Disclaimer: The Slayers don't belong to me. Whoever does own them, please don't pester me; I
have enough problems as it is. Special thanks to Princess Amelia, aka Mimi, for beta-reading
for me. You're a true Champion of Justice!

Men With Hearts of Stone
By: SilvorMoon

A farmer, working his fields at the edge of town, paused in his work to mop his brow and
look down the road. Yes, it was as he had thought. There was a stranger coming up the road, a
moving speck of white that was becoming slowly more visible as he drew nearer. Odd that a
traveler should come without a horse, the farmer thought. He wondered if he might be able to sell this wanderer a nag from his barn, but decided against it. They were already close enough to the city of Seyruun that it would be pointless to waste money on horses. The farmer contented himself with examining the stranger as he came nearer - for one who spent his days doing nothing but tending animals and working fields from daybreak to dusk, any distraction was welcome. The stranger was dressed entirely in white, with a long white cloak, a hood that pulled up over his head, and a scarf that hid his face. All that could be seen of him from this distance was silvery hair that glittered like metal, and yet the body beneath the white clothing was the straight, strong form of a young man. Something else glittered at his side, metal trappings on a long dark object that could only be the scabbard of a sword. A masked swordsman? The farmer began to wonder if he had cause for alarm.

As the stranger drew nearer, he paused by the edge of the road and stared at the farmer - a
level, unblinking stare like that of a predatory animal.

"You, there," he said. Surprisingly, the voice was pleasant, if not friendly. "Come here a
minute. I would like some information."

"Of course, good sir," said the farmer, hurrying near. "What can I do for you?"

Up close, he could get a better look at this strange, white-garbed man. It wasn't just his
flashing hair that was odd, the farmer realized, nor those cold blue eyes. The man's skin, what
little could be seen of it, was rough and pale blue-green, like an agate. What manner of man or
monster was this?

"Have I come to the lands of Crown Prince Philionel?" asked the apparition.

"No, but you have come to the land of Seyruun," the farmer replied. "Prince Philionel has
retired. Now we are ruled by his daughter, Princess Amelia Wil Telsa Seyruun."

"Yes. I know of her," said the stranger. He seemed to think a minute. "Is she a good ruler,
this Princess Amelia?"

"We are very fond of her," said the farmer. "She is a just ruler."

There was an unmistakable smirk behind the mask. "No doubt. So, I will come to her palace
soon, then?"

"Yes, but... not just anyone can go in and visit her, you know," the farmer pointed out.

"True," the stranger replied, "but you will find that the name Zelgadis Greywords is not
unknown in the princess's palace. Good day."

With that, the strange man bowed slightly and began his journey again with a twirl of his
cloak that stirred the dust in the road. The farmer blinked, startled, and when he looked again,
there was no one there.

"Very strange," he said. "Very strange indeed. Ah, well, it will be a tale to tell, and that's
something. Nothing ever happens around here."

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

*How long has it been,* Zelgadis wondered, *since I found myself in Seyruun?
A long time. Five years? Ten? More? Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the doings of the world instead of focusing so much on my own affairs. I might have liked seeing Amelia being coronated... except if she fell off the stage and landed on someone, or spent all day pontificating about justice.*

He brushed the thought aside. He knew his young friend well enough to know that was likely
just what she'd done, and he'd had more important matters to take care of. He had been scouring the land from end to end in search of some hint, some clue that would tell him how to reverse the curse he was under, but all to no avail. He was still trapped in his freakish body, with stone for skin and wire for hair and the blood of demons in his veins. That was why he wore the cloak and mask, hiding his bizarre shape from anyone who might see him and be revolted by the shape. He'd once been a human man, but foul magic cast upon him had left him in this frighteningly powerful but utterly unnatural shape. Someday he would be free of this ordeal, but right now, he was out of clues, out of energy, out of... money, which was why he was here.

*Shameful that I have to come and beg handouts,* thought Zelgadis bitterly,
*but what else can I do? Until I can find another job, I have no resources... and it seems that only the most unsavory characters want to hire a chimera. At least I know Amelia will welcome me, even without my mask. That makes her worth something.*

He walked through the busy city streets, watching all the people with their tasks. Everywhere he looked, he saw signs of prosperity and happiness. The people bought and sold their wares with every expression of good humor and trust. Everything looked well kept. It was almost utopian.

*Well, of course. What else would one expect?* Zelgadis thought wryly. *There's no crime here! In a land where Amelia held absolute power, I'd be afraid to even wear black!*

He managed to make it through the bustling city without anyone really seeing him, keeping his cowl pulled well over his head so that even his silvery hair couldn't flash in the all-pervasive
sunlight. However, as he drew closer to the castle at the center of the city, he decided that some
more effective means of camouflage would be necessary for getting past the two guards that
stood at the gate. True, they weren't very alert-looking, but they would probably notice if a blue
skinned man tried to get past them. Not that they really could have stopped him if he wanted to
make an issue over it, but his secretive nature made him prefer a quiet entrance.

A softly spoken word and a gesture later, Zelgadis walked openly past a pair of peacefully
snoozing guards - an advantage of being the superlative magic user he was. He got into the
palace with no problems at all and headed for the antechamber outside Amelia's throne room. It
was empty, so he simply leaned against a decorative column and waited, listening to the murmur
of voices beyond the throne room door. He thought he could identify Amelia's piping voice
conversing with someone who spoke in deferent tones, likely a courtier. Finally, a page opened
the door and peeked in at him. Zelgadis, having removed his cowl and mask, met the man with
his best cold stare, guaranteed to send chills down the spine of anyone not used to chimeras. He
was gratified to hear the page yelp in alarm.

"Hey, you! What are you doing here?" the man squawked.

"I've come to see the princess," answered Zelgadis. "That is not a problem, is it?" He
fingered the pommel of his sword significantly.

"You just can't bully your way in there! The princess won't speak to anyone unless you
can give a good reason, and she will not speak to vagabonds!" the page blustered. "Now, get out of here, before I have the guards remove you!"

"They couldn't," said Zelgadis. "Now, you will tell the princess I am here to see her. Tell
her..." He paused, choosing his words. "Tell her it's Mr. Zelgadis."

The page, bewildered, did some quick thinking and decided that perhaps it would be best
to let his sovereign handle this. After all, if this man really was dangerous, the kingdom's
champion of justice would certainly be able to do something about it. He scuttled through the
door and slammed it behind him. Zelgadis simply sighed a little at how easily humans could be
frightened and waited to meet the princess.

Only a few short minutes later, the door opened again, and Princess Amelia herself
stepped out, looking apprehensive. The last time Zelgadis had seen her, she'd been hardly more
than a child, but that had been years ago. She was a woman in her prime now, the perfect
harmony of youthful freshness and mature grace. The coal-black hair she had always been so
proud of had grown out, falling in gentle waves past her shoulders and braided with ribbons and
strands of jewels. Years of adventuring had done nothing to mar her creamy complexion, and she still had the most intensely blue eyes Zelgadis had ever seen, fringed with long eyelashes.

*She's bound to have every young man in her kingdom drooling and fawning all over
her,* Zelgadis mused, *provided that man doesn't have a heart of stone... or more than
that, in my case.*

At that moment, the princess spied her old traveling companion, and her eyes lit up.

"Mr. Zelgadis!" she squealed, and broke into a most unladylike run, flinging her arms
around him so tightly he was surprised she didn't break them. He bore the treatment with his
usual stoicism.

"Do you mind?" he said. "This is hardly appropriate behavior for someone of your status."

"Oh, I know, Mr. Zelgadis, but it's just so good to see you!" said Amelia, never loosening
her grip. "It's just that you've been gone so long and I didn't think you would ever come
back and I've missed you so much..."

Zelgadis only half listened to her as she babbled on about how life had been treating her
since they last parted ways, waiting for a chance to cut in and explain to her what had brought
him back to Seyruun. She wouldn't listen, of course, he reflected. She would think he had
returned to help with her eternal quest to preserve justice and fight for the right, or, worse yet,
because he had missed her. He had barely even thought about her - had done his best not to think about her - but she didn't need to hear that. The most he felt like doing now was to pretend he was paying attention to what she was saying, and he did, up until the point when the words, "such perfect timing" wandered past his ears, at which point he started truly paying attention.

"What do you mean, perfect timing?" he asked, interrupting her torrent of words.

"Well, I've been working on my magic," Amelia said brightly, "and Miss Lina and Mister
Gourry came by after they'd been adventuring and they'd found this new spellbook that they
thought might be important - well, Miss Lina thought it might be important. I'm not sure what
Mister Gourry thought..."

"I'm not sure Gourry thinks," said Zell dryly. "But what about this book?"

