Zel was sleeping comfortably. Gourry felt a twinge of guilt, but there were certain things even he couldn't avoid. Whispering that he'd be back soon, Gourry went to tend to nature's call.
As Gourry left, he took with him the warmth and safety that held the nightmares at bay. Alone, Zel slipped back into the dark fall of sleep, reliving the pain once more...
Hands. No, not hands. More like claws. Everywhere he looked, there were claws. Claws and demons, laughing at him, hurting him. Clothes torn. Too many of them. They're so close, hard to breath. He can't concentrate for a spell. Where is his sword? Wouldn't work anyway. Why is this happening? He only wanted to find a cure. He never wanted this. Never meant for this to happen. Why him?
Something's wrong. They're not trying to kill him. A larger one is looking at him. The leader? What does he want? No, he's not... Not there, he doesn't want to be touched there... no...
Someone is grabbing him now, turning him over on his stomach. No, please gods, no. Not this. Better to be dead than this. Please, no...
Claws again, trying to... Gods! Not inside! No! No! NO! This isn't... it can't be happening... oh Gods... stop it!
Laughing again. This is a game to them. Fuck the chimera, get a load off, have fun. Forget the fact they're destroying a soul in the process. No, not a soul. Just a body to them, interesting because of it's skin, but still just a body.
Why is this happening? What did I do to deserve this?
The claws are gone. No, please no... Too many, closing in. Their scent is strong, sickening. A weight, pressing against his back... Begging. Please gods, please...
Please, Gourry, help me...
Zel woke up, screaming to the high heavens. He could still feel himself being mounted. He could still hear their taunts as their leader broke him open, his inner flesh torn and bleeding. Their scent filled his nostrils, causing him to clutch his stomach, which threatened to empty itself. He shook uncontrollably, tears streaming down his face.
Hands embraced him. Zelgadis didn't know who they belonged too, but he was beyond rational thinking. He didn't want to be touched like that again! Zel instinctively lashed out, not caring when he heard a small yelp. He didn't want to be touched!
A soft voice whispered in his ear, gentle and soothing. It told Zel he was safe, that no one would hurt him, that it would be okay. Zel quieted down. He knew that voice. It was a friend, a good friend. Someone he trusted. Someone he...
"Yeah, Zel, it's me. You had a nightmare. Are you okay?"
"I..." Zel swallowed, then noticed Lina escorting Amelia out, who was clutching her arm. Deep shame welled up inside the despondent chimera, spilling over from his grey-blue eyes.
"Gods, I didn't mean..."
"We know, Zel. We know." Gourry didn't think Amelia should have tried that stunt anyway. If there was one thing he knew, it was never to grab a person just coming out of a bad dream. "It's nothing, she'll be okay. It's you we're worried about."
Zel turned away. He hated being so weak and vulnerable. He hated being so damn needy. Most of all, he hated the fact that his friends had to see him like this.
"I... I'll be fine."
That's a lie, and you know it. You don't have to hide, Zel. Not from us, and not from me. Gourry sighed, not sure how to get past the wall he felt Zel put up. He decided to leave it for now and worry about more important things, like... "Breakfast."
"I said, do you think you can eat some breakfast? You haven't eaten since we got here."
Gourry was already getting a plate, gesturing for Zel to get back in bed. "Lina says the foods pretty good here. You should really try it." Gourry walked over and set a tray down on Zel's lap. He gave Zel one of his patented 'dumb but sweet' looks, hoping it would get the shaman to eat.
Zel sighed, and took a small bite of the food offered. "It's not bad. Thank you."
"Welcome. Try and eat what you can. I'm going to go talk to Lina right quick. Will you be okay?"
A surge of fear hit Zel square in the chest. He swallowed it and his food down, looking ill.
Please, Gourry, help me...
"I'll be fine. You'd better hurry, you know how impatient she is." Zel managed a ghost of a smile, reassuring the tall swordsman.
"Okay. If you need anything, just yell. Amelia will come by to check on you, just in case." His tone and expression told Zel he wasn't too keen on the idea, but there was nothing he could do about it.
