*Authors note*: This chapter is more dialogue driven. I wanted to get the story going. I PROMISE how the bracelet was stolen will be addressed further in later chapters.
I also need to give credit to my friends John Allan and Jamie Jarrell as well as my cousin Katy Wedge, they helped me out with this chapter when I became stuck. So thanks guys!
Please forgive me if any characters seem OOC. I did my best, I rewrote several parts of this chapter, and I just can't mess with it anymore, it's driving me bananas. So enjoy.
Light and Shadow
It had been over a month. He was tired. As much as he wanted to return home, he could not face her without having it. She would be disappointed; worse, she would think that she was not important to him.
He sighed deeply, deciding to rest under the shade of a rather large tree. Outer World was pleasant enough in its own right but it just couldn't compare with Seyruun. For one the sorely lacking magical ability of the natives made him feel even more like a freak. On the other hand, the ingenuity of their mechanical ability was not something to be taken lightly. He had witnessed firsthand how some of their inventions could be just as powerful as magic, maybe even more so in some cases. He'd have to plan another trip to study their workings sometime.
His eyes turned when the familiar voice caught his attention. His 'partner' had been giddily counting the coins they had recently procured from the most recent bandit hideout they had invaded and subsequently wiped out in their quest to find the stolen item.
"Are you positive you don't want some of this? I bet that if you returned to her with some money that all will be forgiven!"
He crossed his arms and affixed her with a stony look.
"How many times do I have to tell you, it has sentimental value not material value. I was entrusted with it some time ago and I have carried it with me ever since. It means more to me than any amount of money ever could. She isn't like that either. She doesn't need the money, I think she would be insulted if I even suggested it." He was getting tired of explaining it to her.
She shrugged and continued counting, leaving it at that. After all, if he didn't want any, then it was certainly more for her. It seemed she had made the right choice in choosing to follow him.
He sighed again and closed his eyes. He was supposed to be home a month ago. Now he was being delayed, making her wait longer then he intended. It had only taken him two months to find and search the ruin he had been told about. It had no substantial information, nothing pertaining to him in any case. Therefore, he had decided to surprise her instead of writing to tell her he was coming home. In fact, the whole reason he had even stopped in the town where the bracelet had been stolen was to find something for her. A gift, something that told her he appreciated her patience.
He reached into his bag and pulled the item he had bought out. At least he still had this, so in the worst case he wouldn't be going home empty handed. He smiled faintly as he looked at it, she was going to love it.
"OOOH! What's that!" His companion having spotted the item in question quickly ran to him and kneeled beside him, staring at it with a gleam in her eyes.
"It's a crystal rose, it changes color under the sunlight." He demonstrated by holding it into the light. The rose sparkled before turning from its original white to red, it gave off a gentle glow, illuminating his gloved hand. People of Outer World were certainly great inventors.
"I didn't spot that in the loot! I think you're holding out on me!" She pouted, turning her head slightly.
He let out an exasperated sigh.
"I bought this in the town that I met you in. It was the whole reason I was there to begin with. I am always making her wait for me. It's a wonder she's stayed beside me all this time, anyway it's just a little gift to let her know I appreciate her patience, and it reminded me of her in a small way."
She sniffled, her finger brushing a stray tear from the corner of her right eye and he turned to look at her, fully. Funny, she rather looked like Amelia when she thought of something overly sappy.
"That is so romantic! You really love her don't you?" She spoke wistfully.
He blushed, turning his gaze from her slightly. He scratched his cheek idly. Love? Did he love her?
She stood and brought a hand to her chin, he looked at her again, his blush ever brighter.
"Who would have thought you would be so sentimental? Oh-hohohohohohoho!"
His eyebrow twitched and he fisted the rose, the blush disappearing from his face and being replaced by a look of sheer annoyance. Why did she insist on doing that whenever possible?
"Oh-hohohohohohoho! Onto the next hideout! I don't have enough treasure yet and we still have to find that bracelet of yours! Besides—none stand a chance against Naga the Serpent and her partner Zelgadis the Chimera-Man! Oh-hohohohohohohoho! Oh-hohohohohohohoho!"
His other eyebrow twitched. Chimera-Man? He grinned spotting a nearby rock and tossed it into the air, testing its weight. Heavy, but not so much it could cause any serious damage. He gave a devilish grin. Perfect.
"How many times do I have to tell you. Stop calling me that!" With that, he threw the rock at her.
