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Slayers: A Spaghetti Western

Act 5

Part 2

There he was, standing in the doorway.

Rezo.

He appeared as much as he had seven years ago, an almost ageless and gentle face, smiling despite his closed and blind eyes, with the same jingling spurs at his heels and the same accursed ivory-handled black colt at his hip. Not prepared for the sight of the one man who destroyed his life and who still caused him nightmares, Zelgadiss found himself gaping, moving his mouth wordlessly.

Jed, noticing that his charge wasn't watching the show, turned around to find out what the kid was looking at. Upon seeing Rezo, he raised his arm to signal the man's companion, a pretty young woman who was always by his side. She saw Jed, and with a light touch on his arm, led Rezo to their table. Zelgadiss was still watching him, but his eyes narrowed upon seeing the man's escort. When the newcomers finally joined them at the table, Zel was itching to pick up that sack of guns and just start shooting. Eris whispered something to Rezo, and he smiled.

"So, you say your name is Zelgadiss Greywords, do you?" He asked in a smooth voice as they sat, waving over a girl to serve him. "I find that very interesting."

Amelia breathed a sigh of relief when Filia rushed over to wait on them. She was still trying to fight off the man's advances, but he had already succeeded in groping her chest and grabbing at her bottom. She bore it admirably and tried to concentrate on listening to the conversation just a few seats away. Zelgadiss kept glancing her way every so often, and she silently willed him to stop. She would be fine as long as he kept his attention on Rezo, and that way, she would be near enough to protect him if needed. Now if only the stuff that Filia put in the food would kick in and get rid of these men.

Filia took Rezo's order and trotted away to the bar, giving everyone a worried glance beneath her smile. Zelgadiss was only slightly comforted by the fact that the women were there. He'd feel much better if he were alone, but at least Amelia was nearby, even though she was getting felt up by that guy. He was going to fill that man so full of holes when he got the chance, but he fought down the impulse to rescue her. Zel tried to keep his attention away from Amelia since Rezo still appeared to be waiting for an answer.

"What's interesting about it?" he spat out, trying to focus on the man before him.

Rezo smiled when Filia returned with his drink and then floated away. He took a delicate sip of the liquid before smirking. "I heard somewhere that the Greywords family died a long time ago."

Bastard.

"Yeah, I suppose you heard it, since you couldn't SEE it," he retorted.

"You insolent…!" the woman began, but Zel cut her off.

"And you, Eris. I should have known that you would follow Rezo around like the lost bitch that you are, since you had followed him around in town. What did he promise you? Half of everything?"

She began visibly shaking, but Rezo placed a calming hand on hers.

"My dear, he's baiting you. He's trying to get you to say something that will incriminate us. Don't give in to his cheap bounty-hunter tactics. If he is who he says he is, though I highly doubt it, then he's living up to the Greywords name."

Zelgadiss bristled at the comment. Even now, after all this time? The damned sick bastard. He drew all the strength he could muster in order to delve back, and finally voice the sorry events of his life to the man responsible for it all.

"Why do you doubt it, Rezo? Because there were three graves? You're right. The Zelgadiss you knew died the day you killed my parents, and I buried them next to my own rock-filled grave. You can't see the monster that you've created, burned and scarred, full of vengeance and hate. A Greywords didn't do this to me. Perhaps I should have taken your name, to better live up to your reputation, Grandfather."

The room became strangely quiet at his comment, and it occurred to him that everyone had been listening to their conversation. His eyes glanced about the room, and all eyes, even the piano-player and the dancers, who merely looked curious at the lack of attention, were upon him and Rezo. Eris stood and slammed her hand on the table and glared at everyone, scaring them into returning to their business. In the meantime, several of the patrons quickly slipped out the door, clutching at their stomachs.

"How dare you insult Rezo like this?" she seethed, settling back into her seat.

"Oops," Zelgadiss said without a trace of humor. "Sorry, Rezo. I guess I spilled the fact that you killed your only daughter and her husband, and that you tried to kill your own grandson. Does she know the reason why you did it? Or do I need to elaborate?"

"No need to elaborate, boy," Rezo finally answered, no longer smiling. He was drumming his fingers on the table and, if he weren't blind, would be glaring at Zel. "It seems that you and a young lady friend of yours have been causing me much trouble. Now that I have you, what do you propose we do about this?"

Jed, who had been uneasily watching the two men, opened his mouth to put in his two cents. "I don't care what you do, so long as I get paid. The deal was for this one and the girl. She's on the way, but he's here now. For all the boys I've lost, the price goes up. Three for this one alone, two more for the girl."

While Rezo considered his offer quietly, Eris watched Jed and the people behind him. For some reason, the saloon was emptying out quickly, and she was becoming suspicious. Her gaze swept the room, and it landed on one of the new girls. The man who had been fondling her suddenly jumped up as well and ran for the exit, looking as nauseous as the others who were departing, leaving the girl to readjust her clothing. She appeared nervous and embarrassed, and she quickly fled to the bar to wipe several glasses clean. This young woman seemed so familiar.