"Oh, that! Miss Lina and I read over the book together, and it had some spells in it that
really were important, so we started testing them, and we found something I thought you
might want to know..."

"You did?" asked Zelgadis. He was trying to ignore the fact that his pulse rate had just
picked up its pace. She couldn't possibly be hinting what he thought she was hinting.

Amelia beamed, her voice dropping to an excited whisper. "Mister Zelgadis, the book tells
how to unmake a chimera!"

Zelgadis the unflappable was surprised to feel his jaw dropping.

"It does?" he exclaimed. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?"

"I wanted to tell you a month ago," said Amelia, "but I guess you were still out wandering
the countryside looking for the book."

"Well, don't just stand there! Where is it? Show it to me!"

"It won't do you much good," Amelia informed him. "The book says a chimera can't undo
himself. Somebody's got to cast the spell for you, and so far, the only ones who know it are Miss Lina and me. Miss Lina isn't very good at it, though. White Magic isn't her specialty. She's better at blowing things up."

"Hmm," said Zelgadis, torn. Lina was really the more reliable of the two - Amelia's spells
tended to misfire - but the princess was right when she said that Lina's mastery of White Magic
wasn't the best. Amelia, on the other hand, was quite skilled at it... when she didn't slip up.

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" he asked at length.

"Of course I do! I've gotten very good at it," Amelia assured him. "I wanted to have the
spell perfect for when I did finally see you again. I've been practicing on frogs and things, so I
know I've gotten it right."

"What if you mess up and turn me into a frog?" Zelgadis asked.

"I won't turn you into a frog, I promise!" Amelia assured him. "And if I did, at least you
wouldn't be a chimera anymore. Come on, Mister Zelgadis! You've spent years trying to find
your cure! You can't change your mind now that you've got it!"

"Well..." said Zelgadis slowly. "All right, you've convinced me, but it had better work!"

"Of course it will work!" Amelia assured him. "What could go wrong?"

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

Zelgadis stood rather self consciously in the middle of Amelia's workroom and tried not to
fidget. He only partially succeeded - it was not something he'd ever had much experience with,
this nervousness. He'd been ordered to divest himself of his cloak and sword - indeed, anything
he could get by with removing and still be considered decent in royal company - to keep anything from possibly interfering with the transformation spell. Amelia looked him up and down critically, making sure there was nothing left that could cause a problem. Her personal opinion was that this whole operation was hardly worth the trouble. She had come to like the way her friend looked; it was distinct. He was really rather attractive in his own way... but she'd never convince him of that. She wasn't sure she wanted to try to dissuade him of something he wanted so badly.

"That's just fine," she said. "Now all we need is something to focus the spell on -
something small that you can wear. A necklace or something, preferably one with a gemstone or a crystal on it. You wouldn't have anything like that, would you?"

Zelgadis considered that one a moment. Then he went over to where his pack rested and
rummaged through it, finally taking out a bracelet set with a spherical crystal. It had once
belonged to Amelia herself, and had been given to him when they had parted ways.

"Will this do?" he asked.

"That - that will be fine," said Amelia, trying not to let him hear the catch in her voice. If
he did, he had the grace to ignore it. "Just put it on and stand in the center of the magical field. I'll do the rest."

Zelgadis did as he was told without comment. Amelia watched his face carefully as he
slipped her bracelet onto his wrist, and it crossed her mind to wonder if a human face would be
easier to read. Certainly she could guess nothing of what he was thinking now, but just the fact
that he had held on to that keepsake for all these years had to mean something. Didn't it?

"All right, I think we're ready," said Amelia. "Hold very still, please. It's harder if you move
around."

Zelgadis nodded slightly. Amelia didn't notice; she had already closed her eyes, her face taut
with concentration and hands folded almost prayerfully as she began invoking the words of
power.

"Light that burns beyond the flow of time," she whispered, "air that knows no form or
boundaries, illuminate all disguises and let the truth be known! Cyrus Revelation!"

Light exploded, bright hot pinks and blues that dazzled the eye. Then Zelgadis felt a
tingling sensation beginning at the tips of his fingers and toes. It moved swiftly up his arms and
legs until it filled his whole body, making his head spin and his heart pound. Then there was a
sudden sensation of being pulled apart, as if he were an orange being skinned. There was a brief
flare of pain, and then... nothing. Zelgadis looked around in confusion.

"That's it!" Amelia chirped, looking pleased with herself. "How do you feel?"

"Different. Did it work?" asked Zelgadis, still dazed.

"Of course it did! I promised you it would."

Zelgadis stared down at his hands. They were no longer the pale green-blue he was so
used to, but pinkish-white. He touched his palms and felt flesh give in a way stone never would.
He ran his hands through his hair - real hair, not stiff wires.

"I don't believe it," he said softly. "After all these years... How did you do it?"

"The bracelet was the focus," Amelia explained. "The spell took all the parts of you that
weren't naturally there and put them inside the crystal. I'm afraid I can't completely undo the
spell - Rezo was much more powerful than I am."

"What if I get rid of the bracelet?" asked Zelgadis.

"No, don't do that!" Amelia protested. "The magic only holds as long as you're wearing
it! If you take it off or break it, the spell will come loose and we'll have to start all over."

Zelgadis sighed. "I should have known there was a catch in there somewhere."

"But as long as you have the bracelet touching you, you're safe," Amelia assured him.
"And even if something does happen to it, I can always cast the spell again. In the meantime,
Miss Lina and I will keep studying the spell and searching for a way to make the spell
unbreakable."

"But until then," said Zelgadis quietly, "I'm myself again."

Amelia nodded wordlessly, trying to adjust herself to this new form her friend had taken.
She had known Zelgadis for years, and she was having trouble coming to terms with this
pale-skinned, dark-haired gentleman who stood before her.

"Aren't you happy?" she asked.

"I'm not sure yet," Zelgadis replied. "I've been waiting so long... I haven't quite absorbed it."

"Oh," said Amelia, a bit disappointed. She'd been hoping for a bit more enthusiasm.

"Forgive me for being a poor guest," said Zelgadis, "but I think I would like to take a walk and get used to all this. I will be back later, perhaps."

"Oh," the princess said again. "Well... have fun."

Zelgadis shot a look at her, the flat stare she had come to know so well.

"Since when do I have fun?" he replied.

And with that, he collected his sword from the table, swung his cloak over his shoulders,
and swept out the door.

Amelia sighed. All that, and barely a thank you! True, Zelgadis was not the most emotional of creatures, used to living up to his stony facade, but one would think he would show at least a little enthusiasm over this! After all, it had been the goal he'd been pursuing for years! Subdued, the princess collected her magical paraphernalia and began carrying slowly to her room. As she
walked, she passed a window just in time to hear a victorious whoop echoing from the courtyard, and she looked down to see a man in a white cloak bounding across the lawn in an exuberance she had never witnessed in her friend before. Amelia finished her cleaning wearing a smile.

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

Zelgadis had used up most of his initial euphoria by the time he reached the streets of the
city, but he was still shaking a little from adrenaline and feeling in need of something to brace
himself. He walked in a daze through the thoroughfares, ignoring everything but the strange
lightness of his new form and the way the wind played with his hair. For the first time since his
transformation, he could walk through a public place without his mask and not feel any
embarrassment.

*This is a cause for celebration,* he reflected. *I have a little bit of spare
change with me, still, enough to buy a drink somewhere. I wonder where I can get a good cup of coffee?*

After wandering a bit, he spied the sign of a café swinging in the breeze, and he stepped
through the front door with an air of expectation. He was enjoying his anonymity here - the only
one who noticed him was a serving maid, who waved him to an empty table and gestured that
she'd get to him soon. He settled into the chair to enjoy the ambience. It was a comfortable little
restaurant, just like the dozens of others he and his traveling companions had visited on those
occasions when he hadn't been wandering solo. They had been an odd bunch, he mused - a
chimera, a justice-obsessed warrior-princess, a brainless swordsman, and a pyrotechnically
inclined young sorceress. True, there had been a few others who had wandered in and out of the group, but the core of their team had always been those four: him and Amelia, Lina and Gourry. He had fit with the odd little group, each member strange enough that they didn't think anything of their monstrous fourth member. Eyes closed in reminiscence, Zelgadis almost thought he could hear Lina's rapturous squeals as she tackled her latest meal.

Zelgadis's eyes snapped open. It hadn't been his imagination; he really had been hearing
his former comrade's voice. Skimming the restaurant, he spied a pair of familiar faces in another
corner of the room, and he got up to greet them.

