Chapter 2. A Shrine-Maiden Says What?
So before Zelgadis knew it he'd been dragged onto a terrace and was left to try to massage the feeling back into his arm while Prince Phil, so eager to talk to him before, stared blankly into the sky.
"So," Zelgadis said, a little more loudly than usual in the hopes of snapping Phil out of his uncharacteristic moment of introspection. "You wanted to talk about something?"
Phil looked up at Zelgadis in surprise as though he had forgotten he was there. Then he sighed, as though carrying a heavy burden. He turned back toward the sky and said, "She looks just like her mother, you know."
"Oh," Zelgadis said. And because he realized that he was talking to the crown-ruler of Seyruun he did not say "So?"
"I remember the first time I met her mother," Phil said, leaning against the railing. "She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen."
"Is," Zelgadis began, trying to both get to grips with the conversation and derail the reminiscence train he could hear coming. "Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?"
"For awhile after she died," Phil went on, as though he hadn't heard. "I didn't know what I was going to do without her." For a terrible moment Zelgadis thought the big man was going to start crying, but luckily for him Phil was made of tougher stuff. He clenched his fists. "But I had to soldier on for the people of Seyruun, even if I was alone." He gestured out toward the bustling streets beyond the castle gate. "Someday, Amelia will have to lead the people of Seyruun just like me. She's strong, and she can handle it." He put a heavy hand of Zelgadis's shoulder. "But I don't want her to have to do it alone."
"Of course," Phil said, abruptly removing his hand. "No matter how strong she is, I'll always want to protect my beloved daughter." He adopted a fierce expression usually reserved for dealing with the profoundly unjust. "And if anyone does anything to hurt her they'll have to answer to the Pacifist-Crush!" He got a little carried away when he slammed his fist against the railing, but little dents and imperfections can give a building charm, or so it's told. "Understand?"
Zelgadis had the feeling that the smartest answer would be to nod emphatically and say nothing, so that's exactly what he did.
Phil nodded thoughtfully and then gave a pleased smile before walking in the other direction. "Glad we had this talk."
"So what did Daddy want to talk to you about?" Amelia asked as they met in the hall.
don't really know," Zelgadis admitted, before adding silently but for some reason I fear for my life.
"Well anyway," Amelia went on cheerfully. "I've got a surprise for you."
"Oh," Zelgadis mentally crossed out "crap" and "no" and instead went with, "goody."
"Come on," Amelia said, not at all fazed by Zelgadis's lack of enthusiasm. She grabbed him by the wrist and led him down the hall, pushing through the big double doors that led to
He'd been in there before and it was still an impressive collection. He'd gotten quite a few tips out of this particular library the last time he'd been there. Nothing had panned out obviously, but still.
He noted, among the shelves upon shelves of books, several old men in cleric's robes and a handful of bright-faced and eager young pages standing as though they had been waiting for the two to arrive. This did nothing to quell his feeling of unease.
"Princess Amelia," the eldest of the priests said with a respectful nod.
"What do you think, Mister Zelgadis?" Amelia asked, holding her arms out to the library denizens. After a beat she added, "It's a research team," in explanation.
"I can see that, Amelia," Zelgadis said in his patient voice. He rubbed his temple, fighting off a tension headache, and then said, "Look, I appreciate the thought, but I've already researched here and every lead was a dead end. We'd just be wasting our time."
"I was there when you 'researched'," Amelia said with a smug expression on her face. "You skimmed through each book in about a minute and then tossed them on the ground for someone else to clean up. Oh and you swore a lot."
"I was speed-reading!" Zelgadis shot back in his own defense. "I only had a limited amount of time."
"I know," Amelia said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "But don't you think you might've missed something?"
Zelgadis muttered something along the lines of, "possibly".
"Look," Amelia said, "You had to take shortcuts since you were working alone, but with all of us working together I'm sure we can figure out something to get you back to your human form."
"You're sure, huh?" Zelgadis asked disbelievingly.
Amelia stared him down for a moment before saying, "Well, no."
Zelgadis almost fell down from this refreshing but rather heartless bit of honesty. "No?! What kind of attitude is that from you?"
"I know that the chances are pretty astronomical," Amelia said fairly. "But we might at least find some interesting leads
and we'll never find a cure if we don't go through all the dead-ends. After all, we're not really wasting our time on them since we're still eliminating them as possibilities."
Zelgadis wasn't buying this Edisonian optimism and was about to tune out completely when she went on, "And anyway, I know you're not going to be satisfied if you just give in. You're going to keep on trying."
