Author's Notes: Wow, I can't believe it's taken this long for the final chapter! I don't know if anyone is even still reading this story, but I wanted to finish something for once. I'm sorry that it's been quite a few years; I had a few complications. One being that I wrote the ending about 2 years ago, but it got deleted right as I was finishing it. I'm also sorry if the ending isn't fabulous—I really tried my best, but I'm rusty, for sure. If anyone was interested, I always intended to do a sequel, which is lightly suggested by the epilogue. On the fence about it now that so much time has passed. Anyway, enjoy!
Chapter Ten: Draw
Lina was a little unsettled by the lack of questions posed by Xellos the previous night. Actually, she was annoyed at first, hoping for some kind of shocked reaction displayed by posing the most obvious question—why did she return. Instead, Xellos got over his initial shock and asked her a less obvious question—where was Zelgadis. Lina didn't really answer the question, thinking that it would be dangerous for her friend's well-being. She figured the best answer for his protection was to say that she didn't know his location because he stormed off after she told him she was going back. Lina had anticipated the big question then, but it didn't come. She was tempted to ask him if he did want to know, but somehow she didn't want him to know how irritated she was.
As an opposite approach, she just finished her meal and retired in her room for the rest of the day with permission of Xellos. He agreed, expressing that she must have had some troubles along the way coming back to Hadin. Lina decided to not to pry into the real reason he was being so nonchalant about her return and allowing her to go to sleep early. It was an overabundance of decency that Lina knew Xellos was not capable of in a million years. However, she decided to take it as a godsend rather than scrutinize his objective. She actually got a pretty decent sleep (not as good as the previous night with Zelgadis), but one of the best she had while knowing Xellos was so close.
She awoke to neither Xellos hovering over her, nor to him requesting she do some random, pointless task. Instead, Lina found that her first encounter with Xellos that day was at breakfast. He was unusually quiet, which Lina interpreted as only two things. The second and least likely possibility was that he was speechless from either surprise or anger. Lina admitted he was surprised for a little while, but she was positive by now he was over it. She only allowed the faint possibility he was angry because he had said the thing two days ago about really wanting Lina gone. Being in front of Xellos again returned her doubt that his statement was true. So Lina went with the first explanation: he was merely overwhelmed by the number of things he could do now that she was back and simply hadn't decided on what he wanted to do first.
As soon as Xellos ended the silence Lina changed her mind slightly. If anything, he made it seem like she was a complete idiot for coming back. Not that Lina explained her reasons (she was more concerned with getting enough breakfast), but it wasn't as if she had an easy way word why she did come back. As Xellos seemed to suggest on his face and no doubt would say, it didn't make much of any sense.
Xellos laughed and rubbed his face a little. "Lina-san, I truly don't think I'll ever meet anyone like you again," he said. "I thought that I had you figured out, but you always manage to do something completely out of my comprehension."
"I feel the same way about you," Lina said. She drank a little water. "Anyway, I think the point you're getting to is that you think I'm stupid."
"I would never say something like that." However, Xellos smiled afterwards.
"I'm sure you wouldn't. Being so 'polite' and all."
"I might say that you are foolish, but never stupid. You're an intelligent woman, but…"
Lina stood. "Yeah, yeah," she said. "Does it really matter too much why I came back? There's no sense in analyzing the reason if it's what you really wanted."
"What I really wanted…you say…" Xellos said. He shook his head. "You told me that you were the elderly lady whom I drank with a couple of nights ago. Surely you haven't forgotten what I said?"
"No, I haven't," Lina said. She traveled down the long table until she was beside Xellos's chair. "Come on—you knew it was us."
"I'm fairly certain I told you I did not," Xellos said. He chuckled at her once again cynical expression. "Like I said, it was a great coincidence, for once. And even if I did know, why would I say that? To convince you to return? That should have sent you far from anywhere even close to Hadin. What would I gain from telling you that?"
"I…I don't know," Lina said. "But I'm positive there was a reason you said it."
"Yes…there was a reason."
Lina tensed. "And it was?"
Xellos didn't answer. Instead he left his chair and slowly walked out of the room as if Lina hadn't spoken. Of course, this made Lina quite irritated and she followed closely behind him. She had thought he was going to give her one of those indecisive replies like, "himitsu desu." That she could deal with. It was the kind of thing she had been dealing with from the very beginning with Xellos. Lina didn't know why he chose to be so infuriatingly secret. There was no doubt a reason for him to not disclose many things, but the way he chose to do it by being "cute" just seemed unnecessary and frankly a bit belittling. Then again, nothing was quite insulting as someone ignoring a question by leaving the room. Lina called after him countless times, expecting him to at least turn back and smile at her, but he simply continued to walk on and even went up stairs. The moment he ever dared to descend a stair Lina was compelled to grab him by his feet and drag him back down, but in light that she may make herself fall, she decided to wait until they reached the top. Xellos's intended destination suggested a room on the left side of the second floor, but Lina beat him to it and blocked his way. Xellos did stop, but he did not speak. In fact, he didn't even look Lina in the eye. His eyes just looked through her and his face gave no indication that he was anticipating a conversation.
"Why are you ignoring me?" Lina demanded. After a few seconds of silence she snapped her fingers. "Hello?"
"I'm sorry, Lina-san," Xellos said. He sighed. "There's a great many things I need to do in preparation for tomorrow. I suggest you find something to occupy yourself with while I am busy with my own affairs."
"What?" Lina grabbed Xellos's arm as he tried to go past her. "What is wrong with you?"
Xellos easily snapped his arm back, surprising Lina. "May I ask you a question instead, Lina-san?"
"Na…nani (Wha…What)?" Lina swallowed. That was about the most aggressive action he had taken against her since she had gotten into the mess.
"Why did you come back?" Xellos' expression almost seemed perturbed. "I cannot quite figure that out. It matters little what reason I had for saying something some nights ago in comparison to your capricious decision to return here."
"Why…why should it matter?" Lina said. "You wanted me to come back, right? If you got what you wanted, then why explain it?"
Lina barely let out a cry as Xellos grabbed her and pulled her into the room. He immediately locked the door behind him and then turned to her with an uncharacteristic expression. There was none of his free-spirited, joking traces in his face—at any second Lina expected him to frown, at the very least. Lina backed against a table, preparing to brace herself if Xellos did something violent. She could scarcely believe that moments ago they were sitting at a table having a conversation not unlike the thousands they had had before.
"Xellos…what are you—"
"I would very much appreciate an answer, Lina-san," Xellos interrupted. He walked up to her so that they were about six inches apart. "I believe that you owe it to me. Regardless of what you may think of me and what I do, you've caused me quite a bit of trouble. If only you could put yourself into my shoes and see things from my perspective, would you be able to see just how much trouble."
Lina's degree of discomfort lowered. "And just whose fault is it that all this trouble began?" she said. "I didn't want anything to do with you."
"Sou desu ne (That's right)," Xellos agreed. His smile surfaced, but it was layered with something Lina could almost call "regret." "I admit that it was my intention to have you indebted to me, but you cannot solely place all the blame on me."
Lina grimaced a little. It had been a while since she had remembered that it wasn't entirely Xellos's fault that she was in the mess she was in. There might have been other options for her to solve her earlier problem with money, but she had jumped on the first opportunity that had arisen. Technically, if she had simply raised the money she had owed Xellos (and not have forgotten about it), Lina would probably not seen Xellos's face for a long time.
"It was not I who broke a rare egg worth thousands of gold pieces," Xellos continued. "Nor was it I who signed a contract without thoroughly looking at it. One should always read a contract in detail before putting a signature, regardless of who made up the contract. Furthermore, Lina-san, you knew me well enough by that time that I was not a person you should easily trust. You could not have possibly thought you could owe me some money, pay me back, and that would be the end of it?"
Lina's face was turning red by now. This was not unlike Zelgadis pointing out her mistakes in trying to get away from Xellos. So she wasn't perfect in her executions—why did everyone have to throw that in her face?
"No…no I didn't."
"Well, then you should take a little responsibility yourself. In a sense, you are the one who allowed me to take this opportunity to take advantage of you."
"All right!" Lina said. She sighed. "I'm responsible for letting this mess happen. I don't always think about consequences."
"Now that that's settled, please answer my question," Xellos said. He faintly smiled, unable to hide his pleasure in bringing about an acknowledgment of her part.
"Why is so important?" Lina asked. Despite her knowledge that she was in a delicate situation with Xellos right now (she had no idea why his behavior was so unusual), she was hesitant about immediately answering that question. Frankly, she didn't want to. Zelgadis didn't even get a true answer. All he simply got was that she had to go back because she didn't want it to end with her simply in hiding. That was partially true, but not the whole truth.
"You do recall that I said that I had matters to attend to?" Xellos said. His voice was even, but the fact he even brought that up showed that he was a little impatient. "I do not have much time to have one of our long, delightful conversations. I just wish you to answer my question and then leave me to make some preparations for tomorrow."
His non-answer and referral back to tomorrow only posed more questions for Lina to ask. She wanted to ignore them for the sake of not angering Xellos, but she couldn't. Was something very important happening tomorrow that Lina would get in the way of? The way Xellos said it made it sound as though if Lina kept bothering him, he would be unable to complete the task he needed to do.
"What's so important about tomorrow?"
"Lina-san, please. I do not wish to get into that. It is nothing you should be concerned with."
"Lina-san." Xellos folded his hands together and tried not to raise his voice more than he already had. He noticed Lina had jumped, so he tried to calm himself. "Answer the question, please. I am not a man of short temper, but you are trying my patience."
Why is he so pissed? Lina thought. If only she could do the same thing Xellos had done when he didn't want to answer a question that was not to his liking. Lina knew that Xellos would not allow her to walk away as if she had not heard him.
"I don't know," Lina said. It was the best thing she could come up with. Hopefully, it would satisfy him.
"You don't know, is it?" Xellos said. He gave her an empty smile and then turned his back to her. He folded his hands together again, but this time behind his back. "It's not impossible for me to believe you could do something as reckless as to return to a place that will most likely do you harm. Yet, I could not believe that you would do something so reckless without believing you could gain something from it. For instance, your little travel to the Houshu Forest. Quite unwise of you to try to take on a dangerous territory without gathering information or securing a trustworthy guide through it. The benefits of you going, however, are quite obvious. In this situation, nothing is obvious."
"Sometimes I just do things…" Lina said. She glanced at a nearby window. It was the second floor, but if she needed to leave in a hurry, it would be the best option. Somehow, she imagined that Xellos was going to explode in rage. Regardless of why he would be so furious, Lina was not eager to see the direct opposite of his "I'm-always-happy" mode. Even when he fought Zelgadis and was clearly peeved, he was "pleasant." Lina knew for a fact that even an inhuman person like him must have a really nasty angry side, but she had always hoped she'd be a mere spectator of it, not the recipient of his fury.
"Just a few minutes ago I acknowledged that you are an intelligent woman," Xellos said. "There's no possible way that you would just come back for no particular reason. Even if I wasn't up to anything, you endlessly complain about being in my presence. Really, if you were going to just come back, did I really need to stab your little friend?"
"Zel didn't get stabbed for nothing," Lina said. She decided not to argue that Xellos was mostly to blame for that happening. "I didn't plan to come back here from the beginning. At the spur of the moment, I decided to come out of hiding. I paid back most of what I owed for Zelgadis helping me anyway, thanks to your contribution."
"If he wanted compensation, he should have asked," Xellos said. "I would have paid him more to stay out of this mess than you would have for his assistance."
"He's not exactly your biggest fan," Lina muttered. "He'd rather help someone remove his own eyeballs with a rusty nail than help you in the least bit."
Xellos's chuckle sounded more like himself, and Lina mentally sighed. Their conversation had become more light and it was slowly moving away from the question Lina didn't want to answer. It was likely Xellos would soon turn back to the topic as he was "busy" with things Lina was in the dark about, but for the moment, she was glad that she didn't feel so cornered.
"I'm afraid he has helped me… Not that Zelgadis-san nor you, Lina-san, would realize it."
"What do you mean?" Lina gripped the table lightly when Xellos turned back to her with the classic "sinister" smile. That didn't mean anything good even if it were a sign he was back to his old self.
"I'll level with you, Lina-san," Xellos said. "It bothers me that I cannot determine the exact reason you've returned. Perhaps you've decided to counter my own secret plan with a plan of your own—I do not know. However, since you're so unwilling to give me the answer I desire, I will offer you an answer to the question you seem to want to know."
"Really?" Lina said. She narrowed her eyes. "A real answer? Not some bogus jumble of words that could be true, but really aren't?"
Xellos once again didn't answer immediately. His face turned serious and moved in to close the distance between them. Lina, not thinking very rationally believed that she could move herself further back by pushing against the table that was already against the wall. She didn't see the reason he needed to get so close just to answer a simple question, which was no doubt hardly worthwhile. Lina expected to be disappointed by his response, as there was never a cause for Xellos to deliver when it came to something that seemed vaguely important to Lina herself.
"I did not want to say this because I should not have said what I said some days ago," Xellos whispered. He smile became wiry. "Then again, I did not expect you and Zelgadis-san to have a concoction that could induce sleepiness in me. I've become quite careless during my time around you."
"What are you getting at?" Lina said. She was surprised those were the words that came out of her mouth. Truly, her mind had been shouting to tell Xellos to return the space that had been between them.
"You know and I know that I brought you here as part of a plan to financially benefit me in some way," Xellos said. His voice seemed to drop even more. "I still will not say what it exactly is, but I will not continue to deny this is so."
"Oh, my, God…" Lina said. She could hardly be scared of the consequences of having Xellos so closely when he was giving her one of his rare moments of truth. "Even though it has been stupid for you to continue to lie about it, I cannot believe you just said that."
"The only reason I said that was to let you understand that I will answer your question truthfully," Xellos said. "It's not in my best interest to tell you, but I am slightly irritated that you won't tell me why I have the privilege of looking at you right now."
Lina took a few seconds to get over the fact that Xellos was going to be honest for a few minutes. It was even amazing that he admitted being irritated (and sounded irritated). Lina found this to be quite refreshing, but it did not make her uneasiness at answering his question go away. She wished that she could give him a half-assed answer like she had to Zelgadis and that would be the end of it. She knew by the seriousness of his manner that she could not get away with such a lack of sincerity. Lina released a breath and ran her hand through her hair.
"I couldn't stay hidden after that night," Lina said. Her eyes dropped to the hardwood floor. "It was driving me crazy."
Lina's head tilted toward the floor a little more, causing some of her hair to cover her reddening face. "When you made that comment about being glad I was gone. I thought for a moment—for the first time—that you could…possibly…"
Xellos's laughter was not what Lina was expecting nor desiring. "Don't laugh!"
"I'm sorry, Lina-san. I could not help myself."
Lina folded her arms across her chest. "Yeah, yeah, it's really funny that I could be so stupid to think that. After all, that's been part of your plan from the beginning too. 'Get Lina Inverse to think that I actually like her, so she'll let her guard down.' I guess after being around you so much, even I could occasionally be tricked."
Xellos put his hands on her shoulders, making her jump a little. "Excuse me for my rudeness, but what is stupid, Lina-san, is that you refuse to believe me even when I do tell you something truthful," he said, voice going back into the region of a whisper. "Of course, I truly like you. I cannot say that for hardly anyone else, and I doubt I shall in the future, so you should realize this is not a common occurrence for me."
"Cut it out," Lina said. Her frown was unfortunately hard to keep. "Just about everything you say is a lie and most of them are said to fit some purpose of yours."
"Yet you cannot figure out the purpose of why I would say I was glad you were gone," Xellos said. "Although, I think that night I clearly explained why I said that. Something along the lines of I didn't want to see you fall into danger by my hands."
"I'm supposed to believe that?" Lina said. "You don't have feelings like a normal person! You would never, ever, stop thinking about yourself and your own gains and start thinking about the well-being of someone else! People like you don't have changes of hearts! You just live to deceive others and cause them pain!"
"Why are you so upset?" Xellos said, his voice the total opposite of hers. "If this is what you believe, then why does it make you so mad?"
"Because!" Lina said. She grabbed his wrists and pulled his arms away from her. "You just make me sick! And the fact I thought for any period of time that you might see someone else in this world besides Xellos Metallium makes me even sicker! I really, really don't like you."
Xellos snorted. "It's funny, but that's the first time you've said that to me," he said. He shook his head. "You've admitted that I'm a horrible person and just not pleasant to be around, but you've never right out said that you did or did not like me."
"It's obvious, isn't it?" Lina said. She drew in a breath. Now that she had said it, she felt relieved. Xellos was right, though, that she had never said it to him until just a minute ago. "Do I really need to spell it out?"
"Somehow you saying it just makes it seem even less true," Xellos said.
"What?" Lina was ready to strangle him. "Don't forget—you're the one who always lies."
"You lie quite often too, Lina-san," Xellos said. "Perhaps you don't like me as much as I like you, but you do like me to some degree."
"Don't flatter yourself," Lina spat. "There's nothing I enjoy about being with you nor even thinking about you."
Xellos smiled and lightly rocked on his heels. "Uso desu yo (That's a lie)."
"Uso ja nai (I'm not lying)."
Xellos's voice became sing-song. "Usotsuki (Liar)…"
"Xellos!" Lina grabbed him by the collar. "I'm not lying, damnit! Every moment with you is horrible! You drive me insane!"
Xellos tapped her lips with his index finger once, causing Lina an instant blush. "You're a bad liar, Lina-san," he said. "I should know."
"And what makes you so damn sure I'm lying this time?"
"Because of things like this."
