadis worked up to his question again. “Lina, you know more about mazoku than I do. I was hoping you could answer a question I’ve run across.”
“Me? Know more than you? Zel, you’re a shaman, you know at least as much as I do. What is this about?”
“I don’t know all that much, not about their history and things of that nature. I just need to know if you know one thing.” The waitress returned with part of their order and Zel leaned closer to be heard over the inhaling of food. “I’ve been looking into how mazoku come into existence. Can you tell me what you know about it?”
Lina looked up to the ceiling, tapping a turkey leg against her chin in thought before that, too, was inhaled. “Well, I’m not really sure about the upper-level monsters, since they’ve been around for so long. Lower-level monsters though, are made by ones higher than them. A monster takes some core and then adds powers onto it until it’s a monster like them. Most monsters started out as a chicken or a lizard or something.”
Zelgadis nodded and stood. That was exactly what he’d been looking for. “Wait, Zel, aren’t you going to eat something?”
Zelgadis looked down at the sorceress and sighed. “Not eating certainly has caused more trouble than it’s worth, of late.” He picked up a sandwich and headed towards the door. Once he was outside, he sped his pace. He wanted to get back to Wolf Pack Island quickly, and he wanted to be far, far away when Lina realized he’d left her with the bill.
It was nearly three days before Zelgadis reached Wolf Pack Island. Knowing he couldn’t get a boat to take him there, he walked straight to the beach and cast Ray Wing. Suddenly his body was lighter than air, floating up several feet before he rocketed forward over the water. What he would do once he got there, he wasn’t entirely certain.
What he wasn’t expecting was for Xellos to appear in front of him, mid-air. The sudden appearance broke Zelgadis’ concentration and without warning the mazoku’s hand on his shoulder was the only thing keeping him from dropping like – well, like a stone. The purple haired priest was smiling broadly. “I think I can say with all honesty that I never expected you to come back here of your own free will.”
For several moments, Zel stared dumbly at the mazoku. A million questions flew through his mind, everything from ‘Where the hell have you been?’ to ‘Why the hell are you a slave to Jouou-sama?’ Zelgadis frowned, finally settling on a simple one. “Why do you spell your name with an X?” Xellos’ face for once showed every thought that passed through his mind. Apparently he hadn’t been expecting that. Without warning, Xellos phased out of existence, leaving Zelgadis to freefall. The chimera recast his spell as quickly as he could but his shoulder still splashed the water as he once again achieved weightlessness and continued for the shore.
Wolf Pack Island was not somewhere one should wander around when not focused. Zelgadis, however, had very little choice in the matter. He was trying to concentrate on the terrain, knowing that any number of dangerous creatures lurked all around him, but he couldn’t get Xellos’ surprised face out of his mind. He was practically walking blind. It was the wolf growling that finally drew the shaman out of his thoughts. It was a huge creature, baring its fangs and looking at Zelgadis as if he were made of rock candy instead of just rock.
Zelgadis let one hand drift over to the hilt of his sword and he took a step away from the beast. When he met something solid at his back, Zelgadis froze. Slowly he turned his head, catching a glimpse of large breasts and long blonde hair. Zelgadis gulped and took two steps toward the wolf, turning to face the real threat.
The Beast Master smiled at him genially. “And to what do I owe this unprecedented pleasure?”
Zelgadis gulped again, fighting the urge to retreat further. “I came here looking for you.” The mazoku arched an eyebrow and cocked her head to the side, a clear sign to continue. “I have a question.”
She smirked. “I do not have your cure, I haven’t heard anything about it. But I also have made absolutely no effort to find out about it. If you were to make it worth my while-“
“I’m not here about my cure.” The blonde woman paused. She made a thoughtful noise and cocked her head the other way. “I’m here about someone else.”
“Some . . . one? You’re here about Xellos?”
“I want to know where he was. Before he was with you, I mean. I’ll let you open the bidding . . . what would you take as trade.”
“For information on my priest?” The woman took a step forward. She reached for Zelgadis’ cheek and behind the chimera the wolf barked loudly. The two things combined to make Zelgadis jump a foot in the air, his body positively screaming at him to run as fast as his demonic blood could carry him. Jouou-sama smiled, a sultry laugh tumbling from her lips. “You know, there’s a lot about this body of yours that I don’t know. I would be willing to give a lot if I were able to study it.”
Zelgadis shuddered at the thought, but forced himself to consider it. “What . . . would it entail, exactly?”
The blonde put one hand to her chin in thought. “I could probably answer all my questions in, say, six hours.”
A time limit wasn't the same as detailing her plans, but the shaman doubted he was going to get that information. Zelgadis closed his eyes, thinking over all the possibilities and firmly ignoring the wolf that was barking incessantly behind him. After several minutes he opened his eyes and looked at the mazoku squarely. “All right, now for my counter offer.” The woman smiled, looking highly amused. “Nothing permanent. Nothing that would change my body – for better or worse. If you do something that seems serious, but you can heal, that’s fine if you heal it. And . . .” his voice trailed off.
She smiled at him. “And if I find anything about your cure, you want to know that, too.” Zelgadis suddenly couldn’t meet the woman’s eyes; this made her laugh. “All right, if you want information on my priest and your cure, it will cost more. And if you’re limiting my options on experiments, I will need more time. What’s your offer, grey priest?”
“How much time do you want?”
“Leaving it up to me? That’s rather brave of you. But then, you’ve already limited me to non-painful forms of experimentation-“
Zelgadis frowned. “Non-permanent. I didn’t say anything about pain.”
The blonde was silent. Then she smiled and leaned back, openly laughing now. “All right, little grey priest. I want twelve hours.”
Zelgadis nodded. “And then you’ll weasel out of giving me what I want because you didn’t get enough information.” The woman’s eyes widened and it was Zelgadis’ turn to laugh. “I’ve spent more than enough time around Xellos to understand how mazoku think. And since you are his master, he must have learned a lot of it from you.” He looked up, locking eyes with the woman again. “A day. And you hold nothing back.”
Jouou-sama leaned forward. One hand lifted, brushing gently against rough stony skin. Zelgadis refused to flinch. “A day then.” Zelgadis jerked suddenly as a massive bolt of energy lanced through his skull and he slumped into deep unconsciousness.