Spoiler Alert: This part takes place just prior to the final scene of Evolution-R 13 before the epilogue montage begins and alludes to certain scenes we see in the epilogue. It should make Amelia/Zel fans very happy.
Part 2: A Place to Call Home
For all of her energetic projections, Lina faded quickly after the group sprinted away from the battlefield. "You know, I think it might be naptime," she informed them just seconds before pitching forward.
Amelia snagged Lina by the back of her cloak, preventing her from landing face first in debris. Gourry immediately dashed around so Lina fell onto his back. He boosted her up as she snuggled against him and started to snore lightly. "Where should we take her?" he asked.
"The buildings where you stayed before have not been damaged," Taforashia's king informed them. "Please, return there. Anything that you want, you only have to ask."
"I'll go with them. Is that okay, Dad?" Pokota leaped from his father to the top of Amelia's head. "Just to get them settled."
"Of course, my son." The king reached out and ran long, calloused fingers from the top of Pokota's head and down over his torn-off ears. "Then, I want to hear how you got into this state. I understand there's been much that I've missed over the past few months." His gaze flickered to Amelia. "Or, I suspect longer since the last I heard of Princess Amelia of Saillune was that she was just a little girl."
"One thing at a time," Zelgadiss quickly intervened. Even though the citizens of Taforashia knew that time had passed while they were in their magically induced coma, none of them knew exactly how long it had been. It was a shock, he thought, they could handle once a better assessment of the immediate situation was taken. "We need to get the survivors into one place and tend to the wounded."
"I can handle that," Amelia immediately volunteered.
Zelgadiss frowned at her. "You're still injured yourself. You wore out your own magical reserves and that's a field dressing on your arm at best."
"I can handle it, Zelgadiss-san," she repeated. "People need us."
"Amelia." The way he said her name caused her mouth to clamp shut and she just stared at him. He simply gave her a look, almost like he had insight into something that eluded Amelia's knowledge. "Don't push yourself," he scolded.
"I won't," she replied in a soothing voice. "All right. I'll go with Gourry-san and get word out to my father. There's additional supplies coming, but we're going to need even more now." She smiled at Gourry. "Shall we go?"
Gourry nodded and Amelia fell into step with him as they bore Lina away from the battlefield. "Say, Amelia, where did you get those pigeons anyhow …" Zelgadiss heard Gourry ask as they walked away into the distance.
Once they'd disappeared, Zelgadiss picked his way back down to the battlefield. He stood among the charred remains of buildings and humans. At his feet lay the remains of Rezo's staff and the hilt of the replica Sword of Light. He toed the staff with his foot and crouched down. He closed his eyes, remembered the young man he used to be, then rose to follow Gourry, Amelia, and Pokota.
Zelgadiss slipped into the small dining room where they'd eaten their feast just hours earlier. He surveyed the remains of the meal - the haphazard stack of plates with greasy bits of food stuck to them that were now coated with a fine ash thanks to the battle. He absently righted a chair that'd been toppled over and sank into it, as everything hit him at once.
Rezo was dead. Dead. Dead for good this time, unless Ceiphied forbid he had another one of those soul-sucking jars hidden somewhere. Zelgadiss gave a short bark of a laugh. It would be just his luck for Rezo to have done that. He wouldn't be surprised if somehow he had split his soul into seven pieces just like Shabranigdu did. Instead, Rezo would have left his soul embedded into objects so randomly obscure that it would take a miracle to find them all.
But, something in his heart told him that it was really over this time. He fingered the frayed edges of his clothing and wondered if the spare set in his bag was clean. His fingers moved down over the exposed area of stone skin. He'd told Lina the truth. It was the first time he'd been truly grateful for the curse that Rezo had inflicted on him. It made him able to withstand this battle. It enabled him to heal Amelia, and protect her when she needed it. It gave him the ability to distract Rezo-Shabranigdu to the point that Gourry could protect Lina and she could pull off the Giga Slave.
"All sent out!" Amelia chirped as she bounced back into the room. Zelgadiss smiled. She had an amazing amount of energy considered that just an hour earlier that she'd been thrown around the battlefield like a rag doll. She'd changed into fresh clothes as well, and the bandages on her arm were clean as well. "Pokota-san went to see his father, and Gourry-san's staying with Lina-san to make sure she's okay. He said, if he remembered right, she'd need a lot of food when she woke up. But ..."