Lina did expect Xellos, since he was in her discomfort zone, to try to pull something, yet at the same time it was as if she had no clue at all. Even as Xellos quickly brought her close to his body and drew his face towards hers until their lips were tightly fastened to one another, Lina could not respond as she knew she should. It was as if for the split second that she gave Xellos the opportunity to kiss her, she had an out-of-body experience. Perhaps it was the very surprise of him actually kissing her that caused her to have a moment of delusion and be able to think for some seconds that it wasn't happening to her. Of course, when it all came back to her, she did try to push him away. This was even more difficult than the last time he had kissed her because he pushed her forward on the table, causing her to lean back practically to the wall. His grip on her was hardly that light either, but Lina wasn't sure if that wasn't merely her imagination. Her mind wasn't able to clearly assess what was what.
Her inability to catch her breath wasn't helping any oxygen get to her head to clear up things for her because Xellos didn't seem to want to let the kiss end. She only was able to slightly draw in a breath as he pulled his lips away for a second only to immediately bring them back to Lina's. Lina wasn't sure if it was because this she was becoming lightheaded or just the kiss within itself. Regardless, Lina's heart felt like it was about to tear a hole through her chest. Soon, as she began to feel more weak, her gasps for air became more like whine. In truth, Lina didn't notice because she pictured herself managing to halfway get out Xellos's name so she could demand he stop. Not until her head cleared would she realize that she hadn't been able to produce any real words.
The moment Xellos truly released Lina, she didn't space out like she had during their business trip. She was still leaning against the table, drawing in deep breaths and trying to sort her feelings about everything. Anger wasn't the only thing she felt, but it was always the one that took the most precedence. Her anger was maintained by Xellos's smug smile across from her. Lina hadn't quite gotten herself together, but she shakily came forward from the table so that she was close enough to Xellos. She punched him hard across his face, but not as hard as she would have wanted to. Her hand was quivering a little, so the impact wasn't up to her normal standards.
Xellos held his red cheek, seeming no less pleased than he had before she had hit him. "Do you recall, Lina-san," he said, "when you mentioned that I often hold back when it comes to you?"
"What the hell…does that have to do…with anything?" Lina said. She was tempted to keep punching him until he stopped looking so satisfied.
"I know what kind of reflexes and power you possess. If you wanted to, you could have stopped me from kissing you a moment ago. Don't tell me you didn't think it was coming."
"How did you believe I was going to prove my point? By allowing you to dispute something else I said?"
"Xellos, you—" He wasn't exactly helping her catch her breath. If anything, Lina's frustration was making it harder for her to get back into a regular breathing pattern.
"Tapping your lips with my finger… It didn't occur to you that I might try to kiss you within the next couple of seconds?"
"Fine!" Lina said. She was pushing him away so she didn't have to see his smile so clearly. "I did realize it was coming! But that doesn't mean anything!"
"Really?" Xellos said. "You 'really, really don't like' me, right? So you should fight tooth and nail to make sure I never touch you with my 'disgusting' hands."
"Shut the hell up," Lina said. "I couldn't help it—my body froze, okay?"
"Just froze, of course."
"Of course! I'm not used to defending myself against lechers!"
Xellos sighed. "Honestly, Lina-san, you really want to fight this to the very end, don't you?" he said.
"I'm not going to sit back and let you say whatever you like about me," Lina said. She gave herself a little time to recover yet another lung-full of air. "I can almost ignore that you like me on some perverted level, but I'd rather die than let you believe I like you back. I'll do whatever it takes to make sure you know the truth."
"Truth…" Xellos echoed. "I have not fully answered the question you wished to know—about the reason why I said what I did."
Lina waved her hand. "I don't care anymore," she said. "I'm satisfied enough with what I've observed from you."
"I would like to give you a more detailed answer, despite the risks," Xellos said.
"Don't do me any favors." She frowned because it didn't appear that he was listening to her.
Xellos's voice was barely audible, but it was as if he was saying it directly into her ear. "I truly wanted to protect you."
"I was angry at first that you had gone off with Zelgadis-san and wanted to immediately get revenge against him, but soon I came to appreciate his interference. For without it, I would have indeed had to bring you back here according to the plan."
"I don't want to hear anymore! I don't care!"
Lina had little hopes Xellos would actually stop telling her what she didn't want to know, especially since his gaze wasn't even focused on her. She didn't know why he decided to go on, nor why he was being so quiet about it. The way he was carrying on, Lina wouldn't have been surprised if he still continued to explain himself even after she was gone. But why even bother? Lina wouldn't believe what he said; she was already convinced that if Xellos felt anything for her, it was something physical. If it was nothing more than that, Lina could handle it. She couldn't stand to hear him try to make it more than it was. By doing so, Lina simply figured that he wanted to, in a sense, seduce her so he could finally do all the things Lina thought he was merely teasing about. She was a little more than positive that if she were to openly give Xellos a chance, he would be all over her in a minute. Lina wasn't going to let that happen by allowing his testimonies of "real" feelings affect her.
"That's why I feel that Zelgadis-san has indirectly assisted me. I was given the opportunity to believe it was too late for my plan to still work, and what my feelings were about that being so."
"God, it never ends…" Lina said. She put her hands over her ears, more so in a gesture to signify she didn't want to hear any more, but it did not mute Xellos's sound in spite of his low volume.
"My superior would have been highly displeased—the repercussions of my failure are something that may not even be worth it. After all, I do not have nor do I really think I ever will have a significant relationship with you. So I ought to really go through with the plan and save myself the trouble of doing what I've always believed was the result of doing anything "good" for someone else: absolutely nothing."
Lina took Xellos's head in her hands and turned his head toward her until he met her gaze. "Why won't you stop playing around with me?" she said. "If you want to cause me harm so that you can add more millions upon the great number you already have, then just do it. Stop these stupid psychological games."
"Although I find those to be most entertaining with you, it's no longer my intention to do such things, Lina-san," Xellos said. His voice returned to normal as did his "jolly" expression. "I would love for our paths to cross again, whether it's favorable or not. But once I implement my scheme, that would most likely never happen."
"Because you intend to somehow cause my death and gain money from it," Lina said, recalling his past statement. She dropped her hands from his head.
"Things like this are but so common for me," Xellos said. He shrugged. "I suppose you could call it a quite efficient way to deceive someone for a profit. With the person being dead, you don't have to worry yourself with trifling things such as he or she coming back to enact some kind of revenge against you."
"You said a lot of things, that I think are just bull shit, about you not wanting to go through with your original plan. I'm sure that by now I've messed up your procedure a good bit, so it's not clear to me whether you still desire or are still able to go through with your scheme."
Xellos continued to smiled quietly at her, but for a few seconds his lips twitched just slightly as if he would not be able to maintain it. "…Now that you have returned," he said, "I have no choice but to go through with it. With you in hiding, I might have been able to defend my failure, but not while you're at my own house. I have the obligation of fulfilling my duties to my best abilities."
"You're nothing more than a 'yes-man,' aren't you?" Lina said. It was true that she might need be more concerned with the fact that Xellos was determined to do her in all for the sake of increasing the amount of gold he owned, but Lina was comfortable with that. She almost looked forward to him going through with it so that she could not only have the satisfaction of destroying his plan, but also have some peace of mind about the "real" Xellos. She didn't really consider Xellos to be real in many aspects since he lived his life to serve someone else, gaining monetary compensation in exchange for his puppet-like lifestyle. He rarely revealed his true feelings and always contemplated how his superior would be affected in an action he took before he even decided whether he would do something. There was no need for Lina to waste precious energy searching for something more in Xellos. All she need do was thwart any attempts to end or ruin her life, and all would be well. Her time with Xellos would be up and she could hold her head higher knowing that she countered him head on instead of just fleeing.
"Remember that I have very little free power over the things I do," Xellos said. He was curious as to why she smiled a little after he said that, but he decided not to ask about it. "As I also said, I am able to live so comfortably and lavishly because of that."
Lina shook her head and went to unlock the door with the key Xellos had tossed in a drawer near his current standing position. "You can do whatever you like, Xellos," she said. "I'm confident that even you won't be able to so easily kill me with my eyes wide open for an attack. Nor will I allow you to make my life hell or whatever it was that you said was the least of what could happen. I like the life I've been living, and I have no intention of letting someone get in the way of it. So, I'm sorry to say you won't be making a coin off me."
"I hope that's true, Lina-san," Xellos said as she walked out the door. Once she was gone, he turned back to where she had been standing. "Because I am certain that I will either ruin or end that life of yours that you've become so accustomed to…"
Zelgadis felt many things at that moment. Relief, for one. He had been quite worried since Lina had left as if she had intentionally jumped into a pool of flesh-eating ants. That feeling had stayed with him until he had realized for once he didn't really have to do anything else for his friend. He knew, of course, she would contact him for help if things got too hot for her to handle (which Lina assured they wouldn't), but essentially he did not have to look for her nor go to Xellos's house and try to sneak her out. This feeling of no obligations to honor would have been incredibly liberating, had Zelgadis not had to deal with several attacks upon his return to the "real world." The whole day Zelgadis had been by himself, he had about three hours where he was left in "peace." He had been attacked too much in his sleep to try to do so anymore at that point and except for the moment, he hadn't tried to eat anything. Luckily for him, it did not seem that most of his attackers were of a fighting level that he could not handle. In fact, Zelgadis found his little non-stop battle in Charmin more difficult than the past twenty-four hours.
In between wondering how long his uncle would be angry at him, Zelgadis found the time to be angry at Lina's stupidity. Rather, he was more angry that he allowed her to return to Xellos with such a stupid reason. Basically, it was just something she had to do. Zelgadis really had wanted to tell her it was the most full of crap thing he had heard her say in a long time. The only thing that prevented him was her look that said "nothing you say will change my mind." Zelgadis decided it would be better for himself to take his payment for helping her and enjoy a little break from her. Not that he knew beforehand that his little break would be avoiding getting stabbed, beaten, choked, or burned. Still, when he compared that to doing anything concerning Xellos, it was like a breath of fresh air. Not unlike his current lunch, which was refreshing not only due to the fact he was starving and tired. Relieved as he may have been, he was not without a twinge of anger, anxiety, and confusion.
Zelgadis wiped off his mouth with his napkin. "Don't you think you should be monitoring him?" he said. He quickly slid his plate closer to himself, catching Lina eyeing his drumstick.
"No way," Lina said. She pretended not to have any interest in his meal. "He was acting so strange, I thought he might actually throw me out of a room."
"How long are you going to be here?"
"What, are you ready to see me go back already?"
"That's not what I mean. I mean, of course, that—" Zelgadis paused to fork a meat-filled bun Lina was casually trying to grab. "As I was saying…"
"Come, on, do you expect me to sit here and do nothing while you stuff your face in front of me?" Lina said.
"Aa (Yeah)," Zelgadis said. He popped the bun in his mouth and chewed thoughtfully for a minute and swallowed. "Don't ruin the only bit I've gotten to eat since I last saw you."
Lina crossed her arms. "Some friend you are," she muttered. "I might be dead by tomorrow."
"You don't act like a woman about to die," Zelgadis said, disinterested in her pleas. "Are you sure that Xellos is going to have you killed? What's the point in that?"
"This is Xellos; he doesn't have to have a point." She glared at Zelgadis as he enjoyed another bun from a basket in front of him.
"Is he really going to kill someone he likes?" Zelgadis said. When Lina's glare took a new intensity upon him, he raised his hands in defense. "We both agreed that he likes you, regardless if it's in his own sick, twisted way, so there's no harm in mentioning it."
Lina held her forehead. "I'll just be so glad when all of this is over…"
"Even if it means you'll be dead."
"There are few things that seem worse than this Xellos thing." Lina leaned back in her chair. "For once, I wished I had more of an idea of what's gonna happen. Usually I don't mind making up a plan as I go, but this time…"
"Xellos could really end up doing something to kill you. I hate to admit it, but after fighting him twice, I can't be stubborn enough to say he's incapable of killing me. That's proof enough for me that he could do the same for you."
Lina closed her eyes and sighed. "I don't think I'll be fighting Xellos to stay alive. It's most likely that he'll lead me to my death—he's not the type to do many things directly, if he can help it."
Zelgadis nodded in agreement, and the two fell into a silence. Zelgadis didn't have anything he thought would be good advice to offer her, and Lina wanted a few seconds to clear her mind of thoughts of what Xellos might have under his sleeve. As Zelgadis had suggested it might be best for her to go back to Xellos's house and make sure that he wasn't setting a trap for her while she was away, nor was doing anything in accordance with his plan that she might be able to prevent. She was stubbornly ignoring him as she often did to prevent him from being right about things, but her reluctance to return was solely based on the fact that Xellos was acting a little too weird for her tastes. What if some else happened like from a moment ago? She had no desire to go back to the house and let Xellos try to convince her that his feelings for her were real, or worse, experience some of the irritation he had expressed. Of course, if she was really fearful of such a thing, she would have completely changed her mind about taking Xellos head on and turned around to get out of Hadin as quickly as possible.
Lina's chair landed on the floor loudly as she put hand to her chin. A disturbing thought came to her, though she was not sure why it even came into her head. Was this also part of Xellos's new plan? His old plan would surely be for her to be occupied with some ridiculous chore while he set the stage for her horrible conclusion; if she considered his statement of wanting to keep her safe being true, then his new plan could have been to repulse her so much that she would change her mind for whatever reason she had for returning. Could his strange behavior been only a ruse to send Lina away and deter her from ever returning to his house? Lina found that the latter reasoning had some validity to it, when she thought of the oddity of Xellos allowing her to leave his house on her free will in the first place. He hadn't done that in a long time, and certainly not after she had escaped from him in the Houshu Forest. Lina, from the moment she had decided to see if she could catch up with Zelgadis, had thought Xellos's reluctance to stop her from leaving was only to initiate his plan. Had she been terribly mistaken and he was once again trying to protect her?
Lina calmed a bit when she found some evidence to dispute that. Xellos had made it clear that he could not allow himself to deviate from his plan now that she was again so close to him. If he did, she was sure he would have to suffer a much greater consequence than if he had tried his best to get the plan to work, but was unable to defeat her cunning. Lina drew in a breath and nodded to herself. Xellos was loyal to his superior to a "T"; he made it clear that there was little he wasn't willing to do to satisfy his mistress. Even if he did like Lina in a way that was unlike any other person he knew, Xellos wasn't anything close to in love with her. That, even if it were Xellos, would then be a different matter. If someone like him would be able to develop a heart capable of that emotion, Lina could believe he would betray his superior for the sake of rescuing the only person who had stirred that emotion within him. Lina didn't believe she was that person, nor did she think such a person would ever exist for him. Lina also had no desire to be that person. It was bad enough he even liked her, but for that to develop into something like love would be one of the worst possible things Lina could imagine.
The best way to imagine to him as an enemy, mainly because it was a more predictable relationship. Xellos was a clear-cut adversary, to some extent. If Lina thought about the way he treated Zelgadis, it wasn't hard to think about the dynamics of their bond; Xellos wanted him dead or beaten to a pulp at the very least, and Zelgadis was only slightly of different feelings. Lina found that, being a woman of quite a number of enemies, to be a much more comforting relationship. How would a Xellos in love be? Since Xellos seemed to be frighteningly abnormal in every other aspect, Lina had no doubts his perception of love would be a horrible perversion of what it should be. Besides, wouldn't it be a contradiction? If he were to fall in love, then he wouldn't quite be Xellos. True, much about him was contradiction like his forever smiling façade covering his rotten insides, but Lina pictured something like love breaking Xellos down and almost literally dissolving him into nothing. If Xellos were a virus, love would be the injection that caused it to be cured.
"Oi (Hey), what's on your mind?" Zelgadis said.
Lina breathed as if Zelgadis had just yanked her out of the water before she had drowned. "Nothing," she said. "Just randomly thinking about stupid things. But you're right. I need to go back and finish this thing. Taking my eyes off of him is like taking a nap in a scorpion pit."
Zelgadis felt somewhat relieved by her following wink, after noticing that she was lying about something being on her mind. Somehow he could tell it wasn't about Xellos trying to kill her, but some kind of other threat, he supposed, that she had realized. He would have liked to have more details about what that might have been, but he had little confidence that Lina was going to share. As everything was originally her problem, he knew he didn't exactly have the complete right to demand she let him know everything.
"Just don't forget that I'll be close by whether you need me or want me to be," Zelgadis said as Lina started to get up.
Lina nodded. "I know, thanks." She smiled at him as she got ready to leave. "What's with that face? Shouldn't you be glad that you get a break from all of my mess?"
Zelgadis's eyes were settled on the plate in front of him. "Yeah."
"Zel—" Lina prepared to reach out to him, but stopped as he started eating again as he had been before Lina came along.
"Hurry up and get out of here," Zelgadis said in between bites. "How much longer do you intend to interrupt my only possible meal of the day?"
Lina laughed a little and waved to him as she walked away. "I gotcha. See you later then!"
Zelgadis dropped his utensils promptly after Lina had left the establishment and gazed toward the exit, halfway wishing she would come flying back in demanding how he could let her go back there again by herself.
"Later seems too far away…" he murmured to himself.
Lina sighed as she stepped carefully down a hallway on the third floor. It wasn't that Xellos's house was particularly lively with him being the only other person there, but that day it seemed incredibly quiet as if someone had go through and sealed off every conceivable sound possible. If it weren't for the way Xellos had kept referring to all the preparations he would need to do for the following day, Lina might have thought he wasn't there. No, even that fact wasn't the real reason she continued to inspect each room for signs of the man; it was her Xellos-sixth sense acting again. He was nearby, she could tell. Of course, whenever she wanted to find him, it was impossible to do so right away. Whenever she wanted him to be far away, that was when he was the closest. She contemplated doing such kind of action that would indicate she didn't want him around, which in the past had always proven to make him appear out of thin air. She doubted whatever she may pretend to do now would not help her find Xellos like magic.
