Only Stone on the Outside
a Slayers fanfic
I do not own this terrific series; I just wish I did. Please let me know if you'd like to print or archive my story, though, because it's a real boost to the ol' faltering ego. There are a few minor spoilers, but nothing really descriptive. PG for minor swearing.
Many thanks to my friends Shell Presto and Marie!
Note: I got the explanation for dragonfire from a great cartoon movie called The Flight of Dragons, based on a book by Peter Dickinson.
Chapter Seventeen: Answer That Question!
Zelgadis meets the Oracle
As a test question, Lina asked, "Why is the sky blue?" I remember asking this when I was a kid. Everyone had a different answer.
The Gatekeeper launched into a long, complicated explanation, using words like 'particles' and 'wavelengths' and 'refraction' and 'color spectrum'. The red-haired sorceress listened to the long-winded explanation in amazement, her mouth dropping open practically to her sore knees.
"Next question," he said snootily.
"Hey, I couldn't understand half of that!" Lina protested.
"Too bad. You said 'questions I couldn't answer', not 'answers you could understand'."
"Why you-" Lina growled, furious. Her hands opened and closed as if on a nonexistent throat. Gourry gave her an uneasy glance, and backed away. If I had my magic I'd fireball this jerk! She decided to switch tactics. "Fine, then. Where-"
"How do dragons breathe fire without burning themselves?" Gourry interrupted unexpectedly.
The hot-tempered sorceress clenched her fist to sock him for interrupting her, but paused in spite of herself, as she realized she was interested in hearing the response.
"The 'fire' is actually a flammable gas. It is ignited with a small electrical jolt from a thimble-sized nub in the roof of a dragon's mouth. The mouth is specially insulated against heat."
"Hmm." That could be useful to know. But now to ask about some really important stuff. "Okay, where-"
Again Gourry interrupted her, his light-blue eyes alight with curiosity. "What color is a floozle?"
"A what?" The Gatekeeper's voice sounded flustered. "There's no such thing."
"Yes, there is. I heard a mother telling her kid once how floozles are the prettiest creatures in the world. She said their fur is so soft and colorful that they hide a lot, because people want to catch them for the fur. So I was wondering what color it is," Gourry explained.
"I tell you, there is no such thing as a floozle. The woman was simply making up a story for her child."
"Oh." Gourry looked disappointed.
Boy, what a dummy. Lina was smirking at her friend's gullibility, when something occurred to her. "Hey, that means we won."
"Gourry asked a question you can't answer. That means we've won."
The voice protested, "But-but there is no answer. The creature in question doesn't exist. It's a nonsensical query!"
"I said, 'we'd ask questions', not that they'd make sense." Lina imitated the way the Gatekeeper had quoted her own words back at her earlier, an impish grin on her face.
"Arrgh!" The Gatekeeper's howl of frustration echoed up and down the corridor, slowly fading away.
Gourry turned to Lina with a big smile on his face. "Hey, we beat him! Ow!" he added as she leaped up and grabbed him in a headlock, ignoring the twinges from her knees. "Hey, what gives?"
"You moron, I was just about to ask it where the locations of the best bandits' treasure troves were!"
Gourry squirmed and groaned in pain. "Ahhh, I'm sorry, Lina!"
"Don't ever interrupt me like that again!" She gave him a final wrench, then released him. He straightened up, rubbing his neck.
"Well, at least we won," he repeated, half apologetically, half sullenly.
They began walking down the corridor. Lina looked up at her closest friend. He's really been a big help today, she thought,remembering his unanticipated singing skill, and his aid in escaping from the stalactites. She noted his uncharacteristic frown.
Something inside her made her reach out and catch hold of his large hand in her own small one. "Anyway, Gourry, you did a good job." She gave his hand an affectionate squeeze to show him there were no hard feelings.
Gourry stopped walking and looked down at their clasped hands, a look of surprise on his face. Lina suddenly realized what she was doing. Just as he moved his gaze from their hands up to her face, she released his hand and started walking ahead of him. After a moment, Gourry shrugged and followed her, but his usual sunny smile had returned.
Zelgadis, meanwhile, had been magically transported away. He materialized in front of a pair of beautiful old metal doors, carved with the same ancient text as the outer doors. Do I have to sing again? He put out a hand and touched the smooth surface. To his surprise, it gave out an odd humming noise, which changed its tone as he slid his hand to the side. Some kind of instrument? Just to check, he slid his hand up, then down, and sure enough, the hum changed pitch to match his hand movements.
