Chapter 10: Trade
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Zelgadis kept expecting Xellos to question him about where he'd heard the story, but it didn't happen. Instead the mazoku got him food and brought the shrine maiden back for more healing. He tended Zelgadis just as he'd done before. The chimera was grateful for it, he was hurting just as much and the mazoku confirmed he was getting the same healings as the first time. It was unsettling to think that at least the same amount of damage had been done in so much less time.

After a few days of this, Zelgadis decided he was well enough to travel. Xellos agreed, but he also made it clear he would be traveling with the chimera. By the end of the first day, Zel was feeling the strain of his trek, and he was grateful the mazoku had decided to stick around. As he set up his things for the night, Xellos saw to the fire and started food cooking.

Zelgadis flopped onto his sleeping roll and lay out immediately, exhausted. Xellos leaned to the side though and poked his shoulder. “You need food before you sleep.”

“Can’t I just eat extra tomorrow?” Zel grumbled. Xellos continued his poking however and Zel sighed, levering himself up again. “What are you making?”

“Vegetables from your bag,” the monster answered simply. “You don’t have any meat I’m afraid.”

Zel just sighed again. “No, I haven’t gotten any since . . .”

He trailed off and Xellos finished the thought for him. “Since you traveled to Ashfeld, you haven’t been to a market since the neighboring town.”

“And the one in that little town wasn’t exactly friendly.” The chimera growled in annoyance, remembering how they’d tried to hurry him away. He was fairly certain his looks were part of the reason he hadn’t been able to hire anybody to help him. No one was openly hostile, but no one had been even the slightest bit hospitable.

Zel blinked out of his thoughts as Xellos held a plate under his nose. “Never mind them. You’re never going back to Ashfeld, so you’ve no reason to go to that town either. Right?”

“Right,” Zel conceded as he took the modest meal. It still bothered him though and he found his thoughts lingering on the townspeople. And others in the past, even friends before they knew him . . . The chimera sighed again and shook his head as he ate. “I was going back because I have nothing else to try.”

“Except to go meet your ‘they’,” Xellos said, his voice very friendly.

It unnerved Zel, but now that the monster knew about them, it was all right to nod his agreement. “But I doubt they know anything new either, even if I were able to meet with them.”

“If they are in Ashfeld, I doubt they will hear anything useful or even slightly interesting.” Xellos slanted him a look. “However if you were willing to risk Xellas-sama’s wrath, perhaps I am wrong about that.”

Zel sighed again. “No, I actually agree with you. I can hope, but I’m not sure I believe.”

“There is always hope,” Xellos said gently. The chimera looked at him with obvious doubt before looking away again. It made Xellos frown a bit. “You need time around people that don’t see you for your looks.”

“I need more time alone,” Zelgadis countered.

Xellos chuckled slightly, “Current company excluded, I assume.”

“Very much included,” Zel growled, but with no real venom. The truth was he was getting used to having Xellos around and it held a somewhat more welcome tone than when they’d traveled with Lina and the others years ago. He was watching the mazoku for a few minutes before asking, “What do you think of my looks then?”

“What I think doesn't matter,” Xellos said at once, surprisingly straight-forward.

“But I still want to know your answer,” Zel told him with a small, curious frown.

Xellos shrugged slightly. “I don't see why. It wouldn't change anything for you, you would still search for your cure, regardless of what anyone else said. What would it matter if they appreciate a form you yourself despise? It is your opinion that matters and only you can change that. But I do not think you ever will.”

Zelgadis felt his frown deepen. “That's . . . not entirely true . . .”

“It is though,” Xellos argued. “What would you say if my answer were that I found you beautiful?”

The chimera said nothing, but he cringed, looking away.

Xellos just nodded. “You see? Your body is something you hate, having someone else enjoy it is never going to bring you happiness. It doesn't matter who it is or if they find you handsome or exotic or unique or intriguing or powerful or fascinating-”

“Enough, enough, stop.” Zel was still frowning and rubbed his head slightly. The mazoku was right, hearing such positive descriptors just made him uncomfortable. And as he realized the monster actually was answering his question, it only made the feeling worse. “I'm sorry I asked.”

