a Slayers fanfic
Chapter 36: Wet situations make for good conversations
"Wow, Lina! Look at that!" Gourry pointed outward from where they were sitting, catching their breath after levitation to the rim opposite of their starting point.
"Wow," the sorceress repeated, staring out at the canyon, which was rapidly filling with a thick mist. "That?s not a good sign."
"What do you mean?"
Lina began wringing her hair out as she spoke. "Well, Gourry, that?s an awful lot of water in the air. The sun?s almost started to set, which means that all this water in the air is first going to get really cold, and then fall on us. We?re soaked through already and probably not going to get much drier before night, and we?ve lost almost all of our gear. So essentially, we run the risk of freezing."
"We?d better get a fire going then, hadn?t we?"
"It?s not going to be that easy, Gourry. Wet wood doesn?t burn well."
The blonde swordsman handed her a piece of wood. "How about this one? Here?s another one. And another." He began building a small pile of perfectly dry kindling in Lina?s arms. The sorceress twitched, looking frustrated.
"What? Wait a minute!" She stood up and examined her surroundings: the bushes, the scrubby low trees, the hard, baked dirt. "It?it?s all completely dry?Weird," she said to herself. "Maybe it just rained really hard somewhere upstream?"
"Do you think it was rain from the ocean?" Gourry interrupted her thought.
She turned her head to stare back at him. "What are you talking about?"
"It?s salty, like the ocean. Look." He raised his arm for her to look at the grainy white crust that had formed there.
Out of curiosity, Lina stuck her tongue out and licked her upper lip. Salt. Vague suspicions entered her mind. "That?s not natural. That had to have been an ambush? but by who?"
"Yeah, probably," she replied nonchalantly. "We?ll have to keep our guard up. In the meantime, let?s get that firewood together and try to find some food."
* * * * *
"Zel? I can?t see you?Where are you?"
"This way," the chimaera called. "Where is Amelia? Is she with you?"
Mayaki finally found him in all the fog. She grasped his arms as if he was the only thing she had left to hang onto. "I couldn?t find her," she groaned. "She wasn?t anywhere near where you fell in, and I didn?t hear any response to my calls either."
Zelgaddis?s heart plummeted. "You didn?t? She isn?t?" he attempted, unable to complete either sentence. Mayaki turned away, shielding her eyes from the burning inquiry in his own, instead examining the scuff marks on her boots.
"I?m sorry? I tried? She just wasn?t there." She clenched her teeth and her fists, determined not to cry, but having to fight it all the way. An unwanted sob racked through her as she turned further away from his wounded and heartbroken countenance, though if she had watched his face, she would not have seen a trace of accusation in it? only a deep loss. Swords could not penetrate the chimaera-man, but love, and loss?
Zel could only collapse to the ground, dumbfounded at the news. It had to be a nightmare, had to be, rivaling only the recurrent dreams of Rezo cackling and the dissonant clang of staff rings. He?d often told himself that it would be impossible to have relations beyond friendship with the little princess, had at one point resigned himself to being lonely for the rest of his life. But recently, the idea of being with her had seemed more possible, more plausible. Her presence alone had restored some tiny measure of hope to him?*Is that what that is?* he had thought?and it had brought about the ability for them to show outward signs of affection for each other. His stone body was the only obstacle between them these days. In a strange sort of way, his curse was what had brought them together. Without it, he would never have met Lina or Gourry, and through them, Amelia. And even when his hope in finding his cure dwindled, he would have Amelia?s cheerful demeanor and welcoming heart to fall back on, to come back to.
Somehow, he had envisioned her as always being there, whether he found his cure or not.
"Oh gods," he said almost inaudibly after reality had sunk in, a void consuming his numb spirit. She couldn?t be gone? couldn?t be. Mayaki was losing the battle with her tears again, sobbing freely now into the palms of her hands. Zel wanted to tell her that it wasn?t her fault for not finding the princess, but he had barely found the strength to utter those two words. There were times when one had to attend one?s own wounds before those of others. "Oh gods," he said again, "Amelia?"
