Chapter One:

Chapter One:

Twist Me and Turn Me…

He stood by the water, staring down at the reflection in unmitigated horror. No. It was a lie, a nightmare from which he surely would wake. It must be. It must be!

Like a madman, he threw himself into the frenzy of a berserker, felling trees and brush with a fraction of a thought. Mindless destruction consumed him, burned from an unfathomable well within his spirit, pushing him for hour upon hour until finally, finally, he fell into the dead sleep of the exhausted, unsensing, unknowing.

He awoke to find himself in his room. One of the men must have found him and brought him back to his room. Maybe it had been a nightmare after all. For a few minutes, he lay in the bed, resting. Yesterday had been… awful. To say the least. He sighed. At least he didn't hurt any more. It's over. Time to get up and get on with the day…He thought.

At length, he rose, crossing the room lifting a mirror off of his dresser to look within. Casting it across the room to shatter on the floor, he cursed. He had awoken back into the nightmare that had truly only just begun. Stepping away from the dresser, a glint of light caught his eye, the shards of glass giving him an idea. He walked over and collected two of the larger shards. The bedside table held his precious collection of daggers. He took them out of the drawer and sat in the center of the bed. One by one, he appreciated the blades, both for design and craftsmanship. Then, with an almost reverent ceremony, he laid them side-by-side on the bed before him.

The mirrored shards he set aside, dismissing them for the moment. He surveyed the array of daggers on the bed, twelve in all. He was extremely fond of one dagger, picking it up with care. It was a particularly wicked dagger – a waved blade with backwards teeth. It did more damage being pulled out than being placed in. It would suit his purpose well indeed. Taking the dagger in his right hand, he set the hilt of the blade on his left wrist and pulled to the right, bracing himself for the pain that he knew would come, but be only a fraction of the pain from before, and then there would be the blissful peace.

But even as he watched in disbelieving horror, the teeth of the dagger caught and broke as if the blade itself had been one of his mother's brittle china plates.

Numbly, he stared, then grabbed another dagger and repeated the motions.

That one broke too.

One after the other the daggers shattered and splintered, not a one of them doing any harm to him. The glass shards simply shattered as he tried to stab them into his wrist. Anger rose, blind fury falling way to the cold crystalline conclusion that he was an immortal cursed to an everliving nightmarish Hell.

"Damn you," he muttered darkly under his breath, glaring at the broken assortment of daggers, even though they were not the target of his hatred.

"Zelgadis…"

He looked over to the door. That was the target of his hatred, yes, even the very cause of the dark twisting of his youthful soul.

"Zelgadis…"

He turned away from Rezo's voice, glared at the wrist that defied even the sharpest of blades.

"Zelgadis…?"

He blinked. Lina's voice echoed in the foremost of his awareness, and he stopped to see the others some slight distance behind him. He was knee-deep in bushes and weeds, and the rest of the group was behind him standing at a fork in the road. He had been so lost in his memory that he had simply walked on ahead into the grass without noticing the road dividing, leaving the others to stand and watch.

Blushing slightly, he walked back to the group and looked first down one road then the other, wordlessly. Lina, Gourry, and Amelia all looked at each other in concern, but they knew better than to say anything to him. Their stony companion was losing himself in thought all too often again.

After a few minutes of discussion and reason, yelling and squabbling, the group had finally settled on which town to try for new leads on a cure for Zelgadis, and any treasure while they were at it. Along the way, Amelia pulled Lina aside, eyes concerned and voice hushed.

"Miss Lina? I'm… worried about Mister Zelgadis. He seems to be worried or preoccupied about something… and I really think that you ought to talk to him."

