Chapter 8: Questions
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Zelgadis was not the least bit surprised to wake alone the next morning. The fire was still going though, he noted, so Xellos couldn't have left all that long ago, perhaps even only a minute. It didn't matter, Zel got up and packed his things, eager to be on his way to this new library.

It took time to reach, and it was smaller than Zelgadis had hoped. But it was new, with several new books to absorb. Zelgadis lingered in the town for a couple of weeks and brought a couple of the tomes with him when he finally left.

He continued that way, following a lead from one of the books to a small seaport town. There he found an ancient wizard’s keep, abandoned and nearly empty. Here he was able to find more references though, more places to try. This old wizard had been very powerful, it was just maybe possible his work could lead Zelgadis to success.

It ended up being a long path, searching each new cabin and crypt for where a specific tome had been transferred to. Eventually Zelgadis found himself in another small village, this one in the foothills of a larger mountain range. The shaman wasn’t actually in the town, his search had pointed him to the catacombs a bit further out. Zel passed through the graveyard to get there and paused at the mossy and overgrown archway.

The village had not warned him away. Zelgadis had heard warnings on his way to this place, but none from the villagers. The monsters that he’d heard of simply didn’t exist, they insisted. They also refused to go with him, and he could see fear on their faces as they talked about the ‘harmless’ cave system.

They were sacrificing him, he was fairly certain. He did wonder if it was from fear of him or fear of whatever beasts were down there. It didn’t matter either way and he drew his sword before he continued, ready for a fight. He wasn’t disappointed.

The place was full of twists and turns, with broken bones littering the floors. Zel’s sharp hearing picked up on the movement ahead shortly before a beast rounded the corner. They were orc-like things, small and frail looking. But as he met the leading one, he found it was strong enough to take a few attacks before it was down. This was not great news, the numbers were going to overwhelm him if he wasn’t careful. The narrow passages were troublesome at well. Zelgadis frowned and cast a spell to strengthen his attacks. It would be difficult, but he was still confident he could win.

As he fought, darting deeper into the maze-like complex, the creatures continued to fall. They seemed near infinite and the shaman was beginning to rethink his chances when the walls finally opened up around him. Zelgadis had found his way into a large room at the end of the long halls. The sudden space allowed him to turn back, ready to take down the last of the beasts chasing him. There weren’t too many left, he could finally see and before much longer, he finally took out the last with another spell.

Zelgadis panted to catch his breath, but the creature didn't move again and no others appeared. He did it. He swallowed and didn't sheathe his sword, still tense from the difficult battle. Slowly he looked around the chamber he’d found. This was it, this was what he was looking for! A tiny workspace, hidden away deep, deep beneath the earth. There were a few tools on the only furniture, a small table. Far more interesting, there were a few books there as well.

Zelgadis ran to it, setting his blade on the tabletop to lift the books. One was illegible and he tossed it aside. But the second was what he was searching for, he’d done it. His hands shook slightly, opening the old tome carefully, eager, almost desperate to read the knowledge the wizard had committed to the page.

“My my, such a mess.”

Zel's eyes widened and he spun, grabbing his sword again and pointing it towards the voice. “What are you doing here, fruitcake? Keep away!!” The last time Xellos had been near a potential cure, he'd burned it.

“Come now, Zel-kun, it's been so long. Is that really necessary?”

“Yes!” the chimera growled. He took a few steps away, looking down at the battered book in his hand. He flipped a few pages without lowering his sword and started to scan the words. After a moment he blinked, the sword slowly falling. He flipped several more pages and looked up at Xellos before looking down again. “This is a cookbook.”

“For delicious dragon cuisine, miss Filia might appreciate it.”-

Zelgadis frowned at him. “But then . . . why are you here?”

The trickster put a finger to his lips thoughtfully. “Oh, I'm not here about information. I'm here about that.”

He tilted his chin slightly, indicating the wall behind Zelgadis. The chimera turned with a frown, then yelped loudly as the wall suddenly caved inward. “What the hell is that?!” He demanded as a huge skeleton pushed its way through the crumbling stone.

“I'm not sure you have time for questions right now, Zel-kun . . .”

Zelgadis was already moving, throwing spells at the thing. It returned with powerful physical blows that shook the ground and walls of the cave. This creature was significantly more dangerous than the orc-things and Zelgadis put more focus into a few strong spells and well-aimed strikes with his sword. His eyes flashed when he saw his opening and the chimera smiled as he buried his blade into the bone of the thing’s neck.