She opened another door slowly, peeking her head in around the room for any evidence that Xellos was there or had been there. Lina didn't think it was quite necessary to actually enter any of the rooms, as she doubted that Xellos was in fact hiding from her. If that were so, Lina would really be convinced that Xellos was not acting like himself. Even though she had once seen him hide from someone, the situation was much different. If he were purposely running away from Lina right now, she would definitely think he was a coward. Maybe in some sense he was always a bit of a coward, as he chose to live his life through manipulating others instead of having enough courage to make a living through his own efforts. Yet, in other ways he was fearless in the way he schemed and broke the law without worry that one day it may actually punish him. Killing didn't make him blink an eye, nor did he have concern for the vast amount of enemies that he accumulated most likely on a daily basis.
Upon thinking of such things, Lina found herself treading even lighter on her feet as she turned a corner in the hall. Xellos always pretended to be cute or innocent around most people, so it was easy to forget how dangerous of a person he was. Of course, Lina knew the fact that one could be fooled into believing he was a harmless fool made him one of the most dangerous people she had met.
Lina's heart started to beat faster as she investigated another door to find no trace of Xellos. Was this a trap as well? Maybe he had just been waiting for her to leave so he could trap her in the house. That, of course, made her hand shake as she cupped her ear against the door of yet another room, but she had made her decision to come back and face Xellos head on, and she wasn't going to turn tail and run now before anything had even happened yet.
Lina sighed for the second time as she reached the last door and still had no clue where Xellos was. She dropped her head of the wall that marked the end of the hall. "What the hell is that guy up to?" she murmured to herself.
If only Xellos would just plainly lay out what he had in store for her, she could hurry up and foil his plans and get on with her life. It seemed to have been such a long time since she had been living her own life that Lina hadn't decided or taken the time to consider what she was going to do after all the Xellos business was said and done. Perhaps that was in part because she had some doubt that everything would work out fine. Sure, in most cases Lina could attest that in the end she managed to keep her head afloat, but this was Xellos. Against her record of victory by a lot of good luck and his record (as far as she knew) of always getting what he wanted one way or the other, who would be victorious? Lina's luck was strong, but strong enough to battle against an evil like Xellos? She wasn't going to bet money on herself just yet.
"Geez!" Lina said, lifting her hand to smack the wall. Just before she made contact, a thud came from what seemed to be deep beyond the wall, and her hand froze in front of it.
Lina's brows lowered and she began feeling up and down the wall. Near the legs of a table at the right corner of the wall she found an indent in the wall, which she pressed and a flap of the wall came loose beside her. She lifted it further forward to reveal a narrow, sloped passageway that could only accommodate an average sized person at most. As Lina entered and descended the dark path without a second thought, she was for once grateful that she was not average height. Although she did wonder why Xellos, who was rather tall, would make the ceiling too low for himself. Was he crawling down there? Lina wondered if that was an indication that perhaps this was not an entrance to something that Xellos used.
After a brief moment of walking downwards, the path leveled as a light became visible in the distance. Now Lina could hear muffled talking and saw that the source of the light was from underneath a door at the end of the path. Lina approached the door and put her ear to it. She could make out some random words and recognized Xellos as one of the speakers. She couldn't tell who the other person was, but it was clear that the person was male.
Lina figured that if Xellos had to resort to coming down into such an area, he would probably think that no one would find him in such a place and perhaps leave the door unlocked. She tried the doorknob to find it unfortunately locked. For a second it seemed to be a fairly good idea to just bust in, but Lina knew that once she entered the scene, all their talking would cease, and she would be no less in the dark than before she kicked down that door. She frowned and put her ear to the door hard and strained to pick up some actual sentences.
"…looking forward…nuisance…" she was able to make out that much from the unknown voice.
Lina could hear Xellos's laughter and wondered what was amusing about Mr. Unknown's comment. "…safely…my grasp…"
Lina could halfway piece together what wasn't being said and knew Mr. Unknown was involved in Xellos's plans for her tomorrow. However, she didn't have much time to think very deeply about why the nature of their conversation and their location to have it because she began to hear footsteps coming her way. Lina quickly ducked into a corner next to the door, knowing that it was impossible for her now to escape the way she came without having them discover her. Although, it was quite possible that they would discover her once the door opened.
Luckily the little nook by the door was enough to keep her from being detected as Xellos and his guest exited the room and headed back up the hallway. Lina waited a few minutes before she moved from her flattened position behind the opened door. She expected a little that Xellos would be there when she moved the door out of the way or that she would encounter him along the way as she went back up the secret path. She was most cautious about trying to move the flap of the wall again now that it was closed. Before even thinking about exiting she put her ear to the wall to hear if anyone was still around. If only Xellos was a loud breather or something, would that have given her a chance of detecting him nearby. Lina swallowed and ever-so slowly pushed against the wall until it opened up again. She poked out her head just enough that she could scope the area, finding not a soul, and finally walked out and closed the flap shut again. She continued to tread carefully, watchful of any sign of anyone as she made her way to the stairs and back down to the first floor.
The house was as silent again as it had been before, which led Lina to believe that Xellos's guest had already gone. Nothing suggested that Xellos was gone, so she tried to act as casual as possible as she walked around downstairs, hoping to find that he was gone. If he were still there, she hoped to get away before he noticed her.
Lina decided to go to the first floor study first to see if he was wrapping up some details about what he had discussed with his mystery guest. Lina was surprised to find that his study room door was wide open and there was no trace of Xellos there. The strange appearance of the room made Lina's caution radar go into overdrive. She turned in the opposite direction, trying to make her way back to the stairs. As she tried to turn a corner a bit too quickly in her haste, she found that she ran into what she thought at first was the wall. However, for a wall it was much less hard and warmer.
Lina unwillingly meet eyes with Xellos who was looking at her with a curious smile. Naturally, her first thought was to complain about him not looking where he was going, but she held her tongue, being a bit nervous at finding him. He truly lived up to the idea of only showing up when Lina was trying to avoid him.
"Oya (Oh, my), are you back already?" Xellos said. The droop of his brow suggested that he was regarding a simple-minded person. "Didn't you and Zelgadis-san have a good time?"
Lina hid her surprise well. "Oh? And how do you know I was with him?" she said. "You been spying on me?"
"Don't be silly," Xellos said, waving his hand. He walked past her, but continued to speak as if she were going to follow. Lina, did, however, follow. "Where else would you go besides to your precious friend's side?"
Lina stood at Xellos's back, as he rummaged through some books resting in the lower row of a grand half-circle bookcase. She suspected that he was pretending to be searching for something in one of the books, as Lina couldn't imagine that he had a sudden desire to read. She released a dubious snort.
"Even though you were the one that said Zelgadis had helped you," Lina said, folding her arms over her chest, "you sound like you still hate him quite a lot."
Xellos laughed as if finding an amusing part in the book he was currently holding. "I doubt that I'll ever like Zelgadis-san." He slowly raised his eyes from the book, a disturbing grin appearing on his face. "Even now I think that it would still benefit me to just finish him off. But I'm not really one to be killing off people with no real reason, so of course, I'm not going to do anything right now. I'm not a maniac or anything."
"If you're able to joke like that then it seems that you're back to your normal self," Lina said. She watched Xellos carefully as he cheerfully put a book back and then stepped over to the side to go through some others. "So…are you ready for tomorrow?"
Again Xellos didn't meet eyes with her, but he did look out into the distance. "Ee (Yes), everything should go as planned," he said.
Lina for a moment almost thought she should try one last time to get the truth out of him. She shook her head slightly. Even if Xellos seemed to be back to his "normal" self, she knew that things between her and Xellos weren't the same as they were before. Not that they were wonderful before, but now Lina wasn't quite sure where she stood with him. She wanted to believe that at the end of this Xellos mess, she would again know clearly what to make of Xellos. Actually, Lina really hoped that she would be able to move on and never think about him again.
"Is there anything I should be doing while you're occupied with your oh-so-important business tomorrow?" Lina finally said. By that time Xellos had started climbing up a ladder to one of the upper level rows. She wondered if he was only doing so to put more distance between them.
"Oh, I have a task I want you to complete."
"A task?" Lina actually took the time to look up at him to see if he was being serious. "And what might that be?"
"Nothing that difficult," Xellos said. He waved a hand, holding a book. "If you have the urge, I don't mind if you bring Zelgadis-san along with you. If you go together you may be able to finish it faster."
"Hoh, are you trying to tell me that you want to kill us both in one big swoop?" Lina said. She was mostly amused by his suggestion rather than worried that she wouldn't be able to figure out what he was up to.
Lina could see his dastardly smile easily from below, although she might have enhanced it in her personal view after hearing his similarly toned laugh. "Don't be ridiculous, Lina-san," he said. "Why on earth would I kill the both of you in the same way? At any rate, I wouldn't dare let someone else take away the pleasure of killing Zelgadis-san myself."
Lina made a disgusted face and decided with that she would just walk away from him. After about two steps a book nearly fell on her feet. She quickly went to glare up at Xellos, but was surprised to meet eyes with him. The look in his eye was intense, so Lina was worried that he was going to say something strange again. She swallowed and waited for him to say something.
"I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that tomorrow goes well," he said. Xellos stared hard at her as if wanting to convey something that Lina just wasn't able to understand. "I won't let you get in the way of that, Lina-san."
"Heh." Lina, opposed to feeling threatened by what he said, felt relieved that he was acting like his typical despicable self. She bent down and picked up the book he had thrown. "Too bad for you I'm not giving up my life so easily."
Xellos easily caught the book Lina tossed back at him with a smug smile. "I hope that you can keep saying that." He watched her walk away, waving her hand. "I really do."
Lina sat up in her bed, instinctively knowing that it was morning (since a lack of windows told her nothing). She hadn't slept a wink the night before and doubted that Xellos had either because she had checked his room a few times in her insomnia. Now that she was opening his door, she saw that his bed was as neatly made as it was throughout the rest of the day. Relaxing now that Xellos was nowhere to be found, Lina stretched her tired limbs. As she drew her arm behind her back and tugged on her forehead, she looked out the window. It was ironically a really beautiful day, with not a cloud in the sky. Lina sighed and rested her head against the windowsill. As she stared at the sunrays coming from between the leaves in the trees in the distance, she envied the birds who were allowed to sit upon the branches and pick at the dew upon them. Watching them move around from spot to spot freely, she imagined herself just bolting from the mansion and never looking back again. She shook her head, pulled herself away from the window and did a few more stretches before she made her way downstairs.
Lina wasn't too surprised that coming into the kitchen, she found Xellos sitting at the head of the table, reading a book and enjoying a cup of tea. In front of him there was an elaborate breakfast laid out. The steam was still steadily rising from the majority of it. As Xellos was doing nothing but lazily sipping from his cup, Lina could assume that it was all for her. At this point, Lina couldn't even afford a second to be surprised. It was more like she wouldn't expect anything less.
Lina sat down across from him and started filling her plate until things were just hanging off the sides. She raised her fork, intending to start shoveling, but she quickly changed her mind and started to eat more thoughtfully. It wasn't that she wanted to really think about anything else (she had spent enough time doing that last night while she hadn't been sleeping). It just occurred to her that she should take the time to actually savor some of the delicious food she had in front of her. With the day being such a great mystery, she had no idea whether she would be enjoying dinner that night. And there were so many different experiences dancing around in her mouth at the moment. Sweet, tangy, rich, light, crunchy, creamy—there were all kinds of items to delight Lina's palette. Each forkful she took of something seem to compensate for the lack of sleep she had gotten and released her from the idea that she wouldn't see another day. If Xellos had poisoned the food, she could have died happy at that moment. That was about the only thought she had of him during her meal: why was he not kind enough to at least kill her with some kind of dish that was deadly tasty? That would probably be the only situation where she could have forgiven him for her death.
Lina raised a brow as she wiped some sauce from the corner of her mouth. It seemed that Xellos had said something. She wasn't quite sure because she had been completely immersed in the glazed meatballs and roasted potatoes she had been devouring. She only gave him a quizzical look rather than bothering to speak to him.
"I said once you finish eating, I want you to get on the task I spoke to you about earlier," Xellos said, not looking up from his book.
Lina grabbed a dish of sliced, sautéed fish and asparagus and slide the contents onto her own plate. She became more concerned with her food again. "It would be nice to know what I should do."
"Just a simple exchange."
"Exchange?" Lina was only repeating the part she had heard over her own chewing.
"I forgot that I was supposed to hand over an item to a customer of mine today, but since I already have arrangements, I can't be there."
"How convenient for you." Lina licked her lips, trying to figure out what it was that made it so good. "How about you just re-schedule it?"
Xellos laughed, making it unclear if he was responding to her comment or to an amusing part in his book. "These aren't the kind of people that you can back out on," he said.
"Sounds like if I back out on you, you'll be having some trouble," Lina said. She bit into an apple while scooping some oatmeal sprinkled with nuts and cinnamon into a bowl.
Xellos flipped a page in his book, looking relatively pleased. "Interesting," he said. "I already let them know of the names of the people who are now in charge of getting them their goods."
Lina stopped chewing to fix a glare upon Xellos. He remained unaffected and poured himself another cup of tea. Lina was tempted to continue to act unimpressed by anything he was saying, but she had taken particular notice now that he mentioned it wasn't just Lina's name that these people knew, but most likely Zelgadis's too. As much as she wanted to stick close to Xellos and not do his bidding, he left her with little choice. She could only assume that when she returned from her little task, Xellos would have his little death trap set up for her. However, she didn't understand why Xellos was pushing for them to be together if he didn't have it in for her friend as well.
"Are you sure you're not trying to get rid of Zelgadis today too?"
Xellos took a sip before answering her. "Nothing of the sort. That is, I mean to say that if anything happens today that endangers his life, it wouldn't be because of anything I particularly planned."
"Ah, sou (I see)." Lina finished off the apple and spun her spoon around in her oatmeal. "Great."
"What, are you disappointed I'm not targeting Zelgadis as well?"
Lina narrowed her eyes at the mushy contents of her bowl after hearing Xellos snort after that. "Of course not," she said. She sighed and began to eat again.
Xellos was forced to look up from his book, finding that Lina was either ignoring him or engrossed in her eating again. She was eating very dedicatedly, which he found interesting enough to not immediately call her out right away and watch her just as dedicatedly. Just as he was saying her name, Lina met eyes with him and he cut himself off. They entered into a silence that was possibly only uncomfortable for Lina.
"What is it, Xellos?" Lina finally said. Her fingers itched to pick up a knife and toss it his way.
"Excuse me?" Air seemed to go down the wrong pipe after she said that and she ended up with a fit of coughs. She braced herself against the table and let the fit pass before speaking again. "Did you just tell me to be careful?"
Xellos snickered very lightly and turned a page in his book as he his eyes dropped back upon it. "Well, of course," he said. "I wouldn't want anything to happen to ruin the little exchange today. You'll find that I put the box you're to deliver in the second floor study. There's also a map and directions with it."
Lina clenched her spoon until she was sure it was bent at least a little. "Yeah, of course," she said. Although by then Lina had nearly wiped out the entirety of the tables dishes, she quickly finished her bowl of oatmeal and ended her meal there. She wondered why it was that when she got up and left without a word, she was most annoyed that Xellos had not a word nor a glance left to spare for her.
Zelgadis trailed a little behind Lina, staring at the box she was balancing on her shoulder as she walked. They had been walking for some time now and it had failed to fall off. He wasn't sure whether or not he should be impressed by that or not. Theoretically, it should have fallen off the moment she made her first step.
"Lina, this doesn't make sense to me."
"I already told you before that when I made my decision to fight Xellos that I wasn't planning on making any sense."
"Even so…" Zelgadis found himself tempted to knock the box off and then recommend that they just take off. At least if the delivered good was ruined, it would mean that they couldn't go along with the trade in the first place.
"We pass this over to some guy and then we're done," Lina said. She kicked a rock out of her way as she walked. "Sounds easy enough to me."
"This is Xellos we're talking about," Zelgadis said. He bent down to pick up a rock. "Nothing is easy with him."
"Do you want to argue with me, or do you want to help me?" Lina said, glancing back at him just as he was aiming his rock. "What are you doing?"
Zelgadis froze for a moment, debating whether he should just knock down the box anyway, or if he should play it off. He reluctantly went with the second option and dropped the rock back to the ground. "What if that box is a bomb or something?"
"Then I would have overestimated Xellos," Lina said, turning back to the front. "He said he wasn't trying to kill you too."
"Yeah, that's why he asked me to help you today," Zelgadis said, folding his arms over his chest. "Because he loves it when I help you do things."
"Listen, I'm just about through trying to figure out what's going on in that twisted mind that occupies space in Xellos's head," Lina said, her eyes drifting to the sky, "but the sooner I do what he wants, the sooner this can be over. If I fight him more than I have to, I'm just gonna end up making things more complicated."
"Lina, I don't care if you don't want me to, I'm going back with you to Xellos's mansion after this."
"If you argue with me, I'll make sure we never make it to this exchange point."
"How are you going to do that?" Lina said, more amused than she should have been in the situation. After that it was if she had blinked and the box was in Zelgadis's hands. "Hey…!"
"I don't mind playing 'keep away' all day if it means that I'll keep you beside me."
Lina tried to mix an angry look among her look of gratitude. "That's not what we agreed upon the other day," she muttered. "You said you'd be around if I needed you—"
"When Xellos sends you out to do something this suspicious on the most suspicious of all days," Zelgadis said, spinning the box on his finger, "there's no way I'm just going to sit back in the shadows and let you handle this. I was going to let you be stupid on your own, but there's no point I that because in the end I'm just going to end up stupid with you."
