3: ZANELL'S GOODBYE
Nick moaned slightly as he began to drift back into consciousness. He turned slightly and winced as he felt a burning in his arm, a burning that forced his mouth to open in a wail of pain and that dragged his eyelids open.
He prayed that he would find himself in a safe, hospital bed and that he would be surrounded by the smiling, yet concerned, faces of the others, ready to tell him that they would never desert him and that they would always be friends. He wanted to see Brian's goofy smile and he wanted him to say that he was sorry and that Nick would always be his best friend…
But there was nobody with him.
He raised his head and stared about his empty sitting room. He groaned as he remembered stumbling in here last night and having no energy left to even clean his wounds. He had settled for just falling onto the floor and falling asleep as soon as he hit the carpet. He staggered to his feet, fighting the tears of disappointment in his eyes. Hadn't the others been able to sense that he was in danger? Hadn't they cared about his life enough to come and save him?
Nick sniffed slightly and wiped his grubby, sweaty face with a bruised hand. He looked down and saw that he had returned to his usual form, though his clothes were now distinctively torn, ripped and covered in blood from his head wound.
He limped over to stare in the mirror at the far end of the room, trying to ignore the photographs either side of the mirror that showed him and the other guys having fun, fooling around… He couldn't resist. For a moment he picked one up and traced their faces. It was back in the very early days when all five of them had been able to pick him up. He smiled at the sweet memory and then eyes swivelled to the next photo. His smile faded as he saw that it was one of himself and Brian. The two of them had their arms around each other and were both covered in snow after a friendly snowball fight. Nick sniffed back a tear and placed the photo frame face down upon the side, so that he would not have to look at those cheerful faces again. He did the same with every other photo, leaving only the ones of his family facing towards him. At least he still had them…
He glanced into the mirror and saw that his skin was pale and smeared with blood and dirt. A deep gash had seared his forehead and several bruises had formed around his jaw. He wondered how he would ever explain this to his mother when she found out…
He grimaced slightly as a throb of pain from his arm indicated that it needed immediate attention. He glanced down at it and his stomach churned as he saw the extra bend in it. He would have to go to hospital for this it seemed.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. He turned so suddenly that he knocked one of the photos onto the carpet. He allowed his heart a moment to stop pounding and then retrieved the picture from the floor, refusing to meet the eyes of himself and Brian that grinned so playfully at him. He placed it down and then crossed to the window.
Cautiously he peeped through the curtains, praying that the droids had not followed him to his home. A hunched figure in a black cloak was standing in front of the door and as they turned to glance at the window, Nick caught a glimpse of a dark red lock of hair that trailed across the figure's face.
His heart leapt in excitement and for a second he almost felt light-headed. Eagerly he stumbled to the door and struggled with the locks to wrench the door open clumsily with his good arm.
"Zanell!" he cried.
The girl smiled at him and removed her hood to reveal her distinct hair that flowed about her shoulders in a ponytail. "Hey Nick," she replied, causing Nick's heart to flutter for a few nervous seconds in his chest. She was here. Just when he needed someone most…
He found himself wrapping his good arm around her and burying his head in her shoulder, smiling as he breathed in her scent.
Her visits were rare as Zanell did not even live on Earth. She was a Zophacin, like Zator who was in fact her father, and lived on Zophacia which was another planet far away. She had stolen the amulets from her father and given them to Nick and the others for safe keeping, as she was determined that her father should not have the amulets as he used the powers to destroy other worlds.
Nick felt her arms envelop him gently and he sighed and nuzzled against her. He never seemed to see her unless they were in danger and then it was for only a short period and usually when they were surrounded by the others. They never seemed to have any time alone together, but that had not stopped Nick developing even stronger feelings for her.
"Thank god you're here," he whispered and to his shame, he felt a few tears pricking his eyes. Zanell was the only friend he had left.
"Nick," she whispered. She gently drew away from him. "I need to talk to you. Can I come in?"
Nick nodded and steeped aside to let her in while wiping away the tiny tears from his eyes, hoping that she had not noticed them upon his cheeks. Slowly he shut the door and then turned to face her.
"I'm so happy to see you again," he murmured. He leant forward to embrace her again and was startled when she pulled away from him.
"Let me see your injuries," she ordered. "Sit down."
Nick nodded and slowly sat down upon a chair. Zanell's fingers gently clasped his face and she traced the gash lightly, causing Nick to wince in the process. She touched her own amulet about her neck and then ran a hand over the cut. Nick felt a cool wind upon his head and he smiled and leaned back. Her hands caressed his face and he felt the pain evaporate under her touch. For a moment, the stress, the pain and the heartache flowed away from him and he felt only cool and peaceful. It was as if her hands were forming a protective layer of tranquillness to ease his troubled mind.
