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.
Many thanks to my friends Shell Presto and Marie!
Note: I am upgrading the rating to PG-13 for a smidgen of nudity.
Chapter Twenty: Bared Souls
Lina began walking toward the end of the vast cave deep in the bowels of the Oracle's cavern, weaving her way around odd-looking plants. Some were dull and ugly, but others were astonishingly beautiful. "Look at this one, Gourry." She pointed to a lovely dark red flower with golden edges.
"Nice," he agreed, smiling at her in a way that made her flush and look away. She pretended to be looking for hidden enemies in the bushes.
After a few minutes, Gourry yawned. She asked, "Tired?"
"No-well, yeah, maybe a little. I'm okay."
Lina was conscious of her own weariness, and the faint throbbing of her sore knees, but it was not so much physical tiredness as mental, and emotional, exhaustion. I can't wait to get my magic back! "I'm a little tired myself. What do you say we take a rest under that tree for a minute?"
She expected him to agree, but "We can't. You're in danger here." It was then that she noticed his eyes were darting back and forth.
Lina was touched by his apprehension. She knew he thought of himself as her guardian, but now she was aware of his full concern for her. "Gourry," she murmured.
He looked down at her. "I won't ever let anything happen to you again, Lina. I promised." His light blue eyes were very serious, watching her with such an intense look that she found herself unable to hold his gaze and dropped her eyes, feeling a blush bloom on her cheeks.
After a few moments, they began walking again. Lina discovered that she felt guilty for making Gourry worry about her. Then she experienced a flash of resentment. Who asked him to appoint himself my 'protector' in the first place? I never wanted this. I never asked him toto fall in love with me.
Her anger cooled at this thought, and she sighed and reached over to tug at his wrist. "You can guard me just as well while we're sitting down. Come on."
The tree they chose was a larger version of the flower Lina had admired earlier, a vibrant kaleidoscope of maroon-and-gold foliage. They sat in silence for a while, gradually becoming less tense as no threats made their appearance. Gourry yawned again, leaning back against the trunk and idly picking one of the many flowers around its base. He twirled it absently in his fingers, admiring the deep ruby-red petals with delicate golden edging, then offered it to the young sorceress.
Lina stared at the flower, and at Gourry. Both were so innocent, so sweet and charmingso beautiful. She felt an impulse to touch him, to show him something of the affection she felt for him. But now was not the right time or place-not to mention that the very thought still made her more than a little nervous-so instead she took the flower from him with awkward fingers, mumbling, "Thanks, Gourry." She tucked it into her headband.
Suddenly there was a horrendous cracking sound. Lina felt herself being lifted into the air by what felt like a hundred snakes, their grips painfully rigid. Her arms were pinned to her sides, and one of them wrapped itself around her lower face, cutting off her air supply.
"Lina!" Gourry shouted, his sword instantly in his hand. The innocent-seeming flowered tree had sprouted dozens of long, dark-green, snakelike vines, each one seeking to wrap itself around the body of the young sorceress in his care. He could only see small sections of her between them. Her mouth was covered; even if she'd had her magic she couldn't have chanted any spells.
Gourry saw the panicked look in her eyes. Instantly he attacked the vines, slashing through them easily with the shining silver blade in his hands. He tried to get to Lina, but the sinuous things kept pulling her out of his reach. His blue eyes flashing, the young man grabbed hold of one of the vines and swung himself upward, trying to sever the vines directly above her to make it drop her, but though the vines parted like butter cut with a hot knife he couldn't seem to make any headway. Where are they all coming from?
Lina caught sight of the blonde swordsman leaping, slashing left and right at the vines. There seemed to be no end to them. No matter how many he cut, more appeared. She noticed that none of the vines tried to grab him, but before she could follow that thought any further the vines holding her began to viciously tighten their grip, obviously reacting to his attack. She choked as her ribs were agonizingly compressed, trying to pull in enough air to stay conscious. Stop, Gourry, it's not working! she wanted to yell.