Lina raised her fist above Zelgadis's head. "Sorry for being so stupid," she said, while letting him have it, "that it's contagious."
"I've been infected a long time," Zelgadis said, holding his head and moving a little away from her. "Don't worry about it."
"I won't worry about the fat knot on your head," Lina muttered.
The two of them stared at each other. Zelgadis readied himself for another sudden attack from Lina who was glaring at him. This all lasted about ten seconds before they broke down in laughter. Lina wasn't even sure why they were laughing in such a situation, but it felt so good to do so, that she didn't even care. Zelgadis moved closer to her again and started teasing her that if she had spread her stupid to Xellos a little more, maybe he would be stupid enough to let his guard down. Lina was content that even if it was her last day, she was laughing at that moment and able to joke back with her best friend.
"I'm sure that it's rubbed off on him," Lina said. She laid her hand on his shoulder. "He was dumb enough to let us get together today. No matter what he's up to, there's no way he's gonna succeed if there's the two of us!"
"Got that right," Zelgadis said. He smiled very lightly and turned his gaze to the sky. "Maybe that stupid disease of yours is why he likes you…"
Zelgadis jumped as he felt the hand on his shoulder burn with the intensity of fire. He immediately broke out into a full-out run, as Lina chased him as ferociously as an angry boar. Zelgadis was unable to convince her between the time she caught up and tackled him to the ground, that he had only been kidding. Whether he had or hadn't, Lina was determined to keep him close that day and make sure if anyone got killed, Zelgadis was going to be first.
Zelgadis observed the angle of the sun's shadow on the ground. "They're pretty late…" he muttered. He didn't dare speak loudly as Lina had not too long ago still been glaring at him for his earlier comment.
Lina grunted in agreement and started at the clearing between the trees that had been agreed upon to be the meeting point. If anything was clear to Lina it was that if things were going to get ugly, they picked a great spot for it, as they were at least a few miles away from a town. Above them the sun was sitting a little more than over their heads, letting Lina know that it was approaching past noon and her hunger would soon get the best of her. She had grabbed a random apple she had found in a tree, but she had to forget about it after Zelgadis had pointed out that there were a lot of partially eaten apples around it accompanied with fully dead squirrels. Even then, Lina thought about eating it until Zelgadis had smacked the fruit from her hand. He, too, had received a reciprocal slap, despite he was only trying to help. Lina had blamed it on her reflex, but Zelgadis continued to grumble that she had done it because of his earlier joke. Lina didn't bother to say anything to confirm nor dispute his idea.
"If no one shows up, then it's pretty clear that Xellos was just trying to get rid of you for a while."
Lina closed her eyes and willed her stomach to ignore the fact that it was time to be fed. "Either way, this is just a ploy to get me out of the house."
"You have no doubt at all that this isn't the trap?" Zelgadis said. His eyes kept moving around as if he expected someone to jump out at any moment. But then again, as he was still a little on guard from the constant attacks of the thugs sent by his uncle, it was more out of habit than anything else.
"Again, if this is the only thing that Xellos could come up with, he's not as smart as I thought he was," Lina said. She opened her eyes suddenly as she felt that Zelgadis was thinking something afterward. "You have a comment?"
"…Not a one," Zelgaidis said, turning his back to her. He swallowed and tried to think of anything else than what Lina had already known him to be thinking.
"Oh, really?" Lina said, staring at his back with half-lidded eyes. "You weren't about to talk about that stupid disease again, were you?"
"Of course not…" Zelgadis said. He coughed. "I just want you to consider the possibility that Xellos is all out of schemes this time."
Lina made a scoffing laugh. "Xellos without schemes," she said. "That's like me deciding to give up food or something."
Zelgadis tried not to smile as he thought of something else it was like. Since his thought was vaguely suggesting that Lina was prone to do stupid things, he smartly decided not to voice it. However, once again, he felt Lina's burning stare into his back and knew that she already had an idea of what he was thinking. Zelgadis tried to change the subject to something safer.
"How about we open this box?" He turned to her with it sitting on his palm. "At least let's see what this important cargo we've been transporting is."
Lina resisted the idea for a moment, knowing that Zelgadis was just trying to get himself out of the line of fire. However, when Zelgadis brought up that it might be some kind of valuable jewel or something of that sort, Lina's interest was piqued. It had been a while since she had seen something valuable that she could actually touch. Anything that was valuable in Xellos's place was protected too well for her to even think about placing a finger on it. Now that she had the opportunity to set her eyes upon something shimmering and expensive, how could she turn that away? It was highly likely that she would be dead by the next day, so this was not the time for her to be too careful. She had already decided to go out per her style: glimmering like the gold she was always chasing after.
"Why not?" Lina said, taking the box from him. She ran her hands down the sides of it, finding not a lock, latch, or even button. "So how do you think we can crack it open?"
"Must be some kind of pressure lock," Zelgadis said, standing behind her so he could have a closer look at she felt it out. "Probably it needs some kind of equally distributed stimulation."
"Hmm…" Lina said, trying out what he suggested. She continually started poking the sides of the box with her index and middle fingers. Zelgadis kept track of which spots she had already tried and instructed her on where to try next. After about two minutes of fooling around with it, they were rewarded with a clicking sound and the top of the box popping up.
Lina hungrily threw the top off and reached inside. Her face of anticipation instantly dropped into one of puzzlement as the two of them stared at her holding a metal tube of some sort. Lina looked to Zelgadis who shared her face of confusion. Rather than even bother to ask about what it might be, Lina put it back into its previous padded place and replaced the top. She pressed it back down until it the locked clicked back on. Then she sighed and handed it back to Zelgadis.
"Well, that was a waste of time," Lina said, putting her hands behind her head. She groaned loudly to the sky.
"You don't have the slightest interest in what was in the tube?" Zelgadis said, staring at the box with a curious expression.
"Unless it's liquid gold then who cares?" Lina muttered, still looking upwards.
"It might be."
Lina just laughed and shook her head. "I can smell gold a mile away."
"How rude of me to have forgotten your nose for valuable things."
"I sense that you're not carrying that antique silver watch that you usually keep in your pocket."
Zelgadis grinned. "Wow, that's impressive," he said. "Leave it to you to always be conscious of the most valuable thing on my body."
Lina finally faced him with a smile. "Well, I'm still hoping that one day you'll just give it to me like you promised," she said.
"I fake promised it to you to keep Rezo from taking back the only heirloom that I've managed to keep out of his hands," Zelgadis said, thinking that her memory was impeccable when it came to possessions.
"A promise is a promise." Lina said, smiling despite Zelgadis's frown of disbelief. "Anyways, where is the watch? I've been wanting to ask about it all day."
"Nice that you've been concerned all this time about my watch and not me," Zelgadis said. He held the box between his hands squeezing it as if it would pop any moment under his strength. "Did it ever occur to you that I still might be a little bit in danger with that whole Rezo thing?"
"You'll be fine," Lina said, waving her hand. "I'm the one being targeted by Xellos."
Zelgadis dropped his head and sighed. He wasn't in the least bit surprised that Lina turned it around and made it all about herself. Usually he would make a futile attempt to get her to see his point of view again, but the Xellos thing was a valid point. For once she had a real free card to be selfish. Zelgadis was just glad that it wasn't a permanent one, just in case that she did make it through the day alive.
Lina drew Zelgadis's attention as she darted her head toward the clearing. He looked there, noticing the faint sound of approaching footsteps. Lina stiffened and her hands tightened at her side. Zelgadis stuck closer to her and instinctively put his hand on the hilt of his sword. A few moments later two men came out into the clearing, both bearing double the weapons at their side. They looked at Zelgadis and Lina with inquiring eyes. Zelgadis and Lina in turn viewed them with guarded eyes, readying themselves for anything that may happen.
"So…" the heavier of the two began, "you're Xellos's minions, huh?"
"Who the hell is his minion?" Zelgadis muttered. Before he could complain anymore, Lina elbowed him to be quiet.
"I guess you could call us that," Lina said. "You must be the lackeys of his business partner then."
Lackey Two nodded and positioned his hand on his left sword. "Yeah, and we don't want any funny business from the two of you," he said. "Our boss is quite tired of being double-crossed by yours and we were under strict instructions to not let it happen again."
"Easy, easy," Lina said, watching Lackey One doing the same as his friend. She slowly took the box from Zelgadis's hand and held it up for them to see. "We don't intend to do anything here but give you the box you came for."
"The boss paid a lot of money for that!" Lackey One blurted out. "We ain't gonna be tricked again, you hear! So you better be telling the truth!"
"We hear ya, we hear ya," Lina said. She turned her head toward Zelgadis. "These guys are really high-strung. They must have been burned by Xellos quite a few times."
"Hey!" Lackey One said. "What are you muttering to him about? "
Lina and Zelgadis exchanged expressions of a realization that they were dealing with some very sensitive people. They both knew that if they moved or spoke in the wrong way, it would end up in a fight easily. Neither of them wanted to needlessly fight when they had other things they wanted to do that day. But they both understood that neither of them looked strong enough that it would be a problem to fight them if need be.
While Lina and Zelgadis were having a silent conversation between themselves, Lackey Two became more impatient and unsheathed his sword. He then took a step toward them and demanded that they stop acting so secretive.
"We're just going to put down the box here," Lina said very slowly, "and then walk away, all right?" She did as she said, making no big movements as she did so. She and Zelgadis maintained eye contact with their distrustful customers as they walked backwards from where they laid the box.
Lina and Zelgadis were more tense as the two lackeys didn't immediately make any movements toward the box. Lackey Two glanced at Lackey One and muttered something to him that they couldn't hear. He swiftly looked back at Lina and Zelgadis before he took another menacing step toward them.
"How do we even know that inside of this box is the promised item?" Lackey Two said. "We've already been fooled twice with that kind of trick!"
Lina and Zelgadis barely looked at each other again, silently noting that Xellos was quite good at doing that sort of dirty thing. They also had similar thoughts of how it was that this boss of theirs could be so stupid as to do multiple transactions with Xellos and have some kind of hope that the next time he wouldn't be hoodwinked by the master of deception Xellos was.
"We need proof!" Lackey Two bellowed.
"Blue-hair," Lackey One said, pointed a hand at Zelgadis. "You open the box and show us what's inside."
Zelgadis moved without a hitch, although he made sure to make catch Lina's eye signal for whether it was a good idea or not. The glance he had been able to catch from her seemed to suggest that it was a 50 percent chance of being a good move. As Zelgadis attempted to open the box in the same way that Lina had earlier, both of them wondered if it would have been better to first find out what it was that the lackeys had been promised to collect. Lina unconsciously held her breath as Zelgadis pulled out the tube and held it for the two to see. She let it out when they didn't immediately break out in angry shouts or brandished swords upon seeing it. They did whisper to each other, which was more assuring thing than immediate aggression.
"We'll need you to open up the tube," Lackey One said. "Just to make sure."
"What is it supposed to be?" Zelgadis said, hesitating to unscrew the top off. For all he knew, some kind of poisonous gas would come out of it and kill them all. Although, if that were to happen, even Zelgadis would have to admit that Xellos was really running out of ideas.
"You don't ask the questions—we do!" Lackey Two said, drawing even closer to Zelgadis with his sword.
Lina swallowed and put her hand on Zelgadis's shoulder as his hand hovered over the top. Knowing that he had Lina's approval, he carefully turned the cap and gingerly lifted it. The two of them sighed a relief when nothing suspicious came out of it. At first, neither of them bothered to even acknowledge what was in it, just glad it wasn't something that would lead to their death.
"This doesn't look like what we were supposed to get!" Lackey Two said, his hand shaking. This got Lina and Zelgadis's attention quickly.
"Yeah, the antidote is supposed to be white, but that stuff is obviously blue!" Lackey One said. He took out of his right sword. "Knew we couldn't trust Xellos!"
"Wait, wait, wait!" Zelgadis said, quickly screwing the top back on and backing up from the advancing lackeys. "I'm sure there's just been some kind of mistake here."
"We don't have time for mistakes!" Lackey One said. They were both now strategically positioned in front of Lina and Zelgadis.
"There's been no mistake!" Lina said. She tried to hold off the two lackeys from doing anything rash. "This is the antidote… Um, it's just been flavored with…blueberries?"
By then Zelgadis had already moved into a better defensive position, but he was almost knocked over by her ridiculous statement. It seemed that she had the same effect on the lackeys who were momentarily too stunned to immediately respond to it. Ridiculous as her statement was, it was successful in fully locking the lackeys' attention on her. They started barking at her about how they wouldn't fall for such a cheap trick and had been tricked by far more clever things than that in the past. Lina just added more fuel to the fire saying that the blueberry idea was by far the best Xellos had came up with. They were so concerned with arguing with Lina about it, that they didn't even notice that Zelgadis had moved to their side and had prepared to attack Lackey One. He realized that Zelgadis was attacking him just in time to block. That blow alerted Lackey Two to get back into attack mode. He glared at Lina who tried in vain to look innocent before he went after her. Lina, who was less prepared with a weapon on hand (she had really intended to let Zelgadis handle the majority of that) let Lackey Two simply chase her for a while to put more distance between them. Lina was much faster on her feet and she used the trees to her advantage to slow down the lackey even further.
After zigzagging between trees to keep up with Lina, Lackey Two was definitely feeling winded. He was amazed that Lina was so fast, but he was determined not to let the little deceiver get away. However, in his inability to keep up, he lost sight of Lina for a second as she ducked behind a tree. By the time he realized where Lina was, she was coming at him from the side of a tree. He fell onto his back and lost grip of his sword for a moment. Lackey Two's fumble allowed Lina to easily block his grab for his weapon with her foot. She then just as easily knocked the wind out of him with her other foot to his stomach. While he was holding his aching middle and trying to breathe, Lina had no problem getting her hands on his sword. Lackey Two painfully had no choice but to submit to Lina who was hovering over his head with a sword.
Lina, now having the lackey secured, allowed herself to look back over to the clearing to see what Zelgadis's condition was. She wasn't surprised that he was already finished with the taking down his own lackey and was tying back his hands. Lina motioned with her sword for Lackey Two to get on his feet and follow her back to Zelgadis's side. The two of them were unable to get any words on what to do next, when Lackey Two rushed to his obviously more battered companion's side, lamenting about what they were going to do now. Lackey One responded a just as forlorn voice that they wasn't much they could do. Lina and Zelgadis just exchanged glanced as this went on.
"The boss is done for now," Lackey Two sobbed. "That damn Xellos wouldn't stop until he's robbed him of not all of his money, but his life too!"
"We might as well die here too," Lackey One said solemnly. "I can't bear to go back and watch him die because of our failure."
Lina let them carry on with this deadly tone for a while before she brought her fingers to her lips and whistled. "Just wait one minute!" she said. "We haven't had one idea what you guys have been carrying on about since you got here. Can't you explain it to us a little bit?"
The lackeys looked at each other. Then Lackey One nodded and Lackey Two sighed. He then took his tied up companion and turned him so that he could properly face Lina and Zelgadis.
"About two years ago, our boss went to this party held by Xellos and some wealthy circle. Day after that, his health began to get worse…"
Lina felt the urge to give Lackey One a handkerchief as he struggled to continue with his story. Zelgadis hadn't been able to move past his stage of disbelief that things were going in this direction. He had his head rested against his hand as if he anticipated a headache coming on at any moment. Despite things were getting more emotional than she would have expected, she let a smile escape when she noticed Zelgadis's reaction.
Eventually Zelgadis too got sucked into the drama of their story as Lackey One got himself together and was able to elaborate. Apparently, their boss was one of the many people that "suddenly" became ill after attending Xellos's party. Since not everyone was affected by the illness, Xellos's hand in the matter was not immediately seen. Especially since he had made sure that he had hired someone else to cater the event and was able to use that as an effective cover for quite a while. However, as some of these guests began to die, some that hadn't perished used their vast fortunes to research the cause of their illness. One way or another, everyone's findings led to Xellos as the producer of the poison that was afflicting all the people. Although Xellos was able to conjure up only a barely plausible reason as to why his poison got into these people's systems without his knowledge, no legal actions were taken against him. His strongest defense was that everyone at the party ate the same exact things so how could only a portion get poisoned. In the end, those who wanted to keep their lives had to pay Xellos to get the antidote, which he claimed was very time and resource-consuming, so he couldn't so easily hand it out for just a nominal fee. Plain and simple it was extortion. Lina and Zelgadis were both of the mind that Xellos really would do anything to get money, no matter how much of a scum-sucking monster it made him look like.
"But it didn't end when our boss agreed to pay for the antidote," Lackey One added. "He's already spent most of everything, trying to get the real thing."
Lina felt like puking the more she heard. Basically, this was their fifth attempt over two years to get the antidote from Xellos. The first time, they were basically given a super-high priced retardant. It slowed down the spread of the poison enough that it seemed that he had been cured. But a few months later when the "antidote" was out of his system, he reverted right back to where he was before. However, thanks to the fake antidote, their boss had been able to keep living long enough to make a few more attempts to get his hands on the real things. The next time had also been a trade of false hope. They were certain that they had obtained the right thing, but at some point some hired goons of Xellos had switched out their antidote for nothing but water. Today's attempt was the absolute last bit of funds that their boss could afford after getting rid of his house, possessions, and large staff of lackeys. They had remained by his side out of loyalty and were not being paid for anything they had been doing for the last year.
By the time they had explained to this point, the two of them were in tears. Zelgadis understood their frustration, but at the same time had no desire to see grown men cry in front of him, so he tried his best to calm them down. Lina was wondering if there was anything they could do short of just leaving them to be.
