LOVE?! Nepha's Startling Admittance!
Heyheyhey! It's Zel's twin sister, Zoey!
Hi, it’s me again! You know, Lina Inverse, sorceress extraordinaire.LOVE?! Nepha’s Startling Admittance!
Well, I’ve figured out that the harder we try to get to Sairaag, the more trouble we run into. First of all, there’s Nepha. She’s a half-cat from the kingdom of Feli and the holder of another sword that can kill Zelgadis called Mystic Blade.
Next comes the White Priestess, Tannah, who was killed by none other than Rezo the Red Priest, who we all thought was DEAD!
The third problem is these guys working with someone named Ralfo. He’s not only after Mystic Blade, but he’s helping Zangulus and Vrumugun chase us across the countryside!
Man, I hate my life sometimes. . .
Gourry Gabriev and Lina Inverse dashed down the road as quickly as they could, avoiding arrows and traps. Zelgadis Graywords followed closely behind, his hand wrapped gently around Nepha of Feli’s wrist, pulling her along.
The group stopped as Nepha cried out, her bushy tail caught in a lasso trap. She hung helplessly in the air until Gourry leapt and cut the rope, dropping Nepha to the safety of Zelgadis’s arms.
They couldn’t continue running, however, because a group of bounty hunters had surrounded them. Nepha wrapped her arms around Zelgadis’s neck and hid her face against his shoulder.
Walking up behind Gourry was the bounty hunter Zangulus, and appearing before Lina was the mysterious wizard Vrumugun.
“There has been quite enough of this childish game,” stated the wizard, his voice and face not shifting towards any emotion. “Come with us to Sairaag, or we will be moved towards using force.”
“We’re already on our way to Sairaag!” growled Zelgadis, holding Nepha protectively against his chest. “So just bug off!”
“Afraid we can’t do that!” said Zangulus, his sword drawn. He waved the bounty hunters off that had followed. “Go, you’ll get your reward in Sairaag.”
“What makes you so sure you’ve caught us?” asked Lina.
“Because even though holding a girl hostage was not effective before, I’m sure you would not want this girl harmed,” Vrumugun stated in his monotone voice.
He held out a hand, then snapped his fingers. Nepha was teleported from her safe place in Zelgadis’s arms to being held captive by Vrumugun!
“Nepha!” cried Zelgadis.
He started forward, but Vrumugun tightened his grip on Nepha’s throat.
“Come quietly with us or I kill the Felinic.”
The group stood down, until Vrumugun was knocked down by a mysterious figure from behind. Nepha was jarred out of his grasp and stumbled a bit before toppling from lack of breath. Zelgadis, moving at the speed of wind, was at her side in an instant, cradling her against his chest.
The figure that had attacked Vrumugun came at Zangulus now. When he swung his sword, striking the figure hard, he found that all he heard was a sharp clang, as if he had struck stone.
The two retreated quickly, and the figure dashed into the woods.
“How does that feel?” asked Zelgadis later, rubbing Nepha’s shoulders and sides from where Vrumugun had kept an iron-clad grip to keep her from struggling.
“Better,” sighed Nepha happily. “That feels so much better.”
Lina watched with a disgusted look, her small nose wrinkled.
“Yuck,” she said. “What does Nepha even see in him?”
“He’s nice to her,” shrugged Gourry. “Any girl likes a guy who treats her right.”
Both of them could hear the loud purr from the half-cat as she curled into Zelgadis’s arms, her thick blue hair cascading down her back and over his arm as he rocked back and forth.
“Hey, guys, who do you think that was who knocked out that creepy wizard earlier?” asked Zelgadis, turning his head towards the two and resting his cheek on Nepha’s head. “That was really weird.”
“It sounded like Zangulus’ sword clanged off stone,” Lina said thoughtfully. “Just like the sound when Dilgear tried to cut you with HIS sword.”
Zelgadis lowered his head. Suddenly, his eyes grew wide. It couldn’t be!
The figure, meanwhile, was leaning against a tree, counting the gold pieces she had managed to get from the wizard and bounty hunter when she attacked. Her nose and mouth were covered with a mask, and a hood was pulled up over her long white hair. Pulling back the hood and down the mask revealed a young female chimera that could’ve been an identical duplicate to Zelgadis, and she was!
