“Do you want to leave?”
Xellos shook his head immediately. “No, of course not, Sama.”
“Do you regret your choice to work for me?”
“Never!” Xellos cried, almost offended by the idea.
Xellas regarded him calmly. “But you do regret.”
For a long moment, Xellos was silent, his face serious. When he finally spoke his voice was quiet and truthful. “Everything I lost, I would gladly give up again, for everything I have gained with you, my mistress.”
“And you would not lie to me,” she said as if to confirm.
Xellos shook his head again. “Never. It is my pleasure to serve you. And to have learned so much, seen incredible wonders, defeated such powerful enemies,” his smile returned with a bit of bloodlust at the memories. “If not for you, I never would have even met Zelgadis,” that was a mistake, “or Lina or Filia or . . .”
He trailed to a stop as the blonde woman raised a hand. “I have something I need you to do for me.”
“Anything,” Xellos answered at once.
“Hmm.” Jouou-sama gestured behind herself into the mist of this realm. In the darkness, Xellos could see an unconscious figure, a bit of light glinting off of metal hair. “Make sure he doesn't die, he still owes me a whole hour.”
Xellos hesitated, just a moment, before he moved to the broken chimera. “Of course, Sama.”
The woman kept her eyes on her priest, muttering thoughtfully. “I am starting to wonder just how much his body can survive.”
Xellos didn't answer, frowning slightly as he knelt beside the chimera. He was careful not to show any other reaction, but the words sent a chill through him. The only real way to find that out, was to push until you found what he couldn't survive. He lay a hand on Zelgadis' shoulder, still frowning as he took the shaman to a city for healing.
Zelgadis woke to pain. He gasped and groaned, but didn't have strength for more than that. Absolutely everything hurt, he was pretty sure his hair even hurt. But there was something else too, something warm and comforting. And sound, he could hear voices speaking.
“ . . . in the world happened?” a worried female voice asked.
“I'm afraid I don't know,” Xellos' voice replied. “I found him that way and brought him here as quickly as I could. I think he must have made someone very angry,” he finished in a tone that implied he knew the chimera was awake.
The woman made a concerned noise. The warm feeling increased and Zel realized she must be healing him. “I- I can't fix everything,” she said worriedly.
“On no, no,” Xellos was quick to assure her. “My friend's rather . . . unique composition makes it difficult to heal these deeper wounds. You're doing fine, don't push yourself.”
With great effort, Zelgadis forced his eyes open. It was indeed a shrine maiden poised above him, her spell helping to heal his body. “Oh, welcome back,” she practically squeaked when she noticed his gaze. She was quiet and focused for another minute before she sat back with a sigh. “How does that feel?”
Zelgadis swallowed, taking quick stock of himself. Everything still hurt. But it hurt much less. He nodded slightly and just said “Thank you.”
She smiled. “I'll come back tomorrow when I'm all rested up.
Xellos nodded. “I will heal him again as well, thank you so much for your kindness.” The trickster ushered her to the door, thanking her the whole way until the wooden portal was closed. Then he turned, open eyes on Zelgadis and a small frown on his lips. “How do you actually feel?”
“Like hell,” the shaman groaned. “But I'll live.”
“You won't if you keep this up,” the mazoku told him. He crossed back to the bed, still frowning. “You need to stop looking, I never asked you to.”
“I don't even know what exactly you need,” Zelgadis sighed.
“Precisely,” Xellos agreed. “And it's certainly not worth getting yourself killed over!” Zel frowned rebelliously and Xellos' own frown deepened. “No arguing! Zel-kun . . . I'm begging you, please do not return to Ashfeld again. There is no reason, there is nothing there to find! Just old forgotten stories.”
“Stories can be useful in themselves. If they're true.”
Xellos hesitated before answering, “Yes . . . but still not worth your life. You still owe her time.”
Zel's face clouded, shuddering at the thought and then yelping at the pain it caused him. He groaned, “What could she possibly still need to know?”
For another moment Xellos was quiet. Then he sighed and settled onto the edge of the bed. One hand settled on Zel's shoulder, keeping him still as the mazoku began another healing of his own. “There are always more questions,” he said after a time. However he knew the shaman was right. “But I don't think she has any more. This isn't about tests anymore, this was a warning. To both of us.”
For a long minute Zelgadis didn't say anything. He focused on the mazoku's magic, the strange sensation running through him like oddly comforting tendrils of terrible power. Not at all like white magic, but it wasn't horrible either and it did lessen the pain. It wasn't really like healing at all but more like repairing and Zel suddenly realized it was only possible because of his cursed body. He didn't speak until the mazoku pulled away, but then finally sighed. “I promise I will not return to Ashfeld.”