And then it occurred to her.

Eris stood and strode over to the girl. Her suspicions were confirmed when Zelgadiss yelled from behind her, "H… hey, where are you going, Eris? Shouldn't you wait for Rezo's ruling? I thought he was the brains and you were the enforcer…" but she paid him no heed as she continued on her way.

Amelia should have just slipped out the back door when she had the chance, but her sense of honor wouldn't allow it. Not only was Zelgadiss in a bad situation, but Martina and Filia and Naga were in there as well. She couldn't let anything happen to any of them since it was her fault they were all there in the first place.

"Girl."

Amelia kept her head about her and continued to clean the glasses on the bar. She wouldn't know whom this woman was addressing. If she could make her way to the kitchen, she might be safe. She finished up and slowly began to edge towards the kitchen door.

Click.

"Miss Amelia."

Too late…

Zelgadiss watched on in worry as Eris stalked Amelia, until she finally pulled a gun on her and called her by name. This was getting worse and worse by the second. Amelia dutifully held her hands to the sides as Eris walked her to the table at gunpoint. Still pointing her pistol, she stepped back to rejoin Rezo.

"Gentlemen, I present Amelia Seyruun. And since I was the one who found her, Jed, you don't get any of the money offered for her."

"What? What she did to my boys…"

"Is inconsequential, Mister Tatum. You're being well compensated for bringing in Greywords. Be happy that we're not charging you for your stay here."

Sensing a fight brewing, Zelgadiss decided to goad them into continuing the frustrating haggling. "This is your hospitality? I think this place poisoned all of Jed's men. They went running out the door, grabbing at their guts. I don't know, Jed. Seems to me like you're getting the raw end of the deal."

"You shut up!" Eris yelled, easily seeing through his plan, but the Tatum took the bait.

"How many of your people died, Rezo? I lost over twenty of my boys…"

"Who killed them, Mister Tatum?" the blind man wondered innocently.

"Well… this one and his friends."

"Then who should you be angry with?"

Jed Tatum, although a shrewd person, was also a family man who had just lost a lot of kinfolk. Until this point, he had reasoned that his family's troubles and losses would be worth it if they could just get the money that had been promised to them. A simple job had become increasingly complex, all because these two kids decided that they weren't going to let them get away with it.

Amelia, sensing the man's indecision, and understanding Zelgadiss' intentions, decided to try a different tactic, one that she was good at, but one that she couldn't be sure would work.

"But whose order was it to come after us? Whose order was it in the first place to murder those poor innocent folk? If he," she pointed at Rezo accusingly, "hadn't come to you with that unconscionable proposition, no one would have died that day! His unjust actions have wiped out families and were threatening to do the same to yours! What makes you think he cares about what happens to the Tatums, or anyone for that matter, when he obviously didn't care enough about his own family? What kind of righteous man…"

Bang!

Zelgadiss' mind couldn't understand what was happening. Eris was standing there with a smoking gun, and Amelia was suddenly falling backwards. The seemingly slow processes of his brain barely registered him throwing out his arms to catch her as her legs gave out beneath her. With one arm supporting her back, he lowered her to the ground, cradling her gently and wondering why her pink dress was steadily growing a darker shade of red. The look of shock on her face mirrored his, though he didn't feel anything.

"Amelia! Amelia!" he heard himself saying.

She clutched desperately at his sleeve, trying to smile, despite the obvious pain she was in. There was blood everywhere, and somewhere, in the deep recesses of his mind, he could hear the haunting jingle of spurs.

"I'm okay," she choked out, and blood dribbled from her painted lips, staining them even redder. "I'm… o…kay…"

She became limp in his arms, and her half-closed eyes rolled back in her head. Zelgadiss lowered her to the floor with tenderness and care, and he sat back on his heels, staring blankly at the beautiful young woman, lying there in a growing pool of blood. A blonde woman appeared in his field of vision, trying to attend to her, yelling something to someone about getting her bag, but he paid her no heed. All he could see was the face of his lovely, his beloved, Amelia.

"Wait for me," he whispered to her before standing up to face Rezo, Eris, Jed, and about a dozen men, who were all waiting for him to make some kind of move. Something about a bag…

Zelgadiss was actually smirking, despite the circumstances. If he had to thank Rezo for something, it would be for doling out tragedies in his life left and right. Having been hell bent on getting revenge for the last seven years, Zelgadiss thought he knew what his life was all about. It had been so cut and dry: kill Rezo. Little did he know on that fateful day, four years ago, when he walked into the jailhouse in Rock Creek, that the young girl who greeted him would not only change his entire outlook on life and give him a reason to live, but that she would ultimately be the one reason he needed to carry out his life's ambition.