For a moment, he just stared at the pair, marveling at how little they had changed. Truthfully,
there wasn't much else to be done - there was no interrupting this duo when they were busy
eating. Zelgadis had been secretly amazed at how the diminutive Lina could pack away so
much and never seem to gain weight. He could only assume the energy was used up in her
constant activity and explosive magic; she never missed a chance to cast her devastating Dragon
Slave, and power had to come from somewhere! Even now she still looked like a teenager,
though she was bound to be well into womanhood by now. She was no beauty and never had
been, but her flaming red hair, flashing eyes, and flamboyant garb all added to her air of supreme confidence. She turned heads in her own way, just as much as handsome, blue-eyed Gourry. He still had his long golden hair hanging in his face, and his permanent amiable smile betrayed his kind but foolish nature. They made an eminently watchable pair as they quarreled over choice morsels. Finally, as Lina leaned back to drain her tankard, she caught a glimpse of Zelgadis and fixed him with a glare.

"What are you staring at?" she demanded.

"Lina, don't you recognize me?" he asked inanely, even as he realized she didn't. How could
she, when he hardly recognized himself? "It's me, Zelgadis!"

"Zell!" Lina exclaimed. "Hey! Nobody told me you were in town! I haven't seen you in ages.
So, this is your new look, huh? It's cute."

"But Lina," said Gourry, "that can't be Zelgadis. Zelgadis was made out of stone."

Lina sighed in supreme annoyance. "Gourry, haven't you been paying attention to anything I've been doing for the past month? Amelia and I have been working on a spell to turn Zell back into a human! This is Zell's human form!"

"Oh," Gourry replied. He turned his blank look back to Zelgadis. "He sure doesn't look like Zelgadis, but... if you say so, I believe it."

"It's always safest not to argue with Lina Inverse," Zelgadis remarked.

"You shouldn't call me that now," said Lina. "It's not really my name anymore."

"It's not?" asked Zelgadis, puzzled.

"It's my business name," the sorceress replied, smugly running a hand through her long
hair. "See, when a beautiful girl travels around in the wilderness with a mercenary soldier, people start to talk, and we wanted to cool the gossip, so-"

"We got married," said Gourry, taking a chomp out of a buttered roll. "It was fun."

"I'll bet," said Zelgadis, choking down his shock. "Congratulations to the both of you."

"We tried to send you an invitation," said Lina, "but you're really hard to pin down, you
know. But maybe you'll be a little easier to find now that you're your old self again, huh? Hey,
don't just stand there! Sit down and join us! Order whatever you want - we'll take care of the bill."

"We will?" Gourry asked. "But Lina, you never-"

"Just for old time's sake," said Lina. She stood up and waved a chicken leg like a flag. "Waiter, over here! Sixth helpings for us, and food and drink for Zell here!"

Zell blushed a bit in embarrassment as he took a seat. She didn't have to advertise her
gourmandish tendencies to the whole world, or call him by his pet name in public. Then again, he mused, watching her scowling at her empty tankard, perhaps she was a little tipsy. Certainly the Lina he knew would never buy a free lunch for anyone, not even him. Or perhaps it was post-honeymoon glow. That might also explain what had possessed her to spend a month working on the spell to restore him to his true form. Then again, it could be that she was simply interested in increasing her already phenomenal magical power. That was the likeliest explanation, he decided, and he was thankful that her interests had crossed his own in such an opportune way. In the meantime, he would take advantage of his good fortune. If someone was inclined to pay for his meal, why should he argue?

While they were waiting for their orders to come in, they had to resort to the lesser
pleasure of conversation, and what Lina seemed to want to talk about was Zelgadis and his
transformation.

"So, now that you're human, what are you going to do now?" she asked.

"Truthfully, I don't know," Zelgadis replied. "All my attention up until now has been spent
trying to get to this point. I suppose I'll just keep on doing what I've been doing, as a fighter for
hire, or perhaps teaching magic. I could do that."

"You should ask Amelia to let you stay here," Gourry suggested. "She likes you."

"A childish infatuation," muttered Zelgadis, his face coloring a bit. "She'll grow out of it,
if she hasn't already. Besides, Amelia will like anyone who knows what to say to her. She's very
trusting."

"All the more reason for you to hang around, then," Lina pointed out. "That is, if you're
interested in her welfare. All the people around here do whatever Amelia tells them without
bothering to think about if she's right or not. You could advise her."

"Me, a councillor in a stuffy court? No thank you. I'd just as soon go back to being Rezo's
lackey." Uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken, he glanced around for a
distraction. "Ah! Here comes the food."

Talk ended abruptly, and the threesome set about the more enjoyable pastime of demolishing a platter of roast beef and potatoes. Zelgadis was grateful. He had never liked having to discuss matters of romance, and his friends' reminders of Amelia's crush on him made him more than a little uncomfortable... though part of that was old habit as much as anything else. He'd given up hope that anyone would be willing to accept him in any way once he'd been forced into his chimera form, and he'd made himself become used to solitude. The companionship of Amelia and Lina and the rest of the group had been as much a curse as a blessing, for he could never forget that he wasn't quite like them. He'd been told that Amelia was his soul mate, but deep down, he'd never been convinced. How could anyone as sweet and pretty as Amelia be bound to a cold-hearted monster like himself?

On the other hand, that problem was all over now, wasn't it? That had been his goal, after
all - to rejoin the human race as a valid and active member. There were worse things in the world by far than the affection of a beautiful princess who did need someone with his pragmatic world view to balance out her unbounded idealism. He had a brief, vivid memory of their recent reunion, how happy she'd been to see him...

He shoved it all out of his mind. His emotions were all in knots today after the transformation; he was liable to feel anything today and wake up tomorrow to find those seemingly unshakable feelings to be nothing more than, well, chimeras. Misery loved company, and it seemed that the newlyweds were trying to push him into a matrimonial mess of his own. Perhaps Lina had even coached Gourry into hinting that Amelia still had feelings for her former teacher. He wouldn't put it past her - honesty had never been one of Lina's primary virtues, and Gourry wasn't that observant by himself.

On the other hand, he still didn't have enough money to pay for a hotel room, and Amelia's
palace was more comfortable than any inn. It wouldn't hurt to hang around the castle of Seyruun
until he had figured out what he wanted to do next.

Evening was falling as the threesome left the little restaurant, a warm, peaceful dusk in
shades of soft blue, and a few tentative stars peeked out, white and tiny as the first winter
snowflakes. The only sounds to be heard were the drowsy creaks and murmurs of the last vendors closing up their stalls. Lamps cast warm golden glows on the streets, reflected by the light of candles shining through cottage windows.

"It's nice, isn't it?" Lina remarked. Her male companions nodded silently.

"It's a good city," said Zelgadis. "Amelia must take good care of it."

"You are going to hang around for a while, aren't you?" asked Lina.

"For a while," Zelgadis answered. "Then... who knows? You're an adventurer, aren't you? You understand that."

"Well, now that you mention it... I'm not a kid anymore," Lina replied, "and I've got enough
laid by that I don't need to go out fighting bandits anymore..."

"And you've got a husband, too, don't forget," Gourry piped up.

"I try," Lina muttered, but she didn't sound like she meant it. Gourry ruffled her hair
affectionately.

"So sometimes I think about settling down somewhere," she finished. "Isn't that weird? I
thought I'd never grow up."

"So did I," said Zelgadis ambiguously. "Well, if you were going to settle down, this is as good a place to do it as any."

"That's what I thought," Lina replied. "I think we're going to be moving on, now. We're
holed up at the hotel down the road from here. Look us up when you decide what you're doing,
so we can keep in touch."

"I'll think about it," Zelgadis replied.

He'd had enough talk for the night. He turned abruptly and walked away, waving a casual
goodbye over his shoulder. Soon, he was lost in the shadows of the city.

"You know," said Gourry, "I think that really is Zell. He looked just like that the first time
he left us."

Lina shot a look of amazement at Gourry; it wasn't often he could remember something
that had happened that long ago. Then she turned again to look in the direction her friend had
gone.

"Yeah. He's always leaving, it seems like," she said. "But somehow, he's always coming
back, too."

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

Princess Amelia welcomed Zelgadis back as if he'd been gone another five years, but he
was in no mood to return her effusive greetings. The best he could manage was tired politeness,
and as soon as he could get a word in edgewise, he told his hostess that he was tired from his
long journey to Seyruun and drained by the events of the day, and that he wished to turn in early. Amelia was sympathetic. She procured a number of servants as if by magic, ordering them to bring fresh sheets to the best of the guest suites and had them draw a hot bath and set a fire in the fireplace to stave off the evening's chill. Her eagerness to please did little for Zelgadis's already troubled state of mind, and he was glad to escape her attention so he could wash up and put himself to bed. It was nice to be able to scrub his skin with a soft cloth instead of a wire brush and use ordinary scissors to trim his hair. He also discovered, and was grateful, that a human in green pajamas didn't look nearly so silly as a chimera in green pajamas.