Too bad the outer door wasn't like this. Or was it? The chimera repeated his previous opening-scale, and was gratified the see the door vanish in front of him as the outer door had. At least something's going right on this trip.
The inner room was empty except for a marble pedestal in the center, with a large, softly glowing silver globe resting upon it. Is that the Oracle? Slowly he walked toward the pedestal. The only light in the room came from the sphere, making the chimera's skin and clothing take on a ghostly pale cast. The stone man reached out a hand to touch the orb.
Suddenly the sphere's glow changed to a hostile dark green. "Hands off, buddy!"
Zelgadis jerked his hand back, his teal eyes wide. "Who's there?"
"Who do ya think?"
"You got it. Now whadda ya want?" The ancient instrument of prophesy sounded like a worldly-wise middle-aged woman. The sphere's color faded to a more neutral bluish tone.
Zelgadis raised an eyebrow thoughtfully at this unexpectedly dynamic personality. "My name is Zelgadis Greywyrs. I'm on a quest. I'm searching for a way to turn my body back to normal."
"Normal? What's wrong with the one ya got now? It's a fine body."
His composure went right out the window. Frustrated, he retorted, "Fine for a chimera-but I'm human!"
"Oh, y'are, huh?" The orb's glow became curious-a lavender shade. "C'mere. Put yer hand on the sphere."
He did so. The globe began glowing, and a vast array of colors rippled across its surface. Zelgadis had time to wonder how he understood the emotion-colors the Oracle used.
"Zelgadis Greywyrs...hey, you've had a pretty interesting life so far," she commented.
A wry half-smile appeared on the chimera's face. "You could put it that way."
"All right, ya can let go now." Zelgadis removed his hand from the shimmering globe, which faded back to blue, but kept a hint of the lavender.
"Okay, Zel,"-he noted the Oracle's use of Lina's nickname for him-"I got a question for ya. Why are ya askin' me for a cure when ya already got all the components within yer reach?"
"I-what?" he exclaimed, utterly flabbergasted.
"Ya already found a shrine maiden of pure heart willing ta love ya. And that ol' rogue Xellos is right outside my temple."
"Xellos? And-what?" It seemed to be his fate to stand in a dimly-lit stone room repeating 'what?' to a large glowing ball on a pedestal.
"Don't tell me ya didn't notice! That's just like a man. What's she gotta do, hit ya over the head?" A pale orange glow of irritation surrounded the sphere.
Zelgadis tried to gather together his scattered wits. He protested, "But that's impossible. No one could love a freak like me."
The orb changed to an odd mixture of oranges and blues. A sigh was heard. I wonder how an inanimate object can sigh, Zelgadis mused dizzily, still reeling from the mind-blowing news.
"Lemme tell ya a story." The chimera blinked in surprise at the now light-blue orb. "A long long time ago there was this young mage who was head-over-heels in love with a beautiful, headstrong, fiery-tempered princess of Seyrune. Matter a' fact, she was a lot like yer friend, Lina, except she'd been trained in white magic, as a shrine maiden. Unfortunately, he had a rival-a powerful, unscrupulous mage who eventually challenged him ta a duel. Needless ta say, he lost-the guy turned him inta a chimera. The thing is, on the very same day, the winning mage, overconfident, tried ta slay himself a dragon ta win the princess' heart, and got himself roasted.
"So the young mage was stuck as a chimera, since the jerk who cursed him took the secret of the cure ta his grave. The poor guy was heartbroken, figuring there was no way the princess was ever gonna fall for someone who looked like him. But she surprised him, openly declaring her love before him, and her parents. Now, the king and queen weren't crazy about the whole thing, but like I said before, the princess was a very headstrong girl, the youngest of nine siblings, and used ta getting her own way. Eventually they gave in-after all, with eight older brothers and sisters it wasn't likely that she'd ever be needed ta be Queen.
"So the young mage set out on a quest for a cure. After many years, many hopes and dreams and disappointments, battles and retreats and magical adventures, good ol' Gaderi ended up here, standing right where ya are now."
"Gaderi? The man who wrote the journal that led me here?"
"None other. And I'm gonna ask ya the same question I asked him: Why do ya really wanna be cured?" The sphere had no hint of lavender in the blue.
Zelgadis crossed his arms defensively. "What do you mean, why? You just read my mind." Listening to the story had allowed the young man to organize his thoughts somewhat. "I'm hideous."