Prince Philonel of Seyruun paced the floor of the council room with big heavy strides. It had been two days since his daughter had gone missing. The only clue he had was the letter found on her vanity from an individual no one seemed to know anything about. His daughter had become the prey of someone evil, who used the princess' own feelings against her and manipulated her into leaving the safety of the kingdom alone. He paused and slammed his fist onto the table, it smashed from the force. How dare someone use his daughter's good nature against herself!
"Has no one found any new information as to her where-abouts!" His voice boomed, echoing in the near empty room.
The council members cowered, and shook their heads profusely.
Prince Phil sighed and slumped into his chair. He stared intently at the broken table.
"Let's recap what information we do have, perhaps we are over-looking something obvious." He suggested.
A council member nodded, before speaking.
"Two days ago, at approximately noon, a courier came to the palace seeking an audience with Princess Amelia. The guards were all busy preparing for the upcoming peace conference and asked if Sylphiel Nes Lahda would inform the princess of her guest. As a courier is commonplace, and the princess is known to receive private letters from time to time the guards saw no harm in the courier wishing to speak with Princess Amelia alone."
Prince Phil nodded his head slowly. His gaze never leaving the table. The council member continued.
"Sylphiel obliged and informed the princess of her guest. We're uncertain how much time had passed during the meeting, we have been unable to find the courier in question, and so we have no way of knowing. Our guess is the conversation took less than ten minutes, at which point the princess must have retreated to her room to prepare. Around three o'clock, Sylphiel took note that she had not seen Princess Amelia for at least two hours, which struck her as unusual as she and the princess normally keep company. She set out to search for her."
Again, Prince Phil only nodded.
"According to Sylphiel's account, she first checked the main hall as that was the last place Princess Amelia was seen heading towards. When she could not be found there, Sylphiel then chose the next logical place and headed for Princess Amelia's chambers. Upon reaching the room she saw the door had been left slightly ajar, thinking the princess was still inside, she gently knocked. After receiving no answer Sylphiel entered the room and saw that the dress Princess Amelia had been wearing earlier had been tossed on the floor rather uncharacteristically for the princess, and that her traveling gear was missing. Sylphiel then noticed the letter on the vanity, having remembered the courier from earlier and taking the state of the princess' room into account she hesitantly decided to read it."
"Where she immediately informed me of the contents." Prince Phil added. He looked up finally.
"In addition." The council member continued. "The guards that patrol the western entrance of the city recall spotting Princess Amelia exiting rather hurriedly. Again they did not find this to be extremely odd as they are accustomed to her coming and going, even though it was unlike her to say anything to them about her plans she did not appear to be under duress and the guards quickly forgot about it, until they were later informed of her missing."
"The letter in question mentions a token of some sort, as of yet we have no idea what it could be, or why it would cause Princess Amelia to carelessly run off alone as she did. We have scouts scouring the western forest, but thus far, we have been unable to find anything pertaining to the princess. The bandits are now so rampant in that area that it is possible that anything left behind by her may have been taken. Of course, it is entirely possible the bandits themselves have the princess and are planning to ask for ransom. It is rather unlikely however, as we would have known by now if that were the case." Another council member filled in.
Prince Phil sighed heavily and closed his eyes. He had a feeling that the most important factor to his daughter's disappearance was in fact the token mentioned in the letter. Without the courier who delivered the package in custody, they had no way of knowing what it could be.
"It is imperative we find that courier immediately! He may be the only one who can provide us with a clue as to my daughter's actions! I want the remaining scouts to travel the kingdoms and to be on the look-out for him—do we know what he looks like?" Prince Phil questioned.
"Sylphiel recalled him being a middle aged man with salt and pepper hair. He was dressed in brown traveling clothes with a brown hat. There are no distinguishable qualities about him, probably why he was chosen to deliver the message in the first place." His brother Christopher chimed in.
"Very well. Have the scouts informed of this description. Allow them to question anyone that fits it!"
A guard stationed at the entrance to the council room nodded and quickly left to follow his orders.
"Your highness, what of the Princess' chimera escort? Isn't he supposed to be her bodyguard? Where was he when Princess Amelia went missing?"
The council member instantly regretted opening his mouth the moment Prince Phil looked at him.
"His name is Zelgadis Greywords, you would do well to remember that. He has been away on personal matters for some time. I have no right to keep him here, he is allowed to come and go as he pleases."
"I meant no ill will your highness I just thought that—"
"I know exactly what you just thought and I will not tolerate such blatant disregard for my daughter's friends!" Prince Phil interjected his voice steadily rising in volume.
