Note to Readers: Finally! Here's chapter five. There's a wee bit of a fandom-mockery easter egg tucked away in some dialogue. I couldn't resist the reference. I'd mock the word 'plagiarism' here too, but I doubt FF.net's coding allows for the strike-outs needed to do it properly. ^_^
~ Zanne

Then Came the Dawn
Chapter Five


"So, now what?" Amelia asked after she dismissed the messenger.

Lina didn't answer immediately while she rubbed her full belly, and did a mental run-through on the beginnings of a plan that had started to form through the course of the meal. She cracked one eye open to look at Amelia. "Well, we don't know for sure where Zel is, so we should set out at first light so we're sure to be there." Lina stopped, and shook her head. "Correction, so you and Gourry are sure to be there."

Gourry lifted his head from the table and looked at his partner. "Huh? Where are you going, Lina?"

"That depends on Val." Lina looked at the green-haired Dragon on the other side of the table, now covered with the ruins of what once had been dinner.

He looked up from his plate, one eyebrow arching slightly. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means, what kind of spells do you know," Lina asked, studying him, "and what kinds are you willing to learn?"

"Miss Lina, I was thinking about that, and why would Mister Val need to learn any spells? He already knows a lot of them," Amelia said.

"Most of the things you saw were manifestations of my Mazoku power," Val reminded her. "And to answer your question, Lina, I recall mostly shamanistic magicks."

Lina nodded. "You willing to learn sorcery?"

His eyes locked on hers. "Will it help us defeat Xellos?"

"If my plan works, yeah." Lina met his gaze calmly.

"Then of course."

"We don't have much time, and you're a Dragon. I'm assuming you have a fairly high capacity for spellcasting?"

"Far as I know. What are you thinking?"

"Forget the stuff that calls on the Mazoku lords. We wouldn't have much of a chance using them, not against Xellos."

"Miss Lina?" Amelia asked, and Val saw her eyes widening. "You're not going to..."

"Amelia, we're only going to have one shot at this. Just one." As her own words sank in, Lina started to realize just what they were up against, and hesitated. Amelia was the last in line for Seyruun's throne after Phil, and if anything happened to her... "You should stay home."

Amelia blinked. "Why?"

"Because you're the last in line for the throne."

"That didn't stop me from helping you against Phibrizo, or against" -- Amelia shot Val an apologetic glance -- "Dark Star."

"The Phibrizo thing, we didn't know about until it was too late to back out, and you almost died, Amelia. Twice." Lina was silent for a moment, studying the princess without really seeing her. So did Gourry, she thought. So did all of us. And Xellos knows all my tricks, how we work, what buttons to push... "As far as Dark Star goes, we didn't have a choice. Whether you helped or not, if we lost, that was it. Game over," Lina said.

"But Miss Lina--"

"Damnit!" She jumped to her feet and kicked her chair away angrily, stalking around the table. Why do I have to do this? I hate fighting Mazoku, how many times have I said that? It would be so easy to just walk away...

"Uh, Lina? What is it?" Gourry asked.

She ignored him, giving her head a slight shake. He would have killed me, or tried to anyway, if it would have brought Valgaav over to the Mazoku's side. How long before he gets orders like that again? Maybe he never will, but I don't think we're that lucky. I guess I should do it now, when I can at least have some control over where, when, and how. But the how... he knows my spells and he knows how we work. I'm going to need every trick in the book, and find some new ones to boot, and that means I need everybody, 'cause if we have any chance at getting the better of him, we'll only have that one chance. Besides, if I don't have everyone with me, I can't know where they are, and he could get to them. No, we can't play this thinking we might lose. Not for a minute! The only way to win is to be sure we're gonna win. Any doubt, any hesitation, and it's as good as over.

That settled it. "You're going with us, and that's final!" Lina snapped, looking at Amelia.

Everyone blinked. "Miss Lina, are you feeling okay?" Amelia asked, frowning warily.

"I'll tell you what we're not doing," Lina continued as if Amelia hadn't spoken. "We are not going into that battle with the slightest thought of possible doubt, nothing! As far as all of us are concerned, there is only one option, and that's us winning, and by L-sama, we will win!"

But Amelia didn't look like she was assured, or elated, or even on the brink of a justice speech. The room was completely silent.

Lina froze. Everyone was staring at her like she'd just grown another head. Then the silence was broken by the sound of a chair scooting back as Gourry stood, walking over to her side.

"We'll win, Lina, don't worry," he said, placing a big hand on her shoulder.

Lina looked up at him, feeling immensely grateful for the certainty in his voice, the certainty she was trying to make herself feel. "You're right, Gourry," she said quietly, starting to pull herself back together from her little bout of nerves. Shaking his hand off, she walked back to her chair. "We need the whole gang together if we're gonna have a shot at this. Amelia, that means you too. You and Zel play off your powers together excellently, and we need your white magic too."

