Hibernal Heart

part 4

by LN

Amelia knocked softly on the door to Zelgadis' room. When she got no answer, she opened the door and walked in. "Mister Zelgadis?"

Though he was sitting up, it was obvious that Zel was fast asleep. A book laid open on his lap. His breathing was soft and even. He tensed briefly when Amelia came in, but quickly relaxed at the sound of her voice.

For the umpteenth time, Amelia wondered exactly what had happened to Zelgadis. She hadn't been with Lina and Gourry when they'd found him. She had just came back to the inn, only to be told by Lina that Zel had been hurt pretty badly, that he wasn't himself right now, and not to disturb him. That was it. And before she could even ask 'what happened?' Lina dragged along saying they were hunting for some group of Mazoku living close to town. Amelia wasn't stupid. She figured the Mazoku must have been the ones who hurt Zelgadis. But other than that, nobody told her anything.

Amelia walked quietly over to his bed, making sure not to startle him from his sleep. She learned her lesson the last time, and had the bruise to prove it. Gently, she rearranged Zel so he was laying down comfortably on the bed. She tried to take the book, but he only grabbed it and held it close to his chest. Amelia shrugged, deciding it wasn't worth the effort. Who knows? Maybe Zelgadis held books the same way she held her doll back home.

Once she was sure he was still sleeping peacefully, Amelia took the chair Gourry used on his watch, her mind deep in thought.

I don't get it. Why won't they tell me what's going on? Zelgadis doesn't look hurt, but he was definitely scared of something in his dream. What? What did those Mazoku do to him? Did they use a spell or something? I wish I knew so I could help him. I wonder why they don't want to tell me? I bet it's because they think I'm too young. That's not fair at all! I fight just as much as any of them. And more importantly, he's my friend. Friends should help each other, but I can't do anything if I don't know what's going on...

Lost in her own world, the Seyruun princess doesn't notice the pained look on Zel's face as his dreams again turned dark and foreboding.

Zelgadis was walking along the road out of town. He had heard of some ruins not far from the city that were said to house some ancient books on arcane magic. It was a rare opportunity. Most ruins were always looted or the book were destroyed. But there was a rumor of ghosts haunting these particular ruins, scaring away only the bravest of thieves. Since most bandits only wanted treasure anyway, the books were virtually untouched. With any luck, Zelgadis might finally find some clue to turning his body back to normal.

A flash of something caught his attention. Zelgadis drew his sword, dropping into a defensive stance. Out in the open, he knew an attack could come from any direction. He narrowed his eyes, searching the area with his demon vision. When he couldn't find anything, Zel sheath his sword, keeping a firm grip on the hilt. Getting to the ruins quickly seemed like a good idea now. He started walking at a faster pace.

Too late Zel heard the spell cast. The ground beneath him exploded. Before he could cast a Levitation, something huge knocked him back to the ground. His sword was taken and tossed aside, while a huge paw knocked him on the side of his head. It felt like getting hit with a brick. He struggled against his attackers, unable to get a clear look at any of them. He heard the sounds of another spell, and suddenly his body became weak and sluggish. He could barely move. Rough hands held him down, taunts and leers assaulting his ears.

Mazoku, he thought. So my number is finally up. This will probably be painful. I only wish I could tell him goodbye...

He felt pain. He knew he would. No surprise there. He only hoped he'd pass out before they could reduce him to begging. He didn't mind dying so much, but he at least wanted to keep his dignity.

Something's not right... The way they're holding me down is all wrong. What's going on? Oh, the large one must be the leader. He must want to do it himself. Whatever. Go ahead, demon... Wait. My clothes... why are they tearing them off like this. No, they can't be... Mazoku don't work like that... do they? Oh Gods, no, not that... No, they can't...

Zel struggled in the grip of the Mazoku pinning him down. A hand roamed over his body, making him feel sick and dirty from the touch. He tried to think of a spell, any spell, but whatever magic had affected his body was now clouding his mind. The large hand moved down his torso, traveling lower...

Oh Gods, no! Zel bit back a scream as the hand fondled him, obscenely touching his genitals. He squirmed, attempting to twist away. A dark hollow laugh rewarded him as the hand stroked his length, trying to arouse the captured chimera.