Xellos seemed to relax some, but he raised an eyebrow at the chimera. “You've promised her too. Can I trust you?”
Zelgadis rolled his eyes. “You're right, there's no reason to go back, there's nothing that will help either of us. I'm not going to learn any new stories, I've already heard everything useful.” Xellos finally smiled again and nodded. Zel focused on him before slowly saying, “I'm sure you have quite a lot of stories though.”
“Oh, thousands,” the mazoku answered. “I don't often share them however.”
Zel frowned, but that was more or less what he'd expected. He wondered if he could actually draw one out. He wanted to see Xellos' reaction in any case. “There is one story I was told; very, very old. Ashfeld has never been rich or well known, but there was a family in the town that was in better standing than the rest. They were the only ones that could afford to send their children away for education and they did just that. One son became a great fighter and their daughter became a shrine maiden.
“When the girl married, they set out together on a quest. The warrior followed his sister to keep them safe and her husband was a healer, making sure they all stayed well fed and ready for battle. They had to be careful, this was right around the time of the great monster war when things were the most dangerous, and they were hunting mazoku.”
“Ah, I know this story,” Xellos said as if just recognizing it. He was still smiling, but Zelgadis thought he could see a shift in his posture.
“Then that means it is true, it really did happen.”
“That depends on what the story says, now doesn't it?”
The shaman glared, but continued. “The little group was fairly strong and they took down many low-level monsters. They were enough of a threat that they began to attract attention. They traveled for years, but one day they encountered a group of monsters they couldn't defeat. It was a trap and the warrior was killed. The healer fell, keeping their new child safe as best he could. It was certain they all would have died . . .
“And that's where the story ends.” Zelgadis let out a huff of annoyance. “There is more, the three of them survived. They came back to Ashfeld and the shrine maiden built a temple there. But there's no record of how she survived. Either it's been forgotten or she never recorded it in her diaries to begin with. But something saved them.” And the shaman had a guess what that something was, staring expectantly at Xellos.
The trickster was quiet for a time, a thoughtful look on his face. Finally he spoke, closed eyes turning away. “I think I will share a story with you.
“That town has always been poor, but it has never been hungry. The farmers had to work hard, but they always had enough to go around. There was one family, one of the largest farms at the time simply because they had the children to work it. Three sons, strong and eager to help. All of them desperate to get away from that place if they ever had the chance.
“One boy, he had a crush on the daughter of the wealthiest family in town. So did one of his brothers and such things rarely work out for the best. The river is fast and strong, the fight brought them into the water and they were gone. The girl saw what happened, but she lied, she said a monster had done it.
“This girl went on to be a powerful shrine maiden – Amelia would have probably really liked her. She ended up falling in love with the remaining brother and they set out to seek justice for a crime that never happened. But as you said, this was the height of the war, there were plenty of monsters to hunt.
“One day they were cornered, but it wasn't the humans who were in a trap. Someone else was hunting that day, hunting the insignificant, sniveling crop of filth that had been troubling him far too often. I had to let them get close enough-” Zelgadis' eyes widened at the sudden use of the pronoun. “-so her brother was killed. My . . . her husband and child were nearly killed as well. But they were more fortunate than their attackers. Those low-level scum burned.”
Zelgadis swallowed slightly, taken back by the ferocity in the words. “You saved them,” he said softly.
“Her name was Riye. She was very sweet.”
“I wish I could have read her diaries myself, but they don't exist anymore,” Zel said, watching the mazoku's reactions warily. “Like you said, that town's been destroyed a few times.”
Xellos smiled and agreed, “Yes, it has.” It wasn't his usual grin, this one had a malice and a deathly edge to it. It made the chimera shiver. But then it was gone and Xellos was his usual chipper self again. “I'm very surprised you managed to find anything from so long ago, Zel-kun. I thought no one would even recall the temple, let alone the maiden.”
Except in addition to the temple, Riye had begun the Maidens, ensuring the stories survived. “And they specifically told me not to say where I heard it.”
“They?” the purple-haired man questioned. “They who? Surely they didn't mean me,” he said with an offended hand to his chest.
“Their exact words were 'don't tell Xellos'.”
The mazoku froze where he was, eyes sliding open to stare darkly at the chimera. “Who is 'they', Zelgadis?”
“That's a secret.”
For another moment the mazoku stared him down before his expression brightened again. “You really are so stubborn, Zel-kun!” The shaman just rolled his eyes.