Amelia nodded, her blue eyes dark and troubled.

"Everybody -- that is, you, Gourry, and if we get him, Zelgadis -- your jobs will be to keep him distracted," Lina continued, pouring half a glass of wine. "Val, I'm going to teach you two spells, the Ragna Blade and the Dragon Slave."

Val twitched slightly at the name. "Neither of those will work."

"Not by themselves, probably not, no." Lina held up a finger, downing a large sip from her glass. "But two Dragon Slaves at once was almost more than Phibrizo could handle. I'd wager two of those, or two Ragna Blades, would be more than Xellos could withstand. Beyond that, Gourry's got the Blast Blade. If I have to, I'll hit it with a few high-powered spells to overcome the dulling ward Milgazia placed on it, and it will be enough to take Xellos down."

Lina finished off her wine, sitting back. "The problem's not really whether or not we have anything to defeat him with. We do. The problem is actually getting to use them. Xellos is one tricky bastard. I think the only thing we might have in our favor is that he likes to toy with people. He's confident, but maybe too confident. And that's our advantage."

Val nodded. "We need to find a way to get Filia safe too, as quickly as possible."

"Yeah, that's another thing. I'm not sure yet what the best way to pull that off will be. We'll worry about that once we have a better idea of our overall plan of attack."

"Our ace in the hole might be the fact he wouldn't necessarily know that you've taught me two high level spells."

"Correction, my two highest level spells I'll still use." Lina shook her head. "I don't dare touch the Giga Slave. But yeah, that's what I'm thinking. I mean, after all, you did try to kill me, so why would I give you all my tricks?" She chewed her lip, narrowing her eyes in thought. "He's going to be expecting those spells from me. And he's not a Mazoku Lord. Either of them could possibly be enough to kill him on their own. For him to assume that because Phibrizo could handle it, so can he, that's foolhardy."

"So while you're casting your spell, I can cast the same one at the same time, but not as loudly."

"That could work. We have got to get him off-guard."

"He's gonna be watching me, though."

"Maybe not as much as he's watching me. He knows you lack the same kind of power as before, whereas I on the other hand am a known threat."

"Why not hide him somewhere?" Gourry suggested.

"Where?" Lina asked. "I'd rather get him out in the open instead of in the middle of a town, and Xellos isn't stupid. He wouldn't get close to anything where somebody could be hiding, especially if he's expecting someone else to be there."

"Like me."

Lina nodded to Val. "Like you."

"Maybe he won't think you're with us," Amelia suggested. "Maybe he'll think we're doing it on our own."

"Maybe," Val agreed, "but that's assuming quite a bit."

"And right now, the only safe thing to do is to assume Xellos knows everything that's been going on," Lina said. "That means we have to assume he knows Val's come to Seyruun, that he knows about Von, that he knows I'm here, that he knows we're going to come after him."

"What do we do now?" Val asked.

"Now we find Zel, and get him in on this. He's got a good mind for strategy too, and I'd want him at hand when we start brainstorming. For now, we get ready to head out at first light, and while we're waiting for him to show up, I'll start training you."

Val nodded. "Works for me. What about Von?"

"For the moment..." Lina looked at Amelia. "Is there anyone here who can care for him while we're gone?"

Amelia nodded. "There's Jillas, Gravos, and Nurse Zeeki."

"I don't want to leave him here," Val interrupted.

"It's just for while we're training and waiting for Zelgadis," Lina told him. "I'm not sure if it would be safe to leave him here while we go out to confront Xellos either. But for the meantime, if he's been left alone this long..."

"If you're wrong..."

"Maybe we should bring him with us," Amelia said, standing up and cutting off Val's threat before he could finish articulating it. "If nothing else, it would be easier to travel with him later if Mister Val could teach him how to transform into a human appearance."

"You've got a point. If you don't think traveling with a Dragon now would attract unwanted attention, we'll bring him along," Lina said.

"No more attention than Gravos would attract," Val pointed out.

Lina groaned. "Him again? I suppose you're bringing the little fox guy too?"

"I think it's safe to say they're looking forward to seeing you again just as much as you are," Val retorted, smirking at Lina.

"I don't see why they wouldn't," Lina replied. "After all, who wouldn't want to be in the company of someone as beautiful and powerful and talented as myself?" She blinked, looking back at Val. "What's with that expression?"

Amelia grabbed his arm, pulling him to his feet. "I think Mister Val and I should go pack and prepare for our journey," she said, cutting off any further discussion. "We have a lot to do, after all."



"Why do I let myself get pulled into these leads?" Zelgadis grumbled under his breath. His destination was finally visible, down the road, down the hill. All week long, ever since he first overheard someone mention it in a store, he'd been arguing with himself about coming here.

