a Slayers fanfic
Chapter 2: Not As Sweet As She Cooks...
Our tale truly begins as our heroes travel along a wooded path on this quest for Zelgaddis's sake. He had objected when the others had volunteered to come along, but it was no use to try to stop Lina, anyone could tell that. And of course, wherever she went, there was the swordsman, Lina's self-declared protector, Gourry Gabriev, trailing along behind like a faithful puppy. He wasn't too much in the area of a brain, and there was no hope of an intelligent conversation with him, but he had his uses at times. At least he didn't intentionally cause problems for the group. And naturally, wherever Zelgaddis was going to go, there was Amelia, too. The little champion of justice seemed to have a crush on him. Zelgaddis was rather puzzled with her... sure, he liked her, but was it in that sort of way?
It wasn't any of these three Zel truly objected to having along on the journey. Lina and Amelia were at least good company. Gourry was at least good at beating off things that tried to attack them all. It was the fifth member of the team that Zel would rather live out the rest of his life not seeing.
"Well, hello, everyone! Where are we off to now?" Xellos. He said he had his motives for coming along with them... and of course, they were a secret. Zelgaddis was sure it was just to annoy him. "Wait, wait, let me guess first. We're all looking for something to make Mr. Greywords human again, is that it?" The Mazoku priest smiled mischievously. "Well, you're certainly going to need my help, so I may as well come along with you. No, no, don't try to convince me otherwise, I'm sure I can fit it into my schedule."
*Us need him?* Zelgaddis thought darkly. *We need him like a fireball to the gut...* He paced along the path silently, glaring at the monster. Xellos looked back and smiled at him, waving brightly. This put Zelgaddis in an even fouler mood. Not even a full day on this quest and he was already ready for it to be over and done with. Still, the result he was looking for wasn't going to just fall in his lap.
At long last, the path opened onto a road, which led them to a small village that didn't look like more than a little clearing in the forest. Lina yawned, stretching one arm over her head, then folding it behind her neck. "Well, time to find some food and a good bed! Now, let's see..." She glanced around, looking for a likely inn.
Amelia, deciding that none of the buildings around them looked like a place to stay, asked one of the townsfolk for directions. "Excuse me, sir, can you tell us where to find an inn here?"
The man looked at her for a second, then humphed and walked off. Amelia stared confusedly after him, with Gourry staring after the man from behind her. "Wow... friendly folks in these parts..."
"Yeah," she replied, blinking in shock.
Lina and Zelgaddis tried approaching another villager, with slightly better luck. "Ma'am, can you tell us where to find an inn around here?"
"Inn?" the old crone squawked back at them. "There's only one inn around these parts, and you don't want to stay there, take my word! You'd do well to camp out in the forest, you would!" Lina and Zel stared blankly at her. After glaring back threateningly, the old woman sighed and shook her head. "But, if you insist on throwing your lives away, that's it there." She raised a withered hand to indicate a well-kept building a little way down the street. Muttering to herself, she tottered off, going about her business as usual.
"Hmmm... I wonder what could be so bad about that place?" Zel thought aloud.
Lina nodded and added, "Yeah, or why no one will even tell us... Xellos? Any ideas?"
Xellos smiled his typical passive smile. "I'm as stumped as all of you are this time." Zelgaddis could have kicked him.
"Well, whatever it is, it can't be worse than spending the night hungry and sleeping on the ground. Let's go!" Lina made a beeline for the front porch, the others trailing behind her.
The inn was small, but nice looking, with flowers in the window-beds and in baskets outside the door. A young blonde woman was lighting the outside lamps for the night as Lina and her friends arrived, meeting them with a welcoming smile and a slight bow. "Welcome to my inn, dear travelers. How may I serve you?"
"Food, and lots of it!" Lina demanded brightly. "And sleeping quarters for five." It occurred to her later that Xellos probably didn't need a bed, but he didn't mention anything at the time.
The girl wilted slightly, pausing. "Oh.. oh dear."
"What, 'Oh dear?'" Zel asked, conscientiously pulling his hood up to hide his features.
"This is a small inn, lords and ladies, I have beds for four of you only, though... if one of you does not mind a pallet near the downstairs fireplace..."
"It's good enough for us, miss!" Amelia announced triumphantly for the group.
The young woman bowed again graciously. "Thank you for understanding. Not many people pass through these parts needing lodging, especially such a large group as this. Please, follow me to the dining room. Mayaki! We have guests! Five dinners!"