"Anyone who doesn't want to die today better clear on out of here," he bit out, and with those words, the enormity of what had just occurred finally hit him. Amelia was… All he could see was blood everywhere, and he knew that he would be the one doing the killing today.

"I have several options here," he continued, slowly stepping away from Amelia's body and ignoring Filia's and Martina's frantic scrambling above her. He placed his hands on the table. With a cold grin, he stared straight into Eris' eyes, boring into her head and conveying his full intentions. "But none of them are quite as good as killing you right here and now."

With amazing speed and strength, Zelgadiss upended the heavy table and pushed it towards his three captors, who only barely backed out of the way. He dove for the bag of guns and jumped behind the bar. The bartender wisely went running the other way to safety.

"Girls, get down!" Zel yelled, as he reached into the bag and began pulling out the pistols and shooting.

He hit Eris in the arm and winged Rezo before a barrage of gunfire tore into the bottles of liquor on the counter behind him, showering Zelgadiss with broken glass and liquid as he retreated down below the bar. He covered his head and face, and when the firing waned, he returned fire, hitting two men between the eyes and another in the chest.

Throwing down the spent guns, he picked up two more, and tucked them into his waistband. He paused for the briefest of moments as something suddenly occurred to him, and then he grabbed two more of the guns. Popping back up, he shot two more men who were stupid enough to reload out in the open, but before he ducked back down behind the bar, he saw Eris leading Rezo out a side door.

No! He couldn't just let them escape after all that they've taken from him! He refused to allow his eyes to wander back to the corner where Filia and Martina were huddled over Amelia's body, and he rushed to the other side of the bar, picking up a shotgun behind the counter. The large mirror above the bar exploded with a huge crash, and Zel narrowly jumped out of the way of getting impaled by the giant shards of glass as they fell.

He landed on the floor with nothing to offer cover, and he overturned the nearest table to hide behind. Checking to make sure it was loaded, he thrust the barrel of the shotgun over the top of the table without looking and pulled the trigger. With grim satisfaction at hearing groans and screams, he pointed it in the other direction and pulled the trigger yet again, and then tossed the spent shotgun aside. More moans ensued, but when he popped his head around the edge of the tabletop, a bullet whizzed by his ear, and he ducked back behind the table, which was suddenly peppered with bullets. Checking the other side, he was again riddled with shots.

"I'm going to kill all of you!!!" Zelgadiss' guttural scream of frustration at being kept from his prey was suddenly answered by a sudden silence and a hiss, followed by a deafening explosion.

The table blew back on top of him, shielding him from the blast. Before the dust could settle, several shots rang out, and then it was strangely silent. Still feeling the madness enveloping his mind, Zelgadiss threw the table off of him with an inhuman effort, bringing his guns around to face the room, ready to kill anyone in sight.

"I'm afraid your fight is elsewhere, my friend," someone said in the clearing smoke. A man stepped forward and pointed to the door, and deep down inside, Zelgadiss recognized him, knew his name and knew him as a friend, albeit a tentative one. Without wondering at his presence or worrying about what happened to anyone else, Zel ran out of the door and headed off in the direction Rezo had disappeared.

Xelloss tried to smile, knowing that his quarry would not escape him this time, but seeing the dead look in Zelgadiss' eyes, he knew that something had not turned out the way it should have. It was a look of deadly resolve and insanity; something was broken in the young man. With a shake of his head, he turned back to the room and idly shot anyone who pulled a gun on him. Xelloss wandered through the wreckage of the saloon, searching for the one man he had been sent to find.

A moan drew his attention while he reloaded his twin pistols. Snapping the cylinder back into place, he approached the old man, pinned beneath a heavy table, in obvious pain. Xelloss brought his gun around and aimed, right between the man's eyes.

"I've been looking for you, Jed Tatum," he said simply, as if he was ready to talk about the weather. The old man's eyes widened as he recognized, not Xelloss' face, but his gun, distinctive in its strange red inlays on the barrel. He coughed up blood when he tried to speak, and Xelloss pressed his boot to his chest. "You've caused a lot of people a lot of problems, but not just Zelgadiss and Amelia. I've been sent to find you…"

"Xelloss?" came a voice from the corner. He opened an eye and glanced over, and with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, he saw Filia and Martina, leaning over the bandaged, but blood-soaked body of… Amelia?

"What happened?" he asked, not removing his foot from Jed's chest. He continued to gurgle up blood.

"She's been shot! We need your help!" Filia was almost in hysterics, and he knew that if she was worried about a patient, then it must be bad.

He glanced down at Jed Tatum, and saw that the man was not going to make it out of this place alive. His face was ghastly pale, and the foam at the corners of his mouth was tinged with blood. He should just put this man out of his misery and complete his mission…

"Xelloss!" Filia pleaded, bringing him back to reality. He pressed harder on his chest, causing Jed to go into fits of coughing.