He started walking again, annoyed at himself for the conscious effort he had to exert in order to keep his footsteps measured and even, casual. He would not get his hopes up. He wouldn't. That's what he kept telling himself.

"The very secret diaries of Rezo, indeed," he muttered, shaking his head. "I've never heard of such a thing. It's a wild goose chase. If he had a cure, he never put it anywhere that still exists."

Underneath it all though, there was still that glimmer of hope that just wouldn't die, a glimmer that constantly threatened to consume him with each new lead, each new possibility, lifting up his hopes to impossible reaches. Hopes that had never yet been realized. So he kept reminding himself how unlikely it was that there would be any substance to the rumor. Even so, his feet still wanted to break into a run, eager to get there, to know.

Hoping.

It didn't make it easier, his close proximity to the kingdom of Seyruun. Absently, he traced the jewel on the bracelet, the material worn and color-washed. He promised to go back someday, but that day would not arrive until he found his cure.

Still, with each passing day, as the weeks turned into years, the bracelet had become more of a good-luck charm than a reminder. It wouldn't do any good to keep a flicker of hope that there was any chance of a future. She was a princess, last in line to the throne, and chances were high she was already married and producing heirs.

Amelia. Married. With children. The notion was enough to make him startle. He still held her in his mind's eye as that young, idealistic woman-child, and he couldn't quite visualize her as being old enough to marry anyone.

His gaze drifted to the east, in the vaguest of directions toward the White Magic Capital, and his hand clenched over the bracelet. Chances were, she didn't even remember giving it to him now. She had her own life, a full and busy life, no doubt. But she had also been a good friend, and perhaps still would be, someday.

Whoever married her had better appreciate her though, or he vowed he'd beat some sense into them. Zelgadis had no qualms about dishing out his own brand of justice even on the future king of Seyruun if he didn't make Amelia as happy as she deserved to be.

That train of thought had distracted him from the potential of a cure long enough for him to be able to walk into town, casual and disinterested. He couldn't seem too eager, or the con sharks would be on him like he was chum in the water. He had seen the excavation site he'd heard about on his way into town, but decided against heading there immediately. Better to hang around town, replenish his supplies, and listen to talk. If there were some very secret diaries, and they were found, he didn't want to waste time looking for them when he could be relieving their current holder of the burden.

He walked down the main street for a few minutes, with his hood pulled low and his mask up, looking around for a general store. Conversations swarmed about him, and several times, Zelgadis caught mention of Rezo. But from everything he gathered, nothing belonging to the legendary priest had yet been discovered.

Either they were still there, waiting for him, or more likely than not did not exist at all.

"Hey, Zelgadis!"

A familiar, masculine voice caused him to miss a step, and he froze. It's them. Should I pretend I didn't hear? Maybe they'll have information. If anyone would, it would be Lina, but I don't want to get pulled into yet another--

A hand clamped down on his shoulder. Too late. "Hello, Gourry, Lina," he said, turning around. "Long time, no..." Zelgadis trailed off, feeling as if the air had just been knocked out of him. Instead of the familiar redhead he expected to see at Gourry's side, it was her.

Amelia smiled slightly. "Hello, Mister Zelgadis."

He stared at her dumbly, swallowing hard as he tried to regain the skill of coherent speech. In the years since he'd seen her last, she had grown. She was taller now, no longer a girl, but a woman. Her hair was longer, tamed and pinned back in a neat, elegant twist, and the klutzy, childish air she had about her was gone, replaced by a calm demeanor suitable for a queen.

She's beautiful, was the only thing he could think. "Err, hello, Amelia. I didn't expect to see you. Where's Lina?" He looked at Gourry.

"She's here," Gourry said, smiling pleasantly. "She's just outside of town, waiting for you to show up."

"Me?" Zelgadis blinked. "Why? What's wrong? What's going on?" He hesitated. "There's nothing in that site that belonged to Rezo, is there?"

"I'm sorry, Mister Zelgadis," Amelia said, lowering her gaze demurely. "We needed something that would be certain to get you here quickly."

Well, it worked, but it angered him to think not only could he be jerked around so easily, but the people he thought were his friends were apparently not above manipulating him. "That was really nice," he said sarcastically, narrowing his eyes. He pretended not to see the look on her face as he glanced back to Gourry. It served them right, for pulling that stunt. "So what's so important that you had to set me up like this?"

"Let's go find Lina, and she'll explain everything," Gourry said, beckoning for him to follow as he started off.

"This had better be good, and worth the trip," Zelgadis groused as he fell into step beside him.

"We wouldn't have done this if it weren't an emergency," Amelia said quietly from behind them.