“I also happen to think that looks are unimportant,” Xellos added. “A superficial first impression that can be manipulated and altered, redesigned to suit any purpose one desires.” He smirked a bit, voice cheerful as he finished. “But then mazoku have such interesting appearances most of the time, that's just how we are.”

“Fruitcake,” Zelgadis muttered and focused on his food again. He finished the food and began packing things away, but he found he wasn’t tired. He was fatigued physically, but with a bit of rest and food, he was plenty awake. After a few more minutes he found himself watching Xellos again. “So,” he hazarded. “You really hated that place, didn’t you?”

“I don’t talk about Ashfeld,” was Xellos’ response.

Zel argued though, pointing out, “No one else has known about it before.” He waited, but the mazoku said nothing. Zel rolled his eyes a bit. “I was just wondering how many times you destroyed it yourself.”

This brought a small laugh from the trickster. “Well, the answer to that is not never.”

“Yeah, I know that much.” Zel shook his head, actually fairly amused himself. “It’s been burned, destroyed in at least a couple of monster attacks. They told a story of when the village was buried in a massive mudslide. They say it took months to dig everything out, they had to rebuild pretty much all of it. That was about a century ago and they are absolutely convinced that it was you.” Zel raised his eyebrows in question, prompting, “I must say I have to agree.”

Zel wasn’t terribly surprised when the mazoku did not confirm his guess. Instead Xellos cocked his head to the side and mused, “So 'they' told you stories. Stories that they want you to share?”

“I'm not sure that was their goal actually. They refuse to write any of it down, but they still want the information to exist if possible.”

Xellos frowned and asked again, “Who are these people?”

Zelgadis gave him a tight smile and shook his head. “A group that needs to stay secret, from you and other mazoku as well. They don't care if you know they exist, just that you don't know who the members are. Sorry Xellos, but I'm not even willing to trade for this secret.”

Suddenly the priest's face brightened. “Oh, are we trading again?!”

Zelgadis blinked, completely taken off guard. “W-wait, what?”

“I know you don't always like answering my questions, but it's different if we trade, ne Zel-kun?”

The shaman groaned slightly and dropped his head into his hand. But . . . it was true he still had questions that Xellos dodged in their casual conversations. “All right then, another trade.”

“Three to one and I go first,” Xellos said as if he were reminding the chimera. Zel groaned again, but he nodded. Xellos made a thoughtful noise, taking time to think as if deciding what to ask. “Tell me, Zel-kun. Can you cook?”

The shaman blinked slightly, then frowned. “Not especially well,” he answered and braced himself. This had happened the first time too, the monster had begun with innocent questions as if lulling him into false security.

“What about your clothing, can you sew?”

Zel narrowed his eyes. Another innocent question, what was the trickster going to pull out for his final one? “I never learned to sew by hand, but there are mending spells I use to keep my things repaired.”

Xellos chuckled happily. “Ever resourceful, Zel-kun.” The mazoku leaned back, but kept his attention on the chimera. “All right then, last question for now. What will you do when you find your cure?”

Zelgadis blinked, stunned. That wasn't the ground-shaking, probing question he'd been expecting. It was still a difficult one though. “I'm not sure,” he said after a moment, fairly certain the other would not accept that answer.

The trickster made a thoughtful noise, suddenly holding a teacup that he sipped from. “I have found that often the end of a quest leaves the searcher . . . adrift.”

Zel's gaze fell a bit. “If I find a cure-”

“When, Zel-kun.”

The shaman was quiet another moment before starting again. “When I find a cure, I hope to find another quest. Perhaps yours, or helping others. I'll see what Amelia is up to, maybe.”

“Hmm.” The noise was not a happy one and it made Zel look up again at the mazoku. He was still smiling and after a moment he tilted his head to the shaman. “I believe that makes it your turn.”

Yes, he had to take advantage of this opportunity. “I want to know why you are a slave to Jouou-sama.” Zelgadis said quietly.

“Ah-” Xellos frowned a bit, tilting his head to one side. “I'm afraid that is a secret . . . and rather poorly phrased, Zel-kun, I am far from a slave.”