"Food's a scare commodity here at the moment," Zelgadiss guessed. "It was already strained to begin with. The supplies used for the celebration were the first wave from Saillune."
Amelia nodded. "We were taxed before, but some of the supply wagons were destroyed in the battle."
"When should they be here?"
"About two days, give or take. I managed to talk to Daddy this time with the Communicate spell and he said he'd be coming out personally to speak with Taforashia's king." Amelia tapped the side of her cheek. "You know, we never asked Pokota-san what his father's name his."
Zelgadiss's gaze dropped to Amelia's arm, nestled in a clean sling. "You should rest so you can cast Resurrection on that."
Amelia flushed. "Well ... I think I need to wait until Sylphiel-san comes regarding that. She's also coming out with Daddy."
Zelgadiss arched an eyebrow. "You're more skilled in healing magic than I am. You taught me what I know, and my spell was enough to serve as triage. I can rest up and try again, but I doubt it's going to suffice." His voice trailed off as he recalled the injury that Amelia had received. It wasn't just a broken limb. It almost looked like her arm had exploded inside of her skin, and his stomach lurched at the memory. "You can't go around with an arm in that condition."
"Yes you're right," Amelia replied, her cheeks edging from pink to scarlet. "But ... I overextended myself as is, knowing that well ... I'd be unable to use my magic by this afternoon at the latest."
Zelgadiss started to ask why, then blushed as well when the realization hit. Of course, he mentally scolded himself. "I see. Do you need to rest?"
"I feel fine, Zelgadiss-san," Amelia insisted and smirked a bit. "You sound like a mother hen."
"I was only trying to help. You seemed to be getting injured a quite a bit lately." His stomach rolled again as he thought of the high-pitched shriek that Amelia gave when her ribs had been crushed.
"You haven't come off scot-free either," Amelia reminded him. "And don't use the 'I have stone skin' excuse to brush it off either."
"But I do have stone skin."
"You can still get injured like the rest of us!"
Zelgadiss shook his head. Amelia pulled up a second chair and sat next to him. He turned his hand over to inspect the almost human-like skin covering his palms. Small scratches covered the flesh. "I can, yes."
Amelia didn't say anything for awhile, almost sensing his need to enjoy the quiet. The balcony doors were still open from where they had gone in to look for Lina and Gourry prior to chasing them down. Fires, leftover from Lina and Pokota's Dragon Slaves, crackled in the distance and the low murmur of voices drifted in from the street below. Zelgadiss closed his eyes and listened to his heart beat, alive and strong.
"When do you plan to leave?"
He cracked over one eye to see Amelia's serene face. "You didn't even ask."
"I didn't need to." Amelia gave him a rueful smile. "I've known you for nearly six years, Zelgadiss-san. You need time to think about everything."
Zelgadiss had never been so grateful for Amelia's friendship as he was at that very moment. He stared at her, almost as seeing her for the first time. She'd grown up so much from the petite tagalong who idolized Lina. She'd become her own woman and a true asset to her friends, family, and kingdom. "Rezo said that there's no cure. But ..." He chuckled. "Funny enough, but I don't believe it."
He didn't say that he heard Amelia's voice in his head saying that anything was possible.
"I do want to take some time. Maybe not search for the cure. But as Rezo's grandson, I've got a responsibility to make sure that he doesn't have any other hidey holes that he has soul-hoarding objects in. I've learned a lot of things about Rezo in the past week, Amelia, and I've remembered a lot that I've chosen to forget. I want to make sure the rest of his labs are inaccessible."
He fully expected Amelia to volunteer to come along. Instead, she laid a hand on her arm. "You'll come visit me in Saillune, won't you?"
His gaze met hers. "If you'll have me ... maybe I could stay there for a little while."
Amelia's jaw dropped in shock. Then she leaped out of her chair, knocking it to the floor as she threw her one good arm around Zelgadiss's neck. She hugged him so tightly that his already sore ribs protested. But instead of wincing, he blinked in surprise before lifting a hand and patting her back. He closed his eyes and smiled. Yes, he would go back to Saillune when he was finished. It wouldn't be a bad place to call home. After all, Amelia would be there.