It let out a piercing howl, but didn’t go down. Zel’s eyes widened and he darted away again, leaving the blade. The creature seemed to have trouble following him, it was suffering from the battle. But so was Zelgadis, he was running out of time to finish this. And Xellos was doing nothing more than watching from the mouth od the tunnel that had led here. With an angry growl, Zelgadis focused all his energy, casting one of the more powerful attack spells he’d learned recently. His aim was good and it hit the thing’s neck, right where his sword was still stuck. The skeleton was attacking as well though, one enormous hand swinging towards the chimera. He leapt back, but he couldn’t avoid it. The giant beast let out a death rattle, but Zelgadis could hardly celebrate as he was knocked solidly into the wall and into darkness.

. . . Zelgadis groaned, forcing his eyes open. He found himself staring at Xellos' shoes and he growled slightly. “I thought you said you were here to help,” he bit out angrily.

The priest smiled widely. “I am helping! You had things under control with that brute.”

Zel groaned, struggling to sit up and rubbing his head. “My headache says otherwise, I barely landed that spell. And how exactly are you help-” he stopped abruptly as he looked around. There was stone all around them, the catacombs had caved in, but there was a dome of free space keeping Zelgadis safe. He growled and rubbed his head more, casting a recovery spell.

“That was quite the impressive battle, you've been training again,” Xellos commented amicably.

Zelgadis glared slightly, but answered, “I've found some old spellbooks, some journals. Not much to do except practice when it's time to set up camp.”

“Well, I'm rather fond of talking, myself, but that requires that you travel with at least one companion.”

Zel raised an eyebrow at him. “I have no trouble whatsoever picturing you talking with yourself.”

The priest shrugged a little. “I'm not saying it hasn't happened.”


“Well, we're stuck together in here now. What do you propose we do?”

Zelgadis rolled his eyes and picked up his sword where it lay at his side. He climbed to his feet and sheathed the weapon, then turned to the stone surrounding him. “I propose we get out of here.” A few well-chosen spells cleared the path for the chimera and his stone skin protected him from stray debris and one small cave in on the way. When they reached the surface again the sun had already set and Zelgadis let out a tired sigh, dropping his pack to start setting up camp for the night. They’d come up a ways from where he’d entered the cave system, surrounded now by nothing but forest.

Xellos stuck around, taking care of gathering some wood and getting a fire going. He settled on one side of it, sitting cross legged on the ground, watching Zel with a grin. The shaman set up his things and settled, pulling out some potatoes and sausages to cook up for a meal. As the food got going he looked over at the other, one stone eyebrow arched up. “What?”

“What 'what'?”

“Why are you watching me?” Zel clarified with a growl.

“Oh. Because I enjoy watching you,” he answered, smile growing.

Zel growled again, half turning away. “I don't like people staring at me.” But that was probably part of what the mazoku liked, he thought with a frown. He was in a foul mood, the failure of the cookbook just making him angrier.

“Hmm. Well then I will need other entertainment.” Zelgadis glanced warily at the trickster, Xellos still smiling. “You'll have to actually talk to me.”

Zel groaned and rolled his eyes, but still answered. “Talk about what exactly?”

Xellos shrugged a bit, his gaze focusing on the fire, eyes still shut. “Well, what brought you out here? How did you find this place?”

Zel sighed slightly. “I've been following this trail for a while. It's been like an idiotic scavenger hunt, going from one reference to another. I found information on this book of recipes . . . god it even said recipes, I thought it was for potions.” He groaned, rubbing his head again.

“A simple mistake to make, that is unfortunate,” Xellos said with some sympathy. He was still smiling though and Zelgadis glared at the look. “So much of your research is in other languages, you're bound to mess up now and then. The important thing is to keep trying.”

The shaman frowned slightly. It had been a simple mistake, but that didn't make him feel any better. “I'll head back to the last city . . . their library might have something else I didn't see.” He sighed though, he'd been through the entire building, he very much doubted he'd missed anything.

Xellos was watching him again, eyes still shut but attention fully on the shaman. “You may do well to expand your search. Libraries are wonderful, but only for official recordings.”

Zelgadis watched him in turn, warily asking, “What do you mean?” Xellos' smile grew, but he didn't answer. Zel growled again. “If you know anything-”

“No more than the last time you asked,” Xellos interrupted him. “But I know you still have options you have not pursued.”

“Are you going to at least tell me what they are?” Zelgadis asked in frustration.

The mazoku's grin faded slowly and he answered, “I can't.”

“Why n-” Zelgadis began to demand angrily, but he stopped as he suddenly realized the truth. “. . . You've been ordered not to help me.”

“I am permitted to help you,” was the mazoku's answer, but his grin didn't return.

Zelgadis frowned a bit. “But . . . not with my search?” This time Xellos said nothing. The chimera was beginning to associate his silence with either orders or confirmation, in this case both, and he just frowned more darkly. “Because we're essentially looking for the same thing,” Zelgadis said.