"You're lucky fate found you before I did. Zelas wants you dead for some reason, and you'll die today, Tatum, but not by my hand," he ruled, backing away from him. He turned his back on the man who was choking on his own blood to attend to the women in the corner who needed his help.

*****************************

When that woman shot Amelia, Naga merely watched on in horror, unable to do anything. She couldn't scream. She couldn't run to her. She couldn't help. It was like watching her mother die in front of her all over again. The man, who Amelia had described to her as Zelgadiss, didn't seem to react to her bleeding all over him. But when she saw his eyes, she knew that he felt what she was feeling. Loss, anger, frustration, emptiness.

When the shooting started, she and the girls ducked into the back room, but she kept her eye on what was going on in the saloon. The woman and the blind man disappeared, and Naga slipped out the side door, ready and waiting on the walkway for the moment the two would arrive. They appeared, the woman clutching at her arm and trying to lead Rezo to safety. Not caring anymore about the bounty, Naga walked right up to them, pulling her tiny pistol from the tiny holster strapped to her upper thigh, and pressed it up to Eris' side.

"This is for my baby sister."

Naga pulled the trigger twice before Rezo backhanded her into the street, but the damage had been done. Eris fought bravely to stand, and with a supporting hand from the blind man, they hurried away. The man paused for a moment, and with his free hand, drew a black colt with an ivory handle and pointed it at Naga. She looked up in a daze, and found herself staring down the barrel of his gun.

An explosion rocked the saloon, and with a cock of his head, he put the gun away and hurried Eris down the street and out of sight. Naga shook her head to clear it, and after several moments, pulled herself shakily to her feet. She had to get back inside to Amelia. Her sister was dying.

As she stumbled down the walkway, someone appeared in front of her and clutched at her shoulders, suddenly shaking her. Wild aquamarine eyes were looking at her with fierceness and something, perhaps longing, but it was gone before she could react.

"Where did they go?" he demanded, and it was then that she realized it was Zelgadiss.

She raised a trembling hand to point to the spot where she had shot Eris, and a trail of blood that led down the walk. Zel shoved her away and followed the drops of blood, like breadcrumbs leading the way home. His eyes only on the red splotches on the wood and the dirt, he cared nothing for anything around him. That woman, who looked so much like his beloved Amelia, was almost too much for him to handle, and he focused all his attention on finding Rezo.

A shot hit the dirt at his feet, and aiming his gun in the general direction of the shooter, he pulled off a shot. Without waiting to see the man fall off the roof, he kept on walking, a man possessed. Someone was stupid enough to step out in front of him with a gun, and Zelgadiss passed his body as it slumped to the ground, a bullet hole straight between his eyes.

A man stepped out of the alleyway, and with cold realization, Zel saw it was Gus. The man was pulling his pants up, and was wholly unprepared for meeting with this armed killer. Without warning, Zel shot the man in the foot and again in the hand when he reached for his gun. He shot his knee and then pointed at his greasy face.

"This is for putting your hands on my woman," he growled as he pulled the trigger, and Gus collapsed back into the alley, twitching. With a harsh smile, he tossed aside his gun and took the dead man's pistol before continuing down the walk. When he turned the corner, the ground erupted in plumes of dirt as several shots missed their target.

Finally assessing the situation, Zelgadiss stepped back behind the building. They had set up a gauntlet down this street. His keen eyes had spotted several men lining the street, and Rezo, hobbling with Eris, was all the way at the far end of town, getting on a stagecoach. He'd be damned if he was going to let that bastard get away now!

As he stepped back out into the street, the sound of hoof beats behind him gave him pause, and turning around to aim at the newcomers, he paused at the sight of long red and blond hair in the back of a wagon. A strange man was manning the reins while Lina and Gourry were in the back, each manning a Gatling gun on either side of the wagon. With a wild hoot from Lina, they thundered past him and straight down the street, and a high-pitched whistle could be heard above the din of rapid gunfire tearing apart the town. Zelgadiss followed, his stride purposeful, his aim deadly, as he picked off the remaining stragglers who had either evaded the devastating attack or had been injured.

Picking up pistols and rifles as he went, Zelgadiss had become a walking force of destruction, and no one was safe from his quest for revenge. The wagon had circled back and was riding back into town, ready for the next round, but to Lina's disappointment, there was no one left to kill. Zangulus pulled up beside him, but Zel ignored them and continued on. They all began to yell at him, but it was Lina's voice that finally broke through the haze that had settled over his mind.

"Hey! What happened? Zelgadiss, where's Amelia?" He stopped and turned around to face them. From only a few feet away, he could hear her suck in a breath at the sight of him, covered in blood.

