a Slayers fanfic
Chapter 33: Change: For Better or Worse?
Saying she was terrified of being recognized when she returned to her hometown was putting a condor on the same level as a pigeon. For a moment, she considered turning around and going back to the inn. It would certainly be easier, although she would have to fight for her share of the food. No, she decided, she was no coward. Not anymore. She wondered if Ari would even recognize her. Oh, she hadn�t changed physically�hardly at all, maybe a little taller�but her attitude since she�d left home was much, much different. She wondered if she would recognize Ari. *People change,* she thought sadly. She hoped that Ari hadn�t. Nothing was constant in her life anymore. Lina, she knew, loved the constant change of scenery, the thrill of being on the road, seeking fame and fortune� but that wasn�t Mayaki�s lifestyle, much as she tried to adapt. *The sooner this is all over, the better,* she thought begrudgingly. *Then I can come home and Ari and I can get back to our lives�* Her thoughts paused tentatively. *Maybe Xellos will come home with me�*
She cut her train of thoughts short as she cautiously stepped out of the forest. She didn�t think anyone had seen her, otherwise she would have thought the townsfolk were simply avoiding her, as was typical of them. Yet she traversed the entire distance to the inn without seeing a soul.
"How odd," she said aloud to herself.
Deciding to make an entrance, she turned the doorknob and burst into the room with a flourish. "Hallo, Miss! I�d like a room for the night and a meal from that wondrous little wyvern girl!"
She expected Ari to laugh. She expected Ari to glare at her dryly. She expected Ari to run up an hug her.
Ari didn�t do any of these things. Ari wasn�t even there.
"Ari? You home?" Mayaki heaved a sigh. "Damn� bad timing." She examined the place. It looked as if it had been abandoned. Most of the comforts of living were gone; only the heavier pieces of furniture remained. She ran a finger through the dust on the mantelpiece, rubbing it between her fingers.
She moved through the living area into the dining room, leaving bootprints in the dust covering the floorboards. She stared at the long oaken table and remembered once, not so long ago, when she�d served five very unique strangers. A wry, nostalgic half-smile came to her lips. On a second glance, she noticed an envelope, likewise coated with dust, in the middle of the table. She picked it up carefully, as not to disturb the dust and cause herself a sneezing fit, swept the envelope clean and admired her own name, written in Aramina�s immaculate curly-cue handwriting.
"Dearest Mayaki," the letter began:
I have the most awful feeling we won�t see each other again. You know that business here had been bad, but things have steadily worsened. Everyone had been packing up and leaving. The farmers can�t sell their crops and make money here anymore. Too many of their customers have moved away�and with the farmers gone, we have only dry goods supplies and the vegetables from our own small gardens. It seems like everything here in Kaimer has just dried up. The good news is they haven�t found a way to blame you for any of this, and for that, I�m very glad.
I�ve been worried about you, Mayaki� whether you�ve found what it is you�re looking for, where you are, if you�re still alive at all. I hope you are, and I hope you are well. I know you said you would write, but I know how that goes, and it must be hard to write letters while traveling. You must still be out there somewhere; I haven�t had any bad dreams about you.
All the same, I�m afraid I won�t receive your letters before I leave this place as well. I�m going to try to set up business in Jaerith. I leave tomorrow with a caravan heading that direction. May this note find you in good health, and I pray that we�ll meet again someday. You are always in my thoughts, and I dearly miss your cooking. I tried a recipe the other day, and it came out absolutely hideous.
Please come find me if you are ever in Jaerith.
Love and blessings,
Mayaki sighed deeper. Now she didn�t even have a home to come home to once she was full human. *It�s always the good things that have to change, isn�t it?* With a last glance at the letter, she carefully refolded it, returned it to its envelope, creased it, and slipped it into her pocket.
Stepping back outside, she closed the door and wandered through the abandoned streets. *It�s all so different here� where I used to have to hide or put up with people�s fear of me� But now everyone�s gone.* She added aloud, "I guess I really have started a new life." The thoughts sank in with a kind of helpless remorse�nothing could be done about it, nothing could go back to being the way it had been, good or bad. There was only one way left to go, and that was back to her quest. She turned onto the road that had originally carried her away from Kaimer when she had initially met Zelgaddis and the others. She didn�t bother entering the Astral Plane immediately; perhaps a walk through familiar woods would lighten her mood.
Mayaki didn�t see them, but a pair of eyes, blue as underwater depths�so blue, they were all but black�watched her go. Their owner made no movement, no sound, but as soon as Mayaki vanished down the trail, this figure did likewise, in a more literal sense.
* * * * *
Xellos felt himself floating, and for an instant, thought that his powers had returned. *No,* he thought, *this is my dream.* He continued to hover like a specter. For a few minutes, nothing happened. The priest stared around at his dull gray surroundings, beginning to fear that this utter lack of anything meant that there were no Darisalito Mountains, that there was no Elric DeBarro. *How can I break this to Mayaki?* he wondered. *Zel� he probably suspected something like this would happen from the start. He�s been through this kind of disappointment before. But, Mayaki� poor Mayaki�* There was something about this situation that began to nag at him. He drifted here and there in the blank space, not really seeming to move, other than the rustling of his cape. The nothingness irritated him. "Hello? Is there someone in charge here I can speak to?" he called out.