Please, please, please... Zelgadis bucked and scream, anything to get the hand away from him. More hands join the first, traveling over him. Dignity no longer mattered. He'd do anything to make this stop...

He was being turned over now. The touch and stench were making him ill. Terror welled up in his heart. A weight settled on his back. Zel finally broke, his voice hoarse.

"Please... Gourry... help me..."

Without warning, the weight was gone. The hands holding him down vanished. Zel looked around. The Mazoku were standing around, staring at something. Curious, Zel looked in the same direction.

What he saw made his breath catch in his throat. The figure approaching could only be described as an angel. His jet-black hair and pale blue robes flowed in the light breeze. As the person neared, Zel had to stifle an urge to hide his own monstrous face and body.

The angel knelt down to Zel, his expression gentle. As he got closer, Zel saw his eyes resembled those of a cat. It seemed to work for him in a strange way.

"Do not worry. My name is Mo`re Xiuh. I am a friend." Mo`re looked at the group who attacked, his eyes narrowing. One by one they all burst into flames, becoming little more than a pile of ashes. Mo`re turned his gaze onto the leader, whose body began to twist in on itself. The last thing Zel heard was an inhuman, agonizing cry of pain before the grotesque form simply disappeared. Stunned, Zel looked up at Mo`re.

"They will not harm you anymore. Can you stand?"

Not sure what to make of this turn of events, Zelgadis stood up, clutching his torn clothes to his body, a blush of embarrassment colouring his face. Mo`re saw his discomfort, and waved a hand, reforming Zel's clothes back on his body. Amazed, Zel managed a humble bow.

"Thank you, sir. I am in your debt."

"Please, call Mo`re. And you are Zelgadis, correct?"

"Y-yes. How did you?"

"This is a dreamscape, Zelgadis. Unfortunately, the attack really did happen. All I did was prevent the memory from attacking you."

Zelgadis stared at the ground. "So it really happened?" Zel didn't know what to think. He walked over, picking up his sword. Dream or no, it felt real enough, which helped a little.

"Yes, I'm sorry. But there's something else you should know. There's a reason you've been having these dreams. The one leading those Mazoku, Ahriman, has placed a spell on you. He is still after you, I'm afraid."

It took all of Zel's self-control not to scream. "Why? Why did he attack me like that? Why is he still after me? What did I ever do to him?" The last part came out as a sob. Zel turned his face away, hoping Mo`re wouldn't see his tears.

A hand settled on his shoulder. "Ahriman is obsessed with you. No doubt, your power and beauty have enraptured him."

"You must be joking."

Mo`re looked confused. "Surely you don't believe... Oh, right. You've been around humans for so long. Zelgadis, as hard as this may be for you to believe, you are a beautiful creature. It is because of this that at least three of your friends are out hunting the group you attacked you as we speak."

"Three? I thought... Oh, maybe Amelia went with them."

Mo`re shook his head. "The princess is still with you. The three I sense are much more powerful than that. A black mage, a Mazoku, and a third."

"Xelloss? He's with Lina and Gourry? But why would he bother?"

Mo`re smiled. "Perhaps for the same reason this Gourry fights."

"Gourry is a friend, as is Lina. But Xelloss... I don't understand. He's always up to something. I doubt he's doing it because he cares."

"I wouldn't be too sure. There are many things you might not know about your friends, as well as yourself." Mo`re looked around. "Walk with me, Zelgadis. This is a peaceful dream now. You and I have much to talk about."

Zel glanced over at Mo`re, who gave him a friendly smile. He didn't seem like who meant any harm, and he did tell him about Ahriman, but still...

"Why are you doing this? Why are you helping me?"

Mo`re nodded, expecting the question. "Ahriman is my fault, I'm afraid. I'm the one responsible for bring him to this world, so I must now try and remove him."

"You summoned him? Why?"

A mournful look crossed Mo`re's face. "I was looking for the being who knew the legendary spell called 'Ra Lagora'"

"Ra Lagora? What is that?"

"It is a spell that uses elements of Ra Tilt combined with summoning a mythical serpent of legend. It is rumored to be as powerful as the famed Giga Slave."

As powerful as the Giga Slave? "It sounds dangerous."