"Amelia… Amelia's…" He couldn't bring himself to say it. He couldn't say that she was dead, although the emptiness at his core told him that it was true. The anguish he felt had made him numb and cold inside, but a tiny flutter of emotion danced at the edge of his heart. He pushed it aside and answered her. "Amelia's in the saloon."

With that, he turned away and picked up a fallen man's rifle, and then headed towards the nearest horse at the tie rail. He yanked the lead away from the bar with a snap, and quickly mounted the horse. Lina's voice, yet again, held him in place.

"If she's there, where are you headed? What's going on?"

Without turning around, he merely shook his head and kicked his horse forward; following the retreating dust cloud in the distance, signaling the direction his prey had fled. His single-minded determination pushed him forward despite everything that had occurred. Lina would learn soon enough the fate of her best friend. She would also learn how he had failed the woman he loved. The quiver of devotion again fought its way into his heart, but he couldn't understand why her sacrifice had happened the way that it did. He was alive, but so was Rezo, and as she had said, Rezo was the one who was ultimately responsible for everything. Pushing his poor mount as fast as it could run, he chased after the stagecoach.

It appeared in the distance, and he asked the horse for anything else it could give him. It responded with a burst of speed, and they quickly gained on the lumbering coach. When the vehicle was within range, Zel raised his rifle, keeping it steady by moving with the horse as it stretched and pulled beneath him. He fired, and quickly controlled the spooked horse as it veered away from the startling noise. On the stagecoach, the driver slumped over in his seat, and the reins flew free from his hands.

Kicking the horse forward, Zelgadiss rode up beside the coach and emptied the rifle into the windows. Tossing the rifle aside, he pulled his pistols and edged closer until he was close enough to make a daring leap. The tiny step below the door was the only thing he could land on, and without further thought, he jumped. He was barely able to keep his footing and hold onto the doorframe as one of his guns went flying. The door was suddenly kicked open from inside, and Zel gripped the open door when his feet were pushed off the step.

He came dangerously close to the wheel of the coach, but after ditching his last gun, he succeeded in pulling himself up to the open door. With a mighty effort, he lunged inside, landing hard on the floor of the stagecoach. A gun clicked in his ear.

"I cannot believe it's come to this," Rezo said, over the thundering of the horses, running wild. Zelgadiss looked up at the man who was sitting quietly, with Eris' head on his lap. She was stretched out along the bench, and the cloth of the seat was stained deeply with her blood. Her eyes were open and unseeing, and with grim satisfaction, Zelgadiss realized that she was dead. He pushed himself up to sit on the opposite bench.

"Didn't you realize that there would be a day of reckoning, Rezo?" he asked, trying not to feel sorry for the man sitting across from him. His face was drawn and betrayed the man's own sense of loss. Something occurred to him, and he became angry instead. His hand slipped into his shirt. "You're sad that Eris is dead? Why? Why couldn't you feel the same about my mother? Didn't you love her?"

"Of course I loved her. She was the bright star in my dark life, and it killed me to do what I did."

Hot anger began to bubble up within him. "You lying bastard! Then why did you do it? You took her from me. You took everything from me! Give me a reason why I shouldn't kill you right now!"

"You don't understand…"

"How can I understand any of it? You killed them!"

Rezo suddenly appeared old, and something held Zel back from his tirade.

"You don't know what it was like, Zelgadiss. After the war, the government had no use for me anymore. I was a minister and a doctor, but they didn't use those talents. They needed my ability to kill. What was I supposed to do when I didn't know how to heal people anymore, when all I could do was sell my services with my guns? If you knew what it did to your grandmother to know that her husband was a murderer. I never wanted your poor mother to deal with any of that, but when she ran off with your father…"

Zelgadiss was suddenly fascinated about his past… their past, and he found himself listening, without regard to the fact that they were still bouncing along in a runaway stagecoach. A memory, a comforting voice, bubbled up in the back of his mind: 'Would you be able to live with yourself if you killed a reformed man?'

"Your father was a gambler and a killer, Zelgadiss. He was a man who, just like me, had killed many men for money and had enjoyed it. I know because he was one of my men."

"Lies!" he found himself yelling, heedless of the gun still pointed at him. "You lying pile of shit! My father was a good man!"

Rezo smiled. "Your father was good at double-crossing people. He didn't want to be under my supervision anymore, so he took you and your mother, and fled to Wyoming. I didn't know where you were for years until your mother finally got up the courage to write to me."

"About the green rocks," he found himself remembering, and the anger seemed to wane.

"Yes, Zelgadiss, about the jade vein that ran beneath your family's property. Of course, I was interested in it since I was a purveyor of rare goods, but when I arrived in town, your father refused to allow me to see you both. I had to use force, but by then it was too late."

"But you sent those men to… they hurt my mother!"

"They were trying to restrain her from going to your father."

"You shot her! I saw you!"