"What do you think, Zel?" Lina said over the bawls of the lackeys. "It's not really our responsibility to help them, but…"
"We have our own problems with Xellos," Zelgadis said, massaging his temples. "We don't exactly have a lot of time to deal with them right now."
"Don't worry about us!" Lackey Two suddenly shouted. "Just leave us here for the vultures!"
Lina sighed and caught Zelgadis's headache. As much as she wanted to just bolt and leave them to their own devices, Lina couldn't move one foot away. But really what could they really do for them? Talking to Xellos would do no good; with all that was going on, they would never be able to get anywhere. And with Xellos's poisons it would surely be something that only one of his people would know how to cure. With that in mind, there was little they could do outside of magically procure the antidote out of the air.
"Um…I'm sorry for all the trouble Xellos has caused you, but you might as well just try to take this vile back and see if it can do something for your boss," Lina said. She picked up the bottle and tried to look at it as if it weren't a really bad idea.
Lina put it back into the box and outstretched it to them (or rather only Lackey Two who was the only who could move on his own). Zelgadis sighed and folded his arms over his chest to say that it was the only thing that they could do in that situation.
Eventually, Lackey Two took the box regretfully, while Zelgadis decided that there was no more need to keep his friend tied up and released him. However, with box in hand, the two lackeys merely stood next together in silence, heads down, and with no indication that they were going to move from that spot. Lina and Zelgadis sighed again and huddled up to hopefully find a way to send them on their way.
"These guys are never going to leave," Lina said. "We're going to have to lie to get them out of here."
"Might as well send them somewhere else," Zelgadis said.
"Somewhere else?" Lina said, scratching her head. "It's not like we can say go take a nice vacation down south."
"That's why we do what you said and lie to them."
Lina felt like her brain was going to explode with all the thinking, when finally it came to her. When it came to poisons and Xellos, there was only one thing that came to mind—his evil bakery. If she thought about it, that was probably the place that most of his homemade poisons were made. It was a long-shot that they would be able to find any clues there, but it was all they got.
"Zel, it's a piece of cake."
"What?" When Lina just grinned at him and broke their huddle, he wondered if she was overcome by her hunger and had lost her ability to think straight.
Lina walked over to the two lackeys and put her arms over their shoulders. "Listen guys, I think I have an idea for you two," she said. "There's a bakery of Xellos's that is basically his poison lab. You go there and start making a little noise and you're sure to find out something."
"Re…Really?" Lackey Two said.
"How can we trust that?" Lackey One said.
"What other choice do you got?" Lina said. "Listen, boys, if there's not anything there, feel free to go and speak to a certain Filia. If anything, you can at least get some payback against Xellos through her. No one is out to get him more than her."
Again the two lackeys looked at each other, but this time the slightest of hope appeared on their faces. They slowly nodded at each other and agreed to Lina's advice. Finally, with the box in hand, the two of them gradually left the forest, claiming to go straight away to the bakery that Lina had directed them to.
"Was that really okay?" Zelgadis muttered after they had disappeared.
"No longer our problem," Lina said. She made a dramatic gesture to the direction of Xellos's house. "Let's go take down Xellos!"
Lina started off before Zelgaids had a second to follow her. "Oi!" he said. He shook his head and ran off after her. "Don't think that you can leave me behind!"
The two of them were thoroughly surprised at what they saw before they even were able to enter Xellos's house. At first glance, they didn't even recognize the area. There were large carriages all around the outside of his estate grounds. In between all of these carriages were an array of soldiers in militarist outfits. For a moment, Lina and Zelgadis had the idea that Xellos was finally being arrested for his crimes and they had sent in the army to take care of him. That fantasy was soon broken by the time they were able to move closer and observe the fiery emblem that was drawn upon both the carriages and the identical uniforms of the men surrounding the area. Zelgadis didn't recognize it at first, but Lina immediately did. Zelgadis, crouched down together with Lina, noticed her hesitant look and shaking hands.
"Doushita (What's wrong), Lina?" Zelgadis said, putting his hand on her shoulder. He became even more concerned when she then turned away from the scene and breathed a little faster. "Oi, Lina."
"It's the Demon Lord Brigade," Lina said, so lowly it sounded like she had just muttered some kind of evil chant.
Zelgadis's first cry of surprise was caught in his throat, and he instead became speechless. He was hoping that Lina would soon say that she was mistaken or that it couldn't be possible that there were in this part of the world at this moment. But he, too, realized that the emblem and the soldiers around were all too familiar.
"What the hell's going on…" Zelgadis finally managed to say.
"I don't know," Lina said. She slowly faced Zelgadis. "Zel, something more serious than I could have imagined is going on."
"Masaka (No way)…they came for you?"
Lina hit the ground with her fist. "Whether they did or not, it's a horrible situation for me," she said. "Last time I messed with their group, I barely made it out with my life."
"And left their army nearly ruined." Zelgadis said. He turned back to Xellos's house. "But they seem to be doing all right now."
"I'm not surprised," Lina said. She made a sarcastic smile. "It was over five years ago and that guy was still alive."
"That guy, huh?" Lina became quiet again and he tried to prod her a little more. "There's no way that he would be here…"
Lina was quiet for the longest time that Zelgadis thought that she wasn't listening to him at all and was lost in her own world. He didn't know all the details, but he was aware of Lina's involvement with the Demon Lord Brigade. She had basically travelled to the opposite side of the world, planning to earn a lot of money from some rumor she had heard about over there, but she ended up getting into something much bigger. From what she had told him, she eventually got mixed up in the shady business that the army was conducting under their general. Although Lina claimed that she wanted nothing to do with setting right the wrongs they were doing, she nonetheless became the one that came to destroy their army from the inside-out. Luckily, she managed to get out of it with her life and a great amount of thankful people, but of course, she had added one more enemy to her long list. Unfortunate for her, it was one of the most deadliest enemies that she had to date. Zelgadis had been less than confident, unlike Lina, that with the distance, little information she had let others on that side of the world know about her (she had been using a fake identity at the time), and inability for anyone to really keep track of where and when Lina would be at any given moment, this incident would not be able to come back to haunt her at any time soon. Lina's prediction was that it would be about ten years at the least and by then she would so rich that she would be able to afford a fortress of diamonds that would protect her from any kind of army. Zelgadis wished he had advised her at the time to somehow spread a rumor that she was dead or anything else to better secure this incident would have not come back to bite her in the ass.
"Xellos sold me out," Lina said. She spat out a curse and stood up. "Now everything makes sense."
"Xellos took money in order to sell you to them," Zelgadis said. He stood up beside her. "While that seems to make sense…"
Lina shot him a look. "What couldn't make sense about that? He said that if he went through with this deal, then my life would probably end. And I can't think of many more people who would want me dead or to suffer as much as these guys would."
Zelgadis nodded. "But, something still isn't right. Why did Xellos send you away today? You might have never come back."
Lina was quiet again, although Zelgadis saw her face tense in a way that it seemed that she agreed with him. While waiting that she might say something about his comment, he was surprised that she started to move past the bushes in front of them toward the house. Luckily, he wasn't too shocked to have the sense to get her back under cover before anyone noticed her. She resisted him until he tightened his grip upon her and asked her about her intentions.
"We're going in, of course!" Lina said, nudging him into the ribcage. "Let me go!"
"Lina!" Zelgadis said, managing to at least keep one arm secure upon her. "If you go in there in a moment of passion, what do you think is going to happen?"
Lina again didn't respond right away, making Zelgadis really wonder what was going on in her head. "Zel…" she said, her eyes darting around the area. "There's only about thirty of these guys out here. If we halve them up, we can take them down easily."
"Are you nuts?"
"I'll give you time to get the upper hand with a little distraction. You ready?"
"Ready?" Zelgadis immediately gripped his sword as Lina ignored him and went off without another word. "Damnit!"
Zelgadis sat in wait for Lina, while he watched the men occupying the estate. A minute later he heard some horses shriek and some men try and settle them down. However, the horses only seemed to be getting more agitated rather than calmer. The first three that were trying their best to keep the horses peaceful were then joined by two more from the other sides. Zelgadis could predict what was to happen next so he started off where the remaining soldiers were positioned, who were wondering what all of the commotion was about.
Zelgadis had the element of surprise on his side, as he launched an attack from the side on the foremost soldier. He had no problems taking the man down quickly, as his opponent hadn't the time to get out his weapon properly. He had not a second before the others in that area were heading in his direction. Before he had about ten peopleattacking him at the same time, he drew them away from Xellos's house, knowing that if they attracted too much attention, other possible soldiers might come flooding out of the place. With them on his tail, he didn't have time to confirm whether Lina had already started her attack or not, but he assumed that she must have started about the same time as him.
Zelgadis, although having to take care of multiple soldiers at once, managed to get out of it with no damage except a few tatters to his clothes. Afterwards, he circled back to the house, where the remaining soldiers were waiting for him. Although, they were heavily armed and sharp, they were no match for Zelgadis's agility and efficiency. He had become much better in these two areas after the nonstop attacks from Rezo's goons. It wasn't exactly a cakewalk for him to take them all down (they were a little more resilient opponent than Zelgadis was used to), but he was able to subdue everyone. He was comforted that there were no enemies immediately rushing over as backup to his side, and he took it as a sign that Lina had taken care of her half. He stuffed the soldiers inside a single carriage and secured the doors so that they wouldn't be to escape on the chance that they would be able to move any time soon. He then hurried over to Lina's side, surprised that there was no one to be found from the numerous soldiers they had previously observed.
"Lina…" Zelgadis said, looking left and right. "What happened to those guys?"
Lina ran her hand gently over one of the horses' noses. "I might have sent them running away in the night."
Zelgadis didn't even bother to ask how it was that she was able to do that and scratched his head. "Aren't you worried that they would come back?"
"After what I did to the first guy, they're not going to come back."
Zelgadis really didn't want to know what she meant by that at all. He was having enough trouble just imaging it. The point was that the outside enemy was taken care of, and the details of that didn't really matter.
"All right, well, now what?" Zelgadis said. "And don't suddenly start doing things without telling me."
"What? You read my mind completely," Lina said. She motioned for him to follow him to the house. They noticed that all the curtains to the windows were drawn so they couldn't see inside. "Let's try the door."
"You think it'll be unlocked?" Zelgadis said.
Lina dug underneath her shirt and pulled out some tools. "It won't be too difficult to unlock it," she said.
"And if there's someone waiting for us behind the door?"
"You'll take them out after I open it." She had already started sticking her tools into the hole and moving them around meticulously.
Zelgadis took out his sword and sighed. "You really make things sound so damn simple…"
"Of course," Lina said. She heard the appropriate click and put her tools back. Before opening the door she turned to Zelgadis and exchanged a nod.
She slowly opened the door on the off-chance that it might make a sound that would alert someone who was waiting there. They both relaxed when they opened the door and found it relatively quiet. However, they heard some noise in the distance that led them to the first level study. There was no mistake to whom one of the voices belonged to. The second one only Lina seemed to recognize.
"Zel." Lina said. She turned her back to the wall. "He's here."
Zelgadis mimicked her actions without confirming what she was talking about. "You don't mean—"
"General Gaav." Lina took in a deep breath and closed her eyes. "I couldn't want anyone else on the planet to find me at this very moment."
"Lina, it's crazy that he would come in person to collect you," Zelgadis said. He heard the man's robust laughter from behind the door.
"Yeah," Lina said. "Usually don't you just send someone below you to do this kind of tedious pickup?"
"Tedious?" Zelgadis repeated. He smiled in spite that there was nothing really particularly funny about their situation. "He's probably been looking for you for years. I guess he didn't want to pass up the chance to come collect you personally."
"Damnit," Lina said. "I'm not prepared to take on someone like him right now."
"Lina, we should go. You said you'd take on Xellos, not a crazy general bent on destroying you."
Lina didn't respond to him, despite he kept saying her name. Instead she walked over to the door and pressed her ear against the door. Zelgadis eventually gave up and started to listen with her too.
"Well, enough with all this 'pleasant' chatter, Metallium—" they heard General Gaav say, "—where do you got the Inverse girl at?"
Lina unintentionally held her breath at that question. Her first guess to what he would say is that she was right outside the door since it wasn't strange for Xellos to pick up on her presence. If he did reveal their current location, they would have no choice but to go right in and face the general. Just as Lina was about to give Zelgadis a silent suggestion upon what to do if they were found, they heard the faint sound of a teacup dropping upon a saucer and Xellos's soft laughter.
"Where's Lina Inverse, you say?" Lina and Zelgadis were sure that their confused expression looked the same as the general's did at that moment. "Why on earth would I know that?"
"What?" Lina and Zelgadis couldn't help saying in a hushed tone.
"What the hell are you playing at, Metallium?" General Gaav said. They heard a metallic movement. "You think this is a game or something? Bring out that girl now."
Neither Lina nor Zelgadis missed the "or-else" tone in the general's voice. They both had a lot of questions about Xellos's statement. What was he doing saying such an obvious lie?
"Well, Lina-san is a very tricky girl," Xellos said. "Even I couldn't completely keep a hold on her, especially while preparing for you to visit."
"Are you trying to sell me some kind of bullshit like Lina Inverse escaped without you knowing about it?"
There was definite pause before Xellos retorted, and Lina felt her heart beating faster and faster. "Yes, that's about the gist of what I'm saying," he said.
They heard General Gaav slowly build up a chuckle until it gradually became a roaring laughter. Lina's bad feeling became worse, and she felt her spine tingle with the tension of the situation. She tapped Zelgadis on his arm and gave him a silent signal to be ready.
"You're really somethin', Metallium," Gaav said. They heard the sound of a chair moving across the floor. "So you took my money and assured my messenger that little bitch would be here. But come today, she's vanished, huh? Ain't that just so convenient?"
Lina was getting really nervous as another silence began. Was it that at any moment the general was going to kick down the door and reveal that he and Xellos were just playing a game? She backed up a foot in lieu of the quiet, expecting a storm. Zelgadis did the same without much hesitation.
"Fuzakenna (Don't fuck with me)!" They heard the sound of a charge and things being knocked over. That, along with the sound of things breaking and thud of a body, set their alarms off.
Lina didn't need to even bother to signal Zelgadis as they both immediately kicked down the door and stepped into the doorway. Lina thought that first laying her eyes upon the tall man with fiery, long hair would make her blood turn cold. Instead, it was the sight of his extra long sword sticking partly into a Xellos collapsed on the floor that made her gasp.
"Ha, you were lying through your teeth after all…" Gaav, said, nonchalantly pulling his sword out of Xellos and making slow steps toward them. "If it ain't Lina Inverse in the flesh."
"Xe…Xellos…" Lina said. She instinctively got out the sword she had swiped earlier, but she kept her gaze mainly on Xellos on his back and the pool of blood forming around him.
"Did you really think ya could make a fool of me all those years ago and get away with it?" Gaav went on, looming ever closer. "Huh? Ya sorry excuse for a woman?"
Lina willed herself to stand her ground and have her weapon ready. "Zel, go take care of Xellos," she said lowly.
"Just do it." Lina's eyes were locked on the general's. She slowly moved to the left of the room as did Gaav. Zelgadis quickly went to the right where Xellos was struggling to sit up.
"Oi!" Zelgadis said, crouching down by Xellos. He found it hard to keep his eyes on him, though. He was already looking back in Lina's direction where it looked like Lina was only moving in a direction that was going to get her cornered soon.
Xellos laughed weakly. "Are you really planning to help me?" he said. He held onto his left side where blood was oozing out of it.
"I wouldn't be bothered with you if it wasn't Lina's request," Zelgadis muttered, looking at him again. He was amazed that he could manage to pull himself up with that much blood leaving his body.
"Sou… desu ka (I see)." He was breathing heavily, but still smiling. "But…I think that…Lina-san is more…in need…of help…than I…at the moment."
"No argument there." Zelgadis gripped his weapon tighter at the sight of Lina and Gaav simply facing each other. Lina was standing confidentially, but Gaav was grinning at her like a cat that had cornered a mouse.
"Then…feel free…to leave…me…be…" Xellos said. With his free hand he tried to grip his staff, but his hand shook so much that he eventually dropped it again and sent it rolling toward the overturned table.
"Omae (You)…" Zelgadis sighed and debating whether helping Xellos on his feet. "I don't get what you were thinking. Did you not really think he wasn't going to try to cut you open?"
Xellos snickered and took in a deep breath. "I was just thinking…I would be fast enough…to avoid him. I was only able…to avoid…a deathly blow…"
"I'm pretty sure you're going to die if you stay like this," Zelgadis said with some hope it would turn out that way.
"The same…for Lina-san…"
Before Zelgadis could say anything, they were interrupted by the sudden swing of General Gaav's sword and the sound of Lina's sword barely managing to receive it. Her arms were shaking badly and her feet were slightly slipping backwards. The general simply sneered at her in satisfaction.
"Lina!" Zelgadis said, already on his feet.
"Take care of Xellos!" Lina said. She finally managed to push Gaav back and return a blow of her own, which was easily blocked.
General Gaav laughed as he allowed Lina to take the offensive. "You really think you have the time to worry about that worm, Metallium?" he said. He violently pushed back against Lina's next attack, sending her flying against a small cabinet near the door where a few hard books rested upon.
The books fell to the floor as Lina's back crashed against the cabinet, knocking her off balance for a moment as well. She had no time to consider the pain in her back for General Gaav was swinging right to chop off her head. Lina had no choice but to drop down, but with her bad footing, she ending up tumbling into side table near the western wall. With Gaav's power and length of his blade, he had cut deeply into the wall where Lina had stood before, also taking off the top of the potted tree and slicing apart a sconce on the wall.