"Only to the caster. It draws from the energy of all living things, and turns it against your enemy. Welding that much power is always dangerous. Only certain people carry the knowledge, and even then, they may not even realize they have it. It must be shown to them."

"Okay then, why are you trying to find it?"

"The Ra Lagora is capable of destroying a Mazoku Lord. It could be strong enough to destroy a piece of Shabranigdo. There is a piece of the beast hidden somewhere in my hometown. I do not know where, and I fear for my village if someone like the Beastmaster were to ever try and resurrect it. If I can learn the Ra Lagora, then I can protect my village."

Sounds reasonable enough, I suppose. Zel gave Mo`re a searching look. "And you thought this Ahriman might know it?"

"Not know it so much as know who might possess it. Like I said, Ahriman is easily obsessed with power and beauty. In his many centuries of life, he may have encountered individuals who knew the spell. But my summoning of him was interrupted by those other Mazoku who were with him, so I was unable to control him." Mo`re's resplendent looks are marred by the inconsolable grief on his face. "What happened to you was as much my fault as his. I am sorry, Zelgadis."

"It's... it's okay. If you were interrupted, there was nothing you could have done. And you're trying to fix your mistake."

"Yes, I am. But I'm afraid there may be more trouble for in before I can handle Ahriman."

"You mentioned that before. What exactly do you mean?"

Mo`re began walking, Zel falling in step beside him. "Ahriman is hunting. He will find you soon."

"Then I should wake up and tell Amelia. Maybe we can leave before..."

"No. He's on a hunt. Mazoku do not stop a hunt until they have caught their prey, or they're destroyed. He wants you alive, I know that."

"Gee, that makes me feel better." Zel glanced over at Mo`re. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean..."

"It's alright. I understand. Fortunately, I know where he will take you. More than likely, he will be so enthralled with having finally captured you, he will not notice me presence."

"An ambush?"

"Yes. Do not worry, I will be able to prevent him from hurting you this time."

"Well... I guess I don't really have a choice."

"You have a choice, Zelgadis. When you awaken, you can take the girl and flee. Ahriman will hunt you down, and will kill your friends to get to you. He will take you beyond my reach, and I will not be able to help you. You will spend the rest of your life at his slave until the day he gets bored with you and finally kills you."

Zel trembled. He did not like that option. "My other choice?"

"Wake up and say nothing. Ahriman will not kill the girl, merely knock her out. Do not fight him. Let him think he's got you where he wants you. When he brings you to his domain, I will be waiting for him."

Zel nodded. "Then what?"

"Then, you are free to return to your friends, if that is your wish. Though you might be able to help me in my quest. But I won't force you. You've had a terrible experience after all. And I'm sure your friends will be happy to see you. Gourry especially, since he will be worried about you."

Does he...? He couldn't... could he? Zel shifted uncomfortably, not meeting Mo`re's eyes. "I'd like to try and forget any of this happened."

"Of course. Like I said, you'll be free to go." The landscape shimmered briefly. "You'll be waking up soon. You'll make the right decision, I hope."

"Considering my options, what choice do I have, really? How soon will Ahriman come?"

"I'm not sure. Perhaps tonight." Mo`re began to fade. "Do not be afraid, Zelgadis. I will see you soon." Mo`re vanished, along with the dream. Zel woke up, looking around the room.

A dream. Of course, he said it was. Mo`re. He seems well enough. He's certainly beautiful, but he called me... He must need his eyes checked or something.

Zel's eyes rested on Amelia. The princess was asleep in the chair. The chimera remembered what Mo`re had said, and fought down the urge to wake her up and just run for it. He glanced out the window instead, tremors racking his body.

Ahriman. He's coming. But Mo`re said he could stop him if I play along. If I don't, they all get killed, even... No, won't think that way. Zel reached up and grabbed the pillow, holding it to his chest.

Yes, I'm scared, but even if Mo`re is lying, better this than losing the only people I care about.

With a sigh, Zel sat up in bed, staring at the ceiling.

No matter what happens, so long as Gourry's safe.

Outside, a pair of green eyes glowed in the shadows...

To be continued....

On to Chapter Five or Back to Hibernal Heart or Back to the Thorned Roses or Back to the Roses?