"You could have done something else," he snapped. It never failed. No matter how hard he tried to not get his hopes up, they always somehow snuck up on him when he wasn't looking. And this on top of everything, finding out his friends used it against him...

"It was Lina's idea," Gourry said.

"Like that's supposed to make it better?" He could believe Lina would come up with something like that. But to think that Amelia would go along with it... he shook his head, sighing in annoyance. "Let's get this over with."

No one said anything more until they were outside of the city, cutting through a fairly dense wood. That suited Zelgadis just fine. He was lost in his own thoughts, trying to think of any possible scenario that could justify tricking him the way they did. If there was a reason, it refused to surface.

He almost didn't realize Amelia was addressing him until she was finished talking. Zelgadis glanced back at her. "Huh? What was that?"

She had such an odd expression. Her smile wasn't as genuine as he remembered it, and a paranoia began to creep in. They weren't leading him into a trap, setting him up for anything, were they?

"The bracelet," she said again, gesturing to it. "I see you still have it."

He looked down, almost touching it on reflex before catching himself, not wanting to give himself away. "Yeah." Why was she mentioning it? Maybe... a chill rushed over his veins for just a heartbeat, and he looked to the path ahead of them. "Did you want it back?"

She didn't answer immediately, and when she did, her voice sounded odd. "You haven't returned to Seyruun yet."

That wasn't a yes or a no. He hated it, hated the uncertainty. "We're close enough." He looked back at her again, and her smile was artificial, closer to a grimace, and her blue eyes were dark and guarded. His heart sank as paranoia settled in for a longer stay. "Did you want it back?" he repeated.

She looked away, and her tone was dismissive. "Just keep it."

"We're almost there," Gourry cut in, sounding cheerfully unaware of the tension between the two.

A lump formed in his throat and he swallowed hard. Fine, so be it. He steeled his nerves, preparing himself for the worst. After all, hadn't he always wondered, deep down inside somewhere, if they would someday turn on him like everyone else did?

Like his own family had?

Zelgadis could hear Lina's voice as they neared the treelike, entering a glade. Looking around, he found her, and his hand reflexively snapped to his sword as he growled. Standing near her -- far too close -- was Valgaav! And Zelgadis recognized that spell, the Ragna Blade!

"What?!" he shouted. "You're dead! Don't think you can--"

"Oh, for cryin' out loud, shut up and listen!" Lina hollered, cutting him off.

The Ragna Blade spell was halted, and Valgaav looked at him with an expression somewhere between annoyed and amused.

"What's going on?!"

"If you'd hold your tongue a moment, we'll explain," Lina said. "First of all, this is Val, not Valgaav. He's not a Mazoku anymore. Secondly, we didn't actually kill him, we just killed Dark Star. Third, I need your help. We're going up against Xellos."

Zelgadis blinked. "Run that last one by me again?"

"We're going after Xellos."

"And the point of that would be...?"

"To kill him, hopefully," Val said.

Zelgadis couldn't help but grin. "I like how you think already."

Lina smirked, crossing her arms. "That's what I thought you'd say. So are we forgiven for tricking you?"

He glared at her. "That was heartless."

"It worked, didn't it?"

"So would a letter."

"We might not have that kind of time," Lina replied. "If nothing else, Val wants to get him out of the way as soon as possible regardless, and for a good reason."

"What's that?"

"He has Filia," Val said.

"Filia?" Now Zelgadis was growing worried. "What's he done to her?"

"From what little we do know, quite a bit," Lina said grimly. "It's a long story, and we'll give you the annotated version. But I need your help brainstorming up a way to pull it off. We have the strength and the skills, but we need to outwit him."

"Oh, jeez." Zelgadis covered his eyes with his hand. "Can't you guys ever get involved with anything easy for a change?" He sighed, dropping his hand back down. "So brief me and let's get on with this."

"Whodat?" another voice piped up behind him, and he glanced over his shoulder before doing a double-take and jumping back away from the large, young Dragon at Amelia's side.

"The hell?"

"Watch your language," Amelia chided, and petted the Dragon. "This is Mister Zelgadis, he's going to help us get you back to your mother."

"Mother?" Zelgadis blinked. "You mean..."

"Mister Zelgadis, this is Von," Amelia continued as if he hadn't spoken. "Filia and Val's son."

Face met turf. "I suppose I've been out of contact for a little longer than I thought," Zelgadis said, spitting grass out of his mouth as he picked himself back up.

"I think we can brief Zel," Lina said to Val, sitting back on the grass. "Keep practicing with that spell."

"You taught him the Ragna Blade?"

"And the Dragon Slave."

"I hate that name."

"I know you do, Val, but it's such a sweet spell."

Zelgadis sweatdropped. "Lina, you taught him those two spells?"

"Do you honestly believe Xellos would expect that move?"

"Point. So what's the story?"

to be continued...