However, tired as he was, he found his treacherous brain simply would not let him rest. He lay awake and though, his mind skittering from one subject to another - from his miraculous
transformation to his sudden quandary about Amelia to his astoundment over Lina and Gourry's
marriage and her sudden willingness to set aside the life of an adventurer to settle down, not to
mention her hints that he should be thinking of doing the same. Then there was the amazement
that he really could do that, if he wanted to, which set the cycle in motion again.

Perhaps it was that preoccupation with his physical state that brought the nightmare on
again. He'd had it a thousand times, and yet every reoccurrence made him wake up gasping for
air, heart pounding. He was in a forest, the woods where he had always gone when he was young to practice his swordsmanship. That was his obsession in those days - to be the greatest and most powerful warrior alive. Then, as he hacked and slashed his way through those imaginary enemies, Rezo appeared! Rezo was the powerful Red Priest, one of the five wise men of the age. He was also Zelgadis's grandfather (great-grandfather as well, though he tried not to think too hard about all that implied), and he had an offer for his grandson: he would give Zelgadis all the power he desired if he would agree to help Rezo accomplish a great task. He had agreed, and cursed himself ever after for that foolish acquiescence. It had left him doubly trapped, for Rezo's answer to making his grandson more powerful was to transform him into a chimera with unbreakable stone skin and the power and reflexes of a demon. In that form, he had been forced to carry out the Red Priest's demented plans. As the dream-transformation took him again, Zelgadis felt his skin stiffening, felt himself being warped inside and out, and he screamed and begged for it to stop.

That was where the dream changed. Normally he would have awakened at that point, but
it seemed his subconscious wasn't through tormenting him yet. As Zelgadis begged Rezo to
remove the spell, the mage seemed to shiver, and then he dwindled and turned into Amelia,
dressed in swirling violet robes and chanting a spell, the one that was supposed to reverse this
condition. He remembered he was supposed to stand very still... but what good was it going to do him when he wasn't wearing the bracelet? He was about to point this out when he heard another voice chanting, a voice that was neither Rezo's or Amelia's. It was Lina, and she sounded angry. When she was angry, she blew things up. Zelgadis had just enough time to recognize the final words to the Dragon Slave incantation, and then everything went up in flames.

For a moment, he was falling, sinking through something thick as honey and blurry as a
snowstorm. As soon as he noticed it, however, he felt his feet touch a floor and the blur parted.
Now he was standing in someone's living room, a rustic place made largely of wood: broad
planks sanded smooth on the floor, rough logs on the walls, and an elaborate network of
crosspieces and supports bracing the peaked roof. There were rugs on the floors, though, and the furniture looked soft and comfortable. A fire was crackling hospitably in the fireplace. Two of the best chairs had been pulled close to the blaze. One chair was occupied, and the occupant
watched Zelgadis with a pair of unfamiliar eyes that peered out of an all-too-familiar face.

"Rezo," Zelgadis greeted.

"Zelgadis," answered the man mildly. "Come and have a seat where we can talk."

"I would rather not," answered Zelgadis defiantly.

There was a pause as the two men sized each other up. Zelgadis was surprised that he had
even recognized Rezo, so different did he look from his usual self. Gone were the red robes and
the scepter that had been his trademarks while he was alive. (*Alive?* Zelgadis thought. *Rezo's not supposed to be alive!*) He was now dressed in simple white garments that matched Zelgadis's own. It was easy to see the family resemblance now, in the pale skin and dark hair that refused to lay flat. On Rezo, it had always matched the rest of the priest's outlandish getup. Now Zelgadis felt shabby and a bit ridiculous, and he ran his hand through his hair self-consciously. Rezo just watched him with a steady gaze that was unsettling. Zelgadis wasn't used to having to look his grandfather in the eye.

"Obsession is an ugly thing," Rezo commented after a while. "I am sorry to have contributed
to yours."

"Contributed? Caused."

"Not so. You were obsessed before, otherwise I wouldn't have tricked you so easily," Rezo
responded. "I hope this kind of thing doesn't run in the family indefinitely."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Zelgadis warily. If Rezo himself was going to start
hounding him to get married, the priest was lucky he was already dead.

"Relax. I'm talking as much about myself as you," Rezo replied. "I nearly destroyed this world by calling into being the most evil creature in existence, and for what? Just to be able to open my eyes! That's what I mean by obsession."

"Lina said it was partly Shabranigdo's influence that made you behave that way," Zelgadis
offered.

"But I didn't have to give him an opening. He went through hundreds of men before he
found the one who was willing to give up everything for such a foolish cause. If I had accepted
my fate, who knows how many more years things could have gone on peacefully?"

Zelgadis had no answer for that. He settled for giving Rezo one of his stone-faced looks. It
was not as easy to do without the actual stone, but he'd had a lot of practice. The mage simply
quirked an eyebrow and shrugged.

"You think you have nothing to do with that, do you? What I did wasn't your fault, was it?
You were just a victim of my own selfishness. Isn't that so?" Rezo asked.

"Should I believe otherwise?" answered Zelgadis.

"Perhaps yes, perhaps no," said Rezo, "but think on this. You've always been willing to
sacrifice to get what you wanted. I've been watching you. You were willing to fight, perhaps even kill your own friends if that was what it took. If it had taken a Philosopher's Stone to set you free - if you had to bargain with Ruby-Eye Shabranigdo himself to get what you wanted, what would you have done?"

"I... I can't honestly say," Zelgadis admitted. "I might have."

"And yet," said Rezo softly, "you were always so embarrassed to be a monster. You said I
was the one who took your humanity away." He turned his disturbingly penetrating eyes on his
grandson. "Which of us is blind now?"

"I will live my life the way I choose, Rezo!" Zelgaids snapped. "Who are you to tell me
what is the right and wrong choice to make?"

"Only one who died before he came to understand," answered Rezo. "Enjoy your
humanity, Zelgadis. Wisdom doesn't do you much good when you're dead." He glanced up
sharply, as if he'd heard a sound, though Zelgadis's sharp senses perceived nothing. "Wake up,
now. Someone's coming."

"What?"

Rezo rose regally and muttered something to the fireplace. It exploded into a wall of fire,
enveloping him in golden flames. Zelgadis tried to get out of the way...

And woke up. He glanced around his room, trying to get his bearings in the unfamiliar room.
He noted that a log in the fireplace had shifted, causing the coals to flare up suddenly, though the blaze was dying down again even as he looked at it. The crackling and flare of light must have been what had shaken him from his dreams. Such strange dreams he'd had, so vivid, especially the ending. He almost could have believed he was visiting the deceased priest. Would Rezo never leave him alone?

While he was lying there trying to resettle himself to sleep again, another sound caught his
ear. He sat up again, listening. There were voices in the hallway, voices that didn't sound like
those of servants or anyone else who had a right to be there. Zelgadis slid slowly out of bed,
reaching under his pillow for his sword. He tiptoed closer to the door and pressed his ear to it to listen.

"Where do you think she keeps it?" asked a voice.

"Well, we already tried her workshop," the other replied. "I was hoping it would be there;
that would have made things much easier. I'm not comfortable with the idea of having to search
her rooms while she's still in them, but that is the next logical searching place..."

"We can manage. We'll put a spell of sleep on her. That's easy enough to do, and it will
give us all night to look in peace. No one would dare come into the princess's bedchamber in the middle of the night unless she summoned them."

*They're planning to rob Amelia,* Zelgadis realized. *But what are they after?
A magical object, apparently, if they were looking for it in her workshop. And they know at least a little bit of magic, so I'd best be careful until I know what their capabilities are.*

He sighed; he didn't feel up to playing the hero at this time of night, but one simply didn't let
rogue magicians run around stealing things. It tended to cause problems later. He tried the door
hinges and found them to be silent. Good. He slowly opened the door and glided into the hall,
keeping to the shadows, watching and listening. There were two dark moving shapes ahead of
him, and he followed behind them, trying to take their measure.

As his sharp eyes adjusted to the dimness, he was able to make out some of their features.
They were obviously sorcerers, not just a couple of thieves who had picked up a spell or two. A real thief would have worn something shadow-colored and practical, and probably soft shoes. These two were lucky Amelia's palace was carpeted, or nothing would have stopped their hard- soled boots from clomping like a cavalcade of dragons. He listened to them mutter to themselves as they tripped over their long robes and their flapping capes got hung on things in the dark. He wondered why they didn't at least cast a small light spell to light their way. On the other hand, if their magical powers were anywhere on par with their common sense, they might not know how. Oh, well, might as well get rid of them before they caused any trouble.