Next she took his arm in her hands and Nick fought the urge to cry out as the he felt hot needle like pains in his elbow. Zanell's hands gently pressed against the limb and then he felt an odd prickling along his skin. The same cool wind brushed over him as her hand trailed up his arm.
Slowly his eyes opened and he stared sown at the arm, the break now gone due to Zanell's extraordinary healing powers. He smiled as he moved the arm about and bent his elbow, feeling no pain at all.
"Thank you," he whispered. He smiled at her again, his eyes seeking to take in every part of her. He reached out and clasped her hands with his own and drew her closer to him. This had been their first time alone in… ever, and Nick wanted to take advantage of it.
"Nick, I heard what happened with the other guys," she said softly, rubbing his hands seductively.
"We don't need them," Nick replied. "It can just be us." He gently kissed her hands, feeling her soft skin beneath his lips.
He knew it was a lie though. He needed them. He needed them all.
"No it can't," Zanell said. "Look what happened to you last night! You could have been killed!" She freed one of her hands and gently ran it through his hair.
"I'll become stronger," Nick said. "I'll learn and I will fight them." He had no choice but to develop his fighting skills. He had learnt the harsh way that he could not depend upon the others.
"Nick, I can't let this go on. Next time, you could be killed." She stroked his face and Nick sighed at the caresses. "I don't want anything to happen to you," she whispered. She leant forward and kissed him lightly on the lips. Nick rapidly felt his heart beginning to beat faster as his sense of reality began to dissolve in her eyes. "Give me your amulet," she instructed quietly.
The words almost flew straight through Nick's head and he shook his head to clear the trance that seemed to have fogged over his mind. For a second he felt dizzy and then he remembered her words. He pulled away from her for a moment and could have sworn that he could an odd glimmer within her eyes.
"Why?" Nick asked, tilting his head in puzzlement. His hand reached up to touch the amulet reassuringly as had become his habit.
"Just give it to me. It's not safe for you to have it. I'm going to take the amulets from the others as well," she said, holding her hand out for the gem.
"Y - you can't!" Nick said aghast. "This is the only thing I have left! I'm not abandoning my duty to this world! I want to help you stop Zator!"
"But I don't want you to get hurt! Zator won't stick around when he realises that you don't have the amulets anymore! You'll be safe!" Zanell argued. "Nick please." Her voice suddenly became seductive and Nick felt his mind beginning to fill with a thick mist, almost as if she were forcing him to comply. She replaced her hands on his face.
Even though his body was crying out for her touch, Nick pushed her hands away and roughly tried to force the haziness from his mind. His fingers entwined about the chain that secured his amulet to his neck.
"But if I give this to you… I'll never see you again, will I?" he said softly. Once the amulets were hers, why would Zanell come back to him? He rarely saw her as it was because of her responsibilities to her people. He would never see her again if he gave the amulet to her.
"That's the way it has to be," Zanell replied. "We can never be together."
Nick felt tears in his eyes and he did nothing to hide them. He had felt so emotionally weakened since his last meeting with the guys and he could not have stopped the tears even if he had wanted to.
"How can you say that? We both know how we feel about each other!" Nick leant forward and took her hands again. "Zanell, take me with you."
"I can't! It's too dangerous and your family's here on Earth!" Zanell said, trying to pull her hands away from Nick but he held onto them tightly.
"I don't want to lose you!" Nick said desperately. "You're the most amazing person I've ever met! I can't just let you go!"
"Nick it would never work! You don't love me, it's just infatuation!" Zanell said, forcefully pulling her hands out of Nick's and waking back a few paces.
Nick froze, his heart bleeding at her words. He knew he loved her. What other feeling could make him feel so empty whenever she was not around? "Zanell, I love you! You know I do! Don't tell me it's infatuation because it's not! I've never felt this way before! And… you feel the same, I know you do." He stood up and crossed over to her, but she moved away again, turning her back upon him.
"Nick - "
"Don't you love me?" Nick persisted. He knew she did. He had felt it in the first kiss they had shared a few weeks before and in the way she touched him moments ago.
Zanell lowered her head for a moment and then looked Nick straight in the eye. "No."
Nick stared at her in shock. "N - no?"
"Nick, I don't have time for this! Give me your amulet!" Zanell said, her voice becoming angrier.
Nick backed away, holding the amulet protectively to him. His eyes were wide and tearful as he stared at her, seeing nothing but determination and something almost like cruelty in her eyes.