"Xellos?" Mayaki mewled, echoing Zel?s sense of loss. "Zel, what will we do? What will we do if they?re gone?" She all but flung herself into his arms. She certainly would have thrown herself to the ground had he not happened to be in the way.
The stone man likewise combated to keep his emotions in check, but, holding a girl who was weeping uncontrollably over the ones they cared about, lost and possibly dead, even Zelgaddis?s stolid demeanor cracked. "I?I don?t?" His face wrenched, finally losing out to grief. *Be strong!* he chided himself. *Be strong!*
But that was what he had asked for so long ago.
Enough with being strong! Who could deny him the right to not be strong at a time like this? He let the tears burn his eyes, and welcomed them. There was reason enough for them.
* * * * *
Amelia finally voiced the thought that had been running through her mind for the past hour, since sunset. "It?s getting awfully cold, isn?t it?"
Xellos nodded with a downhearted "Hmmm." The sun had been too far to the west to do much by way of drying their drenched clothing, and the damp mist that had invaded the canyon wasn?t helping either. The fact that both of them were still wet as a herring when the sun was blocked out and night fell didn?t improve their moods any. Xellos allowed himself a little glance at Amelia. To preserve the princess?s modesty, he had avoided looking at her until full dark, just in case he might see something reserved for Zelgaddis rather than himself. He blushed a little at the thought of the cream-colored material of Amelia?s outfit clinging wetly to her full chest, and immediately decided to turn his attention elsewhere. Now, after dark, he was probably out of harm?s way, relatively speaking.
He shifted around on their little rocky ledge, scooting toward the Seyruun princess. "Forgive me for being pretentious, Amelia, but if we huddle together, we?ll stay warmer."
"M?Mister Xellos?" Amelia replied nervously, even thought she knew his intent was pure. And, after all, it was better to chance a little embarrassment than freeze to death due to modesty. She overcame her shyness and sidled up to him. He put his arm around her shoulders and tossed his cape?wet, but it would help keep their body heat in nonetheless?around them both. He was right, it did help, just a little. She didn?t feel nearly as shivery.
Continuing the small talk that brought her comfort, she finally dared to ask, "Mister Xellos, What were the spells you cast this afternoon? I didn?t recognize many of the words, but they sounded like a Demonic Crystal spell and a Ra Tilt?They were a lot more powerful, though."
Xellos was silent for nearly a full minute. Amelia began to wonder if he?d heard her, or if he?d fallen asleep. She was about to ask again when he finally answered her. "I hadn?t even noticed, until you mentioned it, Amelia," he said. "The spells are basically the same, except that I leaned the words in the old language."
"Is that what makes the difference?" She turned her head up toward his, awaiting his answer.
"I suppose so, yes. Since our language has shifted so far away from what it once was, the spells have lost a lot of their potential power. Some of the shift came about with the changes that come naturally with every language, and some of them came from the little stylistic twists each spell-caster has added over the ages."
"Stylistic twists?" Amelia encouraged, not noticing the chill in the air as much, her mind occupied.
"Yes. The positioning of the hands during the spell, the different wordings, even the intonation you use can effect the power behind the spell. So long as the basic elements of the spell are used it will work, in greater or lesser degrees."
The girl tapped a finger on her lips. "I don?t think my mentors ever mentioned anything about the wording." She thought of something else. "I know three different ways to cast a Ra Tilt?does that mean that one of those ways is more powerful than the others?"
"Probably so," the priest answered. "There?s not really a way to test this sort of thing, unless you have a lot of monsters around to practice on, I?d imagine. And even so, the version of the spell I know is more powerful than any of yours, since it?s closer to the original. I?m almost certain now that the original spell must have been twice as powerful as the one I know."
"So a spell like Miss Lina?s Dragon Slave could have been even more devastating?"
Xellos nodded. "About three times more powerful if she used the original form, the Dragon-Slayer? or the Giga-Slave, the God-Slayer."