One of the sorcerers heard a soft sound, and he immediately leaped. In the next instant,
Zelgadis, sword at ready, dropped into the place the sorcerer had vacated a split-second before. They glared at each other, and the other mage began chanting something, while the first drew his sword.

"You should keep out of this," he said. "This is our business alone."

"If it concerns the princess, it concerns the whole kingdom," Zelgadis replied.
"Furthermore, you should know better than to attempt anything like this in Amelia's domain. She
has little pity for thieves."

"All the more reason to be rid of her," the mage replied, "and if you wish to stand in our way,
then the same goes for you. Goodbye."

He made a motion with his sword, and Zelgadis moved to counteract it, but at that
moment, the second mage released his spell. It was the lighting spell that Zelgadis had wondered why they hadn't cast before. Now it flooded the room with brilliant white light, and his eyes, used to darkness, suddenly felt like they'd been stabbed with knives. Blind and defenseless, he could only scream in pain as he felt the blade of a sword biting deep into his side. He fell to the floor, gasping in pain as spots danced before his dazzled eyes.

"Let's get out of here before anyone comes to investigate," said the swordsman.

"Right," the other agreed, and they drifted off into the shadows.

Zelgadis blinked furiously in an effort to clear his vision again and tried to force himself
back to a standing position, ignoring both the fierce pain and the unaccustomed feeling of warm
blood dripping down his side and onto Amelia's expensive carpet. He only half-managed,
crouching on his hands and knees and panting at the effort. He didn't hear help coming until it
was already there, and it took him a moment to make sense of the voice that was suddenly
speaking to him.

"Hold still," it commanded. "I'll fix you."

Then came a feeling of welcome coolness that staved off the burning pain, and Zelgadis
recognized that someone was working a healing spell on him.

"Amelia," he managed. "You shouldn't be here."

"I heard you screaming. I had to come help," Amelia replied. "There. That should do it. What happened?"

"Theives," Zelgadis replied. "I heard them saying they were going to break into your room
to look for something. I attacked them, but they tricked me and got away. Did you pass anyone
on your way here?"

"No, I don't think so..." said Amelia vaguely.

Zelgadis shook his head. "Never mind that now. You've got to go back... maybe we can
intercept them."

"Right. Can you walk?"

"I think so." Zelgadis pulled himself to his feet, despite protests from the fresh wound. Healing spells had their limits, after all. "Let's go."

Fortunately, it was only a short dash back to Amelia's chambers. Unfortunately, it had
been an equally short trip for the thieves, and they'd had a head start. While Zelgadis leaned
against the wall and tried to catch his breath, Amelia searched the room. She returned moments
later, looking uncharacteristically grim.

"It's gone," she said. "They took it."

"Took what?" Zelgadis demanded irritably.

Amelia's eyes turned tearful. "I'm sorry, but... they stole your book."

Zelgadis sighed. "It figures. Look - don't start crying! It's not your fault. We'll find the thieves
and we'll get it back. Let me go get cleaned up and dressed, and then we'll see if we can track
down Lina and Gourry."

"That's a good idea," Amelia replied, brightening. "They'll be able to help us. You always
know the right thing to do, Mr. Zelgadis."

"I'll see you in a little while," was all he said, and shuffled tiredly back to his room.

He would have been glad if he could have shared in some of Amelia's confidence, but at the
moment, he was just feeling weak and depressed. How could have let this happen? Somehow,
he'd managed to fall for a simple ruse, let himself be beaten by a single sword stroke and the
simplest magical spell in the book!

*If I had been my old self, this never would have happened.*

Where did that thought come from? Zelgadis shied away from it with a bit of alarm. He
couldn't possibly be missing what he had worked so hard to escape, could he? Then again, if he
had been in his previous shape, it would have taken a good deal more than what the mages had
dished out to harm him. A simple sword was no match for his stone skin - they might as well
have been hitting him with straws. Yet he'd given up his invincible defense. And what about his
magical powers? Had some of that come from the fact that he had been one-third demon? What about his supernatural speed and reflexes, his inhuman strength? He didn't even have fear to use as a weapon anymore. All those mages had seen was an ordinary man in green pajamas, and who would ever be afraid of that?

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

Servants were dispatched to the local inn to return with a bright-eyed Lina and a still-yawning Gourry, both wakened from a sound sleep. The swordsman probably wouldn't figure out what was going on until he had it explained to him six times, but Lina was already bursting with excitement and ready to go. That was deeply comforting, under the circumstances. At least she hadn't settled down too much, yet.

"So, what's up?" she inquired, dropping into a seat at the dining table. It was barely four
o'clock in the morning, and the dining hall was empty except for the four adventurers, but it had
been decided that the best way to get Lina and Gourry to the palace in a hurry was to offer them breakfast. "The messenger you sent didn't tell us much of anything - just babbled about a mage and a book, and he said something about seeing you and Amelia running up and down the halls in your pajamas."

Zelgadis glared at Lina over the rim of his coffee cup. "You don't think I'm going to
dignify that bit of gossip with an explanation, do you?"

"Oh, Miss Lina, it's awful!" Amelia wailed. "Two thieves broke into the palace a little while
ago and stole the spellbook I used to turn Mr.Zelgadis back into a human!"

"Why would they do that?" asked Gourry, glancing up from a plate of scrambled eggs. "Are
they chimeras, too?"

"No, and that's what I don't understand," said Zelgadis. "Was there anything else in that book besides the spell you cast, Amelia? Something that would make it worth the risk of stealing?"

Amelia and Lina turned identical shades of pink.

"Um..." Lina ventured. "Well, we didn't exactly read the book all the way through."

Amelia nodded. "Once we found the spell you'd been looking for, we didn't go any further."

Zelgadis pressed a hand to his face. "Wonderful. So now, not only are we up against some
unknown enemy, but now they've stolen who-knows-what-kind of magical spells from us. They'll be able to cast them, and we won't know the first thing about what they're doing or how to stop them."

"That's about the size of it," Lina replied.

"Wonderful," said Zelgadis again. "Well, how are we going to find them now?"

"Well, I know one way..." said Lina.

"No!" Amelia shrieked. "Lina, you are not blowing up my city no matter what those
thieves steal! I won't allow it!"

"Who said anything about blowing things up?" Lina replied. "I never said anything
about blowing things up. What gave you that idea?"

"Previous experience," Zelgadis replied.

"Okay, so maybe I've gone a little overboard once or twice before," said Lina, "but I've
got something better this time. I stole it - um, that is, I acquired it from the last batch of
bandits I cleared out. See?"

Reaching into some hidden pocket in her cloak, she withdrew a small, glittery object. It
looked like a purple hexagonal crystal, about three inches long with beveled points on both ends. It dangled on a long golden chain made of tiny links. Though Lina was holding it still, the gem danced and spun on the end of the chain as if it had a mind of its own.

"What's that?" asked Amelia.

"A sort of a finding spell," Lina replied. "You think about whatever it is you want to find,
and it points the way. It changes colors to let you know how near you're getting. The catch is,
you have to have seen whatever you're looking for before, or else it doesn't work. Has anyone
here seen the thieves?"

"I have," Zelgadis replied.

"You'll be the leader, then," Lina answered. She caught the stone and murmured
something to it, then turned it over to Zelgadis. "Just think about them as hard as you can and
let's see what happens."

Zelgadis did as he was told. The stone bounced around as if it was eager to be going
somewhere, but as soon as he began to focus his mind on the burglar-mages, the stone became
still. Then, very slowly, it began spinning in circles, rising slowly as it did so. Suddenly, it came
to a jerking halt, pointing stiffly in the direction of the nearest window, and its deep violet color
began glowing blue.

"All right, it found something!" said Lina. "Told you it worked."

"Let's hope so," Zelgadis replied. "Gourry, put down your fork and come on. We have work to do."

Gourry gave his friend a stricken look. "But I wasn't finished!"

"Finish later!" Zelgadis snapped.

"But it'll get cold!"

"Well, if we hurry, we'll be back home again in time for breakfast," Lina replied. "Now, get
moving, before I have to remind you who wears the pants in this family."

"But we both..." Gourry began, but no one was listening. Zelgadis had jumped out the
window, with Amelia and Lina close behind. The swordsman looked around the room in
puzzlement, processing his options. When he realized there were none, he bounded after them
into the night.

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

"Are you sure this thing really works?" asked Zelgadis, scowling down at the crystal. It
had gone from blue to green, and then to yellow, and was now gleaming with an evil orange
color. It had also led the little group up and down alleys, in and out of a few buildings, and even
over the roofs of a few houses, without giving any inidcations that they were anywhere closer to
the thieves than they had been when they'd started.