A tenor voice thrummed back out of nowhere. "Oy, yeh� give us a minute, mate. �s not exactly a run-o�-the-mill dream ye�ve wished for� Nosec�s havin� to put it together from scratch. We�ll get you started just as soon as the old man can get it queued up for ye. Ah, here we are. Cheers, mate. Off ye go."
His feet suddenly rested on a giant bronze compass rose. The scenery came up next, an accurate depiction of the world he was familiar with, as the compass lifted him into the sky above Telgen City. It paused only a second before shooting eastward over the trees and terrain. Eventually it reached a gigantic canyon, though Xellos couldn�t gauge how far he was travelling, or how long the journey would take them on foot. The compass turned south to follow the course of the canyon, which eventually emptied onto a great flatland.
Xellos watched the vegetation change as he continued southward, from trees to bushes to low brush, to nothing at all. After that, the land itself began turning black as he passed over what seemed to be a black sand desert.
Beyond the desert, signs of life reappeared, notably two large and obviously man-made spires. The compass hovered for a bare moment above the silver spikes, then turned on a southwest bearing. The jagged mountain it stopped over next was relatively not far from the spires.
A slight turn to south-southwest, and the compass took off again. Single trees began to appear, then groves and whole forests, spiced with meadows and open fields� familiar territory for their group. Xellos didn�t see anything that was clearly a road, yet the compass managed to slow over a small township at the forest�s edge. As the brass object began to descend, Xellos took in its distinctiveness: patches of forest and meadow on three sides, foothills on the fourth.
His ride touched down within the town-proper. The compass disappeared, depositing him lightly on the ground. He stood before a large building�easily three times the size of the Temple of Dreams in both height and length�with a carving of an open book above its massive doors. "A scribner�s?" he muttered to himself. "Or a monastery?" He made for the door, hauling it open with all his strength and looked inside, only to have his senses blocked out by a piercing whiteness�
The priest shielded his eyes with one arm until the brightness was no longer a threat, but when he lowered his arm, the building was gone. As was the rest of the town. Xellos found himself in a pleasant meadow with a stream trickling nearby.
"Get what you came for?" the tenor voice that had spoken earlier asked, though this time Xellos could clearly pinpoint its origin, behind him. He turned to see a young, sandy-haired man sitting on a low-hanging treebranch. He took a bite of the half-eaten apple he held�Xellos recognized it as the one Mayaki had stuffed in the mouth of the suckling pig. "Mmm.." the youth muttered, chewing. "That little wyvern friend of yours certainly knows how to cook.
The priest smiled brightly. "Yes, she�s quite talented."
"The old man and I haven�t seen a sacrifice that good for two hundred years at least."
Xellos squinted at the young man as he hopped down from his treebranch perch. "Who�" he started to ask.
"That�s me. Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Xellos. �s not every day, or night, we get to give a dream to a Mazoku general."
"Former Mazoku general," the priest corrected with a front of his typical arrogant air. "I would think that you would be more on top of recent developments."
The man laughed. "Of course we are," he scoffed, dusting off his light-blue garb and taking another bite of apple. "Nonetheless, not an everyday experience for use, especially here at our own temple. Isn�t that right, old man?" he called over Xellos�s shoulder. Xellos turned to see the other Dreamlord, Nosec, certain that he hadn�t been standing there before. The old man, dressed in robes of dark blue with gold accents, merely closed his eyes and bowed his head once to Xellos.
"But� I�m not Mazoku anymore," the befuddled priest repeated.
"Well, yes, mate, and that�s part of what makes you so interesting to us." Wirren flamboyantly slung his arm over Xellos�s shoulder. "The other part is you gave us your one dreamwish for your friends. It takes a lot of resolve, mate. Not everyone can do what they promise they�ll do."
"I owed them both.
Xellos fixed wide eyes on him. "So it was you that interfered?"
"Us nothin�, mate. You were the one tryin� to mess with the girl�s wish. But," he shrugged, "if you get to bend the rules to get in and screw around, we get to bend �em back to set everything right, right?"
The priest could do nothing but nod silently, deep in through. "So, why am I still here? The dream has obviously run its course�"
"See, actually, it was Nosec�s idea," Wirren explained, scratching the back of his head as he finished off the apple. "He�s been tryin� to reach you ever since you reverted to a human a few weeks back, and , well, something�s not entirely�clockwork, if ye catch my drift, right? And we got to thinkin� Miz Zelas might�ve had something to do with it. D�ya follow?"
He nodded. "I suspected she might�ve."
"Right then. So Nosec there wants t� see if he can take a looksee and get rid of whatever�s causin� the trouble, if it�s okay with you."