"Yes, Zelgadiss." He sighed and rubbed his face with his free hand. "Your mother was actually the one I feared would follow in my footsteps. Most women would cower in a corner, but she was MY daughter, sweet and caring, but she had a side to her that made her worse than any of my hired guns. I would rather put her out of her misery than let her live and dedicate her life to revenge against me… the way you have.

"I left you to burn after I shot them both, because I didn't want you to fall victim to the same vicious cycle. It was supposed to end that day. The only one who should have carried this burden was me. Not the ones I cared for the most."

"It wasn't your place to choose what was right for us!" Zel yelled, and he finally pulled out Amelia's tiny pistol and aimed it at his grandfather. She had furtively slipped the gun into his shirt when she sat on his lap in the saloon, and he held it in a trembling hand. The memory of her beautiful face and her stubborn nature, of her sweet smell and her lively personality, both comforted him and twisted his heart. She had loved him for who he was, both the good and the bad, and now she was gone. Tears were suddenly streaming down his face at the reality of what he had lost.

Looking up through his tears, he realized that Rezo was tenderly stroking Eris' hair, and a thought suddenly struck him. It was almost like gazing into a distorted mirror, warping the realities and tweaking the characters. He was looking at himself and Amelia, in the form of his grandfather and Eris.

"You can't decide who or what's best for someone because of what happened to you," he choked out between sobs. "It's unjust and unkind, Grandfather. Just because mother and father didn't fit into your world didn't mean they weren't happy. She kept telling me how much she loved her home and how much she love me and father. She told me that she was sad that you couldn't understand."

Zel leaned forward, his elbows on his knees with his head in his hands. It was over.

None of it mattered anymore. Knowing Rezo's side of the story, he couldn't bring himself to kill him, no matter how much he thought he wanted to. No matter how much he tried to justify it to himself. Amelia's wishes had found a home in his heart, and her words finally made sense. Although he was still doing these horrible things, he couldn't bring himself to kill his kin for the crime of being deluded in the way he loved his family. He should face justice, certainly, but Zelgadiss wouldn't be the one to dole it out.

"You're right, Zelgadiss," Rezo finally said, lowering his gun. "It's all… too much."

Although he couldn't see it, Zel nodded his assent. 'Amelia, I guess I'm learning how to forgive,' he thought to himself, and the thing that was broken inside of him began to mend.

The coach suddenly slowed, and Zel was glad that the horses had tired themselves out. He was about to look out the window when the coach took a sharp left and wobbled dangerously. It suddenly lurched and tipped over, slamming to the ground. The sound of snapping and crunching wood drowned out the yells of the two men trapped inside, as the coach skidded across the terrain, kicking up rocks and dirt into the compartment, before eventually coming to a rest.

The hitch broke with a loud popping sound, and the horses were finally free from the cumbersome thing. Zelgadiss opened his eyes and spat out the dust and dirt that had filled his mouth. He was getting sick of this.

"Stop. Don't move!" Rezo said, almost yelling it across the four feet that separated them. Zelgadiss froze, and for a second he wondered if he had been wrong about the man all along. When the world began to tilt wildly, he realized that it was because they were resting precariously at the edge of a cliff.

Strangely, though he had been ready to die with Rezo just minutes ago, he couldn't stomach the thought of leaving without gazing upon his love's face, one last time. He had come here to die, so he could follow Amelia, but he found that the seed of love and life that she had planted in his heart had taken root. Zelgadiss wanted to live.

Looking frantically around, he found that the stagecoach was upside down and he was on the side that was resting on the ground. Rezo, however, was somehow stuck in the doorway on the other side, his arm hanging outside. Well, this was an easy fix.

"Come this way," Zelgadiss told him, finding that rather than merely saving his own life, he wished to save his grandfather as well.

"I can't."

"What? Why? Are you hurt?" The man didn't appear to be injured.

"I can't let go, Zelgadiss. I'm not going to let go of her."

"What are you…?"

Eris. Her body must have fallen out the door, and Rezo somehow caught her and was still holding on. Zelgadiss found himself saying, "Then let me help you."

Rezo shook his head. "Stay where you are. If you come any closer we'll all go down."

"Then let her go!" he tried, hysterically.

"It's over, Zelgadiss. Let it go. Let ME go." Rezo opened his blind eyes, and dull aquamarine orbs stared sightlessly at Zelgadiss. "I'm sorry. For what I did to your parents, but mostly for what I did to you. Please forgive me, my grandson."

At those words, said with care and warmth, the last vestiges of Zelgadiss' anger and vengeance melted away. It wouldn't bring them back, any of them, but perhaps he could still continue to live, for their sake.

"Yes, Grandfather," Zel choked out, and the smile that spread across Rezo's face was one, not of peace, but of acceptance.