"I'll be fine, really. Get going. Knowing Amelia, I'll be right here when you get back." As far as Zel was concerned, he wasn't too keen on the plan himself, but he couldn't do anything either.
Gourry nodded, and left. Zel tried eating some more, but his stomach turned on him. Sighing, Zel set the tray aside. He didn't relish the idea of sleep anymore than eating. Zel looked around, and saw a book among his possessions. Reading was safe, and would keep his mind occupied until Amelia showed up. He reached and picked the book up, letting his mind forget about what he'd been through for a little while.
"You should be more careful with him, Amelia. Zel's feeling even more touchy than normal right now."
Gourry watched silently as Lina scolded the Seyruun princess. He himself agreed with Lina, but didn't offer an opinion. He was sure Lina could handle it. Besides, the girl was on the verge of tears now. One word from him would probably start the waterworks. They didn't need that right now. They needed Amelia to understand how fragile, and dangerous, Zelgadis was.
"But Miss Lina, I was only trying to..."
"I know, Amelia. But Zel is real sensitive about being touched. When he feels better, then maybe. But for now, you have to be careful. He probably feels bad about hurting you as it is."
Amelia shook her head frantically. "But it was my fault! You warned me before he might be jumpy. It's just... when I heard him screaming, I didn't... I mean..."
You didn't think, is all. And Lina says I'm bad. Gourry wisely kept his mouth closed, hoping Lina could get through to the girl.
The fiery sorceress took Amelia by the shoulders. Her mood was unusually somber as red-brown eyes met startled blue.
"Amelia. Gourry and I are going to go look for the Mazoku that hurt Zel. That means you'll have to look after him until we get back. Zel might look okay, but he's not. He's hurting really bad, and you have to be extra careful with him, understand?"
Amelia nodded once, her mood now matching Lina's. "I promise to take care of him, Miss Lina."
"Good. Make sure he rests. Don't let him out of your sight, and try to keep him calm. Is anything happens, send one of the stable hands to us, and we'll come right back."
"Yes, Miss Lina. You can count on me."
"Good girl." Lina ran tired fingers through her hair. "We're going back to where we found Zel. Maybe we can find something there. There must be a reason this bunch attacked Zel the way they did."
"Miss Lina, exactly how was Mister Zelgadis attacked?"
Gourry and Lina both fell to the ground, twitching. Lina recovered first, giving Amelia an 'oh brother' look. Gourry just smacked his hand to his forehead.
I think Lina's been making the dumb cracks to the wrong person.
"Nevermind that, Amelia. Let's just say it was a really vicious attack and leave it at that, okay?"
"O-okay. Do you think Mister Zelgadis would..."
Gourry couldn't keep quiet any longer. "It might not be a good idea to ask him about it either."
"I have to agree with Gourry on this one, Amelia. Just make he's comfortable, and try not to do anything to upset him."
Amelia, looked like she wanted to say something else, but a well practice glare from Lina stalled any further arguments. Lina glanced over in Gourry's direction.
"Yeah." Gourry shifted his sword. He wasn't even bothering with the steel blade this time. He knew the only way to kill Mazoku was with the Sword of Light, and he was more than ready. "Let's go."
Gourry and Lina left the inn. Though he was hardly a religious person, Gourry still said a small prayer that Amelia wouldn't send the reclusive chimera further inside his walls. With a quick "let's go" from Lina, the pair were racing back to where it happened.
Zelgadis was still reading when a strange chill made him shiver. He looked, but the window was locked. He closed the book, holding it close to his chest, and sent a prayer up to the gods.
Please, let them be okay. Let him be okay.
In a dark cavern, a bunch of demons danced around their latest kill with glee. Several looked at their Master, but he was still brooding. Ever since that day, he had been unable to get the thought of blue skin and slit grey eyes out of his mind. Nothing held the same kind of joy as having that young whelp under him. His screams more beautiful than any orchestra, he pain sweeter than blood. Try as he might, the leader could not forget his chimeric toy.
Ahriman stood up, knocking several smaller Mazoku to the ground.
"Get ready," he bellowed. "We're going for a hunt."
To be continued....