Zelgadis wished fervently that a half-dozen palace employees weren't listening in on their conversation with polite interest. The last thing he wanted to do was bring more people into this, and of course that was the first thing Amelia had decided to do. But
well, she had a point. There wasn't much else to do but start all over again. Being back at square one was frustrating, but he knew that if he gave up then it would've been all for nothing.
He tried his one last tack. "You can't just pull people away from their jobs. This isn't any of their concern."
Amelia smiled the smile of someone who felt they had prepared for everything. "What were you guys going to do tonight?" she asked her crack research team.
"Sweep out the temple, maybe?" the lead elder said uncertainly.
"And is that very important?"
The priest shrugged. "It promotes inner peace, but on the other hand, what are maids for?"
Zelgadis groaned. "And you guys?" he asked the pages who looked more than slightly intimidated at drawing the attention of the "creepy-looking chimera man".
"Some light filing?" one of them said. It was a question apparently.
Zelgadis looked from Amelia's 60 kilowatt smile to the priests and pages with their pens and note cards at the ready and knew when he was beat.
"Alright then," he said resignedly. "Let's hit the books."
And so Amelia bent the considerable resources of Seyruun to help Zelgadis find a cure, much to his debilitating embarrassment. For the next three days they launched into a truly extreme information gathering expedition. Well
not so much "extreme" considering it mostly consisted of a lot of reading, note-taking, and accidentally falling asleep, but an expedition it most certainly was.
Zelgadis himself was not doing quite as much reading as the others considering that quality control fell to him. When someone would say something like, "What about the secret alchemy society of Behrun?" he'd say "been there". When someone said, "What about the Anguatic Ritual? The circumstances are a little bit different, but perhaps-", he'd cut them off with "done that". And when someone said, "What about the cycloptic crocodile? It's said that if you defeat him you-", he'd shake his head and say "lived to tell about it".
In the rare instance that a lead came along that actually seemed work investigating, an attendant would take the fastest horse in the kingdom out to investigate. This certainly didn't do anything to support Amelia's claims that their enterprise wasn't taking anything away from the actual running of the castle. When questioned about it she simply shrugged and claimed that the horses needed "the exercise" anyway. Zelgadis figured they were already in too deep to argue much at that point and left it alone.
Without having to do the follow-up work of investigating their leads, the researchers barely left the library for those next few days. Meals were brought in regularly which was, apparently, a big deal considering that the librarian of Seyruun was a complete tyrant and didn't allow even a crumb of food to enter his domain, or so Amelia had told Zelgadis. He gathered he was supposed to be impressed, but wasn't.
The books were flying off the shelves, and sadly, the attendants were returning with a whole lotta nothing. The priests had cleared out ages ago since they had other duties that couldn't wait, and toward the end even the pages couldn't ignore the light filing that so desperately need their attention. Amelia was reading a book called The Varied Tales of Kerosene Acquisition in Alpine Zones, and the sad part was that it was probably their best bet left in the whole library.
Zelgadis sighed from behind a pile of surprisingly useless, at least in that context, books. "It's over Amelia."
"Not yet," Amelia said determinedly, snapping the book shut. She turned her wide eyes toward him. "We can't just give up! We've still got-" she looked back toward the almost empty bookshelves.
"The accounting and hospitality sections," Zelgadis stated in a monotone.
"Well, you never know," Amelia said, unwilling to let it go. "I mean, Mister Geoffrey found that really cool tip in a book about tropical frogs that you said he was stupid to check."
"That is true," Zelgadis allowed. "But tell me honestly, Amelia, do you really think that's going to happen again?"
Amelia put the book down and leaned against the empty shelf next to her. She'd lost her spark and was drifting into dangerously sulky waters. "Not really."
Zelgadis looked over the list of leads they'd compiled. Most had seemed like long-shots, but a few had seemed like exciting possibilities. Each one had been crossed out. Each one was a failure. "I need a new plan," he mumbled. He leaned back in his chair and looked up into a ceiling painted with extremely ugly cherubs. No sudden inspiration came to him.
"Maybe I should just find Lina," he said tiredly. "Supernatural trouble always seems to follow her anyway. Maybe I'll find something that isn't in these books."
That snapped Amelia right out of her mope-fest. "We don't need, Miss Lina!" she insisted with a little more offense than was strictly necessary.
This outburst seemed a little over the top to Zelgadis. He tried to remember what insensitive thing Lina could've done to Amelia to make her so touchy, but came up with nothing. Well, nothing more insensitive than usual. "Since when have you had a problem with Lina?" he asked.