"All right, Ari! I'm already on it!"
As the five travelers shucked off their things and settled themselves around the table, their hostess introduced herself. "My name is Aramina Tems Gabrine. My partner, Mayaki Avi-Sora, is the cook... you'll be amazed at her skill! Please, if you need anything, call for us." She bowed again slightly.
"Ari! The wine!" Mayaki called from the kitchen.
"Oh! Right!" Ari jumped slightly and reprimanding herself, dashed into the kitchen, fetching out a bottle and five goblets expertly balanced on a small tray. "Fresh berry wine, Mayaki's own recipe!"
Gourry sipped at his, immediately exclaiming, "Hey... this is delicious!" He quickly drained his goblet. "I can't imagine why the villagers would warn us away from this place, unless they just wanted all this great wine to themselves!" He began fighting Lina for the bottle to pour himself another glass.
Ari reappeared from the kitchen. "Fresh bread, compliments of the chef!" She set down two enormous loaves of dark rye, one at either end of the table, and a dish of soft, whipped sweetened butter. The group's eyes lit up, except for Xellos, whose expression remained happily amused. Nonetheless, he didn't refrain from trying to garner the largest share of the bread for himself right along with the others. Mayaki could be heard humming to herself in the kitchen as if there were nothing in the world she would rather be doing. Ari, meanwhile, slipped plates and silverware in front of the busily quarreling guests as they fought over the last of the bread. "You all must have had a long trip to be so hungry!" Ari chuckled.
"No, supper is always a life-or-death struggle with this bunch," Zelgaddis commented as he managed to finally get the last of the butter away from Xellos, spreading it triumphantly on his slice. Xellos managed to look disappointed at the loss.
"Ari! Where are youuu?" Mayaki called from the kitchen. Ari disappeared again, back almost as soon as she left with large bowls of fish stew.
"Mayaki apologizes that the salad will be after the soup tonight since she did not have time yet to wash the greens from the garden yet," Ari relayed. The group stared, but quickly recovered and barreled into their bowls of thick soup. They conveyed their compliments to the chef through various slurps and yummy noises. Before even Lina could finish that off, Ari set down the exquisite salads in front of them with carafes of dark vinegar, oil, and a jar of spices. She also produced a new bottle of the sweet wine, receiving cheers and applause from the table's occupants.
Mayaki finally made her appearance with the main course: large roasted, spiced brushquail with small, buttered potatoes sprinkled with dill, steamed green beans and carrots strewn with small bits of crisp bacon and fried onions. The cook herself glowed with happiness at her achievements, and her smile spread to all those awaiting the birds to be served. Mouths all around the table watered as the aroma of the spices on the quail reached them. Mayaki's russet-burgundy hair, though partially tied back with a scarf, swirled around her as she served her guests. Her light-blue apron didn't have a spot on it from all her work, showing her expertise. "How is everything so far?" she asked as she served the quail, two to each visitor. Much nodding, chewing, and more yummy sounds answered her, and her smile widened. She giggled slightly as she left the last quail on Amelia's plate. "Remember, there's dessert and cider left to come," she reminded them, bustling back into the kitchen to continue her preparations.
Lina swallowed her last potato and speared one from Gourry's plate. "This is incredible!" she said, chewing and following the comment with a swig of wine. "I mean, when was the last time any of us ate this well?"
"It must be good if Lina's stopping to make dinner conversation," Zelgaddis observed. "Don't you always eat this well?" he teased.
"Yeah," she retorted, "but it's not always this good is what I mean!"
"Mr. Gourry must be right. The villagers must want to keep this a secret so they get all this good food to themselves!" Amelia says, tearing into a drumstick.
Lina nodded. "Yeah, that sure is weird... HEY!" She stabbed her fork at Gourry's before it could make off with the rest of her second quail.
Mayaki and Ari began clearing the table and exchanged a rather nervous look. Nevertheless, they left the travelers to their meal, minding their own business. Mayaki set a tray heaping full of small cakes in the center of the table and placed dishes of sweet cream before each of the guests before assisting Ari in setting out cups and saucers for the mulled cider.
Suddenly a brick, thrown from outside, crashed through the window and flew directly into the pile of cakes before anyone could grab one. Mayaki stared at it, then glared out through the broken window, looking for all the world like her blood was boiling. "I'll kill 'em," she said, grabbing the brick and storming outside after the hooligans. "I'll KILL 'em!!" Her skirts flew around her as she headed through the front door.