"It works just fine," said Lina defensively. "It's just that its following the same path the
thieves took. I bet they're trying to throw us off the trail."

"Well, they're doing a good job of it," said Zelgadis. He shot a look at Gourry, who
appeared to be getting dizzy from all the running around.

"Don't complain! We're almost there," said Lina. "See, look there!"

The crystal had abruptly blinked, going from orange to blood red. It looked like it was
getting excited, bobbing around on the end of its chain as if it were trying to get Zelgadis to pick
up the pace a bit.

"How many colors does it go through?" asked Amelia.

"This is the last one. It'll turn white when we've found them," Lina replied.

Zelgadis nodded. "Fine. That means we all have to be - quiet!"

The last remark was addressed to Gourry, who had tripped over something in the dark.
There was a crash, various noises of human pain, and one sound that sounded like a startled cat. Gourry thrashed around on the ground, apparently tangled up with his own sword, complaining loudly. Somewhere nearby, there were other sounds, those of human voices, and then footsteps pounding closer. At that same moment, the crystal turned bright white, pulsed a few times to get its point across, and then went dark. Unseen in the sudden dimness, Lina rolled her eyes.

"That's one way to find them," she muttered.

On a nearby roof, several stories above the adventurers' heads, a pair of silhouettes
appeared against the midnight blue sky.

"What's this?" asked a voice.

"Looks like trouble. The princess is more determined than we thought," said the other.
"No matter. We can deal with it."

"Oh, really?" said Lina. "I'd like to see you try it!"

Someone chuckled. "I think the little girl wants to challenge us! How cute!"

He rattled off a Lighting spell, conveniently spotlighting himself and his companion. For
the first time, the thieves could be seen clearly by all. They were two men dressed in the long
robes of those who are sorcerers and proud of it, one in blue and one in purple. The one in blue
wore a beard; the other had a long mustache. Otherwise, they seemed nearly identical, both
having dark hair and pale complexions. They stood back to back, striking dramatic poses.

"Woe to you, foolhardy adventurers!" the one in blue shouted. "You have chosen to do
battle with the two greatest sorcerers ever to walk the earth! I am Soren jin Karrel the Blue!"

"And I am Vyan jin Karrel the Purple!" the other added. "We are the incredible Karrel
brothers, masters of the dark arts!"

"Incredible Karrel brothers?" Lina repeated. "Sounds like a couple of traveling acrobats to
me."

Soren scowled. "Mock us not! We're the most powerful black magicians in the world!
Our names strike fear in the hearts of all people, even to the edges of the Sea of Chaos!"

"Sure," said Lina, "and I'm the Lord of Nightmares."

Zelgadis looked equally unimpressed. "Take your fairy tales to children. They, at least,
will be amused by them."

Gourry gave Lina one of his blank looks. "Did they say anything important?"

"Nope," said Lina, patting his shoulder. "Just keep on ignoring them, and maybe they'll go
away. Either that, or they'll run out of lines to say."

Vyan looked hurt. "We are too great sorcerers! We graduated with top marks from a
prestigious university of magic!"

"That's right," said Soren. "We took one of those Magic-by-Mail courses. Learn black
magic in six months or your money back!"

Vyan hit him. "Idiot! You weren't supposed to tell them that!"

"It doesn't matter where you learned magic or how powerful you are!" shouted Amelia.
"What matters is that you are villains and enemies of Justice! I will not allow you to break the
laws of my kingdom and get away with it!" She leaped into the air, turning an impressive back flip in midair before landing on the roof of the building across from the thieves. She struck one of her better poses and was briefly surrounded by stars and bubbles as the background changed color. The moon politely positioned itself in just such a way as to provide a dramatic background for her. "I am Amelia wil Telsa Seyruun, Champion of Justice! In the name of Seyruun, I will right wrongs and triumph over evil, and that means you!"

Lina scratched her head. "Haven't I heard that line before somewhere?"

"After a while, all of Amelia's justice speeches start to sound the same," answered
Zelgadis with a shrug.

"Still, I could have sworn I've heard it before," Lina insisted, "only I think it was some
blonde saying it."

"I didn't do it!" said Gourry.

Lina shook her head. "Anyway, do you think we ought to go help Amelia now?"

"She is making a target of herself," said Zelgadis. "Not that that's unusual. Let's go."

The two of them Raywinged up to the rooftop and landed on either side of the princess,
Lina with her long hair and cloak streaming out behind her, Zelgadis managing to look sinister in
his ghostly white, his hair casting deep shadows over his eyes.

"You want to challenge us?" asked Vyan. "Very well, then! Prepare to feel our wrath!
Fireball!"

A blip of fire the size of a peach pit floated lazily through the air. Lina stared at it a
moment. Then, just at the last moment, she murmured, "Aqua Create!" and a spurt of
water came out of nowhere to put the fire out.

"You call that a Fireball?" she asked. "This is a Fireball! FIREBALL!!"

A ball of fire as large as a basketball zinged across the empty space to slam into the roof.
The two mages hurriedly Levitated out of the way, hovering awkwardly in the air. A large portion of the building caved in, and there were unhappy noises from within the crumpled structure.

"Levitation," said Zelgadis, looking dispassionately at the rising smoke and dust and
listening to the people cursing inside the building. "These two can't be very good, can they?"

"We are so!" shouted Soren. "Just you watch! We'll get you! Freeze Arrow!"

"Freeze Arrow!" Zelgadis countered. His spear of ice rushed at the flickering
tongue of flame that had been thrown at him, barely even steaming as it passed. The force he'd
put into the spell wasn't really necessary; the "arrow" looked more like a flare carrot than
anything else.

"I think these two might be lying to us just a little," said Zelgadis mildly.

"I think they've been taking lessons from Syphiel," said Lina.

"I think this has gone on long enough!" said Amelia. "Prepare to feel the Hammer of
Justice! Elemekia Lance!"

She threw a bolt of white light at the nearest thief. Her aim was a bit off, but it was
enough to make him lose his balance and fall out of the sky. He landed on what was left of the
roof with a loud thump. His brother glared at him.

"Be careful!" he shouted. "You'll damage the book!"

"The book?" the other shouted. "What about me?"

"Admit it, you two are outnumbered and out-muscled and out-magicked," said Lina.
"Why don't you go ahead and tell us why you stole the book? Maybe I'll go easy on you if you
do."

"That means she might not Dragon Slave you from here to next Tuesday," Zelgadis
translated.

Soren looked a little nervous at this, but Vyan said, "Ha! You won't ever get the chance!
Threaten all you want, but when you've seen the true extent of our power, you'll be sorry you
were ever born!"

Lina looked bored. "Stock dialogue! Tell me one I haven't heard before."

"Soren is right!" said Vyan. "With the spells in this book, we'll become the most famous
sorcerers in the world! Then you'll be sorry you ever messed with us!"

Amelia gave them a look. "You said you were famous already! How come you changed
your mind?"

"Um..." Vyan looked acutely uncomfortable.

"You were just lying to us to try to scare us!" she said. "Trust a thief to use such
dishonorable tactics."

"Quiet, Amelia, I'm thinking about something," said Lina.

"But you heard what they said!" Amelia protested.

"That's right. That's why I'm thinking," Lina murmured back. To the thieves, she
shouted, "I don't believe a word you say! I bet you're just making up all of this as a bluff! Name
one spell that's in that book that's powerful enough to frighten someone who knows the Dragon
Slave. I dare you."

"Um..." The mages looked at each other, momentarily confused.

"You really don't know what's in the book, do you?" asked Zelgadis.

"Not exactly," said Soren, "but we've got an idea."

"An idea?" Lina repeated.

"That is to say, we found out you'd brought it into the city, and that you and the princess
were studying it," said Soren. "Don't lie to us. Anything that could get the interest of the great
Lina Inverse has to be rare and powerful."

Lina preened a bit. "Well, under ordinary circumstances, that would be true," she said,
"but this time, we just wanted a special spell to help out a friend. I don't think that book is going
to do you much good, unless you're looking for a chimera cure."

"You're lying!" said Soren. "You're - you're a merciless slayer of bandits! You've
destroyed cities because someone stole a french fry from you! You consort with demons and
Mazoku!"

"Well, Xellos is an okay guy, as far as Mazoku go," said Lina.

"That doesn't matter! You're the kind of person who never does anything without an
ulterior motive!" Soren insisted. "You wouldn't spend months translating an old book unless
there was something in it for you!"

*Exactly what I was thinking,* Zelgadis mused. *Maybe he's right. Would
Lina have spent all that time and effort just for me? Would she be out crusading in the middle of
the night if there was nothing in that book but the cure?*

"You've got it all wrong," said Lina. "Zell's my friend. He's put his life on the line for me
before. That's worth a lot more to me than some stupid spell book."