“But you're . . . I don't know, bound to her or whatever. You have to follow her orders no matter what.”

For a moment Xellos' face was serious, giving the shaman a glimpse behind the mask. There was desire there, but there was no pain. After another moment the expression faded back into a soft grin. “I cannot answer that, so you may ask another question if you'd like.”

Zel frowned, but then huffed and nodded. He had several other questions and it was still rare that the trickster was willing to be honest with him. “All right, fine. What are you looking for? Really?” The mazoku regarded him in silence and Zel frowned. “What do you want, Xellos?”

The priest opened his eyes, watching Zelgadis with unmasked power. The chimera shifted nervously under the look and after a minute the mazoku's eyes shut again. “I want the same things humans want.”

Zel shook his head slightly. “What is that supposed mean?”

“Ah, ah, I'm afraid you're out of questions,” the trickster scolded. Zelgadis glared at him and growled slightly, but Xellos just smiled. “Although, I do have more of my own.”

Zel continued to frown, meeting his closed-eyed stare hesitantly now. He was very tempted. “I think I need to renegotiate terms, three to one just isn't fair.” Especially against the trickster's answers. Xellos said nothing and after another minute Zel sighed. “All right, what else?”

“Are you a virgin, Zel-kun?” Xellos asked brightly and without hesitation.

“WHAT?!” Zelgadis sputtered, cheeks flushing bright red. “No! I'm- I'm in my twenties!”

“Oh, but you're still young, and so anti-social,” Xellos almost purred. “How many times have you had sex?”

“Why the hell do you want to know that!”

Xellos chuckled and sipped from his cup again. “So many reasons. I'm guessing the answer is only once.”

“It's twice!” Zel snapped, eager to prove him wrong. Then he only blushed darker, sinking down where he sat and lifting a hand to hide his face.

Xellos chuckled at him, thoroughly enjoying the mix of anger and embarrassment emanating from the chimera. And he still had one more question. “What were their names?”

“I am not telling you that!!” Zel shouted.

Xellos laughed more, sounding extremely amused. “You won't? Or you can't? Women of the night rarely give their proper monikers after all.” Behind his hand, Zel's entire face had gone red now. His silence hung heavy in the air, as good as a confirmation. Xellos laughed again, leaning towards the other, bracing his elbows onto his knees. “If you can't answer, I get another question.” Zelgadis intended to growl at him, but it came out as a weak groan. “I suspect I know the answer to this already, but, Zel-kun? Are you gay?”

Zelgadis' fingers curled against his forehead, staying quiet for a while. He finally spoke, but didn't move. “I'll only tell you if you give me a free question.”

“That depends on what it is, but you can ask.”

Zel was quiet for another moment before asking, “. . . What makes you think you know the answer?”

Xellos made a soft, amused noise. “Because you think I'm beautiful.”

Zelgadis swallowed thickly, but slowly lowered his hand. He didn't look at Xellos, cheeks still fairly red. “I've slept with a woman and a man. And . . . I preferred the man.”

“Top or bottom?” Xellos asked, voice bright once more.

“You're out of questions!” Zelgadis snapped, glaring at him again.

“Ah, poor Amelia-chan, she really never had a chance at all.”

Zelgadis growled but ignored the comment, trying to ignore his blush as well. “Now you have to answer another of my questions.”

“Yes, yes, about what I want. Can you clarify that a bit?” the mazoku asked innocently.

But Zel shook his head. “No, I changed my mind,” Xellos paused and cocked his head curiously. Zelgadis met his look evenly. “My question is why you draw me.”

Xellos slowly slit his eyes open again, watching the shaman. After a long minute, he smiled, menacing but still cheerful. “I want many things, Zelgadis. Including you.”

Zel's eyes widened, straightening where he sat. Xellos didn't move, still leaning forward, intense gaze fixed on him. The chimera's blush quickly returned and he looked away as if to hide it. He didn't know what to say to that. But he had to say something, right? He opened his mouth and looked back, but Xellos was gone, as if he'd never been there.