“Thirty gold pieces!!” exclaimed Zoey Graywords. “Some reward for attacking a weird wizard and some freaky bounty hunter!” Her midnight blue eyes glittered as she placed the coins in a pouch at her hip. “Man, Zelgadis, if you could’ve only seen that!”
She went over the events in her mind, and realized that the figure that had been with the cat had looked strangely like her twin brother, who she had left shortly after their. . .change.
There was no way!!
Zelgadis paced back and forth after the others had fallen asleep. He could hear Lina snoring, Gourry mumbling, and Nepha purring.
The girl from before couldn’t have been Zoey, it just couldn’t. But she had been a chimera.
It could’ve been someone else, Zelgadis knew that. Other chimeras he had met -- some born with their features, others given them -- had the ability to move like the wind, but not all.
“Psst!!” a voice suddenly called out extremely softly, so only Zelgadis’s sharp hearing could pick up the sound. “Hey, you, over here!”
Zelgadis looked around, watched Nepha’s ear twitch [for she too had heard the sound], then slipped into the trees.
Zelgadis looked around nervously, hand never far from the hilt of his sword. Suddenly, a girl jumped out of the trees in front of him. She was a little shorter than him, with long white hair as opposed to short silvery hair, but was a mirror image in almost every other aspect.
“Zoey!” he cried.
The girl smiled.
“Long time no see, bro,” she said with a grin. “Whatcha been up to?”
“I. . .I. . .” Zelgadis stuttered.
“My, aren’t we articulate!” laughed Zoey. “Whatcha doin’ with the cat?”
Zelgadis’s lifted one stone plated brow.
“Nepha?” he questioned. “What about her?”
“Cradling her in your arms, massaging her shoulders,” Zoey said with a shake of her head. “Don’t tell me you’ve fallen in love with a cat.”
“I have,” growled Zelgadis. “What’s it to you?”
“Oh well,” sighed Zoey. “What does it matter, anyhow? We’re together again!”
At about that point, Nepha slipped through the trees nearby. Soon, she was where she could see [but not hear] them.
“What have you been up to, Zoey?” questioned Zelgadis.
“Oh, nothing much, aside from pain when you’re hurt,” Zoey responded. “Not an often thing. However, here recently. . .” She pointed at her stomach. “You’ve been a real pain in the belly.” She smiled a little and threw open her arms. “But it’s good to see you again, bro!”
She threw her arms around Zelgadis’s neck, hugging her brother happily.
Nepha’s eyes widened. Having not heard the conversation, her first impulse was that she had fallen in love with someone who was already taken!! She let out a sob that Zelgadis’s demon senses easily picked up.
“Wait, I know that sound. . .” he breathed. He turned his head just in time to see Nepha’s bushy white tail disappear into the trees. “Nepha!” He jogged in that direction. “Nepha, wait! Nepha!!”
As Nepha hurried through the woods, hundreds of thoughts were running through her head. Did Zelgadis ever really love her? Was it all just some clever ruse? Did he ever care?
Suddenly, a group of men jumped out around her. On impulse, Nepha reached to her hip for Mystic Blade, but didn’t find it!
*Crap!* she thought. *I left it at camp!*
Before she could make another move, Ralfo’s men overcame her and drug her away.
Zelgadis dashed through the woods as quickly as he could, searching feverishly for the half-Felinic.
“Nepha!” he called. “Nepha, answer me!”
He came upon the spot where Ralfo’s men had jumped Nepha. A few bits and pieces from her bushy white tail clung about, and he could see her shoulder plate and a piece of white fabric that had obviously been torn off.
Zoey ran up beside him.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Nepha,” groaned Zelgadis. “She was caught by Ralfo’s men!”
“This should easily lure them to us,” laughed Ralfo.
Zangulus and Vrumugun watched on warily, and a young girl who looked a lot like Vrumugun stood a little to his side.
“Why did they have to capture her, Father?” she asked, turning to Vrumugun.
“The cat will lure Graywords here, and the others will follow,” Vrumugun responded in his soft tone, not turning to the girl.
“But, why must we. . .”
“Tell you what, Netalia,” Zangulus snapped at the girl sarcastically, cutting into her conversation, “why don’t you go ahead and show our little guest to her new living space? Unless you can’t tear yourself away from your tedious job of improving your ‘already perfect’ tree-hugging spells, and jamming that rod up your butt.”
