CH 9 (Comfort from an unexpected source)

Silence pervaded the camp they'd set, having been both physically and emotionally tired from the day's events.. far too much so to have continued on through the night. Lina was still determined to get Zel to Seyruun, Zel was dragging though. Now, he sat in silence, his eyes shadowed by his hair, in his hand rested Amelia's bracelet. The firelight flickered off his shimmering hair. He hadn't moved in a while.

Slowly, Lina sat forward, hands unclasping her cloak and letting both it and her shoulder guards fall to the ground. Moving around the fire, she sat beside Zelgadis, knees pulled against her chest, arms around them with one hand gripping the wrist of the other. "Zel..." she said softly. He didn't answer. Lifting her eyes from the fire, she looked towards his face, unable to see much except his nose in stark contrast of light and dark. "Zel..?" she said again, moving closer, hands reaching out, finding the tie of his cloak and gently pulling it from his shoulders. "Zelgadis, quit moping," she told him, though her voice hinted at harshness, her hands gently shook his shoulders. Crouching in front of him, her gloved hands took his face and lifted it so that the light of the fire shining over her shoulder glittered across the haunted look on his face. "I don't care if you're a clone," she told him, "I don't care and Amelia won't care. We both love you for who you are now. You're our friend, our ally. You're .. usually there when we need help, but we all get a little selfish sometimes."

Zelgadis stared at her, the fire shown in her hair, giving her a halo of almost demonic red. He could barely make out her features, but knew well enough that her expression was soft. He bit his lower lip, bowing his head somewhat once more, eyes returning to the pink banded bracelet that rested in his hands. His attention was caught again by Lina as she moved closer, putting her arms around his shoulders. Clutching the bracelet in one hand, he returned the petite woman's embrace. "Thank you," he said softly into her hair, marveling at how sweet Lina could be when she wasn't annoyed. She'd grown up in the last few years.. they all had.

Not far off, standing in the shadows watching the interaction, was a figure in a dark cloak. Half turning away, he sighed, amethyst eyes staring off towards the darkness with an expression that could be mistaken for melancholy. The air ripped and a figure condensed beside him. Turning, he looked at the Mazoku who had a strange liking for frogs.

"Are you keeping up your end of the deal?" the frog-faced creature grated in what it thought a whisper was. One bulging yellow eye turned independently towards the campfire, and if the creature could turn any more green than it already was, it would have. "Disgusting," it muttered, "They will all be dead soon though.. but I don't see how you can stand being near the damn things as much as you are." It shook its flat head slightly.

Amethyst eyes stared at the frog-man Mazoku calculatingly, "I will have my end done," he replied, "Focus your attention on your job, leave me to mine."

The frog shook its head once again, the campfire light shining off the sheen of slime on its body. "She's getting impatient."

A sigh, and shifting of position, a white gloved hand tightened on the tall staff he held. "Some things take time, specially with humans. To rush things would simply jeopardize what our master wants." With that, he disappeared with the sound of shredding fabric.

Slowly, an independently moving yellow eye roved back towards the two mortals by the campfire, "That one.. worries me," the frog ground out and disappeared as well.

**

He was feeling better today, Lina could tell by how he walked with his hood down and mask off, Amelia's bracelet around his wrist. The sunlight of late morning shimmered in his hair and a light breeze gave the air a fresh smell that only the season could produce. Nature was so invigorating sometimes and it was odd how one could live in it and never notice until one's existence was threatened. "I've been thinking," he said somewhat out of the blue.

Lina blinked, realizing that she'd been staring at him for quite some time. "Yeah?"

Zelgadis looked down at her, his eyes clear, but he still seemed to have far too much weighing in his heart. "That letter Gourry got.. How did his family know where to find him? Hadn't the courier said he'd come from Hemsdale? That's a town to the north of Warour, we hadn't been in that town, nor anywhere up there for a long time."

The sorceress frowned ever so slightly, "That's right..." the thin lines of red that made her eyebrows drew towards each other. "Something's fishy."

"Especially with how Xelloss has been trying to get us side tracked.." Zelgadis replied.

Tipping her head back, she gazed up at the clear blue sky, "Trying to separate us," she clarified. "One or the other of us was going to continue the journey to Seyruun, whether or not the other was coming.. you would have gone on if I'd been side tracked by that supposed all you can eat for a silver place.. and I would have gone on if you'd gone off to look in on that supposed cure those men were talking about in that tavern." Lifting a hand, she pushed her hair back over her shoulder, adjusting her gloves idly.

Her garnet eyed gaze traveled over to her companion and a slight smirk touched her lips, "Gourry can't even read," she sated.

Zelgadis quirked a brow slightly in return, a slightly evil grin finding it's way onto his lips, more proof of his returned self confidence. "Some interesting times coming up?"

"Yeah.. I think so," she replied, cracking her knuckles. "But seeing if Amelia is alright is our first concern." He nodded his full agreement of that decision, turning his eyes forward once more.

**

Amelia had felt edgy all day. The dream she'd had that night.. and the night before.. and the night before. She was beginning to fear sleeping. Every night for the past week she'd had dreams of frogs.. man-sized frogs with claws and a lust for human females. She'd become their latest plaything in her dreams. She felt so violated, but couldn't tell her father about the strange dreams.. nor anyone else. If only Lina-san were there, she'd actually have someone to talk to.. someone who wouldn't send her off to a padded room so she didn't hurt herself.

What really didn't make sense was that she seemed to be missing her other pink-banded bracelet.. She had one of them, but couldn't find the other. She carried the remaining one with her constantly, just to make sure it didn't go missing as well. From time to time, she saw Ailema dash through the halls, but every time she asked someone if they'd seen the strange girl, she was given an odd look and told that they hadn't seen a thing.

Now, she simply kept quiet every time Ailema ghosted past, or if there was no one around, she followed the girl and attempted to talk to her. Maybe if they teamed up they could get rid of these strange Leprechaun Frogs that haunted them both...

**

Smoke drifted from her lips as she gazed at the rock wall of twenty feet in height and just as much width. The wall was simply a cliff in the northern mountains, but to those with the power to see, the wall had a giant five pointed star written in blood, inscriptions scrawled in concentric circles around it. She folded her arms, lazy gaze resting on this strange wall, a soft but chilly wind pulling at her long blond hair and skimpy skirt. "Soon.." she murmured to herself, turning and walking away from the wall. "Things aren't quite in place yet, but soon." Her lusty lips quirked in a wicked smile and the air ripped around her, closing in and leaving the area empty.

**