"Zanell, please don't abandon me like they did!" he whispered. He knew she was lying… she had to be lying!
"I don't love you and I'm leaving!" Zanell snapped. "Now give me my amulet!"
Nick shook his head, hardly believing what she was saying to him… and her angry tone of voice. He needed her…
"I said give it to me!" Zanell snapped. Suddenly she lashed out and smacked Nick hard about the face.
Nick held a hand to the stinging mark upon his cheek in shock, the tears still falling down his cheeks. He took another step back at the burning rage that he saw burning within her eyes.
"You will give me that amulet!" she screeched. Her eyes suddenly glowed green for a second and Nick jumped up out of his seat.
"Who are you?" Nick said, his brow creasing slightly. "You're not Zanell!"
His Zanell was nothing like this! His Zanell loved him!
She growled at him and Nick jumped back at the menacing sound. "What does Zanell see in a kid like you?" she hissed.
Nick ducked as the laser light sliced above his head and he crawled behind the safety of the couch. His hand clasped about his amulet and he felt dizzy for a second as the change took place.
The couch was suddenly flung aside by Zanell's arm and Nick watched in horror as her arm stretched until it could almost reach him, even though Zanell was still standing at the opposite side of the room! Somehow, this creature had the ability to stretch limbs!
Nick grasped his sword and used it to hack the hand clean away from the arm. The hand was flung across the room and a thick, glutinous green substance began to leak from her wrist. Zanell screamed in agony and the arm immediately shrunk back to it's original length while she clasped it to her bosom possessively.
She turned back to Nick and her eyes glowed malevolently as she opened her mouth and growled at him again.
"That amulet is mine!" she shrieked, but her voice had changed, It had become deeper and sounded almost animal like and masculine.
Nick jumped to his feet and bared his sword threateningly, ready to hack off another limb should the creature try to attack him again.
"Where's Zanell?" he demanded.
The creature before him smiled and then lightening quick stretched out another arm to smack Nick viciously about the face. Nick cried out in pain as he felt his entire face sting and burn at the fierce impact and he hit the floor heavily.
He looked up and saw Zanell stepping towards him. "The amulet," she said, holding out her good hand while the green slime still oozed from the other, but Nick could see that the hand seemed to be beginning to regenerate. The slime became thicker and formed the fingers before they began to turn to a healthy skin colour.
"The amulet!" she snapped again.
Nick shook his head. "No way!" Before kicking his legs up to hit her in the stomach.
She gasped and roared in rage. Nick's hand dove into his cloak and he pulled out a shuriken. He aimed it for a second before hurling at her arm. The spinning weapon cut straight into her flesh and a huge spurt of green slime splattered all over the carpet while the Zanell creature growled and bellowed in pain.
Nick seized his sword again and then leapt forward and knocked her to her feet, his sword pressed tightly against her throat.
"Now tell me! Where is Zanell?"
She spat in his face and Nick groaned slightly as he wiped away the green saliva with his spare hand. He pressed his sword closer to her until a thin stream of green slime began to dribble from her throat.
"Where is Zanell?" he repeated. "Tell me or I will kill you."
"We Ersnai do not tell anybody anything. We are well known for our silence!" she replied, her voice gargled slightly. She suddenly reached up and grabbed his arm, forcing him to push the sword fully into her throat.
The Ersnai gasped and a thick stream of green slime slid from her mouth. Nick clambered up off of her and stood back in horror as the creature began to lose the form of Zanell and transform into a puddle of green sludge.
Nick backed away a step as a few bubbles appeared in the puddle and a faint growl of defeat filled the room. The green substance hissed and then began to grow smaller and smaller until it had disappeared completely, not even leaving a mark upon the carpet.
Nick slowly stepped forward and he leant down to retrieve the amulet that was the only sign that the Ersnai had ever been here. He clasped it gently in his hands and his fingers traced the smooth alloy. It was real, of that he was certain. The Ersnai must have taken it when it met Zanell… but hat had it done to her?
He clasped the amulet to his chest, a tear escaping his eye.
Zator must have captured Zanell and sent the Ersnai in her place to fetch the amulets for him. No doubt Zanell's amulet had been for the creature's protection and it had probably been going to get the amulets from the other guys. Nick had to find them and warn them about what was happening. Maybe he could convince them to help him save Zanell. Then the two of them could take the other amulets and… be together, like Nick had always dreamed.
Didn't he deserve to be happy?
He kissed Zanell's amulet and prayed that she was still alive. He would save her. If the others would not help him than he would do it alone. He gently placed her amulet about his neck with his own and held it for a moment.
He would find her. She was all he had left now and maybe she could bring him and his friends back together, where they belonged.