It felt as if she'd been seized by iron bars that were trying to crush the life out of her. As the vines painfully bit into her tender skin, her muscles spasmed in reaction, but so tightly was she wrapped that she could not even twitch. Her lungs strained inside her chest, unsuccessfully searching for oxygen. She began to get dizzy, and the image of a leaping golden-haired man in front of her grew fuzzy and began to fade. Her vision was swimming with black spots as she passed out, fighting all the way.
"Lina!" Gourry was desperate. The vines were killing her-she'd tried to say something, but now she was dangling lifelessly, the maroon flower he'd given her bobbing against her forehead, a mocking reminder of how he'd failed once again to protect her. Wait a minute. That's it! With an animal roar of rage and anguish, he drew back his arm and threw his sword.
"Lina, are you okay? Lina?"
At first all she noticed was the pain, the throbbing bruises all over her body, with her head leading the drum beats. Her aching lungs protested at her gasp of pain, sending sharp twinges through her chest. As images of the battle returned, she slowly opened her eyes. Gourry's worried face was hovering over her, his long yellow hair dangling down his chest onto her shoulder. "Wh-what happened?" she whispered, her throat dry, and as sore as the rest of her.
Kneeling, Gourry helped her sit up. She saw that they were back in one of the stone corridors. Her longtime companion held out his small water-pouch, helping her steady it as she sipped. "The tree-monster stopped attacking you as soon as I cut the flower from your hair. I guessed it was the trigger. I made sure you were breathing, then got you out of there as fast as I could."
"How-how did you know it was a trigger?"
"They looked the same." He answered as if it were obvious.
That simple. No wonder that green baka missed it. Sometimes the truth is so obvious that it can be right under your nose and you won't even see it. Like the fact that the plants were programmed to attack anyone with high intelligence-Gourry beat them, even though he wasn't considered a threat.
She looked up at the young man hovering over her. His unsmiling gaze was focused on her face, his concern for her still obvious in his every word, his every action. He's always cared for me. Always looked out for me, no matter how badly I treated him, no matter what kind of crazy situation I put us in
Her sudden elation was partly a delayed reaction to the danger, partly from a sudden surge of affection for her blonde companion. Laughing, she put out her hand and rested it against his cheek. "Gourry, you're beautiful!"
He froze, looking at her with wide eyes. Almost a minute went past. As her mind cleared, she became aware of what she was doing. She began to pull her hand away, but he quickly put his hand over hers, giving it a gentle squeeze before releasing it. His smile was full of tenderness.
Shyly she smiled back at him, then looked down, feeling her face grow warm. This is so weird. Part of me wants to keep on looking for the Oracle, and part of me wants to make Gourry happy by leaving. I wish we could get that nasty little jerk to stop bothering us. We're nothing more than the evening's entertainment-that's it!
Gourry was surprised at Lina's sudden willingness to show affection toward him. She had always been a demonstrative person-whether she was enjoying good food or displaying her considerable temper, you always knew how she felt about everything. Even though sometimes he didn't know why she was mad at him, it was comforting to know what to expect from her.
This new behavior both pleased and unsettled the swordsman. He was happy that she seemed to be more comfortable touching him, but he wasn't sure how he should respond. Gourry wanted to show her how he felt about her. I wouldn't mind touching herhugging her and kissing her andall the other stuff people do when they love each other. Stillit was safer to let her take the lead. He just hoped she wouldn't change her mind.
Now, he looked at her, sitting there on the stone floor. She was blushing fetchingly and looking down in an appealingly shy sort of way, quite unlike herself. Then she looked up and whispered, "Gourry," and gestured to him to come closer to her face.
Does she want me to kiss her? he thought in surprise. True, they had kissed not long ago, but that had been a special moment. Somehow he would have thought Lina would be more reserved.
After hesitating for a long moment to make sure, he leaned down toward her. As he moved closer to her face he felt a tug on his hair, and found himself with his head turned to the side, with Lina whispering through cupped hands into his ear. "I don't know if that Gatekeeper can hear me, but I've got a plan."