"The rest of the kingdom is still unaware that Princess Amelia is missing, I believe we should keep it that way for the time being. News of this could cause panic, and the rumors that would be born from it could hinder our search effort. Although, eventually they will have to be informed, she is an active member of the kingdom and her presence will be missed before long." Christopher advised hoping to divert the subject matter. He gave his brother a sympathetic look. Not many people understood the relationship Amelia had with the young man. The council member gave Christopher a grateful look in return, then wisely chose to keep his mouth shut.
Prince Phil nodded his anger subsiding.
"You have a valid point. For the time being this stays between us, have the guards informed that anyone asking of her is to be told she is away on business and will return when it is completed." He agreed allowing the subject to change, he had a feeling the council member would choose his words carefully the next time.
"What of the upcoming peace conference? Should we postpone?" One of the members questioned.
"No. Postponing will suggest something is amiss or that we no longer wish to purse friendly relations with neighboring kingdoms. The peace conference continues on schedule."
There were only whispered agreements. Prince Phil knew that not all council members approved of the way he conducted business, but he also knew that none of them had the audacity to question him either. He thought about contacting Lina Inverse, she had always helped in the past, but the fiery redhead also had a way with attracting trouble. Extra trouble he didn't need at this point. He would wait for now, the kingdom had to learn to rely on itself every now and then and less on outside assistance, otherwise they would be deemed weak by the other kingdoms. He needed to have faith in his daughter and his people.
"We must all pull together during this difficult period! The kingdom of Seyruun is blessed and we have faced hardship many times! Justice will see to it that Amelia returns to us safely. We must do all we can by ourselves for the time being. We are strong kingdom because our people our strong! Well, enough of this idle banter! You all know what must be done! GO!"
The noise from the shuffling chairs reverberated off the walls of the meeting room. When Prince Phil gave a command, you simply followed it. He was a wise ruler with the kingdom's best interests in mind and would one day make a great king. Many people had put their faith and trust behind him, and in return, he had never given them reason to doubt that faith. He would not start now. When the last of the members had finally made his way out of the room and it was just the two brothers that remained Christopher gave a suggestion.
"Should we find Gracia and inform her?"
Prince Phil stood from his chair finally and began to pace once more taking the suggestion into consideration. The last letter they had received from his eldest daughter had been two weeks ago. She had only written to say that she was doing fine and found a new partner to travel with, though she had not gone into great detail of the person in question. Even though Gracia had not been an active member of the kingdom for quite some time, it did not change that she was still part of the family. He nodded to himself finally reaching a decision.
"Yes. See if you can find her, she has the right to know what has happened to her sister."
Christopher only gave a silent nod in response then he too left the meeting room, leaving Phil alone with his own thoughts.
He sipped his coffee quietly from one of the tables in a corner and tried to ignore her as best he could. Naga seemed to be enjoying herself a little too much, he had lost track of how much alcohol she had consumed, but by the way she was teetering on her feet he assumed way past her limit. It didn't help that she was singing a song horribly off key and loudly she only paused for a moment to sneeze before picking up where she had left off. He wasn't sure if she was using actual words at this point.
Who was he to intervene? It wasn't as if they were long time friends, or friends at all for that matter so the less involved he became with her the better. He preferred not to know her back-story, having her follow him everywhere was more than enough for him to form his opinion of her. He had eventually stopped caring altogether, when she had displayed her skills in taking out a bandit encampment on her own. Seeing that she was rather self-sufficient and only interested in the money, he couldn't see the harm in having her help him with his search. Well, that and she also reminded him of Amelia in a small way. He smiled despite himself.
His thoughts were always leading to her lately. It seemed that almost everything was reminding him of her. He took another sip of his coffee. Maybe it was time to go home. Amelia would be upset for certain when he told her about the bracelet, but in all honesty, he just wanted to see her again, even if she would be mad.
He looked up from his coffee cup and gave pause when he saw who was sitting across from him. He blinked momentarily before his bewildered look gave way to annoyance. How long had that freak been sitting there, it gave him the creeps. He was beginning to think the Gods had a sick sense of humor.
"Lost in thought or just lost?" The person questioned.
"What do you want." Zelgadis snorted in response. He crossed his arms fixing his guest with a suspicious gaze.
"Now…here I was, in the neighborhood, and who should I see? Why a dear friend of mine. Well, I thought to myself, perhaps he'd very much like some company." He spoke rather candidly considering.
"You are no friend of mine."