An hour later, when Gourry and Zangulus had finally found him, Zelgadiss, dirty, bruised and bleeding, was sitting at the edge of a cliff, staring down at the stagecoach dashed to pieces, far on the bottom of the canyon floor. In his hands, he held a tiny pistol and an ivory handled colt. They didn't speak to him, knowing that he would explain everything in due time, but they led him back towards the horses. To his surprise, Lightning was waiting for him with Gourry's horse and another, and despite everything that happened, Zelgadiss smiled. They rode back to town in silence. Although he felt empty inside, Zel felt as if there were a part of Amelia within him, teaching him the value of forgiveness and saving him from himself.

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Epilogue

Zelgadiss rode across high plains, soaking in the gorgeous scenery around him. It was late summer, and almost a year had passed since the beginning of the chain of events that had led him on a journey that would eventually end his quest for vengeance. It was a long and difficult road, fraught with emotional revelations and heartaches, but one in which he had found redemption.

The scenery became more and more familiar and welcome as he rode further east. He had been delayed a week in Carson City, speaking to the Indian Agent stationed there, to discuss the tribes in their overlapping territories. When all the smoke had died down, Marshall Phil had nominated Zelgadiss to the position of Indian Agent for his territory, quite an honor for Zel, and a great indicator of how the man felt about him. He couldn't thank Amelia's father enough for his kindness and generosity.

The Marshall had been able to tie thousands of acres worth of land across four states to Rezo, and since Zelgadiss was the closest living relative, he had become a rich man overnight, inheriting several properties like his parents' and the Coopers' that lay over a huge jade ribbon, snaking across the state. Zelgadiss, however, wanted nothing to do with any of it. It had all been obtained through horrid means, and he wanted no part of it. He legally signed over the land back to the counties, or in some cases, gifted it to the Indians who happened to be living in those lands. That made him some enemies among some townsfolk, but it earned him more friends in different tribes.

And with friends like Lina Inverse, he didn't have many enemies.

As he neared Rock Creek, he noticed some late-blooming flowers and bent low in the saddle to pick one as he rode by. The delicate white flower appeared so fragile, but he knew that it was strong, weathering many storms that would destroy a mighty oak. Holding it cupped in his hand, it reminded him of Amelia, not only in its beauty, but also in its strength.

The town was as it had always been, and the Inn remained a popular place to eat. Much to Lina's displeasure, Martina had squirreled away enough money that she was actually able to rebuild her church on the other side of town. That meant that she had settled in Rock Creek, and when she and Zangulus got married, they had the ceremony at the new church. As a wedding gift, Lina promised to be nice to the bride and cater the reception, but it could have been Luna's presence that prompted the redhead to be cordial with her.

Filia and Xelloss visited more often, and though they were settled and happy in the South, they usually spent the summer months in Rock Creek for the milder weather. Val was growing up quickly, and Filia had to confiscate many toy guns that Xelloss had given the boy to "get a head start" on life. It was strange to see the two taking such great care of their adopted child, each in his or her own way. Surprisingly enough, Val was going to be a big brother soon, as Filia and Xelloss were expecting their first child. Xelloss doted on Filia more than anyone would have ever expected, and she soaked it up, loving the attention.

Lina and Gourry had remained the town's deputies, and had therefore cut their bounty-hunting short. They couldn't really collect the reward money since they were the ones who paid out the rewards now. So, with the cutback of cash flow, Lina took to expanding the Inn and Dining Room. She was trying to figure out a way to work in a saloon into her long-term plan, but she would need Naga to go in on the venture, and the taller woman was still trying to find a buyer for her saloon in San Francisco. Of course, with the way Naga did business, they would have a buyer in no time. Gourry, content to cook, clean, or keep the peace, had found his ideal niche in life. Now only a year remained before he and Lina would get married. It had actually been his idea to wait until they got everything completed, and that had set the fiery young woman to pushing for the Inn, Dining Room and Saloon to be finished as soon as possible.

Zelgadiss dismounted Lightning and led her into the barn, but upon discovering that a stall was empty, he rode back out before anyone in town knew he was there. He rode north and then west, following a well-known trail across the landscape, letting his horse follow her nose and lead her to the one place in the world he wanted to be. The large willow tree loomed in the distance, and by the time they reached it, the horse slowed to a trot and whickered a greeting to her stall mate, Champion.

Amelia lifted her head at the sound of approaching hoof beats, and the smile that radiated from her face lifted Zelgadiss' heart in a way that only she could. He still believed it was a miracle, or the great spirits, or something equally unbelievable, but undeniably magical, that Amelia was alive today. He had felt her die in his arms, felt her breathe her last breath. She had been right in front of him, yet he couldn't feel her presence. But when he had returned to town with Gourry and Zangulus, Lina had been frantic enough to yank him off of his horse and drag him into a room where Amelia was barely clinging to life.