"Please, you're breaking my heart," Vyan sneered. He was holding the book open in one
hand; no one had noticed him flipping through its pages. He was wearing a nasty grin on his face. "I think you wanted the book for something... something like this!"

He shouted a few arcane words and sent a blip of something greyish-white at Lina. It was
going too fast to dodge. Frantically, she wracked her mind, looking for something to counteract
the spell before it got close, but how did she repel a spell she'd never seen before? Faced with
magic unlike any she'd ever seen, she came dangerously close to doing something she rarely did:
panic.

However, there was no need. Something silver-bright whizzed through the air and hit the
flying spell with a resounding spang! The spell bounced away and struck a nearby wall,
turning a chunk of it into what looked like grey ice. Lina looked up at Gourry, who was still
holding his sword in a pose that would have done a pro baseball player credit. He grinned at her.

"Hi, Lina," he said. "Did you forget about me?"

Lina gave him a look that made it suddenly less difficult to believe she was married to him.
"Remind me to do something nice for you when we get home."

He looked interested. "Like what?"

"We'll talk about it when we get home."

"Hey, that looked like fun!" shouted Soren, trying to pull the book out of his brother's
hands. "Let me play with that a minute!"

"No way! You'll mess up!"

"I will not! Give it here!"

There was a brief scuffle for the book, and Soren finally managed to tug it out of his
partner's hands.

"Now I'll show you how a real mage does it," he said. "Watch this!"

"Oh, no you don't! I wasn't done with it yet!" Vyan shouted back.

There was a scuffle as both mages tugged at the book, both trying to lay claim to it. Its aging spine creaked alarmingly, but both men were too occupied with their personal struggle to notice - at least, up until the point when the book actually tore in half, sending both of them sprawling. One of them fell through the hole in the roof, sending up a puff of dust as he landed.

"Ow," said Soren vaguely.

"You idiot!" Vyan shouted. "Look what you did! You've ruined it!"

"I did not! You did!"

"Why, you...!" Vyan shouted a few arcane words and threw a bolt of fire into the pit. Soren yelped and shot out it, his cloak aflame and his half of the book in a similar state. He threw it down and left it to its fiery fate as he attempted to put himself out. He managed in the end by setting off an ice spell that left his tattered robe covered in a rime of frost mixed with soot.

"W-w-what do you think you're d-d-doing?" he asked through chattering teeth.

"I was trying to teach you a lesson!" Vyan shouted back. "If you had been being cautious, this wouldn't have happened!"

"Are you saying it's my fault you set the book on fire?" Soren snapped. The two wizards engaged in a heated argument over whose fault it was, while the heroes watched in confusion.

"Shouldn't we be doing something?" Amelia asked, looking worriedly at the scene.

"Why?" answered Lina. "They look like they're doing a pretty good job of finishing each other off."

"But my book!" Zelgadis objected. He was annoyed to hear his voice squeaking in frustration; it was bad for his image.

*What image? I don't have an image anymore...*

"Oh, yeah, that's right," said Lina. "Okay, better break this up. Fireball!"

The bickering mages heard the attack and just barely had the time to Levitate out of the way. Soren's already abused cloak lost a large chunk of material in back, revealing a pair of argyle socks hanging around his scrawny ankles.

"Think you can beat us with that paltry trick?" he shouted.

"It seems to be working so far," Lina replied, "but if you like, I can show you something better."

"Allow me to top your act," said Vyan. He was grinning wickedly as he held up his half of the book. The letters on it seemed to be glowing faintly, and he began reading aloud. As he did, a bit of eye-searing pink light began to rise up from the book's pages to hover over him. He shouted a final word, and the light moved.

Zelgadis may have lost his demon's speed and reflexes, but he had years of battlefield experience still etched in his mind, and he knew trouble when he saw it speeding toward him. He had been tensed to spring the moment the spell had started, and now he dove frantically out of the way.

"Look out!" he shouted.

Too late. As he glanced over his shoulder, he saw the light fall in the midst of his friends and explode upward, hovering over them like a semitransparent pink umbrella before it fell down and swallowed them. It imploded, folding in on itself and lifting up in a mushroom-shaped bubble of light, carrying its unlucky occupants with it, lifting them ten feet off the ground. In the back of his mind, and irreverent little voice was telling Zelgadis it looked a lot like his friends had been swallowed by a huge glowing jellyfish. The mages cackled in crazed delight.

"We did it!" laughed Vyan. "We've defeated Lina Inverse! We're truly the greatest mages in the world!"

"A nice haul," Soren agreed. He was a trifle less ecstatic than his brother, owing in part to the demise of his sorcerous robes. "Lina Inverse, her guardian, the princess... wait a minute, we missed one."

"So we did," said Vyan, glaring at Zelgadis. "Who is he, anyway?"

"No idea," Soren replied. "No one important, I suppose."

"Good enough. We'll make do with these," Vyan replied. He glanced briefly at the book again, then said a Word at the jellyfish. It bobbed down low enough to pick the mages up in its glowing tentacles and whisk them away, floating gently off into the night.

Zelgadis stared. What was he supposed to do now? A dozen different voices were talking to him in his mind, all trying to direct him at once. The one that had always told him he didn't need anyone else but himself was telling him to take a hint and get far, far away while danger wasn't interested in him. He couldn't afford to take risks right now, not when one false move would shatter the crystal orb he wore and doom him to the life of a chimera once again. Besides, being in battle hurt now, and he didn't want to do that again. On the other hand, another voice was telling him he'd been insulted, and that he ought to go find these upstart sorcerers and teach them to think he was nobody.

*Ah, but what am I now? A swordsman? There are millions of them in this world; that's nothing unusual. A sorcerer, then? There's one under every rock and bush; even the dullest child could learn a Lighting spell. What am I but a man like any other man... just what I wanted to be...*

"I am Zelgadis Greywords," he said aloud. "I am the grandson and great-grandson of the Red Priest, warrior for good and evil alike. I have fought demons and heroes. I have had people I cared about die for me and have died for the people I care about. I've wasted my life in a foolish quest, and now I'm going to do something worthwhile for a change. Then we'll see what kind of thing I am."

And he bounded over the rooftops, following a distant hovering pink light.

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

Lina dangled uncomfortably upside down from the tentacle of a jellyfish - not the worst situation she'd ever been in, certainly, but she could think of a lot of things that could be improved about the situation. An absence of mosquitoes, for example; the forested glen they had finally stopped in seemed to be full of them, and her pinioned arms were useless for scratching, and she could hear Gourry having fits somewhere behind her as he cursed the insects. For another thing, she would have asked that Vyan and Soren would shut up and quit bragging.

"Finally, we have the power we've been looking for!" Soren crowed. "This will get us noticed for certain!"

"It was a brilliant idea, brother," Vyan agreed. "The spells in this book have been lost for ages. No one will know them but us. When word gets out that we've been able to defeat the infamous Lina Inverse with our new magic, we'll be famous! People will come from miles around begging us to teach them. We'll make millions! I'm glad I came up with the idea."

"You came up with the idea? I was the one who found out about the book!"

"Well, I was the one who thought of stealing it!"

"Were not!"

"Was too!"

"Were not!"

Amelia turned her wide blue eyes on Lina and tried to loosen the grip of the tentacle that held her.

"Miss Lina," she whimpered, "are we going to get out of this?"

Lina didn't answer. She couldn't; the jellyfish-thing had the tip of a tentacle clamped over her mouth. It seemed that her captors weren't about to let her try any spellcasting. Trying to bite it had given her a nasty electric shock, and she wasn't keen on trying the experiment again. She shrugged as best she could.

"Hey, Zell's still out there, isn't he?" said Gourry. "Won't he come save us?"

"That's right!" Amelia agreed, brightening. "A Champion of Justice would never leave his allies in danger! He'll come and rescue us, and then our enemies will feel the flames of Justice! Justice will triumph over evil! Justice will-"

There was a wet-sounding slap as the jellyfish wrapped a tentacle around Amelia's mouth. Lina breathed a sigh of relief.

*That's one annoyance gone. Now if only it would do the same thing to Tweedledee and Tweedledum.*

She sighed again; she couldn't hope the jellyfish would be that merciful. Nor could she be so sure that her old friend really would come and save her. It was always so hard to be sure about Zelgadis. He was always so careful not to let his emotions show, barely ever even smiling. Sometimes it was possible to think that he only followed her, as some others had, simply because having her around could be helpful for achieving his own agenda. If he did come, she would have given good odds that he had only come to rescue what was left of the book. Then again, he already had what he wanted from it; he might just choose to lay low where it was safe and trust that his comrades could rescue themselves. Admittedly, Lina reflected, she was a pretty impressive spell slinger, but even she had her limits...