Lina scurried to get to her feet and leaped over little table, landing in the middle of the couch against the solitary window in the room. As soon as her feet sunk into the cushions, Gaav's next strike had already chopped off a quarter of the couch as clean as if an axe had been taken to and left a nice dent into the floor and carpet. No longer questioning whether Gaav could cut through any of the other furniture, Lina hopped off the couch began running around the perimeter of the room. While the general's wild slashing spree was going on she needed to make sure that she didn't end up halved like a floor candle stand she passed, nor did she want him to stampede through the middle of the room where Xellos and Zelgadis were.
Xellos somewhat crawled over and grabbed his staff again and tried to stand up. Zelgadis was worried about Lina's mad dashing around behind them while the massive bookshelf against the northern wall was being torn apart in the process, but he finally decided to help Xellos get to his feet. Even Xellos couldn't fake the pain he was in to be on his feet, and he again lost his staff as he used both hands to hold his side. If it wasn't for Zelgadis holding him, he would have fallen to the floor.
"You're getting in the way! Just keep still!" Zelgadis said.
"I need to…" Xellos said, reaching out for it one more time."
"Just forget about—"
Zelgadis didn't get to finish, as Lina ran past the table next to them with barely enough time to tell them to move before Gaav came toward them with his blade. Zelgadis held onto Xellos and rolled them out of the way just in time. The table that they had been huddling next to as well as two of the chairs were split into pieces after Gaav had come through. They were able to observe the damage they had missed from the legs of the desk they had rolled into. They could also see that Lina had stopped running so she could block and temporarily hold off Gaav from swinging at something else in the room.
Zelgadis fought his urge to run over to her and returned his attention back to Xellos, who was trying to get back on his feet. Zelgadis pulled out the bandages and cloth he had stored underneath his shirt and ordered Xellos to sit up against the desk. Xellos complied, although he looked as though he was impatient to get back on his feet.
"I didn't want to have to use these on a bastard like you…" Zelgadis muttered. He removed Xellos's shirt and tried to wipe away as much of the blood as possible with the cloth.
Xellos smiled weakly. "How nice of you to trouble yourself," he said.
"Shut up." He finished up cleaning up his wound as much as he could at that point and then started to unroll the bandages.
"If…our positions…were reversed…I'd leave you…to die."
Zelgadis had already started to wrap the bandage around Xellos, but he was doing it much more tightly after hearing that. "This isn't the best time for you to be honest…" he said.
It was certainly not easy for Zelgadis to give Xellos a chance to live when he could just as easily end him right there. He was by no means above kicking someone when they were down, but in order to respect Lina's wishes he couldn't at least try to keep the demon breathing.
"I don't want you to die…thinking that I was…grateful to you."
Zelgadis kept his hand busy working on finishing up the bandage. "You should be worrying about yourself dying, not me," he said.
Xellos was just laughing about that while Zelgadis finally tied up things all up and stood. Now that Xellos was relatively taken care of, he quickly turned back to check on Lina. He wasn't too sure if he was relieved that Lina was no longer running around like a scared mouse while Gaav thrashed about like an angry elephant, destroying everything in his path; in place of that Lina was merely being pushed around as she blocked Gaav's non-stop attacks against her. He wasn't leaving any openings for Lina to retaliate and she was slowly edging toward the southern wall again. Zelgadis was fairly sure that Gaav's intention was just that.
"Aren't you…going to go help her?"
Zelgadis allowed himself to glance in his direction to see Xellos holding onto the edge of the desk while slightly off his knees. Zelgadis suspected that he had tried to stand again, but had failed. "Don't you think I want to?"
"Then please do…"
Zelgadis's anger rose enough that he was able to fully turn upon Xellos. "What right do you have to tell me to go help her, anyway?" he demanded. "This is all your damn fault in the first place!"
Xellos tried to laugh but it was broken up by a coughing fit. When he was able to contain it, he was breathing heavily and slowly let go of the desk. "Even you…should be able to see…my plan isn't going…as I planned it…"
"Oi…" Zelgadis said, watching Xellos's head slowly start to drop. "Don't pass out now!"
Xellos tried to say something, but his mouth almost but completely shut. Zelgadis had thought that maybe Xellos had finally met his maker until he noticed that his chest was still moving up and down with the same vigor as before. He figured having Xellos like that was for the best when a more conscious Xellos had been futilely trying to get up and saying unhelpful things. He was only supposed to make sure that the guy didn't die (Zelgadis assumed).
Zelgadis felt safe to concentrate all of his attention back to Lina, where her situation hadn't improved a bit since he had been distracted by Xellos. She was indeed cornered now and only in a position to block the violent attacks against her. Gaav wasn't giving her a second to even think about doing otherwise, clearly enjoying each of his relentless attacks against her.
Zelgadis's feet ached to get up and help her but he was determined to keep his promise to Lina and look after Xellos. After all, he had a feeling that if he tried to move away from him, the wounded nuisance might try to get back on his feet again and make the fight with Gaav even more difficult. However, with each metallic clank he heard and every bead of sweat that flew from Lina's forehead, Zelgadis felt his body shake with a desire to go.
Lina wasn't sure how long she would be able to keep blocking Gaav's fully-charged attacks. Not only was she nearly with her back to the wall, but she wouldn't find easy escape to either of her sides with large and jagged pieces of a cabinet, vase, and a tall stone pedestal littered around her. Not that she could really even consider escape with the way that Gaav wasn't allowing her to fight back. It was taking all of her strength to keep her arms from losing her grip on her sword from all of the strong vibrations he was sending through her each time their swords met. Worse of all, she hated seeing the gleeful expression on his face and knowing that despite she was scowling her desperation had to be cracking through at that point.
"What a pitiful waste of flesh you are, Lina Inverse!" Gaav taunted between two quick blows. "You're barely holding me back and you're trapped like the little rat you are!"
"Too early…to think…you've won!" Lina said.
Gaav's laughter after her ridiculous statement unnerved her as much as it did that she was struggling to figure out a way to turn things around in her favor. She thought maybe that she could get Zelgadis to come cover her for a second, but even in the horrible situation she was, she still had a shred of concern about Xellos. She wanted that worrying speck toward Xellos to be amounted to the fact that she didn't trust Xellos to not try anything funny. At this point, she couldn't risk anything else that would put her at a bigger disadvantage.
Unfortunately, Lina didn't need to worry about when another disadvantage would show up for her. After withstanding yet another blow, Lina heard the distinctive sound of something breaking. Before she could even confirm the source, she saw Gaav's grin spread in a way that verified her fears better than a good look at her sword would. Lina cursed, knowing that she had no time to really look at the damage that was done, but that Gaav was increasingly hitting her faster and stronger than before. Lina was bouncing back significantly from the blows, hitting her back against the wall. She had a very short space between herself and the corner wall, but it was just enough to give her the bare-minimum confidence that she wasn't completely trapped. But a soon to be broken sword would soon strip her of any kind of hope. Gaav wasn't the kind you could just keep running away from, and although he was having a good time playing with her right now, she knew that wouldn't last forever.
Each metal clink Lina heard as her blade was slowly but surely giving in to Gaav's power, was like the tick from a clock. Lina felt sweat running down from the side of her ear to down her neck, and her brain was working frantically for an escape plan. She had maybe about three more blows from him before the blade would completely give out and she would break. Whether she had a good plan or not, she needed to act quickly because getting sliced in half was not an option.
As fast as her brain was formulating a halfway decent plan, Lina's feet slid as far apart as she could manage with her limited space. Then she leaned her body to the side so that if her blade suddenly came forward from Gaav's push, there wasn't an immediate danger of her head being cut off clean. By that time, Lina only had about one more hit before her sword was going to be destroyed. Gaav seemed to comprehend this well and took a quick step back before he delivered the final blow. Lina's body was reacting faster than her mind, and she dropped down to her feet before she thought it. She kept her arms raised above her so that the first thing that Gaav would have to cut through was not herself, despite that protection would last about three seconds as her blade broke to bits. As soon as Lina felt (and heard the shatter of her blade) the force of her sword becoming nothing more than a useless stick, she rolled to the side she had already been leaning toward. She was quick enough to avoid Gaav slicing her neck open, but as she was rolling away, the length of Gaav's blade was able to cut into her shoulder significantly. Lina was able to prevent it from going any deeper into her flesh by the sword getting caught in the wall and pushing herself lower to the floor.
"Lina!" Lina heard Zelgadis say as she stumbled to get up, working around random bits of wood on the floor.
Lina thought she would have more time to get into a stable, defensive stance since Gaav's sword had sunk into the wall, but he had retracted it with little effort and was already coming at her to cut her up further. Lina cursed, having trouble maneuvering over the broken things that Gaav had previously knocked around. She couldn't really get up properly in time to sufficiently stay out of Gaav's way. Instead, she easily tripped over a cluster of torn books just as Gaav's sword came down from above and went skidding on her rear out of the way. She was saved from losing a limb but she was shoved into another mass of Gaav's destruction, which included parts of a chair from the center table and an metal rod from another floor stand. With an already bleeding shoulder, having other areas pierced wasn't something she could just sneeze at.
"Got you now!" Gaav said, looming above her with his sword raised in the air.
"Shit!" Lina said, having not the time to get on her feet. as a reflex, she raised her arms to shield herself, but didn't believe for a second it would do her any good. However, her feeling of impending doom dropped slightly when she saw that Zelgadis was bringing his sword down behind Gaav.
Lina almost cracked a smile, despite Gaav's blade was falling down upon her. The smile was easily erased at the last minute when Gaav whirled around and met Zelgadis's blade.
"Heh, you want to play, too, boy?" Gaav said, pushing forward with his sword and enjoying the way that Zelgadis was shaking to hold his own against the massive general.
"We'll see if it's just playing around," Zelgadis said. He was able to control some of the force that Gaav was pushing against him and made a quick sidestep to break their sword-lock. He wasted no time to go in for another attack.
Lina wanted to call out to Zelgadis to tell him to stop, but it was just enough trouble for her to properly stand up. Anyway, he was leading Gaav away from her and giving Lina a chance to catch her breath for a moment. To put the most distance between herself and Gaav, who was moving to the western side of the room, without losing sight of what was going on, Lina ended up moving to the opposite side where Xellos seemed to be passed out against his desk.
Lina kept following Zelgadis, who was being tossed around by the attacks from Gaav. However, from the corner of her eye she noticed that Xellos was at least not bleeding onto the floor anymore. She was relieved that she momentarily didn't have to worry about him doing anything to get in her way. From the start, she never expected things to go smoothly, but her idea of how things would progress were even further from her imagination. Forget that she didn't hope to let Zelgadis enter the fight until she had somehow managed to weaken Gaav a degree; she would have never predicted that she would be without a weapon. That would mean that she would either have to get Gaav to lose his as well, share Zel's, or somehow use a piece of furniture to attack. Her injuries didn't help, but taking some damage was well under her calculation.
"He finally…joined the fight…did he?"
Lina was surprised not that Xellos was suddenly talking, but that when she heard his voice she didn't jump and instead felt her stomach tighten as if another problem was piling up upon her foremost one. She didn't bother to look at him, needing not to miss much of Zelgadis's defensive moves around the room. An armchair provided him with a temporary shield, which was cut to shreds in seconds.
"Zelgadis fixed you up, huh?" she finally said, without much concern in her voice.
"Yes, but it seems…that you are more in need…of some treatment," Xellos said. He rolled his head against the desk in her direction so that his smile was visible.
Lina clutched her shoulder, feeling the blood between her fingers. "I'm fine," she said.
Lina noticed how little power was in Xellos's short laugh after that. It almost prompted her to look at him directly, but she forced herself to prioritize. Xellos, as usual, was simply a distraction to her ultimate goal.
"Do you really have…the luxury…to be so stubborn?" He began to pull himself up again. "Your little friend…is getting tossed…around like a doll."
That wasn't anything that she needed Xellos to tell her. Just then she saw Gaav swing his sword at Zelgadis as if he were a pesky fly, which sent her friend backwards as if he had been hit with a low-intensity cannon. He landed squarely upon the shattered cabinet near the grand bookshelf, which itself had nearly been reduced to rubble. However, she couldn't just simply jump back into the fight without a plan. Acting impetuously without any other idea than saving Zelgadis would only get her sliced up so that she wouldn't be able to do anything else.
Lina tried to focus all of her energy on what she should do next, but she couldn't help but be bothered by the fact that Xellos was moving around. He was the last person she could find relatively useful at that moment (unless she just used him as a sacrificial distraction), so she couldn't just easily ignore his actions. Plus, she wasn't entirely certain that this situation wasn't just a part of Xellos's overall scheme.
Xellos, with much effort, pushed himself away from the desk, staggering to the center of the room for two feet before he fell against a broken chair. He slumped down to the floor and then dragged his body along it with one hand, while the other stayed near his wound. Lina thought Xellos's unexplained movements might be because he was a little delirious from his blood loss. If he kept moving forward, the only thing he was going to run into was a pile of broken debris from the fight. If he wanted to make a break for the door, he would have go a far different direction (and make it over some of the broken things in the way.
Lina remained puzzled, especially when he stopped at where the majority of the table remains laid, mixed with other things had previously been sitting on the table like the dishes and candles. She wondered if he was going to reveal there was a hidden door in the floor and escape until she saw Xellos beginning to tug on the tablecloth that was stuck between the mishmash of debris. Doing this with only one hand he was getting a very ragged strip of material. It took her about the time that Xellos shuffled over to her that she realized what his intention had been.
"Hai (Here)…" Xellos said. He was breathing harder than what his action warranted. He outstretched the strip of cloth to her.
Lina's lips were burning to tell him off, but watching Zelgadis poorly avoid another of Gaav's great blows that cut into the floor, she quickly snatched it from him and tended to her wound. She took off her top shirt that was considerably covered in blood around her shoulder and tossed it away. There was an ample length for her to make a makeshift bandage thick enough that it deter further bleeding. She wasn't accustomed to getting shoulder wounds but she was used to tying her own injuries in general, so it didn't take her very long.
Xellos was now sitting on the floor next to her. "Lina-san…take my staff," he said.
"What?" Lina was able to be caught off-guard and looked at Xellos directly.
"You still intend to fight, yes?" Xellos pointed to the area where he had been enjoying tea before the fight. "You'll…need a weapon."
"Shut—" Lina stopped after she heard Zelgadis make a sound as his sword was forced out of his hands and flew a few feet away. He instantly stepped out to retrieve it but Gaav just as quickly brought down his blade to block his way. Gaav grinned at Zelgadis as if he was a fish in barrel.
Lina gave up her refusal for Xellos's help and started running toward where he was pointing. Although there were some random books and pieces of tables and chairs in the way, she found his staff with ease by its red ball. Zelgadis, meanwhile, was delaying any direct hit by throwing whatever pieces of junk nearby to keep busy Gaav's weapon busy so he could try to move away. While it was giving him a little time, Gaav stayed close to Zelgadis so that he had little space to work with.
Zelgadis was nearly about as cornered as Lina was before; he had just shoved a large globe bar trolley at the giant and ran out of objects to throw. Lina twisted off the bottom part of Xellos blade and approached Gaav. She didn't have confidence that she would be able to attack him before Gaav could get to Zelgadis, so she tried to get his attention before she could strike him.
"Gaav! Weren't you here to take care of me or was that scratch you gave me all you got?"
Gaav didn't even turn his head in her direction and raised his blade in the air. "That's a nice toy you got there," he said with a tone that had not a hint of worry in it. "You outta put that thing back in the kitchen where it belongs!"
Lina managed to get behind Gaav ready to attack while Gaav's blade was not yet in Zelgadis's skin. "Why don't you see if it's just a toy or not?" she challenged, wishing that he would hurry up and face her.
Gaav snorted. "You wanna play with me then I'll just keep playing with your friend," he said.
Lina came at Gaav, ignoring her worry that upon contact with Gaav's massive sword, Xellos's thin blade would snap like a toothpick. She was already busy worrying that Gaav's sword was already moving toward Zelgadis's head like it was tomato being fixed for a salad. She felt relieved for a second when she saw that Gaav smoothly spun on his heels to receive her blow. As Xellos's sword made contact with Gaav's, Lina was surprised at how well it absorbed the vibrations compared to the one she had been using. As she was pushing back against Gaav's force, she had the time to consider that Xellos had made his blade out of something incredibly strong and high-grade. That was a real advantage when just swinging her sword was painful enough.
"Heh, so that butter knife is worth a little more than it looks," Gaav said, after pushing Lina away. "But is still ain't gonna do you no good!"
Lina eyed Zelgadis edging away from Gaav behind him and knew that she needed to move the general away so that Zelgadis could get his weapon back in his hands. Knowing that Xellos's blade was going to be able to withstand a hit, Lina wasted little time coming at Gaav, who was waiting with a welcoming grin. It was a nice feeling, after her previous skirmish with Gaav, to bring down her sword against him without experiencing the sensation that it was making no impact. Gaav still had her over with the sheer weight of his sword, but Lina could hold her own with a lot more ease than before even though she was injured now.
Gaav was no fool and noticed that Xellos's weapon was much better and was giving Lina a bit of an advantage, so he started to get aggressive again with his attacks. Lina was not that happy that Gaav was coming after her more forcefully except that it gave her a chance to pull him away from the corner that he had trapped Zelgadis in. She was glad that Zelgadis was really quick to return to the place where he had lost his sword.
Lina eventually was at a point where she was simply moving backwards and blocking Gaav's blade. Frankly, defensive maneuvers were a little less troublesome upon her shoulder than offensive ones were. She wasn't going to continuously attack unless there was a need. Lina didn't know if it was because Gaav had a super sixth sense when it came to fighting or that it was he could read Lina's expressions really well, but when Zelgadis finally came in to lend a hand, the general blocked him with a simple and what seemed calculated move. Lina only grimaced about that for a second. There wasn't much she could do about the fact that Gaav was so in tuned to fighting.