Xellos was quiet to consider it, then nodded. “Perhaps.”

Zelgadis sighed, trying not to let the depression overwhelm him. But if they were on the same search, then Xellos had been looking so, so much longer, and without any more success. He reached up and rubbed his eyes, struggling to see the positive side. “Maybe-, maybe we can combine our information at least. I can direct my search based on what you know.”

“Based on what I can tell you,” Xellos corrected lightly. “But I'm not certain you would want my help anyway.”

Zelgadis growled, spearing the last of his food with a bit more ferocity than was called for. “That was true in the past, but . . .” he hesitated. No, he did not trust Xellos. But in a way he did, and the mazoku was indeed making it a habit to help him. “I would do anything to be human again.”

Xellos made a thoughtful noise and nodded. “Yes, well, that's why you wouldn't want my help.”

Zelgadis blinked, confused, and focused his gaze on the trickster. “Wait, you don't want a cure?”

“Cure by your words. And no, I don't.”

The shaman just shook his head. “If not that, then what are you looking for?”

Xellos said nothing, smiling at him from across the fire.

Zel closed his eyes a moment to try and gather his thoughts. “But, we do agree that my search is what, uh-”

“Makes you my hope, yes.”

And that meant he was searching for something. Zel growled and rubbed his head a bit. “God damned fruitcake. Then, we're the same.”

“In many ways,” Xellos agreed with a nod.

“Then why don't you want to be human again?”

Xellos took a moment to answer and the shaman looked at him expectantly. Finally the mazoku opened his eyes slightly and asked, “Do you know how old I am?”

Zel frowned, suddenly feeling extremely vulnerable, and answered, “Roughly.”

The purple-haired man smiled and he honestly looked happy as he spoke. “That boy, Miroshi, died long, long ago. That being would be dust by now, regrown into a magnificent and long-lived tree that would also be long since dead and forgotten.” He laughed slightly, suddenly disappearing from sight even as his voice lingered. “Why in the world would I want to be human?”

Zelgadis blinked at the spot where he'd been, frowning. It was a valid question, Zel wasn't sure he would want to give up all that power, even for a cure. A familiar hatred twisted in him again, that was what infuriated him most about the monster. All that power, hidden behind a perfect, beautiful face. The shaman looked at his own hand and growled, reaching up to replace his mask. If he were as beautiful as the mazoku was, maybe he wouldn't be searching either. But as it was, yes, he would do anything to be human again.

He got ready for sleep and lay down, just staring into the darkness for a while. He'd thought this was a real lead and he’d been following it for a few months, but it was just another dead end like so many others. This was really the first time he had been hopeful since he'd left Grimda almost two years before.

He frowned, thinking about what Xellos had said about the library. He'd been trying to help despite whatever his orders were, the chimera was fairly certain. And it did actually bring a plan to mind. An unofficial record could provide something a library couldn't and he did know of one place where oral traditions were the standard. It had been more than a year since he'd left Ashfeld behind a second time, maybe the maidens had found something since then.


Except there was a problem with returning to Ashfeld – namely he'd said he wouldn't. And he really didn't want to anger Jouou-sama again. Zelgadis stopped in the closest town he could, which was still a full three days travel from the tiny farming village. This town was still small, but even then it was at least twice the size of Ashfeld and significantly closer to more major trading routes.

Zel spent two days asking around town, looking for someone that was going to Ashfeld. He didn't really need to go to the town after all, if he could just get a hold of the Maidens. Unfortunately, by the third day he'd run out of people to ask, no one was even willing to go that far out of their way if he paid them. He would just have to go himself.

He was tense for the entire trip, wary of the Beast Master popping up out of nowhere as she was want to do. He couldn't fight her, but maybe he could bargain again, convince her he was just here about his cure again. But that idea only made him frown; why would he return to a 'hole' like this with nothing useful to offer? What if Xellas found out about the Maidens? That would be even worse than Xellos finding out himself, Zel was certain.

It seemed to be a moot point however as she never appeared. The town came into view with no sign of the woman and Zel began to breathe a little bit more freely. Perhaps she hadn't noticed him, he thought, or had decided to ignore him for whatever reason. Unfortunately it was also too late to get in touch with anyone, even the taverns were starting to close down as he made it into the town proper. Zel just went to the inn, apologized for waking the man, and went to his room for the night.

The next morning Zelgadis was eager to get going. He wanted to get in touch with Sara or one of the others again, then leave as quickly as he could. He pulled his mask up, adjusting his pack and sword belt as he left his inn room. Then his worst fears were confirmed as he suddenly found his path blocked by a tall blonde woman in a clingy dress. Jouou-sama. Zel's eyes widened and he gasped, stumbling back a step. The woman smiled, sultry and almost eager. “Hello, my grey priest.”