He blinked a few times, trying to reorient. "Oh. What is it?"
"We can't hurt him physically. I can't hurt him magically. That means we have to beat him at his own game-psychologically."
Lina rolled her eyes at him. "Look, Gourry, this guy enjoys making fun of us. So if we pretend we don't care what he does, he'll get bored and leave us alone."
"So, basically, he's just a bully, right?"
"Yeah," Lina replied, looking surprised. She repeated, "So just ignore him, no matter what."
Unless you're dying, or something like that. Gourry decided. "That'll be easy. I'll just tune him out. No problem." He began to stand up.
Lina seized his hair, and yanked him back down to his former kneeling position. "Not as easy as you might think! He can make us see and hear and touch things that aren't real! You have to be on guard!" she whispered fiercely, tickling his ear.
"Okay, okay," he whined. As he stood up, he extended a hand to the petite sorceress to help her up. He noticed that she held onto his hand a little longer than it was necessary to pull herself to her feet.
As they began walking, Lina watched Gourry's face relax into its most dull, amiable look-he had tuned out. She half-smiled. What a time for that particular skill to come in handy! I almost envy him.
It wasn't long before the Gatekeeper was up to his old tricks. Suddenly where Gourry had been was a pretty young woman, with blue eyes, long blonde hair in ponytails, and a full bust. Her outfit was a lovely flowing gown of pink and white. She strode along calmly, apparently not noticing anything unusual.
Been there, done that. The red-haired sorceress stifled a snicker, looking straight ahead. She remembered her poor friend's reaction the first time he'd been forced to masquerade as a girl. It's almost a shame that he makes a prettier girl than I do. Oh, well, if this is the worst that little reject from a goblin festival can throw at us, we've got it made.
Gourry was thinking about the last battle with the tree-monster, wondering if that had been a fake, too. It had hardly attacked him at all, compared with the number of tentacles it had wrapped around Lina. He remembered the Gatekeeper saying how the threats would only attack someone smart.
For the most part, Gourry didn't mind not being as smart as Lina. It seemed to him that the smarter you were, the more things you found to worry about or get upset over. He figured Lina must be really smart-she got mad more often than anybody he knew. He was usually glad to let her make the decisions about where to go, and which jobs to take. It was easier to just let her take charge, and pull his own weight where it counted. He knew Lina needed him.
Lina watched as the young woman vanished, to be replaced by her familiar male sidekick. Suddenly the red-haired sorceress found herself wearing some kind of floppy costume. By the feel of it, it had a lot of extra arms and legs. Well, not exactly arms and legs; they were very thin and droopy. Almost like
A jellyfish. Lina blinked. Hey, wait a minute! Is this that Gatekeeper's way of saying I'm dumber than Gourry? she thought indignantly. She caught herself starting to scowl with her teeth clenched. Whoa, Lina, it may be insulting, but it's harmless. She relaxed, congratulating herself on her quick reflexes.
Gourry was a couple of steps ahead of her. She happened to be looking at his back when abruptly, his hair-that magnificent flow of long yellow silk-vanished, leaving him completely bald. She bit her tongue, hard, trying to hide her sudden mirth.
She forced herself to look away so as not to look like she was staring. The Gatekeeper must figure that'll get a rise out of Gourry. I always suspected he was vain about his hair, even though he never pays much attention to it. Hair that long can be a nuisance sometimes, though, so he must prefer how it looks long.
She sped up a little until she was walking alongside her companion, casually glancing up at him for a few seconds. Gee, he looks so different. I never realized how much a part of him his hair is. Without the shining golden hair to soften the angular lines of his face, he seemed older, thinner, grimmer. The formerly-blonde swordsman didn't even put up his hand to feel his head, striding along unhurriedly.