"It's not that," Amelia said, shaking her head. "It's just that
you know how it is traveling with Miss Lina." She desperately tried to put her objection into words. "Everything just ends up being all about her." She crossed to the center of the room. "Remember when we were looking for the Claire Bible to help you and then we just ended up finding it so Lina could fight Gaav's monsters?"
Zelgadis couldn't help but nod. When you traveled with Lina Inverse it sometimes seemed like you'd signed an agreement to become an instant side-kick. It wasn't really Lina's fault, she was just such a
such a main character. Of course, there was also the fact that she was selfish and greedy and that one was her fault.
"You have a point. But honestly, since this has failed, I don't know what else to do."
"There must be something else we can do," Amelia said, looking determinedly out of the long windows as the light of the setting sun hit her just right (as it always seemed to do). "What about another one of the big libraries?"
"No," Zelgadis said firmly. He wasn't eager to repeat the last few days in another town, with a different set of useless books, and an even crazier librarian (theirs was currently having a rest in the infirmary after seeing the current state of his precious collection). He gestured to the empty shelves and said, "I think it's pretty safe to say at this point that if a cure does exist, it's beyond human knowledge."
He felt an unpleasant jolt as he admitted that. It was logical, but it didn't make the situation any less lousy. He leaned back in his chair again. Maybe it's time to admit defeat, one side of his brain thought numbly.
No freakin' way! The rest of his brain shouted as he leaned back too far and went crashing to the cold and unforgiving yet cushiony and soft carpet below. He didn't even have the vigor to say, "Ow".
"Are you okay?" Amelia asked, rushing forward.
"No," Zelgadis said irritably, pulling himself to his feet. He brushed himself off. "We've run out of answers."
"No we haven't!" Amelia insisted, suddenly seeming more cheerful than Zelgadis felt that anyone deserved to be at the time. Perhaps, he thought bitterly, she was just glad that she hadn't fallen over like an idiot.
"Amelia," he said, rubbing his temples in frustration for what seemed like the millionth time in so many days. "Have you been paying attention to anything I just said?"
"I have," Amelia said. "And that tells us exactly where we have to look to find the information we need."
What did I say?" Zelgadis asked, wondering vaguely if he had concussed himself, while knowing that this was pretty unlikely given his rocky skull. It was probably just another case of Amelia logic.
"You said that the information we're looking for is beyond human knowledge," Amelia said, pointing at him rather impolitely. "So we just have to go to non-human sources. In other words," she paused to give her words the most dramatic flair possible, "the monsters."
Zelgadis stared at her feeling strangely surprised, suspicious, and slightly impressed before saying, "Aren't you supposed to be a shrine-maiden?"
Amelia appeared to crumpled at this assertion. She tried to regain her poise. "I am. So?"
"Consorting with monsters," Zelgadis began slowly. "Is not exactly the activity of the just."
"I'm not talking about selling our souls or anything," Amelia said, feeling the need to defend herself against any allegation that she might be something besides just. "We can just use them for information."
Zelgadis pondered this. He had actually been aware in many instances during his quest to find his human form that he hadn't investigated the monster angle as thoroughly as he could have. He'd neglected it because as far as he could tell, when humans dealt with monsters it always ended badly for the humans. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that monsters didn't have benefitting humanity high on their priority list. In fact it was quite the opposite. Plus, it was the kind of thing that Rezo would've done. That Rezo had done, point of fact.
He shrugged. "I understand what you're saying, but I just don't think we're going to get any information that way. I mean, I can't summon from the astral plane and I know you can't either. Even if we could, demons don't just give out information. At least not accurate information."
"But we don't have to summon," Amelia plowed on, "Because we already know a monster."
Zelgadis could see immediately where she was going and wanted to stop this idea before it went any further. "No. Absolutely not."
"But think about it. All we have to do is find him and that shouldn't be too hard." Amelia insisted. "Mister Xellos is really high-ranking. I bet he know a lot of information that could help."
"Yeah, help get us killed," Zelgadis shot back. "You know how he operates. And in any case, what makes you think he'd help us?"
"Because," Amelia said with an evil glint in her eye that certainly didn't belong there, "If he doesn't I might have to try to persuade him with justice, friendship, and the boundless optimism of humanity."
Zelgadis shivered. That had a negative effect on most humans. On monsters
"Alright, that could work," he admitted sourly. "But you know as well as I do that just because Xellos is annoying doesn't mean he isn't dangerous. We'd be putting out lives at risk."
Amelia narrowed her eyes and said, "But we've put our lives at risk before. You just don't want to ask Mister Xellos because you don't like him." Right on the money. "This is our last, best hope."
Zelgadis groaned. When your last, best hope is Xellos you know you've hit rock bottom.