It seemed like a very bad idea not to return the greeting. “Good morning,” he whispered nervously.

“Busy day planned?” she asked and again, it did not seem rhetorical.

And it seemed she already suspected the answer, so it was also a very bad idea to lie. “Not especially . . .” Zelgadis hazarded.

Perhaps that was the wrong answer. “Then you won't have any problems canceling.” She took a slow, deliberate step forward and Zelgadis was quick to retreat. He passed back through the doorway, but once through he was suddenly no longer at the inn. He was on Wolf Pack Island, surrounded by mist and darkness and the impression of a grand room – the same place he'd been when Xellas had 'studied' him. Zel's eyes glanced around wildly, his pulse quickening. But his gaze snapped back to the blonde as she took another step forward. “You and I need to talk.”

What Zelgadis wouldn't give to have Lina near him right at this moment. He took another step back, but suddenly found his progress halted. There was nothing he could see when he glanced behind him, but it felt as if he'd backed right up against a solid wall. All of this was very, very bad.

“So, I thought that we had an agreement,” Xellas said calmly. Zelgadis swallowed and nodded slightly. The Beast Master made a thoughtful noise, taking another step closer, close enough to touch. “Yet you're back in Ashfeld. Again.”

Zelgadis nodded again, breath short and shallow. “They have good seafood,” he murmured.

Xellas leaned a bit closer. “But you didn't come here for a meal. You're back in Ashfeld . . .” She led him, trying to coax the words from his own lips. “Looking . . . for information . . .”

So much for trying to bluff. Zelgadis was certain it was a suicidally bad idea to make her finish the sentence. “About Xellos,” he whispered and swallowed thickly.

She smiled and leaned back then, putting more distance between them. But there was true malice in her voice when she said, “About Miroshi.”

Zelgadis pressed back harder into the nothing behind him, but it didn't yield. He swallowed again, voice shaking slightly. “I wouldn't-”

“Lie to me? No, I wouldn't either, that's a very good instinct to follow.” The blonde turned, looking unconcerned as she summoned a cigarette, already smoking, into her hand. “And I remember what you said the last time we had this talk. No more digging about my priest. No one in that miserable town even remembers his name.”

“But there are stories. And people that look like him.” Zelgadis had met several of them by now, descendants from relatives long, long past.

His comment earned him a dire glare. “There won't be if I burn it to the ground. Remember that,” she added with dark promise in her voice. But then she waved one hand airily. She took a long drag of her cigarette and blew the smoke towards Zelgadis. “As long as we're clear. Now, on to business.” The shaman's eyebrows rose, his nerves only increasing. If his forbidden venture into Xellos' past hadn't been 'business' then what did the Beast Master want? She chuckled slightly at the look on his face. “Four hours.”

Zelgadis' blood ran cold, shuddering at the thought. Of course, what else would she actually want with him? But . . . he shuddered again. As time had passed, the memories hadn't really faded. Being treated like a . . . like a test subject, and worse, forced to be a conscious participant in the process! Physically he'd healed quickly, but he continued to suffer the occasional nightmare fueled from the experience.

He subconsciously shook his head slightly and Xellas laughed again. “No? Hmm, it was rather difficult, wasn't it?” She made a noise of concern. Zelgadis frowned at her suspiciously. “Well, I suppose, if you'd prefer, I can let you out of the contract, this one time.”

The shaman only frowned more; that wasn't the type of offer that mazoku made. “Really?”

“Really,” she nodded. “You may leave here right now, I won't stop you, though you'll have to fly back to land.” She was still smiling at him, but took another couple of steps back. Zelgadis could faintly see a door in the shifting darkness beyond her. He still didn't move though, there was some trick he wasn't seeing, he was certain. “You and I both gained valuable information. I will hold no ill will for you not completing the rest of your contract,” the Beast Master said and her smile turned wicked. “And I will have no need to fulfill mine.”

Zelgadis froze completely, losing his breath in a quick whoosh. Xellas had given him a decent amount of information about her general-priest, in a spelled and protected folder. But it had contained no information whatsoever about him or his cure.

Suddenly the woman was holding a similar folder – this one tinged blue instead of the expected manilla. Zelgadis felt his jaw clench, eyes locked on it rather than the woman holding it. She laughed and it was an amused, caring noise. “But I couldn't ask you to go through that pain again. It would be even worse this time . . .” She trailed off and as she did, ethereal purple flames ignited around the folder.

“No!” Zelgadis jerked forward, reaching, but it disappeared as suddenly as it had been summoned.

Xellas closed a hand tight around the chimera's wrist, face mere inches from his wide eyes. “Then let's begin, shall we?”