Hit the Ground Running
Zelgadis stirred gingerly and extended a hand to touch the torn plank of wood resting above him. He was sore, a rarity in his stone body, and wondered absently if the bruises would soften his skin. Shifting into a position that crammed his shoulder blades against a solid chunk of rock that might once have been part of the foundation of a rather grand house, he put both hands to the aforementioned plank and shoved. It obligingly slid off to the side, making a large enough gap in the rubble to allow an ominously rumbling rush of plaster and wood to attempt to stampede upon his person. Zelgadis quickly shifted his hands and shoved again.
In this fashion, he made his way to the top of the mountain of trash. Fog twined about the ruins of Rezo's mansion, probably as a result of the river's interaction with the lingering magical reverberations of the destruction of a piece of Shabranigdo. Zelgadis perched himself on a convenient couch cushion that had somehow landed upright atop the heap. He was alive and the world looked no more apocalyptic than it had before.
So what had happened?
They had been fighting Shabranigdo and nothing had been working. Lina had told him to distract him, and then…
Now that he remembered.
How dare she? He understood why she had done it, but he was furious. Nobody had the right to screw with his Astral essence like that, even if it was to save the world. When he found her, Lina was going to be very, very sorry.
…When he found her.
With a glare and a muttered curse at the mountain of rubbish, Zelgadis set to work.
About an hour after Zelgadis began his work, Lina woke up. Being completely drained of magical force, instead of simply blasting her prison into ash, she settled for yelling often and enthusiastically. Zelgadis, with his excellent hearing, followed the outraged shouts to where she lay buried, but did not let her know she could stop. Though it was a relief to know that she was apparently undamaged, he was still mad at her. She could just keep yelling a little longer.
It was past noon when Zelgadis lifted the last remains of a luxurious chandelier off of the cavity in the rubble where Lina sat cross-legged, looking uncommonly like a very skinny, enraged toad that had somehow gotten hold of a wig. Magical overexertion had bleached her hair white, and she looked as tired and bruised as he felt, but otherwise seemed all right. Well, aside from a distinctly hoarse timbre to her voice when she yelled at him, she seemed all right.
"Zel, you jerk! Don't tell me you couldn't hear me with those ears of yours! What the hell took you so long? I was yelling for hours, and now my throat's all sore! It's all your fault!"
"If you keep yelling at me," Zelgadis pointed out smugly, "it will be even more sore."
Lina, undeterred, shrieked and clobbered him.
Quite a while later, the sound and the fury had died back down to silence as clobber-er and clobber-ee nursed their wounds. By mutual accord they sat side by side facing the ruins of the mansion.
Lina bit the inside of her cheek. She hoped he would forgive her. She liked Zel.
"I…I'm sorry about using that spell. You know which one. It's just that there was really no other choice, and I…"
She went on for a while in this awkward fashion, trying to make a decent apology to him. It wasn't something she was really good at, not having had much practice. As she continued, Zelgadis' face shifted from its usual expressionless state into a peaceful smugness. He knew Lina Inverse didn't do many apologies. The fact that he was getting one this sincere and stumbling indicated that she, at least, wanted their friendship to survive.
"HEY! Aren't you going to say anything?! I just apologized to you, idiot!"
A pause, and then Zelgadis stirred slightly.
Lina breathed a sigh of relief and exasperation.
"Good. I'll make it up to you, ok?"
Zelgadis raised an eyebrow and threw her a rather sly glance before responding.
"Pay for my coffee for the next week."
"WHAT?! I'll be broke in a day! No way!"
"I paid for your food."
"So? You burgled Rezo's safe! You have plenty of money!"
"I just paid you for a job. You have plenty of money."
Lina growled. This was true. And she did feel bad about the spell.
"Moron. I'll pay for a quarter of your coffee."
Zelgadis let slip a grin. He could drink a lot of coffee.
The wind fluttered curiously around them, tugging at Lina's white hair and making the shredded curtains pinned in the rubble flap loudly.
"What are you going to do now?"
What am I going to do now?, thought Zelgadis with a start. It finally struck him for the first time that Rezo was well and truly dead. His vengeance was completed, though not in the fashion he had expected. The Philosopher's Stone was gone for another century, and had proven useless in any case. He was completely free of the ties of his earlier life. It was rather anticlimactic. So he shrugged and laid out his automatic response to questions about his business.
"Go look for leads on a cure somewhere, I guess."
Lina nodded. She had been expecting that, of course.
"If you want, you could stay here," she said carefully, "Be my partner. I get a lot of funny customers, and one of them might turn something up."
He gazed at her inscrutably for a minute and Lina held her breath. Finally he nodded.
"All right. For a while."
"Woo-hoo! Come on, Zel, let's go! I'm hungry! If we run, we can probably make it to a restaurant in time for the late lunch buffet!"
Zelgadis gave a long-suffering sigh and got his ass in gear to follow Lina's dash for the road. Soon, all that was left of their presence was a pile of wreckage, a cloud of dust, and rapidly fading cries of "Move it, will ya?" wafting faintly on summer's gentle breeze.
And life went on.
AN: Random thing you didn't know about this story: Written almost entirely to the sweet sounds of Rammstein. Why, I can't fathom in the slightest. But "Mutter" is a good album.
Ah, well. This time, it actually is the end. It was a fun ride – I enjoyed writing this immensely, and you people who read and reviewed were just awesome. I'm grateful to just about everyone who was involved with this project, but there are a few people who deserve special mention.
Alyssa beta-ed the earlier chapters of this and did a damned good job of it. Without her help, it would probably never have been posted to FF.net.
PKNight leapt into the lurch and offered to beta-read when I lacked a beta-reader. She's done a wonderful job, and I'm eternally thankful to her.
Karris and deliria – though I had a multitude of amazing readers, you guys really stand out. I'd read a review from one of you two and then spend the rest of the day wandering around with this big, stupid grin plastered all over my face.
Thank you to all of you. You made this one of the most enjoyable projects I've undertaken in a long time. I only hope I've managed to…er, return the fun, at least in part. Enjoy yourselves out there, and maybe I'll see you around.