Lina stared at Amelia. "What are you talking about? Me? Why me? Look, Amelia, why don't you talk to him? We all know that you like him…"

Amelia almost came to a halt, but managed to catch back up with Lina while stammering and blushing before she got control of herself and sighed. "I do like him, Miss Lina, but I think he likes you more. Besides, it's more than obvious that I make him uncomfortable, and that only serves to push him farther away…"

Lina shook her head. "No, Amelia, I think that he just needs to get used to the thought that someone else can care about him. You two are perfect for each other." Ano… what am I saying? Why do I have to work this out? It's not like I have an idea how! Why is she picking me? I'm not a psychiatrist, for crying out loud! I'm Lina Inverse, the Dragon Slayer. The beautiful sorceress…She paused in her tirade. Who just so happens to worry a bit too much about her friends… Lina thought, looking over at the hooded figure in off-white who walked just slightly ahead of the rest of them. Lost in his thoughts again… what I wouldn't give to understand him just a little more… Little did she know that shortly she would have the opportunity to do just that.

"No, Miss Lina. I mean it. Mister Zelgadis and I would never work out. Even if he were interested in me, the lives of Sailune's Royal Family is far from private, and Mister Zelgadis is a very private person…" Amelia said softly, breaking Lina's mental monologue and returning Lina's thoughts to the moment at hand.

Lina blinked, looking at Amelia, her thoughts snapping back to the concern at hand. Reluctantly, she nodded slowly, and with a sigh, looked back over to Zelgadis. "I hate to have to agree with you, Amelia. You're absolutely right about his privacy. And with that in mind… I don't know how far I'll even get with him. But I'll try. I'll give it the old Inverse try."

It was the dead of night in the small town, and the streets were silent and empty. Much the same could be said about a certain individual's bedroom when Lina went looking for him. She knew that he didn't sleep often, but normally she could find him in his room when she needed to talk. Maybe he had gone to get a cup of tea or coffee… The hotel had a bar…

The bar was empty, but the night clerk had seen her cloaked companion step silently out into the night not too long ago, so Lina took to the night streets herself in search of him after thanking the clerk with a small ruby. It wasn't much of a ruby, and she didn't bother to make it seem like a much bigger stone… but he had done her a favor. The things that she did for her friends…

Normally, I wouldn't even be worried about Zelgadis. After all, he's far more stable than most of my traveling companions. But there's something about it this time. Something I just can't quite put my finger on. He's never been so lost in thought that he'd walked completely off the road, or been unaware of us calling to him. She found it extremely disturbing, and couldn't begin to figure out what was bothering him. Nothing unusual had happened lately to set him off…

She found Zelgadis in the center of town, a lone and pale figure seated on a bench beside a stone fountain. For a moment, she paused. He looked unusually melancholy, even more so now than this afternoon when he had walked off of the road and into the bushes. She approached with careful deliberate noise, knowing full well how sharp and fast his reflexes were. He was part mazoku, after all, and that made him faster and stronger than she was. If he wasn't paying attention, she might startle him into a reaction that neither of them desired. "Um… Zel…?"

When he didn't answer, she took it to mean he either didn't care that she was there, or that he didn't mind her presence. So, thusly uninvited but not refused, she walked over and sat on the bench beside him. A few uneasy moments passed, in which she waited for him to say something, anything. Finally it became clear to her that if she wanted a conversation, she was going to have to start it herself and drag the rest of it out of him whether he liked it or not. She guessed it would be the latter. He's in another one of Those Moods it would seem… great. Just what I need. Him in a mood, and me trying to play counselor. She took a deep breath and talked herself through it. Okay, Lina. You've never been good at this type of thing, but you've got to give it the best you've got. Amelia's counting on you… and who knows, Zelgadis may be too. Looking across the street at a darkened store, she started to talk quietly.

"Look, Zel… it's pretty clear that something is bothering you. I mean, even Gourry knows something's wrong, though he's too much of a jellyfish to figure it out. Thing of it is Zel; I'm having a hard time figuring out what's wrong myself. If it's Amelia, you don't have to worry about her anymore, she knows that she isn't what you need, or probably even want, what with her being royalty and all…" He still hadn't acknowledged her. "Zel…? Are you listening…?"

She leaned forwards, looking to him, trying to catch his eye. When she did, her blood ran cold through her veins.

His eyes were those of a lost soul from which consciousness has fled.