Netalia’s pale eyes narrowed, their pupil-less depths shooting icy spears at the swordsman. She lifted her hand to cast a spell, but Vrumugun laid a calm hand on her shoulder. Netalia looked up, lowering her hand. Vrumugun was looking at her now.
“Don’t bother with attacking him,” he said quietly. “He’s not worth the trouble. Why waste your magic on someone like him?”
Netalia gave a simple nod to her father before roughly pulling Nepha along behind her on the way to the jail quarters in the camp.
Nepha looked at the girl for a long moment as the teenager stood next to the flap of the jail tent. She had her hood pushed back, and beneath it, smoky gray cat ears poked out of her tresses.
“You’re half-Felinic,” Nepha said quietly.
“Yes,” Netalia responded, without a hint of emotion. “Why do you bring that up?”
“So am I,” Nepha responded. “Your father. . .your father is Vrumugun, isn’t he?”
Netalia nodded, obviously not enjoying the conversation.
“You should be quiet,” she advised. “Ralfo doesn’t like talkative prisoners, and Father most definitely doesn’t.”
She pulled the hood back up over her head. Nepha focused for a moment on the glowing gem centered on the girl’s forehead. Magic energy radiated from it. That was probably where she and her father centered their magic.
Netalia cast a glance back at Nepha, and for a moment, the captive half-Felinic swore she saw a glint of pity. The two girls seemed to relate, a life they didn’t want to live. Then, as quickly as the moment was there, it was gone.
Netalia lowered her head as Nepha spoke again.
“You don’t want to do any of this, do you?” she asked.
“Whether or not I want to is none of your concern,” growled Netalia, obviously angered by the comment. “But if I don’t do as Zangulus tells Father and I to. . .”
She paused, turning abruptly, allowing Nepha only a fleeting glimpse of a smoky gray tail.
“Why don’t you fight against him?” Nepha questioned. “You’re a phoenix, you’re powerful. So is your father.”
When Netalia turned to her again, tears were brimming her strange blue eyes.
“I. . I. . .” She straightened up instantly. “Why am I telling you any of this? You’re a prisoner!”
She quickly turned and exited the tent, leaving Nepha only with her thoughts.
Lina and Gourry sat nervously, watching Zelgadis and Zoey argue.
“She probably thought we were dating!” Zelgadis growled. “Aw, man, she’s probably so ticked off at me!!”
“Who cares?” snapped Zoey right back. “She’s a cat. You can do better.”
“No, I couldn’t,” he bit out, his voice throwing daggers. “Nepha understands me.”
“Understands you, my ass,” Zoey laughed. “She’s dragging you along for the ride, bro. That’s what girls like her are like. They use you, and lose you.”
“Uh, guys. . .if I may make a comment here. . .” Lina said quietly.
Both twin siblings turned to Lina abruptly, barking out at the exact same time: “WHAT?!”
“The main thing we should be worried about here isn’t whether or not Nepha cares and if Zelgadis should, but it’s the fact we have to get Nepha back from those bandits!” Lina stated. “Who knows what they could do to her!”
In the meantime, deep in the Forbidden Wood, there was movement from Tannah’s old cottage. The White Priestess, still covered by a restoration bubble, was beginning to awaken. She opened her pale blue eyes to the thin, misty healing spell. She blinked, the room a little too bright for her own liking. Then, as the bubble receded, Tannah sat up.
“Rezo?!” she called. “Rezo, are you here? Rezo?”
She didn’t get a response. Lowering her head, she sighed, figuring he was just away.
Now, she had to find her friends.
Netalia sat quietly outside the camp, her tail swishing from beneath her cape. Zangulus walked up behind her.
“Out here primping your tail again?” he laughed.
Netalia flattened her ears back and hissed very quietly at him.
“Leave me alone,” she snapped.
“What?” Zangulus said in return. “Life as a tree-hugger getting the best of you?”
“I thought I told you to leave me alone?” Netalia responded.
“You know the rules,” growled Zangulus. “Jamar wants us to bring those guys to him in one piece, and we also have to find the White Priestess Tannah. If you do anything wrong, your father is dead, and so are you.”
