Not much to say here… again! I'm still writing the story, and I still don't own anything- just a fan writing some fiction. As usual, please enjoy it. Thank you for reading!
4- Facet Value
"Say, Pestis? Didn't you tell me that you were going to talk about that gemstone you wanted me to find?" Zelgadis questioned. It had been a long day, as, once they returned, everyone wanted to know what they had found in the ruins, and what their plans were for continuing the excavation. They had stayed up late talking to Phil about their goals and what they planned to do, and, thankfully for them, he'd seemed pretty excited about it all. He even offered help translating documents from the Old Seyruun language, as he spoke a good deal of it himself, and would love to visit the ruins sometime. Pestis had assured him that he would certainly be welcome on their expedition if he could find the time to join them.
Now that it was late, and they had decided to get a good night's rest before beginning a full day the next morning, Zelgadis decided to ask Pestis about his gemstone request before going to sleep. It seemed like an opportune time, after all, and Zelgadis had a small hope that the information the professor was looking for would be in the ruins as well, and that they could kill two birds with one stone. It would make things a lot easier, after all.
"The gemstone?" Pestis replied, looking curiously at his friend. "Why are you bringing that up now?"
"Well, first of all, you promised to tell me about it before we got too far into this, so that I knew what I was getting myself into." he replied. "Second of all, I'm thinking that there just might be some information in the ruins about it, and I'd like to know all I can about it in order to search for that kind of information."
Pestis sighed, gripping his cup of coffee more tightly in his hands. Zelgadis wasn't sure how the stuff could possibly relax anyone, but Pestis said that it always helped him calm his nerves, and Zelgadis certainly wasn't one to judge. "Should we go sit in the library, or your room, or something? The hallway isn't the place for this kind of talk."
"Alright, fine. We can go to the library if you'd be comfortable there."
"Just so long as there isn't anyone else there. I'd rather this be a private conversation, if you don't mind." Pestis murmured softly.
"What? Why?" Zelgadis questioned.
"Because the information I'm giving you isn't information that I want just anyone knowing. This thing I'm sending you out to find is something that absolutely, positively, cannot fall into the wrong hands. You understand, don't you?"
Zelgadis blinked again, suddenly unsure of what he'd gotten himself into. "I… understand… but how can you be sure that I'm not going to misuse the gemstone instead of giving it to you? Why trust me with that sort of information?"
Pestis smiled sheepishly. "Can I just say that I trust you and leave it at that?"
The professor laughed, but it sounded like it was more of a nervous laugh than anything else. "You're as bad a child, you know that? We can talk more in the library."
Pestis continued down the hallway without a second word. Zelgadis wondered what exactly made the professor trust him. He'd handled powerful objects before and hadn't misused them. (Okay, so he kind of stole the Hellmaster's Jar, but he wasn't the one who let Shabranigdo out, so that couldn't have been pinned on him, right?) But Pestis had no knowledge of all that… did he? How much did the professor know about him?
The library was quiet and deserted, which seemed to calm Pestis slightly. He sat down in a chair, and motioned Zelgadis to one beside it. Zelgadis sat down, and stared at the silent professor for a moment.
"Well? I'm waiting for you to start talking."
"Oh, of course! Sorry! I really need to calm my nerves. I shouldn't have anything to worry about here." Pestis replied, shaking his head.
"Will you at least tell me why you can trust me with something you want to be so secretive? Is it something you'd trust with Amelia or Phil?"
"I'd trust it with them as well. The gemstone I'm looking for is simply something I don't want to fall into the hands of the Mazoku race." Pestis replied.
"Why? What would they do with it?"
The professor's expression clouded. "That's just the reason. I don't know what they'd do with it. They could try to destroy it, which would be positively disastrous, or they might try to harness its power, which would be equally disastrous…"
"Just what kind of power does this gem have?" Zelgadis breathed.
Pestis took a sip of his coffee. "The power to send the world spiralling into chaos and ultimately decimate the entirety of the human race." he spoke casually, as though he were talking about whether or not it might rain tomorrow.
"I can't say." Pestis replied, setting his mug down on a table beside his chair. "What I can say for certain, is that I need to get my hands on it as soon as possible. I've been trying to find it for years, and every time I think I've come close, it just turns out to be something else. I've been through too many false leads to count, each one raising my hopes higher than the last, and then dashing them just when I think I've finally found it."
"Believe me, I know exactly how you feel." Zelgadis sympathised. "But don't you think perhaps the information we've uncovered in the ruins might say something about it? Or… is it not that old?"
"Oh, it's that old, and then some! This gem that I'm looking for dates back to before the War of the Gods and Monsters."
Zelgadis gripped his chair in surprise. "The War of the Gods and Monsters?! It's that old?! Then surely there must be information on it in the libraries of this complex we've uncovered-"
Pestis shook his head. "No. There probably isn't any information on that gemstone in there."