"God Slayer? Who would create such an awful spell??"
"Who do you think? Those who seek to end the existence of the gods, and the world. Shaburanigudo, the Monster Race, and their followers among the humans."
The pair of them sat there in the dark in silence for a few moments. Amelia thought offhand, "Gee? I hope Miss Lina never finds the original words. She?d probably take over the world or something."
Xellos smirked. "I think Lina?s only real purpose is to get rich quick. I won?t tell her if you don?t."
"Deal," the girl replied with a yawn. She hadn?t realized that her fatigue and the warmth from their bodies were catching up to her. A moment more and her head was bobbing against Xellos?s shoulder as she dropped off to sleep.
Xellos moved his eyes to look down at her and smiled, but sighed, wishing he knew that Mayaki was all right.
* * * * *
The sorceress stared sleepily into the flames of their campfire. Gourry snoozed contentedly beside her, still sitting upright. Lina smirked at how the swordsman could sleep through just about anything. *I guess when you don?t have a lot on your mind, it?s easier to sleep?and Gourry never has anything on his mind!*
She turned her attention to the canyon, barely visible through the thick mist. That attack?she was sure now that it had been an attack?had taken them completely unaware and unprepared. If it wasn?t for Gourry, she might have drowned down there herself, and she worried that the others hadn?t had as much luck as she had. But it would be morning before they got the chance to regroup, and who knew how long that would take? She sighed, downhearted. "I hope they?re all okay," she muttered, out loud, but to herself.
"Me too, Lina," said the familiar voice from her right. She turned to look at him.
"I?m sorry, Gourry. I didn?t mean to wake you up."
"You didn?t," he reassured. "I did that on my own."
"Hm," Lina smiled, realizing how much she appreciated his company tonight.
In almost one motion, the two scooted closer together, Lina resting her head against Gourry?s broad chest. "This is almost like that time in the desert when we were looking for the Claire Bible manuscript," she observed. "Hey, Gourry, do you remember that at all?" It wasn?t in her usual demanding tone; this time it contained more tender curiosity than irritation.
The swordsman thought hard for a moment. There were times when he really wished he could remember some of the things Lina asked him to. "Maybe," he replied finally, not really sure that he knew at all what she was talking about, but not totally willing to be subjected to one of Lina?s drawn-out explanations.
Lina wasn?t miffed, and added, "Well, I do. It was when I asked you how long you intended to be my protector, and you said, ?forever, I guess.?"
"Oh yeah," he seemed to remember.
She stared back into the campfire embers. "Well, um?" she started, then stopped again. "Don?t fall asleep this time, ?kay, Gourry? I have some stuff to ask you about."
"Sure. What is it?"
The sorceress fiddled with her fingers for a moment before continuing. She wasn?t certain she really wanted to hear his answers if it wasn?t the ones she wanted to hear. "Um? this is gonna sound really dumb, but? what did you mean? About staying with me forever," she reiterated quickly, in case he?d forgotten what they were talking about already, which was highly plausible.
"I mean, I?ll stay with you and keep you safe as long as I live."
"No, no!" she brayed back at him, pleading rather than antagonistic. "What I mean is, are you staying around me just to protect me? Is that the only reason, or is there something else, too?" *?because I know how I feel about you, Gourry, but I?m not going to admit it unless you do first,* she added to herself. *I?m not going to act on something I?m seeing that may or may not be there. Maybe I?m just seeing what I want to see between us.*
Gourry?s face turned slightly hurt, like a puppy hit with a roll of parchment. "Don?t you know, Lina?"
*Oh, crap?what did I say?* she thought, her face draining of some of its color, but he continued before she had a chance to explain herself further.
"Don?t you know that I love you, and I wasn?t to spend the rest of my life with you?"
Lina?s eyes shone with held-back tears. "Oh, Gourry!" She fell into his arms, sobbing, overwhelmed with joy.