As soon as Gaav shoved Zelgadis away from him, Lina went in for the attack. She was lucky that Zelgadis was so good at reading her that she didn't need to tell him that they were going to go at Gaav together. For most opponents that they would ever face that would be more than enough to take care of that person. However, Gaav was so quick and powerful that he blew each of them away so fast that it became attacking in turns mostly. When Lina was being thrown back, that was when Zelgadis was bouncing back from Gaav and coming at him with his own attack. The fight remained a constant back and forth of flying back and flying forward, neither of their movements going in the same direction at the same time.
Lina, after being thrown back for the seventh or so time, stayed back instead of going for the immediate attack. When Gaav sent Zelgadis flying near her a few seconds later, Lina simply gave him a subtle glance, and he gave back the slightest nod. This all happened within about two seconds because they weren't about to let the offensive against Gaav have a big break. Without any discussion, Zelgadis and Lina charged at Gaav as hard as they could.
"Two for the price of one, huh?" Gaav said, swinging his sword back in order to knock them away.
Lina nor Zelgadis was too surprised that Gaav's blade was able to stop both of their tracks. However, they were a little pleased that together they were making the general slide back a little on his feet. Neither could have achieved that on their own, so that was a little bit of an accomplishment. As if sensing their pleasure at their efforts, Gaav smirked and started to push them back instead. Lina cursed and Zelgadis made a frustrated sound as their feet were going backwards.
Zelgadis nodded to Lina, which she took as a sign that she could back off for a second. Lina jumped back, letting Zelgadis take in all the force of Gaav's thrust. While he was getting pushed back, Lina tried to be quick to come at Gaav before he could recover, but he wasn't thrown off by her at all. In fact, Lina quickly found herself deflected exactly into the chest of her friend who had just gotten blow away a moment before her. Zelgadis was able to stand his ground and hold onto her so that she, too, wouldn't fall down.
Gaav, confident and amused by their antics, actually lowered his sword and began to laugh at them as if they were putting on the best show. "You two are too sad for words!" he said. "If you really came here with the thought you could take me down, you must be stupider than you look!"
"Shit," Lina said. She moved out of Zelgadis's arms and stood next to him. "He's so damn fast."
"Tell me about it," Zelgadis said. He didn't know which was more irritating: Gaav laughing at them or the exhaustion he felt from being played around with someone who was stronger than him. "But it doesn't make sense to do anything but to go at him together."
"Yeah, you're right." Lina nodded to herself for a few seconds as if thinking very intensely. "Let's try it."
"I'll cut and you fly."
Even Zelgadis was surprised, though he knew Lina so well, that he was able to understand what that meant. "Got it, but…what about your shoulder?"
Lina held up the staff as if to signify her preparation. "Don't worry about that. Just concentrate on following me or there would be no point."
"Oh? Have the two monkeys come up with another little plan?" Gaav laughed after that as if he had said the most amusing joke ever.
"Go!" Lina and Zelgadis's steps were nearly in sync at they ran at Gaav. He looked upon them with almost pity (though such an emotion wasn't possibly for Gaav). He lifted up his sword to simply block them in a way to suggest he saw them as underdogs whom could benefit from a break from Gaav's superior attacks.
Their attack against him was no different than their other team efforts, with Gaav only getting pushed back maybe a few inches before he overwhelmed them. The only difference that the general observed was that they were beginning to dance around a bit more, attacking him from different angles, rather from the front. It made no difference to him which side they decided to come at him; he could easily take them both.
Lina and Zelgadis changed things up again, one coming at Gaav's right and the other to his left. They weren't much surprised that Gaav seemed to vanish before their eyes and then was standing off to the right of them, with a belittling smile. The two were unnerved by this and stood side by side, prepared to go in for another attack.
"I thought you two pieces of trash had something, but if this is all you got, I should cut you up and now and save me the time," Gaav said, scoffing at their miserable state.
Instead of responding to Gaav's taunts, Lina and Zelgagis began throwing what lied along their path to their enemy, moving closer with each thing they moved. Gaav interpreted their moves as an attempt to busy his sword, so they could get closer to him. He immediately sent whatever they threw his way flying to a further point in the room, making sure that they would not be able to repeat this soon again. After they both managed to kick the heavy desk at him and followed it with the armchair behind, the two acted as Gaav expected and attacked him now that they had cleared the last things in between them. His arms were still positioned from when he had batted an a third of the chair to the right. The second the two had a chance to touch him, he simultaneously brought his arm down quickly so that his long blade would meet Lina's to his right and kicked his left leg out of in front of him so that it caught Zelgadis in his middle. The result was Zelgadis went flying first before Gaav sent Lina off seconds later.
Gaav, not worrying about them coming at him right away, looked behind himself to notice that he was about five feet from a wall behind the desk, near the fireplace. He grinned, believing that he was understanding their plan. He laughed, about ready to end their little charade.
"So, you wanted to get me against a wall, huh?" Gaav said, watching them get on their feet. "That was the best idea you morons could think of?"
"It's about that time," Zelgadis said, reluctantly letting go of his stomach that ached.
"Yeah," Lina said. She drew in a breath and started running forward.
Gaav stepped up, thinking that he need not let them think they were going to let him fall back any closer to the wall. Lina and Zelgadis moved as quickly as each other, but Lina was ahead of him by about three steps. Gaav was through waiting for them to come to him, and he moved forward eagerly.
Just as Gaav expected to meet blades with both of Lina first, he saw her disappear before him. Since in the next second Zelgadis had already brought the general's sword to a halt, he had no choice to see what was she was up to.
Lina, within the few seconds she had before she ran into a sharp weapon, had to both make sure that she threw herself underneath the giant in front of her and, in the second she was falling down, flip onto her back. Doing such a detailed maneuver and having her back slid against the wooden floor was intensely painful with her shoulder wound, but Lina didn't have the time to worry about that. Instead, she had to make sure that as she was passing through his tree trunk legs that she made a considerable gash in his right ankle. However, she couldn't do much to stop herself from slamming into a half broken ceramic pot that had once held a plant and then the wall behind Gaav.
Lina again had no time to think of her own well-being and had to focus on Gaav. He didn't react like one might expect when receiving a deep cut, but she did notice that he expertly began to shift the weight off his injured leg. Zelgadis, having been waiting for the moment the general changed his once unbreakable stance, pushed all of his strength into Gaav's weaker side, driving back the powerful force that Gaav was holding against him. Although all of this had to happen within a few seconds, Zelgadis was able to send Gaav's sword flying straight from his hands. It landed where a large chuck of bookcase that Gaav had ruined near the corner at their left. Lina felt a great relief when she saw their plan come through; with a monster like Gaav, they probably had a fraction of a minute before he repositioned himself completely and got over his "slight" handicap.
"All right!" Lina cheered. She began to lift herself off the floor, using the wall to support her.
Zelgadis wasted little time to attack a weaponless Gaav, raising his blade high to slice Gaav from top to bottom. As he brought the sword down, Zelgadis and Lina were shocked to see that Gaav's huge palms clapped together to stop the sword mid-attack. The two were equally surprised by the mere fact they had yet to ever see anyone do this, and the fact that they believed that Zelgadis's power was not so weak that one could merely stop it with their hands.
"I'll give you maggots credit for getting my sword out of my hands—" Gaav said, holding the blade between his hands way too casually.
Lina, midway into straightening herself into a full stand, was quicker to get over the shock and realize what was going to happen next. "Zel! Let go of—!"
"—but you're outta of your mind if ya think this'll help you!" Gaav finished.
Just as Zelgadis was, too, realizing what was going to happen, Gaav had lifted him up by his own sword. Neither of them had a chance to do anything before Gaav, with tremendous strength, flung the sword that Zelgadis still held in his hands across the room into the opposite wall. His body hit it with a loud crash, leaving a noticeable dent, and, as his limp body slid down from where he had been propelled upon, Lina could see a thin trail of blood left behind.
"Zel!" Lina shot up from the wall. Her body immediately let her know that her little move was not appreciated and responded back with painful defiance. She held the staff firmly in her hands, debating whether escape wasn't the best option. That would mean either running out the open door or smashing through the window. The confined area and the scattered pieces in the room were hindrances that she couldn't afford to overlook right now.
Gaav faced her with a confident grin and beckoned her with his hand. "My sword's gone just like you wanted," he said. "Bring it on."
Lina's jaw tightened. She was powerless to help Zelgadis while Gaav was standing in her way. Lina also couldn't afford to let Gaav get his hands on his weapon again; it would waste the efforts that she and her currently knocked out friend had worked for. As long as Lina was able to stand on her two feet and fight, she had no reason to throw in the towel yet. On top of hoping to end the day with her own life, she was determined to get Zelgadis, whom she had forced into the situation with her, out of this in one piece.
With the thought of rescuing the friend she was indebted to, Lina charged at Gaav. There was a definite lag to her step, but Lina pressed on, having no time to let that bother her. What did bother her was Gaav smoothly sidestepping to avoid her. Lina didn't let her frustration get to her and tried again to land a blow on him. Gaav simply moved out of the way just as easily as before. They repeated this for about five times until Lina had to acknowledge that her less than swift steps were hurting her more than she thought they would. Worse than that, Gaav was moving around so agilely that it was hard to believe that there was actually blood leaking from the gash in his ankle.
Each run that Lina made at Gaav reminded her body that she had been thrown around into bits and pieces of things, had a throbbing shoulder wound, and now had a sore head. This, along with her rising anger that she was basically slashing around at air each time Gaav moved out of her way, was making her short of breath. In a heated few seconds she let her better judgment slip away from her, and she lowered her weapon a moment to draw in a breath. She was instantly rewarded for her stupidity to think that even a short break was possible while Gaav was around. Because she hadn't been paying attention, it was almost as if he appeared out of nowhere and rammed his fist into her stomach. At that point, it felt like everything was moving in slow motion as she felt the wind fly out of her and felt the force of his punch move her back many feet into something both hard and sharp. Lina was fighting so many different pains at that point, it took all of her powers of concentration to grit her teeth and not shout out.
Lina heard Gaav laughing at her as she pushed herself forward. Her suspicion that something had pierced her back was correct; she definitely felt something leave her skin after sitting up. She couldn't spare the moment to see what that had been and tried to get on her feet, finding her legs shaking. Despite this, she pushed against all the debris around her and stood. Her head was spinning a bit from the impact, but that luckily hadn't prevented her from noticing at that time she was no longer holding Xellos's staff. It was no time for her to panic, but Lina began frantically scanning the floor for it. When she found that it had fallen from her hands someplace in between her and Gaav, who had moved to admire her the flying trip he had given her, Lina fought against the disoriented feeling creeping up on her as she began to move toward it.
It was no surprise to Lina, inches away from grasping the staff again, that Gaav moved in with better speed to kick Lina out of the way. Lina, although cursing as she fell against the floor, was happy that she fell somewhere that had not a shard from a broken vase or anything sharp to add to her collections of injuries. However, there was little to celebrate about while a still weaponless Lina struggled to get up again, holding her side and thinking that that a broken rib wasn't out of the question.
"Shit…" Lina said, standing again with more difficulty than she enjoyed.
Gaav picked up Xellos's staff and threw it far behind him as he approached Lina. "Can't say that it would be much fun to cut you up with that, the way you are now," Gaav said, looming closer with each word. "It'll be much more fun to beat you down with my own two hands."
Lina hands balled at her sides and shook. She wasn't uncomfortable with a fist fight most of the time, but when she was facing an opponent who clearly outmatched her in strength and speed, she had to rely on cunning to save her. Unfortunately, Lina could barely stop the room from tilting in her mind, much less think of a way to overcome Gaav. Getting back the staff or even grabbing Gaav's blade from where it had landed was impossible with him at close range and her movements too slow. However, they were now fairly close to the door, and while Lina couldn't exactly run to it before Gaav grabbed her, she could by little chance have one of his incredible blows happen to knock her right where she needed to be with some strategic "attacks" of her own. It was a long shot and crazy, but Lina wasn't about to strike down the first resemblance to a plan her brain had come up with.
Gaav seemed pleased that Lina came at him with her fist this time, showing less desperation than he would imagine any sane person would have. She was fully aware that he wouldn't just let her hit him and anticipated that his bear-like arm would come swinging to knock her over. She ducked before she even bothered to see his arm move, knowing that if she waited until his attack was already in motion, she would be too slow to avoid him. She felt his arm pass over her head just as she was moving her fist forward to punch him in his stomach. Lina never made contact, not being able to predict that Gaav would just as quickly bring the arm that passed over her down upon her head. Lina's jaw slammed into the floor.
Spots danced around Lina's eyes, and she tasted blood in her mouth, but she thrust her body toward Gaav and wrapped her arms around his bloody left ankle as tightly as she could. In a few seconds she knew that Gaav was likely to stomp her into the floor with the other foot or flick her off like a bug caught on his shoe. She didn't think that with her lying on her stomach that he would be able to resist flattening her with his heavy shoe, but Lina thought she could convince him to toss her if she clung onto the only place she and Zelgadis had managed to weaken him.
"It's about time you gave up, woman!" Gaav said, raising his left leg.
Lina didn't have a choice in the matter when she would let go of his leg after Gaav whipped his leg to the side, but she was prepared to hit the floor and made sure she rolled after she fell to reduce some of impact. The pain in doing so was a small compensation for achieving her goal of getting closer to the door. Gaav's flick of his leg had landed her about three feet away.
Lina was placing her palms against the floor to push herself up when she heard heavy footsteps quickly heading her way. She barely had time to curse, let alone protect herself, before Gaav ran up and kicked her against the wall next to the door. She couldn't help but cry out in pain, having hit the wall against her other shoulder. She unmistakably heard something snap out of place. She was no stranger to dislocated limbs and how to pop them back where they belonged, but she couldn't do anything about it when she felt herself being lifted up by the collar.
Gaav held her up at eye-level, enjoying the lack of struggle she seemed able to do. "So," he said, "ya still wanna be brave now?"
Lina didn't hesitate to dig deep within her throat and expel a big glob of saliva and blood onto Gaav's face. She smiled as it hit him in the forehead and oozed down the sides of his nose. Gaav, too, smirked at her without bothering to wipe it away.
The next second Lina was slammed into the floor, her vision going black for some seconds after her head got bounced around. Lina couldn't think, much less even get her body to move straight away, after this. She was amazed at herself that she hadn't done more than grunt in reaction. She was swallowing in breathes desperately as if she was unsure that the oxygen would last. Her panting soon turned to screams, however, after Gaav stomped his foot down on her dislocated shoulder and began twisting his heel from side to side.
Lina could do nothing but continue to shriek with pain as Gaav alternated stomping her shoulders and stomach. She was only interrupted by some blood expelling from her mouth and coughing. As if this had been the result Gaav was waiting for, he stopped trying to flatten her to floor and kicked her like a ball into a broken chair and bits of dishes from the center table.
Lina's felt her body's willingness to fight go into decline and felt an inability to process her senses increase. Breathing was equally as painful as whatever was bleeding at that point, and Lina's body shook in both fatigue and resistance to resuming the battle. It took most of her remaining effort to listen (as she didn't have the immediate strength to turn her head) so that she could get an idea about Gaav's next move. She heard laughter and slow steps her way. He seemed to be taking his time to get to her, which took Lina longer than usual to figure out in her deteriorated state.
She was on her back at first, fighting to keep her heavy eyelids from falling down. However, each heavy step that echoed in her ringing ears encouraged her to fight for consciousness a little while longer. Her vision was blurred and her body ached as if her body was punishing her from the inside for still being alive, but Lina pushed herself forward to only topple to the point her lips were inches from touching the floor. The steps were closer by then, almost next to her head. Lina weakly propped herself up on her arms and looked up to see a massive blob above her. She didn't need clear vision to tell that he was grinning victoriously at her condition. Lina's head dropped down, and she closed her eyes in preparation to experience yet another excruciating blow.
Eventually Gaav's laughter ended, and Lina's body tensed, expecting pain to follow immediately after. Thirty seconds or so passed and Lina felt nothing. She began to wonder if her hearing had completely gone away from all of the abuse to her skull. She took in a careful but labored breath and slowly opened her eyes.
In front of her she saw the figure that seemed to be Gaav, standing like a statue. What was significant now was there was a second, smaller figure behind him. Lina was in no condition to think clearly, but slowly her brain put together that Zelgadis had somehow gotten back to his feet and was fighting in her place. This thought intensified the more she stared at the blurry figures, and concern began to take precedence over her own well-being. She opened her mouth to express her protest, thinking he shouldn't be moving around so quickly after having his head slammed, but her mouth wasn't forming words correctly and an incomprehensible sound came out instead.
"Whatever are you saying, Lina-san?"
Lina gradually got herself up into a sitting position. She rubbed her eyes tenderly and blinked deliberately over and over until things started coming into better focus. Things were still shaky and fuzzy, but she could see that her ears hadn't betrayed her, and Xellos was indeed standing behind Gaav. Lina, however, thought she had to be dreaming and had passed out after Gaav had given her the final blow—a blade was clearly sticking out of Gaav's chest.
In the few minutes of rest Lina had gotten after falling for the last time, Lina's mind was starting to recover a little. It was flooded with the many things she wanted to say concerning this dream-like development. Lina was moving her lips, but her heavy breathing and fluid in her throat wasn't helping her voice much of any of those.
"Wh…at…?" Lina choked out, after several attempts.
Xellos smiled at her from behind Gaav and held up his hands. "There will be plenty of time to explain that later," he said. "First, we should take care of your wounds."
Lina struggled to speak as Xellos walked around Gaav and approached her. He was walking with much less vigor than he always did, but he was doing a very good job considering he had been run through not too long ago. When he reached her, he crouched down to her and offered his hand.