He remembered staring at her for hours and days, and his heart would leap each time he saw her hair flutter with a breath. One of the happiest days of his life had been the day she opened her eyes at last, and that glowing smile graced her features once more.

"What's that?" she asked Zel, pulling him back to his surroundings. He dismounted and walked over to her spot in the shade of the willow where she had spread out a blanket and was reading a book. Sitting down beside her, he opened his hand.

"A sego lily. These always remind me of you," he said, tucking it behind her ear. "They're purity and beauty. They offer life where there doesn't seem to be any. They're both delicate and strong. But as beautiful as they are, there's still something lacking about them."

Unsure if he was still referring to her, Amelia frowned.

"Does that mean there's something lacking about me, too?" she asked playfully. After everything with Rezo, and after having spent the last year doing all the romantic things that she had dreamed of, taking long walks, having picnics, talking for hours, she had no doubt of his love.

Zelgadiss smiled. "Yes, as a matter of fact, there is." He laughed when her face fell, but when he reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring, she let out a squeal of delight before quickly composing herself. He pushed himself up to kneel before her on one knee, and then took her hand, kissing it lightly.

"Five years ago, I met this awkward young girl. I was a complete ass to her, but she never wavered in her treatment of me. I didn't know what a wonderful friend and companion she was until circumstances brought us back together, time and time again. Each time I saw her, she became more lovely and lively, sensitive and stubborn. She slowly chipped away at the stone surrounding my heart, though I never realized it, and she showed me that there was more to life than living just to die. I didn't know what living was until you showed me. I found out that the heart that I kept in my chest was never mine to begin with. It was yours all along. You just found the way to it."

Tears were streaming down Amelia's face at his words. His heart swelled at the thought of what he was about to do, and he pressed forward.

"I can't offer you very much now, but by next year, Lina will have finished with her… well, our plans for the Inn and the Saloon. It's not anything that you don't already have, but it's what I can offer right now." He swallowed hard before continuing. "Amelia wil Tesla Seyruun, will you do me the honor of being my wife?"

"Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!" she said, throwing her arms around his neck and showering him with kisses. They fell back onto the blanket, and she propped herself up on her elbows as she looked at him below her. "But you're wrong about one thing."

"What's that?" he wondered, too ecstatic for any words he could think of.

"You are offering me something I don't already have. You."

He smiled again at her stubbornness. "No, I was right. You've always had me, Amelia. And you always will."

Before she could object, he reached up and stroked her face softly, letting his fingers linger on her lips for a moment before pulling her to him. Zelgadiss had found his life in Amelia.

The End

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A/N: Howdy y'all! I hope you've enjoyed. What can I say? I'm an incurable romantic. ~_^ Even through all the headaches when I was writing this, it is very dear to me, so I am always open to the possibility of sequels or prequels, so keep your eyes out, just in case…

In doing research for this fic, I used many websites, most notably: www .angelfire .com/ mt/manycoups /index.html, cprr .org, civilwarmed .org, www .streetswing .com, www .state.wy .us, wyomuseum .state.wy .us,  www. Runningdeerslonghouse .com, www .indiansun .net. I make no guarantees or comments about the content on these sites. I merely found them useful, and would like to give them credit for doing all the research for me. Also, much credit is due to all the Westerns, both new and old, which inspired this fic. This takes place in Wyoming, which I've discovered held women's rights in high regard, and later in Utah, where the final few chapters occur. I've tried to remain fairly accurate with the placement and timing of all the events and characters, so any incongruities are most likely artistic license. Please forgive any ignorance with regards to people or places.

Special thanks to everyone who's read and even more to those who've reviewed! Anonymous mystery guest (Whoever you are, thank you! You're right. Although this does focus on Zel - and by default, Amelia since she's his main squeeze - it just isn't Slayers without Lina and company. I hope you enjoyed their reappearance and the whole story in general!), Dark-Angel Ahria (Wow, thank you for the praise! AU lends itself to exploring new ways of telling the Slayers story, but it can be difficult at times to pull off. I'm glad you like it. I didn't want to keep anybody hanging, but that was as good a spot as any to cut the last Act in half. I hope the finale makes up for it!), Valk (Ah, the things we do in the name of love and justice. ~_^ I really hoped you enjoyed this fic, and I'm glad that you've stuck with me through all of my ramblings! I know this one is complete, but there's all the other characters' stories that I only hinted at. I might be tempted to do a sequel or prequel here or there… ^_^ *hugs*), Kaeru Shisho (Ah, and it comes to a close. I've truly enjoyed this writing experience and the push to better myself. I really appreciate all your great input into the points that work and the things that make a story interesting to the reader. Thank you again a million times over, and if the offer to beta still stands, I might just take you up on it again, if the tumbleweeds decide to blow once more! *hugs*)

^_^ Adios, Cowboys and Cowgirls! It's been fun! ~J.Rhaye

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