Zelgadis blinked. "What? How do you know that with such certainty?"
"Because this gemstone has nothing to do with the Black Magic that the builders of that complex practiced."
"You mean it doesn't have anything to do with Black Magic? Then why do you want it? I thought it was for research." Zelgadis questioned.
"No, not at all. It is related to the Mazoku race, but that's not why I want it. It's for personal reasons."
"Well," Pestis began. "It's my friend, really, that wants me to get my hands on it for him. But I want to get it for him just as much as he wants me to, so I'm motivated to find it."
"If it's really so old and powerful, and you've been searching for it for years, why haven't you found out anything about it? I'd think something that powerful couldn't possibly be that elusive."
Pestis shook his head, picking up his mug again. "I am one of very few individuals in the world who know of this gemstone. Hardly any humans know of its existence, and it has even become obscure among the Mazoku race."
"Then how do you and your friend know about it?!" Zelgadis exclaimed. He was having trouble wrapping his mind around the concept.
"Zelgadis, I think you may have forgotten that I study Mazoku for a living. And my friend is a Mazoku." Pestis replied.
"But if you're the only one who knows about it, then how in the world are we supposed to look for clues to finding it?" Zelgadis was baffled.
"Well… there is one person I know who would probably be our best bet at finding the crystal. A young man who goes by the name 'Shichiro Hoseki,' is a jeweller that lives far to the north of here. He has… er, how should I put it? An… affinity for powerful and rare gemstones." Pestis murmured. "I'm not sure I really want to get involved with him. I don't care for the guy very much; he's a tricky sort. But… he might be the only other person who would know where this crystal might be."
"But something this powerful and obscure?"
"Let's not dwell on that. You asked the questions, and I gave the answers. The fact is that I want to find this, and I want your help."
"Why me?!" Zelgadis demanded. "If this thing really is as powerful and dangerous as you say, then..." he paused. "I know you weren't interested in telling me this until you got to know me better, which I can understand if what you say is true. But do you really trust me that much?"
Pestis looked at Zelgadis with a stone-faced expression (rather ironic, given the circumstances.)
"I'm going to come clean with you, Zelgadis, and if you feel as though you are unable to help me with this task because of it, I understand and won't hold it against you. But the fact is that, while I trust you completely, I only trust you with this particular item because I am withholding information. If you- or anyone- knew all there was to know about it, I don't think I would trust them. Don't get me wrong- it's not a safety issue at all! I know that you'd never misuse its power, even if you knew all about it, but it's a matter of personal safety for myself and my friend." Pestis paused. "We, uh, are involved in a profession that requires us to keep a lot of things secretive, I'm afraid."
"Well, that is what Mazoku tend to do..." Zelgadis murmured. He then stayed silent for a moment, taking it all in. The professor was becoming more and more puzzling by the minute. A matter of personal safety? That sounded a little far-fetched, but for someone who studied Mazoku, it only made sense...
"Pestis, may I ask you a question, and can I be assured that you'll give me a straight answer?"
Pestis seemed to think it over for a moment, and looked at Zelgadis with a pained expression. "It... depends on the question. I'm so sorry."
"It's not about the gemstone."
A look of relief passed over Pestis' face and he sighed. "Alright, then. Ask away. Straight answer, I promise."
"How deep is your relation to the Mazoku race?"
Pestis blinked in surprise. "What?"
"I'm asking how involved you are in Mazoku activities. You say that you research them, but there surely must be more to it than that. How involved in Mazoku affairs are you anyway? Are you really just an observer, or is that line crossed on occasion?"
Pestis sighed. "Ah, this question again. Don't worry too much- I get that a lot, actually."
The professor nodded. "Oh yes. Everyone always wants to know 'have you ever followed a Mazoku's orders?' or 'have you ever killed someone because a Mazoku told you to?' or terrible things like that. It gets... annoying sometimes."
Zelgadis blinked in surprise. He suddenly realised that, despite Pestis' kindness and intellect, people probably weren't so trusting of someone who consorted with Mazoku on a regular basis.
"Well, have you?"
"Have I what?"
"Followed the orders of a Mazoku, for one thing."
Pestis chuckled. "Think about it, Zelgadis. Could I afford not to? Of course I've obeyed a few orders before. But..."
"But you'd never intentionally hurt someone, would you?" Zelgadis said it as more of a statement than a question. "That second question- what about it?"
Pestis gave a bitter smile. "No. Trust me, I've never done anything of the sort."
Zelgadis nodded. "I thought not. You're not the type to allow yourself to get roped up in that sort of thing." He paused, shifting his weight slightly. "If I may ask, how exactly did you get to studying Mazoku in the first place? You're not the type I'd imagine being all that interested in the creatures."