"Now, now. There's no reason to be so testy. After all I believe I may have some news that you may very much want to hear." A smile.
Zelgadis huffed. He very much doubted that.
"Come to tempt me into journeying to some other forgotten temple in some other forgotten area of the world for my cure? No thanks. I'm rather tired of digging around in the dirt for false hopes."
"Why Zelgadis-san, I am deeply hurt—"
"Deeply hurt? Are you dappling in comedy now? You may be able to fool others with your false empathy but I will not so easily be taken. I have no interest in what you have to say. Go bother someone else. I have other things to worry about." He added a sideways glance to his guest not deeming him worthy of his full attention.
He gave it a few seconds then decided he longer wanted to be there, staring at his perpetual artificial smile. It sincerely annoyed him. He pushed away from the table and stood then began to walk away.
He froze mid stride and swore under his breath at that annoying smart-ass' ability to grab attention. He argued with himself. He's toying with you. Don't give him the satisfaction of your curiosity. Besides, he never said who was missing, it's a ploy, a trick a ruse, he has nothing worth saying, and he just wants to irk you. He turned anyway.
"Who is missing?" He spoke angrily, angrier that once again he had been able to pique his curiosity. He cursed the smiling mazoku silently. Then stopped, he probably enjoyed it.
"Oh? I thought you had no interest in what I had to say? Suddenly changing your mind?" He grinned arrogantly.
"If you have something to say spit it out! Otherwise I'm leaving!"
Xelloss shrugged his shoulders then reached out and grabbed Zelgadis' coffee cup. He stirred the inside around with his pinky before taking a sip of the remaining liquid. He gave an offhand look in the chimera's direction.
"You may want to sit." He offered. "This is actually quite good. Do I detect a hint of nutmeg?"
Zelgadis slammed his fist on the table. The tavern became eerily quiet for a moment as the patrons paused in their celebration to stare at him with quizzical looks, all except for Naga who was so intoxicated she could no longer tell which way was up, not that it mattered as she continued to sing regardless of no one else partaking. His eyes narrowed unbelieving then chose to humor the mazoku, taking a seat across from him once more, the room continued its merriment.
"You have exactly one minute to start talking before I shove that coffee cup down your throat." He spoke, irritation dripping off every word.
"Is that a threat?" Xelloss questioned innocently.
"It's a promise."
Xelloss waved his free hand at Zelgadis and sighed.
"Oh dear, no need to be so angry, I am doing you a favor after all. Very well, I suppose it is getting rather late and I do have other visits to make."
Zelgadis once again crossed his arms. His glare never wavering from the mazoku's smiling face. He watched as Xelloss took one final sip of the remaining liquid before setting the cup down. He then opened his eyes catching Zelgadis off guard.
Xelloss opened his mouth, the words coming out in a whisper that only the chimera could hear and chose the sentence that would offer the most effect, he might as well enjoy the response he would receive.
"The Princess of Seyruun has gone missing."
Zelgadis felt like someone had just punched him in the stomach. His breath caught in his throat, and his look of anger melted away only to be replaced with worried doubt.
"I knew that may catch your attention." Xelloss affirmed.
"Y—you lie." Zelgadis breathed. It wasn't true. It couldn't be true.
Xelloss gave an exasperated sigh hiding his purple irises behind closed lids once more. He wasn't exactly sure why he was telling Zelgadis this to begin with. It wasn't like him to meddle in the affairs of mortals, nor did he particularly care what happened to them either. It was the nature in which the Princess of Seyruun went missing that concerned him. He needed a spy to confirm his suspicions, so why not use someone close to the princess herself? Someone very close, someone that would stop at nothing to find out what happened to her or who was behind it. Therefore, Zelgadis had been the most logical choice.
"Oh, believe me, I wish I was."He finally responded with false sensitivity.
Zelgadis' hands clenched tightly into fists his fingernails dug painfully into his palms, he didn't care. He gave the mazoku a death glare. He could feel his anger rising, urged on by his fear that Xelloss was telling the truth.
"I don't believe you." His voice trembled slightly.
"I thought you might. Of course I wouldn't be here if I had no details. Let's see…what was it I overheard? Oh yes. The Princess of Seyruun was lured from the safety of the kingdom by the arrival of a threatening letter attached with a bracelet. Such a silly thing if you ask me."
Xelloss smiled, having achieved the affect he had been waiting for and basked in the fear, worry and despair that the chimera was now radiating. Such pleasant feelings. He watched as Zelgadis wrestled with himself, every now and then his eyes would change from shock to realization, then from realization to anger, and back to shock again. It was all rather entertaining for Xelloss.