Netalia lowered her eyes nervously, and Zangulus laughed softly, walking away. Though she wanted so much to obey what had been decreed by the sorcerer awaiting them in Sairaag, she couldn’t help but feel sorry for the teenage girl who was being held hostage.
She knew that her father didn’t want to do any of this either, but Vrumugun also didn’t want to lose his only daughter.
Netalia sighed. One way or the other, they lost.
It was then that she decided. She was going to get Nepha out.
Zelgadis slipped quietly into the camp after dark, Lina, Gourry, and Zoey following. His midnight blue eyes flashed in the moonlight, and he nodded to the others when the coast was clear.
*Please be safe, Nepha,* he pleaded. *Don’t be dead.*
At the same time, Netalia was slipping into the jail tent.
“Nepha,” she whispered quietly, “wake up.”
Nepha’s ears twitched. She lifted her head and gasped when she saw the young wizardess, but Netalia lifted a finger to her lips, shushing Nepha with a frightened ‘shh!’
“What’s going on?” asked Nepha softly.
“I’m getting you out of here,” responded Netalia. “Hurry!”
As the group of four headed through the camp, light spells suddenly illuminated the area.
“Hold it right there!” yelled Zangulus, leaping out in front of them, sword drawn.
“Zangulus!” exclaimed Gourry.
Vrumugun materialized behind them.
“And Vrumugun,” growled Lina.
“Must we go through this again?” questioned the wizard, the gem on his forehead glowing softly. “Come with us, or I will have Netalia kill the girl.”
Looks were exchanged, but instead of complying, the whole group attacked the swordsman and the phoenix.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming number of Ralfo’s men, combined with Zangulus’ swordfighting skills and Vrumugun’s ability in sorcery, had the group terribly outweighed. Within a matter of minutes, each of the four was wounded in some way. Zelgadis was lying on the ground, curled tightly into a ball, beads of sweat standing out on his forehead and cheeks. He looked as if he had been poisoned.
“Now,” chuckled Vrumugun, “lock them up. We’ll deal with all this later.”
Suddenly, a brilliant light spell blinded the bounty hunter, wizard, and bandits. There, in the midst of the group, stood Tannah!
“Ohmigod. . .” gasped Lina. “It’s Tannah! She’s alive!”
The priestess made her way over to them as quickly as she could.
“We have to get out of here,” she ordered. “Nepha is safe, but we must get you out of here, and save my grandson.”
The group wasted no time. Gourry picked up Zelgadis, and in no time flat, they had taken off.
“That’s all I can do,” sighed Tannah after the last healing spell was cast. “Now, all we can do is pray.”
“Where’s Nepha?” asked Lina. “I thought you said she was safe?”
The figure of a Turkish angora cat walked out of the woods, then morphed into a young woman with cat ears and a cat tail.
“Nepha!” exclaimed Gourry.
Zoey lowered her head a little, and Nepha turned away from her.
“Nepha,” said Lina, walking up to the half-Felinic. “We want you to meet Zelgadis’ twin sister, Zoey.”
Nepha gasped, feeling suddenly guilty.
But she didn’t say a word. Zelgadis had just whispered Nepha’s name. . .
Nepha ran over to him, pushing his silvery hair out of his face.
“I’m sorry, my love, I thought you and Zoey. . .”
“Shh. . .” Zelgadis hushed in a whisper. “Don’t talk. It wasn’t your fault.”
He groaned a little, obviously in pain.
“Oh, my love. . .” whispered Nepha.
She lifted Zelgadis’s head a little. He was struggling to breathe now, and beads of sweat stood out on his forehead and cheeks. He smiled weakly at her.
“At least. . .you’ll be with me. . .when I. . .” he began softly.
“Stop this talk of dying,” Nepha ordered, trying to hide the sorrow in her voice. “You -- you’re going to be all right!”
“Nepha. . .you. . .can’t save me. . .” Zelgadis told her, dark blue eyes dulling. “I. . .it’s time. . .for me to. . .leave this world.”
“Zelgadis. . .” Nepha whispered.
“As a. . .friend. . .” He paused to look at Lina, Gourry, and Tannah. “I. . .say farewell. . .” He looked at Zoey. “As. . .a brother. . .I say . . .I’m sorry. . .” He looked finally at Nepha, resting his hand against the side of her face. “And as a. . .lover, I -- I say I love you, and. . .good-bye. . .”