Just then, there was a loud BANG accompanied by a burst of smoke, and Soren and Vyan's argument mercifully turned into coughing. They looked up to see what had caused the problem and saw a figure in white striding confidently through the smoke, his cloak billowing in a night wind. He turned his predatory eyes on the mages and paused, letting the silence intimidate his enemies in a way words never could.

"You again," said Soren. "What do you want?"

"My friends," Zelgadis replied. "You will give them back. Now."

"And if we refuse?" Vyan asked.

"You will regret it."

"Oh, really?" Soren sneered. "You dare to challenge the two greatest sorcerers ever to live? You will live to regret your..."

He trailed off, as the thought penetrated his brain that somehow, threats weren't going to work on this character. Actually, it was quite clear that Zelgadis was ignoring him. Instead, his eyes locked briefly on Amelia's, and he mouthed a word: "Sorry." Then he slipped the bracelet off of his wrist, held it up dramatically, and hurled it at the ground.

There was an explosion of light, light of every color that washed over him like warm water, and it all happened again. He felt a crackling run over his scalp as his hair stiffened back into wire, felt the heaviness return to him as his skin became stone once more. He felt his invincible armor close over him again, and he did something he rarely ever did: he smiled.

Soren and Vyan were staring, their faces gone white, their jaws slack. Vyan made a noise that sounded a bit like a dying bird. Soren's mouth worked as he looked for something to say.

"What kind of a demon are you?" he managed.

"Come find out," Zelgadis answered simply.

In desperation, one of the mages fired off a Flare Arrow. Zelgadis didn't even bother to move, but just stood there and took it. He continued to smile, his eyes dancing with red lights as the flames danced briefly around him and died. The other sorcerer ran at him with his sword raised, only to have Zelgadis catch the blade in his hand. Casually, he tugged it out of the man's sweating hands and broke it over his knees, tossing the pieces over his shoulder. The failed swordsman backed away.

"Maybe you didn't hear me the first time," said Zelgadis quietly. "Give. My. Friends. Back."

"All right, all right!" squeaked Vyan. "Just don't hurt us, please!"

"That's better." Zelgadis favored them with another one of his icy looks, and the mages all but fell over themselves to get to the spell book. They flipped through its pages until Soren found a phrase and said it. The jellyfish slowly unraveled its tentacles, lowering its captives to the ground. As soon as her feet touched the ground, Amelia dashed over to greet her friend.

"Mr. Zelgadis! I just knew you'd come!" she said. "But you broke your crystal..."

Zelgadis shrugged, not looking her in the eye. He kept his gaze fixed on the mages and gestured at the jellyfish.

"Now, dispell that," he said.

The brothers nodded in unison and began flipping through the book. They skimmed it from front to back, then from back to front. They went back to the back again. They began to look acutely uncomfortable. Vyan was tugging nervously at his mustache; Soren had begun to sweat. The jellyfish began to rustle its tentacles in something that looked a lot like impatience.

"Um... it doesn't look like that spell is in this half of the book," said Soren.

"Are you sure about that?" asked Lina skeptically. "Because if you are, I might have to do something drastic..."

"Wait! This looks like it might do it!" said Vyan hurriedly. He picked out a row of sigils in the book and began to read them aloud.

For a moment, nothing seemed to happen. Then the jellyfish shivered all over. It began to glow, radiating a soft light from every part of it. Gradually, though, the light became more intense near the center of its crown, deepening until it was blood red, forming two tilted ovoid shapes that continued to darken toward the centers until they were a deep black. They looked suspiciously like eyes.

"We have a problem now, don't we?" Gourry observed.

"I'd agree with that," Lina replied.

That was the end of conversation for the moment as the monster lashed out with its many tentacles, swatting people this way and that. Gourry unsheathed his sword and began slicing at them, and they severed from the main body with little bursts of light and a smell like burning fish. Lina and Zelgadis followed his example, and Amelia followed up with a round of Elemekia Lances. The jellyfish screamed, if one could call the noise it made; it sounded more like a bunch of cats sharpening their claws on a set of blackboards that were being rolled down a hill in a metal barrel.

"You've got to hand it to them," said Lina, busily hacking away. "When these guys create a monster, they create a monster."

"What are you going to do about it?" Zelgadis called her her. He whirled in a circle, slicing several tentacles at once, and the monster bellowed at new levels of intensity.

Lina shrugged, then quickly ducked as a questing pseudopod went over her head, and Gourry hacked it apart. "Same thing I always do."

"Oh, no, not-"

"Darkness beyond twilight..."

"Yup, she's going to do it," said Gourry, with the air of someone who's gone through the same catastrophe so many times that he no longer cared.

"Crimson beyond blood that flows..."

"She can't do this in my forest!" Amelia complained.

"Buried beyond the flow of time..."

"What's she going to do?" asked Vyan worriedly.

"In thy great name I pledge myself to darkness..."

"You don't know?" asked Amelia, aghast.

"Let those fools who stand before us be destroyed..."

"No," said Soren. "What's she doing? Is it dangerous?"

"...by the power that you and I posess!"

"I suggest you cover your ears," said Zelgadis, and he ducked behind the nearest tree.

"What-" Vyan began.

"DRAGON SLAVE!"

There was a deafening roar. There was a flash of light. There was a deafening silence. Little ashen bits of jellyfish rained down on what had been, a few moments ago, a small glen. Now it was a charred crater full of bits of dead foliage. Amelia and Gourry uncovered their heads. Zelgadis stepped out from behind what was left of the tree, now nothing but a blackened stump. Vyan and Soren coughed as they pulled themselves out of a heap of ashes. Lina preened, obviously pleased with herself.

"Now, that is how you deal with a monster," she said. "Looks like I haven't lost my touch!"

Soren looked bleak. "We're never going to be able to do that."

Vyan patted his brother's shoulder, stirring up another cloud of soot. "Don't worry. We can always go to accounting school, like mother wanted us to do."

"Good idea," said Zelgadis. "You're going to have plenty of time and a nice quiet place to study, once you get to Amelia's dungeons. She is not forgiving of thieves and kidnappers."

"The dungeons?" they squeaked in unison.

"Well," Zelgadis, and Amelia thought she saw a sparkle in his eyes, "we could leave your punishment up to Lina."

Everyone looked over to Lina. Gourry was now standing at her side, admiring the destruction.

"That was a really good one," he was saying.

"You think so?" Lina asked. "It's been months since I've cast one. I'm out of practice..."

"That was good?" asked Vyan, shocked.

"Sure," said Gourry brightly. "I've been with Lina so long, I'm sort of starting to like these things. She does them all the time, you know."

Vyan and Soren couldn't get to the dungeons fast enough.

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

The sun was rising over Seyruun, casting a soft pink glow over the sky that mercifully looked nothing like a jellyfish. Zelgadis, not really interested in the breakfast set out before him, looked out the window and watched the brightness spread, and he found himself suppressing a smile that rose up out of somewhere. A new day...

"What are you thinking, Mr. Zelgadis?" asked Amelia. She had given him the place of honor at her right hand.

"Just thinking that it's been quite a night," he answered. "And quite a day. A lot has happened."

"Well, at least we didn't have to save the world again," Lina commented. She had already emptied seven or eight platefuls of sausage and eggs and was beginning to slow down enough to make conversation. "That kind of thing really wears you down."

"But we lost the book," said Amelia unhappily. "You blew it up with your Dragon Slave!"

"I can live without the book," Zelgadis answered. "I am a bit sorry I had to break the bracelet, but it was the best way for me to rescue you."

"Don't worry, Mr. Zelgadis. We'll think of something. I took a lot of notes - I'm sure I can work out how to do the spell again."

"I'd rather you didn't try," said Zelgadis. His normally quiet voice was becoming softer. "It's been a very long time... I've gotten used to myself this way. I think this will do."

Amelia looked puzzled. "But you said you were sorry about having to change back."

"I said I was sorry to break the bracelet." He was almost inaudible now; everyone had become silent so they could hear him. "I was a little attached to it. It reminded me of you when we were apart." He raised his eyes to look at her, and for once, they were not cold and predatory at all. "I think now I may have to stay here... if that's all right with you."

Amelia looked back at him, her eyes shining. "Mr. Zelgadis..."

There was silence in the room, and in that silence, Zelgadis had time to feel a familiar presence flitting across his mind, feel a pair of intense eyes staring at him, sense a slight smile, hear words spoken in a voice he knew well. They said, Are you going to kiss her now, or aren't you?

*Shut up, Rezo,* Zelgadis thought back. *I'll handle this myself.*

And then he did kiss her, and he'd never felt more human in his life.