Zelgadis could not help the trembling of his body, nor the thoughts racing through his mind. He had spent the last month searching for the bracelet, becoming more and more discouraged when all his leads turned up empty. His carelessness had put her in danger. How could anyone know the significance of it? He spoke a word of it to no one, save for Naga since he felt it pertinent for her to know what they were looking for, but not even Lina or Gourry knew. How could a thief, a lowly bandit possibly know? Unless the thief didn't. Unless the thief had just been attracted and tempted by the radiant look to it. The thief probably thought it was more than a simple bracelet and felt he could sell it quickly. Someone else had seized the opportunity. He bared his teeth furiously and before Xelloss had time to react, he grabbed the purple-haired mazoku by the shirt, pulling him across the table.
"Tell me everything you know now! And I swear, if you had anything to do with this I will personally see to it that you regret it for as long as your miserable kind pollute the world." His voice was a low animalistic growl, his anger nearly out of control.
Xelloss laughed nervously. He wished could have said that he allowed Zelgadis to grab him. The truth was that Zelgadis had caught him completely off guard and displayed signs of power he didn't know the chimera had. Perhaps he shouldn't have harassed him as much, but it was all good fun. Well, for him anyway and that's what really mattered. He waggled his finger and disappeared from Zelgadis' grasp, reappearing in the air beside him instead. He straightened his shirt.
"I can assure you I have no hand in this what-so-ever. I am just a concerned friend that felt someone close to the Princess had the right to be informed of events that have transpired. I'm afraid I've told you everything I know already. No one seems to know where she went, or even if she's still alive at this point. She has been missing for two days after all. Chances of her still breathing are rather slim. She may be buried under some rubble or at the bottom of a ri—"
"YOU BASTARD!" Zelgadis shouted. The patrons once again stopped in their celebrating. He didn't care. Let them look. How dare Xelloss belittle her life in front of him. He stood as the anger reached its crescendo. He pulled his sword from the hilt forcefully.
Xelloss waved his hand at Zelgadis attempting to dispel the violent aura emanating towards him. He scratched his head, perhaps he had gone too far after all.
Zelgadis swung at him blindly, the hatred and resentment clouding his eyes as well as his reasoning, all he could see was the mazoku's smug face. Xelloss was managing to dodge him but that would not deter his pursuit. He chased Xelloss' image across the tavern, swinging each time he felt close enough to land a blow. People screamed and ran; tables and chairs became nothing more than firewood.
Xelloss sighed continuing to dodge the swings. It was a good thing the chimera was far too infuriated to attack properly; the last one had nearly hit him. Zelgadis' speed was working to an advantage in the small space. In attempt to get away from the approaching swordsmen, he bumped into Naga, who had been ignorant to the carnage unfolding the entire time. She made a garbled noise as she fell to the floor.
"Stay down Naga!" Zelgadis barked at her, finding that a suitable position for her to be in. She didn't answer. The alcohol had finally done her in.
"Well, this is certainly an odd coincidence…" Xelloss muttered offhand, either Zelgadis didn't hear him, or didn't deem the remark worthy of notice. He only continued to swing the sword. My, my. He was certainly taking this very personally.
Zelgadis paused momentarily, taking the time to catch his breath. The tavern had been completely destroyed. Tables and chairs were strewn all over the place; uneaten food and drink were splattered against every surface the patrons had run out screaming, shouting warnings of a monster attack. The temporary reprieve did not go unnoticed by Xelloss; he knew an opportunity when it presented itself.
"I seemed to have upset you. I'll return when you've managed to calm down. I really can't keep my other guests waiting. See you soon!" With that, Xelloss seized the opening and disappeared, just as Zelgadis enchanted his sword with the Astral Vine spell and swung it at him. It had just barely missed.
"Xelloss!" Zelgadis cursed the air, his chest heaving violently.
He dropped the sword then, His anger fizzing out only to let anxiety consume him instead. He slumped to the floor, landing on his knees. Amelia. No. She was alive. She had to be. Unfortunately, he had no idea where to begin his search, and now he had to wait for that…that spiteful bastard to return with more information. He couldn't wait that long. He grasped his sword and slowly pulled himself to his feet once more. He looked to Naga, she would be fine by herself, she had apparently been doing okay alone up until their meeting. He sheathed his sword and quickly masked his identity, becoming anonymous once more.
"I'm coming Amelia. Please wait for me a little longer…"