His hand fell limp and his head dropped. Nepha sobbed audibly, hugging the body of the limp chimera to her as tightly as she could, as if her embrace could bring the lifeforce back to Zelgadis.
“Oh, Nepha. . .” Lina whispered.
Tannah lowered her pale blue eyes, which were overflowing with tears. She couldn’t bear the sight of her grandson lying there, dead.
Zoey’s breath caught in her throat. She felt as if someone had ripped out her lungs. There was nothing. For a moment, there was no emotion whatsoever on her face, all but a shocked expression. Then, she fell to her knees, her features -- identical to Zelgadis’s -- twisted in a grieved anger.
“Why did you have to take him from me?!” she shouted. “My only brother, and he’s ripped away after so long!”
She looked at Nepha, who had laid Zelgadis’s body flat against the ground. Nepha’s big green eyes were still overflowing with sorrowed tears. The half-cat’s ears were down. She had her hand against Zelgadis’s face.
“You can’t die. . .” she murmured, her voice crying as well. “Please, you can’t just leave us like this. Oh, my love. . .”
“Wait. . .” breathed Lina. “Look!”
Zelgadis wasn’t dead! A slight glow had encased him, from someone standing in the shadows. When it faded, the poisoning seemed to be gone, and Zelgadis opened his eyes a little.
“I won’t. . .” he breathed, answering Nepha’s statement.
Nepha hugged him tightly as Lina let out a relieved sigh.
“Well, looks like all’s well that ends well,” she smiled.
“I can’t believe it,” Gourry chuckled a bit, looking at Nepha and Zoey as they both hugged Zelgadis, who hugged them both at the same time. “That chimera can’t die.”
“Which brings up another question,” stated Lina, turning to Tannah. “How did you survive? Rezo killed you!”
“Rezo?!” exclaimed Tannah. “Oh, good heavens, no!! Rezo saved my life! I was nearly killed by a young man named Jamar, who killed the other three priests.”
“So, we were blaming the wrong person?” asked Lina. Tannah nodded a little as Lina sighed. “Well, I guess all we can do now is keep heading towards Sairaag. I wonder how much longer it’ll take. . .”
“If you’re heading for Sairaag, you’re nearly to your destination. It’s just on the other side of this woods!” Tannah told her. “We’re on the other side of the Miasma Forest, almost to ancient Sairaag.”
Lina let out a shocked sound.
“This close!” she cried. “Finally!”
“I couldn’t help it, she caught me off guard,” Netalia snapped at Zangulus.
“You expect me to believe that?” Zangulus growled, his grip -- which was around Netalia’s upper arm -- tightening. “You let her go!”
Without warning, Zangulus was flung into a tree.
“I will not have you treating my daughter like that,” Vrumugun stated as he materialized beside Netalia. “We agreed that if something happened, she would not be harmed. If the girl escaped, she escaped. There’s nothing more we can do about it.”
Zangulus picked himself up and brushed himself off, lowering the brim of his hat over his eyes as the two phoenixes left.
“Damn them,” he growled.
“Zelgadis, I’m so sorry for doubting you,” Nepha said later that evening as she sat, curled into a protective embrace from Zelgadis. “I never meant to think anything against Zoey, but I thought. . .”
“I know. . .it must’ve been odd for you,” Zelgadis said with a smile.
Gourry, Lina, and Zoey looked at them, glanced at Tannah, then back at the two again.
“Nepha, isn’t there something you’ve been meaning to tell us?” asked Lina, catching on.
Nepha’s ears lowered as her cheeks flushed.
“What?” asked Gourry.
“I’m wondering what she’s doing hanging around my brother all the time, hangin’ all over him like she does,” sniffed Zoey, lifting her head and glancing at the half-Felinic and the chimera through half-closed eyes.
“I love him,” Nepha said simply.
“That’s just what I thought,” Lina said with a smile.
“You know,” Tannah interrupted, “if we’re going to make it to ancient Sairaag before nightfall, we’d best get going.”
Lina nodded as Zelgadis and Nepha stood, and the group headed on again.
At last, we’re on the last leg of our journey to Sairaag! We’ll finally get to meet the person who put a price on our heads, and find out why! It’s about time!
I wonder what strange and awesome adventures await us in the next story. . .
To Be Continued!
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