"Oh, it runs in my family. I was born into it, so to speak. If you look at some of the Black Magic texts from the ruins- or at least, some from the time period- you'd probably find at least one or two published by a Professor Nisery. The name goes back a long time."
"Wow, really?" Zelgadis asked. "I think I've come across the name 'Nisery' several times in reading old books and such from libraries... but I never made the connection that it was a family thing. Speaking of the ruins, though, I've been meaning to ask you this all day- what do you really think is down there?"
Pestis seemed to blink in surprise to this abrupt subject change. "Wh...what?"
Zelgadis leaned back in the chair, putting his hands behind his head. "If you want my honest opinion, I think that the underground structure must have been constructed to house something besides just books. From that strange carving we saw... to the very feeling of being down there... there's something more to it all. What do you think?"
There was a long period of silence, and Pestis simply sat where he was, his eyes closed, and his hands gripping his coffee mug as though his life depended on it. Finally, he took a deep breath and spoke.
"I think... you're overthinking this, Zelgadis."
Zelgadis was taken aback. Overthinking this?! This coming from the man who worked with Mazoku for a living and knew how strange and mysterious the world of Black Magic could be... he was accusing him of overthinking things?!
"You can't be serious-"
"You're in this just to find information about returning you to your pre-chimeric state, correct?" Pestis responded, his grip on his mug still as tight as ever. "Then why worry about what else is down there?"
"B-but-" Zelgadis stammered. "You're a researcher! Surely you'd want to know what's down there. If it's dangerous, then those of us in the ruins could be in danger too!"
"You're a powerful sorcerer, Zelgadis, and a reputable swordsman if I've heard correctly from Amelia. Why would you be worried about dangerous things?"
Zelgadis frowned. "I'm not worried about myself, but I've dragged you and Amelia into this too. I don't want to put you in danger- someone who can't use much magic-"
"I assure you, I'll be fine. I never said that I physically can't use much magic, I said that I was limited- limited only by diplomatic agreements with Mazoku, not my own physical limitations. I rely on brains over brawn most of the time." Pestis interrupted.
Zelgadis paused, and sighed. "Alright, so maybe you and I can hold our own, but what about Amelia? I've pulled her into this, and..."
"Amelia should be fine. She's a priestess and a sorceress in her own right, and..." Pestis paused, a look of realization passing over his face. "Oh, I get it! I'm sorry!"
Zelgadis blinked. "Well, I'm not sure what there is to get, but if you agree with me, then-"
Pestis shook his head. "Zelgadis, I realise how important Amelia is to you, and how much you care about her, but you don't have any reason to worry. Quite honestly, I'll admit that I'm a coward, and as much as I love research, I can't stand the thought of stumbling upon something really dangerous down there. I have the same feeling you do, I assure you, but I don't want to get into trouble and lose sight of our goal. Is that alright? It's your cure that really matters, isn't it?"
With a frown, Zelgadis nodded. "You know, you're right... I guess I'm the curious sort who's not afraid of taking risks, but if it might endanger our chances of finding what I'm looking for, then I can't let myself be distracted."
Pestis smiled. "Thanks. You're a good person, Zelgadis." He stood up with his now empty cup of coffee in one hand. As he passed Zelgadis' chair, he smiled at his friend and reached out to tousle his hair. Zelgadis opened his mouth to warn the professor, but it was already too late. Pestis hissed in pain, drawing back his hand suddenly, and placing a finger in his mouth for a second, and then removed it, shaking his hand in an attempt to shake off the sensation.
"I was going to warn you not to do that." Zelgadis said.
"My bad." Pestis apologised through clenched teeth as he continued through the library. "That's some interesting hair you've got there, kid."
Zelgadis blinked. 'Kid?' "What do you mean, 'kid?' I'm not a kid."
Pestis chuckled. "Oh, come on. Compared to an old guy like me? You're definitely a kid- but in a good way. You're as mature as any young man your age could possibly be, and you've got so many things left to see." There was a pause. "Tomorrow is Saturday, so we'll spend the whole day excavating, and then we could take Sunday off. We'll have to think of something fun to do."
"Sounds fine to me." Zelgadis replied. "I'm not in much of a rush."
Pestis smiled. "I'm glad to hear that. You've got your whole life ahead of you, Zelgadis. You've got to make sure you do something wonderful with it. G'night."
And with those parting words, Pestis left the room.
Zelgadis sighed, leaning back against the chair. "That guy..." he murmured. "I'll never understand him.
(A/N: It's amazing how much faster I am at writing this now that I'm posting it. I mean, I'm staying consistently 10 chapters ahead, but still, I'm pleased with my own progress. No motivation like moral support, right? Thank you guys so much for all the encouragement, and just for reading! I can't thank you enough! ^_^)