a Slayers fanfic
Chapter 37: Just right... Or just all right...
The sun hung high overhead by the time Mayaki awoke. Despite the chill of the vapor in the air, she had fallen into a sound but troubled sleep. The dreadful fog had gone, leaving the air tasting cool and fresh. The wyvern girl sat up, looking around. Zelgaddis was already awake, sitting on a rock and staring out over the cliff forlornly. Mayaki's thoughts flashed to Xellos, then to the lost princess. She heaved a broken sigh, but found that she was still too exhausted for tears. Zel, she suspected, was in a similar condition.
"Where will we be going?" she asked when he looked over to acknowledge her. Small talk this morning would have been unacceptable, not to mention ignored.
"Have we got any food?" he asked after a long moment.
"I can always catch us a rabbit or two along the way..."
The chimaera nodded. "The way I see it," he said slowly, "we've got to keep going. Our cures, if they exist, are still out there, and Elric is still our best hope of attaining them. Besides, Amelia would want me to make sure that you're well looked-after. And if she knew I'd given up, she would never forgive me."
"You'd get the justice speech of a lifetime," Mayaki agreed with a giggle. "Are you sure you can handle all that looking after me?"
Zel smiled and stood, then helped her to her feet as well. "I'll manage." He turned back toward the canyon. "I suppose we'll just follow the edge until things flatten out..."
Mayaki sighed again. "I wish I hadn't lost the book," she said, traipsing after him.
"It wasn't really helping though, at least for directions."
"No, but even so, it's the only thing I had that was my father's. I feel like I was just getting to know him, and now he's gone again."
"Mh," the chimaera nodded. He could relate, on some level.
Dirt crunched beneath their boots. It was the only sound to be heard for several minutes.
"Zel?" the girl asked hesitantly.
"Hmm?" he responded.
"Do you think anyone else made it out? Do you think they survived?" Her voice begged for some kind of confirmation.
It had always been a difficult thing to come to a conclusion about the possible whereabouts and welfare of missing compatriots, at least in Zelgaddis's experience, and especially when emotions got in the way. It was for this reason that he took nearly ten minutes before answering her. By that time, she thought that he had ignored the question, or that it was too touchy a subject, real though the problem was, so she remained silent. She startled when he finally answered, "You know, I don't suppose it would surprise me if they did survive."
She wanted to say something in response, but the words stuck. She only watched him walk on ahead. If she dared voice her hope, she was sure it would dissolve before her eyes.
* * * * *
* "Cirross, this bed will be yours. You'll be sharing the room with Master Pasgard."
"H'lo," Xellos mumbled shy to his new roommate.
The other regarded him rather coldly, then turned back to the senior-rank wizard. "But... Master Halford, there must be some mistake..."
"Rilke, I know you like having a room to yourself, but there are simply not enough for everyone to have his own. You may learn to enjoy it, you never know. I expect you to help Master Cirross settle in. Dinner is at five, Cirross, bed at nine. Rilke will show you around." The portly wizard exited and closed the door behind him, leaving the two boys to get acquainted.
Cirross and Rilke stared for a long moment, sizing each other up. "You're not supposed to be here," Rilke shot at him. "The year's half over. You can't just come in in the middle. You'll be so far behind that next year's students will have a jump on you."
"I'll do fine. Thanks for the concern." The scene was probably a common one through history: two pre-teen boys, one slightly shorter by not as scrawny as the other (he'd seemed intimidating at the time, Xellos observed, but to his present self, he could only think of Rilke as scrawny), engaging in verbal sparring and gearing up for a first scuffle.
"What kind of dumb name is Cirross? Sounds like a girl's name."
Cirross snorted. "My mother gave it to me, and it's less girly than Rilke anyhow. Right, Rilke?"
"Yours sounds more like 'zeroes,' and that's probably the grade you'll be getting, too."
"Betcha I don't."
"Betcha you do. I'll be you two desserts you don't even have any bonus marks by this time next week."
"Only two? What, scared that I'll win already? ...what's a bonus mark?"
"Ha! You don't even know what they are! Now you're never gonna earn any!" the boy crowed. "Five desserts, then!"
"Deal," Cirross agreed. Rilke spit into his hand, then extended it toward him. Cirross did likewise, following an age-old boys' custom to seal the deal. But as he went to grip Rilke's hand, the other boy's went past his and connected with his cheek, wiping the wet gob down Cirross's face. "Lllch!" he went.
Ha! Sap!" Rilke yelled and cackled wildly as he ran down the hall of the dormitory. Lot of help he was going to be. He reminded Xellos of a wild parrot...making a lot of unnecessary noise and always willing to crap on you from above.