Lina became aware that she was clomping along in heavy thick-soled boots like Gourry's. What do I look like now? She was possessed by the fierce itch of curiosity. I can't pull out a mirror-I can't react!
Her clothes, by the feel of them, had changed as well. Her cape seemed to be missing, and the material of her clothes seemed to be woven of a rougher fabric than her own. As she turned her head, she felt something brush her face-or rather, her face brushed her high cloak collar, but it felt strange, as if she were wearing a scarf or something. What did he do to my face? A thought struck her-Did he make me like Zelgadis?
She had to know. Casually, she pretended to be scratching an itch on her cheek. Her fingers raked through harsh, coarse hair that appeared to be growing out of her face! What am I? Some kind of beast?
A more insulting idea hit her. Why that little weasel! she thought, outraged. Just because I don't have breasts like Naga does NOT mean I look like a man! The red-haired sorceress' face twitched, wanting to scowl. Her tense hands were trying to close into fists, but she forced herself to calm down. Almost got mebut Lina Inverse triumphs!
Lina noticed that Gourry's hair had reappeared. Hm. He seems to be handling this easier than me. I haven't seen him so much as twitch an eyelash. The thought stirred up her natural competitiveness. Well, if he can do it, I can do it. She decided their silence was unnatural. To the Gatekeeper it would be an encouraging sign. "So, Gourry, what's the first thing you want to eat once we get back to Seyrune?" she said abruptly, deliberately picking a non-sensitive topic.
Gourry glanced at her, and smiled. It looked like a perfectly natural smile in response to a question about food. She couldn't tell if he was really smiling in amusement at her appearance. Of course, hearing a female voice coming from a bearded male probably did look odd.
"Hmm, good question. Maybe a nice big steak." Suddenly he was a steak, a huge red-brown piece of meat walking along beside her with arms, legs, and long blonde hair. "Or maybe some of those purpleberry pastries we had with breakfast the morning we left."
And cue the giant pastry, Lina thought impertinently as a large bready pile of fruit-filled dough appeared beside her.
"Wait-I got it-first I'm gonna get some of that great ice cream that's so famous in Seyrune." Lina watched as her partner transformed into an amazingly realistic soft-serve ice cream cone, half chocolate, half vanilla.
She snorted, half in amusement, half in exasperation. This is getting so predictable it's boring. She faked a huge yawn, stretching her arms out about her bearded head for maximum effect. I bet this'll tick off that little jerk.
Abruptly she became aware that her clothing was no longer stiff and scratchy-because she wasn't wearing any. She felt a cool breeze blowing across her legs, her long hair swishing across her back, and the smooth, cold stone floor on the bottoms of her feet. Oh gods, I'm naked.
The young sorceress was in shock. Somehow her legs kept pace with Ice Cream Cone Gourry, who continued to prattle on about food while looking at her in a perfectly normal manner. After a few seconds she started to react, and had to fight her powerful instinctive reaction to cover herself with her hands.
Every muscle was tense-she wanted to shriek out her fury and embarrassment, to pound Gourry into the floor for looking at her, to blast that disgusting sleazeball of a gatekeeper to nothingness! The words to the Dragon Slave were pounding through her brain as she literally saw red swimming in front of her vision.
Somehow, she managed to control herself. That same fierce inner strength, the iron will which allowed Lina Inverse to control the fearsome Ragna Blade and the unbelievable Giga Slave gave her the strength to do the most difficult thing in the world for the powerful young sorceress-nothing.
She forced herself walk normally, relaxing her arms and swinging them as naturally as she could manage by her sides. She promised herself, As soon as my powers return I'm gonna come back here and Dragon Slave that little creep! Zelgadis and Amelia can wait-this guy is gonna die!
The diminutive sorceress had managed to keep her expression more or less neutral, mostly out of shock, but she was aware that she was blushing, and beginning to sweat. She was also getting more and more irritated at Gourry, who was now talking about unusual beverages unique to Seyrune. Stop looking at me! You should know better than that, after all the stuff we've been through! She decided she'd give him the pounding of his life later.