"Oh, I see. Vanity."
The chimera's jaw dropped, eyes bulging with indignation. "What? No, that's not it! I just want to have a normal life."
The Oracle laughed, pulsing pink with each chuckle. "Honey, a normal life's not all it's cracked up ta be! Do ya realize that neither you nor your friends would be alive right now if not for that body ya hate so much?"
His narrow shoulders slumped. "I know. That much, Rezo did for me. I am grateful, to that extent." His mind filled with images from past battles, of taking blows that would have killed his friends, of using his superhuman senses and reflexes. The stone man shivered, and shook his head. "I know I'll be giving up a lot, but no one ever said it would be easy. So are you going to help me or not?" he asked quietly. "I mean, look at what happened to Gaderi. He spent five years of his life being persecuted, running for his life from demon hunters."
"Oh, yeah, he was persecuted, but he managed ta help a lotta people in his travels, bettering their lives in ways that, to him, were insignificant, hardly worth mentioning. Ya see, like most people, he saw himself very differently than the way others saw him. He was actually known as a saint in quite a few of the villages he passed through." Enthusiastic approval colored the globe a pretty shade of pink, reminding Zelgadis of something important...but he couldn't put his mental finger on it.
The stone man was silent for a long time, mulling over what the Oracle had said. "Are you saying I'd be better off as a chimera?" he asked quietly.
"I didn't say that-ya gotta look at yer other options, is all."
"Options?" he asked with wide eyes.
"Yeah, I can give ya the spell ya want, but is it the one ya need?"
Lina was screaming in horror. "No, no, take them away! Take the slugs away!" She was cowering on top of a large rock, all alone, with a sea of slimy, disgusting slugs crawling lazily around its base. "Oh, somebody please help me!" she squealed, covering her face with her hands. Where's Gourry when I need him?
Her blonde companion was walking in a large, empty space filled with gray fog. "Lina? Where are you?" he called. He couldn't figure out how he had gotten here. One minute he'd been walking with Lina down a stone corridor, the next he was here, searching fruitlessly for his small red-haired friend. She must've gotten lost. I'd better find her before she gets into trouble. It didn't occur to him that he might be the one who was lost.
"How do you like the slugs, little sister?" A ghostly voice echoed in Lina's mind.
If she'd been scared before, she was petrified now. "Luna?" she gasped, her red hair sticking up in all directions as if she'd just received an electric Mono Bolt. Suddenly the slugs were only somewhat squishy carpeting that smushed under Lina's feet as the tiny sorceress leaped off the rock and began running through the fog, trying to get away from...her.
"Oh, no, you don't. Get back here this instant, Lina Inverse." Her sister's voice held the promise of severe menace, masked by the 'helpful concern' for her welfare that had fooled their parents when they were little.
"Oh, please, no." Lina whimpered as she lunged forward, slipping on slug guts and nearly falling. In an incredible feat of agility, she stayed on her feet and kept moving. Gotta hide, gotta hide, gotta hide...
"Linaaa! Where are you?" Gourry called. A woman's scream came from far in the distance. His head whipped around toward the sound. "Lina?" He took off running in the direction the scream had come from.
It came again. "Hold on, Lina, I'm coming!" The swordsman ran for what seemed like hours. Lina's voice was getting weaker. He increased his speed, his lungs burning for air, trying to get there before whatever was hurting her could...
A figure appeared in the distance through the dense fog. Drawing closer, Gourry could make out some kind of hideous beast, leaning over a small shape huddled on the ground. As he approached, the beast retreated, giving him a clear view of the person lying crumpled on the nonexistent ground. It was Lina.
Author's Note: I love writing Lina-and-Gourry bits-it's somehow easier to put a lot more humor in. That also makes the dramatic scenes even more dramatic, since they're not very serious characters most of the time.
BTW, I got the voice for the Oracle from a Hey Arnold TV episode (one of the few Nickelodeon shows that interests me), from the episode where Helga Pataki goes to see a fortune teller who sounds like a Brooklyn housewife. I love her voice-no-nonsense, but kindly.
I figure her sister Luna used a lot of mental-and perhaps physical-manipulation on Lina. Sort of like brainwashing. Perhaps Luna was trying to toughen Lina up, knowing that Lina had almost as much magic power as she did and needed to be able to control it. If so, she succeeded, but her methods must have been somewhat...unorthodox, not to mention cruel, judging by how much Lina feared her in the anime.
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