Abandoned by his would-be guide, Cirross found his way outside and showed himself around the campus. Five buildings: the dining hall, three one-story dorms, and a large building that served as a library and auditorium. Rows of benches indicated where classes took place; outside, where runaway magic would cause less damage. A bath-house, if you could call it one, with privies on one side and a hot spring on the other, stood behind the journeymen's dorm. Presumably the master wizards had their own residences off-campus. *Seems like a nice enough place,* he thought. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad...
* * * * *
"Master Cirros! How kind of you to join us for supper. Two demerits for tardiness."
Cirross blinked as he entered the dining hall. Everyone was waiting on him to begin their evening meal. Eyes from rows of tables stared at him. He gulped. "Please, Master Halford, I didn't know where the dining hall was... and, what's a demerit?"
The portly wizard stared down on him. Somewhere from the back of the room, Cirross heard Rilke sniggering, not quite under his breath. The senior wizard heard him as well, shifting his gaze across the room until his gaze rested upon the troublemaker. "Master Rilke!" Rilke's muted laughter halted immediately at the shout. "Perhaps you would like to take Master Cirross's demerits for him, for being remiss in your duties," Halford conveyed with great strictness and irony. "Cirross," he continued with a note of irritation, "Master Fainsworth will give you the lay of the land after supper. Take your seat, please, and we'll begin."
* * * * *
Though the second-year apprentice had a less-icy demeanor than Rilke, Cirross couldn't help but thing of Farnsworth as more than a passing acquaintance. The boy had been eager to get to a game that he and some of the other students had arranged to play. Cirross didn't want to make two enemies in the same day, so decided not to invite himself along, and Farnsworth, though he was more than willing to explain all the rules, didn't offer. Besides, his first day had been so wearying, all he could really think of was falling into bed. He was in no shape to play the complicated, mind-taxing card game Farnsworth described to him. Asleep on his feet, he bid the apprentice goodnight, visited the privy, then returned to his room and crawled under the blanket. Sleep was a welcome refuge.
* * * * *
Xellos noted a slight pause in the dream, and was just starting to wonder about experiencing unconsciousness while dreaming when something woke his younger self. "Aqua-Create!" he heard whispered somewhere, and suddenly Cirross found himself and his bedding cold and wet. Rilke and some of his buddies were standing outside the room, busting their guts laughing.
"Cirross wet the bed!" Rilke hollered, making sure the whole hall heard him.
*Mean, nasty trick to play on the new kid,* Xellos thought, feeling the boy's chill through the dream, as well as the burning of the boy's cheeks as he blushed angrily.
Cirross didn't say a word; he only glared at Rilke and his pals and turned over, away from the soaked part of his bed, which was more or less a foot-wide puddle in the dead center and hard to get away from. He shuffled the dampened blanket around as best as he could, thinking bitterly to himself, both as a child and adult, *Yeah, have your fun... you just wait 'til you see my magic tomorrow, and then see what happens...* The dream ended as he fell back asleep, cold and wet...
...and woke up, still cold, still wet. Amelia had shifted during the night and was curled up, laying across his lap. She shivered from time to time. Xellos sighed heavily and watched his breath steam in front of him. Stiff, he made an effort to stretch out his back without waking the princess up. *What a lousy dream...* he thought. Almost in response, his stomach gave a yowl and a stab of pain, reminding him not to forget about it or it would do its best to make him even more miserable. True. It would be a very long day if they couldn't find something to eat. He began nudging Amelia with his knees. "Amelia, we need to go."
"Nh?" She sighed, waking. "Okay mister Zelga-" She stopped herself. "Sorry, mister Xellos. I guess I was dreaming."
"Of something nice, I gather."
Amelia rubbed her eyes. "I think so. I can't really remember what it was about. I think Mister Zelgaddis was taking us all to get ice cream." She grinned to herself. If she ever saw him again, she would definitely make the suggestion. She sighed and pushed herself to her feet, searching herself for some shred of hope to cling to, only finding worry in the end. Mayaki had to have found him. She had to. Or...
Xellos helped her down from the ledge. She made the rest of the short climb to the ground easily, though the handholds in the rock felt like they were abrading her numb hands, then followed the priest. "Where are we going to go?"
"South," she said abruptly, then added, "Following the river. It's our best chance of running into the others."
The air was warming, taking some of the chill out of their clothes, but causing an eerie mist to rise from the canyon floor. So when the two came across their ruined equipment, scattered, smashed to bits, looking like it had seen the wrong end of a battlefield, Amelia could only associate it with a graveyard.