He tried to contain his emotion as he consented. Nonetheless, he came off sounding much happier than he�d intended to. "I suppose that would be the bet course, wouldn�t it?" He peered over at Nosec, a bit nervous. The wizend old Dreamlord gave a silent but reassuring smile, followed by a slight bow, which Xellos returned out of courtesy. His smile widened, not showing so much around his mouth as in the narrowing of his sparkling eyes and the deepening of the crow�s feet at their corners. The old man walked measuredly behind a young tree and appeared on the other side carrrying a small stepladder. Returning to Xellos, he placed it on the priest�s left, then shakily ascended the two steps. As he balanced there, seeming to quiver with typically elderly weak knees, Xellos felt the upper half of his head being swung open, as if it were on a hinge. He angled his eyes up, trying to see what was going on, but didn�t dare move his head. The rattling that occurred as Nosec moved his arm around could easily compare to someone rummaging through a silverware drawer. "What is he doing up there?" Xellos wondered aloud to the watching youth.
"Oh, don�t worry. Nosec�s an expert at this," the younger Dreamlord breezed, not seeming to pay much attention.
The old man continued feeling around in Xellos�s opened mind, eventually coming across what he was looking for. Xellos felt something being pulled loose as his brains gave a collective sigh of relief and moved into the newly-available space. He heard the creak and felt the slam as his head closed. Looking over at the Dreamlord descending the tin stepladder, he reached back to compulsively scratch at the place he�d felt the hinge, but felt nothing but his own hair.
The ladder disappeared without notice. The old man held out the small wooden cube he had extracted. "Ah,look at that!" Wirren observed with sudden interest. "A mental block!"
Xellos stared at the small object that the old man placed into his palm. "So what does this mean?" he asked Nosec. The old man squeezed his elbow gently and hobbled off.
"Means your memory ought to return normally now," Wirren replied as he began to follow his elder into the increasingly misty meadow. "Take care of that wyvern gel, hey, mate? Tell �er she can leave us a sacrifice anytime she likes!"
Xellos nodded, then looked down at the mental block in his hand. It grew long, bendy arms and legs and a face, and stood up. Then it pulled the corners of its mouth to make a face at him, hopping from one leg to another. Xellos woke up with the distinct impression that the Dreamlords had a highly developed but warped sense of humor.
* * * * *
Alemo stared up�and up�at Deep Sea�s other lackey. He hadn�t known what to expect from a monster called D�saani. Alemo had always considered himself to be exceptionally tall, and well-built too, but standing beside a monster sixteen feet high and at least five feet wide who looked more like a tsunami than a human, even Alemo felt a bit inadequate.
"You found my sister, you say?" he asked the oversized Mazoku when he finally found his voice.
"Yes. Travelling." The solid form shifted itself slightly. "Staying at an inn in this town."
"Here? In Telgen?"
"YES," D�saani boomed in reply.
"So, Alemo," Naia joined in from her seat on a convenient crate, "shall we attack?"
The assassin turned this over in his mind. "No."
Naia all but leapt at him. "No?!"
He shook his head. "We must have patience. Several murders here would be too easily discovered, and anyone with a sharp wit would be able to track us. Our foes will be easiest to ambush once they get out on the roads."
"Is that truly the wisest course?" the Mazoku �woman� breezed, flipping her hair. "Or are you hesitating on account of your sister?"
"I�ll remind you that she is only my half-sister, and that I care for her less than I do for my vengeance upon my father."
The green-eyed Mazoku narrowed her eyes at him shrewdly. "Then perhaps it is the best course."
"I�d also like to remind you, Lady Naia, that I�m a very seasoned assassin."
She laughed to herself. "Well, naturally. That is why Mistress wants you in her employ�to kill that simpering fool, Xellos. You can manage to do away with him, can�t you, before you get distracted with your meaningless little quest?"
"My only purpose in accepting your help, Dolphin�s help, is for the sake of slaughtering my father," he spat.
Naia�s expression grew especially sharp as she glanced at Alemo out of the corner of her eye. "If you do not manage to take care of Xellos, Mistress will be quite displeased. She may be off her rocker, but she still does enjoy a nice torture session. Do you catch my meaning?"
The half-wyvern assassin narrowed his eyes at her with a growl. "Perfectly."
"Marvelous. We shall meet you at this place again in the morning. D�saani will keep track of our foes."
"And where will you be?"
Naia�s shrewd smile was dropped, replaced by a look of irritation. "Be careful what questions you choose to pursue, Alemo DeBarro. I will be checking in with Mistress Deep-Sea, to report our progress in this matter."
Without further parting words, the two Mazoku disappeared. Alemo ground his teeth at the thought of being coerced into a contract with Dolphin�s minions, and knew that at least for the moment, there was no way out. *Will I really have to kill my sister, so soon after first meeting her?* he wondered. *Perhaps there is another way. Perhaps we can destroy the priest without Mayaki needing to know it was of my doing�and then after our father is killed, we can still be friends.* He sighed to himself downheartedly. *Oh, wishful thinking is a wonderful thing�*
Disclaimer in short: Slayers and related characters aren't mine. Mayaki and various other incidental characters are.
Thanks for reading! Please leave me some feedback; I live and thrive on criticism! (not to mention, I'm a perfectionist. ;)