"Save your energy," he said.
Lina, unable to really believe that Xellos was standing before her while Gaav was incapacitated behind them, ignored his hand and kept staring at Gaav. Her eyes widened as she saw the general's lips turn up into a smile and his hands slowly reach up to the blade in his chest. Lina croaked out for Xellos's attention, but he only chided her and asked her to not be so stubborn to accept his help.
Gaav's soft laughter that got louder with each breath was what caused Xellos to turn away from Lina. He slowly rose and moved a little in Gaav's direction before he stopped. Lina was still leaning toward the impression that she was dreaming.
Gaav took a small step forward. "Nothing less from the man who would stab someone in the back for a piece of gold," he said.
Xellos smirked in return. "Nothing less from the man rumored to be an immortal monster," he said. "Who else would be standing here so carefree with a sword through their chest?"
Gaav snorted. "Next time you want to kill someone, ya outta aim for the heart."
"I won't make the mistake twice." Xellos lifted his foot up halfway from the floor.
In a flash Gaav had reached Xellos and held him in a chokehold. "I won't let you!"
Lina didn't think she was dreaming anymore—she was clearly in a nightmare. Gaav lifted Xellos by his neck and began swinging him around like he was a bag of clothes. His delighted laughter boomed in Lina's ears and filled her with terror that she didn't think possible before. She was beginning to think that she needed to prepare for her own death after Xellos's until she saw Gaav, shaking around a helpless Xellos, turn his back to her. She was sure her head was messed up, but it seemed to her as if the red orb of his staff was glowing. Whether she was losing her mind or not, this "light" drew her attention to the staff and urged her to approach it.
The pain Lina was enduring was winning over her willpower, and her consciousness was no longer in her control. Her mind was telling her to move toward the light, so although she had little faith in what power she had left, she made this her upmost command to her body.
She blacked out for a length of time Lina couldn't say, but when she had her senses again she was standing uncertainly on her feet. Her vision was worsening and she couldn't hear what was around her, but the red light was clearly still beckoning her onward. When she tried to step forward, she faded out of consciousness again. The next thing she recalled, she was standing behind Gaav with her hand wrapped around the glowing ball. Lina's body was moving without her really understanding what was going on.
Gaav whirled around as he felt Lina yank the blade from him. "You fucking bi—"
Lina cut him off as her hand automatically plunged the blade into Gaav again, missing one of Xellos's legs just barely, and stabbing Gaav through the heart. She was sure she was imagining everything that was happening, especially when her warped vision was showing her not only a blade going into Gaav but another blade coming out of him only about a centimeter away. This was excellent proof to Lina that she had passed out a long time ago and was imagining how Gaav could have been killed.
Xellos fell from Gaav's hands a moment before the giant general finally came crashing down himself. Lina didn't think she could be surprised anymore by her pain-induced illusions, but seeing Zelgadis standing behind the two that fell made her eyes widen.
"Zel…?" Lina said, more surprised that even a weak version of her voice came out.
Zelgadis smiled at her and sighed. "Looks like you were all right after all," he said.
Lina made the faintest smile, enjoying the sound (though she couldn't comprehend the words) of her friend. As if that were the signal for her body to finally give up, everything went black, and Lina felt her body lighten as all the strength left it. She was dead to the world before her body reached the floor.
The first thing Lina noticed when she was aware of the world again were the warm and soft sensations against her skin. It was wrapped all around her as if she was enclosed in a cloud cocoon that was heated from the sun shining on it from the sky. The second thing she sensed was ache that ran throughout her entire body. It felt as if a pack of horses had trampled her. However, compared to when she could recall her last bit of consciousness, her pain had been lessened. It was less that she felt like she was going to die if she tried to even wiggle her finger, and now more like she would just have to avoid any more fights for a month or so.
Lina realized that she was operating with a much fuller mental capacity than before now. Her eyelids were still heavy so she didn't open them just yet. Instead, she reached out her hands to recognize the feel of a fine and delicate cloth, letting her know that she was in a bed. Her light movement also made her aware of the bandages wrapped here and there on her body. It was a relief to assume she didn't need to worry about blood gushing out of her if she sat up. She sighed in content, and although she felt like she could sleep for a full day, she reluctantly and carefully opened her eyes.
Her eyes immediately came to focus upon another set of purple eyes, and Lina threw out her fist as she screamed. She hopped out of the bed, taking no mind of the reciprocal pain, and made it to the door before she even understood the situation. As she calmed down from her initial shock, she saw Xellos on the floor, holding his nose. Lina was only curious about that for a second and quickly tried to open the door. She was further surprised when the door opened by itself as she gripped the knob. She released it to find Zelgadis, brow raised to the bandage covering most of his head, waiting behind the door.
"Oh, you're awake," he said, joining her in the doorway.
Lina felt tears form in the corner of her eyes. "Zel!" she cried. She didn't think for a second about jumping into his arms and locking him in a hug. It hurt, but it felt emotionally better than the physical pain.
Zelgadis laughed and gently squeezed her back, not wanting to put her in anymore pain than she already was. "And here I was worried if you'd be able to move like yourself any time soon," he said.
Xellos grabbed the side of the bed as he rose from the floor. "Hidoi desu yo, Lina-san!" he protested. "I spent all this time taking care of you, and you smack me in the face upon first sight."
"There's almost no one I'd want to see less than you, so what would you expect?" Lina muttered, looking around the room. She recognized the fancy architecture she had gotten accustomed to during her "prison" days with Xellos. "What happened to Gaav?"
"It's all been taken care of!" Xellos reported cheerfully.
While Lina was trying hard to not even dignify Xellos with a glare, Zelgadis added to Xellos's comment. "Yeah, you would never guess a battle broke out downstairs," he said with a hint of bitterness that Lina didn't miss. "Everything has already been replaced and repaired. I would have left sooner, but you were so battered up last night that I didn't want to risk moving you around too much."
Lina shook her head once, feeling a horrible sensation when she did. She patted Zelgadis on the shoulder. "Gotcha," she said. "Let's just go now. I think I might have overdone it getting out of bed, so help me get down the stairs."
Zelgadis barely touched Lina's arm before Xellos's hand was around Zelgadis's wrist. He carefully removed Zelgadis's hand from Lina, smiling in a polite way that irritated everyone else in the room. Zelgadis opened his mouth halfway to question him.
"I'd like a word with Lina-san, if you don't mind."
"The hell I—"
"Fine," Lina said, interrupting Zelgadis. She had noticed that her friend had already poised his hands to strike Xellos; she was a little too tired to fight with anyone at that moment, even if it wasn't physically.
Zelgadis looked displeased but relaxed his hands at his side. "All right," he said. "I'll leave you with him, but I'll be back in 10 minutes."
As Zelgadis made a quick retreat from the room, Lina promised him it wouldn't take that long before he shut the door with a little more force than was needed. After he left, Lina immediately walked a distance from Xellos and closed her eyes as she folded her arms over her chest. Frankly, just looking at him made her want to grab the bed and squash him like a pancake.
"What do you want?" Lina asked impatiently. "And it better not be an apol—"
Lina stopped as she felt Xellos hold her cheek. "Thank goodness you're all right," he said softly.
Lina eyes shot open, and she threw away Xellos's hand as hard as she could. The throbbing pain that shot through her arm and shoulder was worth satisfying the boiling rage she felt. "You don't have the right to be relieved," she said between her teeth.
Xellos laughed and placed the hand she had tossed near his heart. "You're quite right, Lina-san," he said. "It's my fault things progressed so badly, but you were just so insistent upon not letting me protect you."
If Lina could spit fire, she would have then. "What? You're blaming me for this after all that's happened? You have some nerve!"
Xellos held up a hand. "I'm telling you the truth," he said. He tried not to laugh as she rolled his eyes at him. "I know that my 'truth' has no value to you, but I'm begging you to listen to me this time. After you almost got killed by Gaav, I don't want to end things with a pointless lie."
"And what lie is that?" Lina asked. She held her forehead, finding the conversation draining the little energy she had. "Was it a lie that you sold me to Gaav? Because yesterday morning you were very eager to see your plan come together."
"Do you even know what the plan really was?"
"Of course!" Lina felt like strangling him, if only it wouldn't make her arms hurt so much. "You send me out for the day on some insignificant errand, so that I won't be in the house all day. By the time I would get back, I have no clue that Gaav is waiting for me in the house, and I get ambushed by him and his lackeys. They take me away to do unspeakable things to me, while you sit around in your mansion counting all the gold you earned from me."
Xellos's laughter at her summary made her hand burn to slap him across the face. It was beginning to be worth the pain. When he stopped and looked at her as if she were a moron, Lina's hand unconsciously began to rise.
"If that was my plan, then why did I tell Gaav that I didn't know where you were?" Xellos challenged.
"That was a trap. You obviously knew we were listening—"
"What sort of trap involves me letting my buyer think I don't have his 'goods' and getting myself stabbed? Or was his angry and bloody reaction to my words a clever trick to get you to rush into the room?"
Lina was starting to see a lot of holes in her own theory, but was too furious to back down. "Ye-Yes," she said. Her mind flashed back to when Xellos was standing behind Gaav with a sword sticking out of his chest. "You obviously weren't hurt because you were able to get up and run Gaav through later!"
Xellos lifted up his shirt, showing thick bandaging around his torso. Lina muttered that he could just be playing dress-up. Xellos volunteered to unravel them and show her the impressive and hole he now possessed. Lina contemplated it for a second before she waved her hands.
"OK, OK—it's real," Lina said. She took in a breath. "Then please enlighten me with the 'truth' about your plan."
Xellos made a chiding sound. "Lina-san, you still don't get it," he said. When she made a confused look at him, he smiled at her admiringly. "You're so cute when you look like you have no idea what's going on."
Lina didn't know how long she could stand there before her anger made her fall off her feet. "I'm tired of you fooling around with me," she said. "I don't want to know."
Lina walked past him, but Xellos quickly moved in front of her again. She made a murderously impatient face while he promised to stop teasing her and tell her what she really wanted to hear. However, he couldn't help but smile contentedly at her angry face, despite he was trying to convey a serious matter.
"I sent you away yesterday in the hopes that I could take care of Gaav myself before you returned," Xellos explained. "I never intended for you two to even meet each other. I tried so hard to scare you away from me, but your distrust seemed to only make you cling to me just to find out what I was doing."
"What?" Lina couldn't imagine any person coming up with such a stupid idea. Anyone who knew Xellos as well as she did would be equally cautious about doing what Xellos seemed to want a person to do. "If you wanted me gone, then why didn't just say so?"
Xellos sighed. "I have little confidence that you would do anything I asked you to with the kind of relationship we've had thus far," he said. "I thought if I kept implying you would be in danger without specifically spelling out that you should get out of town, you'd do so on your own. Like you did when you were being forced to be my live-in servant."
Lina was simply looking at him with an unreadable expression. Xellos gave her a moment to respond to what he had said, but she didn't seem eager to offer any kind of argument or acknowledgment. Xellos took it upon himself to continue.
"Why do you think I was so angry that you had ironically come back when I so desperately wanted you far away?"
Lina hated to admit that she had been so puzzled by that, unsatisfied with any theory that she came up with. "I don't know…" she said. Her anger was ignited again as he made a face suggesting that she was being less than intelligent. "It's not because you wanted me out of danger's way! You may like me or whatever your sick mind considers it, but you would never choose me over one gold coin! Even though you killed Gaav—"
"That was you and Zelgadis-san."
"Whatever! The point is that you value money more than anything else. I'm sure you still have the money he paid you for me."
"Most certainly." Lina made a disgusted face and Xellos grinned. "I have you to thank for that, Lina-san. You must recall that mysterious man who visited here a few days ago? He was Gaav's messenger, whose job was to confirm that you were there so that I would be paid. If you had been gone, as I had intended, I was going to inform him that the deal was off and suggest a few places that Gaav might search for you himself. Those places would be dead ends, of course."
"You expect me to believe that you intended to cancel your deal with Gaav, make no money, and create a deadly enemy like him?"
"I would love for you to believe me," Xellos said, touching her shoulder lightly. "The last thing I intended to do was be responsible for you being beaten and bandaged like this."
Lina pulled away from him. "I don't care what you say," she said. "This is what happens when someone as evil as you tries to protect someone—they end up nearly dead."
Xellos was quiet as if agreeing with her. After a while he asked her, "Why didn't you just run away?" he said. "You can't be so brave that it borders on foolishness."
"You think I'm going to run away from some threat that I don't even know?" Lina said. She folded her arms again. "I have no problems running away from you because I know what kind of horrible things can happen when I'm with you, but your little hints only sounded like you were trying to manipulate me. I had to stay so I could try and stop your plan before you completed it."
"Go to hell. I'll never forgive you, you scheming bastard."
Xellos stared at her hard, making Lina a little uncomfortable, but she tried to maintain the disgust on her face. He lowered his head slightly.
"I am truly regretful for the way things ended and…a lot of other things."
Lina wondered what were these other things he mentioned since there seemed to be some meaning that she missed, but her patience was spent, and she saw no reason to prolong their conversation. "Well, thanks for the 'truth' or whatever that story was you just told me," she said. "If you don't mind, I'll be leaving now before Zel drags me away."
Lina felt instant relief after she made it past Xellos and no longer had to look at the odd expression on his face that most people would think was a genuine emotion coming through, but for Lina only seemed to be some kind of mask to hide whatever he was really feeling then. Her ease went away just as fast as she felt arms wrap around her tightly. It was a little painful with all of her tender areas, but it was mostly infuriating that he would try to touch her again.
"What the hell are you doing?" She was more irritated that her voice expressed more of her nervousness about his hands folded on top of her stomach and an inability to see him from behind.
Xellos's grip only tightened upon her as she struggled to pull away, and she winced at each of her attempts, hating that she couldn't do more without hurting herself in the process. She tried to move less dramatically and let her voice do most of the work. Her throat hadn't been damaged in her fight with Gaav, so it was the least painful.
"I've made up my mind," Xellos whispered, but Lina heard him clearly above her head.
Lina's heart rate only increased the longer she had to be in Xellos's arms. "Made up your mind about what?" she said, wondering how long she would have to suffer his insanity. "Let go of me!"
"I have no reason to keep that contract we had before, but I might interest you in a different sort of 'contract.'"
"How stupid do you think I am? Get off of me!"
"What if I said with just your signature you'd be one of the richest women alive?"
Lina fought hard against the delicious offer of money; it was much easier than it was when she had initially fell into Xellos's trap, having knowledge of the consequences. "What kind of stupid trick are you trying to pull?" she said, her voice more interested than she wanted it to sound. "I'd just sign something and get enough money to buy everything I've ever wanted?"
"It's no trick," Xellos said. "It's completely legal, and people do it every day."
Lina's better judgment was losing to her greed, and she found herself asking, "What would I be agreeing to?"
"You'd be agreeing to marry me."
Lina had a good idea where Xellos had been stabbed the day before and shoved her elbow with all her might into that very spot. When Xellos sunk to the floor and trembled in what Lina perceived to be real pain, she confirmed that he hadn't been lying about the wound after all. She would have stayed and exploited that fact if she hadn't reached her tolerance of her by then.
Xellos held onto his wound, watching Lina leave his side. "I'm serious about marriage," he said. "As my wife, you could have all the money you wanted and more."
"There isn't enough money in the world to even let that cross my mind," Lina said, as she opened the door. She waved to him without turning around. "Bye, Xellos. I hope I never see you again."
As Lina walked out the door, Xellos called out, "I won't give up so easily!" She was beginning to close the door behind her. "I'll definitely make you the first and only Mrs. Metallium!"
Lina didn't stop but before the door clicked shut she muttered, "Don't say such disgusting things."
Xellos clearly heard her footsteps become fainter as she went down the hallway, but he smiled at the door as if Lina were still present in the room. "Just wait, my lovely Lina-san," he said. "You will see how determined I am. No matter what it takes."
Xellos took a thoughtful drink from his teacup and rested it lightly on the saucer. Although the sound of the dishes making contact with each other was slight, it seemed to echo in midst of the deserted restaurant. He could clearly hear the crackle from the flame burning the candlewick sitting in the center of the table. It was daytime, but the curtains were all drawn in the spacious room, and the candle served as one of the few sources of light. The other was from another flame occupied by the person sitting across from him.
"I would like to see that vermin eliminated sooner rather than later, Xellos. I'm running out of patience with the few business interruptions I've been experiencing."
"Please do not concern yourself with such boring matters," Xellos said. "I have my best man handling that as we speak."
Zelas moved her slender and ringed fingers around her ivory cigarette holder. "Usually, I wouldn't have to remind you to prioritize my 'boring matters' because you would have already taken action before I had to know about them. However, Lina Inverse has been a significant distraction for you as of late."
"I humbly apologize for not accomplishing things above your expectations, ojousama. I assure you that my fascination with her will not interfere with my work."
"It certainly didn't when you were handling Gaav."
Xellos smiled grimly, not missing the sarcasm in her cold voice. He didn't dare try to argue with her, as she was not the type who was pleased with debate. Xellos remained a statue even when a cloud of smoke danced around his face.
"I won't be as generous to overlook your romantic endeavors if it turns out you can't execute this task I've assigned you."
Xellos bowed his head. "Forgive me for appearing less than useful to you. The vermin will absolutely be erased in a timely fashion."
"I won't tolerate anything less." Zelas tapped out her cigarette. "You'll remember I told you a long time ago that I have no use for worthless people."
Xellos grinned like a cat and slowly lifted his cup in the air. "I shall never forget, and I'll restore your faith in me soon. Lina Inverse will surely not be a problem for me again."