"Everything's wrecked," she observed, looking but not daring to touch the remains of a tent pole as they walked on. They passed shreds of what had been packs and bedrolls, bashed-in pots and pans, and several dozen bruised spinefruit in the rubble of broken logs, rocks, and sandy mud. Starving, the justice crusader snatched one of the dented pink globes and bit in, only to spit it out again and claw at her tongue. "Pffthh! It's all prickles inside! No fruit at all!" she moaned, crestfallen.
"I wonder if Lina ever figured that out," Xellos thought aloud and chuckled at the image that came to mind.
* * * * *
Lina spit repeatedly. "They're full oth thpines!" she screamed, then resumed scraping the hair-like bristles off her tongue. Gourry could only stand by and watch the painful process.
"Ya know, maybe that's why they're called spinefruit," the swordsman pondered, for lack of anything better to do.
"Thyut up," came the response.
He looked back at her, concerned. "Lina, are you..."
"I'll live," she said, spitting again. "But not if I don't get something to eat! I'm just so HUNGRY!" she wailed. "Why can't all this stuff ever happen to somebody else?!"
"It'll be all right, Lina, I promise," Gourry smiled down on her.
She grinned back slightly sourly and leaned into him. "Yeah, I know. Le't get moving though, huh?"
"Right," he agreed, letting her set the pace as she usually did. After a short but comfortable silence, a question rose out of the fog in his mind. "Lina?"
"Hmm?" she responded.
"What do people in love do?"
Lina blinked. The question took her completely by surprise. She blinked, a pink blush lighting her cheeks and nose. "Uhhh... a-actually, I never really thought about it that much," she said, knowing it was a lie. Of course she'd thought about love, about some handsome stranger who would someday come along and sweep her off her petite little feet...preferably a prince, but at least someone rich enough to cater to her every whim and desire. There would be kissing and cuddling involved, but only so much as she permitted, and a beautiful wedding ceremony and honeymoon-her complexion suddenly went from pink to deep red. *Whoa, whoa, whoa! Let's not get carried away here!* she scolded her runaway thoughts. *Because it's not just the physical stuff, like Gourry's obsession with breasts... if it was, he'd've been gone a long time ago. I kinda don't stand a chance in that department... so it must be more like... companionship? And trust? Or just knowing he's going to be there for me no matter what?*
Gourry interrupted her private thoughts, reminding her he'd asked her a question. "I just want to know, so I don't mess it up. I've just never... been in love before."
The sorceress glanced up at him. "What about Sylphiel?"
"Oh yeah, Sylphiel..." the swordsman replied airily.
Lina checked him out of the corner of her eye. "You DO remember her, don't you?"
"Oh yeah. I could never forget her!" he laughed back.
"But you weren't in love with her."
Gourry thought and replied slowly. "Nnnno, I don't...think so..."
"So what's with all the 'Oh, Dear Gourry' stuff?" Lina mocked, making her voice high and soft to mimic the shrine maiden's.
"Oh, that..." His voice carried an apologetic note. "When we were little, some big kids were teasing her about...something, and I told them to leave her alone, so they pushed me down instead and ran off. She bandaged my knees, and from then on, she followed me all over Sairaag. It was Gourry dead this and Gourry Dear that..."
Lina smirked a little, but not cruelly. "She had a crush on you."
Lina rolled her eyes at his tendency toward obliviousness. "I don't think she ever got over it either, the way she was always asking me what my intentions toward you were-" She stopped dead in her tracks and the tall mercenary bumped into her lightly. "Does that mean... that she knew...?"
"That we were in love with each other!" She stamped her foot on the rocky ground. "Damn it! Why am I always the last to know these things?!" She tromped along sullenly for several minutes with Gourry tagging along behind. And here she'd thought of Gourry as oblivious... how could she have been so blind to her own situation? Looking back, it was so clear! Amelia knew, Zelgaddis knew, Phibrizzo had known... Hell, even that annoying Martina...
You really should be more honest with your own feelings, Lina!
*Even Martina knew!* she thought. *How could that self-centered bimbo see it and I not?!*
"So... Lina..." Gourry broke the silence again, still waiting for an answer.
Lina groaned, voice turning almost bass with depression as she dragged herself along the canyon rim. "Whaaaat?"
"Do you think we're doing it right?"
Lina looked back and up into patient but inquisitive pools of blue, and the black cloud over her mood dissipated. She slid her fingers between his and snorted ruefully. "Ya know, Gourry, I think we've been doing it just right all along."
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. ;)