Ari was after her in a second. "Mayaki! Mind your temper!"
Gourry was first on his feet, following them outside, but the rest of the group was fast on his heels. They arrived in time to see the retreating bunch of miscreants, calling back things like, "Monster! Mismatch! Demon!" as they went. Mayaki threw the brick at them with enough force to catch one of them in the back, but it didn't slow down the gang for a second. Lina, aware of the fire in Mayaki's eyes, pushed her to the side and shouted, "Fireball!" sending the flaming projectile after the vandals, who sped up their escape run as much as they could. But not enough. The fireball wound up doing a lot more damage to them than the brick did.
Mayaki bowed to Lina and took both of her hands as a gesture of friendship. "Thank you. I'm sure they won't be back for a long time after that trick," she chuckled.
"My pleasure," Lina answered with a smile. "Anyone ruining a meal like that deserves to be punished by a sorcery genius. And anyone who can fix food like that deserves to be avenged. Now let's go see what we can salvage from dessert!"
* * * * *
The five wanderers drew straws to figure out who would get the downstairs pallet. Now that they had ordered it, Xellos said, it would look awfully suspicious if he were to disappear and offer to go sleep somewhere else. Zelgaddis had grumbled that in that case Xellos should get the pallet and let the rest of them have the comfortable beds, but, to make a further nuisance of himself, the trickster opted for a "democratic" way of deciding things. Zelgaddis wound up drawing the short straw. Naturally. Never trust a Mazoku when it comes to being democratic.
The girls were taking one of the two upstairs rooms, Xellos and Gourry the other. Zelgaddis didn't really mind being alone... he had been since he was turned into a chimaera so many years ago. It was just that being alone was so...well, lonely. It got to him once in a great while. But for this night, he didn't mind so much. The pallet he was given was soft and comfortable... and that was quite a complement coming from someone with a stone body to begin with. The room was warm and quiet, everything Zelgaddis could have hoped for and more. He put his arms behind his head and began to let his mind drift.
He was beginning to doze as he heard someone moving clumsily through the dark room, stubbing her toes on chairs as she went. "Who's there?" he called softly.
The figure froze for a moment, then answered, "It's Mayaki...er..."
"What are you doing up so late?" he asked, sitting up on the pallet.
She paused for a moment, deciding if she should tell him her intentions or not. "I'm leaving. The whole village will stop at nothing to get rid of me. You saw what happened at dinner?" she whispered. "Well, that happens every time someone comes to stay at this place, and even sometimes when there isn't anyone. Sometimes they tear up my garden too... it's horrible. So I'm cutting the inn's losses and leaving before they do anything worse than namecalling and bricks and ruined vegetables."
Zelgaddis blinked. "You can't just up and leave... what about your friend?"
"Ari? Oh, she'll understand. I left her a note. We've been friends for a long time now. She owns this place anyway, and she can find a cook easily enough."
Zel considered for a moment. The girl made for the door now that her eyes had adjusted to the dim light from the fire. "There are lots of bandits and worse on the roads. Especially this time of night."
Mayaki drew a small dagger from the bodice of her dress. "I can take care of myself."
*That dagger couldn't cut butter,* he thought. "I have a better idea. You can come along with us when we set out in the morning. It would make me feel a lot better at least that you would be with someone on your travels. You would be much safer with us," he explained with genuine concern.
Mayaki finally gave in. "The others, your friends, they won't mind?"
Zelgaddis shook his head, nothing more than a silhouette against the dimming embers. "Not if you can cook like that out on the road; Lina and Gourry are in love with your cooking, and Amelia won't complain about anything she's such a ray of sunshine. Xellos, well, none of us really cares what he thinks anyway." Mayaki looked hesitant, so Zelgaddis added, "And if they do have any complaints about the matter, they can take it up with me."
The girl nodded and set down her bundle. "All right then. I'll go get some sleep."
Zel nodded, settling himself back on the mattress. "Good girl." She smiled to him and headed back to her room. He laid back and folded his hands behind his head. *I just saved a damsel in distress, * he thought. It felt good. *And I didn't lift a finger to do it. Beat that, Gourry.* Smiling to himself, he turned over and drifted off to sleep.
Disclaimer in short: Slayers and related characters aren't mine. Mayaki and various other incidental characters are.