Gourry nearly panicked, having a crying girl hurl herself at him. That had only happened once before, he vaguely remembered, when someone had been making fun of Sylphiel, and she came wailing to him. He hadn?t really known what to do then, either. "Don?t cry, Lina! Please don?t cry! I didn?t mean anything by it?" He wondered if he should start running or at least be prepared to dodge a spell if she blasted him one.
The petite girl sniffled a little and gazed up at him. He was so alarmed by this uncharacteristic behavior of hers?the Lina he knew never cried, and would call anyone who did a wimp?and he looked so completely stunned and helpless that in that moment, she couldn?t help but laugh at him, in a weird sort of transition from a sob to giggles. Eventually, the blonde swordsman realized what the little redhead was carrying on about, and his laughter joined hers.
Together they spread out her cloak to use as a groundsheet, curled up together and shared the one blanked Lina had salvaged from their destroyed packs.
* * * * *
"This is pointless?" Alemo grumbled as he landed and transformed, back at the same place he?d started from. Naia must have figured that the dense fog would add to their quarry?s confusion. It had most likely done just that, since it had certainly disoriented himself innumerable times while he searched for any sign of the travelers? whereabouts.
He?d seen, a few miles south, where the high ridges of the canyon tapered down , where the river bent to flow toward the eastern sea, bits a pieces of their wrecked equipment?tent and bedroll fabric, Gourry?s pack, some of his half-sister?s cooking implements, and several loose spineplant fruits, all strewn along the riverbed, littering nearly a mile and a half of the drying canyon floor. Yet no remnants of the intended victims lay among the wreckage. Perhaps it was just that the bodies had not been carried that far downstream, as could surely be the case with the stone man. No bodies meant no certainty of death, and that meant that any one of their number could still pose a threat to reaching his objective.
"Naia!" he called, still grumbling to himself that he had failed to find his targets. The mist gathered itself up out of the canyon, coalescing as the Mazoku?s more-human form. She finger-combed her flowing hair as if the effort of extending herself across such a distance for so long had depleted her somehow.
"Did you finish them off?" she asked impatiently. "Where is D?saani?"
"I haven?t seen him. Of course, through that mist of yours, who can see anything?" he snorted. "I could have been a foot away from him and not known it, especially for as quiet as he is?"
Naia glared condescendingly at him. "Which can only mean that you haven?t managed to exterminate that pest Xellos yet, am I wrong?"
"You?d be correct on that point." He sat on a rock, removed his boots, and stretched his toes out casually.
"You, a trained assassin, couldn?t find your victim in a little fog?" she accused, tossing her hair and setting a hand on her hip in one seductive ripple of motion. "Even through the Astral plane, you didn?t find him. I?m beginning to doubt your fidelity to my mistress, Alemo."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. I have no idea what you?re talking about."
"Tch?" The Mazoku blinked repeatedly, then assessed him with a flat look. "You don?t know how to use the Astral plane."
"No. I was raised by a human mother, as you?ll recall. Not much call for Astral planing if you?re a laundry-maid."
She sighed pure irritation. "A minor detail that could cause us a few days? setback. But, if I have to train you, then so be it."
Alemo sat for another moment, then reached for his pack and pulled out some crusty bread and a left-over roast brushquail. "What about your associate?"
Naia fluffed her hair, indifferent. "If he?s not on the Astral plane, and he isn?t or I would have found him, and he?s not back here yet, he?s probably gotten himself killed."
"Oh, that?s a pity," he replied sincerely. Monster or not, D?saani was a powerful ally to have on his side. Nevertheless, he added sharply, "I thought maybe you had a thing for him, or he had one for you."
The Mazoku narrowed her eyes at him. "Mazoku do not have ?things.?"
Alemo couldn?t help laughing at her response. "Well. Sounds like the Monster Race really got the short end of the stick. I can see why you?re so cranky all the time." He held his hands up defensively, despite the fact that she refused to look at him, or anywhere in his general direction. "Not to be blunt," he added, and chuckled to himself, eating his brushquail.
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. ;)