“Zelgadis, wake up. Please wake up.”
The chimera answered with a shaking breath followed by a heartfelt scream. He forced his eyes open, containing his cries of pain to quiet whimpers as much as possible. It felt as if each stone embedded in his skin was on fire and his head was throbbing with such intensity it made him nauseous. “Xellos?” he managed, recognizing the purple hair, but not able to make out the priest’s features.
“Zelgadis, what are you doing here? What in all the hells is Xellas-sama doing to you?”
The shaman tried valiantly to sit up without screaming in agony and failed rather miserably on both counts. “How long have I been out?”
“You realize she could kill you? Whatever you hope to gain by putting yourself through this-“
“How long?” He repeated between groans.
Xellos hesitated. “She said she was being kind. You’ve been unconscious, at her complete mercy, for about eleven hours. She says she needs you awake for the rest. Zelgadis-“
“Then tell her I’m awake. I don’t want to waste any more time than I have to.” Xellos moved his mouth soundlessly for a moment before he let out a frustrated sigh and disappeared.
It was hours before Xellos was summoned. He spent the entire time pacing. Why? Why was Zelgadis here, letting Xellas-sama do anything she wanted to him? Why had Xellas-sama forbade him from being anywhere nearby while she was doing it? Why did she now want him to take Zelgadis to Ashfeld?
“Sama, why there?”
“That is a secret, you should know that.”
“But sama, for the last century you have ordered me to avoid Ashfeld and anyone from there! If I may ask-“
“You may not.” Xellos floundered for words even as he struggled to maintain his composure. The Beast Master suddenly held a filing folder out to him. “You are not to read this, look at this, open it in any way. Stay with the chimera until he wakes up and then give it to him. Have I made myself clear?”
Still at a complete loss, Xellos nodded and took the file. He rested a hand lightly on Zelgadis’ blood-stained shoulder and phased them both into a small inn in the town of Ashfeld. He left the broken boy on the bed and phased into the lobby, scaring the old man behind the counter half to death. “I’ve taken room twelve, upstairs. Not sure how long I’ll need it, but this should cover it.” He dropped a small pouch of gold coins onto the counter with a grin.
The old man squinted at him. “Have we met?” Xellos gave the man a brief glare and disappeared without giving a response.
Xellos didn’t move from Zelgadis’ side until the chimera stirred. The shaman’s eyes cracked open and he drew a deep breath that was somewhere between a groan and a sob. His head lolled to one side and his barely open, unfocused eyes fell on Xellos. “Where-“ he couldn’t get anything else out before gasping and moaning again in pain.
Xellos lay one gloved hand on his stiff wire hair, petting it lightly in an effort to soothe the tortured man. “You’re safe. She’s let you go. Xellas-sama said you still owed her four hours-“
“What!” Zelgadis surged up a few inches before he fell back down to the bed, pain wracked sobs tearing past his lips. “No, that means-“
Seeing where this was heading Xellos shushed the boy. “No, Zel, no. You passed out again and she said your body couldn’t take any more. But she gave me this, it’s what you were looking for.” Zelgadis looked at the manila folder Xellos was holding in front of him. The pain drained from his face for a moment, replaced by the most profound relief. “Zel-kun, what’s in here? What did you risk your life for?”
“It’s information. A spell, similar to the original.”
A bitter laugh came from the trickster priest. “After everything I did to keep it from you. You just went right over my head and-“
“It’s not for me, Xellos. It’s you.” The priest stopped, his face belaying the utter shock he felt. “Why do you spell your name with an X if there’s no such letter in the mazoku alphabet?” Xellos swallowed thickly, frightened. Zelgadis was slipping into sleep again, but he was talking about something that he should have no knowledge about at all. “It’s because,” the shaman continued in a whisper, “you weren’t . . . always . . . mazoku.”
Xellos gaped at the unconscious boy. “How . . ?”
Zelgadis turned his head to the side, instinctively running from the sunlight that lanced across his face. When the escape didn’t succeed, the chimera stiffly opened his eyes. Xellos was sitting beside him, face serious and eyes open, a slight frown pulling at his mouth. Zelgadis struggled into a sitting position, never taking his eyes off the priest. “I’m feeling better,” he said dumbly.
Xellos nodded. “I did what I can to heal your body and I brought in a shrine maiden to heal what I couldn’t. You’re still badly hurt, but I’m no longer afraid of you dying in your sleep.” Zelgadis nodded mutely. “Zel-kun, how do you know about my name?”
A small smile lighted stone lips. Silently he pulled at the bandages that were still wrapped around his left wrist. Still equally silent, he handed the folded paper to the mazoku who had written it. Xellos’ lips pursed and he nodded stiffly, looking at the transliterated poem. Zelgadis chuckled slightly. “I have no idea what it says, exactly, but I transcribed the whole stupid alphabet. I don’t know if that poem is about you or me, or hell, Xellas. But I do know there is no X in the alphabet.”
Xellos crumpled the paper in anger. “You know, most people when I threaten them don’t go sticking their nose into the thing that made me angry in the first place.”
Zelgadis nodded slightly. “Well, I’ve spent years searching for a cure that may very well be non-existent. I’m stubborn.” The shaman looked towards the window. “Where are we?”
“We, my dear Zelgadis, are in the town that I grew up in before I started working for Xellas-sama.”
“When you were human.”
Xellos sighed with mixed frustration and annoyance. “I’m not sure what you expect to find here. I haven’t been within twenty miles of this place in more than a century. And for the record, Xellos wasn’t my name back then. I spell my name with an X because Xellas spells hers with an X. You’ll have to ask her for the reasons.”
Zelgadis looked back at the priest. “What was your name?”
Xellos hesitated, not meeting the other’s eyes. “Why, all of a sudden, are you trying to help me? I thought you hated me?”
The shaman smiled, dropping his gaze to the bedsheets. “I’m your hope, right? I guess being told something like that can change a person. In the end it was the pictures that started it.”
Xellos growled. “You were never supposed to see those.”
“What was your name?”
Xellos was silent for a long time before he finally sighed. “Miroshi. It was Miroshi.”
Zelgadis lay back down. “Miroshi . . . I can’t focus on your spell, you know that, don’t you? I still have my own to find.”
“I wouldn’t want you locked in a laboratory deciphering that thing for the rest of your life, anyway. And you realize that Xellas-sama will be furious if you try to go through with anything. She’ll hold you to your contract – four more hours.”
Zelgadis nodded. “But I have plenty of time to think of how to deal with that. Right now, all I want is something to eat.”
For the first time during the whole conversation, Xellos smiled. “I already told the chef to have fresh octopus ready. If you’ll give me a moment, I’ll go get you some fine fish cuisine.”
Zelgadis let his eyes slip closed and nodded. “I’ll be waiting.”
Xellos disappeared with a small laugh, his voice lingering in the air. “And if you’re good, we can have some chocolate ice cream, too.”