Gourry was behaving as if nothing was happening, which both calmed and upset her. What is with him? Doesn't he see I'm naked? Am I so flat-chested that he doesn't even consider me worth gawking at? She fumed for a moment. I know he's probably just doing what I told him, but stillif I wasn't so mortified I'd be insulted!
A thought occurred to her. Hey, maybe only I'm having this illusion. Maybe that green-faced little pervert is just making me think I'm naked. That suspicion gave her some comfort, letting her relax a little. She sneaked a look down, pretending to examine a fallen piece of masonry, and confirmed that yes, she was completely nude.
Gourry's monologue about cold drinks made her realize she was still sweating from reaction, even though the cave was quite chilly, and gave her an idea to explain it away. "You know, I could go for one of those drinks right now. I'm so warm, I'm sweating. I need a bath."
Gourry's appearance finally reverted to normal. "Yeah, me too," he agreed.
Yes, he needs a bath, or yes, he's sweating? If he's sweating, is it because of me? Lina wondered. What does he see? Ohh, this is torture! It was taking every ounce of her considerable willpower to keep from reacting. Even then, only the faint hope that only she was experiencing this particular illusion was keeping her from completely losing it.
Just as the red-haired sorceress was starting to get used to the idea of invisible nudity, her clothing reappeared on her as if it had never been gone. She sensed it was a sign of defeat on the Gatekeeper's part. Did your worst, and it wasn't enough, huh? she thought grimly.
Deliberately she turned to Gourry and commented innocently, "Gee, this is so boring. I wonder where that incompetent excuse for a doorman is?"
"Right here." The face materialized on the nearest wall.
"Oh, there you are." Slyly, Lina pretended to be mildly surprised. "Things have been so quiet. We thought you'd given up."
The Gatekeeper's face went from green to red. "Why you little-I ought to-arrgh!"
Lina raised an eyebrow, smirking. "Give it up, twerp. We're on to you. You've thrown everything at us you could think of, and we're still here. Is it really because we can't see the Oracle, or just because you're looking for a diversion from your boring guard duty?"
The green face went thoughtful. "You're sharp." He sighed. "It's both. The Oracle can only see one querent per year, and it is incredibly boring to have no one to talk to."
Lina was stunned. "Only one a year?"
"Yes. Usually we only get a few travelers per year, and after the first one I have to get rid of the rest. Some, like you, are incredibly stubborn and refuse to leave, so over the centuries severaldeterrentshave been developed. You have the honor of being the first to completely overcome every aspect of them." The Gatekeeper surprised her by somehow managing to bow his head to her without an apparent neck.
She was oddly touched by this gesture of respect from the little creep. "But why didn't you just tell us this at the start?" she demanded.
"Would you have believed me?"
Lina was silent.
"Besides, it's so much more fun this way," he added, winking at her in a friendly way. Lina found herself blushing again.
Author's Notes: It's nice to know I have several loyal readers already! A special thanks to those of you who have left more than one review-that's very encouraging! I've been working on my story for two years, off and on, and one of the main reasons I waited to put it online was so my readers wouldn't have the wait of days to months between chaptersand I wouldn't have the pressure to produce-nothing ruins writing for me faster than turning my hobby into a job.
And I wanted to do as Alea said in one of her reviews-to have the events in the later chapters be built upon the earlier ones-and by holding off putting it online I could add foreshadowing and subtle hints of things that will be important in later chapters-so read carefully, minna! ^_^
Oh, and before I forget, if you do a search for a site called Inspiration Stemming From Sleep Deprivation there's a fanpic from Chapter 2-Blue Eyes on a Balcony, done by my marvelous friend, Shell Presto. I'll add a link as soon as we figure out how to do that. She's also hosting my fic, adding chapters a little at a time, so if goes down or you just want to see my fic with fancier font titles, check it out. SP has her own excellent A/Z fic-One Third Human, hosted there too. Have fun!
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